The Lakes of Upper Italy
THE lake of Lugano is ten miles from Lago Maggiore as the crow flies. For travelers, the most direct route is from Luino, on the Lombard shore of the latter lake, to the town of Lugano. To escape the midday heat upon the water, they should take the earliest steamboat on a fine day, and see Lago Maggiore in the hour after sunrise, when there is not a cloud in the sky and only a few white breaths linger over the Sasso di Ferro, and when the magic gleam of morning’s first smile has not faded from the world. The day is well on its way before the boat arrives at Luino, and then there is delay about post-horses even though they have been ordered in advance, to give the hotelkeeper a chance of forcing tourists to swallow an extremely bad meal while waiting for the stage-coach or for separate conveyances. The former is about equally uncomfortable all the world round, and the smaller vehicles are such jingling rattle-traps that I wonder no American has carried out the happy thought of a young fellow-countryman I met at Lucerne, who declared that he would bring over a trotting-wagon on his wedding journey, and pass his honeymoon in skimming over the smooth valley roads. As the horses, tired from the start, slowly toil up the steep, narrow street, arched gateways in the unprepossessing house fronts give sudden glimpses of gardens like bits of rainbow, over which the lake is seen sparkling against its curving shore. The road climbs up-hill for some time after the town is left behind, while one looks backward for a last view of the queen of Italian lakes; it then descends into a brooky vale of charming rural disposition, flowery meadows with groups of fine trees bordering the bright little river Tresa, which keeps company with the thirsty road during most of the drive. At Ponte Tresa the rivulet flows into a cove of Lake Lugano, with a twin pool near by, both of them so shut in by a pictorial, cheerful-looking village that they seem to be independent lakelets. The road after passing them turns from the water into another valley, which it divides by a long, straight track regularly planted with noble shadetrees, like a private avenue. A mile or two of this, and then a little aside from the highway lies the tiny lake of Muzzano, encircled by a broad belt of waterlilies, under which springs bubble up, making the white flowers rock. When I first saw it, peasant women were making hay and steeping flax on the turfy banks beneath the chestnut-boughs, while their children were paddling in the clear ripples, some with their clothes on, others without them ; one little fellow, whose brown limbs were clad only in a white shirt, was standing up to his knees in the water and scooping it into his lap. It was altogether such a perfect eclogue that a few days later I walked back there from Lugano by steep, stony byways full of picturesque surprises. As I struck across the grass beside the lake, dilating my nostrils for the perfume of new-mown hay, they inhaled instead a shocking smell like that of a lamp gone out. The idyllic task of laving the fresh stalks of flax is followed by drying them in the sun, and their bleaching skeletons lay about, giving out a fetid, oily odor. This is a drawback to enjoyment along the lake-edges for a short time towards the end of summer, but it does not last many days; after that the women are to be seen, sitting in the shade, hackling the fibres with an implement as primitive as a spinning-wheel.
The lake of Lugano is very much smaller than Maggiore, and more Swiss than Italian in character. It is narrow, and winds between steep, dark mountains which overshadow the water ; the scenery is striking, almost rugged. Formerly it was not altogether easy of access, as the road from Luino, or a still longer one by way of the lake of Varese, or a more hilly one from Lake Como, were, I believe, the only carriage routes by which it could be reached, and its austere expression was consistent with its isolation. Now the St. Gothard railroad passes the town of Lugano and skirts the lake for some distance, crossing its lower bay on a causeway, and keeping it in view almost until the waters of Como flash into sight. Seen from the railroad, Lake Lugano loses its rather stern aspect, and smiles and sparkles like a true daughter of Italy. I know of no more beautiful excursion than to cross the St. Gothard, with its wonders of engineering, its sudden alternations of darkness and light, its precipices, chasms, snow summits, its prodigious revelations of height and depth, — those sublime “ creatures,” as St. Paul calls them, — its cascades, and swirling torrents, and pine forests ; then to descend through the vine-clad canton of Ticino upon the upper sheet of Lago Maggiore, and proceed along the fairy marges of Lugano and Como until the pinnacles of Milan cathedral come into view. It is marvelous that so much of the majesty and loveliness of nature can be brought within the range of a railway-carriage window.
The station at Lugano is a really fine building, with a marble-pillared porch and two wings ; its arched and pillared porticoes framing a series of pictures of lake, mountains, and town, which boasts more than one Romanesque tower and a fine Renaissance church front. The floor of these handsome galleries is mosaic ; the restaurant, waiting-rooms, and various offices open upon them on one side, and on the other upon a long, covered, paved platform above the railway. Nothing could be more suitable and convenient for the practical purposes of a passenger dépôt, nor at the same time more in keeping with its position as the portal to a region of natural beauty enhanced by the presence of art.
