Doves of Venice—Re-cross the Lagunes—Padua—Wretchedness of Interior—Misery of its Inhabitants—Splendour of its Churches—The Shrine of St Antony—His Sermon to a Congregation of Fishes—A Restaurant in Padua—Reach the Po at Day-break—Enter Peter's Patrimony—Find the Apostles again become Fishermen and Tax-Gatherers—Arrest—Liberty.
Contenting myself with a hasty perusal of the great work on painting which the academy forms, and which it had taken so many ages and so many various masters to produce, I returned again to the square of St Mark. Doves in thousands were assembled on the spot, hovering on wing at the windows of the houses, or covering the pavement below, at the risk, as it seemed, of being trodden upon by the passengers. I inquired at my companion what this meant. He told me that a rich old gentleman by last will and testament had bequeathed a certain sum to be expended in feeding these fowls, and that, duly as the great clock in the Gothic tower struck two, a certain quantity of corn was every day thrown from a window in the piazza. Every dove in the "Republic" is punctual to a minute. There doves have come to acquire a sort of sacred character, and it would be about as hazardous to kill a dove in Venice, as of old a cat in Egypt. We wish some one would do as much for the beggars, which are yet more numerous, and who know no more, when they get up in the morning, where they are to be fed, than do the fowls of heaven. Trade there is none; "to dig," they have no land, and, even if they had, they are too indolent; they want, too, the dove's wing to fly away to some happier country. Their seas have shut them in; their marble city is but a splendid prison. The story of Venice is that of Tyre over again,—her wealth, her glory, her luxuriousness, and now her doom. But we must leave her. Bidding adieu, on the stairs of St Mark, to the partner of the day's explorations, with a regret which those only can understand who have had the good fortune to meet an intelligent and estimable companion in a foreign land, I leaped into a gondola, and glided away, leaving Venice sitting in silent melancholy beauty amid her tideless seas.
Traversing again the long bridge over the Lagunes, and the flat country beyond, covered with memorials of decay in the shape of dilapidated villas, and crossing the full-volumed Brenta, rolling on within its lofty embankments, I sighted the fine Tyrolean Alps on the right, and, after a run of twenty-four miles, the gray towers of Padua, at about a mile's distance from the railway, on the left.
Poor Padua! Who could enter it without weeping almost. Of all the wretched and ruinous places I ever saw, this is the most wretched and ruinous,—hopelessly, incurably ruinous. Padua does, indeed, look imposing at a little distance. Its fine dome, its numerous towers, the large vine-stocks which are rooted in its soil, the air of vast fertility which is spread over the landscape, and the halo of former glory which, cloud-like, rests above it, consort well with one's preconceived ideas of this once illustrious seat of learning, which even the youth of our own land were wont to frequent; but enter it,—alas the dismal sight!—ruins, filth, ignorance, poverty, on every hand. The streets are narrow and gloomy, from being lined with heavy and dark arcades; the houses, which are large, and bear marks of former opulence, are standing in many instances untenanted. Not a few stately mansions have been converted into stables, or carriers' sheds, or are simply naked walls, which the dogs of the city, or other creatures, make their den. The inhabitants, pale, emaciated, and wrapt in huge cloaks, wander through the streets like ghosts. Were Padua a heap of ruins, without a single human being on or near its site, its desolation would be less affecting. An unbearable melancholy sat down upon me the moment I entered it, and the recollection oppresses me at the distance of three years.
In the midst of all this ruin and poverty, there rise I know not how many duomos and churches, with fine cupolas and towers, as if they meant to mock the misery upon which they look. They are the repositories of vast wealth, in the shape of silver lamps, votive offerings, paintings, and marbles. To appropriate a penny of that treasure in behalf of the wretched beings who swarm unfed and untaught in their neighbourhood, would bring down upon Padua the terrible ire of their great god St Antony. He is there known as "Il Santo" (the saint), and has a gorgeous temple erected in his honour, crowned with not less than eight cupolas, and illuminated day and night by golden lamps and silver candlesticks, which burn continually before his shrine. "There are narrow clefts in the monument that stands over him," says Addison, "where good Catholics rub their beads, and smell his bones, which they say have in them a natural perfume, though very like apoplectic balsam; and, what would make one suspect that they rub the marble with it, it is observed that the scent is stronger in the morning than at night." Were the precious metals and the costly marbles which are stored up in this church transmuted into current coin, the whole province of Padua might be supplied with ploughs and other needful implements of agriculture. But it is better that nature alone should cultivate their fields, and that the Paduans should eat only what she is pleased to provide for them, than that, by robbing the shrine of St Antony, they should forfeit the good esteem of so powerful a patron, "the thrice holy Antony of Padua; the powerful curer of leprosy, tremendous driver away of devils, restorer of limbs, stupendous discoverer of lost things, great and wonderful defender from all dangers."
The miracles and great deeds of "the saint" are recorded on the tablets and bas-reliefs of the church. His most memorable exploit was his "preaching to an assembly of fishes," whom, "when the heretics would not regard his preaching," says his biographer, "he called together, in the name of God, to hear his holy Word." The congregation and the sermon were both extraordinary; and, if any reader is curious to see what a saint could have to say to a congregation of fishes, he will find the oration quoted ad longam in "Addison's Travels." The mule on which this great man rode was nearly as remarkable as his master. With a devotion worthy of the mule of St Antony, he left his hay, after a long fast, to be present at mass. The modern Paduans, from what I saw of them, fast quite as oft and as long as Antony's mule; whether they are equally punctual at mass I do not know.
My stay in Padua extended only from four in the afternoon till nine at night. The hours wore heavily, and I sought for a restaurant where I might dine. I was fortunate enough at length to discover a vast hall, or shed I should rather say, which was used as a restaurant. Some rich and noble Paduan had called it his in other days; now it received as guests the courier and the wayfarer. Its massive walls were quite naked, and enclosed an apartment so spacious, that its extremities were lost in darkness. Some dozen of small tables, all ready for dinner being served upon them, occupied the floor; and some three or four persons were seated at dinner. I took my seat at one of the tables, and was instantly served with capillini soup, and the usual et ceteras. I made a good repast, despite the haunted look of the chamber. On the conclusion of my dinner I repaired to the market-place, and, till the hour of diligence should arrive, I began pacing the pavement beneath the shadow of the town-hall, which looks as if it had been built as a kind of anticipation of the crystal palace, and the roof of which is said to be the largest unsupported by pillars in the world. It covers—so the Paduans believe—the bones of Livy, who is claimed as a native of Padua. It was here Petrarch died, which has given occasion to Lazzarini to join together the cradle of the historian and the tomb of the poet, in the following lines addressed to Padua:—
Here was he born whose lasting page displays Rome's brightest triumphs, and who painted best; Fit style for heroes, nor to shun the test, Though Grecian art should vie, and Attic lays. And here thy tuneful swan, Arezzo lies, Who gave his Laura deathless name; than whom No bard with sweeter grace has poured the song. O, happy seat! O, favoured by the skies! What store and store is thine, to whom belong So rich a cradle and so rich a tomb!
I bought a pennyworth of grapes from one of the poor stall-keepers, and, in return for my coin, had my two extended palms literally heaped. I can safely say that the vine of Padua has not declined; the fruit was delicious; and, after making my way half through my purchase, I collected a few hungry boys, and divided the fragments amongst them.
It was late and dark when, ensconced in the interior of the diligence, we trundled out of the poor ruined town. The night was dreary and somewhat cold; I courted sleep, but it came not. My companions were mostly young Englishmen, but not of the intellectual stamp of the companion from whom I had parted that morning on the quay of Venice. They appeared to be travelling about mainly to look at pictures and smoke cigars. As to learning anything, they ridiculed the idea of such a thing in a country where there "was no society." It did not seem to have occurred to them that it might be worth while learning how it had come to pass that, in a country where one stumbles at every step on the stupendous memorials of a past civilization and knowledge, there is now no society. At length, after many hours' riding, we drew up before a tall white house, which the gray coat and bayonet of the Croat, and the demand for passports, told me was a police office. It was the last dogana on the Austrian territory. We were next requested to leave the diligence for a little. The day had not yet broke, but I could see that we were on the brink of a deep and broad river, which we were preparing to cross, but how, I could not discover, for I could see no bridge, but only something like a raft moored by the margin of the stream. On this frail craft we embarked, horses, diligence, passengers, and all; and, launching out upon the impetuous current, we reached, after a short navigation, the opposite shore. The river we had crossed was the Po, and the craft which had carried us over was a pont colant, or flying bridge. This was the frontier of the Papal States; and now, for the first time, I found myself treading the sacred soil of Peter's patrimony.
Peter, in the days of his flesh, was a fisherman; but some of his brother apostles were tax-gatherers; and here was the receipt of custom again set up. Both "toll" and "fishing-net," I had understood, were forsaken when their Master called them; but on my arrival I found the apostles all busy at their old trades: some fishing for men at Rome; and others, at the frontiers, levying tribute, both of "the children" and of "strangers;" for on looking up, I could see by the dim light a low building, like an American log-house, standing at a little distance from the river's brink, with a huge sign-board stuck up over the door, emblazoned with the keys and the tiara. This told me that I was in the presence of the Apostolic Police-Office,—an ecclesiastical institution which, I doubt not, has its authority somewhere in the New Testament, though I cannot say that I have ever met with the passage in my readings in that book; but that, doubtless, is because I want the Church's spectacles.
