HotFreeBooks.com
Pilgrimage from the Alps to the Tiber - Or The Influence of Romanism on Trade, Justice, and Knowledge
by James Aitken Wylie
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

There followed a long ride. Sleep, benignant goddess, looked in upon us, and helped to shorten the way. What surprised me not a little was, how soundly my companions snoozed, considering how they had supped. The stages passed slowly and wearily. At length there came a long, a very long halt. I roused myself, and stepped out. I was in a spacious street, with the cold biting wind blowing through it. The horses were away; the postilions had disappeared; some of the passengers were perambulating the pavement, and the rest were fast asleep in the diligence, which stood on the causeway, like a stranded vessel on the beach. On consulting my watch, I found it was three in the morning, and in answer to my inquiries I was told that I was in Brescia,—a famous city; but I should have preferred to visit it at a more seasonable hour. "The best feelings," says the poet, "must have victual," and the most classic towns must have sleep; so Brescia, forgetful that famous geographers who lived well-nigh two thousand years ago had mentioned its name, and that famous poets had sung its streams, and that it still contains innumerable relics of its high antiquity, slept on much as a Scotch village would have done at the same hour.

Time is of no value on the south of the Alps. This long halt at this unseasonable hour was simply to set down an honest woman who had come with us from Milan. She was as big well-nigh as the diligence itself; but what caused all our trouble was, not herself, but her trunk. It lay at the bottom of an immense pile of baggage, which rose on the top of the vehicle; and before it could be got at, every article had to be taken down, and put on the pavement. Of course, the baggage had to be put back, and the operation was gone through most deliberately and leisurely. A full hour and a half was consumed in the process; and the passengers, having no place to retire to, did their best to withstand the chill night air by a quick march on the street.

So, these silent midnight streets I was treading were those of Brescia,—Brescia, within whose walls had met the valour of the mountains and the arts of the plain. I was now treading where pagan temples had once stood, where Christian sanctuaries had next arisen, and where there had been disciples not a few when the light of the Reformation broke on northern Italy. I remembered, too, that this was the city of "Arnold of Brescia," one of the reformers before the Reformation. Arnold was a man of great learning, an intrepid champion of the Church's purity, and the founder of the "Arnoldists," who inherited the zeal and intrepidity of their master.

On the death of Innocent II., in the middle of the twelfth century, Arnold, finding Rome much agitated from the contests between the Pope and the Emperor, urged the Romans to throw off the yoke of a priest, and strike for their independence. The Romans lacked spirit to do so; and when, seven centuries afterwards, they came to make the attempt under Pius IX., they failed. Arnold was taken and crucified, his body reduced to ashes, and it was left to time, with its tragedies, to vindicate the wisdom of his advice, and avenge his blood; but to this hour no such opportunity of freeing themselves from thraldom as that which the Brescians then missed has presented itself.

"Time flows,—nor winds, Nor stagnates, nor precipitates his course; But many a benefit borne upon his breast For human-kind sinks out of sight, is gone, No one knows how; nor seldom is put forth An angry arm that snatches good away, Never perhaps to re-appear."



CHAPTER XII.

THE PRESENT THE IMAGE OF THE PAST.

Failure of the Reformation in Italy—Causes of this—Italian Martyrs—Their great Numbers—Consequences of rejecting the Reformation—The Present the Avenger of the Past—Extract from the Siecle to this Effect—An "Accepted Time" for Nations—Alternative offered to the several European Nations in the Sixteenth Century—According to their Choice then, so is their Position now—Protestant and Popish Nations contrasted.

Of the singular interest that attaches to Italy during the first days of the Reformation I need not speak. The efforts of the Italians to throw off the papal yoke were great, but unsuccessful. Why these efforts came to nought would form a difficult but instructive subject of inquiry. They failed, perhaps, partly from being made so near the centre of the Roman power,—partly from the want of union and comprehension in the plans of the Italian reformers,—partly by reason of the dependence of the petty princes of the country upon the Pope,—and partly because the great sovereigns of Europe, although not unwilling that the Papacy should be weakened in their own country, by no means wished its extinction in Italy. But though Italy did not reach the goal of religious freedom, the roll of her martyrs includes the names of statesmen, scholars, nobles, priests, and citizens of all ranks. From the Alps to Sicily there was not a province in which there were not adherents of the doctrines of the Reformation, nor a city of any note in which there was not a little church, nor a man of genius or learning who was not friendly to the movement. There was scarce a prison whose walls did not immure some disciple of the Lord Jesus; and scarce a public square which did not reflect the gloomy light of the martyr's pile. Much has been done, by mutilating the public records, to consign these events to oblivion, and the names of many of the martyrs have been irretrievably lost; still enough remains to show that the doctrines of the Reformation were then widely spread, and that the numbers who suffered for them in Italy were great. Need I mention the names of Milan, of Vicenza, of Verona, of Venice, of Padua, of Ferrara,—one of the brightest in this constellation,—of Bologna, of Florence, of Sienna, of Rome? Most of these cities are renowned in the classic annals; all of them shared in the wealth and independence which the commerce of the middle ages conferred on the Italian republics; all of them figure in the revival of letters in the fifteenth century; but they are encompassed by a holier and yet more unfading halo, as the spots where the Italian reformers lived,—where they preached the blessed truths of the Bible to their countrymen,—and where they sealed their testimony with their blood. "During the whole of this century," that is, the sixteenth, says Dr M'Crie, in his "Progress and Suppression of the Reformation in Italy," "the prisons of the Inquisition in Italy, and particularly at Rome, were filled with victims, including persons of noble birth, male and female, men of letters, and mechanics. Multitudes were condemned to penance, to the galleys, or other arbitrary punishments; and from time to time individuals were put to death." "The following description," says the same historian, "of the state of matters in 1568 is from the pen of one who was residing at that time on the borders of Italy:—'At Rome some are every day burnt, hanged, or beheaded. All the prisons and places of confinement are filled; and they are obliged to build new ones. That large city cannot furnish jails for the number of pious persons which are continually apprehended.'"

I had time to ruminate on these things as I paced to and fro in the empty midnight streets of Brescia. Methought I could hear, in the silent night, the cry of the martyrs whose ashes sleep in the plains around, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth!" Yes; God has judged, and is avenging; and the doom takes the very form that the crime wore. An era of dungeons, and chains, and victims, has again come round to Italy; but this time it is "the men which dwell on the" papal "earth" that are suffering. When the Italians permitted Arnold, and thousands such as he, to be put to death, they were just opening the way for the wrath of the Papacy to reach themselves, which it has now done. Ah! little do those who gnash their teeth in the extremity of their torments, and curse the priests as the authors of these, reflect that their own and their fathers' wickedness, still unrepented of, has not less to do with their present miseries than the priestly tyranny which they so bitterly and justly execrate. In those ages these men were the tools of the priesthood; in this they are its victims. Thus it is that the Present, in papal Europe, and especially in Italy, rises stamped with the likeness of the Past. The Siecle of Paris, while the Siecle was yet free, brought out this fact admirably, when it reminded the champions of Popery that the horrors of the first French Revolution were not new things, but old, which the Jacobins inherited from the Papists; and went on to ask them "if they have forgotten that the Convention found all the laws of the Terror written upon the past? The Committee of Public Safety was first contrived for the benefit of the monarchy. Were not the commissions called revolutionary tribunals first used against the Protestants? The drums which Santerre beat round the scaffolds of royalists followed a practice first adopted to drown the psalms of the reformed pastors. Were not the fusilades first used at the bidding of the priests to crush heresy? Did not the law of the suspected compel Protestants to nourish soldiers in their houses, as a punishment for refusing to go to mass? Were not the houses burned down of those who frequented Protestant preaching? Were not the properties of the Protestant emigrants confiscated? Did not the Marshal Nouilles order a war against bankers? Was not the law of the maximum, which regulated prices, practised by the regency? Was not the law of requisition for the public roads practised to prepare the roads for Queen Marie Leczinska? It is true, many priests perished in the Terror, but they were men of terror perishing by terror,—men of the sword perishing by the sword."

I could not help feeling, too, when reflecting upon the state of Brescia, and of all the towns of Italy, and, indeed, of all the countries of Europe, that to nations, as well as individuals, there is "an accepted time" and a "day of salvation," which if they miss, they irremediably perish. If they enter not in when the door is open, it is in vain that they knock when it is shut. The same sentiment has been expressed by our great poet, in the well-known lines,—

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their lives is bound In shallows and in miseries."

