"The nurture of the peasant's vines Hath been the martyr's blood!"
It was dark before I reached La Tour; but one of my fellow-travellers—the other having left us at San Giovanni—accompanied me every footstep of the way, having passed his own dwelling two full miles, to do me this kindness.
I must remind the reader, that this is simply a look in upon the Vaudois, on my way to Rome. I purpose here no description in full of the territory of the Vaudois, or of the people of the Vaudois. Their hills were shrouded in cloud and rain all the while I lived amongst them; and although my intention was to visit on foot every inch of their country, and more especially the scenes of their great struggles, I was compelled, after waiting well nigh a week, to take my departure without having accomplished this part of my object. Leaving, then, the seeing and describing these famous valleys to some possibly future day, all I shall attempt here is to convey some idea of the structural arrangement—the osteology, if I may call it so—of the Waldensian territory, and the general condition of the Waldensian people. First, of their country.
A country and its people can never well be separated. The former, with silent but ceaseless influence, moulds the genius and habits of the latter, and determines the character of their history. It marks them out as fated for slavery or freedom,—degradation or glory. The country of the Vaudois is the material basis of their history; and the sublime points of their scenery join in, as it were, with the sublime passages of their nation. Without such a country, we cannot conceive how the Vaudois could have escaped extermination. The fertility and grandeur of their valleys were no chance gifts, but special endowments, having reference to the mighty moral struggle of which they were the destined theatre. It is this sentiment that forms the living spirit in the beautiful lines of Mrs Hemans, entitled, "The Hymn of the Vaudois Mountaineers:"—
For the strength of the hills we bless thee. Our God, our fathers' God. Thou hast made thy children mighty, By the touch of the mountain sod. Thou hast fixed our ark of refuge Where the spoiler's foot ne'er trod; For the strength of the hills we bless thee, Our God, our fathers' God!
We are watchers of a beacon Whose light must never die; We are guardians of an altar 'Midst the silence of the sky. The rocks yield founts of courage, Struck forth as by thy rod; For the strength of the hills we bless thee, Our God, our fathers' God!
For the dark resounding caverns, Where thy still small voice is heard; For the strong pines of the forests That by thy breath are stirred; For the storms on whose free pinions Thy spirit walks abroad; For the strength of the hills we bless thee, Our God, our fathers' God!
The banner of the chieftain Far, far below us waves; The war horse of the spearman Cannot reach our lofty caves. Thy dark clouds wrap the threshold Of freedom's last abode; For the strength of the hills we bless thee, Our God, our fathers' God!
For the shadow of thy presence Round our camp of rock outspread; For the stern defiles of battle, Bearing record of our dead; For the snows and for the torrents, For the free heart's burial sod; For the strength of the hills we bless thee, Our God, our fathers' God!
We read in the Apocalypse, that "the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days." "A place prepared" undoubtedly implies a special arrangement and a special adaptation, in the future dwelling of the Church, to the mission to be assigned her. The "wilderness" of the Apocalypse, we are inclined to think, is the great chain of the Alps; and the "place prepared" in that wilderness, we are also inclined to think, are the Cottian Alps, and more especially those valleys in the Cottian Alps which the confessors, known as the Vaudois, inhabited. Long after Rome had subjugated the plains, she possessed scarce a foot-breadth among the mountains. These, throughout well-nigh their entire extent, from where the Simplon road now cuts the chain, to the sea, were peopled by the professors of the gospel. They were a Goshen of light in the midst of an Egypt of darkness; and in these peaceful and sublime solitudes holy men fed their flocks amid the green pastures and beside the clear waters of evangelical truth. But persecution came: it waxed hot; and every succeeding century beheld these confessors fewer in number, and their territory more restricted. At last all that remained to the Vaudois were only three valleys at the foot of Monte Viso; and if we examine their structure, we will find them arranged with special reference to the war the Church was here called to wage.
The three valleys are the Val Martino, the Val Angrona, and the Val Lucerna. Nothing could be simpler than their arrangement; at the same time, nothing could be stronger. The three valleys spread out like a fan,—radiating, as it were, from the same point, and stretching away in a winding vista of vineyards, meadows, chestnut groves, dark gorges, and foaming torrents, to the very summits and glaciers of the Alps. Nearly at the point of junction of the Val Angrona and the Val Lucerna stands La Tour, the capital of the valleys. It consists of a single street (for the few off-shoots are not worth mentioning) of two-storey houses, whitewashed, and topped with broad eves, which project till they leave only a narrow strip of sky visible overhead. The town winds up the hill for a quarter of a mile or so, under the shadow of the famous Castelluzzo,—a stupendous mountain of rock, which shoots up, erect as a column on its pedestal, to a height of many thousands of feet, and, in other days, sheltered, as I have said, in its stony arms, the persecuted children of the valleys, when the armies of France and Savoy gathered round its base. How often I watched it, during my stay there, as its mighty form now became lost, and now flashed forth from the mountain mists! Over what sad scenes has that rock looked! It has seen the peaceful La Tour a heap of smoking ruins, and the clear waters of the Pelice, which meander at its feet, red with the blood of the children of the valleys. It has heard the wrathful execrations of armed men ascending where the prayers and praises of the Vaudois were wont to come, borne on the evening breeze,—scenes unspeakably affecting, but which, nevertheless, from the principle which they embodied, and the Christian heroism which they evoked, add dignity to humanity itself. When we would rebut those universal libels which infidels have written upon our race, we point to the Vaudois. However corrupt whole nations and continents may have been, that nature which could produce the Vaudois must have originally possessed, and be still capable of having imparted to it, God-like qualities.
The strength of the Vaudois position, as I take it, lies in this, that the three valleys have their entrance within a comparatively narrow space. The country of the Vaudois was, in fact, an immense citadel, with its foundation on the rock, and its top above the clouds, and with but one gate of entrance. That gate could be easily defended; nay, it was defended. He who built this mighty fortress had thrown up a rampart before its gate, as if with a special eye to the protection of its inmates. The long hill of which I have already spoken, which rises to a height of from four to five hundred feet, lies across the opening of these valleys, at about a mile's breadth, and serves as a wall of defence. But even granting that this entrance should be forced, as it sometimes was, there were ample means within the mountains themselves, which were but a congeries of fortresses, for prolonging the contest. The valleys abound with gorges and narrow passages, where one man might maintain the way against fifty. There were, too, escarpments of rock, with galleries and caves known only to the Vaudois. Even the mists of their hills befriended them; veiling them, on some memorable instances, from the keen pursuit of their foes. Thus, every foot-breadth of their territory was capable of being contested, and was contested against the flower of the French and Sardinian armies, led against them in overwhelming numbers, with a courage which Rome never excelled, and a patriotism which Greece never equalled.
I found, too, that it was "a good land" which the Lord their God had given to the Vaudois,—"a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil, olive and honey." The same architect who built the fortress had provisioned it, so to speak, and that in no stinted measure. He who placed magazines of bread in the clouds, and rained it upon the Israelites when they journeyed through the desert, had laid up store of corn, and oil, and wine, in the soil of these valleys; so that the Vaudois, when their enemies pressed them on the plain, and cut off their supplies from without, might still enjoy within their own mountain rampart abundance of all things.
On the first morning after my arrival, I walked out along the Val Lucerna southward. Flowers and fruit in rich profusion covered every spot of ground under the eye, from the banks of the stream to the skirts of the mist that veiled the mountains. The fields, which were covered with the various cultivation of wheat, maize, orchards, and vineyards, were fenced with neatly dressed hedge-rows. The vine-stocks were magnificently large, and their leaves had already acquired the fine golden yellow which autumn imparts. At a little distance, on a low hill, deeply embosomed in foliage, was the church of San Giovanni, looking as brilliantly white as if it had been a piece of marble fresh from the chisel. Hard by, peeping out amidst fruit-bearing trees, was the village of Lucerna. On the right rose the mighty wall of the Alps; on the left the valley opened out into the plain of the Po, bounded by a range of blue-tinted hills, which stretched away to the south-west, mingling in the distant horizon with the mightier masses of the Alps. The sun now broke through the haze; and his rays, falling on the luxuriant beauty of the valley, and on the more varied but not less rich covering of the hill-side,—the pasturages, the winding belts of planting, the white chalets,—lighted up a picture which a painter might have exhibited as a relic of an unfallen world, or a reminiscence of that garden from which transgression drove man forth.
After breakfast, I sallied out to explore the valley of Lucerne, at the entrance of which is placed, as I have said, La Tour, the capital of the Waldenses. My intention was to trace its windings all the way, past the village and church of Bobbio, and up the mountains, till it loses itself amid the snows of their summits,—an expedition which was brought to an abrupt termination by the black clouds which came rolling up the valley at noon like the smoke of a furnace, followed by torrents of rain. Threading my way through the narrow winding street of La Tour, and skirting the base of the giant Castelluzzo, I emerged upon the open valley. I was enchanted by its mingled loveliness and grandeur. Its bottom, which might be from one to two miles in breadth, though looking narrower, from the titanic character of its mountain-boundary, was, up to a certain point, one continuous vineyard. The vine there attains a noble stature, and stretches its arms from side to side of the valley in rich and lovely festoons, veiling from the great heat of the sun the golden grain which grows underneath. On either hand the mountains rise to the sky, not bare and rocky, but glowing with the vine, or shady with the chestnut, and pouring into the lap of the Vaudois, corn, and wine, and fruit. Their sides were covered throughout with vineyards, corn-fields, glades of green pasturages, clumps of forests and fruit-trees, mansions and chalets, and silvery streamlets, which meandered amid their terraces, or leaped in flashing light down the mountain, to join the Pelice at its bottom. Not a foot-breadth was barren. This teeming luxuriance attested at once the qualities of the soil and sun, and the industry of the Vaudois.
