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Ch. 8 - By Verona, Mantua, and Milan

BY VERONA, MANTUA, AND MILAN, ACROSS THE PASS OF THE SIMPLON INTO SWITZERLAND

I had been half afraid to go to Verona, lest it should at all put
me out of conceit with Romeo and Juliet. But, I was no sooner come
into the old market-place, than the misgiving vanished. It is so
fanciful, quaint, and picturesque a place, formed by such an
extraordinary and rich variety of fantastic buildings, that there
could be nothing better at the core of even this romantic town:
scene of one of the most romantic and beautiful of stories.

It was natural enough, to go straight from the Market-place, to the
House of the Capulets, now degenerated into a most miserable little
inn. Noisy vetturini and muddy market-carts were disputing
possession of the yard, which was ankle-deep in dirt, with a brood
of splashed and bespattered geese; and there was a grim-visaged
dog, viciously panting in a doorway, who would certainly have had
Romeo by the leg, the moment he put it over the wall, if he had
existed and been at large in those times. The orchard fell into
other hands, and was parted off many years ago; but there used to
be one attached to the house--or at all events there may have,
been,--and the hat (Cappello) the ancient cognizance of the family,
may still be seen, carved in stone, over the gateway of the yard.
The geese, the market-carts, their drivers, and the dog, were
somewhat in the way of the story, it must be confessed; and it
would have been pleasanter to have found the house empty, and to
have been able to walk through the disused rooms. But the hat was
unspeakably comfortable; and the place where the garden used to be,
hardly less so. Besides, the house is a distrustful, jealous-
looking house as one would desire to see, though of a very moderate
size. So I was quite satisfied with it, as the veritable mansion
of old Capulet, and was correspondingly grateful in my
acknowledgments to an extremely unsentimental middle-aged lady, the
Padrona of the Hotel, who was lounging on the threshold looking at
the geese; and who at least resembled the Capulets in the one
particular of being very great indeed in the 'Family' way.

From Juliet's home, to Juliet's tomb, is a transition as natural to
the visitor, as to fair Juliet herself, or to the proudest Juliet
that ever has taught the torches to burn bright in any time. So, I
went off, with a guide, to an old, old garden, once belonging to an
old, old convent, I suppose; and being admitted, at a shattered
gate, by a bright-eyed woman who was washing clothes, went down
some walks where fresh plants and young flowers were prettily
growing among fragments of old wall, and ivy-coloured mounds; and
was shown a little tank, or water-trough, which the bright-eyed
woman--drying her arms upon her 'kerchief, called 'La tomba di
Giulietta la sfortunata.' With the best disposition in the world
to believe, I could do no more than believe that the bright-eyed
woman believed; so I gave her that much credit, and her customary
fee in ready money. It was a pleasure, rather than a
disappointment, that Juliet's resting-place was forgotten. However
consolatory it may have been to Yorick's Ghost, to hear the feet
upon the pavement overhead, and, twenty times a day, the repetition
of his name, it is better for Juliet to lie out of the track of
tourists, and to have no visitors but such as come to graves in
spring-rain, and sweet air, and sunshine.

Pleasant Verona! With its beautiful old palaces, and charming
country in the distance, seen from terrace walks, and stately,
balustraded galleries. With its Roman gates, still spanning the
fair street, and casting, on the sunlight of to-day, the shade of
fifteen hundred years ago. With its marble-fitted churches, lofty
towers, rich architecture, and quaint old quiet thoroughfares,
where shouts of Montagues and Capulets once resounded,


And made Verona's ancient citizens
Cast by their grave, beseeming ornaments,
To wield old partizans.


With its fast-rushing river, picturesque old bridge, great castle,
waving cypresses, and prospect so delightful, and so cheerful!
Pleasant Verona!

In the midst of it, in the Piazza di Bra--a spirit of old time
among the familiar realities of the passing hour--is the great
Roman Amphitheatre. So well preserved, and carefully maintained,
that every row of seats is there, unbroken. Over certain of the
arches, the old Roman numerals may yet be seen; and there are
corridors, and staircases, and subterranean passages for beasts,
and winding ways, above ground and below, as when the fierce
thousands hurried in and out, intent upon the bloody shows of the
arena. Nestling in some of the shadows and hollow places of the
walls, now, are smiths with their forges, and a few small dealers
of one kind or other; and there are green weeds, and leaves, and
grass, upon the parapet. But little else is greatly changed.