The sixteenth century started the European nations in a new career, and put it in the power of each to choose the principle of will or authority,—the compendious principle according to which both Church and State were governed under the Papacy, or that of law,—expressing not the will of one man, but the collective reason of the nation,—the distinctive principle of government under Protestantism. The century in question placed government by the canon law or government by the Bible side by side, and invited the nations of Europe to make their choice. The nations made their choice. Some ranged themselves on this side, some on that; and the sixteenth century saw them standing abreast, like competitors at the ancient Olympic games, ready, on the signal being given, to dart forward in the race for victory.

They did not stand abreast, be it observed. The several competitors in this high race did not start on equally advantageous terms. The rich and powerful nations declared for Popery and arbitrary government; the weak and third-rate ones, for Protestantism. On one side stood Spain, then at the head of Europe,—rich in arts, in military glory, in the genius and chivalry of its people, in the resources of its soil, and mistress, besides, of splendid colonies. By her side stood France,—the equal of Spain in art, in civilization, in military genius, and inferior only to her proud neighbour in the single article of colonies. Austria came next, and then Italy. Such were the illustrious names ranged on the one side. All of them were powerful, opulent, highly civilized; and some of them cherished the recollections of imperishable renown, which is a mighty power in itself. We have no such names to recount on the other side. Those nations which entered the lists against the others were but second and third-rate Powers: Britain, which scarce possessed a foot-breadth of territory beyond her own island,—Holland, a country torn from the waves,—the Netherlands and Prussia, neither of which were of much consideration. In every particular the Protestant nations were inferior to the Papal nations, save in the single article of their Protestantism: nevertheless, that one quality has been sufficient to counterbalance, and far more than counterbalance, all the advantages possessed by the others. Since the day we speak of, what a different career has been that of these nations! Three centuries have sufficed to reverse their position. Civilization, glory, extent of territory, and material wealth, have all passed over from the one side to the other. Of the Protestant nations, Britain alone is more powerful than the whole of combined Europe in the sixteenth century.

But, what is remarkable also, we find the various nations of Europe at this hour on the same side on which they ranged themselves in the sixteenth century. Those that neglected the opportunity which that century brought them of adopting Protestantism and a free government are to this day despotic. France has submitted to three bloody revolutions, in the hope of recovering what she criminally missed in the sixteenth century; but her tears and her blood have been shed in vain. The course of Spain, and that of the Italian States, have been not unsimilar. They have plunged into revolutions in quest of liberty, but have found only a deeper despotism. They have dethroned kings, proclaimed new constitutions, brought statesmen and citizens by thousands to the block; they have agonized and bled; but they have been unable to reverse their fatal choice at the Reformation.



CHAPTER XIII.

SCENERY OF LAKE GARDA—PESCHIERA—VERONA.

Lake Garda—Memories of Trent—The Council of Trent fixed the Destiny as well as Creed of Rome—Questions for Infallibility—Why should Infallibility have to grope its Way?—Why does it reveal Truth piecemeal?—Why does it need Assessors?—The Immaculate Conception—Town of Desenzano—Magnificent Bullocks—Land of Virgil—Grandeur of Lake Garda—The Iron Peschiera—The Cypress Tree—Verona—Imposing Appearance of its Exterior—Richness and Beauty of surrounding Plains—Palmerston.

When the morning broke we were skirting the base of the Tyrolese Alps. I could see masses of snow on some of the summits, from which a piercingly cold air came rushing down upon the plains. In a little the sun rose; and thankful we were for his warmth. Day was again abroad on the waters and the hills; and soon we forgot the night, with all its untoward occurrences. The face of the country was uneven; and we kept alternately winding and climbing among the spurs of the Alps. At length the magnificent expanse of Lake Garda, the Benacus of the ancients, opened before us. In breadth it was like an arm of the sea. There were one or two tall-masted ships on its waters; there were fine mountains on its northern shore; and on the east the conspicuous form of Monte Baldo leaned over it, as if looking at its own shadow in the lake. With the Lago di Garda came the memories of Trent; for at the distance of twenty miles or so from its northern shore is "the little town among the mountains," where the famous Council assembled, in which so many things were voted to be true which had been open questions till then, but to doubt which now were certain and eternal anathema.

The Reformation addressed to Rome the last call to reconsider her position, and change her course while yet it was possible. It said to her, in effect, Repent now: to-morrow it will be too late. Rome gave her reply when she summoned the Council of Trent. That Council crystallized, so to speak, the various doubtful opinions and dogmas which had been floating about in solution, and fixed the creed of Rome. It did more,—it fixed her doom. Amid these mountains she issued the fiat of her fate. When she published the proceedings of Trent to the world, she said, "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; so help me——." To whom did she make her appeal? To the Emperor in the first place, when she prayed for the vengeance of the civil sword; and to the Prince of Darkness in the second, when she invoked damnation on all her opponents. Then her course was irrevocably fixed. She dare not now look behind her: to change a single iota were annihilation. She must go forward, amid accumulating errors, and absurdities, and blasphemies: amid opposing arts and sciences, and knowledge, she must go steadily onward,—onward to the precipice!

It is interesting to mark, as we can in history, first, the feeble germinations of a papal dogma; next, its waxing growth; and at last, after the lapse of centuries, its full development and maturity. It is easy to conceive how a mere human science should advance only by slow and gradual stages,—astronomy, for instance, or geology, or even the more practical science of mechanics. Their authors have no infallible gift of discerning truth from error. They must observe nature; they must compare facts; they must deduce conclusions; they must correct previous errors; and this is both a slow and a laborious process. But Infallibility is saved all this labour. It knows at once, and from the beginning, all that is true, and all that is erroneous. It does so, or it is not Infallibility. Why, then, was it not till the sixteenth century that Infallibility gave anything like a fixed and complete creed to the Church? Why did it permit so many men, in all preceding ages, to live in ignorance of so many things in which it could so easily have enlightened them? Why did it permit so many questions to be debated, which it could so easily have settled? Why did it not give that creed to the Church in the first century which it kept back till the sixteenth? Why does it deal out truth piecemeal,—one dogma in this century, another in the next, and so on? Why does it not tell us all at once? And why, even to this hour, has it not told us all, but reserved some very important questions for future decision, or revelation rather?

If it is replied that the Pope must first collect the suffrages of the Catholic bishops, this only lands us in deeper perplexities. Why should the Pope need assessors and advisers? Can Infallibility not walk alone, that it uses crutches? Can an infallible man not know truth from error till first he has collected the votes of fallible bishops? Why should Infallibility seek help, which it cannot in the nature of things need?

If it is further replied, that this Infallibility is lodged betwixt the Pope and the Council, we are only confronted with greater difficulties. Is it when the decree has been voted by the Council that it becomes infallible? Then the Infallibility resides in the Council. Or is it when it is confirmed by the Pope that it becomes infallible? In that case the Infallibility is in the Pope. Or is it, as others maintain, only when the decree has been accepted by the Church that it is infallible, and does the Pope not know whether he ought to believe his own decree till he has heard the judgment of the Church? We had thought that Infallibility was one and indivisible; but it seems it may be parted in twain; nay, more, it may be broken down into an indefinite number of parts; and though no one of these parts taken separately is Infallibility, yet taken together they constitute Infallibility. In other words, the union of a number of finite quantities can make an infinite. Sound philosophy, truly!

If we go back, then, as the Ultramontanist will, to the dogma that the seat of Infallibility is the chair of Peter, the question returns, why cannot, or will not, the Pope determine in one age what he is able and willing to determine in another? The dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, for instance, if it is a truth now, was a truth in the first age, when it was not even dreamed of; it was a truth in the twelfth century, when it was dreamed of; it was a truth in the seventeenth century, when it gave rise to so many scandalous divisions and conflicts; and yet it was not till December 1854 that Infallibility pronounced it to be a truth, and so momentous a truth, that no one can be saved who doubts it. Will any Romanist kindly explain this to us? We can accept no excuses about the variety of opinion in the Church, or about the darkness of the age. No haze, no clouds, can dim an infallible eye. Infallibility should see in the dark as well as in the daylight; and an infallible teacher is bound to reveal all, as well as to know all.

