In a few minutes I must leave the bridge of the Ticino. Could I, when far away,—in the seclusion of my own library, for instance,—bid the Alps rise before me, in stupendous magnificence, as now? I turned round, and fixed my gaze on the tamer objects of the plain; then back again to the mountains; but every time I did so, I felt the scene as new. Its glory burst on me as if seen for the first time. Alas! thought I, if this majestic image has so faded in the interval of a few moments, what will it be years after? A scene like this, it is true, can never be forgotten; but it is but a dwarfed picture that lives in the memory; and it is well, perhaps, it should be so; for were one to see always the Alps, with what eyes would one look upon the tamer though still romantic hills of his own country! And we may extend the principle. There are times when great truths—eternal verities—flash upon the soul in Alpine magnitude. It is a new world that discloses itself, and we are thrilled by its glory; but for the effective discharge of ordinary duties, it is better, perhaps, that these stupendous objects should be seen "as through a glass darkly," though still seen.
All too soon was the diligence ready to start. From the bridge of the Ticino the scenery was decidedly tamer. The Alps fell more into the background, and with their white peaks disappeared the chief glory of the scene. The plain was so level, and its woods of mulberry and walnut so luxuriant, that little could be seen save the broad road, with its white lines of curb-stones running on and on, and losing itself in the deep foliage of the plain. Its windings and turnings, though coming only at an interval of many miles, were a pleasant relief from the sameness of the journey. Occasionally side views of great fertility opened upon us. There were the small farms of the Lombard; and there was the tall Lombard himself, striding across his fields. If the farms were small, amends was made by the largeness of the farm-house. There was no great air of comfort about it, however. It wanted its little garden, and its over-arching vine-bough, which one sees in the happier cantons of Switzerland; and the furrowed and care-shaded face of the owner bespoke greater acquaintance with hard labour than with the dainties which the bounteous earth so freely yields. The Lombard plants, but another eats. We could see, too, how extensively and thoroughly irrigated was the plain. Numerous canals, brim-full of water, the gift of the Alps, traversed it in all directions; and by means of a system of sluices and aqueducts the surrounding fields could be flooded at pleasure. The plain enjoys thus the elements of a boundless fertility, and is the seat of an almost eternal summer.
Hic Ver perpetuum, atque alienis mensibus Aestas.
But the little towns we passed looked so very old and tottering, and the inhabitants, too, appeared as much oppressed with years or cares as the heavy dilapidated architecture amid which they dwelt, and out of which they crept as we passed by, that one's heart grew sad. How evident was it that the immortal spirit was withered, and that the land, despite its images of grandeur and sublimity, nourished a stricken race! The Alps were still young, but the men that lived within their shadow had grown very old. Their ears had too long been familiar with the clank of chains, and their hearts were too sad to catch up the utterances of freedom which came from their mountains. The human soul was dying, and will die, unless new fire from a celestial source descend to rekindle it. Architecture, music, new constitutions, the ever glorious face of nature itself, will not prevent the approaching death of the continental nations. There is but one book in the world that can do it,—the Book of Life. Unfold its pages, and a more blessed and glorious effulgence than that which lights up the Alps at sunrise will break upon the nations; but, alas! this cannot be so long as the Jesuit and the Croat are there. We saw, too, on our journey, other things that did not tend to put us into better spirits. As we approached Milan, we met a couple of gensdarmes leading away a poor foot-sore revolutionist to the frontier. Ah! said I inly, could the Jesuits look into my breast, they would find there ideas more dangerous to their power, in all probability, than those that this man entertains; and yet, while he is expelled, I am admitted. No thanks to them, however. I rode onwards. League followed league of the richest but the most unvaried scenery. Campanile and hamlet came and went: still Milan came not. I strained my eyes in the direction in which I expected its roofs and towers to appear, but all to no purpose. At length there rose over the green woods that covered the plain, as if evoked by enchantment, a vision of surpassing beauty. I gazed entranced. The lovely creation before me was white as the Alpine snows, and shot up in a glorious cluster of towers, spires, and pinnacles, which flashed back the splendours of the mid-day sun. It looked as if it had sprung from under the chisel but yesterday. Indeed, one could hardly believe that human hands had fashioned so fair a structure. It was so delicate, and graceful, and aerial, and unsullied, that I thought of the city which burst upon the pilgrims when they had got over the river, or that which a prophet saw descending out of heaven. Milan, hid in rich woods, was before me, and this was its renowned Cathedral.
CITY AND PEOPLE OF MILAN.
The Barrier—Beautiful Aspect of the City—Hotel Royale—History of Milan—Dreariness of its Streets—Decay of Art—Decay of Trade—The Cathedral—Beauty, not Sublimity, its Characteristic—Its Exterior described—The Piazza of the Cathedral—Austrian Cannon—Pamphlets on Purgatory—Punch—Punch versus the Priest—Church and State in Italy—Austrian Oppression—Confiscation of Estates in Lombardy—Forced Loans—Niebuhr's Idea that the Dark Ages are returning.
It was an hour past noon when the diligence, with its polyglot freight, drove up to the harrier. There gathered round the vehicle a white cloud of Austrian uniforms, and straightway every compartment of the carriage bristled with a forest of hands holding passports. These the men-at-arms received; and, making them hastily up into a bundle, and tying them with a piece of cord, they despatched them by a special messenger to the Prefect; so that hardly had we entered the Porta Vercellina, till our arrival was known at head-quarters. There was handed at the same time to each passenger a printed paper, in which the same notification was four times repeated,—first in Italian, next in French, then in German, and lastly in English,—enjoining the holder, under certain penalties, to present himself within a given number of hours at the Police Office.
It was under these conditions,—a pilgrim from a far land,—that I appeared at the gates of Milan. The passport detention seemed less an annoyance here than I had ever felt it before. The beauteous city, sitting so tranquilly amidst the sublimest scenery, seemed to have something of a celestial character about it. It looked so resplendent, partly by reason of the materials of which it is built, and partly by reason of the sun that shone upon it as an Italian sun only can shine, that none but pure men, I felt, might dwell here, and none but pure men might enter at its gates. There were white sentinels at its portals; rows of white houses formed its exterior; and in the middle of the city, floating above it,—for it seemed to float rather than to rest on foundations,—was its snow-white temple,—a place too holy almost, as it seemed, for human worship and human worshippers; and then the city had for battlements a glorious wall, white as alabaster, which rose to the clouds. Everything conspired to cheat the visitor into the belief that he had come at last to an abode where every hurtful passion was hushed, and where Peace had fixed her chosen seat.
"All right," shouted the passport official: the gensdarmes, who guarded the path with naked bayonet, stepped aside; and the quick, sharp crack of the postilion's whip set the horses a-moving. We skirted the spacious esplanade, and saw in the distance the beauteous form of the Arco della Pace. We had not gone far till the drum's roll struck upon the ear, and a long glittering line of Austrian bayonets was seen moving across the esplanade. It was evident that the time had not yet come to Milan, all glorious as she seemed, when men "shall learn war no more." We plunged into a series of narrow streets, which open on the Mercato Vecchio. We crossed the Corso, and came out upon the broad promenade that traverses Milan from the square of the Duomo to the Porta Orientale. We soon found ourselves at the diligence office; and there, our little colony of various nations breaking up, I bade adieu to the good vehicle which had carried me from Turin, and took my way to the Hotel Royale, in the Contrada dei tre Re.
At the first summons of the porter's bell the gate opened. On entering, I found myself in what had been one of the palaces of Milan when the city was in its best days. But the Austrian eagle had scared the native princes and nobles of the Queen of Lombardy, who were gone, and had left their streets to be trodden by the Croat, and their palaces to be tenanted by the wayfarer. The buildings of the hotel formed a spacious quadrangle, three storeys high, with a finely paved court in the centre. I was conducted up stairs to my bed-room, which, though by no means large, and plainly furnished, presented the luxury of extreme cleanliness, with its beautifully polished wooden floor, and its delicately white napery and curtains. The saloon on the ground-floor opened sweetly into a little garden, with its fountain, its bit of rock-work, and its gods and nymphs of stone. The apartment had a peculiarly comfortable air at breakfast-time. The hissing urn, flanked by the tea-caddy; the rich brown coffee, the delicious butter, and the not less delicious bread, the produce of the plains around, not unnaturally white, as with us, but golden, like the wheat when it waves in the autumnal sun; and the guests, mostly English, which assembled morning after morning,—made the return of this hour very pleasant. Establishing myself at the Albergo Reale for this and the two following days, I sallied out, to wander everywhere and see everything.
