Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino
Samuel Butler

Part 2 out of 4

point, for from this point onwards towards the choir the floor is
artificially supported, and the supporting structure is due
entirely to Hugo de Montboissier. The part of the original church
which still remains is perhaps the wall, which forms the western
limit of the present church. This wall is not external. It forms
the eastern wall of a large chamber with frescoes. I am not sure
that this chamber does not occupy the whole space of the original

There are a few nice votive pictures in the church, and one or two
very early frescoes, which are not without interest; but the main
charm of the place is in the architecture, and the sense at once of
age and strength which it produces. The stock things to see are
the vaults in which many of the members of the royal house of
Savoy, legitimate and illegitimate, lie buried; they need not,
however, be seen.

I have said that the whole building is of much about the same date,
and, unless perhaps in the residential parts, about which I can say
little, has not been altered. This is not the view taken by the
author of Murray's Handbook for North Italy, who says that
"injudicious repairs have marred the effect of the building;" but
this writer has fallen into several errors. He talks, for example,
of the "open Lombard gallery of small circular arches" as being
"one of the oldest and most curious features of the building,"
whereas it is obviously no older than the rest of the church, nor
than the keep-like construction upon which it rests. Again, he is
clearly in error when he says that the "extremely beautiful
circular arch by which we pass from the staircase to the corridor
leading to the church, is a vestige of the original building." The
double round arched portals through which we pass from the main
staircase to the corridor are of exactly the same date as the
staircase itself, and as the rest of the church. They certainly
formed no part of Giovanni Vincenzo's edifice; for, besides being
far too rich, they are not on a level with what remains of that
building, but several feet below it. It is hard to know what the
writer means by "the original building;" he appears to think it
extended to the present choir, which, he says, "retains traces of
an earlier age." The choir retains no such traces. The only
remains of the original church are at the back of the west end,
invisible from the inside of the church, and at the opposite end to
the choir. As for the church being "in a plain Gothic style," it
is an extremely beautiful example of pure Lombard, of the first few
years of the eleventh century. True, the middle arch of the three
which divide the nave from the aisles is pointed, whereas the two
others are round, but this is evidently done to economise space,
which was here unusually costly. There was room for more than two
round arches, but not room enough for three, so it was decided to
dock the middle arch a little. It is a she-arch--that is to say,
it has no keystone, but is formed simply by propping two segments
of a circle one against the other. It certainly is not a Gothic
arch; it is a Lombard arch, modified in an unusual manner, owing to
its having been built under unusual conditions.

The visitor should on no account omit to ring the bell and ask to
be shown the open Lombard gallery already referred to as running
round the outside of the choir. It is well worth walking round
this, if only for the view.

The official who showed us round was very kind, and as a personal
favour we were allowed to visit the fathers' private garden. The
large arm-chairs are made out of clipped box-trees. While on our
way to the garden we passed a spot where there was an alarming
buzzing, and found ourselves surrounded by what appeared to be an
angry swarm of bees; closer inspection showed that the host was a
medley one, composed of wasps, huge hornets, hive-bees, humble-
bees, flies, dragon-flies, butterflies, and all kinds of insects,
flying about a single patch of ivy in full blossom, which attracted
them so strongly that they neglected everything else. I think some
of them were intoxicated. If this was so, then perhaps Bacchus is
called "ivy-crowned" because ivy-blossoms intoxicate insects, but I
never remember to have before observed that ivy-blossoms had any
special attraction for insects.

I have forgotten to say anything about a beam of wood which may be
seen standing out at right angles from the tower to the right of
the main building. This I believe to have been the gallows.
Another like it may be seen at S. Giorio, but I have not got it in
my sketch of that place. The attendant who took us round S.
Michele denied that it was the gallows, but I think it must have
been. Also, the attendant showed us one place which is called Il
Salto della belle Alda. Alda was being pursued by a soldier; to
preserve her honour, she leaped from a window and fell over a
precipice some hundreds of feet below; by the intercession of the
Virgin she was saved, but became so much elated that she determined
to repeat the feat. She jumped a second time from the window, but
was dashed to pieces. We were told this as being unworthy of
actual credence, but as a legend of the place. We said we found no
great difficulty in believing the first half of the story, but
could hardly believe that any one would jump from that window
twice. {14}

CHAPTER IX--The North Italian Priesthood

There is now a school in the sanctuary; we met the boys several
times. They seemed well cared for and contented. The priests who
reside in the sanctuary were courtesy itself; they took a warm
interest in England, and were anxious for any information I could
give them about the monastery near Loughborough--a name which they
had much difficulty in pronouncing. They were perfectly tolerant,
and ready to extend to others the consideration they expected for
themselves. This should not be saying much, but as things go it is
saying a good deal. What indeed more can be wished for?

The faces of such priests as these--and I should say such priests
form a full half of the North Italian priesthood--are perfectly
free from that bad furtive expression which we associate with
priestcraft, and which, when seen, cannot be mistaken: their faces
are those of our own best English country clergy, with perhaps a
trifle less flesh about them and a trifle more of a not unkindly

Comparing our own clergy with the best North Italian and Ticinese
priests, I should say there was little to choose between them. The
latter are in a logically stronger position, and this gives them
greater courage in their opinions; the former have the advantage in
respect of money, and the more varied knowledge of the world which
money will command. When I say Catholics have logically the
advantage over Protestants, I mean that starting from premises
which both sides admit, a merely logical Protestant will find
himself driven to the Church of Rome. Most men as they grow older
will, I think, feel this, and they will see in it the explanation
of the comparatively narrow area over which the Reformation
extended, and of the gain which Catholicism has made of late years
here in England. On the other hand, reasonable people will look
with distrust upon too much reason. The foundations of action lie
deeper than reason can reach. They rest on faith--for there is no
absolutely certain incontrovertible premise which can be laid by
man, any more than there is any investment for money or security in
the daily affairs of life which is absolutely unimpeachable. The
funds are not absolutely sale; a volcano might break out under the
Bank of England. A railway journey is not absolutely safe; one
person, at least, in several millions gets killed. We invest our
money upon faith mainly. We choose our doctor upon faith, for how
little independent judgment can we form concerning his capacity?
We choose schools for our children chiefly upon faith. The most
important things a man has are his body, his soul, and his money.
It is generally better for him to commit these interests to the
care of others of whom he can know little, rather than be his own
medical man, or invest his money on his own judgment; and this is
nothing else than making a faith which lies deeper than reason can
reach, the basis of our action in those respects which touch us
most nearly.

On the other hand, as good a case could be made out for placing
reason as the foundation, inasmuch as it would be easy to show that
a faith, to be worth anything, must be a reasonable one--one, that
is to say, which is based upon reason. The fact is, that faith and
reason are like desire and power, or demand and supply; it is
impossible to say which comes first: they come up hand in hand,
and are so small when we can first descry them, that it is
impossible to say which we first caught sight of. All we can now
see is that each has a tendency continually to outstrip the other
by a little, but by a very little only. Strictly they are not two
things, but two aspects of one thing; for convenience sake,
however, we classify them separately.

It follows, therefore--but whether it follows or no, it is
certainly true--that neither faith alone nor reason alone is a
sufficient guide: a man's safety lies neither in faith nor reason,
but in temper--in the power of fusing faith and reason, even when
they appear most mutually destructive. A man of temper will be
certain in spite of uncertainty, and at the same time uncertain in
spite of certainty; reasonable in spite of his resting mainly upon
faith rather than reason, and full of faith even when appealing
most strongly to reason. If it is asked, In what should a man have
faith? To what faith should he turn when reason has led him to a
conclusion which he distrusts? the answer is, To the current
feeling among those whom he most looks up to--looking upon himself
with suspicion if he is either among the foremost or the laggers.
In the rough, homely common sense of the community to which we
belong we have as firm ground as can be got. This, though not
absolutely infallible, is secure enough for practical purposes.

As I have said, Catholic priests have rather a fascination for me--
when they are not Englishmen. I should say that the best North
Italian priests are more openly tolerant than our English clergy
generally are. I remember picking up one who was walking along a
road, and giving him a lift in my trap. Of course we fell to
talking, and it came out that I was a member of the Church of
England. "Ebbene, caro Signore," said he when we shook hands at
parting; "mi rincresce che Lei non crede come me, ma in questi
tempi non possiamo avere tutti i medesimi principii." {15}

I travelled another day from Susa to S. Ambrogio with a priest, who
told me he took in "The Catholic Times," and who was well up to
date on English matters. Being myself a Conservative, I found his
opinions sound on all points but one--I refer to the Irish
question: he had no sympathy with the obstructionists in
Parliament, but nevertheless thought the Irish were harshly
treated. I explained matters as well as I could, and found him
very willing to listen to our side of the question.

The one thing, he said, which shocked him with the English, was the
manner in which they went about distributing tracts upon the
Continent. I said no one could deplore the practice more
profoundly than myself, but that there were stupid and conceited
people in every country, who would insist upon thrusting their
opinions upon people who did not want them. He replied that the
Italians travelled not a little in England, but that he was sure
not one of them would dream of offering Catholic tracts to people,
for example, in the streets of London. Certainly I have never seen
an Italian to be guilty of such rudeness. It seems to me that it
is not only toleration that is a duty; we ought to go beyond this
now; we should conform, when we are among a sufficient number of
those who would not understand our refusal to do so; any other
course is to attach too much importance at once to our own opinions
and to those of our opponents. By all means let a man stand by his
convictions when the occasion requires, but let him reserve his
strength, unless it is imperatively called for. Do not let him
exaggerate trifles, and let him remember that everything is a
trifle in comparison with the not giving offence to a large number
of kindly, simple-minded people. Evolution, as we all know, is the
great doctrine of modern times; the very essence of evolution
consists in the not shocking anything too violently, but enabling
it to mistake a new action for an old one, without "making believe"
too much.

One day when I was eating my lunch near a fountain, there came up a
moody, meditative hen, crooning plaintively after her wont. I
threw her a crumb of bread while she was still a good way off, and
then threw more, getting her to come a little closer and a little
closer each time; at last she actually took a piece from my hand.
She did not quite like it, but she did it. This is the evolution
principle; and if we wish those who differ from us to understand
us, it is the only method to proceed upon. I have sometimes
thought that some of my friends among the priests have been
treating me as I treated the meditative hen. But what of that?
They will not kill and eat me, nor take my eggs. Whatever,
therefore, promotes a more friendly feeling between us must be pure

The mistake our advanced Liberals make is that of flinging much too
large pieces of bread at a time, and flinging them at their hen,
instead of a little way off her. Of course the hen is fluttered
and driven away. Sometimes, too, they do not sufficiently
distinguish between bread and stones.

