Chapter XVI. Geneva to Turin.

Switzerland has two national languages, the German and the French, both of which are recognized by the Government. Geneva is French, so I had some trouble in getting my information and procuring a ticket for Italy. I left Geneva at 6:40 a.m., September 10th; and after passing through a number of tunnels, one of which required 5-1/2 minutes of moderate railway speed, we arrived at Bellegarde, on the French border, and passed muster. From 9:00 to 10:00 o'clock we were detained at Culoz, and by noon we saw the snow-covered Alps again. At 3:30 p.m., we arrived at Modane and passed muster for Italy.

Mont Cenis Tunnel.

We entered the mouth of this great tunnel, over 8 miles in length, at 4:58-1/2 p.m., and were exactly 26 minutes in the very bowels of the earth, where absolute darkness reigns. Temperature in the middle, 59 deg. Fahrenheit.


We now come to a country which contrasts as strangely with the nations of western Europe, as those do with America, or as Alpine Switzerland does with the rest of the world. When I parted at Paris with my New York friend, he bound for Rome, I for the north, we still had our school-boy ideas of Germany, Switzerland and Italy; and I shall never forget the remark which he then made, and which embodied my notions and anticipations perhaps as well as his own. He said, "I suppose we have now seen the brightest side of the picture, the trouble is that scenes will now become tamer as we advance toward the cradle of humanity." I had been pleasantly disappointed almost every time that I entered a new country, but now, as I was entering Italy, I expected that I would surely not see much to interest me except her rich stores of art and the ancient ruins. But less than a day at Turin convinced me that I had by no means entered a country whose people were behind hand in civilization and refinement; and when on my way from Turin to Milan I saw how much clearer and brighter the blue heavens were, how much sweeter the air smelt than any I had ever breathed before, (not excepting that of Paris, even), and how much fairer the people were than any other that I had yet seen, I felt that I must surely be on the border of that charming paradise which the poets make of Italy, but for which I had never given them due credit.

Italy's Fair Sons and Daughters.

I now come to a dry subject, especially for old people; but numbers of my young friends, among them several editors and teachers, requested me very earnestly to take particular notice which country contained the fairest specimens of the human species. Why these literary characters are so deeply interested in this question, I cannot tell, but my duty is plain enough - they want "a true and impartial statement of the facts," which I will endeavor to render them. I observed everywhere that culture and personal beauty always go together. When I came to a city that had clean and beautiful streets and houses, I invariably found good looking people there; but in the rural districts generally, and in suburbs and wretched towns, beauty and culture are at a lower ebb. I now refer to that form of beauty which is dependent upon personal accomplishments and intellectual endowments and culture - that beauty which beams from an intellectual countenance and sparkles from eyes that glisten with pleasure. That is the kind of beauty that renders 90 per cent. of the individuals in all cultivated society acceptable, and 20 per cent. charming and attractive, but which is wanting to nine tenths of those who cannot, or do not, pay attention to cultivation and refinement. There are a very few persons whose forms and features please and fascinate even without the aid of accomplishments. These may be said to be possessed of native beauty, which is met with very seldom in all countries that have a climate unfavorable to health. If I had not gone to Italy, I should not have hesitated to give my preference to the mild climate of Paris, where health and beauty are the natural result of a warm temperature, almost semi-tropical in mildness, and where the highest art assists to make every grace shine. But when I saw how nature dotes upon Italy, I felt as if she was only acting the step-mother to the rest of the world. The loveliest portion of Italy is the valley of the Po. One sees fewer sickly or consumptive people in some parts of England, France and Germany, than in our section of America, but in Turin and Milan every person looks hale, healthy, happy and beautiful, from the tender days of infancy to a ripe old age.

Nothing that I saw in Europe surprised me more than to come so suddenly into the midst of a people whose very countenance bear the bloom of youth, even until the gray locks of age appear.

Old age even knows no wingles here! I know that it seems incredible to any one that has never been in warmer climes, but the word beauty has a new meaning here. The glow which is lambent upon the faces of the sons and daughters of this section of sunny Italy, is something that I never saw elsewhere, and that cannot be described. It is a solemn truth, that nine tenths of all the ladies of Turin and Milan are perfect beauties; and I need not say less for the full round forms of the gentlemen. Only after I had observed that several very fair persons, who happened, to pass near me, had gray hair, did I notice that the bloom of youth still glows upon the faces of those who are 35 to 40 years of age! When I first came into this paradise of fairy angels, (for a paradise is the valley of the Po), I mistook this bloom of youth and glow of health and vigor for the lambent flames which flash from the countenances of the intellectual - it seemed to me that I must be surrounded by a halo of literary sages and muses, all gifted alike with every grace and charm that nature can bestow or art improve; but when I observed the youths at work in the fields and the maidens at the garden gates, who turned for a moment from their respective tasks to see our train move along, look as happy, as gay and as beautiful as the belles of the cafes and the beaus of the cities, I concluded that it must be the healthy state of the body that makes every face look rosy and bright in this fair and sunny clime. At Milan I asked some of my companions how far this paradise of beauties extended southward in Italy. "To Florence," was the answer. But I did not find that to be quite correct, for though Florence may have more fair people than any northern city, the proportion of beauties to the whole population, which is perhaps ninety per cent, in Turin and Milan, cannot be more than 20 or 30 per cent, in Florence. In order to be able to correct any false impression that I might have imbibed in my first visit to the valley of the Po, I paid particular attention to the same subject on my return from Egypt. At Milan there was then an immense concourse of people assembled from all parts of Europe to see Emperor William of Germany and King Victor Emanuel of Italy parade the streets of that elegant city, with a retinue of over 20,000 soldiers; the consequence was, that the fair people of Milan were lost in the multitude. But on my return to Turin, I found that her beautiful sons and daughters, again presented the same dream-like and enchanting scene of a pleasure-garden full of fair and merry beings possessed of angelic beauty, and enjoying their blessed existance just as I had seen them a month before.

