The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 12/Letters from Italy/Part VIII
A fresh and favourable breeze from the northeast is not blowing this time, as it did at the last sailing of the packet. But, unfortunately, a direct head wind comes from the opposite quarter, the southwest,—and so we are experiencing to our cost how much the navigator depends upon the caprice of the wind and weather. Out of all patience, we whiled away the morning either on the shore or in the coffee-house: at last, at noon we went on board; and, the weather being extremely fine, we enjoyed the most glorious view. The corvette lay at anchor near to the Mole. With an unclouded sun, the atmosphere was hazy; giving to the rocky walls of Sorrento, which were in the shade, a tint of most beautiful blue. Naples, with its living multitudes, lay in the full sunshine, and glittered brilliantly with countless tints. It was not until sunset that the vessel began slowly to move from her moorings: then the wind, which was contrary, drove us over to Posilippo and its promontory. All night long the ship went quietly on its way. She is a swift sailer, was built in America, and is well fitted with cabins and berths. The passengers cheerful but not boisterous,—opera singers and dancers, consigned to Palermo.
Friday, March 30, 1787.
By daybreak we found ourselves between Ischia and Capri,—perhaps not more than a mile from the latter. The sun rose from behind the mountains of Capri and Cape Minerva. Kniep diligently sketched the outlines of the coasts and the islands, and took several beautiful views. The slowness of the passage was favourable to his labours. We were making our way but slowly under a light side wind. We lost sight of Vesuvius about four, just as we came in view of Cape Minerva and Ischia. These, too, disappeared about evening. The sun set in the sea, attended with clouds and a long streak of light reaching for miles, all of a brilliant purple. This phenomenon was also sketched by Kniep. At last we lost sight altogether of the land; and the watery horizon surrounded us, the night being clear, with lovely moonlight.
These beautiful sights, however, I could only enjoy for a few moments, for I was soon attacked with seasickness. I betook myself to my cabin, chose a horizontal position, and abstaining from all meat or drink, except white bread and red wine, soon found myself pretty comfortable again. Shut out from the external world, I let the internal have full sway; and, as a tedious voyage was to be anticipated, I immediately set myself a heavy task in order to while away the time profitably. Of all my papers, I had only brought with me the first two acts of "Tasso," written in poetic prose. These two acts, as regards their plan and evolution, were nearly similar to the present ones, but, written full ten years ago, had a somewhat soft and misty tone, which soon disappeared, while, in accordance with my later notions, I made form more predominant, and introduced more of rhythm.
Saturday, March 31, 1787,
The sun rose this morning from the water quite clear. About seven we overtook a French vessel, which had left Naples two days before us, so much the better sailer was our vessel: still we had no prospect as yet of the end of our passage. We were somewhat cheered by the sight of Ustica, but, unfortunately, on our left, when we ought to have had it, like Capri, on our right. Toward noon the wind became directly contrary, and we did not make the least way. The sea began to get rough, and every one in the ship was sick.
I kept in my usual position; and the whole play was thought over and over, and through and through again. The hours passed away; and I should not have noticed how they went, but for the roguish Kniep, on whose appetite the waves had no influence. When, from time to time, he brought me some wine and some bread, he took a mischievous delight in expatiating on the excellent dinner in the cabin, the cheerfulness and good nature of our young but clever captain, and on his regrets that I was unable to enjoy my share of it. So, likewise, the transition from joke and merriment to qualmishness and sickness, and the various ways in which the latter manifested themselves in the different passengers, afforded him rich materials for humourous description.
At four in the afternoon the captain altered the course of our vessel. The mainsails were again set; and we steered direct for Ustica, behind which, to our great joy, we discerned the mountains of Sicily. The wind improved; and we bore rapidly toward Sicily, and a few little islands appeared in view. The sunset was murky, the light of heaven being veiled beneath a mist. The wind was pretty fair for the whole of the evening: toward midnight the sea became very rough.
Sunday, April 1, 1787.
About three in the morning a violent storm. Half asleep and dreaming, I went on with the plan of my drama. In the meantime there was great commotion on deck: the sails were all taken in, and the vessel pitched on the top of the waves. As day broke the storm abated, and the sky cleared. Now Ustica lay right on our left. They pointed out to me a large turtle swimming a great distance off: by my telescope I could easily discern it as a living point. Toward noon we were clearly able to distinguish the coast of Sicily, with its headlands and bays; but we had got very far to the leeward, and tacked on and off. Toward midday we came nearer to the shore. The weather being clear, and the sun shining bright, we saw quite distinctly the western coast, from the promontory of Lilybæum to Cape Gallo.
A shoal of dolphins attended our ship on both bows, and continually shot ahead. It was amusing to watch them as they swam along, covered by the clear, transparent waves at one time, and at another springing above the water, showing their fins and spine-ridged back, with their sides playing in the light, from gold to green, and from green to gold.
As the land was direct on our lee, the captain lay to in a bay behind Cape Gallo. Kniep failed not to seize the opportunity to sketch the many beautiful scenes somewhat in detail. Toward sunset the captain made again for the open sea, steering northeast, in order to make the heights of Palermo. I ventured several times on deck, but never intermitted for a moment my poetical labours; and thus I became pretty well master of the whole play. With a cloudy sky, a bright but broken moonlight, the reflection on the sea was infinitely beautiful. Painters, in order to heighten the effect, generally lead us to believe that the reflection of the heavenly luminaries on the water has its greatest breadth nearest to the spectator, where it also possesses its greatest brilliancy. On this occasion, however, the reflection was broadest at the horizon, and, like a sharp pyramid, ended with sparkling waves close to the ship. During the night our captain again frequently changed the tack.
Monday, April 2, 1787.
This morning, about eight o'clock, we found ourselves over against Palermo. The morning seemed to me highly delightful. During the days that I had been shut up in my cabin, I had got on pretty well with the plan of my drama. I felt quite well now, and was able to stay on deck, and observe attentively the Sicilian coast. Kniep went on sketching away; and by his accurate, but rapid pencil, many a sheet of paper was converted into highly valuable mementos of our landing, for which, however, we had still to wait.
Monday, April 2, 1787.
By three o'clock p. m., we at last, after much trouble and difficulty, got into harbour, where a most glorious view lay before us. Perfectly recovered from my seasickness, I enjoyed it highly. The town, facing north, lay at the foot of a high hill, with the sun (at this time of day) shining above it. The sides of the buildings which looked toward us lay in a deep shade, which, however, was clear, and lit up by the reflection from the water. On our right Monte Pellegrino, with its many elegant outlines, in full light; on the left the coast, with its bays, isthmuses, and headlands, stretching far away into the distance; and the most agreeable effect was produced by the fresh green of some fine trees, whose crowns, lit up from behind, swayed from side to side before the dark buildings, like great masses of glowworms. A brilliant haze gave a blueish tint to all the shades.
Instead of hurrying impatiently on shore, we remained on deck till we were actually forced to land; for where could we hope soon to find a position equal to this, or so favourable a point of view?
Through the singular gateway,—which consists of two vast pillars, which are left unconnected above, in order that the towering car of St. Rosalie may be able to pass through, on her famous festival,—we were driven into the city, and alighted almost immediately at a large hotel on our left. The host, an old, decent person, long accustomed to see strangers of every nation and tongue, conducted us into a large room, the balcony of which commanded a view of the sea, with the roadstead, where we recognised our ship, Monte Rosalie, and the beach, and were enabled to form an idea of our whereabouts. Highly satisfied with the position of our room, we did not for some time observe that at the farther end of it was an alcove, slightly raised, and concealed by curtains, in which was a most spacious bed, with a magnificent canopy and curtains of silk, in perfect keeping with the other stately, but old-fashioned furniture of our apartment. This display of splendour made me uneasy; so, as my custom was, I wished to make an agreement with my host. To this the old man replied, that conditions were unnecessary, and he trusted I should have nothing to complain of in him. We were also at liberty to make use of the anteroom, which was next to our apartment, and cool, airy, and agreeable from its many balconies.
We amused ourselves with the endless variety of views, and endeavoured to sketch them, one by one, in pencil or in colours; for here the eye fell upon a plentiful harvest for the artist.
In the evening the lovely moonlight attracted us once more to the roadstead, and even after our return riveted us for some time on the balcony. The light was peculiar, the repose and loveliness of the scene were extreme.
Our first business was to examine the city, which is easy enough to survey, but difficult to know; easy, because a street a mile long from the lower to the upper gate, from the sea to the mountain, intersects it, and is itself again crossed, nearly in its middle, by another. Whatever lies on these two great lines is easily found; but in the inner streets a stranger soon loses himself, and, without a guide, will never extricate himself from their labyrinths.
Toward evening our attention was directed to the long line of carriages (of the well-known build) in which the principal persons of the neighbourhood were taking their evening drive from the city to the beach, for the sake of the fresh air, amusement, and perhaps also for intrigue.
It was full moon about two hours before midnight, and the evening was in consequence indescribably glorious. The northerly position of Palermo produces a very strange effect: as the city and shore come between the sun and the harbour, its reflection is never observed on the waves. On this account, though this was one of the brightest days, I found the sea of a deep blue colour, solemn, and oppressive; whereas, at Naples, from the time of noon it gets brighter and brighter, and glitters with more airy lightness and to a greater distance.
Kniep has to-day left me to make my pilgrimages and observations by myself, in order that he might accurately sketch the outline of Monte Pellegrino, the most beautiful headland in the whole world.
Here, again, I must put a few things together, something in the way of an appendix, and with the carelessness of familiarity.
At sunset of the 29th of March we left Naples, and after only a passage of four days and three hours cast anchor in the harbour of Palermo. The little diary which I enclose will give an account of ourselves and our fortunes. I never entered on a journey so calmly as on this, and have never had a more quiet time of it than during our passage, which a constant head wind has unusually prolonged, even though I passed the time chiefly on my bed, in a close little berth, to which I was obliged to keep during the first day, in consequence of a violent attack of sea-sickness. Now my thoughts pass over toward you; for if ever anything has exercised a decided influence on my mind, this voyage has certainly done so.
He who has never seen himself surrounded on all sides by the sea, can never possess an idea of the world and of his own relation to it. As a landscape-painter, I have received entirely new ideas from this great simple line.
During our voyage we had, as the diary records, many changes, and, on a small scale, experienced all a sailor's fortunes. However, the safety and convenience of the packet-boat cannot be sufficiently commended. Our captain is a very brave and an extremely handsome man. My fellow passengers consisted of a whole theatrical troop, well-mannered, tolerable, and agreeable. My artist, who accompanies me, is a merry, true-hearted fellow. In order to shorten the weary hours of the passage, he has explained to me all the mechanical part of aquarell, or painting in watercolours, an art which has been carried to a great height of perfection in Italy. He thoroughly understands the use of particular colours for effecting certain tones, to produce which, without knowing the secret, one might go on mixing for ever. I had, it is true, learned a good deal of it in Rome, but never before so systematically. The artists must have studied and perfected the art in a country like Italy or this. No words can express the hazy brilliancy which hung around the coasts, as on a most beautiful noon we neared Palermo. He who has once seen it will never forget it. Now, at last, I can understand Claude Lorraine, and can cherish a hope that hereafter, in the North, I shall be able to produce, from my soul, at least a faint idea of these glorious abodes. Oh, that only all littleness had departed from it as entirely as the little charm of thatched roofs has vanished from among my ideas of what a drawing should be! We shall see what this "Queen of Islands" can do.