When I had traversed all about it, with great interest, and had
gone up to the topmost round of seats, and turning from the lovely
panorama closed in by the distant Alps, looked down into the
building, it seemed to lie before me like the inside of a
prodigious hat of plaited straw, with an enormously broad brim and
a shallow crown; the plaits being represented by the four-and-forty
rows of seats. The comparison is a homely and fantastic one, in
sober remembrance and on paper, but it was irresistibly suggested
at the moment, nevertheless.

An equestrian troop had been there, a short time before--the same
troop, I dare say, that appeared to the old lady in the church at
Modena--and had scooped out a little ring at one end of the area;
where their performances had taken place, and where the marks of
their horses' feet were still fresh. I could not but picture to
myself, a handful of spectators gathered together on one or two of
the old stone seats, and a spangled Cavalier being gallant, or a
Policinello funny, with the grim walls looking on. Above all, I
thought how strangely those Roman mutes would gaze upon the
favourite comic scene of the travelling English, where a British
nobleman (Lord John), with a very loose stomach: dressed in a
blue-tailed coat down to his heels, bright yellow breeches, and a
white hat: comes abroad, riding double on a rearing horse, with an
English lady (Lady Betsy) in a straw bonnet and green veil, and a
red spencer; and who always carries a gigantic reticule, and a put-
up parasol.

I walked through and through the town all the rest of the day, and
could have walked there until now, I think. In one place, there
was a very pretty modern theatre, where they had just performed the
opera (always popular in Verona) of Romeo and Juliet. In another
there was a collection, under a colonnade, of Greek, Roman, and
Etruscan remains, presided over by an ancient man who might have
been an Etruscan relic himself; for he was not strong enough to
open the iron gate, when he had unlocked it, and had neither voice
enough to be audible when he described the curiosities, nor sight
enough to see them: he was so very old. In another place, there
was a gallery of pictures: so abominably bad, that it was quite
delightful to see them mouldering away. But anywhere: in the
churches, among the palaces, in the streets, on the bridge, or down
beside the river: it was always pleasant Verona, and in my
remembrance always will be.

I read Romeo and Juliet in my own room at the inn that night--of
course, no Englishman had ever read it there, before--and set out
for Mantua next day at sunrise, repeating to myself (in the coupe
of an omnibus, and next to the conductor, who was reading the
Mysteries of Paris),


There is no world without Verona's walls
But purgatory, torture, hell itself.
Hence-banished is banished from the world,
And world's exile is death -


which reminded me that Romeo was only banished five-and-twenty
miles after all, and rather disturbed my confidence in his energy
and boldness.

Was the way to Mantua as beautiful, in his time, I wonder! Did it
wind through pasture land as green, bright with the same glancing
streams, and dotted with fresh clumps of graceful trees! Those
purple mountains lay on the horizon, then, for certain; and the
dresses of these peasant girls, who wear a great, knobbed, silver
pin like an English 'life-preserver' through their hair behind, can
hardly be much changed. The hopeful feeling of so bright a
morning, and so exquisite a sunrise, can have been no stranger,
even to an exiled lover's breast; and Mantua itself must have
broken on him in the prospect, with its towers, and walls, and
water, pretty much as on a commonplace and matrimonial omnibus. He
made the same sharp twists and turns, perhaps, over two rumbling
drawbridges; passed through the like long, covered, wooden bridge;
and leaving the marshy water behind, approached the rusty gate of
stagnant Mantua.

If ever a man were suited to his place of residence, and his place
of residence to him, the lean Apothecary and Mantua came together
in a perfect fitness of things. It may have been more stirring
then, perhaps. If so, the Apothecary was a man in advance of his
time, and knew what Mantua would be, in eighteen hundred and forty-
four. He fasted much, and that assisted him in his foreknowledge.

I put up at the Hotel of the Golden Lion, and was in my own room
arranging plans with the brave Courier, when there came a modest
little tap at the door, which opened on an outer gallery
surrounding a court-yard; and an intensely shabby little man looked
in, to inquire if the gentleman would have a Cicerone to show the
town. His face was so very wistful and anxious, in the half-opened
doorway, and there was so much poverty expressed in his faded suit
and little pinched hat, and in the thread-bare worsted glove with
which he held it--not expressed the less, because these were
evidently his genteel clothes, hastily slipped on--that I would as
soon have trodden on him as dismissed him. I engaged him on the
instant, and he stepped in directly.