When one gets his name inserted in an Italian way-bill, he delivers up his passport to the conducteur, who makes it his business to have it viseed at the several stations which are planted thick along all the Italian routes,—the owner, of course, reckoning for the charges at the end of the journey. In accordance with this custom, our conducteur entered the shed-like building I have mentioned, to lay his way-bill and his passports before the officials within. In the interim, we took our places in the vehicle. The conducteur was in no hurry to return, but I dreaded no evil. I had had a wakeful night; and now, throwing myself into my nook in the diligence, the stillness favoured sleep, and I was half unconscious, when I found some one pulling at my shoulder, and calling on me to leave the carriage. "What is the matter?" I inquired. "Your passport is not en regle," was the reply. "My passport not right!" I answered in astonishment; "it has been viseed at every police-office betwixt and London; and especially at those of Austria, under whose suzerainty the territory of Ferrara is, and no one may prevent me entering the Papal States." The man coolly replied, "You cannot go an inch farther with us;" and proceeded to take down my luggage, and deposit it on the bank. I stept out, and bade the man conduct me to the people inside. Passing under the papal arms, we threaded a long narrow passage,—turned to the left,—traversed another long passage,—turned to the left again, and stood in a little chamber dimly lighted by a solitary lamp. The apartment was divided by a bench, behind which sat two persons,—the one a little withered old man, with small piercing eyes, and the other very considerably younger and taller, and with a face on which anxiety or mistrust had written fewer sinister lines. They quickly told me that my passport was not right, and that I could not enter the Papal States. I asked them to hand me the little volume; and, turning over its pages, I traced with them my progress from London to the Po, and showed that, on the testimony of every passport-office and legation, I was a good man and true up to the further banks of their river; and that if I was other now, I must have become so in crossing, or since touching their soil. They gave me to understand, in reply, that all these testimonies went for nothing, seeing I wanted the imprimatur of the papal consul in Venice. I assured them that omission was owing to misinformation I had received in Venice; that the Valet de Place (an authority in all such matters) at the Albergo dell' Europa had assured me that the two visees I had got in Venice were quite enough; and that the pontifical visee could be obtained in Ferrara or Bologna; and entreated them to permit me to go on to Ferrara, where I would lay my passport before the authorities, and have the error rectified. I shall never forget the emphasis with which the younger of the two officials replied, "Non possum." I had often declined "possum" to my old schoolmaster in former days, little dreaming that I was to hear the vocable pronounced with such terrible meaning in a little cell, at day-break, on the banks of the Po. The postilion cracked his whip,—I saw the diligence move off,—and the sound of its retreating wheels seemed like a farewell to friends and home. A sad, desolate feeling weighed upon me as I turned to the faces of the police-officers and gendarmes in whose power I was left. We all went back together into the little apartment of the passport office, where I opened a conversation with them, in order to discover what was to be done with me,—whether I was to be sent back to Venice, or home to England, or simply thrown into the Po. I made rapid progress in my Italian studies that day; and had it been my hap to be arrested a dozen days on end by the papal authorities, I should by that time have been a fluent Italian speaker. The result of much questioning and explanation was, that if I liked to forward a petition to the authorities in Ferrara, accompanied by my passport, I should be permitted to wait where I was till an answer could be returned. It was my only alternative; and, hiring a special messenger, I sent him off with my passport, and a petition craving permission to enter "the States," addressed to the Pontifical Legation at Ferrara. Meanwhile, I had a gendarme to take care of me.
To while away the time, I sallied out, and sauntered along the banks of the river. It was now full day: and the cheerful light, and the noble face of the Po,—here a superb stream, equal almost to the Rhine at Cologne,—rolling on to the Adriatic, chased away my pensiveness. The river here flows between lofty embankments,—the adjoining lands being below its level, and reminding one of Holland; and were any extraordinary inundation to happen among the Alps, and force the embankments of the Po, the territory around Ferrara, if not also that city itself, would infallibly be drowned. A few lighters and small craft, lifting their sails to the morning sun, were floating down the current; and here and there on the banks was a white villa,—the remains of that noble setting of palaces which adorned the Po when the House of D'Este vied in wealth and splendour with the larger courts of Europe. Prisoners must have breakfast; and I found a poor cafe in the little village, where I got a cup of coffee and an egg,—the latter unboiled, by the way; and discussed my meal in presence of the gendarme, who sat opposite me.
Toward noon the messenger returned, and to my joy brought back the papal permission to enter "the States." Light and short as my constraint had been, it was sufficient to make me feel what a magic influence is in liberty. I could again go whither I would; and the poor village of Ponte Lagoscuro, and even the faces of the two officials, assumed a kindlier aspect. Bidding these last, whose Italian urbanity had won upon me, adieu, I started on foot for Ferrara, which lay on the plain some five miles in advance. The road thither was a magnificent one; but I learned afterwards that I had Napoleon to thank for it; but alas, what a picture the country presented! The water was allowed to stagnate along the path, and a thick, green scurf had gathered upon it. The rich black soil was covered with weeds, and the few houses I saw were mere hovels. The sun shone brilliantly, however, and strove to gild this scene of neglect and wretchedness. The day was the 28th of October, and the heat was that of a choice summer day in Scotland, with a much balmier air. I hurried on along the deserted road, and soon, on emerging from a wood, sighted the town of Ferrara, which stretched along the plain in a low line of roofs, with a few towers breaking the uniformity. Presenting my "pass" to the sentinel at the barrier, I entered the city in which Calvin had found an asylum and Tasso a prison.
Poor fallen Ferrara! Commerce, learning, the arts, religion, had by turns shed a glory upon it. Now all is over; and where the "Queen of the Po" had been, there sits on the darkened plain a poor city, mouldering into dust, with the silence of a sepulchre around it. I entered the suburbs, but sound of human voice there was none; not a single human being could I see. It might be ages since these streets were trodden, for aught that appeared. The doors were closed, and the windows were stanchioned with iron. In many cases there was neither door nor window; but the house stood open to receive the wind or rain, the fowls of heaven, or the dogs of the city, if any such there were. I passed on, and drew nigh the centre of the town; and now there began to be visible some signs of vitality. Struck at the extremities, life had retreated to the heart. A square castellated building of red brick, surrounded on all sides by a deep moat, filled with the water of the Po, and guarded by Austrian soldiers, upreared its towers before me. This was the Papal Legation. I entered it, and found my passport waiting me; and the tiara and the keys, emblazoned on its pages, told me that I was free of the Papal States.
Lovely in its Ruins—Number and Wealth of its Churches—Tasso's Prison—Renee's Palace—Calvin's Chamber—Influence of Woman on the Reformation—Renee and her Band—Re-union above—Utter Decay of its Trade, its Manufactures, its Knowledge.
Even in its ruins Ferrara is lovely. It wears in the tomb the sunset hues of beauty. Its streets run out in straight lines, and are of noble breadth and length. Unencumbered with the heavy arcades that darken Padua, the marble fronts of its palaces rise to a goodly height, covered with rich but exceedingly sweet and chaste designs. On the stone of their pilasters and door-posts the ilex puts forth its leaf, and the vine its grapes; and the carving is as fresh and sharp, in many instances, as if the chisel were but newly laid aside. But it is melancholy to see the long grass waving on its causeways, and the ivy clinging to the deserted doorways and balconies of palatial residences, and to hear the echoes of one's foot sounding drearily in the empty street.
I passed the afternoon in visiting the churches. There is no end of these, and night fell before I had got half over them. It amazes one to find in the midst of ruins such noble buildings, overflowing with wealth. Pictures, statuary, marbles, and precious metals, dazzle, and at last weary, the traveller, and form a strange contrast to the desolate fields, the undrained swamps, the mouldering tenements, and the beggarly population, that are collected around them. Of the churches of Ferrara, we may say as Addison of the shrine of Loretto, "It is indeed an amazing thing to see such a prodigious quantity of riches lie dead and untouched, in the midst of so much poverty and misery as reign on all sides of them. If these riches were all turned into current coin, and employed in commerce, they would make Italy the most flourishing country in the world."
Two objects specially invited my attention in Ferrara: the one was the prison of Tasso,—the other the palace of Renee, the Duchess of Ferrara. Tasso's prison is a mere vault in the courtyard of the hospital of St Anna, built up at one end with a brick wall, and closed at the other by a low and strong door. The floor is so damp that it yields to the foot; and the arched roof is so low that there is barely room to stand upright. I strongly doubt whether Tasso, or any other man, could have passed seven years in this cell and come out alive. It is written all over within and without with names, some of them illustrious ones. "Byron" is conspicuous in the crowd, cut in strong square characters in the stone; and near him is "Lamartine," in more graceful but smaller letters.
Tasso seems to have regarded his country as a prisoner not less than himself, and to have strung his harp at times to bewail its captivity. The dungeon "in which Alphonso bade his poet dwell" was dreary enough, but that of Italy was drearier still; for it is Italy, fully more than the poet, that may be regarded as speaking in the following lines, which furnish evidence that, along with Dante, and all the great minds of the period, Torquato Tasso had seen the hollowness of the Papal Church, and felt the galling bondage which that Church inflicts on both the intellect and the soul.
"O God, from this Egyptian land of woe, Teeming with idols and their monstrous train, O'er which the galling yoke that I sustain Like Nilus makes my tears to overflow, To thee, her land of rest, my soul would go: But who, ah! who will break my servile chain? Who through the deep, and o'er the desert plain Will aid and cheer me, and the path will show? Shall God, indeed, the fowls and manna strew,— My daily bread? and dare I to implore Thy pillar and thy cloud to guide me, Lord? Yes, he may hope for all who trusts thy word. O then thy miracles in me renew; Thine be the glory, and my boasting o'er."
From the reputed prison of Tasso I went to see the roof which had sheltered the presiding intellect of the Reformation,—John Calvin. Tasso's glory is like a star, burning with a lovely light in the deep azure; Calvin's is like the sun, whose waxing splendour is irradiating two hemispheres. The palace of the illustrious Renee,—now the Austrian and Papal Legations, and literally a barrack for soldiers,—has no pretensions to beauty. Amid the graceful but decaying fabrics of the city, it erects its square unadorned mass of dull red, edged with a strip of lawn, a few cypresses, and a moat brim-full of water, which not only surrounds it on all sides, but intersects it by means of arches, and makes the castle almost a miniature of Venice. Good part of the interior is occupied as passport offices and guard-rooms. The staircase is of noble dimensions. Some of the rooms are princely, their panellings being mostly covered with paintings, but not of the first excellence. The small room in the southern quadrangle which Calvin is said to have occupied is now fitted up as an oratory; and a very pretty little show-room it is, with its marble altar-piece, its silver candlesticks, its crucifixes, and, in short, all the paraphernalia of such places. If there be any efficacy in holy water, the little chamber must by this time be effectually cleansed from the sad defilement of the arch-heretic.