Milan is of ancient days; and few cities have seen greater changes of fortune. In the reign of Diocletian and Maximilian it became the capital of the western empire, and was filled with the temples, baths, theatres, and other monuments which usually adorn royal cities. The tempest which Attila, in the middle of the fifth century, conducted across the Alps, fell upon it, and swept it away. Scarce a vestige of the Roman Milan has come down to our day. A second Milan was founded, but only to fall, in its turn, before the arms of Frederick Barbarossa. There was a strong vitality in its site, however; and a third Milan,—the Milan of the present day,—arose. This city is a huge collection of churches and barracks, cafes and convents, theatres and palaces, traversed by narrow streets, ranged mostly in concentric circles round its grand central building, the Duomo. The streets, however, that lead to its various ports, are spacious thoroughfares, adorned with noble and elegant mansions. Such is the arrangement of the town in which I now found myself.
I sought everywhere for the gay Milan,—the white-robed city I had seen an hour ago,—but it was gone; and in its room sat a silent and sullen town, with an air of most depressing loneliness about it. There were few persons on the streets; and these walked as if they dragged a chain at their heels. I passed through whole streets of a secondary character, without meeting a single individual, or hearing the sound of man or of living thing. It seemed as if Milan had proclaimed a fast and gone to church; but when I looked into the churches, I saw no one there save a solitary figure in white, in the distance, bowing and gesticulating with extraordinary fervour, in the presence of dumb pictures and dim tapers. How can a worship in which no one ever joins edify any one? I could discover no signs of a flourishing art. There were not a few pretty and some beautiful things in the shop-windows; but the latter were all copies generally of the more striking natural objects in the neighbourhood, or of the works of art in the city, the productions of other times,—things which a dying genius might produce, but not such as a living genius, free to give scope to her invention, would delight to create. Such was the art of Milan,—the feeble and reflected gleam of a glory now set. As regards the trade of Milan,—a yet more important matter,—I could see almost no signs of it either. There were walking sticks, and such things, in considerable variety in the shops; but little of more importance. The fabrics of the loom, and the productions of the plane, the forge, and the printing press, which crowd our cities and dwellings, and give honest bread to our artizans, were all wanting in Milan. How its people contrived to get through the twenty-four hours, and where they got their bread, unless it fell from the clouds, I could not discover.
What an air of languor and weariness on the faces of the people! Amid these heavy-hearted and dull-eyed loiterers, what a relief it would have been to have met the soiled jacket, the brawny arm, and the manly brow, of one of our own artizans! I felt there were worse things in the world than hard work. Better it were to roll the stone of Sisyphus all life-long, than spend it in such idleness as weighs upon the cities of Italy. Better the clang of the forge than the rattle of the sabre. The Milanese seemed looking into the future; and a dismal future it is, if one may judge from their looks,—a future full of revolutions, to conduct, mayhap, to freedom; more probably to the scaffold.
I turned sharply round the corner of a street, and there, as if it had risen from the earth, was the Cathedral. As the sun breaking through a fog, or an Alpine peak flashing through mists, so burst this magnificent pile upon me; and its sudden revelation dispelled on the instant all my gloomy musings. I could only stand and gaze. Beauty, not sublimity, is the attribute of this pile. Beauty it rains around it in a never-ending, overflowing shower, as the sun does light, or Mont Blanc glory. I sought for some one presiding idea, simple and grand, which might take its place in the mind, and dwell there as an image of glory, never more to fade; but I could find no such idea. The pile is the slow creation of centuries, and the united conception of innumerable minds, which have clubbed their ideas, so to speak, to produce this Cathedral. Quarries of marble and millions of money have been expended upon it; and there is scarce an architect or sculptor of eminence who has flourished since the fourteenth century, who has not contributed to it some separate grace or glory; and now the Cathedral of Milan is perhaps the most numerous assemblage of beauties in stone which the world contains. Impossible it were to enumerate the elegances that cover it from top to bottom,—its carved portals, its flying buttresses, its arabesque pilasters, its richly mullioned windows, its basso-reliefs, its beautiful tracery, and its forest of snow-white pinnacles soaring in the sunlight, so calm and moveless, and yet so airy and light, that you fear the nest breeze will scatter them. You can compare it only to some Alpine group, whose flashing peaks shoot up by hundreds around some snow-white central summit.
The building, too, is populous as a city. There are upwards of three thousand statues upon it, and places for a thousand more. Here stands a monk, busy with his beads,—there a mailed warrior,—there a mitred bishop,—there a pilgrim, staff in hand,—there a nun, gracefully veiled,—and yonder hundreds of seraphs perched upon the loftier pinnacles, and looking as if a white cloud of winged creatures from the sky had just lighted upon it.
I purposed to-morrow to climb to the roof, and thence survey the plains of Lombardy and the chain of the Alps; so, turning away from the door, I made the tour of the square in which the Cathedral stands. I came first upon a row of cannon, so pointed as to sweep the square. Behind the guns, piled on the pavement, were stacks of arms, and soldiers loitering beside them. Ah! thought I, these are the loving ties that bind the people of Lombardy to the House of Hapsburg. The priest's chant is heard all day long within that temple; and outside there blend with it the sentinel's tramp and the drum's roll. I passed on, and came next upon a most unusual display of literature. Four-paged pamphlets in hundreds lay piled upon stalls, or were ranged in rows against the wall. The subjects discussed in these pamphlets were of a high spiritual cast, and woodcuts were freely employed to aid the reader's apprehension. These latter belonged to a very different style of art from that conspicuous in the Cathedral, but they had the merit of great plainness; and a glance at the woodcut enabled one to read at once the story of the pamphlet. The wall was all a-blaze with flames; and I saw the advantage of an infallible Church to teach one secrets which the Bible does not reveal. The sin chiefly insisted on was that of despising the priest; and the punishment awaiting it was set before me in a way I could not possibly mistake. Here, for instance, was a wealthy sinner, who lay dying in a splendid mansion. With horrible impiety, the man had refused the wafer, and ordered the priest about his business, despite the imploring tears of wife and family, who surrounded his bed. A glance at the other compartment of the picture showed the consequence of this. There you found the man just launched into the other world. A crowd of black fiends, hideous to behold, had seized upon the poor soul, and were dragging it down into a weltering gulf of lurid flame. In another picture you had an equally graphic illustration of the happiness of obeying Mother Church. Here lay one dying amid beads, crucifixes, and shaven crowns. The devil was fleeing from the house in terror; and in the compartment devoted to the spiritual world, the soul was following a benevolent-looking gentleman, who carried a big key, and was walking in the direction of a very magnificent mansion on a high hill, where, I doubt not, a welcome and hospitable reception waited both. The same lesson was repeated along the wall times without number.
Here was the doctrine of purgatory as incontestably proved as painted flames, and images of creatures with tails who tormented other creatures who had no tails, could prove it. If there was no purgatory, how could the painters of an infallible Church ever have given so exact a representation of it? And exact it must have been, else the priests would never have allowed these pictures to be hung up here, under their very eye. This was as much as to write "cum privilegio" underneath them. The whole scenery of purgatory was here most vividly depicted. There were fiends flying off with souls, or tossing them with pitchforks into the flames. There were boiling cauldrons, red-hot gridirons, cataracts of fire, and innumerable other modes of torment. A walk along this infernal gallery was enough, one would have thought, to make the boldest purgatory-despiser quail. But no one who has a little spare cash, and is willing to part with it, need fear either purgatory or the devil. In the large marble house in the centre of the square one might buy at a reasonable rate an excision of some thousands of years from his appointed sojourn in that gloomy region. And doubtless that was one reason for bringing this purgatorial gallery and the indulgence-market into such close proximity. It reminded the people of the latter inestimable blessing; and without some such salutary impulse the traffic in indulgences might flag.
