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Chapter 31


Aug. 21.

While finding our way at random to the "Pension Suisse," whither we had been directed by a German gentleman, we were agreeably impressed with the gaiety and bustle of Milan. The shops and stores are all open to the street, so that the city resembles a great bazaar. It has an odd look to see blacksmiths, tailors and shoemakers working unconcernedly in the open air, with crowds continually passing before them. The streets are filled with venders of fruit, who call out the names with a long, distressing cry, like that of a person in great agony. Organ-grinders parade constantly about and snatches of songs are heard among the gay crowd, on every side.

In this lively, noisy Italian city, nearly all there is to see may be comprised in four things: the Duomo, the triumphal arch over the Simplon, La Scala and the Picture Gallery. The first alone is more interesting than many an entire city. We went there yesterday afternoon soon after reaching here. It stands in an irregular open place, closely hemmed in by houses on two sides, so that it can be seen to advantage from only one point. It is a mixture of the Gothic and Romanesque styles; the body of the structure is entirely covered with statues and richly wrought sculpture, with needle-like spires of white marble rising up from every corner. But of the exquisite, airy look of the whole mass, although so solid and vast, it is impossible to convey an idea. It appears like some fabric of frost-work which winter traces on the window-panes. There is a unity of beauty about the whole, which the eye takes in with a feeling of perfect and satisfied delight.

Ascending the marble steps which lead to the front, I lifted the folds of the heavy curtain and entered. What a glorious aisle! The mighty pillars support a magnificent arched ceiling, painted to resemble fretwork, and the little light that falls through the small windows above, enters tinged with a dim golden hue. A feeling of solemn awe comes over one as he steps with a hushed tread along the colored marble floor, and measures the massive columns till they blend with the gorgeous arches above. There are four rows of these, nearly fifty in all, and when I state that they are eight feet in diameter, and sixty or seventy in height, some idea may be formed of the grandeur of the building. Imagine the Girard College, at Philadelphia, turned into one great hall, with four rows of pillars, equal in size to those around it, reaching to its roof, and you will have a rough sketch of the interior of the Duomo.

In the centre of the cross is a light and beautiful dome; he who will stand under this, and look down the broad middle aisle to the entrance, has one of the sublimest vistas to be found in the world. The choir has three enormous windows, covered with dazzling paintings, and the ceiling is of marble and silver. There are gratings under the high altar, by looking into which, I could see a dark, lonely chamber below, where one or two feeble lamps showed a circle of praying-places. It was probably a funeral vault, which persons visited to pray for the repose of their friends' souls. The Duomo is not yet entirely finished, the workmen being still employed in various parts, but it is said, that when completed there will be four thousand statues on the different parts of it.

The design of the Duomo is said to be taken from Monte Rosa, one of the loftiest peaks of the Alps. Its hundreds of sculptured pinnacles, rising from every part of the body of the church, certainly bear a striking resemblance to the splintered ice-crags of Savoy. Thus we see how Art, mighty and endless in her forms though she be, is in every thing but the child of Nature. Her most divine conceptions are but copies of objects which we behold every day. The faultless beauty of the Corinthian capital--the springing and intermingling arches of the Gothic aisle--the pillared portico or the massive and sky-piercing pyramid--are but attempts at reproducing, by the studied regularity of Art, the ever-varied and ever-beautiful forms of mountain, rock and forest. But there is oftentimes a more thrilling sensation of enjoyment produced by the creations of man's hand and intellect than the grander effects of Nature, existing constantly before our eyes. It would seem as if man marvelled more at his own work than at the work of the Power which created him.

The streets of Milan abound with priests in their cocked hats and long black robes. They all have the same solemn air, and seem to go about like beings shut out from all communion with pleasure. No sight lately has saddened me so much as to see a bright, beautiful boy, of twelve or thirteen years, in those gloomy garments. Poor child! he little knows now what he may have to endure. A lonely, cheerless life, where every affection must be crushed as unholy, and every pleasure denied as a crime! And I knew by his fair brow and tender lip, that he had a warm and loving heart. I could not help regarding this class as victims to a mistaken idea of religious duty, and if I am not mistaken, I read on more than one countenance the traces of passions that burned within. It is mournful to see a people oppressed in the name of religion. The holiest aspirations of man's nature, instead of lifting him up to a nearer view of Christian perfection, are changed into clouds and shut out the light of heaven. Immense treasures, wrung drop by drop from the credulity of the poor and ignorant, are made use of to pamper the luxury of those who profess to be mediators between man and the Deity. The poor wretch may perish of starvation on a floor of precious mosaic, which perhaps his own pittance has helped to form, while ceilings and shrines of inlaid gold mock his dying eye with their useless splendor. Such a system of oppression, disguised under the holiest name, can only be sustained by the continuance of ignorance and blind superstition. Knowledge--Truth--Reason--these are the ramparts which Liberty throws up to guard her dominions from the usurpations of oppression and wrong.