As a general rule, the common people treat the priests
respectfully, but once I heard several attacking one warmly on the
score of eternal punishment. "Sara," said one, "per cento anni,
per cinque cento, per mille o forse per dieci mille anni, ma non
sara eterna; perche il Dio e un uomo forte--grande, generoso, di
buon cuore." {16} An Italian told me once that if ever I came upon
a priest whom I wanted to tease, I was to ask him if he knew a
place called La Torre Pellice. I have never yet had the chance of
doing this; for, though I am fairly quick at seeing whether I am
likely to get on with a priest or no, I find the priest is
generally fairly quick too; and I am no sooner in a diligence or
railway carriage with an unsympathetic priest, than he curls
himself round into a moral ball and prays horribly--bristling out
with collects all over like a cross-grained spiritual hedgehog.
Partly, therefore, from having no wish to go out of my way to make
myself obnoxious, and partly through the opposite party being
determined that I shall not get the chance, the question about La
Torre Pellice has never come off, and I do not know what a priest
would say if the subject were introduced,--but I did get a talking
about La Torre Pellice all the same.

I was going from Turin to Pinerolo, and found myself seated
opposite a fine-looking elderly gentleman who was reading a paper
headed, "Le Temoin, Echo des Vallees Vaudoises": for the Vaudois,
or Waldenses, though on the Italian side of the Alps, are French in
language and perhaps in origin. I fell to talking with this
gentleman, and found he was on his way to La Torre Pellice, the
headquarters of indigenous Italian evangelicism. He told me there
were about 25,000 inhabitants of these valleys, and that they were
without exception Protestant, or rather that they had never
accepted Catholicism, but had retained the primitive Apostolic
faith in its original purity. He hinted to me that they were
descendants of some one or more of the lost ten tribes of Israel.
The English, he told me (meaning, I gather, the English of the
England that affects Exeter Hall), had done great things for the
inhabitants of La Torre at different times, and there were streets
called the Via Williams and Via Beckwith. They were, he said, a
very growing sect, and had missionaries and establishments in all
the principal cities in North Italy; in fact, so far as I could
gather, they were as aggressive as malcontents generally are, and,
Italians though they were, would give away tracts just as readily
as we do. I did not, therefore, go to La Torre.

Sometimes priests say things, as a matter of course, which would
make any English clergyman's hair stand on end. At one town there
is a remarkable fourteenth-century bridge, commonly known as "The
Devil's Bridge." I was sketching near this when a jolly old priest
with a red nose came up and began a conversation with me. He was
evidently a popular character, for every one who passed greeted
him. He told me that the devil did not really build the bridge. I
said I presumed not, for he was not in the habit of spending his
time so well.

"I wish he had built it," said my friend; "for then perhaps he
would build us some more."

"Or we might even get a church out of him," said I, a little slyly.

"Ha, ha, ha! we will convert him, and make a good Christian of him
in the end."

When will our Protestantism, or Rationalism, or whatever it may be,
sit as lightly upon ourselves?

CHAPTER X--S. Ambrogio and Neighbourhood

Since the opening of the railway, the old inn where the diligences
and private carriages used to stop has been closed; but I was made,
in a homely way, extremely comfortable at the Scudo di Francia,
kept by Signor Bonaudo and his wife. I stayed here over a
fortnight, during which I made several excursions.

One day I went to San Giorio, as it is always written though San
Giorgio is evidently intended. Here there is a ruined castle,
beautifully placed upon a hill; this castle shows well from the
railway shortly after leaving Bussoleno station, on the right hand
going towards Turin. Having been struck with it, I went by train
to Bussoleno (where there is much that I was unwillingly compelled
to neglect), and walked back to San Giorio. On my way, however, I
saw a patch of Cima-da-Conegliano-looking meadow-land on a hill
some way above me, and on this there rose from among the chestnuts
what looked like a castellated mansion. I thought it well to make
a digression to this, and when I got there, after a lovely walk,
knocked at the door, having been told by peasants that there would
be no difficulty about my taking a look round. The place is called
the Castel Burrello, and is tenanted by an old priest who has
retired hither to end his days. I sent in my card and business by
his servant, and by-and-by he came out to me himself.

"Vous etes Anglais, monsieur?" said he in French.

"Oui, monsieur."

"Vous etes Catholique?"

"Monsieur, je suis de la religion de mes peres."

"Pardon, monsieur, vos ancetres etaient Catholiques jusqu'au temps
de Henri VIII."

"Mais il y a trois cent ans depuis le temps de Henri VIII."

"Eh bien! chacun a ses convictions; vous ne parlez pas contre la

"Jamais, jamais, monsieur; j'ai un respect enorme pour l'Eglise

"Monsieur, faites comme chez vous; allez ou vous voulez; vous
trouverez toutes les portes ouvertes. Amusez-vous bien."

He then explained to me that the castle had never been a properly
fortified place, being intended only as a summer residence for the
barons of Bussoleno, who used to resort hither during the extreme
heat, if times were tolerably quiet. After this he left me.
Taking him at his word, I walked all round, but there was only a
shell remaining; the rest of the building had evidently been burnt,
even the wing in which the present proprietor resides being, if I
remember rightly, modernised. The site, however, and the sloping
meadows which the castle crowns, are of extreme beauty.

I now walked down to San Giorio, and found a small inn where I
could get bread, butter, eggs, and good wine. I was waited upon by
a good-natured boy, the son of the landlord, who was accompanied by
a hawk that sat always either upon his hand or shoulder. As I
looked at the pair I thought they were very much alike, and
certainly they were very much in love with one another. After
dinner I sketched the castle. While I was doing so, a gentleman
told me that a large breach in the wall was made a few years ago,
and a part of the wall found to be hollow, the bottom of the hollow
part being unwittingly removed, there fell through a skeleton in a
full suit of armour. Others, whom I asked, had heard nothing of

Talking of hawks, I saw a good many boys with tame young hawks in
the villages round about. There was a tame hawk at the station of
S. Ambrogio. The station-master said it used to go now and again
to the church-steeple to catch sparrows, but would always return in
an hour or two. Before my stay was over it got in the way of a
passing train and was run over.

Young birds are much eaten in this neighbourhood. The houses and
barns, not to say the steeples of the churches, are to be seen
stuck about with what look like terra-cotta water-bottles with the
necks outwards. Two or three may be seen in the illustration on p.
113 outside the window that comes out of the roof, on the left-hand
side of the picture. I have seen some outside an Italian
restaurant near Lewisham. They are artificial bird's-nests for the
sparrows to build in: as soon as the young are old enough they are
taken and made into a pie. The church-tower near the Hotel de la
Poste at Lanzo is more stuck about with them than any other
building that I have seen.

Swallows and hawks are about the only birds whose young are not
eaten. One afternoon I met a boy with a jay on his finger: having
imprudently made advances to this young gentleman in the hopes of
getting acquainted with the bird, he said he thought I had better
buy it and have it for my dinner; but I did not fancy it. Another
day I saw the padrona at the inn-door talking to a lad, who pulled
open his shirt-front and showed some twenty or thirty nestlings in
the simple pocket formed by his shirt on the one side and his skin
upon the other. The padrona wanted me to say I should like to eat
them, in which case she would have bought them; but one cannot get
all the nonsense one hears at home out of one's head in a moment,
and I am afraid I preached a little. The padrona, who is one of
the most fascinating women in the world, and at sixty is still
handsome, looked a little vexed and puzzled: she admitted the
truth of what I said, but pleaded that the boys found it very hard
to gain a few soldi, and if people didn't kill and eat one thing,
they would another. The result of it all was that I determined for
the future to leave young birds to their fate; they and the boys
must settle that matter between themselves. If the young bird was
a boy, and the boy a young bird, it would have been the boy who was
taken ruthlessly from his nest and eaten. An old bird has no right
to have a homestead, and a young bird has no right to exist at all,
unless they can keep both homestead and existence out of the way of
boys who are in want of half-pence. It is all perfectly right, and
when we go and stay among these charming people, let us do so as
learners, not as teachers.

I watched the padrona getting my supper ready. With what art do
not these people manage their fire. The New Zealand Maoris say the
white man is a fool: "He makes a large fire, and then has to sit
away from it; the Maori makes a small fire, and sits over it." The
scheme of an Italian kitchen-fire is that there shall always be one
stout log smouldering on the hearth, from which a few live coals
may be chipped off if wanted, and put into the small square
gratings which are used for stewing or roasting. Any warming up,
or shorter boiling, is done on the Maori principle of making a
small fire of light dry wood, and feeding it frequently. They
economise everything. Thus I saw the padrona wash some hen's eggs
well in cold water; I did not see why she should wash them before
boiling them, but presently the soup which I was to have for my
supper began to boil. Then she put the eggs into the soup and
boiled them in it.

After supper I had a talk with the padrone, who told me I was
working too hard. "Totam noctem," said he in Latin, "lavoravimus
et nihil incepimus." ("We have laboured all night and taken
nothing.") "Oh!" he continued, "I have eyes and ears in my head."
And as he spoke, with his right hand he drew down his lower eyelid,
and with his left pinched the pig of his ear. "You will be ill if
you go on like this." Then he laid his hand along his cheek, put
his head on one side, and shut his eyes, to imitate a sick man in
bed. On this I arranged to go an excursion with him on the day
following to a farm he had a few miles off, and to which he went
every Friday.

We went to Borgone station, and walked across the valley to a
village called Villar Fochiardo. Thence we began gently to ascend,
passing under some noble chestnuts. Signor Bonaudo said that this
is one of the best chestnut-growing districts in Italy. A good
tree, he told me, would give its forty francs a year. This seems
as though chestnut-growing must be lucrative, for an acre should
carry some five or six trees, and there is no outlay to speak of.
Besides the chestnuts, the land gives a still further return by way
of the grass that grows beneath them. Walnuts do not yield nearly
so much per tree as chestnuts do. In three-quarters of an hour or
so we reached Signor Bonaudo's farm, which was called the Casina di
Banda. The buildings had once been a monastery, founded at the
beginning of the seventeenth century and secularised by the first
Napoleon, but had been purchased from the state a few years ago by
Signor Bonaudo, in partnership with three others, after the passing
of the Church Property Act. It is beautifully situated some
hundreds of feet above the valley, and commands a lovely view of
the Comba, as it is called, or Combe of Susa. The accompanying
sketch will give an idea of the view looking towards Turin. The
large building on the hill is, of course, S. Michele. The very
distant dome is the Superga on the other side of Turin.

The first thing Signor Bonaudo did when he got to his farm was to
see whether the water had been duly turned on to his own portion of
the estate. Each of the four purchasers had his separate portion,
and each had a right to the water for thirty-six hours per week.
Signor Bonaudo went round with his hind at once, and saw that the
dams in the ducts were so opened or closed that his own land was
being irrigated.

Nothing can exceed the ingenuity with which the little canals are
arranged so that each part of a meadow, however undulating, shall
be saturated equally. The people are very jealous of their water
rights, and indeed not unnaturally, for the yield of grass depends
in very great measure upon the amount of irrigation which the land
can get.

