Letters of a Traveller - Notes of Things Seen in Europe and America
by William Cullen Bryant
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The next morning we were rowed, by two of Jim Sinclair's boys, to the island of Bressay, and one of them acted as our guide to the remarkable precipice called the Noup of the Noss. We ascended its smooth slopes and pastures, and passed through one or two hamlets, where we observed the construction of the dwellings of the Zetland peasantry. They are built of unhewn stone, with roofs of turf held down by ropes of straw neatly twisted; the floors are of earth; the cow, pony, and pig live under the same roof with the family, and the manure pond, a receptacle for refuse and filth, is close to the door. A little higher up we came upon the uncultivated grounds, abandoned to heath, and only used to supply fuel by the cutting of peat. Here and there women were busy piling the square pieces of peat in stacks, that they might dry in the wind. "We carry home these pits in a basket on our showlders, when they are dry," said one of them to me; but those who can afford to keep a pony, make him do this work for them. In the hollows of this part of the island we saw several fresh-water ponds, which were enlarged with dykes and made to turn grist mills. We peeped into one or two of these mills, little stone buildings, in which we could hardly stand upright, inclosing two small stones turned by a perpendicular shaft, in which are half a dozen cogs; the paddles are fixed below, and there struck by the water, turn the upper stone.

A steep descent brought us to the little strait, bordered with rocks, which divides Brassey from the island called the Noss. A strong south wind was driving in the billows from the sea with noise and foam, but they were broken and checked by a bar of rocks in the middle of the strait, and we crossed to the north of it in smooth water. The ferryman told us that when the wind was northerly he crossed to the south of the bar. As we climbed the hill of the Noss the mist began to drift thinly around us from the sea, and flocks of sea-birds rose screaming from the ground at our approach. At length we stood upon the brink of a precipice of fearful height, from which we had a full view of the still higher precipices of the neighboring summit, A wall of rock was before us six hundred feet in height, descending almost perpendicularly to the sea, which roared and foamed at its base among huge masses of rock, and plunged into great caverns, hollowed out by the beating of the surges for centuries. Midway on the rock, and above the reach of the spray, were thousands of sea-birds, sitting in ranks on the numerous shelves, or alighting, or taking wing, and screaming as they flew. A cloud of them were constantly in the air in front of the rock and over our heads. Here they make their nests and rear their young, but not entirely safe from the pursuit of the Zetlander, who causes himself to be let down by a rope from the summit and plunders their nests. The face of the rock, above the portion which is the haunt of the birds, was fairly tapestried with herbage and flowers which the perpetual moisture of the atmosphere keeps always fresh—daisies nodding in the wind, and the crimson phlox, seeming to set the cliffs on flame; yellow buttercups, and a variety of other plants in bloom, of which I do not know the name.

Magnificent as this spectacle was, we were not satisfied without climbing to the summit. As we passed upward, we saw where the rabbits had made their burrows in the elastic peat-like soil close to the very edge of the precipice. We now found ourselves involved in the cold streams of mist which the strong sea-wind was drifting over us; they were in fact the lower skirts of the clouds. At times they would clear away and give us a prospect of the green island summits around us, with their bold headlands, the winding straits between, and the black rocks standing out in the sea. When we arrived at the summit we could hardly stand against the wind, but it was almost more difficult to muster courage to look down that dizzy depth over which the Zetlanders suspend themselves with ropes, in quest of the eggs of the sea-fowl. My friend captured a young gull on the summit of the Noup. The bird had risen at his approach, and essayed to fly towards the sea, but the strength of the wind drove him back to the land. He rose again, but could not sustain a long flight, and coming to the ground again, was caught, after a spirited chase, amidst a wild clamor of of the sea-fowl over our heads.

Not far from the Noup is the Holm, or, as it is sometimes called, the Cradle or Basket, of the Noss. It is a perpendicular mass of rock, two or three hundred feet high, with a broad flat summit, richly covered with grass, and is separated from the island by a narrow chasm, through which the sea flows. Two strong ropes are stretched from the main island to the top of the Holm, and on these is slung the cradle or basket, a sort of open box made of deal boards, in which the shepherds pass with their sheep to the top of the Holm. We found the cradle strongly secured by lock and key to the stakes on the side of the Noss, in order, no doubt, to prevent any person from crossing for his own amusement.