We were last night in La Scala. Rossini's opera of William Tell was advertised, and as we had visited so lately the scene where that glorious historical drama was enacted, we went to see it represented in sound. It is a grand subject, which in the hands of a powerful composer, might be made very effective, but I must confess I was disappointed in the present case. The overture is, however, very beautiful. It begins low and mournful, like the lament of the Swiss over their fallen liberties. Occasionally a low drum is heard, as if to rouse them to action, and meanwhile the lament swells to a cry of despair. The drums now wake the land; the horn of Uri is heard pealing forth its summoning strain, and the echoes seem to come back from the distant Alps. The sound then changes for the roar of battle--the clang of trumpets, drums and cymbals. The whole orchestra did their best to represent this combat in music, which after lasting a short time, changed into the loud, victorious march of the conquerors. But the body of the opera, although it had several fine passages, was to me devoid of interest; in fact, unworthy the reputation of Rossini.

The theatre is perhaps the largest in the world. The singers are all good; in Italy it could not be otherwise, where everybody sings. As I write, a party of Italians in the house opposite have been amusing themselves with going through the whole opera of "La fille du Regiment," with the accompaniment of the piano, and they show the greatest readiness and correctness in their performance. They have now become somewhat boisterous, and appear to be improvising. One young gentleman executes trills with amazing skill, and another appears to have taken the part of a despairing lover, but the lady has a very pretty voice, and warbles on and on, like a nightingale. Occasionally a group of listeners in the street below clap them applause, for as the windows are always open, the whole neighborhood can enjoy the performance.

This forenoon I was in the Picture Gallery. It occupies a part of the Library Building, in the Palazzo Cabrera. It is not large, and many of the pictures are of no value to anybody but antiquarians; still there are some excellent paintings, which render it well worthy a visit. Among these, a marriage, by Raphael, is still in a very good state of preservation, and there are some fine pictures by Paul Veronese and the Caracci. The most admired painting, is "Abraham sending away Hagar," by Guercino. I never saw a more touching expression of grief than in the face of Hagar. Her eyes are red with weeping, and as she listens in an agony of tears to the patriarch's command, she still seems doubting the reality of her doom. The countenance of Abraham is venerable and calm, and expresses little emotion; but one can read in that of Sarah, as she turns away, a feeling of pity for her unfortunate rival.

Next to the Duomo, the most beautiful specimen of architecture in Milan is the ARCH OF PEACE, on the north side of the city, at the commencement of the Simplon Road. It was the intention of Napoleon to carry the road under this arch, across the Piazza d'Armi, and to cut a way for it directly into the heart of the city, but the fall of his dynasty prevented the execution of this magnificent design, as well as the completion of the arch itself. This has been done by the Austrian government, according to the original plan; they have inscribed upon it the name of Francis I., and changed the bas-reliefs of Lodi and Marengo into those of a few fields where their forces had gained the victory. It is even said that in many parts which were already finished, they altered the splendid Roman profile of Napoleon into the haggard and repulsive features of Francis of Austria.

The bronze statues on the top were made by an artist of Bologna, by Napoleon's order, and are said to be the finest works of modern times. In the centre is the goddess of Peace, in a triumphal car, drawn by six horses, while on the corners four angels, mounted, are starting off to convey the tidings to the four quarters of the globe. The artist has caught the spirit of motion and chained it in these moveless figures. One would hardly feel surprised if the goddess, chariot, horses and all, were to start off and roll away through the air.

With the rapidity usual to Americans we have already finished seeing Milan, and shall start to-morrow morning on a walk to Genoa.

Bayard Taylor