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The innocents abroad, or, The new Pilgrim's progress

being some account of the steamship Quaker City's pleasure excursion to Europe and the Holy land ; with descriptions of countries, nations, incidents and adventures, as they appeared to the author






We left Milan by rail. The Cathedral six or seven miles
behind us—vast, dreamy, blueish snow-clad mountains
twenty miles in front of us,—these were the accented points in
the scenery. The more immediate scenery consisted of fields
and farm-houses outside the car and a monster-headed dwarf and
a moustached woman inside it. These latter were not showpeople.
Alas, deformity and female beards are too common in
Italy to attract attention.

We passed through a range of wild, picturesque hills, steep,
wooded, cone-shaped, with rugged crags projecting here and
there, and with dwellings and ruinons castles perched away up
toward the drifting clouds. We lunched at the curious old
town of Como, at the foot of the lake, and then took the small
steamer and had an afternoon's pleasure excursion to this

When we walked ashore, a party of policemen (people whose
cocked hats and showy uniforms would shame the finest uniform
in the military service of the United States,) put us into
a little stone cell and locked us in. We had the whole passenger
list for company, but their room would have been preferable,
for there was no light, there were no windows, no ventilation.
It was close and hot. We were much crowded. It
was the Black Hole of Calcutta on a small scale. Presently
a smoke rose about our feet—a smoke that smelt of all the
dead things of earth, of all the putrefaction and corruption

We were there five minutes, and when we got out it was
hard to tell which of us carried the vilest fragrance.


Page 200

[ILLUSTRATION] [Description: 500EAF. Page 200. In-line Illustration. Image of a group of men and a priest standing in a dim room. There are smoking censers on the floor. The caption reads, "THE FUMIGATORY."]

These miserable outcasts called that “fumigating” us, and
the term was a tame one indeed. They fumigated us to guard
themselves against the cholera, though we hailed from no infected
port. We had left the cholera far behind us all the
time. However, they must keep epidemics away somehow or
other, and funigation is cheaper than soap. They must either
wash themselves or fumigate other people. Some of the lower
classes had rather die than wash, but the fumigation of strangers
causes them no pangs. They need no fumigation themselves.
Their habits make it unnecessary. They carry their
preventive with them; they sweat and fumigate all the day
long. I trust I am a humble and a consistent Christian. I try
to do what is right. I know it is my duty to “pray for them
that despitefully use me;” and therefore, hard as it is, I shall
still try to pray for these fumigating, maccaroni-stuffing organ


Page 201

Our hotel sits at the water's edge—at least its front garden
does—and we walk among the shrubbery and smoke at twilight;
we look afar off at Switzerland and the Alps, and feel
an indolent willingness to look no closer; we go down the
steps and swim in the lake; we take a shapely little boat and
sail abroad among the reflections of the stars; lie on the
thwarts and listen to the distant laughter, the singing, the soft
melody of flutes and guitars that comes floating across the water
from pleasuring gondolas; we close the evening with exasperating
billiards on one of those same old execrable tables.
A midnight luncheon in our ample bed-chamber; a final smoke
in its contracted veranda facing the water, the gardens and the
mountains; a summing up of the day's events. Then to bed,
with drowsy brains harassed with a mad panorama that mixes
up pictures of France, of Italy, of the ship, of the ocean, of
home, in grotesque and bewildering disorder. Then a melting
away of familiar faces, of cities and of tossing waves, into a
great calm of forgetfulness and peace.

After which, the nightmare.

Breakfast in the morning, and then the Lake.

I did not like it yesterday. I thought Lake Tahoe was much
finer. I have to confess now, however, that my judgment
erred somewhat, though not extravagantly. I always had
an idea that Como was a vast basin of water, like Tahoe, shut
in by great mountains. Well, the border of huge mountains
is here, but the lake itself is not a basin. It is as crooked as
any brook, and only from one-quarter to two-thirds as wide as
the Mississippi. There is not a yard of low ground on either
side of it—nothing but endless chains of mountains that spring
abruptly from the water's edge, and tower to altitudes varying
from a thousand to two thousand feet. Their craggy sides are
clothed with vegetation, and white specks of houses peep out
from the luxuriant foliage every where; they are even perched
upon jutting and picturesque pinnacles a thousand feet above
your head.