The matter of the water having been seen to, we went to the
monastery, or, as it now is, the homestead. As we entered the
farmyard we found two cows fighting, and a great strapping wench
belabouring them in order to separate them. "Let them alone," said
the padrone; "let them fight it out here on the level ground."
Then he explained to me that he wished them to find out which was
mistress, and fall each of them into her proper place, for if they
fought on the rough hillsides they might easily break each other's

We walked all over the monastery. The day was steamy with frequent
showers, and thunderstorms in the air. The rooms were dark and
mouldy, and smelt rather of rancid cheese, but it was not a bad
sort of rambling old place, and if thoroughly done up would make a
delightful inn. There is a report that there is hidden treasure
here. I do not know a single old castle or monastery in North
Italy about which no such report is current, but in the present
case there seems more than usual ground (so the hind told me) for
believing the story to be well founded, for the monks did certainly
smelt the quartz in the neighbourhood, and as no gold was ever
known to leave the monastery, it is most likely that all the
enormous quantity which they must have made in the course of some
two centuries is still upon the premises, if one could only lay
one's hands upon it. So reasonable did this seem, that about two
years ago it was resolved to call in a somnambulist or clairvoyant
from Turin, who, when he arrived at the spot, became seized with
convulsions, betokening of course that there was treasure not far
off: these convulsions increased till he reached the choir of the
chapel, and here he swooned--falling down as if dead, and being
resuscitated with apparent difficulty. He afterwards declared that
it was in this chapel that the treasure was hidden. In spite of
all this, however, the chapel has not been turned upside down and
ransacked, perhaps from fear of offending the saint to whom it is

In the chapel there are a few votive pictures, but not very
striking ones. I hurriedly sketched one, but have failed to do it
justice. The hind saw me copying the little girl in bed, and I had
an impression as though he did not quite understand my motive. I
told him I had a dear little girl of my own at home, who had been
alarmingly ill in the spring, and that this picture reminded me of
her. This made everything quite comfortable.

We had brought up our dinner from S. Ambrogio, and ate it in what
had been the refectory of the monastery. The windows were broken,
and the swallows, who had built upon the ceiling inside the room,
kept flying close to us all the time we were eating. Great mallows
and hollyhocks peered in at the window, and beyond them there was a
pretty Devonshire-looking orchard. The noontide sun streamed in at
intervals between the showers.

After dinner we went "al cresto della collina"--to the crest of the
hill--to use Signor Bonaudo's words, and looked down upon S.
Giorio, and the other villages of the Combe of Susa. Nothing could
be more delightful. Then, getting under the chestnuts, I made the
sketch which I have already given. While making it I was accosted
by an underjawed man (there is an unusually large percentage of
underjawed people in the neighbourhood of S. Ambrogio), who asked
whether my taking this sketch must not be considered as a sign that
war was imminent. The people in this valley have bitter and
comparatively recent experience of war, and are alarmed at anything
which they fancy may indicate its recurrence. Talking further with
him, he said, "Here we have no signori; we need not take off our
hats to any one except the priest. We grow all we eat, we spin and
weave all we wear; if all the world except our own valley were
blotted out, it would make no difference, so long as we remain as
we are and unmolested." He was a wild, weird, St. John the Baptist
looking person, with shaggy hair, and an Andrea Mantegnesque
feeling about him. I gave him a pipe of English tobacco, which he
seemed to relish, and so we parted.

I stayed a week or so at another place not a hundred miles from
Susa, but I will not name it, for fear of causing offence. It was
situated high, above the valley of the Dora, among the pastures,
and just about the upper limit of the chestnuts. It offers a
summer retreat, of which the people in Turin avail themselves in
considerable numbers. The inn was a more sophisticated one than
Signor Bonaudo's house at S. Ambrogio, and there were several Turin
people staying there as well as myself, but there were no English.
During the whole time I was in that neighbourhood I saw not a
single English, French, or German tourist. The ways of the inn,
therefore, were exclusively Italian, and I had a better opportunity
of seeing the Italians as they are among themselves than I ever had

Nothing struck me more than the easy terms on which every one,
including the waiter, appeared to be with every one else. This,
which in England would be impossible, is here not only possible but
a matter of course, because the general standard of good breeding
is distinctly higher than it is among ourselves. I do not mean to
say that there are no rude or unmannerly Italians, but that there
are fewer in proportion than there are in any other nation with
which I have acquaintance. This is not to be wondered at, for the
Italians have had a civilisation for now some three or four
thousand years, whereas all other nations are, comparatively
speaking, new countries, with a something even yet of colonial
roughness pervading them. As the colonies to England, so is
England to Italy in respect of the average standard of courtesy and
good manners. In a new country everything has a tendency to go
wild again, man included; and the longer civilisation has existed
in any country the more trustworthy and agreeable will its
inhabitants be. This preface is necessary, as explaining how it is
possible that things can be done in Italy without offence which
would be intolerable elsewhere; but I confess to feeling rather
hopeless of being able to describe what I actually saw without
giving a wrong impression concerning it.

Among the visitors was the head confidential clerk of a well-known
Milanese house, with his wife and sister. The sister was an
invalid, and so also was the husband, but the wife was a very
pretty woman and a very merry one. The waiter was a good-looking
young fellow of about five-and-twenty, and between him and Signora
Bonvicino--for we will say this was the clerk's name--there sprang
up a violent flirtation, all open and above board. The waiter was
evidently very fond of her, but said the most atrociously impudent
things to her from time to time. Dining under the veranda at the
next table I heard the Signora complain that the cutlets were
burnt. So they were--very badly burnt. The waiter looked at them
for a moment--threw her a contemptuous glance, clearly intended to
provoke war--"Chi non ha appetito {17} . . . " he exclaimed, and
was moving off with a shrug of the shoulders. The Signora
recognising a challenge, rose instantly from the table, and
catching him by the nape of his neck, kicked him deftly downstairs
into the kitchen, both laughing heartily, and the husband and
sister joining. I never saw anything more neatly done. Of course,
in a few minutes some fresh and quite unexceptionable cutlets made
their appearance.

Another morning, when I came down to breakfast, I found an
altercation going on between the same pair as to whether the lady's
nose was too large or not. It was not at all too large. It was a
very pretty little nose. The waiter was maintaining that it was
too large, and the lady that it was not.

One evening Signor Bonvicino told me that his employer had a very
large connection in England, and that though he had never been in
London, he knew all about it almost as well as if he had. The
great centre of business, he said, was in Red Lion Square. It was
here his employer's agent resided, and this was a more important
part than even the city proper. I threw a drop or two of cold
water on this, but without avail. Presently I asked what the
waiter's name was, not having been able to catch it. I asked this
of the Signora, and saw a little look on her face as though she
were not quite prepared to reply. Not understanding this, I
repeated my question.

"Oh! his name is Cesare," was the answer.

"Cesare! but that is not the name I hear you call him by."

"Well, perhaps not; we generally call him Cricco," {18} and she
looked as if she had suddenly remembered having been told that
there were such things as prigs, and might, for aught she knew, be
in the presence of one of these creatures now.

Her husband came to the rescue. "Yes," said he, "his real name is
Julius Caesar, but we call him Cricco. Cricco e un nome di paese;
parlando cosi non si offende la religione." {19}

The Roman Catholic religion, if left to itself and not compelled to
be introspective, is more kindly and less given to taking offence
than outsiders generally believe. At the Sacro Monte of Varese
they sell little round tin boxes that look like medals, and contain
pictures of all the chapels. In the lid of the box there is a
short printed account of the Sacro Monte, which winds up with the
words, "La religione e lo stupendo panorama tirano numerosi ed
allegri visitatori." {20}

Our people are much too earnest to allow that a view could have
anything to do with taking people up to the top of a hill where
there was a cathedral, or that people could be "merry" while on an
errand connected with religion.

On leaving this place I wanted to say good-bye to Signora
Bonvicino, and could not find her; after a time I heard she was at
the fountain, so I went and found her on her knees washing her
husband's and her own clothes, with her pretty round arms bare
nearly to the shoulder.

It never so much as occurred to her to mind being caught at this

Some months later, shortly before winter, I returned to the same
inn for a few days, and found it somewhat demoralised. There had
been grand doings of some sort, and, though the doings were over,
the moral and material debris were not yet quite removed. The
famiglia Bonvicino was gone, and so was Cricco. The cook, the new
waiter, and the landlord (who sings a good comic song upon
occasion) had all drunk as much wine as they could carry; and later
on I found Veneranda, the one-eyed old chambermaid, lying upon my
bed fast asleep. I afterwards heard that, in spite of the autumnal
weather, the landlord spent his night on the grass under the
chestnuts, while the cook was found at four o'clock in the morning
lying at full length upon a table under the veranda. Next day,
however, all had become normal again.

Among our fellow-guests during this visit was a fiery-faced
eructive butcher from Turin. A difference of opinion having arisen
between him and his wife, I told the Signora that I would rather be
wrong with her than right with her husband. The lady was

"Do you hear that, my dear?" said she. "He says he had rather be
wrong with me than right with you. Isn't he a naughty man?"

She said that if she died her husband was going to marry a girl of
fifteen. I said: "And if your husband dies, ma'am, send me a
dispatch to London, and I will come and marry you myself." They
were both delighted at this.

She told us the thunder had upset her and frightened her.

"Has it given you a headache?"

She replied: No; but it had upset her stomach. No doubt the
thunder had shaken her stomach's confidence in the soundness of its
opinions, so as to weaken its proselytising power. By and by,
seeing that she ate a pretty good dinner, I inquired:

"Is your stomach better now, ma'am?"

And she said it was. Next day my stomach was bad too.

I told her I had been married, but had lost my wife and had
determined never to marry again till I could find a widow whom I
had admired as a married woman.

Giovanni, the new waiter, explained to me that the butcher was not
really bad or cruel at all. I shook my head at him and said I
wished I could think so, but that his poor wife looked very ill and

The housemaid's name was La Rosa Mistica.

The landlord was a favourite with all the guests. Every one patted
him on the cheeks or the head, or chucked him under the chin, or
did something nice and friendly at him. He was a little man with a
face like a russet pippin apple, about sixty-five years old, but
made of iron. He was going to marry a third wife, and six young
women had already come up from S. Ambrogio to be looked at. I saw
one of them. She was a Visigoth-looking sort of person and wore a
large wobbly-brimmed straw hat; she was about forty, and gave me
the impression of being familiar with labour of all kinds. He
pressed me to give my opinion of her, but I sneaked out of it by
declaring that I must see a good deal more of the lady than I was
ever likely to see before I could form an opinion at all.

On coming down from the sanctuary one afternoon I heard the
landlord's comic song, of which I have spoken above. It was about
the musical instruments in a band: the trumpet did this, the
clarinet did that, the flute went tootle, tootle, tootle, and there
was an appropriate motion of the hand for every instrument. I was
a little disappointed with it, but the landlord said I was too
serious and the only thing that would cure me was to learn the song
myself. He said the butcher had learned it already, so it was not
hard, which indeed it was not. It was about as hard as:

The battle of the Nile
I was there all the while
At the battle of the Nile.

I had to learn it and sing it (Heaven help me, for I have no more
voice than a mouse!), and the landlord said that the motion of my
little finger was very promising.

