Contents Index

from Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843

by MRS. SHELLEY

London: Edward Moxon, 1844


{I.60} All Italian travellers know what it is, after toiling up the bleak, bare, northern, Swiss side of an Alp, to descend towards ever-vernal Italy. The rhododendron, in thick bushes, in full bloom, first adorned the mountain sides; then, pine forests; then, chesnut groves; the mountain was cleft into woody ravines; the waterfalls scattered their spray and their gracious melody; flowery and green, and clothed in radiance, and gifted with plenty, Italy opened upon us. Thus, -- and be not shocked at the illustration, for it is all God's creation, -- after dreary old age and the sickening pass of death, does the saint open his eyes on Paradise. Chiavenna is situated in a fertile valley at the foot of the Splugen -- it is glowing in rich and sunny vegetation. The inn is good; but the rooms were large and somewhat dreary. So near our bourne, low spirits crept over some of us, I know not why. To me, indeed, there was something even thrilling and affecting in the aspect of the commonest objects around. Every traveller can tell you how each country bears a distinctive mark in the mere setting out of the room of an inn, which would enable a man who had visited it before, if, transported by magic, he opened his eyes in the morning in a strange bed, to know to what country he had been removed. Window-curtains, the very wash-hand stands, they were all such as had been familiar to me {I.61} in Italy long, long ago. I had not seen them since those young and happy days. Strange and indescribable emotions invaded me; recollections, long forgotten, arose fresh and strong by mere force of association, produced by those objects being presented to my eye, inspiring a mixture of pleasure and pain, almost amounting to agony.

TUESDAY, 14th.
This morning, we were to proceed to Colico, at the head of the lake of Como, there to embark on board the steamer. We engaged a voiture, which cost more than we had hoped or expected. We drove through a desolate region, -- huge, precipitous, bare Alps on either side, -- in the midst, a marshy plain. The road is good, but difficult to keep up. The Adda flows into the lake, over a wide rock-strewn bed, broken into many channels. It is a mountain torrent, perpetually swollen by rain and snow into a cataract that breaks down all obstacles, and tears away the road.

We arrived at Colico two hours too early. The inn was uninviting: we did not enter it. We tried to amuse ourselves by strolling about on the shore of the lake. The air was bleak and cold; now and then it threatened rain. At length, welcome signal of release, the steamer, appeared; another hour had yet to pass while it crossed over to us, and we were on board.

{I.62} Our plan, formed from the experiences of others, had been to take up our quarters at Bellaggio -- look at a map, and you will see the situation. The Lake of Como is long, and, in proportion, narrow. About midway between Colico and the town of Como, in its widest part, it is divided into two lakes -- one taking a more eastern course to Lecco; the other, to Como. On the narrow, rocky promontory that divides these two branches, looking towards the north, Bellaggio is situated. The steamer, however, did not stop there, but on the opposite shore, Cadenabbia, which looked southward, and commanded a view of Bellaggio and the mountains beyond, surmounting Varenna. We were landed at the Grande Albergo di Cadenabbia. A tall, slight, rather good-looking, fair-moustached master of the inn, welcomed us with a flourish. And here we are.

Strange to say, there is discontent among us. The weather is dreary, the lake tempest-tossed; and, stranger still, we are tired of mountains. I, who think a flat country insupportable, yet wish for lower hills, and a view of a wider expanse of sky: the eye longs for space. I remembered once how the sense of sight had felt relieved when I exchanged the narrow ravine, in which the Baths of Lucca are placed, for the view over the plains of Lombardy, commanded from our villa among the Euganean {I.63} hills. But it was not this alone that made us sad and discontented. This feeling frequently assails travellers when their journey has come to a temporary close; and that close is not home. It will disappear to-morrow. Meanwhile, to relieve my thoughts from painful impressions, I have written this letter. And now, it is night; the sky is dark; the waves still lash the shore. I pray that no ruin, arising from that fatal element, may befal me here; and I say good night to you -- to myself -- to the world. -- Farewell.

{I.64}

LETTER VI.

Albergo Grande della Cadenabbia. -- The Brothers Brentani. -- The view from our windows. -- The Madman. -- Arrival of the boat.
CADENABBIA, JULY 17th.
The morning after our arrival we began to consider where and how we should live for the next two months. Two of my companions went by the steamer to Como, for money; and I remained with the other, to arrange our future plans. We at once decided not to remove to Bellaggio, but to remain on this side of the Lake. One chief motive is, that the steamer stops each day at Cadenabbia; and our communication with the world is, therefore, regular and facile. We looked for lodgings in the neighbouring village of Tremezzo, and found several, not bad, nor very dear; though rather more so than we expected. But this was not our difficulty. There were five of us, including my maid, to be provided for. We must have food: we must have a cook. I knew that, in a strange place, it requires at least a month, and even more, to get into its ways, and to obviate a little the liabilities to being cheated. But {I.65} we are only going to stay six weeks or two months; and the annoyance attendant on my initiation into housekeeping will scarcely be ended before my acquired knowledge will have become useless. The host of the inn declared we must have everything from his house, or, by steamboat, from Como: he insinuated we should be better off at his hotel. At first, we turned a deaf ear; then we listened; then we discussed: in brief, we finally settled to remain at the Albergo Grande. We have one large salon; four small bedrooms contiguous, for three of us and my maid, and one up stairs: we are provided with breakfast, dinner, and tea; the whole (rooms included) for seven francs a-head for the masters, four for the servant. This was reasonable enough; and we agreed for a month, on these terms. Thus I am delivered from all household cares; which otherwise, in our position, might prove harassing enough.

