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Letter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Travels through France and Italy

by Tobias Smollett

published by J. Mundell & Co.
Edinburgh, 1796.

The text is in the public domain.


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Letter

(p434) Letter XXV

Nice, Jan. 1, 1765.

Dear Sir,

It was in deference to your opinion, reinforced by my own inclination, and the repeated advice of other friends, that I resolved upon my late excursion to Italy. I could plainly perceive from the anxious solicitude and pressing exhortations continued in all the letters I had lately received from my correspondents in Britain, that you had all despaired of my recovery. You advised me to make a pilgrimage among the Alps, and the advice was good. In scrambling among those mountains, I should have benefited by the exercise, and at the same time have breathed a cool, pure, salubrious air, which, in all probability would have expelled the slow fever arising in a great measure from the heat of this climate. But I wanted a companion and a fellow-traveller, whose conversation and society could alleviate the horrors of solitude. Besides, I was not strong enough to encounter the want of conveniencies, and even of necessities to p435which I must have been exposed in the course of such an expedition. My worthy friend Dr. A—, earnestly entreated me to try the effect of a sea-voyage, which you know has been found of wonderful efficacy in consumptive cases. After some deliberation, I resolved upon the scheme, which I have now happily executed. I had a most eager curiosity to see the antiquities of Florence and Rome: I longed impatiently to view those wonderful edifices, statues, and pictures, which I had so often admired in prints and descriptions. I felt an enthusiastic ardour to tread that very classical ground which had been the scene of so many great achievements; and I could not bear the thought of returning to England from the very skirts of Italy, without having penetrated to the capital of that renowned country. With regard to my health, I knew I could manage matters so as to enjoy all the benefits that could be expected from the united energy of a voyage year sea, a journey by land, and a change of climate.

Rome is betwixt four and five hundred miles distant from Nice, and one half of the way I was resolved to travel by water. Indeed, there is no other way of going from hence to Genoa, unless you take a mule, and clamber along the mountains at the rate of two miles an hour, and at the risk of breaking your neck every minute. The Appennine mountains, which are no other than a continuation of the Maritime Alps, form an almost continued precipice from Ville Franche to Lerici, which is almost forty-five miles on the other side of Genoa; and as they are generally washed by the sea, there is no beach or shore, consequently the road is carried along the face of the rocks, except at certain small intervals, which are occupied by towns and villages. But as there is a road for mules and foot passengers, it might certainly be enlarged and improved so as to render it practicable by chaises and other wheel-carriages, and a toll might be exacted, which, in a little time, would defray the expence: For certainly no person who travels to Italy, from England, Holland, France, or Spain, would make a troublesome circuit to pass the Alps by the way of Savoy and Piedmont, if he could p436have the convenience of going post by the way of Aix, Antibes, and Nice, along the side of the Mediterranean, and through the Riviera of Genoa, which, from the sea, affords the most agreeable and amazing prospect I ever beheld. What pity it is they cannot restore the celebrated Via Aurelia, mentioned in the Itinerarium of Antonius, which extended from Rome by the way of Genoa, and through this country as far as Arles upon the Rhone. It was said to have been made by the emperor Marcus Aurelius; and some of the vestiges of it are still to be seen in Provence. The truth is, the nobility of Genoa, who are all merchants, from a low, selfish, and absurd policy, take all methods to keep their subjects of the Riviera in poverty and dependence. With this view, they carefully avoid all steps towards rendering that country accessible by land; and at the same time discourage their trade by sea, lest it should interfere with the commerce of their capital, in which they themselves are personally concerned.

Those who either will not or cannot bear the sea, and are equally averse to riding, may be carried in a common chair, provided with a foot-board, on men's shoulders: this is the way of travelling practiced by the ladies of Nice, in crossing the mountains to Turin; but it is very tedious and expensive, as the men must be often relieved.

