« PreviousContinue »
I have been blest with other ties,
Fond ties and true, yet never deem
No, mother! in the warmest dream
Mother! thy name is widow; well
I know no love of mine can fill
Within one sacred recess, still
GENOA AND THE GENOESE.
BY REV. WALTER COLTON, UNITED STATES' NAVY, AUTHOR OF 'SHIP AND SHORE,' ETC.
A signal from the flag-ship to get under way, had been cheerfully and promptly obeyed; and we were now holding our course, as well as ships can without wind, from Toulon for Genoa. Yet, strange as it may seem, our ship, that never won a laurel in a breeze, would now, in a dead calm, log several knots in each watch. This
apparently causeless advance was an inexplicable mystery then, and is so still. Some indeed ascribed it to an imperceptible current; but in that case, lying passive on her element, she would make no progress through the water, although she might change her relation to the
Some, who perhaps were more imaginative than philosophical, attributed our progress to an aërial vein, too weak to produce any visible effect on the sails, yet of sufficient strength to move the ship. The simple tar, who never puzzles himself with the intricate relations of cause and effect, declared that the ship'went ahead because it was in her so to do; and in truth I was myself very much of his opinion. A ship is not like a man, who gives a reason for his deportment; she appears to be actuated by some irresponsible whim; some self-consulting, independent caprice, that disregards the force of her outward condition. She will frequently, under the urgency of a quick breeze, be almost motionless; and then again, in a condition less favorable, as if moved by some impulse from within,
"Walk the waters like a thing of life.'
I have ever believed our ship to be under some mysterious charm, since I saw her, without a breath of wind, move up the centre of the Tagus, while two smaller vessels, nearer each shore, were moving down at the same time; and I was quite confirmed in the opinion, when I saw her, in the utter silence and dim solemnity of a midnight watch, the ocean lying still as the slumber of the grave, move three times around in the same fearful circle, leaving the gaping track of her keel as entire and unclosed as if the waters had lost their returning power, or had been converted, by the dark magic of her drifting shadow, into substance. Those may smile who will, at this belief in
a ship’s subtle, innate source of motion, but I can assure them it is not more absurd and irrational, than the forms of belief on which one half of mankind rest their hopes of heaven. I would much sooner believe a ship may be moved by some inherent, intangible impulse, than that a man, who has been acting the devil to the verge of human life, can then, as if by the force of an upward glance, be transformed into an angel. You may as well believe that a stream can move on half way to the ocean, a current of putrid blackness, and then flow the rest in liquid transparency, as to suppose that the current of our moral being, which has flowed darkly and corruptedly to the cloud of the grave, can then move on in purity and brightness. As it rolled upon earth, we must expect it to roll through eternity !
I little thought my wizard theme would lead me into a topic of such real moment. But let those who may justly question its relevancy, ponder the truth it contains. It is never too soon to forsake an error;
be too late to retrieve it. The wisest man is he, who leaves in his conduct through life the least room for subsequent regret and sorrow. I do not most unfeignedly crave the forgiving indulgence of the reader for the out-of-place manner in which these thoughts force themselves to sight. I am as sensible as he can be of their irrelevancy, and I would blot them out, did they not spring from the deepest fount of my convictions. But I know they involve truths that will affect us both, when the fleeting interests of this life appear only as the phantoms of a troubled dream, and when many of the objects that may have most enchanted us here, have only that remembrance which must be bathed in our tears. We are born under a cloud, but the light that melts through it, is sufficient to guide our hesitating steps,
We were now, reader, within a few leagues of Genoa, as appeared from our dead reckoning, which was kept as accurately as any such precarious calculations could be, amid conflicting currents and calms; for we had no meridian sun, to designate our position, or prominent cliff, to inform us of our bearings and distances; these had been lost us in the opaqueness of a thick, stagnant atmosphere. We were of course rather sad at the thought of approaching the 'City of Palaces,' and from the sea, too, under circumstances so extremely unfayorable. But, to our most pleasurable surprise, toward evening, a strong wind, rushing from the icy regions of the Alps, rolled one bank of clouds against another, till the whole departed, leaving Genoa without an obscuring veil upon its beauty and grandeur. It stood there, proudly ascending a circling acclivity of the Appenines ; the setting sun shedding upon ít the effiulgence of its liberated beams; the greeting birds breaking into sudden song; and the green trees waving their fresh leaves over tower, terrace, and gayer balcony.