As I proceeded up the Val Lucerna, the same scene of mingled richness and magnificence continued. The golden vine still kept its place in the bottom of the valley, and stretched out its arms in very wantonness, as if the limits of the Val Lucerna were too small for its exuberant and generous fruitfulness. The hills gained in height, without losing in fertility and beauty. They offered to the eye the same picture of vine-rows, pasturages, chestnut-groves, and chalets, from the torrent at their bottom, up to the edge of the floating mist that covered their tops. At times the sun would break in, and add to the variety of lights which diversified the landscape. For already the hand of autumn had scattered over the foliage her beautiful tints of all shades, from the bright green of the pastures, down through the golden yellow of the vine, to the deep crimson of those trees which are the first to fade.
A farther advance, and the aspect of the Val Lucerna changed slightly. The vineyards ceased on the level grounds at the bottom of the valley, and in their place came rich meadow lands, on which herds were grazing. The hills on the left were still ribbed with the vine. On the right, along which, at a high level on the hill-side, ran the road, the chestnut groves became more frequent, and large boulders began occasionally to be seen. It was here that the rolling mass of cloud, so fearfully black, that it seemed of denser materials than vapour, which had followed me up hill, overtook me, and by the deluge of rain which it let fall, effectually forbade my farther progress.
The same shower which forbade my farther exploration of the Val Lucerna, arresting me, with cruel interdict, as it seemed, on the very threshold of a region teeming with grandeur, and encompassed with the halo of imperishable deeds, threw me, by a sort of compensatory chance, upon the discovery of another most interesting peculiarity of the Waldensian territory. The heavy rain compelled me to seek shelter beneath the boughs of a wide-spread chestnut-tree; and there, for the space of an hour, I remained perfectly dry, though the big drops were falling all around. Soon a continuous beating, as if of the fall of substances from a considerable height on the ground, attracted my attention,—tap, tap, tap. The sound told me that something was falling bigger and heavier than the rain-drops; but the long grass prevented me at first seeing what it was. A slight search, however, showed me that the tree beneath which I stood was actually letting fall a shower of nuts. These nuts were large and fully ripened. The breeze became slightly stronger, and the fruit shower from the trees increased so much, that a soft muffled sound rang through the whole wood. It was literally raining food. Some millions of nuts must have fallen that day in the Val Lucerna. I saw the young peasant girls coming from the chalets and farm-houses, to glean beneath the boughs; and a short time sufficed to fill their sacks, and send them back laden with the produce of the chestnut-tree. These nuts are roasted and eaten as food; and very nutritious food they are. In all the towns of northern Italy you see persons in the streets roasting them in braziers over charcoal fires, and selling them to the people, to whom they form no very inconsiderable part of their food. I have oftener than once, on a long ride, breakfasted on them, with the help of a cluster of grapes, or a few apples. This was the manna of the Waldenses. And how often have the persecuted Vaudois, when driven from their homes, and compelled to seek refuge in those high altitudes where the vine does not grow, subsisted for days and weeks upon the produce of the chestnut-tree! I could not but admire in this the wise arrangement of Him who had prepared these valleys as the future abode of his Church. Not only had He taught the earth to yield her corn, and the hills wine, but even the skies bread. Bread was rained around their caves and hiding-places, plenteous as the manna of old; and the Vaudois, like the Israelites, had but to gather and eat.
I came also to the conclusion, that the land which the Lord had given to the Waldenses was a "large" as well as a "good" land. It is only of late that the Vaudois have been restricted to the three valleys I have named; but even taking their country as at present defined, its superficial area is by no means so inconsiderable as it is apt to be accounted by one who hears of it as confined to but three valleys. Spread out these valleys into level plains, and you find that they form a large country. It is not only the broad bottom of the valley that is cultivated;—the sides of the hills are clothed up to the very clouds with vineyards and corn-lands, and are planted with all manner of trees, yielding fruit after their kind. Where the husbandman is compelled to stop, nature takes up the task of the cultivator; and then come the chestnut-groves, with their loads of fruit, and the short sweet grass on which cattle depasture in summer, and the wild flowers from which the bees elaborate their honey. Overtopping all are the fields of snow, the great reservoirs of the springs and rivers which fertilize the country. This arrangement admitted, moreover, of far greater variety, both of climate and of produce, than could possibly obtain on the plain. There is an eternal winter at the summit of these mountains, and an almost perpetual summer at their feet.
In accordance with this great productiveness, I found the hills of the Vaudois exceedingly populous. They are alive with men, at least as compared with the solitude which our Scottish Highlands present. I had brought thither my notions of a valley taken from the narrow winding and infertile straths of Scotland, capable of feeding only a few scores of inhabitants. Here I found that a valley might be a country, and contain almost a nation in its bosom.
But, not to dwell on other peculiarities, I would remark, that such a dwelling as this—continually presenting the grandest objects—must have exerted a marked influence upon the character of the inhabitants. It was fitted to engender intrepidity of mind, a love of freedom, and an elevation of thought. It has been remarked that the inhabitants of mountainous regions are less prone than others to the worship of images. On the plain all is monotony. Summer and winter, the same landmarks, the same sky, the same sounds, surround the man. But around the dweller in the mountains,—and especially such mountains as these,—all is variety and grandeur. Now the Alps are seen with their sunlight summits and their shadowless sides; anon they veil their mighty forms in clouds and tempests. The living machinery of the mist, too, is continually varying the landscape, now engulphing valleys, now blotting out crags and mountain peaks, and suspending before the eye a cold and cheerless curtain of vapour; anon the curtain rises, the mist rolls away, and green valley and tall mountain flash back again upon you, thrilling and delighting you anew. What variety and melody of sounds, too, exist among the hills! The music of the streams, the voices of the peasants, the herdsman's song, the lowing of the cattle, the hum of the villages. The winds, with mighty organ-swell, now sweep through their mountain gorges; and now the thunder utters his awful voice, making the Alps to tremble and their pines to bow.
Such was the land of the Vaudois; the predestined abode of God's Church during the long and gloomy period of Anti-christ's reign. It was the ark in which the one elect family of Christendom was to be preserved during the flood of error that was to come upon the earth. And I have been the more minute in the description of its general structure and arrangements, because all had reference to the high moral end it was appointed to serve in the economy of Providence.
When of old a flood of waters was to be sent on the world, Noah was commanded to build an ark of gopher wood for the saving of his house. God gave him special instructions regarding its length, its breadth, its height: he was told where to place its door and window, how to arrange its storeys and rooms, and specially to gather "of all food that is eaten," that it might be for food for him and those with him. When all had been done according to the Divine instructions, God shut in Noah, and the flood came.
So was it once more. A flood was to come upon the earth; but now God himself prepared the ark in which the chosen family were to be saved. He laid its foundations in the depths, and built up its wall of rock to the sky. A door also made He for the ark, with lower, second, and third storeys. It was beautiful as strong. Corn, wine, and oil were laid up in store within it. All being ready, God said to his persecuted ones in the early Church, "Come, thou and all thy house, into the ark." He gave them the Bible to be a light to them during the darkness, and shut them in. The flood came. Century after century the waters of Papal superstition continued to prevail upon the earth. At length all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered, and all flesh died, save the little company in the Vaudois ark.
STATE AND PROSPECTS OF THE VAUDOIS CHURCH.
Dawn of the Reformation—Waldensian Territory a Portion of Italy—Two-fold Mission of Italy—Origin of the Vaudois—Evidence of Romanist Historians—Evidence of their own Historians—Evidence arising from the Noble Leycon from their Geographical Position—Grandeur of the Vaudois Annals—Their Martyr Age—Their Missionary Efforts—Present Condition—Population—Churches—Schools—Stipends—Students—Social and Moral Superiority—Political and Social Disabilities—The Year 1848 their Exodus—Their Mission—A Sabbath in the Vaudois Sanctuary—Anecdote—Lesson Taught by their History.
How often during the long night must the Vaudois have looked from their mountain asylum upon a world engulphed in error, with the mingled wonder and dismay with which we may imagine the antediluvian fathers gazing from the window of their ark upon the bosom of the shoreless flood! What an appalling and mysterious dispensation! The fountains of the great deep had a second time been broken up, and each successive century saw the waters rising. Would Christianity ever re-appear? Or had the Church completed her triumphs, and finished her course? And was time to close upon a world shrouded in darkness, with nought but this feeble beacon burning amid the Alps? Such were the questions which must often have pressed upon the minds of the Vaudois.
