« AnteriorContinuar »
Ferrara, Em. Sth, 1818.
Mr Dkar P.—We left Este yesterday on our journey towards Naples. The roads were particularly bad ; we have, therefore, accomplished only two days' journey, of eighteen and twentyfour miles each, and you may imagine that our horses must be tolerably good ones, to drag our carriage, with five people and heavy luggage, tlirough deep and clayey roads. The roads are, however, good during the rest of the way.
The country is flat, but intersected by lines of wood, trellised with vines, whose broad leaves are now stamped with the redness of their decay. Every here and there one sees people employed in agricultural labours, and the plough, the harrow, or the cart, drawn by long teams of milk-white or dove-coloured oxen of immense size and exquisite beauty. This, indeed, might be the country of Pasiphaes. In one farm-yard I was shown sixtythree of these lovely oxen, tied to their stalls, in excellent condition. A farm-yard in this part of Italy is somewhat different from one in England. First, the house, which is large and high, with strange-looking unpainted window-shutters, generally closed, and dreary beyond conception. The form-yard and out-buildings, however, are usually in the neatest order. The threshing-floor is not under cover, but like that described in the Georgics, usually flattened by a broken column, and neither the mole, nor the toad, nor the ant, can find on its area a crevice for their dwelling. Around it, at tliis season, are piled the stacks of the leaves and stalks of Indian corn, which has lately been threshed and dried upon its surface. At a little distance are vast heaps of many-coloured zucche or pumpkins, some of enormous size, piled as winter food for the hogs. There are turkeys, too, and fowls wandering about, and two or three dogs, »'ho bark with a sharp hylactism. The people who are occupied with the care of these things seem neither ill-clothed or ill-fed, and the blunt incivility of their manners has an English air with it, very discouraging to those who ire accustomed to the impudent and polished lying of the inhabitants of the cities. I should judge the agricultural resources of this country to be immense, since it can wear so flourishing an appearance, in spite of the enormous discouragements which the various tyranny of the governments inflicts on it. I •»ught to say that one of the farms belongs to a Jew banker at Venice, another Shylock.—We arrived late at the inn where I now write ; it was
once the palace of a Venetian nobleman, and is now an excellent inn. To-morrow we are going to see the Bights of Ferrara.
Nov. 7. We have had heavy rain and thunder all night; and the former still continuing, we went in the carriage about the town. We went first to look at the cathedral, but the beggars very soon made us sound a retreat; so, whether, as it is said, there is a copy of a picture of Michael Angelo there or no, I cannot tell. At the public library we were more successful. This is, indeed, a magnificent establishment, containing, as they say, 160,000 volumes. We saw some illuminated manuscripts of church music, with the verses of the psalms interlined between the square notes, each of which consisted of the most delicate tracery, in colours inconceivably vivid. They belonged to the neighbouring convent of Ccrtosa, and are three or four hundred years old ; but thenhues are as fresh as if they had been executed yesterday. The tomb of Ariosto occupies one end of the largest saloon of which the library is composed ; it is formed of various marbles, surmounted by an expressive bust of the poet, and subscribed with a few Latin verses, in a less miserable taste than those usually employed for similar purposes. But the most interesting exhibitions hero, are the writings, &c, of Ariosto and Tasso, wliich are preserved, and were concealed from the uudistinguishing depredations of the French with pious care. There is the arm-chair of Ariosto, an old plain wooden piece of furniture, the hard scat of which was once occupied by, but has now survived its cushion, as it lias its master. I could fancy Ariosto sitting in it; and the satires in his own handwriting which they unfold beside it, and the old bronze inkstand, loaded with figures, which belonged also to him, assists the willing delusion. This inkstand has an antique, rather than an ancient appearance. Three nymphs lean forth from the circumference, and on the top of the lid stands a cupid, winged and looking up, with a torch in one hand, his bow in the other, and his quiver beside him. A medal was bound round the skeleton of Ariosto, with his likeness impressed upon it I cannot say I think it had much native expression; but, perhaps, the artist was in fault. On the reverse is a hand, cutting with a pair of scissors the tongue from a serpent, upraised from the grass with this legend—Pro bono malum. What this reverse of the boasted Christian maxim means, or how it applies to Ariosto, either as a satirist or a serious writer, I cannot exactly tell. The cicerone attempted to explain, and it is to his commentary
that my bewildering is probably due—if, indeed, the meaning be very plain, as is possibly the case.
