Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino by Samuel Butler

This etext was prepared by David Price, email from the 1913 A. C. Fifield edition with some portions taken from the 1881 edition. Many thanks to Paul Schwoerer for his invaluable help in locating an 1881 edition for UK copyright clearance. ALPS AND SANCTUARIES OF PIEDMONT AND THE CANTON TICINO by Samuel Butler Author’s
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This etext was prepared by David Price, email from the 1913 A. C. Fifield edition with some portions taken from the 1881 edition. Many thanks to Paul Schwoerer for his invaluable help in locating an 1881 edition for UK copyright clearance.


by Samuel Butler

Author’s Preface to First Edition

I should perhaps apologise for publishing a work which professes to deal with the sanctuaries of Piedmont, and saying so little about the most important of them all–the Sacro Monte of Varallo. My excuse must be, that I found it impossible to deal with Varallo without making my book too long. Varallo requires a work to itself; I must, therefore, hope to return to it on another occasion.

For the convenience of avoiding explanations, I have treated the events of several summers as though they belonged to only one. This can be of no importance to the reader, but as the work is chronologically inexact, I had better perhaps say so.

The illustrations by Mr. H. F. Jones are on pages 95, 211, 225, 238, 254, 260. The frontispiece and the illustrations on the title-page and on pages 261, 262 are by Mr. Charles Gogin. There are two drawings on pages 136, 137 by an Italian gentleman whose name I have unfortunately lost, and whose permission to insert them I have, therefore, been unable to obtain, and one on page 138 by Signor Gaetano Meo. The rest are mine, except that all the figures in my drawings are in every case by Mr. Charles Gogin, unless when they are merely copied from frescoes or other sources. The two larger views of Oropa are chiefly taken from photographs. The rest are all of them from studies taken upon the spot.

I must acknowledge the great obligations I am under to Mr. H. F. Jones as regards the letterpress no less than the illustrations; I might almost say that the book is nearly as much his as mine, while it is only through the care which he and another friend have exercised in the revision of my pages that I am able to let them appear with some approach to confidence.

November, 1881.

CHAPTER I–Introduction

Most men will readily admit that the two poets who have the greatest hold over Englishmen are Handel and Shakespeare–for it is as a poet, a sympathiser with and renderer of all estates and conditions whether of men or things, rather than as a mere musician, that Handel reigns supreme. There have been many who have known as much English as Shakespeare, and so, doubtless, there have been no fewer who have known as much music as Handel: perhaps Bach, probably Haydn, certainly Mozart; as likely as not, many a known and unknown musician now living; but the poet is not known by knowledge alone–not by gnosis only–but also, and in greater part, by the agape which makes him wish to steal men’s hearts, and prompts him so to apply his knowledge that he shall succeed. There has been no one to touch Handel as an observer of all that was observable, a lover of all that was loveable, a hater of all that was hateable, and, therefore, as a poet. Shakespeare loved not wisely but too well. Handel loved as well as Shakespeare, but more wisely. He is as much above Shakespeare as Shakespeare is above all others, except Handel himself; he is no less lofty, impassioned, tender, and full alike of fire and love of play; he is no less universal in the range of his sympathies, no less a master of expression and illustration than Shakespeare, and at the same time he is of robuster, stronger fibre, more easy, less introspective. Englishmen are of so mixed a race, so inventive, and so given to migration, that for many generations to come they are bound to be at times puzzled, and therefore introspective; if they get their freedom at all they get it as Shakespeare “with a great sum,” whereas Handel was “free born.” Shakespeare sometimes errs and grievously, he is as one of his own best men “moulded out of faults,” who “for the most become much more the better, for being a little bad;” Handel, if he puts forth his strength at all, is unerring: he gains the maximum of effect with the minimum of effort. As Mozart said of him, “he beats us all in effect, when he chooses he strikes like a thunderbolt.” Shakespeare’s strength is perfected in weakness; Handel is the serenity and unself- consciousness of health itself. “There,” said Beethoven on his deathbed, pointing to the works of Handel, “there–is truth.” These, however, are details, the main point that will be admitted is that the average Englishman is more attracted by Handel and Shakespeare than by any other two men who have been long enough dead for us to have formed a fairly permanent verdict concerning them. We not only believe them to have been the best men familiarly known here in England, but we see foreign nations join us for the most part in assigning to them the highest place as renderers of emotion.

It is always a pleasure to me to reflect that the countries dearest to these two master spirits are those which are also dearest to myself, I mean England and Italy. Both of them lived mainly here in London, but both of them turned mainly to Italy when realising their dreams. Handel’s music is the embodiment of all the best Italian music of his time and before him, assimilated and reproduced with the enlargements and additions suggested by his own genius. He studied in Italy; his subjects for many years were almost exclusively from Italian sources; the very language of his thoughts was Italian, and to the end of his life he would have composed nothing but Italian operas, if the English public would have supported him. His spirit flew to Italy, but his home was London. So also Shakespeare turned to Italy more than to any other country for his subjects. Roughly, he wrote nineteen Italian, or what to him were virtually Italian plays, to twelve English, one Scotch, one Danish, three French, and two early British.

But who does not turn to Italy who has the chance of doing so? What, indeed, do we not owe to that most lovely and loveable country? Take up a Bank of England note and the Italian language will be found still lingering upon it. It is signed “for Bank of England and Compa.” (Compagnia), not “Compy.” Our laws are Roman in their origin. Our music, as we have seen, and our painting comes from Italy. Our very religion till a few hundred years ago found its headquarters, not in London nor in Canterbury, but in Rome. What, in fact, is there which has not filtered through Italy, even though it arose elsewhere? On the other hand, there are infinite attractions in London. I have seen many foreign cities, but I know none so commodious, or, let me add, so beautiful. I know of nothing in any foreign city equal to the view down Fleet Street, walking along the north side from the corner of Fetter Lane. It is often said that this has been spoiled by the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway bridge over Ludgate Hill; I think, however, the effect is more imposing now than it was before the bridge was built. Time has already softened it; it does not obtrude itself; it adds greatly to the sense of size, and makes us doubly aware of the movement of life, the colossal circulation to which London owes so much of its impressiveness. We gain more by this than we lose by the infraction of some pedant’s canon about the artistically correct intersection of right lines. Vast as is the world below the bridge, there is a vaster still on high, and when trains are passing, the steam from the engine will throw the dome of St. Paul’s into the clouds, and make it seem as though there were a commingling of earth and some far-off mysterious palace in dreamland. I am not very fond of Milton, but I admit that he does at times put me in mind of Fleet Street.

While on the subject of Fleet Street, I would put in a word in favour of the much-abused griffin. The whole monument is one of the handsomest in London. As for its being an obstruction, I have discoursed with a large number of omnibus conductors on the subject, and am satisfied that the obstruction is imaginary.

When, again, I think of Waterloo Bridge, and the huge wide-opened jaws of those two Behemoths, the Cannon Street and Charing Cross railway stations, I am not sure that the prospect here is not even finer than in Fleet Street. See how they belch forth puffing trains as the breath of their nostrils, gorging and disgorging incessantly those human atoms whose movement is the life of the city. How like it all is to some great bodily mechanism of which the people are the blood. And then, above all, see the ineffable St. Paul’s. I was once on Waterloo Bridge after a heavy thunderstorm in summer. A thick darkness was upon the river and the buildings upon the north side, but just below I could see the water hurrying onward as in an abyss, dark, gloomy, and mysterious. On a level with the eye there was an absolute blank, but above, the sky was clear, and out of the gloom the dome and towers of St. Paul’s rose up sharply, looking higher than they actually were, and as though they rested upon space.

Then as for the neighbourhood within, we will say, a radius of thirty miles. It is one of the main businesses of my life to explore this district. I have walked several thousands of miles in doing so, and I mark where I have been in red upon the Ordnance map, so that I may see at a glance what parts I know least well, and direct my attention to them as soon as possible. For ten months in the year I continue my walks in the home counties, every week adding some new village or farmhouse to my list of things worth seeing; and no matter where else I may have been, I find a charm in the villages of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, which in its way I know not where to rival.

I have ventured to say the above, because during the remainder of my book I shall be occupied almost exclusively with Italy, and wish to make it clear that my Italian rambles are taken not because I prefer Italy to England, but as by way of parergon, or by-work, as every man should have both his profession and his hobby. I have chosen Italy as my second country, and would dedicate this book to her as a thank-offering for the happiness she has afforded me.


For some years past I have paid a visit of greater or less length to Faido in the Canton Ticino, which though politically Swiss is as much Italian in character as any part of Italy. I was attracted to this place, in the first instance, chiefly because it is one of the easiest places on the Italian side of the Alps to reach from England. This merit it will soon possess in a still greater degree, for when the St. Gothard tunnel is open, it will be possible to leave London, we will say, on a Monday morning and be at Faido by six or seven o’clock the next evening, just as one can now do with S. Ambrogio on the line between Susa and Turin, of which more hereafter.

True, by making use of the tunnel one will miss the St. Gothard scenery, but I would not, if I were the reader, lay this too much to heart. Mountain scenery, when one is staying right in the middle of it, or when one is on foot, is one thing, and mountain scenery as seen from the top of a diligence very likely smothered in dust is another. Besides I do not think he will like the St. Gothard scenery very much.

It is a pity there is no mental microscope to show us our likes and dislikes while they are yet too vague to be made out easily. We are so apt to let imaginary likings run away with us, as a person at the far end of Cannon Street railway platform, if he expects a friend to join him, will see that friend in half the impossible people who are coming through the wicket. I once began an essay on “The Art of Knowing what gives one Pleasure,” but soon found myself out of the diatonic with it, in all manner of strange keys, amid a maze of metaphysical accidentals and double and treble flats, so I left it alone as a question not worth the trouble it seemed likely to take in answering. It is like everything else, if we much want to know our own mind on any particular point, we may be trusted to develop the faculty which will reveal it to us, and if we do not greatly care about knowing, it does not much matter if we remain in ignorance. But in few cases can we get at our permanent liking without at least as much experience as a fishmonger must have had before he can choose at once the best bloater out of twenty which, to inexperienced eyes, seem one as good as the other. Lord Beaconsfield was a thorough Erasmus Darwinian when he said so well in “Endymion”: “There is nothing like will; everybody can do exactly what they like in this world, provided they really like it. Sometimes they think they do, but in general it’s a mistake.” {1} If this is as true as I believe it to be, “the longing after immortality,” though not indeed much of an argument in favour of our being immortal at the present moment, is perfectly sound as a reason for concluding that we shall one day develop immortality, if our desire is deep enough and lasting enough. As for knowing whether or not one likes a picture, which under the present aesthetic reign of terror is de rigueur, I once heard a man say the only test was to ask one’s self whether one would care to look at it if one was quite sure that one was alone; I have never been able to get beyond this test with the St. Gothard scenery, and applying it to the Devil’s Bridge, I should say a stay of about thirty seconds would be enough for me. I daresay Mendelssohn would have stayed at least two hours at the Devil’s Bridge, but then he did stay such a long while before things.

