The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 12/Letters from Italy/Part V
FROM FERRARA TO ROME.
Oct. 16, 1786, early in the morning.
And on board the packet.
My travelling companions, male and female alike, are all still fast asleep in their berths. For my part, I have passed the two nights on deck, wrapped up in my cloak. It was only toward morning that I felt it getting cold. I am now actually in latitude forty-five, and yet go on repeating my old song,—I would gladly leave all to the inhabitants of the land, if only, after the fashion of Dido, I could enclose enough of the heavens to surround our dwellings with. It would then be quite another state of existence. The voyage in this glorious weather has been most delightful, the views and prospects simple, but agreeable. The Po, with its fertilising stream, flows here through wide plains. Nothing, however, is to be seen but its banks covered with trees or bushes: you catch no distant view. On this river, as on the Adige, are silly water-works, which are as rude and ill-constructed as those on the Saal.
Ferrara, Oct. 16, 1786.
Although I only arrived here early this morning (by seven o'clock, German time), I am thinking of setting off again to-morrow morning. For the first time since I left home, a feeling of dissatisfaction has fallen upon me in this great and beautiful, but flat and depopulated city. These streets, now so desolate, were, however, once kept in animation by a brilliant court. Here dwelt Ariosto discontented, and Tasso unhappy; and so we fancy we gain edification by visiting such scenes. Ariosto's monument contains much marble, ill arranged: for Tasso's prison they show a wood-house or coal-house, where, most assuredly, he never was kept. Moreover, the people pretend to know scarcely anything you may ask about. But at last, for "something to drink" they manage to remember. All this brings to my mind Luther's ink-spots, which the housekeeper freshens up from time to time. Most travellers, however, are little better than our Handwerksburschen, or strolling journeymen, and content themselves with such palpable signs. For my part, I grew quite sulky, and took little interest, even in a beautiful institute and academy which a cardinal, a native of Ferrara, founded and endowed. However, some ancient monuments in the Ducal Palace served to revive me a little; and I was put in perfect good humour by a beautiful conception of a painter,—John the Baptist before Herod and Herodias. The prophet, in his well-known dress of the wilderness, is pointing indignantly at Herodias. Quite unmoved, she looks at the prince, who is sitting by her side, while the latter regards the prophet with a calm but cunning look. A white, middle-sized greyhound stands before the king, while from beneath the robe of Herodias a small Italian one is peeping, both barking at the prophet. To my mind, this is a most happy thought.
Cento, Oct. 17, 1786.
In a better temper than yesterday I write you today from Guercino's native city. It is, however, quite a different place,—a hospitable, well-built little town of nearly five thousand inhabitants, flourishing, full of life, cleanly, and situated in a well-cultivated plain, which stretches farther than the eye can reach. According to my usual custom, I ascended the tower. A sea of poplars, between which, and near at hand, one catches glimpses of little country-houses, each surrounded by its fields. A rich soil and a beautiful climate. It was an autumn evening, such as we seldom have to thank even summer for. The sky, which has been veiled all day, has cleared up, the clouds rolling off north and south toward the mountains, and I hope to-morrow will be a bright day.
Here I first saw the Apennines, which I am approaching. The winter in this region lasts only through December and January. April is rainy. The rest of the year the weather is beautiful, according to the nature of the season. Incessant rain is unknown. September here, to tell you the truth, was finer and warmer than August with you. The Apennines in the south have received a warm greeting from me, for I have now had enough of the plain. To-morrow I shall be writing at the foot of them.
Guercino loved his native town: indeed, the Italians almost universally cherish and maintain this sort of local patriotism; and it is to this beautiful feeling that Italy owes so many of its valuable institutions and its multitude of local sanctuaries. Under the management of this master, an academy of painting was formed here. He left behind him many paintings, of which his townsmen are still very proud, and which, indeed, fully justify their pride.
Guercino is here a sacred name, and that, too, in the mouths of children as well as of the old.
Most charmed was I with his picture representing the risen Lord appearing to his mother. Kneeling before him, she looks upon him with indescribable affection. Her left hand is touching his body just under the confounded wound, which mars the whole picture. His hand lies upon her neck; and, in order the better to gaze upon her, his body is slightly bent back. This gives to his figure a somewhat strange, not to say forced, appearance. And yet, for all that, it is infinitely beautiful. The calm and sad look with which he contemplates her is unique, and seems to convey the impression that before his noble soul there still floats a remembrance of his own sufferings and of hers, which the resurrection had not at once dispelled.
Strange has engraved the picture. I wish that my friends could see even his copy of it.
After it a Madonna won my admiration. The child wants the breast: she modestly shrinks from exposing her bosom. Natural, noble, exquisite, and beautiful.
Further, a Mary, who is guiding the arm of the infant Christ, standing before her with his face toward the people, in order that with uplifted fingers he may bestow his blessings upon them. Judged by the spirit of Roman Catholic mythology, this is a very happy idea, which has often been repeated.
Guercino is an intrinsically bold, masculine, sensible painter, without roughness. On the contrary, his pieces possess a certain tender moral grace, a reposeful freedom and grandeur, but, with all that, a certain mannerism, so that, when the eye once has grown accustomed to it, it is impossible to mistake a piece of his hand. The lightness, cleanness, and finish of his touch are perfectly astonishing. For his draperies he is particularly fond of a beautiful brownish red blend of colours. These harmonise very well with the blue which he is fond of combining with them.
The subjects of the other paintings are more or less unhappily chosen. The good artist has strained all his powers, but his invention and execution alike are thrown away and wasted. However, I derived both entertainment and profit from the view of this cycle of art, although such a hasty and rapid glance as I could alone bestow upon them affords but little of either gratification or instruction.
