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ducted me to a neat and comfortable suite of apartments, consisting of dining-rooms and bed chambers, appropriated to the use of strangers, for whose wants it is his peculiar duty for the time being to provide, From his office he bears the title of Forestiero, and he seemed resolved to render his honourable station, as a dispenser of the rites of hospitality, by no means a sinecure. His first order was to kindle a fire in the saloon, as the morning was chilly, and then inquired what refreshments he could offer from his humble store.
Having settled the preliminaries for dinner, he conducted me over every part of the Convent-the cloisters, the cells, the chapel, the library, the refectory of the Monks, and even the kitchen. It is an extensive pile of buildings, three stories high, standing round a spacious court, with a handsome yard in front. The architecture is plain, and the complexion of the edifice a little darkened by time. In the chapel are many respectable pictures, which chiefly attract attention from being found in solitudes, embosomed in the depth of the Apennines. The walls of the church are lined with sepulchral monuments, where sleeps the monastic dust of eight centuries. Much classical learning and some taste are displayed in the epitaphs.
The refectory resembles the dining-halls in the English universities. A table was spread for dinner, to accommodate perhaps twenty persons, the present number of the fraternity. The board was crowned by a decanter of red wine to each plate, and every thing bore the marks of neatness and good cheer. No peculiar austerities are in fact enjoined upon the brotherhood, who live in much the same style as Fellows of a College. The Forestiero took me to his own private apartment, which was furnished with a bed, a few chairs, a table covered with books and a crucifix. Any student might here be comfortable.
The library is but a shadow of what it once was--a remark indeed, which may be extended to the whole establishment. During the late revolution, the convent was suppressed by the French, its property eonfiscated, and most of the books dispersed. The shelves are still half vacant, though they bear the labels of the several compartments, into which the library is judiciously divided. There are at present not more than two or three thousand volumes. copy of Milton's works from the shelf, and found two papers inserted
I took down a
The first is one of
at the passages relating to this classical retreat. the poet's grandest similes :
"Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks
The second passage is the celebrated description of the Garden of Eden, the original of which travellers have pretended to discover in the woody declivities of the Apennines, overhanging the retired glen of Vallombrosa. There is a little hermitage actually called Paradise, consisting of a solitary one-story building, seated upon a high point of rock, and shaded on one side by evergreens. The brook, alluded to by Milton, dashes down from the cloudy and still snowy tops of the mountains, forming numerous pretty cascades, and filling the deep solitudes with its murmurs. A bridge, more like that leading into a Mahometan than a Christian Paradise, formed by a solitary plank thrown across the current, conducts the traveller to the Hermitage.
Notwithstanding all that has been said by Eustace and others, there is nothing peculiarly romantic in the character of the scenery at Vallombrosa, and I looked in vain for the original of Eden. Milton might have found a thousand scenes in his own country, every way superior in picturesque beauty. The forests of fir have all been planted by the Monks, who renew them about as often as the generations of men, cutting down one growth for timber and fuel, and substituting another. Art has therefore in a great measure broken in upon the solitudes of nature. My visit was perhaps too early in the season, to see the place to the best advantage.
The associations are principally such as superstition has imparted. In the Hermitage are prints of all those, who have been its inmates, since its foundation in the tenth century. It admits of but one at a time, who holds for life. The present possessor seemed to have little of the anchorite in his character, and familiarly acted as a cicerone in showing me his tiny chapel, and other curiosities in his retirement. From the point of the rock in front, the spectator has a glorious peep at the world, extending into the sunny vale of the Arno, to Florence, and even to the dim expanse of the Mediterranean. While the prospect in this direction was all bright with summer skies, the winds of winter were still whistling above my head, round the bleak summits of the Apennines.
In descending from the Hermitage by a path winding under the cliffs, the guide pointed out a cavern in the rock, of the size of a coffin, grated in front. Here a saint buried himself for several years, enduring cold, hunger, and every species of mortification. A little shrine has been erected near the spot, to commemorate his virtues; and the Latin inscription states, that at his death celestial lights gleamed round the rocks, and the bells of the convent tolled without hands. Another chapel rises in memory of a Monk, who was tempted by the devil to leap from the cliff, when the Virgin interfered, and rescued
him from peril. One of his brethren was less fortunate; for in walking along the giddy height at evening, he made a misstep, and was dashed to pieces in tumbling down the precipice.
But the most curious of all these shrines is one in commemoration of an event in the life of the founder of the convent. While he was engaged in prayer among these solitary hills, he was assaulted by the devil. The former took to his heels, as the best mode of escape, and the latter gave chase. At length they arrived at a precipice, under which the saint sheltered himself, while the devil unable to check the momentum he had acquired dashed down headlong! The cliff all at once became so soft as to receive the impression of the saint, which is still shown to the traveller. A long Latin inscription records the miracle. In the midst of these legends I ought not to forget the name of Father Hugford, an English Hermit of great sanctity, who rose to the rank of Abbé, and who presents a still stronger claim to remembrance, by the invention of inlaying marbles with precious stones.
