Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino
Samuel Butler

Part 3 out of 4

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"The authenticity of this image is so certainly and clearly
established, that all supposition to the contrary becomes
inexplicable and absurd. Such, for example, is a hypothesis that
it should not be attributed to the Evangelist, but to another Luke,
also called 'Saint,' and a Florentine by birth. This painter lived
in the eleventh century--that is to say, about seven centuries
after the image of Oropa had been known and venerated! This is
indeed an anachronism.

"Other difficulties drawn either from the ancient discipline of the
Church, or from St. Luke the Evangelist's profession, which was
that of a physician, vanish at once when it is borne in mind--
firstly, that the cult of holy images, and especially of that of
the most blessed Virgin, is of extreme antiquity in the Church, and
of apostolic origin as is proved by ecclesiastical writers and
monuments found in the catacombs which date as far back as the
first century (see among other authorities, Nicolas, "La Vergine
vivente nella Chiesa," lib. iii. cap. iii. SS 2); secondly, that
as the medical profession does not exclude that of artist, St. Luke
may have been both artist and physician; that he did actually
handle both the brush and the scalpel is established by respectable
and very old traditions, to say nothing of other arguments which
can be found in impartial and learned writers upon such matters."

I will only give one more extract. It runs:-

"In 1855 a celebrated Roman portrait-painter, after having
carefully inspected the image of the Virgin Mary at Oropa, declared
it to be certainly a work of the first century of our era." {24}

I once saw a common cheap china copy of this Madonna announced as
to be given away with two pounds of tea, in a shop near Hatton

The church in which the sacred image is kept is interesting from
the pilgrims who at all times frequent it, and from the collection
of votive pictures which adorn its walls. Except the votive
pictures and the pilgrims the church contains little of interest,
and I will pass on to the constitution and objects of the

The objects are--1. Gratuitous lodging to all comers for a space
of from three to nine days as the rector may think fit. 2. A
school. 3. Help to the sick and poor. It is governed by a
president and six members, who form a committee. Four members are
chosen by the communal council, and two by the cathedral chapter of
Biella. At the hospice itself there reside a director, with his
assistant, a surveyor to keep the fabric in repair, a rector or
dean with six priests, called cappellani, and a medical man. "The
government of the laundry," so runs the statute on this head, "and
analogous domestic services are entrusted to a competent number of
ladies of sound constitution and good conduct, who live together in
the hospice under the direction of an inspectress, and are called
daughters of Oropa."

The bye-laws of the establishment are conceived in a kindly genial
spirit, which in great measure accounts for its unmistakeable
popularity. We understood that the poorer visitors, as a general
rule, avail themselves of the gratuitous lodging, without making
any present when they leave, but in spite of this it is quite clear
that they are wanted to come, and come they accordingly do. It is
sometimes difficult to lay one's hands upon the exact passages
which convey an impression, but as we read the bye-laws which are
posted up in the cloisters, we found ourselves continually smiling
at the manner in which almost anything that looked like a
prohibition could be removed with the consent of the director.
There is no rule whatever about visitors attending the church; all
that is required of them is that they do not interfere with those
who do. They must not play games of chance, or noisy games; they
must not make much noise of any sort after ten o'clock at night
(which corresponds about with midnight in England). They should
not draw upon the walls of their rooms, nor cut the furniture.
They should also keep their rooms clean, and not cook in those that
are more expensively furnished. This is about all that they must
not do, except fee the servants, which is most especially and
particularly forbidden. If any one infringes these rules, he is to
be admonished, and in case of grave infraction or continued
misdemeanour he may be expelled and not readmitted.

Visitors who are lodged in the better-furnished apartments can be
waited upon if they apply at the office; the charge is twopence for
cleaning a room, making the bed, bringing water, &c. If there is
more than one bed in a room, a penny must be paid for every bed
over the first. Boots can be cleaned for a penny, shoes for a
half-penny. For carrying wood, &c., either a halfpenny or a penny
will be exacted according to the time taken. Payment for these
services must not be made to the servant, but at the office.

The gates close at ten o'clock at night, and open at sunrise, "but
if any visitor wishes to make Alpine excursions, or has any other
sufficient reason, he should let the director know." Families
occupying many rooms must--when the hospice is very crowded, and
when they have had due notice--manage to pack themselves into a
smaller compass. No one can have rooms kept for him. It is to be
strictly "first come, first served." No one must sublet his room.
Visitors must not go away without giving up the key of their room.
Candles and wood may be bought at a fixed price.

Any one wishing to give anything to the support of the hospice must
do so only to the director, the official who appoints the
apartments, the dean or the cappellani, or to the inspectress of
the daughters of Oropa, but they must have a receipt for even the
smallest sum; alms-boxes, however, are placed here and there, into
which the smaller offerings may be dropped (we imagine this means
anything under a franc).

The poor will be fed as well as housed for three days gratuitously-
-provided their health does not require a longer stay; but they
must not beg on the premises of the hospice; professional beggars
will be at once handed over to the mendicity society in Biella, or
even perhaps to prison. The poor for whom a hydropathic course is
recommended, can have it under the regulations made by the
committee--that is to say, if there is a vacant place.

There are trattorie and cafes at the hospice, where refreshments
may be obtained both good and cheap. Meat is to be sold there at
the prices current in Biella; bread at two centimes the chilogramma
more, to pay for the cost of carriage.

Such are the bye-laws of this remarkable institution. Few except
the very rich are so under-worked that two or three days of change
and rest are not at times a boon to them, while the mere knowledge
that there is a place where repose can be had cheaply and
pleasantly is itself a source of strength. Here, so long as the
visitor wishes to be merely housed, no questions are asked; no one
is refused admittance, except for some obviously sufficient reason;
it is like getting a reading ticket for the British Museum, there
is practically but one test--that is to say, desire on the part of
the visitor--the coming proves the desire, and this suffices. A
family, we will say, has just gathered its first harvest; the heat
on the plains is intense, and the malaria from the rice grounds
little less than pestilential; what, then, can be nicer than to
lock up the house and go for three days to the bracing mountain air
of Oropa? So at daybreak off they all start, trudging, it may be,
their thirty or forty miles, and reaching Oropa by nightfall. If
there is a weakly one among them, some arrangement is sure to be
practicable, whereby he or she can be helped to follow more
leisurely, and can remain longer at the hospice. Once arrived,
they generally, it is true, go the round of the chapels, and make
some slight show of pilgrimage, but the main part of their time is
spent in doing absolutely nothing. It is sufficient amusement to
them to sit on the steps, or lie about under the shadow of the
trees, and neither say anything nor do anything, but simply
breathe, and look at the sky and at each other. We saw scores of
such people just resting instinctively in a kind of blissful waking
dream. Others saunter along the walks which have been cut in the
woods that surround the hospice, or if they have been pent up in a
town and have a fancy for climbing, there are mountain excursions,
for the making of which the hospice affords excellent headquarters,
and which are looked upon with every favour by the authorities.

It must be remembered also that the accommodation provided at Oropa
is much better than what the people are, for the most part,
accustomed to in their own homes, and the beds are softer, more
often beaten up, and cleaner than those they have left behind them.
Besides, they have sheets--and beautifully clean sheets. Those who
know the sort of place in which an Italian peasant is commonly
content to sleep, will understand how much he must enjoy a really
clean and comfortable bed, especially when he has not got to pay
for it. Sleep, in the circumstances of comfort which most readers
will be accustomed to, is a more expensive thing than is commonly
supposed. If we sleep eight hours in a London hotel we shall have
to pay from 4d. to 6d. an hour, or from 1d. to 1.5d. for every
fifteen minutes we lie in bed; nor is it reasonable to believe that
the charge is excessive, when we consider the vast amount of
competition which exists. There is many a man the expenses of
whose daily meat, drink, and clothing are less than what an
accountant would show us we, many of us, lay out nightly upon our
sleep. The cost of really comfortable sleep-necessaries cannot, of
course, be nearly so great at Oropa as in a London hotel, but they
are enough to put them beyond the reach of the peasant under
ordinary circumstances, and he relishes them all the more when he
can get them.

But why, it may be asked, should the peasant have these things if
he cannot afford to pay for them; and why should he not pay for
them if he can afford to do so? If such places as Oropa were
common, would not lazy vagabonds spend their lives in going the
rounds of them, &c., &c.? Doubtless if there were many Oropas,
they would do more harm than good, but there are some things which
answer perfectly well as rarities or on a small scale, out of which
all the virtue would depart if they were common or on a larger one;
and certainly the impression left upon our minds by Oropa was that
its effects were excellent.

Granted the sound rule to be that a man should pay for what he has,
or go without it; in practice, however, it is found impossible to
carry this rule out strictly. Why does the nation give A. B., for
instance, and all comers a large, comfortable, well-ventilated,
warm room to sit in, with chair, table, reading-desk, &c., all more
commodious than what he may have at home, without making him pay a
sixpence for it directly from year's end to year's end? The three
or nine days' visit to Oropa is a trifle in comparison with what we
can all of us obtain in London if we care about it enough to take a
very small amount of trouble. True, one cannot sleep in the
reading-room of the British Museum--not all night, at least--but by
day one can make a home of it for years together except during
cleaning times, and then it is hard if one cannot get into the
National Gallery or South Kensington, and be warm, quiet, and
entertained without paying for it.

It will be said that it is for the national interest that people
should have access to treasuries of art or knowledge, and therefore
it is worth the nation's while to pay for placing the means of
doing so at their disposal; granted, but is not a good bed one of
the great ends of knowledge, whereto it must work, if it is to be
accounted knowledge at all? and is it not worth a nation's while
that her children should now and again have practical experience of
a higher state of things than the one they are accustomed to, and a
few days' rest and change of scene and air, even though she may
from time to time have to pay something in order to enable them to
do so? There can be few books which do an averagely-educated
Englishman so much good, as the glimpse of comfort which he gets by
sleeping in a good bed in a well-appointed room does to an Italian
peasant; such a glimpse gives him an idea of higher potentialities
in connection with himself, and nerves him to exertions which he
would not otherwise make. On the whole, therefore, we concluded
that if the British Museum reading-room was in good economy, Oropa
was so also; at any rate, it seemed to be making a large number of
very nice people quietly happy--and it is hard to say more than
this in favour of any place or institution.

The idea of any sudden change is as repulsive to us as it will be
to the greater number of my readers; but if asked whether we
thought our English universities would do most good in their
present condition as places of so-called education, or if they were
turned into Oropas, and all the educational part of the story
totally suppressed, we inclined to think they would be more popular
and more useful in this latter capacity. We thought also that
Oxford and Cambridge were just the places, and contained all the
appliances and endowments almost ready made for constituting two
splendid and truly imperial cities of recreation--universities in
deed as well as in name. Nevertheless, we should not venture to
propose any further actual reform during the present generation
than to carry the principle which is already admitted as regards
the M.A. degree a trifle further, and to make the B.A. degree a
mere matter of lapse of time and fees--leaving the Little Go, and
whatever corresponds to it at Oxford, as the final examination.
This would be enough for the present.

There is another sanctuary about three hours' walk over the
mountain behind Oropa, at Andorno, and dedicated to St. John. We
were prevented by the weather from visiting it, but understand that
its objects are much the same as those of the institution I have
just described. I will now proceed to the third sanctuary for
which the neighbourhood of Biella is renowned.


