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HOME > Classical Novels > Being a Boy > XIX A CONTRAST TO THE NEW ENGLAND BOY
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One evening at vespers in Genoa, attracted by a burst of music from the swinging curtain of the doorway, I entered a little church much frequented by the common people. An unexpected and exceedingly pretty sight rewarded me.

It was All-Souls' Day. In Italy almost every day is set apart for some festival, or belongs to some saint or another; and I suppose that when leap-year brings around the extra day, there is a saint ready to claim the 29th of February. Whatever the day was to the elders, the evening was devoted to the children. The first thing I noticed was, that the quaint old church was lighted up with innumerable wax-tapers,—an uncommon sight, for the darkness of a Catholic church in the evening is usually relieved only by a candle here and [Pg 180] there, and by a blazing pyramid of them on the high altar. The use of gas is held to be a vulgar thing all over Europe, and especially unfit for a church or an aristocratic palace.

Then I saw that each taper belonged to a little boy or girl, and the groups of children were scattered all about the church. There was a group by every side altar and chapel, all the benches were occupied by knots of them, and there were so many circles of them seated on the pavement that I could with difficulty make my way among them. There were hundreds of children in the church, all dressed in their holiday apparel, and all intent upon the illumination, which seemed to be a private affair to each one of them.

And not much effect had their tapers upon the darkness of the vast vaults above them. The tapers were little spiral coils of wax, which the children unrolled as fast as they burned, and when they were tired of holding them they rested them on the ground and watched the burning. I stood some time by a group of a dozen seated in [Pg 181] a corner of the church. They had massed all the tapers in the centre and formed a ring about the spectacle, sitting with their legs straight out before them and their toes turned up. The light shone full in their happy faces, and made the group, enveloped otherwise in darkness, like one of Correggio's pictures of children or angels. Correggio was a famous Italian artist of the sixteenth century, who painted cherubs like children who were just going to heaven, and children like cherubs who had just come out of it. But then, he had the Italian children for models, and they get the knack of being lovely very young. An Italian child finds it as easy to be pretty as an American child to be good.

One could not but be struck with the patience these little people exhibited in their occupation, and the enjoyment they got out of it. There was no noise; all conversed in subdued whispers and behaved in the most gentle manner to each other, especially to the smallest, and there were many of them so small that they could only toddle about by the most judicious exercise [Pg 182] of their equilibrium. I do not say this by way of reproof to any other kind of children.

These little groups, as I have said, were scattered all about the church; and they made with their tapers little spots of light, which looked in the distance very much like Correggio's picture which is at Dresden,—the Holy Family at Night, and the light from the Divine Child blazing in the faces of all the attendants. Some of the children were infants in the nurse's arms, but no one was too small to have a taper, and to run the risk of burning its fingers.

There is nothing that a baby likes more than a lighted candle, and the church has understood this longing in human nature, and found means to gratify it by this festival of tapers.

The groups do not all remain long in place, you may imagine; there is a good deal of shifting about, and I see little stragglers wandering over the church, like fairies lighted by fire-flies. Occasionally they form a little procession and march from one altar to another, the lights twinkling as they go.

But all this time there is music pouring [Pg 183] out of the organ-loft at the end o............
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