And how happens it, too, that the Pope is infallible in only one science,—even the theological? In astronomy he has made some terrible blunders. In geography he has taken the earth to be a plain. In politics, in trade, and in all ordinary matters, he is daily falling into mistakes. He cannot tell how the wind may blow to-morrow. He cannot tell whether the dish before him may not have poison in it. And yet the man who is daily and hourly falling into mistakes on the most common subjects has only to pronounce dogmatically, and he pronounces infallibly. He has but to grasp the pen, with a hand, it may be, like Borgia's, fresh from the poisoned chalice or the stiletto, and straightway he indites lines as holy and pure as ever flowed from the pen of a Paul or a John!

The road now led down upon the lake, which lay gleaming like a sheet of silver beneath the morning sun. We entered the poor, faded, straggling town of Desenzano, where the usual motley assemblage of commissionaires, albergo-masters, dwarfs, beggars, and idlers of all kinds, waited to receive us. The poor old town crept close in to the strand, as if a draught of the crystal waters would make it young again. It reminded me of the company of halt, blind, and impotent folk which lay at the pool of Bethesda. So lay paralytic Desenzano by the shores of the Lake Garda. Alas! sunshine and storm pass across the scene, clothing the waters and the hills with alternate beauty and grandeur; but all changes come alike to the poor, tradeless, bookless, spiritless town. Whether summer comes in its beauty or winter in its storms, Desenzano is old, withered, dying Desenzano still. I hurried to an albergo, swallowed a cup of coffee, and rejoined the diligence.

Our course lay along the southern shore of the lake, over a fine rolling country, richly covered with vineyards, and where the rich red soil was being ploughed with bullocks. Such bullocks I had never before seen. The stateliest of their kind which graze the meadows of England and Scotland are but as grasshoppers in comparison. Truly, I saw before me the Anakims of the cattle tribe. To them the yoke was no burden. As they marched on with vast outspread horns, they could have dragged a hundred ploughs after them. They were not unworthy of Virgil's verse. And it gave additional charms to the region to think that Mantua, the poet's birthplace, lay not a long way to the south, and that, doubtless, the author of the Bucolics often visited in his youth this very spot, and walked by the margin of these waters, and marked the light and shade on these noble hills; or, turning to the rich agricultural country on the right, had seen exactly such bullocks as those I now saw, drawing exactly such ploughs, and making exactly such furrows in the red earth; and, spreading the beauty of his own mind over the picture, he had gone and imprinted it eternally on his page. The true poet is a real clairvoyant. He may not give you the shape, or colour, or size of objects; he may not tell how tall the mountains, or how long the hedge-rows, or how broad the fields; but by some wonderful art he can convey to your mind what is present to his own. On this principle it was, perhaps, that the landscape, with all its scenery, was familiar to me. I had seen it long years before. These were the very fields, the very bullocks, the very ploughs, the very swains, my imagination had painted in my schoolboy days, when I sat with the page of the great pastoral poet of Italy open before me,—too frequently, alas! only open. On these shores, too, had dwelt the poet Catullus; and a doubtful ruin which the traveller sees on the point of the long sharp promontory of Sermio, which runs up into the lake from the south, still bears the name of Catullus' Villa. If these are the ruins of Catullus' house, which is very questionable, he must have lived in a style of magnificence which has fallen to the lot of but few poets.

The complexion of a day or of a lifetime may hang upon the commonest occurrence. A shoe here dropped from the foot of one of the horses; and the postilion, diving into the recesses of the diligence, and drawing forth a box with the requisite tools, began forthwith, on the highway, the process of shoeing. I stepped out, and walked on before, thankful for the incident, which had given me the opportunity of a saunter along the road. You can see nature from the windows of your carriage, but you can converse with her only by a quiet stroll amidst her scenes. On the right were the great plains which the Po waters, finely mottled with meadow and corn-field, besprint with chestnut trees, mulberries, and laurels, and fringed, close by the highway, with rolling heights, on which grew the vine. On the left was the far expanding lake, with its bays and creeks, and the shadows of its stately hills mirrored on its surface. It looked as if some invisible performer was busy shifting the scenes for the traveller's delight, and spreading a different prospect before his eye at every few yards. New bays were continually opening, and new peaks rising on the horizon. "It was so rough with tempests when we passed by it," says Addison, "that it brought into my mind Virgil's description of it."

"Here, vexed by winter storms, Benacus raves, Confused with working sands and rolling waves; Rough and tumultuous, like a sea it lies; So loud the tempest roars, so high the billows rise."

I saw it in more peaceful mood. Cool and healthful breezes were blowing from the Tyrol; and the salubrious character of the region was amply attested by the robust forms of the inhabitants. I have seldom seen a finer race of men and women than the peasants adjoining the Lake Garda. They were all of goodly stature, and singularly graceful and noble in their gait.

In a few hours we approached the strong fortress of Peschiera. We passed through several concentric lines of fortifications, walls, moats, drawbridges, and sloping earthen embankments, in which cart-loads of balls, impelled with all the force which powder can give, would sink and be lost. In the very heart of these grim ramparts, like a Swiss hamlet amid its mountain ranges, or a jewel in its iron-bound casket, lay the little town of Peschiera, sleeping quietly beside the blue and full-flooded Mincio, Virgil's own river:—

"Where the slow Mincius through the valley strays; Where cooling streams invite the flocks to drink, And reeds defend the winding water's brink."

It issues from the lake, and, flowing underneath the ramparts, freshens a spot which otherwise wears sufficiently the grim iron-visaged features of war. Nothing can surpass the grandeur of Lake Garda, which here almost touches the walls of the fortress. It lies outspread like the sea, and runs far up to where the snow-clad summits of the Tyrol prop the northern horizon.

Leaving behind us the iron Peschiera and the blue Garda, we held on our way over an open, breezy country, where the stony and broken scenery of the mountains began to mingle with the rich cultivation of the plains. It reminded me of the line where the lowlands of Perthshire join its highlands. Here the cypress tree met me for the first time. The familiar form of the poplar,—now too familiar to give pleasure,—disappeared, and in its room came the less stately but more graceful and beautiful form of the cypress. The cypress is silence personified. It stands wrapt in its own thoughts. One can hardly see it without asking, "What ails thee? Is it for the past you mourn?" Yet, pensive as it looks, its unconscious grace fills the landscape with beauty.

Verona, gilded by the beams of Shakspeare's mighty genius, and by the yet purer glory of the martyrs of the Reformation, was in sight miles before we reached it. It reposes on the long gentle slope of a low hill, with plenty of air and sunlight. The rich plains at its feet, which stretch away to the south, look up to the old town with evident affection and pride, and strive to cheer it by pouring wheat, and wine, and fruits into its markets. Its appearance at a distance is imposing, from its numerous towers, and the long sweep of its forked battlements, which seem to encircle the whole acclivity on which the town stands, leaving as much empty space within their lines as might contain half-a-dozen Veronas. Its environs are enchanting. Behind it, and partly encircling it on the east, are an innumerable array of low hills, of the true Italian shape and colour. These were all a-gleam with white villas; and as they sparkled in the sunlight, relieved against the deep azure of the mountains, they showed like white sails on the blue sea, or stars in the dark sky. At its gates we were met, of course, by the Austrian gendarmerie. To have the affair of the passport finished and over as quickly as possible, I unfolded the sheet, and carelessly hung it over the window of the carriage. The corner of the paper, which bore, in tall, bold characters, the name of her Majesty's Foreign Secretary, caught the eye of a passenger. "PALMERSTON!" "PALMERSTON!" he shouted aloud. Instantly there was a general rush at the document; and fearing that it should be torn in pieces, which would have been an awkward affair for me, seeing without it it would be impossible to get forward, and nearly as impossible to get back, I surrendered it to the first speaker, that it might be passed round, and all might gratify their curiosity or idolatry with the sight of a name which abroad is but a synonym for "England." After making the tour of the diligence, the passport was handed out to the gendarme, who, feeling no such intense desire as did the passengers to see the famous characters, had waited good-naturedly all the while. The man surveyed with grim complacency a name which was then in no pleasant odour with the statesmen and functionaries of Austria. In return he gave me a paper containing "permission to sojourn for a few hours in Verona," with its co-relative "permission to depart." I felt proud of my country, which could as effectually protect me at the gates of Verona as on the shores of the Forth.



CHAPTER XIV.

FROM VERONA TO VENICE.

Interior of Verona—End of World seemingly near in Italy—The Monks and the Classics—A Cast-Iron Revolutionist—A Beautiful Glimpse—Railway Carriages—Railway Company—Tyrolese Alps—Dante's Patmos—Vicenza—Padua—The Lagunes—The Omnibus or Gondola—Silence of City—Sail through the Canals—Charon and his Boat—Piazza of Saint Mark.

