Page images

At Florence we remained some weeks, as well to avoid the oppressive heat of summer, as for the sake of seeing something more of Tuscany, than a short visit had permitted. Through the kind offices of the American Consul, who did every thing to render our stay in his native city both useful and agreeable, private lodgings were obtained at moderate prices, in a healthy and eligible situation. My window almost overhung the Arno, commanding a full view of its splendid quays and bridges, of the town, and the distant hills. The society of a pleasant family, and a circle of estimable friends, contributed largely to the pleasures, which a temporary residence in the Tuscan capital afforded. Of the little party at our table, was an acquaintance from New-York, whose social virtues always rendered him a welcome guest. An English tourist, who has acquired great celebrity, in his own country, by his philosophical writings and public lectures, was another inmate of the same roof. In a dissertation on the Fine Arts of Italy, which he read to me, and which will probably be hereafter published, he has taken occasion to pay a high compliment to our own Washington, whom he considers the most illustrious subject for the pencil and chisel, that ever existed in any country. We also had a whole family among our boarders. Two of the ladies gave us a concert daily on the harp and piano.

Our external resources were not less abundant. The hospitable doors of the Consul were always open to us, as they are to all our countrymen. His residence is fitted up with much taste, embellished with the arts of his native city, intermingled with the portraits of distinguished Americans. He introduced us to another branch of the Bonaparte family, consisting of a Countess, her daughter, and the intended of the latter, who were on a flying visit to this place. We found them quite republican in their attachments, affable, and agreeable in their manners. I was also made acquainted with a professor in the University of Pisa, now a resident of Florence. He is an eminent scholar, a man of great industry and research, who imparted to me many valuable ideas on the past history and present condition of his country. A gentleman, who had once been in the United States, introduced himself and took me to his father's, who is one of the first merchants in the city. He was perfectly acquainted with Florence, and politely afforded me many facilities in examining its localities. a word, we experienced no want of society either among the Italians or our own countrymen; and all the leisure moments that could be spared from other pursuits, were agreeably occupied. Of the Americans at Florence, is an active, intelligent old man, who is now at the age of 80. He has been sixty years in Europe, and forty in the capi

[blocks in formation]

tal of Tuscany. He is the proprietor of a beautiful villa, commanding a wide prospect into the vale of the Arno, and leads a bachelor's life. on an income of three thousand dollars per annum. Such is his regularity in taking a particular seat at the door of a coffee-house in the evening, that the Consul said to us one night, he would take us to our venerable countryman. He walked up to the place, and although it was too dark to distinguish persons, he ventured to call the veteran by name, who to our no small amusement promptly answered, and entered freely into conversation.

A day or two after our arrival, there was a great parade at the Cascine. An aeronaut had given public notice, that at 5 o'clock in the afternoon he would ascend in a balloon from the bank of the Arno. The whole city assembled to witness the spectacle. All the bridges, heights, and house-tops were thronged with Florentine beauty. The Grand Duke was the patron of the show, and promised the adventurer a premium of $500, if he should descend on any part of his grounds. His Highness with his family and suite appeared among the multitude on this occasion. A sumptuous pavilion hung with crimson, had been purposely fitted up for his accommodation. The nobility were all out with their splendid equipages, reviving an image of the Corso at Rome. We witnessed a fine exhibition of style, both high and low. The gentry sat in their carriages, and the pedestrians stood upon their feet till dark, waiting with breathless anxiety, and expecting every moment to see the aerial navigator mount to the skies. He at length came forward with an apology, stating that his balloon could not be inflated. In a few days the notice was repeated, and the congregated city experienced another disappointment. The Grand Duke was so enraged at a second failure, after sitting the whole afternoon in his pavilion, that he directed two of the chemists to be imprisoned, and a new set to be introduced to the blow-pipes and crucibles. Although operations were continued daily, the show had not taken place when I left


We found the general aspect of Florence much less agreeable in mid-summer, than it was at our first visit in April. Excellent as its pavements are, and numerous and stately as are its palaces, it cannot be called a neat or cleanly city. Nuisances of all kinds are permitted to encumber and deform the streets, excepting those only through which the Grand Duke drives in his coach and six. Its police is much inferior to that of Rome. In the latter, particular places are set apart and labelled with "immondezza," where filth may be thrown. Slaughter-houses are also, as in Paris, confined to remote districts, and blood is not allowed to flow in the gutters. But in the capital of Tuscany,

all places are common for every species of nuisance. Animals are butchered upon promenades, and meat-shops are strung along the most fashionable streets, emitting an odour sufficient to deprive one of an appetite for dinner. The confined and disagreeable air, arising from such an accumulation of filth, drives the people from their houses to the public squares and the bridges of the Arno, in the evening, where they remain till midnight. Seats extend on both sides of the Ponte Santa Trinita from end to end, which at night are occupied by ladies, who sit motionless for hours, to catch a breeze from the river. When the moon is up and bright, so many white robes, and such a gallery of Florentine faces, form a novel and brilliant spectacle.

Another place of refuge from the heat of the city and the confinement of dwelling-houses, is the public square in front of the Cathedral. There is here a celebrated coffee-house, called by way of emphasis the Bottegone, where half of Florence, from the nobility downward, or more properly upward, may be seen collected every evening, to eat ice-creams. Not only are all the saloons filled, but crowds are seated in chairs on the pavement at the door; while others sit in their coaches, sending in their servants for refreshments. At a neighbouring coffee-house they call for orgeat. The proprietor informed me, that he has often sold twenty barrels in a day.