I could not but remark, that the only person for whom these extraordinary representations appeared to have any attractions was myself. Not so the exhibition on the other side of the square. Having perused with no ordinary interest, though, I fear, with not much profit, this "Theory of a Future State," I crossed the quadrangle, passing right under the eastern towers of the Cathedral, and came suddenly upon a knot of persons gathered round a tall rectangular box, in which was enacting the melo-drama of Punch. These persons were enjoying the fun with a relish which was noways abated by the spectacle over the way. The whole thing was acted exactly as I had seen it before; but to me it was a novelty to hear Punch, and all the other interlocutors in the piece, discourse in the language in which Dante had sung, and in which I had heard, just before leaving Scotland, Gavazzi declaim. In all lands Punch is an astute scoundrel; but, strange to say, in all lands the popular feeling is on his side. His imperturbable coolness and truculent villany procured him plaudits among the Milanese, as I had seen them do elsewhere. Courage and self-possession are valuable qualities, and for their sake we sometimes forgive bad men and bad causes; whereas, from nothing do we more instinctively recoil than from hypocrisy. On this principle it is, perhaps, that we have a sort of liking for Punch, incorrigible scoundrel as he is; and that great criminals, who rob and murder at the head of armies, we deify, while little ones we hang.
I had now completed my tour of the Cathedral, and could not help reflecting on the miscellaneous, and apparently incongruous, character of the spectacles grouped together in the square. In the middle was the great temple, in which priests, in stole and mitre, celebrated the high mysteries of their Church. In one of the angles were rows of mounted cannon, and a forest of bayonets. In another was seen the whole process of refining souls in purgatory. Strange, that if men here are shut up in prisons and hulks amid desperadoes, they come out more finished villains than they entered; whereas hereafter, if men are shut up with even worse characters, amid blazing fires, glowing gridirons, and cauldrons of boiling lead, they come out perfected in virtue. They pass at once from the society of fiends, where they have been whipped, roasted, and I know not what, to the society of angels. This is a strange schooling to give dignity to the character and conscious purity to the mind. And yet Rome subjects all her sons to this discipline for a longer or shorter period. Much do we marvel, that the same process which unfits men for associating with respectable people here should be the very thing to prepare them for good society hereafter. The other side of the square Punch had all to himself; and Punch, I saw, was the favourite. The inhabitants of Milan kept as respectable a distance from the painted fiends as if they had been veritable Satans, ready to clutch the incautious passer-by, and carry him off to their den. They kept the same respectable distance from the Austrian cannon; and these were no painted terrors. And as regards the Cathedral, scarce a solitary foot crossed its threshold, though there,—astounding prodigy!—He who made the worlds was Himself made many times every day by the priests. But Punch had a dense crowd of delighted spectators around him; and yet he competed with the priest at immense disadvantage. Punch played his part in a humble wooden shed, while the priest played his in a magnificent marble Cathedral, with a splendid wardrobe to boot. Still the people seemed to feel, that the only play in which there was any earnestness was that which was enacted in the wooden box. A stranger from India or China, who was not learned in either the religion or the drama of Europe, would probably have been unable to see any great difference between the two, and would have taken both for religious performances; concluding, perhaps, that that in the Cathedral was the established form, while that in the wooden box was the disestablished; in short, that Punch had been a priest at some former period of his life, and sung mass and sold indulgences; but that, imbibing some heterodox notions, or having fallen into some peccadillo, such as eating flesh on Friday, he had been unfrocked and driven out, and compelled to play the priest in a wooden tabernacle.
To return once more to the paintings and woodcuts illustrative of the punitive and purgative processes of purgatory, and which were in a style of art that demonstratively shows, that if Italy is advancing in the knowledge of a future life, she is retrograding in the arts of the present,—to recur, I say, to these, there rested some doubt, to say the least of it, over their revelations of the world to come; but there rested no doubt whatever over their revelations of the present condition of Church and State in Italy. On this head the cannon and woodcuts told far more than the priests wished, or perhaps thought. They showed that both the State and the Church in that country are now reduced to their ultima ratio, brute force. The State has lost all hope of governing its subjects by giving them good laws, and inspiring them with loyalty; and the Church has long since abandoned the plan of producing obedience and love by presenting great truths to the mind. Both have found out a shorter and more compendious policy. The State, speaking through her cannon, says, "Obey me or die;" and the Church, speaking through purgatory, says, "Believe me or burn." There is one comfort in this, however,—the present system is obviously the last. When force gives way, all gives way. The Church will stand, doubtless, because they tell us she is founded on a rock; but what will become of the State? When men can be awed neither by painted fiends nor real cannon, what is to awe them? Indeed, we shrewdly suspect, that even now the fiends would count for little, were it not for the fiends incarnate, in the shape of Croats, by which the others are backed. The Lombards would boldly face the gridirons, cauldrons, and stinging creatures gathered in the one corner of the square at Milan, if they but knew how to muzzle the cannon which are assembled in the other.
In truth, things in this part of the world are not looking up. A universal serfdom and barbarism are slowly creeping over all men and all systems. The Government of Austria has become more revolutionary than the Revolution itself. By violating the rights of property, it has indorsed the worst doctrines of Socialism. That Government has, in a great number of instances, seized upon estates, without making out a title to them by any regular process of law. After the attempted outbreak at Milan in 1852, the landed property of well-nigh all the royalist emigrants was swept away by a decree of sequestration. The Milan Gazette published a list of seventy-two political refugees whose property has been laid under sequestration in the provinces of Milan, Como, Mantua, Lodi, Pavia, Brescia, Cremona, Bergamo, and Sondrio. In this list we find the names of many distinguished persons, such as Count Arese, the two Counts Borromeo, General Lechi, Duke Litta, Count Litta, Marquis Pallavicini, Marquis Rosales, Princess Belgioso. The pretext for seizing their estates was, that their owners had contributed to the revolutionary treasury; which was incredible to those who know the difference in feeling and views which separate the royalist emigrant nobles of Lombardy from the democratic republicans that follow Mazzini. In truth, the Government of Vienna needs their estates; and, imitating the example of the French Convention, and furnishing another precedent for Socialism when it shall come into power, it seized them without any colour of right or form of law. Another branch of the scourging tyranny of Austria is the system of forced loans. Some of the wealthiest families of Lombardy have been impoverished by these, and, of course, thrown into the ranks of the disaffected. The Austrian method of making slavery maintain itself is also peculiarly revolting. The hundred millions raised annually in Venetian Lombardy, instead of being spent in the service of these provinces, are devoted to the payment of the troops that keep down Hungary. The soldiers levied in Italy are sent into the German provinces; and those raised in Croatia are employed in keeping down Italy. Thus Italy holds the chain of Hungary, and Hungary, in her turn, that of Italy; and so insult is added to oppression.
The very roots of liberty are being dug out of the soil. The free towns have lost their rights; the provinces their independence; and the tendency of things is towards the formation of great centralized despotisms. Thus an Asiatic equality and barbarism is sinking down upon continental Europe. So much is this the case, that some of the thinking minds in Germany are in the belief that the dark ages are returning. The following passage in the "Life and Letters of Niebuhr," written less than two months before his death in 1831, is almost prophecy:—
"It is my firm conviction that we, particularly in Germany, are rapidly hastening towards barbarism; and it is not much better in France.
"That we are threatened with devastation such as that two hundred years ago, is, I am sorry to say, just as clear to me; and the end of the tale will be, despotism enthroned amidst universal ruin. In fifty years, and probably much less, there will be no trace left of free institutions, or the freedom of the press, throughout all Europe, at least on the Continent. Very few of the things which have happened since the revolution in Paris have surprised me."
The half of that period has scarce elapsed, and the prognostication of Niebuhr has been all but realized. At this hour, Piedmont excepted, there is no trace left of free institutions, or the freedom of the press, in Southern and Eastern Europe. Nor will these nations ever be able to lift themselves out of the gulph into which they have fallen. Revolution, Socialism, war, will only hasten the advent of a centralized despotism. We know of only one agency,—even Christianity,—which, by reviving the virtue and self-government of the individual, and the moral strength of nations, can recover their liberties. If Christianity can be diffused, well; if not, I do firmly believe with Niebuhr that, on the Continent at least, we shall have a return of "the dark ages," and "despotism enthroned amidst universal ruin."
ARCO DELLA PACE.
Depressing Effect produced by Sight of Slavery—The Castle of Milan—Non-intercourse of Italians and Austrians—Arco della Pace—Contrasted with the Duomo—Evening—Ambrose—Milanese Inquisition—The Two Symbols.
It was now drawing towards evening; and I must needs see the sun go down behind the Alps. There are no sights like those which nature has provided for us. What are embattled cities and aisled cathedrals to the eternal hills, with their thunder-clouds, and their rising and setting suns? Making my exit by the northern gate of the city, I soon forgot, in the presence of the majestic mountains, the narrow streets and clouded faces amid which I had been wandering. Their peaks seemed to look serenely down upon the despots and armies at their feet; and at sight of them, the burden I had carried all day fell off, and my mind mounted at once to its natural pitch. How crushing must be the endurance of slavery, if even the sight of it produces such prostration! Day by day it eats into the soul, weakening its spring, and lowering its tone, till at last the man becomes incapable of noble thoughts or worthy deeds; and then we condemn him because he lies down contentedly in his chains, or breaks them on the heads of his oppressors.