The most agreeable carriage from hence to Genoa is a felucaº, or open boat, rowed by ten or twelve stout mariners. Though none of these boats belong to Nice, they are to be found every day in our harbour waiting for a fare to Genoa; and they are seen passing and repassing continually, with merchandise or passengers between Marseilles, Antibes, and the Genoese territories. A feluca is large enough to take in a post-chaise; and there is a tilt over the stern sheets where the passengers sit, to protect them from the rain: Between the seats one person may lie commodiously upon a matress, which is commonly supplied by the patron. A man in good health may put up with any thing; but I would advise every valetudinarian who travels this way, to provide his own chaise, matress, and bed-linen, otherwise he p437will pass his time very uncomfortably. If you go as a simple passenger in a feluca, you pay about a Loui'dore for your place, and you must be entirely under the direction of the patron, who, while he can bear the sea, will prosecute his voyage by night as well as by day, and expose you to many other inconveniencies: But for eight zequines, or four Loui'dores, you can have a whole feluca to yourself, from Nice to Genoa, and the master shall be obliged to put a-shore every evening. If you would have it still more at your command, you may hire it at so much per day; and in that case go on shore as often, and stay as long as you please. This is the method I should take were I to make the voyage again; for I am persuaded I should find it very near as cheap, and much more agreeable than any other.

The distance between this place and Genoa, when measured on the carte, does not exceed ninety miles; but the people of the felucas insist upon its being one hundred and twenty. If they creep along shore round the bottoms of all the bays, this computation may be true; but except when the sea is rough, they stretch directly from one head land to another, and even when the wind is contrary, provided the gale is not fresh, they perform the voyage in two days and a half, by dint of rowing: When the wind is favourable, they will sail it easily in fourteen hours.

A man who has nothing but expedition in view, may go with the courier, who has always a light boat well manned, and will be glad to accommodate a traveller for a reasonable gratification. I know an English gentleman who always travels with the courier in Italy, both by sea and land. In posting by land, he is always sure of having part of a good calash, and the best horses that can be found; and as the expence of both is defrayed by the public, it costs him nothing but a present to his companion, which does not amount to one fourth part of the expence he would incur by traveling alone. These opportunities may be had every week in all the towns of Italy.

For my own part, I hired a gondola from hence to Genoa. This is a boat smaller than a feluca, rowed by p438four men, and steered by the patron; but the price was nine zequines, rather more than I should have paid for a feluca of ten oars. I was assured that, being very light, it would make great way; and the master was particularly recommended to me as an honest man and an able mariner. I was accompanied in this voyage by my wife and Miss C—, together with one Mr. R—, a native of Nice, whom I treated with the jaunt, in hopes that, as he was acquainted with the customs of the country, and the different ways of travelling in it, he would save us much trouble, and some expence: But I was much disappointed. Some persons at Nice offered to lay wagers that he would return by himself from Italy; but they were also disappointed.

We embarked in the beginning of September, attended by one servant. The heats, which render travelling dangerous in Italy, begin to abate at this season. The weather was extremely agreeable; and if I had postponed my voyage a little longer, I foresaw that I should not be able to return before winter; in which case I might have found the sea too rough, and the weather too cold, for a voyage of one hundred and thirty-five miles in an open boat.