The sanctuary of Graglia is reached in about two hours from Biella.
There are daily diligences. It is not so celebrated as that of
Oropa, nor does it stand so high above the level of the sea, but it
is a remarkable place and well deserves a visit. The restaurant is
perfect--the best, indeed, that I ever saw in North Italy, or, I
think, anywhere else. I had occasion to go into the kitchen, and
could not see how anything could beat it for the most absolute
cleanliness and order. Certainly I never dined better than at the
sanctuary of Graglia; and one dines all the more pleasantly for
doing so on a lovely terrace shaded by trellised creepers, and
overlooking Lombardy.

I find from a small handbook by Signor Giuseppe Muratori, that the
present institution, like that of S. Michele, and almost all things
else that achieve success, was founded upon the work of a
predecessor, and became great not in one, but in several
generations. The site was already venerated on account of a chapel
in honour of the Vergine addolorata which had existed here from
very early times. A certain Nicolao Velotti, about the year 1616,
formed the design of reproducing Mount Calvary on this spot, and of
erecting perhaps a hundred chapels with terra-cotta figures in
them. The famous Valsesian sculptor, Tabachetti, and his pupils,
the brothers Giovanni and Antonio (commonly called "Tanzio"),
D'Enrico of Riva in the Val Sesia, all of whom had recently been
working at the sanctuary of Varallo, were invited to Graglia, and
later on, another eminent native of the Val Sesia, Pietro Giuseppe
Martello. These artists appear to have done a good deal of work
here, of which nothing now remains visible to the public, though it
is possible that in the chapel of S. Carlo and the closed chapels
on the way to it, there may be some statues lying neglected which I
know nothing about. I was told of no such work, but when I was at
Graglia I did not know that the above-named great men had ever
worked there, and made no inquiries. It is quite possible that all
the work they did here has not perished.

The means at the disposal of the people of Graglia were
insufficient for the end they had in view, but subscriptions came
in freely from other quarters. Among the valuable rights,
liberties, privileges, and immunities that were conferred upon the
institution, was one which in itself was a source of unfailing and
considerable revenue, namely, the right of setting a robber free
once in every year; also, the authorities there were allowed to
sell all kinds of wine and eatables (robe mangiative) without
paying duty upon them. As far as I can understand, the main work
of Velotti's is the chapel of S. Carlo, on the top of a hill some
few hundred feet above the present establishment. I give a sketch
of this chapel here, but was not able to include the smaller
chapels which lead up to it.

A few years later, one Nicolao Garono built a small oratory at
Campra, which is nearer to Biella than Graglia is. He dedicated it
to S. Maria della Neve--to St. Mary of the Snow. This became more
frequented than Graglia itself, and the feast of the Virgin on the
5th August was exceedingly popular. Signor Muratori says of it:-

"This is the popular feast of Graglia, and I can remember how but a
few years since it retained on a small scale all the features of
the sacre campestri of the Middle Ages. For some time past,
however, the stricter customs which have been introduced here no
less than in other Piedmontese villages have robbed this feast (as
how many more popular feasts has it not also robbed?) of that
original and spontaneous character in which a jovial heartiness and
a diffusive interchange of the affections came welling forth from
all abundantly. In spite of all, however, and notwithstanding its
decline, the feast of the Madonna is even now one of those rare
gatherings--the only one, perhaps, in the neighbourhood of Biella--
to which the pious Christian and the curious idler are alike
attracted, and where they will alike find appropriate amusement."

How Miltonic, not to say Handelian, is this attitude towards the
Pagan tendencies which, it is clear, predominated at the festa of
St. Mary of the Snow. In old days a feast was meant to be a time
of actual merriment--a praising "with mirth, high cheer, and wine."
{26} Milton felt this a little, and Handel much. To them an
opportunity for a little paganism is like the scratching of a mouse
to the princess who had been born a cat. Off they go after it--
more especially Handel--under some decent pretext no doubt, but as
fast, nevertheless, as their art can carry them. As for Handel, he
had not only a sympathy for paganism, but for the shades and
gradations of paganism. What, for example, can be a completer
contrast than between the polished and refined Roman paganism in
Theodora, {27} the rustic paganism of "Bid the maids the youths
provoke" in Hercules, the magician's or sorcerer's paganism of the
blue furnace in "Chemosh no more," {28} or the Dagon choruses in
Samson--to say nothing of a score of other examples that might be
easily adduced? Yet who can doubt the sincerity and even fervour
of either Milton's or Handel's religious convictions? The attitude
assumed by these men, and by the better class of Romanists, seems
to have become impossible to Protestants since the time of Dr.

I once saw a church dedicated to St. Francis. Outside it, over the
main door, there was a fresco of the saint receiving the stigmata;
his eyes were upturned in a fine ecstasy to the illuminated spot in
the heavens whence the causes of the stigmata were coming. The
church was insured, and the man who had affixed the plate of the
insurance office had put it at the precise spot in the sky to which
St. Francis's eyes were turned, so that the plate appeared to be
the main cause of his ecstasy. Who cared? No one; until a carping
Englishman came to the place, and thought it incumbent upon him to
be scandalised, or to pretend to be so; on this the authorities
were made very uncomfortable, and changed the position of the
plate. Granted that the Englishman was right; granted, in fact,
that we are more logical; this amounts to saying that we are more
rickety, and must walk more supported by cramp-irons. All the
"earnestness," and "intenseness," and "aestheticism," and "culture"
(for they are in the end one) of the present day, are just so many
attempts to conceal weakness.

But to return. The church of St. Mary of the Snow at Campra was
incorporated into the Graglia institution in 1628. There was
originally no connection between the two, and it was not long
before the later church became more popular than the earlier,
insomuch that the work at Graglia was allowed to fall out of
repair. On the death of Velotti the scheme languished, and by and
by, instead of building more chapels, it was decided that it would
be enough to keep in repair those that were already built. These,
as I have said, are the chapels of S. Carlo, and the small ones
which are now seen upon the way up to it, but they are all in a
semi-ruinous state.

Besides the church of St. Mary of the Snow at Campra, there was
another which was an exact copy of the Santa Casa di Loreto, and
where there was a remarkable echo which would repeat a word of ten
syllables when the wind was quiet. This was exactly on the site of
the present sanctuary. It seemed a better place for the
continuation of Velotti's work than the one he had himself chosen
for it, inasmuch as it was where Signor Muratori so well implies a
centre of devotion ought to be, namely, in "a milder climate, and
in a spot which offers more resistance to the inclemency of the
weather, and is better adapted to attract and retain the concourse
of the faithful."

The design of the present church was made by an architect of the
name of Arduzzi, in the year 1654, and the first stone was laid in
1659. In 1687 the right of liberating a bandit every year had been
found to be productive of so much mischief that it was
discontinued, and a yearly contribution of two hundred lire was
substituted. The church was not completed until the second half of
the last century, when the cupola was finished mainly through the
energy of a priest, Carlo Giuseppe Gastaldi of Netro. This poor
man came to his end in a rather singular way. He was dozing for a
few minutes upon a scaffolding, and being awakened by a sudden
noise, he started up, lost his balance, and fell over on to the
pavement below. He died a few days later, on the 17th of October,
either 1787 or 1778, I cannot determine which, through a misprint
in Muratori's account.

The work was now virtually finished, and the buildings were much as
they are seen now, except that a third storey was added to the
hospice about the year 1840. It is in the hospice that the
apartments are in which visitors are lodged. I was shown all over
them, and found them not only comfortable but luxurious--decidedly
more so than those of Oropa; there was the same cleanliness
everywhere which I had noticed in the restaurant. As one stands at
the windows or on the balconies and looks down on to the tops of
the chestnuts, and over these to the plains, one feels almost as if
one could fly out of the window like a bird; for the slope of the
hills is so rapid that one has a sense of being already suspended
in mid-air.

I thought I observed a desire to attract English visitors in the
pictures which I saw in the bedrooms. Thus there was "A view of
the black lead mine in Cumberland," a coloured English print of the
end of the last century or the beginning of this, after, I think,
Loutherbourg, and in several rooms there were English engravings
after Martin. The English will not, I think, regret if they yield
to these attractions. They will find the air cool, shady walks,
good food, and reasonable prices. Their rooms will not be charged
for, but they will do well to give the same as they would have paid
at an hotel. I saw in one room one of those flippant, frivolous,
Lorenzo de' Medici match-boxes on which there was a gaudily-
coloured nymph in high-heeled boots and tights, smoking a
cigarette. Feeling that I was in a sanctuary, I was a little
surprised that such a matchbox should have been tolerated. I
suppose it had been left behind by some guest. I should myself
select a matchbox with the Nativity, or the Flight into Egypt upon
it, if I were going to stay a week or so at Graglia. I do not
think I can have looked surprised or scandalised, but the worthy
official who was with me could just see that there was something on
my mind. "Do you want a match?" said he, immediately reaching me
the box. I helped myself, and the matter dropped.

There were many fewer people at Graglia than at Oropa, and they
were richer. I did not see any poor about, but I may have been
there during a slack time. An impression was left upon me, though
I cannot say whether it was well or ill founded, as though there
were a tacit understanding between the establishments at Oropa and
Graglia that the one was to adapt itself to the poorer, and the
other to the richer classes of society; and this not from any
sordid motive, but from a recognition of the fact that any great
amount of intermixture between the poor and the rich is not found
satisfactory to either one or the other. Any wide difference in
fortune does practically amount to a specific difference, which
renders the members of either species more or less suspicious of
those of the other, and seldom fertile inter se. The well-to-do
working-man can help his poorer friends better than we can. If an
educated man has money to spare, he will apply it better in helping
poor educated people than those who are more strictly called the
poor. As long as the world is progressing, wide class distinctions
are inevitable; their discontinuance will be a sign that
equilibrium has been reached. Then human civilisation will become
as stationary as that of ants and bees. Some may say it will be
very sad when this is so; others, that it will be a good thing; in
truth, it is good either way, for progress and equilibrium have
each of them advantages and disadvantages which make it impossible
to assign superiority to either; but in both cases the good greatly
overbalances the evil; for in both the great majority will be
fairly well contented, and would hate to live under any other

Equilibrium, if it is ever reached, will be attained very slowly,
and the importance of any change in a system depends entirely upon
the rate at which it is made. No amount of change shocks--or, in
other words, is important--if it is made sufficiently slowly, while
hardly any change is too small to shock if it is made suddenly. We
may go down a ladder of ten thousand feet in height if we do so
step by step, while a sudden fall of six or seven feet may kill us.
The importance, therefore, does not lie in the change, but in the
abruptness of its introduction. Nothing is absolutely important or
absolutely unimportant, absolutely good or absolutely bad.

This is not what we like to contemplate. The instinct of those
whose religion and culture are on the surface only is to conceive
that they have found, or can find, an absolute and eternal
standard, about which they can be as earnest as they choose. They
would have even the pains of hell eternal if they could. If there
had been any means discoverable by which they could torment
themselves beyond endurance, we may be sure they would long since
have found it out; but fortunately there is a stronger power which
bars them inexorably from their desire, and which has ensured that
intolerable pain shall last only for a very little while. For
either the circumstances or the sufferer will change after no long
time. If the circumstances are intolerable, the sufferer dies: if
they are not intolerable, he becomes accustomed to them, and will
cease to feel them grievously. No matter what the burden, there
always has been, and always must be, a way for us also to escape.