The gates of Verona opened, and the enchantment was gone. He who would carry away the idea of a magnificent city, which the exterior of Verona suggests, must go round it, not through it. The first step within its walls is like the stroke of an enchanter's wand. The villa-begemmed city, with its ramparts and its cypress-trees, takes flight, and there rises before the traveller an old ruinous town, with dirty streets and a ragged and lazy population. It reminds one of what he meets in tales of eastern romance, where young and beautiful princesses are all at once transformed by malignant genuises into old and withered hags.

In truth, on entering an Italian town one feels as if the last trumpet were about to sound. The world, and all that is in it, seems old—very old. Man is old, his dwellings are old, his works are old, and the very earth seems old. All seems to betoken that it is the last age, and that the world is winding up its business, preparatory to the final closing of the drama. Commerce, the arts, empire,—all have taken their departure, and have left behind only the vestiges of their former presence. The Italians, living in a land which is but a sort of sepulchre, look as if they had voted that the world cannot outlast the present century, and that it is but a waste of labour to rebuild anything or repair anything. Accordingly, all is allowed to go to decay,—roads, bridges, castles, palaces; and the only thing which is in any degree cared for are their churches. Why make provision for posterity, when there is to be none? Why erect new houses, when those already built will last their time and the world's? Why repair their mouldering dwellings, or renew the falling fences of their fields, or replace their dying olives with young trees, or even patch their own ragged garments? The crack of doom will soon be upon them, and all will perish in the great conflagration. They account it the part of wisdom, then, to pass the interval in the least fatiguing and most agreeable manner possible. They sip their coffee, and take their stroll, and watch the shadows as they fall eastward from their purple hills. Why should they incur the toil of labouring or thinking in a world that is soon to pass away, and which is as good as ended already?

Of Verona I can say but little. My stay there, which was not much over the hour, afforded me no opportunity for observation. Its famous Amphitheatre, coeval with the great Coliseum at Rome, and the best preserved Roman Amphitheatre in the world, I had not time to visit. Its numerous churches, with their frescoes and paintings, I less regret not having seen. Its Biblioteca Capitolare, which is said to be an unwrought quarry of historic and patristic lore, I should have liked to visit. There, too, the monks of the middle ages were caught tripping. "Sophocles or Tacitus," in the words of Gibbon, "had been compelled to resign the parchment to missals, homilies, and the golden legend." The "Institutes of Caius," which were the foundation of the Institutes of Justinian, were discovered in this library palimpsested. A rumour had been spread that the author of the Pandects had reduced the "Institutes of Caius" to ashes, that posterity might not discover the source of his own great work. Gibbon ventured to contradict the scandal, and to point to the monks as the probable devastators. His sagacity was justified when Niebuhr discovered in the Biblioteca Capitolare of Verona these very Institutes beneath the homilies of St. Jerome. Verona yet retains one grand feature untouched by decay or time,—the river Adige,—which, passing underneath the walls, dashes through the city in a magnificent torrent, spanned by several noble bridges of ancient architecture, and turns in its course several large floating mills, which are anchored across the stream. The market-place, a large square, was profusely covered with the produce of the neighbouring plains. I purchased a roll of bread and a magnificent cluster of grapes, and lunched in fine style.

At Verona the railway resumes, and runs all the way to Venice. What a transition from the diligence—the lumbering, snail-paced diligence—to the rail. It is like passing by a single leap from the dark ages to modern times. Then only do you feel what you owe to Watt. In my humble opinion, the Pope should have put the steam-engine into the Index Expurgatorius. His priests in France have attended at the opening of railways, and blessed the engines. What! bless the steam-engine! Sprinkle holy water on the heads of Mazzini and Gavazzi. For what are these engines, but so many cast-iron Mazzinis and Gavazzis. The Pope should have anathematized the steam-engine. He should have cursed it after the approved pontifical fashion, in standing and in running, in watering and in coaling. He should have cursed it in the whole structure of its machinery,—in its funnel, in its boiler, in its piston, in its cranks, and in its stopcocks. I can see a hundred things which are sure to be crushed beneath its ponderous wheels. I can see it tearing ruthlessly onwards, and dashing through prejudices, opinions, usages, and time-honoured and venerated institutions, and sweeping all away like so many cobwebs. Was the Argus of the Vatican asleep when this wolf broke into the fold? But in he is, and the Pope's bulls will have enough to do to drive him out. But more of this anon.

The station of the railway is on the east of the town, in a spot of enchanting loveliness. It was the first and almost the only spot that realized the Italy of my dreams. It was in a style of beauty such as I had not before seen, and was perfect in its kind. The low lovely hills were ranged in crescent form, and were as faultless as if Grace herself had moulded them on her lathe. Their clothing was a deep rich purple. White villas, like pearls, sparkled upon them; and they were dotted with the cypress, which stood on their sides in silent, meditative, ethereal grace. The scene possessed not the sublime grandeur of Switzerland, nor the rugged picturesqueness of Scotland: its characteristic was the finished, spiritualized, voluptuous beauty of Italy. But hark! the railway-bell rings out its summons.

The carriages on the Verona and Venice Railway are not those strong-looking, crib-like machines which we have in England, and which seem built, as our jails and bridewells are, in anticipation that the inmates will do their best to get out. They are roomy and elegant saloons (though strong in their build), of about forty feet in length, and may contain two hundred passengers a-piece. They are fitted up with a tier of cushioned seats running round the carriage, and two sofa-seats running lengthways in the middle. At each end is a door by which the guard enters and departs, and passes along the whole train, as if it were a suit of apartments. So far as I could make out, I was the only Englese in the carriage, which was completely filled with the citizens and peasantry of the towns and rural districts which lay on our route,—the mountaineer of the Tyrol, the native of the plain, the inhabitant of the city of Verona, of Vicenza, of Venice. There was a greater amount of talk, and of vehement and eloquent gesture, than would have been seen in the same circumstances in England. The costume was varied and picturesque, and so too, but in a less degree, the countenance. There were in the carriage tall athletic forms, reared amid the breezes and vines of the Tyrol; and there were noble faces,—faces with rich complexions, and dark fiery eyes, which could gleam in love or burn in battle, and which bore the still farther appendage of moustache and beard, in which the wearer evidently took no little pride, and on which he bestowed no little pains. The company had somewhat the air of a masquerade. There was the Umbrian cloak, the cone-shaped beaver, the vest with its party-coloured lacings. There were the long loose robe and low-crowned hat of the priest, with its enormous brim, as if to shade the workings of his face beneath. There was the brown cloak of the friar; and there were hats and coats of the ordinary Frank fashion. The Leghorn bonnet is there unknown, as almost all over the Continent, unless among the young girls of Switzerland; and the head-gear of the women mostly was a plain cotton napkin, folded on the brow and pinned below the chin,—a custom positively ugly, which may become a mummy or a shaven head, but not for those who have ringlets to show. Some with better taste had discarded the napkin, and wore a smart cap. On the persons of not a few of the females was displayed a considerable amount of value, in the shape of gold chains, rings, and jewellery. This is an indication, not of wealth, but of poverty and stagnant trade. It was a custom much in use among oriental ladies before banks were established.

The plains eastward of Verona on the right were amazingly rich, and the uplands and heights on the left were crowned with fine castles and beautiful little temples. Yet the beauty and richness of the region could not soothe Dante for his lost Florence. For here was his "Patmos," if we may venture on imagery borrowed from the history of a greater seer; and here the visions of the Purgatorio had passed before his eye. After a few hours' riding, the fine hills of the Tyrolese Alps came quite up to us, disclosing, as they filed past, a continuous succession of charming views. When the twilight began to gather, and they stood in their rich drapery of purple shadows, their beauty became a thing indescribable. We saw Vicenza, where, of all the spots in Italy, the Reformation found the largest number of adherents, and where Palladio arose in the sixteenth century, to arrest for a while, by his genius, the decay of the architectural arts in Italy. We saw, too, the gray Padua looking at us through the sombre shadows of its own and the day's decline. We continued our course over the flat but rich country beyond; and as night fell we reached the edge of the Lagunes.