Ferrara is indissolubly connected with the Reformation in Italy. In fact, it was the centre of the movement in the south of the Alps. This distinction it owed to its being the residence of Renee, the daughter of Louis XII. of France, and wife of Hercules II., Duke of Ferrara. This lady, to a knowledge of the ancient classics and contemporary literature, and the most amiable and generous dispositions, added a deep love of evangelical truth, and gladly extended shelter to the friends of the Reformation, whom persecution now forced to leave their native country. Thus there came to be assembled round her a galaxy of talent, learning, and piety. If we except John Calvin, who was known during his brief sojourn of three months as Charles Heppeville, the two noblest minds in this illustrious band were women,—Renee and Olympia Morata. The cause of the Reformation lies under great obligations to woman; though the part she acted in that great drama has never been sufficiently acknowledged. In the heart of woman, when sanctified by Divine grace, there lies concealed under a veil of gentleness and apparent timidity, a fund of fortitude and lofty resolution, which requires a fitting occasion to draw it forth; but when that occasion arrives, there is seen the strength and grandeur of the female character. For woman, whatever is noble, beautiful, and sublime, has peculiar attractions. A just cause, overborne by power or numbers, appeals peculiarly to her unselfish nature; and thus it has happened that the Reformation sometimes found in woman its most devoted disciple and its most undaunted champion. Who can tell how much the firmness and perseverance of the more prominent actors in these struggles were owing to her wise and affectionate counsels? And not only has she been the counsellor of man,—she has willingly shared his sufferings; and the same deep sensibility which renders her so shrinking on ordinary occasions, has at these times given her unconquerable strength, and raised her above the desolation of a prison,—above the shame and horror of a scaffold. Of such mould were the two illustrious women I have mentioned,—the accomplished Renee, the daughter of a king of France, and the yet more accomplished Olympia Morata, the daughter of a schoolmaster and citizen of Mantua.
To me these halls were sacred, for the feet which had trodden them three centuries ago. They were thronged with Austrian soldiers and passport officials; but I could people them with the mighty dead. How often had Renee assembled her noble band in this very chamber! How often here had that illustrious circle consulted on the steps proper to be taken for advancing their great cause! How often had they indulged alternate fears and hopes, as they thought now of the power arrayed against them, and now of the progress of the truth, and the confessors it was calling to its aid in every city of Italy! And when the deliberations and prayers of the day were ended, they would assemble on this lawn, to enjoy, under these cypresses, the delicious softness of the Italian twilight. Ah! who can tell the exquisite sweetness of such re-unions! and how inexpressibly soothing and welcome to men whom persecution had forced to flee from their native land, must it have been to find so secure a haven as this so unexpectedly opened to receive them! But ah! too soon were they forced out upon an ocean of storms. They were driven to different countries and to various fates,—some to a life of exhausting labour and conflict, some to exile, and some to the stake. But all this is over now: they dread the dungeon and the stake no more; they are wanderers no longer, having come to a land of rest. Renee has once again gathered her bright band around her, under skies whose light no cloud shall ever darken, and whose calm no storm shall ever ruffle. But do they not still remember and still speak of the consultations and sweet communings which they had together under the shady cypress trees, and the still, rich twilights of Ferrara?
Ferrara was the first town subject to the Pope I had entered; and I had here an opportunity of marking the peculiar benefits which attend infallible government. This city is only less wretched than Padua; and the difference seems to lie rather in the more cheerful look of its buildings, than in any superior wealth or comfort enjoyed by its people. Its trade is equally ruined; it is even more empty of inhabitants; its walls, of seven miles' circuit, enclose but a handful of men, and these have a wasted and sickly look, owing to the unhealthy character of the country around. The view from its ramparts reminded me of the prospect from the walls of York. The plain is equally level; the soil is naturally more rich; but the drainage and cultivation of the English landscape are wanting. The town once enjoyed a flourishing trade in hemp,—an article which found its way to our dockyards; but this branch of traffic now scarcely exists. The native manufactures of Ferrara have been ruined; and a feeble trade in corn is almost all that is left it. How is this? Is its soil less fertile? Has its natural canal, the Po, dried up? No; but the Government, afraid perhaps that its fields would yield too plenteously, its artizans become too ingenious, and its citizens too wealthy in foreign markets, has laid a heavy duty on its exports, and on every article of home manufacture. Hence the desolate Polesina without, and the extinct forges and empty workshops within, its walls. A city whose manufactures were met with in all the markets of Europe is now dependent for its own supply on the Swiss. The ruin of its trade dates from its annexation to the Papal States. The decay of intelligence has kept pace with that of trade. At the beginning of the sixteenth century Ferrara was one of the lights of Europe: now I know not that there is a single scholar in its university; and its library of eighty thousand volumes and nine hundred manuscripts, among which are the Greek palimpsests of Gregory Nazianzen and Chrysostom, and the manuscripts of Ariosto and Tasso, is becoming, equally with Ariosto's dust, which reposes in its halls, the prey of the worm.
I have to thank the papal police at Ponte Lagoscuro for the opportunity of seeing Ferrara; for, with the bad taste which most travellers in Italy display on this head, I had overlooked this town, and booked myself right through to Bologna. I lodged at a fine old hotel, whose spacious apartments left me in no doubt that it had once belonged to some of the princely families of Ferrara. I saw there, however, men who had "a lean and hungry look," and not such as Caesar wished to have about him,—"fat, sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights;" and my suspicions which were awakened at the time have since unfortunately been confirmed, for I read in the newspapers, rather more than a year ago, that the landlord had been shot.
BOLOGNA AND THE APENNINES.
Road from Ferrara to Bologna—Wayside Oratories—Miserable Cultivation—Barbarism of People—Aspect of Bologna—Streets, Galleries, and Churches of its Interior—Decay of Art—San Petronio—View of Plain from Hill behind Bologna—Tyranny of Government—Night Arrests—Ruinous Taxation—Departure from Bologna—Brigands—The Apennines—Storm among these Mountains—Two Russian Travellers—Dinner at the Tuscan Frontier—Summit of the Pass—Halt for the Night at a Country Inn—The Hostess and her Company—Supper—Resume Journey next Morning—First Sight of Florence.
On the morrow at ten I took my departure for Bologna. It was sweet to exchange the sickly faces and unnatural silence of the city for the bright sun and the living trees. The road was good,—so very good, that it took me by surprise. It was not in keeping with the surrounding barbarism. Instead of a hard-bottomed, macadamized highway, which traversed the plain in a straight line, bordered by noble trees, I should have expected to find in this region of mouldering towns and neglected fields, a narrow, winding, rutted path, ploughed by torrents and obstructed by boulders; and so, I am sure, I should have done, had any of the native governments of Italy had the making of this road. But it had been designed and executed by Napoleon; and hence its excellence. His roads alone would have immortalized him. They remain, after all his victories have perished, to attest his genius. Would that that genius had been turned to the arts of peace! Conquerors would do well to ponder the eulogium pronounced on a humble tailor who built a bridge out of his savings,—that the world owed more to the scissors of that man than to the sword of some conquerors.
Along the road, at short intervals, were little temples, where good Catholics who had a mind might perform their devotions. This reminded me that I was now in Peter's patrimony,—the holy land of Romanism; and where, it was presumed, the wayfarer would catch the spirit of devotion from the soil and air. The hour of prayer might be past,—I know not; but I saw no one in these oratories. Little shrines were perched upon the trees, formed sometimes of boards, at others simply of the cavity of the trunk; while the boughs were bent so as to form a canopy over them. Little images and pictures had been stuck into these shrines; but the rooks,—these black republicans,—like the "reds" at Rome, had waged a war for possession, and, pitching overboard the little gods that occupied them, were inhabiting in their room. The "great powers" were too busy, or had been so, in the restoration of greater personages, to take up the quarrel of these minor divinities. A strange silence and dreariness brooded over the region. The land seemed keeping its Sabbaths. The fields rested,—the villages were asleep,—the road was untrodden. Had one been dropt from the clouds, he would have concluded that it was but a century or so since the Flood, and that these were the rude primitive great-grandchildren of Noah, who had just found their way into these parts, and were slowly emerging from barbarism. The fields around afforded little indication of such an instrument as the plough; and one would have concluded from the garments of the people, that the loom was among the yet uninvented arts. The harnessings of the horses formed a curiously tangled web of thong, and rope, and thread, twisted, tied, and knotted. It would have puzzled OEdipus himself to discover how a horse could ever be got into such gear, or, being in, how it ever could be got out. There seemed a most extraordinary number of beggars and vagabonds in Peter's patrimony. A little congregation of these worthies waited our arrival at every village, and whined round us for alms so long as we remained. Others, not quite so ragged, stood aloof, regarding us fixedly, as if devising some pretext on which to claim a paul of us. There were worse characters in the neighbourhood, though happily we saw none of them. But at certain intervals we met the Austrian patrol, whose duty it was to clear the road of brigands. Peter, it appeared to us, kept strange company about him,—idlers, beggars, vagabonds, and brigands. It must vex the good man much to find his dear children disgracing him so in the eyes of strangers.
These dismal scenes accompanied us half the way. We then entered the Bolognese, and things began to look a little better. Bologna, though under the Papal Government, has long been famous for nourishing a hardy, liberty-loving people, though, if report does them justice, extremely licentious and infidel. Its motto is "libertas;" and the air of liberty is favourable, it would seem, to vegetation; for the fields looked greener the moment we had crossed the barrier. Soon we were charmed with the sight of Bologna. Its appearance is indeed imposing, and gives promise of something like life and industry within its walls. A noble cluster of summits,—an offshoot of the Apennines,—rises behind the city, crowned with temples and towers. Within their bosky declivities, from which tall cypress-trees shoot up, lie embowered villas and little watch-towers, with their glittering vanes. At the foot of the hill is spread out the noble city, with its leaning towers and its tall minaret-looking steeples. The approach to the walls reminded me that below these ramparts sleeps Ugo Bassi. I afterwards searched for his resting-place, but could find no one who either would or could show me his tomb. A more eloquent declaimer than even Gavazzi, I have been assured by those who knew him, was silenced when Ugo Bassi fell beneath the murderous fire of the Croat's musket.
