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What wind shall point the way
To the chambers where thou 'rt lying?
If thou thought'st on me in dying?
She listen'd—'twas the wind's low moan,
'Twas the ripple of the wave;
As it started from its cave.
" I know each fearful spell
Of the ancient Runic lay,
The tempests to obey !
By magic, sign, or song,
By love--the deep, the strong!
Again she gazed with an eager glance,
Wandering and wildly bright;
In the arrowy northeru light.
“ By the slow and struggling death
Of Hope that loath'd to part,
or Despair on Youth's high heart,
To the mantle of the night,
Nought lovely to the sight,
Was it her yearning spirit's dream,
Or did a pale form rise,
With bright, still, mournful eyes ?
" Have the depths heard ?-they have!
My voice prevails—thou 'rt there!
Oh ! thou that wert so fair!
There dwells no fear with love,
While the billow rolls above !
There was a sullen plunge below,
A flashing on the main,
VALLOMBROSA, CAMALDOLI, AND LA VERNA.
Florence, July, 1825. MY DEAR D- Do not upbraid me. My delay in sending you an account of our three famous Tuscan monasteries has been owing a little to idleness, and much to an ambitious wish to give you as perfect a one as I could. I would fain furnish you with a better guide to those places than you can purchase ; and with this intention, and to make myself an authority, I have turned over several tedious books. I write to rivet your promise to come to our delightful city in the course, you say, of a couple of years, and that I may be as useful to you as possible in your visit to the mountains. If I live in Florence at that time, I. shall be sure to accompany you and your boy. And do I still write him down boy? How strangely we imagine that all our friends, young and old, remain the same as we left them in England ! I really beg the gentleman's pardon, for I am told he is shaving for a beard; what a change from that little dimpled chin he used to shew !
My first jaunt was made in company with Mr. and Mrs. R. and your favourite Marian. It was August ; and in order to avoid the heat of the sun on the road, we set off at two in the morning. A few stragglers, having, like ourselves, taken an extraordinary siesta on the preceding day, were yet loitering about the streets, enjoying the cool air ; and the steps of the cathedral were crowded with workmen from the country, chiefly from Fiesole, who, during the sultry weather, frequently take their night's sleep there, and are thus ready to start up for their daily labour, without the toil of seeking for a lodging in their distant cottages. What think you of a bed of marble, under the clear blue vault of Heaven? Do you pity the poor fellows? Come here, and when the summer is at its height, perhaps you may envy so great a luxury, especially if you lie gasping on a feather-bed. As we passed the Porta alla Croce, the keeper opened the gates, counted heads, and received the toll, singing all the while Rossini's air of “ Di piacer mi balza il core.” After a few miles the dawn began to break, when from one carriage-window we looked on some pleasant views on the banks of the Arno, and from the other up the sloping hills of vineyards. We were then near the Villa di Loretino, where the Aleatico grape was first planted by Filippo Franceschi, on his return from his embassy to Spain, whence he had brought two or three cuttings of that vine, now so much cultivated throughout Tuscany. This happened in 1620 ; and as Redi has not mentioned the Aleatico in his “Bacco in Toscana,” written about sixty years afterwards, it seems strange that during that time its fame had not spread beyond the vineyard of Loretino. The little walled town of Ponte a Sieve, is ten miles from Florence. We found every one up and busy, decorating their Madonnas with fresh flowers, fixing stalls and booths, and preparing in every way for a fair that was to be held there that day. We crossed the Sieve by rather a handsome bridge for a country place, and still skirting the Arno, at the end of about four miles more, we arrived at the village of Pelago, where the proudest must condescend to leave their carriage, if they intend to see Vallombrosa, and go up the mountain on horseback, or on foot, or on a hurdle drawn by oxen ;-this last method was negatived by our ladies in a moment, partly owing to R.'s proposal that they should ride on it backwards,-a very criminal insinuation. · Horses
