The Innocents Abroad
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Part 5 out of 10
of the bewildered barbarians, in exact time with his springing body
and his prancing legs, the audience gave way to uncontrollable
bursts of laughter; but when the back of his weapon broke the skull
of one and almost in the same instant its edge clove the other's
body in twain, the howl of enthusiastic applause that shook the
building, was the acknowledgment of a critical assemblage that he
was a master of the noblest department of his profession. If he has
a fault, (and we are sorry to even intimate that he has,) it is that
of glancing at the audience, in the midst of the most exciting
moments of the performance, as if seeking admiration. The pausing
in a fight to bow when bouquets are thrown to him is also in bad
taste. In the great left-handed combat he appeared to be looking at
the audience half the time, instead of carving his adversaries; and
when he had slain all the sophomores and was dallying with the
freshman, he stooped and snatched a bouquet as it fell, and offered
it to his adversary at a time when a blow was descending which
promised favorably to be his death-warrant. Such levity is proper
enough in the provinces, we make no doubt, but it ill suits the
dignity of the metropolis. We trust our young friend will take
these remarks in good part, for we mean them solely for his benefit.
All who know us are aware that although we are at times justly
severe upon tigers and martyrs, we never intentionally offend
"The Infant Prodigy performed wonders. He overcame his four tiger
whelps with ease, and with no other hurt than the loss of a portion
of his scalp. The General Slaughter was rendered with a
faithfulness to details which reflects the highest credit upon the
late participants in it.
"Upon the whole, last night's performances shed honor not only upon
the management but upon the city that encourages and sustains such
wholesome and instructive entertainments. We would simply suggest
that the practice of vulgar young boys in the gallery of shying
peanuts and paper pellets at the tigers, and saying "Hi-yi!" and
manifesting approbation or dissatisfaction by such observations as
"Bully for the lion!" "Go it, Gladdy!" "Boots!" "Speech!" "Take
a walk round the block!" and so on, are extremely reprehensible,
when the Emperor is present, and ought to be stopped by the police.
Several times last night, when the supernumeraries entered the arena
to drag out the bodies, the young ruffians in the gallery shouted,
"Supe! supe!" and also, "Oh, what a coat!" and "Why don't you pad
them shanks?" and made use of various other remarks expressive of
derision. These things are very annoying to the audience.
"A matinee for the little folks is promised for this afternoon, on
which occasion several martyrs will be eaten by the tigers. The
regular performance will continue every night till further notice.
Material change of programme every evening. Benefit of Valerian,
Tuesday, 29th, if he lives."
I have been a dramatic critic myself, in my time, and I was often
surprised to notice how much more I knew about Hamlet than Forrest did;
and it gratifies me to observe, now, how much better my brethren of
ancient times knew how a broad sword battle ought to be fought than the
So far, good. If any man has a right to feel proud of himself, and
satisfied, surely it is I. For I have written about the Coliseum, and
the gladiators, the martyrs, and the lions, and yet have never once used
the phrase "butchered to make a Roman holiday." I am the only free white
man of mature age, who has accomplished this since Byron originated the
Butchered to make a Roman holiday sounds well for the first seventeen or
eighteen hundred thousand times one sees it in print, but after that it
begins to grow tiresome. I find it in all the books concerning Rome--and
here latterly it reminds me of Judge Oliver. Oliver was a young lawyer,
fresh from the schools, who had gone out to the deserts of Nevada to
begin life. He found that country, and our ways of life, there, in those
early days, different from life in New England or Paris. But he put on a
woollen shirt and strapped a navy revolver to his person, took to the
bacon and beans of the country, and determined to do in Nevada as Nevada
did. Oliver accepted the situation so completely that although he must
have sorrowed over many of his trials, he never complained--that is, he
never complained but once. He, two others, and myself, started to the
new silver mines in the Humboldt mountains--he to be Probate Judge of
Humboldt county, and we to mine. The distance was two hundred miles. It
was dead of winter. We bought a two-horse wagon and put eighteen hundred
pounds of bacon, flour, beans, blasting-powder, picks and shovels in it;
we bought two sorry-looking Mexican "plugs," with the hair turned the
wrong way and more corners on their bodies than there are on the mosque
of Omar; we hitched up and started. It was a dreadful trip. But Oliver
did not complain. The horses dragged the wagon two miles from town and
then gave out. Then we three pushed the wagon seven miles, and Oliver
moved ahead and pulled the horses after him by the bits. We complained,
but Oliver did not. The ground was frozen, and it froze our backs while
we slept; the wind swept across our faces and froze our noses. Oliver
did not complain. Five days of pushing the wagon by day and freezing by
night brought us to the bad part of the journey--the Forty Mile Desert,
or the Great American Desert, if you please. Still, this
mildest-mannered man that ever was, had not complained. We started across
at eight in the morning, pushing through sand that had no bottom; toiling
all day long by the wrecks of a thousand wagons, the skeletons of ten
thousand oxen; by wagon-tires enough to hoop the Washington Monument to
the top, and ox-chains enough to girdle Long Island; by human graves;
with our throats parched always, with thirst; lips bleeding from the
alkali dust; hungry, perspiring, and very, very weary--so weary that when
we dropped in the sand every fifty yards to rest the horses, we could
hardly keep from going to sleep--no complaints from Oliver: none the next
morning at three o'clock, when we got across, tired to death.
Awakened two or three nights afterward at midnight, in a narrow canon, by
the snow falling on our faces, and appalled at the imminent danger of
being "snowed in," we harnessed up and pushed on till eight in the
morning, passed the "Divide" and knew we were saved. No complaints.
Fifteen days of hardship and fatigue brought us to the end of the two
hundred miles, and the Judge had not complained. We wondered if any
thing could exasperate him. We built a Humboldt house. It is done in
this way. You dig a square in the steep base of the mountain, and set up
two uprights and top them with two joists. Then you stretch a great
sheet of "cotton domestic" from the point where the joists join the
hill-side down over the joists to the ground; this makes the roof and the
front of the mansion; the sides and back are the dirt walls your digging
has left. A chimney is easily made by turning up one corner of the roof.
Oliver was sitting alone in this dismal den, one night, by a sage-brush
fire, writing poetry; he was very fond of digging poetry out of himself
--or blasting it out when it came hard. He heard an animal's footsteps
close to the roof; a stone or two and some dirt came through and fell by
him. He grew uneasy and said "Hi!--clear out from there, can't you!"
--from time to time. But by and by he fell asleep where he sat, and pretty
soon a mule fell down the chimney! The fire flew in every direction, and
Oliver went over backwards. About ten nights after that, he recovered
confidence enough to go to writing poetry again. Again he dozed off to
sleep, and again a mule fell down the chimney. This time, about half of
that side of the house came in with the mule. Struggling to get up, the
mule kicked the candle out and smashed most of the kitchen furniture, and
raised considerable dust. These violent awakenings must have been
annoying to Oliver, but he never complained. He moved to a mansion on
the opposite side of the canon, because he had noticed the mules did not
go there. One night about eight o'clock he was endeavoring to finish his
poem, when a stone rolled in--then a hoof appeared below the canvas--then
part of a cow--the after part. He leaned back in dread, and shouted
"Hooy! hooy! get out of this!" and the cow struggled manfully--lost
ground steadily--dirt and dust streamed down, and before Oliver could get
well away, the entire cow crashed through on to the table and made a
shapeless wreck of every thing!
Then, for the first time in his life, I think, Oliver complained. He
"This thing is growing monotonous!"
Then he resigned his judgeship and left Humboldt county. "Butchered to
make a Roman holyday" has grown monotonous to me.
In this connection I wish to say one word about Michael Angelo
Buonarotti. I used to worship the mighty genius of Michael Angelo--that
man who was great in poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture--great in
every thing he undertook. But I do not want Michael Angelo for
breakfast--for luncheon--for dinner--for tea--for supper--for between
meals. I like a change, occasionally. In Genoa, he designed every
thing; in Milan he or his pupils designed every thing; he designed the
Lake of Como; in Padua, Verona, Venice, Bologna, who did we ever hear of,
from guides, but Michael Angelo? In Florence, he painted every thing,
designed every thing, nearly, and what he did not design he used to sit
on a favorite stone and look at, and they showed us the stone. In Pisa
he designed every thing but the old shot-tower, and they would have
attributed that to him if it had not been so awfully out of the
perpendicular. He designed the piers of Leghorn and the custom house
regulations of Civita Vecchia. But, here--here it is frightful. He
designed St. Peter's; he designed the Pope; he designed the Pantheon, the
uniform of the Pope's soldiers, the Tiber, the Vatican, the Coliseum, the
Capitol, the Tarpeian Rock, the Barberini Palace, St. John Lateran, the
Campagna, the Appian Way, the Seven Hills, the Baths of Caracalla, the
Claudian Aqueduct, the Cloaca Maxima--the eternal bore designed the
Eternal City, and unless all men and books do lie, he painted every thing
in it! Dan said the other day to the guide, "Enough, enough, enough!
Say no more! Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made Italy from
designs by Michael Angelo!"
I never felt so fervently thankful, so soothed, so tranquil, so filled
with a blessed peace, as I did yesterday when I learned that Michael
Angelo was dead.
But we have taken it out of this guide. He has marched us through miles
of pictures and sculpture in the vast corridors of the Vatican; and
through miles of pictures and sculpture in twenty other palaces; he has
shown us the great picture in the Sistine Chapel, and frescoes enough to
frescoe the heavens--pretty much all done by Michael Angelo. So with him
we have played that game which has vanquished so many guides for us
--imbecility and idiotic questions. These creatures never suspect--they
have no idea of a sarcasm.
He shows us a figure and says: "Statoo brunzo." (Bronze statue.)
We look at it indifferently and the doctor asks: "By Michael Angelo?"
"No--not know who."
Then he shows us the ancient Roman Forum. The doctor asks: "Michael
A stare from the guide. "No--thousan' year before he is born."
Then an Egyptian obelisk. Again: "Michael Angelo?"
"Oh, mon dieu, genteelmen! Zis is two thousan' year before he is born!"
He grows so tired of that unceasing question sometimes, that he dreads to
show us any thing at all. The wretch has tried all the ways he can think
of to make us comprehend that Michael Angelo is only responsible for the
creation of a part of the world, but somehow he has not succeeded yet.
Relief for overtasked eyes and brain from study and sightseeing is
necessary, or we shall become idiotic sure enough. Therefore this guide
must continue to suffer. If he does not enjoy it, so much the worse for
him. We do.
In this place I may as well jot down a chapter concerning those necessary
nuisances, European guides. Many a man has wished in his heart he could
do without his guide; but knowing he could not, has wished he could get
some amusement out of him as a remuneration for the affliction of his
society. We accomplished this latter matter, and if our experience can
be made useful to others they are welcome to it.
Guides know about enough English to tangle every thing up so that a man
can make neither head or tail of it. They know their story by heart--the
history of every statue, painting, cathedral or other wonder they show
you. They know it and tell it as a parrot would--and if you interrupt,
and throw them off the track, they have to go back and begin over again.
All their lives long, they are employed in showing strange things to
foreigners and listening to their bursts of admiration. It is human
nature to take delight in exciting admiration. It is what prompts
children to say "smart" things, and do absurd ones, and in other ways
"show off" when company is present. It is what makes gossips turn out in
rain and storm to go and be the first to tell a startling bit of news.
Think, then, what a passion it becomes with a guide, whose privilege it
is, every day, to show to strangers wonders that throw them into perfect
ecstasies of admiration! He gets so that he could not by any possibility
live in a soberer atmosphere. After we discovered this, we never went
into ecstasies any more--we never admired any thing--we never showed any
but impassible faces and stupid indifference in the presence of the
sublimest wonders a guide had to display. We had found their weak point.
We have made good use of it ever since. We have made some of those
people savage, at times, but we have never lost our own serenity.