“ Hotel du Parc, Lugano, August 18, 1882. This is a terribly hot and noisy place. Under the clipped lindens beside the quay opposite the hotel, the boatmen sit all day in wait for fares, shouting, playing cards, quarreling, and making altogether more row than a stand of Irish hack-drivers would. Three or four times, between dawn and bedtime, stage-coaches, carriages, and omnibuses jingle, rattle, and crackle past, going to and from the steamboats and trains. The harsh bells of half a dozen churches clang for service at all hours, beginning at five A. M. Every other day — perhaps only twice a week in reality, but it seems to be twice as often — the peasants in troops come by to market, with their livestock, cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry, attended by yelping dogs. The horned beasts take their troubles quietly, but there is no dignity or reticence about swine : they come from the country grunting and squealing at every step, as if in anticipation of a cruel fate, but those that return unsold go back to their pastures as full of grumbling and complaint as they came; there is no satisfying them. Even when one of them stops to root, while his owner rests under the trees, he grunts and squeals incessantly, pausing in his grubbing, but not in his threnody, to look up and down the road; under these circumstances there is no ground for discontent, and it must be that the grievance lies merely in the fact that he is a pig.
“The hotel itself is not pleasant, although it might be, for it is a spacious, curious old place, and was once a monastery ; but everybody is churlish, from the landlord to the porter, and the table d’hôte is crowded by over a hundred and fifty Babel-like people, not counting the rude waiters. The racket and clatter are distracting. The truth is, we are socially and politically in Switzerland ; for, coming from Luino, one crosses the frontier, which makes a scalloped line between and across the lakes, so that one must sometimes go through the custom-house three times in half a day’s excursion. The hotel gardens are fine, rising in many terraces up a stiff hillside behind the house, laid out on a pleasant, old-fashioned plan, with shade and fruit trees mingled, flower borders and vegetables and current bushes in rows, and walks ending in bowers of white jasmine. There is a dépendance, or colony, called the Beau Séjour, in an adjoining villa, once a royal residence (of one of the Tuscan arch-dukes, I think), which would be altogether the better place to stop at, if one had not to come to the hotel for meals, a steep and sunny ten minutes’ walk. The Beau Séjour grounds are extremely beautiful : there is a noble terrace blazing with flowers, lined with orange-trees, and shaded by magnificent lindens, which overlooks the lake; a footpath leads from it up a wooded hillside broken by a wild glen and brook.
“ Sunday, August 20. Very warm, but a fine air on the water. At 10 A. M. took a little steamer which carries travelers for the lake of Como to Porlezza, the last town on these waters. Got out after half an hour at the village of San Mamette, in Italy, to look for the cascade of the Drano. The population of this picturesque little emporium was keeping the festival of its sponsor and patron saint ; the holy-day falls two days earlier, but a peasant woman told me that they had put off the celebration until Sunday, as they could not afford to spare a week day from their work, —a wonderful revolution brought about by the pressure of the taxes. Inquiring my way, I was directed to go straight up the church steps, which seemed odd for the first stage. However, they lead not to the door of the church, which crowns the town, but to a sort of small piazza, or platform, before it, whence a path strikes up among the hills. Up, up, I went, over nearly four hundred rough steps and ridges of cordonate, alternating with steep pitches paved with sharp little cobble-stones, slippery as glass and hot as live coals. But it was a beautiful walk between low vineyard and orchard walls. On the left the fine gorge of the Drano burrowed deep down among rocks and dense foliage, the mountains rising on its further side, with wild hamlets, each hoisting its campanile and clinging to the ledges. The path, after passing through one or two similar collections of houses, at length winds off into solitude, crossing the ravine by an arched bridge of audacious spring. Below, to the right, I saw the head of the valley ; so I turned off and entered a pretty dell with green, shady sides, closed by a great, sheer wall of rock, over which falls a long white tress of water, trickling away in a clear strand over the stones ; in the cleft of the hills directly above the waterfall rises a grand bare mountain, breast and brow. I sat down on the grass among blue-bells, pink cyclamens, and wild sweet-peas, and presently espied, on the other side of the rivulet, a little ruined mill with a red tile roof, wreathed in creepers; it did not trouble the seclusion. . . . For once descent was more difficult than ascent; I found it hard to keep my feet, as I slid on tottering legs down to San Mamette, catching glimpses of the peacock-colored lake across the tree-tops below me. Passed the afternoon in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, adjoining the hotel, looking at Luini’s frescoes.”
It is not possible to speak of Lugano and be silent about the works of Bernardino Luini ; but what I have to say is merely the opinion of an unæsthetic traveler who likes to look at pictures. There are several of Luini’s frescoes in this favored church, the principal being a Crucifixion, which covers a wall stretching entirely across the church, the aisles passing under it. When I was first at Lugano I had not gone through an apprenticeship in the great galleries, and the immense size of the composition and the number of figures overwhelmed and confused me. After one or two efforts to understand and enjoy it I gave up the attempt, and devoted myself to the smaller ones, a lovely Madonna with the two children, and a Last Supper in three compartments. The latter inevitably challenges comparison with Leonardo da Vinci’s far more famous work, and suffers accordingly; but if there is less power and harmony in Luini’s, there is no less beauty or religious feeling. Judas is treated with peculiar originality : he sits at the end of the bench, which he grasps spasmodically with one hand, averting his head from his companions so as to face the spectator ; he seems to be apart from the rest, the common emotion, acting inversely upon him, separates him from them ; he has an expression of contrition for the deed to be committed, a foretaste of the remorse which was to end in Aceldama.