While I finished the discussion in which I was engaged, he stood,
beaming by himself in a corner, making a feint of brushing my hat
with his arm. If his fee had been as many napoleons as it was
francs, there could not have shot over the twilight of his
shabbiness such a gleam of sun, as lighted up the whole man, now
that he was hired.

'Well!' said I, when I was ready, 'shall we go out now?'

'If the gentleman pleases. It is a beautiful day. A little fresh,
but charming; altogether charming. The gentleman will allow me to
open the door. This is the Inn Yard. The court-yard of the Golden
Lion! The gentleman will please to mind his footing on the
stairs.'

We were now in the street.

'This is the street of the Golden Lion. This, the outside of the
Golden Lion. The interesting window up there, on the first Piano,
where the pane of glass is broken, is the window of the gentleman's
chamber!'

Having viewed all these remarkable objects, I inquired if there
were much to see in Mantua.

'Well! Truly, no. Not much! So, so,' he said, shrugging his
shoulders apologetically.

'Many churches?'

'No. Nearly all suppressed by the French.'

'Monasteries or convents?'

'No. The French again! Nearly all suppressed by Napoleon.'

'Much business?'

'Very little business.'

'Many strangers?'

'Ah Heaven!'

I thought he would have fainted.

'Then, when we have seen the two large churches yonder, what shall
we do next?' said I.

He looked up the street, and down the street, and rubbed his chin
timidly; and then said, glancing in my face as if a light had
broken on his mind, yet with a humble appeal to my forbearance that
was perfectly irresistible:

'We can take a little turn about the town, Signore!' (Si puo far
'un piccolo giro della citta).

It was impossible to be anything but delighted with the proposal,
so we set off together in great good-humour. In the relief of his
mind, he opened his heart, and gave up as much of Mantua as a
Cicerone could.

'One must eat,' he said; 'but, bah! it was a dull place, without
doubt!'

He made as much as possible of the Basilica of Santa Andrea--a
noble church--and of an inclosed portion of the pavement, about
which tapers were burning, and a few people kneeling, and under
which is said to be preserved the Sangreal of the old Romances.
This church disposed of, and another after it (the cathedral of San
Pietro), we went to the Museum, which was shut up. 'It was all the
same,' he said. 'Bah! There was not much inside!' Then, we went
to see the Piazza del Diavolo, built by the Devil (for no
particular purpose) in a single night; then, the Piazza Virgiliana;
then, the statue of Virgil--OUR Poet, my little friend said,
plucking up a spirit, for the moment, and putting his hat a little
on one side. Then, we went to a dismal sort of farm-yard, by which
a picture-gallery was approached. The moment the gate of this
retreat was opened, some five hundred geese came waddling round us,
stretching out their necks, and clamouring in the most hideous
manner, as if they were ejaculating, 'Oh! here's somebody come to
see the Pictures! Don't go up! Don't go up!' While we went up,
they waited very quietly about the door in a crowd, cackling to one
another occasionally, in a subdued tone; but the instant we
appeared again, their necks came out like telescopes, and setting
up a great noise, which meant, I have no doubt, 'What, you would
go, would you! What do you think of it! How do you like it!' they
attended us to the outer gate, and cast us forth, derisively, into
Mantua.

The geese who saved the Capitol, were, as compared to these, Pork
to the learned Pig. What a gallery it was! I would take their
opinion on a question of art, in preference to the discourses of
Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Now that we were standing in the street, after being thus
ignominiouly escorted thither, my little friend was plainly reduced
to the 'piccolo giro,' or little circuit of the town, he had
formerly proposed. But my suggestion that we should visit the
Palazzo Te (of which I had heard a great deal, as a strange wild
place) imparted new life to him, and away we went.

The secret of the length of Midas's ears, would have been more
extensively known, if that servant of his, who whispered it to the
reeds, had lived in Mantua, where there are reeds and rushes enough
to have published it to all the world. The Palazzo Te stands in a
swamp, among this sort of vegetation; and is, indeed, as singular a
place as I ever saw.