Like Noah, too, they sent forth, from time to time, messengers from their ark, to go hither and thither, and see if yet there remained anywhere, in any part of the earth, any worshippers of the true God. They returned to their mountain hold, with the sorrowful tidings that nowhere had they found any remnant of the true Church, and that the whole world wondered after the beast. The Vaudois, however, had power given them to maintain their testimony. In the midst of universal apostacy, and in the face of the most terrible persecutions, they bore witness against Rome. And ever as that Church added another error to her creed, the Vaudois added another article to their testimony; and in this way Romish idolatry and gospel truth were developed by equal stages, and an adequate testimony was maintained all through that gloomy period. The stars of the ecclesiastical firmament fell unto the earth, like the untimely figs of the fig-tree; but the lamp of the Alps went not out. The Vaudois, not unconscious of their sacred office, watched their heaven-kindled beacon with the vigilance of men inspired by the hope that it would yet attract the eyes of the world. At length—thrice welcome sight!—the watch-fires of the German reformers, kindled at their own, began to streak the horizon. They knew that the hour of darkness had passed, and that the time was near when the Church would leave her asylum, and go forth to sow the fields of the world with the immortal seed of truth.
We must be permitted to remark here, that the fact that the Waldensian territory is really a part of Italy, and that the Vaudois, or Valdesi, or People of the Valleys (for all three signify the same thing), are strictly an Italian people, invests ITALY with a new and interesting light. In all ages, Pagan as well as Christian, Italy has been the seat of a twofold influence,—the one destructive, the other regenerative. In classic times, Italy sent forth armies to subjugate the world, and letters to enlighten it. Since the Christian era, her mission has been of the same mixed character. She has been at once the seat of idolatry and the asylum of Christianity. Her idolatry is of a grosser and more perfected type than was the worship of Baal of old; and her Christianity possesses a more spiritual character, and a more powerfully operative genius, than did the institute of Moses. We ought, then, to think of Italy as the land of the martyr as well as of the persecutor,—as not only the land whence our Popery has come, which has cost us so many martyrs of whom we are proud, and has caused the loss of so many souls which we mourn,—but also as the fountain of that blessed light which broke mildly on the world in the preaching of John Huss, and more powerfully, a century afterwards, in the reformation of the sixteenth century. Though there was no audible voice, and no visible miracle, the Waldenses were as really chosen to be the witnesses of God during the long night of papal idolatry, as were the Jews to be his witnesses during the night of pagan idolatry. They are sprung, according to the more credible historical accounts, from the unfallen Church of Rome; they are the direct lineal descendants of the primitive Christians of Italy; they never bowed the knee to the modern Baal; their mountain sanctuary has remained unpolluted by idolatrous rites; and if they were called to affix to their testimony the seal of a cruel martyrdom, they did not fall till they had scattered over the various countries of Europe the seed of a future harvest. Their death was a martyrdom endured in behalf of Christendom; and scarcely was it accomplished till they were raised to life again, in the appearance of numerous churches both north and south of the Alps. Why is it that all persons and systems in this world of ours must die in order to enter into life? We enter into spiritual life by the death of our old nature; we enter into eternal life by the death of the body; and Christianity, too, that she might enter into the immortality promised her on earth, had to die. The words of our Lord, spoken in reference to his own death, are true also in reference to the martyrdom of the Waldensian Church:—"Verily verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
The first question touching this extraordinary people respects their origin. When did they come into being, and of what stock are they sprung? This question forces itself with singular power upon the mind of the traveller, who, after traversing cities and countries covered with darkness palpable as that of Egypt of old, and seeing nought around him but image-worship, lights unexpectedly, in the midst of these mountains, upon a little community, enjoying the knowledge of the true God, and worshipping Him after the scriptural and spiritual manner of prophets and apostles of old. He naturally seeks for an explanation of a fact so extraordinary. Who kindled that solitary lamp? Their enemies have striven to represent them as dissenters from Rome of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and it is a common error even among ourselves to speak of them as the followers of Peter Waldo, the pious merchant of Lyons, and to date their rise from the year 1160. We cannot here go into the controversy; suffice it to say, that historical documents exist which show that both the Albigenses and the Waldenses were known long before Peter Waldo was heard of. Their own traditions and ancient manuscripts speak of them as having maintained the same doctrine "from time immemorial, in continued descent from father to son, even from the times of the apostles." The Nobla Leycon,—the Confession of Faith of the Vaudois Church, of the date of 1100,—claims on their behalf the same ancient origin; Ecbert, a writer who flourished in 1160—the year of Peter Waldo—speaks of them as "perverters," who had existed during many ages; and Reinerus, the inquisitor, who lived a century afterwards, calls them the most dangerous of all sects, because the most ancient; "for some say," adds he, "that it has continued to flourish since the time of Sylvester; others, from the time of the apostles." This last is a singular corroboration of the authenticity of the Nobla Leycon, which refers to the corruptions which began under Sylvester as the cause of their separation from the communion of the Church of Rome. Rorenco, the grand prior of St Roch, who was commissioned to make enquiries concerning them, after hinting that possibly they were detached from the Church by Claude, the good Bishop of Turin, in the eighth century, says "that they were not a new sect in the ninth and tenth centuries." Campian the Jesuit says of them, that they were reputed to be "more ancient than the Roman Church." Nor is it without great weight, as the historian Leger observes, that not one of the Dukes of Savoy or their ministers ever offered the slightest contradiction to the oft-reiterated assertions of the Vaudois, when petitioning for liberty of conscience, "We are descendants," said they, "of those who, from father to son, have preserved entire the apostolical faith in the valleys which we now occupy." We have no doubt that, were the ecclesiastical archives of Lombardy, especially those of Turin and Milan, carefully searched, documents would be found which would place beyond all doubt what the scattered proofs we have referred to render all but a certainty.
The historical evidence for the antiquity of the Vaudois Church is greatly strengthened by a consideration of the geographical position of "the Valleys." They lie on what anciently was the great high-road between Italy and France. There existed a frequent intercourse betwixt the Churches of the two countries; pastors and private members were continually going and returning; and what so likely to follow this intercourse as the evangelization of these valleys? There is a tradition extant, that the Apostle Paul visited them, in his journey from Rome to Spain. Be this as it may, one can scarce doubt that the feet of Irenaeus, and of other early fathers, trod the territory of the Vaudois, and preached the gospel by the waters of the Pelice, and under the rocks and chestnut trees of Bobbio. Indeed, we can scarce err in fixing the first rise of the Vaudois Churches at even an earlier period,—that of apostolic times. So soon as the Church began to be wasted by persecution, the remote corners of Italy were sought as an asylum; and from the days of Nero the primitive Christians may have begun to gather round those mountains to which the ark of God was ultimately removed, and amid which it so long dwelt.
"I go up to the ancient hills, Where chains may never be; Where leap in joy the torrent rills; Where man may worship God alone, and free.
There shall an altar and a camp Impregnably arise; There shall be lit a quenchless lamp, To shine unwavering through the open skies.
And song shall 'midst the rocks be heard, And fearless prayer ascend; While, thrilling to God's holy Word, The mountain-pines in adoration bend.
And there the burning heart no more Its deep thought shall suppress; But the long-buried truth shall pour Free currents thence, amidst the wilderness."
How could a small body of peasants among the mountains have discovered the errors of Rome, and have thrown off her yoke, at a time when the whole of Europe received the one and bowed to the other? This could not have happened in the natural order of things. Above all, if they did not arise till the twelfth or thirteenth century, how came they to frame so elaborate and full a testimony as the Noble Lesson against Rome? A Church that has a creed must have a history. Nor was it in a year, or even in a single age, that they could have compiled such a creed. It could acquire form and substance only in the course of centuries,—the Vaudois adding article to article, as Rome added error to error. We can have no reasonable doubt, then, that in the Vaudois community we have a relic of the primitive Church. Compared with them, the house of Savoy, which ruled so long and rigorously over them, is but of yesterday. They are more ancient than the Roman Church itself. They have come down to us from the world before the papal flood, bearing in their heaven-built and heaven-guarded ark the sacred oracles; and now they stand before us as a witness to the historic truth of Christianity, and a living copy, in doctrine, in government, and in manners, of the Church of the Apostles.