It was eleven years before I saw the Crucifixion again, and then it absorbed my attention for hours together on many successive days. As a whole it lacks unity, a want which is felt in many of Luini’s large productions ; and this fault is exaggerated by the introduction of the entire Passion. The closing scene, crowded with life-size figures, occupies the foreground ; higher up, in a sort of middle distance, is the Procession to Calvary ; still higher is the Flagellation on one side, and on the other are the Entombment and Resurrection, these incidents being reduced in scale, and artificially divided from each other by painted columns; above, in the air, are weeping angels and cherubs, and highest of all the Eternal enthroned. The composition, which is certainly defective, resolves itself into a number of groups and single figures, some of which are so extraordinarily beautiful and graceful that the neglect with which they have been treated by copyists and photographers is unaccountable. Among the most charming of them are a child in white tripping through the garden near the tomb, a lad with a spear mounting guard at the flagellation, and a woman watching the crucifixion, with a babe on her left arm and holding with her right hand a little boy three or four years old who is hiding his face in her skirt with a movement of fright. Many of the heads — too many for enumeration — are noble studies; the centurion’s is one of the finest. There are also some majestic prophets in grisaille between the arches; these have been somewhat retouched, and very badly, but the other frescoes are in excellent preservation, especially the Last Supper and the Virgin and Children. The colors of the Crucifixion have probably grown pale; still I have never been struck by any general effect of richness or harmony of coloring in Luini’s larger frescoes. It is clear and cheerful, with a predominance of the lighter shades of red, which he bestows most liberally upon his human beings. He sometimes produces the happiest combinations, such as the applegreen and salmon-colored robes of two exquisite angels who float above our Saviour’s cross, the tints being repeated in the cherubs overhead.
Next to the positive beauty of Luini’s figures, their principal charm lies in their dignity, simplicity, and sweetness, and in a deep consistency of expression which defines the relation of each personage to the subject of the picture. The disciple of Leonardo is hardly to be called naïf but even where the teacher’s influence is most apparent, as in the subtle refinement of certain female heads, there is no dubious after-thought, no equivocal insinuation. He has not great strength, but he abounds in purity, delicacy, and quiet religious feeling, sometimes touched by sadness, yet free from mystery and mysticism. His execution of detail, although never obtrusive, is often marvelous in minuteness and fidelity. In following this gentle master from town to town, I discovered, what was new to me, at least, how distinctly he has been the model of Mr. Burne Jones and his imitators, as well as of the Frenchman M. Puvis de Chavannes, who has caught the spirit of the early school better than his English compeers. Sandro Botticelli is generally assigned as the prototype and model of these gentlemen, and Luini has not the ineffable melancholy and suggestiveness of Botticelli, nor some of his defects, for which the painters of the pseudo-Renaissance pine and yearn. But, not to pursue the comparison further, the question will be settled for most people by a glance at the fresco of three girls playing at forfeits, in a corridor of the Brera at Milan, and at the painting of red and white rose-bushes in a picture of the Madonna, in a small room of the same gallery.
There are other excursions to make from Lugano, a mountain to climb, and Monte Caprino to be reached by rowing, where the grotto cellars give tourists an excuse for drinking a sweet, sparkling, and heady wine, Asti Mousseux by name: these are duly set down in all guide-books. But a grateful traveler will not turn away from the spot without recording his thanks to the generous owner of a fine place on a point across the cove upon which the town stands where strangers are permitted to land and walk under the broad shade of sycamore and linden groves, with dazzling openings on the hot lake from the cool depths. It is not just, either, to leave the neighborhood without speaking of the mode of approach by which the scenery is seen to the greatest advantage, although it does not come exactly into the order of my going.