The doctor asks the questions, generally, because he can keep his
countenance, and look more like an inspired idiot, and throw more
imbecility into the tone of his voice than any man that lives. It comes
natural to him.
The guides in Genoa are delighted to secure an American party, because
Americans so much wonder, and deal so much in sentiment and emotion
before any relic of Columbus. Our guide there fidgeted about as if he
had swallowed a spring mattress. He was full of animation--full of
impatience. He said:
"Come wis me, genteelmen!--come! I show you ze letter writing by
Christopher Colombo!--write it himself!--write it wis his own hand!
He took us to the municipal palace. After much impressive fumbling of
keys and opening of locks, the stained and aged document was spread
before us. The guide's eyes sparkled. He danced about us and tapped the
parchment with his finger:
"What I tell you, genteelmen! Is it not so? See! handwriting
Christopher Colombo!--write it himself!"
We looked indifferent--unconcerned. The doctor examined the document
very deliberately, during a painful pause.--Then he said, without any
show of interest:
"Ah--Ferguson--what--what did you say was the name of the party who wrote
"Christopher Colombo! ze great Christopher Colombo!"
Another deliberate examination.
"Ah--did he write it himself; or--or how?"
"He write it himself!--Christopher Colombo! He's own hand-writing, write
Then the doctor laid the document down and said:
"Why, I have seen boys in America only fourteen years old that could
write better than that."
"But zis is ze great Christo--"
"I don't care who it is! It's the worst writing I ever saw. Now you
musn't think you can impose on us because we are strangers. We are not
fools, by a good deal. If you have got any specimens of penmanship of
real merit, trot them out!--and if you haven't, drive on!"
We drove on. The guide was considerably shaken up, but he made one more
venture. He had something which he thought would overcome us. He said:
"Ah, genteelmen, you come wis me! I show you beautiful, O, magnificent
bust Christopher Colombo!--splendid, grand, magnificent!"
He brought us before the beautiful bust--for it was beautiful--and sprang
back and struck an attitude:
"Ah, look, genteelmen!--beautiful, grand,--bust Christopher Colombo!
--beautiful bust, beautiful pedestal!"
The doctor put up his eye-glass--procured for such occasions:
"Ah--what did you say this gentleman's name was?"
"Christopher Colombo!--ze great Christopher Colombo!"
"Christopher Colombo--the great Christopher Colombo. Well, what did he
"Discover America!--discover America, Oh, ze devil!"
"Discover America. No--that statement will hardly wash. We are just
from America ourselves. We heard nothing about it. Christopher Colombo
--pleasant name--is--is he dead?"
"Oh, corpo di Baccho!--three hundred year!"
"What did he die of?"
"I do not know!--I can not tell."
"I do not know, genteelmen!--I do not know what he die of!"
"May be--may be--I do not know--I think he die of somethings."
"Ah--which is the bust and which is the pedestal?"
"Santa Maria!--zis ze bust!--zis ze pedestal!"
"Ah, I see, I see--happy combination--very happy combination, indeed.
Is--is this the first time this gentleman was ever on a bust?"
That joke was lost on the foreigner--guides can not master the subtleties
of the American joke.
We have made it interesting for this Roman guide. Yesterday we spent
three or four hours in the Vatican, again, that wonderful world of
curiosities. We came very near expressing interest, sometimes--even
admiration--it was very hard to keep from it. We succeeded though.
Nobody else ever did, in the Vatican museums. The guide was bewildered
--non-plussed. He walked his legs off, nearly, hunting up extraordinary
things, and exhausted all his ingenuity on us, but it was a failure; we
never showed any interest in any thing. He had reserved what he
considered to be his greatest wonder till the last--a royal Egyptian
mummy, the best preserved in the world, perhaps. He took us there. He
felt so sure, this time, that some of his old enthusiasm came back to
"See, genteelmen!--Mummy! Mummy!"
The eye-glass came up as calmly, as deliberately as ever.
"Ah,--Ferguson--what did I understand you to say the gentleman's name
"Name?--he got no name!--Mummy!--'Gyptian mummy!"
"Yes, yes. Born here?"
"No! 'Gyptian mummy!"
"Ah, just so. Frenchman, I presume?"
"No!--not Frenchman, not Roman!--born in Egypta!"
"Born in Egypta. Never heard of Egypta before. Foreign locality,
likely. Mummy--mummy. How calm he is--how self-possessed. Is, ah--is
"Oh, sacre bleu, been dead three thousan' year!"
The doctor turned on him savagely:
"Here, now, what do you mean by such conduct as this! Playing us for
Chinamen because we are strangers and trying to learn! Trying to impose
your vile second-hand carcasses on us!--thunder and lightning, I've a
notion to--to--if you've got a nice fresh corpse, fetch him out!--or by
George we'll brain you!"
We make it exceedingly interesting for this Frenchman. However, he has
paid us back, partly, without knowing it. He came to the hotel this
morning to ask if we were up, and he endeavored as well as he could to
describe us, so that the landlord would know which persons he meant. He
finished with the casual remark that we were lunatics. The observation
was so innocent and so honest that it amounted to a very good thing for a
guide to say.
There is one remark (already mentioned,) which never yet has failed to
disgust these guides. We use it always, when we can think of nothing
else to say. After they have exhausted their enthusiasm pointing out
to us and praising the beauties of some ancient bronze image or
broken-legged statue, we look at it stupidly and in silence for five,
ten, fifteen minutes--as long as we can hold out, in fact--and then ask:
"Is--is he dead?"
That conquers the serenest of them. It is not what they are looking for
--especially a new guide. Our Roman Ferguson is the most patient,
unsuspecting, long-suffering subject we have had yet. We shall be sorry
to part with him. We have enjoyed his society very much. We trust he
has enjoyed ours, but we are harassed with doubts.
We have been in the catacombs. It was like going down into a very deep
cellar, only it was a cellar which had no end to it. The narrow passages
are roughly hewn in the rock, and on each hand as you pass along, the
hollowed shelves are carved out, from three to fourteen deep; each held a
corpse once. There are names, and Christian symbols, and prayers, or
sentences expressive of Christian hopes, carved upon nearly every
sarcophagus. The dates belong away back in the dawn of the Christian
era, of course. Here, in these holes in the ground, the first Christians
sometimes burrowed to escape persecution. They crawled out at night to
get food, but remained under cover in the day time. The priest told us
that St. Sebastian lived under ground for some time while he was being
hunted; he went out one day, and the soldiery discovered and shot him to
death with arrows. Five or six of the early Popes--those who reigned
about sixteen hundred years ago--held their papal courts and advised with
their clergy in the bowels of the earth. During seventeen years--from
A.D. 235 to A.D. 252--the Popes did not appear above ground. Four were
raised to the great office during that period. Four years apiece, or
thereabouts. It is very suggestive of the unhealthiness of underground
graveyards as places of residence. One Pope afterward spent his entire
pontificate in the catacombs--eight years. Another was discovered in
them and murdered in the episcopal chair. There was no satisfaction in
being a Pope in those days. There were too many annoyances. There are
one hundred and sixty catacombs under Rome, each with its maze of narrow
passages crossing and recrossing each other and each passage walled to
the top with scooped graves its entire length. A careful estimate makes
the length of the passages of all the catacombs combined foot up nine
hundred miles, and their graves number seven millions. We did not go
through all the passages of all the catacombs. We were very anxious to
do it, and made the necessary arrangements, but our too limited time
obliged us to give up the idea. So we only groped through the dismal
labyrinth of St. Callixtus, under the Church of St. Sebastian. In the
various catacombs are small chapels rudely hewn in the stones, and here
the early Christians often held their religious services by dim, ghostly
lights. Think of mass and a sermon away down in those tangled caverns
In the catacombs were buried St. Cecilia, St. Agnes, and several other of
the most celebrated of the saints. In the catacomb of St. Callixtus, St.
Bridget used to remain long hours in holy contemplation, and St. Charles
Borromeo was wont to spend whole nights in prayer there. It was also the
scene of a very marvelous thing.
"Here the heart of St. Philip Neri was so inflamed with divine love
as to burst his ribs."
I find that grave statement in a book published in New York in 1808, and
written by "Rev. William H. Neligan, LL.D., M. A., Trinity College,
Dublin; Member of the Archaeological Society of Great Britain."
Therefore, I believe it. Otherwise, I could not. Under other
circumstances I should have felt a curiosity to know what Philip had for
This author puts my credulity on its mettle every now and then. He tells
of one St. Joseph Calasanctius whose house in Rome he visited; he visited
only the house--the priest has been dead two hundred years. He says the
Virgin Mary appeared to this saint. Then he continues:
"His tongue and his heart, which were found after nearly a century
to be whole, when the body was disinterred before his canonization,
are still preserved in a glass case, and after two centuries the
heart is still whole. When the French troops came to Rome, and when
Pius VII. was carried away prisoner, blood dropped from it."
To read that in a book written by a monk far back in the Middle Ages,
would surprise no one; it would sound natural and proper; but when it is
seriously stated in the middle of the nineteenth century, by a man of
finished education, an LL.D., M. A., and an Archaeological magnate, it
sounds strangely enough. Still, I would gladly change my unbelief for
Neligan's faith, and let him make the conditions as hard as he pleased.
The old gentleman's undoubting, unquestioning simplicity has a rare
freshness about it in these matter-of-fact railroading and telegraphing
days. Hear him, concerning the church of Ara Coeli:
"In the roof of the church, directly above the high altar, is
engraved, 'Regina Coeli laetare Alleluia." In the sixth century
Rome was visited by a fearful pestilence. Gregory the Great urged
the people to do penance, and a general procession was formed. It
was to proceed from Ara Coeli to St. Peter's. As it passed before
the mole of Adrian, now the Castle of St. Angelo, the sound of
heavenly voices was heard singing (it was Easter morn,) Regina
Coeli, laetare! alleluia! quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia!
resurrexit sicut dixit; alleluia!" The Pontiff, carrying in his
hands the portrait of the Virgin, (which is over the high altar and
is said to have been painted by St. Luke,) answered, with the
astonished people, 'Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia!' At the same time
an angel was seen to put up a sword in a scabbard, and the
pestilence ceased on the same day. There are four circumstances
which 'CONFIRM'--[The italics are mine--M. T.]--this miracle: the
annual procession which takes place in the western church on the
feast of St Mark; the statue of St. Michael, placed on the mole of
Adrian, which has since that time been called the Castle of St.
Angelo; the antiphon Regina Coeli which the Catholic church sings
during paschal time; and the inscription in the church."
From the sanguinary sports of the Holy Inquisition; the slaughter of the
Coliseum; and the dismal tombs of the Catacombs, I naturally pass to the
picturesque horrors of the Capuchin Convent. We stopped a moment in a
small chapel in the church to admire a picture of St. Michael vanquishing
Satan--a picture which is so beautiful that I can not but think it
belongs to the reviled "Renaissance," notwithstanding I believe they told
us one of the ancient old masters painted it--and then we descended into
the vast vault underneath.
Here was a spectacle for sensitive nerves! Evidently the old masters had
been at work in this place. There were six divisions in the apartment,
and each division was ornamented with a style of decoration peculiar to
itself--and these decorations were in every instance formed of human
bones! There were shapely arches, built wholly of thigh bones; there
were startling pyramids, built wholly of grinning skulls; there were
quaint architectural structures of various kinds, built of shin bones and
the bones of the arm; on the wall were elaborate frescoes, whose curving
vines were made of knotted human vertebrae; whose delicate tendrils were
made of sinews and tendons; whose flowers were formed of knee-caps and
toe-nails. Every lasting portion of the human frame was represented in
these intricate designs (they were by Michael Angelo, I think,) and there
was a careful finish about the work, and an attention to details that
betrayed the artist's love of his labors as well as his schooled ability.
I asked the good-natured monk who accompanied us, who did this? And he
said, "We did it"--meaning himself and his brethren up stairs. I could
see that the old friar took a high pride in his curious show. We made
him talkative by exhibiting an interest we never betrayed to guides.