CHAPTER XVII--Soazza and the Valley of Mesocco

I regret that I have not space for any of the sketches I took at
Bellinzona, than which few towns are more full of admirable
subjects. The Hotel de la Ville is an excellent house, and the
town is well adapted for an artist's headquarters. Turner's two
water-colour drawings of Bellinzona in the National Gallery are
doubtless very fine as works of art, but they are not like
Bellinzona, the spirit of which place (though not the letter) is
better represented by the background to Basaiti's Madonna and
child, also in our gallery, supposing the castle on the hill to
have gone to ruin.

At Bellinzona a man told me that one of the two towers was built by
the Visconti and the other by Julius Caesar, a hundred years
earlier. So, poor old Mrs. Barratt at Langar could conceive no
longer time than a hundred years. The Trojan war did not last ten
years, but ten years was as big a lie as Homer knew.

Almost all days in the subalpine valleys of North Italy have a
beauty with them of some kind or another, but none are more lovely
than a quiet gray day just at the beginning of autumn, when the
clouds are drawing lazily and in the softest fleeces over the pine
forests high up on the mountain sides. On such days the mountains
are very dark till close up to the level of the clouds; here, if
there is dewy or rain-besprinkled pasture, it tells of a luminous
silvery colour by reason of the light which the clouds reflect upon
it; the bottom edges of the clouds are also light through the
reflection upward from the grass, but I do not know which begins
this battledore and shuttlecock arrangement. These things are like
quarrels between two old and intimate friends; one can never say
who begins them. Sometimes on a dull gray day like this, I have
seen the shadow parts of clouds take a greenish-ashen-coloured
tinge from the grass below them.

On one of these most enjoyable days we left Bellinzona for Mesocco
on the S. Bernardino road. The air was warm, there was not so much
as a breath of wind, but it was not sultry: there had been rain,
and the grass, though no longer decked with the glory of its spring
flowers, was of the most brilliant emerald, save where flecked with
delicate purple by myriads of autumnal crocuses. The level ground
at the bottom of the valley where the Moesa runs is cultivated with
great care. Here the people have gathered the stones in heaps
round any great rock which is too difficult to move, and the whole
mass has in time taken a mulberry hue, varied with gray and russet
lichens, or blobs of velvety green moss. These heaps of stone crop
up from the smooth shaven grass, and are overhung with barberries,
mountain ash, and mountain elder with their brilliant scarlet
berries--sometimes, again, with dwarf oaks, or alder, or nut, whose
leaves have just so far begun to be tinged as to increase the
variety of the colouring. The first sparks of autumn's yearly
conflagration have been kindled, but the fire is not yet raging as
in October; soon after which, indeed, it will have burnt itself
out, leaving the trees it were charred, with here and there a live
coal of a red leaf or two still smouldering upon them.

As yet lingering mulleins throw up their golden spikes amid a
profusion of blue chicory, and the gourds run along upon the ground
like the fire mingled with the hail in "Israel in Egypt." Overhead
are the umbrageous chestnuts loaded with their prickly harvest.
Now and again there is a manure heap upon the grass itself, and
lusty wanton gourds grow out from it along the ground like
vegetable octopi. If there is a stream it will run with water
limpid as air, and as full of dimples as "While Kedron's brook" in

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

How quiet and full of rest does everything appear to be. There is
no dust nor glare, and hardly a sound save that of the unfailing
waterfalls, or the falling cry with which the peasants call to one
another from afar. {29}

So much depends upon the aspect in which one sees a place for the
first time. What scenery can stand, for example, a noontide glare?
Take the valley from Lanzo to Viu. It is of incredible beauty in
the mornings and afternoons of brilliant days, and all day long
upon a gray day; but in the middle hours of a bright summer's day
it is hardly beautiful at all, except locally in the shade under
chestnuts. Buildings and towns are the only things that show well
in a glare. We perhaps, therefore, thought the valley of the Moesa
to be of such singular beauty on account of the day on which we saw
it, but doubt whether it must not be absolutely among the most
beautiful of the subalpine valleys upon the Italian side.

The least interesting part is that between Bellinzona and Roveredo,
but soon after leaving Roveredo the valley begins to get narrower
and to assume a more mountain character. Ere long the eye catches
sight of a white church tower and a massive keep, near to one
another and some two thousand feet above the road. This is Santa
Maria in Calanca. One can see at once that it must be an important
place for such a district, but it is strange why it should be
placed so high. I will say more about it later on.

Presently we passed Cama, where there is an inn, and where the road
branches off into the Val Calanca. Alighting here for a few
minutes we saw a cane lupino--that is to say, a dun mouse-coloured
dog about as large as a mastiff, and with a very large infusion of
wolf blood in him. It was like finding one's self alone with a
wolf--but he looked even more uncanny and ferocious than a wolf. I
once saw a man walking down Fleet Street accompanied by one of
these cani lupini, and noted the general attention and alarm which
the dog caused. Encouraged by the landlord, we introduced
ourselves to the dog at Cama, and found him to be a most sweet
person, with no sense whatever of self-respect, and shrinking from
no ignominy in his importunity for bits of bread. When we put the
bread into his mouth and felt his teeth, he would not take it till
he had looked in our eyes and said as plainly as though in words,
"Are you quite sure that my teeth are not painful to you? Do you
really think I may now close my teeth upon the bread without
causing you any inconvenience?" We assured him that we were quite
comfortable, so he swallowed it down, and presently began to pat us
softly with his foot to remind us that it was our turn now.

Before we left, a wandering organ-grinder began to play outside the
inn. Our friend the dog lifted up his voice and howled. I am sure
it was with pleasure. If he had disliked the music he would have
gone away. He was not at all the kind of person who would stay a
concert out if he did not like it. He howled because he was
stirred to the innermost depths of his nature. On this he became
intense, and as a matter of course made a fool of himself; but he
was in no way more ridiculous than an Art Professor whom I once
observed as he was holding forth to a number of working men, whilst
escorting them round the Italian pictures in the National Gallery.
When the organ left off he cast an appealing look at Jones, and we
could almost hear the words, "What IS it out of?" coming from his
eyes. We did not happen to know, so we told him that it was "Ah
che la morte" from "Il Trovatore," and he was quite contented.
Jones even thought he looked as much as to say, "Oh yes, of course,
how stupid of me; I thought I knew it." He very well may have done
so, but I am bound to say that I did not see this.

Near to Cama is Grono, where Baedeker says there is a chapel
containing some ancient frescoes. I searched Grono in vain for any
such chapel. A few miles higher up, the church of Soazza makes its
appearance perched upon the top of its hill, and soon afterwards
the splendid ruin of Mesocco on another rock or hill which rises in
the middle of the valley.

The mortuary chapel of Soazza church is the subject my friend Mr.
Gogin has selected for the etching at the beginning of this volume.
There was a man mowing another part of the churchyard when I was
there. He was so old and lean that his flesh seemed little more
than parchment stretched over his bones, and he might have been
almost taken for Death mowing his own acre. When he was gone some
children came to play, but he had left his scythe behind him.
These children were beyond my strength to draw, so I turned the
subject over to Mr. Gogin's stronger hands. Children are
dynamical; churches and frescoes are statical. I can get on with
statical subjects, but can do nothing with dynamical ones. Over
the door and windows are two frescoes of skeletons holding mirrors
in their hands, with a death's head in the mirror. This reflected
head is supposed to be that of the spectator to whom death is
holding up the image of what he will one day become. I do not
remember the inscription at Soazza; the one in the Campo Santo at
Mesocco is, "Sicut vos estis nos fuimus, et sicut nos sumus vos
eritis." {30}

On my return to England I mentioned this inscription to a friend
who, as a young man, had been an excellent Latin scholar; he took a
panic into his head that "eritis" was not right for the second
person plural of the future tense of the verb "esse." Whatever it
was, it was not "eritis." This panic was speedily communicated to
myself, and we both puzzled for some time to think what the future
of "esse" really was. At last we turned to a grammar and found
that "eritis" was right after all. How skin-deep that classical
training penetrates on which we waste so many years, and how
completely we drop it as soon as we are left to ourselves.

On the right-hand side of the door of the mortuary chapel there
hangs a wooden tablet inscribed with a poem to the memory of Maria
Zara. It is a pleasing poem, and begins:-

"Appena al trapassar il terzo lustro
Maria Zara la sua vita fini.
Se a Soazza ebbe la sua colma
A Roveredo la sua tomba . . .

she found," or words to that effect, but I forget the Italian.
This poem is the nearest thing to an Italian rendering of
"Affliction sore long time I bore" that I remember to have met
with, but it is longer and more grandiose generally.

Soazza is full of beautiful subjects, and indeed is the first place
in the valley of the Moesa which I thought good sketching ground,
in spite of the general beauty of the valley. There is an inn
there quite sufficient for a bachelor artist. The clergyman of the
place is a monk, and he will not let one paint on a feast-day. I
was told that if I wanted to paint on a certain feast-day I had
better consult him; I did so, but was flatly refused permission,
and that too as it appeared to me with more peremptoriness than a
priest would have shown towards me.

It is at Soazza that the ascent of the San Bernardino becomes
perceptible; hitherto the road has seemed to be level all the way,
but henceforth the ascent though gradual is steady. Mesocco Castle
looks very fine as soon as Soazza is passed, and gets finer and
finer until it is actually reached. Here is the upper limit of the
chestnuts, which leave off upon the lower side of Mesocco Castle.
A few yards off the castle on the upper side is the ancient church
of S. Cristoforo, with its huge St. Christopher on the right-hand
side of the door. St. Christopher is a very favourite saint in
these parts; people call him S. Cristofano, and even S. Carpofano.
I think it must be in the church of S. Cristoforo at Mesocco that
the frescoes are which Baedeker writes of as being near Grono. Of
these I will speak at length in the next chapter. About half or
three-quarters of a mile higher up the road than the castle is
Mesocco itself.

CHAPTER XVIII--Mesocco, S. Bernardino, and S. Maria in Calanca

At the time of my first visit there was an inn kept by one
Desteffanis and his wife, where I stayed nearly a month, and was
made very comfortable. Last year, however, Jones and I found it
closed, but did very well at the Hotel Toscani. At the Hotel
Desteffanis there used to be a parrot which lived about loose and
had no cage, but did exactly what it liked. Its name was Lorrito.
It was a very human bird; I saw it eat some bread and milk from its
tin one day and then sidle along a pole to a place where there was
a towel hanging. It took a corner of the towel in its claw, wiped
its beak with it, and then sidled back again. It would sometimes
come and see me at breakfast; it got from a chair-back on to the
table by dropping its head and putting its round beak on to the
table first, making a third leg as it were of its head; it would
then waddle to the butter and begin helping itself. It was a great
respecter of persons and knew the landlord and landlady perfectly
well. It yawned just like a dog or a human being, and this not
from love of imitation but from being sleepy. I do not remember to
have seen any other bird yawn. It hated boys because the boys
plagued it sometimes. The boys generally go barefoot in summer,
and if ever a boy came near the door of the hotel this parrot would
go straight for his toes.