No words can express the welcome—with its fresh green mulberry-trees, evergreen oleanders, and hedges of citron, etc. In the open gardens, you see large beds of ranunculuses and anemones. The air is mild, warm, and fragrant; the wind refreshing. The full moon, too, rose from behind a promontory, and shone upon the sea; and this joyous scene after being tossed about four days and nights on the waves!
Forgive me if, with the stump of a pen, and the India-ink my fellow traveller uses for his sketches, I scribble down these remarks. I send them to you as a faint lisping murmur; since I am preparing for all that love me another record of these, my happy hours. What it is to be I say not; and when you will receive it, that also it is out of my power to tell.
This letter must, as far as possible, impart to you, my dearest friends, a high treat: it is intended to convey to you a description of an unrivalled bay, embracing a vast mass of waters. Beginning from the east, where a flattish headland runs far out into the sea, it is dotted with many rugged, beautifully shaped, wood-crowned rocks, until it reaches the fishing-huts of the suburbs; then the town itself, the foremost houses of which (and among them our own hotel) all look toward the harbour and the great gate by which we entered.
Then it stretches westward, and passing the usual landing-place, where vessels of smaller burden can touch, comes next to what is properly the harbour, near the Mole, which is the station of all larger vessels; and then, at the western point, to protect the shipping, rises Monte Pellegrino, with its beautiful contour, after leaving between it and the mainland a lovely fertile valley, which at its other end again reaches the sea.
Kniep sketched away. I took, with my mind's eye, the plan of the country (ich schematisirte), with great delight; and now, glad to have reached home again, we feel neither strength nor energy to tell a long story, and to go into particulars. Our endeavours must, therefore, be reserved for a future occasion; and this sheet must serve to convince you of our inability adequately to seize these objects, or rather of our presumption in thinking to grasp and master them in so short a time.
In the afternoon we paid a visit to the fertile and delightful valley at the foot of the Southern Mountains, running by Palermo, and through which the Oreto meanders. Here, too, is a call for the painter's eye, and a practised hand to convey an idea of it. Kniep, however, hastily seized an excellent point of view, at a spot where the pent-up water was dashing down from a half-broken weir, and was shaded by a lovely group of trees, behind which an uninterrupted prospect opened up the valley, affording a view of several farm buildings.
Beautiful spring weather, and a budding luxuriance, diffused over the whole valley a refreshing feeling of peace, which our stupid guide marred by his ill-timed erudition; telling us that in former days Hannibal had fought a battle here, and circumstantially detailing all the dreadful feats of war which had been perpetrated on the spot. In no friendly mood I reproved him for thus fatally calling up again such departed spectres. It was bad enough, I said, that from time to time the crops should be trodden down, if not by elephants, yet by men and horses. At any rate, it was not right to scare away the peaceful dreams of imagination by reviving such tumults and horrors.
The guide was greatly surprised that I could, on such a spot, despise classical reminiscences; nor could I make him understand how greatly such a mingling of the past with the present displeased me.
Still more singular did our guide deem me, when at all the shallow places, of which a great many are left dry by the stream, I searched for pebbles, and carried off with me specimens of each sort. I again found it difficult to make him understand that there was no readier way of forming an idea of a mountainous district like that before us, than by examining the nature of the stones which are washed down by the streams; and that in so doing, the purpose was to acquire a right notion of those eternally classic heights of the ancient world.
And, indeed, my gains from this stream were large enough: I carried away nearly forty specimens, which, however, may be comprised under a few classes. Most of these were of a species of rock, which, in one respect, might be regarded as a sort of jasper or hornblende; in another, looked like clay-slate. I found some pebbles rounded, others of a rhomboidal shape, others of irregular forms and of various colours: moreover, many varieties of the primeval limestone; not a few specimens of breccia, of which the substratum was lime, and holding jasper or modifications of limestone; rubbles of muschelkalk were not wanting either.
The horses here are fed on barley, cut straw (häckerling), and clover. In spring they give them the green barley, in order to refresh them,—per rinfrescar is the phrase. As there are no meadows here, they have no hay. On the hillsides there are some pasture-lands; and also in the corn-fields, as a third is always left fallow. They keep but few sheep, and these are of a breed from Barbary. On the whole, they have more mules than horses, because the hot food suits the former better than the latter.
The plain on which Palermo is situated, as well as the districts of Ai Colli, which lie without the city, and a part also of Baggaria, have for their basis the muschelkalk, of which the city is built. There are, for this purpose, extensive quarries of it in the neighbourhood. In one place, near Monte Pellegrino, they are more than fifty feet deep. The lower layers are of a whiter hue. In it are found many petrified corals and other shell-fish, but principally great scallops. The upper stratum is mixed with red marl, and contains but few, if any, fossils. Eight above it lies the red marl, of which, however, the layer is not very stiff.
Monte Pellegrino, however, rises out of all this. It is a primary limestone, has many hollows and fissures, which, although very irregular, when closely observed are found to follow the order of the strata. The stone is close, and rings when struck.
We have gone carefully through the city. The style of architecture resembles for the most part that of Naples; but the public buildings, for instance the fountains, are still further removed from good taste. Here there is no artistic mind to regulate the public works: the edifices owe both their shape and existence to chance. A fountain, which is the admiration of the whole island, would, perhaps, never have existed, had not Sicily furnished a beautiful variegated marble, and had not a sculptor well practised in animal shapes happened to be in favour precisely at the time. It would be a difficult matter to describe this fountain. In a moderately sized site stands a round piece of masonry, not quite a staff high (Stock hoch). The socle, the wall, and the cornice are of variegated marble. In the wall are several niches in a row, from which animals of all kinds, in white marble, are looking with stretched-out necks. Horses, hons, camels, and elephants, are interchanged one with another; and one scarcely expects to find, within the circle of this menagerie, a fountain, to which, through four openings, marble steps lead you down to draw from the water, which flows in abundance.
The same nearly may be said of the churches, in which even the Jesuits' love of show and finery is surpassed, but not from design or plan, but by accident,—just as artist after artist, whether sculptor, carver, gilder, lackerer, or worker in marble, chose, without taste or rule, to display on each vacant spot their several abilities.
Amidst all this, however, one cannot fail to recognise a certain talent in imitating natural objects: for instance, the heads of the animals around the fountains are very well executed. By this means it is, in truth, that the admiration of the multitude is excited, whose artistic gratification consists chiefly in comparing the imitation with its living prototype.
Toward evening I made a merry acquaintance, as I entered the house of a small dealer in the Long Street, in order to purchase some trifles. As I stood before the window to look at the wares, a slight breeze arose, which eddying along the whole street, at last distributed through all the windows and doors the immense cloud of dust which it had raised. "By all the saints," I cried, "whence comes all the dust of your town? is there no helping it? In its length and beauty, this street vies with any in the Corso in Rome. On both sides a fine pavement, which each stall and shopholder keeps clean by interminable sweeping, but brushes everything into the middle of the street, which is, in consequence, so much the dirtier, and with every breath of wind sends back to you the filth which has just before been swept into the roadway. In Naples busy donkeys carry off, day by day, the rubbish to the gardens and farms. Why should you not here contrive and establish some similar regulation?"
"Things with us are as they are," he replied: "we throw everything out of the house, and it rots before the door. You see here horse-dung and filth of all kinds: it lies there and dries, and returns to us again in the shape of dust. Against it we are taking precautions all day long. But look, our pretty little and ever busy brooms, worn out at last, only go to increase the heap of filth before our doors."
And oddly enough it was actually so. They had nothing but very little besoms of palm-branches, which, slightly altered, might have been really useful; but as it was, they broke off easily, and the stumps were lying by thousands in the streets. To my repeated questioning, whether there was no board or regulations to prevent all this, he replied, "A story is current among the people, that those whose duty it was to provide for the cleansing of our streets, being men of great power and influence, could not be compelled to disburse the money on its lawful objects." And, besides that, there was also the strange fact that certain parties feared that if the dirty straw and dung were swept away, every one would see how badly the pavement beneath was laid down; and so the dishonesty of a second body would be thereby exposed. "All this, however," he remarked, with a most humourous expression, "is merely the interpretation which the ill-disposed put upon it." For his part, he was of the opinion of those who maintained that the nobles preserved this soft litter for their carriages, in order that, when they take their drive for amusement in the evening, they might ride at ease over the elastic ground. And as the man was now in the humour, he joked away at many of the abuses of the police,—a consolatory proof to me that man has always humour enough to make merry with what he cannot help.
St. Rosalie, the patron saint of Palermo, is so universally known, from the description which Brydone has given of her festival, that it must assuredly be agreeable to my friends to read some account of the place and the spot where she is most particularly worshipped.
Monte Pellegrino, a vast mass of rocks of which the breadth is greater than the height, lies on the north-west extremity of the Bay of Palermo. Its beautiful form admits not of being described by words: a most excellent view of it may be seen in the "Voyage Pittoresque de la Sicile." It consists of a gray limestone of the earlier epoch. The rocks are quite barren; not a tree or a bush will grow on them: even the more smooth and level portions are but barely covered with grasses or mosses.
In a cavern of this mountain, the bones of the saint were discovered, at the beginning of the last century, and brought to Palermo. The presence of them delivered the city from a pestilence, and ever since St. Rosalie has been the patron saint of the people. Chapels have been built in her honour, splendid festivals have been instituted.
The pious and devout frequently made pilgrimages to the mountain; and, in consequence, a road has been made to it, which, like an ancient aqueduct, rests on arches and columns, and ascends zigzag between the rocks.
The place of worship is far more suitable to the humility of the saint who retired thither, than are the splendid festivities which have been instituted in honour of her total renunciation of the world. And perhaps the whole of Christendom, which now, for eighteen hundred years, has based its riches, pomps, and festival amusements, on the memory of its first founders and most zealous confessors, cannot point out a holy spot which has been adorned and rendered venerable in so eminent and delightful a way.
When you have ascended the mountain, you proceed to the corner of a rock, over against which there rises a high wall of stone. On this the church and the monastery are very finely situated.
The exterior of the church has nothing promising or inviting. You open its door without any high expectation, but on entering are ravished with wonder. You find yourself in a vast vestibule, which extends to the whole width of the church, and is open toward the nave. You see here the usual vessel of holy water and some confessionals. The nave is an open space, which on the right is bounded by the native rock, and on the left by the continuation of the vestibule. It is paved with flat stones on a slight inclination, in order that the rain-water may run off. A small well stands nearly in the centre.
The cave itself has been transformed into the choir, without, however, any of its rough natural shape being altered. Ascending a few steps, close upon them stands the choristers' desk with the choir-books, and on each side are the seats of the choristers. The whole is lighted by the day-light, which is admitted from the court or nave. Deep within, in the dark recesses of the cave, stands the high altar.
As already stated, no change has been made in the cave: only, as the rocks drip incessantly with water, it was necessary to keep the place dry. This has been effected by means of tin tubes, which are fastened to every projection of the rock, and in various ways connected with each other. As they are broad above, and come to a narrow edge below, and are, moreover, painted of a dull green colour, they give to the rock an appearance of being overgrown with a species of cactus. The water is conducted into a clear reservoir, out of which it is taken by the faithful as a remedy and preventative for every kind of ill.
As I was narrowly observing all this, an ecclesiastic came up to me and asked whether I was a Genoese, and wished to have a few masses said. I replied upon this that I had come to Palermo with a Genoese, who would to-morrow, as it was a festival, come up to the shrine; but, as one of us must always be at home, I had come up to-day in order to look about me. Upon this he observed, I was at perfect liberty to look at everything at my leisure, and to perform my devotions. In particular he pointed out to me a little altar, which stood on the left, as especially holy, and then left me.
