Page images


[ocr errors]

“Ah," said M‘Dermott, “I am glad we have met.

How far are these confounded caves ? There's not a soul to ask a question of.”

“How far are they?" gasped the squire; "why, much farther than I mean to go. We have ridden up this cursed valley, which is more like a bakehouse than anything else, three miles farther at least, and we have seen nothing. There's this river always running, and the rocks, and the sun, but devil a cave did we see. I'll be hanged if you, Susan, get me out on such another fool's errand. I wish I had some good home-brewed beer, my throat's like a furnace.”

Mrs. W. laughed, and so did we, the squire was in such a comical rage.

“If once I get home again out of this infernally hot country, catch me travelling again, that's all. Why, I'd rather have our garden and shrubbery, and


home-farm and the pigs, than own all these mountains and nasty, smoking-hot valleys, that 'twould kill me to live in. But Susan’s a fool, and she and Nancy like it; but you're a man of sense, MÓDermott, and don't, I am sure, admire all this balderdash."

On grumbled the fat squire, rehearsing his wrongs in being torn from his dear home and parish business, until at last I proposed that, as the evening was advancing, we had best give up the caves, and turn towards Barga. When Mrs. and Miss W. heard we were bound to Barga-of all places for an opera—they were wild to accept my offer of seats in the carriage, and to accompany us. But the squire would not hear of it, and resisted manfully all their persuasions.

“He had had enough for that day,” he swore, “and would go home to the table d'hôte, without hearing any Italian squallini split their pipes. He hated them and their music, for a set of idle, good-for-nothing vagabonds, all bearded and moustached like French poodles. They might sing operas long enough before he'd leave his dinner to hear them.”

Finding the squire resolute, we bid them adieu, and, returning to the piazza, entered our carriage, and resumed the same break-neck road we had come, Gallicano being too much bordered by precipices and shut in by rocks to command more than one approach.

After reaching the bridge, we turned to the left, and proceeded along a fine bowling road to Barga. After skirting the valley and the banks of the Serchio for some time, on the bank directly opposite to Gallicano, we passed by the most beautiful fields of emerald grass, of so intense a green it looked scarcely natural, watered by small streams. These fairy retreats, embowered in woods, serve as pasture to droves of milk-white cows, always attended, if not led, by a train of peasants, for fear they should encroach on the neighbours' gardens and vineyards. We wound up a long and steep hill for about three miles in a zigzag course through scenery of idyllic beauty, the road bordered by fine trees—the aspen, oak, and ilex—while dwarf plants of myrtle, arbutus, and vines carpeted the ground. Every now and then fine views opened through the trees, and the town of Barga, seated on the summit of the hill, surmounted by a fine cathedral, lay before us. The whole view was rapidly melting into one general tint of deep blue, save where a few clouds, just tinged with pink and yellow, told where the sun had set, and lit up the lofty points of the highest summits. At last we reached the principal gate of Barga, and dismounted on a broad piazza outside the walls, commanding the whole

surrounding country, planted with acacias, and laid out as a place of public amusement. I say dismounted, because, being a walled town and fortress, Barga has gates through which no carriage or baroccios ever entered, so narrow are the precipitous streets, and so small the entrances, which alone will give an idea of what an original little place it is. Around the piazza are stables and “Vendite di vino e altri generi,” offering every convenience for man and horse ; so our carriage was driven off to one of these retreats, and we bent our steps through the small arched portal which had so often resisted the attempts of the neighbouring republics. M.Dermott was wonderfully amused at a town into which a carriage could not drive, just like some enchanted place where once locked in there was no egress; but it was easy to see that, if there had been space, the steepness of the streets (many of which consisted in immense flights of steps) could have given footing to no four-footed animal; even a donkey would have been at fault. We made our way up to the acclivity, on which stands the cathedral towering over the town, up interminable flights of steps, through alleys 50 narrow neighbours might conveniently shake hands from opposite sides of the street. Every now and then, looking dowu some archway, 'one saw, below a fearful perpendicular passage, the passers-by in the lower part of the town : one false step down these dreadful oubliettes, and death was certain. After climbing until we lost all patience, we reached the Duomo, standing on a broad platform above the town, where a splen

