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Thomas Graham Jackson
Relevant Non-Istrians
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Dalmatia, the Quarnero, and Istria (1)

[Source: The Literary World; a Monthly Review of Current Literature (1870-1904); Sep 3, 1887; 18, 18.]

By training Mr. T. G. Jackson is an Oxford Master of Arts, and by profession he is an architect; but by endowment and taste he is one third Freeman, one third Schliemann, and one third Ruskin. Give such a man the companionship of a wife as inquisitive, adventurous, and indefatigable as himself, equip him with ample resources of time and money, and land him on the eastern shore of the Adriatic, to explore its islands and its cities with the studious habits of the historian, the microscopic powers of the antiquary, and the cultivated gifts of the artist, and you have these three elegant, capacious, and instructive volumes fully accounted for.

The Dalmatia, Istria, and Montenegro of the title are familiar names. Cettigne is the Montenegrin capital. The Quarnero is the eastern and lesser of the two gulfs which indent the northern extremity of the Adriatic. Grado is an island at the head of the deeper western gulf. From Grado you look perhaps seventy-five miles a little south of west to Venice. Of the long stretch of: rugged shore traversed by Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, fringed with islands and dotted with cities, Trieste marks the northern limit and Scutari the southern. The Croatian part of the narrow strip is Hungarian territory; the Dalmatian and Istrian is Austrian. The atmosphere of Italy lies over all. The hoary Byzantine Empire is in the background. The historical flavor and associations are mediaeval. The unspeakable Turk is near at hand. In Montenegro we touch one of the memorable conflicts of recent times. On these wild shores lingers the older civilization of Eastern Europe in some of its most striking forms. The folding map of the region explored by Mr. Jackson is only a beginning of the many admirable traits with which his work is endowed.

Mr. Jackson is not the pioneer in the country whose treasures it is his object to describe. George Wheler was here in 1675, Robert Adam in 1764, the Abbate Fortis a hundred years ago, Sir Gardner Wilkinson in 1848, and Dr. Freeman's Subject and Neighbour Lands of Venice [1881] deals with the borders of the field. Mr. Jackson has made three visits, in 1882, 1884, and 1885, accompanied in each instance by his wife. Note-book and pencil he has liberally employed. He sketches as well as writes, and as well as he writes, which is saying much. The mere list of the illustrations occupies nine pages.

Traveling in these Adriatic lands is not made either easy or comfortable by the facilities of the West. The steamers of the Austrian Lloyds and of obscurer lines ply between the more important seaports, but with infrequency and irregularity, and if belated or full sometimes give the passengers waiting at an unimportant station the go-by. The islands, which are numerous, are to be reached by sail boats, with sometimes perilous exposure to treacherous currents and boisterous winds. Inland the railroads are scant, and in remoter precincts and on some of the smaller islands foot paths take the place of highways and mules displace wagons, so that travel is laborious and difficult. Good inns, too, are the exception, and though excellent bread and the best of wine are to be found everywhere, experiences like the following, related by Mr. Jackson, are not uncommon:

There is nothing that can be called an inn at Knin, for the wretched osteria where one gets an apology for a dinner can hardly be dignified by that title; but our friends had written to Signor Fontana, the principal tradesman in the town, who we found had kindly arranged everything for us and secured us clean quarters in a private house. The approach was certainly not promising: from a dark passage we entered a back yard full of lumber and reeking with the sour smell of old wine casks, from which we climbed by a ladder to the first floor of the house, and then by a somewhat better stair to our rooms, which were very clean and tidy In the daytime it was all very well, but the ascent and descent after dark by the light of a single wick floating in a pot of oil with which an old woman illumined one step after another was not so easy. Our lodging, however, was a palace compared to the osteria where we dined, or rather fed, on the best fare that Knin could afford. The dining-room was a fast Rembrandtesque apartment on the level of the street with a low, blackened ceiling, and a wooden floor that sank under the tread, squelching into the oozy mud below. [11,187.]
Istria and Dalmatia are lands of the vine and the olive, the fig and the mulberry. The scenery is only sometimes fine. Stony deserts and mountains of arid whiteness occupy much of the surface, suggesting, in Dalmatia especially, the barrenness and sterility of Arabia. Here and there, however, are expanses, or at least touches, of fertility. Rains are frequent and violent. Miasma abounds. There are a few rivers but no brooks and springs, and a prevailing absence of running water. In the maritime towns life has an Italian aspect; inland the picturesque features of the Slavs appear. The islanders have a better reputation than the dwellers on the mainland; as one goes inland towards the old Turkish frontier the deterioration of both country and people becomes noticeable.
...The women are strange, half-savage looking creatures, with elf locks hanging over their weather-beaten faces, dressed in thick embroidered leggings that give them the appearance of Indian squaws, and among the men are to be seen rags and tatters, and sometimes half-naked figures, with nothing but a blanket to shield them from the weather as they tend their flocks on the bleak highland moors. Yet, poor as they are, most of them appear on festival days with silver coins, beads, and buttons hung so thickly over their wretched rags that as they journey on their little asses or ponies over the mountains to the fair, they blaze in the sunshine like a troop of cuirassiers. The contrast between this idle wealth and the misery of the tatters below serves but to give a deeper tinge to their barbarism. [I, 203.]

