Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

a missal. He is at least a male Horace Walpole; as superior to the silken Baron,' as Fonthill, with its York-like tower embosomed among hoary forests, was to that silly band-box which may still be admired on the road to Twickenham,

One great charm of this book is in the date of its delineations. We have of late been surfeited with sketches of things as they are: here all is of the past; and what an impression is left of the magnitude of those changes that have, within the memory of one still vigorous mind, swept over the whole existence of the European nations. Mr. Beckford's first letters are dated at Ghent and Antwerp in June, 1780—the week after Lord George Gordon's riots. The Netherlands are still the Austrian Netherlands—the princebishopricks of the Rhine are still in their entire pomp and dignity of ceremonial sway—Venice is still a republic-no voice of reform has disturbed the purple' abbots of Spain and Portugalin France, the pit has indeed been dug, but it is covered with flowers; and as this voluptuous stranger roves from court to court, all he sees about him is the uncalculating magnificence of undoubting security.

We have no discussions of any consequence in these volumes : even the ultra-aristocratical opinions and feelings of the author—who is, we presume, a Whig-are rather hinted than avowed. From a thousand passing sneers, we may doubt whether he has any religion at all; but still he may be only thinking of the outward and visible absurdities of popery—therefore we have hardly a pretext for treating these things seriously. In short, this is meant to be, as he says in his preface, nothing but a book of light reading;' and though no one can read it without having many grave enough feelings roused and agitated within him, there are really no passages to provoke or justify any detailed criticism either as to morals or politics. We shall, therefore, find little more to do on this occasion, than to exemplify the justice of the praises which we have been bestowing on the author's descriptive powers, by a few extracts; and we shall endeavour to be as miscellaneous as possible in the character of our selections.

We begin with a specimen of our traveller's lightest manner : here is his account of a Sunday evening at the court of the Elector of Bavaria—July the 23d, 1780. Nothing can be more lively than it is ; and the latter part of the scene is to this hour as perfectly German as anything in Sir Francis Head's · Bubbles :

"We were driven in the evening to Nymphenburg, the Elector's country palace, the bosquets, jet d'eaur, and parterres of which are the pride of the Bavarians. The principal platform is all of a glitter with gilded Cupids, and shining serpents spouting at every pore ; beds of poppies, holyhocks, scarlet lychnis, and other flame-coloured

flowers

[ocr errors]

flowers border the edge of the walks, which extend till the perspec-. tive appears to meet, and swarm with ladies and gentlemen in partycoloured raiment. The Queen of Golconda's gardens, in a French opera, are scarcely more gaudy and artificial. Unluckily, too, the evening was fine, and the sun so powerful, that we were half-roasted before we could cross the great avenue and enter the thickets, which barely conceal a very splendid hermitage.

Amongst the ladies was Madame la Comtesse, I forget who, a production of the venerable Haslang, with her daughter, Madame de Baumgarten, who has the honour of leading the Elector in her chains. These goddesses, stepping into a car, vulgarly called a cariole, the mortals followed, and explored alley after alley, and pavilion after pavilion. Then, having viewed Pagodenburg, which is, as they told me, all Chinese, and Marienburg, which is most assuredly all tinsel, we paraded by a variety of fountains in full squirt; and though they certainly did their best (for many were set agoing on purpose), I cannot say I greatly admired them.

The ladies were very gaily attired; and the gentlemen, as smart as swords, bags, and pretty clothes would make them, looked exactly like the fine people one sees represented on Dresden porcelain. Thus we kept walking genteelly about the orangery till the carriage drew up and conveyed us to Mr. Trevor's. Immediately after supper, we drove once more out of town, to a garden and tea-room, where all degrees and ages dance jovially together till morning. Whilst one party wheel briskly away in the waltz, another amuse themselves in a corner with cold meat and Rhenish. That despatched, out they whisk amongst the dancers, with an impetuosity and liveliness I little expected to have found in Bavaria. After turning round and round with a rapidity that is quite astounding to an English dancer, the music changes to a slower movement, and then follows a succession of zigzag minuets, performed by old and young, straight and crooked, noble and plebeian, all at once, from one end of the room to the other. Tallow-candles, snuffing and stinking; dishes changing, at the risk of showering down upon you their savoury contents; heads scratching ; and all sorts of performances going forward at the same moment; the flutes, oboes, and bassoons snorting, grunting, and whining with peculiar emphasis-now fast, now slow, just as Variety commands, who seems to rule the ceremonial of this motley assembly, where every distinction of rank and privilege is totally forgotten. Once a week-on Sundays, that is to say the rooms are open, and Monday is generally far advanced before they are deserted. If good-humour and coarse merriment are all that people desire, here they are to be found in perfection.'