The chestnuts are never better than after harvest, when they are
heavy-laden with their pale green hedgehog-like fruit and alive
with people swarming among their branches, pruning them while the
leaves are still good winter food for cattle. Why, I wonder, is
there such an especial charm about the pruning of trees? Who does
not feel it? No matter what the tree is, the poplar of France, or
the brookside willow or oak coppice of England, or the chestnuts or
mulberries of Italy, all are interesting when being pruned, or when
pruned just lately. A friend once consulted me casually about a
picture on which he was at work, and complained that a row of trees
in it was without sufficient interest. I was fortunate enough to
be able to help him by saying: "Prune them freely and put a
magpie's nest in one of them," and the trees became interesting at
once. People in trees always look well, or rather, I should say,
trees always look well with people in them, or indeed with any
living thing in them, especially when it is of a kind that is not
commonly seen in them; and the measured lop of the bill-hook and,
by and by, the click as a bough breaks and the lazy crash as it
falls over on to the ground, are as pleasing to the ear as is the
bough-bestrewn herbage to the eye.

To what height and to what slender boughs do not these hardy
climbers trust themselves. It is said that the coming man is to be
toeless. I will venture for it that he will not be toeless if
these chestnut-pruning men and women have much to do with his
development. Let the race prune chestnuts for a couple of hundred
generations or so, and it will have little trouble with its toes.
Of course, the pruners fall sometimes, but very rarely. I remember
in the Val Mastallone seeing a votive picture of a poor lady in a
short petticoat and trousers trimmed with red round the bottom who
was falling head foremost from the top of a high tree, whose leaves
she had been picking, and was being saved by the intervention of
two saints who caught her upon two gridirons. Such accidents,
however, and, I should think, such interventions, are exceedingly
rare, and as a rule the peasants venture freely into places which
in England no one but a sailor or a steeple-jack would attempt.

And so we left this part of Italy, wishing that more Hugo de
Montboissiers had committed more crimes and had had to expiate them
by building more sanctuaries.


From S. Ambrogio we went to Turin, a city so well known that I need
not describe it. The Hotel Europa is the best, and, indeed, one of
the best hotels on the continent. Nothing can exceed it for
comfort and good cookery. The gallery of old masters contains some
great gems. Especially remarkable are two pictures of Tobias and
the angel, by Antonio Pollaiuolo and Sandro Botticelli; and a
magnificent tempera painting of the Crucifixion, by Gaudenzio
Ferrari--one of his very finest works. There are also several
other pictures by the same master, but the Crucifixion is the best.

From Turin I went alone to Lanzo, about an hour and a half's
railway journey from Turin, and found a comfortable inn, the Hotel
de la Poste. There is a fine fourteenth-century tower here, and
the general effect of the town is good.

One morning while I was getting my breakfast, English fashion, with
some cutlets to accompany my bread and butter, I saw an elderly
Italian gentleman, with his hand up to his chin, eyeing me with
thoughtful interest. After a time he broke silence.

"Ed il latte," he said, "serve per la suppa." {21}

I said that that was the view we took of it. He thought it over a
while, and then feelingly exclaimed -

"Oh bel!"

Soon afterwards he left me with the words -

"La! dunque! cerrea! chow! stia bene."

"La" is a very common close to an Italian conversation. I used to
be a little afraid of it at first. It sounds rather like saying,
"There, that's that. Please to bear in mind that I talked to you
very nicely, and let you bore me for a long time; I think I have
now done the thing handsomely, so you'll be good enough to score me
one and let me go." But I soon found out that it was quite a
friendly and civil way of saying good-bye.

The "dunque" is softer; it seems to say, "I cannot bring myself to
say so sad a word as 'farewell,' but we must both of us know that
the time has come for us to part, and so" -

"Cerrea" is an abbreviation and corruption of "di sua Signoria,"--
"by your highness's leave." "Chow" I have explained already.
"Stia bene" is simply "farewell."

The principal piazza of Lanzo is nice. In the upper part of the
town there is a large school or college. One can see into the
school through a grating from the road. I looked down, and saw
that the boys had cut their names all over the desks, just as
English boys would do. They were very merry and noisy, and though
there was a priest standing at one end of the room, he let them do
much as they liked, and they seemed quite happy. I heard one boy
shout out to another, "Non c' e pericolo," in answer to something
the other had said. This is exactly the "no fear" of America and
the colonies. Near the school there is a field on the slope of the
hill which commands a view over the plain. A woman was mowing
there, and, by way of making myself agreeable, I remarked that the
view was fine. "Yes, it is," she answered; "you can see all the

The baskets with which the people carry things in this
neighbourhood are of a different construction from any I have seen
elsewhere. They are made to fit all round the head like something
between a saddle and a helmet, and at the same time to rest upon
the shoulders--the head being, as it were, ensaddled by the basket,
and the weight being supported by the shoulders as well as by the
head. Why is it that such contrivances as this should prevail in
one valley and not in another? If, one is tempted to argue, the
plan is a convenient one, why does it not spread further? If
inconvenient, why has it spread so far? If it is good in the
valley of the Stura, why is it not also good in the contiguous
valley of the Dora? There must be places where people using
helmet-made baskets live next door to people who use baskets that
are borne entirely by back and shoulders. Why do not the people in
one or other of these houses adopt their neighbour's basket? Not
because people are not amenable to conviction, for within a certain
radius from the source of the invention they are convinced to a
man. Nor again is it from any insuperable objection to a change of
habit. The Stura people have changed their habit--possibly for the
worse; but if they have changed it for the worse, how is it they do
not find it out and change again?

Take, again, the pane Grissino, from which the neighbourhood of
Turin has derived its nickname of il Grissinotto. It is made in
long sticks, rather thicker than a tobacco pipe, and eats crisp
like toast. It is almost universally preferred to ordinary bread
by the inhabitants of what was formerly Piedmont, but beyond these
limits it is rarely seen. Why so? Either it is good or not good.
If not good, how has it prevailed over so large an area? If good,
why does it not extend its empire? The Reformation is another case
in point: granted that Protestantism is illogical, how is it that
so few within a given area can perceive it to be so? The same
question arises in respect of the distribution of many plants and
animals; the reason of the limits which some of them cannot pass,
being, indeed, perfectly clear, but as regards perhaps the greater
number of them, undiscoverable. The upshot of it is that things do
not in practice find their perfect level any more than water does
so, but are liable to disturbance by way of tides and local
currents, or storms. It is in his power to perceive and profit by
these irregularities that the strength or weakness of a commercial
man will be apparent,

One day I made an excursion from Lanzo to a place, the name of
which I cannot remember, but which is not far from the Groscavallo
glacier. Here I found several Italians staying to take the air,
and among them one young gentleman, who told me he was writing a
book upon this neighbourhood, and was going to illustrate it with
his own drawings. This naturally interested me, and I encouraged
him to tell me more, which he was nothing loth to do. He said he
had a passion for drawing, and was making rapid progress; but there
was one thing that held him back--the not having any Conte chalk:
if he had but this, all his difficulties would vanish.
Unfortunately I had no Conte chalk with me, I but I asked to see
the drawings, and was shown about twenty, all of which greatly
pleased me. I at once proposed an exchange, and have thus become
possessed of the two which I reproduce here. Being pencil
drawings, and not done with a view to Mr. Dawson's process, they
have suffered somewhat in reproduction, but I decided to let them
suffer rather than attempt to copy them. What can be more
absolutely in the spirit of the fourteenth century than the
drawings given above? They seem as though done by some fourteenth-
century painter who had risen from the dead. And to show that they
are no rare accident, I will give another (p. 138), also done by an
entirely self-taught Italian, and intended to represent the castle
of Laurenzana in the neighbourhood of Potenza.

If the reader will pardon a digression, I will refer to a more
important example of an old master born out of due time. One day,
in the cathedral at Varallo, I saw a picture painted on linen of
which I could make nothing. It was not old and it was not modern.
The expression of the Virgin's face was lovely, and there was more
individuality than is commonly found in modern Italian work.
Modern Italian colour is generally either cold and dirty, or else
staring. The colour here was tender, and reminded me of fifteenth-
century Florentine work. The folds of the drapery were not modern;
there was a sense of effort about them, as though the painter had
tried to do them better, but had been unable to get them as free
and flowing as he had wished. Yet the picture was not old; to all
appearance it might have been painted a matter of ten years; nor
again was it an echo--it was a sound: the archaism was not
affected; on the contrary, there was something which said, as
plainly as though the living painter had spoken it, that his
somewhat constrained treatment was due simply to his having been
puzzled with the intricacy of what he saw, and giving as much as he
could with a hand which was less advanced than his judgment. By
some strange law it comes about that the imperfection of men who
are at this stage of any art is the only true perfection; for the
wisdom of the wise is set at naught, and the foolishness of the
simple is chosen, and it is out of the mouths of babes and
sucklings that strength is ordained.

Unable to arrive at any conclusion, I asked the sacristan, and was
told it was by a certain Dedomenici of Rossa, in the Val Sesia, and
that it had been painted some forty or fifty years ago. I
expressed my surprise, and the sacristan continued: "Yes, but what
is most wonderful about him is that he never left his native
valley, and never had any instruction, but picked up his art for
himself as best he could."

I have been twice to Varallo since, to see whether I should change
my mind, but have not done so. If Dedomenici had been a Florentine
or Venetian in the best times, he would have done as well as the
best; as it is, his work is remarkable. He died about 1840, very
old, and he kept on improving to the last. His last work--at least
I was told upon the spot that it was his last--is in a little
roadside chapel perched high upon a rock, and dedicated, if I
remember rightly, to S. Michele, on the path from Fobello in the
Val Mastallone to Taponaccio. It is a Madonna and child in clouds,
with two full-length saints standing beneath--all the figures life-
size. I came upon this chapel quite accidentally one evening, and,
looking in, recognised the altar-piece as a Dedomenici. I inquired
at the next village who had painted it, and was told, "un certo
Dedomenici da Rossa." I was also told that he was nearly eighty
years old when he painted this picture. I went a couple of years
ago to reconsider it, and found that I remained much of my original
opinion. I do not think that any of my readers who care about the
history of Italian art will regret having paid it a visit.

Such men are more common in Italy than is believed. There is a
fresco of the Crucifixion outside the Campo Santo at Fusio, in the
Canton Ticino, done by a local artist, which, though far inferior
to the work of Dedomenici, is still remarkable. The painter
evidently knows nothing of the rules of his art, but he has made
Christ on the cross bowing His head towards the souls in purgatory,
instead of in the conventional fine frenzy to which we are
accustomed. There is a storm which has caught and is sweeping the
drapery round Christ's body. The angel's wings are no longer
white, but many coloured as in old times, and there is a touch of
humour in the fact that of the six souls in purgatory, four are
women and only two men. The expression on Christ's face is very
fine, but otherwise the drawing could not well be more imperfect
than it is.

CHAPTER XII--Considerations on the Decline of Italian Art

Those who know the Italians will see no sign of decay about them.
They are the quickest witted people in the world, and at the same
time have much more of the old Roman steadiness than they are
generally credited with. Not only is there no sign of
degeneration, but, as regards practical matters, there is every
sign of health and vigorous development. The North Italians are
more like Englishmen, both in body and mind, than any other people
whom I know; I am continually meeting Italians whom I should take
for Englishmen if I did not know their nationality. They have all
our strong points, but they have more grace and elasticity of mind
than we have.

Priggishness is the sin which doth most easily beset middle-class
and so-called educated Englishmen: we call it purity and culture,
but it does not much matter what we call it. It is the almost
inevitable outcome of a university education, and will last as long
as Oxford and Cambridge do, but not much longer.

Lord Beaconsfield sent Lothair to Oxford; it is with great pleasure
that I see he did not send Endymion. My friend Jones called my
attention to this, and we noted that the growth observable
throughout Lord Beaconsfield's life was continued to the end. He
was one of those who, no matter how long he lived, would have been
always growing: this is what makes his later novels so much better
than those of Thackeray or Dickens. There was something of the
child about him to the last. Earnestness was his greatest danger,
but if he did not quite overcome it (as who indeed can? It is the
last enemy that shall be subdued), he managed to veil it with a
fair amount of success. As for Endymion, of course if Lord
Beaconsfield had thought Oxford would be good for him, he could, as
Jones pointed out to me, just as well have killed Mr. Ferrars a
year or two later. We feel satisfied, therefore, that Endymion's
exclusion from a university was carefully considered, and are glad.

I will not say that priggishness is absolutely unknown among the
North Italians; sometimes one comes upon a young Italian who wants
to learn German, but not often. Priggism, or whatever the
substantive is, is as essentially a Teutonic vice as holiness is a
Semitic characteristic; and if an Italian happens to be a prig, he
will, like Tacitus, invariably show a hankering after German
institutions. The idea, however, that the Italians were ever a
finer people than they are now, will not pass muster with those who
know them.

At the same time, there can be no doubt that modern Italian art is
in many respects as bad as it was once good. I will confine myself
to painting only. The modern Italian painters, with very few
exceptions, paint as badly as we do, or even worse, and their
motives are as poor as is their painting. At an exhibition of
modern Italian pictures, I generally feel that there is hardly a
picture on the walls but is a sham--that is to say, painted not
from love of this particular subject and an irresistible desire to
paint it, but from a wish to paint an academy picture, and win
money or applause.

The same holds good in England, and in all other countries that I
know of. There is very little tolerable painting anywhere. In
some kinds, indeed, of black and white work the present age is
strong. The illustrations to "Punch," for example, are often as
good as anything that can be imagined. We know of nothing like
them in any past age or country. This is the one kind of art--and
it is a very good one--in which we excel as distinctly as the age
of Phidias excelled in sculpture. Leonardo da Vinci would never
have succeeded in getting his drawings accepted at 85 Fleet Street,
any more than one of the artists on the staff of "Punch" could
paint a fresco which should hold its own against Da Vinci's Last
Supper. Michael Angelo again and Titian would have failed
disastrously at modern illustration. They had no more sense of
humour than a Hebrew prophet; they had no eye for the more trivial
side of anything round about them. This aspect went in at one eye
and out at the other--and they lost more than ever poor Peter Bell
lost in the matter of primroses. I never can see what there was to
find fault with in that young man.

Fancy a street-Arab by Michael Angelo. Fancy even the result which
would have ensued if he had tried to put the figures into the
illustrations of this book. I should have been very sorry to let
him try his hand at it. To him a priest chucking a small boy under
the chin was simply non-existent. He did not care for it, and had
therefore no eye for it. If the reader will turn to the copy of a
fresco of St. Christopher on p. 209, he will see the conventional
treatment of the rocks on either side the saint. This was the best
thing the artist could do, and probably cost him no little trouble.
Yet there were rocks all around him--little, in fact, else than
rock in those days; and the artist could have drawn them well
enough if it had occurred to him to try and do so. If he could
draw St. Christopher, he could have drawn a rock; but he had an
interest in the one, and saw nothing in the other which made him
think it worth while to pay attention to it. What rocks were to
him, the common occurrences of everyday life were to those who are
generally held to be the giants of painting. The result of this
neglect to kiss the soil--of this attempt to be always soaring--is
that these giants are for the most part now very uninteresting,
while the smaller men who preceded them grow fresher and more
delightful yearly. It was not so with Handel and Shakespeare.

"Ploughman near at hand, whistling o'er the furrowed land,"

is intensely sympathetic, and his humour is admirable whenever he
has occasion for it.

Leonardo da Vinci is the only one of the giant Italian masters who
ever tried to be humorous, and he failed completely: so, indeed,
must any one if he tries to be humorous. We do not want this; we
only want them not to shut their eyes to by-play when it comes in
their way, and if they are giving us an account of what they have
seen, to tell us something about this too. I believe the older the
world grows, the better it enjoys a joke. The mediaeval joke
generally was a heavy, lumbering old thing, only a little better
than the classical one. Perhaps in those days life was harder than
it is now, and people if they looked at it at all closely dwelt
upon its soberer side. Certainly in humorous art, we may claim to
be not only principes, but facile principes. Nevertheless, the
Italian comic journals are, some of them, admirably illustrated,
though in a style quite different from our own; sometimes, also,
they are beautifully coloured.

As regards painting, the last rays of the sunset of genuine art are
to be found in the votive pictures at Locarno or Oropa, and in many
a wayside chapel. In these, religious art still lingers as a
living language, however rudely spoken. In these alone is the
story told, not as in the Latin and Greek verses of the scholar,
who thinks he has succeeded best when he has most concealed his
natural manner of expressing himself, but by one who knows what he
wants to say, and says it in his mother-tongue, shortly, and
without caring whether or not his words are in accordance with
academic rules. I regret to see photography being introduced for
votive purposes, and also to detect in some places a disposition on
the part of the authorities to be a little ashamed of these
pictures and to place them rather out of sight.

Sometimes in a little country village, as at Doera near Mesocco,
there is a modern fresco on a chapel in which the old spirit
appears, with its absolute indifference as to whether it was
ridiculous or no, but such examples are rare.

Sometimes, again, I have even thought I have detected a ray of
sunset upon a milkman's window-blind in London, and once upon an
undertaker's, but it was too faint a ray to read by. The best
thing of the kind that I have seen in London is the picture of the
lady who is cleaning knives with Mr. Spong's patent knife-cleaner,
in his shop window nearly opposite Day & Martin's in Holborn. It
falls a long way short, however, of a good Italian votive picture:
but it has the advantage of moving.

I knew of a little girl once, rather less than four years old,
whose uncle had promised to take her for a drive in a carriage with
him, and had failed to do so. The child was found soon afterwards
on the stairs weeping, and being asked what was the matter,
replied, "Mans is all alike." This is Giottesque. I often think
of it as I look upon Italian votive pictures. The meaning is so
sound in spite of the expression being so defective--if, indeed,
expression can be defective when it has so well conveyed the

I knew, again, an old lady whose education had been neglected in
her youth. She came into a large fortune, and at some forty years
of age put herself under the best masters. She once said to me as
follows, speaking very slowly and allowing a long time between each
part of the sentence;--"You see," she said, "the world, and all
that it contains, is wrapped up in such curious forms, that it is
only by a knowledge of human nature, that we can rightly tell what
to say, to do, or to admire." I copied the sentence into my
notebook immediately on taking my leave. It is like an academy

But to return to the Italians. The question is, how has the
deplorable falling-off in Italian painting been caused? And by
doing what may we again get Bellinis and Andrea Mantegnas as in old
time? The fault does not lie in any want of raw material: the
drawings I have already given prove this. Nor, again, does it lie
in want of taking pains. The modern Italian painter frets himself
to the full as much as his predecessor did--if the truth were
known, probably a great deal more. It does not lie in want of
schooling or art education. For the last three hundred years, ever
since the Carracci opened their academy at Bologna, there has been
no lack of art education in Italy. Curiously enough, the date of
the opening of the Bolognese Academy coincides as nearly as may be
with the complete decadence of Italian painting.

This is an example of the way in which Italian boys begin their art
education now. The drawing which I reproduce here was given me by
the eminent sculptor, Professor Vela, as the work of a lad of
twelve years old, and as doing credit alike to the school where the
lad was taught and to the pupil himself. {22}

So it undoubtedly does. It shows as plainly the receptiveness and
docility of the modern Italian, as the illustrations given above
show his freshness and naivete when left to himself. The drawing
is just such as we try to get our own young people to do, and few
English elementary schools in a small country town would succeed in
turning out so good a one. I have nothing, therefore, but praise
both for the pupil and the teacher; but about the system which
makes such teachers and such pupils commendable, I am more
sceptical. That system trains boys to study other people's works
rather than nature, and, as Leonardo da Vinci so well says, it
makes them nature's grandchildren and not her children. The boy
who did the drawing given above is not likely to produce good work
in later life. He has been taught to see nature with an old man's
eyes at once, without going through the embryonic stages. He has
never said his "mans is all alike," and by twenty will be painting
like my old friend's long academic sentence. All his individuality
has been crushed out of him.

I will now give a reproduction of the frontispiece to Avogadro's
work on the sanctuary of S. Michele, from which I have already
quoted; it is a very pretty and effective piece of work, but those
who are good enough to turn back to p. 93, and to believe that I
have drawn carefully, will see how disappointing Avogadro's
frontispiece must be to those who hold, as most of us will, that a
draughtsman's first business is to put down what he sees, and to
let prettiness take care of itself. The main features, indeed, can
still be traced, but they have become as transformed and lifeless
as rudimentary organs. Such a frontispiece, however, is the almost
inevitable consequence of the system of training that will make
boys of twelve do drawings like the one given on p. 147.

If half a dozen young Italians could be got together with a taste
for drawing like that shown by the authors of the sketches on pp.
136, 137, 138; if they had power to add to their number; if they
were allowed to see paintings and drawings done up to the year A.D.
1510, and votive pictures and the comic papers; if they were left
with no other assistance than this, absolutely free to please
themselves, and could be persuaded not to try and please any one
else, I believe that in fifty years we should have all that was
ever done repeated with fresh naivete, and as much more
delightfully than even by the best old masters, as these are more
delightful than anything we know of in classic painting. The young
plants keep growing up abundantly every day--look at Bastianini,
dead not ten years since--but they are browsed down by the
academies. I remember there came out a book many years ago with
the title, "What becomes of all the clever little children?" I
never saw the book, but the title is pertinent.

Any man who can write, can draw to a not inconsiderable extent.
Look at the Bayeux tapestry; yet Matilda probably never had a
drawing lesson in her life. See how well prisoner after prisoner
in the Tower of London has cut this or that out in the stone of his
prison wall, without, in all probability, having ever tried his
hand at drawing before. Look at my friend Jones, who has several
illustrations in this book. The first year he went abroad with me
he could hardly draw at all. He was no year away from England more
than three weeks. How did he learn? On the old principle, if I am
not mistaken. The old principle was for a man to be doing
something which he was pretty strongly bent on doing, and to get a
much younger one to help him. The younger paid nothing for
instruction, but the elder took the work, as long as the relation
of master and pupil existed between them. I, then, was making
illustrations for this book, and got Jones to help me. I let him
see what I was doing, and derive an idea of the sort of thing I
wanted, and then left him alone--beyond giving him the same kind of
small criticism that I expected from himself--but I appropriated
his work. That is the way to teach, and the result was that in an
incredibly short time Jones could draw. The taking the work is a
sine qua non. If I had not been going to have his work, Jones, in
spite of all his quickness, would probably have been rather slower
in learning to draw. Being paid in money is nothing like so good.