Having therefore provided myself with a proper pass, signed and sealed by our consul, as well as with letters of recommendation from him to the English consuls at Genoa and Leghorn, a precaution which I would advise all travellers to take, in case of meeting with accidents on the road, we went on board about ten in the morning, stopped about half an hour at a friend's country-house in the bay of St. Hospice, and about noon entered the harbour of Monaco, where the patron was obliged to pay toll, according to the regulation which I have explained in a former letter. This small town, containing about eight or nine hundred souls, besides the garrison, is built on a rock, which projects into the sea, and makes a very romantic appearance. The prince's palace stands in the most conspicuous part, with a walk of trees before it. The apartments are elegantly furnished, and adorned with some good pictures. The fortifications are in good repair, and the place is garrisoned p439by two French battalions. The present prince of Monaco is a Frenchman, son of the duke of Matignon, who married the heiress of Monaco, whose name was Grimaldi. The harbour is well sheltered from the wind; but has not water sufficient to admit vessels of any great burden. Towards the north, the king of Sardinia's territories extend to within a mile of the gate; but the prince of Monaco can go upon his own ground along shore about five or six miles to the eastward, as far as Menton, another small town, which also belongs to him, and is situated on the sea-side. His revenues are computed at a million of French livres, amounting to something more than forty thousand pounds Sterling: But the principality of Monaco, consisting of three small towns, and an inconsiderable tract of barren rock, is not worth above seven thousand a year; the rest arises from his French estate. This consists partly of the duchy of Valentinois, which last was given to the ancestors of this prince of Monaco, in the year 1640, by the French king, to make up the loss of some lands in the kingdom of Naples, which were confiscated when he expelled the Spanish garrison from Monaco, and threw himself into the arms of France: So that he is duke of Valentinois as well as of Matignon, in that kingdom. He lives almost constantly in France; and has taken the name and arms of Grimaldi.

The Genoese territories begin at Ventimiglia, another town lying on the coast, at the distance of twenty miles from Nice, a circumstance from which it borrows the name. Having passed the towns of Monaco, Menton, Ventimiglia, and several other places of less consequence that lie along this coast, we turned the point of St. Martin with a favourable breeze, and might have proceeded twenty miles further before night: But the women began to be sick, as well as afraid at the roughness of the water; Mr. R— was so discomposed, that he privately desired the patron to put ashore at St. Remo, on pretence that we should not find a tolerable auberge in any other place between this and Noli, which was at the distance of forty miles. We accordingly p440landed, and were conducted to the poste, which our gondoliere assured us was the best auberge in the whole Riviera of Genoa. We ascended by a dark, narrow, steep stair, into a kind of public room, with a long table and benches, so dirty and miserable, that it would disgrace the worst hedge ale-house in England. Not a soul appeared to receive us. This is a ceremony one must not expect to meet with in France, far less in Italy. Our patron, going into the kitchen, asked a servant if the company could have lodging in the house; and was answered, "He could not tell; the patron was not at home." When he desired to know where the patron was, the other answered, "he was gone to take the air," E andato a passeggiare. In the mean time, we were obliged to sit in the common room among water-men and muleteers. At length the landlord arrived, and gave us to understand that he could accommodate us with chambers. In that where I lay, there was just room for two beds, without curtains or bedstead, an old rotten table covered with dried figs, and a couple of crazy chairs. The walls had been once white-washed; but were now hung with cobwebs, and speckled with dirt of all sorts; and I believe the brick-floor had not been swept for half a century. We supped in an outward room suitable in all respects to the chamber, and fared villainously. The provision was very ill dressed, and served up in the most slovenly manner. You must not expect cleanliness or conveniency of any kind in this country. For this accommodation, I paid as much as if I had been elegantly entertained in the best auberge of France or Italy.º

Next day, the wind was so high that we could not prosecute our voyage, so that we were obliged to pass anotherº four and twenty hours in this comfortable situation. Luckily Mr. R— found two acquaintances in the place; one a Franciscan monk, a jolly fellow; and the other a maestro di cappellaº, who sent a spinet to the inn, and entertained us agreeably with his voice and performance, in both of which accomplishments he excelled. The padre was very good humoured, and favoured us with a letter of recommendationº to a friend of his, p441a professor in the university of Pisa. You would laugh to see the hyperbolical terms in which he mentioned your humble servant: But Italy is the native country of hyperbole.

