« AnteriorContinuar »
SKETCHES OF ITALY IN PROSE AND VERSE.
No. 1.-Passage of the Alps.
And yet I linger-Yes, thou power sublime,
Its heaven-aspiring faculties. Power, might,
Nature, these mental spectres haunt not thee.
April 5. We left the small town of St. Michael at break of day, and at the first post arrived at Modene, situated very romantically at the entrance of a deep defile of precipitous mountains. From Modene we began very perceptibly to ascend, although the commencement of the passage of Mont Cenis is not reckoned from this place, but from Lans-le-bourg, a stage farther. The scenery, upon our leaving Modene, assumed the wildest and most magnificent character: the precipices were sudden and deep, the valleys below hollowed out into a variety of savage forms, and their natural gloom increased by the thick woods of pine which overhung them; the mountains peaked and covered with snow, and projecting their bleak and barren sides and straight unbroken lines into the glens beneath. At Lans-le-bourg we had attained an elevation above the sea of more than 4000 feet. From this place the ascent became more rapid: we were forced to put on an additional pair of horses to the carriage, and to take with us some peasants, to assist in supporting its weight on the edge of the precipices, which, by the accumulation of snow, were rendered more than usually dangerous. We proceeded on foot, in order to have a more perfect view of the scenery. The road ascended by long traverses, six of which, each a mile in length, led from Lans-le-bourg to the highest point of Mont Cenis which it was necessary to pass. Our prospect was dreary in the extreme: on every side we saw wide-expanded snows, interrupted only by dark woods of pine, which stretched up the mountains. The snows were in some parts so deep, that the posts which are placed at the edge of the road to mark its direction, and which must be at least sixteen feet high, were alınost covered. The snowy masses impended over our heads from the verge of perpendicular cliffs, and threatened to descend and overwhelm us as we passed; or they had fallen across the road, and had been cut through by the workmen constantly employed on Mont Cenis, in order to afford a passage. Whether Hannibal passed over Mont Cenis or not has been a subject of debate and inquiry. It is, however, impossible to cross it without perpetually recurring to the adventures of the Punic chief, and the admirable narrative of his historian. “Ex propinquo visa montium altitudo, nivesque cælo prope immixtæ, tecta informia imposita rupibus, pecora jumentaque torrida frigore, homines intonsi et inculti, animalia inanimaque omnia rigentia gelu, cætera visu quàm dictu fædiora terrorem renovarunt.” The day was very cold, and the wind
rushing down the deep gorges of the mountain, and bringing with it particles of snow, beat directly in our faces, and added much to the difficulty of the ascent. · We however reached the highest part of the road in about two hours and a half. We then traversed a dreary plain, completely buried under the snow, from one part of which we had a fine view of the bighest peak of Mont Cenis, which, as we passed, burst for a few moments from the clouds that surrounded it, and then retired again into obscurity. On this plain is situated a convent, the monks of which are especially charged with the care and protection of the distressed traveller. Near the convent is a lake which I conclude to be the one which Strabo notices as the sources of the rivers Druentias and Durias. At a short distance beyond, near a single house called the Grande Croix, we found sledges waiting for us. We placed ourselves in them, and began to descend very rapidly. Each sledge was drawn by a mule, and guided by an athletic weatherbeaten mountaineer. In one place the descent was so rapid, that my guide dismissed the mule, and directed the sledge down a shelving bank of snow, so steep that my own weight was sufficient to impel it with considerable velocity. Nothing could be wilder than the whole scene. The mountaineers with their sledges bounding from rock to rock, or sliding with their burden down the ridges of congealed snow; the bare broad cliff's hung with icicles, or the torrent suspended in its course by the frost; the road winding above our heads in short traverses, down which was seen at a distance the carriage slowly descending; a rude bridge thrown across a chasm or mountain-stream; the deep black valley below, in which appeared the small solitary village half buried beneath the impending rocks; and the vast amphitheatre of Mont Cenis, with its attendant mountains closing in every
di. rection around us, covered with snow and veiled in clouds—all together formed a scene of impressive magnificence and desolation. left our sledges at a small place called San Nicolo, and descended in our carriage the rest of the way to Susa, along an excellent road. We soon perceived that we were approaching a warmer climate; the snow disappeared altogether from the edges of the roads, although at the corresponding elevation on the side of Savoy it was several feet deep; the air was much milder, and breathed upon us the balmy softness of Italy. About an hour before we reached the foot of the mountain, Susa was visible, deeply sunk amidst the cliff's of great elevation. As we descended, and as the mountains by which we had been so long surrounded gradually opened, we caught a glimpse of the distant Italian plains and hills, seen through the vista of the termination of the range of Cenis. At one point the view was extremely beautiful: vineyards and majestic woods of chesnut formed the foreground; the small village of Novalese, with the spire of its church, appeared a little beyond; Susa still farther; and the river Duria, winding amidst the dark cliffs of the Alps, seemed to steal along with delight to the purple hills and green plains of Italy, which were seen faintly in the distance.
ON THE ORIGIN AND CELEBRATION OF EASTER. THERE are but few, even in the number of those who have oftenest participated in the commemoration of Easter, that are acquainted with the origin and early observances of that festival. We will therefore cast a glance backwards at the ways of our Christian ancestors ; rather with a view to satisfy the cravings of human inquisitiveness, than with any intent to point out those to obloquy, whose zeal, perseverance, and constancy, have bequeathed to us the rich legacy of a faith, the practices and promises of which enhance human happiness, and afford us a sublunary foretaste of “the bliss immortal.”