After the death-like desertion and silence of Ferrara, the feeble bustle of Bologna seemed like a return to the world and its ways. Its streets are lined with covered porticoes, less heavy than those of Padua, but harbouring after nightfall, says the old traveller ARCHENHOLTZ, robbers and murderers, of whom the latter are the more numerous. He accounts for this by saying, that whereas the robber has to make restitution before receiving absolution, the murderer, whether condemned to die or set at liberty, receives full pardon, without the "double labour," as Sir John Falstaff called it, of "paying back." Its hundred churches are vast museums of sculpture and painting. Its university, which the Bolognese boast is the oldest in Europe, rivalled Padua in its glory, and now rivals it in its decay. Its two famous leaning towers,—the rent in the bottom of one is quite visible,—are bending from age, and will one day topple over, and pour a deluge of old bricks upon the adjoining tenements. Its "Academy of the Fine Arts" is, after Rome and Florence, the finest in Italy. It is filled with the works of the Caracci, Domenichino, Guido Albani, and others of almost equal celebrity. I am no judge of such matters; and therefore my reader need lay no stress upon my criticisms; but it appeared to me, that some paintings placed in the first rank had not attained that excellence. The highly-praised "Victory of Sampson over the Philistines," I felt, wanted the grandeur of the Hebrew Judge on this the greatest occasion of his life; although it gave you a very excellent representation of a thirsty man drinking, with rows of prostrate people in the background. Other pieces were disfigured by glaring anachronisms in time and dress. The artist evidently had drawn his inspiration, not from the Bible, but from the Cathedral. The Apostles in some cases had the faces of monks, and looked as if they had divided their time betwixt Liguori and the wine-flagon. Several Scriptural personages were attired in an ecclesiastical dress, which must have been made by some tailor of the sixteenth century. But there is one picture in that gallery that impressed me more than any other picture I ever saw. It is a painting of the Crucifixion by Guido. The background is a dark thundery mass of cloud, resting angrily above the dimly-seen roofs and towers of Jerusalem. There is "darkness over all the land;" and in the foreground, and relieved by the darkness, stands the cross, with the sufferer. On the left is John, looking up with undying affection. On the right is Mary,—calm, but with eyes full of unutterable sorrow. Mary Magdalene embraces the foot of the cross: her face and upper parts are finely shaded; but her attitude and form are strongly expressive of reverence, affection, and profound grief. There are no details: the piece is simple and great. There are no attempts to produce effect by violent manifestations of grief. Hope is gone, but love remains; and there before you are the parties standing calm and silent, with their great sorrow.
It so happened that the exhibition of the works of living artists was open at the time, and I had a good opportunity of comparing the present with the past race of Italian painters. I soon found that the race of Guidos was extinct, and that the pencil of the masters had fallen into the hands of but poor copyists. The present artists of Italy have given over painting saints and Scripture-pieces, and work mostly in portraits and landscapes. They paint, of course, what will sell; and the public taste appears decidedly to have changed. There was a great dearth of good historical, imaginative, and allegorical subjects; too often an attempt was visible to give interest to a piece by an appeal to the baser passions. But the living artists of that country fall below not only their great predecessors, but even the artists of Scotland. This exhibition in Bologna did not by any means equal in excellence or interest the similar exhibition opened every spring in Edinburgh. The statuary displayed only beauty and voluptuousness of form: it wanted the simple energy and the chastened grandeur of expression which characterize the statuary of the ancients, and which have made it the admiration of all ages.
The only god whom the Bolognese worship is San Petronio. His temple, in which Charles V. was crowned by Clement VII., stands in the Piazza Maggiore, the forum of Bologna in the middle ages, and rivals the "Academy" itself in its paintings and sculptures. Though the facade is not finished, nor likely soon to be, it is one of the largest churches in Italy, and is a fine specimen of the Italian Gothic. In a little side chapel is the head of San Petronius himself, certified by Benedict XIV. On the forms on the cathedral floor lie little framed pictures of the saint, with a prayer addressed to him. I saw a country girl enter the church, drop on her knees, kiss the picture, and recite the prayer. I afterwards read this prayer, though not on bended knee; and can certify that a grosser piece of idolatry never polluted human lips. Petronio was addressed by the same titles in which the Almighty is usually approached; as, "the most glorious," "the most merciful."
"Towards him they bend With awful reverence prone; and as a god Extol him equal to the Highest in heaven."
Higher blessings, whether for time or for eternity, than those for which the devotee was directed to supplicate San Petronio, man needs not, and God has not to bestow. Daily bread, protection from danger, grace to love San Petronio, grace to serve San Petronio, pardon, a happy death, deliverance from hell, and eternal felicity in Paradise,—all who offered this prayer,—and other prayer was unheard beneath that roof,—supplicated of San Petronio. The Church of Rome affirms that she does not pray to the saints, but through them,—namely, as intercessors with Christ and God. This is no justification of the practice, though it were the fact; but it is not the fact. In protestant countries she may insert the name of God at the end of her prayers; but in popish countries she does not deem it needful to observe this formality. The name of Christ and of God rarely occurs in her popular formulas. In the Duomo of Bologna, the only god supplicated,—the only god known,—is San Petronio. The tendency of the worship of the Church of Rome is to efface God from the knowledge and the love of her members. And so completely has this result been realized, that, as one said, "You might steal God from them without their knowing it." Indeed, that "Great and Dreadful Name" might be blotted out from the few prayers of that Church in which it is still retained, and its worship would go on as before. What possible change would take place in the Duomo of San Petronio at Bologna, and in thousands of other churches in Italy, though Rome was to decree in words, as she does in deeds, that "there is no God?"
On the second day of my stay at Bologna I ascended the fine hill on the north of the city. A noble pillared arcade of marble, three miles in length, leads up to the summit. At every twelve yards or so is an alcove, with a florid painting of some saint; and at each station sits a poor old woman, who begs an alms of you, in the name of the saint beneath whose picture she spins her thread,—her own thread being nearly ended. There met me here a regiment of little priests, of about an hundred in number, none of whom seemed more than ten years of age, and all of whom wore shoes with buckles, silk stockings, breeches, a loose flowing robe, a white-edged stock, and shovel hat,—in short, miniature priests in dress, in figure, and in everything save their greater sportiveness. On the summit is a magnificent church, containing one of those black madonnas ascribed to Luke, and said to have been brought hither by a hermit from Constantinople in the twelfth century. Be this as it may, the black image serves the Bolognese for an occasion of an annual festival, kept with fully as much hilarity as devotion.
From the summit one looks far and wide over Italy. Below is spread out the plain of Lombardy, level as the sea, and as thickly studded with white villas as the heavens with stars. On the north, the cities of Mantua and Verona, and numerous other towns and villages, are visible. On the east, the towers and cathedral roofs of Ferrara are seen rising above the woods that cover the plain; and the view is bounded by the Adriatic, which, like a thin line of blue, runs along the horizon. On the south and west is the hill country of the Apennines, among whose serrated peaks and cleft sides is many a lovely dell, rich in waters, and vines, and olive trees. The distant country towards the Mediterranean lay engulphed in a white mist. A violent electrical action was going on in it, which, like a strong wind moving upon its surface, raised it into billows, which appeared to sweep onward, tossing and tumbling like the waves of ocean.
I had taken up my abode at the Il Pellegrino, one of the best recommended hotels in Bologna,—not knowing that the Austrian officers had made it their head-quarters, and that not a Bolognese would enter it. At dinner-time I saw only the Austrian uniform around the table. This was a matter of no great moment. Not so what followed. When I went to bed, there commenced overhead a heavy shuffling of feet, and an incessant going and coming, with slamming of doors, and jolting of tables, which lasted all night long. A sad tragedy was enacting above me. The political apprehensions are made over-night in the Italian towns; and I little doubt that the soldiers were all night busily engaged in bringing in prisoners, and sending them off to jail. The persons so arrested are subjected to moral and physical tortures, which speedily prostrate both mind and body, and sometimes terminate in death. Loaded with chains, they are shut up in stinking holes, where they can neither stand upright nor lie down at their length. The heat of the weather and the foul air breed diseases of the skin, and cover them with pustules. The food, too, is scanty, often consisting of only bread and water. The Government strive to keep their cruel condition a secret from their relatives, who, notwithstanding, are able at times to penetrate the mystery that surrounds them, but only to have their feelings lacerated by the thought of the dreadful sufferings undergone by those who are the objects of their tenderest affection. And what agony can be more dreadful than to know that a father, a husband, a son, is rotting in a putrid cell, or being beaten to death by blows, while neither relief nor sympathy from you can reach the sufferer? The case of a young man of the name of Neri, formerly healthy and handsome, found its way to the public prints. Broken down by blows, he was carried to the military hospital in an almost dying condition, where an English physician, in company with an Austrian surgeon, found him with lacerated skin, and the vertebral bones uncovered. He was enduring at the same time so acute pain from inflammation of the bowels, that he was unable, but by hints, to express his misery. It was here that the atrocities of the Papal Nuncio BEDINI were perpetrated,—the same man who was afterwards chased from the soil of America by a storm of execration evoked against him by the friends and countrymen of the victims who had been tortured and shot during his sway in Bologna. In short, the acts of the Holy Office are imitated and renewed; so that numbers, distracted and maddened by the torments which they endure, avow offences which they never committed, and name accomplices whom they never had; and the retractations of these unhappy beings are of no avail to prevent new arrests. The Bolognese are permitted to weep their complicated evils only in secret; to do so openly would be charged as a crime.