“ August 24, 1883. Left Bellagio (on the lake of Como) at ten A. M. by steamboat. Got off at Menaggio, on the opposite side, and had a row with a rascal about a pony-carriage to Porlezza, which lost us an hour, although I got the better of him. This delay had the solitary advantage of giving the diligence such a start of us that its dust had subsided before we set out. The drive is hilly at first, and gradually becomes mountainous, going higher and higher by zigzags among vineyards, olive orchards, and chestnut groves, over a white powdery road, between blinding white walls. As we looked back there was an ever-changing view of the enchanting lake, until at last the hill-sides, closing round us, shut it out. By and by darker heights began to rise over against us, and the landscape wore a more sombre face than we had seen for weeks. We crossed a babbling brook in a ravine, and passed a little lake with marshy borders, a mere pool. By the time we had driven an hour and a half, the Italian flowers in the college garden had given place to Swiss ones, — dahlias, hollyhocks, and marigolds, — and the scenery had lost much of its softness. The hour’s detention at Menaggio made us five minutes late for the steamboat at Porlezza, and we had three hours to wait for the next one. Porlezza is a small town, which has apparently stood still for a long time. There is a hotel, where we had a bad lunch, a church, a villa of some pretensions, — pretty, as a garden on a mountain lake must needs be, — and a crooked street, all of which stand upon or tend towards a shabby, grassgrown piazza along the steamboat landing. To escape from this, I wandered into a meadow fringed with trees on a bank above a strip of shingle beach, and there sat drinking the breeze and looking out upon the lake. It is narrow at this end, and the mountains are high, sloping in a single line from peak to base. The steamboat, which reaches Lugano in an hour, soon carried us into wider waters, and we passed a cascade dropping over the mouth of a grotto at the ripple’s edge. The scenery has character, what painters call ‘ style ; ’ it recalls the lake of Lucerne in greatly diminished proportions. As we advanced the mountains rose sharp and serrate, some of them like a hand with blunt fingers; the lake widened still more and the upper bay came into sight, and finally Lugano, looking almost like a city, seated on a natural amphitheatre in the northmost curve.”
Between the lakes of Lugano and Como stands Monte Generoso, for which the starting-point, since the completion of the railway, is the station of Mendrisio. There are two modes of going up the mountain : one in a carretta, a vehicle unknown to us, a sort of rough arm-chair on wheels, holding but one person ; the other on a donkey, or on foot by a bridle-path if you prefer it. When I made the expedition one of my companions chose the carretta, and reported it to be an instrument of torture for dislocating the bones and shaking the breath out of the body. My other comrade and I took the shorter way, as we supposed, but we arrived simultaneously with the carretta ; he walked, I rode, and although he had the light foot of youth he declared that he had done nothing in the Alps so fatiguing as that slipping and scrambling over loose stones, which rolled down-hill with him at every step. For a short distance we followed the so-called carriage-road : it turns first among walnut groves; then through chestnuts, some of which are great boles bound with small five-pointed ivy; then between rocky banks supporting big, mossy, gnarled beech-stumps, with plantations of saplings springing from their old stocks. Not far above Mendrisio there is a spot fit for a picture: a dilapidated paper-mill, with many wheels dashing the spray of a brook into the ravine below with a refreshing plash ; and opposite to this a wide, vaulted, stone recess lined with delicate ferns, sheltering a large marble tank brimful of clear water, where the tired donkey-boys stop to drink from the hollow of their hand. It is the last mouthful of moisture or coolness on the road. The rest of the way is first dusty and steep, then steeper and paved with cobble-stones, and finally it becomes like the dry bed of a New England hill-brook where it lies nearest to the perpendicular. It was very hot; the only trees were scrub-growth that shut out the air, but not the sun ; the only traces of water two or three empty torrent-courses and a spring which for the moment was a mere mud-hole. There was no view except of mountain flanks, forest below and pasture-land above. We came once upon a few furlongs of woodland, where wild pinks and superb dark blue campanulas grew among the grass, and we hailed it as a veritable oasis. My donkey was fat and sleek; every quarter of an hour he stopped as if ready to drop, and I got off and walked for a quarter of an hour to let him rest. The donkey-boy beat him with incessant mechanical strokes, like a pendulum, and replied to my remonstrances that he was “a malicious beast.” He was also sly and lazy, and by degrees my zoöphilism gave out: I noticed that he was neither hot nor blown, while I was both ; so at length I scrambled into the saddle to dismount no more before the end of the journey, and bade the boy thwack as much as he thought fit. But the donkey, at an earlier day, had made up his mind that he preferred being beaten to making speed, and nothing could shake his determination.
After nearly three hours of this progress, which would have become intolerable if it had been much more prolonged, we reached the Monte Generoso hotel, standing alone on a small plateau three quarters of the way to the mountain-top. It is a big, square, five-story building, solid, but otherwise as ugly as if it belonged in New Hampshire. The grounds are small, rough, and untidy. The near view is Swiss, mountains covered with short grass and beech copse; beyond them the plain of Lombardy stretches out vast and vague as the sea, through a hot haze which muffles its outlines. Behind the hotel, a walk of ten minutes through the beech thickets leads to a path along a ridge overhanging the lake of Lugano, and ending at the Bella Vista, a railed platform, which commands a grand panorama. I never saw this entirely unclouded, but it was always imposing. My first sight of it was just before sunset, when the gorges were full of dark vapors, heavy gray and black clouds thronging and crowding together above the peaks, diffusing darkness, through which came flashes of lightning and mutterings of thunder; the lake had a strange, dull green, marble-like surface, reflecting every anfractuosity of the rock, every house and clump of trees on its banks, every cloud that crossed the sky ; over the nearest ridge Lago Maggiore could be seen gleaming dimly in the distance, catching some sunset lights through rifts in the gloomy canopy.