a did view opened out; but it had grown so dark nothing could be distinctly discerned either inside or outside, which I regretted, as there are some fine sculptures and curious Luca della Robbias within. I made out a grotesquely curious pulpit carved in marble, with groups of the strangest figures imaginable, more like monsters one fancies in a dream than anything human. But it was too dark to see them, and, besides, we were longing for the opera to begin, and so hurried down the long flights of stairs into the bowels of this extraordinary little town inspired with such a decided musical furore. The idea of hearing “ Lucia di Lammermoor” in such a place “ voilà qui était plaisant,” while visions of Her Majesty's and Covent Garden, and the long files of grand carriages blocking up the streets, and elegant ladies all jewelled and garlanded, and exquisites of the first water scented like barbers' shops, floated before my eyes as we groped our way through the dark little alleys in search of the Opera House. At last we came upon an open door with a light, which we hailed in hopes of gaining some information as to where we were to go. It turned out to be " the caffè” of the town, and a good-patured smiling Italian oste soon made us all comfortable by bringing us wooden chairs to sit on, and producing some iced limonata, which we gladly partook of. He was charmed to hear we had come from the Bagni to hear their opera ; it was excellent ; he was sure we should be pleased, for it was quite the foible of the whole place ; they were all proud of their Opera. He himself played in the orchestra, which was formed by the townspeople, and begged to be permitted to accompany us to the house, select us a box, and see that we were comfortable. All this was exceedingly primitive and amusing, and only to be found in Italy, where the commonest events and usages of life are all invested with an indescribable poetry, only to be understood when one has experienced its influence.

We sat watching the different groups passing by to the Opera, peasant


girls in their white veils, and contadini with jackets flung in the usual fashion over one shoulder; some of a higher grade, with their beautifully plaited hair adorned with golden pins, and gay shawls wrapped round them, making the old streets ring with their clear, merry voices, as they picked their way over the dirty and broken pavement, assisted by moustached and bearded youths with slouched hats and large cloaks. At last our host said it was time to go, for he heard the orchestra tuning their instruments. As we emerged into the dark, and crept along, conducted by him, to a small piazza where stood the Opera House, our appearance excited considerable curiosity, and, as M‘Dermott said, doubtless “ the distinguished foreigners” would at least divide public attention with “Lucia.” We stared at finding a large salle, with five tiers of goodsized boxes, freshly painted in gay frescoes, and well-filled with a most respectable-looking audience. We took our seats in a handsome box, for which we paid about four shillings, and began to think that, although we had come to ugh, we might find that music even at Barga was of native growth, and that all Italians are born with such an innate taste and feeling for the art, that they would not, even in so obscure a locality, tolerate what was indifferent. The few introductory bars of melancholy music which usher in the representation of poor Lucy's sorrows-the most touching and tragical of all Scott's creations-were now played, and the curtain drew up. The tyrannic brother was a most respectable barytone, and led off the chorus triumphantly, only he had the most extraordinary wilful leg, that would always, on its own account, turn the wrong way. The chorus themselves looked faded and fusty in dress and accoutrements, their ideas as to the garb of old Gaul being of the wildest description. Kilts they had on, but deeming, I presume, the bare knees indelicate, each was provided with blue drawers descending to the calves of the legs, met by red boots slashed with black ribbon, highly singular in appearance. They were the only performers imperfect in their parts, and, although he of the wilful leg gesticulated and beat time almost as energetically as the leader, nothing would make them sing in time or tune.

The tenor-Ravenswood-had a really beautiful voice, and sang with the utmost taste and feeling. He was got up in the most approved fashion as the primo amoroso of the company: slouched Spanish hat, drooping black plumes, moustache and beard, and a large cloak draped about him à l'antique, in mysterious folds, concealing half his visage. We all impatiently awaited the appearance of Lucia, as M‘Dermott declared her sorrow would be probably overwhelming on the present occasion ; but, on the contrary, we were agreeably surprised by the appearance of a pretty young creatureslight, slender, and modest, looking the part exactly-trembling with apprehension, but as melting, and tender, and impassioned as the cavaliere in the cloak could possibly desire. A soft and sweet, though not a powerful voice, made the duets between her and Ravenswood most agreeable, as they both sang like Italians and musicians. Her acting throughout was admirable, and I have no hesitation in saying that, after seeing Jenny Lind, Catherine Hayes, and all the other renowned prime donne of the day in the same character, as far as histrionic talent goes, I prefer the interesting Italian of the Opera at Barga infinitely to them all. Her acting in the mad scene was quite


