Leghorn – A Tuscan Town

PEOPLE do not come to Leghorn. Why should they? They go to Italy as travellers and sight-seers; and Baedeker has told them that Leghorn “contains little to detain the traveller,” and Mr. Hare has said that “there is nothing whatever worth seeing at Leghorn.” These words were written for travellers, and to them they may be true, but there is much in Leghorn to make the traveller cease from travelling and take his rest for ever in this city by the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Leghorn is an instance—the only instance perhaps—of a large Italian city wholly untouched by the influence and imported requirements of the tourist: that is its pre-eminent charm. Modern foreign influences are confined to obscure quarters of the town, where the mercantile marine of all nations drinks bad rum (humorously called ponce, punch), swears, quarrels, disgraces its flag, out-rages Tuscan courtesy, and occasionally gets stuck. But more ancient foreign influences are very conspicuous, and in no city of Italy is there less Italian paw sang. It pleased Ferdinand de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, at the close of the sixteenth century, to erect the Castle and swampy village of Livorno into a refuge for the destitute of all nations. Catholics from England, Huguenots from France, Mahometan Moors from Christian Spain, Christian Moors from Mahometan Barbary, Corsicans loathing the Genoese yoke, Flemings fleeing before Alva, and Jews from the four cardinal points of the globe, flocked thither in numbers. To the Jews especially Ferdinand I. showed great favour: a charter of large liberties, called the Livornina, was granted them, and there was a popular saying in those days, that you had as lief assault the Grand Duke himself as lay a finger on a Jew.

All these cosmopolitan influences survive conspicuously in the present day. The Leghorn Directory is full of names—German, English, Scotch, Swiss, Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew —that dislocate the straightly-set Italian jaw. The best index to the cosmopolitan character of the city is a list of its churches. There is an English Church, of course, and a Scotch Free Kirk and Sailors’ Bethel, a Waldensian Conventicle and an Italian Ebenezer, a Dutch Church (for Germans, Swiss, Scandinavians, and Huguenots), a Greek Uniat Church and a Greek Orthodox Church, an Armenian Uniat Church, a Maronite Chapel, and a monster Synagogue, one of the largest in the world. Nay, even the Salvation Army has found its way to Leg-horn, and at first startled the local police by offering for sale in the streets an Italian paper with the fear-inspiring title of ” Il Grido di Guerra!”

There was once a British ” Factory ” in Leg-horn, levying taxes on the shipping that entered the port, and a very powerful and wealthy community it was. It ceased to exist in 1825 when Canning was at the Foreign Office, and since then the British Mercantile colony has slowly declined. Englishmen are only to be found as settlers abroad where money is plentifully to be made; the palmy days when Leghorn was an Emporium and a free port are over, and the English have departed with her glory.

One of the most interesting corners of the town is the old British Cemetery in the Via degli Elisi. No record of its foundation exists, but there is said to be (I cannot find it) at least one tomb that goes back to 1594, almost to the year when Ferdinand raised Leghorn to the dignity of city. Tombs of the seventeenth century are plentiful. For a long time it was the only English, indeed I fancy the only Protestant, burying-ground in Italy. Smollett is buried here; so is Francis Horner (” distinguished for his splendid talents and spotless integrity “), and William Henry Lambton, Esquire, M.P for Durham, who died at Pisa on the 30th November 1797 ” universally respected and beloved; he was able as a states-man, and exemplary in all the relations of life as a husband, father, master, and friend.” Here, too, lie the mortal remains of Anna, Countess Cowper (died 1826), Margaret Rolle. Countess of Orford and Baroness Clinton in her own right (died 1781), and many scions of our best families Lockharts of Carnwath, Murrays of Broughton, Ross’s of Bladensburg, Lubbocks, Mountney Jephsons, Chads, Macleans, Kempthorpes, Stop-fords, Gwillyms, &c. &c. There was nowhere else where they could be buried, and the famous winter resort of Pisa yielded many bodies of consumptive Englishmen to this old cemetery. If Shelley’s body had not been burned on the shores of the Duchy of Lucca, it is likely enough that his remains would have found their last resting-place here.’