“ Monte Generoso, Sunday, August 26, 1883. This is a comfortless house, and there is the tyranny in its hours and habits and the indifference to the convenience of travelers which are usually to be found where there is but one hotel. Furthermore, it is a fief of the Church of England ; there is daily morning prayer at 8.30 A. M. ; on Saturday the corridors resound with practicing the chants and hymns, and on Sunday there are three services, the first beginning at 10 A. M., when the same bell which summons us to meals announces church by more measured strokes. The majority of the lodgers are botanizing, geologizing, sketching, ascensionizing English of both sexes. They attend public worship in an exemplary manner. To-day, after the sermon, before the final hymn and benediction, the clergyman made an earnest appeal for contributions to the fund for maintaining the services, on the regularity and frequency of which he dwelt with just emphasis, affirming, poor man, that he should derive no advantage from this collection. Having no money with me, I slipped out and went to my room for my pocket-book. Most of my English fellow Christians went out at the same time, but did not go back.”
“ Monday, August 27. There is pleasant walking here over miles of soft, elastic, close-cropped turf, and the air is very fine, pure, and rare. We are four thousand feet above the sea; the mountain-top is two thousand feet higher. The drawback to walking is the absence of shade. The greater views, too, are not visible from the pastures. Took a long hot pull to a point whence we were assured that we could see the lake of Como. We did see an inch or two of it, and the town, — a flat bird’s-eye view ; the cathedral stood up handsomely, however. There is a fine breed of cattle on this mountain, with most dulcet bells; when a number of them are grazing together the sound is like musical-glasses. The heifers are extremely tame, and come to be fed and petted.
“ Dialogue at table d’hôte between American gentleman from an Atlantic State and English lady. She. Did you ever meet the Indians? He. The Indians? She. Yes; your red men, you know. He (aside). Does she mean in society or on the war-path, I wonder. (Aloud.) No, I live too far east. They are in the west, — the far west. She. Oh, yes ; Chicago and Cincinnati, you know. He. Yes, a good deal further than that. She. Aw — really! Your country is so very — very large, you know. And for these long journeys do you have something like our Pullman cars? He (with self-command). Something quite like them. She. Fancy!
“ Tuesday, August 28. Spent the morning at the Bella Vista. The horizon was not clear, but the clouds had not yet gathered compactly, and the black bulks of the Monte Rosa Alps, with their death-like white faces, were looking over fields of lower ranges. What are they like ? There is something personal and supernatural, conscious and deliberate, in their appearance, and how remote and alien from earth and man ! The moment they become visible the whole scene changes, as if Nature herself were affected by their presence. The extension which the prospect gains by their altitudes deepens the profound silence which always broods over these lakes at this season ; it grows more intense with the expansion of the view. To-day the stillness was oppressive : not a bird or insect gave a note ; there was no noise of steam, or trade, or traffic from the white, motionless towns thousands of feet below me, no voice of agricultural labor from the hill-sides. Once in the course of the morning a dull rumble was heard far down, and a railway train wriggled along the ground like a huge black reptile, tainting the air with its breath. The view must be magnificent when it is at its best, and it is very fine at its worst, as it is said to be at present. The mountains are seamed and scarred by the tracks of torrents, and gray-brown crags jut out from their green covering, as if Generoso had worn though his coat. They stand up in peaks, ridges, and bluffs, shutting in the narrow lake. There is an awful harmony in the general configuration. The one flaw in it is a flat strip along the water between the headlands of Mendrisio and Maroggia, which is marked with a long St. Andrew’s cross by the oblique intersection of the railroad and highway ; it is a common place, work-day feature, annoyingly out of keeping with the majesty of the surrounding scenery. There is nothing Italian here except the atmosphere, and that invests the severity of the prospect with some softness. But it is not simpatico.”
Southward from Monte Generoso, among the lessening hills, there is a small sheet of water aside from the common track of travel, called the lake of Varese. It is accessible by carriageroads from several points on the larger lakes, and from Arona on Lago Maggiore by a branch of the railroad to Milan. I drove thither from Mendrisio by a dusty and monotonous route between maize-fields, with hems of white buckwheat and rows of cropped, stuntedlooking mulberry-trees. After passing the frontier, where the vexations of the custom-house were abridged as much as possible by the good-humor and goodmanners of the officials, the road begins to ascend; higher and bolder mountains come into sight; the finger of Italy touches the landscape. On one side a Lombard church tower, eight stories high, starts into view ; on the other, upon a knoll above the road, appears the tall fragment of an amphitheatre wall cut in the foliage of a closely planted row of trees, a bit of old-fashioned gardening which seemed to belong to the grounds of an adjacent convent. The curves of the champaign are in the immortal line of beauty. Cream-colored oxen with liquid, dark eyes pass by, dragging haycarts ; carnations loll heavily from the window-sills; and, framed by a small square casement sunk in vines, a woman’s face looks out, fit for a tragedy of the sixteenth century.
