« ZurückWeiter »
tains which encloses it, that you become aware of the singularly happy combination of objects which make up the picture. Nothing, to be sure, can be much more unsightly and clumsy-looking than the great, wide, flat-bottomed boat which offers itself to your acceptance on reaching Port-Puer, as they call the bit of ground, looking like a timber-yard, from which you embark; but when you have condescended to enter this rough-looking machine, and have had the rude, but very effective awning stretched over your head, and have discovered the comfort of having a stout rail behind you to lean against, you must be very earnestly bent upon quarrelling with the goods the gods provide, if you do not find find yourself superlatively happy and contented.
The difficulty of abstaining from an attempt to describe such scenery as that which blesses the eye as you cross this lake, after a few delicious hours have been passed in gazing on it, is really very great. The mind inevitably becomes so full of all the images which have been offered to it, and which it has received with so much eager avidity as to have left no room for any thing else, finds a positive relief in pouring forth its fulness. But though I am ready to confess that there may be some mixture of selfish gratification in describing what one loves to think of, the attempt to do it is certainly never made without a good-natured wish to make all who will listen, share in the pleasure you have enjoyed. Nay, notwithstanding all the profound criticisms that have been given to the world, upon the absurdity of attempting to describe what is indescribable, I am of opinion that the reading of scenes which you have never seen, nor are ever likely to see, is by no means waste of time. It is good for us all to know how bounteous the God of nature has been in decorating the habitation in which he has ordained that man shall dwell during his threescore and ten years of mortal life ; it is good that we should be told of it, if accident prevents our full acquaintance with the fact by means of our own experience; and, moreover, by way of encouragement to describers, it should be remembered that, if among the dozen who may yawn over their efforts, there should be one kindled thereby into an energetic determination to look forth upon the scene himself, the dozen yawners may be very conscientiously put in non cale, for the good done incontestably exceeds the evil.
Now then, having made this apology for myself, let me indulge a little in recalling the Lake of Bourget, as I saw it, through the bright clear air of a September morning, while every imaginable circumstance that could increase the enjoyment which earth, air, and water have power to give, was in full action. Nor should the blessing of warmtb be left out of the catalogue, though it would not sound picturesque perhaps to add fire to the list of elements which contributed to the enjoyment of the scene. But the autumn of Savoy, such as we saw it during last September, is as glowing in its warm air and rich colouring as that of Italy herself. So well did we know this indeed, that we took care, as usual, to have a cool hour or two of the morning before us when we started; for our purpose was to have a long day of wandering enjoyment, and we know of old, that the cold chicken and ham part of the preparation for this, is not more essentially necessary to its success than the enlisting in our service the earliest hours of light. And well on this occasion, as on all others, were we paid for the trifling exertion which it requires to leave your bed a little before you are quite tired of it; for when we embarked, our course took us westward, and the effect produced by the rising sun behind us, upon the majestic range of mountains we were approaching, was singularly beautiful. One after another, in just precedence, according to their respective altitudes, point after point of the Mont du Chat, became illuminated by that indescribable, rose-coloured light, which seems to belong to Italy, and of which she lends a gleam now and then to her particular friends and near neighbours. By degrees the smooth bosom of the lake itself began to reflect the same "celestial rosy red,” not, however, without strong masses of shade still resting upon it here and there, sometimes from the tall summit of a mighty mountain, and sometimes from a tower or a tree, that threw its firmly-cut silhouette upon the water.
The object of our voyage was to reach the Abbey of Hautecombe, which seems as you approach it to nestle itself shyly under the protection of the towering Mont du Chat, that rises immediately above it. It is, perhaps, when this delicious little voyage is about half over, that the beauty of the excursion is at its height, for by that time, the noble abbey itself has become a conspicuous feature in the landscape, and the surrounding mountains of Azi, Grenier, the Mont du Chat, and Nivolet, together with the hill and castle of Chatillon at the northern extremity of the lake, may all be contemplated as the rowers rest awhile upon their oars, and discourse to you in a first-rate style of legendary gossip of all the wonders, not a few of them being considerably super the ordinary course of nature, belonging by right immemorial to the principal objects of the landscape.