As we descended the smooth pastures of the Noss, we fell in with a herd of ponies, of a size somewhat larger than is common on the islands. I asked our guide, a lad of fourteen years of age, what was the average price of a sheltie. His answer deserves to be written in letters of gold—

"It's jist as they're bug an' smal'."

From the ferryman, at the strait below, I got more specific information. They vary in price from three to ten pounds, but the latter sum is only paid for the finest of these animals, in the respects of shape and color. It is not a little remarkable, that the same causes which, in Shetland, have made the horse the smallest of ponies, have almost equally reduced the size of the cow. The sheep, also—a pretty creature, I might call it—from the fine wool of which the Shetland women knot the thin webs known by the name of Shetland shawls, is much smaller than any breed I have ever seen. Whether the cause be the perpetual chilliness of the atmosphere, or the insufficiency of nourishment—for, though the long Zetland winters are temperate, and snow never lies long on the ground, there is scarce any growth of herbage in that season—I will not undertake to say, but the people of the islands ascribe it to the insufficiency of nourishment. It is, at all events, remarkable, that the traditions of the country should ascribe to the Picts, the early inhabitants of Shetland, the same dwarfish stature, and that the numerous remains of their habitations which still exist, should seem to confirm the tradition. The race which at present possesses the Shetlands is, however, of what the French call "an advantageous stature," and well limbed. If it be the want of a proper and genial warmth, which prevents the due growth of the domestic animals, it is a want to which the Zetlanders are not subject. Their hills afford the man apparently inexhaustible supply of peat, which costs the poorest man nothing but the trouble of cutting it and bringing it home; and their cottages, I was told, are always well warmed in winter.

In crossing the narrow strait which separates the Noss from Bressay, I observed on the Bressay side, overlooking the water, a round hillock, of very regular shape, in which the green turf was intermixed with stones. "That," said the ferryman, "is what we call a Pictish castle. I mind when it was opened; it was full of rooms, so that ye could go over every part of it." I climbed the hillock, and found, by inspecting several openings, which had been made by the peasantry to take away the stones, that below the turf it was a regular work of Pictish masonry, but the spiral galleries, which these openings revealed, had been completely choked up, in taking away the materials of which they were built. Although plenty of stone may be found everywhere in the islands, there seems to be a disposition to plunder these remarkable remains, for the sake of building cottages, or making those inclosures for their cabbages, which the islanders call crubs. They have been pulling down the Pictish castle, on the little island in the fresh-water loch called Cleikimin, near Lerwick, described with such minuteness by Scott in his journal, till very few traces of its original construction are left. If the inclosing of lands for pasturage and cultivation proceeds as it has begun, these curious monuments of a race which has long perished, will disappear.

Now that we were out of hearing of the cries of the sea-birds, we were regaled with more agreeable sounds. We had set out, as we climbed the island of Bressay, amid a perfect chorus of larks, answering each other in the sky, and sometimes, apparently, from the clouds; and now we heard them again overhead, pouring out their sweet notes so fast and so ceaselessly, that it seemed as if the little creatures imagined they had more to utter, than they had time to utter it in. In no part of the British Islands have I seen the larks so numerous or so merry, as in the Shetlands.

We waited awhile at the wharf by the minister's house in Bressay, for Jim Sinclair, who at length appeared in his boat to convey us to Lerwick. "He is a noisy fallow," said our good landlady, and truly we found him voluble enough, but quite amusing. As he rowed us to town he gave us a sample of his historical knowledge, talking of Sir Walter Raleigh and the settlement of North America, and told us that his greatest pleasure was to read historical books in the long winter nights. His children, he said, could all read and write. We dined on a leg of Shetland mutton, with a tart made "of the only fruit of the Island" as a Scotchman called it, the stalks of the rhubarb plant, and went on board of our steamer about six o'clock in the afternoon. It was matter of some regret to us that we were obliged to leave Shetland so soon. Two or three days more might have been pleasantly passed among its grand precipices, its winding straits, its remains of a remote and rude antiquity, its little horses, little cows, and little sheep, its sea-fowl, its larks, its flowers, and its hardy and active people. There was an amusing novelty also in going to bed, as we did, by daylight, for at this season of the year, the daylight is never out of the sky, and the flush of early sunset only passes along the horizon from the northwest to the northeast, where it brightens into sunrise.