Varese is unlike any other Italian town with which I am familiar, yet it looks as if it might be the type of a good many. Its dimensions are small and its pretensions are great. In the environs there are shabby, mangy little promenades and parks at every turn ; tablets in the walls with pompous Latin inscriptions, commemorating personages and events unknown to the next parish ; ill-kept villas with elaborate iron gateways. In the outskirts of the town there is a church which exceeds in bad taste anything of the same style I have ever seen : it has a square tower, a polygonal cupola, and side apses, crammed together without regard to proportion, and a triple porch upheld by colossal satyrs and surmounted by allegorical figures with trumpets. The place is thriving and uninteresting; its narrow streets smell as ill as those of more picturesque and less prosperous communities. To judge by the signboards, there is a lively trade in spirituous liquors; but silk manufacture is the principal industry of the place.
I went to see a large filanderia, or establishment where the silk in its natural state is prepared for the loom. Millions of cocoons were lying on shelves of slats to avoid moisture. They were of three colors, white, cream, and pale yellow: this variety does not arise from differences in the food of the worm, but from diversity of species ; “ like the races of mankind,” as the superintendent explained, laughing. The best variety is Chinese ; “ Mongoli,” he called them. I stupidly did not ask whether the Mongolians are yellow. Some cocoons are notably larger than others and those are double, — “ married,” said the superintendent, there being two chrysalides in the egg, like a philopœna almond; they are as numerous as the single ones, and are kept separate from them. In a long, airy room several hundred women, principally young girls, were putting the cocoons through successive stages of a process by which the downy cover is separated from the chrysalis and spun into threads like gossamer ; there was a subdued rattle of treadles and reels, like an accompaniment to a sweet melancholy chant which the women were singing in parts. In a side-room sat a young girl with a distaff and spindle, running off the spider’s-web substance into shining hanks of silk ; they looked like immense skeins of spun glass and spun gold. The white remains white, the straw-color becomes paler and takes a greenish cast, while the cream-color turns out bright yellow, almost like old gold ; these are the only natural shades. As I gave the young girl some trouble by interrupting her work to make her show me how it was done, I offered her at parting a small sum with my thanks ; she refused it with a gesture almost scornful and, starting up, ran out of the room. The merry superintendent laughed, as he did at everything, but when, on saying goodby to him, I ventured to proffer him a much larger bonus he too drew back, and declined it with comic pantomime of putting away a bribe. Believing that there was no indelicacy in pressing it upon him gently, I did so; but he shook his head, and said gayly that he could not accept money, having violated the rules of the establishment, which are very strict, in allowing me to visit it, and that to take money would compromise him with the proprietor, his employer. I suppose my unscientific questions at the outset convinced him of my incapacity to steal the secrets of the process, but how he supposed his breach of trust would become known I cannot imagine, unless the work-people act as spies.
The lake of Varese is much smaller and less beautiful than its three neighbors ; the hills about it are long and low, the immediate landscape is tame. It is to this absence of salient heights that it owes its chief title to consideration, — an unobstructed view of Monte Rosa and her snowy myrmidons, said to be unique in its effect of juxtaposition. The clouds hid it entirely during my short stay, and I know it only by a highly-colored lithograph in the hall of the hotel. The hotel itself is the most remarkable villa near Varese, although on the higher ground above the lake there are several handsome ones in good order. One of these, the Villa Taccioli, which is old enough to have a history, but has changed hands too often, boasts of a chapel containing an original work by Agostino Busti, a famous Lombard sculptor of the Cinquecento. It is a graceful but feeble, insignificant group of the Madonna and Child ; the best part is the base, which evidently does not belong to the figures. As I observed this to the gardener, he instantly replied that he had heard conoscenti say that it was probably a portion of the widely-scattered monument of Gaston de Foix, by the same sculptor. This intelligent gardener had a large bed of cyclamens which he had transplanted from the mountains; it is the only time I have seen them cultivated in Italy. The hotel, however, surpassed all the neighboring seats that I saw. It is called the Excelsior, and until twenty years ago belonged to the Recalcati family of Milan. It is an enormous house, to which only a wing, with the dining-room and offices, has been added for its present purpose; and although not a handsome building, it has good points, especially indoors. There is a spacious suite of reception-rooms opening on the garden, and one of them, for music, is most charmingly designed and decorated. It is in white and a fresh, delicate green ; the walls have green panels set in very rich flower-chaplets of white stucco ; it has a gambrel ceiling, with an elegant frieze of garlands, medallions, and groups of Cupids ; between the panels opposite the long windows are mirrors reflecting the garden, and there are a quantity of silver sconces and candlesticks of a very pretty, old-fashioned pattern ; the furniture is in pale green damask, white wood-work with a touch of gold. Upstairs the principal rooms open into an antechamber, with floors of scagliola, or red, white, and black marble, furnished with heavy, obsolete black chairs, tables, and settees, such as fill the modern bricabrac hunter with envy. The walls are paneled with frightful frescoes, or hung with great canvases by third and fourth rate Venetian and Bolognese painters, and even the bad taste is grandiose. The gardens have extent, but not style, and though they are large the trees are small; they are a most agreeable adjunct to the lower rooms, however, which seem almost part of them. When I was there, long, high banks of roses and mignonette filled the air with sweetness, and mimosa-trees, covered with puffs of pink-tipped blossoms as light as thistle-down, lent some of their own exquisite refinement to the grounds. The great attraction of the hotel is its own excellence ; it is one of the best kept houses in Europe, luxuriously clean, comfortable, well appointed and served in every respect. It is astonishing to find such an admirable establishment in an out-of-the-way and not much frequented place.
