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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter XXIV

Innocents Abroad

Chapter XXIV

Some of the Quaker City's passengers had arrived in Venice from
Switzerland and other lands before we left there, and others were
expected every day. We heard of no casualties among them, and no

We were a little fatigued with sight seeing, and so we rattled through a
good deal of country by rail without caring to stop. I took few notes.
I find no mention of Bologna in my memorandum book, except that we
arrived there in good season, but saw none of the sausages for which the
place is so justly celebrated.

Pistoia awoke but a passing interest.

Florence pleased us for a while. I think we appreciated the great figure
of David in the grand square, and the sculptured group they call the Rape
of the Sabines. We wandered through the endless collections of paintings
and statues of the Pitti and Ufizzi galleries, of course. I make that
statement in self-defense; there let it stop. I could not rest under the
imputation that I visited Florence and did not traverse its weary miles
of picture galleries. We tried indolently to recollect something about
the Guelphs and Ghibelines and the other historical cut-throats whose
quarrels and assassinations make up so large a share of Florentine
history, but the subject was not attractive. We had been robbed of all
the fine mountain scenery on our little journey by a system of
railroading that had three miles of tunnel to a hundred yards of
daylight, and we were not inclined to be sociable with Florence. We had
seen the spot, outside the city somewhere, where these people had allowed
the bones of Galileo to rest in unconsecrated ground for an age because
his great discovery that the world turned around was regarded as a
damning heresy by the church; and we know that long after the world had
accepted his theory and raised his name high in the list of its great
men, they had still let him rot there. That we had lived to see his dust
in honored sepulture in the church of Santa Croce we owed to a society of
literati, and not to Florence or her rulers. We saw Dante's tomb in that
church, also, but we were glad to know that his body was not in it; that
the ungrateful city that had exiled him and persecuted him would give
much to have it there, but need not hope to ever secure that high honor
to herself. Medicis are good enough for Florence. Let her plant Medicis
and build grand monuments over them to testify how gratefully she was
wont to lick the hand that scourged her.

Magnanimous Florence! Her jewelry marts are filled with artists in
mosaic. Florentine mosaics are the choicest in all the world. Florence
loves to have that said. Florence is proud of it. Florence would foster
this specialty of hers. She is grateful to the artists that bring to her
this high credit and fill her coffers with foreign money, and so she
encourages them with pensions. With pensions! Think of the lavishness
of it. She knows that people who piece together the beautiful trifles
die early, because the labor is so confining, and so exhausting to hand
and brain, and so she has decreed that all these people who reach the age
of sixty shall have a pension after that! I have not heard that any of
them have called for their dividends yet. One man did fight along till
he was sixty, and started after his pension, but it appeared that there
had been a mistake of a year in his family record, and so he gave it up
and died.

These artists will take particles of stone or glass no larger than a
mustard seed, and piece them together on a sleeve button or a shirt stud,
so smoothly and with such nice adjustment of the delicate shades of color
the pieces bear, as to form a pigmy rose with stem, thorn, leaves, petals
complete, and all as softly and as truthfully tinted as though Nature had
builded it herself. They will counterfeit a fly, or a high-toned bug, or
the ruined Coliseum, within the cramped circle of a breastpin, and do it
so deftly and so neatly that any man might think a master painted it.

I saw a little table in the great mosaic school in Florence--a little
trifle of a centre table--whose top was made of some sort of precious
polished stone, and in the stone was inlaid the figure of a flute, with
bell-mouth and a mazy complication of keys. No painting in the world
could have been softer or richer; no shading out of one tint into another
could have been more perfect; no work of art of any kind could have been
more faultless than this flute, and yet to count the multitude of little
fragments of stone of which they swore it was formed would bankrupt any
man's arithmetic! I do not think one could have seen where two particles
joined each other with eyes of ordinary shrewdness. Certainly we could
detect no such blemish. This table-top cost the labor of one man for ten
long years, so they said, and it was for sale for thirty-five thousand

We went to the Church of Santa Croce, from time to time, in Florence, to
weep over the tombs of Michael Angelo, Raphael and Machiavelli,
(I suppose they are buried there, but it may be that they reside
elsewhere and rent their tombs to other parties--such being the fashion
in Italy,) and between times we used to go and stand on the bridges and
admire the Arno. It is popular to admire the Arno. It is a great
historical creek with four feet in the channel and some scows floating
around. It would be a very plausible river if they would pump some water
into it. They all call it a river, and they honestly think it is a
river, do these dark and bloody Florentines. They even help out the
delusion by building bridges over it. I do not see why they are too good
to wade.