These arrangements being quickly made, our manner of life has fallen at once into regular train. All the morning, our students are at work. I have selected a nook of the salon, where I have established my embroidery-frame, books, and desk. I mean to read a great deal of Italian; as I have ever found it pleasant to embue oneself with the language and literature of the country in which one is residing. Reading much Italian, one learns almost to think {I.66} in that language, and to converse more freely . At twelve, the steamer arrives from Como; which is the great event of our day. At two, we dine; but it is five, usually, before the sun permits us to go out. During his visit to Como, P____ went over to the neighbouring village of Caratte, where lives a boat-builder, who studied his trade at Venice. All the boats of the country are flat-bottomed. P____ has selected one with a keel, which he is now impatiently expecting.

Descriptions with difficulty convey definite impressions, and any picture or print of our part of the lake will better than my words describe the scenery around us. The Albergo Grande della Cadenabbia is built at the foot of mountains, close to the water. In front of the house there is a good bridle-road, which extends to each extremity of the lake. One door of the house opens on an avenue of acacias, which skirts the water, and leads to the side-gate of the Villa Sommariva.

Continuing the road towards Como, we come to the villages of Tremezzo and Bolvedro, with frequent villas interspersed, their terraced gardens climbing the mountain's side. In the opposite direction towards Colico, we have the village of Cadenabbia itself, with a silk-mill: but after that, the road, until we reach the town of Menaggio, is more solitary. In {I.67} parts, the path runs close upon the lake, with only a sort of beach intervening, sprinkled with fragments of rock and shadowed by olive-trees. Menaggio is three miles distant; it is the largest town in our vicinity, and properly our post-town, though our letters are usually directed to Como, and a boatman fetches them and posts ours, three times a-week, with great fidelity.

High mountains rise behind, their lower terraces bearing olives, vines, and Indian corn; midway clothed by chesnut woods; bare, rugged, sublime, at their summits. The waters of the lake are spread before; the villa-studded promontory of Bellaggio being immediately opposite, and further off the shores of the other branch of the lake, with the town of Varenna, sheltered by gigantic mountains. Highest among them is the Resegone, so frequently mentioned by Manzoni in the Promessi Sposi, with its summit jagged like a saw. Indeed, all these Alps are in shape more abrupt and fantastic than any I ever saw.

I wish I could by my imperfect words bring before you not only the grander features, but every minute peculiarity, every varying hue, of this matchless scene. The progress of each day brings with it its appropriate change. When I rise in the morning and look out, our own side is bathed in sunshine, and we see the opposite mountains raising {I.68} their black masses in sharp relief against the eastern sky, while dark shadows are flung by the abrupt precipices on the fair lake beneath. This very scene glows in sunshine later in the day, till at evening the shadows climb up, first darkening the banks, and slowly ascending till they leave exposed the naked summits alone, which are long gladdened by the golden radiance of the sinking sun, till the bright rays disappear, and, cold and gray, the granite peaks stand pointing to the stars, which one by one gather above.

Here then we are in peace, with a feeling of being settled for a year, instead of two months. The inn is kept by the brothers Brentani, who form a sort of patriarchal family. There is, in the first place, an old mother, who evidently possesses great sway in the family, and a loud voice, but with whom we have nothing to do, except to return her salutation when we meet. The eldest brother, Giovanni, a tall stout man, attends to the accounts. He is married. Peppina, his wife, is of good parentage, but being left an orphan in childhood, lost her all through the rascality of guardians during the troubled times of Napoleon's wars and downfall. She waits on us; she is hard-working, good-humoured, and endowed with all the innate courtesy which forms, together with their simplicity of manner, the charm of the {I.69} Italians. Luigi, the next brother, who welcomed us from the steamboat, is put forward to do the honours, as the beau of the establishment. He has all the airs of one, when each day he goes to receive guests from the steamer, with his white, low-crowned hat, and velvet jacket, his slim figure, and light mustachios; he waits on us also. Then there is Battista, who acts as cook: Bernardo, who seems as a sort of under-waiter: and Paolo, or Piccol, as he is usually called, to his great disdain, a handsome lad, who runs about, and does everything: these are all brothers. There is a woman besides, to clean rooms, and a scullion or two: all the family work hard. Poor Battista says his only ambition is to get a good night's sleep; he is up early and down late, had grown infinitely thin upon it. Bernardo nourishes the ambition of going to England -- the frequent resort of the natives of the lake of Como -- and try, as others of the villages about had done, to make a fortune. My young companions are great pets in the house. You can be on excellent terms with this class of people in Italy without their ever forgetting themselves: there is no intrusiveness, no improper familiarity, but perfect ease joined to respect and ready service. For the rest, they of course are not particularly addicted to truth, and may perhaps cheat if strongly tempted, and, I dare say, their morals are {I.70} not quite correct. But in all their doings, as yet, they keep their compact with us faithfully, taking extreme pains to serve us to our liking; far from having the slightest cause of complaint, we have every reason to praise.

SUNDAY, 19th.
We begin to feel settled, but to-day a strange and disagreeable incident occurred. Peppina came in with wild looks, to say that a madman -- an Englishman -- had arrived by the steamer, and was frightening everybody with a pistol.

It seems that two gentlemen had landed from the steamer, and had proceeded, as was the wont of visitors, to the Villa Sommariva, to look over it. One was an Italian, the other an Englishman, who spoke Italian perfectly. Suddenly, as they reached the gate of the Villa which opened on the road, the Englishman said to the Italian, "Are you not afraid of being set upon?" The other, who had come from Milan with him, and was not otherwise acquainted, and had no idea of his malady, replied, "No, why should he?" "Do you not know that we are watched, and there is treachery everywhere about us?" "No," said the other, "and if there were, you have as much cause to be frightened as I." {I.71} "But I am armed," said the madman, "this is loaded," and he drew a pistol from his pocket, and still more excited by the sight of the weapon, began to shriek "Tradimento! Tradimento! Alla Villa Sommariva! Tradimento!" His companion, frightened enough, ran off and alarmed the inn and village, and as Englishmen, my companions were summoned to see if they could do anything with their countryman.