Emerging from the lanes of the city, I found myself on a spacious esplanade, enclosed on three of its sides by double rows of noble elms, and bounded on the remaining side by the cafes and wine-shops of the city, filled with a crowd of loquacious, if not gay, loiterers. In the middle of the esplanade rose the Castle of Milan,—a gloomy and majestic pile, of irregular form, but of great strength. It was on the top of this donjon that the beacon was to be kindled which was to call Lombardy to arms, in the projected insurrection of 1852. The soft green of the esplanade was pleasantly dotted by white groupes in the Austrian uniform, who loitered at the gates, or played games on the sward. But neither here nor in the cafes, nor anywhere else, did I ever see the slightest intercourse betwixt the soldiers and the populace. On the contrary, the two seemed on every occasion to avoid each other, as men, not only of different nations, but of different eras.
There are two monuments, and only two, in Italy, which redeem its modern architecture from the reproach of universal degeneracy. One of these is the Triumphal Arch of Milan, known also as the Arco della Pace. It was full in view from where I stood, rising on the northern edge of the esplanade, with the line of road stretching out from it, and running on and on towards the Alps, over which it climbs, forming the famous Simplon Pass. I crossed the plain in the direction of the Arco della Pace, to have a nearer inspection of it. It was more to my taste than the Duomo. The Cathedral, much as I admired it, had a bewildering and dissipating effect. It presented a perfect universe of towers, pinnacles, and statues, flashing in the Italian sun, and in the yet more dazzling splendour of its own beauty. But, stript of the tracery with which it is so profusely covered, and the countless statues that nestle in its niches, it would be a withered, naked, and unsightly thing, like a tree in winter. Not so the arch to which I was advancing. It rose before me in simple grandeur. It might be defaced,—it might grow old; but its beauty could not perish while its form remained. It presents but one simple and grand idea; and, seen once, it never can be forgotten. It takes its place as an image of beauty, to dwell in the mind for ever. To look upon it was to draw in concentration and strength.
I found this arch guarded by a Croat,—beauty in the keeping of barbarism. Much I wondered what sensations it could produce in such a mind: of course, I had no means of knowing. I touched the arch with my palm, to ascertain the quality of its polish and workmanship. The Croat made a threatening gesture, which I took as a hint not to repeat the action. I walked under it,—walked round it,—viewed it on all sides; but why should I describe what the engraver's art has made so familiar all over Europe? And such is the power of a simple and sublime idea,—whether the pen or the chisel has given it body,—to transmit itself, and retain its hold on the mind, that, though I had only now seen the Arco della Pace for the first time, I felt as if I had been familiar with it all my life; and so, doubtless, does my reader. The little squat figure, with the swarthy face, and dull, cold eye, that kept pacing beside it, watched me all the while my survey was going on. Sorely must it have puzzled him to discover the cause of the interest I took in it. Most probably he took me for a necromancer, whose simple word might transport the arch across the Alps.
The very spirit of peace pervaded the scene around the Arco della Pace. Peace descended from the summits of the Alps, and peace breathed upon me from the tops of the elms. It was sweet to see the gathering of the shadows upon the great plain; it was sweet to see the waggoner come slowly along the great Simplon road; it was sweet to see the husbandman unyoke his bullocks, and come wending his way homeward over the rich ploughed land, beneath the beautiful festoonings of the vine; sweet even were the city-stirs, as, mellowed by distance, they broke upon the ear; but sweeter than all was it to mark the sun's departure among the Alps. One might have fancied the mountains a wall of sapphire inclosing some terrestrial paradise,—some blessed clime, where hunger, and thirst, and pain, and sorrow, were unknown. Alas! if such were Lombardy, what meant the Croat beside me, and the black eagle blazoned on the flag, that I saw floating on the Castle of Milan? The sight of these symbols of foreign oppression recalled the haggard faces and toil-bent frames I had seen on my journey to Milan. I thought of the rich harvests which the sun of Lombardy ripens only that the Austrian may reap them, and the fertile vines which the Lombard plants only that the Croat may gather them. I thought of the sixty thousand expatriated citizens whose lands the Government had confiscated, and of the victims that pined in the fortresses and dungeons of Lombardy; and I felt that truly this was no paradise. To me, who could demand my passport and re-cross the Alps whenever I pleased, these mountains were a superb sight; but what could the poor Lombard, whom Radetzky might order to prison or to execution on the instant, see in them, but the walls of a vast prison?
The light was fast fading, and I re-crossed the esplanade, on my way back to the city. High above its roofs, rose the spires and turrets of the Duomo, looking palely in the twilight, and reminding one of a cluster of Norwegian pines, covered with the snows of winter. As I slowly and musingly pursued my way, my mind went back to the better days of Milan. Here Ambrose had lived; and how oft, at even-tide, had his feet traversed this very plain, musing, the while, on the future prospects of the Church. Ah! little did he think, that what he believed to be the opening day was but a brief twilight, dividing the pagan darkness now past from the papal night then fast descending. But to the Churches of Lombardy it was longer light than to those of southern Italy. Ambrose went to the grave; but the spirit of the man who had closed the Cathedral gates in the face of the Goths of Justina, and exacted a public repentance of the Emperor Theodosius, lived after him. From him, doubtless, the Milanese caught that love of independence in spiritual matters which long afterwards so honourably distinguished them. They fought a hard battle with Rome for their religious freedom, but the battle proved a losing one. It was not, however, till towards the twelfth century, when every other Church in Christendom almost had acknowledged the claims of Rome, and an Innocent was about to mount the throne of the Vatican, that the complete subjugation of the Churches of Lombardy was effected. When the sixteenth century, like the breath of heaven, opened on the world, the Reformation began to take root in Lombardy. But, alas! the ancient spirit of the Milanese revived for but a moment, only to be crushed by the Inquisition. The arts by which this terrible tribunal was introduced into the duchy finely illustrate the policy of Rome, which knows so well how to temporize without relinquishing her claims. Philip II. proposed to establish this tribunal in Milan after the Spanish fashion; and Pope Pius IV. at first favoured his design. But finding that the Milanese were determined to resist, the pontiff espoused their cause, and told them, in effect, that it was not without reason that they dreaded the Spanish Inquisition. It was, he said, a harsh, cruel, inexorable Court—(he forgot that he had sanctioned it by a bull)—which condemned men without trial; but he had an Inquisition of his own, which never did any one any harm, and which his subjects in Rome were exceedingly fond of. This he would send to them. The Milanese were caught in the trap. In the hope of getting rid of the Spanish Inquisition, they accepted the Roman one, which proved equally fatal in the end. The degradation of Lombardy dates from that day. The Inquisition paved the way for Austrian domination. The familiars of the Holy Office were the avant couriers of the black eagles and Croats of the house of Hapsburg.
In the arch behind me, so simple withal, and yet so noble in its design, and whose beauty, dependent on no adventitious helps or meretricious ornaments, but inherent in itself, was seen and felt by all, I saw, I thought, a type of the Gospel; while the many-pinnacled and richly-fretted Cathedral before me seemed the representative of the Papacy. As stands this arch, in simple but eternal beauty, beside the inflated glories of the Duomo, so stands the gospel amid the spurious systems of the world. They, like the Cathedral, are elaborate and artificial piles. The stones of which they are built are absurd doctrines, burdensome rites, and meaningless ceremonies. In beautiful contrast to their complexity and inconsistency, the Gospel presents to the world one simple and grand idea. They perplex and weary their votaries, who lose themselves amid the tangled paths and intricate labyrinths with which they abound. The Gospel, on the other hand, offers a plain and straight path to the enquirer, which, once found, can never be lost. These systems grow old, and, having lived their day, return to the earth, out of which they arose. The Gospel never dies,—never grows old. Fixed on an immoveable basis, it stands sublimely forth amid the lapse of ages and the decay of systems, charming all minds by its simplicity, and subduing all minds by its power. It says nothing of penances, nothing of pilgrimages, nothing of tradition, nor of works of supererogation, nor of efficacious sacraments dispensed by the hands of an apostolically descended clergy: its one simple and sublime announcement is, that Eternal Life is the Free Gift of God through the Death of his Son.