Bologna, Oct. 18, 1786.
First of all, the Cecilia of Raphael. It was exactly what I had been told of it, but now I saw it with my own eyes. He has invariably accomplished that which others wished in vain to accomplish, and I would at present say no more of it than that it is by him. Five saints, side by side; not one of them has anything in common with us: however, their existence stands so perfectly real, that one would wish for the picture to last through eternity, even though for himself he could be content to be annihilated. But in order to understand Raphael aright, and to form a just appreciation of him, and not to praise him as a god, or as Melchisedec, "without descent" or pedigree, it is necessary to study his masters and his predecessors. These, too, had a standing on the firm soil of truth. Diligently, not to say anxiously, they had laid the foundation, and vied with each other in raising, step by step, the pyramid aloft, until at last, profiting by all their labours, and enlightened by a heavenly genius, Raphael set the last stone on the summit, above which, or even at which, no one else can ever stand.
Our interest in the history of art becomes peculiarly lively when we consider the works of the old masters. Francesco Francia is a very respectable artist; Pietro Perugino, so bold a man, that one might almost call him a noble German fellow. Oh, that fate had carried Albert Dürer farther into Italy! In Munich I saw a couple of pieces by him of incredible grandeur. Poor man! how he mistook his own worth in Venice, and made an agreement with the priests, on which he lost weeks and months! See him, in his journey through the Netherlands, exchanging his noble works of art for parrots, and, in order to save his douceur, drawing the portraits of the domestics, who bring him—a plate of fruit. To me the history of such a poor fool of an artist is infinitely touching.
Toward evening I got out of this ancient, venerable, and learned city, and extricated myself from its crowds, who, protected from the sun and weather by the arched bowers which are to be seen in almost every street, walk about, gape about, or buy and sell, and transact whatever business they may have. I ascended the tower, and enjoyed the pure air. The view is glorious. To the north we see the hills of Padua; beyond them the Swiss, Tyrolese, and Friulian Alps,—in short, the whole northern chain, which at the time was enveloped in mist. Westward there stretched a boundless horizon, above which the towers of Modena alone stood out. Toward the east a similar plain, reaching to the shores of the Adriatic, whose waters might be discerned in the setting sun. Toward the south, the first hills of the Apennines, which, like the Vicentine Hills, are planted up to their summits, or covered with churches, palaces, and summer-houses. The sky was perfectly clear, not a cloud to be seen, only on the horizon a kind of haze. The keeper of the tower assured me, that, for six years, this mist had never left the distance. Otherwise, by the help of a telescope, you might easily discern the hills of Vicenza, with their houses and chapels, but now very rarely, even on the brightest days. And this mist lay chiefly on the northern chain, and makes our beloved fatherland a regular Cimmeria. In proof of the salubrity of the situation, and pure atmosphere of the city, he called my notice to the fact that the roofs of the houses looked quite fresh, and that not a single tile was attacked by damp or moss. It must be confessed that the tiles look quite clean, and beautiful enough: but the good quality of the brick-earth may have something to do with this; at least we know, that, in ancient times, excellent tiles were made in these parts.
The Leaning Tower has a frightful look, and yet it is most probable that it was built so by design. The following seems to me the explanation of this absurdity. In the disturbed times of the city, every large edifice was a fortress, and every powerful family had its tower. By and by the possession of such a building became a mark of splendour and distinction; and as, at last, a perpendicular tower was a common and every-day thing, an oblique one was built. Both architect and owner have obtained their object: the multitude of slender, upright towers are just looked at, and all hurry to see the leaning one. Afterward I ascended it. The bricks are all arranged horizontally. With clamps and good cement one may build any mad whim.
Bologna, Oct. 19, 1786.
I have spent this day to the best advantage I could in visiting and revisiting. But it is with art as with the world: the more we study it, the larger we find it. In this heaven, new stars are constantly appearing which I cannot count, and which sadly puzzle me,—the Carracci, a Guido, a Domenichino, who shone forth in a later and happier period of art, but whom truly to enjoy requires both knowledge and judgment which I do not possess, and which cannot be acquired in a hurry. A great obstacle to our taking a pure delight in their pictures, and to an immediate understanding of their merits, are the absurd subjects of most of them. To admire or to be charmed with them one must be a madman.
It is as though the sons of God had wedded with the daughters of men, and out of such a union many a monster had sprung into existence. No sooner are you attracted by the gusto of a Guido and his pencil, by which nothing but the most excellent objects the eye sees are worthy to be painted, but you at once withdraw your eyes from a subject so abominably stupid that the world has no term of contempt sufficient to express its meanness; and so it is throughout. It is ever anatomy, an execution, a flaying scene; always some suffering, never an action of the hero, never an interest in the scene before you; always something for the fancy, some excitement accruing from without. Nothing but deeds of horror or convulsive sufferings, malefactors or fanatics, alongside of whom the artist, in order to save his art, invariably slips in a naked boy or a pretty damsel, as a spectator, in every case treating his spiritual heroes as little better than lay figures (Gliedermanner) on which to hang some beautiful mantle with its folds. In all there is nothing that suggests a human notion. Scarcely one subject in ten that ever ought to have been painted, and that one the painter has chosen to view from any but the right point of view.
Guido's great picture in the Church of the Mendicants is all that painting can do, but, at the same time, all that absurdity could task an artist with. It is a votive piece. I can well believe that the whole consistory praised it, and also that they devised it. The two angels, who were fit to console a Psyche in her misery, must here …
The St. Proclus is a beautiful figure, but the others—bishops and popes! Below are heavenly children playing with attributes. The painter, who had no choice left him, laboured to help himself as best he could. He exerted himself merely to show that he was not the barbarian. Two naked figures by Guido, a St. John in the Wilderness, a Sebastian—how exquisitely painted, and what do they say? The one is gaping and the other wriggling.