I thought, when sailing up the bay of Naples, it would be impossible for any other city or shore to make my heart beat so quickly; but here I found emotions within me, though less deep and dilated, yet equally replete with delight. There was indeed no burning mount, with its cataract of fire, to create awe; no disinhumed remains of perished greatness, to awaken a bewildering reverence; but there were castled steeps, frowning as of old, to impress respect; long ranges of marble palaces, whose builders were in the grave, to excite
admiring wonder; and a lofty back-ground, sprinkled with villas, to inspire a sentiment of security and quietude; and which seemed as a shield cast over the architectural magnificence of the spot. Such appeared Genoa, as we first saw it from the sea; a nearer view may perhaps sober the tone of enthusiastic admiration which its first impressions awakened. The most enchanting beauty can rarely stand the test of the thoroughly informed eye; and I have never met with a city without a deformity in some of its features.
Our anchor had scarcely been let-go, when an old man and his daughter came along-side, and solicited permission to come on board, which was cheerfully granted. The father was blind, and had found a partial refuge from his affliction in the music of his violin. The daughter was young, of a child-like bearing, and accompanied the touching strains of the parent with a voice of expressive sweetness :
And she began a long low' island song,
The crew gathered around, in close, wordless audience, as if she had been some sweet seraph, delegated, for some inspiring purpose, to breathe here, for a short time, the melodies of a happier sphere. But as she was not an angel, and of course not exempt from the wants which betide humanity, our crew began to cast about how they might best relieve the bereavements of her condition. They pronounced it an impropriety, bordering on shame, that one so young, so beautiful, and who could sing so sweetly, should be left to want any of the good things of this life; and immediately raised a subscription, sufficient to afford an ample competency for many mont to come, to her and her blind father. There is no being in the world so easily moved to acts of charity, as a sailor : He will share his last penny, not only with a needy ship-mate, but with a stranger; with a person he never met before, and never expects to meet again. Almost any amount of money, exceeding perhaps that due the individual members of the crew, might be raised on board one of our ships, in behalf of a plain, simple object of charity. It is necessary, on such occasions, to limit them to a certain sum, otherwise, but few would return home with a shilling in their pockets. Though in truth this would but little affect their pecuniary condition, three weeks after having reached the shore; as this is usually a longer time than is necessary for the sailor to rid himself of all his wages, for three years of hardship and peril.
Those of us who fancied in ourselves a passion for music of a higher pretension than flowed from the lips of the little girl, went on shore to the Carlo Felici, where we heard Madame Unguer in • Anna Boleyna ;' an opera in which she displays the full force of her astonishing powers. Her genius is adapted to the wild, turbulent, and tragical incidents of life ; she expressed the love, indignation, despair, and conscious innocence of Henry's wife, with a power and pathos, that reached every heart. Every motion, look, and tone, betrayed the grief, anger, and forgiveness, of the royal victim. Not the sight of the execrable axe, in the tower of London, with which she was beheaded, affected me half so deeply: The one produced a dark revulsion of feeling, the other filled me with a living sympathy; the one disposed me to execration, the other to tears. No man, it appears
to me, can listen to this opera, sustained in all its parts with the ability it was this night, without imbibing a fresh reverence for virtue, and a deeper detestation of vice.
Carlo Felici, as an edifice, reflects credit on the present taste of the Genoese. It is rich and stately, and free from the meretricious ornaments which disfigure their earlier architecture. The arrangements and ornaments of the interior are elegant and chaste, while many of the stage decorations are truly superb. In finishing and furnishing a theatre, there is usually a wide departure from the simplicity of good taste. It would seem as if some reeling vision of delight had dazzled and confounded the judgment of the artist ; and he heaps one ornament upon another, until the beauty of the original design is lost in a maze of gilding and false devices. Nor does the sanctuary, with all its high and sacred associations, often escape entirely the effects of this frivolous, fantastic spirit. Not only are the churches in Genoa, and in Catholic communities generally, scandalized in this form, but they seldom escape, even where they have been reared and consecrated by the iconoclastic spirit of protestantism. You will find, even in a Methodist meeting-house, where the seats have scarcely the comfort of a back, a red velvet cushion on the pulpit, with its showy embroidery, long fringe, and prodigal tassels, falling far down over the many colored-pannels; all the work of some young ladies, who, it would seem, had hit upon this mode of displaying to the best advantage their handicraft, in the hope that it may attract the eye of the young expounder, or of some one else, in want of a quiet, industrious, and excellent wife. What a pity our sprigs of divinity lose, as they usually do, all the advantage to be derived from these unerring intimations, by getting a wife before they get a pulpit, or by entering into engagements, which, by the way, they sometimes break, and without any other provocation than the superior attractions of another; a breach of trust for which they ought to be broken themselves. If one of them ever enters the pulpit of a church where I am, though my seat should be in the upper gallery, I would get out of the building, if I had to let myself down by the lightningrod. But something too much of this.'
