*THE* *NAPLES RIVIERA*
BY HERBERT M. VAUGHAN, B.A. (OXON.) AUTHOR OF "THE LAST OF THE ROYAL STUARTS"
WITH TWENTY-FIVE ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR BY MAURICE GREIFFENHAGEN
METHUEN & CO 36 ESSEX STREET W.C. LONDON
First Published in 1907
TO G. L. L. IN MEMORY OF MANY PLEASANT DAYS IN THE SUNNY SOUTH THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR
CHAPTER I PAGE INTRODUCTORY 1 CHAPTER II THE VESUVIAN SHORE AND MONTE SANT' ANGELO 8 CHAPTER III LA CITTA MORTA 38 CHAPTER IV VESUVIUS 66 CHAPTER V THE CORNICHE ROAD 100 CHAPTER VI AMALFI AND THE FESTIVAL OF ST ANDREW 126 CHAPTER VII RAVELLO AND THE RUFOLI 152 CHAPTER VIII SALERNO 172 CHAPTER IX PAESTUM AND THE GLORY THAT WAS GREECE 198 CHAPTER X SORRENTO AND ITS POET 221 CHAPTER XI CAPRI AND TIBERIUS THE TYRANT 249 CHAPTER XII ISCHIA AND THE LADY OF THE ROCK 275 CHAPTER XIII PUTEOLI AND THE GRANDEUR THAT WAS ROME 295 ———— INDEX 321
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
PAGE CHARCOAL CARRIERS, AMALFI Frontispiece A CAPRIOTE FISHERMAN'S WIFE 16 ROAD NEAR CASTELLAMARE 30 MONTE FAITO, CASTELLAMARE 37 THE FORUM, POMPEII 46 LA CASA DEI VETTII, POMPEII 58 VESUVIUS AND THE BAY OF NAPLES 80 POZZANO 101 EVENING AT AMALFI 124 AMALFI 132 IN THE VALLEY OF THE MILLS, AMALFI 140 AMALFI: PIAZZA AND DUOMO 148 RAVELLO: IL DUOMO 156 A STREET IN RAVELLO 163 MINORI AT SUNSET 170 ON THE ROAD TO RAVELLO 186 THE TEMPLE OF NEPTUNE, PAESTUM 204 AFTERNOON, SORRENTO 230 FARAGLIONI ROCKS, CAPRI 249 CAPRI FROM THE VILLA JOVIS 254 IN THE BLUE GROTTO, CAPRI 262 A GATEWAY, CAPRI 274 ON THE PICCOLA MARINA, CAPRI 288 ISCHIA FROM CASTELLAMARE (SUNSET) 294 ON THE BEACH 306
A small selection out of the books I have consulted during the preparation of this work is given below:—
E. GIBBON: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
DEAN MERIVALE: The Romans under the Empire.
Pliny's Letters: (Church's and Brodribb's Translation, London, 1897).
J. PHILLIPS: Vesuvius (Oxford, 1869).
C. RAMAGE: Nooks and Byways of Italy.
C. LENORMANT: A Travers la Lucanie et l'Apulie.
W. J. A. STAMER: Dolce Napoli (London, 1878).
E. NEVILLE ROLFE: Naples in 1888.
CONSTANCE GIGLIOLI: Naples in 1799.
C. L. SISMONDI: Histoire des Republiques Italiennes.
L. ALBERTI: Descrizione di tutta l' Italia (Venetia, 1596).
C. MILLS: The Travels of Theodore Ducas (London, 1822).
Les Delices d'Italie (Paris, 1707).
Nuova Guida de' Forastieri in Napoli, etc. (1751).
COUNT STOLBERG: Travels through Italy and Sicily in 1756.
A. H. NORWAY: Naples, Past and Present (London, 1904).
E. BUSK: Folk-Songs of Italy.
J. A. SYMONDS: Sketches and Studies in Italy.
CATHERINE PHILLIMORE: Studies in Italian Literature (London, 1891).
T. A. TROLLOPE: A Decade of Italian Women (London, 1859).
G. BOCCACCIO: Il Decamerone.
A. MAU: Pompeii: its Life and Art (New York, 1899).
J. FERGUSSON: Handbook of Architecture (London, 1859).
FRANZ VON REBER: History of Ancient and Mediaeval Art (New York, 1882).
E. JAMESON: Sacred and Legendary Art (London, 1879).
J. ELWORTHY: History of the Evil Eye (London, 1888).
N. VALLETTA: Cicalata sul Fascino detto Jettatura (Napoli, 1819).
A. CANALE: Storia dell' Isola di Capri.
G. AMALFI: Tradizioni ed Vsi nella Penisola Sorrentina.
THE NAPLES RIVIERA
"In otia natam Parthenopen."
That the city of Naples can prove very delightful, very amusing, and very instructive for a week or ten days no one will attempt to dispute. There are long mornings to be spent in inspecting the churches scattered throughout the narrow streets of the old town,—harlequins in coloured marble and painted stucco though they be, they are yet treasure-houses containing some of the most precious monuments of Gothic and Renaissance art that all Italy can display. There are afternoon hours that can be passed pleasantly amidst the endless halls and galleries of the great Museo Nazionale, where the antiquities of Pompeii and Herculaneum may be studied in advance, for the wise traveller will not rush headlong into the sacred precincts of the buried cities on the Vesuvian shore, before he has first made himself thoroughly acquainted with the wonderful collections preserved in the Museum. Then comes the evening drive along the gentle winding ascent towards Posilipo with its glorious views over bay and mountains, all tinged with the deep rose and violet of a Neapolitan sunset; or the stroll along the fashionable sea front, named after the luckless Caracciolo the modern hero of Naples, where in endless succession the carriages pass backwards and forwards within the limited space between the sea and the greenery of the Villa Reale. Or it may be that our more active feet may entice us to mount the winding flights of stone steps leading to the heights of Sant' Elmo, where from the windows of the monastery of San Martino there is spread out before us an entrancing view that has but two possible rivals for extent and interest in all Italy:—the panorama of the Eternal City from the hill of San Pietro in Montorio, and that of Florence with the valley of the Arno from the lofty terrace of San Miniato. We can while away many hours leisurely in wandering on the bustling Chiaja or Toledo with their shops and their amusing scenes of city life, or in the poorer quarters around the Mercato, where the inhabitants ply their daily avocations in the open air, and eat, play, quarrel, flirt, fight or gossip—do everything in short save go to bed—quite unconcernedly before the critical and non-admiring eyes of casual strangers. Pleasant it is to hunt for old prints, books and other treasures amongst the dark unwholesome dens that lie in the shadow of the gorgeous church of Santa Chiara or in the musty-smelling shops of the curiosity dealers in the Strada Costantinopoli, picking up here a volume of some cinque-cento classic and there a piece of old china that may or may not have had its birth in the famous factory of Capodimonte. All this studying of historic sculpture in the churches and of antiquities in the Museum, this observing the daily life of the populace, and bargain-hunting in the Strada de' Tribunali, are agreeable enough for a while, but of necessity there comes a time when the mind grows weary of yelling people and of jostling crowds, of stuffy churches and of the chilly halls of the Museum, of steep dirty streets and of glaring boulevards, so that we begin to sigh for fresh air and a change of scene. Nor is there any means of escape within the precincts of the city itself from the eternal cracking of whips, from the insulting compliments (or complimentary insults) of the incorrigible cabmen, from the continuous babel of unmusical voices, and from the reiterated strains of "Santa Lucia" or "Margari" howled from raucous throats or strummed from rickety street-organs. Oh for peace, and rest, and a whiff of pure country air! For there are no walks in or around the City of the Siren, where there is nowhere to stroll save the narrow strip of the much-vaunted Villa (which is either damp or dusty according to weather) or the fatiguing ascent amidst walled gardens and newly built houses to the heights of the Vomero, which are covered with a raw suburb. Moreover our pristine delight in the place is beginning to flag, as we gradually realise that the city, like the majority of great modern towns, is being practically rebuilt to the annihilation of its old-world features, which used to give to Naples its peculiar charm and its marked individuality amongst large sea-ports. Long ago has disappeared Santa Brigida, that picturesque high-coloured slum, on whose site stands the garish domed gallery of which the Neapolitans are so proud; gone in these latter days is classic Santa Lucia with its water-gate and its fountain, its vendors of medicated water and frutti di mare, those toothsome shell fish of the unsavoury beach; vanished for ever is many a landmark of old Naples, and new buildings, streets and squares, blank, dreary, pretentious and staring, have arisen in their places. This thorough sventramento di Napoli, as the citizens graphically term this drastic reconstruction of the old capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, is no doubt beneficial, not to say necessary, and we make no protest against these wholesale changes, which have certainly tended to destroy utterly its ancient character and appearance. But all seems commonplace, new, smart, and unpoetic, and we quickly grow weary of Naples now that it has been turned into a Liverpool of the South without the local colour and the peculiar attributes of which author and artist have so often raved. The life of the people, picturesque enough in its old setting, now appears mean and squalid; the toilers in the streets look jaded, oppressed and discontented; we search in vain for the spontaneous gaiety of which we have heard so much. We feel disappointed, cheated even, in our expectations of Naples, and we begin to understand that its chief attraction consists in its proximity to the scenes of beauty that mark the course of its Riviera.