"Who were these people?"
"We--up stairs--Monks of the Capuchin order--my brethren."
"How many departed monks were required to upholster these six parlors?"
"These are the bones of four thousand."
"It took a long time to get enough?"
"Many, many centuries."
"Their different parts are well separated--skulls in one room, legs in
another, ribs in another--there would be stirring times here for a while
if the last trump should blow. Some of the brethren might get hold of
the wrong leg, in the confusion, and the wrong skull, and find themselves
limping, and looking through eyes that were wider apart or closer
together than they were used to. You can not tell any of these parties
apart, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes, I know many of them."
He put his finger on a skull. "This was Brother Anselmo--dead three
hundred years--a good man."
He touched another. "This was Brother Alexander--dead two hundred and
eighty years. This was Brother Carlo--dead about as long."
Then he took a skull and held it in his hand, and looked reflectively
upon it, after the manner of the grave-digger when he discourses of
"This," he said, "was Brother Thomas. He was a young prince, the scion
of a proud house that traced its lineage back to the grand old days of
Rome well nigh two thousand years ago. He loved beneath his estate. His
family persecuted him; persecuted the girl, as well. They drove her from
Rome; he followed; he sought her far and wide; he found no trace of her.
He came back and offered his broken heart at our altar and his weary life
to the service of God. But look you. Shortly his father died, and
likewise his mother. The girl returned, rejoicing. She sought every
where for him whose eyes had used to look tenderly into hers out of this
poor skull, but she could not find him. At last, in this coarse garb we
wear, she recognized him in the street. He knew her. It was too late.
He fell where he stood. They took him up and brought him here. He never
spoke afterward. Within the week he died. You can see the color of his
hair--faded, somewhat--by this thin shred that clings still to the
temple. This, [taking up a thigh bone,] was his. The veins of this
leaf in the decorations over your head, were his finger-joints, a hundred
and fifty years ago."
This business-like way of illustrating a touching story of the heart by
laying the several fragments of the lover before us and naming them, was
as grotesque a performance, and as ghastly, as any I ever witnessed. I
hardly knew whether to smile or shudder. There are nerves and muscles in
our frames whose functions and whose methods of working it seems a sort
of sacrilege to describe by cold physiological names and surgical
technicalities, and the monk's talk suggested to me something of this
kind. Fancy a surgeon, with his nippers lifting tendons, muscles and
such things into view, out of the complex machinery of a corpse, and
observing, "Now this little nerve quivers--the vibration is imparted to
this muscle--from here it is passed to this fibrous substance; here its
ingredients are separated by the chemical action of the blood--one part
goes to the heart and thrills it with what is popularly termed emotion,
another part follows this nerve to the brain and communicates
intelligence of a startling character--the third part glides along this
passage and touches the spring connected with the fluid receptacles that
lie in the rear of the eye. Thus, by this simple and beautiful process,
the party is informed that his mother is dead, and he weeps." Horrible!
I asked the monk if all the brethren up stairs expected to be put in this
place when they died. He answered quietly:
"We must all lie here at last."
See what one can accustom himself to.--The reflection that he must some
day be taken apart like an engine or a clock, or like a house whose owner
is gone, and worked up into arches and pyramids and hideous frescoes, did
not distress this monk in the least. I thought he even looked as if he
were thinking, with complacent vanity, that his own skull would look well
on top of the heap and his own ribs add a charm to the frescoes which
possibly they lacked at present.
Here and there, in ornamental alcoves, stretched upon beds of bones, lay
dead and dried-up monks, with lank frames dressed in the black robes one
sees ordinarily upon priests. We examined one closely. The skinny hands
were clasped upon the breast; two lustreless tufts of hair stuck to the
skull; the skin was brown and sunken; it stretched tightly over the cheek
bones and made them stand out sharply; the crisp dead eyes were deep in
the sockets; the nostrils were painfully prominent, the end of the nose
being gone; the lips had shriveled away from the yellow teeth: and
brought down to us through the circling years, and petrified there, was a
weird laugh a full century old!
It was the jolliest laugh, but yet the most dreadful, that one can
imagine. Surely, I thought, it must have been a most extraordinary joke
this veteran produced with his latest breath, that he has not got done
laughing at it yet. At this moment I saw that the old instinct was
strong upon the boys, and I said we had better hurry to St. Peter's.
They were trying to keep from asking, "Is--is he dead?"
It makes me dizzy, to think of the Vatican--of its wilderness of statues,
paintings, and curiosities of every description and every age. The "old
masters" (especially in sculpture,) fairly swarm, there. I can not write
about the Vatican. I think I shall never remember any thing I saw there
distinctly but the mummies, and the Transfiguration, by Raphael, and some
other things it is not necessary to mention now. I shall remember the
Transfiguration partly because it was placed in a room almost by itself;
partly because it is acknowledged by all to be the first oil painting in
the world; and partly because it was wonderfully beautiful. The colors
are fresh and rich, the "expression," I am told, is fine, the "feeling"
is lively, the "tone" is good, the "depth" is profound, and the width is
about four and a half feet, I should judge. It is a picture that really
holds one's attention; its beauty is fascinating. It is fine enough to
be a Renaissance. A remark I made a while ago suggests a thought--and a
hope. Is it not possible that the reason I find such charms in this
picture is because it is out of the crazy chaos of the galleries? If
some of the others were set apart, might not they be beautiful? If this
were set in the midst of the tempest of pictures one finds in the vast
galleries of the Roman palaces, would I think it so handsome? If, up to
this time, I had seen only one "old master" in each palace, instead of
acres and acres of walls and ceilings fairly papered with them, might I
not have a more civilized opinion of the old masters than I have now? I
think so. When I was a school-boy and was to have a new knife, I could
not make up my mind as to which was the prettiest in the show-case, and I
did not think any of them were particularly pretty; and so I chose with a
heavy heart. But when I looked at my purchase, at home, where no
glittering blades came into competition with it, I was astonished to see
how handsome it was. To this day my new hats look better out of the shop
than they did in it with other new hats. It begins to dawn upon me, now,
that possibly, what I have been taking for uniform ugliness in the
galleries may be uniform beauty after all. I honestly hope it is, to
others, but certainly it is not to me. Perhaps the reason I used to
enjoy going to the Academy of Fine Arts in New York was because there
were but a few hundred paintings in it, and it did not surfeit me to go
through the list. I suppose the Academy was bacon and beans in the
Forty-Mile Desert, and a European gallery is a state dinner of thirteen
courses. One leaves no sign after him of the one dish, but the thirteen
frighten away his appetite and give him no satisfaction.
There is one thing I am certain of, though. With all the Michael
Angelos, the Raphaels, the Guidos and the other old masters, the sublime
history of Rome remains unpainted! They painted Virgins enough, and
popes enough and saintly scarecrows enough, to people Paradise, almost,
and these things are all they did paint. "Nero fiddling o'er burning
Rome," the assassination of Caesar, the stirring spectacle of a hundred
thousand people bending forward with rapt interest, in the coliseum, to
see two skillful gladiators hacking away each others' lives, a tiger
springing upon a kneeling martyr--these and a thousand other matters
which we read of with a living interest, must be sought for only in
books--not among the rubbish left by the old masters--who are no more, I
have the satisfaction of informing the public.
They did paint, and they did carve in marble, one historical scene, and
one only, (of any great historical consequence.) And what was it and why
did they choose it, particularly? It was the Rape of the Sabines, and
they chose it for the legs and busts.
I like to look at statues, however, and I like to look at pictures, also
--even of monks looking up in sacred ecstacy, and monks looking down in
meditation, and monks skirmishing for something to eat--and therefore I
drop ill nature to thank the papal government for so jealously guarding
and so industriously gathering up these things; and for permitting me, a
stranger and not an entirely friendly one, to roam at will and unmolested
among them, charging me nothing, and only requiring that I shall behave
myself simply as well as I ought to behave in any other man's house. I
thank the Holy Father right heartily, and I wish him long life and plenty
The Popes have long been the patrons and preservers of art, just as our
new, practical Republic is the encourager and upholder of mechanics. In
their Vatican is stored up all that is curious and beautiful in art; in
our Patent Office is hoarded all that is curious or useful in mechanics.
When a man invents a new style of horse-collar or discovers a new and
superior method of telegraphing, our government issues a patent to him
that is worth a fortune; when a man digs up an ancient statue in the
Campagna, the Pope gives him a fortune in gold coin. We can make
something of a guess at a man's character by the style of nose he carries
on his face. The Vatican and the Patent Office are governmental noses,
and they bear a deal of character about them.
The guide showed us a colossal statue of Jupiter, in the Vatican, which
he said looked so damaged and rusty--so like the God of the Vagabonds
--because it had but recently been dug up in the Campagna. He asked how
much we supposed this Jupiter was worth? I replied, with intelligent
promptness, that he was probably worth about four dollars--may be four
and a half. "A hundred thousand dollars!" Ferguson said. Ferguson
said, further, that the Pope permits no ancient work of this kind to
leave his dominions. He appoints a commission to examine discoveries
like this and report upon the value; then the Pope pays the discoverer
one-half of that assessed value and takes the statue. He said this
Jupiter was dug from a field which had just been bought for thirty-six
thousand dollars, so the first crop was a good one for the new farmer.
I do not know whether Ferguson always tells the truth or not, but I
suppose he does. I know that an exorbitant export duty is exacted upon
all pictures painted by the old masters, in order to discourage the sale
of those in the private collections. I am satisfied, also, that genuine
old masters hardly exist at all, in America, because the cheapest and
most insignificant of them are valued at the price of a fine farm. I
proposed to buy a small trifle of a Raphael, myself, but the price of it
was eighty thousand dollars, the export duty would have made it
considerably over a hundred, and so I studied on it awhile and concluded
not to take it.
I wish here to mention an inscription I have seen, before I forget it:
"Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth TO MEN OF GOOD WILL!" It is
not good scripture, but it is sound Catholic and human nature.
This is in letters of gold around the apsis of a mosaic group at the side
of the 'scala santa', church of St. John Lateran, the Mother and Mistress
of all the Catholic churches of the world. The group represents the
Saviour, St. Peter, Pope Leo, St. Silvester, Constantine and Charlemagne.
Peter is giving the pallium to the Pope, and a standard to Charlemagne.
The Saviour is giving the keys to St. Silvester, and a standard to
Constantine. No prayer is offered to the Saviour, who seems to be of
little importance any where in Rome; but an inscription below says,
"Blessed Peter, give life to Pope Leo and victory to king Charles." It
does not say, "Intercede for us, through the Saviour, with the Father,
for this boon," but "Blessed Peter, give it us."
In all seriousness--without meaning to be frivolous--without meaning to
be irreverent, and more than all, without meaning to be blasphemous,--I
state as my simple deduction from the things I have seen and the things I
have heard, that the Holy Personages rank thus in Rome:
First--"The Mother of God"--otherwise the Virgin Mary.
Fourth--Some twelve or fifteen canonized Popes and martyrs.
Fifth--Jesus Christ the Saviour--(but always as an infant in arms.)
I may be wrong in this--my judgment errs often, just as is the case with
other men's--but it is my judgment, be it good or bad.
Just here I will mention something that seems curious to me. There are
no "Christ's Churches" in Rome, and no "Churches of the Holy Ghost," that
I can discover. There are some four hundred churches, but about a fourth
of them seem to be named for the Madonna and St. Peter. There are so
many named for Mary that they have to be distinguished by all sorts of
affixes, if I understand the matter rightly. Then we have churches of
St. Louis; St. Augustine; St. Agnes; St. Calixtus; St. Lorenzo in Lucina;
St. Lorenzo in Damaso; St. Cecilia; St. Athanasius; St. Philip Neri; St.