The coming out from the short tunnel on to the plain of Andermatt does certainly give the pleasure of a surprise. I shall never forget coming out of this tunnel one day late in November, and finding the whole Andermatt valley in brilliant sunshine, though from Fluelen up to the Devil’s Bridge the clouds had hung heavy and low. It was one of the most striking transformation scenes imaginable. The top of the pass is good, and the Hotel Prosa a comfortable inn to stay at. I do not know whether this house will be discontinued when the railway is opened, but understand that the proprietor has taken the large hotel at Piora, which I will speak of later on. The descent on the Italian side is impressive, and so is the point where sight is first caught of the valley below Airolo, but on the whole I cannot see that the St. Gothard is better than the S. Bernardino on the Italian side, or the Lukmanier, near the top, on the German; this last is one of the most beautiful things imaginable, but it should be seen by one who is travelling towards German Switzerland, and in a fine summer’s evening light. I was never more impressed by the St. Gothard than on the occasion already referred to when I crossed it in winter. We went in sledges from Hospenthal to Airolo, and I remember thinking what splendid fellows the postillions and guards and men who helped to shift the luggage on to the sledges, looked; they were so ruddy and strong and full of health, as indeed they might well be–living an active outdoor life in such an air; besides, they were picked men, for the passage in winter is never without possible dangers. It was delightful travelling in the sledge. The sky was of a deep blue; there was not a single cloud either in sky or on mountain, but the snow was already deep, and had covered everything beneath its smooth and heaving bosom. There was no breath of air, but the cold was intense; presently the sun set upon all except the higher peaks, and the broad shadows stole upwards. Then there was a rich crimson flush upon the mountain tops, and after this a pallor cold and ghastly as death. If he is fortunate in his day, I do not think any one will be sorry to have crossed the St. Gothard in mid-winter; but one pass will do as well as another.

Airolo, at the foot of the pass on the Italian side, was, till lately, a quiet and beautiful village, rising from among great green slopes, which in early summer are covered with innumerable flowers. The place, however, is now quite changed. The railway has turned the whole Val Leventina topsy-turvy, and altered it almost beyond recognition. When the line is finished and the workmen have gone elsewhere, things will get right again; but just now there is an explosiveness about the valley which puzzles one who has been familiar with its former quietness. Airolo has been especially revolutionised, being the headquarters for the works upon the Italian side of the great St. Gothard tunnel, as Goschenen is for those on the German side; besides this, it was burnt down two or three years ago, hardly one of the houses being left standing, so that it is now a new town, and has lost its former picturesqueness, but it will be not a bad place to stay at as soon as the bustle of the works has subsided, and there is a good hotel- -the Hotel Airolo. It lies nearly 4000 feet above the sea, so that even in summer the air is cool. There are plenty of delightful walks–to Piora, for example, up the Val Canaria, and to Bedretto.

After leaving Airolo the road descends rapidly for a few hundred feet and then more slowly for four or five kilometres to Piotta. Here the first signs of the Italian spirit appear in the wood carving of some of the houses. It is with these houses that I always consider myself as in Italy again. Then come Ronco on the mountain side to the left, and Quinto; all the way the pastures are thickly covered with cowslips, even finer than those that grow on Salisbury Plain. A few kilometres farther on and sight is caught of a beautiful green hill with a few natural terraces upon it and a flat top–rising from amid pastures, and backed by higher hills as green as itself. On the top of this hill there stands a white church with an elegant Lombard campanile–the campanile left unwhitewashed. The whole forms a lovely little bit of landscape such as some old Venetian painter might have chosen as a background for a Madonna.

This place is called Prato. After it is passed the road enters at once upon the Monte Piottino gorge, which is better than the Devil’s Bridge, but not so much to my taste as the auriculas and rhododendrons which grow upon the rocks that flank it. The peep, however, at the hamlet of Vigera, caught through the opening of the gorge, is very nice. Soon after crossing the second of the Monte Piottino bridges the first chestnuts are reached, or rather were so till a year ago, when they were all cut down to make room for some construction in connection with the railway. A couple of kilometres farther on and mulberries and occasional fig-trees begin to appear. On this we find ourselves at Faido, the first place upon the Italian side which can be called a town, but which after all is hardly more than a village.

Faido is a picturesque old place. It has several houses dated the middle of the sixteenth century; and there is one, formerly a convent, close to the Hotel dell’ Angelo, which must be still older. There is a brewery where excellent beer is made, as good as that of Chiavenna–and a monastery where a few monks still continue to reside. The town is 2365 feet above the sea, and is never too hot even in the height of summer. The Angelo is the principal hotel of the town, and will be found thoroughly comfortable and in all respects a desirable place to stay at. I have stayed there so often, and consider the whole family of its proprietor so much among the number of my friends, that I have no hesitation in cordially recommending the house.

Other attractions I do not know that the actual town possesses, but the neighbourhood is rich. Years ago, in travelling by the St. Gothard road, I had noticed the many little villages perched high up on the sides of the mountain, from one to two thousand feet above the river, and had wondered what sort of places they would be. I resolved, therefore, after a time to make a stay at Faido and go up to all of them. I carried out my intention, and there is not a village nor fraction of a village in the Val Leventina from Airolo to Biasca which I have not inspected. I never tire of them, and the only regret I feel concerning them is, that the greater number are inaccessible except on foot, so that I do not see how I shall be able to reach them if I live to be old. These are the places of which I do find myself continually thinking when I am away from them. I may add that the Val Leventina is much the same as every other subalpine valley on the Italian side of the Alps that I have yet seen.

I had no particular aversion to German Switzerland before I knew the Italian side of the Alps. On the contrary, I was under the impression that I liked German Switzerland almost as much as I liked Italy itself, but now I can look at German Switzerland no longer. As soon as I see the water going down Rhinewards I hurry back to London. I was unwillingly compelled to take pleasure in the first hour and a half of the descent from the top of the Lukmanier towards Disentis, but this is only a ripping over of the brimfulness of Italy on to the Swiss side.

The first place I tried from Faido was Mairengo–where there is the oldest church in the valley–a church older even than the church of St. Nicolao of Giornico. There is little of the original structure, but the rare peculiarity remains that there are two high altars side by side.

There is a fine half-covered timber porch to the church. These porches are rare, the only others like it I know of being at Prato, Rossura, and to some extent Cornone. In each of these cases the arrangement is different, the only agreement being in the having an outer sheltered place, from which the church is entered instead of opening directly on to the churchyard. Mairengo is full of good bits, and nestles among magnificent chestnut-trees. From hence I went to Osco, about 3800 feet above the sea, and 1430 above Faido. It was here I first came to understand the purpose of certain high poles with cross bars to them which I had already seen elsewhere. They are for drying the barley on; as soon as it is cut it is hung up on the cross bars and secured in this way from the rain, but it is obvious this can only be done when cultivation is on a small scale. These rascane, as they are called, are a feature of the Val Leventina, and look very well when they are full of barley.

From Osco I tried to coast along to Calpiognia, but was warned that the path was dangerous, and found it to be so. I therefore again descended to Mairengo, and re-ascended by a path which went straight up behind the village. After a time I got up to the level of Calpiognia, or nearly so, and found a path through pine woods which led me across a torrent in a ravine to Calpiognia itself. This path is very beautiful. While on it I caught sight of a lovely village nestling on a plateau that now showed itself high up on the other side the valley of the Ticino, perhaps a couple of miles off as the crow flies. This I found upon inquiry to be Dalpe; above Dalpe rose pine woods and pastures; then the loftier alpi, then rugged precipices, and above all the Dalpe glacier roseate with sunset. I was enchanted, and it was only because night was coming on, and I had a long way to descend before getting back to Faido, that I could get myself away. I passed through Calpiognia, and though the dusk was deepening, I could not forbear from pausing at the Campo Santo just outside the village. I give a sketch taken by daylight, but neither sketch nor words can give any idea of the pathos of the place. When I saw it first it was in the month of June, and the rank dandelions were in seed. Wild roses in full bloom, great daisies, and the never-failing salvia ran riot among the graves. Looking over the churchyard itself there were the purple mountains of Biasca and the valley of the Ticino some couple of thousand feet below. There was no sound save the subdued but ceaseless roar of the Ticino, and the Piumogna. Involuntarily I found the following passage from the “Messiah” sounding in my ears, and felt as though Handel, who in his travels as a young man doubtless saw such places, might have had one of them in his mind when he wrote the divine music which he has wedded to the words “of them that sleep.” {2}

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

Or again: {3}

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

From Calpiognia I came down to Primadengo, and thence to Faido.

CHAPTER III–Primadengo, Calpiognia, Dalpe, Cornone, and Prato

Next morning I thought I would go up to Calpiognia again. It was Sunday. When I got up to Primadengo I saw no one, and heard nothing, save always the sound of distant waterfalls; all was spacious and full of what Mr. Ruskin has called a “great peacefulness of light.” The village was so quiet that it seemed as though it were deserted; after a minute or so, however, I heard a cherry fall, and looking up, saw the trees were full of people. There they were, crawling and lolling about on the boughs like caterpillars, and gorging themselves with cherries. They spoke not a word either to me or to one another. They were too happy and goodly to make a noise; but they lay about on the large branches, and ate and sighed for content and ate till they could eat no longer. Lotus eating was a rough nerve-jarring business in comparison. They were like saints and evangelists by Filippo Lippi. Again the rendering of Handel came into my mind, and I thought of how the goodly fellowship of prophets praised God. {4}

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

And how again in some such another quiet ecstasy the muses sing about Jove’s altar in the “Allegro and Penseroso.”

Here is a sketch of Primadengo Church–looking over it on to the other side the Ticino, but I could not get the cherry-trees nor cherry-eaters.

On leaving Primadengo I went on to Calpiognia, and there too I found the children’s faces all purple with cherry juice; thence I ascended till I got to a monte, or collection of chalets, about 5680 feet above the sea. It was deserted at this season. I mounted farther and reached an alpe, where a man and a boy were tending a mob of calves. Going still higher, I at last came upon a small lake close to the top of the range: I find this lake given in the map as about 7400 feet above the sea. Here, being more than 5000 feet above Faido, I stopped and dined.

I have spoken of a monte and of an alpe. An alpe, or alp, is not, as so many people in England think, a snowy mountain. Mont Blanc and the Jungfrau, for example, are not alps. They are mountains with alps upon them.

An alpe is a tract of the highest summer pasturage just below the snow-line, and only capable of being grazed for two or three months in every year. It is held as common land by one or more villages in the immediate neighbourhood, and sometimes by a single individual to whom the village has sold it. A few men and boys attend the whole herd, whether of cattle or goats, and make the cheese, which is apportioned out among the owners of the cattle later on. The pigs go up to be fattened on whey. The cheese is not commonly made at the alpe, but as soon as the curd has been pressed clear of whey, it is sent down on men’s backs to the village to be made into cheese. Sometimes there will be a little hay grown on an alpe, as at Gribbio and in Piora; in this case there will be some chalets built, which will be inhabited for a few weeks and left empty the rest of the year.