The Riviera of Naples may be said to extend from the heights of Cumae, at the end of the Bay of Gaeta to the north, as far as Salerno in a southerly direction, whilst, lying close to this stretch of shore, are included the three populous islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia, which in prehistoric times doubtless formed part and parcel of the Parthenopean coast itself. Our pleasant task it is to write of these classic shores and islands, where the beauties of nature contend for pre-eminence with the glorious traditions of the past that centre round them. What spot on earth can surpass, or even be compared with, Amalfi in the perfect lustre of its setting? What loftier or bolder cliffs than those of Capri can the wild bleak headlands of the North Sea exhibit? The fertile lands of France cannot vie with the richness of the Sorrentine Plain, nor can any mountain on the face of the globe rival in human interest the peak of Vesuvius; Pompeii is unique, the most precious storehouse of ancient knowledge the world possesses; whilst the Bay of Baia recalls the days of Roman power and luxury more vividly to our minds than any place save the Eternal City itself. And again: what illustrious names in history and in literature—classical, medieval, modern—are for ever associated with these smiling shores! Robert Guiscard and Hildebrand in quiet Salerno, Tasso at health-giving Sorrento, Vittoria Colonna in her palace-fortress on the crags of Ischia, the great Apostle of the west at Puteoli:—these are but a few of the more eminent and gracious figures that arise before us at the casual bidding of memory. Then there are the infamous, as well as the virtuous and the gallant, whose misdeeds are still freshly remembered upon these coasts or in their fertile valleys. The sinister Tiberius, the half-crazy and wholly vicious Caligula, many a king and queen of evil repute that ruled Naples, the vile Pier-Luigi Farnese, the adventurer Joachim Murat, all have left the marks of their personality upon the coveted shores of the Neapolitan Riviera. From the days of the Sibyl and of the Trojan hero to the stirring times of Garibaldi and of King Bomba, which were but of yesterday, Naples and its environs have played a prominent part in the annals and development of the civilised western world; Roman emperors, Pagan statesmen and poets, Norman, French and Spanish princes, popes, saints and theologians, merchants and scientists of the Middle Ages, writers of the Renaissance and heroes of the Risorgimento, all have combined to shed a halo of historical romance upon Naples and its Riviera, where there is scarcely a sea-girt town or a crumbling fortress that is not redolent of the memory of some personage whose name is inscribed on the roll of European history. It seems but right, therefore, that many works should have been written concerning this favoured corner of Italy, so replete with natural charm and with historical interest; and in truth multitudes of books, large and small, witty and dull, erudite and empty, light and heavy, prosaic and rhapsodical, have poured forth from the prolific pens of generations of authors. We feel sincerely the need of an apology for making a fresh addition to the ever-increasing pile of Neapolitan literature, and we can only urge in extenuation of our crime of authorship that the same scene appeals in varied ways to different persons, and that every fresh description is apt to shed additional light upon old familiar subjects. In the following pages we make no profession to act the part of a guide to the neighbourhood of Naples, for are there not the carefully prepared pages of Murray and Baedeker, to say nothing of the works of such writers as Augustus Hare, to lead the wanderer into every church and castle, to show him every nook in valley and mountain, and to supply him thoroughly with accurate dates and facts? No, our treatment of this theme may be deemed a poor one, but it has at least the merit and the courage of following its own peculiar lines. For we pursue our own course, and we touch lightly here and omit there; we run to dissertation in this place, we glide by silently in another. We take our own views of people and places, and give them for what they are worth to our readers to approve or to condemn, as they think fit. We offer a medley of history and of imagination, of biography and of private comment; and we crave indulgence for our short-comings by observing that any deficiencies in these pages can easily be remedied by application to the abundant literature upon Naples and its surrounding districts which every good library is presumed to contain.
THE VESUVIAN SHORE AND MONTE SANT' ANGELO
That little stream the Sebeto, which is indeed, as the courtly Metastasio observes, "scanty in depth of water though overflowing with honour," may be considered as the boundary line that divides the city of Naples from its eastern environs, although it is evident that the whole stretch of coast from Posilipo to Torre del Greco is covered with an unbroken line of houses. Past the highly cultivated Paduli, the chief market-gardens on this side of the city, with the town of La Barra on the fertile slopes to our left, we pass by way of San Giovanni a Teduccio to Portici, once a favourite resort of royalty. Here the dilettante Charles III., first Bourbon King of Naples, built a palace and laid out gardens in the days of patches and powder, constructing a royal pleasaunce that was destined to become the chief residence of the temporary supplanter of his own family, Joachim Murat, the citizen king of Naples and brother-in-law of the great Napoleon. Villa and gardens still remain, but monarchs have ceased to visit Portici since the days of Bomba, and the old royal demesne has been turned into an agricultural college. Adjoining and practically forming part of Portici is the town of Resina, which preserves almost intact the old classical name of Retina that it bore in the distant days when it served as the port of Herculaneum. Here then in the mean streets of Resina we find ourselves standing above, though certainly not upon, historic ground, for the temples and villas, the theatres and private houses of the famous buried city lie far below the surface trodden by our feet. To visit Herculaneum it is necessary for us to descend some seventy to a hundred feet into the depths of the earth, passing more than one layer of ancient lava, for Resina and Portici themselves are but modern editions of former towns that have been engulfed in the course of ages. If the stranger can derive any solid satisfaction from the descent by a gloomy underground passage and from fleeting glimpses of ancient walls and dwellings seen through a forest of wooden baulks, which serve to support the spaces excavated, he must indeed be an enthusiast. But most people, perhaps all sensible people, will be content to take the undoubted interest of Herculaneum on trust, probably agreeing (at any rate after their visit) that the inspection of this subterranean city is not worth the candle, by whose flickering beams alone can objects be distinguished in the oppressive darkness. Personally we strongly hold to the expressed opinion of Alexandre Dumas, who declared that even the most hardened antiquary could not desire more than one hour's contemplation of this hidden mass of shapeless wreckage. "Herculaneum," writes that genial Frenchman, "but wearies our curiosity instead of exciting it. We descend into the excavated city as into a mine by a species of shaft; then come corridors beneath the earth which can only be entered by the light of tapers; and these smoke-grimed passages allow us from time to time to obtain a momentary glimpse of the angle of a house, the colonnade of some temple, the steps of a theatre. Everything is fragmentary, mutilated, dingy, uncertain, confused, and therefore unsatisfactory. Well, at the end of an hour spent in wandering amongst these abysmal recesses, the most hardened archaeologist, the most dry-as-dust antiquary, the most inquisitive of tourists begins to experience only one feeling—an intense desire to ascend to the light of day and to breathe once more the fresh air of the upper world."
Nevertheless, it was from these dismal caverns, black as Erebus, that some of the choicest marbles and bronzes that now adorn the Museum at Naples were originally extracted. From a villa at Herculaneum also was taken the famous collection of 3000 rolls of papyrus, chiefly filled with the writings of the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, perhaps the greatest "find" of ancient literature that has yet been made, although the contents of this damaged library, deciphered with equal toil and ingenuity, have not proved to be of the value originally set upon them by expectant scholars. But much of the city itself has yet hardly been touched since the days when it was destroyed in the reign of Titus, so that far below the squalid lanes of Portici and Resina there must still exist acres upon acres of undisturbed buildings, public and private, many of them perhaps filled with priceless works of Greek and Roman art, for Herculaneum, unlike Pompeii, was never tampered with by the ancients themselves, for the coating of volcanic mud, which filled the whole area of the city, made impracticable a systematic searching of its ruins by the despoiled citizens. Then, as if nature had not already buried the city sufficiently deep, subsequent eruptions of Vesuvius have superimposed additional layers of lava, whilst confiding human beings have in their turn built habitations upon the volcanic crust.