The most striking feature of Mesocco is the castle, which, as I
have said, occupies a rock in the middle of the valley, and is one
of the finest ruins in Switzerland. More interesting than the
castle, however, is the church of S. Cristoforo. Before I entered
it I was struck with the fresco on the facciata of the church,
which, though the facciata bears the date 1720, was painted in a
style so much earlier than that of 1720 that I at first imagined I
had found here another old master born out of due time; for the
fresco was in such a good state of preservation that it did not
look more than 150 years old, and it was hardly likely to have been
preserved when the facciata was renovated in 1720. When, however,
my friend Jones joined me, he blew that little romance away by
discovering a series of names with dates scrawled upon it from
"1481. viii. Febraio" to the present century. The lowest part of
the fresco must be six feet from the ground, and it must rise at
least ten or a dozen feet more, so the writings upon it are not
immediately obvious, but they will be found on looking at all

It is plain, therefore, that when the facciata paired the original
fresco was preserved; it cannot be, as I had supposed, the work of
a local painter who had taken his ideas of rocks and trees from the
frescoes inside the church. That I am right in supposing the
curious blanc-mange-mould-looking objects on either side St.
Christopher's legs to be intended for rocks will be clear to any
one who has seen the frescoes inside the church, where mountains
with trees and towns upon them are treated on exactly the same
principle. I cannot think the artist can have been quite easy in
his mind about them.

On entering the church the left-hand wall is found to be covered
with the most remarkable series of frescoes in the Italian Grisons.
They are disposed in three rows, one above the other, occupying the
whole wall of the church as far as the chancel. The top row
depicts a series of incidents prior to the Crucifixion, and is cut
up by the pulpit at the chancel end. These events are treated so
as to form a single picture.

The second row is in several compartments. There is a saint in
armour on horseback, life-size, killing a dragon, and a queen who
seems to have been leading the dragon by a piece of red tape
buckled round its neck--unless, indeed, the dragon is supposed to
have been leading the queen. The queen still holds the tape and
points heavenward. Next to this there is a very nice saint on
horse-back, who is giving a cloak to a man who is nearly naked.
Then comes St. Michael trampling on the dragon, and holding a pair
of scales in his hand, in which are two little souls of a man and
of a woman. The dragon has a hook in his hand, and thrusting this
up from under St. Michael, he hooks it on to the edge of the scale
with the woman in it, and drags her down. The man, it seems, will
escape. Next to this there is a compartment in which a monk is
offering a round thing to St. Michael, who does not seem to care
much about it; there are other saints and martyrs in this
compartment, and St. Anthony with his pig, and Sta. Lucia holding a
box with two eyes in it, she being patroness of the eyesight as
well as of mariners. Lastly, there is the Adoration, ruined by the

Below this second compartment are twelve frescoes, each about three
and a half feet square, representing the twelve months--from a
purely secular point of view. January is a man making and hanging
up sausages; February, a man chopping wood; March, a youth
proclaiming spring with two horns to his mouth, and his hair flying
all abroad; April is a young man on horseback carrying a flower in
his hand; May, a knight, not in armour, going out hawking with his
hawk on one finger, his bride on a pillion behind him, and a dog
beside the horse; June is a mower; July, another man reaping
twenty-seven ears of corn; August, an invalid going to see his
doctor; October, a man knocking down chestnuts from a tree and a
woman catching them; November is hidden and destroyed by the
pulpit; December is a butcher felling an ox with a hatchet.

We could find no signature of the artist, nor any date on the
frescoes to show when they were painted; but while looking for a
signature we found a name scratched with a knife or stone, and
rubbed the tracing which I reproduce, greatly reduced, here; Jones
thinks the last line was not written by Lazarus Bovollinus, but by
another who signs A. T.

[At this point in the book there is a brass rubbing. It looks
like: Lazarus Bouollins 1534 30 Augusti explenit 20 Amurs ...]

The Boelini were one of the principal families in Mesocco. Gaspare
Boelini, the head of the house, had been treacherously thrown over
the castle walls and killed by order of Giovanni Giacomo Triulci in
the year 1525, because as chancellor of the valley he declined to
annul the purchase of the castle of Mesocco, which Triulci had
already sold to the people of Mesocco, and for which he had been in
great part paid. His death is recorded on a stone placed by the
roadside under the castle.

Examining the wall further, we found a little to the right that the
same Lazzaro Bovollino (I need hardly say that "Bovollino" is
another way of spelling "Boelini") scratched his name again some
sixteen years later, as follows:-

1550 adj (?)
26 Decemb. morijm (?)
Lazzaro Bovollino
15 L ----------- B 50

The handwriting is not so good as it was when he wrote his name
before; but we observed, with sympathy, that the writer had dropped
his Latin. Close by is scratched "Gullielmo Bo."

The mark between the two letters L and B was the family mark of the
Boelini, each family having its mark, a practice of which further
examples will be given presently.

We looked still more, and on the border of one of the frescoes we
discovered -

"1481 die Jovis viiIj Februarij hoines di Misochi et Soazza
fecerunt fidelitatem in manibus di Johani Jacobi Triulzio,"

- "The men of Mesocco and Soazza did fealty to John Jacob Triulci
on Friday the 8th of February 1481." The day originally written
was Thursday the 7th of February, but "Jovis" was scratched out and
"Veneris" written above, while another "i" was intercalated among
the i's of the viij of February. We could not determine whether
some hitch arose so as to cause a change of day, or whether
"Thursday" and "viij" were written by a mistake for "Friday" and
"viiij," but we imagined both inscription and correction to have
been contemporaneous with the event itself. It will be remembered
that on the St. Christopher outside the church there is scratched
it "1481. 8 Febraio" and nothing more. The mistake of the day,
therefore, if it was a mistake, was made twice, and was corrected
inside the church but not upon the fresco outside--perhaps because
a ladder would have had to be fetched to reach it. Possibly the
day had been originally fixed for Thursday the 8th, and a heavy
snow-storm prevented people from coming till next day.

I could not find that any one in Mesocco, not even my excellent
friend Signor a Marca, the curato himself, knew anything about
either the inscriptions or the cause of their being written. No
one was aware even of their existence; on borrowing, however, the
history of the Valle Mesolcina by Signor Giovanni Antonio a Marca,
{31} I found what I think will throw light upon the matter. The
family of De Sax had held the valley of Mesocco for over four
hundred years, and sold it in 1480 to John Jacob Triulci, who it
seems tried to cheat him out of a large part of the purchase money
later on; probably this John Jacob Triulci had the frescoes painted
to conciliate the clergy and inaugurate his entry into possession.
Early in 1481 he made the inhabitants of the valley do fealty to
him. I may say that as soon as he had entered upon possession, he
began to oppress the people by demanding tolls on all produce that
passed the castle. This the people resisted. They were also
harassed by Peter De Sax, who made incursions into the valley and
seized property, being unable to get his money out of John Jacob

Other reasons that make me think the frescoes were painted in 1480
are as follows. The spurs worn by the young men in the April and
May frescoes (pp. 211, 212) are about the date 1460. Their
facsimiles can be seen in the Tower of London with this date
assigned to them. The frescoes, therefore, can hardly have been
painted before this time; but they were probably painted later, for
in the St. Christopher there is a distinct hint at anatomy; enough
to show that the study of anatomy introduced by Leonardo da Vinci
was beginning to be talked about as more or less the correct thing.
This would hardly be the case before 1480, as Leonardo was not born
till 1452. By February 1481 the frescoes were already painted;
this is plain because the inscription--which, I think, may be taken
as a record made at the time that fealty was done--is scratched
over them. Peter De Sax, if he was selling his property, is not
likely to have had the frescoes painted just before he was going
away; I think it most likely, therefore, that they were painted in
1480, when the valley of Mesocco passed from the hands of the De
Sax family to those of the Triulci.

Underneath the inscription about the doing fealty there is
scratched in another hand, and very likely years after the event it
commemorates--"1548 fu liberata la Vallata." This date is
contradicted (and, I believe, corrected) by another inscription
hard by, also in another hand, which says -

"1549. La valle di Misocho compro la liberti da casa Triulcia per
2400 scuti."

This inscription is signed thus:-

[In the book there is a picture of four symbols]

Carlo a Marca had written his name along with three others in 1606
on another part of the frescoes. Here are the signatures:-

[Again, some symbols]

Two of these signatures belong to members of the Triulci family, as
appears by the trident, which translates the name. The T in each
case is doubtless for "Triulci." Four years earlier still, Carlo a
Marca had written his name, with that of his wife or fiancee, on
the fresco of St. Christopher on the facciata of the church, for we
found there -

1602 { Carlo a Marca.
{ Margherita dei Paglioni.

There is one other place where his name appears, or rather a part
of it, for the inscription is half hidden by a gallery, erected
probably in the last century.

The a Marca family still flourish in Mesocco. The curato is an a
Marca, so is the postmaster. On the walls of a house near the
convent there is an inscription to the effect that it was given by
his fellow-townsmen to a member of the a Marca family, and the best
work on the history of the valley is the work of Giovanni Antonio
Marca from which I have already quoted.

Returning to the frescoes, we found that the men of Soazza and
Mesocco did fealty again to John Jacob Triulci on the feast of St.
Bartholomew, the 24th day of August 1503; this I believe to have
been the son of the original purchaser, but am not certain; if so,
he is the Triulci who had Gaspare Boelini thrown down from the
castle walls. The people seem by another inscription to have done
fealty again upon the same day of the following year.

On the St. Christopher we found one date, 1530, scratched on the
right ankle, and several of 1607, apparently done at one time. One
date was scratched in the left-hand corner -

1498 . . .
il Conte di (Misocho?)

There are also other dates--1627, 1633, 1635, 1626; and right
across the fresco there is written in red chalk, in a bold
sixteenth or seventeenth century handwriting -

"Il parlar di li homini da bene deve valer piu che quello degli

- "The word of a man of substance ought to carry more weight than
that of other people;" and again -

"Non ha la fede ognun come tu chredi;
Non chreder almen [quello?] che non vedi"

- "People are not so worthy of being believed as you think they
are; do not believe anything that you do not see yourself."

Big with our discoveries, we returned towards our inn, Jones
leaving me sketching by the roadside. Presently an elderly English
gentleman of some importance, judging from his manner, came up to
me and entered into conversation. Englishmen do not often visit
Mesocco, and I was rather surprised. "Have you seen that horrid
fresco of St. Christopher down at that church there?" said he,
pointing towards it. I said I had. "It's very bad," said he
decidedly; "it was painted in the year 1725." I had been through
all that myself, and I was a little cross into the bargain, so I
said, "No; the fresco is very good. It is of the fifteenth
century, and the facciata was restored in 1720, not in 1725. The
old fresco was preserved." The old gentleman looked a little
scared. "Oh," said he, "I know nothing about art--but I will see
you again at the hotel;" and left me at once. I never saw him
again. Who he was, where he came from, how he departed, I do not
know. He was the only Englishman I saw during my stay of some four
weeks at Mesocco.