were therefore brought, but alas ! with men's saddles, and of the clomsiest form. “How can we possibly sit on those saddles ?" demanded Mrs. R. with her serious countenance of expostulation. “ Facilmente !" answered the man, surprised at her ignorance, “con una gamba di quà, ed una gamba di là." No, English ladies must ride sideways, though at the risk of their necks ; so up they got, and contrived to sit in their own respectable fashion ; while I, leaving Darby to take care of his own Joan, walked by the side of Marian, entreating her to have the kindness to fall into my arms. She somehow managed to keep her seat, though once or twice I thought I should have had her. Our up-bill work continued for five miles. At different turnings of the road, we bad some fine views of hill and dale, all well and variously wooded ; but as we approached the height, we were annoyed at the sight of so many stiff and formal firs, standing in squares, and surrounded by a barren waste. The morning sun had already begun to shine fiercely ; aad as we rose into the clear and rarified air, we felt a chill which several visitors, from want of caution, have suffered from severely. Without looking much about us, for hunger is a great tamer of curiosity, we made directly towards the convent; but as ladies are not permitied to advance their feminalities beyond so chaste a threshold, we were shewn into a house close at hand, erected for the purpose of receiving prohibited company. A monk presently waited on us, inquiring at what hour we should like to dine ; and in our reply we took the liberty of hinting that breakfast was a matter of more immediate interest. This was understood ; and while we were refreshing ourselves, the reverend gentleman satisfied his inquisitive appetite, as far as he could with any decency of forbearance, respecting our names and all that concerned us.
The convent is a large, irregular, and uncouth pile of building, with a square tower in the middle. There is nothing interesting within the walls; the French took away all their valuable books; and whatever paintings they possessed of merit, have been removed to the Florentine Gallery. They had two or three paintings by Andrea del Sarto, and one by Giotto, which the brethren attempted to preserve from their winter damps by rock-crystal, but it was thought they would be safer in the Gallery. The spacious refectory, and the little gilded chapel, are shewn as the most interesting objects.
At a short distance from the convent, on the other side of the mountain stream that divides the valley, just beyond the waterfall, is a steep and isolated rock, about a hundred feet high, on the top of which stands the Paradisino. This little Paradise contains cells for those who may be over-pious, and wish to play the hermit more effectually. It is now deserted, whether from a lack of piety, or an increase of humanity, I know not. There is certainly nothing attractive in the situa. tion except the view, and that, for the most part, is too extensive to be agreeable. The Valdarno, Florence, the Lucchese hills, and the sea, are seen from the opening of the valley to the west. On every other side we have mountains, and not so well clothed with wood as I expected; and the valley itself is woefully stripped. It ought no longer to retain its beautiful name of Vallombrosa, the shady valley, but be satisfied with its ancient title of Acqua-pura. I willingly agreed with the monks that the French should be ashamed of themselves for having eut down so many of the trees,—but there the conversation dropped ; we did not speak of the shame of having followed, and still continuing to follow, so bad an example. How changed is Vallombrosa since our Milton's time! And yet it never can be changed, at least to the imagination, so immortal are all things that a poet touches. By the by, I lately met with his lines in an Italian guide-book, quoted by the author to show his transalpine reading. Perhaps there is the sublime in every thing, if it could be discovered, and he appears to have reached it in the extremities of blundering. Could Milton see these verses, and Vallombrosa as it now is, it is a question which of the two would the more astonish him.
Thick as autumnal scaves that strow, che brooks
IHE PARADISC SOST.
You shall not be troubled with the driest parts of this convent's history. I will merely give you a slight sketch of it.