We all know the story, perhaps mythical, of the discovery of Herculaneum at the beginning of the eighteenth century by the accidental sinking of a well upon its long-forgotten site and of the subsequent excavations made by the Prince d'Elboeuf. These so-called explorations were, however, made in the most greedy and destructive spirit, for the prince's sole object was to obtain antique works of art for his private collection, not to make intelligent enquiries about the dead and buried city lying beneath his estate. Ignorant workmen were despatched to hew and hack wholesale in the mirky depths in order to discover statuary and paintings, and since there was no receptacle at hand to contain the debris, they took the simple course of filling in each hollow made with the masses of rubbish already excavated. Later in the same century the Bourbon king was induced by Neapolitan savants to take some interest in the work, but, strange to relate, the superintendent appointed, a certain Spanish officer named Alcubier, was so ignorant and careless that half the objects found under his supervision were broken or lost before they reached Naples; this ignoramus, it was said, even went so far as to order whole architraves to be smashed up and their bronze lettering to be picked out before making a copy of the original inscription! Under these circumstances the marvel is that anything of beauty or value should have survived at all, for this selfish plundering of Herculaneum, in strong contrast with the reverent treatment meted out to Pompeii, may be considered one of the greatest pieces of vandalism ever perpetrated. In spite of this wholesale destruction, however, there must remain untouched, as we have said, a vast quantity of objects, beautiful, useful or curious, yet it is extremely doubtful if we shall live to see any serious and intelligent effort made to bring these hidden treasures forth to the light of day. The expense of working this buried hoard would be enormous in any case, whilst the existence of the houses of Resina and Portici overhead necessitates special measures of precaution on the part of the excavators. The only method of examining Herculaneum properly would be in fact to treat the buried site like an immense mine by the construction of regular galleries and shafts for the entrance of skilled workmen, and to remove the rubbish displaced to the outer air. Perhaps some multi-millionaire might be found ready to undertake so arduous, yet so fascinating a task, though we fear that the Italian Government, which has always shown itself as tenacious of its subterranean wealth of antiquity as it appears languid in the work of quarrying it, would indignantly refuse to accede to any such offer. As regards the ancient city of Hercules, therefore, we must perforce remain content to inspect the magnificent bronzes and the other objects of interest that are to be found in the Museum of Naples, for we are not likely to see any further researches just at present, more's the pity, since there is every reason to suppose that a thorough investigation conducted regardless of cost would yield up to the world the most marvellous and valuable results.
Some two miles of dusty suburb lie between Resina and Torre del Greco, which has been destroyed time after time by the lava streams descending from "that peak of Hell rising out of Paradise," as Goethe once named the burning mountain overhead. Nevertheless, the Torrese continue to sit patiently at the feet of the fire-spouting monster, trembling when he is angry, pleased when he is quiescent, and ready to abandon meekly their homes when he renders them insupportable by his furious outbursts. Yet these people never fail to return and risk the ever-present chances of death and destruction. And little can we blame them for their fatalism, when we gaze upon the glorious views that reveal themselves at this spot, whence Naples rising proudly from the sea, the rocky islands of Ischia and Capri, the aerial heights of Monte Sant' Angelo and all the features of the placid bay are seen spread around us in a panorama of unsurpassed loveliness. Beneath lava rocks, black and sinister, that contrast strangely in their sombre hues with the brilliant tints of sea and sky, lie little beaches of glittering gravel that would afford delightful retreats for meditation, were it not for the dozens of half-naked brown-skinned imps, children of the fisher-folk of Torre del Greco, who wallow in the warm sand or rush with joyful screams into the tepid surf. The population must have increased not a little since those days, nearly a century ago, when the unhappy Shelley could find peace and solitude in his darkest hours of unrest upon these shores, where it would be well-nigh impossible for a twentieth-century poet to espy a retreat for soothing his soul in verse. Yet somehow, during the drowsy noontide rest when the active life of the South ceases, if only for an hour or so, it is still possible to catch the spirit in which that melancholy wanderer indited one of his most exquisite lyrics:—sunshine, clear sky, murmuring seas, the fragrance of the Italian spring, all are present to our reverie; and how true and perfect a picture has the poet-artist drawn for us of this beautiful Vesuvian shore!
"The sun is warm, the sky is clear, The waves are dancing fast and bright, Blue isles and snowy mountains wear The purple noon's transparent light: The breath of the moist earth is light Around its unexpanded buds; Like many a voice of one delight, The winds, the birds, the ocean floods, The City's voice itself is soft, like Solitude's.
I see the Deep's untrampled floor With green and purple seaweeds strown; I see the waves upon the shore, Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown: I sit upon the sands alone; The lightning of the noontide ocean Is flashing round me, and a tone Arises from its measured motion, How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion?"
But it must be admitted that the seashore by Torre del Greco does not often lend itself as a suitable spot for romantic or solitary communings with nature; it is a busy place where the struggle for life is keen and practical enough, and its inhabitants have little time or inclination to bestow on the pursuit of poetry. As in all the towns of the Terra di Lavoro, as this collection of human ant-hills on the eastern side of Naples is sometimes designated, the old command given to the first parents of mankind—"by the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread"—is scrupulously observed in Torre del Greco. It is little enough, however, that these frugal people demand, for a hunk of coarse bread, tempered with a handful of beans or an orange in winter or with a slice of luscious pink water-melon or a few figs in summer, is thought to constitute a full meal in this climate; nor are these simple viands washed down by anything more potent than a draught of mezzo-vino, the weak sour wine of the country. A dish of maccaroni or a plateful of kid or veal garnished with vegetables is a treat to be reserved for a marriage or some great Church festival, whilst a chicken is regarded as a luxury in which only gran' signori of boundless wealth can afford to indulge. Amongst the many classes of toilers with which populous Torre del Greco abounds, that of the coral-fishers is perhaps the most interesting. There is pure romance in the very notion of hunting for the beautiful coloured substance lying hidden in the crystalline depths of the Mediterranean, and its quest is not a little suggestive of azure caverns beneath the waves, peopled by soft-eyed mermaids and strange iridescent fishes. As a matter of fact, it would be difficult to name a harder occupation or a more dismal monotonous existence than that of the coral-fishers, many hundreds of whom leave this little port every spring in order to spend the summer months on the coasts of Tripoli, Sardinia, or Sicily. The men employed, who work under contract during some six months of unending drudgery, are by no means all natives of Torre del Greco, but are collected from various places of the neighbourhood, not a few of them being thrifty youths from Capri, who are eager to amass as quickly as possible the lump sum of money requisite to permit of marriage. It is true that the amount actually paid by the owners of the coral fleet sounds proportionately large, yet it is in reality poor enough recompense when measured by the ceaseless toil, the burning heat and the wretched food, which the venture entails. The lot of the coral-fisher has however much improved of late years, partly by measures of government which now compel the contractors to treat their servants more humanely, and partly by the fact that the practice of emigration in Southern Italy has reduced the numbers of applicants for the coral-fishing business and has thereby, indirectly at least, raised wages and bettered the old conditions of service. A truly pitiable account is given of these poor creatures some thirty years ago by an English writer, whose knowledge of the Neapolitan people and character remains probably unsurpassed; and it is some satisfaction to reflect that even in Mr Stamer's day the bad old oppressive system had already been somewhat tempered for the benefit of these white slaves, who for nearly half the round of the year were worse treated than King Bomba's unhappy victims in the pestilent prisons of Naples and Gaeta.
"Badly paid, badly fed, and hard worked is the poor coral-fisher. Compared with his, the life of a galley-slave is one of sybaritical indolence. His treatment was, until very recently, not one whit better than that of the poor oppressed negro as he existed in the vivid imagination of Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe; immeasurably worse than that of the real Simon Pure. The thirty ducats for which he sold his seven months' services once paid, he was just as much a slave as Uncle Tom of pious memory, harder worked, more brutally handled. His padrone was a sea-monster, alongside of whom Mr Legree would have seemed a paragon of Quaker-like gentleness and amiability. His word was law and a rope's end well laid on his sole reply to any remonstrance on the part of his bondsmen. For six days out of the seven he kept them working incessantly, not unfrequently on the seventh into the bargain, if the weather was favourable; and that they might be strong, hearty and able to haul away, their food consisted of dry biscuits; a dish of maccaroni with just sufficient oil to make the sign of the cross being served out for the Sunday's dinner."(1)
In those "good old days," not so very far distant, the dredging nets were coarse and weighty, and the capstan of the clumsiest and most primitive description, so that the coral-seeking serfs under contract were worked like bullocks until they were often wont to fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion as they hauled away mechanically. We can imagine then with what raptures of joy these ill-treated mortals must have hailed the advent of October, the month that terminated their long spell of suffering and semi-starvation, and with what eagerness they must have returned homewards, the more industrious to perform odd jobs during the winter season on farms or in factories; the lazier to enjoy a well-earned holiday of loafing on the quay or in the piazza. And although times have changed for the better in the eyes of the coral-fisher, his lot still remains hard enough, even in the present days of grace; whilst any employment that saps the workman's strength during the hot summer months and leaves him idle or unemployed in winter time cannot well be described as a desirable trade. Yet the temptation to obtain a considerable sum of money in advance, as is the case in this particular industry, often proves overwhelming to the young man of the Torres or of Castellamare, imprudently married before he is out of his teens and with an ever-increasing family. It is so easy to accept the proffered gold, which will keep wife and babies in comparative comfort throughout the long hot summer; unskilled labour is paid so lightly on these teeming shores of the Terra di Lavoro; saddled already with children he cannot make up his feeble mind to emigrate; in short, to go a-coralling is his sole chance, if he wishes to keep his home together and to stave off charity or starvation from his young wife and family.
