A PILGRIMAGE TO PETRARCH'S HOUSE AT ARQUA.
We said, during summer days at Venice, when every campo was a furnace seven times heated, and every canal was filled with boiling bathers, "As soon as it rains we will go to Arqua." Remembering the ardors of an April sun on the long, level roads of plain, we could not think of them in August without a sense of dust clogging every pore, and eyes that shrank from the vision of their blinding whiteness. So we stayed in Venice, waiting for rain, until the summer had almost lapsed into autumn; and as the weather cooled before any rain reached us, we took the moisture on the main-land for granted, and set out under a cloudy and windy sky.
We had to go to Padua by railway, and take carriage thence to Arqua upon the road to Ferrara. I believe no rule of human experience was violated when it began to rain directly after we reached Padua, and continued to rain violently the whole day. We gave up this day entirely to the rain, and did not leave Padua until the following morning when we count that our pilgrimage to Petrarch's house actually began.
The rain had cooled and freshened the air, but it was already too late in the season for the summer to recover herself with the elastic brilliancy that follows the rain of July or early August; and there was I know not what vague sentiment of autumn in the weather. There was not yet enough of it to stir the
"Tears from the depth of some divine despair;"
but in here and there a faded leaf (for in Europe death is not glorified to the foliage as in our own land), in the purple of the ripening grapes, and in the tawny grass of the pastures, there was autumn enough to touch our spirits, and while it hardly affected the tone of the landscape, to lay upon us the gentle and pensive spell of its presence. Of all the days in the year I would have chosen this to go pilgrim to the house of Petrarch.
The Euganean Hills, on one of which the poet's house is built, are those mellow heights which you see when you look southwest across the lagoon at Venice. In misty weather they are blue, and in clear weather silver, and the October sunset loves them. They rise in tender azure before you as you issue from the southern gate of Padua, and grow in loveliness as you draw nearer to them from the rich plain that washes their feet with endless harvests of oil and wine.
Oh beauty that will not let itself be told! Could I not take warning from another, and refrain from this fruitless effort of description? A friend in Padua had lent me Disraeli's "Venetia," because a passage of the story occurs in Petrarch's house at Arqua, and we carried the volumes with us on our pilgrimage. I would here quote the description of the village, the house, and the hills from this work, as faultlessly true, and as affording no just idea of either; but nothing of it has remained in my mind except the geological fact that the hills are a volcanic range. To tell the truth, the landscape, as we rode along, continually took my mind off the book, and I could not give that attention either to the elegant language of its descriptions, or the adventures of its well-born characters, which they deserved. I was even more interested in the disreputable-looking person who mounted the box beside our driver directly we got out of the city gate, and who invariably commits this infringement upon your rights in Italy, no matter how strictly and cunningly you frame your contract that no one else is to occupy any part of the carriage but yourself. He does not seem to be the acquaintance of the driver, for they never exchange a word, and he does not seem to pay any thing for the ride. He got down, in this instance, just before we reached the little town at which our driver stopped, and asked us if we wished to drink a glass of the wine of the country. We did not, but his own thirst seemed to answer equally well, and he slaked it cheerfully at our cost.
The fields did not present the busy appearance which had delighted us on the same road in the spring, but they had that autumnal charm already mentioned. Many of the vine-leaves were sear; the red grapes were already purple, and the white grapes pearly ripe, and they formed a gorgeous necklace for the trees, around which they clung in opulent festoons. Then, dearer to our American hearts than this southern splendor, were the russet fields of Indian corn, and, scattered among the shrunken stalks, great nuggets of the "harmless gold" of pumpkins.
At Battaglia (the village just beyond which you turn off to go to Arqua) there was a fair, on the blessed occasion of some saint's day, and there were many booths full of fruits, agricultural implements, toys, clothes, wooden ware, and the like. There was a great crowd and a noise, but, according to the mysterious Italian custom, nobody seemed to be buying or selling. I am in the belief that a small purchase of grapes we made here on our return was the great transaction of the day, unless, indeed, the neat operation in alms achieved at our expense by a mendicant villager may be classed commercially.
When we turned off from the Rovigo road at Battaglia we were only three miles from Arqua.
Now, all the way from this turning to the foot of the hill on which the village was stretched asleep in the tender sunshine, there was on either side of the road a stream of living water. There was no other barrier than this between the road and the fields (unless the vines swinging from tree to tree formed a barrier), and, as if in graceful excuse for the interposition of even these slender streams, Nature had lavished such growth of wild flowers and wild berries on the banks that it was like a garden avenue, through the fragrance and beauty of which we rolled, delighted to silence, almost to sadness.