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at certain seasons of the year. The streets were filled with people and merchandise, collected at the annual fair. A coarseness of features, costumes, and manners is displayed by the peasantry, not to be met with south of the Po. In the entrance to the large hotel, the names of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and of the King of the two Sicilies were conspicuously posted up, with precise dates of the year, month, and day when they here slept with their royal wives.
Two miles beyond the town, we had a charming view of Lake Verese, of small dimensions, but beautifully cradled among the hills. Its shores are green and rural. Two promontories nearly intersect this minature sheet of water, and contribute much to its secluded charms. On its eastern border rises a broken hill of considerable elevation, upon the very summit of which a white village is perched, forming one of the most picturesque images imaginable. The country here assumes an aspect essentially different from the dull and unvaried scenery of Lombardy, in the vicinity of Milan, and on the alluvial banks of the Po.
The vetturino knew as little as ourselves of the intricate cross-roads, and the poor fellow went eight miles out of his way, before he discovered his error. In consequence of this accident, we did not arrive at Sesto Calende, on the left bank of the Ticin, at the outlet of Lake Maggiore, till after dark, and were obliged to take lodgings for the night at a miserable hotel. Mean and dirty as its chambers are, they were filled with swarms of English travellers, on their way to the south of Italy, to seek a winter residence, where they can live cheaper, as well as more pleasantly than in their own country. Not less than five or six thousand, like birds of passage, annually seek refuge in the sunny climes beyond the Alps.
The next morning at daylight we crossed the broad current of the Ticin in a boat, which Charon himself would have condemned as unseaworthy, and landed on the opposite shore in Piedmont, re-entering the dominions of his Sardinian Majesty. A full hour was occupied in an examination of our passports and trunks at the Dogana, during which time our only source of amusement was a shrine to the Virgin, standing at the corner of the streets, exhibiting on one side a skeleton, wearing the triple crown of the Pope; and on the other, a similar figure, with the mitre of a bishop upon his head. The ornaments were quite allegorical, and seemed designed to admonish wayfaring men, that ecclesiastical dignitaries as well as other mortals must die, and that even Pontiffs must resign their diadems. A wine-cart, containing half a dozen pretty peasant girls, with their faces stained with the purple vintage, and singing a merry song in full chorus. afforded a
much more cheerful image, than the bones and death's heads of the Virgin.
At Arona we left the coach, and walked through the large old town, situated at the foot of the Lake. The streets were overrun with beggars, whose importunities almost amounted to personal assaults, besetting us upon the side-walks, and bawling out in all the cant of mendicity. They seemed to be confirmed vagrants, who live by their profession, poor as it is. The inhabitants of Arona were celebrating their annual fair, and all the neighbouring peasantry had flocked in. It was a miserable show both of merchandise and population. The females here wear a rakish straw hat, turned down before and behind, more becoming a jockey than the face of a pretty woman.
In the lower section of Lake Maggiore, I was sadly disappointed. Its shores are low, reedy, and tame, displaying not a single interesting feature. It has neither the solitary grandeur of the Lago di Garda, nor the rural and picturesque beauty of Como or Verese. We have a hundred lakes in our country, in all respects its superior; and it will sustain no comparison with those of Ireland, England, or Scotland. Such were my first impressions, derived from a view which the heights about Arona presented. But it was subsequently, ascertained, that the foot does not furnish a fair specimen of the scenery upon its shores.
We walked a mile or more up a most tedious hill, to look at a colossal statue in honour of St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, a native of this region, as well as its present patron. The work cost upwards of $200,000, and it is not worth as many sous, except for old brass and copper, to be wrought into tea-kettles and the boilers of steam-boats. Although it is mounted upon one of the highest summits in the vicinity, it is set so far from the brow, as to be invisible from the road. But this is no loss to the traveller; for who ever took delight in looking at a colossus, except as a mere object of childish curiosity?
The statue itself is seventy-two feet in height, standing on a pedestal thirty-two feet from the ground, giving an aggregate of something more than a hundred feet to the crown of the head. The hands are of bronze, and the rest of brass. St. Charles is in the attitude of blessing his native town, with his right arm outstretched, and a book under his left. I contented myself with climbing a ladder to the pedestal, and bowing at the feet of such an idol. But my companion and an English tourist, who joined us on the hill, crept under the robes of the Saint, took a pinch of snuff in his nose, and examined the
dura-mater and processes of his head, in which eight men may be comfortably lodged.
Rejoining the carriage, we journeyed onward along the immediate margin of the Lake, and upon the great road of the Simplon. Neither the one nor the other here possesses any extraordinary degree of interest. The shores are flat and the beach sandy. About noon, the far-famed Borromean Isles came into view. They are three in number, the Madre, Isola Bella, and Pescatori, situated in a deep bay or arm of the lake, setting up into the hills towards the west. Maggiore at this point assumes something of the grandeur, which its name imports. Its width may be something like six or eight miles, and its whole length about fifty. Its shores here exhibit an alpine character, the mountains becoming higher, more rugged, and picturesque. The borders are sometimes fringed with deep forests, and at others, with orchards of olives and vineyards, studded with white villages and hamlets, like those of Como. The three islands, lying within a mile of one another, are too small to form a prominent feature in the landscape, and too artificial to excite a very high degree of interest. They are not comparable in beauty with those about the bay of Naples, and on the western coast of Italy.
