« PreviousContinue »
banker at Genoa.
His mode of life was as eccentric here as in other places. With his countrymen he held no fellowship. He kept his horse, and used to ride to the city once a day to read the news. A gentleman informed us, that on receiving the intelligence that Lord Castlereagh had cut his throat, Byron remarked-" it is the best thing he has ever done for his country!"
A full day was occupied in an excursion to Cocoletto, the reputed birth-place of Christopher Columbus. Although much obscurity still hangs over the cradle of this great man; yet the American traveller in particular will feel a satisfaction in visiting a spot, which tradition has associated with the Discoverer of the New World. I have neither time nor inclination at present to enter into a disquisition upon the contradictory authorities in relation to this subject, nor to balance the conflicting claims of rival places to the nativity of the adventurous navigator. His own manuscript is now understood to be in the hands of one of our countrymen at Madrid, who perhaps may throw some new light upon the early years of its author.
The village of Cocoletto is situated at the head of the Gulf, about fifteen miles from Genoa, on the road towards Savone. On arriving at the little hotel, inquiry was made for the house of Christopher Columbus, and some half a dozen villagers, who seemed to exult in the name, led the way to the antique and humble mansion. It stands upon the sea-shore, encircled by the Alps, and looking south upon a waste of waters. If the grandeur of natural scenery can inspire genius, and awaken young thought to noble pursuits, Cocoletto may hence draw an argument to strengthen her claim, and in this particular at least challenge competition. The low, arched ceilings and decayed walls bear all the marks of great age; but one can hardly bring himself to the belief, that they have stood between three and four centuries. A small chamber, perhaps ten feet square, is shown, in which it is pretended Columbus was born. Many fragments of the ceiling have been carried away as relics. The furniture of the room looks as if it might be coeval with the apartment. A little image of the Madonna, a cross, and a cup for the holy water, are suspended from the curtain at the head of the bed. The present tenant is a kind-hearted woman, who spread her frugal board and insisted on sharing its hospitality with the stranger from a distant land, which her illustrious predecessor had discovered. Her ideas of cosmography were not very precise, and like many other less pardonable Europeans, she seemed to consider all Americans, as the descendants of the Aborigines.
In front of the house is a small terrace, overhanging the shore; and
when the Gulf is stormy and the waves run high, a shower of spray patters upon the roof. If this was really the birth-place of Columbus, it may almost be said, that he was cradled upon the sea: the first sounds he heard must have been its murmurs, and the first object of his vision, its blue expanse. As I stood leaning over the balustrade, watching the swells breaking at my feet, and the line of little boats moored along the beach, incredulity for a moment vanished, and imagination pictured the juvenile navigator, launching his adventurous bark, and sporting with that element, which was destined to conduct him to imperishable renown.
ROUTE FROM GENOA TO PISA-ITALIAN COACHES-CHIAVARI-CESTRI -MOUNTAIN SCENERY-BORGHETTO-GULF OF SPEZIA-SARZANAMASSA-PIETRA SANTA-LUCCA-RIDE TO PISA.
On the 8th, a vetturino was engaged to take us from Genoa to Pisa, a distance of something more than 150 English miles, for sixty francs each, including dinner and lodgings during the journey. This is the ordinary mode of travelling in Italy. The vettura is a sort of public coach, with two, and sometimes three or four, horses, generally owned by the driver, who performs the whole route with the same team, making long rests at the hotels, in the manner of private carriages. Throngs of vetturini are found in all the principal cities, who have a kind of exchange of their own, where they wage an active competition, besetting every person that passes with their importunities, and cries of their coaches for different places. They can hardly be said to have a home, leading a wandering life, and journeying on, like vessels employed in the carrying trade, clearing out for one port after another, and waiting for a new cargo. In point of honesty they may more properly be compared to pirates, having no fixed prices, and commonly demanding twice or thrice as much, as they will ultimately consent to take. As much time and formality are required in striking a bargain with them, as in negotiating a national treaty. Duplicate bonds are regularly drawn, signed, sealed, and delivered; and the traveller often receives a Napoleon or two, as a farther pledge for the fidelity of the driver.
The road from Genoa to Pisa, like that between the former place and Nice, traverses the shore of the Mediterranean, crossing alternately lofty ridges and deep vales, springing from the western declivities of the Apennines, and forming one of the most romantic districts imaginable. All the combinations of natural scenery, which can arise from the grandest and most beautiful elements from bright skies and still brighter waters-from mountains now heaving their snowy tops to the clouds, and now sinking into woody slopes-from bold, picturesque promontories shooting into the sea-from deep, azure, and tranquil bays, setting up between the hills-from sequestered, sunny glades, clothed in verdure, and even at this season teeming with fruits and flowers-from little white villages perched upon the crags, with perhaps its tiny port spreading beneath-in a word, from rocks,
woods, and waves, wildness and cultivation, thrown together in the most romantic forms, are here successively presented to the eye.
