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ETCHINGS OF ITALY.
LUGANO-COMO-MILAN-THE LAST SUPPER-THE BRERA-THE LAZZARETTO-MANTUA AND CREMONA-VERONA THE ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE-PAVIA-VENICE-THE "PIAZZA DI SAN MARCO" -THE DOGE'S PALACE MARINO FALIERO"-THE LIDO-VENICE BY MOOOLIGHT.
HE who has descended from the inhospitable summits of the St. Gothard into the valley of the Ticino must recall with pleasure the sensations which every one experiences on beholding, for the first time, the sunny plains and the soft outlines of an Italian landscape; and when, having ascended the road which leads towards Lugano, he looks back upon the picturesque town of Bellinzona, backed by the snowy Alps, the contrast between the savage grandeur of the latter and the soft beauty of the smiling valley, is even more striking than before. There is a repose, a tranquillity, a satisfaction, in Italian scenery which we would vainly look for among the more stupendous and amazing works of creation. We are oppressed and awed by the former; our feelings are those of a man endeavouring to grasp some grand idea, which dazzles and overpowers him. We have met many who have been disappointed at the first view of the Alps, of Mont Blanc, and ⚫ yet, after a second or third visit, they have returned more and more impress
ed with these wonders of God's creation. The same phenomena will lead us to the same conclusion in the material world as in the mental constitution of man. The vast works of creation convey to us certain ideas which, like those of the omnipotence and eternal existence of a Creator, are too grand to be comprehended at a single glance, until time and habit has matured our conceptions, and taught us the true relation of things. He who has ascended Mont Blanc, and knows that the dark spot which he had so often gazed on from the valley is an enormous rock, has gained an idea of immensity which he never could have acquired without such research.
there is something fatiguing in the contemplation of this unvarying grandeur, this sombre magnificence. We rush from cloud-capped Alps, and brawling torrents, and gloomy pine woods, to scenes more soothing, more congenial to the mind seeking peace and tran
quillity, as we turn from the loud sounding din of Homer's battles, to weep with Andromache, or to wander with the Mantuan bard along the banks of Mincius. And it is in that land of poetry and love, that clime where the luxuriance of nature is only surpassed by the brilliant development of genius and the lofty conceptions of man, where nations have struggled for sovereignty, where the Carthaginian. well nigh witnessed the death-pang of his mortal enemy, whence sprung those legions who overcame the world, there it is that we learn to appreciate all that is beautiful and generous among mankind.
It was a beautiful evening, when having parted from the dirty hostess of Lugano, with many regrets on her side, we embarked on the lake, in one of the large flat boats used for the conveyance of passengers and merchandize. The sun was just sinking below the hills, having left a warm glow on the unclouded sky, and the dark blue shades of evening were stealing softly over the mountains. Not a sound was heard except the plash of the oars, we moved slowly along, or the song of some fisherman, returning to his home, beneath a white cliff, which peeped out from between the vines. The sides of the lake were bordered with picturesque villas, campaniles, and white rocks, all surrounded by luxuriant foliage, and glistening in the moonlight.
A pretty walk from Porlezza, along a road bordered by fruit-trees, beneath which merry groups of children were collecting the produce, leads to the sides of the Lago di Como. The diversity of objects which present themselves along the shores of this enchanting lake-the magnificent villas of the Italian nobility-the soft outline of the hills, clothed with olive myrtle and vines, through which the
frequent chapel rears its white belltower-the beautiful promontory of Bellagio, crowned with terraces and gardens, all form a scene well worthy of the pencil of Claude, or the glowing imagination of Manzoni. Those who have read that author's graphic descriptions, will derive a new interest from scenes which he has depicted with such truth and beauty, yet which defy the power of paint. ing or genius, fully to do them justice. They appeal to the feelings, to the senses, which they captivate by a power peculiarly their own; and the languor of the mid-day repose, when scarce a sound but the "tenuis susurrus" of the grasshopper is heard, not a stir in nature, except a lizard glancing among the stones, the deep glow of an Italian sunset, or the coTouring of its sky, can never be realized even by the finest conceptions of the artist, or the most brilliant imagination of the poet.