Fain would we tell at length the heroic story of the Vaudois. We use no exaggerated speech,—no rhetorical flourish,—but speak advisedly, when we say, that their history, take it all in all, is the brightest, the purest, the most heroic, in the annals of the world. Their martyr-age lasted five centuries; and we know of nothing, whether we regard the sacredness of the cause, or the undaunted valour, the pure patriotism, and the lofty faith, in which the Vaudois maintained it, that can be compared with their glorious struggle. This is an age of hero-worship. Let us go to the mountains of the Waldenses: there we will find heroes "unsung by poet, by senators unpraised," yet of such gigantic stature, that the proudest champions of ancient Rome are dwarfed in their presence. It was no transient flash of patriotism and valour that broke forth on the soil of the Vaudois: that country saw sixteen generations of heroes, and five centuries of heroic deeds. Men came from pruning their vines or tending their flocks, to do feats of arms which Greece never equalled, and which throw into the shade the proudest exploits of Rome. The Jews maintained the worship of the true God in their country for many ages, and often gained glorious victories; but the Jews were a nation; they possessed an ample territory, rich in resources; they were trained to war, moreover, and marshalled and led on by skilful and courageous chiefs. But the Waldenses were a primitive and simple people; they had neither king nor leader; their only sovereign was Jehovah; their only guides were their Barbes. The struggle under the Maccabees was a noble one; but it attained not the grandeur of that of the Vaudois. It was short in comparison; nor do its single exploits, brave as they were, rise to the same surpassing pitch of heroism. When read after the story of the Vaudois, the annals of Greece and Rome even, fruitful though they be in deeds of heroism, appear cold and tame. In short, we know of no other instance in the world in which a great and sacred object has been prosecuted from father to son for such a length of time, with a patriotism so pure, a courage so unshrinking, a devotion so entire, and amidst such a multitude of sacrifices, sufferings, and woes, as in the case of the Vaudois. The incentives to courage which have stimulated others to brave death were wanting in their case. If they triumphed, they had no admiring circus to welcome them with shouts, and crown them with laurel; and if they fell, they knew that there awaited their ashes no marble tomb, and that no lay of poet would ever embalm their memory. They looked to a greater Judge for their reward. This was the source of that patriotism, the purest the world has ever seen, and of that valour, the noblest of which the annals of mankind make mention.
Innocent III., who hid under a sanctimonious guise the boundless ambition and quenchless malignity of Lucifer, was the first to blow the trumpet of extermination against the poor Vaudois. And from the middle of the thirteenth to the end of the seventeenth century they suffered not fewer than thirty persecutions. During that long period they could not calculate upon a single year's immunity from invasion and slaughter. From the days of Innocent their history becomes one long harrowing tale of papal plots, interdicts, excommunications, of royal proscriptions and perfidies, of attack, of plunder, of rapine, of massacre, and of death in every conceivable and horrible way,—by the sword, by fire, and by unutterable tortures and torments. The Waldenses had no alternative but to submit to these, or deny their Saviour. Yet, driven to arms,—ever their last resource,—they waxed valiant in fight, and put to flight the armies of the aliens. They taught their enemies that the battle was not to the strong. When the cloud gathered round their hills, they removed their wives and little ones to some rock-girt valley, to the caverns of which they had taken the precaution of removing their corn and oil, and even their baking ovens; and there, though perhaps they did not muster more than a thousand fighting men in all, they waited, with calm confidence in God, the onset of their foes. In these encounters, sustained by Heaven, they performed prodigies of valour. The combined armies of France and Piedmont recoiled from their shock. Their invaders were almost invariably overthrown, sometimes even annihilated; and their sovereigns, the Dukes of Savoy, on whose memory there rests the indelible blot of having pursued this loyal, industrious, and virtuous people with ceaseless and incredible injustice, cruelty, treachery, and perfidy, finding that they could not subdue them, were glad to offer them terms of peace, and grant them new guarantees of the quiet possession of their ancient territory. Thus an invisible omnipotent arm was ever extended over the Vaudois and their land, delivering them miraculously in times of danger, and preserving them as a peculiar people, that by their instrumentality Jehovah might accomplish his designs of mercy towards the world.
Nor were the Waldenses content simply to maintain their faith. Even when fighting for existence, they recognised their obligations as a missionary Church, and strove to diffuse over the surrounding countries the light that burned amid their own mountains. Who has not heard of the Pra de la Torre, in the valley of Angrona? This is a beautiful little meadow, encircled with a barrier of tremendous mountains, and watered by a torrent, which, flowing from an Alpine summit, La Sella Vecchia, descends with echoing noise through the dark gorges and shining dells of the deep and romantic valley. This was the inner sanctuary of the Vaudois. Here their Barbes sat; here was their school of the prophets; and from this spot were sent forth their pastors and missionaries into France, Germany, and Britain, as well as into their own valleys. It was a native and missionary of these valleys, Gualtero Lollard, which gave his name, in the fourteenth century, to the Lollards of England, whose doctrines were the day-spring of the Reformation in our own country. The zeal of the Vaudois was seen in the devices they fell upon to distribute the Bible, and along with that a knowledge of the gospel. Colporteurs travelled as pedlars; and, after displaying their laces and jewels, they drew forth, and offered for sale, or as a gift, a gem of yet greater value. In this way the Word of God found entrance alike into cottage and baronial castle. It is a supposed scene of this kind which the following lines depict:—
Oh! lady fair, these silks of mine Are beautiful and rare,— The richest web of the Indian loom Which beauty's self might wear; And these pearls are pure and mild to behold, And with radiant light they vie: I have brought them with me a weary way;— Will my gentle lady buy?
* * * * *
Oh! lady fair, I have got a gem, Which a purer lustre flings Than the diamond flash of the jewell'd crown On the lofty brow of kings: A wonderful pearl of exceeding price, Whose virtue shall not decay,— Whose light shall be as a spell to thee, And a blessing on the way!
* * * * *
The cloud went off from the pilgrim's brow, As a small and meagre book, Unchased by gold or diamond gem, From his folding robe he took. Here, lady fair, is the pearl of price;— May it prove as such to thee! Nay, keep thy gold—I ask it not; For the Word of God is free!
* * * * *
And she hath left the old gray halls, Where an evil faith hath power, And the courtly knights of her father's train, And the maidens of her bower; And she hath gone to the Vaudois vale, By lordly feet untrod, Where the poor and needy of earth are rich In the perfect love of God!
But, turning from this inviting theme, to which volumes only could do justice, let us lift the curtain, and look at this simple, heroic people, as they appear now, after the "great tribulation" of five centuries. The Protestant population of "the Valleys" is 22,000 and upwards. They have fifteen churches and parishes, and twenty-five persons in all engaged in the work of the ministry. This was their state in 1851. Since then, two other parishes, Pignerolo and Turin, have been added. To each church a school is attached, with numerous sub-schools. It is to the honour of the Vaudois that they led the way in that system of general education which is extending itself, more or less, in every State in Europe. Repeated edicts of the Waldensian Table rendered it imperative upon the community to provide means of religious and elementary education for all the children capable of receiving it. They have a college at La Tour, fifteen primary schools, and upwards of one hundred secondary schools. The whole Waldensian youth is at school during winter. In their congregations, the sacrament of the Supper is dispensed four times in the year; and it is rare that a young person fails to become a communicant after arriving at the proper age. There are two preaching days at every dispensation of the ordinance; and the collections made on these occasions are devoted to the poor. There was at that time no plate at the church-door on ordinary Sabbaths; and no contributions were made by the people for the support of the gospel. I presume this error is rectified now, however; for it was then in contemplation to adopt the plan in use in Scotland, and elsewhere, of a penny-a-week subscription. The stipends of the Waldensian pastors are paid from funds contributed by England and Holland. Each receives fifteen hundred francs yearly,—about sixty-two pounds sterling. Their incomes are supplemented by a small glebe, which is attached to each living. The contribution for the schools and the hospitals is compulsory. In their college, in 1851, there were seventy-five students. Some were studying for the medical profession, some for commercial pursuits; others were qualifying as teachers, and some few as pastors.
The Waldenses inhabit their hills, much as the Jews did their Palestine. Each man lives on his ancestral acres; and his farm or vineyard is not too large to be cultivated by himself and his family. There are amongst them no titles of honour, and scarce any distinctions of rank and circumstances. They are a nation of vine-dressers, husbandmen, and shepherds. In their habits they are frugal and simple. Their peaceful deportment and industrial virtues have won the admiration, and extorted the acknowledgments, even of their enemies. In the cultivation of their fields, in the breed and management of their cattle and their flocks, in the arrangements of their dairies, and in the cleanliness of their cabins, they far excel the rest of the Piedmontese. To enlarge their territory, they have had recourse to the same device with the Jews of old; and the Vaudois mountains, like the Judaean hills, exhibit in many places terraces, rising in a continuous series up the hill-side, sown with grain or planted with the vine. Every span of earth is cultivated.
The Vaudois excel the rest of the Piedmontese in point of morals, just as much as they excel them in point of intelligence and industry. All who have visited their abodes, and studied their character, admit, that they are incomparably the most moral community on the Continent of Europe. When a Vaudois commits a crime,—a rare occurrence,—the whole valleys mourn, and every family feels as if a cloud rested on its own reputation. No one can pass a day among them without remarking the greater decorum of their deportment, and the greater kindliness and civility of their address. I do not mean to say that, either in respect of intelligence or piety, they are equal to the natives of our own highly favoured Scotland. They are surrounded on all sides by degradation and darkness; they have just escaped from ages of proscription; books are few among their mountains; and they have suffered, too, from the inroads of French infidelity; an age of Moderatism has passed over them, as over ourselves; and from these evils they have not yet completely recovered. Still, with all these drawbacks, they are immensely superior to any other community abroad; and, in simplicity of heart, and purity of life, present us with no feeble transcript of the primitive Church, of which they are the representatives.