The monte is the pasture land immediately above the highest enclosed meadows and below the alpe. The cattle are kept here in spring and autumn before and after their visit to the alpe. The monte has many houses, dairies, and cowhouses,–being almost the paese, or village, in miniature. It will always have its chapel, and is inhabited by so considerable a number of the villagers, for so long a time both in spring and autumn, that they find it worth while to make themselves more comfortable than is necessary for the few who make the short summer visit to the alpe.

Every inch of the ascent was good, but the descent was even better on account of the views of the Dalpe glacier on the other side the Ticino, towards which ones back is turned as one ascends. All day long the villages of Dalpe and Cornone had been tempting me, so I resolved to take them next day. This I did, crossing the Ticino and following a broad well-beaten path which ascends the mountains in a southerly direction. I found the rare English fern Woodsia hyperborea growing in great luxuriance on the rocks between the path and the river. I saw some fronds fully six inches in length. I also found one specimen of Asplenium alternifolium, which, however, is abundant on the other side the valley, on the walls that flank the path between Primadengo and Calpiognia, and elsewhere. Woodsia also grows on the roadside walls near Airolo, but not so fine as at Faido. I have often looked for it in other subalpine valleys of North Italy and the canton Ticino, but have never happened to light upon it.

About three or four hundred feet above the river, under some pines, I saw a string of ants crossing and recrossing the road; I have since seen these ants every year in the same place. In one part I almost think the stone is a little worn with the daily passage and repassage of so many thousands of tiny feet, but for the most part it certainly is not. Half-an-hour or so after crossing the string of ants, one passes from under the pine-trees into a grassy meadow, which in spring is decked with all manner of Alpine flowers; after crossing this, the old St. Gothard road is reached, which passed by Prato and Dalpe, so as to avoid the gorge of the Monte Piottino. This road is of very great antiquity, and has been long disused, except for local purposes; for even before the carriage road over the St. Gothard was finished in 1827, there was a horse track through the Monte Piottino. In another twenty minutes or so, on coming out from a wood of willows and alders, Dalpe is seen close at hand after a walk of from an hour-and-a-half to two hours from Faido.

Dalpe is rather more than 1500 feet above Faido, and is therefore nearly 4000 feet above the sea. It is reckoned a bel paese, inasmuch as it has a little tolerably level pasture and tillable land near it, and a fine alpe. This is how the wealth of a village is reckoned. The Italians set great store by a little bit of bella pianura, or level ground; to them it is as precious as a hill or rock is to a Londoner out for a holiday. The peasantry are as blind to the beauties of rough unmanageable land as Peter Bell was to those of the primrose with a yellow brim (I quote from memory). The people complain of the climate of Dalpe, the snow not going off before the end of March or beginning of April. No climate, they say, should be colder than that of Faido; barley, however, and potatoes do very well at Dalpe, and nothing can exceed the hay crops. A good deal of the hay is sent down to Faido on men’s backs or rather on their heads, for the road is impracticable even for sledges. It is astonishing what a weight the men will bear upon their heads, and the rate at which they will come down while loaded. An average load is four hundredweight. The man is hardly visible beneath his burden, which looks like a good big part of an ordinary English haystack. With this weight on his head he will go down rough places almost at a run and never miss his footing. The men generally carry the hay down in threes and fours together for company. They look distressed, as well they may: every muscle is strained, and it is easy to see that their powers are being taxed to their utmost limit; it is better not even to say good-day to them when they are thus loaded; they have enough to attend to just then; nevertheless, as soon as they have deposited their load at Faido they will go up to Dalpe again or Calpiognia, or wherever it may be, for another, and bring it down without resting. Two such journeys are reckoned enough for one day. This is how the people get their corpo di legno e gamba di ferro–“their bodies of wood and legs of iron.” But I think they rather overdo it.

Talking of legs, as I went through the main street of Dalpe an old lady of about sixty-five stopped me, and told me that while gathering her winter store of firewood she had had the misfortune to hurt her leg. I was very sorry, but I failed to satisfy her; the more I sympathised in general terms, the more I felt that something further was expected of me. I went on trying to do the civil thing, when the old lady cut me short by saying it would be much better if I were to see the leg at once; so she showed it me in the street, and there, sure enough, close to the groin there was a swelling. Again I said how sorry I was, and added that perhaps she ought to show it to a medical man. “But aren’t you a medical man?” said she in an alarmed manner. “Certainly not,” replied I. “Then why did you let me show you my leg?” said she indignantly, and pulling her clothes down, the poor old woman began to hobble off; presently two others joined her, and I heard hearty peals of laughter as she recounted her story. A stranger visiting these out-of-the-way villages is almost certain to be mistaken for a doctor. What business, they say to themselves, can any one else have there, and who in his senses would dream of visiting them for pleasure? This old lady had rushed to the usual conclusion, and had been trying to get a little advice gratis.

Above Dalpe there is a path through the upper valley of the Piumogna, which leads to the glacier whence the river comes. The highest peak above this upper valley just turns the 10,000 feet, but I was never able to find out that it has a name, nor is there a name marked in the Ordnance map of the Canton Ticino. The valley promises well, but I have not been to its head, where at about 7400 feet there is a small lake. Great quantities of crystals are found in the mountains above Dalpe. Some people make a living by collecting these from the higher parts of the ranges where none but born mountaineers and chamois can venture; many, again, emigrate to Paris, London, America, or elsewhere, and return either for a month or two, or sometimes for a permanency, having become rich. In Cornone there is one large white new house belonging to a man who has made his fortune near Como, and in all these villages there are similar houses. From the Val Leventina and the Val Blenio, but more especially from this last, very large numbers come to London, while hardly fewer go to America. Signor Gatti, the great ice merchant, came from the Val Blenio.

I once found the words, “Tommy, make room for your uncle,” on a chapel outside the walls of one very quiet little upland hamlet. The writing was in a child’s scrawl, and in like fashion with all else that was written on the same wall. I should have been much surprised, if I had not already found out how many families return to these parts with children to whom English is the native language. Many as are the villages in the Canton Ticino in which I have sat sketching for hours together, I have rarely done so without being accosted sooner or later by some one who could speak English, either with an American accent or without it. It is curious at some out-of-the-way place high up among the mountains, to see a lot of children at play, and to hear one of them shout out, “Marietta, if you do that again, I’ll go and tell mother.” One English word has become universally adopted by the Ticinesi themselves. They say “waitee” just as we should say “wait,” to stop some one from going away. It is abhorrent to them to end a word with a consonant, so they have added “ee,” but there can be no doubt about the origin of the word. {5}

When we bear in mind the tendency of any language, if it once attains a certain predominance, to supplant all others, and when we look at the map of the world and see the extent now in the hands of the two English-speaking nations, I think it may be prophesied that the language in which this book is written will one day be almost as familiar to the greater number of Ticinesi as their own.

I may mention one other expression which, though not derived from English, has a curious analogy to an English usage. When the beautiful children with names like Handel’s operas come round one while one is sketching, some one of them will assuredly before long be heard to whisper the words “Tira giu,” or as children say when they come round one in England, “He is drawing it down.” The fundamental idea is, of course, that the draughtsman drags the object which he is drawing away from its position, and “transfers” it, as we say by the same metaphor, to his paper, as St. Cecilia “drew an angel down” in “Alexander’s Feast.”

A good walk from Dalpe is to the Alpe di Campolungo and Fusio, but it is better taken from Fusio. A very favourite path with me is the one leading conjointly from Cornone and Dalpe to Prato. The view up the valley of the St. Gothard looking down on Prato is fine; I give a sketch of it taken five years ago before the railway had been begun.

The little objects looking like sentry boxes that go all round the church contain rough modern frescoes, representing, if I remember rightly, the events attendant upon the Crucifixion. These are on a small scale what the chapels on the sacred mountain of Varallo are on a large one. Small single oratories are scattered about all over the Canton Ticino, and indeed everywhere in North Italy by the roadside, at all halting-places, and especially at the crest of any more marked ascent, where the tired wayfarer, probably heavy laden, might be inclined to say a naughty word or two if not checked. The people like them, and miss them when they come to England. They sometimes do what the lower animals do in confinement when precluded from habits they are accustomed to, and put up with strange makeshifts by way of substitute. I once saw a poor Ticinese woman kneeling in prayer before a dentist’s show-case in the Hampstead Road; she doubtless mistook the teeth for the relics of some saint. I am afraid she was a little like a hen sitting upon a chalk egg, but she seemed quite contented.

Which of us, indeed, does not sit contentedly enough upon chalk eggs at times? And what would life be but for the power to do so? We do not sufficiently realise the part which illusion has played in our development. One of the prime requisites for evolution is a certain power for adaptation to varying circumstances, that is to say, of plasticity, bodily and mental. But the power of adaptation is mainly dependent on the power of thinking certain new things sufficiently like certain others to which we have been accustomed for us not to be too much incommoded by the change–upon the power, in fact, of mistaking the new for the old. The power of fusing ideas (and through ideas, structures) depends upon the power of confusing them; the power to confuse ideas that are not very unlike, and that are presented to us in immediate sequence, is mainly due to the fact of the impetus, so to speak, which the mind has upon it. We always, I believe, make an effort to see every new object as a repetition of the object last before us. Objects are so varied, and present themselves so rapidly, that as a general rule we renounce this effort too promptly to notice it, but it is always there, and it is because of it that we are able to mistake, and hence to evolve new mental and bodily developments. Where the effort is successful, there is illusion; where nearly successful but not quite, there is a shock and a sense of being puzzled–more or less, as the case may be; where it is so obviously impossible as not to be pursued, there is no perception of the effort at all.

Mr. Locke has been greatly praised for his essay upon human understanding. An essay on human misunderstanding should be no less interesting and important. Illusion to a small extent is one of the main causes, if indeed it is not the main cause, of progress, but it must be upon a small scale. All abortive speculation, whether commercial or philosophical, is based upon it, and much as we may abuse such speculation, we are, all of us, its debtors.

Leonardo da Vinci says that Sandro Botticelli spoke slightingly of landscape-painting, and called it “but a vain study, since by throwing a sponge impregnated with various colours against a wall, it leaves some spots upon it, which may appear like a landscape.” Leonardo da Vinci continues: “It is true that a variety of compositions may be seen in such spots according to the disposition of mind with which they are considered; such as heads of men, various animals, battles, rocky scenes, seas, clouds, words, and the like. It may be compared to the sound of bells which may seem to say whatever we choose to imagine. In the same manner these spots may furnish hints for composition, though they do not teach us how to finish any particular part.” {6} No one can hate drunkenness more than I do, but I am confident the human intellect owes its superiority over that of the lower animals in great measure to the stimulus which alcohol has given to imagination– imagination being little else than another name for illusion. As for wayside chapels, mine, when I am in London, are the shop windows with pretty things in them.