After the St. Gothard road, the other railways from the lakes to Milan seem uninteresting and the excursions one makes by them tedious, short as they are perforce. It is a proof of how a great enjoyment spoils most people for lesser ones, as the routes are not unattractive. They run for miles between well-sodded banks and close rows of crop-headed locust-trees, which are pretty all summer and lovely when in bloom, with occasional peeps at a lake or mountain ; and every station offers its picture of Italian existence, past or present, in some noble building, graceful bit of gardening, or dramatic incident of daily life. This is the home of Lombard architecture, which in its large simplicity attains to a degree of dignity that to my eyes Gothic does not possess. Broad masses of dark red brick, or of alternate terra cotta and granite or marble, in square or round surfaces, divided by a method as natural as the formation of the crystal or the bee’s cell into manysided forms of baptistery or bell-tower; the basilica ground plan of early Christian churches, with the dome borrowed from the East; lofty round-arched portals ; tall, slender shafts ; tiers of roundheaded windows marked off into miniature colonnades by small, slim pillars,— these are the features of the style which the traveler can recognize as far as he can see them across their native plains. The fertility of the surrounding country is a beauty in itself; the maize, rice, and grain fields are sprinkled with scarlet poppies, and separated by rows of mulberry-trees or poplars twined together by vines in full bearing, intersected and irrigated by runlets of glassy water bordered by osiers ; there is a constant shimmer on the golden-green crops and the silvery-green willows. The infrequency of hamlets or isolated farm-buildings is strange to a foreigner; he wonders whether the farmers and laborers all live in towns. Of these there is no dearth, and the smaller they are the greater in proportion are their possessions in the way of art. Pavia, with its decaying vestiges of royal pomp, and the glorious, incomparable Certosa, or Carthusian monastery; Monza, with a cathedral thirteen centuries old and the legendary Iron Crown ; Saronno, where the Lombard painters decorated a church which is the monument of their school ; mediæval Bergamo, richest of them all in treasures of this sort, lie within the circumference of a circle drawn from Milan as the centre to the lakes of Como, Varese, Maggiore, and Garda.
Saronno is on one of the carriageroads from Varese to Milan, not so often traveled now as formerly, the place being more accessible from the city by the railway or steam tramway than from the lake. It is a bright, compact little town among the corn-fields, standing out against a background of dark mountains overtopped by snowy ones. It has such a cheerful and modern air that I thought I must have come to the wrong place for the early Lombard masters ; but following my directions, I walked to the Sanctuary of the Madonna, beyond the last houses and about ten minutes from the station. My doubts increased when I saw on the very edge of the tramway an ugly seventeenth-century Renaissance front, newly painted and plastered, looking like nothing so much as a Roman Catholic village church in America. The first view on entering the structure is no better: whatever its architectural merits may be, they are disguised by the tasteless, hideous restorations and decorations of the last two centuries ; gaudy daubing meets the eye wherever it turns. But as I advanced up the aisle the interior of a cupola painted by Gaudenzio Ferrari revealed itself, which called forth a cry of admiration. The central glory is surrounded by a wreath of cherubs with bodies, singing and trampling on the clouds; and below them a joyous throng of angels are harping, trumpeting, and hymning with a delightful independence of attitude and motion. I had to break my neck backwards to look at them, not a favorable position for judging of a work of art, but I thought it a beautiful composition, replete with energy and exultation. On all sides, between arches and over windows, are figures of saints by Luini and his compeers and followers, Cesare da Sesto, Lanini, Suardi. In the passage from the nave to the choir there are two large frescoes by Luini, one on each wall : the Marriage of the Virgin and Christ disputing with the Doctors in the Temple. On the choir walls there are two more great groups, the Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation at the Temple, and in a small apse behind the high altar two beautiful female figures and an angel, all by the master’s hand. They are in almost perfect preservation, only the flesh seems to have changed a little, and are extremely calm and beautiful, showing Luini’s finest qualities without his defects in composition. There are all sorts of traditions about his connection with this church, it being said that he ended his days here, and that these are his last works; but they are guide-book stories at best, for there is not much known of his life or the exact dates of his different productions, though these and the Crucifixion at Lugano are among the latest. The church is curiously constructed; I have never seen anything exactly like the entrance to the choir or that hindermost apse. It was begun in 1498 and finished two centuries afterwards, and the original design was cast aside by each architect for one of his own. The cloister, as I saw it, was a little gem for water-color artists ; the simple columns were festooned together by grape-vines full of purple clusters ; there was a small square of green turf, from the centre of which rose a fine stone-pine, with a small square of deep blue sky above it; and a well-proportioned tower of brick and granite and a handsome cupola, both sixteenth-century additions, were visible above the roof of the church. Over a door in the cloister there is another Luini, a Nativity, with angels announcing the good tidings to the shepherds in the background. The helplessness of the new-born child is singularly tender and pathetic.