The lotus-flower is said to lift its head above the muddy current of the Nile at the precise moment of sunrise. It was indicative, perhaps, of the dawning of a new day upon the Vaudois and Italy, that that Church experienced lately a revival. That revival was almost immediately followed by the boon of political and social emancipation, and by a new and enlarged sphere of spiritual action. The year 1848 opened the doors of their ancient prison, and called them to go forth and evangelize. Formerly, all attempts to extend themselves beyond their mountain abode, and to mingle with the nations around them, were uniformly followed by disaster. The time was not come; and the integrity of their faith, and the accomplishment of their high mission, would have been perilled by their leaving their asylum. But when the revolutions of 1848 threw the north of Italy open to their action, then came forth the decree of Charles Albert, declaring the Vaudois free subjects of Piedmont, and the Church of "the Valleys" a free Church. The disabilities under which the Waldenses groaned up till this very recent period may well astonish us, now that we look back to them. Up till 1848 the Waldensian was proscribed, in both his civil and religious rights, beyond the limits of his own valleys. Out of his special territory he dared not possess a foot-breadth of land; and, if obliged to sell his paternal fields to a stranger, he could not buy them back again. He was shut out from the colleges of his country; he could not practise as a member of any of the learned professions; every avenue to distinction and wealth was closed against him,—his only crime being his religion. He could not marry but with one of his own people; he could not build a sanctuary,—he could not even bury his dead,—beyond the limits of "the Valleys." The children were often taken away and trained in the idolatrous rites of Romanism, and the unhappy parents had no remedy. They were slandered, too, to their sovereigns, as men marked by hideous deformities; and great was the surprise of Charles Albert to find, on a visit he paid to the Valleys but a little before granting their emancipation, that the Vaudois were not the monsters he had been taught to believe. I have been told, that to this very day they carry their dead to the grave in open coffins, to give ocular demonstration of the falsehood of the calumnies propagated by their enemies, that the corpses of these heretics are sometimes consumed by invisible flames, or carried off by evil spirits before burial. But now all these disabilities are at an end. The year 1848 swept them all away; and a bulwark of constitutional feeling and action has since grown up around the Vaudois, cutting off the prospect of these disabilities ever being re-imposed, unless, indeed, Austria and France should combine to put down the Piedmontese constitution. But hitherto that nation which gave religious liberty to the people of God has had its own political liberties wonderfully protected.
The year 1848, then, was the "exodus" of the Vaudois. And why were they brought out of their house of bondage? Surely they have yet a work to do. Their great mission, which was to bear witness for the truth during the domination of Antichrist, they nobly fulfilled; but are they to have no part in diffusing over the plains of Italy that light which they so long and so carefully preserved? This undoubtedly is their mission. All the leadings of Providence declare it to be so. They were visited with revival, brought from their Alpine asylum, had full liberty of action given them, all at the moment that Italy had begun to be open to the gospel. They are the native evangelists of their own country: let them remember their own and their fathers' sufferings, and avenge themselves on Rome, not with the sword, but the Bible. And let British Christians aid them in this great work, assured that the door to Rome and Italy lies through the valleys of the Vaudois.
The last day of my sojourn in the Waldensian territory was Sabbath the 19th of October, and I worshipped with that people,—rare enjoyment!—in their sanctuary. The day broke amid high winds and torrents of rain. The clouds now veiled, now revealed, the hill-side, with its variously tinted foliage, and its white torrents dashing headlong to the vale. The mighty form of the Castelluzzo was seen struggling through mists; and high above the winds rose the roar of the swollen waters. At a quarter before ten, the church-bell, heard through the pauses of the storm, came pealing from the heights. The old church of La Tour,—the new and more elegant fabric which stands in the village was not then opened,—is sweetly placed at the base of the Castelluzzo, embowered amid vines and fragrant foliage, and commanding a noble view of the plains of Piedmont. Even amidst the driving mists and showers its beauty could not fail to be felt. The scenery was—
"A blending of all beauties, streams and dells, Fruits, foliage, crag, wood, corn-field, mountain, vine."
General Beckwith did me the honour to call at my hotel, and I walked with him to the church. Outside the building—for worship had not commenced—were numerous little conversational parties; and around it lay the Vaudois dead, sleeping beneath the shadow of their giant rock, and free, at last and for ever, from the oppressor. They had found another "exodus" from their house of bondage than that which King Charles Albert had granted their living descendants. We entered, and found the schoolmaster reading the liturgy. This service consists of two chapters of the Bible, with at times the reflections of Ostervald annexed; during it the congregation came dropping in,—the husbandmen and herdsmen of the Val Lucerna,—and took their seats. In a little the elders entered in a body, and seated themselves round a table in front of the pulpit. Next came the pastor, habited, like our Scotch ministers, in gown and bands, when the regent instantly ceased. The pastor began the public worship by giving out a psalm. He next offered a prayer, read the ten commandments, and then preached. The sermon was an half-hour's length precisely, and was recited, not read; for I was told the Waldenses have a strong dislike to read discourses. The minister of La Tour is an old man, and was trained under an order of things unfavourable to that higher standard of pulpit qualification, and that fuller manifestation of evangelical and spiritual feeling, which, I am glad to say, characterize all the younger Waldensian pastors. The people listened with great attention to his scriptural discourse; but I was sorry to observe that there were few Bibles among them,—a circumstance that may be explained perhaps with reference to the state of the weather, and the long distance which many of them have to travel. The storm had the effect at least of thinning the audience, and bringing it down from about 800, its usual number, to 500 or so. The church was an oblong building, with the pulpit on one of the side walls, and a deep gallery, resting on thick, heavy pillars, on the other. The men and women occupied separate places. With this exception, I saw nothing to remind me that I was out of Scotland. One may find exactly such another congregation in almost any part of our Scottish Highlands, with this difference, that the complexions of the Vaudois are darker than that of our Highlanders. They have the same hardy, weather-beaten features, and the same robust frames. I saw many venerable and some noble heads among them,—men who would face the storms of the Alps for the lost wanderer of the flock, and the edicts and soldiers of Rome for their home-steads and altars. There they sat, worshipping their fathers' God, amid their fathers' mountains,—victorious over twelve centuries of proscription and persecution, and holding their sanctuaries and their hills in defiance of Europe. In the evening Professor Malan preached in the schoolhouse of Margarita, a small village on the ascent from La Tour to Castelluzzo. He discoursed with great unction, and the crowded audience hung upon his lips.
On my way back to my hotel, Professor Malan narrated to me a touching anecdote, which I must here put down. Monsignor Mazzarella was a judge in one of the High Courts of Sicily; but when the atrocities of the re-action began, he refused to be a tool of the Government, and resigned his office. He came to Turin, like numerous other political refugees; and in one of the re-unions of the workmen, he learned the doctrine of "justification by faith." Soon thereafter, that is, in the summer of 1851, he and a few companions paid a visit to the Vaudois Church. A public meeting, over which Professor Malan presided, was held at La Tour, to welcome M. Mazzarella and his friends. Professor Malan expressed his delight at seeing them in "the Valleys;" welcomed them as the first fruits of Italy; and, in the name of the Vaudois Church, gave them the right hand of fellowship. The reply of the converted exiles was truly affecting, and moved the assembly to tears. Rising up, Mazzarella said, "We are the children of your persecutors; but the sons have other hearts than the fathers. We have renounced the religion of the oppressor, and embraced that of the Vaudois, whom our ancestors so long persecuted. You have been the people of God, the confessors of the truth; and here before you this night I confess the sin of my fathers in putting your fathers to death." Mazzarella at this day is an evangelist in Genoa. In his speech we hear the first utterance of repentant Christendom. "The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel."
I had now been well nigh a week in "the Valleys." A dream long and fondly cherished had become a reality; and next morning I started for Turin.
The eventful history of the Vaudois teaches one lesson at least, which we Protestants would do well to ponder at this hour. The measures of the Church of Rome are quick, summary, and on a scale commensurate with the danger. Her motto is instant, unpitying, unsparing, utter extermination of all that oppose her. Twice over has the human mind revolted against her authority, and twice over has she met that revolt, not with argument, but with the sword. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the Waldensian movement had grown to such a head, that the dominion of Rome was in imminent jeopardy. Had she delayed, the Reformation would have been anticipated by some centuries. She did not delay. She cried for help to the warriors of France and Savoy; and, by the help of some hundred thousand soldiers, she put down the Waldensian movement as an aggressive power. The next revolt against her authority was the Reformation. Here again she boldly confronted the danger. She grasped her old weapon; and, by the help of the sword and the Jesuits, she put down that movement in one half the countries of Europe, and greatly weakened it in the other half.