There he stood on the steps before the gate of the villa leading down to the lake, shrieking "Tradimento;" he kept every one at bay with his pistol, which was cocked, capped, and ready. Some people from across the lake tried to land at the steps to visit the villa, but he soon made them row away; the inhabitants around all flocked, hiding behind trees and peeping from coverts. He was well content to talk or to be spoken to in Italian or English, but no one must approach; and his position, standing on a semicircular flight of steps leading down to the lake, was sufficiently impregnable: it gave him the whole command of the road in front, and no one could outflank, or come behind him. After three or four hours, however, he grew less watchful. As the people talked to him, he allowed them insensibly to approach nearer, till one fellow getting behind, threw up his arm with the pistol, and then throwing his arms around him, took him prisoner. His pistol was {I.72} double-loaded. But with all his madness he was aware, that if he had fired it, his power was at an end; and this latent sanity saved, perhaps, a life.

He was brought to the hotel, and a dismal day my friends have passed watching over him. Poor fellow! he is quite mad. He had given English lessons at Milan for some years, and earned sufficient livelihood. His insanity has taken the turn of believing, that the Austrian police want to poison him. He said he never went to the theatre but a police officer was behind, who scattered poisonous powder over him. He will not take any food in consequence; neither touch bread nor water. My maid took him a cup of tea made by herself, and, to her great indignation, he refused it, as poisoned. He tried to escape several times. First, he made friends with his countrymen; but when he found that they watched him, he turned to the Italians, calling us, according to the phrase of the country, "non Cristiani," and begging them to save him. He had sixteen napoleons with him. It seems that the doctor who attended him (he was without relations or English friends) had advised him to go to England, had put him into the diligence for Como, introducing him to a Milanese in the vehicle, without mentioning his malady, and thus he was delivered over to the miserable wanderings of his mind. A doctor had been sent for from Menaggio {I.73} at the first moment; of course, he could do nothing. With difficulty he was induced to go to bed; he was thoroughly persuaded he should be murdered in the night, and his expostulations on the subject were shocking and ghastly enough. The next morning, having taken an aversion to all those with whom he had been friendly the preceding day, he consented to go back to Milan, under the escort of a police officer. I saw him as he got into the boat; he was a spare man, with an adust, withered face and unquiet eye; but not otherwise remarkable. We heard that at Como he selected a pear from the bottom of a basket in the market place, and ate it; it was the first food that had passed his lips since he left Milan, two days before.

TUESDAY, 21st.
In our hotel are an English gentleman and lady, with whom the adventure of the madman brought us acquainted. Mr. and Mrs. F____ had been spending the last two years in Italy; they are passed middle life: he is a scholar and a gentlemanly man; he has printed a volume of poetry, and aims at connoisseurship in pictures. She appears one of those dear, gentle, sensible, warm-hearted women, the salt of the earth. Her acquaintance, alone as I am with my son, and his youthful friends, promises to be a great resource to me.

{I.74} This evening P____'s little boat has come; small, indeed, it is. In shape it is something of a sea boat, and it has a keel, and a tiny sail; but it is too small to convey a feeling of safety. I look at it and shudder. I can bring no help, except constant watchfulness; and many an anxious hour it will cause me to pass. Do not call me a grumbler. A tragedy has darkened my life: I endeavour, in vain, to cast aside the fears which are its offspring; they haunt me perpetually, and make too large and too sad a portion of my daily life.

The arrival of the boat, you see, has dashed my spirits, so I break off. -- Adieu.

{I.75}

LETTER VII.

Excursions on the Lake. -- Manzoni's Ode of "Cinque Maggio."
CADENABBIA, MONDAY, 27th JULY.
Yester evening there was a thunder storm, and this morning the loftier Alps to the north are covered with snow, a sign that we shall have a boisterous wind from Colico until the snow disappears; this is the wind that brings heavy waves, and renders the navigation of the lake dangerous. P____ desired to sail; I walked round to the bay of Bolvedro, and watched while he tacked in and out. I afterwards got into the boat to return; but it seemed to me that the little craft must run into the depths of the deep in that spot; it is said who went down there, was never seen again. We landed, however, in safety.

TUESDAY, 28th.
{I.76} The arrival of the steamer at noon is the event of our day. Several times acquaintance have come by it, chance visitants to the lake of Como. When we hear the bell, my companions leave their books to run down to see the disembarkation: to-day I heard one of them exclaim, "Ah, here's D____!" This announced the arrival of a fellow-collegian, who joined our party for two or three weeks, to the great satisfaction of his friends.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 3.
The snow is gone from the mountain tops; warm, really warm weather has commenced, and we begin to enjoy one of the most delicious pleasures of life, in its way. The repose necessitated by heat during the day, the revival in the evening, the enjoyment of the cooler hours, the enchantment of the nights -- to stroll beside or linger upon the divine lake, to see the sun's declining rays gild the mountain peaks, to watch the stars gather bright over the craggy summits, to view the vast shadows darken the waters, and hear the soft tinkling bells, put by the fishermen to mark the spot where the nets are set, come with softened sound across the water: this has been our lot each evening. Each evening, too, at dusk, the girls from the silk mill close by, {I.77} pass our inn on their way from work to their own village; they sing as they go, and look happy: some of them are very beautiful. They are all well conducted, I am told, keeping sharp watch on one another. The unmarried in Italy are usually of good conduct, while marriage is the prelude to a fearful liberty.

MONDAY, 5th.
We have crossed to Bellaggio several times, without visiting the villas on that shore. To-day has been excessively hot; at five a breeze sprung up: we crossed the lake, and, landing at the port of Bellaggio, went up the hill to visit the villa Serbelloni .