The fiscal oppression is nearly as unbearable as the political and social. The taxation, both as regards its amount and the mode of enforcing it, is ruinous to the individual, and operates as a fatal check to the progress of industry. The country is eaten up with foreign soldiers. The great hotels in all the principal towns resemble casernes. The reader may judge of my surprise on opening my bed-room door one morning, to find that a couple of Croats had slept on the mat outside of it all night. It might be a special mark of honour to myself; but I rather think that they are accustomed to bivouac in the passages and lobbies. The eternal drumming in the streets is enough to deafen one for life. To the traveller it is sufficiently annoying; how much more so to the Bolognese, who knows that that is music for which he must pay dear! Since 1848, the aggregate of taxation between Leghorn and Ancona has been increased about 40 per cent.; and the taxes are levied upon a principle of arbitrary assessment which compels the rich to simulate poverty, as in Turkey, lest they should be stripped of their last farthing. In Bologna, the payments of the house and land tax, which used to be made every two months, are now collected for the same sums every seven weeks; and a per centage is added at the pleasure of the Government, of which no one knows the amount till the collector calls with his demand. In other towns an income-tax is levied upon trades and professions, framed upon no rule but the supposed capabilities of the individual assessed to pay. Bologna, I may note, although in the Papal States, is now quite an Austrian town. The Austrians have there six-and-twenty pieces of artillery, and are building extensive barracks for cavalry and infantry. Bologna belongs to that part of the Papal States called the Four Legations, where, whether it pleases the Pope to be so protected or not, it is now quite understood that the Austrians have come to stay. The officer in command at Bologna styles himself its civil as well as military governor.
On the third day after my arrival, I started at four of the morning for Florence. It was dark as we rode through the streets of Bologna; and our diligence, piled a-top with luggage, smashed several of the oil-lamps, which dangled on cords at a dangerous proximity to the causeway. I don't know that the Bolognese would miss them, for we left the street very little, if at all, darker than we found it. I looked forward with no little interest to the day's ride, which was to lie among the dells of the Apennines, and to terminate at eve with the fair sight of the Queen of the Arno. How unlike the reality, will appear in the sequel. In half an hour we came in the dim light to a little valley, where the village bell was sweetly chiming the matins. I note the spot because I narrowly missed being an actor in a tragedy which took place here the very next morning. I may tell the story now, though I anticipate somewhat. I was sitting at the table d'hote in Florence three days after, when the gentleman on my right began to tell the company how he had travelled from Bologna on the Saturday previous, and how he and all his fellow-passengers had been robbed on the way. They had got to the spot I have indicated, when suddenly a little band of brigands, which lay in ambush by the wayside, rushed on the diligence. Some mounted on the front, and attended to the outside passengers; others took charge of those in the interieur. Now it was, when the passengers saw into what hands they had fallen, that nothing was heard but groaning in all parts of the diligence. Our informant, who sat next the window in the interieur, was seized by the collar, a long knife was held to his breast, and he was admonished to use all diligence in making over to his new acquaintance any worldly goods he had about him. He had to part with his gold watch and chain, his breast-pin, and sundry other articles of jewellery; but his purse and sovereigns he contrived to drop among the straw at the bottom of the vehicle. All the rest fared as he did, and some of them worse, for they lost their money as well as jewels. These grave proceedings were diversified by a somewhat humorous incident. The coachman had providently put his dinner in the form of a sausage, rolled in brown paper, under his seat. This is the form in which Austrian zwanzigers are commonly made up; and the brigands, fancying the coachman's sausage to be a roll of silver zwanzigers, seized on it with avidity, and bore it off in triumph. They were proceeding to rifle the baggage, when, hearing the horse-patrol approaching, they plunged into the thicket as suddenly as they had appeared. The morning chimes were sounding, as on the previous day, while this operation was going on. But what is not a little extraordinary is, that all this took place within two miles of the city gates of Bologna, where there could not be fewer than twelve thousand Austrian soldiers. But these, I presume, were too much engaged on this, as on previous nights, in apprehending and imprisoning the citizens in the Pope's behalf, to think of looking after brigands. In Peter's privileged patrimony one may rob, murder, and break every command of the decalogue, and defy the police, provided he obey the Church. Were I to travel that road again, I would provide myself with a tinsel watch and appendages, and a sausage carefully rolled up in paper, to avoid the unpleasantness of meeting such wellwishers empty-handed.
In another half hour we came to the spurs of the Apennines. The day was breaking, and its light, I hoped, would lay open many a sweet dell and many a romantic peak, before evening. These hopes, as, alas! too often happens in the longer journey of life, were to be suddenly dashed. I felt a warm, suffocating current of air breathing over the valley, and looked up to see the furnace whence, as I supposed, it proceeded. This was the sirocco, the herald of the tempest that soon thereafter burst upon us. Masses of whitish cloud came rolling over the summits of the hills; furious gusts came down upon us from the heights; and in a few minutes we found ourselves contending with a hurricane such as I have never seen equalled save on one other occasion. The cloud became fearfully black, and made the lightning the more awful as it touched with fire the peaks around us, and bathed in an ocean of flame the vines and hamlets on the hill-side. Terrible peals of thunder broke over us; and these were followed by torrents of rain, which the furious winds dashed against our vehicle with the force and noise of a cataract. We had to make our way up the mountain's side in the face of this tempest. At times more than a dozen animals were yoked to our diligence,—horses, oxen, and beasts of every kind which we could press into the service; while half-a-dozen postilions, shouting and cracking their whips, strove to urge the motley cavalcade onward. Still we crept up only by inches. The road in most cases wound over the very peak of the mountain; and there the tempest, rushing upon us from all sides at once, threatened to lay our vehicle, which shook and quivered in the blast, flat on its side, or toss it into the valley below. The storm continued to rage with unabated violence from day-break till mid-day; and, by favour of horses, bullocks, and postilions, we kept moving on at the rate of two miles an hour, now climbing, now descending, well knowing that at every summit a fresh buffeting awaited us.
I had as my companions on this journey, two Russian gentlemen, with whom afterwards, at several points of my tour, I came into contact. They were urbane and intelligent men, full of their own country and of the Czar, yet professing great respect for England, which they had just visited, and looking down with a contempt they were at little pains to conceal, upon the Frenchmen and Italians among whom they were moving. They possessed the sobriety of mind, the turn for quiet, shrewd observation, in short, much of the physical and intellectual stamina, of Englishmen, with just a shade less of the exquisite polish which marks the latter wherever they are met with. These, no doubt, were favourable specimens of the Russian nation; but it is such men who give the tone to a State, while the masses below execute their designs. I have ever since felt that, should we ever meet that people on the field of battle, the contest would be no ordinary one. I recollect one of these gentlemen meeting me on the streets of Rome some weeks afterwards, and informing me that he had been the day before to visit the ball on the top of St Peter's, and that he had been delighted at seeing his Emperor's name, in his Emperor's own handwriting, inside the ball, with a few lines beneath the signature, stating that he had stood in that ball, and had there prayed for Mother Holy Russia,—a fact full of significance.
About mid-day we came, wet, and weary, and cold, to the Duana on the Tuscan frontier, where was a poor inn, at which, after our passports had been viseed, and our trunks and carpet-bags plumbed, we dined. There were some twenty of us at table; a priest taking the top, and the conducteur the bottom. I remember that two persons of the party kept their hats on at table, and that these were the priest and a poor country lad,—the priest because he presided perhaps, and the countryman because, not knowing the etiquette of the point, he wisely determined to follow in that, as in greater matters, the priest. Our dinner consisted of coarse broth, black bread, buffalo beef, and wine of not the sweetest flavour; but what helped us was an excellent appetite, for we had not breakfasted beyond a few chestnuts and grapes picked up at the poor villages through which we passed. We obtained, however, an hour's shelter from the elements.
We resumed our journey, and in about an hour's ride we gained the central chain of the Apennines. Happily the tempest had moderated somewhat; for this, lying midway between the two seas, is ordinarily the stormiest point of the pass. We crossed it, however, with less inconvenience than we had looked for. The summits, which had hitherto been conical, with vines straggling up their sides, now became rounded, or ran off in serrated lines, with sides scarred with tempests and strewn with stones. The scenery was bleak and desolate, as that of the Grampian pass leading by Spittal of Glenshee to Dee-side. But as we continued our descent, the richly wooded glens returned; the clouds rose; and at one time I ventured to hope that I should yet have my first sight of Florence under a golden sky, and that Milton's description might, after all, be applicable to this day of storms:—
"As when from mountain-tops the dusky clouds Ascending, while the north wind sleeps, o'erspread Heaven's cheerful face, the low'ring element Scowls o'er the darken'd landskip snow or shower; If chance the radiant sun, with farewell sweet, Extend his evening beam, the fields revive, The birds their notes renew, and bleating herds Attest their joy, that hill and valley rings."
But the hope was short-lived: no Florence was I to see that night; nor was note of bird to gladden the dells. The mists again fell, and hid in premature night those fine valleys, so famous in Florentine history, which we were now approaching. We wound round hills, traversed deep ravines, heard on every side the thunder of the swollen torrents, and, when the parting vapour permitted, had glimpses of the luxuriant woods of myrtle and laurel that clothe these valleys,—
"Where round some mouldering tower pale ivy creeps, And low-brow'd rocks hang nodding o'er the deeps."
At last we found ourselves on the banks of a broad and swollen river,—the Save,—with no means of transit save a dismantled bridge, so sorely shattered by the flood, that it was an even question whether our vehicle might not, like the last straw on the dromedary's back, sink the structure outright.
We dismounted, and, by the help of lights, measured first the bridge, and next the diligence, and found that the breadth of the former exceeded that of the latter by just two inches. The passengers passed on foot; the diligence, with the baggage, came after; and so all arrived safely on the other side. Our first care was to assemble a council of war in the poor inn which stood on the spot, and deliberate what next to do.