We are now witnessing a third revolt against her authority; and it remains to be seen how the Church of Rome will deal with it. Will she now adopt half measures? Will she now falter and draw back,—she that never before feared enemy or spared foe? Will that Church that quenched in blood the Protestantism of the Waldenses,—that put down the Reformation in France by one terrible blow,—that by the help of dungeons and racks banished the light from Italy and Spain,—will that Church, we ask, spare the Protestantism of Britain? What folly and infatuation to think that she will! What matters it that, in rooting out British Protestantism, she should shed oceans of blood, and sound the death-knell of a whole nation? These are but dust in the balance to her: her dominion must be maintained at all costs. Her motto still is,—let Rome triumph though the heavens should fall. But she tells us that she repents. Repents, does she? She has grown pitiful, and tender hearted, has she? She fears blood now, and starts at the cry of murdered nations! Ah! she repents; but it is her clemency, not her crimes, of which she repents. She repents that she did not make one wide St Bartholomew of Europe; that when she planted the stake for Huss, and Cranmer, and Wishart, she did not plant a million of stakes. Then the Reformation would not have been. Yes, she repents, deeply, bitterly repents, her fatal blunder. But it will not be her fault, the Univers assures us, if she have to repent such a blunder a second time. Let us hear the priests speaking through one of the country papers in France:—"The wars of religion were not deplorable catastrophes; these great butcheries renewed the life of France. The incense cast away the smell of the corpses, and psalms covered the noise of angry shouts. Holy water washed away all the bloody stains. With the Inquisition, the most beautiful weather succeeded to storms, and the fires that burned the heretics shone like supernatural torches." The hand that wrote these lines would more gladly light the faggot. Let only the present regime in France last a few years, and the priests will again rejoice in seeing the colour of heretic blood. There cannot and will not be peace in the world, they say, till for every Protestant a gibbet or stake has been erected, and not one man left to carry tidings to posterity that ever there was such a thing as Protestantism on the earth.
FROM TURIN TO NOVARA.
At Turin begins Pilgrimage to Rome—Description of Diligence—Dora Susina—Plain of Lombardy—Its Boundaries—Nursed by the Alps—Lessons taught thereby—The Colina—Inauspicious Sunset—The Road to Milan—The Po—Its Source—Tributaries and Function—Evening—Home remembered in a Foreign Land—Inference thence regarding Futurity—Thunderstorm among the Alps—Thunderstorm on the Plain of Lombardy—Grandeur of the Lightning—Enter Novara at Day-break.
I had two objects in view in crossing the Alps. The first was to visit the land of the Vaudois; the second was to see Rome. The first of these objects I had accomplished in part; the second remained to be undertaken.
This plain of Piedmont was the richest my foot had ever trodden; but often did I turn my eyes wistfully towards the Apennines, which, like a veil, shut out the Italy of the Romans and the City of the Seven Hills. At Turin, which the Po so sweetly waters, and over which the snow-clad hills of the Swiss fling their noble shadows, properly begins my journey to Rome.
I started in the diligence for Milan about four of the afternoon of the 21st October. Did you ever, reader, set foot in a diligence? It is a castle mounted on wheels, rising storey upon storey to a fearful height. It is roomy withal, and has apartments enough within its leathern walls for well-nigh the population of a village. There is the glass coupe in front, the drawing-room of the house. There is the interieur, which you may compare, if you please, to the dining-room, only there you do not dine; and there is the rotundo, a sort of cabin attached, the limbo of the establishment, in which you may find half-a-dozen unhappy wights for days and nights doing penance. Then, in the very fore-front of this moving castle—hung in mid air, as it were—there is the banquette. It is the roomiest of all, and has, moreover, spacious untenanted spaces behind, where you may stow away your luggage; and, being the loftiest compartment, it commands the country you may happen to traverse. On this account the banquette was the place I almost always selected, unless when so unfortunate as to find it already bespoke. Half-hours are of no value in the south of the Alps, and a very liberal allowance of this commodity was made us before starting. At last, however, the formidable process of loading was completed, and away we went, rumbling heavily over the streets of Turin to the crack of the postilion's whip and the music of the horses' bells.
On emerging from the buildings of the city, we crossed the fine bridge over the Dora Susina, an Alpine stream, which attains almost the dignity of a river, and which, swollen by recent rains, was hurrying on to join the Po. Our course now lay almost due east, over the great plain of Lombardy; and there are few rides in any part of the world which can bring the traveller such a succession of varied, rich, and sublime sights. The plain itself, level as the floor of one's library, and wearing a rich carpeting, green at all seasons, of fruits and verdure, ran out till it touched the horizon. On the north rose the Alps, a magnificent wall, of stature so stupendous, that they seemed to prop the heavens. On the south were the gentler Apennines. Between these two magnificent barriers, this goodly plain—of which I know not if the earth contains its equal—stretches away till it terminates in the blue line of the Adriatic. On its ample bosom is many a celebrated spot, many an interesting object. It has several princely cities, in which art is cultivated, and trade flourishes to all the extent which Austrian fetters permit. Its old historic towns are numerous. The hoar of eld is upon them. It has rags of castles and fortresses which literally have braved for a thousand years the battle and the breeze. It has spots where empires have been lost and won, and where the dead of the tented field sleep their dreamless sleep. It has fine old cathedrals, with their antique carvings, their recumbent statues of old-world bishops, and their Scripture pieces by various masters, sorely faded; and here and there, above the rich foliage of its various woods, like the tall mast of a ship at sea, is seen the handsome and lofty campanile, so peculiar to the architecture of Lombardy.
The great Alps look down with most benignant aspect upon this plain. They seem quite proud of it, and nurse it with the care and tenderness of a parent. Noble rivers not a few—the Ticino, the Adige, and streams and torrents without number—do they send down, to keep its beauty ever fresh. These streams cross and re-cross its green bosom in all directions, forming by their interlacings a curious network of silvery lines, like the bright threads in the mine, or the white veins in the porphyritic slab. Observe this little flower, with its bright petals, growing by the wayside. That humble flower owes its beauty to yonder chain. From the frozen summits of the Alps come the waters at which it daily drinks. And when the dog-days come, and a fiery sun looks down upon the plain from a sky that is cloudless for months together, and when every leaf droops, and even the tall poplar seems to bow itself beneath the intolerable heat, the mountains, pitying the panting plain, send down their cool breezes to revive it. Would that from the lofty pinnacles of rank and talent there descended upon the lower levels of society an influence equally wholesome and beneficent! Were there more streams from the mountain, there would be more fruits upon the plain. The world would not be the scorched desert which it is, in which the vipers of envy and discontent hiss and sting; but a fragrant garden, full of the fruits of social order and of moral principle. Truly, man might learn many a useful lesson from the earth on which he treads: the great, to dispense freely out of their abundance,—for by dispensing they but multiply their blessings, as Mont Blanc, by sending down its streams to enrich the plain, feeds those snows which are its glory and crown,—and the humble, the lesson of a thankful reciprocation. This plain does not drink in the waters of the Alps, and sullenly refuse to own its obligations. Like a duteous child, it brings its yearly offering to the foot of Mont Blanc,—fields of golden wheat, countless vines with their blood-red clusters, fruits of every name, and flowers of every hue;—such is the noble tribute which this plain, year by year, lays at the feet of its august parent. There is but one drawback to its prosperity. Two sombre shadows fall gloomily athwart its surface. These are Austria and Rome.
The plain of Lombardy is so broad, and the road to Milan by Novara is so much on a level with its general surface, that the eye catches the distant Apennines only at the more elevated points. The screen which here, and for miles after leaving Turin, shuts out the view of the Apennines, is the Colina. The Colina is a range of lovely hills, which rise to a height of rather more than 1200 feet, and run eastward along the plain a few miles south of the Milan road. Soft and rich in their covering, picturesque in their forms, and indented with numerous dells, they look like miniature Alps set down on the plain, nearly equidistant from the great white hills on the north and the purple peaks on the south. The sun was near his setting; and his level rays, passing through fields of vapour,—presages of storm,—and shorn of the fiery brilliancy which is wont at eve to set these hills on a blaze, fell softly upon the dome of the Superga, and lighted up the white villas which stud the mountain by hundreds and hundreds throughout its whole extent. Vividly relieved by the deep azure of the vineyards, and looking, from their distance, no bigger than single blocks, these villas reminded one of a shower of marble, freshly fallen, and glittering in pearly whiteness in the setting rays.
The road, which to me had an almost sacred character, being the beginning of my journey to Rome, was a straight line,—straight as the arrow's flight,—between fields of rich meadow land, and rows of elms and poplars, which ran on and on, till, in the far distance, they appeared to converge to a point. It was a broad, macadamized, substantial highway, of about thirty feet in width, having a white line of curb-stones placed eight or ten paces apart; outside of which was an excellent pathway for foot passengers. On the left rose the Alps, calm and majestic, clothed in the purple shadows of evening.
I have mentioned the Po as flowing past Turin. This stream is doubtless the relic of that mighty flood which covered, at some former period, the vast space between the Alps and the Apennines, from the Graian and Cottian chains on the west, to the shores of the Adriatic on the east. As the waters drained off, this central channel alone was left, to receive and convey to the sea the innumerable torrents which are formed by the springs and snows of the mountains. The noble river thus formed is called the Po,—the pride of Italy, and the king of its streams. The Greeks, who clothed it with fable, and drowned Phaeton in its stream, called it Eridanus. Its Roman appellation was Padus, which in course of time resolved itself into its present name, the Po. Unlike the Nile, which rolls in solemn and solitary majesty through Egypt without permitting one solitary rill to mingle with its flood, the Po welcomes every tributary, and accepts its help in discharging its great function of giving drink to every flower, and tree, and field, and city, in broad Lombardy. It receives, in its course through Piedmont alone, not fewer than fifty-three torrents and rivers; and in depth and grandeur of stream it is not unworthy of the praises which the Greek and Roman poets lavished upon it. The cradle of this noble stream is placed in the centre of the ancient territory of the Vaudois, whose most beautiful mountain, Monte Viso, is its nursing parent. A fountain of crystal clearness, placed half-way up this hill, is its source. Thence it goes forth to water Piedmont and Venetian-Lombardy, and to mingle at last with the clear wave of the Adriatic,—emblem of those living waters which were to go forth from this same land into all quarters of Europe.