How the fatigues and annoyances of travel fill one with bitter prejudices
sometimes! I might enter Florence under happier auspices a month hence
and find it all beautiful, all attractive. But I do not care to think of
it now, at all, nor of its roomy shops filled to the ceiling with snowy
marble and alabaster copies of all the celebrated sculptures in Europe--
copies so enchanting to the eye that I wonder how they can really be
shaped like the dingy petrified nightmares they are the portraits of. I
got lost in Florence at nine o'clock, one night, and staid lost in that
labyrinth of narrow streets and long rows of vast buildings that look all
alike, until toward three o'clock in the morning. It was a pleasant
night and at first there were a good many people abroad, and there were
cheerful lights about. Later, I grew accustomed to prowling about
mysterious drifts and tunnels and astonishing and interesting myself with
coming around corners expecting to find the hotel staring me in the face,
and not finding it doing any thing of the kind. Later still, I felt
tired. I soon felt remarkably tired. But there was no one abroad, now--
not even a policeman. I walked till I was out of all patience, and very
hot and thirsty. At last, somewhere after one o'clock, I came
unexpectedly to one of the city gates. I knew then that I was very far
from the hotel. The soldiers thought I wanted to leave the city, and
they sprang up and barred the way with their muskets. I said:

"Hotel d'Europe!"

It was all the Italian I knew, and I was not certain whether that was
Italian or French. The soldiers looked stupidly at each other and at me,
and shook their heads and took me into custody. I said I wanted to go
home. They did not understand me. They took me into the guard-house and
searched me, but they found no sedition on me. They found a small piece
of soap (we carry soap with us, now,) and I made them a present of it,
seeing that they regarded it as a curiosity. I continued to say Hotel
d'Europe, and they continued to shake their heads, until at last a young
soldier nodding in the corner roused up and said something. He said he
knew where the hotel was, I suppose, for the officer of the guard sent
him away with me. We walked a hundred or a hundred and fifty miles, it
appeared to me, and then he got lost. He turned this way and that, and
finally gave it up and signified that he was going to spend the remainder
of the morning trying to find the city gate again. At that moment it
struck me that there was something familiar about the house over the way.
It was the hotel!

It was a happy thing for me that there happened to be a soldier there
that knew even as much as he did; for they say that the policy of the
government is to change the soldiery from one place to another constantly
and from country to city, so that they can not become acquainted with the
people and grow lax in their duties and enter into plots and conspiracies
with friends. My experiences of Florence were chiefly unpleasant. I
will change the subject.

At Pisa we climbed up to the top of the strangest structure the world has
any knowledge of--the Leaning Tower. As every one knows, it is in the
neighborhood of one hundred and eighty feet high--and I beg to observe
that one hundred and eighty feet reach to about the hight of four
ordinary three-story buildings piled one on top of the other, and is a
very considerable altitude for a tower of uniform thickness to aspire to,
even when it stands upright--yet this one leans more than thirteen feet
out of the perpendicular. It is seven hundred years old, but neither
history or tradition say whether it was built as it is, purposely, or
whether one of its sides has settled. There is no record that it ever
stood straight up. It is built of marble. It is an airy and a beautiful
structure, and each of its eight stories is encircled by fluted columns,
some of marble and some of granite, with Corinthian capitals that were
handsome when they were new. It is a bell tower, and in its top hangs a
chime of ancient bells. The winding staircase within is dark, but one
always knows which side of the tower he is on because of his naturally
gravitating from one side to the other of the staircase with the rise or
dip of the tower. Some of the stone steps are foot-worn only on one end;
others only on the other end; others only in the middle. To look down
into the tower from the top is like looking down into a tilted well. A
rope that hangs from the centre of the top touches the wall before it
reaches the bottom. Standing on the summit, one does not feel altogether
comfortable when he looks down from the high side; but to crawl on your
breast to the verge on the lower side and try to stretch your neck out
far enough to see the base of the tower, makes your flesh creep, and
convinces you for a single moment in spite of all your philosophy, that
the building is falling. You handle yourself very carefully, all the
time, under the silly impression that if it is not falling, your trifling
weight will start it unless you are particular not to "bear down" on it.

The Duomo, close at hand, is one of the finest cathedrals in Europe. It
is eight hundred years old. Its grandeur has outlived the high
commercial prosperity and the political importance that made it a
necessity, or rather a possibility. Surrounded by poverty, decay and
ruin, it conveys to us a more tangible impression of the former greatness
of Pisa than books could give us.

The Baptistery, which is a few years older than the Leaning Tower, is a
stately rotunda, of huge dimensions, and was a costly structure. In it
hangs the lamp whose measured swing suggested to Galileo the pendulum.
It looked an insignificant thing to have conferred upon the world of
science and mechanics such a mighty extension of their dominions as it
has. Pondering, in its suggestive presence, I seemed to see a crazy
universe of swinging disks, the toiling children of this sedate parent.
He appeared to have an intelligent expression about him of knowing that
he was not a lamp at all; that he was a Pendulum; a pendulum disguised,
for prodigious and inscrutable purposes of his own deep devising, and not
a common pendulum either, but the old original patriarchal Pendulum--the
Abraham Pendulum of the world.