The cemetery is in a state of neglect and disrepair, but it must be owned that this neglect greatly heightens its picturesque appearance. A row of stately cypresses surrounds it, and with-in, myrtles, stone-pines, yews, huge bushes of monthly roses, and even an occasional eucalyptus, grow as Mother Nature lists, innocent of any gardener’s care, whilst a luxuriant jungle of periwinkles, irises, wild violets, and stinging nettles threatens to cover the graves, and strong ivy and other hardy parasites creep insidiously within the junctures of the marble tombs and are gradually splitting them to pieces.’

The old cemetery was closed by Grand Ducal order in 1839 when the bounds of the city were enlarged, and the energetic British colony purchased land further afield, and constructed another burying-ground. A comparison between the two cemeteries is an instructive object-lesson in the great change that has come over English religious belief in the last half-century. The old cemetery is full of urns and sarcophagi, broken pillars, hour-glasses, inverted torches, skulls and cross-bones, lyres and laurel wreaths, medallions of prosperous bag-wigged traders, chubby cherubs convulsed with grief, and allegorical female figures veiling their sorrow, but of the cross, the emblem of Christianity, there is not a solitary instance, whereas in the new cemetery crosses abound and are invariable in all the later tombs. There is one cross, though, connected with the old cemetery which has much more significance than a simple cross, or even a crucifix. In 1746 Mr. Robert Bateman, a wealthy merchant, surrounded the cemetery with a wall and iron railing at his sole cost. Over the gate is a small voided iron cross; in the centre of the cross is a rounded disc, and from the disc issue rays of glory. The disc represents the Sacramental Wafer, and it is placed on a cross to illustrate the Catholic doctrine that the Blessed Sacrament is Our Lord Himself. What would have been the feelings of the steady-going, plain-thinking merchants of the British Factory had they known that the cross over their cemetery was preaching and teaching, to those who had eyes to see, the extremest form of the Real Presence in the Sacrament. But oh! the whirligig of time! This cross, and the doctrine it symbolises, would be devoutly accepted by the entire congregation of many a modern Anglican Church in London!

Captain Buchan Teller, R.N., has endeavoured to prove that Smollett is not buried here. It is true that the date of death on the memorial column is incorrect: Smollett beyond a doubt died on the 17th September 1771, and not on the 16th September 1773. But the memorial column may have been placed on the grave a number of years after the death. We know that Smollett was attended in his last illness by Thomas Garden, physician to the British Factory, and by Dr. Giovanni Gentili, a Leghorn doctor, and therefore until better evidence to the contrary is forthcoming, it seems to me safe to accept the old tradition, both that he is buried in the British cemetery in the spot marked by the memorial, and that he died in the Villa Gamba at Antignano near Leghorn, and there wrote the ” Expedition of Humphrey Clinker.” i

Opposite the entrance to the old cemetery is the English Church of St. George the Martyr, erected in 1838–1840 by special permission of Leopold II., Grand Duke of Tuscany. Before this, the English Church services had to be conducted in buildings that were not permitted to have the semblance of a church. The new privilege was limited to the Anglican Church among foreign bodies. The Scotch Free Church and Manse, which was built soon afterwards in the same street, has only the appearance of a Gothic mansion.

There is another place of pilgrimage in Leg-horn which some Englishmen will still care to visit—the Villa Valsovano, where in the summer of 1819 Shelley wrote the greater part of the ” Cenci.” ” Our villa,” says Mrs. Shelley, ” was situated in the midst of a podere; the peasants sang as they worked beneath our windows during the heats of a very hot summer, and at night the water-wheel creaked as the process of irrigation went on, and the fire-flies flashed from among the hedges:—nature was bright, sunshiny, and cheerful, or diversified by storms of a majestic terror such as we had never before witnessed. At the top of the house there was a sort of terrace.

There is often such in Italy, generally roofed. This one was very small, yet not only roofed, but glazed: this Shelley made his study; it looked out on a wide prospect of fertile country, and commanded a view of the near sea. The storms that sometimes varied our day showed them-selves most picturesquely as they were driven across the ocean; sometimes the dark, lurid clouds dipped towards the waves and became waterspouts that churned up the waters beneath as they were chased onward and scattered by the tempest. At other times the dazzling sunlight and heat made it almost intolerable to every other, but Shelley basked in both, and his health and spirits revived under their influence. In this airy cell he wrote the principal part of the ” Cenci.”