The sun had now set; and I marked that this evening no golden beams among the mountains, no burning peaks, attended his departure. He went in silent sadness, like a friend quitting a circle which he fears may before his return be visited with calamity. With him departed the glory of the scene. The vine-clad Colina, erst sparkling with villas, put out its lights, and resolved itself into a dark bank, which leaned, cloud-like, against the sky. The stupendous white piles on the left drew a thin night vapour around them, and retired from the scene, like some mighty spirit gathering his robe about him, and leaving the earth, which his presence had enlightened, dark and solitary. The plain lay before us a sombre expanse, in which all objects—towns, spires, and forests—were fast blending into one darkly-shaded and undefined picture. Dwellers in diligences, as well as dwellers in hotels, must sleep if they can; but the hour for "turning in" had scarce arrived, and meanwhile, I remember, my thoughts took strongly a homeward direction.
With these, of course, I shall not trouble the reader; only I must be permitted to mention a misconception into which I had fallen, in connection with my journey, and into which it is possible others may fall in similar circumstances. One is apt to imagine, before starting, that should he reach such a country as Italy, he will there feel as if home was very distant, and the events of his former life far removed in point of time. He thinks that a journey across the Alps has somehow a talismanic power to change him. He crosses the Alps, but finds that he is the same man still. Home has come with him: the friendships, the joys, the sorrows, of his past existence are as near as ever; nay, far nearer, for now he is alone with them; and though he goes southward, and kingdoms and mountain-chains are between him and his native country, he cannot feel that he is a foot-breadth more distant than ever. He moves about through strange lands in a shroud of home feelings and recollections.
How wretched, thought I, the man whom guilt chases from his country! He flies to distant lands in the hope of shaking off the remembrance of his crime. He finds that, go where he will, the spectre dogs his steps. In Paris, in Milan, in Rome, the grizzly form starts up before him. He must change, not his country, but his heart—himself—before he can shake off his companion.
May not the same principle be applicable, in some extent, to our passage from earth into the world beyond? When at home in Scotland, I had thought of Italy as a distant country; but now that I was in Italy, Scotland seemed very near—much nearer than Italy had done when in Scotland. We who are dwellers on earth think of the state beyond as very remote; but once there, may we not feel as if earth was in close proximity to us,—as if, in fact, the two states were divided by but a narrow gulph? Certain it is that the passage across it will work in us no change; and, like the stranger in a foreign country, we shall enter with an eternal shroud of joys and sorrows, springing out of the deeds and events of our present existence.
I found that if in this region the day had its beauty, the night had its sublimity and terrors. I had years before become familiar with the phenomena of thunder-storms among the Alps; and one who has seen lightning only in the sombre sky of Britain can scarce imagine its intense brilliancy in these more southern latitudes. With us it breaks with a red fiery flicker; there it bursts upon you like the sun, and pours a flood of noonday light over earth and sky. One evening, in particular, I shall never forget, on which I saw this phenomenon in circumstances highly favourable to its finest effect. I had walked out from Geneva to pass a few hours with the Tronchin family, whose mansion stands on the southern shores of the lake. It was evening; and the deep rolling of the thunder gave us warning that a storm had come on. We stepped out upon the lawn to enjoy the spectacle; for in the vicinity of the Alps, whose summits attract the fluid, the lightning is seldom dangerous to life. All was dark as midnight; not even the front of the mansion could we see. In a moment the flash came; and then it was day,—boundless, glorious day. All nature was set before us as if under the light of a cloudless sun. The lawn, the blue lake, the distant Alpine summits, the landscape around, with its pines, villas, and vineyards, all leaped out of the womb of night, stood in vivid intense splendour before the eye, and in a twinkling was again gone. This amazing transition from midnight to noonday, and from noonday to midnight, was repeated again and again. I was now to witness the sublimities of a thunder-storm on the plain of Lombardy.
Right before us, on the far-off horizon, gleams of light began to shoot along the sky. The play of the electric fluid was so rapid and incessant, as to resemble rather the continuous flow of light from its fountain, than the fitful flashes of lightning. At times these gleams would mantle the sky with all the soft beauty of moonlight, and at others they would dart angrily and luridly athwart the horizon. Soon the storm assumed a grander form. A ball of fire would suddenly blaze forth, in livid, fiery brilliancy; and, remaining motionless, as it were, for an instant, would then shoot out lateral streams or rays, coloured sometimes like the rainbow, and quivering and fluttering like the outspread wings of eagles. One's imagination could almost conceive of it as being a real bird, the ball answering to the body, while the flashes flung out from it resembled the wings, which were of so vast a spread, that they touched the Apennines on the one hand, and the Alps on the other.
The storm took yet another form, and one that increased the sublimity of the scene, by adding a slight feeling of uneasiness to the admiration with which we had contemplated it so far. A cloud of pitchy darkness rose in the south, and crossed the plain, shedding deepest night in its track, and shooting its fires downward on the earth as it came onwards. It passed right over our heads, enveloping us for the while (like some mighty archer, with quiver full of arrows) in a shower of flaming missiles. The interval between the flashes was brief,—so very brief, that we were scarcely sensible of any interval at all. There was not more than four seconds between them. The light was full and strong, as if myriads and myriads of bude lights had been kindled on the summits of the Apennines. In short, it was day while it lasted, and every object was visible, as if made so by the light of the sun. The horses which dragged our vehicle along the road,—the postilion with the red facings on his dress,—the meadows and mulberry woods which bordered our path,—the road itself, stretching away and away for miles, with its rows of tall poplars, and its white curb-stones, dotted with waggons and couriers, and a few foot-passengers,—and the red autumnal leaves, as they fell in swirling showers in the gust,—all were visible. Indeed, we may be said to have performed several miles of our journey under broad daylight, excepting that these sudden revelations of the face of nature alternated with moments of profoundest night. At length the big rain-drops came rattling to the earth; and, to protect ourselves, we drew the thick leathern curtain of the banquette, buttoning it tight down all around. It kept out the rain, but not the lightning. The seams and openings of the covering seemed glowing lines of fire, as if the diligence had been literally engulphed in an ocean of living flame. The whole heavens were in a roar. The Apennines called to the Alps; the Alps shouted to the Apennines; and the plain between quaked and trembled at the awful voice. At length the storm passed away to the north, and found its final goal amid the mountains, where for hours afterwards the thunder continued to growl, and the lightnings to sport.
Order being now restored among the elements, we endeavoured to snatch an hour's sleep. It was but a dreamy sort of slumber, which failed to bestow entire unconsciousness to external objects. Faded towns and tall campaniles seemed to pass by in a ghost-like procession, which was interrupted only by the arrival of the diligence at the various stages, where we had to endure long, weary halts. So passed the night. At the first dawn we entered Novara. It lay, spread out on the dusky plain, an irregular patch of black, with the clear, silvery crescent of a moon hanging above it.
Novara—Examination of Passports—Dawn—Monks prefer Dim Light to Clear—Battle of Novara, and its Results—The Ticino—Croats—Austrian Frontier and Dogana—Examination of Books and Baggage—Grandeur of the Alps from this Point—Contrast betwixt the Rivers and the Governments of Italy—Proof from thence of the Fall—Providence "from seeming Evil educing Good"—Rich but Monotonous Scenery of the Plain—Youth of the Alps, and Decay of the Lombard nations—The only Remedy—An Expelled Democrat—First View of Milan.
Novara, of course, like all decent towns in Lombardy and elsewhere, at four in the morning was a-bed, and our heavy vehicle, as its harsh echoes broke roughly on the silent streets, sounded strangely loud. We were driven right into a courtyard, to have our passports examined. We had left Turin the evening before, with a clean bill of political health, duly certified by three legations,—the Sardinian, the English, and the Austrian; and in so short a journey—not to speak of the flood and fire we had passed through—it was scarce possible that we could have contracted fresh pollution. We were examined anew, however, lest the plague-spot should have broken out upon us. All was found right, and we were let go to a neighbouring restaurant, where we swallowed a cup of coffee,—our only meal betwixt Turin and Milan. After a full hour's halt, we re-mounted the diligence, and set forth.
On emerging from the streets of the city, I found the east in the glow of dawn. Still, and pure, and calm broke the light; and under its ray the rich plain awoke into beauty, forgetful of the fiery bolts which had smitten it, and the darkness and destruction which had so lately passed across it. "Hail, holy light!" exclaims the bard of "Paradise." Yes, light is holy. It is undefiled and pure, as when "God saw the light that it was good." Man has ravaged the earth and reddened the seas; but light has escaped his contaminating touch, and is still as God made it, unless, indeed, when man imprisons it within the stained glass of the cathedral, and then obligingly helps its dimness by lighting a score or so of tapers. Did no monk ever think of putting a stained window in the east, and compelling the sun to ogle the world through spectacles? "The light is good," said He who created it, as He saw it darting its first pure beam across creation. Not so, says the Puseyite; it is not good unless it is coloured.