The elder of our three boatmen—for the heavy craft could not be made to move, I believe, with Jess—was the greatest orator; but the man, evidently second in dignity, never failed to begin talking as soon as his senior ceased, and I was greatly amused by observing the difference which the “ march of mind” during the last thirty years (for by so much did their ages differ) had made between them. Though this mental marching has not gone on in the same double-quick time along the “finty roads of Savoy,” as in the highways and byways of England, it was very evident that the education of the younger man had had much more of the modern positif in it, than that of the elder. The old man, for instance, made no scruple of telling us with all the gravity of history, that a certain castle of which we faintly caught the outline in the dim distance, had been the scene of one of the most remarkable adventures ever known. It had been destroyed by fire, he said, a good many years ago, he could not state precisely the year, but every body knew the fact, and that the baron to whom the castle at that time belonged, had two very beautiful daughters, whom he pretended to love very much, but whom he really used very cruelly, never letting them hunt or dance like other young baronesses, but keeping them shut up like prisoners in his castle, and scarcely permitting any of the young knights, who at that time were always riding about the country, to get sight of them. But he was justly punished for all this; for when the fire happened, the two beautiful young ladies were seen to walk forth in the midst of the flames and the smoke, spring upon two black horses behind two black knights, and gallop away before the eyes of their terrified father and all his household. As they were never heard of afterwards, and as both horses and knights breathed forth fire and Aame as violently as the burning castle itself, every body believed that the devil himself had sent a few of his own combustibles into the castle, and a pair of his own horses, with riders to match, to carry away the
young ladies. But be this as it may, there is at least one fact that is perfectly certain, namely, that the blackened walls of the castle and its ramparts, are to this day haunted by the departed spirits of the cruel baron and his imprudent daughters, and that none of the country people, far or near, ever venture within sight of the doomed spot after sunset.
By the time this story was finished the sun was high enough to render the rowing, slow as it was, a fatiguing operation, and the old boatman reposed both his tongue and his oars for a moment or two, and then began his younger partner ; but he did not“ take up the wondrous tale" of his companion, but in a much more historic vein, and with evident consciousness of his own superiority, he communicated various scraps of local information. He told us that till within the last half century, the young girls of Savoy used to wear their petticoats ornamented with rows of ribbon round the bottom, and that the number of rows indicated the amount of the portion they were to have in marriage, and the consequence was, he said, that the poor girls, if they were pretty enough, always got the best partners, because the young men, when their spirits were up, could not bear to show themselves so pitiful as always to be looking for a rich girl to dance with, though he could not pretend to say that these financial petticoats made any essential difference as to the prejudices of the country in favour of a rich wife. Moreover, he told us, with a great deal of antiquarian dignity, that the invention of Savoy cakes, as well known in Paris, he believed, as at Aix, or Chambéry, was at least five hundred years old, for that they were first made by the cook of Amedee VI., for a banquet given to the emperor Louis V., at Chambéry, and that these cakes were gilt, and were made to imitate the forms of the neighbouring mountains, and were offered to the noble company by the Count of Savoy himself, and his noblest barons, all on horseback, and all armed cap-à-pie. Now all this, as we learned afterwards, was perfectly historic, and as it was accompanied with no mention whatever of ghosts, devils, or fairies, it is impossible to deny that the younger man seemed to have received a more modern education than his companion.
I was almost sorry when we reached the landing-place at Hautecombe; not exactly perhaps because I wanted more stories either from the elder or younger boatman, but, because the exquisite loveliness of the scene we were quitting, and the lazy luxury in which we had enjoyed it, left no hope that we could increase our enjoyment by stepping out of our ugly-looking, but most commodious bark, in order to walk up the steep bank which leads to the abbey of Hautecombe. But we soon found upon this occasion, as we do upon many, if we look the right way for it, that a pleasant route pleasantly passed over, is only a blessing de plus, and that neither years nor miles are to be regretted, if we lose not our way as we go. In truth, this expedition to Hautecombe must rest for ever as a red-letter day in our calendar; for during the many bright hours of it dedicated to this excursion, all that we did seemed to “better what was done."
The position of the abbey is so beautiful, that I think the most picturesque of poets, even Milton himself, might go on dreaming for ever, without being able to conceive any spot more exquisitely lovely, or more aptly fitted for a royal tomb than that on which this venerable sepulchre stands. Some indeed might fancy that there would be more of historic gloom, were the stately walls enshrined in groves of sable cypress, or of mournful yew; but I think there is more poetic fitness as it is. The old counts and dukes of Savoy were a race, if their chroniclers may be trusted, as much beloved as honoured, cherishing their own mountains and their native lakes with all the parental love of native sovereigns, and all the filial fondness of long-descended children of the soil. Then where could their honoured relics be left to repose so suitably as on a spot that seems in its wild yet smiling loneliness to be a type of the country so every way their own ? And although no sepulchral gloom rests upon it, there is enough of sacred loveliness to render it in every way a fitting place for such a purpose. Stand on the tower of Hautecombe and look around, and you will find that you are shut in by a circle of majestic mountains, once the stern barrier, but now only the most impressive charm of beauteous Savoy, and wide as is the extent of the landscape enclosed within this glorious frame, you will feel that it has, nevertheless, the air of being enshrined and sacred from the world beyond. But the seclusion of the holy abbey itself is closer still; for, whatever the actual fact may be, it looks as if it were utterly unapproachable, save by the means of which we availed ourselves to reach it.
