A PILGRIMAGE TO VALLOMBROSA.
A pilgrimage to Vallombrosa!—in sooth it has a romantic sound. The phrase calls up images of rosaries, and crosses, and shaven-headed friars. Had we lived in the olden days, such things might verily have accompanied our journey to that holy monastery. We might then have gone barefoot, saying prayers as we toiled along the banks of the Arno and up the steep Appenines, as did Benevenuto Cellini, before he poured the melted bronze into the mould of his immortal Perseus. But we are pilgrims to the shrines of Art and Genius; the dwelling-places of great minds are our sanctuaries. The mean dwelling, in which a poet has battled down poverty with the ecstacy of his mighty conceptions, and the dungeon in which a persecuted philosopher has languished, are to us sacred; we turn aside from the palaces of kings and the battle-fields of conquerors, to visit them. The famed miracles of San Giovanni Gualberto added little, in our eyes, to the interest of Vallombrosa, but there were reverence and inspiration in the names of Dante, Milton, and Ariosto.
We left Florence early, taking the way that leads from the Porta della Croce, up the north bank of the Arno. It was a bright morning, but there was a shade of vapor on the hills, which a practised eye might have taken as a prognostic of the rain that too soon came on. Fiesole, with its tower and Acropolis, stood out brightly from the blue background, and the hill of San Miniato lay with its cypress groves in the softest morning light. The Contadini were driving into the city in their basket wagons, and there were some fair young faces among them, that made us think Italian beauty was not altogether in the imagination.
After walking three or four miles, we entered the Appenines, keeping along the side of the Arno, whose bed is more than half dried up from the long summer heats. The mountain sides were covered with vineyards, glowing with their wealth of white and purple grapes, but the summits were naked and barren. We passed through the little town of Ponte Sieve, at the entrance of a romantic valley, where our view of the Arno was made more interesting by the lofty range of the Appenines, amid whose forests we could see the white front of the monastery of Vallombrosa. But the clouds sank low and hid it from sight, and the rain came on so hard that we were obliged to take shelter occasionally in the cottages by the wayside. In one of these we made a dinner of the hard, black bread of the country, rendered palatable by the addition of mountain cheese and some chips of an antique Bologna sausage. We were much amused in conversing with the simple hosts and their shy, gipsy-like children, one of whom, a dark-eyed, curly-haired boy, bore the name of Raphael. We also became acquainted with a shoemaker and his family, who owned a little olive orchard and vineyard, which they said produced enough to support them. Wishing to know much a family of six consumed in a year, we inquired the yield of their property. They answered, twenty small barrels of wine, and ten of oil. It was nearly sunset when we reached Pellago, and the wet walk and coarse fare we were obliged to take on the road, well qualified us to enjoy the excellent supper the pleasant landlady gave us.