The flowers on the slopes above Prato are wonderful, and the village is full of nice bits for sketching, but the best thing, to my fancy, is the church, and the way it stands, and the lovely covered porch through which it is entered. This porch is not striking from the outside, but I took two sketches of it from within. There is, also, a fresco, half finished, of St. George and the Dragon, probably of the fifteenth century, and not without feeling. There is not much inside the church, which is modernised and more recent than the tower. The tower is very good, and only second, if second, in the upper Leventina to that of Quinto, which, however, is not nearly so well placed.

The people of Prato are just as fond of cherries as those of Primadengo, but I did not see any men in the trees. The children in these parts are the most beautiful and most fascinating that I know anywhere; they have black mouths all through the month of July from the quantities of cherries that they devour. I can bear witness that they are irresistible, for one kind old gentleman, seeing me painting near his house, used to bring me daily a branch of a cherry-tree with all the cherries on it. “Son piccole,” he would say, “ma son gustose”–“They are small, but tasty,” which indeed they were. Seeing I ate all he gave me–for there was no stopping short as long as a single cherry was left–he, day by day, increased the size of the branch, but no matter how many he brought I was always even with him. I did my best to stop him from bringing them, or myself from eating all of them, but it was no use.

[Autograph which cannot be reproduced: Tlolinda Del Pietro]

Here is the autograph of one of the little black-mouthed folk. I watch them growing up from year to year in many a village. I was sketching at Primadengo, and a little girl of about three years came up with her brother, a boy of perhaps eight. Before long the smaller child began to set her cap at me, smiling, ogling, and showing all her tricks like an accomplished little flirt. Her brother said, “She always goes on like that to strangers.” I said, “What’s her name?” “Forolinda.” The name being new to me, I made the boy write it, and here it is. He has forgotten to cross his F, but the writing is wonderfully good for a boy of his age. The child’s name, doubtless, is Florinda.

More than once at Prato, and often elsewhere, people have wanted to buy my sketches: if I had not required them for my own use I might have sold a good many. I do not think my patrons intended giving more than four or five francs a sketch, but a quick worker, who could cover his three or four Fortuny panels a day, might pay his expenses. It often happens that people who are doing well in London or Paris are paying a visit to their native village, and like to take back something to remind them of it in the winter.

From Prato, there are two ways to Faido, one past an old castle, built to defend the northern entrance of the Monte Piottino, and so over a small pass which will avoid the gorge; and the other, by Dazio and the Monte Piottino gorge. Both are good.

CHAPTER IV–Rossura, Calonico

Another day I went up to Rossura, a village that can be seen from the windows of the Hotel dell’ Angelo, and which stands about 3500 feet above the sea, or a little more than 1100 feet above Faido. The path to it passes along some meadows, from which the church of Calonico can be seen on the top of its rocks some few miles off. By and by a torrent is reached, and the ascent begins in earnest. When the level of Rossura has been nearly attained, the path turns off into meadows to the right, and continues–occasionally under magnificent chestnuts–till one comes to Rossura.

The church has been a good deal restored during the last few years, and an interesting old chapel–with an altar in it–at which mass was said during a time of plague, while the people stood some way off in a meadow, has just been entirely renovated; but as with some English churches, the more closely a piece of old work is copied the more palpably does the modern spirit show through it, so here the opposite occurs, for the old-worldliness of the place has not been impaired by much renovation, though the intention has been to make everything as modern as possible.

I know few things more touching in their way than the porch of Rossura church. It is dated early in the last century, and is absolutely without ornament; the flight of steps inside it lead up to the level of the floor of the church. One lovely summer Sunday morning, passing the church betimes, I saw the people kneeling upon these steps, the church within being crammed. In the darker light of the porch, they told out against the sky that showed through the open arch beyond them; far away the eye rested on the mountains– deep blue save where the snow still lingered. I never saw anything more beautiful–and these forsooth are the people whom so many of us think to better by distributing tracts about Protestantism among them!

While I was looking, there came a sound of music through the open door–the people lifting up their voices and singing, as near as I can remember, something which on the piano would come thus:-

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

I liked the porch almost best under an aspect which it no longer presents. One summer an opening was made in the west wall, which was afterwards closed because the wind blew through it too much and made the church too cold. While it was open, one could sit on the church steps and look down through it on to the bottom of the Ticino valley; and through the windows one could see the slopes about Dalpe and Cornone. Between the two windows there is a picture of austere old S. Carlo Borromeo with his hands joined in prayer.

It was at Rossura that I made the acquaintance of a word which I have since found very largely used throughout North Italy. It is pronounced “chow” pure and simple, but is written, if written at all, “ciau,” or “ciao,” the “a” being kept very broad. I believe the word is derived from “schiavo,” a slave, which, became corrupted into “schiao,” and “ciao.” It is used with two meanings, both of which, however, are deducible from the word slave. In its first and more common use it is simply a salute, either on greeting or taking leave, and means, “I am your very obedient servant.” Thus, if one has been talking to a small child, its mother will tell it to say “chow” before it goes away, and will then nod her head and say “chow” herself. The other use is a kind of pious expletive, intending “I must endure it,” “I am the slave of a higher power.” It was in this sense I first heard it at Rossura. A woman was washing at a fountain while I was eating my lunch. She said she had lost her daughter in Paris a few weeks earlier. “She was a beautiful woman,” said the bereaved mother, “but–chow. She had great talents–chow. I had her educated by the nuns of Bellinzona–chow. Her knowledge of geography was consummate–chow, chow,” &c. Here “chow” means “pazienza,” “I have done and said all that I can, and must now bear it as best I may.”

I tried to comfort her, but could do nothing, till at last it occurred to me to say “chow” too. I did so, and was astonished at the soothing effect it had upon her. How subtle are the laws that govern consolation! I suppose they must ultimately be connected with reproduction–the consoling idea being a kind of small cross which RE-GENERATES or RE-CREATES the sufferer. It is important, therefore, that the new ideas with which the old are to be crossed should differ from these last sufficiently to divert the attention, and yet not so much as to cause a painful shock.

There should be a little shock, or there will be no variation in the new ideas that are generated, but they will resemble those that preceded them, and grief will be continued; there must not be too great a shock or there will be no illusion–no confusion and fusion between the new set of ideas and the old, and in consequence, there will be no result at all, or, if any, an increase in mental discord. We know very little, however, upon this subject, and are continually shown to be at fault by finding an unexpectedly small cross produce a wide diversion of the mental images, while in other cases a wide one will produce hardly any result. Sometimes again, a cross which we should have said was much too wide will have an excellent effect. I did not anticipate, for example, that my saying “chow” would have done much for the poor woman who had lost her daughter; the cross did not seem wide enough; she was already, as I thought, saturated with “chow.” I can only account for the effect my application of it produced by supposing the word to have derived some element of strangeness and novelty as coming from a foreigner–just as land which will give a poor crop, if planted with sets from potatoes that have been grown for three or four years on this same soil, will yet yield excellently if similar sets be brought from twenty miles off. For the potato, so far as I have studied it, is a good-tempered, frivolous plant, easily amused and easily bored, and one, moreover, which if bored, yawns horribly.

As an example of a cross proving satisfactory which I had expected would be too wide, I would quote the following, which came under my notice when I was in America. A young man called upon me in a flood of tears over the loss of his grandmother, of whose death at the age of ninety-three he had just heard. I could do nothing with him; I tried all the ordinary panaceas without effect, and was giving him up in despair, when I thought of crossing him with the well-known ballad of Wednesbury Cocking. {7} He brightened up instantly, and left me in as cheerful a state as he had been before in a desponding one. “Chow” seems to do for the Italians what Wednesbury Cocking did for my American friend; it is a kind of small spiritual pick-me-up, or cup of tea.

From Rossura I went on to Tengia, about a hundred and fifty feet higher than Rossura. From Tengia the path to Calonico, the next village, is a little hard to find, and a boy had better be taken for ten minutes or so beyond Tengia, Calonico church shows well for some time before it is actually reached. The pastures here are very rich in flowers, the tiger lilies being more abundant before the hay is mown, than perhaps even at Fusio itself. The whole walk is lovely, and the Gribbiasca waterfall, the most graceful in the Val Leventina, is just opposite.

How often have I not sat about here in the shade sketching, and watched the blue upon the mountains which Titian watched from under the chestnuts of Cadore. No sound except the distant water, or the croak of a raven, or the booming of the great guns in that battle which is being fought out between man and nature on the Biaschina and the Monte Piottino. It is always a pleasure to me to feel that I have known the Val Leventina intimately before the great change in it which the railway will effect, and that I may hope to see it after the present turmoil is over. Our descendants a hundred years hence will not think of the incessant noise as though of cannonading with which we were so familiar. From nowhere was it more striking than from Calonico, the Monte Piottino having no sooner become silent than the Biaschina would open fire, and sometimes both would be firing at once. Posterity may care to know that another and less agreeable feature of the present time was the quantity of stones that would come flying about in places which one would have thought were out of range. All along the road, for example, between Giornico and Lavorgo, there was incessant blasting going on, and it was surprising to see the height to which stones were sometimes carried. The dwellers in houses near the blasting would cover their roofs with boughs and leaves to soften the fall of the stones. A few people were hurt, but much less damage was done than might have been expected. I may mention for the benefit of English readers that the tunnels through Monte Piottino and the Biaschina are marvels of engineering skill, being both of them spiral; the road describes a complete circle, and descends rapidly all the while, so that the point of egress as one goes from Airolo towards Faido is at a much lower level than that of ingress.

If an accident does happen, they call it a disgrazia, thus confirming the soundness of a philosophy which I put forward in an earlier work. Every misfortune they hold (and quite rightly) to be a disgrace to the person who suffers it; “Son disgraziato” is the Italian for “I have been unfortunate.” I was once going to give a penny to a poor woman by the roadside, when two other women stopped me. “Non merita,” they said; “She is no deserving object for charity”–the fact being that she was an idiot. Nevertheless they were very kind to her.

CHAPTER V–Calonico (continued) and Giornico

Our inventions increase in geometrical ratio. They are like living beings, each one of which may become parent of a dozen others–some good and some ne’er-do-weels; but they differ from animals and vegetables inasmuch as they not only increase in a geometrical ratio, but the period of their gestation decreases in geometrical ratio also. Take this matter of Alpine roads for example. For how many millions of years was there no approach to a road over the St. Gothard, save the untutored watercourses of the Ticino and the Reuss, and the track of the bouquetin or the chamois? For how many more ages after this was there not a mere shepherd’s or huntsman’s path by the river side–without so much as a log thrown over so as to form a rude bridge? No one would probably have ever thought of making a bridge out of his own unaided imagination, more than any monkey that we know of has done so. But an avalanche or a flood once swept a pine into position and left it there; on this a genius, who was doubtless thought to be doing something very infamous, ventured to make use of it. Another time a pine was found nearly across the stream, but not quite, and not quite, again, in the place where it was wanted. A second genius, to the horror of his fellow-tribesmen–who declared that this time the world really would come to an end–shifted the pine a few feet so as to bring it across the stream and into the place where it was wanted. This man was the inventor of bridges–his family repudiated him, and he came to a bad end. From this to cutting down the pine and bringing it from some distance is an easy step. To avoid detail, let us come to the old Roman horse road over the Alps. The time between the shepherd’s path and the Roman road is probably short in comparison with that between the mere chamois track and the first thing that can be called a path of men. From the Roman we go on to the mediaeval road with more frequent stone bridges, and from the mediaeval to the Napoleonic carriage road.