Again, for miles along the shores, handsome country seats,
surrounded by gardens and groves, sit fairly in the water, sometimes


Page 202
[ILLUSTRATION] [Description: 500EAF. Page 202. In-line Illustration. Image of a view of Lake Como. The caption reads, "LAKE COMO."] in nooks carved by Nature out of the vine-hung precipices,
and with no ingress or egrees save by boats. Some have
great broad stone staircases leading down to the water, with
heavy stone balustrades ornamented with statuary and fancifully
adorned with creeping vines and bright-colored flowers—
for all the world like a drop-curtain in a theatre, and lacking
nothing but long-waisted, high-heeled women and plumed
gallants in silken tights coming down to go serenading in the
splendid gondola in waiting.

A great feature of Como's attractiveness is the multitude of
pretty houses and gardens that cluster upon its shores and on
its mountain sides. They look so snug and so homelike, and
at eventide when every thing seems to slumber, and the music
of the vesper bells comes stealing over the water, one almost
believes that nowhere else than on the Lake of Como can there
be found such a paradise of tranquil repose.


Page 203

From my window here in Bellaggio, I have a view of the
other side of the lake now, which is as beautiful as a picture.
A scarred and wrinkled precipice rises to a height of eighteen
hundred feet; on a tiny bench half way up its vast wall, sits a
little snow-flake of a church, no bigger than a martin-box, apparently;
skirting the base of the cliff are a hundred orange
groves and gardens, flecked with glimpses of the white dwellings
that are buried in them; in front, three or four gondolas
lie idle upon the water—and in the burnished mirror of the
lake, mountain, chapel, houses, groves and boats are counterfeited
so brightly and so clearly that one scarce knows where
the reality leaves off and the reflection begins!

The surroundings of this picture are fine. A mile away, a
grove-plumed promontory juts far into the lake and glasses its
palace in the blue depths; in midstream a boat is cutting the
shining surface and leaving a long track behind, like a ray of
light; the mountains beyond are veiled in a dreamy purple
haze; far in the opposite direction a tumbled mass of domes
and verdant slopes and valleys bars the lake, and here indeed
does distance lend enchantment to the view—for on this broad
canvas, sun and clouds and the richest of atmospheres have
blended a thousand tints together, and over its surface the
filmy lights and shadows drift, hour after hour, and glorify it
with a beauty that seems reflected out of Heaven itself. Beyond
all question, this is the most voluptuous scene we have
yet looked upon.

Last night the scenery was striking and picturesque. On the
other side crags and trees and snowy houses were reflected in
the lake with a wonderful distinctness, and streams of light
from many a distant window shot far abroad over the still waters.
On this side, near at hand, great mansions, white with
moonlight, glared out from the midst of masses of foliage that
lay black and shapeless in the shadows that fell from the cliff
above—and down in the margin of the lake every feature of
the weird vision was faithfully repeated.

To-day we have idled through a wonder of a garden attached
to a ducal estate—but enough of description is enough, I judge.


Page 204
I suspect that this was the same place the gardener's son deceived
the Lady of Lyons with, but I do not know. You may
have heard of the passage somewhere:

“A deep vale,
Shut out by Alpine hills from the rude world,
Near a clear lake margined by fruits of gold
And whispering myrtles:
Glassing softest skies, cloudless,
Save with rare and roseate shadows;
A palace, lifting to eternal heaven its marbled walls,
From out a glossy bower of coolest foliage musical with birds.”