This is the system of apprenticeship versus the academic system.
The academic system consists in giving people the rules for doing
things. The apprenticeship system consists in letting them do it,
with just a trifle of supervision. "For all a rhetorician's
rules," says my great namesake, "teach nothing, but to name his
tools;" and academic rules generally are much the same as the
rhetorician's. Some men can pass through academies unscathed, but
they are very few, and in the main the academic influence is a
baleful one, whether exerted in a university or a school. While
young men at universities are being prepared for their entry into
life, their rivals have already entered it. The most university
and examination ridden people in the world are the Chinese, and
they are the least progressive.

Men should learn to draw as they learn conveyancing: they should
go into a painter's studio and paint on his pictures. I am told
that half the conveyances in the country are drawn by pupils; there
is no more mystery about painting than about conveyancing--not half
in fact, I should think, so much. One may ask, How can the
beginner paint, or draw conveyances, till he has learnt how to do
so? The answer is, How can he learn, without at any rate trying to
do? If he likes his subject, he will try: if he tries, he will
soon succeed in doing something which shall open a door. It does
not matter what a man does; so long as he does it with the
attention which affection engenders, he will come to see his way to
something else. After long waiting he will certainly find one door
open, and go through it. He will say to himself that he can never
find another. He has found this, more by luck than cunning, but
now he is done. Yet by and by he will see that there is ONE more
small, unimportant door which he had overlooked, and he proceeds
through this too. If he remains now for a long while and sees no
other, do not let him fret; doors are like the kingdom of heaven,
they come not by observation, least of all do they come by forcing:
let them just go on doing what comes nearest, but doing it
attentively, and a great wide door will one day spring into
existence where there had been no sign of one but a little time
previously. Only let him be always doing something, and let him
cross himself now and again, for belief in the wondrous efficacy of
crosses and crossing is the corner-stone of the creed of the
evolutionist. Then after years--but not probably till after a
great many--doors will open up all round, so many and so wide that
the difficulty will not be to find a door, but rather to obtain the
means of even hurriedly surveying a portion of those that stand
invitingly open.

I know that just as good a case can be made out for the other side.
It may be said as truly that unless a student is incessantly on the
watch for doors he will never see them, and that unless he is
incessantly pressing forward to the kingdom of heaven he will never
find it--so that the kingdom does come by observation. It is with
this as with everything else--there must be a harmonious fusing of
two principles which are in flat contradiction to one another.

The question whether it is better to abide quiet and take advantage
of opportunities that come, or to go further afield in search of
them, is one of the oldest which living beings have had to deal
with. It was on this that the first great schism or heresy arose
in what was heretofore the catholic faith of protoplasm. The
schism still lasts, and has resulted in two great sects--animals
and plants. The opinion that it is better to go in search of prey
is formulated in animals; the other--that it is better on the whole
to stay at home and profit by what comes--in plants. Some
intermediate forms still record to us the long struggle during
which the schism was not yet complete.

If I may be pardoned for pursuing this digression further, I would
say that it is the plants and not we who are the heretics. There
can be no question about this; we are perfectly justified,
therefore, in devouring them. Ours is the original and orthodox
belief, for protoplasm is much more animal than vegetable; it is
much more true to say that plants have descended from animals than
animals from plants. Nevertheless, like many other heretics,
plants have thriven very fairly well. There are a great many of
them, and as regards beauty, if not wit--of a limited kind indeed,
but still wit--it is hard to say that the animal kingdom has the
advantage. The views of plants are sadly narrow; all dissenters
are narrow-minded; but within their own bounds they know the
details of their business sufficiently well--as well as though they
kept the most nicely-balanced system of accounts to show them their
position. They are eaten, it is true; to eat them is our bigoted
and intolerant way of trying to convert them: eating is only a
violent mode of proselytising or converting; and we do convert
them--to good animal substance, of our own way of thinking. But
then, animals are eaten too. They convert one another, almost as
much as they convert plants. And an animal is no sooner dead than
a plant will convert it back again. It is obvious, however, that
no schism could have been so long successful, without having a good
deal to say for itself.

Neither party has been quite consistent. Who ever is or can be?
Every extreme--every opinion carried to its logical end--will prove
to be an absurdity. Plants throw out roots and boughs and leaves;
this is a kind of locomotion; and as Dr. Erasmus Darwin long since
pointed out, they do sometimes approach nearly to what may be
called travelling; a man of consistent character will never look at
a bough, a root, or a tendril without regarding it as a melancholy
and unprincipled compromise. On the other hand, many animals are
sessile, and some singularly successful genera, as spiders, are in
the main liers-in-wait. It may appear, however, on the whole, like
reopening a settled question to uphold the principle of being busy
and attentive over a small area, rather than going to and fro over
a larger one, for a mammal like man, but I think most readers will
be with me in thinking that, at any rate as regards art and
literature, it is he who does his small immediate work most
carefully who will find doors open most certainly to him, that will
conduct him into the richest chambers.

Many years ago, in New Zealand, I used sometimes to accompany a
dray and team of bullocks who would have to be turned loose at
night that they might feed. There were no hedges or fences then,
so sometimes I could not find my team in the morning, and had no
clue to the direction in which they had gone. At first I used to
try and throw my soul into the bullocks' souls, so as to divine if
possible what they would be likely to have done, and would then
ride off ten miles in the wrong direction. People used in those
days to lose their bullocks sometimes for a week or fortnight--when
they perhaps were all the time hiding in a gully hard by the place
where they were turned out. After some time I changed my tactics.
On losing my bullocks I would go to the nearest accommodation
house, and stand occasional drinks to travellers. Some one would
ere long, as a general rule, turn up who had seen the bullocks.
This case does not go quite on all fours with what I have been
saying above, inasmuch as I was not very industrious in my limited
area; but the standing drinks and inquiring was being as
industrious as the circumstances would allow.

To return, universities and academies are an obstacle to the
finding of doors in later life; partly because they push their
young men too fast through doorways that the universities have
provided, and so discourage the habit of being on the look-out for
others; and partly because they do not take pains enough to make
sure that their doors are bona fide ones. If, to change the
metaphor, an academy has taken a bad shilling, it is seldom very
scrupulous about trying to pass it on. It will stick to it that
the shilling is a good one as long as the police will let it. I
was very happy at Cambridge; when I left it I thought I never again
could be so happy anywhere else; I shall ever retain a most kindly
recollection both of Cambridge and of the school where I passed my
boyhood; but I feel, as I think most others must in middle life,
that I have spent as much of my maturer years in unlearning as in

The proper course is for a boy to begin the practical business of
life many years earlier than he now commonly does. He should begin
at the very bottom of a profession; if possible of one which his
family has pursued before him--for the professions will assuredly
one day become hereditary. The ideal railway director will have
begun at fourteen as a railway porter. He need not be a porter for
more than a week or ten days, any more than he need have been a
tadpole more than a short time; but he should take a turn in
practice, though briefly, at each of the lower branches in the
profession. The painter should do just the same. He should begin
by setting his employer's palette and cleaning his brushes. As for
the good side of universities, the proper preservative of this is
to be found in the club.

If, then, we are to have a renaissance of art, there must be a
complete standing aloof from the academic system. That system has
had time enough. Where and who are its men? Can it point to one
painter who can hold his own with the men of, say, from 1450 to
1550? Academies will bring out men who can paint hair very like
hair, and eyes very like eyes, but this is not enough. This is
grammar and deportment; we want it and a kindly nature, and these
cannot be got from academies. As far as mere TECHNIQUE is
concerned, almost every one now can paint as well as is in the
least desirable. The same mutatis mutandis holds good with writing
as with painting. We want less word-painting and fine phrases, and
more observation at first-hand. Let us have a periodical
illustrated by people who cannot draw, and written by people who
cannot write (perhaps, however, after all, we have some), but who
look and think for themselves, and express themselves just as they
please,--and this we certainly have not. Every contributor should
be at once turned out if he or she is generally believed to have
tried to do something which he or she did not care about trying to
do, and anything should be admitted which is the outcome of a
genuine liking. People are always good company when they are doing
what they really enjoy. A cat is good company when it is purring,
or a dog when it is wagging its tail.

The sketching clubs up and down the country might form the nucleus
of such a society, provided all professional men were rigorously
excluded. As for the old masters, the better plan would be never
even to look at one of them, and to consign Raffaelle, along with
Plato, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Dante, Goethe, and two others,
neither of them Englishmen, to limbo, as the Seven Humbugs of

While we are about it, let us leave off talking about "art for
art's sake." Who is art that it should have a sake? A work of art
should be produced for the pleasure it gives the producer, and the
pleasure he thinks it will give to a few of whom he is fond; but
neither money nor people whom he does not know personally should be
thought of. Of course such a society as I have proposed would not
remain incorrupt long. "Everything that grows, holds in perfection
but a little moment." The members would try to imitate
professional men in spite of their rules, or, if they escaped this
and after a while got to paint well, they would become dogmatic,
and a rebellion against their authority would be as necessary ere
long as it was against that of their predecessors: but the balance
on the whole would be to the good.

Professional men should be excluded, if for no other reason yet for
this, that they know too much for the beginner to be en rapport
with them. It is the beginner who can help the beginner, as it is
the child who is the most instructive companion for another child.
The beginner can understand the beginner, but the cross between him
and the proficient performer is too wide for fertility. It savours
of impatience, and is in flat contradiction to the first principles
of biology. It does a beginner positive harm to look at the
masterpieces of the great executionists, such as Rembrandt or

If one is climbing a very high mountain which will tax all one's
strength, nothing fatigues so much as casting upward glances to the
top, nothing encourages so much as casting downward glances. The
top seems never to draw nearer; the parts that we have passed
retreat rapidly. Let a water-colour student go and see the drawing
by Turner, in the basement of our National Gallery, dated 1787.
This is the sort of thing for him, not to copy, but to look at for
a minute or two now and again. It will show him nothing about
painting, but it may serve to teach him not to overtax his
strength, and will prove to him that the greatest masters in
painting, as in everything else, begin by doing work which is no
way superior to that of their neighbours. A collection of the
earliest known works of the greatest men would be much more useful
to the student than any number of their maturer works, for it would
show him that he need not worry himself because his work does not
look clever, or as silly people say, "show power."

The secrets of success are affection for the pursuit chosen, a flat
refusal to be hurried or to pass anything as understood which is
not understood, and an obstinacy of character which shall make the
student's friends find it less trouble to let him have his own way
than to bend him into theirs. Our schools and academies or
universities are covertly, but essentially, radical institutions
and abhorrent to the genius of Conservatism. Their sin is the true
radical sin of being in too great a hurry, and of believing in
short cuts too soon. But it must be remembered that this
proposition, like every other, wants tempering with a slight
infusion of its direct opposite.