The close of the last century and the first quarter of this present one was the great era for the making of carriage roads. Fifty years have hardly passed and here we are already in the age of tunnelling and railroads. The first period, from the chamois track to the foot road, was one of millions of years; the second, from the first foot road to the Roman military way, was one of many thousands; the third, from the Roman to the mediaeval, was perhaps a thousand; from the mediaeval to the Napoleonic, five hundred; from the Napoleonic to the railroad, fifty. What will come next we know not, but it should come within twenty years, and will probably have something to do with electricity.

It follows by an easy process of reasoning that, after another couple of hundred years or so, great sweeping changes should be made several times in an hour, or indeed in a second, or fraction of a second, till they pass unnoticed as the revolutions we undergo in the embryonic stages, or are felt simply as vibrations. This would undoubtedly be the case but for the existence of a friction which interferes between theory and practice. This friction is caused partly by the disturbance of vested interests which every invention involves, and which will be found intolerable when men become millionaires and paupers alternately once a fortnight– living one week in a palace and the next in a workhouse, and having perpetually to be sold up, and then to buy a new house and refurnish, &c.–so that artificial means for stopping inventions will be adopted; and partly by the fact that though all inventions breed in geometrical ratio, yet some multiply more rapidly than others, and the backwardness of one art will impede the forwardness of another. At any rate, so far as I can see, the present is about the only comfortable time for a man to live in, that either ever has been or ever will be. The past was too slow, and the future will be much too fast.

Another thing which we do not bear in mind when thinking of the Alps is their narrowness, and the small extent of ground they really cover. From Goschenen, for example, to Airolo seems a very long distance. One must go up to the Devil’s Bridge, and then to Andermatt. From here by Hospenthal to the top of the pass seems a long way, and again it is a long way down to Airolo; but all this would easily go on to the ground between Kensington and Stratford. From Goschenen to Andermatt is about as far as from Holland House to Hyde Park Corner. From Andermatt to Hospenthal is much the same distance as from Hyde Park Corner to the Oxford Street end of Tottenham Court Road. From Hospenthal to the hospice on the top of the pass is about equal to the space between Tottenham Court Road and Bow; and from Bow you must go down three thousand feet of zig- zags into Stratford, for Airolo. I have made the deviation from the straight line about the same in one case as in the other; in each, the direct distance is nine and a half miles. The whole distance from Fluelen, on the Lake of Lucerne, to Biasca, which is almost on the same level with the Lago Maggiore, is only forty miles, and could be all got in between London and Lewes, while from Lucerne to Locarno, actually on the Lago Maggiore itself, would go, with a good large margin to spare, between London and Dover. We can hardly fancy, however, people going backwards and forwards to business daily between Fluelen and Biasca, as some doubtless do between London and Lewes.

But how small all Europe is. We seem almost able to take it in at a single coup d’oeil. From Mont Blanc we can see the mountains on the Paris side of Dijon on the one hand, and those above Florence and Bologna on the other. What a hole would not be made in Europe if this great eyeful were scooped out of it.

The fact is (but it is so obvious that I am ashamed to say anything about it), science is rapidly reducing space to the same unsatisfactory state that it has already reduced time. Take lamb: we can get lamb all the year round. This is perpetual spring; but perpetual spring is no spring at all; it is not a season; there are no more seasons, and being no seasons, there is no time. Take rhubarb, again. Rhubarb to the philosopher is the beginning of autumn, if indeed, the philosopher can see anything as the beginning of anything. If any one asks why, I suppose the philosopher would say that rhubarb is the beginning of the fruit season, which is clearly autumnal, according to our present classification. From rhubarb to the green gooseberry the step is so small as to require no bridging–with one’s eyes shut, and plenty of cream and sugar, they are almost indistinguishable–but the gooseberry is quite an autumnal fruit, and only a little earlier than apples and plums, which last are almost winter; clearly, therefore, for scientific purposes rhubarb is autumnal.

As soon as we can find gradations, or a sufficient number of uniting links between two things, they become united or made one thing, and any classification of them must be illusory. Classification is only possible where there is a shock given to the senses by reason of a perceived difference, which, if it is considerable, can be expressed in words. When the world was younger and less experienced, people were shocked at what appeared great differences between living forms; but species, whether of animals or plants, are now seen to be so united, either inferentially or by actual finding of the links, that all classification is felt to be arbitrary. The seasons are like species–they were at one time thought to be clearly marked, and capable of being classified with some approach to satisfaction. It is now seen that they blend either in the present or the past insensibly into one another, and cannot be classified except by cutting Gordian knots in a way which none but plain sensible people can tolerate. Strictly speaking, there is only one place, one time, one action, and one individual or thing; of this thing or individual each one of us is a part. It is perplexing, but it is philosophy; and modem philosophy like modern music is nothing if it is not perplexing.

A simple verification of the autumnal character of rhubarb may, at first sight, appear to be found in Covent Garden Market, where we can actually see the rhubarb towards the end of October. But this way of looking at the matter argues a fatal ineptitude for the pursuit of true philosophy. It would be a most serious error to regard the rhubarb that will appear in Covent Garden Market next October as belonging to the autumn then supposed to be current. Practically, no doubt, it does so, but theoretically it must be considered as the first-fruits of the autumn (if any) of the following year, which begins before the preceding summer (or, perhaps, more strictly, the preceding summer but one–and hence, but any number), has well ended. Whether this, however, is so or no, the rhubarb can be seen in Covent Garden, and I am afraid it must be admitted that to the philosophically minded there lurks within it a theory of evolution, and even Pantheism, as surely as Theism was lurking in Bishop Berkeley’s tar water.

To return, however, to Calonico. The church is built on the extreme edge of a cliff that has been formed by the breaking away of a large fragment of the mountain. This fragment may be seen lying down below shattered into countless pieces. There is a fissure in the cliff which suggests that at no very distant day some more will follow, and I am afraid carry the church too. My favourite view of the church is from the other side of the small valley which separates it from the village, (see preceding page). Another very good view is from closer up to the church.

The curato of Calonico was very kind to me. We had long talks together. I could see it pained him that was not a Catholic. He could never quite get over this, but he was very good and tolerant. He was anxious to be assured that I was not one of those English who went about distributing tracts, and trying to convert people. This of course was the last thing I should have wished to do; and when I told him so, he viewed me with sorrow, but henceforth without alarm.

All the time I was with him I felt how much I wished could be a Catholic in Catholic countries, and a Protestant in Protestant ones. Surely there are some things which, like politics, are too serious to be taken quite seriously. Surtout point de zele is not the saying of a cynic, but the conclusion of a sensible man; and the more deep our feeling is about any matter, the more occasion have we to be on our guard against zele in this particular respect. There is but one step from the “earnest” to the “intense.” When St. Paul told us to be all things to all men he let in the thin end of the wedge, nor did he mark it to say how far it was to be driven.

I have Italian friends whom I greatly value, and who tell me they think I flirt just a trifle too much with il partito nero when I am in Italy, for they know that in the main I think as they do. “These people,” they say, “make themselves very agreeable to you, and show you their smooth side; we, who see more of them, know their rough one. Knuckle under to them, and they will perhaps condescend to patronise you; have any individuality of your own, and they know neither scruple nor remorse in their attempts to get you out of their way. “Il prete,” they say, with a significant look, “e sempre prete. For the future let us have professors and men of science instead of priests.” I smile to myself at this last, and reply, that I am a foreigner come among them for recreation, and anxious to keep clear of their internal discords. I do not wish to cut myself off from one side of their national character–a side which, in some respects, is no less interesting than the one with which I suppose I am on the whole more sympathetic. If I were an Italian, I should feel bound to take a side; as it is, I wish to leave all quarrelling behind me, having as much of that in England as suffices to keep me in good health and temper.

In old times people gave their spiritual and intellectual sop to Nemesis. Even when most positive, they admitted a percentage of doubt. Mr. Tennyson has said well, “There lives more doubt”–I quote from memory–“in honest faith, believe me, than in half the” systems of philosophy, or words to that effect. The victor had a slave at his ear during his triumph; the slaves during the Roman Saturnalia dressed in their masters’ clothes, sat at meat with them, told them of their faults, and blacked their faces for them. They made their masters wait upon them. In the ages of faith, an ass dressed in sacerdotal robes was gravely conducted to the cathedral choir at a certain season, and mass was said before him, and hymns chanted discordantly. The elder D’Israeli, from whom I am quoting, writes: “On other occasions, they put burnt old shoes to fume in the censers; ran about the church leaping, singing, dancing, and playing at dice upon the altar, while a BOY BISHOP or POPE OF FOOLS burlesqued the divine service;” and later on he says: “So late as 1645, a pupil of Gassendi, writing to his master what he himself witnessed at Aix on the feast of Innocents, says–‘I have seen in some monasteries in this province extravagances solemnised, which pagans would not have practised. Neither the clergy nor the guardians indeed go to the choir on this day, but all is given up to the lay brethren, the cabbage cutters, errand boys, cooks, scullions, and gardeners; in a word, all the menials fill their places in the church, and insist that they perform the offices proper for the day. They dress themselves with all the sacerdotal ornaments, but torn to rags, or wear them inside out; they hold in their hands the books reversed or sideways, which they pretend to read with large spectacles without glasses, and to which they fix the rinds of scooped oranges . . . ; particularly while dangling the censers they keep shaking them in derision, and letting the ashes fly about their heads and faces, one against the other. In this equipage they neither sing hymns nor psalms nor masses, but mumble a certain gibberish as shrill and squeaking as a herd of pigs whipped on to market. The nonsense verses they chant are singularly barbarous:-

Haec est clara dies, clararum clara dierum, Haec est festa dies festarum festa dierum.'” {8}

Faith was far more assured in the times when the spiritual saturnalia were allowed than now. The irreverence which was not dangerous then, is now intolerable. It is a bad sign for a man’s peace in his own convictions when he cannot stand turning the canvas of his life occasionally upside down, or reversing it in a mirror, as painters do with their pictures that they may judge the better concerning them. I would persuade all Jews, Mohammedans, Comtists, and freethinkers to turn high Anglicans, or better still, downright Catholics for a week in every year, and I would send people like Mr. Gladstone to attend Mr. Bradlaugh’s lectures in the forenoon, and the Grecian pantomime in the evening, two or three times every winter. I should perhaps tell them that the Grecian pantomime has nothing to do with Greek plays. They little know how much more keenly they would relish their normal opinions during the rest of the year for the little spiritual outing which I would prescribe for them, which, after all, is but another phase of the wise saying–Surtout point de zele. St. Paul attempted an obviously hopeless task (as the Church of Rome very well understands) when he tried to put down seasonarianism. People must and will go to church to be a little better, to the theatre to be a little naughtier, to the Royal Institution to be a little more scientific, than they are in actual life. It is only by pulsations of goodness, naughtiness, and whatever else we affect that we can get on at all. I grant that when in his office, a man should be exact and precise, but our holidays are our garden, and too much precision here is a mistake.