The Zetlanders, I was told by a Scotch clergyman, who had lived among them forty years, are naturally shrewd and quick of apprehension; "as to their morals," he added, "if ye stay among them any time ye'll be able to judge for yourself." So, on the point of morals, I am in the dark. More attention, I hear, is paid to the education of their children than formerly, and all have the opportunity of learning to read and write in the parochial schools. Their agriculture is still very rude, they are very unwilling to adopt the instruments of husbandry used in England, but on the whole they are making some progress. A Shetland gentleman, who, as he remarked to me, had "had the advantage of seeing some other countries" besides his own, complained that the peasantry were spending too much of their earnings for tea, tobacco, and spirits. Last winter a terrible famine came upon the islands; their fisheries had been unproductive, and the potato crop had been cut off by the blight. The communication with Scotland by steamboat had ceased, as it always does in winter, and it was long before the sufferings of the Shetlanders were known in Great Britain, but as soon as the intelligence was received, contributions were made and the poor creatures were relieved.

Their climate, inhospitable as it seems, is healthy, and they live to a good old age. A native of the island, a baronet, who has a great white house on a bare field in sight of Lerwick, and was a passenger on board the steamer in which we made our passage to the island, remarked that if it was not the healthiest climate in the world, the extremely dirty habits of the peasantry would engender disease, which, however, was not the case. "It is, probably, the effect of the saline particles in the air," he added. His opinion seemed to be that the dirt was salted by the sea-winds, and preserved from further decomposition. I was somewhat amused, in hearing him boast of the climate of Shetland in winter. "Have you never observed" said he, turning to the old Scotch clergyman of whom I have already spoken, "how much larger the proportion of sunny days is in our islands than at the south?" "I have never observed it," was the dry answer of the minister.

The people of Shetland speak a kind of Scottish, but not with the Scottish accent. Four hundred years ago, when the islands were transferred from Norway to the British crown, their language was Norse, but that tongue, although some of its words have been preserved in the present dialect, has become extinct. "I have heard," said an intelligent Shetlander to me, "that there are yet, perhaps, half a dozen persons in one of our remotest neighborhoods, who are able to speak it, but I never met with one who could."

In returning from Lerwick to the Orkneys, we had a sample of the weather which is often encountered in these latitudes. The wind blew a gale in the night, and our steamer was tossed about on the waves like an egg-shell, much to the discomfort of the passengers. We had on board a cargo of ponies, the smallest of which were from the Shetlands, some of them not much larger than sheep, and nearly as shaggy; the others, of larger size, had been brought from the Faro Isles. In the morning, when the gale had blown itself to rest, I went on deck and saw one of the Faro Island ponies, which had given out during the night, stretched dead upon the deck. I inquired if the body was to be committed to the deep. "It is to be skinned first," was the answer.

We stopped at Kirkwall in the Orkneys, long enough to allow us to look at the old cathedral of St. Magnus, built early in the twelfth century—a venerable pile, in perfect preservation, and the finest specimen of the architecture once called Saxon, then Norman, and lately Romanesque, that I have ever seen. The round arch is everywhere used, except in two or three windows of later addition. The nave is narrow, and the central groined arches are lofty; so that an idea of vast extent is given, though the cathedral is small, compared with the great minsters in England. The work of completing certain parts of the building which were left unfinished, is now going on at the expense of the government. All the old flooring, and the pews, which made it a parish church, have been taken away, and the original proportions and symmetry of the building are seen as they ought to be. The general effect of the building is wonderfully grand and solemn.

On our return to Scotland, we stopped for a few hours at Wick. It was late in the afternoon, and the fishermen, in their vessels, were going out of the harbor to their nightly toil. Vessel after vessel, each manned with four stout rowers, came out of the port—and after rowing a short distance, raised their sails and steered for the open sea, till all the waters, from the land to the horizon, were full of them. I counted them, hundreds after hundreds, till I grew tired of the task. A sail of ten or twelve hours brought us to Aberdeen, with its old cathedral, encumbered by pews and wooden partitions, and its old college, the tower of which is surmounted by a cluster of flying buttresses, formed into the resemblance of a crown.