I looked out into the watery waste with the aid of the faint light, but I could see no city, and nothing whereon a city could stand. All was sea; and it seemed idle to seek a city, or any habitation of man, in the midst of these waters. But the engine with its great red eye could see farther into the dark; and it dashed fearlessly forward, and entered on the long bridge which I saw stretching on and away over the flood, till its farther end, like that of the bridge which Mirza saw in vision, was lost in a cloud. I could see, as we rode on, on the bosom of the flood beneath us, twinkling lights, which were probably lighthouses, and black dots, which we took for boats. After a five miles' run through scenery of this novel character, the train stopped, and we found that we had arrived, not in a cloud or in a quicksand, as there seemed some reason to fear, but in a spacious and elegant station, brilliantly lighted with gas, and reminding one, from its sudden apparition and its strange site, of the fabled palace of the Sicilian Fairy Queen, only not built, like hers, of sunshine and sea-mist. We were marched in file past, first the tribunal of the searchers, and next the tribunal of the passport officials; and then an Austrian gendarme opening to each, as he passed this ordeal, the door of the station-house, I stepped out, to have my first sight, as I hoped, of the Queen of the Adriatic.

I found myself in the midst of the sea, standing on a little platform of land, with a cloudy mass floating before me, resembling, in the uncertain light, the towers and domes of a spectral city. It was now for the first time that I realized the peculiar position of Venice. I had often read of the city whose streets were canals and whose chariots were gondolas; but I had failed to lay hold of it as a reality, and had unconsciously placed Venice in the region of fable. There was no missing the fact now. I was hemmed in on all sides by the ocean, and could not move a step without the certainty of being drowned. What was I to do? In answer to my inquiries, I was told that I must proceed to my hotel in an omnibus. This sounded of the earth, and I looked eagerly round to see the desired vehicle; but horses, carriage, wheels, I could see none. I could no more conceive of an omnibus that could swim on the sea, than the Venetians could of a gondola that could move on the dry land. I was shown a large gondola, to which the name of omnibus was given, which lay at the bottom of the stairs waiting for passengers. I descended into it, and was followed by some thirty more. We were men of various nations and various tongues, and we took our seats in silence. We pushed off, and were soon gliding along on the Grand Canal. Not a word was spoken. Although we had been a storming party sent to surprise an enemy's fort by night, we could not have conducted our proceedings in profounder quiet. There reigned as unbroken a stillness around us, as if, instead of the midst of a city, we had been in the solitude of the high seas. No foot-fall re-echoed through that strange abode. Sound of chariot-wheel there was none. Nothing was audible but the soft dip of the oar, and the startled shout of an occasional gondolier, who feared, perhaps, that our heavier craft might send his slim skiff to the bottom. In about a quarter of an hour we turned out of the Grand Canal, and began threading our way amid those innumerable narrow channels which traverse Venice in all directions. Then it was that the dismal silence of the city fell upon my heart. The canals we were now navigating were not over three yards in width. They were long and gloomy; and tall, massive palaces, sombre and spectral in the gloom, rose out of the sea on either hand. There were columns at their entrances, with occasional pieces of statuary, for which time had woven a garland of weeds. Their lower windows were heavily grated; their marble steps were laved by the idle tide; and their warehouse doors, through which had passed, in their time, the merchandise of every clime, had long been unopened, and were rotting from age. As we pursued our way, we passed under low-browed arches, from which uncouth faces, cut in the stone, looked down upon us, and grinned our welcome. The voice of man, the light of a candle, the sound of a millstone, was not there. It seemed a city of the dead. The inhabitants had lived and died ages ago, and had left their palaces to be tenanted by the mermaids and spirits of the deep, for other occupants I could see none. Spectral fancies began to haunt my imagination. I conceived of the canal we were traversing as the Styx, our gondola as the boat of Charon, and ourselves as a company of ghosts, who had passed from earth, and were now on our silent way to the inexorable bar of Rhadamanthus. A more spectral procession we could not have made, with our spectral boat gliding noiselessly through the water, with its spectral steersman, and its crowd of spectral passengers, though my fancy, instead of being a fancy, had been a reality. All things around me were sombre, shadowy, silent, as Hades itself.

Suddenly our gondola made a rapid sweep round a tall corner. Then it was that the Queen of the Adriatic, in all her glory, burst upon us,—

"Looking a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean, Rising with her tiara of proud towers."

We were flung right in front of the great square of St. Mark. It was like the instantaneous raising of the curtain from some glorious vision, or like the sudden parting of the clouds around Mont Blanc; or, if I may use such a simile, like the unfolding of the gates of a better world to the spirit, after passing through the shadows of the tomb. The spacious piazza, bounded on all sides with noble structures in every style of architecture, reflected the splendour of a thousand lamps. There was the palace of the Doge, which I knew not as yet; and there, on its lofty column, was the winged lion of St Mark, which it was impossible not to know; and, crowding the piazza, and walking to and fro on its marble floor, was a countless multitude of men in all the costumes of the world. With the deep hum of voices was softly blended the sound of the Italian lute. A few strokes of the oar brought us to the Hotel dell' Europa. I made a spring from the gondola, and alighted on the steps of the hotel.



CHAPTER XV.

CITY OF VENICE.

Sabbath Morning—Beauty of Sunrise on the Adriatic—Worship in S. Mark's—Popish Sabbath-schools—Sale of Indulgences for Living and Dead—An Astrologer—How the Venetians spend their Sabbath Afternoon and Evening—The Martyrs of Venice—A Young Englishman in Trouble—The Doge's Palace—The Stone Lions—The Prisons of Venice—The Venetians Discard their Old God, and adopt a New—The Gothic Tower—The Academy of Fine Arts—The Moral of Venice—Why do Nations Die?—Common Theory Unsatisfactory—History hitherto a Series of ever-recurring Cycles, ending in Barbarism—Instances—The "Three-score and Ten" of Nations—The Solution to be sought with reference to the False Religions—The Intellect of the Nation outgrows these—Conscience is Dissolved—Virtue is Lost—Slavery and Barbarism ensue—Christianity only can give Immortality to Nations—Decadence of Civilization under Romanism—A Papist foretelling the Doom of Popery.

The deep boom of the Austrian cannon awoke me next morning at day-break. I remembered that it was Sabbath; and never had I seen the Sabbath dawn amidst a silence so majestic. More tranquil could not have been its first opening in the bowers of Eden. In this city of ocean there was no sound of hurrying feet, no rattle of chariot-wheel, nor any of those multitudinous noises that distract the cities of earth. There was silence on the domes of Venice, silence on her seas, silence in the air around her. In a little the sun rose, and shed a flood of glory on the Lagunes. It would be difficult to describe the grandeur of the scene, which has nothing elsewhere of the kind to equal it,—the white marble city, serenely seated on the bosom of the Adriatic, with the Lagunes outspread in the morning sun like a mirror of molten gold. But, alas! it was only a glorious vision; for the power and wealth of Venice are departed.

"The long file Of her dead Doges are declined to dust.

* * * * *

Empty halls, Thin streets and foreign aspects, such as must Too oft remind her who and what enthrals, Have flung a desolate cloud o'er Venice' lovely walls."

The gun which had awaked me reminds the Queen of the Adriatic every morning that the day of her dominion and glory is over, and that the night has come upon her,—a night, the deep unbroken shadows of which, even the bright morning that was now opening on the Adriatic could not dispel.

After breakfast I hurried to the church of S. Mark. Mass was proceeding as usual; and a large crowd of worshippers,—spectators I should rather say,—stood densely packed in the chancel. If I except the Madeleine in Paris, I have nowhere seen in a Roman Catholic church an attendance at all approximating even a tolerable congregation, save here. I remarked, too, that these were not the beggars which usually form the larger proportion of the attendance, such as it is, in Roman churches. The people in S. Mark's were well dressed, though it was not easy to conceive where these fine clothes had come from, seeing the sea has now failed Venice, and land she never possessed. This was the first symptom I saw (I met others in the course of the day) that in Venice the Roman religion has a stronger hold upon the people than in the rest of Italy. It is an advantage in this respect to be some little distance from Rome, and to have an insular position. Besides, I believe that the priests in Venetian Lombardy, and, I presume, in Venice also, are men of more reputable lives than their brethren in other parts of the Peninsula. Anciently it was not so. Venice was wont to be termed "the paradise of monks." There no pleasure allowable to a man of the world was forbidden to a priest. The Senate, jealous of everything that might abridge its authority, encouraged this relaxation of the Church's discipline, in the hope of lowering the influence of its clergy with the people.