Through the openings of a large trellis-work of lattice, lamps appeared burning before an altar. I knelt down close to the gratings and peeped through. Farther in, however, another lattice of brass wire was drawn across: so that one looked, as it were, through gauze at the objects within. By the light of some dull lamps, I caught sight of a lovely female form.
She lay seemingly in a state of ecstasy,—the eyes half closed, the head leaning carelessly on the right hand, which was adorned with many rings. I could not sufficiently discern her face, but it seemed to be peculiarly charming. Her robe was made of gilded metal, which imitated excellently a texture wrought with gold. The head and hands were of white marble. I cannot say that the whole was in the lofty style, still it was executed so naturally and so pleasingly that one almost fancied it must breathe and move. A little angel stands near her, and with a bunch of lilies in his hand appears to be fanning her.
Meanwhile the clergy had come into the cave, taken their places, and began to chant the Vespers.
I took my seat right before the altar, and listened to them for awhile: then I again approached the altar, knelt down, and attempted to obtain a still more distinct view of the beautiful image. I resigned myself without reserve to the charming illusion of the statue and the locality.
The chant of the priests now resounded through the cave; the water was trickling into the reservoir near the altar; while the overhanging rocks of the vestibule—the proper nave of the church—shut in the scene. There was a deep stillness in this waste spot, whose inhabitants seemed to be all dead,—a singular neatness in a wild cave. The tinsel and tawdry pomp of the Roman Catholic ceremonial, especially as it is vividly decked out in Sicily, had here reverted to its original simplicity. The illusion produced by the statue of the fair sleeper, which had a charm even for the most practised eye—in short, it was with the greatest difficulty that I tore myself from the spot, and it was late at night before I got back to Palermo.
In the public gardens, which are close to the roadstead, I have passed some most delightful hours. It is the most wonderful place in the world: regularly laid out by art, it still looks a fairy spot; planted but a short time ago, it yet transports you into ancient times. Green edgings surround beds of the choicest exotics; citron-espaliers arch over low-arboured walks; high walls of the oleander, decked with thousands of its red carnation-like blossoms, dazzle the eye; trees wholly strange and unknown to me, as yet without leaf, and probably, therefore, natives of a still warmer climate, spread out their strange-looking branches. A raised seat at the end of the level space gives you a survey of these curiously mixed rarities, and leads the eye at last to great basins in which gold and silver fish swim about with their pretty movements,—now hiding themselves beneath moss-covered reeds, now darting in troops to catch the bit of bread which has tempted them from their hiding-place. All the plants exhibit tints of green such as we are not used to,—yellower and bluer than are found with us. What, however, lent to every object the rarest charm was a strong halo which hung around everything alike, and produced the following singular effect: objects which were only distant a few steps from others were distinguished from them by a decided tint of light blue, so that at last the distinctive colours of the most remote were almost merged in it, or at least assumed to the eye a decidedly strong blue tint.
The very singular effect which such a halo imparts to distinct objects, vessels, and headlands, is remarkable enough to an artistic eye: it assists it accurately to distinguish and, indeed, to measure distances. It makes, too, a walk on the heights extremely charming. One no longer sees Nature, nothing but pictures; just as if a painter of exquisite taste had arranged them in a gallery.
But these wonderful gardens have made a deep and lasting impression on my mind. The black waves on the northern horizon, as they broke on the irregular points of the bay,—and even the smell of the sea,—all seemed to recall to my imagination, as well as to my memory, the happy island of the Phæacians. I hastened to purchase a "Homer," and began to read this book with the highest delight, making an impromptu translation of it for the benefit of Kniep, who had well deserved by his diligent exertions this day some agreeable refreshment over a glass of wine.
Palermo, April 8, 1787.
The morning rejoicings in the blissful Resurrection of the Lord commenced with break of day. Crackers, wild-fires, rockets, serpents, etc., were let off by wholesale in front of the churches, as the worshippers crowded in at the open doors. The chiming of bells, the pealing of organs, the chanting of processions, and of the choirs of priests who came to meet them, were enough to stun the ears of all who had not been used to such noisy worship.
The early mass was scarcely ended, when two well-dressed couriers of the viceroy visited our hotel, with the double object of offering to all strangers his highness's congratulations on the festival, and to exact a douceur in return. As I was specially honoured with an invitation to dinner, my gift was, of course, expected to be considerable.
After spending the morning in visiting the different churches, I proceeded to the viceroy's palace, which is situated at the upper end of the city. As I arrived rather early, I found the great hall still empty: there was only a little, lively man, who came up to me, and whom I soon discovered to be a Maltese.
When he had learned that I was a German, he asked if I could give him any account of Erfurt, where he had spent a very pleasant time on a short visit.
As he asked me about the family of the Dācherödes, and about the Coadjutor von Dalberg, I was able to give some account of them, at which he seemed much delighted, and inquired after other people of Thuringia. With considerable interest he then inquired about Weimar. "And how," he asked, "is the person, who, full of youth and vivacity when I was there, was the life of society? I have forgotten his name, but he is the author of 'Werther.'"
After a little pause, as if for the sake of tasking my memory, I answered, "I am the person whom you are inquiring about." With the most visible signs of astonishment he sprung back, exclaiming, "There must have been a great change then!" "Oh, yes!" I rejoined, "between Palermo and Weimar I have gone through many a change."
At this moment the viceroy and suite entered the apartment. His carriage evinced that graceful freedom which became so distinguished a personage. He could not refrain from laughing at the Maltese, as he went on expressing his astonishment to see me here. At table I sat by the side of the viceroy, who inquired into the objects of my journey, and assured me that he would give orders that everything in Palermo should be open to my inspection, and that every possible facility should be given me during my tour through Sicily.
Monday, April 9, 1787.
This whole day has been taken up with the stupidities of the Prince Pallagonia, whose follies are thoroughly different from what one would form an idea of either by reading or by hearing of them. For, with the slightest love of truth, he who wishes to furnish an account of the absurd, gets into a dilemma: he is anxious to give an idea of it, and so makes it something, whereas, in reality, it is a nothing which seeks to pass for something. And here I must premise another general reflection ; viz., that neither the most tasteless nor the most excellent production comes entirely and immediately from a single individual or a single age, but that with a little attention any one may trace its pedigree and descent.
The fountain already described in Palermo belongs to the forefathers of the Pallagonian follies, only that the latter, in their own soil and domain, develop themselves with the greatest freedom and on the largest scale.
When in these parts a country-seat is built, it is usually placed in the middle of a whole property: and therefore, in order to reach the princely mansion, you have to pass through cultivated fields, kitchen-gardens, and similar rural conveniences; for these Southerns show far more of economy than we Northmen, who often waste a good piece of rich land on a park, which, with its barren shrubs, can only charm the eye. But here it is the fashion to build two walls, between which you pass to the castle, without knowing in the least what is doing on your right and left. This passage begins generally with a grand portico, and sometimes with a vaulted hall, and ends with the mansion itself. But, in order that the eye may not be entirely without relief between these by-walls, they are generally arched over, and ornamented with scrolls, and also with pedestals, on which, here and there, a vase is placed. The flat surfaces are plastered, divided into compartments, and painted. The court is formed by a circle of one-storied cabins, in which work-people of all sorts reside, while the quadrangular castle towers over all.
This is the sort of building which is here traditionally adopted, and which probably was the old form, when the father of the present prince rebuilt the castle, not in the best, but still in tolerable taste. But the present possessor, without abandoning the general features of this style, gave free course to his humour and passion for the most ill-shapen and tasteless of erections. One would do him too much honour by giving him credit for even one spark of taste.
We entered, therefore, the great hall, which stands at the beginning of the property, and found ourselves in an octagonal room, of a breadth altogether disproportioned to its height. Four vast giants with modern splatterdashes, which had just been buttoned on, support the cornice, on which, directly meeting the eye as you enter, is a representation of the Holy Trinity.
The passage to the castle is broader than usual, the wall being converted into one continuous high socle; from which basement the strangest groups possible reach to the top, while in the spaces between them several vases are placed. The ugliness of these unshapely figures (the bungling work of the most ordinary mason) is increased by their having been cut out of a very crumbly muscheltufa; although, perhaps, a better material would have made the badness of the form still more striking to the eye. I used the word "groups" a moment ago; but I have employed a wrong term, inappropriate in this place. For they are mere juxtapositions, determined by no thought, but by mere arbitrary caprice. In each case three form the ornament of a square pedestal, their bases being so arranged as to fill up the space by their various postures. The principal groups have generally two figures, which occupy the chief face of the pedestal, and then two are yet wanting to fill up the back part of the pedestal. One of a moderate size generally represents a shepherd or shepherdess, a cavalier or a lady, a dancing ape or a hound. Still there is a vacant spot on the pedestal: this is generally held by a dwarf, — as, indeed, in dull jokes, this sort of gentry usually play a conspicuous part. That we may not omit any of the elements of Prince Pallagonia's folly, we give you the accompanying catalogue. Men: beggars, male and female, Spanish men and women, Moors, Turks, hunchbacks, cripples of all sorts, strolling musicians, pulcinellos, soldiers in ancient uniforms, gods, goddesses, gentlemen in old French costumes, soldiers with cartouche boxes and gaiters, mythological personages (with most ridiculous companions, — Achilles and Charon, for instance, with Punch). Animals (merely parts of them): heads of horses on human bodies, misshapen apes, lots of dragons and serpents, all sorts of feet under figures of all kinds, double-headed monsters, and creatures with heads that do not belong to them. Vases: all sorts of monsters and scrolls, which below end in the hollows and bases of vases.
Just let any one think of such figures furnished by wholesale, produced without thought or sense, and arranged without choice or purpose, — only let him conceive to himself this socle, these pedestals and unshapely objects in an endless series, and he will be able to sympathise with the disagreeable feeling which must seize every one whose miserable fate condemns him to run the gauntlet of such absurdities.
We now approach the castle, and are received into a semicircular fore-court. The chief wall before us, through which is the entrance-door, is in the castle style. Here we find an Egyptian figure built into the wall, a fountain without water, a monument, vases stuck around in no sort of order, statues designedly laid on their noses. Next we came to the castle court, and found the usual round area, enclosed with little cottages, distorted into small semicircles, in order, forsooth, that there might be no want of variety.
The ground is, for the most part, overgrown with grass. Here, as in the neighbourhood of a church in ruins, are marble urns with strange scrolls and foliations, collected by his father; dwarfs and other abortions of the later epoch, for which, as yet, fitting places have not been found; one even comes upon an arbour, propped up with ancient vases, and stone scrolls of various shapes.
The absurdities produced by such want of judgment and taste, however, are strikingly instanced by the fact that the window-sills in these cottages are, without exception, oblique, and lean to one side or the other, so as to offend and violate all sense of the level and perpendicular, which are so indispensable in the human mind, and form the foundation of all architectural propriety. And then, again, the edges of all the roofs are embellished with hydras and little busts, with choirs of monkeys playing music, and similar conceits. Dragons alternate with deities; an Atlas, who sustains not the mundane sphere, but an empty wine-barrel!
One hopes to escape from all this by entering the castle, which, having been built by the father, presents relatively a more rational appearance when viewed from the exterior. But in vain; for at no great distance from the door one stumbles upon the laurel-crowned head of a Roman emperor on the body of a dwarf, who is sitting astride a dolphin.
