Page images
PDF
EPUB

ceed in beauty the azure and bright expanse of water, set in the emerald of its shores. As economy of time, as well as the favourable state of the weather, urged despatch, a boat fitted up in the style of the Venetian gondola, with gay curtains and a table for eating, drinking, or writing, according to the propensities of the passengers, was immediately chartered for the afternoon, to take us up the Lake as far as circumstances would permit; and our gallant barge, driven by two oarsmen, soon produced the only ripple upon the unruffled mirror. The scenery of Como is characterized by beauty rather than grandeur. It is less wild and lonely than that of the Lago di Garda. Its borders are rural, soft, and cheerful. The hills ranging along either shore, as nearly as they could be measured by the eye, are from 1500 to 2000 feet in height, becoming bolder and ruder, as they extend towards the north; of secondary formation; sometimes broken, scarred, and naked; but generally clothed with hanging woods of chesnut, oak, olives, laurel, fir, and other verdure, and cultivated as well as sprinkled with buildings to their summits. They frequently rise in steep acclivities from the very margin, or form high promontories, on which numerous white villages are seated. Although the Lake is fifty or sixty miles in length, it is broken into short reaches by intervening capes. Its breadth is from two to seven miles; and its depth, in the admeasurement of the boatmen, one hundred men. The water is less transparent as well as

less sea-like than Benacus.

Art has hardly atoned by its monuments, for the two many innovations it has made upon the solitary charms of nature. The large old town of Como, exhibiting its fortresses, towers, and ramparts, its harbour, quays, and business-like aspect, at the foot of the Lake; the long faubourgs of Borgo Vico and San Augostino, extending along the eastern and western shores; the numerous hamlets, villas, farm-houses, and convents, scattered over the neighbouring heights, have dissolved the enchantment of rustic seclusion, and substituted images of a poor but populous district. The smoke and paddles, the bugles and swivels, of two steam-boats,* plying daily from end to end, have frightened away the Naiads, that once sported in the pure and classical waves of the Lacus Larius. A strong garrison is kept up at Como, to prevent smuggling, as the town is only a mile and a half from the frontier of

* These boats, bearing the appropriate names of the Lario and Plinio, belong to Mr. Church, the American Consul at Geneva, whose enterprise in introducing improvements of this description has been alluded to in a former letter. He here appears to meet with encouragement. The Lario passed us from the head of the Jake, with a hundred and fifty passengers on board.

Switzerland. The castles and monuments are not sufficiently ruinous, to become picturesque objects in the landscape; while they possess little merit as modern works of art.

After a voyage of five miles, affording a view of the whole region, we landed at the Villa d'Este, on the western shore, the celebrated residence of the late Queen Caroline of England. If the outlines of the scenery afforded us less pleasure, than had been anticipated from the first glance, or from the extravagant descriptions of others, the pictures appeared still worse in detail. The situation of this palace is delightful. It stands so near the water, that we leaped from the boat, upon the flight of steps leading to the portico of the long, yellow, twostory edifice, looking abroad upon the lake. It possesses no architectural grandeur nor beauty. An elderly woman, to whom the keys have been committed by Torlonia, the present proprietor, led the way to a small, neat theatre, the boxes of which are supported by Ionic pillars with gilt capitals, and hung with silken curtains. Over the Queen's pavilion, in front of the stage, the crown of Great-Britain is conspicuously displayed in gilt with imitation gems; and the walls are lined with mirrors, in the French style. The furniture of the theatre is just as it was left eight or nine years ago, but looks as fresh as if there had been a play on the evening preceding our visit. This remark may be extended to the whole Villa, of which there has been no resident, since its desertion by the unfortunate queen. The Duke of Bracciano has too many palaces about the Alban Mount, to render a retreat to the distant shores of Como either attractive or necessary. Besides, he would not care to be a successor to Count Bergami,* who wears a sprig of fresh nobility upon his coach, as well as the wealthy banker.