Beyond Torre del Greco we seem to escape to a certain extent from the enveloping network of human dwellings, so that we are at last enabled to gain some idea of the natural features of the country. The oriental character of the landscape, which marks more or less distinctly the whole of the Neapolitan coast-line, will at once be noticed in the domed farm buildings, not unlike Mahommedan koubbas, washed a glistening white, that stand out sharply against the lugubrious tints of the lava beds. Above us, crowning a bosky hillock that juts forth from the mountain flank, stands one of the many convents of the monks of Camaldoli, whose houses are scattered throughout the breadth of Southern Italy. The position of their Vesuvian settlement is certainly unique, for the rising ground on which it is perched appears like some verdant oasis amid the arid fields of sable lava. Secure in its commanding site, the monastery has many a time been completely surrounded by burning streams, which have invariably left the building and its woody demesne unscathed. More than once have the good brethren, who wear the white robe of St Romualdo of Ravenna, looked down from their convent walls upon the work of destruction below, and have watched the waves of liquid fire surging angrily but uselessly round the rocky base of their retreat. Hard manual labour, prayer, solitude and contemplation: these are the chief duties enjoined by the famous Tuscan order, and surely no more suitable place for carrying out such precepts could have been chosen by the pious founder of this Vesuvian convent. For what scenes on earth could be deemed more beautiful to contemplate, we wonder, than the wide stretches of heaven and ocean, of fertile plain and of rugged mountain, that are ever before the eyes of the brethren; or more instructive than the constant spectacle of disappointed human ambition and energy, which is afforded by the barren lava beds and the ruined cities close at hand!
Descending from the slopes of Camaldoli, we cross a tract of country wherein black lava alternates with patches of rich cultivation and of thriving vineyards, and gaining the high road we soon reach Torre Annunziata. Here it is evident that the manufacture of maccaroni forms the chief industry of its population, for on all sides are to be seen the frames filled with the golden coloured strings of pasta that have been hung up to dry in the sunshine. Every flat roof in the place, moreover, is covered with smooth concrete and protected by a low parapet for the spreading of the grain, and on the beach are laid huge cloths of coarse brown material that are heaped with masses of the crude corn, whilst men with their naked feet from time to time turn the grain so as to dry the whole bulk. Torre Annunziata and its inland neighbour, Gragnano, are in fact the two chief local scenes of this industry with which the Bay of Naples has always been so closely associated, and it is here that we can best make ourselves acquainted with the process of manufacturing maccaroni. By following any one of the tall brown-skinned fellows, stripped to the waist and bare-legged, who have been breathing the fresh air of the street for a few moments, we quickly arrive at the entrance of one of the many small factories with which the town abounds. In spite of open doors and windows its atmosphere feels hot and stifling, for it is impregnated with tiny particles of flour dust, which too often, alas! are apt to affect permanently the lungs of the workmen. The dough of maccaroni is obtained by mixing pure wheaten flour with semolina in certain proportions, only water being used for the purpose, whilst the task of kneading is carried out in primitive fashion by means of a lever worked continuously by two or more men. When the dough has at length arrived at the required consistency after some hours of steady kneading, it is placed in a large perforated copper cylinder, each hole having a central pin at the bottom and a valve on top. A powerful screw is then employed to press down upon the dough, which is thus squeezed out of the imprisoning cylinder through the holes in the serpentine shape that is so familiar to us. On reaching a certain length these pipes, issuing from the holes, are twisted off and are then removed for drying to the frames in the open air. Maccaroni has, of course, many varieties of form and quality, from the thin fluffy vermicelli, known under the poetical name of Capilli degli Angeli, to the great thick pipe-stem-like article of ordinary commerce. There are endless means of cooking and dressing this, the national dish of Italy, but perhaps the most popular of all is alla Napolitana, wherein it is served with tomato sauce, to which a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese is frequently added. A compound of eggs and maccaroni, sometimes known as a Neapolitan omelette, likewise makes an appetising dish, though it is one that is little known to foreigners. One circumstance is patent; the dismal so-called "maccaroni pudding" one meets with in England seems to have nothing in common with the delicately flavoured, sustaining dish that can be obtained for a few pence in any Southern restaurant.
Torre Annunziata has the reputation of being a dirty malodorous town, composed of shabby stone houses and full of quarrelsome people. Well, perhaps there is a scintilla of truth in the sweeping observation, yet if we can contrive to endure the smells and racket of the place for a brief space of time, there is much of human interest to be observed in the daily scenes of its crowded beach and its noisy streets. After all, no odours of the South can compare in all-pervading intensity with the blended aroma of fried fish and London fog that old Drury Lane can often produce; nor are the Torrese more dangerous to strangers or more objectionable in their habits than the crowds of Lambeth or Seven Dials. In strength of lungs, it must be granted, the Italian easily surpasses the Londoner, for the Southern voice is positively alarming in its vigour and its far-reaching power. No one—man, woman or child—can apparently speak below a scream; even the most amiable or trivial of conversations seems to our unaccustomed ears to portend an imminent quarrel, to so high a pitch are the naturally harsh voices strained. Morning, noon and night the same hubbub of men shouting, of women screeching, and of children yelling continues for nobody minds noise in Italy, where people are troubled with no nerves of their own and consequently have no consideration for those of strangers. And why, therefore, should they suspend their native habits to please a handful of cavilling forestieri?
A stroll through Torre Annunziata, although it possesses not a few drawbacks, can be made both amusing and instructive; we can even find something attractive in the quality of the local atmosphere, which suggests at one and the same time sunshine, garlic, incense, stale fish and wood smoke; it is the pungent but characteristic aroma of the South, filled "with spicy odours Time can never mar." And what truly charming pictures do the family groups present in the wide archways giving on the untidy courts within, full of sun and shadow and gay with bright-coloured garments swaying in the wind! The ebon-haired young mother with teeth like pearls and with warm-tinted cheeks sits fondling the last helpless little addition to her growing family, whilst toddlers of any age from two to seven, unkempt but bright-eyed and engaging, play around the door-step, watched over by their grandmother, or may be their great-grandam, who with her wizened face enfolded in her yellow kerchief, her skinny neck, and her distaff in the bony fingers, looks as if she had stepped out of some Renaissance painting of the Three Fates in a Florentine gallery. Crimson carnations in earthenware pots stand on the steps of the outside staircase, giving a touch of refinement to the squalid home, and from the balcony overhead the glossy-black, yellow-billed passer solitario, the favourite cage-bird of the Neapolitan poor, chirrups with apparent cheerfulness in his wicker-work prison. Behind, in the dim shadows of the large room, which serves as sole habitation, we can espy the inevitable household altar with the oil lamp glimmering before the little crude-coloured print of the Virgin and Child, and its usual accessory, the piece of palm or olive that was blessed by the priest last Palm Sunday; poor and mean though the chamber be, its bed linen and simple appointments are more cleanly than might perhaps be inferred from the appearance of the family itself. In a shady corner close by, three or four young labourers at their mid-day rest have finished their frugal repast of bread and beans, and are now playing eagerly the popular game of zecchinetto with a frayed and grimy pack of cards. Wives or sweethearts watch with anxious faces from a respectful distance, for it is not meet to disturb the lords of creation when they happen to be engaged in a game of chance. What possibilities of farce and tragedy can be drawn from so simple, so common a scene upon these shores, where human life is less artificially conducted than elsewhere in Europe, and where human passions are kept under less restraint? Terrible are the tales of jealousy and revenge, of deliberate treachery and of uncontrolled violence, which are related of these quick-tempered grown-up children of the South, who seem to love and hate with the blind intensity of untutored savages.
"Lo 'nnamorato' mmio sse chiammo Peppo, Lo capo jocatore de le carte; Ss' ha jocato 'sto core a zecchinetto, Dice ca mo' lo venne, e mo' lo parte. Che n'agg' io a fare lo caro de carte? Vogho lo core che tinite 'm pietto!"
("That lover of mine is called Handsome Beppo, The best player of cards all around this way; He's been playing on Hearts at zecchinetto, And says now they turn up, now are sorted away. What matters the heart in the card-pack to me? The heart in his bosom's the heart for me!")
Here lies the sleeping fisherman, worn out probably with hours of hauling at the heavy nets, who is snatching a chance hour of repose, prone upon his chest with face buried in his crossed arms. Little he seems to reck of the damp of the soil or the heat of the sun, nor can a noisy game of mora played by a couple of his companions beside him disturb his deep slumber. Mora has ever been the classic game of the South, and indeed, there is abundant evidence to show that it was played by the ancestors of these dwellers in Magna Graecia hundreds of years before Pompeii was overthrown. The game, which requires nothing but the human fingers, bears no little resemblance to our own humble pastime of "Up Jenkin!" which may almost be described as a species of drawing-room mora; perhaps some Italian traveller in a past age may actually have introduced this form of the southern diversion into prosaic England. The two players, face to face and craning forward with outstretched necks, simultaneously extend their right hands with one or more fingers pointing upward, the aim of each man being to guess the exact number, from two to ten, jointly displayed by both right hands. If one of them hit upon the correct figure, then he gains one point towards the stakes, which are usually made in centesimi rather than in soldi. How rapidly do the lean supple brown fingers flash backwards and forwards, and with what gusto do the two frenzied combatants yell out their numbers! Mora has been a favourite recreation with these people almost from their cradles, and he would be a bold man indeed who would venture to challenge a Torrese at this game, for the native's skill and experience are almost bound to tell eventually in his favour, and the odds are "Lombard Street to a China orange" against the outside player. There are certain maxims too with regard to the game which are closely observed by those who play it, as well as peculiar expressions, such as tutte to denote that all ten fingers are being shown, or chiarella for all but one. Five points usually make the game, and these are commonly marked by holding up one or more fingers of the disengaged left hand.—These are a few of the many sights to be witnessed by those who can afford to endure the pestering attentions of small boys, and the uncomplimentary staring of the adult population in such places as the Torres or Castellamare; and such as wish to make themselves acquainted with the details of southern life and manners cannot do better than pass an idle hour in the fishmarket or the piazza of these little industrial towns of the Vesuvian shore. For to regard Southern Italy from the majestic isolation of a railway compartment or a hired carriage cannot possibly give the traveller the smallest insight into the ordinary phases of local life; for he is ever looking, as it were, into a picture from which all trace of colour has vanished.