The extreme and narrow shoot of the promontory that divides the lake into two, is covered by the gardens of this villa. To the north, towards Cadenabbia, the descent is somewhat gradual to the water, and the hill is cut into terraces, planted with vines and olives. To the south, looking over the lake of Lecco, it is abrupt; dark, precipitous rocks, rise at once from the deep waters, broken into crags and pinnacles, crowned with rich vegetation, and adorned by majestic trees. Paths have been formed along the outmost brink of these picturesque precipices and ravines; and it is impossible {I.78} to imagine anything more beautiful than the sight, looking down on the clear deep lake, and its high rocky barriers, broken into gorges and water-courses, tree-grown and verdant. A tower in olden time had been built on the height of the promontory -- it is now in ruin -- and through this there is an entrance to a summer-house that overlooks the deepest and most beautiful of the ravines, with its graceful wood. On the other side of the lake are the huge mountains surmounting Varenna, and, softened by distance, the roaring of a torrent falls on the ear; the sound of a mysterious fountain, called, from its milky colour, fiume latte, whose bed is full and noisy in summer, and empty and still in winter. The grounds of the Villa Serbelloni are peculiarly Italian. One path is cut through a cavern; and at a particular point a view is caught of the opposite bank and of the Villa Sommariva -- a picture, as it were, set in a frame; descending terraces lead from the summer-house to the water's edge. The gardens are not kept in English order; but Art has done much in laying them out to advantage, and the exuberant richness of Nature stands in place of trimness, which is not an appositive epithet for gardens in this country.1 There is a great deal of ground; {I.79} the demesne is princely in its extent, and in the grandeur of the natural beauties it contains. Its great defect is the absence of a suitable residence.

In times gone by this estate belonged to the ducal family of Sfondrati, whose escutcheons adorn the walls. The Sfondrati were a family of Cremona, and the name appears in the pages of Italian history. In Charles V.'s time, a Sfondrati was employed in various negotiations by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, and was among the most distinguished of the followers of the Emperor himself. Unfortunately, in those days the Italians of Lombardy were patriots no more, for they had no longer a country. Francesco Sfondrati was named by Charles V. Governor of Siena, and restored order to that distracted town; so that the Sienese named him Father of their country. As Siena had always been a Ghibelline city, it may be supposed that the majority of citizens looked favourably on the acts of a governor appointed by the German Emperor. Sfondrati had married a lady of the illustrious house of Visconti, and was thus connected with the reigning family of Milan. When he lost his wife, he entered the Church. He became, first, Bishop of Cremona, and afterwards Cardinal. The youngest of his sons was also an ecclesiastic, and became Pope, under the name of Gregory XIV.; he {I.80} was known as an author of some works on jurisprudence; and besides, there exists a poem of his, entitled "De Raptu Helenae, Poema heroicum, libro tres," published in Venice, in 1559. Another member of the same family, also a churchman, made himself conspicuous by defending the pretensions of the court of Rome in answer to the declaration of the French clergy, in 1682; and was, as a reward, made cardinal.

Nor is the name Serbelloni much less illustrious. This family was originally Burgundian; and three brothers of the name left France during the anarchy of the reign of Charles VI., when the factions of Burgundy and Orleans, and the English invasion, distracted that unfortunate country. One brother established himself in Spain, another at Naples, the third in Lombardy.

One of the descendants, Gabriel Serbelloni, was particularly famous. Had he supported a good cause, he had been a hero. But the Italians had ceased to be a nation, and fought for France or Spain, as circumstances might direct. Gabriel was a Knight of Malta, and fought against the Turks with reputation and success in Hungary. His military skill and prowess introduced him to the notice of Charles V.; and he invited him to enter his service. He fought in Germany and Brabant, and acquired a high reputation. The most honourable {I.81} circumstance attending his career occurred when Don John of Austria undertook his famous expedition against the Turks. This prince refused to sail till Serbelloni was added to the number of his Generals. Everything that was most illustrious in Italy and Spain made a part of his expedition. The inimical fleets encountered each other near Lepanto. The greater number of the Generals, both Spanish and Italian, were for avoiding the conflict, the Turkish fleet having greatly the advantage in numbers. Serbelloni alone supported the opposite opinion. Don John yielded to his arguments; and Serbelloni, by his subsequent bravery, as well as by his counsels, was a chief cause of the victory. It was in this battle that Cervantes fought and lost his hand: it is one of the most famous naval combats in modern history. Serbelloni was rewarded by the Vice-Royalty of Sicily. He was employed on other occasions of difficulty and peril against the Turks, and was made prisoner at one time and exchanged for thirty-six Turkish officers of rank, taken in the battle of Lepanto.

He reaped a better glory when named Lieutenant by the Governor of Milan. The plague broke out in the city, and the Governor abandoned his post; Serbelloni remained, and exerted himself, by wise and humane measures, to alleviate the horrors of the {I.82} time. He was again chosen by Don John to accompany him in his last campaign in Flanders; he was with him when he died, nor did he long survive him.

A more recent Serbelloni -- probably grandfather of the present representatives of the family -- served under the Emperor Charles VI., and distinguished himself in the wars of Italy, and more particularly during the Seven Years' War. He was afterwards appointed Governor of Lombardy.

I can scarcely explain why I send you these details. These grounds are so attractive -- their site so romantic -- the name of the Sfondrati sounded so dignified to our ears, that we have been hunting for information with regard to them and their successors. I send you a portion of the result.

Two brothers now remain of the Serbelloni family -- one a general, who served during the wars of the French Empire; the other, a church dignitary. Both are childless, and the estates will, on their death, be inherited by their sister.

Probably, in ancient days, all the habitation that existed was the ruined tower on the summit of the promontory. The escutcheons on the walls show, however, that the present villa was built by the Sfondrati; but it is much out of repair and quite unworthy of the grounds, being little better then {I.83} the house of a fattore or steward. The plan of a new residence on a splendid scale is under consideration, as well as the completion and ornamenting the grounds. But the brothers discuss, and can never come to one mind; so things remain as they are.

TUESDAY, 6th.
This evening we crossed again to visit other seats on the opposite bank. Villa Melzi is a very pleasant country house; its marble halls and stuccoed drawing-rooms are the picture of Italian comfort -- cool, shady, and airy. The garden has had pains taken with it; there are some superb magnolias and other flowering trees, but one longs for the English gardening here. What would not some friends of mine make of a flower-garden in Italy; how it would abound and run over with sweets -- no potting and greenhouses to check, no frost to decimate. The Italians here know not what flowers and a flower-garden are.

After loitering awhile, we ascended the bank by a convenient and wide flight of some eighty steps, and reached the villa Giulia, whose grounds look upon the lake of Lecco. It was all shut up , as we were late. We found out way however, across the promontory to a little harbour {I.84} on the water's edge. Surely on earth there is no pleasure (excepting that derived from moral good) so great as lingering, during the soft shades of an Italian evening, surrounded by all the beauty of an Italian landscape, sheltered by the pure radiance of an Italian sky -- and then to skim the calm water towards one's home; while the stars gather bright overhead, and the lake glimmers beneath. These delights are, indeed, the divinest imparted by the visible creation; but they come to us so naturally as our due birthright, that we do not feel their full value till returned to a northern clime; when, all at once, we wonder at the charge come over the earth, and feel disinherited of, and exiled from its fairest gifts.

TUESDAY, 6th.
The weather is now delicious; yet at times a cloud is spread over the sky; and wind and rain threaten us. This evening I had the pleasure of finding that I had not become quite a coward, and that I feared for P____ more than for myself. I crossed the lake with Mr. ____; the wind rose, and our little sail was hoisted; but the waves rose with the wind, and our craft is so small that a little breeze seems much. However, I had been scolded, and had scolded myself for my timidity, and would not now display even prudence, but {I.85} went on; and though twenty times I was on the point of proposing to return, I did not, for I was not aware that my companion silently shared my alarm. At length we had nearly reached the opposite side of the lake; the wind and waves had both risen, and if they increased, danger was at hand. I did not feel fear, but I felt the risk. At length Mr. ____ said, "I think we might as well return;" and at the word we tacked. It was a side wind, and our skiff was apt to make great leeway, which would take us below Cadenabbia, and heaven knows where we could land. Just then the wind fell, and danger passed away; but the waves continued high, and the sail grew useless, while sculling became fatiguing. It was hard work: at last we reached the port of Tremezzo; and getting a boy to row the boat back to Cadenabbia, we gladly walked home.

MONDAY 10th.
The moonlight nights are most inviting. I spent several hours on the water this evening. We put out just at sunset: when we reached Menaggio the full moon had risen above the mountain tops, and strewed a silver path upon the waves; instead of returning, we rowed along the shining track, towards the lake of Lecco. We hunted for the tinkling fisher-bells, and loitered delicious {I.86} hours away. This evening I heard for the first time Manzoni's Ode on Napoleon -- strange, I had never before met with it. It was now repeated to me. It is a glorious poem; the opening calls at once the attention; its rapid sketching of events is full of fire; the recurrence to the poet's self noble and appropriate; and the last stanza instinct with charity and pious hope. The hero, with all his faults, was fitly praised in verse as majestic as ever yet a poet wrote. It is a double pleasure to find poetry worthy of its better days spring up in modern Italy, showing that the genius of the Italians survives the blighting influence of misrule and oppression. The more I see of the inhabitants of this country, the more I feel convinced that they are highly gifted with intellectual powers, and possess all the elements of greatness. They are made to be a free, active, inquiring people. But they must cast away their dolce far niente. They must learn to practise the severer virtues; their youth must be brought up in more hardy and manly habits; they must tread to earth the vices that cling to them as the ivy around their ruins. They must do this to be free; yet without freedom how can they? for the governments of Italy know that to hold their own they must debase their subjects; they jealously bar their doors against all improvement; and every art and {I.87} power is used to crush any who would rise above the vices and indolence of the day.

I love the Italians. It is impossible to live among them and not love them. Their faults are many -- the faults of the oppressed -- love of pleasure, disregard of truth, indolence, and violence of temper. But their falsehood is on the surface -- it is not deceit. Under free institutions, and where the acquirement of knowledge is not as now a mark inviting oppression and wrong, their love of pleasure were readily ennobled into intellectual activity. They are affectionate, simple, and earnestly desirous to please. There is life, energy, and talent in every look and word; grace and refinement in every act and gesture. They are a noble race of men -- a beautiful race of women; the time must come when they will take a place among nations. Their habits, fostered by their governments, alone are degraded and degrading; alter these, and the country of Dante and Michael Angelo and Raphael still exists.

{I.88}

LETTER VIII.

Voyage to Como. -- The Opera. -- Walk towards Menaggio.
CADENABBIA, AUGUST 15.
Time speeds on; yet every hour being occupied, it appears to move slowly. How often do a few weeks -- such as we have spent here -- seem a mere shred of life, hardly counted in the passage of a year! But these weeks "drag a slow length along," day succeeding day, each gifted with the calmest yet most living enjoyment. Calm; for no event disturbs us: instinct with glowing life, inspired by the beauty of the scenery and the delicious influence of the climate.