S. Mark's is an ancient, quaint-looking pile, with the dim hoar light of history around it. On its threshold Pope Alexander III. met the Emperor Frederick in 1177, and, with pride unabated by his enforced flight from Rome in the disguise of a cook, put his foot upon the monarch's neck, repeating the words of the psalm,—"Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder." This high temple of the Adriatic is vast and curious, but wanting in effect, owing to the low roof and the gloomy light. The Levant was searched for columns and marbles to decorate it; acres of gold-leaf have been expended in gilding it; and every corner is stuck full of allegorical devices, some of which are so very ingenious, that they have not yet been read. The priests wore a style of dress admirably befitting the finery of the Cathedral; for their vestments were bespangled with gold and curious devices. What a contrast to the simple temple and the plain earnest worshippers with whom I had passed my former Sabbath amid the Vaudois hills! But the God of the Vaudois, unlike the wafer-god of the priests, "dwelleth not in temples made with hands."

Passing along on the narrow paved footpaths which tie back to back the long lofty ranges of the city,—the fronts being filled with the ocean,—I visited several of its one hundred and twenty churches. I found mass ended, and the congregation, if any such there had been, dismissed; but I saw what was even more indicative of a reviving superstition: in every church I entered I found classes of boys and girls under instruction. The Sabbath-school system was in full operation in Venice, in Rome's behalf. The boys were in charge of the young priests; and the girls, of the nuns and sisters. In some cases, laymen had been pressed into the service, and were occupied in unfolding the mysteries of transubstantiation to the young mind. Seating myself on a bench in presence of a class of boys, I watched the course of instruction. Their text-book was the "Catechism of Christian Doctrine," which contains the elements of the Roman faith, as fixed by the Council of Trent. The boys were repeating the Catechism to the teacher. No explanations were given, for the process was simply that of fixing dogmas in the memory,—of conveying as much of fact, or what professed to be so, as it was possible to convey into the mind without awakening the understanding. The boys were taught to believe, not reason; and those who acquitted themselves best had little medals and pictures of St Francis given them as prizes. I remarked that most of the shops were shut: indeed, so little business is done in Venice, that this involved no sacrifice to the traders. As it was, however, the city contrasted favourably with Paris; than the Sabbaths of which, I know of nothing more terrible on earth. I remarked, too, that if the trade of the Adriatic is at an end, and beggars crowd the quays which princes once trod, and gondolas, in funereal black, glide gloomily through those waters which rich argosies ploughed of old, the spiritual traffic of Venice flourishes more than ever. I read on the doors of all the churches, "INDULGENCES SOLD HERE FOR THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, AS IN ROME." What matters it that the Adriatic is no longer the highway of the world's merchandise, and that India is now closed to Venice? Is not the whole of Peter's treasury open to her; and, to facilitate the enriching commerce, have not the priests obligingly opened a direct road to the celestial mine, to spare the Venetians the necessity of the more circuitous path by the Seven Hills? Happy Venice! her children may be starved now, but paradise is their's hereafter.

After noon each betook himself to what pastime he pleased. Not a few opened their shops. Others gathered round an astrologer,—a personage no longer to be seen in the cities of the west,—who had taken his stand on the Riva degli Schiavoni, and there, begirt with zone inscribed with cabalistic characters, and holding in his hand his wizard's staff, was setting forth, with stentorian voice, his marvellous power of healing by the combined help of the stars and his drugs. By the way, why should the profession of astrology and the cognate arts be permitted to only one class of men? In the middle ages, two classes of conjurors competed for the public patronage, but with most unequal success. The one class professed to be master of spells that were all-powerful over the elements of the material world,—the air, the earth, the ocean. The other arrogated an equal power over the invisible and spiritual world. They were skilled in a mysterious rite, which had power to open the gates of purgatory, and dismiss to a happier abode, souls there immured in woe. The pretensions of both were equally well founded: both were jugglers, and merited to have fared alike; but society, while it lavished all its credence and all its patronage upon the one, denounced the other as impostors. One colossal system of necromancy filled Europe; but the age gave the priest a monopoly; and so jealously did it guard his rights, that the conjuror who did not wear a cassock was banished or burned. We can assign no reason for the odium under which the one lay, and the repute in which the other was held, save that the art, though one, was termed witchcraft in the one case, and religion in the other. The one was compelled to shroud his mysteries in the darkness of the night, and seek the solitary cave for the performance of his spells. The arts of the other were performed in magnificent and costly cathedrals, in presence of admiring assemblies. The latter were the licensed dealers in magic; and, enjoying the public patronage, they carried their pretensions to a pitch which their less favoured brethren dared not attempt to rival. They juggled on a gigantic scale, and the more enormous the cheat, the better was it received. They rapidly grew in numbers and wealth. Their chief, the great Roman necromancer, enjoyed the state of a temporal prince, and had a whole kingdom appropriated to his use, that he might suitably support his rank and dignity as arch-conjuror.

But to return to Venice;—the great stream of concourse flowed in the direction of the Giardini Pubblici, which are a nook of one of the more southerly islands on which the city stands, fitted up as a miniature landscape, its lilliputian hills and vales being the only ones the Venetians ever see. The intercourse betwixt Venice and the Continent has no doubt become more frequent since the opening of the railway; but formerly it was not uncommon to find persons who had never been on the land, and who had no notion of ploughs, waggons, carts, gardens, and a hundred other things that seem quite inseparable from the existence of a nation. Twilight came, walking with noiseless sandals on the seas. A delicious light mantled the horizon; the domes of the city stood up with silent sublimity into the sky; and over them floated, in the deep azure, a young moon, thin as a single thread, and bright as the polished steel.

"A silver bow, New bent in heaven."

When darkness fell on the Lagunes, the glories of the piazza of San Marco again blazed forth. What with cafes and countless lamps, a flood of light fell upon the marble pavement, on which some ten or twelve thousand people, rich and poor, were assembled, and were being regaled with occasional airs from a numerous band. The Sabbath closed in the Adriatic not altogether so tranquilly as it had opened.

The Venetians have long been famous for their peculiar skill in combining devotion with pleasure,—more devout than home in the morning, and gayer than Paris in the evening. Such has long been the character of the Queen of the Adriatic. She has been truly, as briefly described by the poet,—

"The revel of the earth, the mask of Italy!"

Once a better destiny appeared to be about to dawn on Venice. In the sixteenth century the Reformation knocked at her gates, and for a moment it seemed as if these gates were to be opened, and the stranger admitted. Had it been so, the chair of her Doge would not now have been empty, nor would Austrian manacles have been pressing upon her limbs. "The evangelical doctrine had made such progress," writes Dr M'Crie, "in the city of Venice, between the years 1530 and 1542, that its friends, who had hitherto met in private for mutual instruction and religious exercises, held deliberations on the propriety of organizing themselves into regular congregations, and assembling in public." Several members of the Senate were favourable to it, and hopes were entertained at one time that the authority of that body would be interposed in its behalf. This hope was strengthened by the fact, that when Ochino ascended the pulpit, "the whole city ran in crowds to hear their favourite preacher." But, alas! the hope was delusive. It was the Inquisition, not the Reformation, to which Venice opened her gates; and when I surveyed her calm and beautiful Lagunes, my emotions partook at once of grief and exultation,—grief at the remembrance of the many midnight tragedies enacted on them, and exultation at the thought, that in the seas of Venice there sleeps much holy dust awaiting the resurrection of the just. "Drowning was the mode of death to which they doomed the Protestants," says Dr M'Crie, "either because it was less cruel and odious than committing them to the flames, or because it accorded with the customs of Venice. But if the autos da fe of the Queen of the Adriatic were less barbarous than those of Spain, the solitude and silence with which they were accompanied were calculated to excite the deepest horror. At the dead hour of midnight the prisoner was taken from his cell, and put into a gondola or Venetian boat, attended only, besides the sailors, by a single priest, to act as confessor. He was rowed out into the sea, beyond the Two Castles, where another boat was in waiting. A plank was then laid across the two gondolas, upon which the prisoner, having his body chained, and a heavy stone affixed to his feet, was placed; and, on a signal given, the gondolas retiring from one another, he was precipitated into the deep." "We can do nothing against the truth," says the apostle. Venice is rotting in her Lagunes: the Reformation, shaking off the chains with which men attempted to bind it, is starting on a new career of progress.