I have visited the Villa Valsovano, which is situated at the end of the Via del Fagiano, just within the Municipal wall: in Shelley’s day it was far outside the town. The present proprietor courteously permitted me to ascend to the ” airy cell.” The small terrace still exists, but is no longer either roofed or glazed. The ” wide prospect of fertile country ” survives in undiminished glory. In the garden of the villa is a picturesque arbour formed by artificially training the branches of a stout elm tree. This sheltered nook was also used by Shelley as a study. It was in the lanes of Leghorn that he heard the skylark which he has immortalised.

When the English visitor has lingered long enough in the cemetery among the memories of departed British greatness and prosperity, he should go down to the port and gaze upon the one work of surpassing art which Leghorn possesses. Here is a thing to detain the traveller a good ten minutes. It is a statue of Ferdinand I., the father of the city, with four huge Moors chained at his feet. The graceful white marble figure of the Du e, rising serenely against the blue sky, and gazing proudly over the sea whence he had so often swept the fierce Barbary pirates, is the work of Giovanni dell’ Opera. But the undoubted artistic beauty of the statue itself is eclipsed by the superb green bronze ” quattro mori,” writhing at each corner of its pedestal. These figures, instinct with life, and yet full of the artistic spirit which idealises life, are the work of Pier Jacopo Tacca, and they are surely his masterpiece, though I do not forget his equestrian statue of Philip IV. at Madrid. His models he first formed in wax from the originals among the Moorish galley-slaves at Leghorn; indeed a reasonably well-authenticated tradition states that they were taken from a father and three sons. The figures were cast from cannon taken from the infidel. The statue was erected in 1617; two of the Moors in 1623; the other two in 1625. ” One of the best pieces of modern work,” says John Evelyn, who saw them in 1644.

General Miollis, commander of the French Re-publican troops which occupied Leghorn, was gravely shocked at this statue. Four sea-robbers chained at the feet of a ” tyrant” outraged his sense of fraternity and equality, and he commanded the Municipality to replace the statue of ” that monster ” with a statue of Liberty. The tyrant who had fought for the freedom of the seas, and his slaves who had sought to destroy it, were removed; but fortunately the French left Leghorn before the Idol of Liberty could be set up, and the statue of Ferdinand with the four Moors was restored to its place with much pomp and circumstance on the 23rd July 1799.

Being now so near the port, the traveller should take a boat and be paddled about the still waters of the harbour. There is business doing of course, but there is no hurry or scurry. The steamers seem to need an eternity to moor or to get fairly under weigh, and the lazy gulls, flapping overhead, cry out in vain speculation at their leisurely and seemingly unmeaning evolutions. The traveller will notice the spick-and-span red-brick Port-Office, with its green Venetian shutters—the prettiest building in Leghorn —the trim white steam-launch moored at its landing stage, and the white gigs slung on its davits. And he will go out to the splendid New Mole that protects the entrance to the old port, and forms of itself a vast new harbour. It is curvilinear, and nearly three-quarters of a mile in length. The breezy walk along the top of it is like a walk in mid-ocean, invigorating, bracing, life-giving. And what a view! To the south, in the near distance, the villa-studded Montenero and the range of the Colli Livornesi, to the east the Pisan Hills, to the north and north-east the marble mountains of Massa-Carrara and the snow-capped peaks of the Apuan Range, while out in the west the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, Gorgona, Capraia, Elba, and even Corsica, can be seen slumbering in the sea like huge unpolished amethysts.

But it is as a sea-bathing place that Leghorn chiefly attracts the world. It is unquestionably the principal, as it is unquestionably the most charming of Italian watering-places. The season nominally lasts from the 24th June to the 31st August, and during that time members of all the great Roman and Florentine families are there to enjoy the bracing tonic of the Tyrrhenian waters and the cool maestrale, which is denied to Florence and Rome in the summer. Then the place is a brilliant picture of animated gaiety. The delightful sea-front, laid out with tamarisks, stone-pines, oleanders, aloes, and countless ever-green shrubs and luxuriant flower-beds, is alive in the evenings with human life as variegated as itself. The beautiful drive by the sea to the neighbouring suburb of Ardenza swarms with the carriages of aristocratic visitors and rich residents, and the old-fashioned landau of a Roman matron of the blackest of ” black ” families may be seen blocked in the press by the victoria of a lady who, though dressed in the latest fashion, might have stepped from the canvases of Edwin Long, and is the wife of a Tunisian or Israelitish merchant.