We hear from the boatmen on the lake snatches of the "Lucia" -- the Bell' Alma innamorata, especially. The Opera-house at Como is open; and, now and then, to vary their day, my companions have visited it, going by the steamer at four in the afternoon, and returning the next morning. I have been tempted thither once. The steamer, the Lario (a better is promised for next year), is a very {I.89} primitive and slow boat. I now made a voyage I had made years before, when putting off from Como in a skiff we had visited Tremezzo. How vividly I remembered and recognised each spot. I longed inexpressibly to land at the Pliniana, which remained in my recollection as a place adorned by magical beauty. The abrupt precipices, the gay-looking villas, the richly-wooded banks, the spire-like cypresses -- a thousand times scarcely less vividly had they recurred to my memory, than now they appeared again before my eyes. Sometimes these thoughts and these revisitings were full of inexpressible sadness; a yearning after the past -- a contempt for all that has occurred since, that throws dark and chilling shadows over the soul. Just now, my mind was differently attuned; the young and gay were around; and in them I lived and enjoyed.

Madame Pasta has a villa on the lake, some miles distant from Como. She has an excessive fear of the water, and never goes to Como by the steamer. Unluckily there is no road on her side of the lake; and she has a house on the opposite shore, in which to remain, if the weather is stormy, to wait for the smoothing of the waters. Methinks the elements are rude indeed not to obey her voice -- never did any so move, so penetrate the human heart. In "Giulietta," in "Medea," and, above all, in the {I.90} melting and pathetic tenderness of the opening air of the "Nina Pazza per Amore" of the divine Paesiello, she has in truth taken from the heart its last touch of hardness, and melted it into sweetest tears. Pasta and Paganini alone have had this power over me, but yet different in its kind. By Pasta, the tenderest sympathy was awakened, joined to that soft return to one's own past afflictions, which subdued the soul and opened the fountain of tears. Paganini excited and agitated violently -- it was rather nervous hysterics than gentle sorrowing -- it was irresistible -- as a friend said, it realised the fables of Orpheus -- it had the power of an enchantment. We heard him in a garish theatre, seeing him on stage, playing simply to attract admiration and gain money. The violent emotions he excited, rose and faded in the bosom without any visible sign. But could we have listened in the wooded solitudes of Greece or Italy, and known that he himself was animated by some noble purpose, surely he might have inspired passion, animated to glorious action, and caused obstacles seemingly irresistible to give way -- no fabled power of music ever transcended his.

It is bathos to return to the opera of Como -- but it was very creditable. The house was clean and pretty. Teresa Brambilla sang the part of "Lucia" very tolerably, and it was an agreeable change. In {I.91} the hotel at Como were staying some Italians, whose singing, however, far transcended that of the theatre. Prince B____, in the days of his exile and poverty, often said jestingly, that were his fortunes at their last ebb, the stage would be a sure resource. Perhaps no finer voice than his has been heard in a theatre for many years.

AUGUST 30th.
It is not always calm upon the lake. Sometimes a mighty storm comes down from the Alps, bringing with it driving rain, which resembles the mist of a cataract, and wind that lashes the water into waves and foam, -- and then, in half an hour, all is sunny, sparkling -- and calm is spread again upon the waters. Several times we had music on the lake: once we got the musicians over from Bellaggio -- they were artisans of the place, who had formed themselves into a musical society -- to the number of twenty-one, and they played a variety of airs of modern composers. Often we have visited our favourite Villa Serbelloni, and each visit discovered some new beauty. Once, in P.'s little boat, we doubled the promontory, and rowed beneath the crags we had looked down upon from the terraced walks above. Black, abrupt, and broken into islet, pinnacle, and cliff, but all crowned by greenest vegetation, they rose high around us. Sometimes we visited the high terraced {I.92} gardens of Villa Giulia, that overlooked the same branch of the lake.

Nor, nearer home, must I forget the Villa Sommariva. The grounds are not extensive, and, of course, broken into terraces, from the nature of the site; with overarching trees, forming shady alcoves and covered walks. It is a cool and pleasant retreat at noon: the house is a very good one, large and cheerful. It possesses a renowned work of Canova, the Cupid and Psyche. The expression of their faces is tender and sweet; but -- I like not to confess it -- I am not an admirer of Canova's women. He is said to have had singular opportunities of studying the female form; but place his Venus, or any other of his female statues, beside those of Grecian sculpture, and his defects must strike the most untaught eye. There was a little antique of a sleeping nymph in the halls of the Villa Sommariva, which formed a contrast with the modern Psyche. It looked as the finger could impress the marble, as the imitated flesh had yielded to the posture of the figure. Canova's seemed as if it moved only at joints, and as if no other portion of the frame was influenced by attitude.

When alone in an evening, I often walk towards Menaggio. I have selected a haunt among rocks close to the water's edge, shaded by an olive-wood. {93} I always feel renewed and extreme delight as I watch the shadows of evening climb the huge mountains, till the granite peaks alone shine forth glad and bright, and a holy stillness gathers over the landscape. With what serious yet quick joy do such sights fill me; and dearer still is the aspiring thought that seeks the Creator in his works, as the soul yearns to throw off the chains of flesh that hold it in, and to dissolve and become a part of that which surrounds it.

This evening my friends are gone to Como, and I sat long on my favourite seat, listening to the ripplet of the calm lake splashing at my feet; to the murmur of running streams, and to the hollow roar of the mysterious torrent -- the Fiume Latte -- which is borne, softened by distance, from the opposite shore; viewing the magnificent mountain scene, varied by the lights and shadows caused by the setting sun. My heart was elevated, purified, subdued. I prayed for peace to all; and still the supreme Beauty brooded over me, and promised peace; at least there where change is not, and love and enjoyment unite and are one. From such rapt moods the soul returns to earth, bearing with it the calm of Paradise:

Quale è colui, che sognando vede,
E dopo 'l sogno la passione impressa
Rimane, e l'altro alla mente non riede;
Cotal son io, che quasi tutta cessa
Mia visione, ed ancor mi distilla {I.94}
Nel cor il dolce, che nacque de essa.
Cosi la neve al sol si dissigilla;
Cosi al vento nelle foglie lievi
Si perdea la sentenzia di Sibilla2.
It has seemed to me -- and on such an evening, I have felt it, -- that this world, endowed as it is outwardly with endless shapes and influences of beauty and enjoyment, is peopled also in its spiritual life by myriads of loving spirits; from whom, unawares, we catch impressions, which mould our thoughts to good, and thus they guide beneficially the course of events, and minister to the destiny of man. Whether the beloved dead make a portion of this holy company, I dare not guess; but that such exists, I feel. They keep far off while we are worldly, evil, selfish; but draw near, imparting the reward of heaven-born joy, when we are animated by noble thoughts, and capable of disinterested actions. Surely such gather round me this night, and make a part of that atmosphere of peace and love which it is paradise to breathe.