The numerous apartments of the chateau retain their furniture of sofas, chairs, tables, and window-curtains, which are gaudy, but not rich, nor in good taste. Frescos consisting of nude Venuses, Cupids, and other soft divinities, were observed upon the ceiling. They are of an indelicate and voluptuous character, though not more so, than the Italian houses generally display. The most objectionable point about the establishment is a temple to Isis, fitted up by the express orders of the queen, near her drawing-room. A statue of the goddess was placed in a dark niche, and before her yet stands the oracle, in the shape of a helmet, furnished with four horns, whence the responses

* This renowned nobleman now resides at Pesaro, on the shores of the Adriatic, where Caroline had another seat, near the banks of the Rubicon, which she crossed at her peril. The Count lives like most other of the Italian nobility, without any very active pursuits, or any visible means of support.

issue. In the hands of the image was a gilt book. The ante-rooms are filled with Egyptian ornaments. Such a fantastic idea betrays a species of insanity. To make the matter worse, while a costly shrine to the pagan divinity was raised, a chapel dedicated to the "Virgini Deipara," commenced by General Pino, the former proprietor of the Villa, was wholly neglected, and is now the depository of a cartoon of Diana, Cupids with broken limbs, and the old scenes of the theatre. Inquiry was made for the celebrated chambers, which were examined with such acumen by the British Commission to the Continent; but they are locked up, and there is no admission.

The embellishments of the grounds are generally in bad taste, consisting of straight walks leading up the hill, Egyptian temples covered with coarse mosaics, and rude statues. To this remark, there are some exceptions. A beautiful little Grecian temple of Veronese marble rises in a tangled copse of laurel, and canopies statues of Telemachus and Mentor, who here find a retreat as green and cool, as the fabled grottos of Calypso. Near by, a brook descends from the slope, leaping from rock to rock and babbling through the shades, till it joins the lake below. At its mouth is a miniature port, in which the queen's yacht lies moored, just as it was left by her. General Pino, to whom many of the decorations of this villa are ascribable, seems to have been a doting warrior, as fond of bastions as Corporal Trim and my uncle Toby. On the olive-clad steep, which overhangs the gardens, he built a citadel in imitation of Taragona, in Spain, with a terrace winding up to the walls, which may be comfortably scaled, without the trouble of climbing the rugged rocks.

Caroline here expended large sums of money. She opened an excellent road from her Villa through the Borgo Vico to Como. It cost her 100,000 francs. An anecdote was related by one of our boatmen, which was highly creditable to a woman, who was not destitute of virtues, whatever may have been her faults. The house of a poor family was burned down. Hearing of the calamity and of the distress of its inmates, she directed a new building to be erected for their accommodation, at her own expense. The offences with which she was charged, are supported by the current opinion at Como. Her Milanese friends cut her acquaintance; though secretly perhaps they were no better than herself. But peace to the shade of an unfortunate princess, who after all may have been innocent, and whom the bitterness of persecution hurried to the grave.

Pursuing our voyage and crossing the lake, we effected another landing at Pliniana, on the eastern shore, eight miles from Como. It is situated under high cliffs, which are nearly perpendicular, clad with

hanging groves of cypress. A noble cascade dashes down the rocks, from a height of one hundred feet, and lashes the water below into a foam. The front of the large solitary palace rises out of the lake, and they sit and fish at the windows of the principal saloon. Its basement resembles a mill, rather than a chateau; since the copious fountain, so minutely described by Pliny the Younger, flows under the walls, with the roar of a gate-way, pouring from a cavern in the cliffs above. The grotto whence the stream issues, has been artificially, adorned with pillars. Its waters are perfectly transparent, gushing out from a bed of limestone. The basin was wet a foot above the surface, and the aged hermit, who was found at the Villa, informed us that the refluent tide had just subsided. He stated on the authority of personal observation for more than half a century, that the fountain is very irregular in its intermissions. Sometimes it ebbs and flows only thrice a day, and at others, four and even five times. I will not trouble my readers nor myself with speculations, in attempting to account for this phenomenon, which is not of rare occurrence, and which derives its celebrity solely from its classical associations.