Now, in the castle itself, of which the exterior gives hope of at least a tolerable interior, the madness of the prince begins again to rave. Many of the seats have lost their legs, so that no one can sit upon them; and if some appear to promise a resting-place, the chamberlain warns you against them, as having sharp prickles beneath their satin-covered cushions. In all the corners are candelabras of porcelain china, which, on a nearer view, you discover to be cemented together out of different bowls, cups, saucers, etc. Not a corner but some whim peeps out of it. Even the unequalled prospect over the promontory into the sea is spoiled by coloured glass, which, by its false lights, gives either a cold or a fiery tint to the neighbouring scenes. I must also mention a cabinet, which is inlaid with old gold frames, cut in pieces. All the hundredfold carvings, all the endless varieties of ancient and modern, more or less dust-stained and time-injured, gilding, closely huddled together, cover all the walls, and give you the idea of a miniature lumber-room.
To describe the chapel alone would require a volume. Here one finds the solution of the whole folly, which could never have reached such a pitch in any but a bigoted mind. How many monstrous creations of a false and misled devotion are here to be found, I must leave you to guess for yourself. However, I cannot refrain from mentioning the most outrageous: a carved crucifix is fastened flat to the roof, painted after nature, lackered and gilded; into the navel of the figure attached to the cross, a hook is screwed, and from the latter hangs a chain which is fastened to the head of a man who, in a kneeling and praying posture, is suspended in the air, and, like all the other figures in the church, is painted and lackered. In all probability it is imtended to serve as a type of the owner's unceasing devotion.
Moreover, the house is not finished within. A hall built by the father, and intended to be decorated with rich and varied ornaments, but not tricked out in a false and offensive taste, is still incomplete; so that, it would seem, even the boundless madness of the possessor is at a standstill.
Kniep's artistic feeling was almost driven to desperation in this madhouse; and, for the first time in my life, I found him quite impatient. He hurried me away, when I wished to take a note of, and to perpetuate the memory of, these monstrous absurdities, one by one. Good-naturedly enough, he at last took a sketch of one of these compositions, which did, at least, form a kind of group. It represents a woman with a horse's head, sitting on a stool, and playing at cards with a cavalier, dressed, as to his lower extremities, in the old fashion, while his gray head is ornamented with a large wig and a crown. The statue reminded me of the arms of the house of Pallagonia, — a satyr, holding up a mirror before a woman with a horse's head, which, even after all the strange follies of its present head, seems to me highly singular.
To-day we took a drive up the mountains to Mon Reale, along a glorious road which was laid down by an abbot of this cloister in the times of its opulence and wealth, — broad, of easy ascent; trees here and there; springs, and dripping wells, decked out with ornaments and scrolls somewhat Pallagonian in style, but still, in spite of all that, refreshing to both man and beast.
The monastery of St. Martin, which lies on the height, is a respectable building. One bachelor alone, as we see in the case of Prince Pallagonia, has seldom produced anything rational; but several together, on the other hand, have effected the greatest works, such as churches and monasteries. But perhaps these spiritual fraternities produced so much, simply because, more than any father of a family, they could reckon with certainty on a numerous posterity.
The monks readily permitted us to view their collection of antiques and natural objects. They contained many excellent specimens of both. Our attention was particularly fixed by a medallion, with the figure of a young goddess, which must excite the rapture of every beholder. The good monks would willingly have given us a copy, but there was nothing within reach which would do to make a mould.
After they had exhibited to us all their treasures, — not without entering on an unfavourable comparison of their present with their former condition, — they led us into a small but pleasant room, from the balcony of which one enjoyed a lovely prospect. Here covers were laid for us alone, and we had a very excellent dinner to ourselves. When the dessert was served, the abbot and the senior monks entered, and took their seats. They remained nearly half an hour, during which time we had to answer many questions. We took a most friendly farewell of them. The younger brethren accompanied us once more to the rooms where the collections were kept, and at last to our carriage.
We drove home with feelings very different from those of yesterday. To-day we had to regret a noble institution which was falling with time; while, on the other hand, a most tasteless undertaking had a constant supply of wealth for its support.
The road to St. Martin ascends a hill of the earlier limestone formation. The rock is quarried and broken, and burnt into lime, which is very white. For burning the stone, they make use of a long, coarse sort of grass, which is dried in bundles. Here, too, it is that the calorex is produced. Even on the most precipitous heights hes a red clay, of alluvial origin, which serves the purposes of our dam-earth. The higher it lies the redder it is, and is but little blackened by vegetation. I saw, at a distance, a ravine almost like cinnabar.
The monastery stands in the middle of the limestone hill, which is very rich in springs.
Having explored the two principal objects without the city, we betook ourselves to the palace, where a busy courier showed us the rooms and their contents. To our great horror, the room in which the antiques are generally placed was in the greatest disorder, in consequence of the walls being in the process of decoration. The statues were removed from their usual places, covered with cloth, and protected by wooden frames; so that in spite of the good will of our guide, and some trouble on the part of the work-people, we could only gain a very imperfect idea of them. My attention was chiefly occupied with two rams in bronze, which, notwithstanding the unfavourable circumstances, highly delighted our artistic taste. They are represented in a recumbent posture, with one foot stretched out before them, with the heads (in order to form a pair) turned on different sides. Powerful forms, belonging to the mythological family, and well worthy to carry Phrixus and Helle. The wool, not short and crisp, but long and flowing, with a slight wave, and shape most true to nature, and extremely elegant: they evidently belonged to the best period of Grecian art. They are said to have stood originally in the harbour of Syracuse.
The courier now took us out of the city to the catacombs, which, laid out on a regular architectural plan, are anything but quarries converted into burial-places. In a rock of tufa, of tolerable hardness, the side of which has been worked level and perpendicular, vaulted openings have been cut; and in these, again, are hewn several tiers of sarcophagi, one above the other, all of the natural material, without masonry of any kind. The upper tiers are smaller, and in the spaces over the pillars are tombs for children.
Thursday, April 12.
To-day we have been shown Prince Torremuzza's cabinet of medals. I was, in a certain degree, loath to go there. I am too little versed in these matters, and a mere curiosity-mongering traveller is thoroughly detested by all true connoisseurs and scholars. But as one must in every case make a beginning, I made myself easy on this head, and have derived both gratification and profit from my visit. What a satisfaction, even cursorily, to glance at the fact that the old world was thickly sown with cities, the smallest of which has bequeathed to us in its precious coins, if not a complete series, yet at least some epochs, of its history of art. Out of these cabinets, there smiles upon us an eternal spring of the blossoms and flowers of art, of a busy life ennobled with high tastes, and of much more besides. Out of these form-endowed pieces of metal, the glory of the Sicilian cities, now obscured, still shines forth fresh before us.
Unfortunately, we in our youth had seen none but family coins, which say nothing, and the coins of the Cæsars, which repeat to satiety the same profile,—portraits of rulers who are to be regarded as anything but models of humanity. How sadly had our youth been confined to a shapeless Palestine, and to a shape-perplexing Rome! Sicily and Nova Græcia give me hopes again of a fresh existence.
That on these subjects I should enter into general reflections, is a proof that as yet I do not understand much about them; yet that, with all the rest, will in degrees be improved.
Thursday, April 12, 1787.
This evening a wish of mine was gratified, and in a very singular fashion. I was standing on the pavement of the principal street, joking at the window with the shopkeeper I formerly mentioned, when suddenly a footman, tall and well-dressed, came up to me, and quickly poked a silver salver before me, on which were several copper coins and a few pieces of silver. As I could not make out what it all meant, I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders, the usual token by which in this country you get rid of those whose address or question you either cannot, or do not wish to, understand.
"What does all this mean?" I asked of my friend the shopkeeper, who, with a very significant mien, and somewhat stealthily, pointed to a lank and haggard gentleman, who, elegantly dressed, was walking with great dignity and indifference through the dung and dirt. Frizzled and powdered, with his hat under his arm, in a silken vest, with his sword by his side, and having a neat shoe ornamented with a jewelled buckle, the old man walked on calmly and sorrowfully. All eyes were directed toward him.
"It is Prince Pallagonia," said the dealer, "who, from time to time, goes through the city collecting money to ransom the slaves in Barbary. It is true, he does not get much by his collection, but the object is kept in memory; and so it often happens that those who, in their lifetime, were backward in giving, leave large legacies at their death. The prince has for many years been at the head of this society, and has done a great deal of good."
"Instead of wasting so much on the follies of his country-house," I cried, "he might have spent the same large sum on this object. Then no prince in the world would have accomplished more."
To this the shopkeeper rejoined: "But is not that the way with us all? We are ready enough to pay for our own follies. Our virtues must look to the purses of others for their support."
Palermo, April 13, 1787.
Count Borck has very diligently worked before us in the mineralogy of Sicily, and whoever of the same mind visits the island after him, must willingly acknowledge his obligations to him. I feel it a pleasure, no less than a duty, to celebrate the memory of my predecessor. And what am I more than a forerunner of others yet to be, both in my travels and life?
However, the industry of the count seems to me to have been greater than his knowledge. He appears to have gone to work with a certain reserve, which is altogether opposed to that stern earnestness with which grand objects should be treated.
Nevertheless, his essay in quarto, which is exclusively devoted to the mineralogy of Sicily, has been of great use to me; and, prepared by it, I was able to profit by my visit to the quarries, which formerly, when it was the custom to case the churches and altars with marble and agate, were more busily worked, though even now they are not idle. I purchased from them some specimens of the hard and soft stones; for it is thus that they usually designate the marble and agate, chiefly because a difference of price mainly depends on this difference of quality. But, besides these, they have still another for a material which is the produce of the fire of their kilns. In these after each burning, they find a sort of glassy flux, which in colour varies from the lightest to the darkest, and even blackest blue. These lumps are, like other stones, cut into thin lamina, and then pierced, according to the height of their colour and their purity, and are successfully employed, in the place of lapis lazuh, in the decoration of churches, altars, and sepulchral monuments.
A complete collection, such as I wished, is not to be had at present: it is to be sent after me to Naples. The agates are of the greatest beauty, especially such as are variegated with irregular pieces of yellow or red jasper, and with white, and as it were frozen quartz, which produce the most beautiful effect.
A very accurate imitation of these agates, produced by lake colouring on the back of thin plates of glass, is the only rational thing that I observed the other day among the Pallagonian follies. Such imitations are far better for decorations than the real agate; since the latter are only found in very small pieces, whereas the size of the former depends on nothing but the size of the artist's plate. This contrivance of art well deserves to be imitated.
Italy without Sicily leaves no image on the soul; here is the key to all.
Of the climate it is impossible to say enough. It is now rainy weather, but not uninterruptedly wet: yesterday it thundered and lightened, and to-day all is intensely green. The flax has in places already put forth joints: in others it is boiling. Looking down from the hills, one fancies he sees in the plain below little ponds, so beautifully blue-green are the flax-fields here and there. Living objects without number surround you. And my companion is an excellent fellow, the true Hoffegut (Hopeful), and I honestly sustain the part of the True friend. He has already made some beautiful sketches, and will take still more before we go. What a prospect,—to return home some day, happy and with all these treasures!
Of the meat and drink here, in the country, I have said nothing as yet: however, it is by no means an indifferent matter. The garden-stuffs are excellent, especially the lettuce, which is particularly tender, with a milky taste; it makes one understand at once why the ancients termed it lactuca. Oil and wine of all kinds are very good, and might be still better if more care were bestowed on their preparation. Fish of the very best and tenderest. We have had, too, very good beef, though generally people do not praise it.