Surely truces, without even an arriere pensee of difference of opinion, between those who are compelled to take widely different sides during the greater part of their lives, must be of infinite service to those who can enter on them. There are few merely spiritual pleasures comparable to that derived from the temporary laying down of a quarrel, even though we may know that it must be renewed shortly. It is a great grief to me that there is no place where I can go among Mr. Darwin, Professors Huxley, Tyndall, and Ray Lankester, Miss Buckley, Mr. Romanes, Mr. Allen, and others whom I cannot call to mind at this moment, as I can go among the Italian priests. I remember in one monastery (but this was not in the Canton Ticino) the novice taught me how to make sacramental wafers, and I played him Handel on the organ as well as I could. I told him that Handel was a Catholic; he said he could tell that by his music at once. There is no chance of getting among our scientists in this way.

Some friends say I was telling a lie when I told the novice Handel was a Catholic, and ought not to have done so. I make it a rule to swallow a few gnats a day, lest I should come to strain at them, and so bolt camels; but the whole question of lying is difficult. What IS “lying”? Turning for moral guidance to my cousins the lower animals, whose unsophisticated nature proclaims what God has taught them with a directness we may sometimes study, I find the plover lying when she lures us from her young ones under the fiction of a broken wing. Is God angry, think you, with this pretty deviation from the letter of strict accuracy? or was it not He who whispered to her to tell the falsehood–to tell it with a circumstance, without conscientious scruple, not once only, but to make a practice of it, so as to be a plausible, habitual, and professional liar for some six weeks or so in the year? I imagine so. When I was young I used to read in good books that it was God who taught the bird to make her nest, and if so He probably taught each species the other domestic arrangements best suited to it. Or did the nest-building information come from God, and was there an evil one among the birds also who taught them at any rate to steer clear of priggishness?

Think of the spider again–an ugly creature, but I suppose God likes it. What a mean and odious lie is that web which naturalists extol as such a marvel of ingenuity!

Once on a summer afternoon in a far country I met one of those orchids who make it their business to imitate a fly with their petals. This lie they dispose so cunningly that real flies, thinking the honey is being already plundered, pass them without molesting them. Watching intently and keeping very still, methought I heard this orchid speaking to the offspring which she felt within her, though I saw them not. “My children,” she exclaimed, “I must soon leave you; think upon the fly, my loved ones, for this is truth; cling to this great thought in your passage through life, for it is the one thing needful; once lose sight of it and you are lost!” Over and over again she sang this burden in a small still voice, and so I left her. Then straightway I came upon some butterflies whose profession it was to pretend to believe in all manner of vital truths which in their inner practice they rejected; thus, asserting themselves to be certain other and hateful butterflies which no bird will eat by reason of their abominable smell, these cunning ones conceal their own sweetness, and live long in the land and see good days. No: lying is so deeply rooted in nature that we may expel it with a fork, and yet it will always come back again: it is like the poor, we must have it always with us; we must all eat a peck of moral dirt before we die.

All depends upon who it is that is lying. One man may steal a horse when another may not look over a hedge. The good man who tells no lies wittingly to himself and is never unkindly, may lie and lie and lie whenever he chooses to other people, and he will not be false to any man: his lies become truths as they pass into the hearers’ ear. If a man deceives himself and is unkind, the truth is not in him, it turns to falsehood while yet in his mouth, like the quails in the Wilderness of Sinai. How this is so or why, I know not, but that the Lord hath mercy on whom He will have mercy and whom He willeth He hardeneth.

My Italian friends are doubtless in the main right about the priests, but there are many exceptions, as they themselves gladly admit. For my own part I have found the curato in the small subalpine villages of North Italy to be more often than not a kindly excellent man to whom I am attracted by sympathies deeper than any mere superficial differences of opinion can counteract. With monks, however, as a general rule I am less able to get on: nevertheless, I have received much courtesy at the hands of some.

My young friend the novice was delightful–only it was so sad to think of the future that is before him. He wanted to know all about England, and when I told him it was an island, clasped his hands and said, “Oh che Provvidenza!” He told me how the other young men of his own age plagued him as he trudged his rounds high up among the most distant hamlets begging alms for the poor. “Be a good fellow,” they would say to him, “drop all this nonsense and come back to us, and we will never plague you again.” Then he would turn upon them and put their words from him. Of course my sympathies were with the other young men rather than with him, but it was impossible not to be sorry for the manner in which he had been humbugged from the day of his birth, till he was now incapable of seeing things from any other standpoint than that of authority.

What he said to me about knowing that Handel was a Catholic by his music, put me in mind of what another good Catholic once said to me about a picture. He was a Frenchman and very nice, but a devot, and anxious to convert me. He paid a few days’ visit to London, so I showed him the National Gallery. While there I pointed out to him Sebastian del Piombo’s picture of the raising of Lazarus as one of the supposed masterpieces of our collection. He had the proper orthodox fit of admiration over it, and then we went through the other rooms. After a while we found ourselves before West’s picture of “Christ healing the sick.” My French friend did not, I suppose, examine it very carefully, at any rate he believed he was again before the raising of Lazarus by Sebastian del Piombo; he paused before it and had his fit of admiration over again: then turning to me he said, “Ah! you would understand this picture better if you were a Catholic.” I did not tell him of the mistake he had made, but I thought even a Protestant after a certain amount of experience would learn to see some difference between Benjamin West and Sebastian del Piombo.

From Calonico I went down into the main road and walked to Giornico, taking the right bank of the river from the bridge at the top of the Biaschina. Not a sod of the railway was as yet turned. At Giornico I visited the grand old church of S. Nicolao, which, though a later foundation than the church at Mairengo, retains its original condition, and appears, therefore, to be much the older of the two. The stones are very massive, and the courses are here and there irregular as in Cyclopean walls; the end wall is not bonded into the side walls but simply built between them; the main door is very fine, and there is a side door also very good. There are two altars one above the other, as in the churches of S. Abbondio and S. Cristoforo at Como, but I could not make the lower altar intelligible in my sketch, and indeed could hardly see it, so was obliged to leave it out. The remains of some very early frescoes can be seen, but I did not think them remarkable. Altogether, however, the church is one which no one should miss seeing who takes an interest in early architecture.

While painting the study from which the following sketch is taken, I was struck with the wonderfully vivid green which the whitewashed vault of the chancel and the arch dividing the chancel from the body of the church took by way of reflection from the grass and trees outside. It is not easy at first to see how the green manages to find its way inside the church, but the grass seems to get in everywhere. I had already often seen green reflected from brilliant pasturage on to the shadow under the eaves of whitewashed houses, but I never saw it suffuse a whole interior as it does on a fine summer’s day at Giornico. I do not remember to have seen this effect in England.

Looking up again against the mountain through the open door of the church when the sun was in a certain position, I could see an infinity of insect life swarming throughout the air. No one could have suspected its existence, till the sun’s rays fell on the wings of these small creatures at a proper angle; on this they became revealed against the darkness of the mountain behind them. The swallows that were flying among them cannot have to hunt them, they need only fly with their mouths wide open and they must run against as many as will be good for them. I saw this incredibly multitudinous swarm extending to a great height, and am satisfied that it was no more than what is always present during the summer months, though it is only visible in certain lights. To these minute creatures the space between the mountains on the two sides of the Ticino valley must be as great as that between England and America to a codfish. Many, doubtless, live in the mid-air, and never touch the bottom or sides of the valley, except at birth and death, if then. No doubt some atmospheric effects of haze on a summer’s afternoon are due to nothing but these insects. What, again, do the smaller of them live upon? On germs, which to them are comfortable mouthfuls, though to us invisible even with a microscope?

I find nothing more in my notes about Giornico except that the people are very handsome, and, as I thought, of a Roman type. The place was a Roman military station, but it does not follow that the soldiers were Romans; nevertheless, there is a strain of bullet- headed blood in the place. Also I remember being told in 1869 that two bears had been killed in the mountains above Giornico the preceding year. At Giornico the vine begins to grow lustily, and wine is made. The vines are trellised, and looking down upon them one would think one could walk upon them as upon a solid surface, so closely and luxuriantly do they grow.

From Giornico I began to turn my steps homeward in company with an engineer who was also about to walk back to Faido, but we resolved to take Chironico on our way, and kept therefore to the right bank of the river. After about three or four kilometres from Giornico we reached Chironico, which is well placed upon a filled-up lake and envied as a paese ricco, but is not so captivating as some others. Hence we ascended till at last we reached Gribbio (3960 ft.), a collection of chalets inhabited only for a short time in the year, but a nice place in summer, rich in gentians and sulphur- coloured anemones. From Gribbio there is a path to Dalpe, offering no difficulty whatever and perfect in its way. On this occasion, however, we went straight back to Faido by a rather shorter way than the ordinary path, and this certainly was a little difficult, or as my companion called it, “un tantino difficoltoso,” in one or two places; I at least did not quite like them.

Another day I went to Lavorgo, below Calonico, and thence up to Anzonico. The church and churchyard at Anzonico are very good; from Anzonico there is a path to Cavagnago–which is also full of good bits for sketching–and Sobrio. The highest villages in the immediate neighbourhood of Faido are Campello and Molare; they can be seen from the market-place of the town, and are well worth the trouble of a climb.


An excursion which may be very well made from Faido is to the Val Piora, which I have already more than once mentioned. There is a large hotel here which has been opened some years, but has not hitherto proved the success which it was hoped it would be. I have stayed there two or three times and found it very comfortable; doubtless, now that Signor Lombardi of the Hotel Prosa has taken it, it will become a more popular place of resort.

I took a trap from Faido to Ambri, and thence walked over to Quinto; here the path begins to ascend, and after an hour Ronco is reached. There is a house at Ronco where refreshments and excellent Faido beer can be had. The old lady who keeps the house would make a perfect Fate; I saw her sitting at her window spinning, and looking down over the Ticino valley as though it were the world and she were spinning its destiny. She had a somewhat stern expression, thin lips, iron-grey eyes, and an aquiline nose; her scanty locks straggled from under the handkerchief which she wore round her head. Her employment and the wistful far-away look she cast upon the expanse below made a very fine ensemble. “She would have afforded,” as Sir Walter Scott says, “a study for a Rembrandt, had that celebrated painter existed at the period,” {9} but she must have been a smart-looking handsome girl once.

She brightened up in conversation. I talked about Piora, which I already knew, and the Lago Tom, the highest of the three lakes. She said she knew the Lago Tom. I said laughingly, “Oh, I have no doubt you do. We’ve had many a good day at the Lago Tom, I know.” She looked down at once.