THE DUOMO OF MILAN.
Interior Disappoints at First Sight—Expands into Magnificence—Description of Interior—Mummy of San Carlo Borromeo—His too early Canonization—A Priest at Mass—The Two Mysteries—Distinction between Religion and Worship—Roof of Cathedral—Aspect of Lombardy from thence—Ascend to the Top of Tower—Objects in the Square—Miniature of the World—The Alps from the Cathedral Roof—Martyr Associations—A Future Morning.
My next day was devoted to the Cathedral. Entering by the great western doorway,—a low-browed arch, rich in carving and statuary,—I pushed aside the thick, heavy quilt that closes the entrance of all the Italian churches, and stood beneath the roof. My first feeling was one of disappointment; so great was the contrast betwixt the airy and sunlight beauty of the exterior, and the massive and sombre grandeur within. The marble of the floor was sorely fretted by the foot: its original colours of blue and red had passed into a dingy gray, chequered with the variously-tinted light which flowed in through the stained windows. The white walls and unadorned pillars looked cold and naked. Beggars were extending their caps towards you for an alms. On the floor rose a stack of rush-bottomed chairs, as high as a two-storey house,—as if the priests, dreading an emeute, had made preparations by throwing up a barricade. A carpenter, mounted on a tall ladder, was busied, with hammer and nails, suspending hangings of tapestry along the nave, in honour, I presume, of some saint whose fete-day was approaching. The dim light could but feebly illuminate the many-pillared, long-aisled building, and gave to the vast edifice something of a cavern look.
But by and by the eye got attempered; and then, like an autumnal haze clearing away from the face of the landscape, and revealing the glories of green meadow, golden field, and wooded mountain, the obscurity that wrapped pillar and aisle gradually brightened up, and the temple around me began to develope into the noblest proportions and the most impressive grandeur. Some hundred and fifty feet over head was suspended the stone roof; and one could not but admire the lightness and elegance of its groined vaultings, and the stately stature of the columns that supported it. Their feet planted on the marble floor, they stood, bearing up with unbowing strength, through the long centuries, the massive, stable, steadfast roof, from which the spirit of tranquillity and calm seemed to breathe upon you. On either hand three rows of colossal pillars ran off, forming a noble perspective of well nigh five hundred feet. They stretched away over transept and chancel, towards the great eastern window, which, like a sun glowing with rosy light, was seen rising behind the high altar, bearing on its ample disc the emblazoned symbols of the Book of the Apocalypse. The aisles were deep and shadowy; and through their forests of columns there broke on the sight glimpses of monumental tombs and altars ranged against the wall. I passed slowly along in front of these beautiful monuments, and read upon their marble the names of warriors and cardinals, some of whom still keep their place on the page of history. It took me some three hours to make the circuit of the Cathedral; but I shall not spend as many minutes in describing the works of art—some of them marvels of their kind—which passed under my eye; for my readers, I suspect, would not thank me for doing worse what the guide-books have done better. Below the great window in the apsis,—the same that contains what is one of the earliest of modern commentaries on the Book of Revelation,—the pavement was perforated by a number of small openings; and on looking down, I could see a subterranean chamber, with burning lamps. Its wall was adorned with pictures like the great temple above: and I could plainly hear the low chant of priests issuing from it. I had lighted, in short, upon a subterranean chapel; and here, in a shrine of gold and silver, lay embalmed the body of a former Archbishop of Milan—San Carlo Borromeo. Through the glass-lid of the coffin you could see the half-rotten corpse,—for the skill of the embalmer had been no match for the stealthy advances of decay,—tricked out in its gorgeous vestments, with the ring glittering on its finger, and the mitre pressing upon its fleshless skull. San Carlo Borromeo is the patron saint of Milan; and hence these perpetual lamps and ceaseless chantings at his tomb. The black withered face and naked skull grin horribly at the flaunting finery that surrounds him; and one almost expects to see him stretch out his skeleton hands, and tear it angrily in rags. The unusually short period of thirty years was all that intervened betwixt the death and the canonization of San Carlo; and his mother, who was alive at the time, though a very aged woman, had the peculiar satisfaction of seeing her son placed on the altars of Rome, and become an object of worship,—a happiness which, so far as we know, has not been enjoyed by mortal mother since the days of Juno and other ladies of her time. We do not envy San Carlo his honours; but we submit whether it was judicious to confer them just so soon. Before decreeing worship to one, would it not be better to let his contemporaries pass from the stage of time? Incongruous reminiscences are apt to mix themselves up with his worship. San Carlo had been like other children when young, we doubt not, and was none the worse of the castigation he received at times from the hand of her whose duty it now became to worship him. His mother little dreamt that it was an infant god she was chastising. "He was a pleasant companion," said a lady, when informed of the canonization of St Francis de Sales, "but he cheated horribly at cards." "When I was at Milan," says Addison, "I saw a book newly published, that was dedicated to the present head of the Borromean family, and entitled, A Discourse on the Humility of Jesus Christ, and of St Charles Borromeo."
I came round, and stood in front of the high altar. It towers to a great height, looking like the tall mast of a ship; and, could any supposable influence throw the marble floor on which it rests into billows, it might ride safely on their tops, beneath the stone roof of the Cathedral. A priest was saying mass, and some half-dozen of persons on the wooden benches before the chancel were joining in the service. It was a cold affair; and the vastness of the building but tended to throw an air of insignificance over it. The languid faces of the priest and his diminutive congregation brought vividly to my recollection the crowd of animated countenances I had seen outside the same building, around Punch, the day before. The devotion before me was a dead, not a living thing. It had been dead before the foundations of this august temple were laid. But it loved to revisit "the glimpses" of these tapers, and to grimace and mutter amid these shadowy aisles. To nothing could I compare it but to the skeleton in the chapel beneath, that lay rotting in a shroud of gorgeous robes. It was as much a corpse as that skeleton, and, like it too, it bore a shroud of purple and scarlet, and fine linen and gold, which concealed only in part its ghastliness. Were Ambrose to come back, he would once more close his Cathedral gates, but this time in the face of the priests.
"Without controversy," says the apostle, "great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh." "Without controversy, great is the mystery of" iniquity. "God was manifest in the" mass. These are the two INCARNATIONS—the two MYSTERIES. They stand confronting one another. Romish writers style the mass emphatically "the mystery;" and as that dogma is a capital one in their system, it follows that their Church has mystery written on her forehead, as plainly as John saw it on that of the woman in the Apocalypse. But farther, what is the principle of the mass? Is it not that Christ is again offered in sacrifice, and that the pain he endures in being so propitiates God in your behalf? Is not, then, the area of Europe that is covered with masses "the place where our Lord was crucified?"
The stream can never rise higher than its source; and so is it with worship. That worship that cometh of man cannot, in the nature of things, rise higher than man. The worship of Rome is manifestly man-contrived. It may be expected, therefore, to rise to the level of his tastes, but not a hairbreadth higher. It may stimulate and delight his faculties, such as they are, but it cannot regenerate them. At the best, it is only the aesthetic faculties which the worship of Rome calls into exercise. It presents no truth to the mind, and cannot therefore act upon the moral powers. God is unseen: He is hidden in the dark shadow of the priest. How, then, can He be regarded with confidence or love? The doctrine of the atonement,—the central glory of the Christian system,—is unknown. It is eclipsed by the mass. If you want to be religious,—to obtain salvation,—you buy masses. You need not cultivate any moral quality. You need not even be grateful. You have paid the market-price of the salvation you carry home, and are debtor to no one.
Those who speak of the worship of the Church of Rome as well fitted to make men devout, only betray their complete ignorance of all that constitutes worship. Men must be devout before they can worship. There is no error in the world more common than that of putting worship for religion. Worship is not the cause, but the effect. Worship is simply the expression of an inward feeling, that feeling being religion; and nothing is more obvious, than that till this feeling be implanted, there can be no worship. The man may bow, or chant, or mutter; he cannot worship. He may be dazzled by fine pictures, but not melted into love or raised to hope by glorious truths. Moral feelings can be produced not otherwise than by the apprehension of moral truths; but in the Church of Rome all the great verities of revelation lie out of sight, being covered with the dense shadow of symbol and error. A single verse of Scripture would do more to awaken mind and produce devotion than all the statues and fine pictures of all the cathedrals in Italy.