I met travelers that say the same thing of Nature's children in other sunny lands - Spain for example. The truth seems to be, that in warm climates only, will man attain that perfect healthy and beautiful physical development which has constituted the model of the artist and the theme of the poet, in every age. I have heard some pronounce the statue of Venus de Medici, the ideal perfection of female form and beauty. It is probably as near as sculpture can reach it, but who would suppose that a white stone could do justice to the beauty of a pure child of nature? The marble may present a most perfect form; but what becomes of the glow of life and flush of beauty upon the maiden's cheek, the ruby lips and the grace and elegance of her movements and winning manners? We may speak of ideal beauty in countries where the physical development of the inhabitants is blasted by the severities of the extreme heat and cold of an inhospitable clime, where the blasts of winter make every form shiver for many months of the year; but the superior beauty of the daughters of Northern Italy, if they were placed side by side with Venus de Medici, would laugh that frigid form to scorn! As compared with these, I thought I had seen no others that could either talk or laugh or walk!

The Italians live upon a very simple diet. When I first saw numbers of them make meals of dry bread and fruit, I supposed poverty impelled them to partake of so scant a diet, but by the time I came back from Egypt, I too had learned to sit down and eat dry bread and grapes together, though I could procure meat as cheap in Italy as elsewhere in Europe. It is not advisable to partake of much meat in any warm country. Any one may form an idea of what kind of a consumer of food cold is, when he reflects how much more flesh we consume in winter than in summer. I did not partake of more than half the amount of food in southern Italy and Egypt that I needed in England, Germany or Switzerland, and there is little room for doubt that many Italians do with one third of the amount of food that we require in the severer climate of the Middle States. I was always reminded of the story of "Cornaro the Italian," related in Wilson's Fourth Reader, whenever I saw them eat their simple meals. It is very singular, too, that they should all look full, healthy and robust; and many of us, on the contrary, lean and sickly. Twelve ounces of solid food and thirteen ounces of drink, seems a very spare supply to an American, but I do not believe that it is accounted very extraordinary in Italy.


The praises of the magnificence and splendor of the Cathedral of Milan are sung all over the world. It is nearly 500 feet long and 250 feet wide through the transepts, covering an area of almost two acres and three quarters! The height of the nave is 150 feet! Its entire walls, and its pinnacles, spire and roof are all constructed of fine marble. The spire is over 350 feet high. The marble slabs constituting the roof are about three inches thick; how enormous the weight of that roof must be! Each of the 135 pinnacles or smaller spires is crowned with a statue, and throngs of others (some 4,500) ornament the outside of this magnificent building. The interior of this edifice is one of the most imposing in the world. As I looked at the rich decorations and delicate traceries of its high ceiling, 150 feet above me, I felt as if no human being could be worthy of enjoying such a magnificent view. But, "unless a language be invented full of lance-headed characters, and Gothic vagaries of arch and finial, flower and fruit, bird and beast," the beauties and glories of the temples of Italy, and her unparalleled galleries of art, can never be described. From Milan I went to Vicenza, where I spent a sleepless night in skirmishes with the mosquitoes! The number and variety of obnoxious insects multiplies fearfully as one approaches the topical regions. Thence I went to


As I was very much disappointed with Venice, I shall not occupy much time in describing this daughter of the sea. The railway bridge which leads to this city is about two miles long. I expected that a city whose streets are canals and whose carriages are all boats, would present a very unique appearance, but when I once saw them, they were so exactly what I had anticipated, that I felt disgusted and left the city without doing justice even to the vast collection of paintings in the Ducal Palace, which alone is worth going a great distance to see.

San Marco.

The church of San Marco is one of the grandest and most wonderful structures in Italy, and I can only refrain from copying Ruskin's very fine description of it, because his account, though true in every particular, would, to one who has never seen any of the architectural glories of Italy, seem more like the attempt of a poet to depict in glowing language the vagaries of a dream, than like the description of an edifice really in existance.

On the Piazza above the portal of San Marco, stand the celebrated bronze horses "which Constantine carried from Rome to Constantinople, whence Marino Zeno brought them hither in 1205; they were taken to Paris by Napoleon in 1797, but restored by the Allies in 1815."