Not for its dreariness, though it is very dreary. Not for its
dampness, though it is very damp. Nor for its desolate condition,
though it is as desolate and neglected as house can be. But
chiefly for the unaccountable nightmares with which its interior
has been decorated (among other subjects of more delicate
execution), by Giulio Romano. There is a leering Giant over a
certain chimney-piece, and there are dozens of Giants (Titans
warring with Jove) on the walls of another room, so inconceivably
ugly and grotesque, that it is marvellous how any man can have
imagined such creatures. In the chamber in which they abound,
these monsters, with swollen faces and cracked cheeks, and every
kind of distortion of look and limb, are depicted as staggering
under the weight of falling buildings, and being overwhelmed in the
ruins; upheaving masses of rock, and burying themselves beneath;
vainly striving to sustain the pillars of heavy roofs that topple
down upon their heads; and, in a word, undergoing and doing every
kind of mad and demoniacal destruction. The figures are immensely
large, and exaggerated to the utmost pitch of uncouthness; the
colouring is harsh and disagreeable; and the whole effect more like
(I should imagine) a violent rush of blood to the head of the
spectator, than any real picture set before him by the hand of an
artist. This apoplectic performance was shown by a sickly-looking
woman, whose appearance was referable, I dare say, to the bad air
of the marshes; but it was difficult to help feeling as if she were
too much haunted by the Giants, and they were frightening her to
death, all alone in that exhausted cistern of a Palace, among the
reeds and rushes, with the mists hovering about outside, and
stalking round and round it continually.

Our walk through Mantua showed us, in almost every street, some
suppressed church: now used for a warehouse, now for nothing at
all: all as crazy and dismantled as they could be, short of
tumbling down bodily. The marshy town was so intensely dull and
flat, that the dirt upon it seemed not to have come there in the
ordinary course, but to have settled and mantled on its surface as
on standing water. And yet there were some business-dealings going
on, and some profits realising; for there were arcades full of
Jews, where those extraordinary people were sitting outside their
shops, contemplating their stores of stuffs, and woollens, and
bright handkerchiefs, and trinkets: and looking, in all respects,
as wary and business-like, as their brethren in Houndsditch,
London.

Having selected a Vetturino from among the neighbouring Christians,
who agreed to carry us to Milan in two days and a half, and to
start, next morning, as soon as the gates were opened, I returned
to the Golden Lion, and dined luxuriously in my own room, in a
narrow passage between two bedsteads: confronted by a smoky fire,
and backed up by a chest of drawers. At six o'clock next morning,
we were jingling in the dark through the wet cold mist that
enshrouded the town; and, before noon, the driver (a native of
Mantua, and sixty years of age or thereabouts) began TO ASK THE WAY
to Milan.

It lay through Bozzolo; formerly a little republic, and now one of
the most deserted and poverty-stricken of towns: where the
landlord of the miserable inn (God bless him! it was his weekly
custom) was distributing infinitesimal coins among a clamorous herd
of women and children, whose rags were fluttering in the wind and
rain outside his door, where they were gathered to receive his
charity. It lay through mist, and mud, and rain, and vines trained
low upon the ground, all that day and the next; the first sleeping-
place being Cremona, memorable for its dark brick churches, and
immensely high tower, the Torrazzo--to say nothing of its violins,
of which it certainly produces none in these degenerate days; and
the second, Lodi. Then we went on, through more mud, mist, and
rain, and marshy ground: and through such a fog, as Englishmen,
strong in the faith of their own grievances, are apt to believe is
nowhere to be found but in their own country, until we entered the
paved streets of Milan.

The fog was so dense here, that the spire of the far-famed
Cathedral might as well have been at Bombay, for anything that
could be seen of it at that time. But as we halted to refresh, for
a few days then, and returned to Milan again next summer, I had
ample opportunities of seeing the glorious structure in all its
majesty and beauty.

All Christian homage to the saint who lies within it! There are
many good and true saints in the calendar, but San Carlo Borromeo
has--if I may quote Mrs. Primrose on such a subject--'my warm
heart.' A charitable doctor to the sick, a munificent friend to
the poor, and this, not in any spirit of blind bigotry, but as the
bold opponent of enormous abuses in the Romish church, I honour his
memory. I honour it none the less, because he was nearly slain by
a priest, suborned, by priests, to murder him at the altar: in
acknowledgment of his endeavours to reform a false and hypocritical
brotherhood of monks. Heaven shield all imitators of San Carlo
Borromeo as it shielded him! A reforming Pope would need a little
shielding, even now.