Next morning, at breakfast in my hotel, formerly the palace of the Giustiniani, I met a young Englishman, who had just come from Rome. He had the misfortune to be of the same name with one on the "suspected list," and for this offence he was arrested on entering the Austrian territory; and, though allowed to come on to Venice, his passport was taken from him, and his journey to England, which he meant to make by way of Trieste and Vienna, stopped. The list to which I have referred, which is kept at all the continental police offices, and which the eye of policeman or sbirro only can see, has created a sort of inquisition for Europe. The poor traveller has no means of knowing who has denounced him, or why; and wherever he goes, he finds a vague suspicion surrounding him, which he can neither penetrate nor clear up, and which exposes him to numberless and by no means petty annoyances. I accompanied my friend, after breakfast, to the Prefecture, to transact my own passport matters, and was glad to find that the authorities were now satisfied that he was not the same man who figured on the black list. Still they had no apology, no reparation, to offer him: on the contrary, he was informed that he must submit to a detention of two or three days more, till his passport should be forwarded from the provincial office where it was lying. His misfortune was my advantage, for it gave me an intelligent and obliging companion for the rest of the day; and we immediately set out to visit together all the great objects in Venice. It would be preposterous to dwell on these, for an hundred pens have already described them better; and my object is to advert to one great lesson which this fallen city,—for the sea, which once was the bulwark and throne of Venice, is now her prison,—teaches.

Betaking ourselves to a gondola, we passed down the Giudecca, Canal. We much admired—as who would not?—the-noble palaces which on either hand rose so proudly from the bosom of the deep, yet invested with an air of silent desolation, which made the heart sad, even while their beauty delighted the eye. We disembarked at the stairs of the piazzetta of S. Mark, and repaired to the Doge's palace,—the dwelling of a line of rulers haughtier than kings, and the throne of a republic more oppressive than tyrannies. We walked through its truly majestic halls, glowing with great paintings from Venetian history; and visited its senatorial chamber, and saw the vacant places of its nobles, and the empty chair of its Doge. There was here no lack of materials for moralizing, had time permitted. She that sat as a Queen upon the waves,—that said, "I am of perfect beauty,"—that sent her fleets to the ends of the earth, and gathered to her the riches and glory of all nations,—alas! how is she fallen! "The princes of the sea" have "come down from their thrones, and" laid "away their robes, and put off their broidered garments." "What city is like" Venice,—"like the destroyed in the midst of the sea!"

We passed out between the famous stone lions, which, even so late as the end of the last century, no Venetian could look on but with terror. There they sat, with open jaws, displaying their fearfully significant superscription, "Denunzie secrete,"—realizing the poet's idea of republics guarded by dragons and lions. The use of these guardian lions the Venetians knew but too well. Accusations dropped by spies and informers into their open mouths, were received in a chamber below. Thus the bolt fell upon the unsuspicious citizen, but the hand from which it came remained invisible. Crossing by the "bridge of sighs,"—the canal, Rio de Palazzo, which runs behind the ducal palace,—we entered the state prisons of Venice. In the dim light I could discern what seemed a labyrinth of long narrow passages; traversing which, we arrived at the dungeons. I entered one of them: it was vaulted all round; and its only furniture, besides a ring and chain, was a small platform of boards, about half a foot from the floor, which served as the prisoner's bed. In the wall of the cell was a small aperture, by which the light might be made to stream in upon the prisoner, when the jailor did not wish to enter, simply by placing the lamp in an opposite niche in the passage. Here crime, despair, madness, and sometimes innocence, have dwelt. Horrible secrets seemed to hover about its roof, and float in its air, and to be ready to break upon me from every stone of the dungeon. I longed, yet trembled, to hear them. But silent they are, and silent they will remain, till that day when "the sea shall give up its dead." There are yet lower dungeons, deep beneath water-mark, but I was told that these are now walled up.

We emerged again upon the marble piazzetta; and more welcome than ever was the bright light, and the noble grace of the buildings. At its southern extremity, where the piazzetta looks out upon the Adriatic, are two stately granite columns; the one surmounted by St Theodore, and the other by the lion of St Mark. These are the two gods of Venice. They were to the Republic what the two calves were to Israel,—their all-powerful protectors; and so devoutly did the Venetians worship them, that even the god of the Seven Hills became jealous of them. "The Venetians in general care little about God," says an old traveller, "less about the Pope, but a great deal about St Mark." St Theodore sheltered the Republic in its infancy; but when it grew to greatness, it deemed it unbecoming its dignity to have only a subordinate for its tutelar deity. Accordingly, Venice sought and obtained a god of the first water. The Republic brought over the body of St Mark, enshrined it in a magnificent church, and left its former patron no alternative but to cross the Lagunes, or occupy a second place.

Before bidding adieu to the piazza of St Mark, around which there hovers so many historic memories, and which every style of architecture, from the Greek and the Byzantine down to the Gotho-Italian, has met to decorate, and which, we may add, in point of noble grace and chaste beauty is perhaps not excelled in the world, we must be allowed to mention one object, which appeared to us strangely out of keeping with the spot and its edifices. It is the tall Gothic tower that rises opposite the Byzantine front of S. Mark's Cathedral. It attains a height of upwards of three hundred feet, and is used for various purposes, which, however, it could serve equally well in some other part of Venice. It strikes one the more, that it is the one deformity of the place. It reminded me of the entrance of a clown at a royal levee, or the appearance of harlequin in a tragedy.

Betaking ourselves again to a gondola, and gliding noiselessly along the grand canal,—

"For silent rows the songless gondolier,"

we visited the Academia delle Belle Arte. It resembled a great and elaborately compiled work on painting, and I could there read off the history of the rise and progress of the art in Venice. The several galleries were arranged, like the successive chapters of a book, in chronological order, beginning with the infancy of the art, and going on to its full noon, under the great masters of the Lombard school,—Titian, Paul Veronese, Tintoretto, and others. The pictures of the inner saloons were truly magnificent; but on these I do not dwell.

Let us sit down here, in the midst of the seas, and meditate a little on the great moral of Venice. We shall let the poet state the case:—

"Her daughters had their dowers From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers. In purple was she robed, and of her feast Monarchs partook, and deem'd their dignity increased."

But now, after power, wealth, empire, have come corruption, slavery, ruin; and Venice,—

"Her thirteen hundred years of freedom done, Sinks, like a sea-weed, into whence she rose."

But the course which Venice has run is that of all States which have yet appeared in the world. History is but a roll of defunct empires, whose career has been alike; and Venice and Rome are but the latest names on the list. Egypt, Chaldea, Tyre, Greece, Rome,—to all, as if by an inevitable law, there came, after the day of civilization and empire, the night of barbarism and slavery. This has been repeated again and again, till the world has come to accept of it as its established course. We see States emerging from infancy and weakness slowly and laboriously, becoming rich, enlightened, powerful; and the moment they seemed to have perfected their civilization, and consolidated their power, they begin to fall. The past history of our race is but a history of efforts, successful up to a certain point, but only to a certain point; for whenever that point has been reached, all the fruits of past labour,—all the accumulations of legislators, philosophers, and warriors,—have been swept away, and the human family have found that they had to begin the same laborious process over again,—to toil upwards from the same gulph, to be overtaken by the same disaster. History has been simply a series of ever-recurring cycles, ending in barbarism. This is a discouraging aspect of human affairs, and throws a doubtful shadow upon the future; but it is the aspect in which history exhibits them. The Etrurian tombs speak of an era of civilization and power succeeded by barbarism. The mounds of Nineveh speak of a similar revolution. The day of Greek glory sank at last in unbroken night. At the fall of the Roman empire, barbarism overspread Europe; and now the cycle appears to have come round to the nations of modern Europe. Since the middle of last century there has been a marked and fearfully rapid decline in all the States of continental Europe. The entire region south of the Alps, including the once powerful kingdoms of Italy and Spain, is sunk in slavery and barbarism. France alone retains its civilization; but how long is it likely to retain it, with its strength undermined by revolution, and its liberties completely prostrated? Niebuhr has given expression in his works to his decided opinion, that the dark ages are returning. And are we not at this moment witnessing an attempted repetition of the Gothic invasion of the fourth century, in the barbarian north, which is pressing with ever-growing weight upon the feeble barrier of the East?

"Nations melt From power's high pinnacle, when they have felt The sunshine for a while, and downward go Like lauwine loosen'd from the mountain's belt."