Catherine, St. Dominico, and a multitude of lesser saints whose names are
not familiar in the world--and away down, clear out of the list of the
churches, comes a couple of hospitals: one of them is named for the
Saviour and the other for the Holy Ghost!
Day after day and night after night we have wandered among the crumbling
wonders of Rome; day after day and night after night we have fed upon the
dust and decay of five-and-twenty centuries--have brooded over them by
day and dreampt of them by night till sometimes we seemed moldering away
ourselves, and growing defaced and cornerless, and liable at any moment
to fall a prey to some antiquary and be patched in the legs, and
"restored" with an unseemly nose, and labeled wrong and dated wrong, and
set up in the Vatican for poets to drivel about and vandals to scribble
their names on forever and forevermore.
But the surest way to stop writing about Rome is to stop. I wished to
write a real "guide-book" chapter on this fascinating city, but I could
not do it, because I have felt all the time like a boy in a candy-shop
--there was every thing to choose from, and yet no choice. I have drifted
along hopelessly for a hundred pages of manuscript without knowing where
to commence. I will not commence at all. Our passports have been
examined. We will go to Naples.
The ship is lying here in the harbor of Naples--quarantined. She has
been here several days and will remain several more. We that came by
rail from Rome have escaped this misfortune. Of course no one is allowed
to go on board the ship, or come ashore from her. She is a prison, now.
The passengers probably spend the long, blazing days looking out from
under the awnings at Vesuvius and the beautiful city--and in swearing.
Think of ten days of this sort of pastime!--We go out every day in a boat
and request them to come ashore. It soothes them. We lie ten steps from
the ship and tell them how splendid the city is; and how much better the
hotel fare is here than any where else in Europe; and how cool it is; and
what frozen continents of ice cream there are; and what a time we are
having cavorting about the country and sailing to the islands in the Bay.
This tranquilizes them.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS.
I shall remember our trip to Vesuvius for many a day--partly because of
its sight-seeing experiences, but chiefly on account of the fatigue of
the journey. Two or three of us had been resting ourselves among the
tranquil and beautiful scenery of the island of Ischia, eighteen miles
out in the harbor, for two days; we called it "resting," but I do not
remember now what the resting consisted of, for when we got back to
Naples we had not slept for forty-eight hours. We were just about to go
to bed early in the evening, and catch up on some of the sleep we had
lost, when we heard of this Vesuvius expedition. There was to be eight
of us in the party, and we were to leave Naples at midnight. We laid in
some provisions for the trip, engaged carriages to take us to
Annunciation, and then moved about the city, to keep awake, till twelve.
We got away punctually, and in the course of an hour and a half arrived
at the town of Annunciation. Annunciation is the very last place under
the sun. In other towns in Italy the people lie around quietly and wait
for you to ask them a question or do some overt act that can be charged
for--but in Annunciation they have lost even that fragment of delicacy;
they seize a lady's shawl from a chair and hand it to her and charge a
penny; they open a carriage door, and charge for it--shut it when you get
out, and charge for it; they help you to take off a duster--two cents;
brush your clothes and make them worse than they were before--two cents;
smile upon you--two cents; bow, with a lick-spittle smirk, hat in hand
--two cents; they volunteer all information, such as that the mules will
arrive presently--two cents--warm day, sir--two cents--take you four
hours to make the ascent--two cents. And so they go. They crowd you
--infest you--swarm about you, and sweat and smell offensively, and look
sneaking and mean, and obsequious. There is no office too degrading for
them to perform, for money. I have had no opportunity to find out any
thing about the upper classes by my own observation, but from what I hear
said about them I judge that what they lack in one or two of the bad
traits the canaille have, they make up in one or two others that are
worse. How the people beg!--many of them very well dressed, too.
I said I knew nothing against the upper classes by personal observation.
I must recall it! I had forgotten. What I saw their bravest and their
fairest do last night, the lowest multitude that could be scraped up out
of the purlieus of Christendom would blush to do, I think. They
assembled by hundreds, and even thousands, in the great Theatre of San
Carlo, to do--what? Why, simply, to make fun of an old woman--to deride,
to hiss, to jeer at an actress they once worshipped, but whose beauty is
faded now and whose voice has lost its former richness. Every body spoke
of the rare sport there was to be. They said the theatre would be
crammed, because Frezzolini was going to sing. It was said she could not
sing well, now, but then the people liked to see her, anyhow. And so we
went. And every time the woman sang they hissed and laughed--the whole
magnificent house--and as soon as she left the stage they called her on
again with applause. Once or twice she was encored five and six times in
succession, and received with hisses when she appeared, and discharged
with hisses and laughter when she had finished--then instantly encored
and insulted again! And how the high-born knaves enjoyed it!
White-kidded gentlemen and ladies laughed till the tears came, and
clapped their hands in very ecstacy when that unhappy old woman would
come meekly out for the sixth time, with uncomplaining patience, to meet
a storm of hisses! It was the cruelest exhibition--the most wanton, the
most unfeeling. The singer would have conquered an audience of American
rowdies by her brave, unflinching tranquillity (for she answered encore
after encore, and smiled and bowed pleasantly, and sang the best she
possibly could, and went bowing off, through all the jeers and hisses,
without ever losing countenance or temper:) and surely in any other land
than Italy her sex and her helplessness must have been an ample
protection to her--she could have needed no other. Think what a
multitude of small souls were crowded into that theatre last night. If
the manager could have filled his theatre with Neapolitan souls alone,
without the bodies, he could not have cleared less than ninety millions
of dollars. What traits of character must a man have to enable him to
help three thousand miscreants to hiss, and jeer, and laugh at one
friendless old woman, and shamefully humiliate her? He must have all
the vile, mean traits there are. My observation persuades me (I do not
like to venture beyond my own personal observation,) that the upper
classes of Naples possess those traits of character. Otherwise they may
be very good people; I can not say.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
In this city of Naples, they believe in and support one of the
wretchedest of all the religious impostures one can find in Italy--the
miraculous liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius. Twice a year the
priests assemble all the people at the Cathedral, and get out this vial
of clotted blood and let them see it slowly dissolve and become liquid
--and every day for eight days, this dismal farce is repeated, while the
priests go among the crowd and collect money for the exhibition. The
first day, the blood liquefies in forty-seven minutes--the church is
crammed, then, and time must be allowed the collectors to get around:
after that it liquefies a little quicker and a little quicker, every day,
as the houses grow smaller, till on the eighth day, with only a few
dozens present to see the miracle, it liquefies in four minutes.
And here, also, they used to have a grand procession, of priests,
citizens, soldiers, sailors, and the high dignitaries of the City
Government, once a year, to shave the head of a made-up Madonna--a
stuffed and painted image, like a milliner's dummy--whose hair
miraculously grew and restored itself every twelve months. They still
kept up this shaving procession as late as four or five years ago. It
was a source of great profit to the church that possessed the remarkable
effigy, and the ceremony of the public barbering of her was always
carried out with the greatest possible eclat and display--the more the
better, because the more excitement there was about it the larger the
crowds it drew and the heavier the revenues it produced--but at last a
day came when the Pope and his servants were unpopular in Naples, and the
City Government stopped the Madonna's annual show.
There we have two specimens of these Neapolitans--two of the silliest
possible frauds, which half the population religiously and faithfully
believed, and the other half either believed also or else said nothing
about, and thus lent themselves to the support of the imposture. I am
very well satisfied to think the whole population believed in those poor,
cheap miracles--a people who want two cents every time they bow to you,
and who abuse a woman, are capable of it, I think.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
These Neapolitans always ask four times as much money as they intend to
take, but if you give them what they first demand, they feel ashamed of
themselves for aiming so low, and immediately ask more. When money is to
be paid and received, there is always some vehement jawing and
gesticulating about it. One can not buy and pay for two cents' worth of
clams without trouble and a quarrel. One "course," in a two-horse
carriage, costs a franc--that is law--but the hackman always demands
more, on some pretence or other, and if he gets it he makes a new demand.
It is said that a stranger took a one-horse carriage for a course
--tariff, half a franc. He gave the man five francs, by way of experiment.
He demanded more, and received another franc. Again he demanded more,
and got a franc--demanded more, and it was refused. He grew vehement
--was again refused, and became noisy. The stranger said, "Well, give me
the seven francs again, and I will see what I can do"--and when he got
them, he handed the hackman half a franc, and he immediately asked for
two cents to buy a drink with. It may be thought that I am prejudiced.
Perhaps I am. I would be ashamed of myself if I were not.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
Well, as I was saying, we got our mules and horses, after an hour and a
half of bargaining with the population of Annunciation, and started
sleepily up the mountain, with a vagrant at each mule's tail who
pretended to be driving the brute along, but was really holding on and
getting himself dragged up instead. I made slow headway at first, but I
began to get dissatisfied at the idea of paying my minion five francs to
hold my mule back by the tail and keep him from going up the hill, and so
I discharged him. I got along faster then.
We had one magnificent picture of Naples from a high point on the
mountain side. We saw nothing but the gas lamps, of course--two-thirds
of a circle, skirting the great Bay--a necklace of diamonds glinting up
through the darkness from the remote distance--less brilliant than the
stars overhead, but more softly, richly beautiful--and over all the great
city the lights crossed and recrossed each other in many and many a
sparkling line and curve. And back of the town, far around and abroad
over the miles of level campagna, were scattered rows, and circles, and
clusters of lights, all glowing like so many gems, and marking where a
score of villages were sleeping. About this time, the fellow who was
hanging on to the tail of the horse in front of me and practicing all
sorts of unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, got kicked some fourteen
rods, and this incident, together with the fairy spectacle of the lights
far in the distance, made me serenely happy, and I was glad I started to
ASCENT OF MOUNT VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
This subject will be excellent matter for a chapter, and tomorrow or next
day I will write it.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
"See Naples and die." Well, I do not know that one would necessarily die
after merely seeing it, but to attempt to live there might turn out a
little differently. To see Naples as we saw it in the early dawn from
far up on the side of Vesuvius, is to see a picture of wonderful beauty.
At that distance its dingy buildings looked white--and so, rank on rank
of balconies, windows and roofs, they piled themselves up from the blue
ocean till the colossal castle of St. Elmo topped the grand white pyramid
and gave the picture symmetry, emphasis and completeness. And when its
lilies turned to roses--when it blushed under the sun's first kiss--it
was beautiful beyond all description. One might well say, then, "See
Naples and die." The frame of the picture was charming, itself. In
front, the smooth sea--a vast mosaic of many colors; the lofty islands
swimming in a dreamy haze in the distance; at our end of the city the
stately double peak of Vesuvius, and its strong black ribs and seams of
lava stretching down to the limitless level campagna--a green carpet that
enchants the eye and leads it on and on, past clusters of trees, and
isolated houses, and snowy villages, until it shreds out in a fringe of
mist and general vagueness far away. It is from the Hermitage, there on
the side of Vesuvius, that one should "see Naples and die."
But do not go within the walls and look at it in detail. That takes away
some of the romance of the thing. The people are filthy in their habits,
and this makes filthy streets and breeds disagreeable sights and smells.