In spite of her nearly eighty years she was active as a woman of forty, and altogether she was a very grand old lady. Her house is scrupulously clean. While I watched her spinning, I thought of what must so often occur to summer visitors. I mean what sort of a look-out the old woman must have in winter, when the wind roars and whistles, and the snow drives down the valley with a fury of which we in England can have little conception. What a place to see a snowstorm from! and what a place from which to survey the landscape next morning after the storm is over and the air is calm and brilliant. There are such mornings: I saw one once, but I was at the bottom of the valley and not high up, as at Ronco. Ronco would take a little sun even in midwinter, but at the bottom of the valley there is no sun for weeks and weeks together; all is in deep shadow below, though the upper hillsides may be seen to have the sun upon them. I walked once on a frosty winter’s morning from Airolo to Giornico, and can call to mind nothing in its way more beautiful: everything was locked in frost–there was not a waterwheel but was sheeted and coated with ice: the road was hard as granite–all was quiet and seen as through a dark but incredibly transparent medium. Near Piotta I met the whole village dragging a large tree; there were many men and women dragging at it, but they had to pull hard and they were silent; as I passed them I thought what comely, well-begotten people they were. Then, looking up, there was a sky, cloudless and of the deepest blue, against which the snow-clad mountains stood out splendidly. No one will regret a walk in these valleys during the depth of winter. But I should have liked to have looked down from the sun into the sunlessness, as the old Fate woman at Ronco can do when she sits in winter at her window; or again, I should like to see how things would look from this same window on a leaden morning in midwinter after snow has fallen heavily and the sky is murky and much darker than the earth. When the storm is at its height, the snow must search and search and search even through the double windows with which the houses are protected. It must rest upon the frames of the pictures of saints, and of the sister’s “grab,” and of the last hours of Count Ugolino, which adorn the walls of the parlour. No wonder there is a S. Maria della Neve–a “St. Mary of the Snow”; but I do wonder that she has not been painted.

From Ronco the path keeps level and then descends a little so as to cross the stream that comes down from Piora. This is near the village of Altanca, the church of which looks remarkably well from here. Then there is an hour and a half’s rapid ascent, and at last all on a sudden one finds one’s self on the Lago Ritom, close to the hotel.

The lake is about a mile, or a mile and a half, long, and half a mile broad. It is 6000 feet above the sea, very deep at the lower end, and does not freeze where the stream issues from it, so that the magnificent trout in the, lake can get air and live through the winter. In many other lakes, as for example the Lago di Tremorgio, they cannot do this, and hence perish, though the lakes have been repeatedly stocked. The trout in the Lago Ritom are said to be the finest in the world, and certainly I know none so fine myself. They grow to be as large as moderate-sized salmon, and have a deep red flesh, very firm and full of flavour. I had two cutlets off one for breakfast and should have said they were salmon unless I had known otherwise. In winter, when the lake is frozen over, the people bring their hay from the farther Lake of Cadagno in sledges across the Lake Ritom. Here, again, winter must be worth seeing, but on a rough snowy day Piora must be an awful place. There are a few stunted pines near the hotel, but the hillsides are for the most part bare and green. Piora in fact is a fine breezy open upland valley of singular beauty, and with a sweet atmosphere of cow about it; it is rich in rhododendrons, and all manner of Alpine flowers, just a trifle bleak, but as bracing as the Engadine itself.

The first night I was ever in Piora there was a brilliant moon, and the unruffled surface of the lake took the reflection of the mountains. I could see the cattle a mile off, and hear the tinkling of their bells which danced multitudinously before the ear as fireflies come and go before the eyes; for all through a fine summer’s night the cattle will feed as though it were day. A little above the lake I came upon a man in a cave before a furnace, burning lime, and he sat looking into the fire with his back to the moonlight. He was a quiet moody man, and I am afraid I bored him, for I could get hardly anything out of him but “Oh altro”–polite but not communicative. So after a while I left him with his face burnished as with gold from the fire, and his back silver with the moonbeams; behind him were the pastures and the reflections in the lake and the mountains; and the distant cowbells were ringing.

Then I wandered on till I came to the chapel of S. Carlo; and in a few minutes found myself on the Lago di Cadagno. Here I heard that there were people, and the people were not so much asleep as the simple peasantry of these upland valleys are expected to be by nine o’clock in the evening. For now was the time when they had moved up from Ronco, Altanca, and other villages in some numbers to cut the hay, and were living for a fortnight or three weeks in the chalets upon the Lago di Cadagno. As I have said, there is a chapel, but I doubt whether it is attended during this season with the regularity with which the parish churches of Ronco, Altanca, &c., are attended during the rest of the year. The young people, I am sure, like these annual visits to the high places, and will be hardly weaned from them. Happily the hay will be always there, and will have to be cut by some one, and the old people will send the young ones.

As I was thinking of these things, I found myself going off into a doze, and thought the burnished man from the furnace came up and sat beside me, and laid his hand upon my shoulder. Then I saw the green slopes that rise all round the lake were much higher than I had thought; they went up thousands of feet, and there were pine forests upon them, while two large glaciers came down in streams that ended in a precipice of ice, falling sheer into the lake. The edges of the mountains against the sky were rugged and full of clefts, through which I saw thick clouds of dust being blown by the wind as though from the other side of the mountains.

And as I looked, I saw that this was not dust, but people coming in crowds from the other side, but so small as to be visible at first only as dust. And the people became musicians, and the mountainous amphitheatre a huge orchestra, and the glaciers were two noble armies of women-singers in white robes, ranged tier above tier behind each other, and the pines became orchestral players, while the thick dust-like cloud of chorus-singers kept pouring in through the clefts in the precipices in inconceivable numbers. When I turned my telescope upon them I saw they were crowded up to the extreme edge of the mountains, so that I could see underneath the soles of their boots as their legs dangled in the air. In the midst of all, a precipice that rose from out of the glaciers shaped itself suddenly into an organ, and there was one whose face I well knew sitting at the keyboard, smiling and pluming himself like a bird as he thundered forth a giant fugue by way of overture. I heard the great pedal notes in the bass stalk majestically up and down, like the rays of the Aurora that go about upon the face of the heavens off the coast of Labrador. Then presently the people rose and sang the chorus “Venus laughing from the skies;” but ere the sound had well died away, I awoke, and all was changed; a light fleecy cloud had filled the whole basin, but I still thought I heard a sound of music, and a scampering-off of great crowds from the part where the precipices should be. The music went thus:- {10}

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

By and by the cantering, galloping movement became a trotting one, thus:-

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

After that I heard no more but a little singing from the chalets, and turned homewards. When I got to the chapel of S. Carlo, I was in the moonlight again, and when near the hotel, I passed the man at the mouth of the furnace with the moon still gleaming upon his back, and the fire upon his face, and he was very grave and quiet.

Next morning I went along the lake till I came to a good-sized streamlet on the north side. If this is followed for half-an-hour or so–and the walk is a very good one–Lake Tom is reached, about 7500 feet above the sea. The lake is not large, and there are not so many chalets as at Cadagno; still there are some. The view of the mountain tops on the other side the Ticino valley, as seen from across the lake, is very fine. I tried to sketch, but was fairly driven back by a cloud of black gnats. The ridges immediately at the back of the lake, and no great height above it, are the main dividing line of the watershed; so are those that rise from the Lago di Cadagno; in fact, about 600 feet above this lake is the top of a pass which goes through the Piano dei Porci, and leads down to S. Maria Maggiore, on the German side of the Lukmanier. I do not know the short piece between the Lago di Cadagno and S. Maria, but it is sure to be good. It is a pity there is no place at S. Maria where one can put up for a night or two. There is a small inn there, but it did not look tempting.

Before leaving the Val Leventina, I would call attention to the beautiful old parish church at Biasca, where there is now an excellent inn, the Hotel Biasca. This church is not so old as the one at Giornico, but it is a good though plain example of early Lombard architecture.

CHAPTER VII–S. Michele and the Monte Pirchiriano

Some time after the traveller from Paris to Turin has passed through the Mont Cenis tunnel, and shortly before he arrives at Bussoleno station, the line turns eastward, and a view is obtained of the valley of the Dora, with the hills beyond Turin, and the Superga, in the distance. On the right-hand side of the valley and about half-way between Susa and Turin the eye is struck by an abruptly-descending mountain with a large building like a castle upon the top of it, and the nearer it is approached the more imposing does it prove to be. Presently the mountain is seen more edgeways, and the shape changes. In half-an-hour or so from this point, S. Ambrogio is reached, once a thriving town, where carriages used to break the journey between Turin and Susa, but left stranded since the opening of the railway. Here we are at the very foot of the Monte Pirchiriano, for so the mountain is called, and can see the front of the building–which is none other than the famous sanctuary of S. Michele, commonly called “della Chiusa,” from the wall built here by Desiderius, king of the Lombards, to protect his kingdom from Charlemagne.

The history of the sanctuary is briefly as follows:-

At the close of the tenth century, when Otho III was Emperor of Germany, a certain Hugh de Montboissier, a noble of Auvergne, commonly called “Hugh the Unsewn” (lo sdruscito), was commanded by the Pope to found a monastery in expiation of some grave offence. He chose for his site the summit of the Monte Pirchiriano in the valley of Susa, being attracted partly by the fame of a church already built there by a recluse of Ravenna, Giovanni Vincenzo by name, and partly by the striking nature of the situation. Hugh de Montboissier when returning from Rome to France with Isengarde his wife, would, as a matter of course, pass through the valley of Susa. The two–perhaps when stopping to dine at S. Ambrogio–would look up and observe the church founded by Giovanni Vincenzo: they had got to build a monastery somewhere; it would very likely, therefore, occur to them that they could not perpetuate their names better than by choosing this site, which was on a much travelled road, and on which a fine building would show to advantage. If my view is correct, we have here an illustration of a fact which is continually observable–namely, that all things which come to much, whether they be books, buildings, pictures, music, or living beings, are suggested by others of their own kind. It is; always the most successful, like Handel and Shakespeare, who owe most to their forerunners, in spite of the modifications with which their works descend.

Giovanni Vincenzo had built his church about the year 987. It is maintained by some that he had been Bishop of Ravenna, but Claretta gives sufficient reason for thinking otherwise. In the “Cronaca Clusina” it is said that he had for some years previously lived as a recluse on the Monte Caprasio, to the north of the present Monte Pirchiriano; but that one night he had a vision, in which he saw the summit of Monte Pirchiriano enveloped in heaven-descended flames, and on this founded a church there, and dedicated it to St. Michael. This is the origin of the name Pirchiriano, which means [Greek text], or the Lord’s fire.

The fame of the heavenly flames and the piety of pilgrims brought in enough money to complete the building–which, to judge from the remains of it embodied in the later work, must have been small, but still a church, and more than a mere chapel or oratory. It was, as I have already suggested, probably imposing enough to fire the imagination of Hugh de Montboissier, and make him feel the capabilities of the situation, which a mere ordinary wayside chapel might perhaps have failed to do. Having built his church, Giovanni Vincenzo returned to his solitude on the top of Monte Caprasio, and thenceforth went backwards and forwards from one place of abode to the other.

