“The stars shone pale on Novis Gate” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—The city gate of Novi. On the way to Genoa, on 21 June the Ruskin family took refuge in Novi owing to a storm (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 54). A decade after the Ruskinsʼ journey, Novi was still described as the “best sleeping place between Milan and Genoa” (Maule, Hand‐book for Travellers in Northern Italy, 49). Novi was familiar in recent history as the site of the Battle of Novi (1799) between the French Republican Army and the forces of the Second Coalition. The French commander, Barthélemy Catherine Joubert, was killed; and the French lost control over territory they had won under Napoleonʼs leadership in 1796. The territory was regained by Napoleonʼs victory in the Battle of Marengo in 1800.


“That from Elba to the Alps oer the seas broad blue” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—In 1814, by the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau following his defeat by the Sixth Coalition, the power of Napoleon Bonaparte as emperor of France was reduced to rule over Elba, the island in the Tyrrhenian Sea effectively becoming his place of exile. In 1815, he escaped from the island to retake his power in France. For the prospect “from Elba to the Alps”, Ruskin positions a compass on a map, as it were, placing the point of the compass on Genoa and inscribing a southernly arc from Elba through the sea to the Alps, which extend nearly to the seacoast on the mainland. On the morning of the familyʼs departure from Novi, Mary Richardson wrote that they could see the “snowy Alps” (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 54).


“All our scorching road along / Came the gay Cicadas song” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—During the ride to Genoa, Mary Richardson wrote, the family “heard for the first time the cigali, an insect which makes a great noise not very pleasant when long continued” (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 54).


“Of various trees a vista green / Into the streamlet looking down / . . . / . . . and through / That natural arched avenue / There showed a rich and mighty plain / . . . / And through the stretch of that champaign / A noble river wound its way” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—The “rich and mighty plain” viewed in this prospect opens up the country south of Milan, where the family took the road to Genoa, passing through Pavia. Below Pavia, the traveler crossed the border between Lombardy, which was ruled by Austria, and Piedmont, which belonged to the Kingdom of Sardinia, as did Liguria and Genoa further south, annexed to the kingdom by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The river included in the poemʼs vista is the Po, which flows west to east across northern Italy, passng below Pavia on its way to emptying into the Adriatic near Venice.
Points in this landscape seem telescoped in the poem, so it is ambiguous whether Ruskin means the “rich and mighty plain” to be near or far. If near to Milan, the plain may be what G. B. Maule terms “the most Flemish portion of the plain of Lombardy. Meadows, rich in clover, yield two or three crops a year; thick rows of sallows and poplars, bespeak the humidity of the soil, luxuriant even to rankness”. Entering this Lombard plain, Maule adds, “the road skirts [a] canal all the way” (Maule, Hand‐book for Travellers in Northern Italy, 202). The canal was the Naviglio di Pavia (or Naviglio Pavese), which connected Milan to Pavia and the Po, and which may be the “streamlet” that flows in the foreground of Ruskinʼs vista in these lines (i.e., the opening lines of “Of various trees a vista green”, later incorporated into “Genoa”).
If Ruskin means the plain beyond this foreground to comprise a longer perspective, he perhaps refers to the expanse of both Lombardy and Piedmont, extending to the Appenines, which run along the coast, separating the plains from Genoa and the Ligurian Sea. In either case, the topography of the poem is somewhat confused, since this vista, which is described starting with the lines, “Of various trees a vista green”, opens in front of the traveler when leaving Milan, whereas the beginning lines of “Genoa”, into which Ruskin inserted the earlier‐composed lines, “Of various trees a vista green”, already positions the traveler as departing from Novi, further south.


“And on the horizon to the north / Pale gleams . . . / From the St Bernards fastnesses / that heaven girt boundary” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—Ruskin is sweeping the horizon from south to north, a panorama that may not have been visible from a single place along this journey. In her travel diary for 22 June 1833, Mary Richardson reported seeing the “snowy Alps”, after the family had departed Pavia and spent the night at Novi (see above) (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 54). By identifying this horizon as “St Bernardʼs fastnesses”, Ruskin refers to the pass of the Great St. Bernard, between the valley of Aosta on the Italian side and Martigny in the valley of the Rhône on the Swiss side.


Marengos sea” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—In late May 1800, Napoleon led his army across the Great St. Bernard Pass and on 14 June fought with Austrian troops under Michael von Melas in the Battle of Marengo. Napoleonʼs narrow victory regained control of northern Italy for France in the Revolutionary Wars, thwarting Melasʼs attempt to sow discontent with French domination in the region (Chandler, Napoleon, 50–56). On the road between Pavia and Novi, the plain around Alessandria and Marengo where the battle was fought lay on the Ruskinsʼ right, to the west.


“Unto the Apennine. / Tis sweet a topmost mountain ridge, / Impatiently to climb, / And there to stand and dream away” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—At Novi, where the Ruskins staid the night, travelers were well situated to glimpse not only the Alps to the northwest but also the Apennines to the south. In his guidebook, G. B. Maule writes: “Beyond Novi, you begin to enter the Apennines, and the country becomes very beautiful. Fine hills in the distance, curiously stratified rocks nearer the road, and the most beautiful groves of chestnut, all cheer and enliven the way”. Perhaps the “topmost mountain ridge” where Ruskin stood to “dream away” was near Ponte Decimo, where Maule says “the ridge of the Apennines is now crossed; and the scenery becomes finer and finer, until at length you gain a most extensive view of the riviera, with Genoa and its bay beneath you, the vineyards, of which the trellices are supported by stone pillars, forming beautiful avenues. The descent continues very rapid; villas and ornamental gardens increase in number, forming an appropriate introduction to the magnificence of Genoa” (Maule, Hand‐book for Travellers in Northern Italy, 49). A sheet of pen‐and‐ink drawings of Six Swiss and Italian Views, which Ruskin made during the 1833 journey, includes a mountain and water scene labeled “In the Apennines[.] Road from Novi to Genoa“.


“And if thou neer hast felt as if / The ocean had a mind / . . . / I would not think thou hadst a soul” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—From beginning to end of “Genoa”, Ruskinʼs attention is absorbed by the mountains and the sea, in contrast with Mary Richardsonʼs account, which focuses (somewhat disapprovingly) on the built environment of the city—its narrow and “dirty” streets, lined “on each side” with houses of “an immense height”; the relief of a view of the harbor from their spacious and elegant hotel rooms, but having to peer over “a forest of ships” to “see the Mediterranean well”. The difference in emphasis—which would have been balanced by Johnʼs canceled plan to compose a piece, “The house of Byron, about the familyʼs visit to Byronʼs Casa Saluzzo in a suburb of Genoa—is explained not only by Johnʼs habitual fixation on the natural landscape but also by his and his fatherʼs illness shortly after arrival, which ȁdetermined” the travelers that they “should not at present go further south” in the hot weather, and which prevented John from touring some of the palaces in the city. John therefore may not have seen—or cared about, if he did see—the “fine pictures” at Palazzo “Brignole” (referring probably to the Palazzo Brignole Sale, a.k.a. the Palazzo Rosso); and, Mary added, “some of the finest pictures we have seen”, which were found at “Palazzo Durazzo” (referring perhaps to the Palazzo Reale or to the Palazzo Durazzo‐Pallavicini). Mary also appreciated the “richly furnished” interior for which the Palazzo Serra was famous. They of course examined the cathedral, which was “decked up for the festival of St. John” (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 55–57; for details about these collections as they existed a decade following the Ruskinsʼ tour, see Murrayʼs Hand‐book for Travellers in Northern Italy, 93–101).