It was late, and the moonlight alone guided us, as we sought the cathedral of Milan, that famous structure reared by the piety or the superstition of centuries. There it stood, graceful and majestic, every statue and column reflecting back the soft light. Often had we viewed it by day, and paced its glorious interior, while the sun's setting rays poured a yellow light down the marble pillars, and the solemn chant of the vespers, mingled with the swelling tones of the organ.
There is something pe
culiarly solemn in the evening ceremonial of the Roman Catholic Church, when the deep monotonous chant resounds through the aisles of some vast cathedral, and the few lights glimmering at the altar, but heighten the increasing obscurity, and impress with the idea of unknown vastness. And when the night comes on, let him who had marked the sun's last rays mingling with the deep colouring of the painted windows, stand beneath the vast shadow of that magnificent Duomo, when every glistening spire points upwards to the dark vault of heaven, and he may depart, assured that seldom has a more glorious tribute been offered by mankind to attest a true and eternal creed.
THE LAST SUPPER.
There is an old, dirty, unpretending building in Milan, once a convent, afterwards used as a barrack by the French, who have always assimilated their ideas more to the church militant, than the church triumphant, and often shewed their considerate attentions to the monastic order, by easing them of any superfluity they might possess. Within this convent is a large room unpromising in appearance, which yet contains one of those monuments of genius or inspiration so long appreciated by an admiring world-the Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci. The colours are fast fading from the wall, and in a few years nothing, perhaps, will remain but the remembrance of this glorious painting. Nothing-for although many have been the attempts to reproduce it, and thousands of copies profess to give a true idea of the original, yet like many other things, they fall far short of their professions. world will at length learn there are a few things which cannot be copied which defy imitation, being themselves inimitable.
Such are those great monuments of man's creative power, which, as they assimilate the creature nearer to the Creator, so in our imperfect state are few and far between, as palm trees in the desert, from whence centuries may date, and which successive generations may long despair to equal. The colouring of this famous painting has been often renewed, which circumstance may excite a similar question to that concerning the celebrated ship Argo, whether any portion of the original exists. But the expression of the Saviour's countenance, the lofty majesty of his brow, the melancholy yet commanding look of Him who grieved at the treachery of Judas, yet resigned himself to his fate, these remain to attest a master hand-a noble spirit, which derived from the highest sources of inspiration. It might seem as if the artist had caught one gleam from above, one heavenly glance, and fixed it there, the material realization of his own inspired thoughts. Such is genius, true and immortal. It seeks no meretricious greatness, no satisfaction except that of having accomplished its task, fulfilled its mission. Regardless of interest, forgetful of the world, it asks
not, but commands the homage of an admiring universe.
It was the season for the exhibition of modern paintings when we visited the Brera, and the more sober productions of antiquity were thrust into the shade beside the gaudy creations of the present schools of painting. We are not of those who have no eyes or ears for any thing which does not smell of the antique, although we have our doubts whether the world is ever likely to see surpassed the paintings of Raphael or the poetry of Homer and Milton. We can discover some trace of genius in the creations of Dannecker, or even of our own Landseer and Burton; and yet the humiliating fact is evident to even a superficial observer, that few works of modern art can bear a comparison, either in purity of ideas or style, with those of a less civilized but less mate
rial age. The reason is plain. The instruments are the same, the opportunities even greater, but the spirit is wanting. The generality of modern artists work to gain worldly wealth or applause. Like the orators of Juvenal, they are content if they fill their pockets, or shake the benches with acclamations. Such is not the spirit from which great and glorious works emanate. Those who still command the admiration of each succeeding age, were men whom no inferior motives actuated-who, absorbed, possessed as it were, by one grand idea, toiled until they had brought it to perfection. They felt that sooner or later an admiring world would do them justice. Enslaved by no servile imitation, they sought no borrowed gleam of light, but dared, like Prometheus, to snatch the flame from heaven. Such were Dante and Raphael, our own Shakspeare and Milton. The same age produced the same spirit, and that spirit reared those magnificent structures, and brought forth those glorious monuments of genius, the goals and boundaries of European civilization.