The conducteur opened the debate. "We had," he said, "twenty miles of road still before us; the way lay through deep ravines, and over torrents which the rains must have rendered impassable: it would be long past midnight till we should reach Florence,—if we should ever reach it: his opinion was, therefore, that we ought to stay where we were; nevertheless, if we insisted, he would go on at all risks." So counselled our leader; and if we wanted an argument on the other side, we had only to look around. The walls of the inn were naked and black; the floor was covered inch-deep with slime, the deposit of the flood which had that day broke into the dwelling; and the place was evidently unequal to the "entertainment" of such a number of "men and horses" as had thus unexpectedly been thrown upon it. It is not wonderful, in these circumstances, that a small opposition party sprung up, headed by an English lady, whose delicate slippers were never made for such a floor as that on which she now stood. She could see no danger in going on, and urged us to set forward. Better counsels prevailed, however; and we resolved to endure the evils we knew, rather than adventure on those we knew not.
The next matter to be negotiated was supper, of which the aspect of the place gave no great promise. The landlady was a thin, wiry, black, voluble Tuscan. "Have you beef?—Have you cheese?—Have you macaroni?"—inquired several voices in succession. "Oh, she had all these, and a great many dainties besides, in the morning; but the flood,—the flood!" The same flood, however, which had swept off our hostess's larder, had swept in a great deal of good company, and she was evidently resolved on setting the one evil over against the other. She now showered upon us a long, rapid, and vehement address; and he who has not heard the Tuscan discourse does not know what volubility is. "What does she say?" I inquired at one of my two Russian friends. "She says very many words," he replied, "but the meaning is moneys, moneys." "Have you any coffee?" I asked. "Oh, coffee! delightful coffee; but it had gone sailing down the flood." "And it carried off the eggs too, I suppose?" "No; I have eggs." We resolved to sup on eggs. A fire of logs was kindled up stairs, and a table was extemporized out of some deals. In a quarter of an hour in came our supper,—black bread, fried eggs, and a skein of wine. We fell to; but, alack! what from the smut of the chimney and the dust of the pan, the eggs were done in the chiaro scuro style; the wine had so villanous a twang, that a few sips of it contented me; and the bread, black as it was, was the only thing palatable. I got the landlady persuaded to boil me an egg; and though the Italian peasants only dip their eggs in hot water, and serve them up raw, it was preferable to the conglomerate of the pan. We made merry, however, over our poor meal and the grateful warmth of the fire; and somewhere towards midnight we entertained the question of going to bed. We had avoided the topic as long as possible, from a foreboding that our hostess would present us with some rueful tale of blankets lost in the flood. Besides, we were not without misgivings that, should the clouds return and the river rise as before, house and all might follow the other things down the stream, and no one could tell where we might find ourselves on awakening. On broaching the subject, however, we found to our delight, that cribs, couches, shakedowns, and all sorts of contrivances, with store of cloaks, garments, and blankets, had been got ready for our use.
We were told off into parties; and the first to be sorted were the two Russians, an Italian, and myself. We four were shown into a room, which, to our great surprise, contained two excellent four-posted beds, one of which was allotted to the two Russian gentlemen, and the other to the Italian and myself. Our mode of turning in was somewhat novel. The Russians put away simply their greatcoats, and lay down beneath the coverlet. My bed-fellow the Italian took up a position for the night by throwing himself, as he was, on the top of the bed-clothes. Not approving of either mode, I slipped off both greatcoat and coat, and, covering myself with the blankets, soon forgot in sleep all the mishaps of the day.
The voice of the conducteur shouting at the door of our apartment awakened us before day-break. Our company mustered with what haste they could, and we again betook us to the road,
"While the still morn went out with sandals gray."
The path lay along the banks of the torrent Carza, and the valley we found frightfully scarred by the flood of the former day. Fierce torrents rushing from the hills had torn the fences, ploughed up the road, piled up hillocks of mud among the vineyards, and covered with barren sand, or strewn with stones, many an acre of fine meadow. Had we attempted the path in the darkness, our course must have found a speedy termination. At length, ascending a steep hill, we found ourselves overlooking the valley of the Arno.
Every traveller taxes his descriptive powers to the utmost to paint the view from this hill-top; and I verily believe that, seen under a cloudless sky, it is one of the most enchanting landscapes in the world. The numberless conical hills,—the white villas and villages, which lie as thick as if the soil had produced them,—the silvery stream of the Arno,—the rich chestnut and olive woods,—the domes of the Italian Athens,—the songs,—the fragrance,—and the great wall of the Apennines bounding all,—must present a picture of rare magnificence. But I saw it under different conditions, and must needs describe it as it appeared.
Sub-Apennine Italy was before me, and it seemed the Italy I had dreamed of, could I only see it; but, alas! it was blotted with mists, and overshadowed by a black canopy of cloud. Outspread, far as the eye could extend southward, was a landscape of ridges and conical tops, separated by winding wreaths of white mist, giving to the country the aspect of an ocean broken up into creeks, and bays, and channels, with no end of islands. The hills were covered to their very summits with the richest vegetation; and the multitude of villages sprinkled over them lent them an air of great animation. The great chain of the Apennines, with rolling masses of cloud on its summits, ran along on the east, and formed the bounding wall of the prospect. Below us there floated on the surface of the mist an immense dome, looking like a balloon of huge size about to ascend into the air. It did not ascend, however; but, surrounded by several tall shafts and towers which rose silently out of the mist, it remained suspended over the same spot. Like a buoy at sea affixed to the place where some noble vessel lies entombed, this dome told us that engulphed in this ocean of vapour lay FLORENCE, with her rich treasures of art, and her many stirring recollections and traditions.
FLORENCE AND ITS YOUNG EVANGELISM.
Beauty of Position—Focus of Italian Art—Education on the Aesthetic Principle—Effects as shown in the Character and Manners of the Florentines—The result not Civilization, but Barbarism—The Artizans of Britain surpass the Florentines in Civilization—Early English Scholars at Florence—Man's Power for Good—Savonarolo—History of present Religious Movement in Tuscany—Condition of Tuscan Government and Priesthood prior to 1848—Attempts to introduce Religious Books—The Priests compel the Government to interfere—The Revolution of 1848—The Bible translated and seized—Visit of Vaudois Pastors—Secret Religious Press—Work now carried on by the Converts—Denunciation of DEATH for Bible Reading—Great Increase of Converts notwithstanding—Present State and Prospects of Movement—Leave Florence—Beauty of the Vale of the Arno—Pisa—Arrive at Leghorn.
Of Florence "the Beautiful," I must say that its beauty appeared scarce equal to its fame. In an age when the capitals of northern Europe were of wood, the Queen of the Arno may have been without a rival on the north of the Alps; but now finer streets, handsomer squares, and nobler facades, may be seen in any of our second-rate towns. But its dome, by Brunelleschi, the largest in the world,—its tall campanile,—its baptistry, with its beautiful gates,—and its public statuary,—are worthy of all admiration. Its environs are superb.
Florence is sweetly embosomed in an amphitheatre of mountains, of the most lovely forms and the richest and brightest colouring. Castles and convents crown their summits; while their slopes display the pillar-like cypress, the gray olive, the festooned vine, with a multitude of embowered villas. On the north-east, right in the fork of the Apennines, lie the bosky and wooded dells of Valombrosa. On the north, seated on a pyramidal hill, is the ancient Fiesole, which the genius of Milton has touched and immortalized. On the west are the spacious lawns and parks of the Grand Duke; while the noble valley runs off to the south-west, carpeted with vines, or covered with chestnut woods, with the Arno stealing silently through it in long reaches to the sea. During my stay, the girdling Apennines were tipped with the snows of winter; and when the sun shone out, they formed a gleaming circlet around the green valley, like a ring of silver enclosing an enormous emerald. I saw the sun but seldom, however. The bad weather which had overtaken me amid the Apennines descended with me into the valley of the Arno; and murky clouds, with torrents of rain, but too often obscured the sky. But I could fancy the delicious beauty of a summer eve in Florence, with the still balmy air enwrapping the purple hills, the tall cypresses, the domes, and the gently stealing waters. In spring the region must be a very paradise. Indeed, spring is seldom absent from the banks of the Arno; for though at times savage Winter is heard growling amid the Apennines, he dare seldom venture farther than midway down their slopes.
I cannot recall the past glories of Florence, or even touch on Cosmo's "immortal century;" I cannot speak of its galleries, so rich in painting, so unrivalled in statuary; nor can I enter its Pitti palace, with its hanging gardens; or the city churches, with their store of frescoes and paintings; or its Santa Croce, with its six mighty tombs,—those even of Dante, Galileo, Machiavelli, Michael Angelo, Alfieri, Leonardo Aretino. The size of Florence brings all these objects within a manageable distance; and, during my stay of well-nigh a week, I visited them, as any one may do, almost every day. But every traveller has entered largely into their description, and I pass them over, to touch on other things more rarely brought into view.
Florence is the focus of Italian art; and here, if anywhere, one can see the effect of educating a population solely on the aesthetic principle. The Florentines have no books, no reading-rooms, no public lectures, no preaching in their churches even, bating the occasional harangue of a monk. They are left to be trained solely by fine pictures and lovely statues. From these they are expected to learn their duties as men and as citizens. The sole employment of the people is to produce these things; their sole study, to be able to admire them. The result is not civilization, but barbarism. Nor can it well be otherwise. We find the "beautiful" abundantly in nature, but never dissociated from the "useful;" teaching us that it cannot be safely sought but in union with what is true and good; and that we cannot make it "an end" without reversing the whole constitution of our nature. When a people make the love of "the beautiful" their predominant passion, they rapidly decline in the better and nobler qualities. The beautiful yields only enjoyment; and those who live only to enjoy soon become intensely selfish. That enjoyment, moreover, is immediate, and so affords no room for the exercise of patience and foresight. A race of triflers arise, who think only of the present hour. They are wholly undisciplined in the higher qualities of mind,—in perseverance and self-control; and, being withdrawn from the contemplation of facts and principles, they become incapable of attending to the useful duties of life, and are wholly unable to rise to the higher efforts of virtue and patriotism. The Italian Governments, for their own ends, have restricted their subjects to the fine arts, but at the expense of the trade, the agriculture, and the civilization, of their dominions. The fabric of British power was not raised on the aesthetic principle. Take away our books, and give us pictures; shut up our schools and churches, and give us museums and galleries; instead of our looms and forges, substitute chisels and pencils; and farewell to our greatness. The artizan of Birmingham or Glasgow is a more civilised man than the same class in the Italian cities. His dwelling, too, displays an amount of comfort and elegance which few in Italy below the rank of princes, and not always they, can command. The condition of the Italian people shows conclusively that the predominating study of "the beautiful" has a most corrupting and enfeebling effect. In fact, their pictures have paved the way for their tyrants; and when one marks their demoralizing effects, he feels how salutary is the restriction of the Decalogue against their use in Divine worship. If pictures and images lead to idolatry in the Church, their exclusive study as infallibly produces serfdom in the State.