The subterranean chapel in which the body of San Carlo Borromeo is
preserved, presents as striking and as ghastly a contrast, perhaps,
as any place can show. The tapers which are lighted down there,
flash and gleam on alti-rilievi in gold and silver, delicately
wrought by skilful hands, and representing the principal events in
the life of the saint. Jewels, and precious metals, shine and
sparkle on every side. A windlass slowly removes the front of the
altar; and, within it, in a gorgeous shrine of gold and silver, is
seen, through alabaster, the shrivelled mummy of a man: the
pontifical robes with which it is adorned, radiant with diamonds,
emeralds, rubies: every costly and magnificent gem. The shrunken
heap of poor earth in the midst of this great glitter, is more
pitiful than if it lay upon a dung-hill. There is not a ray of
imprisoned light in all the flash and fire of jewels, but seems to
mock the dusty holes where eyes were, once. Every thread of silk
in the rich vestments seems only a provision from the worms that
spin, for the behoof of worms that propagate in sepulchres.

In the old refectory of the dilapidated Convent of Santa Maria
delle Grazie, is the work of art, perhaps, better known than any
other in the world: the Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci--with a
door cut through it by the intelligent Dominican friars, to
facilitate their operations at dinner-time.

I am not mechanically acquainted with the art of painting, and have
no other means of judging of a picture than as I see it resembling
and refining upon nature, and presenting graceful combinations of
forms and colours. I am, therefore, no authority whatever, in
reference to the 'touch' of this or that master; though I know very
well (as anybody may, who chooses to think about the matter) that
few very great masters can possibly have painted, in the compass of
their lives, one-half of the pictures that bear their names, and
that are recognised by many aspirants to a reputation for taste, as
undoubted originals. But this, by the way. Of the Last Supper, I
would simply observe, that in its beautiful composition and
arrangement, there it is, at Milan, a wonderful picture; and that,
in its original colouring, or in its original expression of any
single face or feature, there it is not. Apart from the damage it
has sustained from damp, decay, or neglect, it has been (as Barry
shows) so retouched upon, and repainted, and that so clumsily, that
many of the heads are, now, positive deformities, with patches of
paint and plaster sticking upon them like wens, and utterly
distorting the expression. Where the original artist set that
impress of his genius on a face, which, almost in a line or touch,
separated him from meaner painters and made him what he was,
succeeding bunglers, filling up, or painting across seams and
cracks, have been quite unable to imitate his hand; and putting in
some scowls, or frowns, or wrinkles, of their own, have blotched
and spoiled the work. This is so well established as an historical
fact, that I should not repeat it, at the risk of being tedious,
but for having observed an English gentleman before the picture,
who was at great pains to fall into what I may describe as mild
convulsions, at certain minute details of expression which are not
left in it. Whereas, it would be comfortable and rational for
travellers and critics to arrive at a general understanding that it
cannot fail to have been a work of extraordinary merit, once:
when, with so few of its original beauties remaining, the grandeur
of the general design is yet sufficient to sustain it, as a piece
replete with interest and dignity.

We achieved the other sights of Milan, in due course, and a fine
city it is, though not so unmistakably Italian as to possess the
characteristic qualities of many towns far less important in
themselves. The Corso, where the Milanese gentry ride up and down
in carriages, and rather than not do which, they would half starve
themselves at home, is a most noble public promenade, shaded by
long avenues of trees. In the splendid theatre of La Scala, there
was a ballet of action performed after the opera, under the title
of Prometheus: in the beginning of which, some hundred or two of
men and women represented our mortal race before the refinements of
the arts and sciences, and loves and graces, came on earth to
soften them. I never saw anything more effective. Generally
speaking, the pantomimic action of the Italians is more remarkable
for its sudden and impetuous character than for its delicate
expression, but, in this case, the drooping monotony: the weary,
miserable, listless, moping life: the sordid passions and desires
of human creatures, destitute of those elevating influences to
which we owe so much, and to whose promoters we render so little:
were expressed in a manner really powerful and affecting. I should
have thought it almost impossible to present such an idea so
strongly on the stage, without the aid of speech.

Milan soon lay behind us, at five o'clock in the morning; and
before the golden statue on the summit of the cathedral spire was
lost in the blue sky, the Alps, stupendously confused in lofty
peaks and ridges, clouds and snow, were towering in our path.

Still, we continued to advance toward them until nightfall; and,
all day long, the mountain tops presented strangely shifting
shapes, as the road displayed them in different points of view.
The beautiful day was just declining, when we came upon the Lago
Maggiore, with its lovely islands. For however fanciful and
fantastic the Isola Bella may be, and is, it still is beautiful.
Anything springing out of that blue water, with that scenery around
it, must be.

