« PreviousContinue »
book of amusement from which we could extract much that might be curious in the way of incidents to the reader, or in the manners and habits of the people, these journals have no pretensions to the name.
Mr. Brockedon gives us an account of two distinct excursions. The first was made in the Graian, Cottian, and Pennine Alps, these comprehending the passes of the Col du Bon-homme, the Col de la Seigne, the Col de Sestrieres, the Mont Genevre, the Col du Lantaret, the Little St. Bernard, and the Great St. Bernard. The first of these two passes occur in the Alpine regions between Savoy and Milan, to which latter city, the journey from Briancon through a most romantic region, is admirably, though of necessity briefly, described. It is not, however, until his arri'val at Milan that the author gives us any insight into those peculiar vestiges of our country which the travelling Englishman is always sure to leave in strange characters in his journey. But the newest freak which is associated with the English name in Milan makes up for the author's silence on this interesting head. It appears, that, on the right of the road to Arona from Baveno, is a colossal bronze statute of St. Charles Borromeo, measuring in height seventy-two feet, on a pedestal forty feet high; it is highly finished, and possesses a character of breadth and extension which gives to it in its lonely position, standing on a hill, a most impressive feature of interest. The attitude of the saint is that of performing the ceremony of the benediction; the right hand is extended, and in the left a missal or breviary is held, and the head is gently bent forward, as if he was looking down. We have said that the statue itself was seventy-two feet high: the reader who knows how the laws of proportion are cultivated in foreign sculpture, will readily believe that the Italian artists are not the sort of people to violate those laws, and he will presume, therefore, that the missal or brievary held in his hand by the saint must have been a particularly prominent specimen of sacred literature. So at least was it deemed by a pair of our locomotive wags from this side of the water, who, in a fit of ennui, as they were sauntering about Arona, literally pitched upon the exploit of making a breakfast parlour of the interior of the breviary! They carried their intention so far as to seat themselves in the brazen apartment, which, under the influence of the sun's rays, became so rapidly hot and intolerable, that the tenants were compelled to evacuate before the meal could be completed.
Mr. Brockedon says that the triumphal arch at the termination of the great route of the Simplon is not yet completed; and it is probable that it never will, as there is reason to think that the demolition of the imperfect work is fixed upon. A large proportion of the work, according to Mr. Brockedon, was ready before Napoleon's reverses; and statues, basso-relievos, capitals, &c., remain in the magazines which surround the arch. The architec
tural sculpture already prepared is of beautiful workmanship, particularly the Corinthian capitals. It is much to be regretted that such a work was not completed before the great changes took place consequent upon the battle of Waterloo, because it was an intended memorial, not of the “murders which made a hero," but of a vast undertaking successfully accomplished, by which society has been, and will long be, benefited. The Strada Semplone, however, is its own memorial; and it cannot be passed without reflections upon Napoleon, in which his injuries are forgotten while contemplating his services to mankind.
Mr. Brockedon only echoes the voice of every friend to art in Europe, when he mourns the indifference with which the Last Supper of da Vinci is allowed to make a rapid progress towards decay in the Grazie. The beautiful head of St. John, and that of St. Peter, are nearly obliterated, but the head of Christ, the most studied, finished, and effective of the whole, still preserves all the proofs of the great powers of the artist. When Mr. Brockedon visited Milan in 1821, a wretched quack in art had undertaken to restore this celebrated work. After having daubed over the left hand of Christ (his own ought to have shrunk up in the attempt), and repainted part of the table and things upon it, he had so evidently betrayed his presumption and his ignorance, that public spirit enough was found, even in Milan, to appeal to the authorities, and stop his sacrilegious proceedings, which would have gone far with the next generation in blasting the reputation of Leonardo da Vinci, by substituting the vile daubing of this German pretender (for he was a German) in the place of a work that ought to be sacred to all but Time.
We regret to read that the prison of Milan, when Mr. B. visited the city, contained above thirty-five of the principal families, for holding opinions that did not tally with the shades of the Austrian theory of government.
