May 26th. - At six o'clock this morning, we packed ourselves into our vettura, my wife and I occupying the coupe, and drove out of the city gate of Terni. There are some old towers near it, ruins of I know not what, and care as little, in the plethora of antiquities and other interesting objects. Through the arched gateway, as we approached, we had a view of one of the great hills that surround the town, looking partly bright in the early sunshine, and partly catching the shadows of the clouds that floated about the sky. Our way was now through the Vale of Terni, as I believe it is called, where we saw somewhat of the fertility of Italy: vines trained on poles, or twining round mulberry and other trees, ranged regularly like orchards; groves of olives and fields of grain. There are interminable shrines in all sorts of situations; some under arched niches, or little penthouses, with a brick-tiled roof, just large enough to cover them; or perhaps in some bit of old Roman masonry, on the wall of a wayside inn, or in a shallow cavity of the natural rock, or high upward in the deep cuts of the road; everywhere, in short, so that nobody need be at a loss when he feels the religious sentiment stir within him. Our way soon began to wind among the hills, which rose steep and lofty from the scanty, level space that lay between; they continually thrust themselves across the passage, and appeared as if determined to shut us completely in. A great hill would put its foot right before us; but, at the last moment, would grudgingly withdraw it, and allow us just room enough to creep by. Adown their sides we discerned the dry beds of mountain torrents, which had lived too fierce a life to let it be a long one. On here and there a hillside or promontory we saw a ruined castle or a convent, looking from its commanding height upon the road, which very likely some robber-knight had formerly infested with his banditti, retreating with his booty to the security of such strongholds. We came, once in a while, to wretched villages, where there was no token of prosperity or comfort; but perhaps there may have been more than we could appreciate, for the Italians do not seem to have any of that sort of pride which we find in New England villages, where every man, according to his taste and means, endeavors to make his homestead an ornament to the place. We miss nothing in Italy more than the neat doorsteps and pleasant porches and thresholds and delightful lawns or grass-plots, which hospitably invite the imagination into a sweet domestic interior. Everything, however sunny and luxuriant may be the scene around, is especially dreary and disheartening in the immediate vicinity of an Italian home.
At Strettura (which, as the name indicates, is a very narrow part of the valley) we added two oxen to our horses, and began to ascend the Monte Somma, which, according to Murray, is nearly four thousand feet high where we crossed it. When we came to the steepest part of the ascent, Gaetano, who exercises a pretty decided control over his passengers, allowed us to walk; and we all, with one exception, alighted, and began to climb the mountain on foot. I walked on briskly, and soon left the rest of the party behind, reaching the top of the pass in such a short time that I could not believe it, and kept onward, expecting still another height to climb. But the road began to descend, winding among the depths of the hills as heretofore; now beside the dry, gravelly bed of a departed stream, now crossing it by a bridge, and perhaps passing through some other gorge, that yet gave no decided promise of an outlet into the world beyond. A glimpse might occasionally be caught, through a gap between the hill-tops, of a company of distant mountain-peaks, pyramidal, as these hills are apt to be, and resembling the camp of an army of giants. The landscape was not altogether savage; sometimes a hillside was covered with a rich field of grain, or an orchard of olive-trees, looking not unlike puffs of smoke, from the peculiar line of their foliage; but oftener there was a vast mantle of trees and shrubbery from top to bottom, the golden tufts of the broom shining out amid the verdure, and gladdening the whole. Nothing was dismal except the houses; those were always so, whether the compact, gray lines of village hovels, with a narrow street between, or the lonely farm-house, standing far apart from the road, built of stone, with window-gaps high in the wall, empty of glass; or the half-castle, half-dwelling, of which I saw a specimen or two, with what looked like a defensive rampart, drawn around its court. I saw no look of comfort anywhere; and continually, in this wild and solitary region, I met beggars, just as if I were still in the streets of Rome. Boys and girls kept beside me, till they delivered me into the hands of others like themselves; hoary grandsires and grandmothers caught a glimpse of my approach, and tottered as fast as they could to intercept me; women came out of the cottages, with rotten cherries on a plate, entreating me to buy them for a mezzo baioccho; a man, at work on the road, left his toil to beg, and was grateful for the value of a cent; in short, I was never safe from importunity, as long as there was a house or a human being in sight.