On the first day of my first visit to Mesocco in 1879, I had gone
on to S. Bernardino, and just before getting there, looking down
over the great stretches of pasture land above S. Giacomo, could
see that there was a storm raging lower down in the valley about
where Mesocco should be; I never saw such inky blackness in clouds
before, and the conductor of the diligence said that he had seen
nothing like it. Next morning we learnt that a water-spout had
burst on the mountain above Anzone, a hamlet of Mesocco, and that
the water had done a great deal of damage to the convent at
Mesocco. Returning a few days later, I saw where the torrent had
flowed by the mud upon the grass, but could not have believed such
a stream of water (running with the velocity with which it must
have run) to have been possible under any circumstances in that
place unless I had actually seen its traces. It carried great
rocks of several cubic yards as though they had been small stones,
and among other mischief it had knocked down the garden wall of the
convent of S. Rocco and covered the garden with debris. As I
looked at it I remembered what Signor Bullo had told me at Faido
about the inundations of 1868, "It was not the great rivers," he
said, "which did the damage: it was the ruscelli" or small
streams. So in revolutions it is not the heretofore great people,
but small ones swollen under unusual circumstances who are most
conspicuous and do most damage. Padre Bernardino, of the convent
of S. Rocco, asked me to make him a sketch of the effect of the
inundation, which I was delighted to do. It was not, however,
exactly what he wanted, and, moreover, it got spoiled in the
mounting, so I did another and he returned me the first with an
inscription upon it which I reproduce below.

First came the words-

[Ricordo a Mesocco]

Then came my sketch; and then -

[In the book there is some handwriting at this point--unfortunately
I cannot read it]

The English of which is as follows:- "View of the church, garden,
and hospice of S. Rocco, after the visitation inflicted upon them
by the sad torrent of Anzone, on the unhallowed evening of the 4th
of August 1879." I regret that the "no" of Padre Bernardino's
name, through being written in faint ink, was not reproduced in my
facsimile. I doubt whether Padre Bernardino would have got the
second sketch out of me, if I had not liked the inscription he had
written on the first so much that I wanted to be possessed of it.
Besides, he wrote me a note addressed "all' egregio pittore S.
Butler." To be called an egregious painter was too much for me, so
I did the sketch. I was once addressed as "L'esimio pittore." I
think this is one degree better even than "egregio."

The damage which torrents can do must be seen to be believed.
There is not a streamlet, however innocent looking, which is not
liable occasionally to be turned into a furious destructive agent,
carrying ruin over the pastures which at ordinary times it
irrigates. Perhaps in old times people deified and worshipped
streams because they were afraid of them. Every year each one of
the great Alpine roads will be interrupted at some point or another
by the tons of stones and gravel that are swept over it perhaps for
a hundred yards together. I have seen the St. Gothard road more
than once soon after these interruptions and could not have
believed such damage possible; in 1869 people would still shudder
when they spoke of the inundations of 1868. It is curious to note
how they will now say that rocks which have evidently been in their
present place for hundreds of years, were brought there in 1868; as
for the torrent that damaged S. Rocco when I was in the valley of
Mesocco, it shaved off the strong parapet of the bridge on either
side clean and sharp, but the arch was left standing, the flood
going right over the top. Many scars are visible on the mountain
tops which are clearly the work of similar water-spouts, and
altogether the amount of solid matter which gets taken down each
year into the valleys is much greater than we generally think. Let
any one watch the Ticino flowing into the Lago Maggiore after a few
days' heavy rain, and consider how many tons of mud per day it must
carry into and leave in the lake, and he will wonder that the
gradual filling-up process is not more noticeable from age to age
than it is.

Anzone, whence the sad torrent derives its name, is an exquisitely
lovely little hamlet close to Mesocco. Another no less beautiful
village is Doera, on the other side of the Moesa, and half a mile
lower down than Mesocco. Doera overlooks the castle, the original
hexagonal form of which can be made out from this point. It must
have been much of the same plan as the castle at Eynsford in Kent--
of which, by the way, I was once assured that the oldest inhabitant
could not say "what it come from." While I was copying the fresco
outside the chapel at Doera, some charming people came round me. I
said the fresco was very beautiful. "Son persuaso," said the
spokesman solemnly. Then he said there were some more pictures
inside and we had better see them; so the keys were brought. We
said that they too were very beautiful. "Siam persuasi," was the
reply in chorus. Then they said that perhaps we should like to buy
them and take them away with us. This was a more serious matter,
so we explained that they were very beautiful, but that these
things had a charm upon the spot which they would lose if removed
elsewhere. The nice people at once replied, "Siam persuasi," and
so they left us. It was like a fragment from one of Messrs.
Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas.

For the rest, Mesocco is beautifully situated and surrounded by
waterfalls. There is a man there who takes the cows and goats out
in the morning for their several owners in the village, and brings
them home in the evening. He announces his departure and his
return by blowing a twisted shell, like those that Tritons blow on
fountains or in pictures; it yields a softer sound than a horn;
when his shell is heard people go to the cow-house and let the cows
out; they need not drive them to join the others, they need only
open the door; and so in the evening, they only want the sound of
the shell to tell them that they must open the stable-door, for the
cows or goats when turned from the rest of the mob make straight to
their own abode.

There are two great avalanches which descend every spring; one of
them when I was there last was not quite gone until September;
these avalanches push the air before them and compress it, so that
a terrific wind descends to the bottom of the valley and mounts up
on to the village of Mesocco. One year this wind snapped a whole
grove of full-grown walnuts across the middle of their trunks, and
carried stones and bits of wood up against the houses at some
distance off; it tore off part of the covering from the cupola of
the church, and twisted the weathercock awry in the fashion in
which it may still be seen, unless it has been mended since I left.

The judges at Mesocco get four francs a day when they are wanted,
but unless actually sitting they get nothing. No wonder the people
are so nice to one another and quarrel so seldom.

The walk from Mesocco to S. Bernardino is delightful; it should
take about three hours. For grassy slopes and flowers I do not
know a better, more especially from S. Giacomo onward. In the
woods above S. Giacomo there are some bears, or were last year.
Five were known--a father, mother, and three young ones--but two
were killed. They do a good deal of damage, and the Canton offers
a reward for their destruction. The Grisons is the only Swiss
Canton in which there are bears still remaining.

San Bernardino, 5500 feet above the sea, pleased me less than
Mesocco, but there are some nice bits in it. The Hotel Brocco is
the best to go to. The village is about two hours below the top of
the pass; the walk to this is a pleasant one. The old Roman road
can still be seen in many places, and is in parts in an excellent
state even now. San Bernardino is a fashionable watering-place and
has a chalybeate spring. In the summer it often has as many as two
or three thousand visitors, chiefly from the neighbourhood of the
Lago Maggiore and even from Milan. It is not so good a sketching
ground--at least so I thought--as some others of a similar
character that I have seen. It is not comparable, for example, to
Fusio. It is little visited by the English.

On our way down to Bellinzona again we determined to take S. Maria
in Calanca, and accordingly were dropped by the diligence near
Gabbiolo, whence there is a path across the meadows and under the
chestnuts which leads to Verdabbio. There are some good bits near
the church of this village, and some quaint modern frescoes on a
public-house a little off the main footpath, but there is no
accommodation. From this village the path ascends rapidly for an
hour or more, till just as one has made almost sure that one must
have gone wrong and have got too high, or be on the track to an
alpe only, one finds one's self on a wide beaten path with walls on
either side. We are now on a level with S. Maria itself, and
turning sharply to the left come in a few minutes right upon the
massive keep and the campanile, which are so striking when seen
from down below. They are much more striking when seen from close
at hand. The sketch I give does not convey the notion--as what
sketch can convey it?--that one is at a great elevation, and it is
this which gives its especial charm to S. Maria in Calanca.

The approach to the church is beautiful, and the church itself full
of interest. The village was evidently at one time a place of some
importance, though it is not easy to understand how it came to be
built in such a situation. Even now it is unaccountably large.
There is no accommodation for sleeping, but an artist who could
rough it would, I think, find a good deal that he would like. On
p. 226 is a sketch of the church and tower as seen from the
opposite side to that from which the sketch on p. 224 was taken.

The church seems to have been very much altered, if indeed the body
of it was not entirely rebuilt, in 1618--a date which is found on a
pillar inside the church. On going up into the gallery at the west
end of the church, there is found a Nativity painted in fresco by a
local artist, one Agostino Duso of Roveredo, in the year 1727, and
better by a good deal than one would anticipate from the epoch and
habitat of the painter. On the other side of the same gallery
there is a Death of the Virgin, also by the same painter, but not
so good. On the left-hand side of the nave going towards the altar
there is a remarkable picture of the battle of Lepanto, signed
"Georgius Wilhelmus Groesner Constantiensis fecit A.D. 1649," and
with an inscription to the effect that it was painted for the
confraternity of the most holy Rosary, and by them set up "in this
church of St. Mary commonly called of Calancha." The picture
displays very little respect for academic principles, but is full
of spirit and sensible painting.

Above this picture there hang two others--also very interesting,
from being examples of, as it were, the last groans of true art
while being stifled by academicism--or it may be the attempt at a
new birth, which was nevertheless doomed to extinction by
academicians while yet in its infancy. Such pictures are to be
found all over Italy. Sometimes, as in the case of the work of
Dedomenici, they have absolute merit--more commonly they have the
relative merit of showing that the painter was trying to look and
feel for himself, and a picture does much when it conveys this
impression. It is a small still voice, which, however small, can
be heard through and above the roar of cant which tries to drown
it. We want a book about the unknown Italian painters in out-of-
the-way Italian valleys during the times of the decadence of art.
There is ample material for one who has the time at his command.

We lunched at the house of the incumbent, a monk, who was very kind
to us. We found him drying French marigold blossoms to colour his
risotto with during the winter. He gave us some excellent wine,
and took us over the tower near the church. Nothing can be more
lovely than the monk's garden. If aesthetic people are ever going
to get tired of sun-flowers and lilies, let me suggest to them that
they will find a weary utterness in chicory and seed onions which
they should not overlook; I never felt chicory and seed onions till
I was in the monk's garden at S. Maria in Calanca. All about the
terrace or artificial level ground on which the church is placed,
there are admirable bits for painting, and if there was only
accommodation so that one could get up as high as the alpi, I can
fancy few better places to stay at than S. Maria in Calanca.

CHAPTER XIX--The Mendrisiotto

We stayed a day or two at Bellinzona, and then went on over the
Monte Cenere to Lugano. My first acquaintance with the Monte
Cenere was made some seven-and-thirty years ago when I was a small
boy. I remember with what delight I found wild narcissuses growing
in a meadow upon the top of it, and was allowed to gather as many
as I liked. It was not till some thirty years afterwards that I
again passed over the Monte Cenere in summer time, but I well
remembered the narcissus place, and wondered whether there would
still be any of them growing there. Sure enough when we got to the
top, there they were as thick as cowslips in an English meadow. At
Lugano, having half-an-hour to spare, we paid our respects to the
glorious frescoes by Bernardino Luini, and to the facade of the
duomo, and then went on to Mendrisio.

The neighbourhood of Mendrisio, or, as it is called, the
"Mendrisiotto," is a rich one. Mendrisio itself should be the
headquarters; there is an excellent hotel there, the Hotel
Mendrisio, kept by Signora Pasta, which cannot be surpassed for
comfort and all that makes a hotel pleasant to stay at. I never
saw a house where the arrangements were more perfect; even in the
hottest weather I found the rooms always cool and airy, and the
nights never oppressive. Part of the secret of this may be that
Mendrisio lies higher than it appears to do, and the hotel, which
is situated on the slope of the hill, takes all the breeze there
is. The lake of Lugano is about 950 feet above the sea. The river
falls rapidly between Mendrisio and the lake, while the hotel is
high above the river. I do not see, therefore, how the hotel can
be less than 1200 feet above the sea-line; but whatever height it
is, I never felt the heat oppressive, though on more than one
occasion I have stayed there for weeks together in July and August.