The bathing at Leghorn is a veritable luxury. There are a number of bathing establishments built out into the sea, each forming a species of many-armed pier. The establishments are covered with spreading canvas, affording cool shelter from the fiercest sun, while the flapping of the canvas in the breeze acts as an unobtrusive punkah. The brightly – dressed crowd begins to troop on to the Baths at nine o’clock in the morning. There is no twopenny fee as on an English pier; admission is free on all the Baths along the sea-front but it is wonderful to note with what good sense and good taste the different classes of society confine themselves each to its own particular establishment. The bathing is done out of baracche: each baracca is a square-shaped canvas tent of goodly dimensions, built out into the sea on a wooden frame-work. Inside the baracca is a stone platform with chairs, a fixed dressing-table, and looking-glasses. From the platform, wooden stairs descend to the green, pellucid sea. A considerable space of water is enclosed in the barracca, so that the old, the timid, and the made-up need never go outside their tent; but if you lift the canvas curtains you will find yourself in a pleasant, roomy enclosure, where the water is never more than five feet deep, and thence you can strike out into the sea, the sea, the open sea. Ah! and what a blessed thing it is that the Tyrrhenian has no tides, and that bathing is thus possible at any and whatsoever time of the day you list.

The gaiety of the Leghorn season is full of a happy, easy charm and freshness quite its own. The rendezvous is thoroughly national. Foreigners (unreasonably, I think,) fear the heat and do not come, and it is rarely that you hear any language on the Baths that is not Tuscan or some Italian dialect. Life at this Tuscan watering-place is devoid of the more formal etiquette of the Riviera proper, and, while animated and happy, it is wholly free from the rowdiness of certain Kentish sea-bathing places. Indeed, the Tuscan ‘Arry, when you come across him, is a very pleasant and well-mannered fellow, while the Tuscan ‘Arriet is distractingly refined and charming.

The Naval Academy of Italy, where all the future officers of her navy are trained, is one of the features of Leghorn, and attracts many families to the town in the winter months. The cadets are very smart and picturesque little fellows. Three months of every year they, by a very wise provision, go into training on warships in the open seas; they are kept hard at study in the Academy for eight months, and get but one month’s holiday in the year. The young Duke of the Abruzzi, a son of the late Duke of Aosta and a nephew of King Humbert, was a cadet here, and the! roll-call of the Academy at all times contains historic names that recall the chief glories of Italian history.

In the midst of summer holiday and sea-bathing delights one is apt to forget that Leg-horn is a commercial town, a “place of great receipt,” as Evelyn calls it. But I suppose that in any account of the place, a word must be spared for its trade and commerce. There is really a great deal of business done in Leghorn, but happily without bustle or greedy eagerness. And there are plenty of industries, but with the exception of the siren at the shipbuilding yard, they make no noise and do not objectionably announce their existence. There is something about Tuscany which softens the asperities of modern factories. Seen from a distance, a few columns of black smoke float up from Leghorn, but they show picturesquely against the blue Tuscan sky, and take new enchanting shapes in the dear Tuscan empyrean.

Orlando’s shipbuilding yard is an important place, and comes most under the notice of the public eye. It employs two thousand men and more; it turns out line-of-battle ships (the Lepanto) and first-class cruisers (the Varese); it has built for foreign Governments, for the Argentine Republic, for Portugal, for the Sultan of Morocco himself (a gun-vessel that is called the ” Beschir-es-Salameh,” which being interpreted means “the bearer of good tidings from Islam to the Four Quarters of the Globe “). There are rolling-mills, there are glassworks, there are soapworks, and flour and maize mills. Twenty-six thousand hundredweight of candied citron are turned out every year, and a vast quantity of the various shapes of Maccheroni, or I should say “paste,” for Maccheroni is but one of the many different kinds of Italian pastes. An immense amount of Coral is worked in Leg-horn. It comes hither from Sicily, Sardinia, Barbary, the Azores, and Japan. The principal coral works, the property of the Brothers Chayes, are situated on the third floor of one of the finest villas, in the midst of one of the most smiling gardens, of the town. Patrician ease, not thriving trade, is suggested by the look of the place: this is a typical instance of the buried nature of the industries of Leghorn. The workers are all girls, and (by the way) Leghorn is famous for the beauty of its girls. Rag-pickers are a large class: Signor Enrico Grandi’s warehouse is a busy place between the picking and the storing, and it is certainly an odd sensation to stroll through narrow ravines with, on either hand, from floor to ceiling, great perpendicular piles of hempen cordage, old and new Mungo, and white and coloured vegetable rags. Here, too, nearly all the workers are girls.