St. Remo is a pretty comfortable town, well-built, upon the declivity of a gently rising hill, and has a harbour capable of receiving small vessels, a good number of which are built upon the beach: But ships of any burden are obliged to anchor in the bay, which is far from being secure. The people of St. Remo form a small republic, which is subject to Genoa. They enjoyed particular privileges, till the year 1753, when, in consequence of a new gabelle upon salt, they revolted: But this effort in behalf of liberty did not succeed. They were soon reduced by the Genoese, who deprived them of all their privileges, and built a fort by the sea-side, which serves the double purpose of defending the harbour and overawing the town. The garrison at present does not exceed two hundred men. The inhabitants are said to have lately sent a deputation to Ratisbon, to crave the protection of the diet of the empire. There is very little plain ground in this neighbourhood; but the hills are covered with oranges, lemons, pomegranates, and olives, which produce a considerable traffic in fine fruit and excellent oil. The women of St. Remo are much more handsome and better tempered than those of Provence. They have in general good eyes, with open ingenuous countenances. Their dress, though remarkable, I cannot describe; but, upon the whole, they put me in mind of some portraits I have seen representing the females of Georgia and Mingrelia.

On the third day, the wind being abated, though still unfavourable, we reimbarked and rowed along the shore, passing by Porto-mauricio, and Oneglia; then turning to the promontory called Capo di Melle, we proceeded by Albenga, Finale, and many other places of inferior note. Porto-mauricio is seated on a rock washed by the sea, but indifferently fortified, with an inconsiderable harbour, which none but very small vessels can enter. About two miles to the eastward is Oneglia, a small town with some fortifications, lying along the open beach, p442and belonging to the king of Sardinia. This small territory abounds with olive-trees, which produce a considerable quantity of oil, counted the best of the whole Riviera. Albenga is a small town, the see of a bishop, suffragan to the archbishop of Genoa. It lies upon the sea, and the country produces a great quantity of hemp. Finaleº is the capital of a marquisate belonging to the Genoese, which has been the source of much trouble to the republic; and indeed was the sole cause of their rupture with the king of Sardinia and the house of Asturia in the year 1745. The town is pretty well built; but the harbour is shallow, open, and unsafe: Nevertheless, they build a good number of tartans and other vessels on the beach; and the neighbouring country abounds with oil and fruit, particularly with those excellent apples called pomi carli, which I have mentioned in a former letter.

In the evening we reached the Capo di Noli, counted very dangerous in blowing weather. It is a very high perpendicular rock or mountain, washed by the sea, which has eaten into it in divers places, so as to form a great number of caverns. It extends about a couple of miles, and in some parts is indented into little creeks or bays, where there is a narrow margin of sandy beach between it and the water. When the wind is high, no feluca will attempt to pass it; even in a moderate breeze, the waves dashing against the rocks and caverns, which echo with the sound, make such an awful noise, and, at the same time, occasion such a rough sea, as one cannot hear, and see, and feel, without a secret horror.

On this side of the Cape there is a beautiful strand cultivated like a garden; the plantations extend to the very tops of the hills, interspersed with villages, castles, churches, and villas. Indeed the whole Riviera is ornamented in the same manner, except in such places as admit of no building nor cultivation.

Having passed the Cape, we followed the winding of the coast into a small bay, and arrived at the town of Noli, where we proposed to pass the night. You will be surprised that we did not go ashore sooner, in order to take some refreshment; but the truth is, we had a p443provision of ham, tongues, roasted pullets, cheese, bread, wine, and fruit, in the feluca, where we every day enjoyed a slight repast, about one or two o'clock in the afternoon. This I mention as a necessary piece of information to those who may be inclined to follow the same route. We likewise found it convenient to lay in store of l'eau de vie, or brandy, for the use of rowers, who always expect to share your comforts. On a meagre day, however, those ragamuffins will rather die of hunger than suffer the least morsel of flesh meat to enter their mouths. I have frequently tried the experiment, by pressing them to eat something gras, on a Friday or Saturday; but they always declined it with marks of abhorrence; crying, Dio me ne libere! God deliver me from it! or some other words to that effect. I moreover observed, that not one of those fellows ever swore an oath, or spoke an indecent word. They would by no means put to sea of a morning before they had heard mass; and when the wind was unfavourable, they always let out with a hymn to the Blessed Virgin, or St. Elmo, keeping time with their oars as they sung. I have, indeed remarked all over this country, that a man who transgresses the institutions of the church in these small matters, is much more infamous than one who has committed the most flagrant crimes against nature and morality. A murderer, adulterer, or s–––––m–––––te, will obtain easy absolution from the church, and even find favour with society; but a man who eats a pigeon on a Saturday, without express license, is avoided and abhorred as a monster of reprobation. I have conversed with several intelligent persons on this subject; and have reason to believe, that a delinquent of this sort is considered as a lukewarm Catholic, little better than a heretic; and, of all crimes, they look upon heresy as the most damnable.