Now, after dinner, to the window!—to the streets! A malefactor has just been pardoned, an event which takes place every year in honour of the festival of Easter. The brethren of some order or other led him to the foot of a gallows which had been erected for sake of the ceremony; then the criminal at the foot of the ladder offers up a prayer or two, and having kissed the scaffold, is led away again. He was a good-looking fellow of the middle age, in a white coat, white hat, and all else white. He carried his hat in his hand: at different points they attached variegated ribbons to him, so that at last he was quite in tune to go to any masquerade in the character of a shepherd.
April 13 and 14, 1787.
So, then, before my departure, I was to meet with a strange adventure, of which I must forthwith give you a circumstantial account.
The whole time of my residence here, I have heard scarcely any topic of conversation at the ordinary, but Cagliostro, his origin and adventures. The people of Palermo are all unanimous in asserting that a certain Joseph Balsamo was born in their city, and, having rendered himself infamous by many disgraceful acts, was banished. But whether this person is identical with Count Cagliostro, was a point on which opinions were divided. Some who knew Balsamo personally asserted they recognised his features in the engraving, which is well known in Germany, and which has also travelled as far as Palermo.
In one of these conversations, one of the guests referred to the trouble which a Palermitan lawyer had taken in examining this matter. He seems to have been commissioned by the French Ministry to trace the origin of an individual, who in the face of France, and, indeed, of the whole world, had had the temerity to utter the silliest of idle tales in the midst of a legal process which involved the most important interests and the reputation of the highest personages.
This lawyer, it was asserted, had prepared the pedigree of Giuseppe Balsamo, together with an explanatory memoir and documentary proofs. It has been forwarded to France, where in all probability public use will be made of it.
As I expressed a wish to form the acquaintance of this lawyer, of whom, besides, people spoke very highly, the person who had recounted these facts offered to mention me to him, and to introduce me.
After a few days we paid him a visit, and found him busily engaged with his clients. When he had dismissed them, and we had taken a luncheon, he produced a manuscript which contained a transcript of Cagliostro's pedigree, and the rough draught of the memoir which had been sent to France.
He laid the genealogy before me, and gave me the necessary explanations; of which I shall here give you as much as is necessary to facilitate the understanding of the whole business.
Giuseppe Balsamo's great-grandfather on his mother's side was Mattéo Martello. The maiden name of his great-grandmother is unknown. The issue of this marriage were two daughters,—Maria, who married Giuseppe Bracconeri, and became the grandmother of Giuseppe Balsamo; and Vincenza, married to Giuseppe Cagliostro, who was born in a little village called La Noava, about eight miles from Messina. (I must note here that there are at this moment living at Messina two bell-founders of this name.) This great-aunt was subsequently godmother of Giuseppe Balsamo, who was named after his great-uncle, and at last in foreign countries assumed also the surname of this relation.
The Bracconeri had three children,—Felicitá, Mattéo, and Antonia.
Felicitá was married to Piedro Balsamo, who was the son of Antonio Balsamo, ribbon dealer in Palermo, and probably of Jewish descent. Piedro Balsamo, the father of the notorious Giuseppe, became bankrupt, and died in his five and fortieth year. His widow, who is still living, had borne him, besides the above-named Giuseppe Giovanna, Giuseppe Maria, who married Giovanna Battista Capitummino, who begot three children of her body and died.
The memoir, which was read to us by its obliging author, and was at my request lent to me for a few days, was founded on baptismal and marriage certificates and other instruments which he had collected with great diligence. It contains pretty nearly (as I conclude from a comparison with a summary which I then made) all the circumstances which have lately been made better known to the world by the acts of the legal process at Rome; viz., that Giuseppe Balsamo was born at Palermo, in the beginning of June, 1743, and that at his baptism he was received back from the priest's arms by Vincenza Cagliostro (whose maiden name was Martello); that in his youth he took the habit of an order of the Brothers of Mercy, which paid particular attention to the sick; that he had shown great talent and skill for medicine, but that for his disorderly practices he was expelled the order, and thereupon set up in Palermo as a dealer in magic, and treasure-finder.
His great dexterity in imitating every kind of handwriting was not allowed by him to lie idle. He falsified, or rather forged, an ancient document, by which the possession of some lands was brought into litigation. He was soon an object of suspicion, and cast into prison, but made his escape, and was cited to appear under penalty of outlawry. He passed through Calabria toward Rome, where he married the daughter of a belt-maker. From Rome he came back to Naples, under the name of the Marchese Pellegrini. He even ventured to pay a visit to Palermo, was recognised, and taken prisoner, and made his escape in a manner that well deserves being circumstantially detailed.
One of the principal nobles of Sicily, who possessed very large property, and held several important posts at the Neapolitan court, had a son, who to a frame of unusual strength, and an uncontrollable temper, united all the wanton excesses which the rich and great, without education, can think themselves privileged to indulge in.
Donna Lorenza had managed to attract him, and on him the pretended Marchese Pellegrini relied for impunity. The prince avowed openly his patronage of this couple of newcomers, and set no bounds to his rage when Giuseppe Balsamo, at the instance of the party whom he had injured, was a second time cast into prison. He had recourse to various means to obtain his liberation; and, when these were unsuccessful, he, in the very anteroom of the president's court, threatened the advocate of the opposite party with the most dreadful consequences if he did not consent to the release of Balsamo. As the opposing advocate refused his consent, he rushed upon him, struck him, knocked him down, and kicked him, and was only with difficulty restrained from further violence when the judge, hearing the noise, rushed in and commanded peace.
The latter, a weak and cringing character, had not the courage to punish the wrong-doer. The opposite party, advocate and all, were men of little minds; and so Balsamo was set at liberty, without, however, any record of his liberation being found among the proceedings, neither by whose orders, or in what manner it was effected.
Shortly after this he left Palermo, and travelled in different countries; of which travels, however, the author of the memoir had been only able to collect very imperfect information.
The memoir ended with an acute argument to prove the identity of Balsamo and Cagliostro,—a position which was at this time more difficult to prove than at present, now that the whole history of this individual has been made public.
Had I not been led to form a conjecture that a public use would have been made in France of this essay, and that on my return I should find it already in print, I doubt not but I should have been permitted to take a transcript of it, and to give my friends and the public an early account of many interesting circumstances.
However, we have received the fullest account (and even more particulars than this memoir contains) from a quarter which usually is the source of nothing but errors. Who would have believed that Rome would ever have done so much for the enlightening of the world, and for the utter exposure of an impostor, as she has done by publishing the summary of the proceedings in this case? For although this work ought and might be much more interesting, it is, nevertheless, an excellent document in the hands of every rational mind, who cannot but feel deep regret to see the deceived, and those who were not more deceived than deceivers, going on for years admiring this man and his mummeries; feeling themselves by fellowship with him raised above the common mass, and from the heights of this credulous vanity pitying, if not despising, the sound common sense of mankind in general.
Who was not willingly silent all the while? And even now, at last, when the whole affair is ended and placed beyond dispute, it is only with difficulty that I can prevail upon myself, in order to complete the official account, to communicate some particulars which have here become known to me.
When I found in the genealogy so many persons (especially his mother and sisters) mentioned as still living, I expressed to the author of the memoir a wish to see them, and to form the acquaintance of the other relatives of so notorious an individual. He remarked that it would be difficult to bring it about; since these persons, poor but respectable, and living very retired, were not accustomed to receive visitors, and that their natural suspicion would be roused by any attempt of the kind. However, he was ready to send to me his copying-clerk, who had access to the family, and by whose means he had procured the information and documents out of which the pedigree had been compiled.
The next day his amanuensis made his appearance, and expressed several scruples upon the matter. "I have hitherto," he said, "carefully avoided coming within sight of these persons. For in order to get into my hands the certificates of baptism and marriage, so as to be able to take legally authenticated copies of them, I was obliged to have recourse to a little trick. I took occasion to speak of some little family property that was somehow or other unclaimed; made it appear probable to them that the young Capitummino was entitled to it; but I told them that first of all it was necessary to make out a pedigree, in order to see how far the youth could establish his claim; that, however, his success must eventually depend upon the law proceedings, which I would willingly undertake on condition of receiving for my trouble a fair proportion of the amount recovered. The good people readily assented to everything. I got possession of the papers I wanted, took copies of them, and finished the pedigree: since then, however, I have cautiously kept out of their sight. A few weeks ago old Capitummino met me, and it was only by pleading the tardiness with which such matters usually proceed that I managed to excuse myself."
Thus spoke the copyist. As, however, I stuck to my purpose, he, after some consideration, consented to take me to their house, and suggested that it would be best for me to give myself out to be an Englishman bringing the family tidings of Caghostro, who, immediately after his release from the Bastile, had proceeded to London.
At the appointed hour, about two o'clock in the afternoon, we set out on our expedition. The house was situated in the corner of a narrow lane, not far from the great street, "Il Casaro." We ascended a few wretched steps, and got at once into the kitchen. A woman of middle size, strong and broad, without being fat, was busy washing up the cooking utensils. She was neatly and cleanly clad, and, as we entered, turned up the corner of her apron, in order to conceal from us its dirty front. She seemed glad to see my guide, and exclaimed, "Do you bring us good news, Signer Giovanni? Have you obtained a decree?"
He replied, "No! I have not as yet been able to do anything in our matter. However, here is a foreigner who brings you a greeting from your brother, and who can give you an account of his present state and abode."
The greeting that I was to bring did not exactly stand in our bond. However, the introduction was now made. "You know my brother?" she asked me. "All Europe knows him," I replied; "and I am sure you will be glad to hear that he is at present safe and well; for assuredly you must have been in great anxiety about him." "Walk in," she said, "I will follow you immediately;" and so, with the copying-clerk, I entered the sitting-room.
It was spacious and lofty, and would pass with us for a saloon. It seemed, however, to form the whole dwelling of the family. A single window lighted the large walls, which were once coloured, and on which figures of the saints, taken in black, hung in gilt frames. Two large beds, without curtains, stood I against one wall; while a brown press, which had the shape of an escritoire, was placed against the opposite one. Old chairs, with rush bottoms, the backs of which seemed to have once been gilded, stood on each side of it; while the bricks of the floors were in many places sunk deep below the level. In other respects, everything was clean and tidy; and we made our way toward the family, who were gathered around the only large window at the other end of the room.
While my guide was explaining to the old widow Balsamo, who sat in the corner, the cause of our visit, and, in consequence of the deafness of the good old woman, had frequently to repeat his words, I had time to observe the room and the rest of its occupants. A young girl about sixteen years of age, well grown, whose features, however, the smallpox had robbed of all expression, was standing at the window; by her side a young man, whose unpleasant countenance, sadly disfigured by the smallpox, also struck me. In an armchair, opposite the window, sat, or rather reclined, a sick and sadly deformed person, who seemed to be afflicted with a sort of torpor.
When my guide had made himself understood, they insisted on our being seated. The old woman put some questions to me; which I required to have interpreted before I could answer them, as I was not very familiar with the Sicilian dialect.
I was pleased with the examination, which, during this conversation, I made of the old woman. She was of middle size, but of a good figure; over her regular features an expression of calmness was diffused, which people usually enjoy who are deprived of hearing; the tone of her voice was soft and agreeable.
I answered her questions; and my answers had, in their turn, to be interpreted to her.
The slowness of such a dialogue gave me an opportunity of weighing my words. I told her that her sou, having been acquitted in France, was at present in London, where he had been well received. The joy she expressed at this news was accompanied with exclamations of a heartfelt piety; and now, as she spoke louder and more slowly, I could understand her better.