I got weary at last of these shadowy aisles and the priests' monotonous chant; and so, paying a small fee, I had a low door in the south transept opened to me; and, groping my way up a stair of an hundred and fifty steps, or rather more, I came out upon the top of the Cathedral. I had left a noble temple, but only to be ushered into a far nobler,—its roof the blue vault, its floor the great Lombardy plain, and its walls the Alps and Apennines. The glory of the temple beneath was forgotten by reason of the greater glory of that into which I had entered. It was not yet noon, and the morning mists were not yet wholly dissipated. The Alps and the Apennines were imprisoned in a shroud of vapour. Nevertheless the scene was a noble one. Lombardy was level as the sea. I have seen as level and as circular an expanse from a ship's deck, when out of sight of land, but nowhere else. One of the most prominent features of the scene were the long straight rows of the Lombardy poplar, which, rooted in its native soil, and drinking its native waters, shoots up into the most goodly stature and the most graceful form. And then, there were glimpses of beautifully green meadows, and long silvery lines of canals; and all over the plain there peeped out from amidst rich woods, the white walls of hamlets and towns, and the tall, slender Campanile. The country towards the north was remarkably populous. From the gates of Milan to the skirts of the mists that veiled the Alps the plain was all a-gleam with white-walled villages, beautifully embowered. A fairer picture, or one more suggestive of peace and happiness, is perhaps nowhere to be seen. But, alas! past experience had taught me, that these dwellings, so lovely when seen from afar, would sink, on a near approach, into ill-furnished and filthy hovels, with inmates groaning under the double burden of ignorance and poverty.
When the more distant objects allowed me to attend to those at hand, I found that I was not alone on the Cathedral's roof. There were around me an assembly of some thousands. The only moving figure, it is true, was myself: the rest stood mute and motionless, each in his little house of stone; but so eloquent withal, in both look and gesture, that you half expected to find yourself addressed by some one in this life-like crowd of figures.
I ascended to the different levels by steps on the flying buttresses. A winding staircase in a turret of open tracery next carried me to the Octagon, where I found myself surrounded by a new zone of statues. Here I again made a long halt, admiring the landscape as seen under this new elevation, and doing my best to scrape acquaintance with my new companions. I now prepared for my final ascent. Entering the spire, I ascended its winding staircase, and came out at the foot of the pyramid that crowns the edifice. Higher I could not go. Here I stood at a height of about three hundred and fifty feet, looking down upon the city and the plain. I had left the grosser forms of monks and bishops far beneath, and was surrounded—as became my aerial position—with winged cherubs, newly alighted, as it seemed, on the spires and turrets which shot up like a forest at my feet. Here I waited the coming of the Alps, with all the impatience with which an audience at the theatre waits the rising of the curtain.
Meanwhile, till it should please Monte Rosa and her long train of white-robed companions to emerge, I had the city spectacles to amuse me. There was Milan at my feet. I could count its every house, and trace the windings of its every street and lane, as easily as though it had been laid down upon a map. I could see innumerable black dots moving about in the streets,—mingling, crossing, gathering in little knots, then dissolving, and the constituent atoms falling into the stream, and floating away. Then there came a long white line with nodding plumes; and I could faintly hear the tramp of horses; and then there followed a mustering of men and a flashing of bayonets in the square below. I sat watching the manoeuvres of the little army beneath for an hour or so, while drum and clarionet did their best to fill the square with music, and send up their thousand echoes to break and die amid the spires and statues of the Cathedral. At last the mimic war was ended, and I was left alone, with the silent and moveless, but ever acting statues around and below me. What a picture, thought I, of the pageantry of life, as viewed from a higher point than this world! Instead of an hour, take a thousand years, and how do the scenes shift! The golden spectacle of empire has moved westward from the banks of the Euphrates to those of the Tiber and the Thames. You can trace its track by the ruins it has left. The field has been illuminated this hour by the gleam of arts and empire, and buried in the darkness of barbarism the next. Man has been ever busy. He has builded cities, fought battles, set up thrones, constructed systems. There has been much toil and confusion, but, alas! little progress. Such would be the sigh which some superior being from some tranquil station on high would heave over the ceaseless struggle and change in the valley of the world. And yet, amid all its changes, great principles have been taking root, and a noble edifice has been emerging.
But, lo! the mists are rising, and yonder are the Alps. Now that the curtain is rent, one flashing peak bursts upon you after another. They come not in scores, but in hundreds. And now the whole chain, from the snowy dome of the Ortelles in the far-off Tyrol, to the beauteous pyramid of Monte Viso in the south-western sky, is before you in its noble sweep of many hundreds of miles, with thousands of snowy peaks, amid which, pre-eminent in glory, rises Monte Rosa. Turning to the south, you have the purple summits of the Apennines rising above the plain. Between this blue line in the south and that magnificent rampart of glaciers and peaks in the north, what a vast and dazzling picture of meadows, woods, rivers, cities, with the sun of Italy shining over all!
Ye glorious piles! well are ye termed everlasting. Kings and kingdoms pass away, but on you there passes not the shadow of change. Ye saw the foundations of Rome laid;—now ye look down upon its ruins. In comparison with yours, man's life dwindles to a moment. Like the flower at your foot, he blooms for an instant, and sinks into the tomb. Nay, what is a nation's duration, when weighed against thine? Even the forests that wave on your slopes will outlast empires. Proud piles, how do ye stamp with insignificance man's greatest labours! This glorious edifice on which I stand,—ages was it in building; myriads of hands helped to rear it; and yet, in comparison with your gigantic masses, what is it?—a mere speck. Already it is growing old;—ye are still young. The tempests of six thousand winters have not bowed you down. Your glory lightened the cradle of nations,—your shadows cover their tomb.
But to me the great charm of the Alps lay in the sacred character which they wore. They seemed to rise before me, a vast temple, crowned, as temple never was, with sapphire domes and pinnacles, in which a holy nation had worshipped when Europe lay prostrate before the Dagon of the Seven Hills. I could go back to a time when that plain, now covered, alas! with the putridities of superstition, was the scene of churches in which the gospel was preached, of homes in which the Bible was read, of happy death-beds, and blessed graves,—graves in which, in the sublime words of our catechism, "the bodies of the saints being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the Resurrection." Sleep on, ye blessed dead! This pile shall crumble into ruin; the Alps dissolve, Rome herself sink; but not a particle of your dust shall be lost. The reflection recalled vividly an incident of years gone by. I had sauntered at the evening hour into a retired country churchyard in Scotland. The sun, after a day of heavy rain, was setting in glory, and his rays were gilding the long wet grass above the graves, and tinting the hoar ruins of a cathedral that rose in the midst of them, when my eye accidentally fell upon the following lines, which I quote from memory, carved in plain characters upon one of the tombstones:—
The wise, the just, the pious, and the brave, Live in their death, and flourish from the grave. Grain hid in earth repays the peasant's care, And evening suns but set to rise more fair.
There are no such epitaphs in the graveyards of Lombardy; nor could there be any such in that of Dunblane, but for the Reformation.
MILAN TO BRESCIA.
Biblioteca Ambrosiana—A Lamp in a Sepulchre—The Palimpsests—Labours of the Monks in the Cause of Knowledge—Cardinal Mai—He recovers many valuable Manuscripts of the Ancients which the Monks had Mutilated—Ulfila's Bible—The War against Knowledge—The Brazent Serpent at Sant' Ambrogio—Passport Office—Last Visit to the Duomo and the Arco Della Pace—The Alps apostrophized—Dinner at a Restaurant—Leave Milan—Procession of the Alps—Treviglio—The River Adda—The Postilion—Evening, with dreamy, decaying Borgos—Caravaggio—Supper at Chiari—Brescia—Arnold of Brescia.