From Milan, Mr. Brockedon proceeded to the passes of Mount Genevre, and the Col du Lantaret, from which they advanced to the Roche Blanche, celebrated as being the point where it is said that Hannibal passed over the Alps. This locality is in the neighbourhood of the hospice of the Little St. Bernard, to which Mr. Brockedon paid a visit. The hospice has for a long time been untenanted by monks, it being converted into a sort of tavern, which is kept by a man and his wife: they are appointed by the Sardinian government, and make those who are able pay, whilst poor wanderers alone are fed and housed gratuitously. Mr. Brockedon next directed his steps to the Great St. Bernard, in order to visit the far-famed convent of that name. One of the best accounts of that interesting institution which we have met with, is that which is given by the present author.
Ascending the mountain, through a series of wild and varying scenes, the party at last reached the plain called the Vacherie,
being a pasture for the cattle belonging to the hospice. The road winds round this plain in order to avoid its too abrupt ascent in a straight line to the summit, which, when attained, presents to the delighted traveller the sublime view of a gorge at a great elevation, whence mountains rise upon one another. On the summit of this pass, in a basin, is a lake, opposite to which the hospice is situated, and occupies the very crest of the elevation, its position being about eight thousand two hundred English feet above the level of the sea. The spot, says our interesting guide, was wild beyond imagination, and combined features of the sublime and the beautiful, to which we were impatient to add a third—the social --which, even in this wilderness in the clouds, we received from the kind and gentlemanly attentions of the monks of St. Bernard.
They were at their duties in the chapel when we entered; but we were welcomed by a fine, respectable-looking servant, Victor, who realised the proverb, "like master like man;"—he was one of the fittest precursors to their hospitality that I ever saw. In a few minutes he placed refreshment before us, and said that we should be expected at six o'clock to sup with the brethren. The decent, unpretending kindness of this welcome delighted us.
We were soon after greeted by some of the monks; and surprised to see them all young men ; at least, none were forty. We learnt that they volunteer into this kind and devoted service at eighteen years of age: their vows are for fifteen years to this duty; but few are robust enough to bear the severities of the winter at this height, without feeling their effects in broken constitutions and ruined health.
The temperature of this locality is such, that there is scarcely a day in the year that it does not freeze in some part of the day, but during summer always in the morning. The severest cold recorded here was twenty-nine degrees below Zero, Fahr.; and temperature of eighteen and twenty degrees below Zero is common here in winter. The hospice is not clear of snow during eight months of the year; its depth round the hospice is on the average seven or eight feet, but, after considerable falls of snow, drifts arise to the height of forty feet against the walls of the residence. It is for this reason that the entrance is attained by a flight of steps, which lead to what may be called the first floor; below, are the stables, store-rooms for wood, &c. This leads to a corridor, and thence into various offices; on the floor above, another corridor leads to the chapel, the refectory, the separate chambers for the religieux, and extensive accommodation for travellers, in which the neatness and comfort of the arrangements add greatly to an Englishman's enjoyment of his reception. One chamber is devoted to visitors, especially the ladies; it may be considered as the drawing-room of the establishment. To decorate this room, travellers have presented to the hospice prints and drawings; and even a pianoforte has been added to the means
of enjoyment here. A cabinet is attached to this chamber, which contains collections made by the monks of the plants and minerals around the Great St. Bernard, and antiques from the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter, which formerly stood on this mountain. These consist of votive tablets and figures in bronze and other metals, arms, and coins, and are a great resource to the visitors at the hospice, if the weather should be unfavourable enough to detain them within its walls.
After some observations on snow storms and avalanches, Mr. Brockedon continues his account of the hospice. The monks in their excursions carry with them, as it is well known, several dogs, which, however, instinctively search of their own accord for the victims of the storm or the snow. They bear on their necks a vessel with some cordial in it to succour the unfortunate individuals who may labour under exhaustion. Mr. Brockedon tells us that not long since a mortality prevailed amongst them, and now only four of them remain in the convent. The resident monks at present do not exceed twelve, all of whom, with the exception of the principal, work at the duties of the establishment. The order to which they belong is not that of St. Bernard, but that of St. Austin, according to our author. The description of the supper at the hospice cannot be passed over.