At the close of the opera, we departed, and took rooms at the Hotel de Ville, one of the many excellent establishments of the kind to be met with in Genoa. Here you have nothing to annoy you, save at night a little fellow, who springs from his covert with an uncertainty and ubiquity of motion, which the most dexterous politician, in all his shifts for office, can never surpass. He is more subtle than the musquito, who foolishly sounds his little horn at his approach, for the only warning he gives, is in the injury he inflicts; and if you attack him, he is off at some other point, where perhaps he was least expected, till at last, wearied with this unavailing warfare, you resign yourself unconditionally to his rapacity; for pity he has none, since the most tender of the other sex are most thoroughly his victims. Still there is something to admire about the little fellow; his selection of Italy as the favorite place of his abode, his choice of the ladies in his piratical adventures, and the soft hour of night, in which he moves, are all indications of a refined taste, and an exquisite classic turn. At Paris, they treat him with a rudeness utterly at variance
with the urbanity which we are accustomed to accord to this most polite people. I saw four of them harnessed into a carriage, which they rolled about with a quick well-regulated step; others were dancing a quadrille, in which they balanced and exchanged partners with the most unexceptionable ease and grace; the waltz appeared to make them giddy, or perhaps its want of delicacy offended them, for they never could be coaxed or compelled to excel in it; others, who had been less favored of nature, were on a tread-mill, where, step by step, upon the ever-deceiving wheel, they were compelled to turn a complication of machinery, which none but a Frenchman could ever have adapted to the energies of a flea !
The next morning, taking with us a cicerone, who was rather an honorable exception to the usual characteristics of his frail fraternity, we sallied forth on a tour of palaces, and occupation in which we were agreeably entertained for several days. These admired edifices though rarely constructed of the most precious materials, and often disparaged by architectural imitations, painted on the facade, are yet not deficient in solidity and grandeur. The spacious court, around which the whole is built, with its marble porticos, towering up through the centre of the vast pile; the marble steps on which you ascend to the successive lofts; the projecting balconies, from which you survey the busy streets below; the lofty terrace, waving with the orange, oleander, and lemon, which here strike their roots deep and strong in a soil sustained by spreading arches, and refreshed by the play of sparkling fountains; the liberal arrangement and extent of the apartments; the magnificent saloons, with their floors of smooth and beautifully stained mastic; the arched ceilings, covered with classic frescoes; the walls hung with tapestries, mirrors, and gold, or adorned with the still richer triumphs of art; all excite a deep, enduring admiration. These princely mansions are not only to be found separately, in different sections of the city, but they border three of the principal streets so continuously, that scarcely an intervening object occurs to break the overpowering impression. Captious criticism may indeed find in their architecture faults sufficient to stir its supercilious spleen, but to one who forgets minor defects in prevailing excellences, they will ever be objects of admiring regard.
The proprietor of such a princely mansion is often encountered by the visitor, gliding softly through the apartments, and presenting in his dress and person an evidence of abstemiousness and simplicity, that would more appropriately become the cell of an anchorite. His incurious look leads you to regard him as some poor stranger, incapable of appreciating the objects of art around him; or as some dreaming enthusiast, whose thoughts have run on more exalted and subtle themes, till he has ceased to be affected by these less ethereal forms of magnificence and beauty; yet before you have finished this comment, you will find him, perhaps, suddenly pausing before some half-perished painting, which to you is little more than a blank, and with steadfast look, prying into its dim shadows, as if he were penetrating the mysteries of death. Would that he could penetrate the realities of that untried change, and bring forth its moral map! But the secrets of the shroud lie beyond the mental reach of man! What we were, before embodied in this breathing world, and what we are