What a heap of things come into Leghorn in the course of a year: Coal from Scotland, Wales, and the Tyne, for use chiefly by the railways and the gas companies. There are but six cities in all Tuscany that have gas—Florence, Leg-horn, Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and Prato. Artistic Pistoia, lordly Volterra, and ancient Arezzo are content with oil lamps, but some tiny towns and big villages are far ahead of them all and have’ electric light. Then there is Sulphate of Copper for the sickly vines; dried cod from Newfound-land for the observant of Lent; Tobacco from Kentucky for manufacture into cigars by a paternal Government; Whisky for the travel-ling Scot and Saxon; Carbonate of Soda; Coffee; Cotton; Hides; Scrap Iron; Jute; Petroleum; Wheat; Wool—and all in great quantities.

And what a heap of things leave Leghorn: Boracic Acid for Lord Lister’s antiseptic treatment; Briar-root for conversion into G.B. D.’s; Candied Citron for the Dutch and Scandinavians who know not how to candy; Coral to adorn the ladies of Nepaul and savage Africa; Hemp from Ferrara for twisting in Chatham and Ports-mouth Dockyards; Hides from the great white oxen of the Val d’Arno for London harness; Marble from Carrara for the English dead; the Mercury of Monte Amiata for the gold mines of the Transvaal; Olive Oil for Crosse and Blackwell and the Widow Lazenby; Orris Root from Florence and Verona, without which Rimmel, and Atkinson, and all the perfume-makers of Grasse would be helpless; Pumice-stone for the Monkey Brand Soap; Rags for the manufacture of newspapers; Straw hats and Tuscan bonnets called of “Leghorn,” but which are made fifty miles up the Arno at Signa; Soap compounded of the refuse of pressed olives, which is eagerly sought for on the Spanish main; Siena earths and Ochres which come—things go by contraries in Tuscany—not from Siena but from the Province of Grosseto, and go home to make beautiful the walls of the Academy and the New Gallery. And all these things, too, in great quantities. An entertaining book might be written about the trade of this bright, smiling, happy-go-lucky centre of industry.

The workers of Leghorn, in spite of long hours and a low wage, always seem content and happy, and they are great songsters as they stroll homewards after the day’s work is done. Their songs, if one does but pay heed to the words, are a sure index to the dominant feelings and hopes of the moment. Twenty years ago some of them used to sing

” O when I die I want the band With four Republicans at the pall.”

About ten years ago, to the same tune, but with an important change in a word, they commenced to sing like this:

” 0 when I die I want the band With four true Socialists at the pall.”

I wait in daily expectation of the next change; the reaction is already setting in:

“0 when I die I want the band With four good Clericals at the pall.”

There is a great place of pilgrimage on a hill three miles from Leghorn, Montenero, where, since 1345 (without question, the date), there has existed a remarkable and wonder-working picture of the Madonna. The traveller should choose the 8th September for his visit if he de-sires to see the place at a characteristic moment, when the Confraternities and Sodalities of the city go up in their picturesque dresses, and the whole of the steep ascent is lined with a long line of beggars in every stage of squalor and decrepitude. This may be the place to say that if the foreign observer desires to learn the history of a Tuscan town or to understand its people, let him immediately find out the miracle picture of the place and commence to study and acquire its legend: the rest follows of itself by some mysterious means. It is useless to seek to know the Livornesi without learning something about Montenero, to which the least principled of them have some attachment. These miracle pictures have, all the world over, a character which is quite their own. It is not merely that they are, like the pictures of Giotto or Fra Angelico, instinct with a spiritual idea that defies while it ennobles the canons of art, but they have a quality which eludes all analysis, and impresses the instructed even more than the ignorant. On quite natural grounds it seems no wonder that they have come to be called “miraculous,” for it would certainly be against all known laws to call them ” creations” of art.