In the early dawn of the Reformation, several of our own countrymen visited the city of the Medici, that they might have access to the works of antiquity which Cosmo had collected, and enjoy the converse of the learned men that thronged his palace. "William Selling," says D'Aubigne, "a young English ecclesiastic, afterwards distinguished at Canterbury by his zeal in collecting valuable manuscripts,—his fellow-countrymen, Grocyn, Lilly, and Latimer, 'more bashful than a maiden,'—and, above all, Linacre, whom Erasmus ranked above all the scholars of Italy,—used to meet in the delicious villa of the Medici, with Politian, Chalcondyles, and other men of learning; and there, in the calm evenings of summer, under that glorious Tuscan sky, they dreamt romantic visions of the Platonic philosophy. When they returned to England, these learned men laid before the youth of Oxford the marvellous treasures of the Greek language." We are repaying the debt, by sending to that land a better philosophy than any these learned men ever brought from it. This leads us to speak of the religious movement in progress in Tuscany.
After all, man's power for evil is extremely limited. The very opposite is the ordinary estimate. When we mark the career of a conqueror like Napoleon, or the withering effects of an organization like that of Rome, and compare these with the feeble results of a preacher like Savonarola, whose body the fire reduced to ashes, and whose disciples persecution speedily scattered, we say that man's power to destroy his species is almost omnipotent,—his power to benefit them scarce appreciable. But spread out the long cycles of history and the long ages of the world, and you learn that the triumphs of evil, though sudden, are temporary, and those of truth slow but eternal. A true word spoken by a single man has in it more power than armies, and will, in the long run, do more to bless than all that tyrannies can do to blight mankind. Savonarola, feeble as he seemed, and unprotected as he was, wielded a power greater than that of Rome. The truths sown by the preacher on the banks of the Arno so many centuries ago are not yet dead. They are springing up; and, long after Rome shall have passed away, they will be a source of liberty, of civilization, of arts, and of eternal life, to his countrymen.
A political storm heralded the quiet spring-time of evangelical truth which has of late blessed that land. Prior to 1848, although there had been no change for the better in the law, a very considerable degree of practical liberty was enjoyed by the subjects of Tuscany. The Tuscans are naturally a quiet, well-behaved people; the Grand Duke was an easy, kind-hearted man; his Government was exceedingly mild; and, as he conducted himself towards his people like a father, he was greatly beloved by them. Tuscany at that period was universally acknowledged to be the happiest province of Italy.
The priesthood of those days were a good-natured, easy set of men also. They had never known opposition. They could not imagine the possibility of anything occurring to endanger their power, and therefore were exceedingly tolerant in the exercise of it. They were an illiterate and ill-informed race. An Abbatte of their own number assured Dr Stewart, so far back as 1845, that there was not one amongst them, from the Archbishop downwards, who could read Hebrew, nor half-a-dozen who could be found among the upper orders who could read Greek. They were masters of as much Latin as enabled them to get through the mass; but they were wholly unskilled in the modern tongues of Europe, and entire strangers to modern European literature. Though poorly paid, they durst not eke out their means of subsistence by entering into any trade. Many of them were fain to become major domos in rich families, and might be seen chaffering in the markets in the public piazza, and weighing out flour, coffee, and oil to the servants at home. No priest can say more than one mass a-day; and for that he is paid one lira, or eightpence sterling.
Such being the state of matters, little notice was taken of what foreign Protestants might be doing. The priests were secure in their ignorance, and deemed it impossible that any attempt would be made to introduce the diabolical heresies of Luther among their orthodox flocks. Indeed, these flocks were removed almost beyond the reach of contamination, not so much by the vigilance of the priests, as by their own ignorance and bigotry. The degree of popular enlightenment may be judged of from the following circumstance which happened to Dr Stewart, and of which the Doctor himself assured me Soon after his first coming into Tuscany in 1845, he came into contact with a countryman, who, on being told that he was a Protestant minister, began instantly to scrutinize his lower extremities, to ascertain whether he had cloven hoofs. The priests had told the people that Protestants were just devils in disguise.
The Government, I have said, was a mild one. It was more: it was affected with the usual Italian sluggishness and indolence,—the dolce far niente; and accordingly it winked at innumerable ongoings, so long as these did not attract public attention. Bibles and religious Protestant works were introduced secretly, the Government knowing it, but winking at it, as the Church did not complain. The arrest of the deputation from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to the Holy Land in 1839 was an exception to what I have now stated, but such an exception as confirms the general statement. The deputation, with the ignorance of us Britishers abroad for the first time, imagined that because Leghorn was a free port, they were free to give away Bibles, tracts, and all kinds of religious books; and accordingly they made vigorous use of their time. Scarcely had they stepped on shore when they commenced a liberal distribution of Bibles, books on the "Evidences," and other valuable works, among the boatmen, facchini, and beggars. It did not occur to them, that of those to whom they gave these books, few could read, and none were able to appreciate them. Many persons who received these books carried them to the priests, who, confounded at the suddenness as well as the boldness of the assault, carried them to the police, and the police to the Government; and before the deputation had been an hour and a half in Thomson's hotel, they were under arrest. It was the Church which compelled the Government to interfere; and it is the Church which is now driving forward the civil power in its mad career of persecution. As a proof that we bring no heavier charge against the priests than they deserve, we may mention, that in 1849 Dr Stewart was summoned to appear before the delegate of Government, to answer for having allowed one or two Italian Protestant ministers to preach in his pulpit. The delegate informed him that the Government was not taking this step of its own accord, but that the Archbishop of Florence was compelling the Government to put the law in force, and that the Archbishop was the prosecutor in the case.
The old statute of Ferdinand I., which allows to foreigners the full exercise of their religion within the city of Leghorn, was taken advantage of to open the Scotch church there. This was in 1845. It was two years after this,—in the winter of 1847-48,—that the religious movement first developed itself,—full six months before the revolutions and changes of 1848. The work was at first confined almost entirely to a handful of foreigners—Captain Pakenham; M. Paul, a Frenchman, and the Swiss pastor in Florence;—— at——; and Mr Thomson, Vice-Consul at Leghorn. Count Guicciardini was the only Florentine connected with the movement. It was resolved to print and circulate such books as were likely to pass the censorship, and might be openly sold by all booksellers. The censor of that day was a remarkably liberal man, and he gave his consent very willingly. Five or six little volumes were printed in that country; but the people were not yet prepared for such a step; the books lay unsold, and were got into circulation only by being given away as presents. But the very fact that the friends of the movement had been able to print and publish such works openly at Florence, with the approbation of the censor, greatly encouraged them. It was next proposed to attempt to get the censor's approbation to an edition of the New Testament; and the work was before him waiting his imprimatur, when the revolutions of 1848 broke over Italy with the suddenness of one of its own thunder-storms.
I cannot go particularly into the changes that followed, and which are known to my readers through other sources,—the flight of the Grand Duke,—the new Tuscan Constitution,—the free press. The political for a time buried the religious. Captain Pakenham, taking advantage of the liberty enjoyed under the republic, commenced printing an edition of Martini's Bible (the Romanist version), believing that it would be more acceptable than Diodati's (the Protestant version). Before he had got the book put into circulation, the re-action commenced, the Grand Duke returned, and the work was seized. When engaged in making the seizure, the gendarmes pressed a young apprentice printer to tell them whether there were any more copies concealed. The lad replied that he had only one suggestion to offer, which was, that, now they had seized the book, they should seize the author too. And who is he? eagerly inquired the gendarmes, preparing to start on the chase. Jesus Christ, was the lad's reply.
Meanwhile the revolution had greatly enlarged the privileges of the Waldensian Church in Piedmont, and three of her pastors, MM. Malan, Meille, and Geymonat, arrived in Florence in the winter of 1848-49, for the purpose of making themselves more familiar with the tongue and accent of the Tuscans, in order to be able to avail themselves of the greater openings of usefulness now presented to them, both in their own country and in central Italy.
They preached occasionally, and attended the prayer-meeting, which now greatly increased, and which was the only one at this time among the Florentines. Having by their visit helped forward the good work, these evangelists, after a six months' stay in Florence, returned to their own country.
A full year elapsed between the departure of the Waldensian brethren and the movement among the Florentines to obtain an Italian pastor. After much deliberation they resolved on this step, and in May 1850 a deputation set out for the Valleys, which, arriving at La Tour, prevailed on Professor Malan to accept of the charge at Florence. M. Malan returned to that city, and, on the 1st of July 1850, began his ministry, among a little flock of thirty persons, in the Swiss chapel Via del Seraglio, in which the Grisons had a right to Italian service. The work now went rapidly forward. Formerly there had been but one re-union; now there were ten in Florence alone, besides others in the towns and villages adjoining. M. Malan had service once a fortnight in Italian; and so large was the attendance, that the chapel, which holds four hundred, was crowded to the door with Florentine converts or inquirers. The priests took the alarm. They wrought upon the mind of the deformed Archduchess,—a great bigot, and sister to the Grand Duke. A likely tool she was; for she had made a pilgrimage to Rimini, and offered on the shrine of the winking Madonna a diamond tiara and bracelet. The result I need not state. The immediate result was, that the Italian service was put a stop to in January 1851; and the final result was the banishment of Malan and Geymonat from Tuscany in the May of that year,—the expulsion of the pastors being accompanied with circumstances of needless severity and ignominy. Geymonat, after lying two days in the Bargello of Florence, was brought forth and conducted on foot by gendarmes, chained like an assassin, to the Piedmontese frontier. On this miserable journey he was thrust every night into the common prison, along with characters of the worst description, whose blasphemies he was compelled to hear. The foul air and the disgusting food of these places made him sometimes despair of coming out alive; but he had his recompense in the opportunities which he thus enjoyed of preaching the gospel to the gendarmes by the way, and to the keepers of the prisons, some of whom heard him gladly.