On my return to the Convent, I found dinner in waiting. The fare was simple, but served up with neatness. All this hospitality is a gratuity; but the visitant is at liberty, if he chooses, to present a trifle for the maintenance of the establishment. A quarto volume, containing the memoirs of the founder of the Convent, was laid upon the table for my amusement; as also an album comprising the names of all the visitants to these shades. Adding my own to the long list, and shaking the Forestiero by the hand, I bade adieu to Vallombrosa, and returned to Florence the same evening.
DEPARTURE FOR ROME-INCISA-AREZZO-BIRTH-PLACE OF PETRARCH VALE OF CHIANA-LAKE THRASYMENUS-SCENE OF THE BATTLE BETWEEN FLAMINIUS AND HANNIBAL-PERUGIA-FIRST VIEW OF THE TIBER-VALE AND FOUNTAIN OF THE CLITUMNUS-SPOLETO-TERNI.
FROM Florence to Rome, a distance of about two hundred miles, experiment was made of a new mode of travelling. A desire to reach the South of Italy before the commencement of warm weather, and to continue in the agreeable company of our New-York friends, induced us to try the mettle of post-horses, instead of the tardy teams of the vetturino. The change was much for the worse in all respects except speed; and in that article the loss is greater than the gain to the tourist, who travels for information. He is hurried through landscapes however beautiful, and by objects however interesting, without the power to pause a moment for contemplation, as the postillions are anxious to accomplish the journey in the least time possible, often at the imminent risk of broken necks or limbs. Down hill they always make it a point to drive upon the run, to make up for their snail paces in the ascents. The horses are uniformly bad, and the harness, often consisting of slender ropes, is horrible.
Although the rates of posting in all the Italian states is regulated by law, impositions are in one way or another practised upon the traveller, in spite of his utmost vigilance. The most general mode of exacting exorbitant fees, is by putting on a stronger team than the carriage requires. Remonstrances in such cases are entirely useless, and the only alternative is patient submission, under the authority of the maxim, that "when you are among the Romans, you must do as the Romans do." Our two friends who are in person both light men, and were encumbered with but little baggage, frequently presented the ludicrous picture of being dragged up the hills by six horses and four oxen, strung out at such lengths, and moving at such a solemn pace, as to appear like a funeral procession. As our coach was of a different kind, we were never compelled to take more than four horses and one pair of oxen. But manage as you will, the expense of posting is more than treble that of travelling with a vetturino; and he that makes the experiment will soon repent of his bargain. With many of the English, who make the tour of Italy merely for the sake of riding and spending money, the case is different. They often bring
with them the principles of their jockey clubs, and boast of performing such and such routes, in so many hours.
At 7 o'clock on the morning of the 20th, our three-horse coach, (a sort of triangular team,) drove up with a flourish of whips, and the postillion in livery as the law directs, to the door of Mynheer Schneider's Hotel, and we set out for "the City of the Seven Hills," our friends leading the way as pioneers. Within the first hour after leaving Florence, our coach was turned bottom upwards against the fence, without injury to us, having descended a few minutes before the accident, to walk up a hill. The persons left in charge of it concealed as many of the particulars, as the fractured axle would permit. In general, the road though hilly is smooth and excellent; and nothing but this circumstance saves the necks of hundreds. Two of our acquaintances, whom we met at Florence on their return from Rome, had been capsized on this same route, and one of them severely bruised. Coachmen are often killed by their own carelessness, and disposed of with as little ceremony, as soldiers are carried from the field of battle.
For the first ten or twelve miles, the country was not new to me, having been already traversed in my excursion to Vallombrosa. My companions satisfied their curiosity with a glance at the forests of fir, which mantle the heights of the Apennines, and overhang that secluded retreat, at the distance of four or five miles on the left of the road. At Incisa, two posts from Florence, we crossed the Arno, which here preserves the character of a torrent. This little village excited a degree of interest, from having once been the residence of Petrarch's mother, while he was an infant. It now consists of a cluster of mean houses, extending along the bank of the river. The other villages, though sometimes large, are generally mean in appearance, and unworthy of the splendid scenery which surrounds them.
What is called the Superior or Upper Vale of the Arno, extends from Florence onward towards Rome. Though it does not differ essentially in character from that portion denominated the Inferior, in the direction of Pisa, and already described, if possible it surpasses the latter in fertility of soil and exactness of tillage. The products are the same, and the distant landscape, always embracing peaks in the eternal chain of the Apennines, is often superlatively rich and beautiful. This portion of Italy has been celebrated for its exuberance by all writers from the age of Livy to the present time. Its cattle are the finest I have seen on the continent. They are commonly of a dove colour, both large and fat, the oxen having their heads set off with scarlet fillets and tassels, with as much taste as a peasant girl at