There is here a manuscript of the entire Gerusalemme Liberata, written by Tasso's own hand ; a manuscript of some poems, written in prison, to the Duke Alfonso ; and the satires of Ariosto, written also by his own hand ; and the Pastor Fido of Guarini. The Gerusalemme, though it had evidently been copied and recopied, is interlined, particularly towards the end, with numerous corrections. The hand-writing of Ariosto is a small, firm, and pointed character, expressing, as I should say, a strong and keen, but circumscribed energy of mind ; that of Tasso is large, free, and flowing, except that there is a checked expression in the midst of its flow, which brings the letters into a smaller compasB than one expected from the beginning of the word. It is the symbol of an intense and earnest mind, exceeding at times its own depth, and admonished to return by the dullness of the waters of oblivion striking upon its adventurous feet. You know I always seek in what I sec the manifestation of something beyond the present and tangible object; and as we do not agree in physiognomy, so we may not agree now. But my business is to relate my own sensations, and not to attempt to inspire others with them. Some of the MSS. of Tasso were sonnets to his persecutor, which contain a great deal of what is called flattery. If Alfonso's ghost were asked how he felt those praises now, I wouder what he would say. But to me there is much more to pity than to condemn in these entreaties and praises of Tasso. It is as a bigot prays to and praises his god, whom he knows to be the most remorseless, capricious, and inflexible of tyrants, but whom he knows also to be omnipotent. Tasso's situation was widely different from that of any persecuted being of the present day; for, from the depth of dungeons, public opinion might now at length be awakened to an echo that would startle the oppressor. But then there was no hope. There is something irresistibly pathetic to me in the sight of Tasso's own hand-writing, moulding expressions of adulation and entreaty to a deaf and stupid tyrant, in an age when the most heroic virtue would have exposed its possessor to hopeless persecution, and—such is the alliance between virtue and genius—which unoffending genius could not escape.
We went afterwards to see his prison in the hospital of Sant' Anna, and I enclose you a piece of the wood of the very door, which for seven years and three months divided this glorious being from the air and the light which had nourished in him those influences which he has communicated,
through his poetry, to thousands. The dungeon is low and dark, and, when I say that it is really a very decent dungeon, I speak as one who ha* seen i the prisons in the doges' palace of Venice. But it is a horrible abode for the coarsest and meanest thing that ever wore the shape of man, much more for one of delicate susceptibilities and elevated fancies. It is low, and has a grated window, and being sunk some feet below the level of the earth, is full of unwholesome damps. In the darkest corner is a mark in the wall where the chains were rivetted, which bound him hand and foot. After some time, at the instance of some Cardinal, his friend, the Duke allowed his victim a fire-place; the mark where it was walled up yet remains.
At the entrance of the Liceo, where the library is, we were met by a penitent; his form was completely enveloped in a ghost-like drapery of white flannel; his bare feet were sandalled ; ami there was a kind of net-work visor drawn over his eyes, so as entirely to conceal his face. I imagine that this man had been adjudged to suffer this penance for some crime known onlv to himself and his confessor, and this kind of exhibition is a striking instance of the power of the Catholic superstition over the human mind. He passed, rattling his wooden box for charity."
Adieu..—You will hear from me again before I arrive at Naples.
Yours, ever sincerely,
Bologna, Monday, Aer. »•, HI*. My Dear P,—I have seen a quantity of thing" here—churches, palaces, statues, fountains, and pictures; and my brain is at this moment Ekr a portfolio of an architect, or a print-shop, «r a commonplace-book. I will try to recollect something of what I have seen ; for, indeed, it requires, if it will obey, an act of volition. Firs, we went to the cathedral, which contains nothir; remarkable, except a kind of shrine, or rather > marble canopy, loaded with sculptures, and supported on four marble columns. We wen? then to a palace—I am sure I forget the name of it—where we saw a large gallery of pictures. Of course, in a picture gallery you see tliree luuktmi pictures you forget, for one you remember. I remember, however, an interesting picture H Guido, of the Rape of Proserpine, in which Proserpine casta back her languid and half
unwilling eyes, as it were, to the flowers she had left uiigathered in the fields of Eniia. There was an exquisitely executed piece of Correggio, about four saints, one of whom seemed to have a pet dragon in a leash. I was told that it was the devil who was bound in that style—but who can make anything of four saints i For what can they be supposed to be about 1 There was one painting, indeed, by this master, Christ beatified, inexpressibly fine. It is a half figure, seated on a mags of clouds, tinged with an ctherial, roselike lustre ; the arms are expanded; the whole frame seems dilated with expression ; the countenance is heavy, as it were, with the weight of the rapture of the spirit; the lips parted, but scarcely parted, with the breath of intense but regulated passion; the eyes are calm and benignant ; the whole features harmonised in majesty and sweetness. The hair is parted on the forehead, and falls in heavy locks on each side. It is motionless, but seems as if the faintest breath would move it The colouring, I suppose, must be very good, if I could remark and understand it The sky is of a pale aerial orange, like the tints of latest sunset; it does not seem painted around and beyond the figure, but everything eeeras to have absorbed, and to have been penetrated by its hues. I do not think we saw any other of Correggio, but this specimen gives me a very exalted idea of his powers.
