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LXXXI. Journey from Geveva to Besançon-Observation of a French
Peasant of an Old Woman-Remarks of a French Friseur on the
DEAR SIR, Having left Vienna, we proceeded through the duchies of Stiria, Carinthia, and Carniola, to Venice. Notwithstanding the mountainous nature of those countries, the roads are remarkably good. They were formed originally at a vast expense of labour to the inhabitants, but in such a durable manner, that it requires no great trouble to keep them in repair, to which all necessary attention seems to be paid. Some of the mountains are covered with wood, but more generally they are quite bare. Among them are many fields and valleys, fit for pasturage and the cultivation of grain ; a few of these valleys are remarkably fertile, particularly in the duchy of Carniola. The bowels of the earth abound in lead, copper, and iron. Stirian steel is reckoned excellent; and the little town of Idra, in Carniola, is famous for the quicksilver mines in its neighbourhood.
It has been a matter of controversy among the learned, (for the learned dispute about many things which the ignorant think of little importance), by what road the original inhabitants came, who first peopled Italy? And it has been decided by some, that they must have entered by this very country of Carniola. These gentlemen lay it down as an axiom, that the first inhabitants of every
country in the world, that is not an island, must have come by land, and not by sea, on account of the ignorance of the early irbabitants of the earth in the art of navigation ; but Italy being a peninsula, the only way to enter it by land, is at some part of the isthmus by which it is joined to the rest of Europe. The Alps form great part of that isthmus, and, in the early ages, would exclude strangers as effectually as the sea. The easiest, shortest, and only possible way of avoiding seas and mountains, in entering Italy, is by the duchy of Carniola and Friuli. Ergo, They came that way. Q. E. D.
In contradiction to the preceding demonstration, others assert, that the first inhabitants came in ships from Greece ; and others have had the boldness to affirm, that Italy had as good a right as any other country to have inhabitants of its own original production, without being obliged to any vagrants whatever.
I thought it right to give you the opinion of the learned on this country, because it is not in my power to describe it from my own observation ; for we passed through those duchies with a rapidity which baffles all description.
The inns are as bad as the roads are good; for which reason we chose to sleep on the latter rather than in the former ; and actually travelled five days and nights, without stopping any longer than was necessary to change horses.
This method of travelling, however agreeable and improving it may be in other respects, is by no means calculated to give one the most perfect and lasting idea of the face of a country, or of the manners and characters of the inhabitants; and therefore I hope you will not insist upon an exact account of either.
Among other curiosities which our uninterrupted and expeditious movement prevented us from observing with due attention, was the town of Gratz, the capital of Stiria, through which we unfortunately passed in the middle of the night.
I did not regret this on account of the regularity of the streets, the venerable aspect of the churches, the sublime site of the castle, and other things which we had heard extolled; but solely because we had not an opportunity of visiting the shrine of St. Allan, a native of England, who formerly was a Dominican monk of a convent in this town, and in high favour with the Virgin Mary, of which she gave him some proofs as strong as they were extraordinary., Amongst other marks of her regard, she used to comfort him with milk from her breasts. This, to be sure, is a mark of affection seldom bestowed upon favourites above a year old, and will, I dare say, surprise you a good deal. There is no great danger, however, that an example of this kind should spread among virgins. Of the fact in the present instance there can be no doubt; for it is recorded in an inscription underneath a portrait of the saint, which is carefully preserved in the Dominican convent of this city. We continued our journey, in the full resolution of reaching Venice before we indulged in any other bed than the post-chaise ; but were obliged to stop short on a sudden for want of horses, at a small town called Wipach, bordering on the county of Goritia, in Carniola.
Before setting out from Vienna, we had been informed, that the archduke and his princess were about to return to Milan , for which reason we thought it advisable to remain at Vienna eight days after their departure, to avoid the inconveniences which might arise from a deficiency of post-horses on such an unfrequented road.
Having taken our measures with so much foresight, we little expected, when we actually did set out to meet with any delay in our progress.
The archduke and his duchess, however, had thought proper to go out of the direct road as far as Trieste, to view the late improvements of that town, whose commerce is greatly encouraged and protected by the emperor ; and remaining there a few days, all the post-horses which had been assembled to carry them to Trieste, were kept in the post-houses for their use ; consequently we found none at
Wipach. It began to grow dark when we arrived ; the postmaster was smoking his pipe at the door. As soon as the chaise stopped, we called to him to get ready the horses without loss of time; for, I added, with a tone of importance, that we could not possibly stay a moment. To this he replied coolly, that since we were in so very great a hurry, he should not attempt to detain us, but that he had no horses to carry us on. I asked, how soon they could be got. He answered, when they returned from attending the archduke ; but whether that would be the next day, the following, or a day or two after, he could not tell.
It appeared a great hardship to be stopped short, so unexpectedly, at a little paltry inn, and we agreed that nothing could have happened more unfortunately. After a few hasty ejaculations, which regarded the posting establishment, and the lords of police of this country, we resolved to make a virtue of necessity, and bear our misfortunes with firmness and equanimity.
As we stepped out of the chaise, I ordered the postmaster, therefore, to get ready beds, a good supper, and some of his best wine. Instead of receiving these injunctions with marks of satisfaction, as I expected, he answered without emotion, that he had no wine but for his own drinking; that he never gave suppers to any but his own family, and that he had no bed, except that which he himself, his wife, and his child occupied, which could not easily hold any more than them three at a time.
I had not hitherto perceived that this man's house was not an inn: as soon as I was undeceived, I begged he would inform us where the inn was. He pointed with his pipe to a small house on the opposite side of the street.
There we were told, that all the victuals in the house were already devoured-three or four guests were in every spare room—the family going to bed--and they could not possibly receive any more company. We had nearly the same account at another little inn, and an absolute refusal at every house where we sued for admittance.