This letter, you perceive, is dated at Aberdeen. It was begun there, but I have written portions of it at different times since I left that city, and I beg that you will imagine it to be of the latest date. It is now long enough, I fear, to tire your readers, and I therefore lay down my pen.

Letter LII.

Europe under the Bayonet.

Paris, September 13, 1849.

Whoever should visit the principal countries of Europe at the present moment, might take them for conquered provinces, held in subjection by their victorious masters, at the point of the sword. Such was the aspect which France presented when I came to Paris a few weeks since. The city was then in what is called, by a convenient fiction, a state of siege; soldiers filled the streets, were posted in every public square and at every corner, were seen marching before the churches, the cornices of which bore the inscription of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, keeping their brethren quiet by the bayonet. I have since made a journey to Bavaria and Switzerland, and on returning I find the siege raised, and these demonstrations of fraternity less formal, but the show and the menace of military force are scarcely less apparent. Those who maintain that France is not fit for liberty, need not afflict themseves with the idea that there is at present more liberty in France than her people know how to enjoy.

On my journey, I found the cities along the Rhine crowded with soldiers; the sound of the drum was heard among the hills covered with vines; women were trundling loaded wheel-barrows, and carrying panniers like asses, to earn the taxes which are extorted to support the men who stalk about in uniform. I entered Heidelberg with anticipations of pleasure; they were dashed in a moment; the city was in a state of siege, occupied by Prussian troops which had been sent to take the part of the Grand Duke of Baden against his people. I could hardly believe that this was the same peaceful and friendly city which I had known in better times. Every other man in the streets was a soldier; the beautiful walks about the old castle were full of soldiers; in the evening they were reeling through the streets. "This invention," said a German who had been a member of the Diet of the Confederation lately broken up, "this invention of declaring a city, which has unconditionally submitted, to be still in a state of siege, is but a device to practice the most unbounded oppression. Any man who is suspected, or feared, or disliked, or supposed not to approve of the proceedings of the victorious party, is arrested and imprisoned at pleasure. He may be guiltless of any offense which could be made a pretext for condemning him, but his trial is arbitrarily postponed, and when at last he is released, he has suffered the penalty of a long confinement, and is taught how dangerous it is to become obnoxious to the government."

From Heidelberg, thus transformed, I was glad to take my departure as soon as possible. Our way from that city to Heilbronn, was through a most charming country along the valley of the Neckar. Here were low hills and valleys rich with harvests, a road embowered in fruit-trees, the branches of which were propped with stakes to prevent them from breaking with their load, and groves lying pleasantly in the morning sunshine, where ravens were croaking. Birds of worse omen than these were abroad, straggling groups, and sometimes entire companies of soldiers, on their way from one part of the duchy to another; while in the fields, women, prematurely old with labor, were wielding the hoe and the mattock, and the younger and stronger of their sex were swinging the scythe. In all the villages through which we passed, in the very smallest, troops were posted, and men in military uniform were standing at the doors, or looking from the windows of every inn and beer-house.

At Heilbronn we took the railway for Stuttgart, the capital of Wurtemberg. There was a considerable proportion of men in military trappings among the passengers, but at one of the stations they came upon us like a cloud, and we entered Stuttgart with a little army. That city, too, looked as if in a state of siege, so numerous were the soldiery, though the vine-covered hills, among which it is situated, could have given them a better occupation. The railway, beyond Stuttgart, wound through a deep valley and ended at Geisslingen, an ancient Swabian town, in a gorge of the mountains, with tall old houses, not one of which, I might safely affirm, has been built within the last two hundred years. From this place to Ulm, on the Danube, the road was fairly lined with soldiers, walking or resting by the wayside, or closely packed in the peasants' wagons, which they had hired to carry them short distances. At Ulm we were obliged to content ourselves with straitened accommodations, the hotels being occupied by the gentry in epaulettes.

I hoped to see fewer of this class at the capital of Bavaria, but it was not so; they were everywhere placed in sight as if to keep the people in awe. "These fellows," said a German to me, "are always too numerous, but in ordinary times they are kept in the capitals and barracks, and the nuisance is out of sight. Now, however, the occasion is supposed to make their presence necessary in the midst of the people, and they swarm everywhere." Another, it was our host of the Goldener Hirsch, said to my friend, "I think I shall emigrate to America, I am tired of living under the bayonet."

I was in Munich when the news arrived of the surrender of the Hungarian troops under Goergey, and the fall of the Hungarian republic. All along my journey I had observed tokens of the intense interest which the German people took in the result of the struggle between Austria and the Magyars, and of the warmth of their hopes in favor of the latter. The intelligence was received with the deepest sorrow. "So perishes," said a Bavarian, "the last hope of European liberty."

Our journey to Switzerland led us through the southern part of Bavaria, among the old towns which formed a part of ancient Swabia. The country here, in some respects, resembles New England; here are broad woods, large orchards of the apple and pear, and scattered farm-houses—of a different architecture, it is true, from that of the Yankees, and somewhat resembling, with their far-projecting eaves, those of Switzerland. Yet there was a further difference—everywhere, men were seen under arms, and women at the plough.

So weary had I grown of the perpetual sight of the military uniform, that I longed to escape into Switzerland, where I hoped to see less of it, and it was with great delight that I found myself at Lindau, a border town of Bavaria, on the Bodensee, or Lake of Constance, on the shores of which the boundaries of four sovereignties meet. A steamer took us across the lake, from a wharf covered with soldiers, to Roorschach, in Switzerland, where not a soldier was to be seen. Nobody asked for our passports, nobody required us to submit our baggage to search. I could almost have kneeled and kissed the shore of the hospitable republic; and really it was beautiful enough for such a demonstration of affection, for nothing could be lovelier than the declivities of that shore with its woods and orchards, and grassy meadows, and green hollows running upward to the mountain-tops, all fresh with a shower which had just passed and now glittering in the sunshine, and interspersed with large Swiss houses, bearing quaintly-carved galleries, and broad overhanging roofs, while to the east rose the glorious summits of the Alps, mingling with the clouds.

In three or four hours we had climbed up to St. Gall—St. Gallen, the Germans call it—situated in a high valley, among steep green hills, which send down spurs of woodland to the meadows below. In walking out to look at the town, we heard a brisk and continued discharge of musketry, and, proceeding in the direction of the sound, came to a large field, evidently set apart as a parade-ground, on which several hundred youths were practicing the art of war in a sham fight, and keeping up a spirited fire at each other with blank cartridges. On inquiry, we were told that these were the boys of the schools of St. Gall, from twelve to sixteen years of age, with whom military exercises were a part of their education. I was still, therefore, among soldiers, but of a different class from those of whom I had seen so much. Here, it was the people who were armed for self-protection; there, it was a body of mercenaries armed to keep the people in subjection.

Another day's journey brought us to the picturesque town of Zurich, and the next morning about four o'clock I was awakened by the roll of drums under my window. Looking out, I saw a regiment of boys of a tender age, in a uniform of brown linen, with little light muskets on their shoulders, and miniature knapsacks on their backs, completely equipped and furnished for war, led on by their little officers in regular military order, marching and wheeling to the sound of martial music with all the precision of veterans. In Switzerland arms are in every man's hands; he is educated to be a soldier, and taught that the liberties of his country depend on his skill and valor. The worst effect, perhaps of this military education is, that the Swiss, when other means of subsistence are not easily found, become military adventurers and sell their services to the first purchaser. Meantime, nobody is regarded as properly fitted for his duties as a member of the state, who is not skilled in the use of arms. Target-shooting, Freischiessen, is the national amusement of Switzerland, and has been so ever since the days of Tell; occasions of target-shooting are prescribed and superintended by the public authorities. They were practicing it at the stately city of Berne when we visited it; they were practicing it at various other places as we passed. Every town is provided with a public shooting-ground near its gates.

It was at one of the most remarkable of these towns; it was at Freiburg, Catholic Freiburg, full of Catholic seminaries and convents, in the churches of which you may hear the shrill voices of the nuns chanting matins, themselves unseen; it was at Freiburg, grandly seated on the craggy banks of her rivers, flowing in deep gulfs, spanned by the loftiest and longest chain-bridges in the world, that I saw another evidence of the fact that Switzerland is the only place on the continent where freedom is understood, or allowed to have an existence. A proclamation of the authorities of the canton was pasted on the walls and gates, ordaining the 16th of September as a day of religious thanksgiving. After recounting the motives of gratitude to Providence; after speaking of the abundance of the harvests, the health enjoyed throughout Switzerland, at the threshold of which the cholera had a second time been stayed; the subsidence of political animosities, and the quiet enjoyment of the benefits of the new constitution upon which the country had entered, the proclamation mentioned, as a special reason of gratitude to Almighty God, that Switzerland, in this day of revolutions, had been enabled to offer, among her mountains, a safe and unmolested asylum to the thousands of fugitives who had suffered defeat in the battles of freedom.