The morning of my last day in Milan was passed in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. This justly renowned library was founded in 1609 by Cardinal Borromeo, the cousin of that Borromeo whose mummy lies so gorgeously enshrined in the subterranean chapel of the Duomo. This prelate was at vast care and expense to bring together in this library the most precious manuscripts extant. For this purpose he sent learned men into every part of Europe, with instructions to buy whatever of value they might be fortunate enough to discover, and to copy such writings as their owners might be unwilling to part with. The Biblioteca Ambrosiana is worth a visit, were it only to see the first public library established in Europe. There were earlier libraries, and some not inconsiderable ones, but only in connection with cathedrals and colleges; and access to them was refused to all save to the members of these establishments. This, on the contrary, was opened to the public; and, with a liberality rare in those days, writing materials were freely supplied to all who frequented it. The library buildings form a quadrangle of massive masonry, with a grave, venerable look, becoming its name. The collection is upwards of 80,000 volumes; but, what is not very complimentary to the literary tastes of the prefetto and honorary canons of Sant' Ambrogio, the curators of the library, they are arranged, not according to their subjects, but according to their sizes. This library reminded me of a lamp in an Etrurian tomb. There was light enough in that hall to illuminate the whole duchy of the Milanese, could it but find an outlet. As it is, I fear a few straggling rays are all that are able to escape. There is no catalogue of the books, save some very imperfect lists; and I was told that there is a pontifical bull against making any such. I saw a few visitors in its halls, attracted, like myself, by its curiosities; but I saw no one who had come to restore volumes they had read, and receive others in their room. The modern inhabitant of Milan gives his days and nights to the cafe and the club,—not to the library. He lives and dies unpolluted by the printing press,—an execrable invention of the fifteenth century, from which a paternal Government and an infallible Church employ their utmost energies to shield him. The works of dead authors he dare not read; the productions of living ones he dare not print; and the only compositions to which he has access are the decrees of the Austrian police, and the Catechism of the Jesuit. He fully appreciates, of course, the care taken to preserve the purity of his political and religious faith, and will one day show the extent of his gratitude.
I saw in this library the famous Palimpsests. My readers know, of course, what these are. The Palimpsests are little books of vellum, from which an original and ancient writing has been erased, to make room for the productions of later ages and of other pens. These pages bore originally the thoughts of Virgil and Livy, and, in short, of almost all the great writers of pagan, antiquity; but the monks, who did not relish their pagan notions, thought the vellum would be much better bestowed if filled with their own homilies. The good fathers conceived the project of enlightening and evangelizing the world by purging of its paganism all the vellum in Europe; and, being much intent on their object, they succeeded in it to an amazing extent.
"A second deluge learning did o'errun, And the monks finished what the Goths begun."
Our readers have often seen with what rapidity a fog swallows up a landscape. They have marked, with a feeling of despair, golden peak and emerald valley sinking hopelessly in the dank drizzle. So the classics went down before the monks. The ancients were set a-trudging through the world in a monk's cowl and a friar's frock. On the same page from which Cicero had thundered, a monk now discoursed. Where Livy's pictured narrative had been, you found only a dull wearisome legend. Where the thunder of Homer's lyre or the sweet notes of Virgil's muse had resounded, you heard now a dismal croak or a lugubrious chant. Such was the strange metamorphosis which the ancients were compelled to endure at the hands of the' monks; and such was the way in which they strove to earn the gratitude of succeeding ages by the benefits they conferred on learning.
It gives us pleasure to say that Cardinal Mai was amongst the most distinguished of those who undertook the task of setting free the imprisoned ancients,—of stripping them of the monk's hood and the friar's habit, and presenting them to the world in their own form. He laboured in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, and succeeded in exhuming from darkness and dust the treasures which neglect and superstition had buried there. In the number of the works which the monks had palimpsested, and which Mai rescued from destruction, we may cite some fragments of Homer, with a great number of paintings equally ancient, and of which the subjects are taken from the works of this great poet; the unpublished writings of Cornelius Fronto; the unpublished letters of Antoninus Pius, of Marcus Aurelius, of Lucius Verus, and of Appian; some fragments of discourses of Aurelius Symmachus; the Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, which were up to that time imperfect; unpublished fragments of Plautus, of Isaeus, of Themistius; an unpublished work of the philosopher Porphyrius; some writings of the Jew Philo; the ancient interpreters of Virgil; two books of the Chronicles of Eusebius Pamphilus; the VI. and XIV. Sibylline Books; and the six books of the Republic of Cicero. I saw, too, in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, fragments of the version of the Bible made in the middle of the fourth century, by Ulfila, bishop of the Maesogoths. The labours of the bishop underwent a strange dispersion. The gospels are at Upsala; the epistles were found at Wolfenbuttel; while a portion of the Acts of the Apostles and of the Old Testament were extracted from the palimpsests. The original writing—the superincumbent rubbish being removed—looked out in a bold, well defined character, in as fresh a black, in some places, as when newly written; in others, in a dim, rusty colour, which a practised eye only could decipher. Thus the war against knowledge has gone on. The Caliph Omer burnt the Alexandrine library. Next came the little busy creatures the monks, who, mothlike, ate up the ancient manuscripts. Last of all appeared the Pope, with his Index Expurgatorius, to put under lock and key what the Caliph had spared, and the monks had not been able to devour. The torch, the sponge, the anathema, have been tried each in its turn. Still the light spreads.
I cannot enter on the other curious manuscripts which this library contains; nor have I anything to say of the numerous beautiful portraits and pictures with which its walls are adorned. The Cenacolo, or "Last Supper," by Leonardo da Vinci, in the refectory of the Dominican convent, is fast perishing. It has not yet "lost all its original brightness," and is mightier in its decay than most other pictures are in the bloom and vigour of their youth. I recollect the great Scottish painter Harvey saying to me, that he was more affected by "that ruin," than he was by all the other works of art which he saw in Italy. The grandeur of the central head has never been approached in any copy. One thing I regret,—I did not visit the Sant' Ambrogio, and so missed seeing the famous brazen serpent which is to hiss just before the world comes to an end. This serpent is the same that Moses made in the wilderness, and which Hezekiah afterwards brake in pieces: at least it would be heresy in Milan not to believe this. It must be comfortable to a busy age, which has so many things to think of without troubling itself about how or when the world is to end, to know that, if it must end, due warning will be given of that catastrophe. The vineyards of Lombardy are good, and monks, like other men, occasionally get thirsty; and it might spoil the good fathers' digestion were the brazen serpent of Sant' Ambrogio to hiss after dinner. But doubtless it will be discreet on this head. There is said to be in some one of the graveyards of Orkney, a tombstone on which an angel may be seen blowing a great trumpet with all his might, while the dead man below is made to say, "When I hear this, I will rise." The stone-trumpet will be heard to blow, we daresay, about the same time that the serpent of Sant' Ambrogio will be heard to hiss.
I was now to bid farewell to Milan, and turn my face towards the blue Adriatic. But one unpleasant preliminary must first be gone through. The police had opened the gates of Milan to admit me, and the same authorities must open them for my departure. I walked to the passport office, where the officials received me with great politeness, and bade me be seated while my passport was being got ready. This interesting process was only a few minutes in doing; and, on payment of the customary fee, was handed me "all right" for Venice, bating the innumerable intermediate inspections and vises by the way; for a passport, like a chronometer, must be continually compared with the meridian, and put right. I put my passport into my pocket; but on opening it afterwards, I got a surprise. Its pages were getting covered all over with little creatures with wings, and, as my fancy suggested, with stings,—the black eagles of Austria. How was I to carry in my pocket such a cage of imps? How was I to sleep at night in their company? Should they take it into their head to creep out of my book, and buzz round my bed, would it not give me unpleasant dreams? And yet part with them I could not. These black, impish creatures must be my pioneers to Venice.
I now made haste to take my last look of the several objects which had endeared themselves to me during my short stay. I felt towards them as friends,—long known and beloved friends; and never should I turn and look on the track of my past existence without seeing their forms of beauty, dim and indistinct, it might be, as the haze of lapsed time should gather over them; still, always visible,—never altogether blotted out. I walked round the Cathedral for the last time. There it stood,—beauty, like an eternal halo, sitting rainbow-like upon its towers and pinnacles. Its thousand statues and cherubs stood silent and entranced, tranquil as ever, all unmoved by the city's din, reminding one of dwellers in some region of deep and unbroken bliss. "Glorious pile!" said I, apostrophizing it, "I am but a pilgrim, a shadow; so are all who now look on thee,—shadows. But you will continue to delight the ages to come, as you have done those that are past." I had a run, too, to the Piazza di Armi, to see Beauty incarnate, if I may so express myself, in the form of the Arco della Pace. It is a gem, the brightest of its kind that earth contains. The faultless grace of its form is finely set off by the overwhelming Alpine masses in the distance, which seemed as if raised on purpose to defend it, and which rise, piled one above another, in furrowed, jagged, unchiselled, fearful sublimity.
