Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

6

his language. We see the scenes in the impressions they produced upon a mind capable of reflecting every line and tint of the living landscape. Then, there is just enough of sentiment and reflection thrown in, to give the interest of personal character to the narrative;-a character which has been described as blending the airiness' of a Don Juan with the gloom and atrabilariousness of Childe Harold ; and, added to this, the classic taste of Gray with the finicalness, and satire, and trivial enthusiasm of Horace Walpole ;—the character of the spoiled heir of wealth and the sated man of pleasure, but with genius enough to render him a magnificent trifler. Altogether, these letters, with all their brilliant levity, leave a melancholy impression. They are 'light reading’, but adapted to excite, in a well-constituted mind, grave and sad feelings. The very date may perhaps contribute to this effect. They not only describe a state of society passed away, but, if we may be allowed to commit a bull, are a posthumous publication of a living Author. His object, in now publishing them, is avowed to be, to vindicate his original claim to certain stray thoughts and images which some justly admired authors

have condescended to glean from them. Rogers, Moore, and Byron have all borrowed from the unpublished effusions of the Author of Vathek; who, though unknown himself as a writer of verse, has thus supplied a vein of poetry which others have worked. Possibly, we may trace to the dark inspiration of his pages, a moral influence, and an unhappy one, on the mind of at least one of his imitators. In style and character, the polished letter-writer reminds us not unfrequently of Monk Lewis.

We do not recommend these volumes to general perusal. They abound with delicious passages for extract, but our readers will infer that the tendency of the whole is not favourable to morality, to say nothing of religion. We are continually reminded of the Author of Vathek. We feel to be in the presence of Mephistopheles. We are chilled by the sarcastic sneers which ever and anon betray the heartless infidelities of the modern Epicurean, and are at last glad to escape from the fascination of such dangerous company. But our readers will be impatient to have at least a few specimens, which we shall proceed to lay before them. And first, here is a Flemish landscape.

• If some enchanter would but transport me to the summit of Etna, any body might step through the Low Countries that pleased. Being, however, so far advanced, there is no retreating ; and I am resolved to journey along with Quiet and Content for my companions. These two comfortable deities have, I believe, taken Flanders under their especial protection: every step one advances discovering some new proof of their influence. The neatness of the houses, and the universal cleanliness of the villages, shew plainly that their inhabitants live in ease and good humour. All is still and peaceful in these fertile low

[ocr errors]

lands: the eye meets nothing but round unmeaning faces at every door, and harmless stupidity smiling at every window. The beasts, as placid as their masters, graze on without any disturbance; and I scarcely recollect to have heard one grunting swine, or snarling mastiff during my whole progress. Before every village is a wealthy dunghill, not at all offensive, because but seldom disturbed ; and there sows and porkers bask in the sun, and wallow at their ease, till the hour of death and bacon arrives.

• But it is high time to lead you towards Antwerp. More rich pastures, more ample fields of grain, more flourishing willows. A boundless plain lies before this city, dotted with cows, and speckled with flowers; a level whence its spires and quaint roofs are seen to advantage! The pale colours of the sky, and a few gleams of watery sunshine, gave a true Flemish cast to the scenery. After crossing a broad expanse of river, edged on one side by beds of osiers beautifully green, and on the other by gates and turrets preposterously ugly, we came through several streets of lofty houses to our inn.'

Vol. I., pp. 7-9. The first view of long desired' Italy, was obtained by the Traveller in descending from Balsano into the valley of the Adige, whence he passed over the mountains into that of the Brenta, and at Tremolano entered the Bassanese. Here is a view in Northern Italy.

· 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, there was little variation in the scenery: 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, and the rocks receded; woods were more frequent, and cottages 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 Bassanese. 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 hazy 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, singing as they went, and calling to each other over the hills; whilst the women were milking goats before the wickets of the cottage, and preparing their country fare.' Vol. I., p. 92—4.

Our next extract must be, Venice, as it was, before the Queen of the Adriatic had trembled before the Corsican, or bowed her head beneath the leaden sceptre of the Teutonic Cæsar.