At supper we were placed at the head of the table; it was Friday; the soup, though maigre, was excellent--the fish, pieces of salt cod, dressed with cream and currants, delicious omelettes, cheese and fruit, completed our repast. The vin ordinaire was good, and an extra bottle was served to us of some delicious Italian wine. Their courteous and polite attentions to their guests were those which would indicate more social intercourse with the world than they can have had; and we received this kindness, in regions otherwise inhospitable, from men whose habits might have been monkish and secluded, instead of their being the dispensers of such refreshing and unexpected manna as they offered to us in this wilderness. The conversation at table was general and most rational. It had no restraint but in the respect which their characters and conduct commanded. Their information was more extensive than I had expected to find it upon
the state of literature and science in the world they had left. This they derive from the periodical works of some academic bodies which are sent to them: they have a small library, principally composed of theological works. Much of their knowledge is acquired by their intercourse with their visitors, which during the short summer at the hospice is extensive, and, among the crowd, many respectable and well-informed travellers furnish them with information. There is a propriety in their inquiries, and an apparent interest in the affairs of mankind in their conversation, which, except that it is entirely free from discontent and affectation, would induce the traveller to imagine that their cells sometimes heard their sighs for a freer intercourse with the world. In reply to some questions which I put to the prior about the state of their funds, and the report which had prevailed in England that the absence of Napoleon from the political world had lessened their resources, he informed me that their finances were now in a flourishing condition, and that Buonaparte rather impoverished than enriched them.
It is true that he had assisted them with donations; but his claims upon them for the purveyance of his soldiers had exceeded these benefits—they had had 40 men quartered upon them for months together, and 60,000 had passed by the hospice and been assisted in one year. Now, however, the prior said, their resources were increasing: the peace of Europe enabled those strangers to visit the hospice who travelled for pleasure, and could afford to aid their funds. Those who can pay, though no charge is made, usually deposit something in the box in the chapel of the convent, which is rarely less than the parties would have paid at an inn; the poor traveller is always fed and lodged gratis.'
Mr. Brockedon states, that, on the day of his arrival, not fewer than ten other visitors reached the hospice. Here also a book is kept, and contains an amusing record of visitors, characters, and opinions. The author found in this register an entry by the late Edmund Kean, in words expressing that the happiest day of his life was passed at the Great St. Bernard. A very detailed account of the history and structure of the hospice follows; but we are under the necessity of passing over the details for want of room. The same reason operates to prevent us from entering to any great extent into the contents of the journal made on the second expedition, which took place in the summer of 1825. The course of it lay in the Cottian, Pennine, Rhetian, Lepontian, and Bernese Alps, including the passes of Mount Cenis, Mount Cervin, Mount Moro, the Splugen, St. Barnardin, St. Gothard, the Brunig, the Grismel, the Gries, and the Simplon. This excursion leads Mr. Brockedon into a rather unfrequented track, which brings him principally into the Italian Alps, and finally into Switzerland. The whole of the descriptions form a series of interesting matter, which will be found capable of fixing the best attention of the reader. We are the less reluctant to pass over this last portion of the work, inasmuch as we are certain that all who read our journal and have a desire to be furnished with the best assistance in a visit to the countries to which this work applies, will be fully satisfied, from the sketch we have given of it, that.it is worthy of his entire and careful perusal. Such we candidly state to be our own strong impression.
In the second work on our list, to which we now beg to draw attention, Mr. Agassiz seeks to combine the merits of an itinerary with the attractions of a historical narrative; for, though he gives the results of three pedestrian tours in Switzerland, yet the space which he affords to its annals is by no means inconsiderable. There can be no question that such a mixed source of instruction and amusement will meet with numerous admirers; but, for the purposes of the tourist, we think that the work of Mr. Brockedon is superior. We do not mean, let it be understood, to institute any comparison between the two writers, because each has his different walk, and each may be read with great profit after