There never was a community so prejudiced against the cholera as these
Neapolitans are. But they have good reason to be. The cholera generally
vanquishes a Neapolitan when it seizes him, because, you understand,
before the doctor can dig through the dirt and get at the disease the man
dies. The upper classes take a sea-bath every day, and are pretty
The streets are generally about wide enough for one wagon, and how they
do swarm with people! It is Broadway repeated in every street, in every
court, in every alley! Such masses, such throngs, such multitudes of
hurrying, bustling, struggling humanity! We never saw the like of it,
hardly even in New York, I think. There are seldom any sidewalks, and
when there are, they are not often wide enough to pass a man on without
caroming on him. So everybody walks in the street--and where the street
is wide enough, carriages are forever dashing along. Why a thousand
people are not run over and crippled every day is a mystery that no man
can solve. But if there is an eighth wonder in the world, it must be the
dwelling-houses of Naples. I honestly believe a good majority of them
are a hundred feet high! And the solid brick walls are seven feet
through. You go up nine flights of stairs before you get to the "first"
floor. No, not nine, but there or thereabouts. There is a little
bird-cage of an iron railing in front of every window clear away up, up,
up, among the eternal clouds, where the roof is, and there is always
somebody looking out of every window--people of ordinary size looking
out from the first floor, people a shade smaller from the second, people
that look a little smaller yet from the third--and from thence upward
they grow smaller and smaller by a regularly graduated diminution, till
the folks in the topmost windows seem more like birds in an uncommonly
tall martin-box than any thing else. The perspective of one of these
narrow cracks of streets, with its rows of tall houses stretching away
till they come together in the distance like railway tracks; its
clothes-lines crossing over at all altitudes and waving their bannered
raggedness over the swarms of people below; and the white-dressed women
perched in balcony railings all the way from the pavement up to the
heavens--a perspective like that is really worth going into Neapolitan
details to see.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
Naples, with its immediate suburbs, contains six hundred and twenty-five
thousand inhabitants, but I am satisfied it covers no more ground than an
American city of one hundred and fifty thousand. It reaches up into the
air infinitely higher than three American cities, though, and there is
where the secret of it lies. I will observe here, in passing, that the
contrasts between opulence and poverty, and magnificence and misery, are
more frequent and more striking in Naples than in Paris even. One must
go to the Bois de Boulogne to see fashionable dressing, splendid
equipages and stunning liveries, and to the Faubourg St. Antoine to see
vice, misery, hunger, rags, dirt--but in the thoroughfares of Naples
these things are all mixed together. Naked boys of nine years and the
fancy-dressed children of luxury; shreds and tatters, and brilliant
uniforms; jackass-carts and state-carriages; beggars, Princes and
Bishops, jostle each other in every street. At six o'clock every
evening, all Naples turns out to drive on the 'Riviere di Chiaja',
(whatever that may mean;) and for two hours one may stand there and see
the motliest and the worst mixed procession go by that ever eyes beheld.
Princes (there are more Princes than policemen in Naples--the city is
infested with them)--Princes who live up seven flights of stairs and
don't own any principalities, will keep a carriage and go hungry; and
clerks, mechanics, milliners and strumpets will go without their dinners
and squander the money on a hack-ride in the Chiaja; the rag-tag and
rubbish of the city stack themselves up, to the number of twenty or
thirty, on a rickety little go-cart hauled by a donkey not much bigger
than a cat, and they drive in the Chiaja; Dukes and bankers, in sumptuous
carriages and with gorgeous drivers and footmen, turn out, also, and so
the furious procession goes. For two hours rank and wealth, and
obscurity and poverty clatter along side by side in the wild procession,
and then go home serene, happy, covered with glory!
I was looking at a magnificent marble staircase in the King's palace, the
other day, which, it was said, cost five million francs, and I suppose it
did cost half a million, may be. I felt as if it must be a fine thing to
live in a country where there was such comfort and such luxury as this.
And then I stepped out musing, and almost walked over a vagabond who was
eating his dinner on the curbstone--a piece of bread and a bunch of
grapes. When I found that this mustang was clerking in a fruit
establishment (he had the establishment along with him in a basket,) at
two cents a day, and that he had no palace at home where he lived, I lost
some of my enthusiasm concerning the happiness of living in Italy.
This naturally suggests to me a thought about wages here. Lieutenants in
the army get about a dollar a day, and common soldiers a couple of cents.
I only know one clerk--he gets four dollars a month. Printers get six
dollars and a half a month, but I have heard of a foreman who gets
To be growing suddenly and violently rich, as this man is, naturally
makes him a bloated aristocrat. The airs he puts on are insufferable.
And, speaking of wages, reminds me of prices of merchandise. In Paris
you pay twelve dollars a dozen for Jouvin's best kid gloves; gloves of
about as good quality sell here at three or four dollars a dozen. You
pay five and six dollars apiece for fine linen shirts in Paris; here and
in Leghorn you pay two and a half. In Marseilles you pay forty dollars
for a first-class dress coat made by a good tailor, but in Leghorn you
can get a full dress suit for the same money. Here you get handsome
business suits at from ten to twenty dollars, and in Leghorn you can get
an overcoat for fifteen dollars that would cost you seventy in New York.
Fine kid boots are worth eight dollars in Marseilles and four dollars
here. Lyons velvets rank higher in America than those of Genoa. Yet the
bulk of Lyons velvets you buy in the States are made in Genoa and
imported into Lyons, where they receive the Lyons stamp and are then
exported to America. You can buy enough velvet in Genoa for twenty-five
dollars to make a five hundred dollar cloak in New York--so the ladies
tell me. Of course these things bring me back, by a natural and easy
transition, to the
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
And thus the wonderful Blue Grotto is suggested to me. It is situated on
the Island of Capri, twenty-two miles from Naples. We chartered a little
steamer and went out there. Of course, the police boarded us and put us
through a health examination, and inquired into our politics, before they
would let us land. The airs these little insect Governments put on are
in the last degree ridiculous. They even put a policeman on board of our
boat to keep an eye on us as long as we were in the Capri dominions.
They thought we wanted to steal the grotto, I suppose. It was worth
stealing. The entrance to the cave is four feet high and four feet wide,
and is in the face of a lofty perpendicular cliff--the sea-wall. You
enter in small boats--and a tight squeeze it is, too. You can not go in
at all when the tide is up. Once within, you find yourself in an arched
cavern about one hundred and sixty feet long, one hundred and twenty
wide, and about seventy high. How deep it is no man knows. It goes down
to the bottom of the ocean. The waters of this placid subterranean lake
are the brightest, loveliest blue that can be imagined. They are as
transparent as plate glass, and their coloring would shame the richest
sky that ever bent over Italy. No tint could be more ravishing, no
lustre more superb. Throw a stone into the water, and the myriad of tiny
bubbles that are created flash out a brilliant glare like blue theatrical
fires. Dip an oar, and its blade turns to splendid frosted silver,
tinted with blue. Let a man jump in, and instantly he is cased in an
armor more gorgeous than ever kingly Crusader wore.
Then we went to Ischia, but I had already been to that island and tired
myself to death "resting" a couple of days and studying human villainy,
with the landlord of the Grande Sentinelle for a model. So we went to
Procida, and from thence to Pozzuoli, where St. Paul landed after he
sailed from Samos. I landed at precisely the same spot where St. Paul
landed, and so did Dan and the others. It was a remarkable coincidence.
St. Paul preached to these people seven days before he started to Rome.
Nero's Baths, the ruins of Baiae, the Temple of Serapis; Cumae, where the
Cumaen Sybil interpreted the oracles, the Lake Agnano, with its ancient
submerged city still visible far down in its depths--these and a hundred
other points of interest we examined with critical imbecility, but the
Grotto of the Dog claimed our chief attention, because we had heard and
read so much about it. Every body has written about the Grotto del Cane
and its poisonous vapors, from Pliny down to Smith, and every tourist has
held a dog over its floor by the legs to test the capabilities of the
place. The dog dies in a minute and a half--a chicken instantly. As a
general thing, strangers who crawl in there to sleep do not get up until
they are called. And then they don't either. The stranger that ventures
to sleep there takes a permanent contract. I longed to see this grotto.
I resolved to take a dog and hold him myself; suffocate him a little, and
time him; suffocate him some more and then finish him. We reached the
grotto at about three in the afternoon, and proceeded at once to make the
experiments. But now, an important difficulty presented itself. We had
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
At the Hermitage we were about fifteen or eighteen hundred feet above the
sea, and thus far a portion of the ascent had been pretty abrupt. For
the next two miles the road was a mixture--sometimes the ascent was
abrupt and sometimes it was not: but one characteristic it possessed all
the time, without failure--without modification--it was all
uncompromisingly and unspeakably infamous. It was a rough, narrow trail,
and led over an old lava flow--a black ocean which was tumbled into a
thousand fantastic shapes--a wild chaos of ruin, desolation, and
barrenness--a wilderness of billowy upheavals, of furious whirlpools, of
miniature mountains rent asunder--of gnarled and knotted, wrinkled and
twisted masses of blackness that mimicked branching roots, great vines,
trunks of trees, all interlaced and mingled together: and all these weird
shapes, all this turbulent panorama, all this stormy, far-stretching
waste of blackness, with its thrilling suggestiveness of life, of action,
of boiling, surging, furious motion, was petrified!--all stricken dead
and cold in the instant of its maddest rioting!--fettered, paralyzed, and
left to glower at heaven in impotent rage for evermore!
Finally we stood in a level, narrow valley (a valley that had been
created by the terrific march of some old time irruption) and on either
hand towered the two steep peaks of Vesuvius. The one we had to climb
--the one that contains the active volcano--seemed about eight hundred or
one thousand feet high, and looked almost too straight-up-and-down for
any man to climb, and certainly no mule could climb it with a man on his
back. Four of these native pirates will carry you to the top in a sedan
chair, if you wish it, but suppose they were to slip and let you fall,
--is it likely that you would ever stop rolling? Not this side of
eternity, perhaps. We left the mules, sharpened our finger-nails, and
began the ascent I have been writing about so long, at twenty minutes to
six in the morning. The path led straight up a rugged sweep of loose
chunks of pumice-stone, and for about every two steps forward we took, we
slid back one. It was so excessively steep that we had to stop, every
fifty or sixty steps, and rest a moment. To see our comrades, we had to
look very nearly straight up at those above us, and very nearly straight
down at those below. We stood on the summit at last--it had taken an
hour and fifteen minutes to make the trip.
What we saw there was simply a circular crater--a circular ditch, if you
please--about two hundred feet deep, and four or five hundred feet wide,
whose inner wall was about half a mile in circumference. In the centre
of the great circus ring thus formed, was a torn and ragged upheaval a
hundred feet high, all snowed over with a sulphur crust of many and many
a brilliant and beautiful color, and the ditch inclosed this like the
moat of a castle, or surrounded it as a little river does a little
island, if the simile is better. The sulphur coating of that island was
gaudy in the extreme--all mingled together in the richest confusion were
red, blue, brown, black, yellow, white--I do not know that there was a
color, or shade of a color, or combination of colors, unrepresented--and
when the sun burst through the morning mists and fired this tinted
magnificence, it topped imperial Vesuvius like a jeweled crown!
The crater itself--the ditch--was not so variegated in coloring, but yet,
in its softness, richness, and unpretentious elegance, it was more
charming, more fascinating to the eye. There was nothing "loud" about
its well-bred and well-creased look. Beautiful? One could stand and
look down upon it for a week without getting tired of it. It had the
semblance of a pleasant meadow, whose slender grasses and whose velvety
mosses were frosted with a shining dust, and tinted with palest green
that deepened gradually to the darkest hue of the orange leaf, and
deepened yet again into gravest brown, then faded into orange, then into
brightest gold, and culminated in the delicate pink of a new-blown rose.
Where portions of the meadow had sunk, and where other portions had been
broken up like an ice-floe, the cavernous openings of the one, and the
ragged upturned edges exposed by the other, were hung with a lace-work of
soft-tinted crystals of sulphur that changed their deformities into
quaint shapes and figures that were full of grace and beauty.
The walls of the ditch were brilliant with yellow banks of sulphur and
with lava and pumice-stone of many colors. No fire was visible any
where, but gusts of sulphurous steam issued silently and invisibly from a
thousand little cracks and fissures in the crater, and were wafted to our
noses with every breeze. But so long as we kept our nostrils buried in
our handkerchiefs, there was small danger of suffocation.
Some of the boys thrust long slips of paper down into holes and set them
on fire, and so achieved the glory of lighting their cigars by the flames
of Vesuvius, and others cooked eggs over fissures in the rocks and were
The view from the summit would have been superb but for the fact that the
sun could only pierce the mists at long intervals. Thus the glimpses we
had of the grand panorama below were only fitful and unsatisfactory.