It is but a short quarter of an hour by train from Torre Annunziata to Castellamare di Stabia, the ill-fated Stabiae of the Romans, which shared the evil lot of Pompeii and Herculaneum. On our right we have the sea, with the castle-topped islet of Revigliano, whilst on looking to the left we can survey the fertile valley of the Sarno, and the shapeless mounds which hide that precious goal of every traveller to these shores, the buried city of Pompeii. Everywhere thrives sub-tropical vegetation:—cactus and aloe draped in wreaths of smilax; tall straggling masses of scarlet geranium that cling for protection to the Indian fig, and blossom in security amid their spiky but safe retreats; shrubs of fragrant yellow genista; clumps of purple-leaved ricini, as the Italians name the castor-oil plant. If it were summer time, the daturas would be covered with their great white floral trumpets, and every oleander bush would be one blaze of the coarse carmine blossoms that are here called Mazza di San Giuseppe, or St Joseph's nosegay, and a very gaudy rank bouquet they make. But in spring-time the oleander can but display long greyish leaves and pods of snowy fluff, which is blown hither and thither like thistle-down on the air; and it is only in flaming summer that these regions are brightened by St Joseph's flower, or by the still more gorgeous masses of the mesembryanthemum, which clambers on all sides over the lava rock and hangs in crimson festoons from tufa cliffs, making impossibly splendid splashes of colour in the landscape.
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So many writers have expatiated upon the sordid ugliness of Castellamare and upon the beauty of the wooded slopes above the town, that a further description of the place may well be dispensed with. Uninteresting, however, as this industrial town appears, it boasts a long historical record, to which its crumbling medieval castle bears witness. The great Emperor Frederick the Second, the scholar-pope Pius the Second, and all the monarchs of the Angevin, Aragonese and Bourbon dynasties have been associated with this "castle by the sea." The whole district was once the property of that human monster Pier-Luigi Farnese, duke of Parma, heir of Pope Paul the Third, of whose demoniacal cruelty and treachery the racy pages of Cellini's Memoirs give so vivid an account, and whose repulsive face has grown familiar to us from Titian's famous portraits in the gallery of Naples. It was the evil Pier-Luigi's descendant and heiress-general of the family, Elizabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain, who conveyed the beautiful villa and woods of Quisisana to the Bourbon kings, and here the Neapolitan royal family for several generations sought health (as the name of the place implies) and repose upon the breezy heights that lie so conveniently near to the great city in full view to the west. Nowadays the old royal villa, deserted by crowned heads since Ferdinand's days and fallen from its high estate to its present use of a hotel and pension, forms with its park the chief attraction of Castellamare, where English travellers are wont to congregate in winter, and Neapolitan and Greek seekers of pleasure or drinkers of medicinal waters resort in the hot summer months. The Southerners who come here for their villeggiatura certainly enjoy a better time than the winter visitors, for the bulky form of Monte Sant' Angelo intercepts much of the sunshine, thereby rendering the place damp and chilly in the cold season of the year. Nominally it is the mineral springs that attract the Neapolitan folk, wherein they have a fine choice of health-giving beverages, varying from the acqua ferrata, a mild chalybeate that is found useful as a tonic, to the powerful acqua del Muraglione, that is warranted to reduce the stoutest mortal to a mere shadow of his former self in a trice. But though the waters may be occasionally sipped of a morning and wry faces made, it is in reality the warm sea-bathing on the shore, where people spend hours pickling in tepid salt water, and also the cool rides or walks amongst the shady alleys of sweet chestnut and ilex woods of Quisisana and Monte Coppola, which draw hither in summer the elegant world of Naples, and even of Athens, to visit Castellamare. The leafy groves on the zephyr-swept hill sides, once sacred to the pleasures of Bourbon tyrants, now ring with peals of noisy laughter, with gallant compliments, and with the harsh shouting of the ciucciari, the leaders of the poor over-driven donkeys. Unhappy patient beasts! usually covered with raws and galls, that are urged forward at a gallop by the remorseless stick, or even by the goad, for the Neapolitan donkey-boy is absolutely callous to the feelings of his animal. Not that he is cruel out of sheer cussedness, for cruelty's sake, for he can be really kind to his dog or his cat; but the beast of burden, the helpless uncomplaining servant of man, suffers terribly at his hands. It is useless to remonstrate or argue with the young ruffian, who at our sharp reprimand will merely open wide his big black eyes and stare in genuine amazement. Non sono Cristiani—they have no souls, and the beasts are their property and not yours; what does it matter then to you how they are treated, provided they carry you properly? That is the sum total of the donkey-boy's argument, and he has high ecclesiastical authority to back up his private theory, if he had the wit to enter into a discussion with us on the subject. Almost equally hopeless is it to point to the simple fact that a well-groomed, well-treated animal lasts longer than a half-starved, mutilated scare-crow. "How old is your horse?" we once asked a driver in the south. "He is very old indeed, eccelenza," was the reply; "he must be nearly twelve!" On being informed that horses often worked well up to twenty years old and over in England, he let us infer, quite politely, that he thought we were romancing. Tenderness towards the dumb creation is a common, not to say a prevailing characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race, and it must be confessed that the thoughtless and horrible cruelty towards animals witnessed on all sides in the Neapolitan Riviera amounts to a serious drawback to the full enjoyment of its many beauties and amenities. Matters are improving a little of late, it is only fair to add. There is an Italian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and its officials have done some good in the streets of Naples itself, but naturally its new ideas have not yet penetrated far into the country districts.
To the healthy and energetic the most delightful excursion that Castellamare can offer is the ascent to the summit of Monte Sant' Angelo, that monarch of the Bay of Naples, whose lofty crest gleams with snowy streaks until the spring be well advanced. The lazy or the feeble can make use of one of the poor oppressed donkeys, but it is better to engage its ragged master, who without his four-footed drudge to whack and kick is a harmless enough being, to act as guide over the steep ill-defined pathway that leads ever upwards. As we slowly ascend through the sub-tropical region of fig and vine, of olive and carouba, we question our guide, who in spite of his bright eyes and well-knit frame seems about as intelligent a companion as the poor ass left behind in the stall, where he is enjoying, let us hope, an unexpected holiday. It is not easy to extract information from our native attendant, yet with a little judicious pressing we learn from him that the top of the mountain, which is our bourne, was once inhabited by evil spirits, until a holy hermit took up his abode on the peak, since when his sanctity has kept the place tolerably clear of witches and foul incubi. Wicked sprites, however, still haunt the spreading woods of beech and chestnut which we must presently traverse, and our guide (whose name is Vincenzo) admits to us that he would not care to venture there alone, even in broad daylight. There is, he tells us, warming up at last to the subject, much gold hidden there, which the spirits guard so jealously that they are ready to tear in pieces any mortal who is clever enough to find and bold enough to rifle their secret hoards. Only a priest, on account of his sacred office, is reckoned safe from their iniquitous spells. "But has not any one dared," we ask, "to go in company with a holy man, to search for this hidden treasure?" Well, yes, he had been told that men from Vico had once ventured up into the woods to search for the gold. With a little encouragement Vincenzo is finally prevailed upon to give us the whole story, which is evidently of somewhat recent date.
Once upon a time there were four men, one of them being a priest, who lived in Vico, and one of these men had often been told by his father that in the forests near the top of Monte Sant' Angelo there lay buried a chest full of gold—molto! molto! The father of the man had been himself in his youth to search for the treasure, but find it he never could, for he would never take a priest with him to avert the spells of the evil spirits of the mountain sides, who kept the place hidden. So this time the man chose two out of his friends, the boldest and the trustiest he could fix upon, to accompany him, and at the same time he obtained the promise of a cousin, who was a priest, to assist in the undertaking. All four made their way up to the woods, and whilst the three men were digging and searching, the priest continued to read aloud the incantations out of a certain book he had brought with him for the purpose. In course of time the chest was discovered to the joy of all, and sure enough it was bulging with the desired gold pieces. They opened it without difficulty, and the four friends divided its contents in equal shares. Scarcely had the work of division been carried out, than there came a loud voice issuing from the unknown, calling out the question:—"Che ferete con questo tesoro?" "Mangeremo, beveremo!" boldly replied one of the group, to whom this sudden accession of wealth offered dreams of unlimited platters of maccaroni and countless flasks of ruby-red Gragnano in the future. "We shall eat, we shall drink, but we shall also make abundant alms!" called out another—let us hope it was the priest!—but no sooner had the word elemosina (alms) been uttered than there was heard a most terrific rattling of chains, the gold pieces turned to dead leaves in the affrighted mortals' hands, and the four men took to their heels and fled in alarm down the mountain flank.