In 1060 one Giovanni Gualberto, afterwards made into a famous saint, took leave of his wicked part of the world, and set up a hernitage among these mountains. His fame soon spread, and induced many to follow his example, when separate cells were erected round a rude chapel for him and his disciples. Some short time afterwards, Itta, Abbess of St. Ilario, to whom that district belonged, out of an excess of admiration at their austere piety, not only endowed them with the whole of the valley of Acqua-pura (since called Vallombrosa), but with certain meadow-lands, vineyards, and woods, on condition they should acknowledge their dependence by a yearly rent of one pound of wax and one of oil, and that she and her successors should always nominate their superior. Their devotion being thus established on worldly power, St. Gualberto formed his associates into a regular order, under the rules of St. Benedict, and clothed them in a livery of russet-brown, which, however, was changed to black in 1500, probably that they might not be confounded with the Franciscans. Now mark what followed this endowment. The nuns of St. Ilario were at last accused of relaxation of discipline, and in 1255 Pope Alexander IV. transferred them to another convent, bestowing all their lands, buildings, dependent lordships, rights and privileges, on the brethren of Vallombrosa.
“For you trow, nuncle,
That it had its head bit off by its young.' Other grants, made from time to time by pious persons, especially that from a Countess Matilda, (who she was I cannot discover, and it is no matter,) contributed to render this order very opulent. Enough, however, of their riches, and of their means of acquiring them. I willingly pass to matters of less doubtful commendation.
These monks seem to have led elegant, and, in some degree, useful lives, particularly in their study of agriculture. They constantly kept pace with the learning of the age, and were eager to elicit discoveries. Among their learned men, and they boast of many, I cannot find that any has inade himself celebrated as an author, beyond the pale of theology, unless we except Agnolo Firenzuola. He was one of their abbots, a lively and graceful writer, who entertained the world with “ Amorous Conversations,” “Love Tales," iwo “Dialogues on Beauty,” some“Comedies," and a translation, or rather an imitation of the “Golden Ass of Apuleius." Strange works, you will say, for a boly abbot ; and, stranger still, at the beginning of his “ Conversations” he tells us, that he kept a mistress! Another of their abbots, Bruno Tozzi,* was an excellent botanist. They claim Guido of Arezzo as a brother of the order, who invented the gamut, and six out of seven of the naines distinguishing the notes; but that cannot be admitted; chronology sets their claim at defiance. Don Henry Hugford, (all the monks are styled Dons,) an Irishman by parentage, bere brought the art of Scagliola to perfection. His brother, Ignatius Hugford, with whom he is often confounded, ranks among the painters of the Florentine school, though his works have little to recommend them. But these monks (and those of Camaldoli may share in the praise) have been more beneficial to mankind by their skill in agriculture and their knowledge of the different natures of trees. They have proved how mountains, even to their summits, may be covered with fourishing woods, by an exact attention to the soil and elevation for each particular species. Our Tuscan mountains, were their example properly followed, would not afilict the eye, as they do almost every where, with dry and barren wastes; but would afford a rich and honourable revenue. Not to omit any thing in favour of the Vallombrosians, I must mention, they were the first to adopt the cultivation of potatoes in Italy. I do not insist on the fact of this order having produced many saints, cardinals, and bishops, as such praise may be thought proble matical.
At present there are no more than ten monks, with as many laybrothers. It was St. Gualberto that established the use of lay-brothers, or servants a thing unheard of before his time, and utterly adverse to the professions of humility and self-denial of ascetic penitents. Yet this was so far from creating scandal, that every convent in Christendom hailed it as a worthy precedent, and imitated it as quickly as possible. We were not well pleased with the monks at Vallombrosa. Their civility was barely according to rule, and sometimes less; the dinner they gave us was shabby, though they were well aware we should remunerate them handsomely ; they spoke with an air of precision, and their eyes became unpleasantly peering as they pursued their inquisitive humour, which they carried so far as to ask our servant whether it was not supposed probable that a match might take place between me and Marian. Vallombrosa is no longer so rich or so beautiful, nor are the monks so courteous, though, for aught I know, they may be as religious, as described by Ariosto :
« Vallombrosa, -
* He was a member of our Royal Society. In the “ Elogi degli Illustri Toscani," it is stated that the society offered him two thousand crowns a year for his services in England as Professor of Botany and Public Lecturer. Surely this is a flourish on the part of his eulogist.