Mendrisio being situated on the railway between Lugano and Como,
both these places are within easy reach. Milan is only a couple of
hours off, and Varese a three or four hours' carriage drive. It
lies on the very last slopes of the Alps, so that whether the
visitor has a fancy for mountains or for the smiling beauty of the
colline, he may be equally gratified. There are excellent roads in
every direction, and none of them can be taken without its leading
to some new feature of interest; I do not think any English family
will regret spending a fortnight at this charming place.

Most visitors to Mendrisio, however, make it a place of passage
only, en route for the celebrated hotel on the Monte Generoso, kept
by Dr. Pasta, Signora Pasta's brother-in-law. The Monte Generoso
is very fine; I know few places of which I am fonder; whether one
looks down at evening upon the lake of Lugano thousands of feet
below, and then lets the eye wander upward again and rest upon the
ghastly pallor of Monte Rosa, or whether one takes the path to the
Colma and saunters over green slopes carpeted with wild-flowers,
and studded with the gentlest cattle, all is equally delightful.
What a sense of vastness and freedom is there on the broad heaving
slopes of these subalpine spurs. They are just high enough without
being too high. The South Downs are very good, and by making
believe very much I have sometimes been half able to fancy when
upon them that I might be on the Monte Generoso, but they are only
good as a quartet is good if one cannot get a symphony.

I think there are more wild-flowers upon the Monte Generoso than
upon any other that I know, and among them numbers of beautiful
wild narcissuses, as on the Monte Cenere. At the top of the Monte
Generoso, among the rocks that jut out from the herbage, there
grows--unless it has been all uprooted--the large yellow auricula,
and this I own to being my favourite mountain wild-flower. It is
the only flower which, I think, fairly beats cowslips. Here too I
heard, or thought I heard, the song of that most beautiful of all
bird songsters, the passero solitario, or solitary sparrow-if it is
a sparrow, which I should doubt.

Nobody knows what a bird can do in the way of song until he has
heard a passero solitario. I think they still have one at the
Hotel Mendrisio, but am not sure. I heard one there once, and can
only say that I shall ever remember it as the most beautiful
warbling that I ever heard come out of the throat of bird. All
other bird singing is loud, vulgar, and unsympathetic in
comparison. The bird itself is about as big as a starling, and is
of a dull blue colour. It is easily tamed, and becomes very much
attached to its master and mistress, but it is apt to die in
confinement before very long. It fights all others of its own
species; it is now a rare bird, and is doomed, I fear, ere long to
extinction, to the regret of all who have had the pleasure of its
acquaintance. The Italians are very fond of them, and Professor
Vela told me they will even act like a house dog and set up a cry
if any strangers come. The one I saw flew instantly at my finger
when I put it near its cage, but I was not sure whether it did so
in anger or play. I thought it liked being listened to, and as
long as it chose to sing I was delighted to stay, whereas as a
general rule I want singing birds to leave off. {32}

People say the nightingale's song is so beautiful; I am ashamed to
own it, but I do not like it. It does not use the diatonic scale.
A bird should either make no attempt to sing in tune, or it should
succeed in doing so. Larks are Wordsworth, and as for canaries, I
would almost sooner hear a pig having its nose ringed, or the
grinding of an axe. Cuckoos are all right; they sing in tune.
Rooks are lovely; they do not pretend to tune. Seagulls again, and
the plaintive creatures that pity themselves on moorlands, as the
plover and the curlew, or the birds that lift up their voices and
cry at eventide when there is an eager air blowing upon the
mountains and the last yellow in the sky is fading--I have no words
with which to praise the music of these people. Or listen to the
chuckling of a string of soft young ducks, as they glide single-
file beside a ditch under a hedgerow, so close together that they
look like some long brown serpent, and say what sound can be more

Many years ago I remember thinking that the birds in New Zealand
approached the diatonic scale more nearly than European birds do.
There was one bird, I think it was the New Zealand thrush, but am
not sure, which used to sing thus:-

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

I was always wanting it to go on:-

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

But it never got beyond the first four bars. Then there was
another which I noticed the first day I landed, more than twenty
years since, and whose song descended by very nearly perfect
semitones as follows:-

[At this point in the book a music score is given]

but the semitones are here and there in this bird's song a trifle
out of tune, whereas in that of the other there was no departure
from the diatonic scale. Be this, however, as it may, none of
these please me so much as the passero solitario.

The only mammals that I can call to mind at this moment as showing
any even apparent approach to an appreciation of the diatonic scale
are the elephant and the rhinoceros. The braying (or whatever is
the technical term for it) of an elephant comprises a pretty
accurate third, and is of a rich mellow tone with a good deal of
brass in it. The rhinoceros grunts a good fourth, beginning, we
will say, on C, and dropping correctly on to the G below.

The Monte Generoso, then, is a good place to stay a few days at,
but one soon comes to an end of it. The top of a mountain is like
an island in the air, one is cooped up upon it unless one descends;
in the case of the Monte Generoso there is the view of the lake of
Lugano, the walk to the Colma, the walk along the crest of the hill
by the farm, and the view over Lombardy, and that is all. If one
goes far down one is haunted by the recollection that when one is
tired in the evening one will have all one's climbing to do, and,
beautiful as the upper parts of the Monte Generoso are, there is
little for a painter there except to study cattle, goats, and
clouds. I recommend a traveller, therefore, by all means to spend
a day or two at the hotel on the Monte Generoso, but to make his
longer sojourn down below at Mendrisio, the walks and excursions
from which are endless, and all of them beautiful.

Among the best of these is the ascent of the Monte Bisbino, which
can be easily made in a day from Mendrisio; I found no difficulty
in doing it on foot all the way there and back a few years ago, but
I now prefer to take a trap as far as Sagno, and do the rest of the
journey on foot, returning to the trap in the evening. Every one
who knows North Italy knows the Monte Bisbino. It is a high
pyramidal mountain with what seems a little white chapel on the top
that glistens like a star when the sun is full upon it. From Como
it is seen most plainly, but it is distinguishable over a very
large part of Lombardy when the sun is right; it is frequently
ascended from Como and Cernobbio, but I believe the easiest way of
getting up it is to start from Mendrisio with a trap as far as

A mile and a half or so after leaving Mendrisio there is a village
called Castello on the left. Here, a little off the road on the
right hand, there is the small church of S. Cristoforo, of great
antiquity, containing the remains of some early frescoes, I should
think of the thirteenth or early part of the fourteenth century.

As usual, people have scratched their names on the frescoes. We
found one name "Battista," with the date "1485" against it. It is
a mistake to hold that the English scribble their names about more
than other people. The Italians like doing this just as well as we
do. Let the reader go to Varallo, for example, and note the names
scratched up from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the
present day, on the walls of the chapel containing the Crucifixion.
Indeed, the Italians seem to have begun the habit long before we
did, for we very rarely find names scratched on English buildings
so long ago as the fifteenth century, whereas in Italy they are
common. The earliest I can call to mind in England at this moment
(of course, excepting the names written in the Beauchamp Tower) is
on the church porch at Harlington, where there is a name cut and
dated in one of the early years of the seventeenth century. I
never even in Italy saw a name scratched on a wall with an earlier
date than 1480.

Why is it, I wonder, that these little bits of soul-fossil as it
were, touch us so much when we come across them? A fossil does not
touch us--while a fly in amber does. Why should a fly in amber
interest us and give us a slightly solemn feeling for a moment,
when the fossil of a megatherium bores us? I give it up; but few
of us can see the lightest trifle scratched off casually and idly
long ago, without liking it better than almost any great thing of
the same, or ever so much earlier date, done with purpose and
intention that it should remain. So when we left S. Cristoforo it
was not the old church, nor the frescoes, but the name of the idle
fellow who had scratched his name "Battista . . . 1485," that we
carried away with us. A little bit of old world life and entire
want of earnestness, preserved as though it were a smile in amber.

In the Val Sesia, several years ago, I bought some tobacco that was
wrapped up for me in a yellow old MS. which I in due course
examined. It was dated 1797, and was a leaf from the book in which
a tanner used to enter the skins which his customers brought him to
be tanned.

"October 24," he writes, "I received from Signora Silvestre, called
the widow, the skin of a goat branded in the neck.--(I am not to
give it up unless they give me proof that she is the rightful
owner.) Mem. I delivered it to Mr. Peter Job (Signor Pietro

"October 27.--I receive two small skins of a goat, very thin and
branded in the neck, from Giuseppe Gianote of Campertogno.

"October 29.--I receive three skins of a chamois from Signor
Antonio Cinere of Alagna, branded in the neck." Then there is a
subsequent entry written small. "I receive also a little gray
marmot's skin weighing thirty ounces."

I am sorry I did not get a sheet with the tanner's name. I am sure
he was an excellent person, and might have been trusted with any
number of skins, branded or unbranded. It is nearly a hundred
years ago since that little gray marmot's skin was tanned in the
Val Sesia; but the wretch will not lie quiet in his grave; he
walks, and has haunted me once a month or so any time this ten
years past. I will see if I cannot lay him by prevailing on him to
haunt some one or other of my readers.

CHAPTER XX--Sanctuary on Monte Bisbino

But to return to S. Cristoforo. In the Middle Ages there was a
certain duke who held this part of the country and was notorious
for his exactions. One Christmas eve when he and his whole
household had assembled to their devotions, the people rose up
against them and murdered them inside the church. After this
tragedy, the church was desecrated, though monuments have been put
up on the outside walls even in recent years. There is a fine bit
of early religious sculpture over the door, and the traces of a
fresco of Christ walking upon the water, also very early.

Returning to the road by a path of a couple of hundred yards, we
descended to cross the river, and then ascended again to Morbio
Superiore. The view from the piazza in front of the church is very
fine, extending over the whole Mendrisiotto, and reaching as far as
Varese and the Lago Maggiore. Below is Morbio Inferiore, a place
of singular beauty. A couple of Italian friends were with us, one
of them Signor Spartaco Vela, son of Professor Vela. He called us
into the church and showed us a beautiful altar-piece--a Madonna
with saints on either side, apparently moved from some earlier
church, and, as we all agreed, a very fine work, though we could
form no idea who the artist was.

From Morbio Superiore the ascent is steep, and it will take half-
an-hour or more to reach the level bit of road close to Sagno.
This, again, commands the most exquisite views, especially over
Como, through the trunks of the trees. Then comes Sagno itself,
the last village of the Canton Ticino and close to the Italian
frontier. There is no inn with sleeping accommodation here, but if
there was, Sagno would be a very good place to stay at. They say
that some of its inhabitants sometimes smuggle a pound or two of
tobacco across the Italian frontier, hiding it in the fern close to
the boundary, and whisking it over the line on a dark night, but I
know not what truth there is in the allegation; the people struck
me as being above the average in respect of good looks and good
breeding--and the average in those parts is a very high one.