That is all very well, except the “clear” part of the lake.
It certainly is clearer than a great many lakes, but how dull
its waters are compared with the wonderful transparence of
Lake Tahoe! I speak of the north shore of Tahoe, where one
can count the scales on a trout at a depth of a hundred and
eighty feet. I have tried to get this statement off at par here,
but with no success; so I have been obliged to negotiate it at
fifty per cent. discount. At this rate I find some takers; perhaps
the reader will receive it on the same terms—ninety feet
instead of one hundred and eighty. But let it be remembered
that those are forced terms—Sheriff's sale prices. As far as I
am privately concerned, I abate not a jot of the original assertion
that in those strangely magnifying waters one may count
the scales on a trout (a trout of the large kind,) at a depth of
a hundred and eighty feet—may see every pebble on the bottom—might
even count a paper of dray-pins. People talk of
the transparent waters of the Mexican Bay of Acapulco, but in
my own experience I know they can not compare with those I am
speaking of. I have fished for trout, in Tahoe, and at a measured
depth of eighty-four feet I have seen them put their noses to
the bait and I could see their gills open and shut. I could hardly
have seen the trout themselves at that distance in the open air.

As I go back in spirit and recall that noble sea, reposing
among the snow-peaks six thousand feet above the ocean, the
conviction comes strong upon me again that Como would only
seem a bedizened little courtier in that august presence.



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Page 205

Sorrow and misfortune overtake the Legislature that still
from year to year permits Tahoe to retain its unmusical cognomen!
Tahoe! It suggests no crystal waters, no picturesque
shores, no sublimity. Tahoe for a sea in the clouds: a sea that
has character, and asserts it in solemn calms, at times, at times
in savage storms; a sea, whose royal seclusion is guarded by a
cordon of sentinel peaks that lift their frosty fronts nine thousand
feet above the level world; a sea whose every aspect is
impressive, whose belongings are all beautiful, whose lonely
majesty types the Deity!

Tahoe means grasshoppers. It means grasshopper soup.
It is Indian, and suggestive of Indians. They say it is Pi-ute—
possibly it is Digger. I am satisfied it was named by the Diggers—those
degraded savages who roast their dead relatives,
then mix the human grease and ashes of bones with tar, and
“gaum” it thick all over their heads and foreheads and ears,
and go caterwauling about the hills and call it mourning.
are the gentry that named the Lake.

People say that Tahoe means “Silver Lake”—“Limpid Water”—“Falling
Leaf.” Bosh. It means grasshopper soup,
the favorite dish of the Digger tribe—and of the Pi-utes as
well. It isn't worth while, in these practical times, for people
to talk about Indian poetry—there never was any in them—
except in the Fennimore Cooper Indians. But they are an extinct
tribe that never existed. I know the Noble Red Man.
I have camped with the Indians; I have been on the warpath
with them, taken part in the chase with them—for grasshoppers;
helped them steal cattle; I have roamed with them,
scalped them, had them for breakfast. I would gladly eat the
whole race if I had a chance.

But I am growing unreliable. I will return to my comparison
of the Lakes. Como is a little deeper than Tahoe, if people
here tell the truth. They say it is eighteen hundred feet
deep at this point, but it does not look a dead enough blue for
that. Tahoe is one thousand five hundred and twenty-five
feet deep in the centre, by the State Geologist's measurement.
They say the great peak opposite this town is five thousand


Page 206
feet high: but I feel sure that three thousand feet of that statement
is a good honest lie. The lake is a mile wide, here, and
maintains about that width from this point to its northern extremity—which
is distant sixteen miles: from here to its southern
extremity—say fifteen miles—it is not over half a mile
wide in any place, I should think. Its snow-clad mountains
one hears so much about are only seen occasionally, and then
in the distance, the Alps. Tahoe is from ten to eighteen miles
wide, and its mountains shut it in like a wall. Their summits
are never free from snow the year round. One thing about it
is very strange: it never has even a skim of ice upon its surface,
although lakes in the same range of mountains, lying in
a lower and warmer temperature, freeze over in winter.

It is cheerful to meet a shipmate in these out-of-the-way
places and compare notes with him. We have found one of
ours here—an old soldier of the war, who is seeking bloodless
adventures and rest from his campaigns, in these sunny lands.[1]


Col. J. Heron Foster, editor of a Pittsburgh journal, and a most estimable
gentleman. As these sheets are being prepared for the press, I am pained to learn
of his decease shortly after his return home.—M. T.