Immediately behind it towers the enormous mountain called “the Mont du Chat," with its three sharp peaks forming the singularly hostile-looking barrier known by the name of the “ Dent du Chat," and the little esplanade on which the building stands is so narrow that, did we not know it was formed by a morsel of the solid rock, we might be apt to fear that this splendid reliquary, and all the honoured dust it contains would, in process of time, be washed away by the gentle but incessant movement of the transparent lake, for its wavelets seem for ever and for ever to kiss the foot of the sepulchre, as if to do it homage.
Of the interior of the abbey the best description, I think, for those who will not travel far enough a-field to look at it, is to tell them, that in its costly and admirably well-imagined restorations (rendered neces. sary by the savage devastations of the French army) it rivals and equals, in happiness of effect, though not in the splendour of its dimensions, the restored shrine of St. Denis. It is certainly impossible to praise too highly the exquisite taste, and the learned skill which have been displayed in the restoration of the beautiful little chapel belonging to the abbey. All the richly gothic ornaments have been carved in the beautiful white stone called pierre de Seyssel, in exact imitation of the fragments that had been left; and wherever these fragments were large and perfect enough to admit it, they have been introduced into the modern work without the slightest injury to the harmony of the whole. The entering this small, but exquisitely beautiful church from the beautiful scenery without, produces one of the most striking transitions I remember, by the contrast of the delicate purity of its snowwhite material, with the gorgeous colouring of the lake and its banks. of the monuments it would be about equally difficult and useless to speak in detail; the skill with which they have been re-arranged, and,
indeed, for the most part reconstructed leaves nothing to wish for the general effect. Some very good modern painted glass adds greatly to the beauty of the whole, and with all my love of genuwine old stones, I should have been greatly ashamed of myself had I fallen so low into the Smellfungus line as to have murmured because these records of the last seven or eight hundred years were the work of yesterday. It was not here that for the first time in my life I felt that the impressions made by poetry are (to me) stronger than those produced by history ; for when I read the name of Jeane de Montfort on one of the splendid tombs, I thought more of Joanna Baillie than of any counts or countesses either of Savoy or de Vaud. Nevertheless I looked with great and befitting respect on the effigies of a certain Boniface, umwhile Archbishop of Canterbury, a prince of the noble house of Savoy, who, though lent to us as primate during a few years, left his mortal remains to repose among the illustrious dust of his ancestors, having quitted England to visit his brother, the reigning prince, and died on his native soil, in 1270. Both examined in detail, and enjoyed as a most picturesque coup d'ail, the chapel of Hautecombe is full of attraction, and is decidedly one of the buildings that it is more agreeable to enter for the first time than to leave for the last. Whenever this happens there is a feeling of melancholy produced by this last glance, which seems like a tax paid for the pleasure of the first; but nevertheless it is good to pay it, for it goes to enrich the general exchequer of memory, and if we did not find it there on looking back, our treasury of recollections would be all the poorer. And so we turned away from this noble sepulchre, now closed for ever; for the old race of Savoy princes being extinct, “its holy earth” is not again to be broken, except for the interment of the venerable widow of the late King of Sardinia.
Our very patient guide next conducted us to the great gates of the abbey, in which there is a handsome set of apartments kept ever ready to receive this Queen-dowager of Sardinia, who, from time to time, gives a few days or weeks there to religious retirement. The monastery still exists, and all the buildings appear in excellent repair, but the number of the community is small. Having seen as much of the establishment as travelling ladies are permitted to visit, our guide welcomed our reappearance at the gate, where he had waited for us, with rather a joyous air, exclaiming, as we again prepared to follow him, “Ah ça; à present, madame, nous avons un autre miracle à vous faire voir. Nous allons maintenant à la Fontaine des Merveilles," and it was quite clear that now, at least, he took a strong personal interest in the expedition. The walk from the abbey to this “ Fontaine des Merveilles" is along the border of the lake, and occupied us about twenty minutes perhaps, during which time we gave as much attention as it was possible to withdraw from the charming landscape before us to the good man's eager eloquence on the subject of its mystic qualities. Nobody that really knew any thing about the matter, he said, ever pretended to have the least doubt left as to the miraculous source of the fountain. it locked up?" I demanded, “ or is every body that goes by permitted to see it?"
“ Locked up?" he repeated ; “every body that goes by permitted April.-VOL. LXX. xo. cclxxx.