I said in an early part of this book that the best test to know
whether or no one likes a picture is to ask one's self whether one
would like to look at it if one was quite sure one was alone. The
best test for a painter as to whether he likes painting his picture
is to ask himself whether he should like to paint it if he was
quite sure that no one except himself, and the few of whom he was
very fond, would ever see it. If he can answer this question in
the affirmative, he is all right; if he cannot, he is all wrong. I
will close these remarks with an illustration which will show how
nearly we can approach the early Florentines even now--when nobody
is looking at us. I do not know who Mr. Pollard is. I never heard
of him till I came across a cheap lithograph of his Funeral of Tom
Moody in the parlour of a village inn. I should not think he ever
was an R.A., but he has approached as nearly as the difference
between the geniuses of the two countries will allow, to the spirit
of the painters who painted in the Campo Santo at Pisa. Look,
again, at Garrard, at the close of the last century. We generally
succeed with sporting or quasi-sporting subjects, and our cheap
coloured coaching and hunting subjects are almost always good, and
often very good indeed. We like these things: therefore we
observe them; therefore we soon become able to express them.
Historical and costume pictures we have no genuine love for; we do
not, therefore, go beyond repeating commonplaces concerning them.

I must reserve other remarks upon this subject for another

CHAPTER XIII--Viu, Fucine, and S. Ignazio

I must now return to my young friend at Groscavallo. I have
published his drawings without his permission, having unfortunately
lost his name and address, and being unable therefore to apply to
him. I hope that, should they ever meet his eye, he will accept
this apology and the assurance of my most profound consideration.

Delighted as I had been with his proposed illustrations, I thought
I had better hear some of the letterpress, so I begged him to read
me his MS. My time was short, and he began at once. The few
introductory pages were very nice, but there was nothing
particularly noticeable about them; when, however, he came to his
description of the place where we now were, he spoke of a beautiful
young lady as attracting his attention on the evening of his
arrival. It seemed that she was as much struck with him as he with
her, and I thought we were going to have a romance, when he
proceeded as follows: "We perceived that we were sympathetic, and
in less than a quarter of an hour had exchanged the most solemn
vows that we would never marry one another." "What?" said I,
hardly able to believe my ears, "will you kindly read those last
words over again?" He did so, slowly and distinctly; I caught them
beyond all power of mistake, and they were as I have given them
above:- "We perceived that we were sympathetic, and in less than a
quarter of an hour had exchanged the most solemn vows that we would
never marry one another." While I was rubbing my eyes and making
up my mind whether I had stumbled upon a great satirist or no, I
heard a voice from below--"Signor Butler, Signor Butler, la vettura
e pronta." I had therefore to leave my doubt unsolved, but all the
time as we drove down the valley I had the words above quoted
ringing in my head. If ever any of my readers come across the book
itself--for I should hope it will be published--I should be very
grateful to them if they will direct my attention to it.

Another day I went to Ceres, and returned on foot via S. Ignazio.
S. Ignazio is a famous sanctuary on the very top of a mountain,
like that of Sammichele; but it is late, the St. Ignatius being St.
Ignatius Loyola, and not the apostolic father. I got my dinner at
a village inn at the foot of the mountain, and from the window
caught sight of a fresco upon the wall of a chapel a few yards off.
There was a companion to it hardly less interesting, but I had not
time to sketch it. I do not know what the one I give is intended
to represent. St. Ignatius is upon a rock, and is pleased with
something, but there is nothing to show what it is, except his
attitude, which seems to say, "Senza far fatica,"--"You see I can
do it quite easily," or, "There is no deception." Nor do we easily
gather what it is that the Roman centurion is saying to St.
Ignatius. I cannot make up my mind whether he is merely warning
him to beware of the reaction, or whether he is a little

From this village I went up the mountain to the sanctuary of S.
Ignazio itself, which looks well from the distance, and commands a
striking view, but contains nothing of interest, except a few nice
votive pictures.

From Lanzo I went to Viu, a summer resort largely frequented by the
Turinese, but rarely visited by English people. There is a good
inn at Viu--the one close to where the public conveyance stops--and
the neighbourhood is enchanting. The little village on the crest
of the hill in the distance, to the left of the church, as shown on
the preceding page, is called the Colma di S. Giovanni, and is well
worth a visit. In spring, before the grass is cut, the pastures
must be even better than when I saw them in August, and they were
then still of almost incredible beauty.

I went to S. Giovanni by the directest way--descending, that is, to
the level of the Stura, crossing it, and then going straight up the
mountain. I returned by a slight detour so as to take the village
of Fucine, a frazione of Viu a little higher up the river. I found
many picturesque bits; among them the one which I give on the next
page. It was a grand festa; first they had had mass, then there
had been the funzioni, which I never quite understand, and
thenceforth till sundown there was a public ball on the bowling
ground of a little inn on the Viu side of the bridge. The
principal inn is on the other side. It was here I went and ordered
dinner. The landlady brought me a minestra, or hodge-podge soup,
full of savoury vegetables, and very good; a nice cutlet fried in
bread-crumbs, bread and butter ad libitum, and half a bottle of
excellent wine. She brought all together on a tray, and put them
down on the table. "It'll come to a franc," said she, "in all, but
please to pay first." I did so, of course, and she was satisfied.
A day or two afterwards I went to the same inn, hoping to dine as
well and cheaply as before; but I think they must have discovered
that I was a forestiere inglese in the meantime, for they did not
make me pay first, and charged me normal prices.

What pretty words they have! While eating my dinner I wanted a
small plate and asked for it. The landlady changed the word I had
used, and told a girl to bring me a tondino. A tondino is an
abbreviation of rotondino, a "little round thing." A plate is a
tondo, a small plate a tondino. The delicacy of expression which
their diminutives and intensitives give is untranslateable. One
day I was asking after a waiter whom I had known in previous years,
but who was ill. I said I hoped he was not badly off. "Oh dear,
no," was the answer; "he has a discreta posizionina"--"a snug
little sum put by." "Is the road to such and such a place
difficult?" I once inquired. "Un tantino," was the answer. "Ever
such a very little," I suppose, is as near as we can get to this.
At one inn I asked whether I could have my linen back from the wash
by a certain time, and was told it was impossibilissimo. I have an
Italian friend long resident in England who often introduces
English words when talking with me in Italian. Thus I have heard
him say that such and such a thing is tanto cheapissimo. As for
their gestures, they are inimitable. To say nothing of the pretty
little way in which they say "no," by moving the forefinger
backwards and forwards once or twice, they have a hundred movements
to save themselves the trouble of speaking, which say what they
have to say better than any words can do. It is delightful to see
an Italian move his hand in such way as to show you that you have
got to go round a corner. Gesture is easier both to make and to
understand than speech is. Speech is a late acquisition, and in
critical moments is commonly discarded in favour of gesture, which
is older and more habitual.

I once saw an Italian explaining something to another and tapping
his nose a great deal. He became more and more confidential, and
the more confidential he became, the more he tapped, till his
finger seemed to become glued to, and almost grow into his nose.
At last the supreme moment came. He drew the finger down, pressing
it closely against his lower lip, so as to drag it all down and
show his gums and the roots of his teeth. "There," he seemed to
say, "you now know all: consider me as turned inside out: my
mucous membrane is before you."

At Fucine, and indeed in all the valleys hereabout, spinning-wheels
are not uncommon. I also saw a woman sitting in her room with the
door opening on to the street, weaving linen at a hand-loom. The
woman and the hand-loom were both very old and rickety. The first
and the last specimens of anything, whether animal or vegetable
organism, or machine, or institution, are seldom quite
satisfactory. Some five or six years ago I saw an old gentleman
sitting outside the St. Lawrence Hall at Montreal, in Canada, and
wearing a pigtail, but it was not a good pigtail; and when the
Scotch baron killed the last wolf in Scotland, it was probably a
weak, mangy old thing, capable of little further mischief.

Presently I walked a mile or two up the river, and met a godfather
coming along with a cradle on his shoulder; he was followed by two
women, one carrying some long wax candles, and the other something
wrapped up in a piece of brown paper; they were going to get the
child christened at Fucine. Soon after I met a priest, and bowed,
as a matter of course. In towns or places where many foreigners
come and go this is unnecessary, but in small out-of-the-way places
one should take one's hat off to the priest. I mention this
because many Englishmen do not know that it is expected of them,
and neglect the accustomed courtesy through ignorance. Surely,
even here in England, if one is in a small country village, off
one's beat, and meets the clergyman, it is more polite than not to
take off one's hat.

Viu is one of the places from which pilgrims ascend the Rocca
Melone at the beginning of August. This is one of the most popular
and remarkable pilgrimages of North Italy; the Rocca Melone is
11,000 feet high, and forms a peak so sharp, that there is room for
little else than the small wooden chapel which stands at the top of
it. There is no accommodation whatever, except at some rough
barracks (so I have been told) some thousands of feet below the
summit. These, I was informed, are sometimes so crowded that the
people doze standing, and the cold at night is intense, unless
under the shelter just referred to; yet some five or six thousand
pilgrims ascend on the day and night of the festa--chiefly from
Susa, but also from all parts of the valleys of the Dora and the
Stura. They leave Susa early in the morning, camp out or get
shelter in the barracks that evening, reaching the chapel at the
top of the Rocca Melone next day. I have not made the ascent
myself, but it would probably be worth making by one who did not
mind the fatigue.

I may mention that thatch is not uncommon in the Stura valley. In
the Val Mastallone, and more especially between Civiasco (above
Varallo) and Orta, thatch is more common still, and the thatching
is often very beautifully done. Thatch in a stone country is an
indication of German, or at any rate Cisalpine descent, and is
among the many proofs of the extent to which German races crossed
the Alps and spread far down over Piedmont and Lombardy. I was
more struck with traces of German influence on the path from Pella
on the Lago d'Orta, to the Colma on the way to Varallo, than
perhaps anywhere else. The churches have a tendency to have pure
spires--a thing never seen in Italy proper; clipped yews and box-
trees are common; there are lime-trees in the churchyards, and
thatch is the rule, not the exception. At Rimella in the Val
Mastallone, not far off, German is still the current language. As
I sat sketching, a woman came up to me, and said, "Was machen sic?"
as a matter of course. Rimella is the highest village in its
valley, yet if one crosses the saddle at the head of the valley,
one does not descend upon a German-speaking district; one descends
on the Val Anzasca, where Italian is universally spoken. Until
recently German was the language of many other villages at the
heads of valleys, even though these valleys were themselves
entirely surrounded by Italian-speaking people. At Alagna in the
Val Sesia, German is still spoken.

Whatever their origin, however, the people are now thoroughly
Italianised. Nevertheless, as I have already said, it is strange
what a number of people one meets among them, whom most people
would unhesitatingly pronounce to be English if asked to name their

CHAPTER XIV--Sanctuary of Oropa

From Lanzo I went back to Turin, where Jones again joined me, and
we resolved to go and see the famous sanctuary of Oropa near
Biella. Biella is about three hours' railway journey from Turin.
It is reached by a branch line of some twenty miles, that leaves
the main line between Turin and Milan at Santhia. Except the view
of the Alps, which in clear weather cannot be surpassed, there is
nothing of very particular interest between Turin and Santhia, nor
need Santhia detain the traveller longer than he can help. Biella
we found to consist of an upper and a lower town--the upper, as may
be supposed, being the older. It is at the very junction of the
plain and the mountains, and is a thriving place, with more of the
busy air of an English commercial town than perhaps any other of
its size in North Italy. Even in the old town large rambling old
palazzi have been converted into factories, and the click of the
shuttle is heard in unexpected places.