Were I to contemplate history in my present ill humour, I should say, faith revived art, but superstition immediately made itself master of it, and ground it to the dust.
After dinner, seeming somewhat of a milder temper, and less arrogantly disposed than in the morning, I entered the following remarks in my note-book. In the Palace of the Tanari there is a famous picture by Guido,—the Virgin suckling the infant Saviour, of a size rather larger than life, the head as if a god had painted it. Indescribable is the expression with which she gazes upon the suckling infant. To me it seems a calm, profound resignation, as if she were nourishing, not the child of her joy and love, but a supposititious, heavenly changeling, and goes on suckling it because now she cannot do otherwise, although in deep humility she wonders how she ever came to do it. The rest of the canvas is filled up with a mass of drapery which connoisseurs highly prize. For my part, I know not what to make of it. The colours, too, are somewhat dim. The room and the day were none of the brightest.
Notwithstanding the confusion in which I find myself, I yet feel that experience, knowledge, and taste already come to my aid in these mazes. Thus I was greatly won by a Circumcision by Guercino, for I have begun to know and to understand the man. I can now pardon the intolerable subject, and delight in the masterly execution. Let him paint whatever can be thought of: everything will be praiseworthy, and as highly finished as if it were enamel.
And thus it happened with me, as with Balaam, the overruled prophet, who blessed where he thought to curse. And I fear this would be the case still oftener, were I to stay here much longer.
And then, again, if one happens to meet with a picture after Raphael, or what may with at least some probability be ascribed to him, one is soon perfectly cured, and in good temper again. I fell in yesterday with a St. Agatha, a rare picture, though not throughout in good keeping. The artist has given to her the mien of a young maiden full of health and self-possession, but yet without rusticity or coldness. I have stamped on my mind both her form and look, and shall mentally read before her my "Iphigenia," and shall not allow my heroine to express a sentiment which the saint herself might not give utterance to.
And now, when I think again of this sweet burden which I carry with me throughout my wanderings, I cannot conceal the fact, that, besides the great objects of nature and art which I have yet to work my way through, a wonderful train of poetical images keeps rising before me, and unsettling me. From Cento to this place I have been wishing to continue my labours on the "Iphigenia;" but what has happened? Inspiration has brought before my mind the plan of an "Iphigenia at Delphi," and I must work it out. I will here set down the argument as briefly as possible.
Electra, confidently hoping that Orestes will bring to Delphi the image of the Taurian Diana, makes her appearance in the Temple of Apollo, and, as a final sin-offering, dedicates to the god the axe which has perpetrated so many horrors in the house of Pelops. Unhappily, she is at this moment joined by a Greek, who recounts to her how, having accompanied Pylades and Orestes to Tauris, he there saw the two friends led to execution, but had himself luckily made his escape. At this news, the passionate Electra is unable to restrain herself, and knows not whether to vent her rage against the gods, or against men.
In the meantime, Iphigenia, Orestes, and Pylades have arrived at Delphi. The heavenly calmness of Iphigenia contrasts remarkably with the earthly vehemence of Electra, as the two sisters meet without knowing each other. The fugitive Greek gains sight of Iphigenia, and, recognising in her the priestess who was to have sacrificed the two friends, makes it known to Electra. The latter, snatching the axe from the altar, is on the point of killing Iphigenia, whan a happy incident averts this last fearful calamity from the two sisters. This situation, if only I can succeed in working it out well, will probably furnish a scene unequalled for grandeur or pathos by any that has yet been produced on the stage. But where is man to get time and hands for such a work, even if the spirit be willing?
As I feel myself at present somewhat oppressed with such a flood of thoughts of the good and desirable, I cannot help reminding my friends of a dream which I had about a year ago, and which appeared to me to be highly significant. I dreamed, forsooth, that I had been sailing about in a little boat, and had landed on a fertile and richly cultivated island of which I had a consciousness that it bred the most beautiful pheasants in the world. I bargained, I thought, with the people of the island for some of these birds; and they killed and brought them to me in great numbers. They were pheasants, indeed; but as, in dreams, all things are generally changed and modified, they seemed to have long, richly coloured tails, like the loveliest birds-of-paradise, and with eyes like those of the peacock. Bringing them to me by scores, they arranged them in the boat so skilfully, with the heads inwards, the long, variegated feathers of the tail hanging outward, as to form in the bright sunshine the most glorious pile conceivable, and so large as scarcely to leave room enough in the bow and the stern for the rower and the steersman. As with this load the boat made its way through the tranquil waters, I named to myself the friends among whom I should like to distribute those variegated treasures. At last, arriving in a spacious harbour, I was almost lost among great and many-masted vessels, as I mounted deck after deck in order to discover a place where I might safely run my little boat ashore.
Such dreamy visions have a charm; inasmuch as, springing from our mental state, they possess more or less of analogy with the rest of our lives and fortunes.
Here, again, a former thought occurred to me; and I could not but reflect on the pertinacity, which in spite of time, which changes all things, man shows in adhering to the old shapes of his public buildings, even long after they have been applied to new purposes. Our churches still retain the form of the basilica, although, probably, the plan of the temple would better suit our worship. In Italy the courts of justice are as spacious and lofty as the means of a community are able to make them. One can almost fancy himself to be in the open air, where justice used once to be administered. And do we not build our great theatres, with their offices under a roof, exactly similar to those of the first theatrical booths of a fair, which were hurriedly put together of planks? The vast multitude of those in whom, about the time of the Reformation, a thirst for knowledge was awakened, obliged the scholars at our universities to take shelter as they could in the burghers' houses; and it was very long before any colleges for pupils (Waisenhäuser) were built, thereby facilitating for poor youths the acquirement of the necessary education for the world.
But now I have also been to the famed scientific building called the Institution, or Gli Studj. The edifice is large; and the inner court especially has a very imposing appearance, although not of the best style of architecture. In the staircases and corridors there was no want of stuccos and frescoes. They are all appropriate and suitable; and the numerous objects of beauty, which, well worth seeing, are here collected together, justly command our admiration. For all that, however, a German accustomed to a more liberal course of study than is here pursued will not be altogether content with it.
Bologna, Oct. 20, 1786.
The whole of this bright and beautiful day I have spent in the open air. I scarcely ever come near a mountain, but my interest in rocks and stones again revives, I feel as did Antæus of old, who found himself endued with new strength as often as he was brought into fresh contact with his mother-earth. I rode toward Palermo, where is found the so-called Bolognese sulphate of barytes, out of which are made the little cakes, which, being calcined, shine in the dark, if previously they have been exposed to the light, and which the people here call, shortly and expressively, "phosphori."
On the road, after leaving behind me a hilly track of argillaceous sandstone, I came upon whole rocks of selenite, quite visible on the surface. Near a brick-kiln a cascade precipitates its waters, into which many smaller ones also empty themselves. At first sight the traveller might suppose he saw before him a loamy hill, which had been worn away by the rain: on closer examination, I discovered its true nature to be as follows: the solid rock of which this part of the line of hills consists is schistous, bituminous clay of very fine strata, and alternating with gypsum. The schistous stone is so intimately blended with pyrites, that, exposed to the air and moisture, it wholly changes its nature. It swells, the strata gradually disappear, and there is formed a kind of potter's clay, crumbling, shelly, and glittering on the surface like stone-coal. It is only by examining large pieces of both (I myself broke several, and observed the forms of both), that it is possible to convince one's self of the transition and change. At the same time we observed the shelly strata studded with white points, and occasionally, also, variegated with yellow particles. In this way, by degrees, the whole surface crumbles away; and the hill looks like a mass of weatherworn pyrites on a large scale. Among the lamina some are harder, of a green and red colour. Pyrites I very often found disseminated in the rock.
I now passed along the channels which the last violent gullies of rain had worn in the crumbling rock, and, to my great delight, found many specimens of the desired barytes, mostly of an imperfect egg-shape, peeping out in several places of the friable stone, some tolerably pure, and some slightly mingled with the clay in which they were embedded. That they have not been carried hither by external agency, any one may convince himself at the first glance. Whether they were contemporaneous with the schistous clay, or whether they first arose from the swelling and dissolving of the latter, is matter calling for further inquiry. Of the specimens I found, the larger and smaller approximated to an imperfect egg-shape: the smallest might be said to verge upon irregular crystalline forms. The heaviest of the pieces I brought away weighed seventeen loth (eight ounces and a half). Loose in the same clay, I also found perfect crystals of gypsum. Mineralogists will be able to point out further peculiarities in the specimens I bring with me. And I was now again loaded with stones! I have packed up at least half a quarter of a hundred-weight.
Oct. 20, 1786. In the night.
How much I should have still to say, were I to attempt to confess to you all that has this beautiful day passed through my mind! But my wishes are more powerful than my thoughts. I feel myself hurried irresistibly forward. It is only with an effort that I can collect myself sufficiently to attend to what is before me. And it seems as if Heaven heard my secret prayer. Word has just been brought me, that there is a vetturino going straight to Rome; and so, the day after to-morrow, I shall set out direct for that city. I must, therefore, to-day and to-morrow, look after my affairs, make all my little arrangements, and despatch my many commissions.
Lugano on the Apennines,
Oct. 21,1786. Evening.
Whether I to-day was driven from Bologna by myself, or whether I have been ejected from it, I cannot say. Suffice it, that I eagerly availed myself of an earlier opportunity of quitting it. And so here I am at a wretched inn, in company with an officer of the Pope's army, who is going to Perugia, where he was born. In order to say something, as I seated myself by his side in the two-wheeled carriage, I paid him the compliment of remarking, that, as a German accustomed to associate with soldiers, I found it very agreeable to have to travel with an officer of the Pope. "Pray do not," he replied, "be offended at what I am about to answer. It is all very well for you to be fond of the military profession; for in Germany, as I have heard, everything is military. But with regard to myself, although our service is light enough,—so that in Bologna, where I am in garrison, I can do just as I like,—still I heartily wish I were rid of this jacket, and had the disposal of my father's little property. But I am a younger son, and so must be content."
Oct. 22, 1786. Evening.
Here at Giredo, which also is a little paltry place on the Apennines, I feel quite happy, knowing that I am advancing toward the gratification of my dearest wishes. To-day we were joined by a riding party,—a gentleman and a lady, an Englishman and a soi-disant. Their horses are beautiful; but they ride unattended by any servants, and the gentleman, as it appears, acts the part both of groom and valet de chambre. everywhere they find something to complain of. To listen to them is like reading a few pages out of Archenholz's book.
To me the Apennines are a most remarkable portion of the world. The great plains of the basin of the Po are followed by a hilly tract which rises out of the bottom, in order, after running between the two seas, to form the southern extremity of the continent. If the hills had been not quite so steep and high above the level of the sea, and had not their directions crossed and recrossed each other as they do, the ebb and flow of the tides in primeval times might have exercised a greater and wider influence on them, and might have washed over and formed extensive plains; in which case this would have been one of the most beautiful regions of this glorious clime,—somewhat higher than the rest of it. As it is, however, it is a strong net of mountain-ridges, interlacing each other in all directions. One often is puzzled to know whither the waters will find their vent. If the valleys were better filled up, and the bottoms flatter and more irrigated, the land might be compared to Bohemia, only that the mountains have in every respect a different character. However, it must not for one moment be thought of as a mountainous waste, but as a highly cultivated though hilly district. The chestnut grows very fine here; the wheat excellent, and that of this year's sowing is already of a beautiful green. Along the roads are planted evergreen oaks with their small leaves; but around the churches and chapels, the slim cypress.
Perugia, Oct. 25, 1786.
For two evenings I have not been writing. The inns on the road were so wretchedly bad, that it was quite useless to think of bringing out a sheet of paper. Moreover, I begin to be a little puzzled to find a anything; for, since quitting Venice, the travelling-bag has got more and more into confusion.
Early in the morning (at twenty-three o'clock, or about ten of our reckoning) we left the region of the Apennines, and saw Florence in an extensive valley, which is highly cultivated, and sprinkled over with villas and houses without end.
I ran rapidly over the city, the cathedral, the baptistery. Here, again, a perfectly new and unknown world opened upon me, on which, however, I will not further dwell. The gardens of the Botoli are most delightfully situated. I hastened out of them as fast as I had entered them.
In the city we see the proof of the prosperity of the generations who built it. The conviction is at once forced upon us, that they must have enjoyed a long succession of wise rulers, but, above all, one is struck with the beauty and grandeur which distinguish all the public works and roads and bridges in Tuscany. Everything here is at once substantial and clean. Use and profit, not less than elegance, are alike kept in view: everywhere we discern traces of the care which is taken to preserve them. The cities of the Papal States, on the contrary, only seem to stand because the earth is unwilling to swallow them up.
The sort of country that I lately remarked the region of the Apennines might have been, is what Tuscany really is. As it lies so much lower, the ancient sea was able to do its duty properly, and has thrown up here deep beds of excellent marl. It is a light yellow hue, and easily worked. They plough deep, retaining, however, most exactly the ancient manner. Their ploughs have no wheels, and the share is not movable. Bowed down behind his oxen, the peasant pushes it down into the earth, and turns up the soil. They plough over a field as many as five times, and use but little dung, which they scatter with the hands. After this, they sow the corn. Then they plough together two of the smaller ridges into one, and so form deep trenches, of such a nature that the rainwater easily runs off the lands into them. When the corn is grown up on the ridges, they can also pass along these trenches in order to weed it. This way of tilling is a very sensible one wherever there is a fear of overmoisture; but why it is practised on these rich open plains I cannot understand. This remark I just made at Arezzo, where a glorious plain expands itself. It is impossible to find cleaner fields anywhere. Not even a lump of earth is to be seen: all is as fine as if it had been sifted. Wheat thrives here most luxuriantly, and the soil seems to possess all the qualities required by its nature. Every second year, beans are planted for the horses, who in this country get no oats. Lupines are also much cultivated, which at this season are beautifully green, being ripe in March. The flax, too, is up. It stands the winter, and is rendered more durable by frost.The olive-trees are strange plants. They look very much like willows: like them, also, they lose the heart of the wood, and the bark splits. But still they have a greater appearance of durability; and one sees from the wood, of which the grain is extremely fine, that it is a slow grower. The foliage, too, resembles that of the willow, only the leaves on the branches are thinner. All the hills around Florence are covered with olive-trees and vines, between which grain is sown; so that every spot of ground may be made profitable. Near Arezzo, and farther on, the fields are left more free. I observed that they take little care to eradicate the ivy, which is so injurious to the olive and the vine, although it would be so easy to destroy it. There is not a meadow to be seen. It is said that the Indian corn exhausts the soil. Since it has been introduced, agriculture has suffered in its other crops. I can well believe it with their scanty manuring.
Yesterday I took leave of my captain with a promise of visiting him at Bologna on my return. He is a true representative of the majority of his countrymen. Here, however, I would record a peculiarity which personally distinguished him. As I often sat quiet, and lost in thought, he once exclaimed, "Che pensa? non deve mai pensar l'uomo, pensando s'invecchia;" which, being interpreted, is as much as to say, "What are you thinking about? A man ought never to think. Thinking makes one old." And now for another apothegm of his: "Non deve fermarsi l'uomo in una sola cosa, perche allora divien matto; bisogna aver mille cose, una confusione nella testa;" in plain English, "A man ought not to rivet his thoughts exclusively on any one thing: otherwise he is sure to go mad. He ought to have in his head a thousand things, a regular medley."
Certainly the good man could not know that the very thing which made me so thoughtful was my having my head mazed by a regular confusion of things, old and new. The following anecdote will serve to elucidate still more clearly the mental character of an Italian of this class. Having soon discovered that I was a Protestant, he observed, after some circumlocution, that he hoped I would allow him to ask me a few questions; for he had heard such strange things about us Protestants, that he wished to know for a certainty what to think of us. "May you," he said, "live with a pretty girl without being married to her? do your priests allow you to do so?" To this I replied, that "our priests are prudent folk, who take no notice of such trifles. No doubt, if we were to consult them upon such a matter, they would not permit it." "Are you, then, not obliged to ask them?" he exclaimed. "Happy fellows! as they do not confess you, they of course do not find it out." Hereupon he gave vent, in many reproaches, to his discontent with his own priests, uttering at the same time loud praises of our liberty. "But," he continued, "as regards confession: how stands it with you? We are told that all men, even if they are not Christians, must confess, but that inasmuch as many, from their obduracy, are debarred from the right way, they nevertheless make confession to an old tree; which, indeed, is impious and ridiculous enough, but yet serves to show, that at least they recognise the necessity of confession." Upon this I explained to him our Lutheran notions of confession, and our practice concerning it. All this appeared to him very easy, for he expressed an opinion that it was almost the same as confessing to a tree. After a brief hesitation, he begged of me very gravely to inform him correctly on another point. He had, forsooth, heard from the mouth of his own confessor (who, he said, was a truthful man), that we Protestants are at liberty to marry our own sisters; which assuredly is a chose un peu forte. As I denied this to be the case, and attempted to give him a more favourable opinion of our doctrine, he made no special remark on the latter, which evidently appeared to him a very ordinary and every-day sort of a thing, but turned aside my remarks by a new question." We have been assured," he observed, "that Frederick the Great, who has won so many victories, even over the faithful, and filled the world with his glory,—that he whom every one takes to be a heretic is really a Catholic, and has received a dispensation from the Pope to keep the fact secret. For while, as is well known, he never enters any of your churches, he diligently attends the true worship in a subterranean chapel, though with a broken heart, because he dare not openly avow the holy religion, since, were he to do so, his Prussians, who are a brutish people and furious heretics, would no doubt murder him on the instant; and to risk that would do no good to the cause. On these grounds the Holy Father has given him permission to worship in secret, in return for which he quietly does as much as possible to propagate and to favour the true and only saving faith." I allowed all this to pass, merely observing, as it was so great a secret, no one could be a witness to its truth. The rest of our conversation was nearly of the same cast; so that I could not but admire the shrewd priests, who sought to parry and to distort whatever was likely to enlighten or vary the dark outline of their traditional dogmas.
I left Perugia on a glorious morning, and felt the happiness of being once more alone. The site of the city is beautiful, and the view of the lake in the highest degree refreshing. These scenes are deeply impressed on my memory. At first the road went downwards, then it entered a cheerful valley enclosed on both sides by distant hills, till at last Assisi lay before us.
Here, as I had learned from Palladio and Volckmann, a noble Temple of Minerva, built in the time of Augustus, was still standing, in perfect repair. At Madonna del Angelo, therefore, I quitted my vetturino, leaving him to proceed by himself to Foligno, and set off, in the face of a strong wind, for Assisi; for I longed for a foot-journey through a country so solitary for me. I left on my left the vast mass of churches, piled Babel-wise one over another (in one of which rest the remains of the holy St. Francis of Assisi), with aversion; for I thought to myself, that the people who assembled in them were mostly of the same stamp as my captain and travelling-companion. Having asked of a good-looking youth the way to the Della Minerva, he accompanied me to the top of the town, for it lies on the side of a hill. At last we reached what is properly the old town; and, behold! before my eyes stood the noble edifice,—the first complete memorial of antiquity that I had ever seen. A modest temple, as befitting so small a town, and yet so perfect, so well conceived, that anywhere it would be an ornament. Moreover, in these matters, how grand were the ancients in the choice of their sites! The temple stands about half-way up the mountain, where two hills meet on the level place which is to this day called the Piazza. This itself slightly rises, and is intersected by the meeting of four roads, which make a somewhat dilated St. Andrew's cross. Probably the houses which are now opposite the temple, and block up the view from it, were not standing there in ancient times. If they were removed, we should have a south prospect over a rich and fertile country, and at the same time the Temple of Minerva would be visible from all sides. The line of the roads is, in all probability, very ancient, since they follow the shape and inclination of the hill. The temple does not stand in the centre of the flat; but its site is so arranged, that the traveller approaching from Rome catches a fine foreshortened view of it. To give an idea of it, it is necessary to draw, not only the building itself, but also its happily chosen site.
Looking at the façade, I could not sufficiently admire the genius-like identity of design which the architects have here as elsewhere maintained. The order is Corinthian, the inter-columnar spaces being somewhat above two modules. The bases of the columns and the plinths seem to rest on pedestals, but it is only an appearance. The socle is cut through in five places; and, at each of these, five steps ascend between the columns, and bring you to a level, on which properly the columns rest, and from which, also, you enter the temple. The bold idea of cutting through the socle was happily hazarded; for, as the temple is situated on a hill, the flight of steps must otherwise have been carried up to such a height as would have inconveniently narrowed the area of the temple. As it is, however, it is impossible to determine how many steps there originally were; for, with the exception of a very few, they are all choked up with dirt, or paved over. Most reluctantly did I tear myself from the sight, and determined to call the attention of architects to this noble edifice, in order that an accurate draught of it may be furnished. For what a sorry thing tradition is, I here again find occasion to remark. Palladio, whom I trust in every matter, gives, indeed, a sketch of this temple. But certainly he never can have seen it himself: for he gives it real pedestals above the area, by which means the columns appear disproportionately high, and the result is a sort of unsightly Palmyrene monstrosity; whereas, in fact, its look is so full of repose and beauty as to satisfy both the eye and the mind. The impression which the sight of this edifice left upon me is not to be expressed, and will bring forth imperishable fruits. It was a beautiful evening, and I now turned to descend the mountain, As I was proceeding along the Roman road, calm and composed, suddenly I heard behind me some rough voices in dispute. I fancied that it was only the Sbirri, whom I had previously noticed in the town. I therefore went on without care, but still with my ears listening to what they might be saying behind me. I soon became aware that I was the object of their remarks. Four men of this body (two of whom were armed with guns) passed me in the rudest way possible, muttering to each other, and, turning back after a few steps, suddenly surrounded me. They demanded my name, and what I was doing there. I said that I was a stranger, and had travelled on foot to Assisi while my vetturino had gone on to Foligno. It appeared to them very improbable that any one should pay for a carriage, and yet travel on foot. They asked me if I had been visiting the Gran Convento. I answered "No," but assured them that I knew the building of old; but, being an architect, my chief object this time was simply to obtain a sight of the Maria della Minerva, which, they must be aware, was an architectural model. This they could not contradict, but seemed to take it very ill that I had not paid a visit to the saint, and avowed their suspicion that probably my business was to smuggle contraband goods. I pointed out to them how ridiculous it was that a man who walked openly through the streets, alone, and without packs, and with empty pockets, should be taken for a contrabandist.
However, upon this I offered to return to the town with them, and to go before the podestà, and, by showing my papers, prove to him that I was an honest traveller. Upon this they muttered together for a while, and then expressed their opinion that it was unnecessary; and as I behaved throughout with coolness and gravity, they at last left me, and turned toward the town. I looked after them. As these rude churls moved on in the foreground, behind them the beautiful Temple of Minerva once more caught my eye to soothe and console me with its sight. I turned then to the left, to look at the heavy Cathedral of St. Francisco, and was about to continue my way, when one of the unarmed Sbirri separating himself from the rest, came up to me in a quiet and friendly manner. Saluting me, he said, "Signior stranger, you ought at least to give me something to drink your health; for I assure you, that, from the very first, I took you to be an honourable man, and loudly maintained this opinion in opposition to my comrades. They, however, are hot-headed and over-hasty fellows, and have no knowledge of the world. You yourself must have observed that I was the first to allow the force of, and to assent to, your remarks." I praised him on this score, and urged him to protect all honourable strangers who might henceforward come to Assisi for the sake either of religion or of art, and especially all architects who might wish to do honour to the town by measuring and sketching the temple of Minerva, since a correct drawing or engraving of it had never yet been taken. If he were to accompany them, they would, I assured them, give him substantial proofs of their gratitude; and with these words I put into his hand some silver, which, as exceeding his expectation, delighted him above measure. He begged me to pay a second visit to the town; remarking that I ought not on any account to miss the festival of the saint, on which I might with the greatest safety, delight and amuse myself. Indeed, if, being a good-looking fellow, I should wish to be introduced to the fair sex, he assured me that the prettiest and most respectable ladies would willingly receive me, or any stranger, upon his recommendation. He took his leave, promising to remember me at vespers before the tomb of the saint, and to offer up a prayer for my safety throughout my travels. Upon this we parted, and most delighted was I to be again alone with nature and myself. The road to Foligno was one of the most beautiful and agreeable walks that I ever took. For four full hours I walked along the side of a mountain, having on my left a richly cultivated valley.
It is but sorry travelling with a vetturino: it is always best to follow at one's ease on foot. In this way had I travelled from Ferrara to this place. As regards the arts and mechanical invention, on which, however, the ease and comforts of life mainly depend, Italy, so highly favoured by nature, is very far behind all other countries. The carriage of the vetturino, which is still called " sedia," or " seat," certainly took its origin from the ancient litters drawn by mules, in which females and aged persons, or the highest dignitaries, used to be carried about. Instead of the hinder mule, on whose yoke the shafts used to rest, two wheels have been placed beneath the carriage, and no further improvement has been thought of. In this way one is still jolted along, just as they were centuries ago. It is the same with their houses and everything else.
If one wishes to see realised the poetic idea of men in primeval times, spending most of their lives beneath the open heaven, and only occasionally, when compelled by necessity, retiring for shelter into the caves, he must visit the houses hereabouts, especially those in the rural districts, which are quite in the style and fashion of caves. Such an incredible absence of care do the Italians evince in order not to grow old by thinking. With unheard-of frivolity, they neglect to make any preparation for the long nights of winter, and in consequence, for a considerable portion of the year, suffer like dogs. Here in Foligno, in the midst of a perfectly Homeric household,—the whole family being gathered together in a large hall, round a fire on the hearth, with plenty of running backward and forward, and of scolding and shouting, while supper is going on at a long table like that in the picture of the Wedding-Feast at Cana,—I seize an opportunity of writing this, as one of the family has ordered an inkstand to be brought me,—a luxury, which, judging from other circumstances, I did not look for. These pages, however, tell too plainly of the cold, and of the inconvenience of my writing-table.I am now made only too sensible of the rashness of travelling in this country without a servant, and without providing oneself well with every necessary. What with the ever-changing currency, the vetturini, the extortion, the wretched inns, one who, like myself, is travelling alone for the first time in this country, hoping to find uninterrupted pleasure, will be sure to find himself miserably disappointed every day. However, I wished to see the country at any cost; and, even if I must be dragged to Rome on Ixion's wheel, I shall not complain.
Terni, Oct. 27, 1786.
Again sitting in a "cave," which, only a year before, suffered from an earthquake. The little town lies in the midst of a rich country (for taking a circuit round the city I explored it with pleasure), at the beginning of a beautiful plain which lies between two ridges of limestone hills. Terni, like Bologna, is situated at the foot of the mountain range.
Almost ever since the papal officer left me, I have had a priest for my companion. The latter appears better contented with his profession than the soldier, and is ready to enlighten me, whom he very soon saw to be a heretic, by answering any question I might put to him concerning the ritual and other matters of his church. By thus mixing continually with new characters, I thoroughly obtain my object. It is absolutely necessary to hear the people talking together, if you would form a true and lively image of the whole country. The Italians are in the strangest manner possible rivals and adversaries of each other. Every one is strongly enthusiastic in the praise of his own town and state. They cannot bear with one another: and, even in the same city, the different ranks nourish perpetual feuds, and all this with a profoundly vivacious and most obvious passionateness; so that, while they expose one another's pretensions, they keep up an amusing comedy all day long. And yet they are quick at understanding others, and seem quite aware how impossible it is for a stranger to enter into their ways and thoughts.