It was ten o'clock at night when we got to Domo d'Ossola, at the
foot of the Pass of the Simplon. But as the moon was shining
brightly, and there was not a cloud in the starlit sky, it was no
time for going to bed, or going anywhere but on. So, we got a
little carriage, after some delay, and began the ascent.

It was late in November; and the snow lying four or five feet thick
in the beaten road on the summit (in other parts the new drift was
already deep), the air was piercing cold. But, the serenity of the
night, and the grandeur of the road, with its impenetrable shadows,
and deep glooms, and its sudden turns into the shining of the moon
and its incessant roar of falling water, rendered the journey more
and more sublime at every step.

Soon leaving the calm Italian villages below us, sleeping in the
moonlight, the road began to wind among dark trees, and after a
time emerged upon a barer region, very steep and toilsome, where
the moon shone bright and high. By degrees, the roar of water grew
louder; and the stupendous track, after crossing the torrent by a
bridge, struck in between two massive perpendicular walls of rock
that quite shut out the moonlight, and only left a few stars
shining in the narrow strip of sky above. Then, even this was
lost, in the thick darkness of a cavern in the rock, through which
the way was pierced; the terrible cataract thundering and roaring
close below it, and its foam and spray hanging, in a mist, about
the entrance. Emerging from this cave, and coming again into the
moonlight, and across a dizzy bridge, it crept and twisted upward,
through the Gorge of Gondo, savage and grand beyond description,
with smooth-fronted precipices, rising up on either hand, and
almost meeting overhead. Thus we went, climbing on our rugged way,
higher and higher all night, without a moment's weariness: lost in
the contemplation of the black rocks, the tremendous heights and
depths, the fields of smooth snow lying, in the clefts and hollows,
and the fierce torrents thundering headlong down the deep abyss.

Towards daybreak, we came among the snow, where a keen wind was
blowing fiercely. Having, with some trouble, awakened the inmates
of a wooden house in this solitude: round which the wind was
howling dismally, catching up the snow in wreaths and hurling it
away: we got some breakfast in a room built of rough timbers, but
well warmed by a stove, and well contrived (as it had need to be)
for keeping out the bitter storms. A sledge being then made ready,
and four horses harnessed to it, we went, ploughing, through the
snow. Still upward, but now in the cold light of morning, and with
the great white desert on which we travelled, plain and clear.

We were well upon the summit of the mountain: and had before us
the rude cross of wood, denoting its greatest altitude above the
sea: when the light of the rising sun, struck, all at once, upon
the waste of snow, and turned it a deep red. The lonely grandeur
of the scene was then at its height.

As we went sledging on, there came out of the Hospice founded by
Napoleon, a group of Peasant travellers, with staves and knapsacks,
who had rested there last night: attended by a Monk or two, their
hospitable entertainers, trudging slowly forward with them, for
company's sake. It was pleasant to give them good morning, and
pretty, looking back a long way after them, to see them looking
back at us, and hesitating presently, when one of our horses
stumbled and fell, whether or no they should return and help us.
But he was soon up again, with the assistance of a rough waggoner
whose team had stuck fast there too; and when we had helped him out
of his difficulty, in return, we left him slowly ploughing towards
them, and went slowly and swiftly forward, on the brink of a steep
precipice, among the mountain pines.

Taking to our wheels again, soon afterwards, we began rapidly to
descend; passing under everlasting glaciers, by means of arched
galleries, hung with clusters of dripping icicles; under and over
foaming waterfalls; near places of refuge, and galleries of shelter
against sudden danger; through caverns over whose arched roofs the
avalanches slide, in spring, and bury themselves in the unknown
gulf beneath. Down, over lofty bridges, and through horrible
ravines: a little shifting speck in the vast desolation of ice and
snow, and monstrous granite rocks; down through the deep Gorge of
the Saltine, and deafened by the torrent plunging madly down, among
the riven blocks of rock, into the level country, far below.
Gradually down, by zig-zag roads, lying between an upward and a
downward precipice, into warmer weather, calmer air, and softer
scenery, until there lay before us, glittering like gold or silver
in the thaw and sunshine, the metal-covered, red, green, yellow,
domes and church-spires of a Swiss town.