The letter of Pliny, who was a native of Como, and here had his summer retreat, is inscribed in full on the walls of one of the apartments, together with as much other Latin and Italian as a person could read in a week. The noble proprietor has added, by way of embellishment, noseless images of all his ancestors since the flood. Not a particle of taste is visible in the dilapidated Villa. It affords an enchanting view of another reach of the lake above, for eight or ten miles, where its windings are lost among the mountains. The upper section is much more wild and romantic, than the lower end, reaching hence to Como. Its waters are discharged about midway, from its eastern shore, and form the river Adda. On a point of land not far from Pliniana, is a small church and an image of the Virgin, where the boatmen moor their skiffs and pay their vows. Narrow as the channel is, and deeply as it is embosomed among the hills, it is subject to sudden and violent squalls from the Alps, which lash it into fury.

Our excursion might have been agreeably extended farther north; but time would not permit. On the return, the oarsmen hoisted their white sail to the breeze, which sprang up at evening, and bore us back in season, to see the sun go down in brightness upon the battlements of Como, and the green summits in its vicinity. A ramble over the town concluded the pleasures of the day. The moon was so bright, as to enable us to read the inscription in honour of Pliny, on the front of the Cathedral.

In an Italian journal, at the village coffee-house, we found extracts

from New-York papers to the 2d of September, having in little more than a month crossed the Atlantic and the Alps, reaching the secluded shores of Como. Our trusty Savoyard provided genteel accommodations at the hotel. The chambers were neatly furnished; and among the bounties of the table were several varieties of fish from the lake.

Early next morning, we resumed our journey across the country towards Lake Maggiore. Half an hour was occupied, while the vetturino was harnessing his team, in paying another visit to the Cathedral, and looking at its ornaments. It is a stately edifice of white marble and of mixed architecture. Statues of the two Pliny's stand on each side of the front door. Some of the chapels are splendid; but terra cotta saints and votive offerings were quite too abundant. Over the inner door, was observed a pompous inscription to Ferdinand of Austria, who claims the honour of having established religion in Europe-a work commonly ascribed to its divine Author. A new and handsome Lyceum has lately been erected near the Milanese gate. The walls of Como are lofty and massive, flanked with towers, which rise with a good degree of dignity from the eminences back of the town.

As we lingered a little longer than was anticipated, in taking a last view of the lake slumbering in the brightness of an autumnal morning, the coachman pushed on, and left us to walk up a hill of two miles. On its summit, overlooking the surrounding country, a pretty chateau was observed, bearing the initials of queen Caroline upon the gate, in the same style they were found at the Villa d'Este. This was doubtless one of her Lodges. It exhibits more taste than her palace.

The skies to-day were among the most pure, brilliant, and genial, that had been witnessed in Italy; and our ride across a rich undulating country abounding in fertile vales and clear waters, was delightful. The snowy line of the Alps, basking in the solar blaze, was constantly before us, embracing St. Gothard and Monte Rosa, two of the highest summits. Nothing, could exceed the grandeur and dazzling splendour of the latter, heaving its eternal rocks and glaciers into the deep blue firmament, without a cloud to obstruct the view. Its height is 13,250 feet above the level of the Mediterranean; exceeding, by nearly one half, the elevation of any mountain I had before seen. My companion had gazed upon the Andes themselves, to which these stupendous piles are but mole-hills; though their hoary tops seemed quite high enough to be traversed in a coach.

It

Passing Malneta and other small villages, at mid-day we reached Verese, a large town on the borders of a lake of the same name. is the seat of many handsome palaces, and of the Milanese nobility.

« PreviousContinue »