We took a boat immediately and visited the Isola Bella, which is a mile and a half from the shore. It is accounted by far the finest of the group, and the few attractions it presented, discouraged us from extending our excursion to any of the others. The most extravagant epithets have been wasted upon this pile of artificial terraces, rising eight stories above the surface of the lake, covered with palaces, pavilions, groves, and circular walks. It has been called the isle of Calypso, the isle of enchantment, the isle of the blest, and I know not how many romantic names, besides the pretty one which it now bears. Rousseau is said to have contemplated laying the scene of his Heloise in its delicious bowers; but the impassioned sentiments of his heroine would have congealed on so unnatural a spot, even in the sunny climes of Italy.
It may excite wonder, that wealth has created so many embellishments, upon what was originally a ledge of rocks, entirely destitute of soil; but taste never seeks to produce vulgar astonishment, by strange things, in rural scenery or in the works of art. The bare idea that all these formal circles of terraces, plants in flower-pots, and grottos with stucco walls, were carried from the shore in scows, and heaped together as men construct a gun-battery, was sufficient to dispel the eharm of romance; and I rambled through the admired retreats of the
Isola Bella with as much indifference, as I should over a dismantled fortress, provided it rose from the bosom of as fine a lake, and its bulwarks commanded as rich a prospect. Saints may know how to build churches and adorn shrines; but there is at least one Architect, who is more skilful in the formation of islands, and the archbishop never should have been canonized for the miracle he has here wrought.
We landed at a lateral flight of steps, where a group of little girls met us with dishes of grapes and other kinds of fruit. There are two hundred inhabitants on the island, a hotel, one or two coffee-houses, with all the appendages of a village, not of the neatest kind. A terrace was climbed to the top, which is perhaps 100 feet above the level of the lake. Upon the summit is an area fifty feet square, composed of stone and mortar, embellished with a rampant steed, the rider of which is a boy. Other rude statues are posted like sentinels round the balustrade. We walked quite round the islet, which is perhaps a mile in circuit. The front consists of terraces, retreating inward as they ascend, like a regular flight of steps; and the different stages are covered with red earthen-ware, filled with oranges, citrons, and other shrubs. The grottos, as they are called, resemble the gloomy and tasteless cloisters of a convent. On the eastern side is a pretty grove of laurel, overhanging the lake, which is the only natural feature in all this little creation of St. Charles.
The palace stands on the northern margin. In the basement is a suite of rooms, the walls of which are paved with pebbles from the lake, and lined with ordinary statues by a Milanese artist. The upper rooms contain a gallery of pictures, which are much upon a par with the other decorations, and among which we found few works of merit. Fifty or sixty of the Borromean family now occupy the numerous apartments. Such, I believe, is a pretty faithful picture of this enchanted island, to which the Sirens of Lago Maggiore have attracted so many travellers, by their illusive incantations.
From the pyramidal apex of the Isola Bella, we had a fair view of Madre-the mother of the group-who presents fewer allurements than her affected and graceless, though flattered, daughter. Her tenement, exposed to the sun, and rising from a sandy beach, looked quite too substantial for the residence of a water-nymph; and of the two, I would prefer to visit the huts of the four hundred fishermen, who dry their nets upon Pescatori. But our boat dashed by the latter without a call or a regret. A head-wind was so strong, that the waves broke into the boat, compelling us to land at the nearest point, and to walk two miles before we overtook the coach at Baveno. The hills along
the shore of the lake have here been excavated into immense quarries, and blocks of granite strew the beach. Materials for building are taken hence down the Ticin, and through a canal to Milan.
Refreshments were obtained at a small inn, the master of which was an old Spaniard, who kept a hotel for many years at Cadiz, turned soldier, and in the late revolutions of Europe, was thrown by accident upon the remote shores of Maggiore, where he has resumed his former occupation. He looked at the mountains, as his only almanack, and informed us, that the following day would be clear, with high winds (rabidi venti.) His family used us kindly, and each of them took formal leave, tendering their good wishes in soft superlatives, for a prosperous journey over the Alps, as if the genius of Napoleon had not divested the route of all its terrors.
After recording our names in an album, in which the signatures of many of our countrymen were found, we set out at 4 o'clock P. M. for Domo d'Ossola, distant twenty miles, and were soon lost among the hills. The great road of the Simplon pursues the windings of a deep vale, watered by the Toccia; a beautiful stream, the banks of which are sprinkled with secluded hamlets, and are fertile in corn and wine. Its eastern side is bounded by bleak and uninterrupted ridges of rocks. Towards the west, two or three other secluded valleys, still green and sunny, opened from the base of Monte Rosa, which reared its glittering summit above the rude masses of intervening rocks. This giant even among the Alps was now within a few miles of us, and its form was distinctly traced. Its stupendous cone is finely rounded off, and its sides do not appear to present many asperities. Like a child who amuses his mind with vain desires and "thick-coming fancies," I wished myself upon the topmost glacier, but for one hour on this evening of glorious sunshine, that I might survey the charms of Italy spread at my feet, take a birds-eye view of the Po and Apennines, and see the chain of lakes, set like brilliants in the green plains of Lombardy, But the sun went down behind the crags of granite upon our left, which threw their deep shadows across the path; when turning and looking through a long vista of mountains, opening upon Lake Maggiore, we caught a last glimpse of the blue heavens of Italy, as pure, serene, and resplendent as ever. The feelings of the moment, in bidding farewell forever to the land of azure skies and classical waters, of ancient monuments and modern arts, of poetry, music, and love, may be better imagined than described.
We did not reach Domo d' Ossola till 8 o'clock in the evening. This town is situated at the head of the vale, encircled on all sides