Avogadro is among those who make Giovanni Bishop, or rather Archbishop, of Ravenna, and gives the following account of the circumstances which led to his resigning his diocese and going to live at the top of the inhospitable Monte Caprasio. It seems there had been a confirmation at Ravenna, during which he had accidentally forgotten to confirm the child of a certain widow. The child, being in weakly health, died before Giovanni could repair his oversight, and this preyed upon his mind. In answer, however, to his earnest prayers, it pleased the Almighty to give him power to raise the dead child to life again: this he did, and having immediately performed the rite of confirmation, restored the boy to his overjoyed mother. He now became so much revered that he began to be alarmed lest pride should obtain dominion over him; he felt, therefore, that his only course was to resign his diocese, and go and live the life of a recluse on the top of some high mountain. It is said that he suffered agonies of doubt as to whether it was not selfish of him to take such care of his own eternal welfare, at the expense of that of his flock, whom no successor could so well guide and guard from evil; but in the end he took a reasonable view of the matter, and concluded that his first duty was to secure his own spiritual position. Nothing short of the top of a very uncomfortable mountain could do this, so he at once resigned his bishopric and chose Monte Caprasio as on the whole the most comfortable uncomfortable mountain he could find.

The latter part of the story will seem strange to Englishmen. We can hardly fancy the Archbishop of Canterbury or York resigning his diocese and settling down quietly on the top of Scafell or Cader Idris to secure his eternal welfare. They would hardly do so even on the top of Primrose Hill. But nine hundred years ago human nature was not the same as nowadays.

The valley of Susa, then little else than marsh and forest, was held by a marquis of the name of Arduin, a descendant of a French or Norman adventurer Roger, who, with a brother, also named Arduin, had come to seek his fortune in Italy at the beginning of the tenth century. Roger had a son, Arduin Glabrio, who recovered the valley of Susa from the Saracens, and established himself at Susa, at the junction of the roads that come down from Mont Cenis and the Mont Genevre. He built a castle here which commanded the valley, and was his base of operations as Lord of the Marches and Warden of the Alps.

Hugh de Montboissier applied to Arduin for leave to build upon the Monte Pirchiriano. Arduin was then holding his court at Avigliana, a small town near S. Ambrogio, even now singularly little altered, and full of mediaeval remains; he not only gave his consent, but volunteered to sell a site to the monastery, so as to ensure it against future disturbance.

The first church of Giovanni Vincenzo had been built upon whatever little space could be found upon the top of the mountain, without, so far as I can gather, enlarging the ground artificially. The present church–the one, that is to say, built by Hugh de Montboissier about A.D. 1000–rests almost entirely upon stone piers and masonry. The rock has been masked by a lofty granite wall of several feet in thickness, which presents something of a keep-like appearance. The spectator naturally imagines that there are rooms, &c., behind this wall, whereas in point of fact there is nothing but the staircase leading up to the floor of the church. Arches spring from this masking wall, and are continued thence until the rock is reached; it is on the level surface thus obtained that the church rests. The true floor, therefore, does not begin till near what appears from the outside to be the top of the building.

There is some uncertainty as to the exact date of the foundation of the monastery, but Claretta {11} inclines decidedly to the date 999, as against 966, the one assigned by Mabillon and Torraneo. Claretta relies on the discovery, by Provana, of a document in the royal archives which seems to place the matter beyond dispute. The first abbot was undoubtedly Avverto or Arveo, who established the rules of the Benedictine Order in his monastery. “In the seven hours of daily work prescribed by the Benedictine rule,” writes Cesare Balbo, “innumerable were the fields they ploughed, and the houses they built in deserts, while in more frequented places men were laying cultivated ground waste, and destroying buildings: innumerable, again, were the works of the holy fathers and of ancient authors which were copied and preserved.” {12}

From this time forward the monastery received gifts in land and privileges, and became in a few years the most important religious establishment in that part of Italy.

There have been several fires–one, among others, in the year 1340, which destroyed a great part of the monastery, and some of the deeds under which it held valuable grants; but though the part inhabited by the monks may have been rebuilt or added to, the church is certainly untouched.

CHAPTER VIII–S. Michele (continued)

I had often seen this wonderful pile of buildings, and had marvelled at it, as all must do who pass from Susa to Turin, but I never went actually up to it till last summer, in company with my friend and collaborateur, Mr. H. F. Jones. We reached S. Ambrogio station one sultry evening in July, and, before many minutes were over, were on the path that leads to San Pietro, a little more than an hour’s walk above S. Ambrogio.

In spite of what I have said about Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, we found ourselves thinking how thin and wanting, as it were, in adipose cushion is every other country in comparison with Italy; but the charm is enhanced in these days by the feeling that it can be reached so easily. Wednesday morning, Fleet Street; Thursday evening, a path upon the quiet mountain side, under the overspreading chestnuts, with Lombardy at one’s feet.

Some twenty minutes after we had begun to climb, the sanctuary became lost to sight, large drops of thunder-rain began to fall, and by the time we reached San Pietro it was pouring heavily, and had become quite dark. An hour or so later the sky had cleared, and there was a splendid moon: opening the windows, we found ourselves looking over the tops of trees on to some lovely upland pastures, on a winding path through which we could almost fancy we saw a youth led by an angel, and there was a dog with him, and he held a fish in his hand. Far below were lights from villages in the valley of the Dora. Above us rose the mountains, bathed in shadow, or glittering in the moonbeams, and there came from them the pleasant murmuring of streamlets that had been swollen by the storm.

Next morning the sky was cloudless and the air invigorating. S. Ambrogio, at the foot of the mountain, must be some 800 feet above the sea, and San Pietro about 1500 feet above S. Ambrogio. The sanctuary at the top of the mountain is 2800 feet above the sea- level, or about 500 feet above San Pietro. A situation more delightful than that of San Pietro it is impossible to conceive. It contains some 200 inhabitants, and lies on a ledge of level land, which is, of course, covered with the most beautifully green grass, and in spring carpeted with wild-flowers; great broad-leaved chestnuts rise from out the meadows, and beneath their shade are strewn masses of sober mulberry-coloured rock; but above all these rises the great feature of the place, from which, when it is in sight, the eyes can hardly be diverted,–I mean the sanctuary of S. Michele itself.

A sketch gives but little idea of the place. In nature it appears as one of those fascinating things like the smoke from Vesuvius, or the town on the Sacro Monte at Varese, which take possession of one to the exclusion of all else, as long as they are in sight. From each point of view it becomes more and more striking. Climbing up to it from San Pietro and getting at last nearly on a level with the lower parts of the building, or again keeping to a pathway along the side of the mountain towards Avigliana, it will come as on the following page.

[At this point there is a picture in the book]

There is a very beautiful view from near the spot where the first of these sketches is taken. We are then on the very ridge or crest of the mountain, and look down on the one hand upon the valley of the Dora going up to Susa, with the glaciers of the Mont Cenis in the background, and on the other upon the plains near Turin, with the colline bounding the horizon. Immediately beneath is seen the glaring white straight line of the old Mont Cenis road, looking much more important than the dingy narrow little strip of railroad that has superseded it. The trains that pass along the line look no bigger than caterpillars, but even at this distance they make a great roar. If the path from which the second view is taken is followed for a quarter of an hour or so, another no less beautiful point is reached from which one can look down upon the two small lakes of Avigliana. These lakes supply Turin with water, and, I may add, with the best water that I know of as supplied to any town.

We will now return to the place from which the first of the sketches on p. 95 was taken, and proceed to the sanctuary itself. Passing the small but very massive circular ruin shown on the right hand of the sketch, about which nothing whatever is known either as regards its date or object, we ascend by a gentle incline to the outer gate of the sanctuary. The battered plates of iron that cover the wooden doors are marked with many a bullet. Then we keep under cover for a short space, after which we find ourselves at the foot of a long flight of steps. Close by there is a little terrace with a wall round it, where one can stand and enjoy a view over the valley of the Dora to Turin.

Having ascended the steps, we are at the main entrance to the building–a massive Lombard doorway, evidently the original one. In the space above the door there have been two frescoes, an earlier and a later one, one painted over the other, but nothing now remains save the signature of the second painter, signed in Gothic characters. On entering, more steps must be at once climbed, and then the staircase turns at right angles and tends towards the rock.

At the head of the flight shown p. 98, the natural rock appears. The arch above it forms a recess filled with desiccated corpses. The great pier to the left, and, indeed, all the masonry that can be seen, has no other object than to obtain space for, and to support, the floor of the church itself. My drawing was taken from about the level of the top of the archway through which the building is entered. There comes in at this point a third small staircase from behind; ascending this, one finds one’s self in the window above the door, from the balcony of which there is a marvellous panorama. I took advantage of the window to measure the thickness of the walls, and found them a little over seven feet thick and built of massive granite blocks. The stones on the inside are so sharp and clean cut that they look as if they were not more than fifty years old. On the outside, the granite, hard as it is, is much weathered, which, indeed, considering the exposed situation, is hardly to be wondered at.

Here again how the wind must howl and whistle, and how the snow must beat in winter! No one who has not seen snow falling during a time when the thermometer is about at zero can know how searching a thing it is. How softly would it not lie upon the skulls and shoulders of the skeletons. Fancy a dull dark January afternoon’s twilight upon this staircase, after a heavy snow, when the soft fleece clings to the walls, having drifted in through many an opening. Or fancy a brilliant winter’s moonlight, with the moon falling upon the skeletons after snow. And then let there be a burst of music from an organ in the church above (I am sorry to say they have only a harmonium; I wish some one would give them a fine organ). I should like the following for example:- {13}

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

How this would sound upon these stairs, if they would leave the church-door open. It is said in Murray’s handbook that formerly the corpses which are now under the arch, used to be placed in a sitting position upon the stairs, and the peasants would crown them with flowers. Fancy twilight or moonlight on these stairs, with the corpses sitting among the withered flowers and snow, and the pealing of a great organ.

After ascending the steps that lead towards the skeletons, we turn again sharp round to the left, and come upon another noble flight– broad and lofty, and cut in great measure from the living rock.

At the top of this flight there are two sets of Lombard portals, both of them very fine, but in such darkness and so placed that it was impossible to get a drawing of them in detail. After passing through them, the staircase turns again, and, as far as I can remember, some twenty or thirty steps bring one up to the level of the top of the arch which forms the recess where the corpses are. Here there is another beautiful Lombard doorway, with a small arcade on either side which I thought English, rather than Italian, in character. An impression was produced upon both of us that this doorway and the arcade on either side were by a different architect from the two lower archways, and from the inside of the church; or at any rate, that the details of the enrichment were cut by a different mason, or gang of masons. I think, however, the whole doorway is in a later style, and must have been put in after some fire had destroyed the earlier one.

Opening the door, which by day is always unlocked, we found ourselves in the church itself. As I have said, it is of pure Lombard architecture, and very good of its kind; I do not think it has been touched since the beginning of the eleventh century, except that it has been re-roofed and the pitch of the roof altered. At the base of the most westerly of the three piers that divide the nave from the aisles, there crops out a small piece of the living rock; this is at the end farthest from the choir. It is not likely that Giovanni Vincenzo’s church reached east of this