Rivoli

Early on a beautiful morning we left Suza, travelling through narrow roads, little stony vineyards, and pigmy inclosures of wheat and rye; we began to traverse the banks of the Doria, turbid as its fellow, the Arco, which runs down the opposite and western side of the Alps. Its frequent breaches over the fields, its wide-spread stony channel, its yellow waters, and roaring din, give it all the character of an Alpine stream, which, though pure at its source, becomes muddy here, from the clay of the mountains. At the narrowest point of the valley, it flows by a little fortress; and we crossed it on a bridge de-fended by the fort. Here the stream bursts out into a broad and pebbly strand; and the prospect begins to widen, gradually spreading out into the grand valley of Piedmont, or of the Po. On the very pinnacle of a high hill, rising in the narrowest point of the valley, stands the magnificent and antique monastery of St Michael. This superb and singular hill, with its monastery, constitutes a striking feature in the landscape, from the pass above Suza down to Florence.

Rivoli, which we reached early in the afternoon, is finely situated on a hill, at the opening of the great valley of the Po commanding a most beautiful and magnificent prospect. The eye runs along the vast range of Alps, forming a long blue line in the distance; and the gigantic mountains you have just passed, where Mont Cenis presides, are seen towering, dark and massive, against the light. From the gulley above Suza, you see the Doria bursting forth, and trace its resplendent waters, pursuing their course through the arches of the long and slender bridges which span its tide; while the evening sun flames over the mountains, shooting down through the narrow valley, and touching with vivid tints the great monastery of St Michael, which stands solitary and majestic on its lofty hill. Leaving these sub-lime objects, and looking in the opposite direction, we distinguished the highest points of the numerous steeples and spires of Turin, tipped with the reddening rays of the setting sun. No smoke ascends, as in northern countries, indicating the spot on which the city stands; but a light transparent haze seemed to hang over it in the pure still air; while magnificent and lofty trees marked its boundaries with a dusky line. The whole of this fine scenery receives an added charm in the softening features of the rich fields, and woody plains, which, reaching far to the west, spread out below, enlivened by innumerable white dwellings, giving life and animation to the picture. ‘While thus, after a sultry day, inhaling the refreshing breeze of the evening, and contemplating the varied beauty of the surrounding landscape, we were naturally led to compare it with the climate and aspect of the country we had left; and could not hesitate to prefer Italy, with its splendid sun, its soft, balmy, and clear atmosphere; vast mountains, and noble rivers.

France is like a maritime country, broad, flat, and unprotected; the soil is comparatively barren, the sky cloudless; and there are no mountains to have effect on the landscape, or influence on the air. Susceptible as I have ever been of tranquil or perturbed landscape, of the beauties of opening or declining day, I never remember, during my residence in France, to have been charmed with the morning or evening sun—I never recollect any difference of light, but in intensity—the sky is ever uniform, like that of Coleridge, in his enchanted ship—the sun rises in the east, mounts to noontide, and descends in the west, without producing any other variation, than that of length of shadow. That which has been praised by the ignorant, a sky ever clear and transparent, distinctly marking the outline of every building, is, to the painter’s eye, destructive of all richness and grandeur.

The splendid edifices which adorn Paris; the Louvre, the bridges, Notre Dame, are ever seen clear and well-defined, presenting the same uniform aspect. From Cambray to Paris, from Paris to Lyons, from Lyons to the western side of the Alps, I never saw a sky in which the beholder could take delight, or which an artist would wish to copy. Their finest weather offers a clear, spotless, burning atmosphere, and in a bird’s-eye view of the country, each city, spire, or tree, is seen distinct as in a map. The storm rises with no portentous point, to which you can trace the coming mischief; no vast clouds appear bursting over the scene; but a uniform and dusky atmosphere covers the whole hemisphere, down to the horizon. There are no mountains to attract clouds; no valleys to give currents of air, and changeful variety, to enliven the landscape. No one who has not passed the Alps can know how precious variety is, or how great a share it has in forming pleasing impressions on the mind. I speak of the north of France, the middle and south; the department of the Rhone, from Grenoble to Nice, and Marseilles, must of course partake of the atmosphere of Italy.

The magnificence of the castle of Rivoli, arises rather from the grandeur of its situation than from its intrinsic beauty. It is a coarse, bulky, brick house; and what-ever the artist might have designed it to be, it is as like a cotton-mill as a palace.