These further glimpses of the picturesque costumes of the people, the first being at Zara, will interest the reader:

The men wear trousers of blue cloth gaily worked at the pockets, tight to the leg and often fastened up the back of the calf by a row of silver hooks and eyes; and they are shod with the opanka, a kind of sandal well adapted to the sharp rocks they have to encounter, made ot a sole of thick leather turned up and stitched to form a toe, and laced over the instep with knotted and twisted thongs of leather. [1,234] ...The women wear a smock of homespun linen fastened at the throat with a filagree button and embroidered in front and at the shoulders and wrists; a waistcoat of blue cloth open in front; a short petticoat of the same; and an apron worked in colored wools so solidly as to be as stiff as a piece of carpet; and they have opankas and embroidered spats like the men, the latter often continued as leggings half way to the knee, and having the effect of trousers. The unmarried girls wear a scarlet cap like that of the men, but covered with embroidery and spangles, and on festivals hung round with a fringe of pendent coins. Married women change this for a large, white handkerchief of homespun linen beautifully worked at the corners and edges, which covers the head, is tied under the chin, and hangs over the back and shoulders. [I, 235]...

But we must not lead the reader to suppose that the chief interest of Mr. Jackson's volumes lies in their picturesque description of scenery and people. Not at all so. The main object of our author is to present by pen and pencil as complete an idea as possible of the architectural remains which connect this country with a remote past. Landing at Zara, the capital of Dalmatia, he and his companion proceeded slowly in various directions, northward, inland, and southward, visiting in turn the towns of Nona and Vrana, Sebenico, Knin, Traü, Spalato, Ragusa, and Cattaro; from Cattaro climbed the mountains to Cettigne, the capital of Montenegro; then took in Segna, Fiume, Pola, Parenzo, Pirano, and Trieste; ending their tour with Aquileja and the island of Grado. The islands of Arbe, Cherso, Ossero, Ugliano, Veglia, Mezzo, Curzola, and Lesina, were also included. Every one of these localities has its churches and convents, many a one of them its cathedral or "duomo;" some of these edifices in partial ruins, but most of them in a good state of preservation. Here can be seen Byzantine architecture in its full strength or under its later influences. At Spalato, which by the way Mr. Jackson found to be an excellent point of departure for short excursions, are the remains of a magnificent palace of the Russian Emperor Diocletian, who here spent the closing period of his life. Its exterior walls, and the principal parts of the buildings within its walls, are still standing, covering nine and a half acres of ground. Its two temples, one of Jupiter, the other of Æsculapius, have been turned into churches. The edifice has been restored on paper by the English architect, Robert Adam, with "wonderful correctness." Mr. Jackson's full account of it, with the accompanying drawings, furnishes a good example of the patient thoroughness with which he fulfills the archaeological purpose of his work. At Ragusa, a point of equal if not superior interest, is an imposing " Rector's Palace;" at Novegrad, near Zara, a fine old castle; at Verboska on the island of Lesina, a curious old church and castle combined so as to be defended from the attacks of earth, and assail if not carry the heights of heaven at one and the same time; at Pola are the ruins of a spacious amphitheater; at Aquileja the site of one of the proudest of Roman cities, which had a population of half a million souls.

The thirty-six chapters of Mr. Jackson's work are evenly distributed among these several localities. On reaching the town or the island which furnishes the given subject we have first its history, in ample dimensions and minute detail; the whole of the first half of the first volume, in fact, is taken up with an elaborate history of Dalmatia, from the earliest times. These historical prolegomena, which are numerous and copious, and which are of great value to the close historical student, might easily have been abridged without loss to the general reader, and without greatly lessening the value of the work for architects or antiquaries. Historical outlines would have been useful and sufficient. The historical avenue traversed and the town fairly entered, Mr. Jackson makes his way straight to the "duomo," and sets to work on a prolonged and systematic study of it within and without; sometimes uncovering its foundations, always exploring its chapels, stairways, and appurtenances, and obtaining whenever possible a view of its relics and treasures. Of these curious old cathedrals the ground plans are always given, and sketches of the exterior are usually reproduced in tint by an "ink-photographic " process which gives a soft and pleasing result. The cathedral inspected, we are taken next to the other churches in the town, to the convents, which in the aggregate are numerous, and to any other public or private buildings of note. The curé or "parroco" is often Mr. Jackson's guide, and priest and people commonly afford him every facility for his studies. Antique church plate receives a large share of his attention; there are pictures of sumptuous pastoral staffs, quaint chalices of rare patterns, and caskets containing the bones of saints. At pillars, capitals, and arches Mr. Jackson looks with an architect's eye; over paintings he bends with the affection of a connoisseur but the caution and coolness of a critic; a bit of choice carving to him is like a fragrant and lovely flower; he grasps the wondrous products of the chisel, of delicate and graceful shapes, by handfuls. This paragraph, from the fascinating chapter in Vol. II on the Duomo at Traü, relating to one single detail of the noble west doorway, instances at once the wonderful richness of some of this old Dalmatian work, and the conscientious fidelity with which it is presented to the reader:

The next order has various scenes from rural life; a wood cutter, a leather worker, a man boiling a pot and perhaps making sausages, a string of which, resembling the "luganica" which travelers in Dalmatia know so well, hangs behind him, while he holds another sausage in a ladle over the pot with one hand and with the other raises a cup into which a servant pours water; a man killing a pig, while a kind of camel-monster seems attacking him in the rear; sheep-shearing; a pigeon with a scroll or label on which the inscription has been omitted; an armed warrior; and a naked wild man of the woods. The scroll work on the inner face of this order is magnificent and in its way unsurpassable, boldly designed, but yet finished like ivory carving. [II. 117.]

Few Dalmatian towns can be entered on wheels, the streets are so narrow. The country paths are lanes leading between stone walls. This necessity of foot travel favors a close and exhaustive inspection of objects, by all of which the reader is the gainer. The work is not without a spice of adventure, though to recite adventures is not its function. The "personal equation" in it is insignificant. It is a scholar's work for scholars, prepared with thorough editorial and literary skill, and equipped with all needed furniture for use. The illustrations, which are in great number and variety, lying sometimes outside the text, sometimes within it, are a conspicuous feature; but not more so than the excellent paper, type, and press-work, which are of the Clarendon Press's best. We notice in Vol. I, p. 7, the misprint of "dioeceses" for dioceses, and on p. 35 the apparent one of "hoarding" for boarding; the former, however, may be a scholar's affectation. The binding — half parchment with ornamented cloth sides — is novel and rich. The work altogether is notable and attractive, presenting valuable information on a really fascinating subject in a most agreeable and entertaining manner, and opening up a remote and largely neglected region with great distinctness. No architect can study its pages and plates without great pleasure and profit, and no intelligent person, while tempted perhaps to skip some of the historical passages, could fail to be charmed and delighted with its other — professional but hardly technical — portions.


Note:

  1. Dalmatia, the Quarnero, and Istria, with Cettigne in Montenegro, and the Island of Grado. By T. G. Jackson. Three volumes. Illustrated. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. New York: Macmillan & Co. $10.50.

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