Vincenzo believes this tale implicitly, just as it was related to him, and he adds to combat our own incredulity that the priest and one of the men who took part in this strange adventure were still living and ready to confirm the story, but that of the remaining two, one was now dead, and the other had been deaf and dumb ever since the event. It seem a pity to criticise Vincenzo's simple little narrative, which makes a pretty fairy-story and points a sound moral, as it stands.
We enter the fresh scented woods that have now replaced in our climb the rich cultivated crops and terraced gardens, and here amidst the clumps of ancient chestnuts our guide points out to us the great snow-pits, the contents of which are used to cool the water sold by the acquaioli during hot summer nights in the sultry streets of Naples. These pits are dug about fifty feet deep, and half as much across, being conical in shape with a grating placed a short distance above the tapering base to allow the melted snow to drain off into the soil. The sides of each pit are first well-lined with straw and leafy branches, and the new-fallen snow shovelled in and forced into a solid mass by pressure from above, whilst on top is placed a sound thatched roof. As we wander through the silent woods we see patches of anemones, white and blue, lying upon the leaf-strewn ground, and beside them in many places are tufts of the pale starry primroses; coarse spurge, and lush masses of the hellebore with its large pale green flowers and dark leaves are common enough on all sides. From amongst the naked trees we emerge into the bare bleak stony stretches that lead to the summit, covered with the coarse but aromatic vegetation that clothes the dry limestone wastes of the south. How truly marvellous is the description of these wind-swept, weed-grown solitudes that Robert Browning presents to us in what is perhaps the most truly Italian in feeling of all his poems, "The Englishman in Italy!" For here with the rich imagination, worthy of some of Shelley's finest flights, is mingled an accurate appreciation of Nature, of which Wordsworth might well be proud; for the Lake poet himself could not have improved upon this exquisite description of the various shrubs and plants of a limestone hill-top in Italy.
"The wild path grew wilder each instant, And place was e'en grudged 'Mid the rock-chasms and piles of loose stones, Like the loose broken teeth Of some monster which climbed there to die From the ocean beneath— Place was grudged to the silver-grey fume-weed That clung to the path, And dark rosemary ever a-dying, That, spite the wind's wrath, So loves the salt rock's face to seaward, And lentisks as staunch To the stone where they root and bear berries, And ... what shows a branch Coral-coloured, transparent, with circlets Of pale sea-green leaves."
Above our heads hovers a kite, performing graceful circles in the keen clear air and breaking the oppressive silence of the place with his shrill screams, for his mate must have her nest hidden in some cleft of yon grey towering cliff. A pair of crested hoopoes with brown plumage and ruddy breasts keep fluttering a little way before us, uttering from time to time their curious notes of alarm. Mercifully these handsome birds have escaped the fowler, who lays his snares even amongst the spirit-haunted crags of this desolate region. The hoopoe, though a very rare visitor to our northern shores, is fairly common on the Mediterranean coast, and he would be still more frequently encountered, were it not for his hereditary enemy, Man. There is a venerable legend concerning this interesting bird—bubbola, the Italians call him—which relates how ages ago on the scorching plains of Palestine a number of hoopoes once followed King Solomon as he was riding, and in order to protect the great king from the fierce rays of the sun, they formed themselves into a living screen to shelter the royal head. Grateful for this welcome attention, Solomon Ben David at eventide sent for the king of the Hoopoes to ask him what reward he would like to receive for this service, and the answer was promptly made that a crown of pure gold on the head would be acceptable. The Jewish monarch smiled grimly as he granted the request, whereupon immediately each bird found his poll decorated with a tuft of pure golden feathers, and mightily pleased with their new magnificence were the conceited hoopoes. But alas! the news was quickly spread abroad that there were to be seen strange birds with plumes of real gold, and the eternal lust of gain at once set men in quest of the hoopoes, whom they began to slay wholesale with stones, arrows, and traps in order to obtain the coveted precious metal they bore on their heads. In despair, the king of the hoopoes then flew to the monarch sitting on his ivory throne at Jerusalem, and begged him to change their golden crowns for crests of feathers. Solomon the Wise smilingly gave the order; at once lovely red and black feathers took the place of the golden plumes, and the slaughter of the hoopoes in Palestine forthwith ceased. And the story, argues the recorder of this lesson upon the folly of personal adornment, must of necessity be true, for it is certain that the hoopoes bear a crown of feathers upon their heads unto this day.
Slowly we toil up the last portion of the peak, until we reach the ruined chapel of St Michael upon its summit, which is still a resort of local pilgrims, although in these days of doubt and avarice, when "sins are so many and saints so few," the statue of the Archangel since its removal from this spot no longer perspires with the sacred dew, which the priests used to collect with cotton wool on the first day of August and distribute to the peasants of the district. Like the oil that was once wont to exude from the blessed relics of St Andrew in the Cathedral of Amalfi, non c'e piu; we may possess motor cars and radium, but we must contrive to exist without these precious exhibitions of the miraculous.
It would be sheer folly to attempt a full description of that glorious view, comprising the bays of Gaeta, Naples, and Salerno; of Vesuvius with his ascending smoky clouds; of the endless chain of the snow-tipped Abruzzi Mountains that bound the vision to the east; of the vast expanse of the Mediterranean, stretching in one unbroken sheet of turquoise to the west, varied by violet patches of reflected cloud, and studded by innumerable ships, from the vast liners to the tiny fishing craft with their glistening sails, like snow-white sea-swallows resting on the calm waters. Again we turn to Robert Browning, most human of poets and most kindly of philosophers, to find adequate expression for the thoughts we dare not, cannot utter.
"Oh, heaven and the terrible crystal! No rampart excludes Your eye from the life to be lived In the blue solitudes. Oh, those mountains, their infinite movement! Still moving with you; For ever some new head and breast of them Thrusts into view To observe the intruder; you see it If quickly you turn, And before they escape you surprise them. They grudge you should learn How the soft plains they look on, lean over And love (they pretend) —Cower beneath them, the flat sea-pine crouches, The wild fruit-trees bend; E'en the myrtle leaves curl, shrink and shut, All is silent and grave: 'Tis a sensual and timorous beauty. How fair! but a slave."
We descend by the slopes of Monte Faito in the quiet of the evening, facing the distant headland of Posilipo and the sunset, where above the horizon we see collecting thick masses of dark purple cloud, which augur a stormy morrow. Above us the peak of the Archangel is already wreathed in garlands of white mist, a sure sign of coming tempest, and it is amid a lurid light from the sinking sun that we hasten downwards, bending our steps in the direction of Pozzano, where the form of its convent stands out sharply defined against the background of the Bay. Night is rapidly approaching, and in the gathering darkness as we strike the road below the convent, we can already hear the ominous roaring and seething of the waters under the cliff, lashed to fury by the first deep breaths of the coming squall. Hurrying along the broad smooth roadway it is not long before we reach our hotel door, where we bid good night to Vincenzo, just as the first heavy drops of rain have begun to fall; pleasantly exhausted after our long excursion, we are ready to appreciate to the full the warmth and good cheer of the hospitable Hotel Quisisana.
LA CITTA MORTA
Pompeii can never be visited without the same haunting conviction, the same oppressive thought: how terribly difficult it is to understand the City of the Dead which holds in so small a space the whole secret of the antique world! There are far more grandiose and impressive ruins to be seen in Rome; the city of Timgad in Northern Africa is more complete as a specimen of a Roman settlement than the half-excavated town near Vesuvius; yet here, and here only, can the men of the past stretch hands, as it were, across the barrier of eighteen intervening centuries to the dweller of to-day, and the dead-and-gone spirits of a highly organized civilization can whisper into the living ears of the twentieth century. For Pompeii will speak to us, if we will take the trouble to learn the tongue in which alone she can convey the secret of her story. It is needless to say that this language is not obtainable by one or two cursory visits to the Naples Museum, and a few hurried half-hours given to the contents of the guide-book; no, the language of Pompeii, which constitutes the key of access to the hidden chambers of the Roman world, can only be acquired with much expenditure of precious time and with infinite trouble. But "life is short and time is fleeting," and our bustling age expects to seize its required knowledge in the twinkling of an eye; well, in that case the story of Pompeii must remain a sealed volume to the traveller, who is conveyed to the City of the Dead in a train crammed with fellow-tourists; who eats a heavy unwholesome luncheon to the sound of mandoline-players twanging sprightly Neapolitan airs; and who is finally piloted round the sacred area by a chattering guide in the oppressive heat and glare of a sunny afternoon. Fatigued in mind and body, such an one will sink with ill-concealed relief upon the dusty velvet cushions of the returning train, thoroughly disappointed in the vaunted marvels of Pompeii, which his imagination had led him to expect. A vague impression of low broken walls, of narrow—to his eyes absurdly narrow—streets, of broken columns and of peeling frescoes fills his tired brain, as he is borne back to his hotel in Naples. But this disenchantment is his own fault, for no one who sets foot within the Sea Gate of the buried city in the proper spirit of knowledge and appreciation can possibly fail to enjoy the privilege which has thus been afforded him—
"to stand within the City Disinterred; And hear the autumnal leaves like light footfalls Of spirits passing through the streets; and hear The Mountain's slumberous voice at intervals Thrill through those roofless halls."
Before passing through the Porta Marina into the purlieus of the city, let us first of all instil into our minds the essential difference that exists between the ruins of Pompeii and the historic fragments of Rome or Athens. When we gaze upon the well-known sites of the vanished glories of the Palatine or the Acropolis, we experience no effort in looking backward through the vista of the past and in conjuring up some vague representation of the scenes that were once enacted in these places; the more imaginative feel the very air vibrating with the unseen spirits of men and women famous in the world's history. He must be indeed a Philistine or a dullard who cannot contrive to arouse a passing exaltation at the thought of treading in the footsteps of Cicero and the Caesars in Rome, of Pericles and Socrates in Athens, for the very soil of the Forum and the stones of the citadel of Pallas seem impregnated with the very essence of history. But this is far from being the case at Pompeii, where long careful study of details and a grasp of hard facts are really of more avail than a poetic imagination in reclothing with flesh the dry bones of the past, for the importance of the Campanian city is almost purely social. The names of many of its prominent citizens are certainly familiar to us from inscriptions found, yet who were these persons that we should take so deep an interest in their lives and fates? Who were Pansa the aedile, Eumachia the priestess, Caecilius Jucundus, Aulus Vettius and Epidius Rufus, and a score of other Pompeian worthies? The answer is, they were officials or simple dwellers in a flourishing provincial town; they had no especial literary or public reputation; their names were probably little known beyond the walls of their own city. Imagine an English country town, such as Exeter or Shrewsbury, suddenly overwhelmed by some unforeseen freak of Nature and afterwards embalmed in the manner of Pompeii as a curiosity for the edification of future ages. To what extent, we ask, would the discovery of a place of this size and population supply the existing dweller with a complete impression of our national life and civilization in the opening years of the twentieth century? The reply will be that it would give a very good idea of the average provincial town, but that it would hardly serve as a fair criterion to judge of the life pursued in the capital, or in the really large cities. Such a comparison will afford us a certain clue to the unveiling of the mysteries of Pompeii.
For the city at the mouth of the Sarno was an ancient Campanian settlement, founded long before the days wherein Greek adventurers beached their triremes on the shores of the Siren. It was a native community of Oscans, deriving its name from the Oscan word pompe (five), and, unlike Paestum, it appears to have retained its original appellation under all its successive masters. Its primitive inhabitants seem to have intermingled with their Hellenic victors, and to have grown civilized by intercourse with them. Temples of heavy Doric architecture were raised; walls and watch-towers were built; and by the time the city fell into the hands of the encroaching Romans, it had become a flourishing place with some twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants, owing its prosperity to its excellent situation at the mouth of the river, which made Pompeii a convenient port to serve the rich district of Campania that lies eastward of Vesuvius. Nuceria (the modern Nocera) and the larger city of Nola were both dependent on it, for the Sarno was in those days navigable, so that ships bringing Egyptian corn and Eastern merchandise frequently left the Pompeian harbour and sailed up stream to unload their cargoes at these cities. Let us picture then to ourselves a compact town, an irregular oval in form, surrounded by walls pierced by eight gates and embellished with twelve towers; its eastern extremity towards Nocera containing the Amphitheatre, and its most westerly point marked by the Herculaneum gate leading to the Street of Tombs. Southward, we must imagine the sea much closer to its walls than at the present day, for the alluvial deposits have in the course of nearly two thousand years added many acres of solid ground to the shores of the Bay. Behind the city to the north rose the mountain side, not seared with the traces of lava as in these days, nor surmounted by a smoking cone, but radiant with vineyards and gardens which extended unbroken up to the very rim of the ancient crater. Amidst the greenery of the luxuriant slopes peeped forth innumerable farms and villas of wealthy Romans, for this exquisite spot had long become an abode of cultured leisure. Within the closely packed streets of the town itself there were to be found few open spaces except the Forum, and perhaps a small park in front of the amphitheatre, for the place was prosperous, though not wealthy, and its chief citizens were forced to remain content with the tiny gardens enclosed within the walls of their own dwellings.
Internally Pompeii presented, like many another Roman town, marks of its six hundred years of existence. There was at least one perfect Doric temple; there were Oscan-Grecian buildings, notably the so-called "House of the Surgeon," with its air of old-fashioned simplicity; there were houses of the Republican period; there were numberless dwellings of the Imperial era; there were unfinished structures that were being completed at the time of the city's overthrow. For, sixteen years before Vesuvius suddenly awoke from its long sleep, the neighbourhood had been visited by the severe earthquake shock of 63, and the effects produced by this disaster had not nearly been effaced, when the great event of 79 transformed the town into a huge museum for the delight and instruction of future generations. Pompeii therefore preserves the marks of more than half a thousand years of civilization, so that those who will take the necessary trouble can trace within its area the gradual progress of its social and political life from the far-off days of Greeks and Oscans to the reign of the Emperor Titus. The case of a ruined Exeter or Shrewsbury could not be widely different. The students of ensuing ages would be able to find in the dead town one or two churches of Norman or Plantagenet times; portions of medieval city walls and gateways, perhaps even some undoubted traces of Roman baths or fortifications; some few public buildings erected under Tudor or Stuart sovereigns; a large number of the plain roomy mansions of the Georgian period; and, last of all, a preponderating quantity of nineteenth century structures of every description—churches, warehouses, factories, inns, barracks, shops, dwelling-houses. Many would be the inscriptions and monuments we should find in such a town, alluding to private and public persons utterly unknown to English history, but more or less noteworthy in local annals: grandees of civic life, soldiers, philanthropists, clergymen, et hoc genus omne. Future generations of scholars would doubtless strive eagerly to obtain details of the careers of these provincial worthies, who filled municipal offices in the reigns of Queen Victoria and King Edward, in order to throw more light upon the period wherein they flourished. Let us apply then the same principles to the study of Pompeii mutatis mutandis, for in our quest of better knowledge of the old Roman life we fix anxiously upon every detail concerning the leading personages of the dead city. Nevertheless, it is its existence in the aggregate that proves of surpassing interest to us; we desire to learn of the daily tasks and occupations of the mass of its population, rather than to become acquainted with the private histories of its leading individuals; we study the former, in fact, only as a means to a definite end. We cry for information, which to a certain extent we can secure, as to how an average Roman city was administered, provisioned, drained; how its inhabitants passed their time both in leisure and in business; how they amused themselves in their homes and in the theatre; what they ate and what they drank—the endless trifles of human life, in short, which like the tesserae, the tiny cubes of their own mosaic pavements, go to make up a complete picture out of a thousand fragments. Not a few of the cubes in this case are missing, it is true, nor are they ever likely to be found; nevertheless, we own an abundant supply wherewith we can piece together a tolerably accurate picture of the life of a Roman provincial city during the first century of the Christian era.
It is of course quite outside our province to attempt any detailed account of the wonders of Pompeii. The reader who desires full information must turn to the elaborate works of Mau and Helbig, of Gell and Overbeck, to say nothing of the descriptive pages, full of condensed knowledge, contained in Murray's and Baedeker's guide-books in order to obtain a clear impression of all he wishes to inspect. We can but dwell on a point here and there, and even then but lightly and superficially, for any endeavour on our part to add to the statements and theories of the great archaeologists already cited would be indeed a matter of supererogation and presumption.
Entering then by the Marine Gate, and pursuing our course eastwards along the lines of naked broken house-fronts, we reach the great rectangular space of the Forum. Here at its southern extremity let us select a shady corner, for the sun beats down fiercely upon the bare ruins at every season of the year, and even on a winter's afternoon the air often shimmers with the heat haze, so that in no place on earth is the use of an umbrella so necessary or desirable as at Pompeii.
What an ideal spot for the founding of a city! That is our first impression, as we glance across the broad sunlit enclosure on to the empurpled slopes of Vesuvius rising grandly above the broken columns of the great temple of the Capitoline Jove; behind us, we know, is the azure Bay with Capri and the Sorrentine cape lying on its unruffled bosom, so that we stand between sea and mountain to north and south, whilst we have the luxuriant slopes of Vesuvius to westward, and to the east the rich valley of the Sarno, thickly dotted with groves and hamlets. One element alone is wanting in the glorious scene before us—Life; it will be our duty and pleasure to re-invest as far as possible this empty space before us with the semblance of the busy crowds that once flitted in and out of its colonnades and porticoes; to rebuild in imagination its shapeless ruins, so that we may obtain a fleeting picture of the Pompeian Forum in early Imperial days.