In the meantime her daughter had come in, and had seated herself by the side of my guide, who faithfully repeated to her what I had been saying. She had tied on a clean apron, and arranged her hair under a net. The more I looked at and compared her with her mother, the more surprised I was at the difference of their persons. A lively, healthy sensibility spoke from every feature of the daughter: she was apparently about forty years old. With her cheerful blue eyes, she looked about her intelligently, without, however, my being able to trace the least symptom of suspicion. As she sat, her figure seemed to promise greater height than it showed when she stood up. Her posture bespoke determination; she sat with her body bent forward, and her hands resting on her knees. Moreover, her full, rather than sharp, profile, reminded me of the portraits of her brother, which I had seen in engravings. She asked me several questions about my travels; about my purpose in visiting Sicily; and would persuade herself that I should most assuredly come again, and keep with them the Festival of St. Rosalie.
The grandmother having in the meantime put some questions to me, the daughter, while I was busy answering them, was speaking in an undertone to my guide; so that my curiosity was stimulated to ask what they were talking about. Upon this he said, Donna Capitummino was just telling him that her brother owed her fourteen oncie. In order to facilitate his rapid departure from Palermo, she had redeemed some of his things which were in pawn; but since then she had not heard a word from him, nor received any money, nor help of any kind, although, as she had heard, he possessed great wealth, and kept a princely establishment. Would I not engage on my return, at the first favourable moment to remind him of this debt, and to get him to make them an allowance,—nay, would I not take a letter to him, or at least frank one to him? I offered to do so. She asked me where I lived? and where she could send me the letter. I avoided giving her my address, and engaged to call for the letter on the evening of the next day.
She then recounted to me her pitiable situation. She was a widow, with three children: one girl was being educated in a nunnery, the other was here at home, and her son was gone to school. Besides these three children, she had her mother on her hands, for whose support she must provide ; and besides all this, out of Christian love she had taken into her house the unfortunate sick person,—and thus augmented her miseries. All her industry scarcely sufficed to furnish herself and children with the very barest necessaries. She well knew that God would reward all such good works; still, she could not help sighing beneath the heavy burden she had so long borne.
The young people joined in the conversation, and the dialogue became livelier. While I was speaking to the others, I heard the old woman ask her daughter if I belonged to their holy religion. I was able to observe that the daughter skilfully parried the question by assuring her mother (as well as I could make out her words) that the stranger appeared well disposed toward them; and that it was not proper to question any one all at once on this point.
When they heard that I was soon to depart from Palermo, they became still more urgent, and entreated me to call again at all events: they especially praised the heavenly day of St. Rosalie's festival, the like of which was not to be seen or enjoyed in the world.
My guide, who for a long while had been wishing to get away, at last by his signs put an end to our talk; and I promised to come on the evening of the next day, and fetch the letter. My guide expressed his satisfaction that all had gone off so well, and we parted, well satisfied with each other.
You may imagine what impression this poor, pious, and well-disposed family made upon me. My curiosity was satisfied ; but their natural and pleasing behaviour had excited my sympathy, and reflection only confirmed my good will in their favour.
But then some anxiety soon arose in my mind about to-morrow. It was only natural that my visit, which at first had so charmed them, would, after my departure, be talked and thought over by them. From the pedigree, I was aware that others of the family were still living. Nothing could be more natural than that they should call in their friends to consult them on all they had been so astonished to hear from me the day before. I had gained my object, and now it only remained for me to contrive to bring this adventure to a favourable issue. I therefore set off the next day, and arrived at their house just after their dinner. They were surprised to see me so early. The letter, they told me, was not yet ready; and some of their relatives wished to make my acquaintance, and they would be there toward evening.
I replied that I was to depart early in the morning; that I had yet some visits to make, and had also to pack up; and that I had determined to come earlier than I had promised rather than not come at all.
During this conversation the son entered, whom I had not seen the day before. In form and countenance he resembled his sister. He had brought with him the letter I was to take. As usual in these parts, it had been written by one of the public notaries. The youth, who was of a quiet, sad, and modest position, inquired about his uncle, asked about his riches and expenditure, and added, "How could he forget his family so long? It would be the greatest happiness to us," he continued, "if he would only come back and help us;" but he further asked, "How came he to tell you that he had relations in Palermo? It is said that he disowns us everywhere, and gives himself out to be of high birth." These questions, to which my guide's want of foresight had, on our first visit, given rise, I contrived to satisfy, by making it appear possible, that, although his uncle might have many reasons for concealing his origin from the pubhc, he would, nevertheless, make no secret of it to his friends and famiUar acquaintances.
His sister, who had stepped forward during this conversation, and taken courage from the presence of her brother, and probably, also, from the absence of yesterday's friend, began now to speak. Her manner was very pretty and lively. She earnestly begged me, when I wrote to her uncle, to commend her to him; and not less earnestly, also, to come back, when I had finished my tour through the kingdom of Sicily, and to attend with them the festivities of St, Rosalie.
The mother joined her voice to that of her children. "Signor," she exclaimed, "although it does not in propriety become me, who have a grown-up daughter, to invite strange men to my house,—and one ought to guard not only against the danger itself, but even against evil tongues,—still you, I can assure you, will be heartily welcome whenever you return to our city,"
"Yes! yes!" cried the children, "we will guide the signor throughout the festival; we will show him everything; we will place him on the scaffolding from which you have the best view of the festivities. How delighted will he be with the great car, and especially with the splendid illumination!"
In the meanwhile, the grandmother had read the letter over and over again. When she was told that I wished to take my leave, she rose and dehvered to me the folded paper. "Say to my son," she said, with a noble vivacity, not to say enthusiasm, "tell my son how happy the news you have brought me of him has made us. Say to my son that I thus fold him to my heart" (here she stretched out her arms and again closed them over her bosom); "that every day in prayer I suppHcate God and our blessed Lady for him; that I give my blessing to him and to his wife, and that I have no wish but, before I die, to see him once more with these eyes, which have shed so many tears on his account."
The peculiar elegance of the Italian favoured the choice and the noble arrangement of her words, which, moreover, were accompanied with those very lively gestures, by which this people usually give an incredible charm to everything they say. Not unmoved, I took my leave. They all held out their hands to me: the children even accompanied me to the door, and while I descended the steps, ran to the balcony of the window, which opened from the kitchen into the street, called after me, nodded their adieus, and repeatedly cried out to me not to forget to come again and see them. They were still standing on the balcony, when I turned the corner.
I need not say that the interest I took in this family excited in me the liveliest desire to be useful to them, and to help them in their great need. Through me they were now a second time deceived; and hopes of assistance, which they had no previous expectation of, had been again raised, through the curiosity of a son of the North, only to be disappointed.
My first intention was to pay them, before my departure, those fourteen oncie which the fugitive had borrowed of them and not repaid, and, by expressing a hope that he would repay me, to conceal from them the fact of its being a gift from me. When, however, I got home, casting up my accounts and looking over my cash and bills, I found, that, in a country where, from the want of communication, distance is infinitely magnified, I should perhaps place myself in a strait, if I attempted to make amends for the dishonesty of a rogue by an act of mere good nature.
The subsequent issue of this affair may as well be here introduced.
I set off from Palermo, and never came back to it; but notwithstanding the great distance of my Sicilian and Italian travels, my soul never lost the impression which the interview with this family had left upon it.
I returned to my native land; and the letter of the old widow, turning up among the many other papers which had come with it from Naples by sea, gave me occasion to speak of this and other adventures.
Below is a translation of this letter, in which I have purposely allowed the peculiarities of the original to appear.
"On the 16th April, 1787, 1 received tidings of you through Mr. Wilton, and I cannot express to you how consoling it was to me; for ever since you removed from France I have been unable to hear any tidings of you.
"My dear son, I entreat you not to forget me, for I am very poor, and deserted by all my relations but my daughter, and your sister Maria Giovanna, in whose house I am living. She cannot afford to supply all my wants, but she does what she can. She is a widow, with three children: one daughter is in the nunnery of St. Catherine, the other two children are at home with her.
"I repeat, my dear son, my entreaty. Send me just enough to provide for my necessities; for I have not even the necessary articles of clothing to discharge the duties of a Catholic, for my mantle and outer garments are perfectly in rags.
"If you send me anything, or even write me merely a letter, do not send by post, but by sea; for Don Mattéo, my brother (Bracconeri), is the postmaster.
"My dear son, I entreat you to provide me with a tari a day, in order that your sister may, in some measure, be relieved of the burthen I am to her at present, and that I may not perish from want. Remember the divine command, and help a poor mother, who is reduced to the utmost extremity. I give you my blessing, and press to my heart both thee and Donna Lorenza, thy wife.
"Your sister embraces you from her heart, and her children kiss your hands.
"Your mother, who dearly loves you, and presses you to her heart.
"Palermo, April 18, 1787."
Some worthy and exalted persons, before whom I laid this document, together with the whole story, shared my emotions, and enabled me to discharge my debt to this unhappy family, and to remit them a sum which they received toward the end of the year 1787. Of the effect it had, the following letter is evidence.
"Palermo, December 25, 1787.
"Dear and faithful Brother:—
"The joy which we have had in hearing that you are in good health and circumstances, we cannot express by any writing. By sending them this little assistance, you have filled with the greatest joy and delight a mother and a sister who are abandoned by all, and have to provide for two daughters and a son. For, after that Mr. Jacob Joff, an English merchant, had taken great pains to find out the Donna Giuseppe Maria Capitummino (by birth Balsamo), in consequence of my being commonly known merely as Marana Capitummino, he found us at last in a little tenement, where we live on a corresponding scale. He informed us that you had ordered a sum of money to be paid us, and that he had a receipt, which I, your sister, must sign,—which was accordingly done; for he immediately put the money in our hands, and the favourable rate of the exchange has brought us a little further gain.
"Now, think with what delight we must have received this sum, at a time when Christmas Day was just at hand, and we had no hope of being helped to spend it with its usual festivity.
"The Incarnate Saviour has moved your heart to send us this money, which has served not only to appease our hunger, but actually to clothe us, when we were in want of everything.
"It would give us the greatest gratification possible if you would gratify our wish to see you once more,—especially mine, your mother, who never cease to bewail my separation from an only son, whom I would much wish to see again before I die.
"But if, owing to circumstances, this cannot be, still do not neglect to come to the aid of my misery, especially as you have discovered so excellent a channel of communication, and so honest and exact a merchant, who, when we knew nothing about it, and when he had the money entirely in his own power, has honestly sought us out and faithfully paid over to us the sum you remitted.
"With you that perhaps will not signify much. To us, however, every help is a treasure. Your sister has two grown-up daughters, and her son also requires a little help. You know that she has nothing in the world ; and what a good act you will perform by sending her enough to furnish them all with a suitable outfit.
"May God preserve you in health! We invoke him in gratitude, and pray that he may still continue the prosperity you have hitherto enjoyed, and that he may move your heart to keep us in remembrance. In his name I bless you and your wife, as a most affectionate mother,—and I, your sister, embrace you; and so does your nephew, Giuseppe (Bracconeri), who wrote this letter. We all pray for your prosperity, as do also my two sisters, Antonia and Theresa.
"Your sister, who loves you,
"Giuseppe-Maria, Capitummino, and Balsamo.
"Your mother, who loves and blesses you,
who blesses you every hour,
"Felice Balsamo, and Bracconeri."
The signatures appended to the letter are in their own handwriting.
I had caused the money to be paid to them without sending any letter, or intimation whence it came. This makes their mistake the more natural, and their future hopes the more probable.