As a contrast, take this rapid glimpse among the Tyrol forests : it comes but a few pages after, for on the present occasion the author made but a short stay in Germany-his anxiety was all for Italy. 2 G 2

There

There seemed no end to these forests, except where little irregular spots of herbage, fed by cattle, intervened. Whenever we gained an eminence, it was only to discover more ranges of dark wood, variegated with meadows and glittering streams. White clover, and a profusion of sweet-scented flowers, clothe their banks ; above waves the mountain-ash, glowing with scarlet berries; and beyond, rise hills, and rocks, and mountains, piled upon one another, and fringed with fir to their topmost acclivities. Perhaps the Norwegian forests alone equal these in grandeur and extent. Those which cover the Swiss highlands rarely convey such vast ideas. There the woods climb only half-way up their ascents, which then are circumscribed by snows; here no boundaries are set to their progress; and the mountains, from their bases to their summits, display rich, unbroken masses of vegetation.

• As we were surveying this prospect, a thick clouả, fraught with thunder, obscured the horizon, whilst flashes of lightning startled our horses, whose shorts and stampings resounded through the woods. The impending tempest gave additional gloom to the firs, and we travelled several miles almost in total darkness. One moment the clouds began to fleet, and a faint gleam promised serener intervals ; but the next, all was blackness and terror: presently, a deluge of rain poured down upon the valley, and in a short time, the torrents beginning to swell, raged with such violence as to be forded with difficulty. Twilight drew on just as we had passed the most terrible; then ascending a mountain, whose pines and birches rustled with the storm, we saw a little lake below. A deep azure haze veiled its eastern shore, and lowering vapours concealed the cliffs to the south ; but over its western extremities hung a few transparent clouds; the rays of a struggling sunset streamed on the surface of the waters, tinging the brow of a green promontory with tender pink. I could not help fixing myself on the banks of the lake for several minutes, till this apparition faded away.'

The first opening of Italy is given with equal spirit; but we can afford only one or two paragraphs of a truly splendid chapter.

• The pass is rocky and tremendous, guarded by the fortress of Covalo, in possession of the Empress Queen, and only fit, one should think, to be inhabited by her eagles. There is no attaining this exalted hold but by the means of a cord, let down many fathoms by the soldiers, who live in dens and caverns, which serve also as arsenals and magazines for powder; whose mysteries I declined prying into, their approach being a little too aërial for my earthly frame. A black vapour, tinging their entrance, completed the romance of the prospect, which I never shall forget ...

• For two or three leagues it continued much in the same style ; cliffs nearly perpendicular on both sides, and the Brenta foaming and thundering below. Beyond, the rocks began to be mantled with vines and gardens. Here and there a cottage, shaded with mulberries, made its appearance; and we often discovered on the banks of the river, ranges of white buildings with courts and awnings, beneath which numbers of women and children were employed in manufacturing silk. As we advanced, the stream gradually widened, aud the rocks receded; woods were more frequent, and cottagès thicker strown. About five in the evening, we left the country of crags and precipices, of mists and cataracts, and were entering the fertile territory of the Bossanese. It was now I beheld groves of olives, and vines clustering the summits of the tallest elms ; pomegranates in every garden, and vases of citron and orange before almost every door. The softness and transparency of the air soon told me I was arrived in happier climates; and I felt sensations of joy and novelty run through my veins, upon beholding this smiling land of groves and verdure stretched out before me. A few glowing vapours, I can hardly call them clouds, rested upon the extremities of the landscape, and through their medium the sun cast an oblique and dewy ray. Peasants were returning home from the cultivated hillocks and cornfields, singing as they went, and calling to each other over the fields. ; whilst the women were milking goats before the wickets of the cottage, and preparing their country fare.'