Eustace, in his "Classical Tour," went from Leghorn to Genoa by water, partly, he said, because the road is uninteresting, and partly from a fear of banditti, by whom it is at times beset; and Madame Starke, though never wanting in a spirit of adventure herself, advises the traveller to take a felucca and navigate a waste of waters, to the loss of all this enchanting scenery. These hints and the accounts of other tourists led us to look upon the route with the same sort of dread, as was felt in our departure from Nice; but as we were travelling in Italy for information, we deemed it advisable at least to keep in sight of land. Our expectations were so agreeably disappointed, that I would to-morrow be happy to retrace the same path merely for the sake of the succession of fine views it affords. For the greater part of the way, the road is excellent. It was surveyed and commenced under Napoleon; and the present government has had the good sense in one instance, to follow up his splendid plans, and at an immense expense execute a work, which reflects credit upon the country. In extent and magnitude, the undertaking will bear a comparison with the passages over Mont Cenis and the Semplon, as terraces, bridges, and galleries were necessary almost every mile. It is constructed in a substantial manner, and when completed will endure for ages.
At the close of my last letter, I gave a brief sketch of a little village, which claims the honour of giving birth to Columbus. One of the first objects, that attracted our attention after leaving Genoa, was the rival village of Quinto, which puts in its claim to the same distinction, as sharply contested and left almost in as much doubt as the cradle of old Mæonides. What a picture of the fate of genius is here exhibited!-towns disputing for the birth-place of a man, who in life was loaded with ignominy and chains! So has it been with Dante and Gallileo, Petrarch and Tasso-so will it be with Byron and Napoleon.
The pretensions of Quinto appear to be even more equivocal than those of Cocoletto. We rambled about the village and inquired of half a dozen persons, before the house could be found. It is a less modest as well as a less antique mansion, than its rival at the head of the Gulf. At present it is owned and occupied by an English family, who seem to have gone there partly on the strength of the association, and partly for the sake of the beautiful view which the village affords of the Mediterranean and the surrounding country. The house stands back of the principal street, at the foot of the Apennines, and perhaps
fifty yards from the sea. In front is a small garden, filled with parterres of various plants and flowers, among which the rose was in full bloom. The gardener permitted us to pluck a bouquet, and showed us every thing to be seen about the premises.
On the opposite side of the road is the village church, seated upon a beautiful green cape, within a few paces of the water, which breaks and murmurs under its very windows. Just at the moment of passing, a funeral procession issued from the doors, and moved in solemn pomp to the place of interment. It was a kind of masquerade, which from its associations perhaps, had more the appearance of mockery than of real sorrow. In Italy, societies are formed for the purpose of burying the dead. All the members are clad in dominos and masks, with their eyes and mouths peeping out, in more of a comic than serious manner. The object of this disguise was originally good, it being intended to prevent ostentation, and the world from recognizing persons engaged in a public act of humanity.
Passing the palaces and velvet manufactories of Nervi, to which point the southern faubourg of Genoa may almost be said to extend, we reached Rapallo and the little harbour of Porto Fino about noon, when the vetturino left us to ramble about the hills and gaze at the sea spreading beneath our feet, for two hours. This place presents a splendid view of the city, which had just been left behind, and of the Alps beyond. Between Rapallo and Chiavari, the road traverses one of the boldest spurs of the Apennines, terminating in tremendous cliff's overhanging the sea, and apparently presenting an insuperable barrier. But art has scaled the rampart of rocks, and opened a path, at one time through galleries piercing the mountain, and at others, along terraces suspended from the cliffs hundreds of feet above the water. In one place the loose fragments of the hill, appearing ready to slide, have actually been propped up by artificial means. It would not be matter of surprise, if at some future day, the whole side of the mountain, road and all, should be precipitated into the sea.
Chiavari is a large town, both sides of the main street being lined with handsome arcades, beneath which fancy goods are displayed at the shops in the Parisian style. Coffee-houses and promenades exhibit no ordinary share of village splendour; and well dressed people, exhibiting an air of gaiety and fashion, seemed to be enjoying a little world of their own. The town occupies the outlet of a broad and deep vale, winding up among the hills-green, flowery, and exuberant in its productions. From a small port in the vicinity, the few wants of a frugal population are supplied, in exchange for the fruits of their industry.