I came round by the boulevard of the Porte Orientale, on my way back to the city. It is a noble promenade. Above are the boughs of the over-arching elms; on this hand are the city domes and cathedral spires, with their sweet chimes continually falling on the ear; and on that are the suburban gardens, with the poplars and campaniles rising in stately grace beyond. The glorious perspective is terminated by the Alps. As the breezes from their flashing summits stirred the leaves overhead, they seemed to speak of liberty. I wonder the Croat don't impose silence on them. What right have they, by their glowing peaks, and their free play of light and shade, and their storms, and their far-darting lightnings, to stir the immortal aspirations in man's bosom? These white hills are great, unconquerable democrats. They will continually be singing hymns in praise of liberty. Yet why they should, I know not. Milan is deaf. Why preach liberty to men in chains? Surely the Alps,—the free and joyous Alps,—which scatter corn and wine from their horn of plenty so unweariedly, have no delight in tormenting the enslaved nations at their feet. Why do ye not, ye glorious mountains, put on sackcloth, and mourn with the mourning nations beneath you? How can ye look down on these dungeons, on these groaning victims, on the tears of so many widows and orphans, and yet wear these robes of beauty, and sing your song of gladness at sunrise? Or do ye descry from afar the coming of a better era? and is the glory that mantles your summits the kindling of an inward joy at the prospect of coming freedom? and are these whisperings of liberty the first utterances of that shout with which you will welcome the opening of the tomb and the rising of the nations?
The formidable process of loading the diligence was not yet completed. There was a perfect Mont Blanc of luggage to transfer from the courtyard to the top of the diligence, not in a hurry, but calmly and deliberately. The articles were to be selected one by one, and put upon the top, and taken down again, and laid in the courtyard, and put up a second time, and perhaps a third time; and after repeated attempts and failures, and a reasonable amount of vociferation and emphatic ejaculations on the part of postilions and commissionaires, the thing was to be declared completed, and finally roped down, and the great leathern cover drawn over all. Still the process would be got through before the hour of table d'hote at the Albergo de Reale. I must needs therefore dine at a restaurant. I betook me to one of these establishments hard by the diligence office, and took my place at a small table, with its white napery, small bottle of wine, and roll of Lombardy bread, in the same room with some thirty or so of the merchants and citizens of Milan. I intimated my wish to dine a la carte; and instantly the waiter placed the tariff before me, with its list of dishes and prices. I selected what dishes I pleased, marking, at the same time, what I should have to pay for each. I dined well, having respect to the journey of two days and a night I was about to begin, and knowing, too, that an Italian diligence halts only at long intervals. The reckoning, I thought, could be no dubious or difficult matter. I knew the dishes I had eaten, and I saw the prices affixed, and I concluded that a simple arithmetical process would infallibly conduct me to the aggregate cost. But when my bill was handed me (a formality dispensed with in the case of those beside me), I found that my reckoning and that of "mine host" differed materially. The sum total on his showing was three times greater than on mine. I was curious to discover the source of this rather startling discrepancy in so small a sum. I went over again the list of eaten dishes, and once more went through the simple arithmetical process which gave the sum total of their cost, but with no difference in the result. It was plain that there was some mysterious quality in the arithmetic, or some nice distinctions in the cookery, which I had not taken into account, which disturbed my calculations. I became but the more anxious to have the riddle explained. In my perplexity I applied to the waiter, who referred me to his master. The day was hot; and boiling, stewing, and roasting, is hot work; and this may account for the passion into which my simple interrogatory put "mine host." "It was a just bill, and must be paid." I hinted that I did not impugn its justice, but simply craved some explanation about its items. Whereupon mine host, becoming cooler, condescended to inform me that I had not dined exactly according to the carte; that certain additions had been made to certain dishes; and that it did not become an Englishman to inquire farther into the matter. If not so satisfactory as might be wished, this defence was better than I had expected; so, paying my debts to Boniface, I departed, consoling myself with the reflection, that if I had three times more to pay than my neighbours, having fared neither better nor worse than they, I had, unlike these poor men, eaten my dinner without fetters on my hands.
This time the banquette of the diligence, with all its rich views, was bespoke, so I had to content myself with the interieur. It was roomy, however; there were but four of us, and its window admitted, I found, ample views of meadow and mountain. We drove to the station of the Venice railway, pleasantly situated amid orchards and extra-mural albergos. The horses were taken out, and the immense vehicle was lifted up,—wheels, baggage, passengers and all,—and put upon a truck. Away went the long line of carriages,—away went the diligence, standing up like a huge leathern castle upon its truck; while the engine whistled, snorted, screeched, groaned, and uttered all sorts of irreverent and every-day sounds, just as if the Alps had not been looking down upon it, and classic towns ever and anon starting up beside its path: a glorious vision of fresh meadows, bordered with little canals, brimful of water, and barred with the long shadows of campanile and sycamore,—for the sun was westering,—shot past us. The Alps came on with more slow and majestic pace. As peak after peak passed by, it seemed as if the whole community of hills had commenced a general march on Monte Viso, with all their crags, glaciers, and pine-forests. One might have thought that Sovran Blanc had summoned the nobles and high princes of his kingdom to meet him in his hall of audience, to debate some weighty point of Alpine government. An august assembly as ever graced monarch's court, in their robes of white and their cornets of eternal ice, would these tall and proud forms present.
Treviglio, beyond which the railway has not yet been opened, was reached in less than two hours. When near the town, the vast mirror of the blue Como, spread out amid the dark overhanging mountains, burst upon us. From it flowed forth the Adda, which we crossed. As its mighty stream, burning in the sunset, rolled along, it spangled with glory the green plain, as the milky-way the firmament. There is nothing in nature like these Alpine rivers. They fill their banks with such a wasteful prodigality of water, and they go on their way with a conscious might, as if they felt that behind them is an eternally exhaustless source. Let the sun smite them with his fiercest ray; they dread him not. Others may shrink and dry up under his beam: their fountains are the snows of a thousand winters.
On reaching the station, our diligence,—including passengers, and all that pertained to them,—was lifted from its truck and put on wheels, and once more stood ready to move, in virtue of its own inherent power, that is, so soon as the horses should be attached. This operation was performed in the calm eve, amid the glancing casements of the little town, on which the purple hills and the tall silent poplars looked complacently down.
Away we rumbled, the declining light still resting sweetly on the woods and hamlets. There are no postilions in the world, I believe, who can handle their whip like those of Italy. In very pride and joy our postilion cracked his whip, till the woods rang again. He took a peculiar delight in startling the echoes of the old villages, and the ears of the old villagers. Each report was like that of a twelve-pounder. This continual thunder, kept up above their heads, did not in the least affright the horses: they rather seemed proud of a master who could handle his whip in so workmanlike a fashion. He could so time the strokes as to make not much worse melody than that of some music-bells I have heard. He could play a tune on his whip.
We passed, as the evening thickened its shadows, several ancient borgos. Gray they were, and drowsy, as if the sleep of a century weighed them down. They seemed to love the quiet, dying light of eve; and as they drew its soft mantle around them, they appeared most willing to forget a world which had forgotten them. They had not always led so quiet a life. Their youth had been passed amid the bustle of commerce; their manhood amid the alarms and rude shocks of war; and now, in their old age, they bore plainly the marks of the many shrewd brushes they had had to sustain when young. The houses were tall and roomy, and their architecture of a most substantial kind; but they had come to know strange tenants, that is, those of them that had tenants, for not a few seemed empty. At the doors of others, dark withered faces looked out, as if wondering at the unusual din. I felt as if it were cruel to rouse these quiet slumber-loving towns, by dragging through their streets so noisy a vehicle as a diligence.
We passed Caravaggio, famous as the birthplace of the two great painters who have both taken their name from their city,—the Caravacchi. We passed, too, the little Mozonnica, that is, all of it which the calamities of the middle ages have left. Darkness then fell upon us,—if a firmament begemmed with large lustrous stars could be called dark. The night wore on, varied only by two events of moment. The first was supper, for which we halted at about eleven o'clock, in the town of Chiari. At eleven at night people should think of sleeping,—not of eating. Not so in Italy, where supper is still the meal of the day. An Italian diligence never breakfasts, unless a small cup of coffee, hurriedly snatched while the horses are being put to, can be called such. Sometimes it does not even dine; but it never omits to sup. The supper chamber in Chiari was most sumptuously laid out,—vermicelli soup, flesh, fowls, cheese, pastry, wine,—every viand, in short, that could tempt the appetite. But at midnight I refused to be tempted, though most of the other guests partook abundantly. I was much struck, on leaving the town, with the massive architecture of the houses, the strength of the gates, and other monuments of former greatness. Imagine Edinburgh grown old and half-ruined, and you have a picture of the towns of Italy, which was a land of elegant stone-built cities at a time when the capitals of northern Europe were little better than collections of wooden sheds half-buried in mire.