I had thought such ecstasy as that in which I now was lapped dead to me for ever; but the sun of Italy has thawed the frozen stream -- the cup of life again sparkles to the brim. Will it be removed as I turn northward? I fear it will. I grieve to think that we shall very soon leave Cadenabbia -- the first sad step towards quitting Italy.

{I.95}

LETTER IX.

Italian poetry. -- Italian Master. -- The Country People. -- The Fulcino. -- Grand Festa. -- Adieu to Cadenabbia.
CADENABBIA, 7th SEPT.
We leave Cadenabbia in a day or two. I go unwillingly; the calm weather invites my stay, by dispelling fears. (P.'s boat has left us. I bade it a grateful adieu, glad that it went leaving me scatheless; sorry to see it go, as a token of our too speedy departure.) The heat is great in the middle of the day, and I read a great deal to beguile the time, chiefly in Italian; for it is pleasant to imbue one's mind with the language and literature of the country in which one is living: and poetry -- Italian poetry -- is in harmony with these scenes. The elements of its inspiration are around me. I breathe the air; I am sheltered by the hills and woods which give its balmy breath, which lend their glorious colouring to their various and sunny verse. There are stanzas in Tasso that make themselves peculiarly felt here. One, when Rinaldo is setting out by starlight on the adventure of the enchanted {I.96} forest, full of the religion that wells up instinctively in the heart amidst these scenes, beneath this sky . But I have chiefly been occupied by Dante, who, so to speak, is an elemental poet; one who clothes in the magic of poetry the passions of the heart, enlightened and ennobled by piety, and who regards the objects of the visible creation with a sympathy, a veneration, otherwise only to be found in the old Greek poets. I have read the Purgatorio and Paradiso, with ever new delight. There are finer passages in the Inferno than can be found in the two subsequent parts; but the subject is so painful and odious, that I always feel obliged to shut the book after a page or two. The pathetic tenderness of the Purgatorio, on the contrary, wins its way to the heart; and again, the soul is elevated and rapt by the sublime hymns to heavenly love, contained in the Paradiso. Nothing can be more beautiful than the closing lines, which I quoted in a late letter, which speak of his return to earth, his mind still penetrated by the ecstasy he had lately felt.

My companions wanted a master for Italian. I asked Peppina if there was one to be found near. She recommended a friend of her's at Menaggio: he was not accustomed to give lessons, but would for her sake. This did not sound hopeful. I tried to understand his charges; but though I put the {I.97} question fifty times, she, with true Italian subtlety, slid out of the embarrassment, and left me uninformed: while I, for the hundredth time, did that which a hundred times I had determined not to do -- engaged a person's services at no fixed sum. The whole thing turned out ill. The man belonged to the dogana at Menaggio; his Italian was no better than Peppina's own -- who could talk it very tolerably for a short time; but in longer conversations soon slid into Comasque, or something like it. The man had no idea of teaching; and came so redolent of garlic, that the lessons were speedily discontinued. Of course, his charges were double those of a regular master.

I have spoken in praise of the Italians; but you must not imagine that I would exalt them to an unreal height -- that were to show that misrule and a misguiding religion were no evils. It is when I see what these people are, -- and from their intelligence, their sensitive organisation and native grace, I gather what they might be, -- that I mourn over man's lost state in this country.

The country people, I have already told you, hereabouts are a fine handsome race; many of the young women are beautiful, but their good looks soon go off. There are silk mills at Cadenabbia and Bolvedro, which employ a great many girls, who {I.98} laugh and sing at their work, and, leaving it in troops at the Ave Maria, pass under our window singing in chorus with loud, well-tuned voices. Their dress is picturesque; they wear their hair bound up at the back of the head in knotted tresses, to which are fixed large silver bodkins, which stand out like rays, and form a becoming head-dress; but, unfortunately, as they seldom take these bodkins out, and even sleep in them, they wear away the hair. You may guess, from this fact, that neatness and cleanliness are not, I grieve to say, among their good qualities.