• 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 cateh 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 barge, 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 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.

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, I 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 interior of the dome, where I expatiated in solitude; no mortal appearing, except an old priest who trimmed the lamps, and muttered a prayer before the high altar, still wrapped in shadows. The sun-beams 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 S. 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, when looking up the Piazza of St. Mark, along which he marched, in solemn procession, to cast himself at the feet of Alexander III. and pay a tardy homage to St. Peter's successor. Here were no longer those splendid fleets that attended his progress; one solitary galeass was all I beheld, anchored opposite the palace of the Doge, and surrounded by crowds of gondolas, whose sable hues contrasted strongly with its vermilion oars and shining ornaments. A party-coloured multitude was continually shifting from one side of the piazza to the other; while senators and magistrates, in long black robes, were already arriving to fill their respective offices.

I contemplated the busy scene from my peaceful platform, where nothing stirred but aged devotees creeping to their devotions; and, whilst I remained thus calm and tranquil, heard the distant buzz of the town. Fortunately, some length of waves rolled between me and its tumults, so that I ate my grapes, and read Metastasio, undisturbed by officiousness or curiosity. When the sun became too powerful, I entered the nave.

• After I had admired the masterly structure of the roof and the lightness of its arches, my eyes naturally directed themselves to the pavement of white and ruddy marble, polished, and reflecting like a mirror the columns which rise from it. Over this I walked to a door that admitted me into the principal quadrangle of the convent, surrounded by a cloister, supported on Ionic pillars beautifully proportioned. Á flight of stairs opens into the court, adorned with balustrades and pedestals, sculptured with elegance truly Grecian. ... These sons of penitence and mortification possess one of the most spacious islands of the whole cluster ; a princely habitation, with gardens and open porticoes, that engross every breath of air ; and what adds not a little to the charms of their abode, is the facility of making excursions from it whenever they have a mind.'

Vol. I. pp. 101-107. An evening in the great square is described with equal spirit, and we are favoured with a peep into the casino of a great Venetian family, where, night after night, assembled parties were wont to dream over coffee and card-tables. The reflections on the character of the citizens of Venice are not uninstructive.

· I wonder a lively people can endure such monotony; for I have been told, the Venetians are remarkably spirited ; and so eager in their pursuit of amusement as hardly to allow themselves any sleep. Some, for instance, after declaiming in the senate, walking an hour in the square, and fidgetting about from one casino to another till morning dawns, will get into a gondola, row across the Lagunes, take the post to Mestre or Fusina, and jumble over craggy pavements to Treviso, breakfast in haste, and rattle back again as if - were charioteer: by eleven, the party is restored to Venice, resumes robe and perriwig, and goes to council. "This may

be
very true, and

yet

I will never cite the Venetians as examples of vivacity. Their nerves, unstrung by early debaucheries, allow no natural flow of lively spirits, and at best but a few moments of a false and feverish activity. The approaches of sleep, forced back by an immoderate use of coffee, render them weak and listless; and the facility of being wafted from place to place in a gondola, adds not a little to their indolence. In short, I can scarcely regard their Eastern neighbours in a more lazy light ; who, thanks to their opium and their harems, pass their lives in one perpetual doze.'

Vol. I. pp. 121, 2. The description of Rome disappointed us. Mr. Beckford is less at home there than at Naples or in his beloved town of Venice; nor can he, after all, sketch with the bold hand, the moral

power of the Author of Anastasius. We have met with nothing in these volumes equal, in scenic painting, to the description of Constantinople in that extraordinary work; and between Anastasius at Rome, and Vathek, the comparison which suggests itself is not at all to the advantage of the latter, who shrinks before the mightier spirit into a vivacious trifler. Mere vivacity tires, and in proportion to the grandeur and serious interest of the subject, is in danger of running into flippancy. Towards the close of this early series of letters, the Traveller betrays marks of being tired of the correspondence, tired of being vivacious, tired almost of Italy.

The second volume opens with a series of letters written in Portugal in 1787, when, under the mild and beneficent reign of

VOL. XII.-N. S.

K

« AnteriorContinuar »