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7. First Impressions
We followed an Alpine path for some four miles, now hundreds of feet above a brawling
stream which descended from the glaciers, and now nearly alongside it. The morning was
cold and somewhat foggy, for the autumn had made great strides latterly. Sometimes we
went through forests of pine, or rather yew trees, though they looked like pine; and I
remember that now and again we passed a little wayside shrine, wherein there would be a
statue of great beauty, representing some figure, male or female, in the very heyday of
youth, strength, and beauty, or of the most dignified maturity and old age. My hosts
always bowed their heads as they passed one of these shrines, and it shocked me to see
statues that had no apparent object, beyond the chronicling of some unusual individual
excellence or beauty, receive so serious a homage. However, I showed no sign of wonder
or disapproval; for I remembered that to be all things to all men was one of the
injunctions of the Gentile Apostle, which for the present I should do well to heed. Shortly
after passing one of these chapels we came suddenly upon a village which started up out
of the mist; and I was alarmed lest I should be made an object of curiosity or dislike. But
it was not so. My guides spoke to many in passing, and those spoken to showed much
amazement. My guides, however, were well known, and the natural politeness of the
people prevented them from putting me to any inconvenience; but they could not help
eyeing me, nor I them. I may as well say at once what my after-experience taught me--
namely, that with all their faults and extraordinary obliquity of mental vision upon many
subjects, they are the very best-bred people that I ever fell in with.
The village was just like the one we had left, only rather larger. The streets were narrow
and unpaved, but very fairly clean. The vine grew outside many of the houses; and there
were some with sign-boards, on which was painted a bottle and a glass, that made me feel
much at home. Even on this ledge of human society there was a stunted growth of
shoplets, which had taken root and vegetated somehow, though as in an air mercantile of
the bleakest. It was here as hitherto: all things were generically the same as in Europe, the
differences being of species only; and I was amused at seeing in a window some bottles
with barley-sugar and sweetmeats for children, as at home; but the barley-sugar was in
plates, not in twisted sticks, and was coloured blue. Glass was plentiful in the better
Lastly, I should say that the people were of a physical beauty which was simply amazing.
I never saw anything in the least comparable to them. The women were vigorous, and had
a most majestic gait, their heads being set upon their shoulders with a grace beyond all
power of expression. Each feature was finished, eyelids, eyelashes, and ears being almost
invariably perfect. Their colour was equal to that of the finest Italian paintings; being of
the clearest olive, and yet ruddy with a glow of perfect health. Their expression was
divine; and as they glanced at me timidly but with parted lips in great bewilderment, I
forgot all thoughts of their conversion in feelings that were far more earthly. I was
dazzled as I saw one after the other, of whom I could only feel that each was the loveliest
I had ever seen. Even in middle age they were still comely, and the old grey-haired
women at their cottage doors had a dignity, not to say majesty, of their own.