But why is this? It would almost seem, when we look at these examples and facts, as if there were some malignant influence sporting with the world's progress,—some adverse power fighting against man, baulking all his efforts at self-advancement, and compelling him, Sysiphus-like, to roll the stone eternally. Has the Creator set limits to the life of kingdoms, as to that of man? Certain it is, they have seldom survived their twelfth century. The most part have died at or about their twelve hundred and sixtieth year. Is this the "three-score-and-ten" of nations, beyond which they cannot pass?

The common explanation of the death of nations is, that power begets wealth, wealth luxury, and luxury feebleness and ruin. But we are unable to accept this as a satisfactory account of the matter. It appears a mere statement of the fact,—not a solution of it. It is evidently the design of Providence that nations should live happily in the abundant enjoyment of all good things; and that every human being should have all that is good for him, of what the earth produces, and the labour of man can create. Then, why should affluence, and the other accessories of power, have so uniformly a corrupting and dissolving effect upon society? This the common theory leaves unexplained. There is no necessary connection betwixt the enjoyment of abundance and the corruption of nations. The Creator surely has not ordained laws which must necessarily result in the death of society.

The real solution, we think, it is not difficult to find. All religions, one excepted, which have hitherto appeared in the world, have been unable to hold the balance between the intellect and the conscience beyond a certain stage; and therefore, all kingdoms which have arisen hitherto have been unable to exist beyond a certain term. So long as a nation is in its childhood, a false religion affords room enough for the free play of its intellect. Its religion being regarded as true and authoritative, the conscience of the nation is controlled by it. So long as conscience is upheld, law has authority, individual and social virtue is maintained, and the nation goes on acquiring power, amassing wealth, and increasing knowledge. But whenever it attains a certain stage of enlightenment, and a certain power of independent thinking, it begins to canvass the claims of that religion which formerly awed it. It discovers its falsehood, the national conscience breaks loose, and an era of scepticism ensues. With the destruction of conscience and the rise of scepticism, law loses its authority, individual honour and social virtue decline, and slavery or anarchy complete the ruin of the state. This is the course which the nations of the world have hitherto run. They have uniformly begun to decline, not when they attained a certain amount of power or of wealth, but when they attained such an amount of intellectual development as set free the national conscience from the restraints of religion, or what professed to be so. No false religion can carry a nation beyond a certain point; because no such religion can stand before a certain stage of light and inquiry, which is sure to be reached; and when that stage is reached,—in other words, whenever the intellect dissolves the bonds of conscience,—the basis of all authority and order is razed, and from that moment national decline begins. Hence, in all nations an era of scepticism has been contemporaneous with an era of decay.

Let us take the ancient Romans as an example. In the youth of their nation their gods were revered; and in the existence of a national conscience, a basis was found for law and virtue; and while these lasted the empire flourished. But by and by the genius of its great thinkers leavened the nation; an era of scepticism ensued; that scepticism inaugurated an age of feeble laws and strong passions; and the declension which set in issued at length in downright barbarism.

Papal Rome has run the very same course. The feeble intellect of the European nations accepted Romanism as a religion, just as the Romans before them had accepted of paganism. But the Reformation introduced a period of growing enlightenment and independent thinking; and by the end of the eighteenth century, Romanism had shared the fate which paganism had done before it. The masses of Europe generally had lost faith in it as a religion; then came the atheism of the French school; an era of feeble laws and strong passions again returned; the selfish and isolating principle came into play; and at this moment the nations of continental Europe are rapidly sinking into barbarism. Thus, the history of the race under the reign of the false religions exhibits but alternating fits of superstition and scepticism, with their corresponding eras of civilization and barbarism. And it necessarily must be so; because, these religions not being compatible with the indefinite extension of man's knowledge, they do not secure the continued action and authority of conscience; and without conscience, national progress, and even existence, is impossible.

Is there, then, no immortality in reserve for nations? Must they continue to die? and must the history of our race in all time coming be just what it has been in all time past,—a series of rapidly alternating epochs of partial civilization and destructive barbarism? No. He who is the former of society is the author of the Bible; and we may be sure that there is a beautiful meetness and harmony between the laws of the one and the doctrine of the other. Christianity alone can enable society to fulfil its terrestrial destiny, because it alone is true, and, being true, it admits of the utmost advancement of the human understanding. In its case the centrifugal force of the intellect can never overcome the centripetal power of the conscience. It has nothing to fear from the advance of science. It keeps pace with the human mind, however rapid its progress. Nay, more; the more the human mind is enlarged, the more apparent becomes the truth of Christianity, and, by consequence, the greater becomes the authority of conscience. Under the reign of Christianity, then, there is no point in the onward progress of society where conscience dissolves, and leaves man and nations devoid of virtue; there is no point where conviction compels man to become a sceptic, and scepticism pulls him down into barbarism. As the atmosphere which surrounds our planet supplies the vital element alike to the full-grown man and to the infant, so Christianity supplies the breath of life to society in all its stages,—in its full-grown manhood, as well as in its immature infancy. There is more meaning than the world has yet understood in the statement that the Gospel has brought "life and immortality to light." Its Divine Founder introduced upon the stage that system which is the life of nations. The world does not furnish an instance of a nation that has continued to be Christian, that has perished. We believe the thing to be impossible. While great Rome has gone down, and Venice sits in widowed glory on the Adriatic, the poor Waldenses are still a people. The world tried but could not extinguish them. Christianity is synonymous with life: it gives immortality to nations here, and to the individual hereafter. Hence Daniel, when unfolding the state of the world in the last age, gives us to understand that, when once thoroughly Christianized, society will no longer be overwhelmed by those periodic lapses into barbarism which in every former age has set limits to the progress of States. "And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed." Unlike every preceding era, immortality will then be the chief characteristic of nations.

But must it not strike every one, in connection with this subject, that in proportion as Romanism developes itself, the nations under its sway sink the deeper into barbarism? This fact Romanist writers now see and bewail. What stronger condemnation of their system could they pronounce? For surely if religion be of God, it must, like all else that comes from Him, be beneficent in its influence. He who ordained the sun to irradiate the earth with his light, and fructify it with his warmth, would not have given a religion that fetters the understanding and barbarises the species. And yet, if Romanism be divine, He has done so; for the champions of that Church, compelled by the irresistible logic of facts, now tacitly acknowledge that a decaying civilization is following in the wake of Roman Catholicism in every part of the world. Listen, for instance, to the following confession of M. Michel Chevalier, in the Journal des Debats:—

"I cannot shut my eyes to the facts that militate against the influence of the Catholic spirit,—facts which have transpired more especially during the last third of a century, and which are still in progress,—facts that are fitted to excite in every mind that sympathises with the Catholic cause, the most lively apprehensions. On comparing the respective progress made since 1814 by non-Catholic Christian nations, with the advancement of power attained by Catholic nations, one is struck with astonishment at the disproportion. England and the United States, which are Protestant Powers, and Russia, a Greek Power, have assumed to an incalculable degree the dominion of immense regions, destined to be densely peopled, and already teeming with a large population. England has nearly conquered all those vast and populous regions known under the generic name of India. In America she has diffused civilization to the extreme north, in the deserts of Upper Canada. Through the toil of her children, she has taken possession of every point and position of an island,—New Holland (Australia),—which is as large as a continent; and she has been sending forth her fresh shoots over all the archipelagos with which the great ocean is studded. The United States have swollen out to a prodigious extent, in wealth and possessions, over the surface of their ancient domain. They have, moreover, enlarged on all sides the limits of that domain, anciently confined to a narrow stripe along the shores of the Atlantic. They now sit on the two oceans. San Francisco has become the pendant of New York, and promises speedily to rival it in its destinies. They have proved their superiority over the Catholic nations of the New World, and have subjected them to a dictatorship which admits of no farther dispute. To the authority of these two Powers,—England and the United States,—after an attempt made by the former on China, the two most renowned empires of the East,—empires which represent nearly the numerical half of the human race,—China and Japan,—seem to be on the point of yielding. Russia, again, appears to be assuming every day a position of growing importance in Europe. During all this time, what way has been made by the Catholic nations? The foremost of them all, the most compact, the most glorious,—France,—which seemed fifty years ago to have mounted the throne of civilization, has seen, through a course of strange disasters, her sceptre shivered and her power dissolved. Once and again has she risen to her feet, with noble courage and indomitable energy; but every time, as all expected to see her take a rapid flight upward, fate has sent her, as a curse from God, a revolution to paralyze her efforts, and make her miserably fall back. Unquestionably, since 1789 the balance of power between Catholic civilization and non-Catholic civilization has been reversed."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse