Things and Thoughts in Europe . . . XVI.

Things and Thoughts in Europe

Foreign Correspondence of The Tribune[No. XVI.

Review of the Past and Present . . . . The Merits of Italian Literature – Manzoni . . . . The Classes of Italian Language . . . . Milan, the Milanese, and the Simplicity of their Language . . . . The North of Italy, and a Tour to Switzerland Italian Lakes – Maggiore, Como and Lugano – Lago di Garda . . . . The Boatmen of the Lakes and the Gondoliers . . . . Lago di Garda poetically described – together with the Journey from Trent to Riva . . . . Lady Franklin, Widow of the Navigator . . . . Return to, and Festivals at Milan – The Archbishop – Austrian Rule and Austrian Policy . . . . The Future Hopes of Italy . . . . A Glance at Pavia, Florence, Parma and Bologna, and the Works of the Masters.
ROME, October, 1847.

  I think my last letter was from Milan, and written after I had seen Manzoni. This was to me a great pleasure. I have now seen the most important representatives who survive the last epoch in thought. Our age has still its demonstrations to make, its heroes and poets to crown.

  Although the modern Italian literature is not poor, as many persons at a distance suppose – but, on the contrary, surprisingly rich in tokens of talent—if we consider the circumstances under which it struggles to exist, yet very few writers have or deserve an European, an American reputation. Where a whole country is so kept down, her best minds cannot take the lead in the progress of the age; they have too much to suffer, too much to explain. But among the few who, through depth of spiritual experience and the beauty of form in which it is expressed, belong not only to Italy, but to the world. Manzoni takes a high rank. The passive virtues he teaches are no longer what is wanted; the manners he paints with so delicate a fidelity are beginning to change—but the spirit of his works—the tender piety, the sensibility to the meaning of every humblest form of life, the delicate humor and satire so free from disdain—these are immortal.

  Young Italy rejects Manzoni, though not irreverently; Young Italy prizes his works, but feels that the doctrine of “Pray and wait” is not for her at this moment, that she needs a more fervent hope, a more active faith. She is right.

  It is well known that the traveler, if he knows the Italian as written in books, the standard Tuscan, still finds himself a stranger in many parts of Italy, unable to comprehend the dialects, with their lively abbreviations and witty slang. That of Venice I had understood somewhat, and could enter into the drollery and naïveté of the gondoliers, who, as a class, have an unusual share of character. But the Milanese I could not at first understand at all. Their language seemed to me detestably harsh and their gestures unmeaning. But after a friend, who possesses that large and ready sympathy—easier found in Italy than anywhere else—had translated for me verbatim into French some of the poems written in the Milanese, and then read them aloud in the original, I comprehended the peculiar inflection of voice and idiom in the people, and was charmed with it, as one is with the instinctive wit and wisdom of children.

  There is very little to see at Milan compared with any other Italian city, and this was very fortunate for me, allowing an interval of repose in the house, which I cannot take when there is so much without tempting me to incessant observation and study. I went through the North of Italy with a constantly increasing fervor of interest. When I had thought of Italy, it was always of the South—of the Roman States—of Tuscany. But now I became deeply interested in the history, the institutions, the art of the North. The fragments of the Past mark the progress of its waves so clearly, I learned to understand, to prize them every day more, to know how to make use of the books about them. I shall have much to say on these subjects some day.

  Leaving Milan, I went on the Lago Maggiore, and afterward into Switzerland. Of this tour I shall not speak here; it was a beautiful little romance by itself, and infinitely refreshing to be so near Nature in these grand and simple forms, after so much exciting thought of Art and Man. The day passed in the St. Bernardin, with its lofty peaks and changing lights upon the distant snows; its holy, exquisite valleys, and waterfalls, its series of eagles and chamois, was the greatest refreshment I ever experienced; it was bracing as a cold bath after the heat of a crowd amid which one has listened to some most eloquent oration.

  Returning from Switzerland I passed a fortnight on the Lake of Como, and afterward visited Lugano. There is no exaggeration in the enthusiastic feeling with which artists and poets have viewed these Italian lakes. Their beauties are peculiar, enchanting, innumerable. The “Titan” of Richter, the “Wanderjahre” of Goёthe, the Elena of Taylor, the pictures of Turner, had not prepared me for the visions of beauty that daily entranced the eyes and heart in those regions. To our country, Nature has been most bounteous, but we have nothing in the same class that can compare with these lakes, as seen under the Italian heaven. As to those persons who have pretended to discover that the effects of light and atmosphere were no finer than they found in our own lake scenery, I can only say that they must be exceedingly obtuse in organization—a defect not uncommon among Americans.

  Nature seems to have labored to express her full heart in as many ways as possible, when she made these Lakes molded and planted their shores. Lago Maggiore is grandiose, resplendent in its beauty; the view of the Alps gives a sort of lyric exaltation to the scene. Lago di Garda is so soft and fair—so glittering sweet on one side—the ruins of ancient palaces rise so softly with the beauties of that shore; but at the other end, amid the Tyrrol, it is so sublime, so calm, so concentrated in its meaning! Como cannot be better described in generals than in the words of Taylor:

“Softly sublime, profusely fair.”

Lugano is more savage, more free in its beauty. I was on it in a high gale; there was little danger, just enough to exhilarate; its waters wild and clouds blowing across its peaks. I like very much the boatmen on these lakes; they have strong and prompt character; of simple features, they are more honest and manly than Italian men are found in the thoroughfares; their talk is not so witty as that of the Venetian gondoliers, but picturesque and what the French call incisive. Very touching were some their histories, as they told them to me while pausing sometimes on the lake. Grossi gives a true picture of such a man in his family relations; the story may be found in “Marco Viscoull.” The idea of the situation is borrowed from Sir Walter Scott, but many touches are his own. At Riva di Trento (Lago di Garda) De Henry, called on me. He is an Irish gentleman, author of a Temperance tract which has been widely circulated in the United States. He gave me a little piece of a playful doggerel which may be inserted here as a good description of the journey from Trent to Riva. Unhappily in the refrain Adige must be mispronounced to make it rhyme with carriage.

June 7, 1847.

At five leave Trent
  In coach and pair,
For Riva bent
  And cooler air,

My wife and I
  And daughter tall
And Maestro Monti;
  Four in all.

Good company,
  In sooth, are we,
And for six hours
  May well agree.

If quarrels come,
  As poets teach,
From too free use
  Of the parts of speech.

For we no word have
  Of Italian,
No English he
  Not cramp Germanian,

Nor hath as yet
  Th’ acquaintance made
Even of Miss French,
  That common jade,

That walks at ease
  Wide Europe’s streets
And chats and laughs
  With all she meets.

Pleasant the view is
  As our carriage
Rolls smoothly down
  The vale of Adige;

Toward southern suns
  And genial skies
Gently sloped
  That valley lies;

From wintry blasts
  North, east and west,
Alpine steeps
  Defends its breast;

And with a thousand
  Ice-fed rills
Water its fields
  And turn its mills,

And cool the sultry
  Summer air,
And play sweet music
  To the ear.

Here the cliffs
  Are bleak and bare;
With pine forests
  Covered there;

Or with various
  Carpet spread
Of fern and heath,
  The black cock’s bed.

Here mica schist,
  Red porphyry
And granite peaks
  Invade the sky;

There slumbering marble
  Waits the hand
That bids it into
  Life to stand;

Lower down
  The sandstone rock,
At our feet
  The boulder block.

Pleasant the view is
  As our carriage
Rolls smoothly down
  The vale of Adige;

Trellised vines
  Stretch far and near,
Through fields of lentil,
  Maize and bere;

Chestnut and walnut
  Stately stand
Flanking the road
  On either hand;

And gentler willow
  Lends its shade
And droops and arches

And sunburnt peasants’
  Hands rapacious
Cull the mulberry’s
  Foliago precious;

The sacks stand full,
  The carts are loaded,
The patient oxen
  Yoked and goaded;

The master hears
  With ears of pleasure
The axle groan
  Beneath the treasure;

Let six weeks pass,
  The work is done,
The worms are fed,
  The cocoons spun,

The crysalis killed,
  Its intricate clue
Unraveled nice
  And spun anew

Into a firm,
  Tenacious line,
Yellow as gold,
  As gossamer fine;

Parent of
  The bombazine,
Rustling satanet,
  Satin sheen,

Of the sofa’s
  Gay brocade;
Of the lutestring-
  Quilted bed;

Of the flag
  That floats on high
Defiance to
  The enemy;

Of the garter,
  Of the pall,
Wond’rous thread
  That mak’st them all!

Pleasant the view is
  As our carriage
Rolls smoothly down
  The vale of Adige.

On our right hand
  The broad river,
Gay and clear
  And sparkling ever,

In its stony
  Channel dashing,
Raving, fretting,
  Foaming, splashing;

What though still
  Its course is forward,
What though still
  It rushes onward;

Downward still,
  Although its motion
Toward the vast,
  Absorbing ocean;

See! each wavelet
  Backward curls;
See! reversed
  Each eddy swirls;

See! it casts
  Its lingering look
Toward the scenes
  It hath forsook,

Toward its native
  Ortcler mountain,
Toward its parent
  Glacier fountain;

Life’s traveler so
  Casts back his view
On the dear scenes
  His childhood knew;

With face reverted
  So it is borne
Down the rough road
  Whence no return,

And plunged at last
  Into the sea
By finites called

Pleasant the view is
  As our carriage
Rolls smoothly down
  The vale of Adige;

We thread the gorge
  Where Lügerthal
In battle saw
  Sanseverin fall;

Leave on our right
  Old Castel Barco,
And hear thy tower,
  Holy San Marco,

Chime night’s first watch
  In Rovereith,
As we arrive
  At half past eight

After supper,
  Fresh and merry,
We turn us west,
  Toward Adige ferry;

And where ‘twixt banks
  Of flowery rushes
Deep, silent, smooth,
  The river gushes;

Carriage and all
  Across it float
In broad, flat-bottomed,
  Lugger boat;

Dark though it be
  Small fear have we,
And Maestro’s still
  Good company;

And part by signs,
  And part by looks,
And part by words,
  Picked out of books,

Contrives to let us
He guides us through
  No unknown land;

Guides through Meri’s
  Village rude;
‘T were picturesque
  By daylight viewed;

Past Loppio’s lake
  With islands dotted,
Past Loppio’s rocks
  With lichen spotted;

Then where our passing
  Lamp-light falls
On yonder gray,
  Time-eaten walls;

Awful from
  The rocky steep
Frowned, Nugo, once
  Thy castled keep.

Our downward course
  Is fair and free
From those drear hights
  To Torboie,

Where snugly moored
  In Morpheus’ arms
Lake Garda boatmen
  Dream of storms;

Hang on lines
  Their nets are drying,
High on the strand
  Their boats are lying.

Cross we thus
  Hoarie Sareasa’s bridge
And turn Mont Brion’s
  Jutting ridge;

Where scantly may
  The straight road sweep
‘Twixt the deep lake
  And mountain steep,

  Swings, drearily,
The glimmering lamp
  Of a Calvary;

With widows’ oil
  That lamp is fed,
A widow’s tears
  On that slab are read:

“Fellow sinner
  Bend thy knee,
Fellow sinner
  Pray with me

“For him that in
  The tempest’s shock,
Foundering, sank
  By yonder rock.

“Mother of God!
  The sailor save
On Lake Garda’s
  Dangerous wave.”

Two short miles more
  Run quickly past
And Riva safe
  We reach at last.

And just as cocks
  And clocks tell one,
At “Il Jardino”
  Are set down.

Here Maestro Monti
  Bids “Good night;”
And all to bed
  In weary plight.


*When the bed of a river is smooth and its water deep, its waves break and fall in the direction of the course of the river. When, on the contrary, the water is shallow, the bed rocky, and the descent considerable, the waves receiving a contrary impulse from the impeding rocks turn over and fall backward (i.e. in the opposite direction to that in which the river is flowing). A similar phenomenon is produced in all large collections of water, and very remarkably in the sea, by a wind adverse to the course of the water

  On this lake, also, I met Lady Franklin, wife of the celebrated navigator. She has been in the United States, and showed equal penetration and candor in remarks on what she had seen there. She gave me interesting particulars as to the state of things in Van Diemen’s Land, where she passed seven years when her husband was in authority there.

  I returned to Milan for the great feast of the Madonna, 8th September, and those made for the Archbishop’s entry, which took place the same week. These excited as much feeling as the Milanese can have a chance to display, this Archbishop being much nearer the public heart than his predecessor, who was a poor servant of Austria.

  The Austrian rule is always equally hated, and time, instead of melting away differences, only makes them more glaring. The Austrian race have no faculties that can ever enable them to understand the Italian character; their policy, so well contrived to palsy and repress for a time, cannot kill, and there is always a force at work underneath which shall yet, and I think now before long, shake off the incubus. The Italian nobility have always kept the invader at a distance; they have not been at all seduced or corrupted by the lures of pleasure or power, but have shown a passive patriotism highly honorable to them. In the middle class ferments much thought—a capacity for effort; in the present system it cannot show itself, but it is there; it ferments, and will yet produce a wine that shall set the Lombard veins on fire when the time for action shall arrive. The lower part of the population is in a dull state indeed; the censure of the press prevents all easy, natural ways of instructing them; there are no public meetings, no face access to them by more instructed and aspiring minds;—the Austrian policy is to allow them a degree of material well-being, and though so much wealth is drained from the country for the service of the foreigner, yet enough must remain on these rich plains comfortably to feed and clothe the inhabitants. Yet the great moral influence of the Pope’s action, though obstructed in their case, does reach and rouse them, and they, too, felt the thrill of indignation at the occupation of Ferrara. The base conduct of the police toward the people when, at Milan, some youths were resolute to sing the Hymn in honor of Pius IX. when the feasts for the Archbishop afforded so legitimate an occasion—roused all the people to unwonted feeling; the nobles protested, and Austria had not courage to persist as usual. She could not sustain her police, who rushed upon a defenseless crowd that had no share in what excited their displeasure, except by sympathy, and, driving them like sheep, wounded them in the backs. Austria feels that there is now no sympathy for her in these matters; that it is not the interest of the world to sustain her. Her policy is, indeed, too thoroughly organized to change except by revolution; its scope is to serve, first, a reigning family instead of the people; second, with the people to seek a physical in preference to an intellectual good; and third, to prefer a seeming outward peace to an inward life. This policy may change its opposition from the tyrannical to the insidious; it can know no other change, yet do I meet persons who call themselves Americans—miserable, thoughtless Esaus, unworthy their high birthright—who think that a mess of pottage can satisfy the wants of Man, and that the Viennese listening to Strauss’s waltzes, the Lombard peasant supping full of his polenta is happy enough. Alas! I have the more reason to be ashamed of my countrymen, that it is not among the poor, who have so much toil that there is little time to think. But those who are rich, who travel—in body, that is, they do not travel in mind—absorbed at home by the lust of gain, the love of show, abroad they see only the equipages, the fine clothes, the food—they have no heart for the idea, for the destiny of our own great nation; how can they feel the spirit that is struggling now in this and others of Europe?

  But of the hopes of Italy I will write more fully in another letter, and shall state what I have seen, what felt, what thought. I went from Milan to Pavia, and saw its magnificent Cortean. I passed several hours in examining its riches, especially the sculptures of its façade, full of force and spirit. I then went to Florence by Parma and Bologna. In Parma, though ill, I went to see all the works of the Masters; a wonderful beauty it is that informs them, not mine—not, I mean, what is the chosen food of my soul, yet wonderful and which did its message to me also. Those works are failing; it will not be useless to describe them in a book. Beside these pictures, I saw nothing in Parma and Modena; these States are obliged to hold their breath while their poor, ignorant sovereigns skulk in corners, hoping to hide from the coming storm. Of all this more in my next.


“Things and Thoughts in Europe.” New-York Daily Tribune, 25 December 1847, p. 3.

*This should have reached us and been published previously to that we [illegible] [illegible] since, numbered XVII.