Now that they have been informed of the arrest and imprisonment of their relative, I feel at liberty to explain matters to them, and to do something for their consolation. I have still a small sum for them in my hands, which I shall remit to them, and profit by the opportunity to explain the true state of the matter. Should any of my friends, should any of my rich and noble countrymen, be disposed to enlarge, by their contributions, the sum I have already in my hands, I would exhort them in that case to forward their kind gifts to me before Michaelmas Day, in order to share the gratitude, and to be rewarded with the happiness, of a deserving family, out of which has proceeded one of the most singular monsters that has appeared in this century.
I shall not fail to make known the further course of this story, and to give an account of the state in which my next remittance finds the family; and perhaps, also, I shall add some remarks which this matter induced me to make, which, however, I withhold at present, in order not to disturb my reader's first impressions.
Sunday, April 15, 1787.
Toward evening I paid a visit to my friend the shopkeeper, to ask him how he thought the festival was likely to pass off; for to-morrow there is to be a solemn procession through the city, and the viceroy is to accompany the host on foot. The least wind will envelop both man and the sacred symbols in a thick cloud of dust.
With much humour he replied, "In Palermo, the people look for nothing more confidently than for a miracle." Often before now, on such occasions, a violent passing shower had fallen and cleansed the streets, partially at least, so as to make a clean road for the procession. On this occasion a similar hope was entertained, and not without cause, for the sky was overcast, and promised rain during the night.
Sunday, April 15, 1787.
And so it has actually turned out! During the night the most violent shower has fallen. In the morning I set out very early in order to be an eye-witness of the marvel. The stream of rain-water pent up between the two raised pavements, had carried the lightest of the rubbish down the inclined street, either into the sea or into such of the sewers as were not stopped up, while the grosser and heavier dung was driven from spot to spot. In this a singular meandering line of cleanliness was marked out along the streets. On the morning, hundreds and hundreds of men were to be seen with brooms and shovels, busily enlarging this clear space, and in order to connect it where it was interrupted by the mire; and throwing the still remaining impurities now to this side, now to that. By this means, when the procession started, it found a clear serpentine walk prepared for it through the mud, and so both the long-robed priests and the neat-booted nobles, with the viceroy at their head, were able to proceed on their way unhindered and unsplashed.
I thought of the children of Israel passing through the waters on the dry path prepared for them by the hand of the angel; and this remembrance served to ennoble what otherwise would have been a revolting sight,—to see these devout and noble peers parading their devotions along an alley flanked on each side by heaps of mud.
On the pavement there was now, as always, clean walking; but in the more retired parts of the city, whither we were this day carried in pursuance of our intention of visiting the quarters we had hitherto neglected, it was almost impossible to get along, although even here the sweeping and piling of the filth was by no means neglected.
The festival gave occasion to our visiting the principal church of the city and observing its curiosities. Being once on the move, we took a round of all the other public edifices. We were much pleased with a Moorish building, which is in excellent preservation,—not very large, but the rooms beautiful, broad, and well proportioned, and in excellent keeping with the whole pile. It is not perhaps suited for a northern climate, but in a southern land a most agreeable residence. Architects may perhaps some day furnish us with a plan and elevation of it.
We also saw, in most unsuitable situations, various remains of ancient marble statues, which, however, we had not patience to decipher.
Palermo, April 16, 1787.
As we are obliged to anticipate our speedy departure from this paradise, I hoped to-day to spend a thorough holiday by sitting in the public gardens, and, after studying the task I had set myself out of the Odyssey, taking a walk through the valley, and at the foot of the hill of St. Rosalie, meditating still further on my sketch of Nausicaa, and there trying whether this subject is susceptible of a dramatic form. All this I have managed, if not with perfect success, yet certainly much to my satisfaction. I made out the plan, and could not abstain from sketching some portions of it which appeared to me most interesting, and tried to work them out.
Palermo, Tuesday, April 17, 1787.
It is downright misery to be pursued and hunted by many spirits! Yesterday I set out early for the public gardens, with a firm and calm resolve to realise some of my poetical dreams; but before I got within sight of them, another spectre which has been following me these last few days got hold of me. Many plants which hitherto I had been used to see only in pots and tubs, or under glass frames, stand here, fresh and joyous, beneath the open sky; and, as they here completely fulfil their destination, their natures and characters became more plain and evident to me. In presence of so many new and renovated forms, my old fancy occurred to me again: Might not I discover the primordial plant among all these numerous specimens? Some such there must be! For, otherwise, how am I able at once to determine that this or that form is a plant, unless they are all formed after one original type? I busied myself, therefore, with examining wherein the many varying shapes differed from each other. And in every case I found them all to be more similar than dissimilar, and attempted to apply my botanical terminology. That went on well enough: still, I was not satisfied, but felt annoyed that it did not lead farther. My pet poetical purpose was obstructed: the gardens of Antinous all vanished,—a real garden of the world had taken their place. Why is it that we moderns have so little concentration of mind? Why is it that we are thus tempted to make requisitions which we can neither exact nor fulfil?
Alcamo, Wednesday, April 18, 1787.
At an early hour we rode out of Palermo. Kniep and the vetturino showed their skill in packing the carriage inside and out. We drove slowly along the excellent road, with which we had previously become acquainted during our visit to San Martino, and once more admired one of the magnificent fountains on the way. At one of these our driver stopped to supply himself with water, according to the temperate habits of his country. He had, at starting, hung to the traces a small wine-cask, such as our market-women use; and it seemed to us to hold wine enough for several days. We were, therefore, not a little surprised when he made for one of the many conduit-pipes, took the plug out of his cask, and let the water run into it. With true German amazement, we asked him what he was about? was not the cask full of wine? To all which he replied with great coolness, he had left a third of it empty; and as no one in this country drank unmixed wine, it was better to mix it at once in a large quantity, as then the liquids combined better; and, besides, you were not sure of finding water everywhere. During this conversation the cask was filled, and we had to put up with this ancient and Oriental wedding custom.
And now as we reached the heights beyond Mon Reale, we saw wonderfully beautiful districts, but tilled in traditional, rather than in a true economical style. On the right, the eye reached the sea, where, between singular-shaped headlands, and beyond a shore here covered with, and there destitute of, trees, it caught a smooth and level horizon, perfectly calm, and forming a glorious contrast with the wild and rugged limestone rocks. Kniep did not fail to make miniature outlines of several of them.
We are at present in Alcamo, a quiet and clean little town, whose well-conducted inn is highly to be commended as an excellent establishment, especially as it is most conveniently situated for those who come to see the temple of Segeste, which has a very lonely situation, out of the direct road.
Alcamo, Thursday, April 19, 1787.
Our agreeable dwelling in this quiet town among the mountains has so charmed us that we have determined to pass a whole day here. We may then, before anything else, speak of our yesterday's adventures. In one of my earlier letters, I questioned the originality of Prince Pallagonia's bad taste. He has had forerunners, and can adduce many a precedent. On the road toward Mon Reale stand two monstrosities, beside a fountain with some vases on a balustrade, so utterly repugnant to good taste that one would suppose they must have been placed there by the prince himself.
After passing Mon Reale, we left behind us the beautiful road, and got into the rugged mountain country. Here some rocks appeared on the crown of the road, which, judging from their gravity and metallic incrustations, I took to be ironstone. Every level spot is cultivated, and is more or less prolific. The limestone in these parts had a reddish hue, and all the pulverised earth is of the same colour. This red argillaceous and calcareous earth extends over a great space. The subsoil is hard, no sand underneath; but it produces excellent wheat. We noticed old, very strong, but stumpy olive-trees.
Under the shelter of an airy room, which has been built as an addition to the wretched inn, we refreshed ourselves with a temperate luncheon. Dogs eagerly gobbled up the skins of our sausages, but a beggar-boy drove them off. He was feasting with a wonderful appetite on the parings of the apples we were eating, when he in his turn was driven away by an old beggar. Want of work is here felt everywhere. In a ragged toga, the old beggar was glad to get a job as house-servant or waiter. Thus I had formerly observed that whenever a landlord was asked for anything which he had not at the moment in the house, he would send a beggar to the shop for it.
However, we are pretty well provided against all such sorry attendance: for our vetturino is an excellent fellow; he is ready as ostler, cicerone, guard, courier, cook, and everything.
On the higher hills you find everywhere the olive, the caruba, and the ash. Their system of farming is also spread over three years,—beans, corn, fallow,—in which mode of culture the people say the dung does more marvels than all the saints. The grape-stock is kept down very low.
Alcamo is gloriously situated on a height, at a tolerable distance from a bay of the sea. The magnificence of the country quite enchanted us. Lofty rocks, with deep valleys at their feet, but withal wide open spaces, and great variety. Beyond Mon Reale you look upon a beautiful double valley, in the centre of which a hilly ridge again raises itself. The fruitful fields lie green and quiet: but on the broad roadway the wild bushes and shrubs are brilliant with flowers,—the broom, one mass of yellow, covered with its papilionaceous blossoms, and not a single green leaf to be seen; the white thorn, cluster on cluster; the aloes are rising high, and promising to flower; a rich tapestry of an amaranthine-red clover, of orchids, and the little Alpine roses; hyacinths, with unopened bells; asphodels, and other wild flowers.
The streams which descend from Mount Segeste leave deposits, not only of limestone, but also of pebbles of hornstone. They are very compact, dark blue, yellow, red, and brown, of various shades. I also found complete loads of horn, or firestone, in the limestone rocks, edged with lime. Of such gravel one fijids whole hills just before one gets to Alcamo.
Segeste, April 20, 1787.
The temple of Segeste was never finished. The ground around it was never even levelled, the space only being smoothed on which the peristyle was to stand. For, in several places, the steps are from nine to ten feet in the ground; and there is no hill near, from which the stone or mould could have fallen. Besides, the stones lie in their natural position, and no ruins are found near them.
The columns are all standing: two which had fallen, have very recently been raised again. How far the columns rested on a socle is hard to say; and, without an engraving, it is difficult to give an idea of their present state. At some points it would seem as if the pillars rested on the fourth step. In that case, to enter the temple you would have to go down a step. In other places, however, the uppermost step is cut through, and then it looks as if the columns had rested on bases; and then again these spaces have been filled up, and so we have once more the first case. An architect is necessary to determine this point.
The sides have twelve columns, not reckoning the corner ones; the back and front six, including them. The rollers on which the stones were moved along, still lie around you on the steps. They have been left, in order to indicate that the temple was unfinished. But the strongest evidence of this fact is the floor. In some spots (along the sides) the pavement is laid down. In the middle, however, the red limestone rock still projects higher than the level of the floor as partially laid ; the flooring, therefore, cannot ever have been finished. Nor is there a trace of an inner temple. Still less can the temple have ever been overlaid with stucco ; but that it was intended to do so, we may infer from the fact that the abaci of the capitals have projecting points, probably for the purpose of holding the plaster. The whole is built of a limestone, very similar to the travertine; only it is now much fretted. The restoration which was carried on in 1781 has done much good to the building. The cutting of the stone with which the parts have been reconnected, is simple, but beautiful. The large blocks standing by themselves, which are mentioned by Riedesel, I could not find: probably they were used for the restoration of the columns.
The site of the temple is singular. At the highest end of a broad and long valley, it stands on an isolated hill; surrounded, however, on all sides by cliffs, it commands a very distant and extensive view of the land, but it takes in only just a corner of the sea. The district reposes in a sort of melancholy fertility,—everywhere well cultivated, but scarce a dwelling to be seen. Flowering thistles were swarming with countless butterflies; wild fennel stood here from eight to nine feet high, dry and withered, of the last year's growth, but so rich, and in such seeming order, that one might almost take it to be an old nursery-ground; a shrill wind whistled through the columns as if through a wood; and screaming birds of prey hovered around the pediments.