The whole journey from hence to Venice is painted with the same easy lightness of colouring : but we must hurry at once to • the glorious city in the sea,' and extract the author's description of the view which presented itself to him when fairly established in a hotel on the Great Canal.

• The rooms of our hotel are spacious and cheerful ; a lofty hall, or rather gallery, painted with grotesque in a very good style, perfectly clean, floored with a marble stucco, divides the house, and admits a refreshing current of air. Several windows, near the ceiling, look into this vast apartment, which serves in lieu of a court, and is rendered perfectly luminous by a glazed arcade, thrown open to catch the breezes. Through it I passed to a balcony, which impends over the canal, and is twined round with plants, forming a green festoon, springing from two large vases of orange trees, placed at each end. Here I established myself to enjoy the cool, and observe, as well as the dusk would permit, the variety of figures shooting by in their gondolas. As night approached, innumerable tapers glimmered through the awnings before the windows. Every boat had its lantern, and the gondolas, moving rapidly along, were followed by tracks of light, which gleamed and played upon the waters.

I was gazing at these dancing fires, when the sounds of music were wafted along the canals, and as they grew louder and louder, an illuminated harge, filled with musicians, issued from the Rialto, and stopping under one of the palaces, began a serenade, which stilled every clamour and suspended all conversation in the galleries and porticoes till, rowing slowly away, it was heard no more. The gondoliers,

catching catching the air, imitated its cadences, and were answered by others at a distance, whose voices, echoed by the arch of the bridge, acquired a plaintive and interesting tone. I retired to rest, full of the sound, and long after I was asleep the melody seemed to vibrate in my ear.'

In all great cities the market-place, in the early morning, is a scene of lively attraction ; but the market on the great canal of Venice is the most picturesque of them all. This is the author's first morning in Venice :

• It was not five o'clock before I was aroused by a loud din of voices and splashing of water under my balcony. Looking out, I beheld the grand canal so entirely covered with fruits and vegetables, on rafts and in barges, that I could scarcely distinguish a wave. Loads of grapes, peaches, and melons arrived and disappeared in an instant, for every vessel was in motion; and the crowds of purchasers, hurrying from boat to boat, formed a very lively picture. Amongst the multitudes, I remarked a good many whose dress and carriage announced something above the common rank; and, upon inquiry, found they were noble Venetians, just come from their casinos, and met to refresh themselves with fruit before they retired to sleep for the day.

• Whilst I was observing them, the sun began to colour the balustrades of the palaces, and the pure exhilarating air of the morning drawing me abroad, I procured a gondola, laid in my provision of bread and grapes, and was rowed under the Rialto, down the grand canal, to the marble steps of S. Maria della Salute, erected by the Senate, in performance of a vow to the Holy Virgin, who begged off a terrible pestilence in 1630. The great bronze portal opened whilst I was standing on the steps which lead to it, and discovered the inteterior of the dome, where I expatiated in solitude; no mortal appearing, except one old priest, who trimmed the lamps, and muttered a prayer before the high altar, still wrapped in shadows. The sunbeams began to strike against the windows of the cupola just as I left the church, and was wafted across the waves to the spacious platform in front of St. Giorgio Maggiore, one of the most celebrated works of Palladio. When my first transport was a little subsided, and I had examined the graceful design of each particular ornament, and united the just proportion and grand effect of the whole in my mind, I planted my umbrella on the margin of the sea, and viewed at my leisure the vast range of palaces, of porticos, of towers, opening on every side, and extending out of sight. The Doge's palace, and the tall columns at the entrance of the Piazza of St. Mark, form, together with the arcades of the public library, the lofty Campanile, and the cupolas of the ducal church, one of the most striking groups of buildings that art can boast of. To behold at one glance these stately fabrics, so illustrious in the records of former ages, before which, in the flourishing times of the republic, so many valiant chiefs and princes have landed, loaded with oriental spoils, was a spectacle *I had long and ardently desired. I thought of the days of Frederick

Barbarossa,

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »