Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

6

cessible regions of Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt were early explored by British travellers, who lacked neither the zeal nor the knowledge requisite for such pursuits, - so little should have been done by the hundreds of our countrymen in their annual migrations across the Alps, for the improvement of our still imperfect acquaintance with the Italian peninsula. Yet, how small a portion of the labour and energy which have been brought to bear on the antiquities of Greece and Asia Minor by such writers as Dodwell, Leake, and Hamilton, or which have lately revealed to us the treasures of Lycia and Nineveh, would have sufficed to render us familiar with every corner of the beautiful region :

Ch' Apennin parte, e 'l mar circonda, e l' Alpe.' Italy has been supposed to be so well known, that all the more energetic spirits have turned their steps elsewhere, and left the task of investigating its beauties and its monuments to that feebler class of tourists who trembled at rumours of banditti, or shrank from the horrors of a sleepless night in a filthy osteria. Observations like the following must frequently recur to such an artist as Mr. Lear, or such an antiquary as Mr. Dennis : —

We are apt to regard Italy as a country so thoroughly beaten by travellers that little now can be said about it; still less do we imagine that relics of the olden time can exist in the open air, and remain unknown to the world. Yet the truth is, that vast districts of the Peninsula, especially in the Tuscan, Roman, and Neapolitan states, are to the archæologist a terra incognita. Every monument on the highroads is familiar even to the fireside traveller ; but how little is known of the byeways! Of the swarms of foreigners who yearly traverse the country between Florence and Rome, not one in a hundred leaves the beaten track to visit objects of antiquity : still fewer make a journey into the intervening districts expressly for such a purpose. Now and then an excursion is made to Chiusi; or a few may now run from Civita Vecchia to Corneto, to visit the painted tombs; but not a tithe of that small number continue their route to Vulci or Toscanella - still fewer to Cosa. Parties occasionally make a pic-nic to the site of Veii; but, considering the proximity to Rome, the convenience of transit, and the intense interest of the spot, the number is very limited. The wide district on the frontier of the Tuscan and Roman states is so rarely trodden by the foot of a traveller, even of an antiquary, that it can be no matter of surprise that relics of ancient art should exist there, and be utterly unknown to the world, – gazed at only with stupid astonishment by the peasantry, or else more stupidly unheeded. In a country almost depopulated by malaria, inhabited only by shepherds and husbandmen, and never traversed by the educated and intelligent, the most striking monuments may remain for ages unnoticed.' (Vol. i. p. 481.)

The principal discoveries have accordingly been accidental; even that of Pæstum. The remarkable rock-hewn cemeteries of Norchia and Castel d'Asso were discovered only about forty years ago, by some sportsmen of Viterbo. Mr. Dennis tells us, how the equally interesting rock-tombs of Sovana were brought to light within the last few years by an intelligent English traveller:

'In the spring of 1843, Mr. Ainsley, my former fellow-traveller in Etruria, was making a third tour through this interesting land, and, not content with beaten tracks, he penetrated to Pitigliano, and thence made an excursion to Sovana, in quest of antiquities. Being aware that that place was known only as the site of the Roman Suana, he had no reason to expect relics of Etruscan times; yet, having established such an antiquity for Pitigliano, be shrewdly suspected the same for the neighbouring site. Here he inquired for antiquities. Antiquities ! -“che roba è ?" Nobody had heard of such "stuff" at Sovana. From the provost to the hind, all were alike ignorant. But his curiosity was excited by some columbasia and rock-hewn tombs of familiar character, and he proceeded to explore the sur. rounding ravines. His suspicions were soon confirmed. Here were tombs with rock-hewn façades, as at Norchia and Castel d'Asso; and, :f following the range of cliffs, he came to a monument in the form of a temple, in a style both unique and beautiful. His surprise and delight at this discovery explained to the villagers who accompanied him the nature of the objects he was seeking. They were no less astonished to find a stranger display such interest in what, to their simple mind, was meaningless, or was regarded as a mere scherzo," - a freak of Nature imitating Art, or a fanciful work carved in an idle and wanton mood by the “rude forefathers of the hamlet.” Scherzi, scherzi ! -- is that the roba you want? There are plenty “ of such whims !” cried they ; and they led him on from one rock. hewn monument to another, which excited his surprise and admiration more and more, by their multitude, variety, and novel character, and afforded him convincing evidence of the Etruscan origin of Sovana. He returned day after day to the spot, and, in defiance of a midsummer sun, and its noxious influences, persevered till he had made finished drawings of the most remarkable monuments, and taken their dimensions with the fullest detail. In truth, he has left little to be done by future visitors to Sovana, so detailed and accurate are his notices and drawings, and such the zeal with which he prosecuted his researches for the benefit of antiquarian science.' (Vol. i. p. 413.)

Such an instance may well provoke the emulation of the most sluggish archæologist; and we cannot but hope that Mr. Dennis's book may not only be the means of inducing many of our countrymen to visit the less-frequented spots which it describes, but that some few, at least, will imitate his example, and look out for regions which neither scholar nor antiquary has even yet explored. We can assure them that there yet remains an ample field for their researches. However well Mr. Dennis and his friend, Mr. Ainslie, may have beaten the ground of ancient Etruria, large portions of the Roman States, and a vast extent of the kingdom of Naples, are, up to the present time, comparatively unknown. Even the ancient cities which border the Latin Way and the Volscian mountains — the gigantic monuments of Segni, Norba, and Alatri - have never been adequately described in any work generally accessible to the English reader: while the Cyclopean cities of the central Apennines, and the remains of Greek art and civilisation in the south, still await the investigation of some future antiquary, — daring enough to encounter the often imaginary dangers of the banditti of Calabria and the Abruzzi, as well as the more real and certain discomforts and hardships incidental to such a tour.

Whenever any such enterprising traveller shall arise, he will not want our recommendation to take Mr. Dennis for his

pattern. To a familiar acquaintance with ancient authors, as well as the results of more recent researches, he must add the not less indispensable familiarity with the language and the manners of the modern Italians; a lively interest in their local peculiarities and customs, and that cheerful disposition to please and to be pleased, without which no traveller ought to adventure himself out of the highroads between capital and capital. It is not the least pleasing feature of Mr. Dennis's very pleasing book, that it bears throughout the impress of a kindly feeling towards the present occupants of the lands through which he has been wandering: a feeling with which we have generally found the traveller in Italy to be possessed, more or less strongly, in proportion as he has deviated more or less widely from the beaten track of tourists and milordi Inglesi.' Among the many useful hints which Mr. Dennis records for the benefit of future travellers on the necessary topics of accommodation, guides, and the like, it is only where he comes across the high roads that any warnings occur against imposition or extor

These passing intimations are almost the only paragraphs which, from time to time, recall the reader to what, if we may judge from the preface, would appear to have been the original scope of Mr. Dennis's work - à Handbook in Etruria. We cannot but rejoice at the change; for, if two goodly volumes are both too bulky and too costly for a mere traveller's manual, they are also something of a far higher order. They are a valuable storehouse of classical and antiquarian lore to every scholar; and the most general reader must be attracted by their pleasant, though somewhat discursive style. In this respect Mr. Dennis's book reminds us not a little of Mr. Ford's very entertaining Handbook for Spain, - a work which, in its original form, deviated almost as widely from its primary object, but in which the most unfriendly critic could scarcely find fault with an inconsistency which produced something so much better than that which it originally promised.

There is one other quality which, if not absolutely necessary to the antiquarian traveller, augments indefinitely his enjoyment -- a keen sensibility to the beauties of nature. We have rarely met with descriptions of Italian scenery, at once so striking and so characteristic, as those with which Mr. Dennis has interspersed the drier details of antiquarian topography. It is difficult, indeed, to imagine that any one should ever take the trouble of climbing to the lofty sites generally selected by the Etruscans for their cities, and, at the same time, be so cold as not to pause and dwell on the amphitheatre of goodly view' which unfolds itself before him; or dive into the deep ravines, in whose rocky sides are hewn the sepulchres of the earliest inhabitants, without being sensibly affected both by the picturesqueness and the solemn grandeur of the scene. How often, too, is the beautiful landscape rich in names — the names of many a stately mar

ket-place, and many a fruitful plain,' — which lovers of Roman history and Roman literature can scarcely look upon with indifference, even when caught only in glancing over a dictionary or a map

Our narrow limits preclude us from now presenting our readers with any of Mr. Dennis's glowing panoramas; or from doing wore than referring, as an example, to his description of the Maremma of Tuscany (vol. ii. p. 210, &c.); - a region almost unknown to English tourists, though accessible by good roads from Leghorn or Siena, and abounding in picturesque and beautiful scenery, as well as in remarkable relics of antiquity. Perhaps in this instance its reputation for unhealthiness has contributed to keep travellers aloof; but it may be visited with perfect safety both in winter and spring, however perilous during the burning heats of summer.

It is equally out of our power to accompany our author, at present, to the various sites to which he invites the traveller and the antiquary,– promising to reward them either by extant monuments which attest the former existence of towns almost unknown to fame, -as at Castel d'Asso, Norchia, or Sovana, or by relics of those great and powerful cities with whose renown we have been familiar from our school days. All that we can now attempt is, a brief summary of the results of modern investigations as exhibited in these pages, and to point VOL. XC. NO. CLXXXI.

I

out what has actually been learnt, from the still existing remains of Etruria, concerning her earlier condition.

Of these remains it must be admitted that the relics of her cities contribute but little substantial knowledge. In a topographical point of view, indeed, much has been effected of late years; and the student of ancient greatness will rarely have his interest disturbed by any doubts respecting the identity of the sites which he is visiting. Questions of this kind may have but slight interest for the general reader; yet it is impossible not to pause for a moment over the various fortunes of those rival cities, which, in the palmy days of Etruscan power, were the noblest of the land. Among all which are recognised members of the great Etruscan Twelve,' — the heads of the confederacy, and the capitals of as many sovereign states, — Perugia alone retains any portion of her former importance, together with abundant evidence in her remains significant of that importance Volterra and Cortona preserve not only their old names and original positions,— far too strongly marked out by nature to be readily abandoned, - but are still girt, in part, by their ancient walls of rude and massive masonry; though the space enclosed is become a world too wide' for the shrunk dimensions of the modern towns. The equally massive walls of Rosellæ, on the contrary, will now be found in a desert wilderness; and the hill which they crown is so thickly overgrown with thorny brushwood, as to test severely the zeal of the antiquary and the strength of his clothing. On the other hand, Chiusi, which was fast going to decay in the days of Dante*, has been arrested in the progress of its decline; and a tolerably thriving little town of two or three thousand inhabitants still occupies the site of the illustrious capital of Lars Porsena. The modern towns of Arezzo and Bolsena, while they have perpetuated the names of the Etruscan Arretium and Volsinii, in all probability do not stand on the old foundations, but on those of later Roman colonies. A somewhat similar transfer has taken place in the case of Falerii ; for though Sir W. Gell has thought fit to regard the ancient walls and towers still visible at Sta. Maria di Falleri as those of the ancient Etruscan city, there can be no doubt of their belonging to a much later period, when the inhabitants of Falerii were transported thither by the Romans after their last . fruitless insurrection. Mr. Dennis has given very satisfactory

Se tu riguardi Luni ed Urbisaglia
Come son ite, e come se ne vanno
Diretro ad esse Chiusi e Sinigaglia.'

Paradiso, c. xvi.

« AnteriorContinuar »