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A WALK FROM FLORENCE TO SIENA.
Dear M-It is a fine May-day morning, bright and clear, except that some light fleecy clouds are floating beneath a sky of so deep a blue, that the like of it has never yet been enjoyed by you Northerns. Here we are outside the Porta Romana,—the road is all before us,will you walk with me to Siena ? If not better engaged in some historical matter of fact, or some metaphysical matter of nothing, I shall be happy of your company. But don't disturb yourself, don't call for your thick-soled shoes; I shall be content if you merely fancy yourself my companion as you read my letter ;—so pray keep your chair, or, if you will, loll upon a sofa, cushioned and comfortable ; be in want of nothing but small chat for your amusement, and be ready to lend a good-natured ear to any talk on any subject that may be started on our journey.
These suburbs, these villas with their eternal garden-walls, let us pass them swiftly as we can. We will not even stop to throw away a glance at the Grand Duke's summer retreat on the Poggio Imperiale, whither his highness flies when the town is too hot to hold him. Now we have well nigh crossed this hill, what say you to the view ? Is it not a rich and fertile plot of farms, enclosed within a circle of handsomely shaped hills ? The vines, it is true, are not yet in their luxuriant foliage, but, to make amends, their young green is the more vivid, and forms a greater contrast with the other fruit-trees, and particularly with the sober hue of the olive. There in the midst, upon an isolated mount, stands the Certosa convent,—a heavy, an unsightly building, a blot on the beauty of nature. It is strange that Italian monks never show so much as an attempt at taste in their architecture ; while our English ones appear to have studied the graces of their Gothic arches, shafts, and cornices, and have left behind them many stately records, which, even in their ruins, demand our gratitude.
From the fifth to the seventh mile-stone, is the most romantic part of our journey. Here we are among steep hills, with wood and rock on every side. The road, as it winds upward, presents at every turn some novelty or some variety in the landscape. At the top of the hill, there is a fine and extensive prospect. What particularly pleased me, standing just there on the little hillock at the side of the road, was a sight of Florence with its palaces and towers; and Fiesole upon the hill beyond it, seen beneath the boughs of two oaks. I have never heard of the Florentines coming hither on a trip of pleasure ; but it is not their fashion to go so far out of town with a basket of provisions; besides, they would think a gipsy party too unbecoming for city manners, and fear that the fact might be urged against them as a proof of their want of “educazione." If they can possibly overcome so great a difficulty, I recommend, for their health's sake, and as an agreeable change from their mixture of soups, stews, fries, and antibilious pills, that they should walk hither, sit upon the grass, eat heartily of a cold joint, and drink as jollily as they ought, of their own light Tuscan wine. I shall certainly set them an example.
Now half an hour's walk brings us to San Casciano, a petty town, but it affords a coffee-house where we can get a good breakfast,-butter excepted, for that article is rarely found in Italy out of the principal cities, and there, generally speaking, more is consumed by the foreign visitors than by the natives. . From San Casciano, well recruited with a breakfast, we descend by a long hill into a beautiful plain, or rather valley, which we must traverse for some distance on a level road. The dust looks formidable, but walk carefully and it rises no higher than your shoes; and though the sun is no longer clouded, we are relieved by a pleasant breeze.
Observe the ingenuity of this beggar. The rogue never could have succeeded without adding another annoyance to his importunity ; he therefore shuffles by my side, raising so thick a cloud of dust, that I am glad to bribe him away. There !--take your paltry coin, and let me gaze about me in comfort.