He who would realize to himself a tale of suffering such as the annals of history have seldom paralleled, should read that fearful description of the plague at Milan, given by Manzoni,
and then visit the Lazzaretto, the scene of so many tragedies of that eventful time. Outside the gate of the city is a low range of buildings, surrounded by a stagnant ditch, and enclosing a small square where the rank grass grows, the picture of misery and desolation. A small chapel rises in the midst, where those who had survived that awful visitation might return thanks for their deliverance. A few of the buildings are tenanted by some miserable poor, and around the pillars which support the porticos some parasitical plants have twined, as if to mock by their presence the general decay. Scarcely could five hundred persons be accommodated there with comfort, yet during the famine which preceded the plague, twelve thousand destitute beggars were cooped up in that narrow space, until they had bred the seeds of infection which, when released, they dispersed all through the city. At no period of history, not even during the plague at Athens, when famine and war, added to the calamity, has such a picture of suffering mingled with heartless recklessness and degrading superstition been presented to the world. The rapid spread of the infection, after the procession of the relics of Saint Borromeo, might have taught them to look to a higher power for support in their calamity. Yet the senseless persecution of the anointers showed that a dreadful scourge was yet needed to convict them of their errors. And dreadful was that scourge. The sun glared upon the devoted city with withering and baneful heat, the breath of the pestilence alone fanned their burning brows, the cloud hung above their heads; but no refreshing shower descended from its bosom,their ground was iron, and their sky brass. At length the cloud burst, the waters poured down in welcome streams, the sun shone with a genial light; but those waters rushed through deserted streets; the light streamed through palaces now only tenanted by the dead. Famine and pestilence had done their work, and the prince and peasant lay side by side in the gravethat great leveller of mortality.
The phenomena of the plague have been in general very similar, as if to mark it peculiarly as God's scourge There is upon an offending nation.
one remarkable coincidence, however, which proves, in one instance at least, the similarity of the symptoms in different countries. We allude to the custom which still exists in Italy of saying "salute," and in Ireland "God bless you," when any person has sneezed. In Hibernia, where Paddy must have a reason, right or wrong, for what he does, this expression is merely considered as a pious invocation against the fairies. But in Italy, and espe cially in Milan, which may be called, "par excellence," the City of the Plague, that custom has been handed down as a tradition of that fearful visitation.
Sneezing, as mentioned also by Thucydides, raquos, has always been a premonitory symptom of the plague, and thus the graphic description of the Athenian historian finds a witness yet to attest the truth of his narrative among the streets of Milan and the wilds of Ireland.
MANTUA AND CREMONA.
It is seldom that the reality surpasses those glowing images which the imagination is ever ready to supply, especially among scenes long present to the mind. Those who read with delight the beautiful rural descriptions of the Mantuan bard, might well suppose that his childhood was nurtured amidst all that is picturesque or striking in nature, such scenes as might fill the fancy and awaken the enthusiasm of the youthful poet. And yet the place of his birth is destitute of any of those features which constitute either grand or picturesque scenery. But Virgil was not alone the poet of Mantua, but of Italy, of the world, and of Rome, the world's mistress. And those who have visited that enchanting clime must be more impressed with the fact, that the Italy of the present day is still the land of which the Roman sang. Here the vine-dresser yet prunes his vines, and plants the alternate rows. Here, beneath the same cloudless and genial sky, the weary peasant seeks shelter from the noontide heat under the spreading beech or widowed elm; and some Arcadian beauties may yet be realized, not in that form in which they have been travestied by the imagination of our ancestors, when interesting shepherdesses in silks and brocades were pursued by lovesick shepherds, through clipped par
terres and formal avenues. We can still imagine the dulcet sounds of the lute, the flocks collected from the summer heat, sub pendente rupe, while the hum of bees and the chirp of grasshoppers, rumpunt arbusta cicada, alone break the complete stillness and repose of an Italian noontide. It is the burlesque of nature, not nature herself, which is ridiculous, and excites the laughter of mankind. Whatever vicissitudes and changes a country may undergo, although many and different may be her masters, yet the bulk of her population, her peasantry, seldom change, but preserve the same characteristics from age to age. They are the children of the soil; all their sentiments and ideas partake of the scenes amidst which they live, and the air which they breathe. The English peasant of the present day is the true descendant of the Saxon who fought at Hastings; the Greek who disdained the Turkish yoke is not unworthy of his fathers who bled at Marathon; the Swiss dreams yet of Sempach and Morgarten; and the Italian, quick, fiery, and intelligent, might yet, beneath the eagles of another Cæsar, avenge the injuries of his fallen race.