[ocr errors]

beautiful ; nothing could more perfectly portray the mild, yielding, gentle girl, worked up by despair and loss of reason into a resolution and an energy of which her natural character was incapable. But it was the delirium of a girl, the wild, plaintive, melancholy of a character as yet unformed, not the passionate, furious gesture of a woman who had tasted life, and, after giving full scope to every sensation, rants and raves with the energy of one versed in the play of the passions, a vehemence quite misplaced in the timid Lucia. The movements of her arms had an eloquence quite peculiar-a language of their own. Never did I see more grace and judgment displayed than in the artistic manner they seconded, as it were, her voice and countenance. It was a charming piece of acting: we were all riveted, and pocket-handkerchiefs actually appeared. M.Dermott winked his eyes in all sorts of funny contortions, and at last fairly broke down, but, as we were also in a similar condition, he escaped a roasting. Ravenswood sang the final air of “ Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali” with excellent pathos, and died very picturesquely among the folds of his immense mantle, although the chorus did cluster round him in the most uncouth manner, and destroy all tragic effect by their unfortunate blue drawers.

Altogether we were, one and all, delighted with the opera, and soundly abused the stupid people at the Baths, who, within six miles of so agreeable an entertainment, prefer committing moral murder on their neighbours' character at the caffè, or dancing themselves into a fever at the Casino.

When we emerged on the murky alleys of the little town we were obliged to grope our way with great precaution, having a wholesome dread before our eyes of being precipitated down some of those fearful oubliettes, and never being heard of any more. At last we got safely out of the gateway and roused our servant, who was soon driving us with Italian nonchalance at a furious pace down the rapid descent, cutting round the corners in a most terrific manner. As the lamps shed a partial glare on the deep woods through which we passed, I remembered with no pleasant sensation that we were in the land of banditti

, and that we were passing along solitary ravines and rocky defiles most favourable to their attacks. But M'Dermott laughed at my fears, declaring that, for his part, nothing would be more gratifying to his feelings than an encounter with robbers—it was all he wanted to complete his Italian experiences. This particular romance I am thankful, however, we were spared, and arrived safely at the Ponte, when, after depositing this droll creature, who had talked as much as ten ordinary people, we returned home.





OF Mr. Kohl it may truly be said that he has seen the manners of many men and their cities ; masculine counterpart of Madame Ida Pfeiffer, he has gone round the world taking notes, with a full determination to print them. Many ponderous volumes has he already given forth ; the list of his works would probably put G. P. R. James to the blush ; and English readers have groaned over the heavy pages of statistics which he has collected with very conscientious and Teutonic patience. Fortunately, however, with age, Mr. Kohl, like tawny port, grows mellower, and the book we have now under consideration is probably the most amusing of his luminous and voluminous series. Still, we cannot recommend it for our readers' perusal ; no one but a reviewer, regarding it as a portion of his daily labours, could wade through 550 solid 8vo pages, and they will probably be satisfied with a short résumé of his travels, and take our word for the literary and social value of the work.

Impressed with a desire to visit the great emigration fields, where Germans have settled down to found that republic which a wise destiny has refused them at home, Mr. Kohl proceeded, in the summer of 1855, to Pittsburg, whence he intended to commence his travels. Pittsburg may be regarded as the Sheffield of the New World : iron ore and coals are found in the immediate vicinity, and an admirable system of water communication furnishes an outlet for its manufactures. At present it contains a population of 80,000, but the Yankees are not satisfied with that. The nucleus of the population was formed by a number of Scotch families,

a very church-going sort of people, but not the right sort of men, for they keep everything in a backward state," and the Yankees consider that the direst insult which can be offered to their go-aheadism. But there is no doubt of the innate dulness of Pittsburg ; even Chevalier, who usually forms a mild judgment of American towns, is obliged to confess, " qu'il n'y a sur la terre, y compris les Etats Unis, pas une seule ville où l'idée de s'égayer traverse moins souvent les cervelles.”

At the outset of his travels, Mr. Kohl was under a difficulty; he did not know what suitable language to employ in writing the history of western civilisation. It is impossible to do so in the American style, for they have shot out into certain sublime notions of “the magic wonders of the West," its “magnificent improvements,” and “proudest and most noble monuments which speak volumes for Western energy;" and these remarks have become so current that they no longer produce any effect, and the plain matter-of-fact reality can gain no recognition. Full of these doubts, he took ship for the “Queen of the West,” the city of Cincinnati.

I had already heard and read a good deal about Cincinnati, but must confess I had formed no correct idea of the external aspect of this remarkable city. The reality, far surpassed my expectations, and I really believe all the ideas formed about it in Germany are far behind the truth. The splendour and size of the

* Reisen im Nordwesten der Vereinigten Staaten. Von J. G. Kohl. New York: D. Appleton and Co.

« PreviousContinue »