Immediately behind Sagno the old paved pilgrim's road begins to
ascend rapidly. We followed it, and in half-an-hour reached the
stone marking the Italian boundary; then comes some level walking,
and then on turning a corner the monastery at the top of the Monte
Bisbino is caught sight of. It still looks small, but one can now
see what an important building it really is, and how different from
the mere chapel which it appears to be when seen from a distance.
The sketch which I give is taken from about a mile further on than
the place where the summit is first seen.

Here some men joined us who lived in a hut a few hundred feet from
the top of the mountain and looked after the cattle there during
the summer. It is at their alpe that the last water can be
obtained, so we resolved to stay there and eat the provisions we
had brought with us. For the benefit of travellers, I should say
they will find the water by opening the door of a kind of outhouse;
this covers the water and prevents the cows from dirtying it.
There will be a wooden bowl floating on the top. The water outside
is not drinkable, but that in the outhouse is excellent.

The men were very good to us; they knew me, having seen me pass and
watched me sketching in other years. It had unfortunately now
begun to rain, so we were glad of shelter: they threw faggots on
the fire and soon kindled a blaze; when these died down and it was
seen that the sparks clung to the kettle and smouldered on it, they
said that it would rain much, and they were right. It poured
during the hour we spent in dining, after which it only got a
little better; we thanked them, and went up five or six hundred
feet till the monastery at length loomed out suddenly upon us from
the mist, when we were close to it but not before.

There is a restaurant at the top which is open for a few days
before and after a festa, but generally closed; it was open now, so
we went in to dry ourselves. We found rather a roughish lot
assembled, and imagined the smuggling element to preponderate over
the religious, but nothing could be better than the way in which
they treated us. There was one gentleman, however, who was no
smuggler, but who had lived many years in London and had now
settled down at Rovenna, just below on the lake of Como. He had
taken a room here and furnished it for the sake of the shooting.
He spoke perfect English, and would have none but English things
about him. He had Cockle's antibilious pills, and the last numbers
of the "Illustrated London News" and "Morning Chronicle;" his bath
and bath-towels were English, and there was a box of Huntley &
Palmer's biscuits on his dressing-table. He was delighted to see
some Englishmen, and showed us everything that was to be seen--
among the rest the birds he kept in cages to lure those that he
intended to shoot. He also took us behind the church, and there we
found a very beautiful marble statue of the Madonna and child, an
admirable work, with painted eyes and the dress gilded and figured.
What an extraordinary number of fine or, at the least, interesting
things one finds in Italy which no one knows anything about. In
one day, poking about at random, we had seen some early frescoes at
S. Cristoforo, an excellent work at Morbio, and here was another
fine thing sprung upon us. It is not safe ever to pass a church in
Italy without exploring it carefully. The church may be new and
for the most part full of nothing but what is odious, but there is
no knowing what fragment of earlier work one may not find

Signor Barelli, for this was our friend's name, now gave us some
prints of the sanctuary, one of which I reproduce on p. 240.
Behind the church there is a level piece of ground with a table and
stone seats round it. The view from here in fine weather is very
striking. As it was, however, it was perhaps hardly less fine than
in clear weather, for the clouds had now raised themselves a
little, though very little, above the sanctuary, but here and there
lay all ragged down below us, and cast beautiful reflected lights
upon the lake and town of Como.

Above, the heavens were still black and lowering. Over against us
was the Monte Generoso, very sombre, and scarred with snow-white
torrents; below, the dull, sullen slopes of the Monte Bisbino, and
the lake of Como; further on, the Mendrisiotto and the blue-black
plains of Lombardy. I have been at the top of the Monte Bisbino
several times, but never was more impressed with it. At all times,
however, it is a marvellous place.

Coming down we kept the ridge of the hill instead of taking the
path by which we ascended. Beautiful views of the monastery are
thus obtained. The flowers in spring must be very varied; and we
still found two or three large kinds of gentians and any number of
cyclamens. Presently Vela dug up a fern root of the common
Polypodium vulgare; he scraped it with his knife and gave us some
to eat. It is not at all bad, and tastes very much like liquorice.
Then we came upon the little chapel of S. Nicolao. I do not know
whether there is anything good inside or no. Then we reached Sagno
and returned to Mendrisio; as we re-crossed the stream between
Morbio Superiore and Castello we found it had become a raging
torrent, capable of any villainy.

CHAPTER XXI--A Day at the Cantine

Next day we went to breakfast with Professor Vela, the father of my
friend Spartaco, at Ligornetto. After we had admired the many fine
works which Professor Vela's studio contains, it was agreed that we
should take a walk by S. Agata, and spend the afternoon at the
cantine, or cellars where the wine is kept. Spartaco had two
painter friends staying with him whom I already knew, and a young
lady, his cousin; so we all went together across the meadows. I
think we started about one o'clock, and it was some three or four
by the time we got to the cantine, for we kept stopping continually
to drink wine. The two painter visitors had a fine comic vein, and
enlivened us continually with bits of stage business which were
sometimes uncommonly droll. We were laughing incessantly, but
carried very little away with us except that the drier one of the
two, who was also unfortunately deaf, threw himself into a
rhapsodical attitude with his middle finger against his cheek, and
his eyes upturned to heaven, but to make sure that his finger
should stick to his cheek he just wetted the end of it against his
tongue first. He did this with unruffled gravity, and as if it
were the only thing to do under the circumstances.

The young lady who was with us all the time enjoyed everything just
as much as we did; once, indeed, she thought they were going a
little too far--not as among themselves--but considering that there
were a couple of earnest-minded Englishmen with them: the pair had
begun a short performance which certainly did look as if it might
develop into something a little hazardous. "Minga far tutto," she
exclaimed rather promptly--"Don't do all." So what the rest would
have been we shall never know.

Then we came to some precipices, whereon it at once occurred to the
two comedians that they would commit suicide. The pathetic way in
which they shared the contents of their pockets among us, and came
back more than once to give little additional parting messages
which occurred to them just as they were about to take the fatal
plunge, was irresistibly comic, and was the more remarkable for the
spontaneousness of the whole thing and the admirable way in which
the pair played into one another's hands. The deaf one even played
his deafness, making it worse than it was so as to heighten the
comedy. By and by we came to a stile which they pretended to have
a delicacy in crossing, but the lady helped them over. We
concluded that if these young men were average specimens of the
Italian student--and I should say they were--the Italian character
has an enormous fund of pure love of fun--not of mischievous fun,
but of the very best kind of playful humour, such as I have never
seen elsewhere except among Englishmen.

Several times we stopped and had a bottle of wine at one place or
another, till at last we came to a beautiful shady place looking
down towards the lake of Lugano where we were to rest for half-an-
hour or so. There was a cantina here, so of course we had more
wine. In that air, and with the walk and incessant state of
laughter in which we were being kept, we might drink ad libitum,
and the lady did not refuse a second small bicchiere. On this our
deaf friend assumed an anxious, fatherly air. He said nothing, but
put his eyeglass in his eye, and looked first at the lady's glass
and then at the lady with an expression at once kind, pitying, and
pained; he looked backwards and forwards from the glass to the lady
more than once, and then made as though he were going to quit a
scene in which it was plain he could be of no further use, throwing
up his hands and eyes like the old steward in Hogarth's "Marriage a
la mode." They never seemed to tire, and every fresh incident at
once suggested its appropriate treatment. Jones asked them whether
they thought they could mimic me. "Oh dear, yes," was the answer;
"we have mimicked him hundreds of times," and they at once began.

At last we reached Professor Vela's own cantina, and here we were
to have our final bottle. There were several other cantine hard
by, and other parties that had come like ourselves to take a walk
and get some wine. The people bring their evening meal with them
up to the cantina and then sit on the wall outside, or go to a
rough table and eat it. Instead, in fact, of bringing their wine
to their dinner, they take their dinner to their wine. There was
one very fat old gentleman who had got the corner of the wall to
sit on, and was smoking a cigar with his coat off. He comes, I am
told, every day at about three during the summer months, and sits
on the wall till seven, when he goes home to bed, rising at about
four o'clock next morning. He seemed exceedingly good-tempered and
happy. Another family who owned a cantina adjoining Professor
Vela's, had brought their evening meal with them, and insisted on
giving us a quantity of excellent river cray-fish which looked like
little lobsters. I may be wrong, but I thought this family looked
at us once or twice as though they thought we were seeing a little
more of the Italians absolutely chez eux than strangers ought to be
allowed to see. We can only say we liked all we saw so much that
we would fain see it again, and were left with the impression that
we were among the nicest and most loveable people in the world.

I have said that the cantine are the cellars where the people keep
their wine. They are caves hollowed out into the side of the
mountain, and it is only certain localities that are suitable for
the purpose. The cantine, therefore, of any village will be all
together. The cantine of Mendrisio, for example, can be seen from
the railroad, all in a row, a little before one gets into the town;
they form a place of reunion where the village or town unites to
unbend itself on feste or after business hours. I do not know
exactly how they manage it, but from the innermost chamber of each
cantina they run a small gallery as far as they can into the
mountain, and from this gallery, which may be a foot square, there
issues a strong current of what, in summer, is icy cold air, while
in winter it feels quite warm. I could understand the equableness
of the temperature of the mountain at some yards from the surface
of the ground, causing the cantina to feel cool in summer and warm
in winter, but I was not prepared for the strength and iciness of
the cold current that came from the gallery. I had not been in the
innermost cantina two minutes before I felt thoroughly chilled and
in want of a greatcoat.

Having been shown the cantine, we took some of the little cups
which are kept inside and began to drink. These little cups are
common crockery, but at the bottom there is written, Viva Bacco,
Viva l'Italia, Viva la Gioia, Viva Venere, or other such matter;
they are to be had in every crockery shop throughout the
Mendrisiotto, and are very pretty. We drank out of them, and ate
the cray-fish which had been given us. Then seeing that it was
getting late, we returned together to Besazio, and there parted,
they descending to Ligornetto and we to Mendrisio, after a day
which I should be glad to think would be as long and pleasantly
remembered by our Italian friends as it will assuredly be by

The excursions in the neighbourhood of Mendrisio are endless. The
walk, for example, to S. Agata and thence to Meride is exquisite.
S. Agata itself is perfect, and commands a splendid view. Then
there is the little chapel of S. Nicolao on a ledge of the red
precipice. The walk to this by the village of Sommazzo is as good
as anything can be, and the quiet terrace leading to the church
door will not be forgotten by those who have seen it. Sommazzo
itself from the other side of the valley comes as on p. 247. There
is Cragno, again, on the Monte Generoso, or Riva with its series of
pictures in tempera by the brothers Giulio Cesare and Camillo
Procaccini, men who, had they lived before the days of academics,
might have done as well as any, except the few whom no academy can
mould, but who, as it was, were carried away by fluency and
facility. It is useless, however, to specify. There is not one of
the many villages which can be seen from any rising ground in the
neighbourhood, but what contains something that is picturesque and
interesting, while the coup d'oeil, as a whole, is always equally
striking, whether one is on the plain and looks towards the
mountains, or looks from the mountains to the plains.