The road from Milan to Verona passes by the Lago di Garda, a fine expanse of water, the roar of whose waves giving it the character of an inland sea, mark it as the "Benacus" of Virgil, Fluctibus ac fremitu assurgens marino. We found accommodation in a large hotel, formerly a palace belonging to some proud signior of Verona, and gloomy enough, although spacious. However, we had reason to be thankful that our lodging was not in an ancient building, now a pothouse, but said to have belonged to the Capulets. It does not at all agree with our ideas of a signorial residence, and unfortunately for the story, the only balcony where Juliet could have stood (if she ever stood there at all) looks into a narrow, dirty street, which entirely destroys the romance. Indeed both this house and the tomb of Juliet (which bears a striking resemblance to a horse trough with a lid upon it) seems to have been invented for the peculiar benefit of the valets de place, a lively and inventive race, who de
serve to be supported for their ingenuity in being able to give a different version, and to assign different localities to the same story. However, the stone trough answers all the purposes of romance, and sundry chips of it are deposited annually, by sentimental travellers, in their cabinet of curiosities. Consequently, it matters little whether a wall round the garden which contains this interesting relic is the very one which Romeo leaped over, according to some veracious guides, or whether he scaled another somewhere else, it being perfectly optional, as the showman liberally remarked, for those to choose who have paid their money, with this slight difference, that whichever they shall select is sure to be the wrong
THE ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE.
Whence comes this dark and gloomy structure, the relic of days gone by, of generations long passed away. Blackened by age, its vast proportions seemed piled by Titan hands. Like the scathed and blasted trunk of some mighty oak in the forest, it stands forth alone, claiming no kindred with the scenes around, in solemn solitude, the witness of a long extinct, though not forgotten race. There is something peculiarly strange and mysterious about these ancient structures which Rome has bequeathed to the world, the monuments of her power. Never have we been so impressed with the consciousness of her might, as when standing beneath the dark shadow of this shattered and ruined memorial. It might seem that the mighty genius of the empire still brooded over, and shadowed it by his vast wings. We feel ourselves awed as if by the presence of her, the tutelary guardian of the seven hills, whose mysteries were inscrutable, whose name never was uttered by lips profane. The form of this majestic ruin is still perfect, the stone seats remain, but much has yielded to time and decay. Some of those who seek a subsistence by selling relics and prints, have established themselves in the "vomitoria" beneath, like rats in a deserted barn. Thus generations have lived and died beside these mighty relics of a conquering race, scarcely con
scious of their presence, with little sympathy for their fate; yet where shall we find a grander realization of the vast conceptions of that indomitable will which once subdued the world, than among those ruined memorials, the last legacy of Imperial Rome.
The road from Milan to Pavia is uninteresting, passing through low marshy grounds. A detour should be made to visit the Certosa, a magnificent ecclesiastical structure, rich in tombs and offerings, the fruits of the piety of the middle ages, when men compounded with heaven by giving up what they could no longer enjoy. The façade is composed of alternate squares of black and white marble, like a chess-board, and presents rather an Oriental appearance. As appro
priate ornaments of a Christian church, they have inserted heads of Alexander the Great and some Roman Emperors, better suited to a temple of Bacchus. The interior is very gorgeous, containing two richly-carved tombs, one of Galeazzo Visconti, who certainly deserved to be well buried, as the people had been made so happy by his death. The side chapels contain some rich marbles brought from Asia and the Levant, and the interior of the roof is of a beautiful aqua-marine colour. There is little interesting in Pavia except the tomb of St. Augustine in the cathedral. town has quite a deserted appearance, realising little that importance which it once possessed, when Francis fought the memorable battle beneath its walls. There is small interest in viewing the battle-field of an age when tactics were little known, and a charge of chivalry decided the day. It was not, perhaps, from mere motives of ambition that the monarchs of France so often asserted their right of conquest in Italy. Their policy was probably deeper than that which proceeded from the desire of fruitless aggrandisement; but it was in Italy the contest should be decided. There was the battle-field-the struggle for the balance of power, a principle which, if not fully understood in theory, was yet often the secret motive for expeditions apparently rash and unproductive.