The departure of the Vaudois pastors threw the work into the hands of the native converts, by whom it has been carried on ever since. It is to be feared that, in the absence of pastors, not a little that is political is mixed with the religious. It is difficult forming an estimate of the numbers of the converts and inquirers. They have meetings in all the towns of Tuscany and Lucca, between whom a constant intercourse is maintained. Each member subscribes two crazzia a-week for the purchase of Protestant religious books. To supply these books, two presses are at work,—one in Turin, the other in Florence. The latter is a secret press, which the police, with all their efforts, have not been able to this day to discover. The Bible can be got into Tuscany with great difficulty; yet the demand for it is greater than ever. The converts have been tried by every mode of persecution short of death; yet their numbers grow. The prisons are full with political and religious offenders; yet fresh arrests continually take place in Florence.
The first and more notable instance of persecution on which the Government of Tuscany ventured, after the banishment of Count Guicciardini and his companions, was the imprisonment of Francesco and Rosa Madiai, for reading the Word of God in the Italian language. The sufferings of these confessors turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel. The attention of many of their own countrymen was drawn to the cause of their sufferings; and the bigotry of the Grand Duke, or rather of the Court of Rome, with which the Tuscan Government had entered into a concordat for the suppression of heresy, was proclaimed before all Europe. A Protestant deputation visited Florence to intercede in behalf of these confessors; but their plea found so little favour with the Grand Duke, that he immediately issued a decree, reviving an old law which makes all offences against the religion of the State punishable by death. To provide for carrying the decree into effect, a guillotine was imported from Lucca, and an executioner was hired at a salary of ten pounds a month. As if this were not sufficiently explicit, the Grand Duke told his subjects that he was "determined to root out Protestantism from his State, though he should be handed down to posterity as a monster of cruelty." Neither the spectacle of the guillotine nor the terrible threat of the Grand Duke could arrest the progress of the good work. The Bible was sought after, and read in secret; and the numbers who left the communion of the Romish Church grew and multiplied daily. In the beginning of 1853, the Protestants, or Evangelicals as they prefer to call themselves in Tuscany, were estimated at many thousands. I doubt not that this estimate was correct, if viewed as including all who had separated their interests from the Church of Rome; but I just as little doubt that a majority of these, if brought to the test, rather than suffer would have denied the Gospel. Many of them knew it only as a political badge, not as a new life. But, on the judgment of those who had the best means of knowing, there were at least a thousand in Tuscany who had undergone a change of heart, and were prepared to confess Christ on the scaffold. To hunt out these peaceful ones, and bring them to punishment, is the grand object of the priesthood; and in the confessional they have an instrumentality ready-made for the purpose. Taking advantage of the greater timidity of the female mind, it has become a leading question with the confessor, "Does your husband read the Bible? Has he political papers?" Alas! according to the ancient prophecy, the brother delivers up the brother to death. I heard of some affecting cases of this sort when I was in Florence. Of the fifty persons, or thereabouts, who were then in prison on religious grounds, not a few had been accused by their own relatives, the accusation being extorted by the threat of withholding absolution. At the beginning of the English Reformation, with an infernal refinement of cruelty, children were often compelled to light the faggots which were to consume their parents; and in Tuscany at this hour, the trembling wife is compelled, by the threat of eternal damnation, to disclose the secret which is to consign the husband to a dungeon. The police are never far from the confessor's box, and wait only the signal from it, what house to visit, and whom to drag to prison. As with us in former days, the Bible is secreted in the most unlikely places; it is read at the dead hour of night; and the prayers and praises that follow are offered in whispering accents,—for fear of the priests and the guillotine.
Every subsidiary agency that might further the progress of the truth has been suppressed by the Government. All the liberal papers have been put down. They appeared again and again under new names, but only to encounter, under every form, the veto of the authorities. At last their whole printing establishments were confiscated. The public press having been silenced, the secret one continued to speak to the Tuscans from its hiding-place; and its voice was the more heard that the other was dumb. Besides Bibles, a variety of religious books have issued from it, and have been widely circulated. Among the translated works spread among the Tuscans are D'Aubigne's "History of the Reformation," M'Crie's "Suppression of the Reformation in Italy," "The Mother's Catechism," Watts' "Catechism," "The Pilgrim's Progress," and a variety of religious tracts. The prohibition of a book by the Government is sure to be followed by a universal demand for it; and the Government decree is thus the signal for going to press with a new edition of the forbidden work. Mr Gladstone's letters on Naples were prohibited by Government; and the very means adopted to keep the Tuscans ignorant of what Englishmen thought of the state of Naples, and of the Continent generally, only led to its being better known. Though not a single copy of these letters was to be seen in the shops or on the stalls, they found their way into every one's hands. The same thing happened to Count Guicciardini. The Government prohibited his statement, and all Florence read it. The well-known hatred of the priests to the Bible has been its best recommendation in the eyes of the Tuscans. Thus the Government finds that it cannot move a step without inflicting deadly damage on its own interests. Its interposition is fatal only to the cause it seeks to help. To prohibit a book is to publish it; to bring a man to trial is to give liberty an opportunity of speaking through his advocate; to cast a confessor of the Lord Jesus into prison is but to erect a light-house amidst the Tuscan darkness. The Government and the priesthood find that their efforts are foiled and their might paralyzed by a mysterious power, which they know not how to grapple with. The guillotine has stood unused: not that any scruples of conscience or any feelings of humanity restrain the priests; fain would they bring every convert to the scaffold if they dared; but the odium which they well know would attend such a deed deters them; and they anxiously wait the coming of a time when it may be safe to do what could not be done at present but at the risk of damaging, and perhaps ruining, their cause. It does not follow that the Tuscan priesthood have not the guilt of blood to answer for. If the confessors of the Gospel in that land are not perishing by the guillotine, they are pining in prisons, and sinking into the grave, by reason of the choking stench, the disgusting vermin, and the insufficient food, to which they are exposed.
But the condition of these victims, perishing unknown and unpitied in the fangs of an ecclesiastical tyranny, is not the most distressing spectacle which Tuscany at this hour presents. Theirs is an enviable state, compared with that of the great body of the people. These occupy but a larger prison, and groan in yet stronger fetters; while their captivity is uncheered by any such hope as that which sustains the Tuscan confessors of the truth. Mistrust of their Church is widely spread in the country. There is no religion in Tuscany. There is as little morality. The marriage vow is but little regarded, and the seducer boasts of his triumphs over married chastity, as if they were praiseworthy deeds. Thousands have plunged into atheism. Of those who have not gone this length, the great body are dissatisfied, ill at ease, without confidence in the doctrines of Rome, but ignorant of a more excellent way. Straitly shut up, they grope blindfolded round the walls of their prison-house, wistfully turning their eyes to any ray of light that strikes in through its crevices. How this state of things may end is known only to God;—whether in the gradual spread of Gospel light, and the peaceful fall of that system which has so long enthralled the intellect and soul of the Tuscans; or whether, as a result of the growing exasperation and deepening horrors of these bondsmen, they may give a violent wrench to the pillars of the ecclesiastical and social fabric, and pull it down upon the heads of themselves and their oppressors.
I may avail myself of this opportunity of introducing a few recent facts relative to the analogous work in Genoa; and this I do because these facts are of a character which may enable the reader more clearly to conceive of the present religious condition of Italy, and the state of the movement in that country.
The north of Italy and kingdom of Sardinia, as I have already said, since the Constitution granted in 1848, is open to the promulgation of evangelical truth; that is, it may be taught in almost every conceivable way, provided it is not done offensively or obtrusively. While the religion of the State is Roman Catholic, there is toleration and liberty of conscience to all; indeed, there is no religion at all. The king cares for none of these things, and most of his Ministers are at one with him. The present Ministry is Liberal; and Count Cavour is, to all intents and purposes, Radical. It is said that he declares he will never rest until Sardinia is another England. The Constitution is something very similar to that of England, and only requires to be developed. The present Government, however, is more liberal than the Constitution; and the Constitution gives more liberty than the majority of the people are yet able to receive: hence collision frequently takes place. Old statutes are still unrepealed; and the priest party compels the Government to do things which they are very unwilling to do. For example, one of the Cereghini was recently tried, and condemned to pay a fine of two hundred pauls, and go to prison for four months, for having some little thing to do in publishing a small controversial catechism against the Romish Church, and vending it rather too openly. An appeal was made against the sentence, and it stands unexecuted, and will do. As a matter of law, the executive Government is obliged to take up such cases and deal with them; and the nobility or priesthood—for they are one and the same—are ever on the look-out for such cases. The case of Captain Pakenham, who was expelled from Sardinia, comes under this head. The Constitution is the same now as it was then; only it is further developed in the minds of the people, and the same offence would not now likely meet the same unjust punishment, or create the same stir among the people, as it did then. But Captain Pakenham need not have been expelled from the State if our British Ministers in Sardinia had done their duty; but they are sometimes only too glad to get quit of such men as Captain Pakenham. If they had protested against the sentence, it would never have been executed. Such a thing would never have occurred to an American subject. "British residents or travellers in Italy," writes one to us, "will never have any comfort or satisfaction under the union-jack, until the present race of consuls and plenipotentiaries, sitting in high places, truckling with petty kings and grand dukes, is hanged, every one of them. There is an obliging old consul at Rome who might be exempted."