The festival of Easter took its birth from the Paschal feast of the Jews: for the first Christians retained many of the Mosaic customs and celebrations, and in the sequel, either abolished them altogether, or rendered them typical of some remarkable occurrence in the annals of their religion. In this way they came to adopt the Paschal feast of the Jews, in the first instance, with all its customary observances, little careful of observing it as a commemoration of the resurrection of their Saviour. The Jews held this feast on the 14th day of the month “Nisan:” and the Eastern Christians began by celebrating it, conjointly with their rivals, on the same day. The Western church, however, did not follow their example in the day of its appointment; but kept this festival on the Sunday immediately succeeding the full moon of the Vernal Equinox, using a tradition of the apostles Peter and Paul as their authority for this variation. These two churches, therefore, observed the Easter feast at two different periods; but nei. ther entered the lists against the other until Pius, Bishop of Rome, took occasion to ordain that it should be kept on a Sunday throughout Christendom. Anticetas, his successor, rigidly enforced this ordinance: and Victor, the Roman Bishop, afterwards held a synod at Rome, which decreed, that the Paschal feast should never be kept in correspondence with the Jewish observance, but should always be celebrated on a Sunday. The Bishops of the Western churches, however, having refused to conform with the synodical ordinance, were denounced in excommunication by Victor ; but the papistical ban was subsequently recalled, and the Eastern Christians continued in the practice of siding with the Jews in the keeping of this festival. The general assembly of the church at Nice, in 325, ultimately decreed, that Easter should be held on the first Sunday after the full moon of the spring by the whole of Christendom. And its celebration now received another character. The Paschal feast of the Jews, in commemoration of the departure of the people of Israel from Egypt, was henceforward to be converted into a memorial of Christ's resurrection, as that event was known to have taken place on a Sunday; and it was to be observed also in the spring, as at this season the resurrection had taken place, though the precise day of its occurrence had not been handed down. From these circumstances we are naturally led to infer, that the early Christians little concerned themselves about the resurrection itselt in their paschal festival; otherwise, the recollection of the exact day in the year of that memorable event would scarcely have been lost.
The decree of the council was generally recognised throughout the Christian world; and the few who persisted in adhering to the Jewish
custom, were called the “Quartodecimani.” With a view to prevent any mistake in the future celebration of Easter, the Vernal Equinox was fixed for the 21st of March, although it does not always fall on this day according to astronomical computation.
The derivation of our English name of “ Easter," we are warranted in tracing back to our Saxon ancestors, who called this feast the “Oster fest:"-the word “Ost,” of old, signifying the East, in which quarter the sun rises; and being the more suitable a designation, since scripture acquaints us, that our Saviour “very early in the morning, when it was yet dark, had risen from the grave.” Hence it became a common custom on Easter-day to rise before the sun, which an old tradition made our ancestors believe was used to dance on that morning. The early Christians, indeed, were accustomed to devote the night preceding it to prayers and thanksgivings until the time of cockcrow, which they conceived to be the moment of Christ's resurrection. And when these noctural observances fell into disuse, it became the custom to rise early and spend the morning in pious devotions, and walking in the fields; and the usual salutation, which even now prevails in the Greek church, was " Jesus Christ is risen ;" to which the person accosted, replied, “ The Lord is risen indeed.” This was accompanied by the interchange of " Paschal eggs," stained with various colours, and devices emblematic of the resurrection; they are referred to in the following form of benediction, contained in the Ritual of Pope Paul the Fifth, “made for the use of England, Ireland, and Scotland.” It runs in these words : “ Bless, O Lord, we beseech thee, this thy creature of eggs, that it may become a wholesome sustenance to thy faithful servants, eating it in thankfulness to thee, on account of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, with thee," &c. Dr. Chandler, in his Eastern travels, received from the Greeks “presents of coloured eggs, and cakes of Easter bread :" from which last our custom of cross-buns on Good Friday probably arose.
The usage of interchanging eggs at this season has been referred for its origin to the egg games of the Roinans, w'.ich they celebrated at the time of our Easter, when they ran races in an oval, egg shaped ring, and the victor received eggs as his prize. These games were instituted in honour of Castor and Pollux, whom fabulists relate to have come forth from an egg, deposited by Leda after Jupiter had visited ber in the shape of a swan. Others allege that the custom was borrowed from the Jews, who, at their passover, set on the table two unleavened cakes, and two pieces of the lamb; to this they added some small fishes, because of the Leviathan; a hard egg, because of the bird Ziz; and some meal, because of the Behemoth. We will only add in reference to this custom, that Ray has recorded an old proverb, running—“I'll warrant you for an egg at Easter:"which points at the descent of this custom to later times.
Amongst the other symbols of the Easter season, it was formerly customary for work to cease and servants to be at liberty; and this resembled the practice of the early Christians, who set apart the whole week after Easter, in order that they might praise and glorify God for the Redeemer's resurrection. But without detaining the reader farther, we must refer him at once to a popular work,* for some curious
• Brand's Antiquities of the Common People.