Conceive, then, in front of us, instead of this long bare stretch flanked by broken walls and strewn with shapeless fragments of brick and stone, an immense double arcade, two stories in height, affording ample protection against sun or rain and enclosing an oblong pavement whereon are set numerous statues of emperors or private citizens, occupying lofty positions of honour above the heads of the surging throng below. Imagine that group of shattered pillars, which obstructs our full view of the distant cone of Vesuvius, transformed into an imposing temple, covered with polychrome decoration, not in the best of taste according to our modern ideas of art, but gorgeous and cheerful in the clear atmosphere of the south. Rebuild, in the mind's eye, the Basilica and the temple of Apollo on the left, and straight before us, as we look forward from our coign of vantage at the narrow southern end of the colonnade, let us plant the three dominant statues of Augustus, Claudius and Agrippina to form our foreground. If we can construct by stress of fancy some such setting of classical architecture, gay with primary colours and gilding and graceful in design, it is easier to people the Pompeian Forum with the masses of humanity that once mingled here. For we have the knowledge of modern Italian life to guide us to a certain extent; we have seen the swarms of citizens who to-day fill the main piazzas of the towns, especially those of the provincial type, where the morning market is held and the chief cafes and shops are situated. But if the general use of the piazza is characteristic of the modern second-class Italian city, this concentration of life was far more marked in the ancient Roman town, wherein the Forum must have appeared as the very heart of the whole body social and politic. Roman city life indeed displayed two strongly antagonistic phases:—the utmost privacy in the home, the most public exhibition in the Forum, where every trade and form of business were carried on in the open air, and whither pursuit of gain, or pleasure, or religious duty led all the citizens to direct their steps. For, as we have already shown, almost all the public life of the place was concentrated within this space and its surroundings; temples, markets, shops, law courts, municipal offices, all abutted on the Forum; it was not merely the chief, but the only place that drew together the daily crowd, bent alike on business or amusement. No chariots were permitted to cross the area sacred to the claims of money-making, of gossip, and of worship; so that we must picture to ourselves a great mass of people undisturbed by the passing of vehicles, or by the shouts and whip-crackings of the noisy charioteers—was ever such a thing as a quiet Italian coachman, ancient or modern, we digress to wonder! All was orderly and decorous when compared with the quarrelling, screaming groups of citizens that block the congested streets of modern Naples. Happily for us various paintings of the Forum of Pompeii have been discovered, and these are naturally of immense value in helping us to a proper understanding of the habits and methods of the people, and of the general appearance of the Forum itself during its busiest hours. The costumes of men, women and children; the articles of clothing and of food ready for sale; the little knots of loiterers or gossips; the citizens intent on reading the municipal notices that are herein portrayed, all combine to present us with an authentic picture of Pompeian and therefore of Roman civic life. "There is nothing new under the sun," grumbled the Preacher many centuries before the city under Vesuvius had reached its zenith of civilization, and it must be confessed that the general impression conveyed after studying the contemporary pictures of antique life does not differ very widely from that which we obtain by observing present Italian conditions. For the frescoes in the Naples Museum and in certain of the Pompeian houses seem to recall strongly the scenes of the piazza, where all the elements of society, irrespective of rank or station, are still wont to congregate. Differences of dress, of manner, of custom are doubtless evident enough, yet somehow we perceive an essential sameness in these two representations of classical and modern Italy. Nevertheless, these simple and often rude wall-paintings furnish us with many pieces of information that we search for in vain amidst the ancient authors, who naturally considered the commonplace everyday scenes of life beneath the notice of contemporary record. We are enabled to learn, for instance, how the citizens were usually dressed in the Forum, and how, in an age when hats and umbrellas were practically non-existent, the pointed hood, like that of the Arab burnous, was often used to cover the head in cold or wet weather. Again, it is easy to perceive from the same source that the diet of the Pompeians must have resembled closely that of their present descendants; even the shape of the loaves has in most cases continued unchanged to the present day. And one curious coincidence is certainly worth mentioning, in that a peculiar method of preparing figs with caraway seeds, which was long supposed to be a local speciality of a remote town in Central Italy, has now been recognized as a common method of dressing this fruit for the table at Pompeii, for large quantities of figs so treated have been unearthed in shops and kitchens. Such grains of information as the wearing of hoods and the preserving of figs may appear trifling enough at first sight, yet it is from a number of petty details such as these that we are assisted to an intimate understanding of a state of society extinct nearly two thousand years ago.
Close beside us on the eastern side of the Forum is set the Chalcidicum, the large building of the priestess Eumachia, one of the most gracious personalities of Pompeii with which the modern world has become acquainted. It was this lady who generously presented this structure, one of the handsomest and most solid of the public buildings of the city, to the fullers to serve as their exchange, wherein goods might be exposed upon benches and tables for the convenience alike of sellers and purchasers. "Priestess Eumachia," remarks a modern critic, "has done the thing well; no expense has been spared in the building and its decorations. The columns of the portico are of white marble; the statues of Piety and Concord, works of art; and the flower-borders along the panelled walls, prettily conceived and carefully executed. After so much plaster and stucco, it is a relief to see something so solid and genuine. When a third-rate city apes the capital, there must needs be a certain amount of sham. But at Pompeii it is all sham, or next door to it. In the entire city are not more than half a dozen edifices whose columns are of real marble, the bas-reliefs and cornices of anything more solid than stucco; and of these half-dozen, the Exchange heads the list."
We feel tolerably secure in assigning this fine building to the early years of the Emperor Tiberius, and in naming the Emperor's mother, Livia, as the divinity to whom it was dedicated. The statue of Concord with the golden horn of plenty doubtless once adorned the large pedestal which still stands in the eastern apse of the Exchange, but though the figure and emblem were those of Concordia, the face bore certainly the features of Imperial Livia. Yet more interesting than the various speculations as to the actual uses of this edifice and the different names of the statues which once embellished its alcoves, is the circumstance that the marble portrait of the foundress herself has been discovered. It is true that only a copy in plaster now occupies the pedestal at the back of the apse where Eumachia's statue once stood, for the original has been removed for safety to Naples, but it is not difficult to call to mind the calm gentle face of this Pompeian Lady Bountiful, and her graceful figure in its flowing robes. The existence of this statue adds undoubtedly a touch of special human interest to the whole building, and we find our minds excited by the brief inscription which still informs the curious that the fullers of Pompeii erected this portrait in marble in grateful appreciation "to Eumachia, a city-priestess, daughter of Lucius Eumachius."
Outside the Chalcidicum, at the corner of the lane usually termed Via dell' Abbondanza, is to be seen a pathetic little memorial of the working life of the city: the fountain of Concordia Augusta, the divinity of Eumachia's noble building hard by. Dusty and heating is the business of fulling cloth, and it generates thirst, so that it is but natural to find a fountain close at hand, whereat the labourers could refresh their parched throats. With what eagerness must the exhausted toilers during those long summers of centuries past have leaned forward to press their human lips to the cool mouth of the sculptured goddess that ejected with pleasing gurgles a volume of water into the basin below! That this fountain proved a boon to weary citizens is evident enough, for the features of water-spouting Concordia are half worn away by thirsty human kisses, and her suppliants' hands have left deep smooth furrows in the stone-work of the basin, whereon they were wont to support their bodies, so as to direct the cooling draught into the dry and dusty gullet. In Italian cities to-day we can frequently observe some exhausted labourer bend deftly downwards to snatch a drink of water from the mouth of some fantastic figure in a public fountain. Who has not paused, for instance, beside Tacca's famous bronze boar in the Florentine market-place without noting an incident of this kind? If we ourselves are too dainty to place our own aristocratic lips where our fellow-mortals have pressed theirs, not so are the abstemious descendants of the ancient Romans, the Italians, whose minds remain untroubled by any nasty-nice qualms of possible infection.
Here then is the setting of the picture, and we must ourselves endeavour to repeople the empty space with the crowds of high and low that once collected here.
"It is high change, and the Forum is crowded. All Pompeii is here, and his wife. Patres conscripti, inclined to corpulence, taking their constitutional, exquisites lazily sauntering up and down the pavements; decurions discussing the affairs of the nation, and the last news from Rome; city magnates fussing, merchants chaffering, clients petitioning, parasites fawning, soldiers swaggering, and Belisarius begging at the gate.... It is a bright and animated scene. Beneath, the crowded Forum, with its colonnades and statues, at one end a broad flight of steps leading to the Temple of Jupiter, at the other a triumphal arch; on one side the Temple of Venus and the Basilica; on the other the Macellum, the Temple of Mercury, the Chalcidicum; overhead the deep blue sky. Mingled with the hum of many voices and the patter of feet on the travertine pavement are the ringing sounds of the stonemasons' chisels and hammers, for the Forum is undergoing a complete restoration. Although fifteen years have elapsed since the city was last visited by earthquake, the damage then done to the public buildings has not been entirely repaired. First the Gods, then the people. The temples of Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury are completed, but the Forum and Chalcidicum are still in the workmen's hands."(2)