The descent of the mountain was a labor of only four minutes. Instead of
stalking down the rugged path we ascended, we chose one which was bedded
knee-deep in loose ashes, and ploughed our way with prodigious strides
that would almost have shamed the performance of him of the seven-league
The Vesuvius of today is a very poor affair compared to the mighty
volcano of Kilauea, in the Sandwich Islands, but I am glad I visited it.
It was well worth it.
It is said that during one of the grand eruptions of Vesuvius it
discharged massy rocks weighing many tons a thousand feet into the air,
its vast jets of smoke and steam ascended thirty miles toward the
firmament, and clouds of its ashes were wafted abroad and fell upon the
decks of ships seven hundred and fifty miles at sea! I will take the
ashes at a moderate discount, if any one will take the thirty miles of
smoke, but I do not feel able to take a commanding interest in the whole
story by myself.
THE BURIED CITY OF POMPEII
They pronounce it Pom-pay-e. I always had an idea that you went down
into Pompeii with torches, by the way of damp, dark stairways, just as
you do in silver mines, and traversed gloomy tunnels with lava overhead
and something on either hand like dilapidated prisons gouged out of the
solid earth, that faintly resembled houses. But you do nothing the kind.
Fully one-half of the buried city, perhaps, is completely exhumed and
thrown open freely to the light of day; and there stand the long rows of
solidly-built brick houses (roofless) just as they stood eighteen hundred
years ago, hot with the flaming sun; and there lie their floors,
clean-swept, and not a bright fragment tarnished or waiting of the
labored mosaics that pictured them with the beasts, and birds, and
flowers which we copy in perishable carpets to-day; and here are the
Venuses, and Bacchuses, and Adonises, making love and getting drunk in
many-hued frescoes on the walls of saloon and bed-chamber; and there are
the narrow streets and narrower sidewalks, paved with flags of good hard
lava, the one deeply rutted with the chariot-wheels, and the other with
the passing feet of the Pompeiians of by-gone centuries; and there are
the bake-shops, the temples, the halls of justice, the baths, the
theatres--all clean-scraped and neat, and suggesting nothing of the
nature of a silver mine away down in the bowels of the earth. The
broken pillars lying about, the doorless doorways and the crumbled tops
of the wilderness of walls, were wonderfully suggestive of the "burnt
district" in one of our cities, and if there had been any charred
timbers, shattered windows, heaps of debris, and general blackness and
smokiness about the place, the resemblance would have been perfect. But
no--the sun shines as brightly down on old Pompeii to-day as it did when
Christ was born in Bethlehem, and its streets are cleaner a hundred
times than ever Pompeiian saw them in her prime. I know whereof I
speak--for in the great, chief thoroughfares (Merchant street and the
Street of Fortune) have I not seen with my own eyes how for two hundred
years at least the pavements were not repaired!--how ruts five and even
ten inches deep were worn into the thick flagstones by the
chariot-wheels of generations of swindled tax-payers? And do I not know
by these signs that Street Commissioners of Pompeii never attended to
their business, and that if they never mended the pavements they never
cleaned them? And, besides, is it not the inborn nature of Street
Commissioners to avoid their duty whenever they get a chance? I wish I
knew the name of the last one that held office in Pompeii so that I
could give him a blast. I speak with feeling on this subject, because I
caught my foot in one of those ruts, and the sadness that came over me
when I saw the first poor skeleton, with ashes and lava sticking to it,
was tempered by the reflection that may be that party was the Street
No--Pompeii is no longer a buried city. It is a city of hundreds and
hundreds of roofless houses, and a tangled maze of streets where one
could easily get lost, without a guide, and have to sleep in some ghostly
palace that had known no living tenant since that awful November night of
eighteen centuries ago.
We passed through the gate which faces the Mediterranean, (called the
"Marine Gate,") and by the rusty, broken image of Minerva, still keeping
tireless watch and ward over the possessions it was powerless to save,
and went up a long street and stood in the broad court of the Forum of
Justice. The floor was level and clean, and up and down either side was
a noble colonnade of broken pillars, with their beautiful Ionic and
Corinthian columns scattered about them. At the upper end were the
vacant seats of the Judges, and behind them we descended into a dungeon
where the ashes and cinders had found two prisoners chained on that
memorable November night, and tortured them to death. How they must have
tugged at the pitiless fetters as the fierce fires surged around them!
Then we lounged through many and many a sumptuous private mansion which
we could not have entered without a formal invitation in incomprehensible
Latin, in the olden time, when the owners lived there--and we probably
wouldn't have got it. These people built their houses a good deal alike.
The floors were laid in fanciful figures wrought in mosaics of
many-colored marbles. At the threshold your eyes fall upon a Latin
sentence of welcome, sometimes, or a picture of a dog, with the legend
"Beware of the Dog," and sometimes a picture of a bear or a faun with no
inscription at all. Then you enter a sort of vestibule, where they used
to keep the hat-rack, I suppose; next a room with a large marble basin
in the midst and the pipes of a fountain; on either side are bedrooms;
beyond the fountain is a reception-room, then a little garden,
dining-room, and so forth and so on. The floors were all mosaic, the
walls were stuccoed, or frescoed, or ornamented with bas-reliefs, and
here and there were statues, large and small, and little fish-pools, and
cascades of sparkling water that sprang from secret places in the
colonnade of handsome pillars that surrounded the court, and kept the
flower-beds fresh and the air cool. Those Pompeiians were very
luxurious in their tastes and habits. The most exquisite bronzes we
have seen in Europe, came from the exhumed cities of Herculaneum and
Pompeii, and also the finest cameos and the most delicate engravings on
precious stones; their pictures, eighteen or nineteen centuries old, are
often much more pleasing than the celebrated rubbish of the old masters
of three centuries ago. They were well up in art. From the creation of
these works of the first, clear up to the eleventh century, art seems
hardly to have existed at all--at least no remnants of it are left--and
it was curious to see how far (in some things, at any rate,) these old
time pagans excelled the remote generations of masters that came after
them. The pride of the world in sculptures seem to be the Laocoon and
the Dying Gladiator, in Rome. They are as old as Pompeii, were dug from
the earth like Pompeii; but their exact age or who made them can only be
conjectured. But worn, and cracked, without a history, and with the
blemishing stains of numberless centuries upon them, they still mutely
mock at all efforts to rival their perfections.
It was a quaint and curious pastime, wandering through this old silent
city of the dead--lounging through utterly deserted streets where
thousands and thousands of human beings once bought and sold, and walked
and rode, and made the place resound with the noise and confusion of
traffic and pleasure. They were not lazy. They hurried in those days.
We had evidence of that. There was a temple on one corner, and it was a
shorter cut to go between the columns of that temple from one street to
the other than to go around--and behold that pathway had been worn deep
into the heavy flagstone floor of the building by generations of
time-saving feet! They would not go around when it was quicker to go
through. We do that way in our cities.
Every where, you see things that make you wonder how old these old houses
were before the night of destruction came--things, too, which bring back
those long dead inhabitants and place the living before your eyes. For
instance: The steps (two feet thick--lava blocks) that lead up out of the
school, and the same kind of steps that lead up into the dress circle of
the principal theatre, are almost worn through! For ages the boys
hurried out of that school, and for ages their parents hurried into that
theatre, and the nervous feet that have been dust and ashes for eighteen
centuries have left their record for us to read to-day. I imagined I
could see crowds of gentlemen and ladies thronging into the theatre, with
tickets for secured seats in their hands, and on the wall, I read the
imaginary placard, in infamous grammar, "POSITIVELY NO FREE LIST, EXCEPT
MEMBERS OF THE PRESS!" Hanging about the doorway (I fancied,) were
slouchy Pompeiian street-boys uttering slang and profanity, and keeping a
wary eye out for checks. I entered the theatre, and sat down in one of
the long rows of stone benches in the dress circle, and looked at the
place for the orchestra, and the ruined stage, and around at the wide
sweep of empty boxes, and thought to myself, "This house won't pay." I
tried to imagine the music in full blast, the leader of the orchestra
beating time, and the "versatile" So-and-So (who had "just returned from
a most successful tour in the provinces to play his last and farewell
engagement of positively six nights only, in Pompeii, previous to his
departure for Herculaneum,") charging around the stage and piling the
agony mountains high--but I could not do it with such a "house" as that;
those empty benches tied my fancy down to dull reality. I said, these
people that ought to be here have been dead, and still, and moldering to
dust for ages and ages, and will never care for the trifles and follies
of life any more for ever--"Owing to circumstances, etc., etc., there
will not be any performance to-night." Close down the curtain. Put out
And so I turned away and went through shop after shop and store after
store, far down the long street of the merchants, and called for the
wares of Rome and the East, but the tradesmen were gone, the marts were
silent, and nothing was left but the broken jars all set in cement of
cinders and ashes: the wine and the oil that once had filled them were
gone with their owners.
In a bake-shop was a mill for grinding the grain, and the furnaces for
baking the bread: and they say that here, in the same furnaces, the
exhumers of Pompeii found nice, well baked loaves which the baker had not
found time to remove from the ovens the last time he left his shop,
because circumstances compelled him to leave in such a hurry.
In one house (the only building in Pompeii which no woman is now allowed
to enter,) were the small rooms and short beds of solid masonry, just as
they were in the old times, and on the walls were pictures which looked
almost as fresh as if they were painted yesterday, but which no pen could
have the hardihood to describe; and here and there were Latin
inscriptions--obscene scintillations of wit, scratched by hands that
possibly were uplifted to Heaven for succor in the midst of a driving
storm of fire before the night was done.
In one of the principal streets was a ponderous stone tank, and a
water-spout that supplied it, and where the tired, heated toilers from the
Campagna used to rest their right hands when they bent over to put their
lips to the spout, the thick stone was worn down to a broad groove an
inch or two deep. Think of the countless thousands of hands that had
pressed that spot in the ages that are gone, to so reduce a stone that
is as hard as iron!
They had a great public bulletin board in Pompeii--a place where
announcements for gladiatorial combats, elections, and such things, were
posted--not on perishable paper, but carved in enduring stone. One lady,
who, I take it, was rich and well brought up, advertised a dwelling or so
to rent, with baths and all the modern improvements, and several hundred
shops, stipulating that the dwellings should not be put to immoral
purposes. You can find out who lived in many a house in Pompeii by the
carved stone door-plates affixed to them: and in the same way you can
tell who they were that occupy the tombs. Every where around are things
that reveal to you something of the customs and history of this forgotten
people. But what would a volcano leave of an American city, if it once
rained its cinders on it? Hardly a sign or a symbol to tell its story.
In one of these long Pompeiian halls the skeleton of a man was found,
with ten pieces of gold in one hand and a large key in the other. He had
seized his money and started toward the door, but the fiery tempest
caught him at the very threshold, and he sank down and died. One more
minute of precious time would have saved him. I saw the skeletons of a
man, a woman, and two young girls. The woman had her hands spread wide
apart, as if in mortal terror, and I imagined I could still trace upon
her shapeless face something of the expression of wild despair that
distorted it when the heavens rained fire in these streets, so many ages
ago. The girls and the man lay with their faces upon their arms, as if
they had tried to shield them from the enveloping cinders. In one
apartment eighteen skeletons were found, all in sitting postures, and
blackened places on the walls still mark their shapes and show their
attitudes, like shadows. One of them, a woman, still wore upon her
skeleton throat a necklace, with her name engraved upon it--JULIE DI
But perhaps the most poetical thing Pompeii has yielded to modern
research, was that grand figure of a Roman soldier, clad in complete
armor; who, true to his duty, true to his proud name of a soldier of
Rome, and full of the stern courage which had given to that name its
glory, stood to his post by the city gate, erect and unflinching, till
the hell that raged around him burned out the dauntless spirit it could
We never read of Pompeii but we think of that soldier; we can not write
of Pompeii without the natural impulse to grant to him the mention he so
well deserves. Let us remember that he was a soldier--not a policeman
--and so, praise him. Being a soldier, he staid,--because the warrior
instinct forbade him to fly. Had he been a policeman he would have
staid, also--because he would have been asleep.