Wo went to sec heaven knows how many more palaces—Ranuzzi, Marriscalchi, Aldobrandi. If you want Italian names for any purpose, here they arc; I should be glad of them if I was writing a novel. I saw many more of Guido. One, a Samson drinking water out of an ass's jaw-bone, in the midst of the slaughtered Philistines. Why he is supposed to do this, God, who gave him this jaw-bone, alone knows—but certain it is, that the painting is a very fine one. The figure of Samson stands in strong relief in the foreground, coloured, as it were, in the hues of human life, and full of strength and elegance. Round him lie the Philistines in all the attitudes of death. One prone, with the slight convulsion of pain just passing from his forehead, whilst on his lips and chin death lies as heavy as sleep. Another leaning on his arm, with his hand, white and motionless, hanging out beyond. In the distance, more dead bodies; and, still further beyond, the blue sea and the blue mountains, and one white and tranquil sail.
There is a Murder of the Innocents, also, by Guido, finely coloured, with much fine expression —but the subject is very horrible, and it seemed deficient in strength—at least, you require the
highest ideal energy, the most poetical and exalted conception of the subject, to reconcile you to such a contemplation. There was a Jesus Christ crucified, by the same, very fine. One gets tired, indeed, whatever may be the conception and execution of it, of seeing that monotonous and agonised form for ever exnibited in one prescriptive attitude of torture. But the Magdalen, clinging to the cross with the look of passive and gentle despair beaming from beneath her bright flaxen hair, and the figure of St John, with his looks uplifted in passionate compassion ; his hands clasped, and his fingers twisting themselves together, as it were, with involuntary anguish ; his feet almost writhing up from the ground with the same sympathy ; and the whole of this arrayed in colours of a diviner nature, yet most like nature's self. Of the contemplation of this one would never weary.
There was a " Fortune " too, of Guido ; a piece of mere beauty. There was the figure of Fortune on a globe, eagerly proceeding onwards, and Love was trying to catch her back by the hair, and her face was half turned towards him; her long chesnut hair was floating in the stream of the wind, and threw its shadow over her fair forehead. Her hazel eyes were fixed on her pursuer, with a meaning look of playfulness, and a light smile was hovering on her lips. The colours which arrayed her delicate limbs were ctherial and warm.
But, perhaps, the most interesting of all the pictures of Guido which I saw was a Madonna Lattantc. She is leaning over her child, and the maternal feelings with which she is pervaded are shadowed forth on her soft and gentle countenance, and hi her simple and affectionate gestures—there is what an unfeeling observer would call a dullness in the expression of her face ; her eyes arc almost closed ; her lip depressed ; there is a serious, and even a heavy relaxation, as it were, of all the muscles which are called into action by ordinary emotions: but it is only as if the spirit of love, almost insupportable from its intensity, wcro brooding over and weighing down the soul, or whatever it is, without which the material framo is inanimate and inexpressive.
There is another painter here, called Frances
chini, a Bolognese, who, though certainly very
inferior to Guido, is yet a person of excellent
powers. One entire church, that of Santa Catarina,
is covered by his works. I do not know whether
any of his pictures have ever been seen in England.