The Madonna of Montenero, according to the legend, is said to have come miraculously from Negroponte (where the picture was held in high honour) to Ardenza, near Leghorn, but there is reason to believe that it was removed on natural grounds through fear of a Mahometan rising. A shepherd is supposed to have found it at Ardenza (a chapel marks the spot), and to have carried it on his back up the hill until, suddenly becoming of unbearable weight, he had to set it down, and that was taken as a sign that a shrine should be built on the spot. From 1455 to 1668 the Sanctuary was in charge of the Jesuats; from 1669 to 1783 it was intrusted to the Clerks Regular of St. Cajetan or Theatines; and they were succeeded in 1793 by monks of the Vallombrosan Congregation of Benedictines, with an Abbot at their head. This Order is still in charge of Montenero. The present Abbot is Dom Arsenio Viscardi; he has the proud attribute of Mitred Abbot, but also the lowly style and calling of parish priest of the village. The church is hand-some, and rich in marbles. It is also rich in a remarkable collection of votive pictures depicting, often with harrowing details, and always without regard for perspective or the laws of gravitation, the accident from which the donor had escaped with his life. The wonderful picture of the Madonna, covered by a veil, is enshrined over the High Altar, and may be seen for the asking.

How, the instructed will at once ask, could an order of laymen like the Jesuats be able to serve a church and shrine? The answer is simple: they employed a few secular priests. Further, in 1605 Pope Paul V. allowed them to enter holy orders. The Order was suppressed by Clement IX. in 1668 as being in a declining condition. The Jesuits, who seem destined to receive a large share of both welcome and unwelcome attention, have even been con-founded with the Jesuats.

It would be impossible to enumerate the number of times that the city has been preserved from the plague, and the lives of its citizens saved during the perils of an earthquake through the intercession of Our Lady of Montenero. In 1720, and on the 20th May, the sanitary autho rities of Leghorn, after anxious deliberation, re-fused pratique to a French vessel from the East as being suspected of having the plague on board. The ship proceeded to Marseilles, and there succeeded in obtaining pratique: a great epidemic of the plague was the result. In commemoration of this deliverance all the Leghorn Bills of Health down to the year 1859 bore the image of the Madonna of Montenero.

I have no space in these brief paragraphs to indicate any other instances of the tender love and gratitude to the Unseen Good that are generated at such a place as Montenero. The sensible picture is but a symbol of the Unseen—an Unseen Mother, careful and anxious about her children, herself dependent upon an Unseen Father with whom she has much influence, and who is the Lord of All Things. This is how the fisherman, the rag-picker, the coral girl, and the contadino look at it, and who is there that would not fain believe that they may have right on their side?

Leghorn, the city that does not ” detain the traveller,” that has in it ” nothing worth seeing,” is far too full of memories and beauties for one brief chapter, and cries aloud for a whole book. Many Italian cities have a qualifying adjective dear to their citizens, that at the first blush seems to be a complete misnomer, but that time and study show to be pre-eminently apt and true. Florence is ” la bella,” but this you never comprehend until you come to look down upon the city from the heights of San Miniato or Fiesole. Lucca is ” l’industriosa,” but even after a week’s sojourn you rub your eyes and ask if this is not Sleepy Hollow. Genoa is “la superba,” but her glory is at first sight dimmed by the obtrusiveness and omnipresence of the commercial element. And Leghorn is “la cara.” Surely no attribute could be more glaringly incorrect. And yet let the traveller cease awhile from travelling and take his rest by the Liburnian shore, let him dip in the tonic waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, and walk by its shores in the cool spring days and warm winter afternoons, drinking in the health-giving breezes and feasting on the glories of the Gorgonian Archipelago, let him mingle freely with the cheery, courteous, contented Livornesi, who dearly love to bid a stranger welcome, and he will see that Time has well named Leghorn ” la cara,” and that she is dear indeed.