I looked with interest on the plains around Novara; for there, albeit no trace of the bloody fray remains, the army of Charles Albert in 1848 met the host of Radetzky; and there the fate of the campaign for Italian independence was decided. The battle which was fought on these plains led to the destruction of King Charles Albert, but not to the destruction of his kingdom of Sardinia,—though why Radetzky did not follow up his victory by a march on Turin, is to this hour a mystery. Nay, though it sounds a little paradoxical, it is probable that this battle, by destroying the king, saved the kingdom. Had Charles Albert survived till the re-action set in 1849 and 1850, there is too much reason to fear, from his antecedents, that he would have thrown himself into the current with the rest of the Italian rulers; and so Sardinia would have missed the path of constitutional liberty and material development which it has since, under King Victor Emanuel, so happily pursued. Had that happened, the horizon of Italy, dark as it is at this hour, would have been still darker, and the peninsula, from the Alps to Sicily, would not have contained a single spot where the hunted friends of liberty could have found asylum.
We soon approached the Ticino, the boundary between Sardinia and Austrian Lombardy. The Ticino is a majestic river, here spanned by one of the finest bridges in Italy. It contains eleven arches; is of the granite of Mount Torfano; and, like almost all the great modern works in Italy, was commenced by Napoleon, though finished only after his fall. Here, then, was the gate of Austria; and seated at that gate I saw three Croats,—fit keepers of Austrian order.
I was not ignorant of the hand these men had had in the suppression of the revolution of 1848, and of the ruthless tragedies they were said to have enacted in Milan and other cities of Lombardy; and I rode up to them in the eager desire of scrutinizing their features, and reading there the signs of that ferocity which had given them such wide-spread but evil renown. They sat basking themselves on a bench in front of the Dogana, with their muskets and bayonets glittering in the sun. They were lads of about eighteen, of decidedly low stature, of square build, and strongly muscular. They looked in capital condition, and gave every sign that the air of Lombardy agreed with them, and that they had had their own share at least of its corn and wine. They wore blue caps, gray duffle greatcoats like those used by our Highlanders, light blue pantaloons fitting closely their thick short leg, and boots which rose above the ankle, and laced in front. The prevailing expression on their broad swarthy faces was not ferocity, but stolidity. Their eyes were dull, and contrasted strikingly with the dark fiery glances of the children of the land. They seemed men of appetites rather than passions; and, if guilty of cruel deeds, were likely to be so from the dull, cold, unreflecting ferocity of the bull-dog, rather than from the warm impulsive instincts of the nobler animals. In stature and feature they were very much the barbarian, and were admirably fitted for being what they were,—the tools of the despot. No wonder that the ideal Italian abominates the Croat.
The Dogana! So soon! 'Twas but a few miles on the other side of the Ticino that we passed through this ordeal. But perhaps the river, glorious as it looks, flowing from the democratic hills of the Swiss, may have infected us with political pravity; so here again we must undergo the search, and that not a mere pro forma one. The diligence vomits forth, at all its mouths, trunks, carpet-bags, and packages, encased, some in velvet, some in fir-deals, and some in brown paper. The multifarious heap was carried into the Dogana, and its various articles unroped, unlocked, and their contents scattered about. One might have thought that a great fair was about to begin, or that a great Industrial Exhibition was to be opened on the banks of the Ticino. The hunt was especially for books,—bad books, which England will perversely print, and Englishmen perversely read. My little stock was collected, bound together with a cord, and sent in to the chief douanier, who sat, Radamanthus-like, in an inner apartment, to judge books, papers, and persons. There is nothing there, thought I, to which even an Austrian official can take exception. Soon I was summoned to follow my little library. The man examined the collection volume by volume. At last he lighted on a number of the Gazetta del Popolo,—the same which I have already mentioned as given me by the editors in Turin. This, thought I, will prove the dead fly in my box of ointment. The sheet was opened and examined. "Have you," said the official, "any more?" I could reply with a clear conscience that I had not. To my surprise, the paper was returned to me. He next took up my note-book. Now, said I to myself, this is a worse scrape than the other. What a blockhead I am not to have put the book into my pocket; for, except in extreme cases, the traveller's person is never searched. The man opened the thin volume, and found it inscribed with mysterious and strange characters. It was written in short-hand. He turned over the leaves; on every page the same unreadable signs met the eye. He held it by the top, and next by the bottom: it was equally inscrutable either way. He shut it, and examined its exterior, but there was nothing on the outside to afford a key to the mystic characters within. He then turned to me for an explanation of the suspicious little book. Affecting all the unconcern I could, I told him that it contained only a few commonplace jottings of my journey. He opened the book; took one other leisurely survey of it; then looked at me, and back again at the book; and, after a considerable pause, big with the fate of my book, he made me a bland bow, and handed me the volume. I was equally polite on my part, inly resolving, that henceforward Austrian douanier should not lay finger on my note-book.
The halt here was one of from two to three hours, which were spent in unlading the diligence, opening and locking trunks,—for in Austria nothing is done in a hurry, save the trial and execution of Mazzinists. But the long halt was nothing to me: I could not possibly lose time, and I could scarce be stopped at the wrong place; and certainly the bridge of the Ticino is the very spot one would select for such a halt, were the matter left in one's own choice. It commands the finest assemblage of grand objects, in a ride abounding in magnificent objects throughout. Having been pronounced, in passport phrase, "good to enter Austria,"—for my carpet-bag was clean, though doubtless my mind was foul with all sorts of notions which, in the latitude of Austria, are rankly heretical,—(and, by the way, of what use is it to search trunks, and leave breasts unexplored? Here is an imperfection in the system, which I wonder the Jesuits don't correct)—having, I say, had the Croat-guarded gates of Austria opened to me till I should find it convenient to enter, I retraced the few paces which divided the Dogana from the bridge, and stood above the rolling floods of the Ticino.
Refreshing it verily was to turn from the petty tyrannies of an Austrian custom-house, to the free, joyous, and glorious face of nature. Before me were the Alps, just shaking the cold night mists from their shaggy pine-clad sides, as might a lion the dew-drops from his mane. Here rose Monte Rosa in a robe of never-fading glory and beauty; and there stood Mont Blanc, with his diadem of dazzling snows. The giant had planted his feet deep amid rolling hills, covered with villages, and pine-forests, and rich pastures. Anywhere else these would have been mountains; but, dwarfed by the majestic form in whose presence they stood, they looked like small eminences, scattered gracefully at his base, as pebbles at the foot of some lofty pile. On his breast floated the fleecy clouds of morn, while his summit rose high above these clouds, and stood, in the calm of the firmament, a stupendous pile of ice and snow. Never had I seen the Alps to such advantage. The level plain ran quite up to them, and allowed the eye to take their full height from their flower-girt base to their icy summit. Hundreds and hundreds of peaks ran along the sky, conical, serrated, needle-shaped, jagged, some flaming like the ruby in the morning ray, others dazzlingly white as the alabaster.
As I bent over the parapet, gazing on the flood that rolled beneath, I could not help contrasting the bounty of nature with the oppression of man. Here had this river been flowing through the long centuries, dispensing its blessings without stop or grudge. Day and night, summer and winter, it had rolled gladsomely onwards, bringing verdure to the field, fruitage to the bough, and plenty to the peasant's cot. Now it laved the flower on its brink,—now it fed the umbrageous sycamore and the tall poplar on the plain,—and now it sent off a crystal streamlet to meander through corn-field and meadow-land. It exacted nothing of man for the blessings it so unweariedly dispensed. It gave all freely. Whether, said I to myself, does Italy owe most to its rivers or to its Governments? Its rivers give it corn and wine: its Governments give it chains and prisons. They load the patient Lombard with burdens that press him down into toil and poverty; or they lead him away to shed his blood and lay his bones in a foreign soil. Why is it that all the functions of nature are beneficent? Even the storms that rage around Mont Blanc, the ice of its eternal winter, yield only good. Here they come, a river of crystal water, decking with living green this far-spreading plain. But the institutions of man are not so. From their frozen summits have too oft, alas! descended, not the peaceful river, but the thundering avalanche, burying in irretrievable ruin, man, with his labours and hopes. I suspect, however, that this is a narrow as well as a sombre philosophy. Doubtless the great fact of the Fall is written on the face of life. Nevertheless, we have a strong belief that the mighty schemes of Providence, like the arrangements of external nature, will all in the end become dispensers of good; that those evil systems which have burdened the earth, like those mountains of ice and snow which rise on its surface, have their uses, though as yet we stand too near them, and too much within the sphere of their tempests and their avalanches, fully to comprehend these uses. We must descend into the low-lying plains of the future, and contemplate them afar off; and then the glaciers and tempests of these moral Mont Blancs may dissolve into tender showers and crystal rivers, which will fructify and gladden the world.