I could not help contrasting this with the cruel treatment shown by France to the political refugees from Baden and other parts of Germany. A few days before, it had been announced that the French government required of these poor fellows that they should either enlist at once in the regiments destined for service in Algiers, or immediately leave the country—offering them the alternative of military slavery, or banishment from the country in which they had hoped to find a shelter.

I have spoken of the practice of Switzerland in regard to passports, an example which it does not suit the purpose the French politicians to follow. Here, and all over the continent, the passport system is as strictly and vexatiously enforced as ever. It is remarkable that none of the reformers occupied in the late remodelling of European institutions, seems to have thought of abolishing this invention of despotism—this restraint upon the liberty of passing from place to place, which makes Europe one great prison. If the people had been accustomed to perfect freedom in this respect, though but a short time, it might have been found difficult, at least in France, to reimpose the old restraints. The truth is, however, that France is not quite so free at present as she was under Louis Philippe. The only advantage of her present condition is, that the constitution places in the hands of the people the means of peaceably perfecting their liberties, whenever they are enlightened enough to claim them.

On my way from Geneva to Lyons I sat in banquette of the diligence among the plebeians. The conversation happened to turn on politics, and the expressions of hatred against the present government of France, which broke from the conductor, the coachman, and the two passengers by my side, were probably significant of the feeling which prevails among the people. "The only law now," said one, "is the law of the sabre." "The soldiers and the gens d'armes have every thing their own way now," said another, "but by and by they will be glad to, hide in the sewers." The others were no less emphatic in their expressions of anger and detestation.

The expedition to Rome is unpopular throughout France, more especially so in the southern part of the republic, where the intercourse with Rome has been more frequent, and the sympathy with her people is stronger. "I have never," said an American friend, who has resided some time in Paris, "heard a single Frenchman defend it." It is unpopular, even among the troops sent on the expedition, as is acknowledged by the government journals themselves. To propitiate public opinion, the government has changed its course, and after making war upon the Romans to establish the pontifical throne, now tells the Pope that he must submit to place the government in the hands of the laity. This change of policy has occasioned a good deal of surprise and an infinite deal of discussion. Whatever may be its consequences, there is one consequence which it can not have, that of recovering to the President and his ministry the popularity they have lost.

Letter LIII.


[This letter was casually omitted from its proper place near the beginning of the volume.]

Rome, April 15, 1835.

Towards the end of March I went from Pisa to Volterra. This you know is a very ancient city, one of the strongholds of Etruria when Rome was in its cradle; and, in more modern times, in the age of Italian republics, large enough to form an independent community of considerable importance. It is now a decayed town, containing about four thousand inhabitants, some of whom are families of the poor and proud nobility common enough over all Italy, who are said to quarrel with each other more fiercely in Volterra than almost anywhere else. It is the old feud of the Montagues and the Capulets on a humbler scale, and the disputes of the Volterra nobility are the more violent and implacable for being hereditary. Poor creatures! too proud to engage in business, too indolent for literature, excluded from political employments by the nature of the government, there is nothing left for them but to starve, intrigue, and quarrel. You may judge how miserably poor they are, when you are told they can not afford even to cultivate the favorite art of modern Italy; the art best suited to the genius of a soft and effeminate people. There is, I was told, but one pianoforte in the whole town, and that is owned by a Florentine lady who has recently come to reside here.

For several miles before reaching Volterra, our attention was fixed by the extraordinary aspect of the country through which we were passing. The road gradually ascended, and we found ourselves among deep ravines and steep, high, broken banks, principally of clay, barren, and in most places wholly bare of herbage, a scene of complete desolation, were it not for a cottage here and there perched upon the heights, a few sheep attended by a boy and a dog grazing on the brink of one of the precipices, or a solitary patch of bright green wheat in some spot where the rains had not yet carried away the vegetable mould.

Imagine to yourself an elevated country like the highlands of Pennsylvania or the western part of Massachusetts; imagine vast beds of loam and clay in place of the ledges of rock, and then fancy the whole region to be torn by water-spouts and torrents into gulleys too profound to be passed, with sharp ridges between—stripped of its trees and its grass—and you will have some idea of the country near Volterra. I could not help fancying, while I looked at it, that as the earth grew old, the ribs of rock which once upheld the mountains, had become changed into the bare heaps of earth which I saw about me, that time and the elements had destroyed the cohesion of the particles of which they were formed, and that now the rains were sweeping them down to the Mediterranean, to fill its bed and cause its waters to encroach upon the land. It was impossible for me to prevent the apprehension from passing through my mind, that such might be the fate of other quarters of the globe in ages yet to come, that their rocks must crumble and their mountains be levelled, until the waters shall again cover the face of the earth, unless new mountains shall be thrown up by eruptions of internal fire. They told me in Volterra, that this frightful region had once been productive and under cultivation, but that after a plague which, four or five hundred years since, had depopulated the country, it was abandoned and neglected, and the rains had reduced it to its present state.

In the midst of this desolate tract, which is, however, here and there interspersed with fertile spots, rises the mountain on which Volterra is situated, where the inhabitants breathe a pure and keen atmosphere, almost perpetually cool, and only die of pleurisies and apoplexies; while below, on the banks of the Cecina, which in full sigjit winds its way to the sea, they die of fevers. One of the ravines of which I have spoken,—the balza they call it at Volterra—has ploughed a deep chasm on the north side of this mountain, and is every year rapidly approaching the city on its summit. I stood on its edge and looked down a bank of soft red earth five hundred feet in height. A few rods in front of me I saw where a road had crossed the spot in which the gulf now yawned; the tracks of the last year's carriages were seen reaching to the edge on both sides. The ruins of a convent were close at hand, the inmates of which, two or three years since, had been removed by the government to the town for safety. These will soon be undermined by the advancing chasm, together with a fine piece of old Etruscan wall, once inclosing the city, built of enormous uncemented parallelograms of stone, and looking as if it might be the work of the giants who lived before the flood; a neighboring church will next fall into the gulf, which finally, if means be not taken to prevent its progress, will reach and sap the present walls of the city, swallowing up what time has so long spared.

"A few hundred crowns," said an inhabitant of Volterra to me, "would stop all this mischief. A wall at the bottom of the chasm, and a heap of branches of trees or other rubbish, to check the fall of the earth, are all that would be necessary."

I asked why these means were not used.

"Because," he replied, "those to whom the charge of these matters belongs, will not take the trouble. Somebody must devise a plan for the purpose, and somebody must take upon himself the labor of seeing it executed. They find it easier to put it off."

The antiquities of Volterra consist of an Etruscan burial-ground, in which the tombs still remain, pieces of the old and incredibly massive Etruscan wall, including a far larger circuit than the present city, two Etruscan gates of immemorial antiquity, older doubtless than any thing at Rome, built of enormous stones, one of them serving even yet as an entrance to the town, and a multitude of cinerary vessels, mostly of alabaster, sculptured with numerous figures in alto relievo. These figures are sometimes allegorical representations, and sometimes embody the fables of the Greek mythology. Among them are some in the most perfect style of Grecian art, the subjects of which are taken from the poems of Homer; groups representing the besiegers of Troy and its defenders, or Ulysses with his companions and his ships. I gazed with exceeding delight on these works of forgotten artists, who had the verses of Homer by heart—works just drawn from the tombs where they had been buried for thousands of years, and looking as if fresh from the chisel.

We had letters to the commandant of the fortress, an ancient-looking stronghold, built by the Medici family, over which we were conducted by his adjutant, a courteous gentleman with a red nose, who walked as if keeping time to military music. From the summit of the tower we had an extensive and most remarkable prospect. It was the 19th day of March, and below us, the sides of the mountain, scooped into irregular dells, were covered with fruit-trees just breaking into leaf and flower. Beyond stretched the region of barrenness I have already described, to the west of which lay the green pastures of the Maremma, the air of which, in summer, is deadly, and still further west were spread the waters of the Mediterranean, out of which were seen rising the mountains of Corsica. To the north and northeast were the Appenines, capped with snow, embosoming the fertile lower valley of the Arno, with the cities of Pisa and Leghorn in sight. To the south we traced the windings of the Cecina, and saw ascending into the air the smoke of a hot-water lake, agitated perpetually with the escape of gas, which we were told was visited by Dante, and from which he drew images for his description of Hell. Some Frenchman has now converted it into a borax manufactory, the natural heat of the water serving to extract the salt.