The hills on each side of this valley have a peculiar grace in their sloping forms, and they are diversified by woods, with here and there a handsome villa. To walk through such a country is indeed an enjoyment; but perhaps it is still better to sit down in the midst of it upon a shady bank, especially as I begin to feel the effects of this unclouded sun. I like to loiter on my way, and stretch myself upon the grass, and take a book from my pocket, or hum an old song, or think upon my friends at home. On resuming our walk, we quitted the valley by a series of hills, which afforded us a view that was more extensive than delightful. Presently we came to a part of the road that reminded us of England, for there was a hedge-row on each side, with oaks that spread above our heads. We gazed upon many spots worthy of a painter or a poet ; and on we walked till another town appeared, and that was Tavernelle. It was our intention to take some little rest and refreshment at that place, and we asked the first man we met where we could best be accommodated. He instantly proposed his own house, a sort of chandler's shop with an apartment for guests, which be assured us was both cool and airy. Whether owing to this man's good-tempered face of invitation, or to our own idleness, or to the glance we caught at three damsels in the aforesaid apartment, I cannot exactly determine; but in we went, and the table was quickly spread with very tempting fare. The girls were busily employed in straw-bonnet work. I should be sorry to be accused of telling tales, but the fidelity of this narrative requires that every particular should be stated. Be it known then that all our landlord's daughters were extremely attractive. One had red hair, to be sure,,I wonder how she came by it, but she knew how to remedy that defect, and in the most harmonious manner, by a green velvet cap with a gold border. Then she had “a grace, a manner, a decorum," that outshone her beauty. The second one, with her piercing eyes, somehow disconcerted me as I came into the room ; but the sweetness of expression about her mouth made amends, and diffused a softness over her features, which I was not so much aware of at first sight. As for the third, she was a little rosy lass, beaming with mildness and affection, and her countenance was more intellectual than either of her sisters. I looked at her till I did not know what to wish. Not being married men, why should we hesitate to tell the whole truth? Well, we paid our devoirs to each in her turn; never did we watch the process of bonnet-making with such attention ; and it may readily be imagined we did not fail to take up their work every now and then, examine into the curious construction of the plaiting of the straw, and of the sewing together, compare one bonnet with another, and ask every question, and pay every compliment we could devise. During all this trifling, it might have done many maids and matrons of all countries good, to see with what unaffected modesty these girls behaved. There was no coquetry, no pretence of suspicion at what the strange gentlemen might mean, and yet no gravity. They talked, and smiled, and looked up from their work, with the same ease and unconsciousness of impropriety as if they regarded us as their brothers,—and so we were.
At the eighteenth mile-stone we arrived at the city of Barberino. I have seen many an insignificant place in Italy, enclosed in walls, and dignified by the name of city, but this outdoes them all. You may walk from one gate to the other, passing the church, the house of the podestà, and the barber's shop, well nigh before you draw a second breath. Every body was abroad, perhaps some twenty folk, staring at the strangers. Here, with much satisfaction, I make known a scheme I have hit upon for the benefit of gentlemen of a small independence, who are tormented by a desire to cut a figure in the world. If they reside in large and wealthy towns, the attempt to succeed is generally abortive, or ends in an unpleasant retirement under lock and key. Let them, such is my advice, settle in one of these petty Italian cities–Barberino for instance-where, with an income of about a hundred crowns, a gentleman might, in his comparative elegant style of living, lord it over his neighbours as much as any lord in London, and in fact be the Prince Esterhazy at the court of the podestà.
The sun hid his head, and we became ashamed of our loitering ; so we stepped briskly on, in love with the scene around us. We had for a long time bade farewell to the olives and vines of the Valdarno ; and the change from farms like garden-grounds to an open and varied country of wood, meadows, and cornfields, delighted us extremely. At last we saw the town of Poggibonsi, where we knew there was a good jon, and which was therefore to be the end of our day's journey, We had walked four and twenty miles, quite enough for pleasure ; and sixteen more would bring us into Siena on the following day. Poggibonsi is a considerable country-town, and fourishes with its manufactures. This is the last resting-place for travellers in the vettura from Rome to Florence : they are five days and a half on the road, drawn by the same horses that never can be prevailed upon to exceed four miles an hour, a tedious mode of travelling, you will say ; but it affords the advantages of seeing the country at leisure, and of walking as much as you like without running the risk of being left behind.
We rose early the next morning, and found the country enveloped in a thick fog, which in about half an hour gave token of a hot day; for it rose steadily and vanished quickly, leaving us without a cloud in the heavens. The landscape still continued to enchant us, and we fell into conversation upon the difference of scenery in Italy and England, each of us advocating the superiority of one country over the other. You can take which side of the argument you please. It began with the provoking exclamation of " Well, there is nothing to equal this view in all England !"
6 Indeed! I rather think nine-tenths of England are more beautiful than any part of Italy. What is there here to repay us for the loss of our fields and meadows enclosed in hawthorn, the little pathways that Vol. X. No. 59.-1825.
cross them, and their neat rustic stiles at each end, our noble foresttrees, copse-wood, and shady lanes ? Then call to mind the simple, vel picturesque appearance of our thatched cottages, our farm-houses, their quiet homesteads, and the air of comfort that is spread around them. Have I said enough? or must I compare our clear and sparkling brooks and rivers with the turbid waters of Italy, and the muddy Tyber and Arno ?”
“ If an enclosed country is your choice, you ought to be content with the poderi around Florence.”
“Where we have the olive, a mockery of foliage, a tree cut in paper, that comes upon our imagination, with its livid green, like the ghost of an ugly gigantic myrtle; fruit-trees pruned and trimmed; and vines that must not grow in any way than for profit. You may walk in a poderi, and look about in vain for shade; no tree is permitted to attain its natural growth, lest the fruit should lose its sunny flavour."