Noli is a small republic of fishermen subject to Genoa; but very tenacious of their privileges. The town stands on the beach, tolerably well built, defended by a castle situated on a rock above it; and the harbour is of little consequence. The auberge was such as made us regret even the inn we had left at St. Remo. After a p444very odd kind of supper, which I cannot pretend to describe, we retired to our repose: But I had not been in bed five minutes, when I felt something crawling on different parts of my body, and, taking a light to examine, perceived above a dozen of large bugs. You must know I have the same kind of antipathy to these vermin that some persons have to a cat or breast of veal. I started up immediately, and, wrapping myself in a great coat, sick as I was, laid down in the outer room upon a chest, where I continued till morning.

One would imagine that in a mountainous country like this there should be plenty of goats; and indeed we saw many flocks of them feeding among the rocks, yet we could not procure half a pint of milk for our tea, if we had given the weight of it in gold. The people here have no idea of using milk, and when you ask them for it, they stand gaping with a foolish face of surprise, which is exceedingly provoking. It is amazing that instinct does not teach the peasants to feed their children with goat's milk, so much more nourishing and agreeable than the wretched substance on which they live. Next day we rowed by Vado and Savona, which last is a large town, with a strong citadel, and a harbour, which was formerly capable of receiving large ships; but it fell a sacrifice to the jealousy of the Genoese, who have partly choked it up, on pretence that it should not afford shelter to the ships of war belonging to those states which might be at enmity with the republic.

Then we passed Albisola, Sestri di Ponente, Novi, Voltri, and a great number of villages, villas, and magnificent palaces belonging to the Genoese nobility, which form almost a continued chain of buildings along the strand for thirty miles.

About five in the afternoon, we skirted the fine suburbs of St. Petro D'Arena, and arrived at Genoa, which makes a dazzling appearance when viewed from the sea, arising like an amphitheatre in a circular form, from the water's edge, a considerable way up the mountains, and surrounded on the land-side by a double wall, the most exterior of which is said to extend fifteen miles in circuit. The first object that strikes your eye at a distance p445is a very elegant pharos, or light-house, built on the projection of a rock on the west side of the harbour, so very high, that, in a clear day, you may see it at a distance of thirty miles. Turning the light house point, you find yourself close to the mole which forms the harbour of Genoa. It is built at a great expence from each side of the bay, so as to form in the sea two long magnificent jettés, which, if continued, would meet. At the extremity of each is another smaller lanthorn. These moles are both provided with brass cannon, and between them is the entrance into the harbour. But this is still so wide as to admit a great sea, which, when the wind blows hard from south and south-west, is very troublesome to the shipping. Within the mole there is a smaller harbour or wet dock, called Darsena, for the galleys of the republic. We passed through a considerable number of ships and vessels lying at anchor, and, landing at the water-gate, repaired to an inn called La Croix de Malthe, in the neighbourhood of the harbour: Here we met with such good entertainment as prepossessed us in favour of the interior parts of Italy, and contributed with other motives to detain us some days in this city. But I have detained you so long, that I believe you wish I may proceed no farther; and therefore I take my leave for the present, being very sincerely,

Yours.


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