The fortress is used as a prison for persons guilty of offenses against the state. On the top of the tower we passed four prisoners of state, well-dressed young men, who appeared to have been entertaining themselves with music, having guitars and other instruments in their hands. They saluted the adjutant as he went by them, who, in return, took off his hat. They had been condemned for a conspiracy against the government.

The commandant gave us a hospitable reception. In showing us the fortress he congratulated us that we had no occasion for such engines of government in America. We went to his house in the evening, where we saw his wife, a handsome young lady, whom he had lately brought from Florence, the very lady of the pianoforte whom I have already mentioned, and the mother of two young children, whose ruddy cheeks and chubby figures did credit to the wholesome air of Volterra. The commandant made tea for us in tumblers, and the lady gave us music. The tea was so strong a decoction that I seemed to hear the music all night, and had no need of being waked from sleep, when our vetturino, at an early hour the next morning, came to take us on our journey to Sienna.

The End.


[1] The following is a Spanish translation of this hymn as taken down in writing from the mouth of one of the Mahonese, as they call themselves, a native of St. Augustine. The author does not hold himself responsible for the purity of the Castilian.

Dejaremos el duelo, Cantaremos con alegria, E iremos a dar Las pascuas a Maria. O Maria.

San Gabriel Aca porto la embajada. De nuestro rey del ciel Estareis prenada. Ya humillada Tu que vais aqui servente, Hija de Dios contenta Para hacer lo que el quiere. Dejaremos el duelo, &a.

Y a media noche, Paristeis reyna A un Dios infinite Dentro de un establo. Y a media dia, Los Angeles van cantando Paz y abundancia De la gloria de Dios solo. Dejaremos el duelo, &a.

Y a Belem, Alla en la tierra santa, Nos nacio Gesus Con alegria tanta. Nino chiquito, Que todo el mundo salvaria; Y ningun bastaria Sino un Dios todo solo. Dejaremos el duelo, &a.

Cuando del Oriente los Tres reyes la estrella vieron, Dios omnipotente, Para adorarlo ivinieron. Un regalo inferieron, De mil inciensos y oro, Al bendito Senor Que sabe qualquiera cosa. Dejaremos el duelo, &a.

Todo fu pronto Para cumplir la promesa; Del Espiritu Santo Un Angel fue mandado. Gran fuego encendido Que quema el corage; Dios nos de lenguage Para hacer lo que quiere. Dejaremos el duelo, &a.

Cuando se fue De este mundo nuestra Senora, Al ciel se empujo Su hijo la misme hora. O emperadora, Que del ciel sois elijida! La rosa florida, Mas resplandesciente que un sol! Dejaremos el duelo, &a.

Y el tercer dia Que Gesus resuscito, Dios y Veronica De la morte triunfo. De alli se bajo Para perder a Lucifer, Con todo el suo poder, Que dienuestro ser el sol. Dejaremos el duelo, &a.

[2] Thus in the Spanish translation furnished me:

Estos seis versos que cantamos Regina celestial! Dadnos paz y alegria, Y buenas fiestas tengais. Yo vos doy sus buenas fiestas; Dadnos dinero de nuestras nueces. Siempre tendremos las manos prestas. Para recibir un cuatro de huevos.

Y el dia de pascua florida, Alegremonos juntamente; El que mori para darnos vida Ya vive gloriosamente.

Aquesta casa esta empredrada, Bien halla que la empedro; El amo de aquesta casa, Quisiera darnos un don. Quesadilla, o empanada, Cucuta, o flaon, Qualquiera cosa me agrada, Solo que no me digas que no,

[3] Thus in the Spanish:

Aquesta casa esta empedrada, Empedrada de cuatro vientos; El amo de aquesta casa Es hombre de cortesia.

[4] "Now they are fighting!"

[5] "Kill! kill! kill!"

[6] "Look, look, it will do you no harm."

[7] "Put it on, put it on."

[8] "Publicly, sir, publicly."


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