I could not learn by what claims this church had been so lavishly adorned ; pilgrimages are made to it, and its name, the Sanctuary of the Madonna, undoubtedly has some significance. The reverence in which it was founded nearly four hundred years ago has not entirely died out, as in a side-chapel there is a marble alto-rilievo of the Deposition from the Cross, by the modern sculptor Marchesi,— a graceful and touching work of art. I left it with a parting prayer that it may never be despoiled in the interest of the Brera, as it is a museum itself, and gives the masterpieces which it contains a prominence they could not have in a collection.
In my goings to and fro among the lakes I stopped one day, on the way to Como, at Monza, which like Saronno is less than an hour from Milan by rail. It is a dead-alive town, from which all strong mediæval character has been expunged by a modern royal residence and a large railway station. There is a fine old Gothic brick town-hall and a handsome terra-cotta church, Santa Maria in Strada, besides the cathedral. The last, associated in my mind with its foundress, Queen Theodelinda, of magnificent name and fame, had always appeared to my fancy as the stronghold of the Lombard dynasty, but I could discover no traces of its royal origin. It was rebuilt in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and as it stands now is a heavy Gothic pile, with a highly decorated Renaissance façade of black and pale yellow marble clapped on like a mask. One feature of the latter is a great parallelogram, or oblong tablet, of rectilinear ornamentation, interspersed with rosettes, set in among the statues and busts immediately above the main door, and including a rose-window within its limits ; the whole effect is singularly odd and by no means pleasing. The interior is a horrible example of late Renaissance restoration.
The cathedral contains several relics of great antiquity, among them the Iron Crown which has pressed so many august brows, from Constantine’s to Napoleon’s. On asking to see it I was startled to learn that the cost would be five lire (or francs), exactly five times as much as the most expensive exhibition, sacred or secular, I had hitherto seen in Italy, and ten times the sum usually exacted. But I ceased to be surprised when the sacristan called a custodian, the custodian called a priest, and the priest came, — a tall, robust, unshaven personage, with some native dignity, like Friar Tuck,— accompanied by two acolytes bearing four great silver candelabra and other sacred properties. The candlesticks were placed on the balustrade of a side-chapel where the relic is kept; tapers were put into them and lighted, and the vessels arranged in order. The priest then recited a short orison before the altar, above which is a sort of press, the size of an ordinary wardrobe, with a very poor gilded alto rilievo on the door, of angels bearing the instruments of the Passion. The custodian then mounted a ladder and opened the first door, which disclosed a second one with two leaves of beautiful gilded bronze-work ; these, being opened, showed a rare curtain of golden tissue, and that, falling, revealed the treasures, — a great cross set with precious stones and crystal, and other objects which I did not notice, perturbed as I was by the ceremony and the attention which it drew upon me, poor solitary, sheepish Anglo-Saxon, from the rest of the people in church. The famous coronal, inclosed in a circular glass case, was then taken down and displayed to me by the elder acolyte, who recited its history for my edification. The foundation and origin of the crown is a narrow iron band, believed by the devout to have been made out of a nail which pierced our Saviour’s hand ; this is encased within a broad, thick gold circlet inlaid with three rows of immense jewels in a splendid, simple, enameled Byzantine pattern. One of the most significant facts in its memorable history is that it was never taken out of Lombardy until this century. What Charlemagne did not do, what Charles V. did not do, what Napoleon, with his stupendous audacity, did not do, the unchronicled Francis Joseph II. presumed to do. He had the vulgar impudence to carry this venerable relic and symbol of universal sovereignty to Vienna, where it remained for seven years. It was restored by Victor Emmanuel, who might most justly have used it to crown himself King of United Italy, but refrained, with that curious mixture of personal modesty and want of imagination which was a characteristic in common between himself and another brave man, General Grant.
I looked my fill and thought my thoughts; then the case was replaced, the priest repeated a prayer, the acolyte swung a censer, the glittering curtain rose, the bronze doors closed, the wooden one was locked, and the show was at an end. And I went on my way to the lake of Como, having seen the Iron Crown of Lombardy with candle, book, and bell.