From the Cathedral a street leads to the square of the Grand Duke, which at particular hours is so thronged, that a passage can scarcely be effected. On Sunday, from 12 till 2 o'clock, the Florentine ladies of the higher classes make it an invariable rule to resort thither, and appear on 'Change in full dresses, with as much regularity as merchants. They walk back and forth for the distance of a hundred rods, to gaze and be gazed at. The custom is as ridiculous as it is novel; and after meeting the same faces, in a few turns, the stranger begins to feel ashamed of such folly, and bolts the course.

What with these amusements, with the theatres, gardens, and religious festivals, the inhabitants of Florence are seldom to be seen at their houses, night or day. If you call in the evening, they are out; and in the day-time, you receive the same answer as at Rome-" si dormi." We sent thrice to a minister, to have our passports regulated, and the messenger each time found him asleep, forgetful of his official duties. Disturbed by a fourth call, he rubbed open his eyes long enough to return for answer, that his signature was not necessary, and then turned over to finish his siesta. "They are asleep" is a motto, which may be applied to the Italians, not only physically but morally-in politics, science, literature, and the arts. They are living almost entirely upon the reputation, which the great

men of other ages have acquired for them; lost in voluptuous ease, unmindful of the glory of their ancestors, and reckless of their national degradation.

The governments set the example themselves, and encourage this state of repose and torpidity. It is a strong stroke of policy with the Holy Alliance, as it has been with all tyrants from Cæsar downward, to administer an opiate to their subjects, in the gilded shape of spectacles, splendid shows, unmanly amusements, and enervating pleasures. The emperor of Austria has openly announced, that he wishes no schools, no colleges, no literature, no philosophy, in his dominions; and it is one of the fundamental maxims of the Tuscan government, "to let the world go of itself." The Athens of Italy is hut a shadow of its former greatness and glory. Not only is the age of the Republic gone; but the traces of the liberal policy of Leopold, of a still later period, have vanished, leaving only stupor and imbecility behind—a degraded nobility and an enslaved people. Public institutions languish; offices of trust are made sinecures for favourites; the expenditures of the state are increased fourfold; ecclesiastics are multiplied without number; education is neglected; learning and the arts are on the decline. As an Italian expressed it to me, "palaces are stripped of their pictures and statues, to buy chickens and charcoal." Yet the Tuscan government is perhaps justly accounted the most liberal, and the Tuscan state the happiest in Italy.

I have described some of the pursuits and amusements, of which the Grand Duke declared himself the patron, and which occupied his attention day after day. Another pageant will still more forcibly illustrate the character of the sovereign and the nature of his cares. It was proclaimed, that on the afternoon of the 30th there would be a great horse-race of a peculiar character. We followed the multitude to see the show. The scene was laid in Florence, on the right bank of the Arno. A course had been prepared at a great expense, by strewing with sand or macadamizing a line of streets, leading from the Cascine to the Roman gate. For the whole of this distance, terraces, balconies, windows, and side-walks were thronged with people, while the middle of the street, till the race commenced, presented an unbroken chain of carriages, filled with the court of Tuscany, foreign ministers, public functionaries of all descriptions, the nobility and gentry in their richest dresses, with chasseurs and footmen without number. The fronts of the houses were hung with banners of crimson and gold. In many places along the way, temporary galleries, like the benches of an amphitheatre, were erected, and tickets of admission regularly

sold, as at the doors of a play-house. These seats were all full at an early hour.

The Grand Duke and his family appeared among the multitude, in a chariot drawn by six proud steeds, richly caparisoned with glittering harnesses and gorgeous ornaments, vying with the liveries of his retinue. A pavilion had been purposely prepared for him at the corner of two of the streets, in a conspicuous situation, near the starting-post. Here he was seen in the midst of his courtiers, canopied by crimson and purple. Crowds pressed as near as they could, to catch a glimpse of the face, and bask in the smile of the august sovereign. I heard a female, next to me in one of the amphitheatres, say to her neighbour

"See! the Grand Duchess is laughing." Round the pavilion a regiment of soldiers was stationed, accompanied by a fine military band, who played some of the national airs, which used to animate the old republicans on to battle.

At length the signal was given, and the four race-horses were brought upon the course, without riders, saddle or bridle. They were girt with belts, bearing the numbers one, two, three, and four. Spurs were attached to their sides in such a way, that the faster the poor animals ran, the more their bleeding flanks were lacerated. So ingenious is man in devices of cruelty! The mechanic who invented this species of torture, probably received a premium as liberal, as was offered to the aeronaut, for risking his neck to amuse others. But the bugle sounds, and clear the course! is the cry. Napoleon's exhortation might with propriety have been proclaimed—“ save himself who can!" The horses were let loose in the midst of such a multitude, and left the goal like shot, goaded on by the patent spurs. A passage was cleared for them by a retreat of the crowd, sometimes but a few paces in advance. Fortunately no one was run over on this occasion; but at a similar celebration, on St. John's Day, in June last, six persons were killed. His Highness has lost more subjects in these sports, than he ever lost in battle, though he holds the rank of General in the Austrian service. At the end of the course, the steeds are caught, like pigeons, in a sheet of canvass. The Grand Duke receives intelligence by express, which horse has won; and he communicates the important tidings by message, in the form of hand-bills, thrown in a shower from his pavilion like the Pope's benedictions, among the gaping multitude below. Such is the finale of this grand spectacle. To bring the subject home, what would be thought of the President of the United States, should he and his secretaries forget the cares of office, and appear at a race-course, with their pockets stuffed with hand-bills?

« PreviousContinue »