This Baptistery is endowed with the most pleasing echo of all the echoes
we have read of. The guide sounded two sonorous notes, about half an
octave apart; the echo answered with the most enchanting, the most
melodious, the richest blending of sweet sounds that one can imagine. It
was like a long-drawn chord of a church organ, infinitely softened by
distance. I may be extravagant in this matter, but if this be the case
my ear is to blame--not my pen. I am describing a memory--and one that
will remain long with me.

The peculiar devotional spirit of the olden time, which placed a higher
confidence in outward forms of worship than in the watchful guarding of
the heart against sinful thoughts and the hands against sinful deeds, and
which believed in the protecting virtues of inanimate objects made holy
by contact with holy things, is illustrated in a striking manner in one
of the cemeteries of Pisa. The tombs are set in soil brought in ships
from the Holy Land ages ago. To be buried in such ground was regarded by
the ancient Pisans as being more potent for salvation than many masses
purchased of the church and the vowing of many candles to the Virgin.

Pisa is believed to be about three thousand years old. It was one of the
twelve great cities of ancient Etruria, that commonwealth which has left
so many monuments in testimony of its extraordinary advancement, and so
little history of itself that is tangible and comprehensible. A Pisan
antiquarian gave me an ancient tear-jug which he averred was full four
thousand years old. It was found among the ruins of one of the oldest of
the Etruscan cities. He said it came from a tomb, and was used by some
bereaved family in that remote age when even the Pyramids of Egypt were
young, Damascus a village, Abraham a prattling infant and ancient Troy
not yet [dreampt] of, to receive the tears wept for some lost idol of a
household. It spoke to us in a language of its own; and with a pathos
more tender than any words might bring, its mute eloquence swept down the
long roll of the centuries with its tale of a vacant chair, a familiar
footstep missed from the threshold, a pleasant voice gone from the
chorus, a vanished form!--a tale which is always so new to us, so
startling, so terrible, so benumbing to the senses, and behold how
threadbare and old it is! No shrewdly-worded history could have brought
the myths and shadows of that old dreamy age before us clothed with human
flesh and warmed with human sympathies so vividly as did this poor little
unsentient vessel of pottery.

Pisa was a republic in the middle ages, with a government of her own,
armies and navies of her own and a great commerce. She was a warlike
power, and inscribed upon her banners many a brilliant fight with Genoese
and Turks. It is said that the city once numbered a population of four
hundred thousand; but her sceptre has passed from her grasp, now, her
ships and her armies are gone, her commerce is dead. Her battle-flags
bear the mold and the dust of centuries, her marts are deserted, she has
shrunken far within her crumbling walls, and her great population has
diminished to twenty thousand souls. She has but one thing left to boast
of, and that is not much, viz: she is the second city of Tuscany.

We reached Leghorn in time to see all we wished to see of it long before
the city gates were closed for the evening, and then came on board the

We felt as though we had been away from home an age. We never entirely
appreciated, before, what a very pleasant den our state-room is; nor how
jolly it is to sit at dinner in one's own seat in one's own cabin, and
hold familiar conversation with friends in one's own language. Oh, the
rare happiness of comprehending every single word that is said, and
knowing that every word one says in return will be understood as well!
We would talk ourselves to death, now, only there are only about ten
passengers out of the sixty-five to talk to. The others are wandering,
we hardly know where. We shall not go ashore in Leghorn. We are
surfeited with Italian cities for the present, and much prefer to walk
the familiar quarterdeck and view this one from a distance.

The stupid magnates of this Leghorn government can not understand that so
large a steamer as ours could cross the broad Atlantic with no other
purpose than to indulge a party of ladies and gentlemen in a pleasure
excursion. It looks too improbable. It is suspicious, they think.
Something more important must be hidden behind it all. They can not
understand it, and they scorn the evidence of the ship's papers. They
have decided at last that we are a battalion of incendiary, blood-thirsty
Garibaldians in disguise! And in all seriousness they have set a gun-
boat to watch the vessel night and day, with orders to close down on any
revolutionary movement in a twinkling! Police boats are on patrol duty
about us all the time, and it is as much as a sailor's liberty is worth
to show himself in a red shirt. These policemen follow the executive
officer's boat from shore to ship and from ship to shore and watch his
dark maneuvres with a vigilant eye. They will arrest him yet unless he
assumes an expression of countenance that shall have less of carnage,
insurrection and sedition in it. A visit paid in a friendly way to
General Garibaldi yesterday (by cordial invitation,) by some of our
passengers, has gone far to confirm the dread suspicions the government
harbors toward us. It is thought the friendly visit was only the cloak
of a bloody conspiracy. These people draw near and watch us when we
bathe in the sea from the ship's side. Do they think we are communing
with a reserve force of rascals at the bottom?

It is said that we shall probably be quarantined at Naples. Two or three
of us prefer not to run this risk. Therefore, when we are rested, we
propose to go in a French steamer to Civita and from thence to Rome, and
by rail to Naples. They do not quarantine the cars, no matter where they
got their passengers from.

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