There are not half a dozen flights of stairs in Pompeii, and no other
evidences that the houses were more than one story high. The people did
not live in the clouds, as do the Venetians, the Genoese and Neapolitans
We came out from under the solemn mysteries of this city of the Venerable
Past--this city which perished, with all its old ways and its quaint old
fashions about it, remote centuries ago, when the Disciples were
preaching the new religion, which is as old as the hills to us now--and
went dreaming among the trees that grow over acres and acres of its still
buried streets and squares, till a shrill whistle and the cry of "All
aboard--last train for Naples!" woke me up and reminded me that I
belonged in the nineteenth century, and was not a dusty mummy, caked with
ashes and cinders, eighteen hundred years old. The transition was
startling. The idea of a railroad train actually running to old dead
Pompeii, and whistling irreverently, and calling for passengers in the
most bustling and business-like way, was as strange a thing as one could
imagine, and as unpoetical and disagreeable as it was strange.
Compare the cheerful life and the sunshine of this day with the horrors
the younger Pliny saw here, the 9th of November, A.D. 79, when he was so
bravely striving to remove his mother out of reach of harm, while she
begged him, with all a mother's unselfishness, to leave her to perish and
'By this time the murky darkness had so increased that one might
have believed himself abroad in a black and moonless night, or in a
chamber where all the lights had been extinguished. On every hand
was heard the complaints of women, the wailing of children, and the
cries of men. One called his father, another his son, and another
his wife, and only by their voices could they know each other. Many
in their despair begged that death would come and end their
"Some implored the gods to succor them, and some believed that this
night was the last, the eternal night which should engulf the
"Even so it seemed to me--and I consoled myself for the coming death
with the reflection: BEHOLD, THE WORLD IS PASSING AWAY!"
* * * * * * * *
After browsing among the stately ruins of Rome, of Baiae, of Pompeii, and
after glancing down the long marble ranks of battered and nameless
imperial heads that stretch down the corridors of the Vatican, one thing
strikes me with a force it never had before: the unsubstantial, unlasting
character of fame. Men lived long lives, in the olden time, and
struggled feverishly through them, toiling like slaves, in oratory, in
generalship, or in literature, and then laid them down and died, happy in
the possession of an enduring history and a deathless name. Well, twenty
little centuries flutter away, and what is left of these things? A crazy
inscription on a block of stone, which snuffy antiquaries bother over and
tangle up and make nothing out of but a bare name (which they spell
wrong)--no history, no tradition, no poetry--nothing that can give it
even a passing interest. What may be left of General Grant's great name
forty centuries hence? This--in the Encyclopedia for A. D. 5868,
"URIAH S. (or Z.) GRAUNT--popular poet of ancient times in the Aztec
provinces of the United States of British America. Some authors say
flourished about A. D. 742; but the learned Ah-ah Foo-foo states
that he was a cotemporary of Scharkspyre, the English poet, and
flourished about A. D. 1328, some three centuries after the Trojan
war instead of before it. He wrote 'Rock me to Sleep, Mother.'"
These thoughts sadden me. I will to bed.
Home, again! For the first time, in many weeks, the ship's entire family
met and shook hands on the quarter-deck. They had gathered from many
points of the compass and from many lands, but not one was missing; there
was no tale of sickness or death among the flock to dampen the pleasure
of the reunion. Once more there was a full audience on deck to listen to
the sailors' chorus as they got the anchor up, and to wave an adieu to
the land as we sped away from Naples. The seats were full at dinner
again, the domino parties were complete, and the life and bustle on the
upper deck in the fine moonlight at night was like old times--old times
that had been gone weeks only, but yet they were weeks so crowded with
incident, adventure and excitement, that they seemed almost like years.
There was no lack of cheerfulness on board the Quaker City. For once,
her title was a misnomer.
At seven in the evening, with the western horizon all golden from the
sunken sun, and specked with distant ships, the full moon sailing high
over head, the dark blue of the sea under foot, and a strange sort of
twilight affected by all these different lights and colors around us and
about us, we sighted superb Stromboli. With what majesty the monarch
held his lonely state above the level sea! Distance clothed him in a
purple gloom, and added a veil of shimmering mist that so softened his
rugged features that we seemed to see him through a web of silver gauze.
His torch was out; his fires were smoldering; a tall column of smoke that
rose up and lost itself in the growing moonlight was all the sign he gave
that he was a living Autocrat of the Sea and not the spectre of a dead
At two in the morning we swept through the Straits of Messina, and so
bright was the moonlight that Italy on the one hand and Sicily on the
other seemed almost as distinctly visible as though we looked at them
from the middle of a street we were traversing. The city of Messina,
milk-white, and starred and spangled all over with gaslights, was a fairy
spectacle. A great party of us were on deck smoking and making a noise,
and waiting to see famous Scylla and Charybdis. And presently the Oracle
stepped out with his eternal spy-glass and squared himself on the deck
like another Colossus of Rhodes. It was a surprise to see him abroad at
such an hour. Nobody supposed he cared anything about an old fable like
that of Scylla and Charybdis. One of the boys said:
"Hello, doctor, what are you doing up here at this time of night?--What
do you want to see this place for?"
"What do I want to see this place for? Young man, little do you know me,
or you wouldn't ask such a question. I wish to see all the places that's
mentioned in the Bible."
"Stuff--this place isn't mentioned in the Bible."
"It ain't mentioned in the Bible!--this place ain't--well now, what place
is this, since you know so much about it?"
"Why it's Scylla and Charybdis."
"Scylla and Cha--confound it, I thought it was Sodom and Gomorrah!"
And he closed up his glass and went below. The above is the ship story.
Its plausibility is marred a little by the fact that the Oracle was not a
biblical student, and did not spend much of his time instructing himself
about Scriptural localities.--They say the Oracle complains, in this hot
weather, lately, that the only beverage in the ship that is passable, is
the butter. He did not mean butter, of course, but inasmuch as that
article remains in a melted state now since we are out of ice, it is fair
to give him the credit of getting one long word in the right place,
anyhow, for once in his life. He said, in Rome, that the Pope was a
noble-looking old man, but he never did think much of his Iliad.
We spent one pleasant day skirting along the Isles of Greece. They are
very mountainous. Their prevailing tints are gray and brown, approaching
to red. Little white villages surrounded by trees, nestle in the valleys
or roost upon the lofty perpendicular sea-walls.
We had one fine sunset--a rich carmine flush that suffused the western
sky and cast a ruddy glow far over the sea.--Fine sunsets seem to be
rare in this part of the world--or at least, striking ones. They are
soft, sensuous, lovely--they are exquisite refined, effeminate, but we
have seen no sunsets here yet like the gorgeous conflagrations that flame
in the track of the sinking sun in our high northern latitudes.
But what were sunsets to us, with the wild excitement upon us of
approaching the most renowned of cities! What cared we for outward
visions, when Agamemnon, Achilles, and a thousand other heroes of the
great Past were marching in ghostly procession through our fancies? What
were sunsets to us, who were about to live and breathe and walk in actual
Athens; yea, and go far down into the dead centuries and bid in person
for the slaves, Diogenes and Plato, in the public market-place, or gossip
with the neighbors about the siege of Troy or the splendid deeds of
Marathon? We scorned to consider sunsets.
We arrived, and entered the ancient harbor of the Piraeus at last. We
dropped anchor within half a mile of the village. Away off, across the
undulating Plain of Attica, could be seen a little square-topped hill
with a something on it, which our glasses soon discovered to be the
ruined edifices of the citadel of the Athenians, and most prominent among
them loomed the venerable Parthenon. So exquisitely clear and pure is
this wonderful atmosphere that every column of the noble structure was
discernible through the telescope, and even the smaller ruins about it
assumed some semblance of shape. This at a distance of five or six
miles. In the valley, near the Acropolis, (the square-topped hill before
spoken of,) Athens itself could be vaguely made out with an ordinary
lorgnette. Every body was anxious to get ashore and visit these classic
localities as quickly as possible. No land we had yet seen had aroused
such universal interest among the passengers.
But bad news came. The commandant of the Piraeus came in his boat, and
said we must either depart or else get outside the harbor and remain
imprisoned in our ship, under rigid quarantine, for eleven days! So we
took up the anchor and moved outside, to lie a dozen hours or so, taking
in supplies, and then sail for Constantinople. It was the bitterest
disappointment we had yet experienced. To lie a whole day in sight of
the Acropolis, and yet be obliged to go away without visiting Athens!
Disappointment was hardly a strong enough word to describe the
All hands were on deck, all the afternoon, with books and maps and
glasses, trying to determine which "narrow rocky ridge" was the
Areopagus, which sloping hill the Pnyx, which elevation the Museum Hill,
and so on. And we got things confused. Discussion became heated, and
party spirit ran high. Church members were gazing with emotion upon a
hill which they said was the one St. Paul preached from, and another
faction claimed that that hill was Hymettus, and another that it was
Pentelicon! After all the trouble, we could be certain of only one
thing--the square-topped hill was the Acropolis, and the grand ruin that
crowned it was the Parthenon, whose picture we knew in infancy in the
We inquired of every body who came near the ship, whether there were
guards in the Piraeus, whether they were strict, what the chances were of
capture should any of us slip ashore, and in case any of us made the
venture and were caught, what would be probably done to us? The answers
were discouraging: There was a strong guard or police force; the Piraeus
was a small town, and any stranger seen in it would surely attract
attention--capture would be certain. The commandant said the punishment
would be "heavy;" when asked "how heavy?" he said it would be "very
severe"--that was all we could get out of him.
At eleven o'clock at night, when most of the ship's company were abed,
four of us stole softly ashore in a small boat, a clouded moon favoring
the enterprise, and started two and two, and far apart, over a low hill,
intending to go clear around the Piraeus, out of the range of its police.
Picking our way so stealthily over that rocky, nettle-grown eminence,
made me feel a good deal as if I were on my way somewhere to steal
something. My immediate comrade and I talked in an undertone about
quarantine laws and their penalties, but we found nothing cheering in the
subject. I was posted. Only a few days before, I was talking with our
captain, and he mentioned the case of a man who swam ashore from a
quarantined ship somewhere, and got imprisoned six months for it; and
when he was in Genoa a few years ago, a captain of a quarantined ship
went in his boat to a departing ship, which was already outside of the
harbor, and put a letter on board to be taken to his family, and the
authorities imprisoned him three months for it, and then conducted him
and his ship fairly to sea, and warned him never to show himself in that
port again while he lived. This kind of conversation did no good,
further than to give a sort of dismal interest to our quarantine-breaking
expedition, and so we dropped it. We made the entire circuit of the town
without seeing any body but one man, who stared at us curiously, but said
nothing, and a dozen persons asleep on the ground before their doors,
whom we walked among and never woke--but we woke up dogs enough, in all
conscience--we always had one or two barking at our heels, and several
times we had as many as ten and twelve at once. They made such a
preposterous din that persons aboard our ship said they could tell how we
were progressing for a long time, and where we were, by the barking of
the dogs. The clouded moon still favored us. When we had made the whole
circuit, and were passing among the houses on the further side of the
town, the moon came out splendidly, but we no longer feared the light.
As we approached a well, near a house, to get a drink, the owner merely
glanced at us and went within. He left the quiet, slumbering town at our
mercy. I record it here proudly, that we didn't do any thing to it.
Seeing no road, we took a tall hill to the left of the distant Acropolis
for a mark, and steered straight for it over all obstructions, and over a
little rougher piece of country than exists any where else outside of the
State of Nevada, perhaps. Part of the way it was covered with small,
loose stones--we trod on six at a time, and they all rolled. Another
part of it was dry, loose, newly-ploughed ground. Still another part of
it was a long stretch of low grape-vines, which were tanglesome and
troublesome, and which we took to be brambles. The Attic Plain, barring
the grape-vines, was a barren, desolate, unpoetical waste--I wonder what
it was in Greece's Age of Glory, five hundred years before Christ?