We were unable to find that Biella contains any remarkable pictures
or other works of art, though they are doubtless to be found by
those who have the time to look for them. There is a very fine
campanile near the post-office, and an old brick baptistery, also
hard by; but the church to which both campanile and baptistery
belonged, has, as the author of "Round about London" so well says,
been "utterly restored;" it cannot be uglier than what we sometimes
do, but it is quite as ugly. We found an Italian opera company in
Biella; peeping through a grating, as many others were doing, we
watched the company rehearsing "La forza del destino," which was to
be given later in the week.

The morning after our arrival, we took the daily diligence for
Oropa, leaving Biella at eight o'clock. Before we were clear of
the town we could see the long line of the hospice, and the chapels
dotted about near it, high up in a valley at some distance off;
presently we were shown another fine building some eight or nine
miles away, which we were told was the sanctuary of Graglia. About
this time the pictures and statuettes of the Madonna began to
change their hue and to become black--for the sacred image of Oropa
being black, all the Madonnas in her immediate neighbourhood are of
the same complexion. Underneath some of them is written, "Nigra
sum sed sum formosa," which, as a rule, was more true as regards
the first epithet than the second.

It was not market-day, but streams of people were coming to the
town. Many of them were pilgrims returning from the sanctuary, but
more were bringing the produce of their farms, or the work of their
hands for sale. We had to face a steady stream of chairs, which
were coming to town in baskets upon women's heads. Each basket
contained twelve chairs, though whether it is correct to say that
the basket contained the chairs--when the chairs were all, so to
say, froth running over the top of the basket--is a point I cannot
settle. Certainly we had never seen anything like so many chairs
before, and felt almost as though we had surprised nature in the
laboratory wherefrom she turns out the chair supply of the world.
The road continued through a succession of villages almost running
into one another for a long way after Biella was passed, but
everywhere we noticed the same air of busy thriving industry which
we had seen in Biella itself. We noted also that a preponderance
of the people had light hair, while that of the children was
frequently nearly white, as though the infusion of German blood was
here stronger even than usual. Though so thickly peopled, the
country was of great beauty. Near at hand were the most exquisite
pastures close shaven after their second mowing, gay with autumnal
crocuses, and shaded with stately chestnuts; beyond were rugged
mountains, in a combe on one of which we saw Oropa itself now
gradually nearing; behind and below, many villages with vineyards
and terraces cultivated to the highest perfection; further on,
Biella already distant, and beyond this a "big stare," as an
American might say, over the plains of Lombardy from Turin to
Milan, with the Apennines from Genoa to Bologna hemming the
horizon. On the road immediate before us, we still faced the same
steady stream of chairs flowing ever Biella-ward.

After a couple of hours the houses became more rare; we got above
the sources of the chair-stream; bits of rough rock began to jut
out from the pasture; here and there the rhododendron began to show
itself by the roadside; the chestnuts left off along a line as
level as though cut with a knife; stone-roofed cascine began to
abound, with goats and cattle feeding near them; the booths of the
religious trinket-mongers increased; the blind, halt, and maimed
became more importunate, and the foot-passengers were more entirely
composed of those whose object was, or had been, a visit to the
sanctuary itself. The numbers of these pilgrims--generally in
their Sunday's best, and often comprising the greater part of a
family--were so great, though there was no special festa, as to
testify to the popularity of the institution. They generally
walked barefoot, and carried their shoes and stockings; their
baggage consisted of a few spare clothes, a little food, and a pot
or pan or two to cook with. Many of them looked very tired, and
had evidently tramped from long distances--indeed, we saw costumes
belonging to valleys which could not be less than two or three days
distant. They were almost invariably quiet, respectable, and
decently clad, sometimes a little merry, but never noisy, and none
of them tipsy. As we travelled along the road, we must have fallen
in with several hundreds of these pilgrims coming and going; nor is
this likely to be an extravagant estimate, seeing that the hospice
can make up more than five thousand beds. By eleven we were at the
sanctuary itself.

Fancy a quiet upland valley, the floor of which is about the same
height as the top of Snowdon, shut in by lofty mountains upon three
sides, while on the fourth the eye wanders at will over the plains
below. Fancy finding a level space in such a valley watered by a
beautiful mountain stream, and nearly filled by a pile of
collegiate buildings, not less important than those, we will say,
of Trinity College, Cambridge. True, Oropa is not in the least
like Trinity, except that one of its courts is large, grassy, has a
chapel and a fountain in it, and rooms all round it; but I do not
know how better to give a rough description of Oropa than by
comparing it with one of our largest English colleges.

The buildings consist of two main courts. The first comprises a
couple of modern wings, connected by the magnificent facade of what
is now the second or inner court. This facade dates from about the
middle of the seventeenth century; its lowest storey is formed by
an open colonnade, and the whole stands upon a raised terrace from
which a noble flight of steps descends into the outer court.

Ascending the steps and passing under the colonnade, we found
ourselves in the second or inner court, which is a complete
quadrangle, and is, we were told, of rather older date than the
facade. This is the quadrangle which gives its collegiate
character to Oropa. It is surrounded by cloisters on three sides,
on to which the rooms in which the pilgrims are lodged open--those
at least that are on the ground-floor, for there are three storeys.
The chapel, which was dedicated in the year 1600, juts out into the
court upon the north-east side. On the north-west and south-west
sides are entrances through which one may pass to the open country.
The grass, at the time of our visit, was for the most part covered
with sheets spread out to dry. They looked very nice, and, dried
on such grass and in such an air, they must be delicious to sleep
on. There is, indeed, rather an appearance as though it were a
perpetual washing-day at Oropa, but this is not to be wondered at
considering the numbers of comers and goers; besides, people in
Italy do not make so much fuss about trifles as we do. If they
want to wash their sheets and dry them, they do not send them to
Ealing, but lay them out in the first place that comes handy, and
nobody's bones are broken.

CHAPTER XV--Oropa (continued)

On the east side of the main block of buildings there is a grassy
slope adorned with chapels that contain illustrating scenes in the
history of the Virgin. These figures are of terra-cotta, for the
most part life-size, and painted up to nature. In some cases, if I
remember rightly, they have hemp or flax for hair, as at Varallo,
and throughout realism is aimed at as far as possible, not only in
the figures, but in the accessories. We have very little of the
same kind in England. In the Tower of London there is an effigy of
Queen Elizabeth going to the city to give thanks for the defeat of
the Spanish Armada. This looks as if it might have been the work
of some one of the Valsesian sculptors. There are also the figures
that strike the quarters of Sir John Bennett's city clock in
Cheapside. The automatic movements of these last-named figures
would have struck the originators of the Varallo chapels with envy.
They aimed at realism so closely that they would assuredly have had
recourse to clockwork in some one or two of their chapels; I cannot
doubt, for example, that they would have eagerly welcomed the idea
of making the cock crow to Peter by a cuckoo-clock arrangement, if
it had been presented to them. This opens up the whole question of
realism versus conventionalism in art--a subject much too large to
be treated here.

As I have said, the founders of these Italian chapels aimed at
realism. Each chapel was intended as an illustration, and the
desire was to bring the whole scene more vividly before the
faithful by combining the picture, the statue, and the effect of a
scene upon the stage in a single work of art. The attempt would be
an ambitious one, though made once only in a neighbourhood, but in
most of the places in North Italy where anything of the kind has
been done, the people have not been content with a single
illustration; it has been their scheme to take a mountain as though
it had been a book or wall and cover it with illustrations. In
some cases--as at Orta, whose Sacro Monte is perhaps the most
beautiful of all as regards the site itself--the failure is
complete, but in some of the chapels at Varese and in many of those
at Varallo, great works have been produced which have not yet
attracted as much attention as they deserve. It may be doubted,
indeed, whether there is a more remarkable work of art in North
Italy than the Crucifixion chapel at Varallo, where the twenty-five
statues, as well as the frescoes behind them, are (with the
exception of the figure of Christ, which has been removed) by
Gaudenzio Ferrari. It is to be wished that some one of these
chapels--both chapel and sculptures--were reproduced at South

Varallo, which is undoubtedly the most interesting sanctuary in
North Italy, has forty-four of these illustrative chapels; Varese,
fifteen; Orta, eighteen; and Oropa, seventeen. No one is allowed
to enter them, except when repairs are needed; but when these are
going on, as is constantly the case, it is curious to look through
the grating into the somewhat darkened interior, and to see a
living figure or two among the statues; a little motion on the part
of a single figure seems to communicate itself to the rest and make
them all more animated. If the living figure does not move much,
it is easy at first to mistake it for a terra-cotta one. At Orta,
some years since, looking one evening into a chapel when the light
was fading, I was surprised to see a saint whom I had not seen
before; he had no glory except what shone from a very red nose; he
was smoking a short pipe, and was painting the Virgin Mary's face.
The touch was a finishing one, put on with deliberation, slowly, so
that it was two or three seconds before I discovered that the
interloper was no saint.

The figures in the chapels at Oropa are not as good as the best of
those at Varallo, but some of them are very nice notwithstanding.
We liked the seventh chapel the best--the one which illustrates the
sojourn of the Virgin Mary in the temple. It contains forty-four
figures, and represents the Virgin on the point of completing her
education as head girl at a high-toned academy for young
gentlewomen. All the young ladies are at work making mitres for
the bishop, or working slippers in Berlin wool for the new curate,
but the Virgin sits on a dais above the others on the same platform
with the venerable lady-principal, who is having passages read out
to her from some standard Hebrew writer. The statues are the work
of a local sculptor, named Aureggio, who lived at the end of the
seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century.

The highest chapel must be a couple of hundred feet above the main
buildings, and from near it there is an excellent bird's-eye view
of the sanctuary and the small plain behind; descending on to this
last, we entered the quadrangle from the north-west side and
visited the chapel in which the sacred image of the Madonna is
contained. We did not see the image itself, which is only exposed
to public view on great occasions. It is believed to have been
carved by St. Luke the Evangelist. I must ask the reader to
content himself with the following account of it which I take from
Marocco's work upon Oropa.:-

"That this statue of the Virgin is indeed by St. Luke is attested
by St. Eusebius, a man of eminent piety and no less enlightened
than truthful. St. Eusebius discovered its origin by revelation;
and the store which he set by it is proved by his shrinking from no
discomforts in his carriage of it from a distant country, and by
his anxiety to put it in a place of great security. His desire,
indeed, was to keep it in the spot which was most near and dear to
him, so that he might extract from it the higher incitement to
devotion, and more sensible comfort in the midst of his austerities
and apostolic labours.

"This truth is further confirmed by the quality of the wood from
which the statue is carved, which is commonly believed to be cedar;
by the Eastern character of the work; by the resemblance both of
the lineaments and the colour to those of other statues by St.
Luke; by the tradition of the neighbourhood, which extends in an
unbroken and well-assured line to the time of St. Eusebius himself;
by the miracles that have been worked here by its presence, and
elsewhere by its invocation, or even by indirect contact with it;
by the miracles, lastly, which are inherent in the image itself,
{23} and which endure to this day, such as is its immunity from all
worm and from the decay which would naturally have occurred in it
through time and damp--more especially in the feet, through the
rubbing of religious objects against them.


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