" Yet how elegant are those festoons of the vine! It is true they are pruned for the sake of the grape, but they are managed in a far worse inanner, for the eye's delight, in France."
“I am not speaking of France. I speak only of Italian poderi, and if you have any thing to say in their favour, I am ready to listen to it."
« Nothing farther than that I have passed many pleasant hours in them, before sunrise and towards night-fall; and I believe the reason why I felt happy in them was owing to a disposition to regard every thing for its own worth. I never object to a garden because it is not a forest, no more than to a bird because it is not a beast or a fish. You cannot however complain of want of shade in this part of Tuscany: for here are tall trees enough, and, if my eyes do not deceive me, all of them oaks."
“ Yes, they are oaks,-but how unlike the “unwedgeable and gnarled” ones of the north? These have no wide-spreading boughs, no fulness of leaf, no sturdy trunks. And must we call these attenuated plants by the name of oaks? They are more like geraniums in a lady's boudoir."
" This is too much. They are handsome trees, though they may not afford good timber. In these valleys, owing to the long-continued summer-heats, and the alluvial soil, the oak is certainly of too quick a growth; but upon the hills, where the temperature is cooler, and where it nieeis with a different soil, it attains even to your English perfec
“ Perhaps so; but if we climb the hills, we shall at least lose the present scene, which you are inclined to praise so much.”
66 Then to the scene before us. Your objection to it as an open country is in the spirit of John Bullism. Because the greater part of England is enclosed, you would have every country the same ; yet a Scotchman would not thank you for intersecting with hedge-rows the beautiful plain round Perth, which has been truly likened to an Italian landscape; nor would any sort of enclosure be suitable to the character of this scenery. Observe the graceful composition of outline, its gentle undulations, so varied and so harmonious, and its well-wooded hills, backed by the lofty Apennines. Every thing here bears the stamp of classic ground, --ground trod by Fauns and Dryads. In England the character of the landscape is totally different; it has the look of com
fort and home-feeling, and boasts of its Robin Goodfellow and his train of household fairies. The question of which of the two countries possesses the finer scenery is a matter of taste, which cannot well be decided on, either by an Englishman or an Italian, as each will be swayed by early associations, if not governed by national prejudice. Still there is one tolerable criterion. National prejudices are not apt to cling about us when we look at works of art. Compare the landscapes of Claude and Poussin with those of Gainsborough and Morland ; then you must confess"
No, I will not consent that such painters shall in any way be compared together."
“I mean the subjects of their paintings, not the paintings themselves. But if you consider that is unfair, look at the works of Turner, and tell me which are the superior ones,—those of real English scenery, or those where he has profited by his visit to Italy."
“ Le roi s'avisera. In the mean time you must bear in mind that I have been talking here at a considerable disadvantage, in the midst of a scene that I acknowledge to be very fine for Italy, without bringing to your recollection some one in England of peculiar beauty, and without a word about our romantic lakes and mountains in Cumberland and Westmoreland."
“ Very true ; nor have I alluded to the bay of Naples, or the falls at Terni. As for romantic mountains, if the banditti would allow us to visit Calabria, I have little doubt but that we should find some equal, if not superior, even to the Highlands of Scotland.”
We had passed through Staygia, a little walled city like Barberino, only a little larger; and we saw another of the same sort, upon a hill to the left, that bore the appearance of an old miserable prison. We then stopped at a kind of half-way house, where it was impossible to withstand the killing intentions of our landlady, not kindly killing towards ourselves, as any lady's ought to be, but with malice prepense against her pigeons and chickens; for she insisted upon it we should be the better for an early dinner, though at an hour when most persons would call it an early breakfast. This was only the second of May, and it seemed to be picked out of the middle of July. I never found myself under a more scorching sun; it was dangerous to pro. ceed; so unwilling to remain housed in a paltry inn, we turned off from the road into the depths of a shady wood, and there lolled upon the grass, and chatted the time away till the afternoon.
The last five miles were not equal to the former part of our journey, though we agreed there were many pleasant walks in the neighbourhood of Siena. Being holiday, the Sienese were sallying forth in their best clothes for an evening stroll, and we met many lovely faces under large straw bonnets. The women are famed for their beauty, their elegant style of walk, their good nature and politeness, and the purity of their pronunciation ; all this is unquestionable, while scandal adds they have, generally speaking, bad teeth. I remarked that both sexes, young and old, bear a strong family likeness; with small neat features, bright eyes, and mouths of a peculiarly straight and defined cut. They have an air of cleverness, with a lurking expression of cunning; perhaps they are more ingenious than ingenuous,
-not their fault cer