In the neighborhood of one o'clock in the morning, when we were heated
with fast walking and parched with thirst, Denny exclaimed, "Why, these
weeds are grape-vines!" and in five minutes we had a score of bunches of
large, white, delicious grapes, and were reaching down for more when a
dark shape rose mysteriously up out of the shadows beside us and said
"Ho!" And so we left.
In ten minutes more we struck into a beautiful road, and unlike some
others we had stumbled upon at intervals, it led in the right direction.
We followed it. It was broad, and smooth, and white--handsome and in
perfect repair, and shaded on both sides for a mile or so with single
ranks of trees, and also with luxuriant vineyards. Twice we entered and
stole grapes, and the second time somebody shouted at us from some
invisible place. Whereupon we left again. We speculated in grapes no
more on that side of Athens.
Shortly we came upon an ancient stone aqueduct, built upon arches, and
from that time forth we had ruins all about us--we were approaching our
journey's end. We could not see the Acropolis now or the high hill,
either, and I wanted to follow the road till we were abreast of them, but
the others overruled me, and we toiled laboriously up the stony hill
immediately in our front--and from its summit saw another--climbed it and
saw another! It was an hour of exhausting work. Soon we came upon a row
of open graves, cut in the solid rock--(for a while one of them served
Socrates for a prison)--we passed around the shoulder of the hill, and
the citadel, in all its ruined magnificence, burst upon us! We hurried
across the ravine and up a winding road, and stood on the old Acropolis,
with the prodigious walls of the citadel towering above our heads. We
did not stop to inspect their massive blocks of marble, or measure their
height, or guess at their extraordinary thickness, but passed at once
through a great arched passage like a railway tunnel, and went straight
to the gate that leads to the ancient temples. It was locked! So, after
all, it seemed that we were not to see the great Parthenon face to face.
We sat down and held a council of war. Result: the gate was only a
flimsy structure of wood--we would break it down. It seemed like
desecration, but then we had traveled far, and our necessities were
urgent. We could not hunt up guides and keepers--we must be on the ship
before daylight. So we argued. This was all very fine, but when we came
to break the gate, we could not do it. We moved around an angle of the
wall and found a low bastion--eight feet high without--ten or twelve
within. Denny prepared to scale it, and we got ready to follow. By dint
of hard scrambling he finally straddled the top, but some loose stones
crumbled away and fell with a crash into the court within. There was
instantly a banging of doors and a shout. Denny dropped from the wall in
a twinkling, and we retreated in disorder to the gate. Xerxes took that
mighty citadel four hundred and eighty years before Christ, when his five
millions of soldiers and camp-followers followed him to Greece, and if we
four Americans could have remained unmolested five minutes longer, we
would have taken it too.
The garrison had turned out--four Greeks. We clamored at the gate, and
they admitted us. [Bribery and corruption.]
We crossed a large court, entered a great door, and stood upon a pavement
of purest white marble, deeply worn by footprints. Before us, in the
flooding moonlight, rose the noblest ruins we had ever looked upon--the
Propylae; a small Temple of Minerva; the Temple of Hercules, and the
grand Parthenon. [We got these names from the Greek guide, who didn't
seem to know more than seven men ought to know.] These edifices were all
built of the whitest Pentelic marble, but have a pinkish stain upon them
now. Where any part is broken, however, the fracture looks like fine
loaf sugar. Six caryatides, or marble women, clad in flowing robes,
support the portico of the Temple of Hercules, but the porticos and
colonnades of the other structures are formed of massive Doric and Ionic
pillars, whose flutings and capitals are still measurably perfect,
notwithstanding the centuries that have gone over them and the sieges
they have suffered. The Parthenon, originally, was two hundred and
twenty-six feet long, one hundred wide, and seventy high, and had two
rows of great columns, eight in each, at either end, and single rows of
seventeen each down the sides, and was one of the most graceful and
beautiful edifices ever erected.
Most of the Parthenon's imposing columns are still standing, but the roof
is gone. It was a perfect building two hundred and fifty years ago, when
a shell dropped into the Venetian magazine stored here, and the explosion
which followed wrecked and unroofed it. I remember but little about the
Parthenon, and I have put in one or two facts and figures for the use of
other people with short memories. Got them from the guide-book.
As we wandered thoughtfully down the marble-paved length of this stately
temple, the scene about us was strangely impressive. Here and there, in
lavish profusion, were gleaming white statues of men and women, propped
against blocks of marble, some of them armless, some without legs, others
headless--but all looking mournful in the moonlight, and startlingly
human! They rose up and confronted the midnight intruder on every side
--they stared at him with stony eyes from unlooked-for nooks and recesses;
they peered at him over fragmentary heaps far down the desolate
corridors; they barred his way in the midst of the broad forum, and
solemnly pointed with handless arms the way from the sacred fane; and
through the roofless temple the moon looked down, and banded the floor
and darkened the scattered fragments and broken statues with the slanting
shadows of the columns.
What a world of ruined sculpture was about us! Set up in rows--stacked
up in piles--scattered broadcast over the wide area of the Acropolis
--were hundreds of crippled statues of all sizes and of the most exquisite
workmanship; and vast fragments of marble that once belonged to the
entablatures, covered with bas-reliefs representing battles and sieges,
ships of war with three and four tiers of oars, pageants and processions
--every thing one could think of. History says that the temples of the
Acropolis were filled with the noblest works of Praxiteles and Phidias,
and of many a great master in sculpture besides--and surely these elegant
fragments attest it.
We walked out into the grass-grown, fragment-strewn court beyond the
Parthenon. It startled us, every now and then, to see a stony white face
stare suddenly up at us out of the grass with its dead eyes. The place
seemed alive with ghosts. I half expected to see the Athenian heroes of
twenty centuries ago glide out of the shadows and steal into the old
temple they knew so well and regarded with such boundless pride.
The full moon was riding high in the cloudless heavens, now. We
sauntered carelessly and unthinkingly to the edge of the lofty
battlements of the citadel, and looked down--a vision! And such a
vision! Athens by moonlight! The prophet that thought the splendors of
the New Jerusalem were revealed to him, surely saw this instead! It lay
in the level plain right under our feet--all spread abroad like a
picture--and we looked down upon it as we might have looked from a
balloon. We saw no semblance of a street, but every house, every window,
every clinging vine, every projection was as distinct and sharply marked
as if the time were noon-day; and yet there was no glare, no glitter,
nothing harsh or repulsive--the noiseless city was flooded with the
mellowest light that ever streamed from the moon, and seemed like some
living creature wrapped in peaceful slumber. On its further side was a
little temple, whose delicate pillars and ornate front glowed with a rich
lustre that chained the eye like a spell; and nearer by, the palace of
the king reared its creamy walls out of the midst of a great garden of
shrubbery that was flecked all over with a random shower of amber lights
--a spray of golden sparks that lost their brightness in the glory of the
moon, and glinted softly upon the sea of dark foliage like the pallid
stars of the milky-way. Overhead the stately columns, majestic still in
their ruin--under foot the dreaming city--in the distance the silver sea
--not on the broad earth is there an other picture half so beautiful!
As we turned and moved again through the temple, I wished that the
illustrious men who had sat in it in the remote ages could visit it again
and reveal themselves to our curious eyes--Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes,
Socrates, Phocion, Pythagoras, Euclid, Pindar, Xenophon, Herodotus,
Praxiteles and Phidias, Zeuxis the painter. What a constellation of
celebrated names! But more than all, I wished that old Diogenes, groping
so patiently with his lantern, searching so zealously for one solitary
honest man in all the world, might meander along and stumble on our
party. I ought not to say it, may be, but still I suppose he would have
put out his light.
We left the Parthenon to keep its watch over old Athens, as it had kept
it for twenty-three hundred years, and went and stood outside the walls
of the citadel. In the distance was the ancient, but still almost
perfect Temple of Theseus, and close by, looking to the west, was the
Bema, from whence Demosthenes thundered his philippics and fired the
wavering patriotism of his countrymen. To the right was Mars Hill, where
the Areopagus sat in ancient times and where St. Paul defined his
position, and below was the market-place where he "disputed daily" with
the gossip-loving Athenians. We climbed the stone steps St. Paul
ascended, and stood in the square-cut place he stood in, and tried to
recollect the Bible account of the matter--but for certain reasons, I
could not recall the words. I have found them since:
"Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in
him, when he saw the city wholly given up to idolatry. "Therefore
disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout
persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
* * * * * * * * *
"And they took him and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we
know what this new doctrine whereof thou speakest is?
* * * * * * * * *
"Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars hill, and said, Ye men of
Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious; "For
as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this
inscription: To THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly
worship, him declare I unto you."--Acts, ch. xvii."
It occurred to us, after a while, that if we wanted to get home before
daylight betrayed us, we had better be moving. So we hurried away. When
far on our road, we had a parting view of the Parthenon, with the
moonlight streaming through its open colonnades and touching its capitals
with silver. As it looked then, solemn, grand, and beautiful it will
always remain in our memories.
As we marched along, we began to get over our fears, and ceased to care
much about quarantine scouts or any body else. We grew bold and
reckless; and once, in a sudden burst of courage, I even threw a stone at
a dog. It was a pleasant reflection, though, that I did not hit him,
because his master might just possibly have been a policeman. Inspired
by this happy failure, my valor became utterly uncontrollable, and at
intervals I absolutely whistled, though on a moderate key. But boldness
breeds boldness, and shortly I plunged into a Vineyard, in the full light
of the moon, and captured a gallon of superb grapes, not even minding the
presence of a peasant who rode by on a mule. Denny and Birch followed my
Now I had grapes enough for a dozen, but then Jackson was all swollen up
with courage, too, and he was obliged to enter a vineyard presently. The
first bunch he seized brought trouble. A frowsy, bearded brigand sprang
into the road with a shout, and flourished a musket in the light of the
moon! We sidled toward the Piraeus--not running you understand, but only
advancing with celerity. The brigand shouted again, but still we
advanced. It was getting late, and we had no time to fool away on every
ass that wanted to drivel Greek platitudes to us. We would just as soon
have talked with him as not if we had not been in a hurry. Presently
Denny said, "Those fellows are following us!"
We turned, and, sure enough, there they were--three fantastic pirates
armed with guns. We slackened our pace to let them come up, and in the
meantime I got out my cargo of grapes and dropped them firmly but
reluctantly into the shadows by the wayside. But I was not afraid. I
only felt that it was not right to steal grapes. And all the more so
when the owner was around--and not only around, but with his friends
around also. The villains came up and searched a bundle Dr. Birch had in
his hand, and scowled upon him when they found it had nothing in it but
some holy rocks from Mars Hill, and these were not contraband. They
evidently suspected him of playing some wretched fraud upon them, and
seemed half inclined to scalp the party. But finally they dismissed us
with a warning, couched in excellent Greek, I suppose, and dropped
tranquilly in our wake. When they had gone three hundred yards they
stopped, and we went on rejoiced. But behold, another armed rascal came
out of the shadows and took their place, and followed us two hundred
yards. Then he delivered us over to another miscreant, who emerged from
some mysterious place, and he in turn to another! For a mile and a half
our rear was guarded all the while by armed men. I never traveled in so
much state before in all my life.
It was a good while after that before we ventured to steal any more
grapes, and when we did we stirred up another troublesome brigand, and
then we ceased all further speculation in that line. I suppose that
fellow that rode by on the mule posted all the sentinels, from Athens to
the Piraeus, about us.
Every field on that long route was watched by an armed sentinel, some of
whom had fallen asleep, no doubt, but were on hand, nevertheless. This
shows what sort of a country modern Attica is--a community of
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