His colouring is less warm than that of Guido, but
nothing can be more clear and delicate ; it is as if
he could have dipped his pencil in the hues of
some screnest and star-shining twilight. His
forms have the same delicacy and aerial loveliness;
their eyea are all bright with innocence and love; their lips scarce divided by some gentle and sweet emotion. His winged children are the loveliest ideal beings ever created by the human mind. These are generally, whether in the capacity of Cherubim or Cupid, accessories to the rest of the picture; and the underplot of their lovely and infantine play is something almost pathetic, from the excess of its unpretending beauty. One of the best of his pieces is an Annunciation of the Virgin :—the Angel is beaming in beauty ; the Virgin, soft, retiring, and simple.
We saw, besides, one picture of Raphael—St. Cecilia: this is in another and higher style ; you forget that it is a picture as you look at it; and yet it is most unlike any of those things which we call reality. It is of the inspired and ideal kind, and seems to have been conceived and executed in a similar state of feeling to that which produced among the ancients those perfect specimens of poetry and sculpture which are the baffling models of succeeding generations. There is a unity and a perfection in it of an incommunicable kind. The central figure, St. Cecilia, seems rapt in such inspiration as produced her image in the painter's mind ; her deep, dark, eloquent eyes lifted up; her chesnut hair flung back from her forehead— she holds an organ in her hands—her countenance, as it were, calmed by the depth of its passion and rapture, and penetrated throughout with the warm and radiant light of life. She is listening to the music of heaven, and, as I imagine, has just ceased to sing, for the four figures that surround her evidently point, by their attitudes, towards her; particularly St John, who, with a tender yet impassioned gesture, bends his countenance towards her, languid with the depth of his emotion. At her feet lie various instruments of music, broken and unstrung. Of the colouring I do not speak; it eclipses nature, yet it has all her truth and Softness.
We saw some pictures of Domenichino, Caracci, Albano, Guercino, Elizabetta Sirani. The two former, remember, I do not pretend to taste—I cannot admire. Of the latter there are some beautiful Madonnas. There are several of Gnercino, which they said were very fine. I dare say they were, for the strength and complication of his figures made my head turn round. One, indeed, was certainly powerful. It was the representation of the founder of the Carthusians exercising his austerities in the desert, with a youth as his attendant, kneeling beside him at an altar: on another .Jtar stood a skull and a crucifix-, and around mere the rocks and the trees of the wilderness. I never saw 3uch a figure as this fellow. His face
was wrinkled like a dried snake's skin, and drawn in long hard lines: his very hands were wrinkled. He looked like an animated mummy. He was clothed in a loose dress of death-coloured flannel, such as you might fancy a shroud might be, after it had wrapt a corpse a month or two. It had a yellow, putrified, ghastly hue, which it cast on all the objects around, so that the hands and face of the Carthusian and his compani'in were jaundiced by this sepulchral glimmer. Whj write books against religion, when we may hang up such pictures 1 But the world either win not or cannot see. The gloomy effect of this wis softened, and, at the same time, its sublimit; diminished, by the figure of the Virgin and Child in the sky, looking down with admiration on the monk, and a beautiful flying figure of an angel
Enough of pictures. I saw the place where Guido and his mistress, Elizabetta Sirani, were buried. Tins lady was poisoned at the age of twenty-six, by another lover, a rejected one of course. Our guide said she was very ugly, ud that we might see her portrait to-morrow.
Well, good-night, for the present "To-mam>» to fresh fields and pastures new."
JTdf.lt To-day we first went to see those divine pictures of Raffael and Guido again, and then rode np the mountains, behind this city, to visit a chtprl dedicated to the Madonna. It made me mefancholy to see that they had been varnishing and restoring some of these pictures, and that even some had been pierced by the French bayonets. These are symptoms of the mortality of man, and, perhaps, few of his works are more evanescent than paintings. Sculpture retains its freslmes fir twenty centuries—the Apollo and the Venns are as they were. But books are perhaps the otly productions of man coeval with the human race. Sophocles and Shakspeare can be produced and reproduced for ever. But how evanescent are paintings ! and must necessarily be. Tuotr « Zeuxis and Aperies are no more; and perhapstbrj bore the same relation to Homer and Judtjr*. that those of Guido and Raffael bear to Dante and Petrarch. There is one refuge from the despondency of this contemplation. The material part, indeed, of their works must perisb, t*t they survive in the mind of man, and the n-roeinbrances connected with them are transmitted from generation to generation. The poet embodies them in his creations; the systems of philosopher* are modelled to gentleness by their contemplat*"; opinion, that legislator, is infected with lh* influence; men become better and wiser; and
the unseen seeds are perhaps thus sown, which sludl produce a plant more excellent even than that from which they fell. But all this might as well be said or thought at Marlow as Bologna.
The chapel of the Madonna is a very pretty Corinthian building—very beautiful indeed. It commands a fine view of these fertile plains, the many-folded Apennines, and the city. I have just returned from a moonlight walk through Bologna. It is a city of colonnades, and the effect of moonlight is strikingly picturesque. There are two towers here—one 400 feet high—ugly things, built of brick, which lean both different ways; and with the delusion of moonlight shadows, you might almost fancy that the city is rocked by an earthquake. They say they were built so on purpose; but I observe in all the plain of Lombardy the church towers lean.
Adieu.—God grant you patience to read this long letter, and courage to support the expectation of the next. Pray part them from the Cobbetta on your breakfast table—they may fight it out in your mind.
Yours ever, most sincerely,
P. B. S. —•—
ToT. L. P., Esq.
Rome, November SOtt, 1818.
Mr Dear P.,—Behold me in the capital of the vanished world! But I have seen nothing except St Peter's and the Vatican, overlooking the city in the mist of distance, and the Dogana, where they took us to have our luggage examined, which is built between the ruins of a temple to Antoninus Pius. The Corinthian columns rise over the dwindled palaces of the modern town, and the wrought cornice is changed on one side, as it were, to masses of wave-worn precipices, which overhang you, far, far on high.
I take advantage of this rainy evening, and before Rome has effaced all other recollections, to endeavour to recall the vanished scenes through which we have passed. We left Bologna, I forget on what day, and passing by Rimini, Fano, and Foligno, along the Via Flaminia and Terni, have arrived at Rome after ten days' somewhat tedious, but most interesting journey. The most remarkable things we saw were the Roman excavations in the rock, and the great waterfall of Terni. Of course you have heard that there are a Roman bridge and a triumphal arch at Rimini, and in what excellent taste they are built The bridge is not unlike the Strand bridge, but more bold in proportion, and of course infinitely smaller.
From Fano we left the coast of the Adriatic, and entered the Apennines, following the course of the Metaurus, the banks of which were the scene of the defeat of Asdrubal: and it is said (you can refer to the book) that Livy has given a very exact and animated description of it. I forget all about it, but shall look as soon as our boxes are opened. Following the fiver, the vale contracts, the banks of the river become steep and rocky, the forests of oak and ilex which overhang its emerald-coloured stream, cling to their abrupt precipices. About four miles from Fossombrone, the river forces for itself a passage between the walls and toppling precipices of the loftiest Apennines, which are here rifted to their base, and undermined by the narrow and tumultuous torrent. It was a cloudy morning, and we had no conception of the scene that awaited us. Suddenly the low clouds were struck by the clear norm wind, and like curtains of the finest gauze, removed one by one, were drawn from before the mountain, whose heaven-cleaving pinnacles and black crags overhanging one another, stood at length defined in the light of day. The road runs parallel to the river, at a considerable height, and is carried through the mountain by a vaulted cavern. The marks of the chisel of the legionaries of the Roman Consul are yet evident
We passed on day after day, until we came to Spoleto, I think the most romantic city I ever saw. There is here an aqueduct of astonishing elevation, which unites two rocky mountains,—there is the path of a torrent below, whitening the green dell with its broad and barren track of stones, and above there is a castle, apparently of great strength and of tremendous magnitude, which overhangs the city, and whose marble bastions are perpendicular with the precipice. I never saw a more impressive picture; in which the shapes of nature are of the grandest order, but over which the creations of man, sublime from their antiquity and greatness, seem to predominate. The castle was built by Belisarius or Narses, 1 forget which, but was of that epoch.
From Spoleto we went to Terni, and saw the cataract of the Vclino. The glaciers of Montanvert and the source of the Arveiron is the grandest spectacle I ever saw. This is the second. Imagine a river sixty feet in breadth, with a vast volume of waters, the outlet of a great lake among the higher mountains, falling 300 feet into a sightless gulf of snow-white vapour, which bursts up for ever and for ever from a circle of black crags, and thence leaping downwards, made five or six other cataracts, each fifty or a hundred feet high, which exhibit, on a smaller scale, and with beautiful and sublime variety, the same appearances. But wonis