It is strange that, although the men and women here are mostly handsome, the children are very plain. The contrary of this occurs in parts of Switzerland. Here, it a good deal arises from the diet: all the children look diseased -- as well they may be, considering their food -- and the wonder is, so many arrive at maturity. The deaths, however, are in much larger proportion than with us. I hear of no schools in this part of the country, and the people are entirely ignorant: neither are the priests held in esteem. Thus thoroughly untaught, the wonder is that they are as good as they are. The church indeed is respected, though its ministers are not; but the enactments of the church are most rigorous with regard to fastings and ritual {I.99} observances. If toil be virtue, however, these poor people deserve its praise. They work hard, and draw subsistence, wherever it can be by any toil abstracted, even from the narrow shelving of the mountains on which rich grass grows. The young men go to cut it each year; and it is so dangerous a task, that each year lives are lost, through the foot of the labourer slipping on the short grass, and his falling down the precipice. Fishing, of course, affords employment; and there is a good deal of traffic on the lake, which is carried on by flat-bottomed barges, impelled by large heavy sails, or by long oars, which they work by pushing forward. Unfortunately, in this part of Italy, they are not as sober as in the south, and drunken brawls frequently occur. The drunkenness of these men is not stupifying, as usually among us, but fierce and choleric. Great care is taken by government to prevent their carrying arms of any kind, even knives. They have, however, an implement called a fulcino, in shape like a small sickle, which is used for weeding, and cutting grass on the mountains; this they are apt to employ as a weapon of offence. It is, consequently, forbidden to carry it polished and sharpened, but simply in the tarnished worn state incident to its proper uses. This enactment is, of course, constantly evaded. They are drawn in every brawl; {I.100} and the wound they inflict -- a long ugly gash -- is less dangerous, but more frightful than a stab. One evening, there was great excitement on a man being fulcinato at a drinking bout, at a neighbouring inn. One of my companions went to see him, and came back, horror-struck; he had a large, deep gash in the thigh, and was nearly dead from loss of blood. When a surgeon came, however, it was found that the wound was not dangerous. He was carried home in a boat; but it was two or three weeks before he could get about again. When these outrages occur, the police carry the aggressors to prison, where they are kept, we are told, ill off enough, till they consent to enlist. The life of a soldier in the Austrian service it so hard, ill-fed, and worse paid, that these poor wretches often hold out long; but they are forced, at last, to yield: nor is the punishment ill imagined, that he who sheds blood should be sent to deal in blood in the legal way. But the root of the evil still rests in the absence of education and civilisation; and one must pity the poor fellows, taken from their glorious mountains and sunny lake, and sent to herd among the sullen Austrians, far in the north, where the sound of their musical Italian shall never reach them more.

{I.101} SEPTEMBER 8th.
This is our last day. We are leaving the Lake of Como just when its season is beginning; for the Italians always make their villeggiatura in the months of September and October, when the fruit is ripe, and the vintage -- the last gathering in of the year -- takes place. The nobles, therefore, are now beginning to visit their villas. English visitants have built a few keeled boats, which, on going away, they either sold or made presents of to their Italian friends. There are two or three pretty English-built skiffs on the lake, which render it more gay and busy than before.

Numbers of the middling classes also, shopkeepers from Milan, congregate at Como and the villages, at this season. In some respects, however, this is not so pleasant, as there are many more visitors at the Albergo Grande. Each day crowds come by the steamer; tables are spread for them in the avenue of acacias, where they eat, drink, and are merry. We live at the other end of the house; and as these chance-comers all leave by the steamer, at four o'clock, they do not inconvenience us. But an English lady, who had taken rooms overlooking the avenue, grew very angry at the disturbance, called the Albergo Grande a pot-house, scolded Luigi, {I.102} mulcted his bill, and crowned her revenge by writing in his disfavour in the traveller's book of the Hotel at Como. For my own part, I love Cadenabbia more and more every day: every day it grows in beauty, and I regret exceedingly leaving it. My dearest wish had been to visit Venice before I turned my steps homewards, as there is a friend there whom I greatly desired to see; but I cannot go, and must resign myself.

I write these few last words from an alcove in the gardens of the Villa Sommariva, whither I have fled for refuge from the noise and turmoil of our hotel.

This is a very grand festa, named of the Madonna del Soccorso, and relates to the progress of the plague being stopped on one occasion through the intercession of the Virgin. The church is on a hill, about two miles from Cadenabbia, and twelve chapels are built, as stations, on the road leading to it. The whole of the inhabitants of the mountains around were concerned in the vow, and flocked in multitudes to celebrate the feast. In one village in particular, far away among the mountains to the north, the inhabitants had vowed always to wear woollen clothes cut in a peculiar fashion, and of a certain colour, if the remnants of their population -- for nearly all had perished -- were saved. These people walked all night, to arrive about noon at Cadenabbia. Their {I.103} dress was ungainly enough, and must have been very burthensome to the walkers this hot day. It was made of heavy dark-blue cloth, with a stripe of red at the bottom of the petticoat -- I speak of the dress of the women. I forget in what that of the men differs from that of the peasants of Cadenabbia. The crowd is immense; and the Albergo Grande is the focus where, going to, or coming from paying their devotions on the hill, they all collect. I grew tired of watching them from my window, and have retired to a shady bower of the gardens of the Villa Sommariva, where the hum of many thousand voices falls softened and harmless on my ear. "Eyes, look your last!" Soon the curtain of absence will be drawn before this surpassing scene. You are very hard-hearted, if you do not pity me.

MIDNIGHT.
And now the moon is up, and I sit at my window to say a last good-night to the lake. The bells, so peculiar a circumstance in this night-scene, "salute mine ear," across the waters. Many a calm day, many a delicious evening, have I here spent. It is over now, lost in the ocean of time past. It is always painful to leave a room for ever in which one has slept calmly at night, and by day nurtured pleasant thoughts. I grieve to leave my little cell. {I.104} But enough -- I will add a few words, the history of our last evening, and say good-night.

Very noisy and uproarious was our last evening; so that till now, when all is hushed, it seemed as if instead of quitting a lonely retreat among mountains, we were escaping from the confusion and crowd of a metropolis. The peasants drank too much wine; they quarelled with Luigi, and the fulcini were drawn. Care had been taken, however, to have police-officers near; on their appearance, all who could threw their weapons into the lake; two were taken with the arms in their hands, and hurried off to prison, which they will only leave as soldiers.

Late in the evening we paid our bill, and gave presents to the servants, usually a disagreeable and thankless proceeding. But here, all was so fair, the people so pleased and apparently attached, that no feelings of annoyance were excited. Poor people! I hope to see them one day again -- they all gathered round us with such shows of regret that it was impossible not to feel very kindly towards them in return.

Good-night!


Notes

1.
"______________ retired leisure,
That in trim gardens takes his pleasure.
Milton's "Penseroso."
2. Dante. Paradiso; Canto 33 [58-66].