The business of these recollections being with Italy, and my
business, consequently, being to scamper back thither as fast as
possible, I will not recall (though I am sorely tempted) how the
Swiss villages, clustered at the feet of Giant mountains, looked
like playthings; or how confusedly the houses were heaped and piled
together; or how there were very narrow streets to shut the howling
winds out in the winter-time; and broken bridges, which the
impetuous torrents, suddenly released in spring, had swept away.
Or how there were peasant women here, with great round fur caps:
looking, when they peeped out of casements and only their heads
were seen, like a population of Sword-bearers to the Lord Mayor of
London; or how the town of Vevey, lying on the smooth lake of
Geneva, was beautiful to see; or how the statue of Saint Peter in
the street at Fribourg, grasps the largest key that ever was
beheld; or how Fribourg is illustrious for its two suspension
bridges, and its grand cathedral organ.

Or how, between that town and Bale, the road meandered among
thriving villages of wooden cottages, with overhanging thatched
roofs, and low protruding windows, glazed with small round panes of
glass like crown-pieces; or how, in every little Swiss homestead,
with its cart or waggon carefully stowed away beside the house, its
little garden, stock of poultry, and groups of red-cheeked
children, there was an air of comfort, very new and very pleasant
after Italy; or how the dresses of the women changed again, and
there were no more sword-bearers to be seen; and fair white
stomachers, and great black, fan-shaped, gauzy-looking caps,
prevailed instead.

Or how the country by the Jura mountains, sprinkled with snow, and
lighted by the moon, and musical with falling water, was
delightful; or how, below the windows of the great hotel of the
Three Kings at Bale, the swollen Rhine ran fast and green; or how,
at Strasbourg, it was quite as fast but not as green: and was said
to be foggy lower down: and, at that late time of the year, was a
far less certain means of progress, than the highway road to Paris.

Or how Strasbourg itself, in its magnificent old Gothic Cathedral,
and its ancient houses with their peaked roofs and gables, made a
little gallery of quaint and interesting views; or how a crowd was
gathered inside the cathedral at noon, to see the famous mechanical
clock in motion, striking twelve. How, when it struck twelve, a
whole army of puppets went through many ingenious evolutions; and,
among them, a huge puppet-cock, perched on the top, crowed twelve
times, loud and clear. Or how it was wonderful to see this cock at
great pains to clap its wings, and strain its throat; but obviously
having no connection whatever with its own voice; which was deep
within the clock, a long way down.

Or how the road to Paris, was one sea of mud, and thence to the
coast, a little better for a hard frost. Or how the cliffs of
Dover were a pleasant sight, and England was so wonderfully neat--
though dark, and lacking colour on a winter's day, it must be
conceded.

Or how, a few days afterwards, it was cool, re-crossing the
channel, with ice upon the decks, and snow lying pretty deep in
France. Or how the Malle Poste scrambled through the snow,
headlong, drawn in the hilly parts by any number of stout horses at
a canter; or how there were, outside the Post-office Yard in Paris,
before daybreak, extraordinary adventurers in heaps of rags,
groping in the snowy streets with little rakes, in search of odds
and ends.

Or how, between Paris and Marseilles, the snow being then exceeding
deep, a thaw came on, and the mail waded rather than rolled for the
next three hundred miles or so; breaking springs on Sunday nights,
and putting out its two passengers to warm and refresh themselves
pending the repairs, in miserable billiard-rooms, where hairy
company, collected about stoves, were playing cards; the cards
being very like themselves--extremely limp and dirty.

Or how there was detention at Marseilles from stress of weather;
and steamers were advertised to go, which did not go; or how the
good Steam-packet Charlemagne at length put out, and met such
weather that now she threatened to run into Toulon, and now into
Nice, but, the wind moderating, did neither, but ran on into Genoa
harbour instead, where the familiar Bells rang sweetly in my ear.
Or how there was a travelling party on board, of whom one member
was very ill in the cabin next to mine, and being ill was cross,
and therefore declined to give up the Dictionary, which he kept
under his pillow; thereby obliging his companions to come down to
him, constantly, to ask what was the Italian for a lump of sugar--a
glass of brandy and water--what's o'clock? and so forth: which he
always insisted on looking out, with his own sea-sick eyes,
declining to entrust the book to any man alive.

Like GRUMIO, I might have told you, in detail, all this and
something more--but to as little purpose--were I not deterred by
the remembrance that my business is with Italy. Therefore, like
GRUMIO'S story, 'it shall die in oblivion.'

Charles Dickens