CHAPTER XXII--Sacro Monte, Varese

From Mendrisio we took a trap across the country to Varese, passing
through Stabbio, where there are some baths that are much
frequented by Italians in the summer. The road is a pleasant one,
but does not go through any specially remarkable places.
Travellers taking this road had better leave every cigarette behind
them on which they do not want to pay duty, as the custom-house
official at the frontier takes a strict view of what is due to his
employers. I had, perhaps, a couple of ounces of tobacco in my
pouch, but was made to pay duty on it, and the searching of our
small amount of luggage was little less than inquisitorial.

From Varese we went without stopping to the Sacro Monte, four or
five miles beyond, and several hundred feet higher than the town
itself. Close to the first chapel, and just below the arch through
which the more sacred part of the mountain is entered upon, there
is an excellent hotel called the Hotel Riposo, kept by Signor
Piotti; it is very comfortable, and not at all too hot even in the
dog-days; it commands magnificent views, and makes very good

Here we rested and watched the pilgrims going up and down. They
seemed very good-humoured and merry. Then we looked through the
grating of the first chapel inside the arch, and found it to
contain a representation of the Annunciation. The Virgin had a
real washing-stand, with a basin and jug, and a piece of real soap.
Her slippers were disposed neatly under the bed, so also were her
shoes, and, if I remember rightly, there was everything else that
Messrs. Heal & Co. would send for the furnishing of a lady's

I have already said perhaps too much about the realism of these
groups of painted statuary, but will venture a word or two more
which may help the reader to understand the matter better as it
appears to Catholics themselves. The object is to bring the scene
as vividly as possible before people who have not had the
opportunity of being able to realise it to themselves through
travel or general cultivation of the imaginative faculties. How
can an Italian peasant realise to himself the notion of the
Annunciation so well as by seeing such a chapel as that at Varese?
Common sense says, either tell the peasant nothing about the
Annunciation, or put every facility in his way by the help of which
he will be able to conceive the idea with some definiteness.

We stuff the dead bodies of birds and animals which we think it
worth while to put into our museums. We put them in the most life-
like attitudes we can, with bits of grass and bush, and painted
landscape behind them: by doing this we give people who have never
seen the actual animals, a more vivid idea concerning them than we
know how to give by any other means. We have not room in the
British Museum to give a loose rein to realism in the matter of
accessories, but each bird or animal in the collection is so
stuffed as to make it look as much alive as the stuffer can make
it--even to the insertion of glass eyes. We think it well that our
people should have an opportunity of realising these birds and
beasts to themselves, but we are shocked at the notion of giving
them a similar aid to the realisation of events which, as we say,
concern them more nearly than any others, in the history of the
world. A stuffed rabbit or blackbird is a good thing. A stuffed
Charge of Balaclava again is quite legitimate; but a stuffed
Nativity is, according to Protestant notions, offensive.

Over and above the desire to help the masses to realise the events
in Christ's life more vividly, something is doubtless due to the
wish to attract people by giving them what they like. This is both
natural and legitimate. Our own rectors find the prettiest psalm
and hymn tunes they can for the use of their congregations, and
take much pains generally to beautify their churches. Why should
not the Church of Rome make herself attractive also? If she knows
better how to do this than Protestant churches do, small blame to
her for that. For the people delight in these graven images.
Listen to the hushed "oh bel!" which falls from them as they peep
through grating after grating; and the more tawdry a chapel is, the
better, as a general rule, they are contented. They like them as
our own people like Madame Tussaud's. Granted that they come to
worship the images; they do; they hardly attempt to conceal it.
The writer of the authorised handbook to the Sacro Monte at
Locarno, for example, speaks of "the solemn coronation of the image
that is there revered"--"la solenne coronazione del simulacro ivi
venerato" (p. 7). But how, pray, can we avoid worshipping images?
or loving images? The actual living form of Christ on earth was
still not Christ, it was but the image under which His disciples
saw Him; nor can we see more of any of those we love than a certain
more versatile and warmer presentment of them than an artist can
counterfeit. The ultimate "them" we see not.

How far these chapels have done all that their founders expected of
them is another matter. They have undoubtedly strengthened the
hands of the Church in their immediate neighbourhood, and they have
given an incalculable amount of pleasure, but I think that in the
Middle Ages people expected of art more than art can do. They
hoped a fine work of art would exercise a deep and permanent effect
upon the lives of those who lived near it. Doubtless it does have
some effect--enough to make it worth while to encourage such works,
but nevertheless the effect is, I imagine, very transient. The
only thing that can produce a deep and permanently good influence
upon a man's character is to have been begotten of good ancestors
for many generations--or at any rate to have reverted to a good
ancestor--and to live among nice people.

The chapels themselves at Varese, apart from their contents, are
very beautiful. They come as fresh one after the other as a set of
variations by Handel. Each one of them is a little architectural
gem, while the figures they contain are sometimes very good, though
on the whole not equal to those at Varallo. The subjects are the
mysteries of joy, namely, the Annunciation (immediately after the
first great arch is passed), the Salutation of Mary by Elizabeth,
the Nativity, the Presentation, and the Disputing with the Doctors.
Then there is a second arch, after which come the mysteries of
grief--the Agony in the Garden, the Flagellation, the Crowning with
Thorns, the Ascent to Calvary, and the Crucifixion. Passing
through a third arch, we come to the mysteries of glory--the
Resurrection, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Ghost, and the
Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Dispute in the Temple is the
chapel which left the deepest impression upon us. Here the various
attitudes and expressions of the doctors are admirably rendered.
There is one man, I think he must have been a broad churchman and
have taken in the "Spectator"; his arms are folded, and he is
smiling a little, with his head on one side. He is not prepared,
he seems to say, to deny that there is a certain element of truth
in what this young person has been saying, but it is very shallow,
and in all essential points has been refuted over and over again;
he has seen these things come and go so often, &c. But all the
doctors are good. The Christ is weak, and so are the Joseph and
Mary in the background; in fact, throughout the whole series of
chapels the wicked or worldly and indifferent people are well done,
while the saints are a feeble folk: the sculptor evidently neither
understood them nor liked them, and could never get beyond
silliness; but the artist who has lately done them up has made them
still weaker and sillier by giving them all pink noses.

Shortly after the sixth chapel has been passed the road turns a
corner, and the town on the hill (see preceding page) comes into
full view. This is a singularly beautiful spot. The chapels are
worth coming a long way to see, but this view of the town is better
still: we generally like any building that is on the top of a
hill; it is an instinct in our nature to do so; it is a remnant of
the same instinct which makes sheep like to camp at the top of a
hill; it gives a remote sense of security and vantage-ground
against an enemy. The Italians seem hardly able to look at a high
place without longing to put something on the top of it, and they
have seldom done so with better effect than in the case of the
Sacro Monte at Varese. From the moment of its bursting upon one on
turning the corner near the seventh, or Flagellation chapel, one
cannot keep one's eyes off it, and one fancies, as with S. Michele,
that it comes better and better with every step one takes; near the
top it composes, as on p. 254, but without colour nothing can give
an adequate notion of its extreme beauty. Once at the top the
interest centres in the higgledy-pigglediness of the houses, the
gay colours of the booths where strings of beads and other
religious knick-knacks are sold, the glorious panorama, and in the
inn where one can dine very well, and I should imagine find good
sleeping accommodation. The view from the balcony outside the
dining-room is wonderful, and above is a sketch from the terrace
just in front of the church.

There is here no single building comparable to the sanctuary of
Sammichele, nor is there any trace of that beautiful Lombard work
which makes so much impression upon one in the church on the Monte
Pirchiriano; the architecture is late, and barocco, not to say
rococo, reigns everywhere; nevertheless the effect of the church is
good. The visitor should get the sacristan to show him a very fine
pagliotto or altar cloth of raised embroidery, worked in the
thirteenth century. He will also do well to walk some little
distance behind the town on the way to S. Maria dei fiori (St. Mary
of the flowers) and look down upon the town and Lombardy. I do not
think he need go much higher than this, unless he has a fancy for

The Sacro Monte is a kind of ecclesiastical Rosherville Gardens,
eminently the place to spend a happy day. We happened by good luck
to be there during one of the great feste of the year, and saw I am
afraid to say how many thousands of pilgrims go up and down. They
were admirably behaved, and not one of them tipsy. There was an
old English gentleman at the Hotel Riposo who told us that there
had been another such festa not many weeks previously, and that he
had seen one drunken man there--an Englishman--who kept abusing all
he saw and crying out, "Manchester's the place for me."

The processions were best at the last part of the ascent; there
were pilgrims, all decked out with coloured feathers, and priests
and banners and music and crimson and gold and white and glittering
brass against the cloudless blue sky. The old priest sat at his
open window to receive the offerings of the devout as they passed;
but he did not seem to get more than a few bambini modelled in wax.
Perhaps he was used to it. And the band played the barocco music
on the barocco little piazza and we were all barocco together. It
was as though the clergyman at Ladywell had given out that, instead
of having service usual, the congregation would go in procession to
the Crystal Palace with all their traps, and that the band had been
practising "Wait till the clouds roll by" for some time, and on
Sunday as a great treat they should have it.

The Pope has issued an order saying he will not have masses written
like operas. It is no use. The Pope can do much, but he will not
be able to get contrapuntal music into Varese. He will not be able
to get anything more solemn than "La Fille de Madame Angot" into
Varese. As for fugues -! I would as soon take an English bishop
to the Surrey pantomime as to the Sacro Monte on a festa.

Then the pilgrims went into the shadow of a great rock behind the
sanctuary, spread themselves out over the grass and dined.

CHAPTER XXIII--Angera and Arona

From the Hotel Riposo we drove to Angera, on the Lago Maggiore.
There are many interesting things to see on the way. Close to
Velate, for example, there is the magnificent bit of ruin which is
so striking a feature as seen from the Sacro Monte. A little
further on, at Luinate, there is a fine old Lombard campanile and
some conventual buildings which are worth sparing five minutes or
so to see. The views hereabouts over the lake of Varese and
towards Monte Rosa are exceedingly fine. The driver should be told
to go a mile or so out of his direct route in order to pass
Oltrona, near Voltrone. Here there was a monastery which must once
have been an important one. Little of old work remains, except a
very beautiful cloister of the thirteenth or fourteenth century,
which should not be missed. It measures about twenty-one paces
each way: the north side has round arches made of brick, the
arches are supported by small columns about six inches through,
each of which has a different capital; the middle is now garden
ground. A few miles nearer Angera there is Brebbia, the church of
which is an excellent specimen of early Lombard work. We thought
we saw the traditions of Cyclopean masonry in the occasional
irregularity of the string-courses. The stones near the bottom of
the wall are very massive, and the west wall is not, if I remember
rightly, bonded into the north and south walls, but these walls are
only built up against it as at Giornico. The door on the south
side is simple, but remarkably beautiful. It looks almost as if it
might belong to some early Norman church in England, and the stones
have acquired a most exquisite warm colour with age. At Ispra
there is a campanile which Mr. Ruskin would probably disapprove of,
but which we thought lovely. A few kilometres further on a corner
is turned, and the splendid castle of Angera is caught sight of.

Before going up to the castle we stayed at the inn on the left
immediately on entering the town, to dine. They gave us a very
good dinner, and the garden was a delightful place to dine in.
There is a kind of red champagne made hereabouts which is very
good; the figs were ripe, and we could gather them for ourselves
and eat ad libitum. There were two tame sparrows hopping


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