I ascended to Spoleto, and went along the aqueduct which serves also for a bridge from one mountain to another. The ten brick arches which span the valley have quietly stood there through centuries; and the water still flows into Spoleto, and reaches its remotest quarters. This is the third great work of the ancients that I have seen, and still the same grandeur of conception. A second nature made to work for social objects,—such was their architecture. And so arose the amphitheatre, the temple, and the aqueduct. Now at last I can understand the justice of my hatred for all arbitrary caprices, as for instance, the winter casts on white stone—a nothing about nothing—a monstrous piece of confectionery ornament; and so also with a thousand other things. But all that is now dead; for whatever does not possess a true intrinsic vitality cannot live long, and can neither be nor ever become great.
What entertainment and instruction have I not had cause to be thankful for during these eight last weeks! but in fact it has also cost me some trouble. I kept my eyes continually open, and strove to stamp deep on my mind the images of all I saw. That was all: judge of them I could not, even if it been in my power.
San Crocefisso, a singular chapel on the roadside, did not look, to my mind, like the remains of a temple which had once stood on the same site. It was evident that columns, pillars, and pediments had been found, and incongruously put together, not stupidly, but madly. It does not admit of description: however, there is somewhere or other an engraving of it.
And so it may seem strange to some that we should go on troubling ourselves to acquire an idea of antiquity, although we have nothing before us but ruins, out of which we must first painfully reconstruct the very thing we wish to form an idea of.
With what is called "classical ground" the case stands rather different. Here, if only we do not go to work fancifully, but take the ground really as it is, then we shall have the decisive arena which moulded more or less the greatest of events. Accordingly I have hitherto actively employed my geological and agricultural eye to the suppressing of fancy and sensibility, in order to gain for myself an unbiassed and distinct notion of the locality. By such means history fixes itself on our minds with a marvellous vividness, and the effect is utterly inconceivable to another. It is something of this sort that makes me feel so very great a desire to read Tacitus in Rome.
I must not, however, forget the weather. As I descended the Appennines from Bologna, the clouds gradually retired toward the north; afterward they changed their course, and moved toward Lake Trasimene. Here they continued to hang, though perhaps they may have moved a little farther southward. Instead, therefore, of the great plain of the Po, sending, as it does during the summer, all its clouds to the Tyrolese mountains, it now sends a part of them toward the Apennines: from thence, perhaps, comes the rainy season.
They are now beginning to gather the olives. It is done here with the hand: in other places they are beat down with sticks. If winter comes on before all are gathered, the rest are allowed to remain on the trees till spring. Yesterday I noticed in a very strong soil the largest and oldest trees I have ever yet seen.
The favour of the Muses, like that of the demons, is not always shown us in a suitable moment. Yesterday I felt inspired to undertake a work which at present would be ill-timed. Approaching nearer and nearer to the centre of Romanism, surrounded by Roman Catholics, boxed up with a priest in a sedan, and striving anxiously to observe and to study without prejudice true nature and noble art, I have arrived at a vivid conviction that all traces of original Christianity are extinct here. Indeed, while I tried to bring it before my mind in its purity, as we see it recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, I could not help shuddering to think of the shapeless, not to say grotesque, mass of heathenism which heavily overlies its benign beginnings. Accordingly, the Wandering Jew again occurred to me as having been a witness of all this wonderful development and envelopment, and as having lived to experience so strange a state of things, that Christ himself, when he shall come a second time to gather in his harvest, will be in danger of being crucified a second time. The legend "Venio iterum crucifigi" was to serve me as the material of this catastrophe.
Dreams of this kind floated before me; for, out of impatience to get onward, I used to sleep in my clothes. And I know of nothing more beautiful than to wake before dawn, and, between sleeping and waking, to seat one's self in one's car, and travel on to meet the day.
Citta Castellana, Oct. 28, 1786.
I will not fail you this last evening. It is not yet eight o'clock, and all are already in bed: so I can for a good "last time" think over what is gone by, and revel in the anticipation of what is so shortly to come. This has been throughout a bright and glorious day,—the morning very cold, the day clear and warm, the evening somewhat windy, but very beautiful.
It was very late when we set off from Terni; and we reached Narni before day, and so I did not see the bridge. Valleys and lowlands; now near, now distant prospects; a rich country, but all of limestone, and not a trace of any other formation.
Otricoli is built on an alluvial gravel-hill thrown up by one of the ancient inundations. It is built of lava brought from the other side of the river.
As soon as one is over the bridge, one finds one's self in a volcanic region, either of real lava, or of the native rock changed by the heat and by fusion. You ascend a mountain, which you might set down at once for gray lava. It contains many white crystals of the shape of garnets. The causeway from the heights to the Citta Castellana is likewise composed of this stone, now worn extremely smooth. The city is built on a bed of volcanic tufa, in which I thought I could discover ashes, pumice-stone, and pieces of lava. The view from the castle is extremely beautiful. Soracte stands out and alone in the prospect most picturesquely. It is probably a limestone mountain of the same formation as the Apennines. The volcanic region is far lower than the Apennines; and it is only the streams tearing through it that have formed out of it hills and rocks, which, with their overhanging ledges and other marked features of the landscape, furnish most glorious objects for the painter.
To-morrow evening and I shall be in Rome. Even yet I can scarcely believe it possible. And, if this wish is fulfilled, what shall I wish for afterward? I know not, except it be that I may safely stand in my little pheasant-loaded canoe, and may find all my friends well, happy, and unchanged.