The wearisomeness of winding through the insignificant ruins of a theatre took away from us all the pleasures we might otherwise have had in visiting the remains of the ancient city. At the foot of the temple, we found large pieces of the hornstone. Indeed, the road to Alcamo is composed of vast quantities of pebbles of the same formation. From the road a portion of a gravelly earth passes into the soil, by which means it is rendered looser. In some fennel of this year's growth, I observed the difference of the lower and upper leaves: it is still the same organisation that develops multiplicity out of unity. They are most industrious weeders in these parts. Just as beaters go through a wood for game, so here they go through the fields weeding. I have actually seen some insects here. In Palermo, however, I saw nothing but worms, lizards, leeches, and snakes, though not more finely coloured than with us: indeed, they are mostly all gray.
Saturday, April 21, 1787.
From Alcamo to the Castel Vetrano you come on the limestone, after crossing some hills of gravel. Between precipitous and barren limestone mountains, lie wide, undulating valleys, everywhere tilled, with scarcely a tree to be seen. The gravelly hills are full of large boulders, giving signs of ancient inundations of the sea. The soil is better mixed, and lighter, than any we have hitherto seen, in consequence of its containing some sand. Leaving Salemi about fifteen miles to our right, we came upon hills of gypsum, lying on the limestone. The soil appears, as we proceed, to be better and more richly compounded. In the distance you catch a peep of the Western sea. In the foreground the country is everywhere hilly. We found the fig-trees just budding; but what most excited our delight and wonder were endless masses of flowers, which had encroached on the broad road, and flourish in large, variegated patches. Closely bordering on each other, the several sorts, nevertheless, keep themselves apart, and recur at regular intervals,—the most beautiful convolvuluses, hibiscuses, and mallows, various kinds of trefoil, here and there the garlic, and the galega-gestrauche. On horseback you may ride through this varied tapestry by following the numberless and ever-crossing narrow paths which run through it. Here and there you see, feeding, fine red-brown cattle, very clean-limbed, and with short horns of an extremely elegant form.
The mountains to the northeast stand all in a line. A single peak, Cuniglione, rises boldly from the midst of them. The gravelly hills have but few streams: very little rain seems to fall here; we did not find a single gully giving evidence of having ever overflowed.
In the night I met with a singular incident. Quite worn out, we had thrown ourselves on our beds in anything but a very elegant room. In the middle of the night I saw above me a most agreeable phenomenon,—a star, brighter, I think, than I ever saw one before. Just, however, as I began to take courage at a sight which was of good omen, my patron star suddenly disappeared, and left me in darkness again. At daybreak I at last discovered the cause of the marvel: there was a hole in the roof, and at the moment of my vision one of the brightest stars must have been crossing my meridian. This purely natural phenomenon was, however, interpreted by us travellers as highly favourable.
Sciacca, April 22, 1787.
The road hither, which runs over nothing but gravelly hills, has been mineralogically uninteresting. The traveller here reaches the shore, from which, at different points, bold limestone rocks rise suddenly. All the flat land is extremely fertile; barley and oats in the finest condition. The salsola-kali is here cultivated. The aloes, since yesterday and the day before, have shot forth their tall spikes. The same numerous varieties of the trefoil still attended us. At last we came on a little wood, thick with brushwood, the tall trees standing very wide apart ; and lastly, the cork-tree.
Girgenti, April 23, 1787.
From Sciacca to this place is a hard day's ride. We examined the baths at the last-named place. A hot stream burst from the rock with a strong smell of sulphur: the water had a strong saline flavour, but it was not at all thick. May not this sulphureous exhalation be formed at the moment of its breaking from the rock? A little higher is a spring, quite cool and without smell. Eight above is the monastery, where are the vapour baths: a thick mist rises above it into the pure air.
The shingles on the shore are nothing but limestone: the quartz and hornstone have wholly disappeared. I have examined all the little streams: the Calta Bellota, and the Maccasoli, carry down with them nothing but limestone; the Platani, a yellow marble and flint, the invariable companion of this nobler calcareous formation. A few pieces of lava excited my attention, but I saw nothing in this country that indicated the presence of volcanic action. I supposed, therefore, they must be fragments of millstones, or of pieces brought from a distance for some such use. Near Monte Allegro, the stone is all gypsum and selenite,—whole rocks of these occurring before and between the limestone. The wonderful strata of Bellota!
Tuesday, April 24, 1787.
Such a glorious spring view as we enjoyed at sunset to-day will most assuredly never meet our eyes again in one lifetime. Modern Girgenti stands on the lofty site of the ancient fortifications, an extent sufficient for the present population. From our window, we looked over the broad but gentle declivity on which stood the ancient town, which is now entirely covered with gardens and vineyards, beneath whose verdure it would be long before one thought of looking for the quarters of an ancient city. However, toward the southern end of this green and flourishing spot the Temple of Concord rears itself, while on the east are a few remains of the Temple of Juno. Other ruins of some ancient buildings, which, lying in a straight line with those already spoken of, are scarcely noticed by the eye from above, while it hurries over them southwards to the shore, or ranges over the level country, which reaches at least seven miles from the sea-mark. To-day we were obliged to deny ourselves the pleasure of a stroll among the trees and wild rockets, and over this expanse so green, so flourishing, and so full of promise for the husbandman, because our guide (a good-natured little parish priest) begged of us above all things to devote this day to the town.
He first showed us the well-built streets; then he took us to the higher points, from which the view, gaining both in extent and breadth, was still more glorious; and lastly, for an artistic treat, conducted us to the principal church. In it there is an ancient sarcophagus in good preservation; the fact of its being used for the altar has rescued it from destruction: Hippolytus, attended by his hunting companions and horses, has just been stopped by Phædra's nurse, who wishes to deliver a letter to him. As in this piece the principal object was to exhibit beautiful youthful forms, the old woman, as a mere subordinate personage, is represented very short and dwarfish, in order not to disturb the intended effect. Of all the alto-relievos I have ever seen, I do not, I think, remember one more glorious, and at the same time so well preserved, as this. Until I meet with a better, it must pass with me as a specimen of the most graceful period of Grecian art.
We were carried back to still earlier periods of art by the examination of a costly vase, of considerable size, and in excellent condition. Moreover, many relics of ancient architecture appeared worked up here and there in the walls of the modern church.
As there is no inn or hotel in this place, a kind and worthy family made room for us, and gave up for our accommodation an alcove belonging to a large room. A green curtain separated us and our baggage from the members of the family, who, in the more spacious apartment, were employed in preparing macaroni of the whitest and smallest kind. I sat down by the side of the pretty children, and had the whole process explained to me, and was informed that it is prepared from the finest and hardest wheat, called Grano forte. That sort, they also told me, fetches the highest price, which, after being formed into long pipes, is twisted into coils, and, by the tip of the fair artiste's fingers, made to assume a serpentine shape. The preparation is chiefly by the hand: machines and moulds are very little used. They also prepared for us a dish of the most excellent macaroni, regretting, however, that at that moment they had not even a single dish of the very best kind, which could not be made out of Girgenti, nor indeed, out of their house. What they did dress for me appeared to me to be unequalled in whiteness and tenderness.
By leading us once more to the heights and to the most glorious points of view, our guide contrived to appease the restlessness which during the evening kept us constantly out-of-doors. As we took a survey of the whole neighbourhood, he pointed out all the remarkable objects which on the morrow we had proposed to examine more nearly.
Wednesday, April 25, 1787.
With sunrise we took our way toward the plain, while at every step the surrounding scenery assumed a still more picturesque appearance. With the consciousness that it was for our advantage, the little man led us, without stopping, right across the rich vegetation, over a thousand little spots, each of which might have furnished the locale for an idyllic scene. This variety of scene is greatly due to the unevenness of the country, undulating as it passes over hidden ruins which probably were very quickly covered with fertile soil, as the ancient buildings consisted of a light muscheltufa. At last we arrived at the eastern end of the city, where are the ruins of the Temple of Juno, of which every year must have accelerated the decay, as the air and weather are constantly fretting the soft stone of which it is built. To-day we only devoted a cursory examination to it, but Kniep has already chosen the points from which to sketch it to-morrow. The temple stands on a rock which is now much worn by the weather. From this point the city walls stretched in a straight line, eastward, to a bed of limestone, that rises perpendicular from the level strand, which the sea has abandoned, after having shaped these rocks and long washed the foot of them. Hewn partly out of the native rock, and partly built of it, were the walls of ancient Agrigentum, from behind which towered a line of temples. No wonder, then, if from the sea the lower, middle, and upper towns presented together a most striking aspect.
The Temple of Concord has withstood so many centuries. Its light style of architecture closely approximates it to our present standard of the beautiful and tasteful; so that as compared with that of Pæstum, it is, as it were, the shape of a god to that of a gigantic figure. I will not give utterance to my regrets that the recent praiseworthy design of restoring this monument should have been so tastelessly carried out, that the gaps and defects are actually filled up with a dazzling white gypsum. Consequently, this monument of ancient art stands before the eye, in a certain sense, dilapidated and disfigured. How easy it would have been to give the gypsum the same tint as the weather-eaten stone of the rest of the building! In truth, when one looks at the muschelkalk of which the walls and columns are composed, and sees how easily it crumbles away, his only surprise is that they have lasted so long. But the builders, reckoning on a posterity similar to themselves, had taken precautions against it. One observes on the pillars the remains of a fine plaster, which would at once please the eye and ensure durability.
Our next halt was at the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter. Like the bones of a gigantic skeleton, they are scattered over a large space, having several small cottages interspersed among them, and being intersected by hedgerows, while amidst them are growing plants of different sizes.
From this pile of ruins all the carved stone has disappeared, except an enormous triglyph, and a part of a round pilaster of corresponding proportions. I attempted to span it with outstretched arms, but could not reach round it. Of the fluting of the column, however, some idea may be formed from the fact, that, standing in it as in a niche, I just filled it up and touched it on both sides with my shoulders. Two and twenty men arranged in a circle would give nearly the circumference of such a column. We went away with the disagreeable feeling that there was nothing here to tempt the draughtsman.
On the other hand, the Temple of Hercules still showed some traces of its former symmetry. The pillars of the peristyles, which ran along the temple on its upper and lower side, lie parallel, as if they had all fallen together, and at once, from north to south,—the one row lying up the hill, the other down it. The hill may possibly have been formed by the ruined cells or shrines. The columns, probably held together by the architrave, fell all at once, being suddenly thrown down, perhaps by a violent wind, and lie in regular order, only broken into the pieces of which they were originally composed. Kniep was already, in imagination, preparing his pencil for an accurate sketch of this singular phenomenon.
The Temple of Æsculapius, lying beneath the shade of a most beautiful carob-tree, and closely built upon by some mean farm-buildings, presented to our minds a most agreeable aspect.
Next we went down to Theron's Tomb, and were delighted with the actual sight of this monument, of which we had seen so many models, especially as it served for the foreground of a most rare prospect; for, from west to east, we looked on the line of rocks on which lay the fragments of the walls, while through the gaps of the latter, and over them, the remains of the temples were visible.
This view has, under Hackert's skilful hand, furnished a most delightful picture. Here, too, Kniep will not omit to make a sketch.
Girgenti, April 26, 1787.
When I awoke, Kniep was all ready to start on his artistic journey, with a boy to show him the way, and to carry his portfolio. I enjoyed this most glorious morning at the window, with my secret and silent, but not dumb, friend by my side. A devout reverence has hitherto kept me from mentioning the name of the mentor whom, from time to time, I have looked up and listened to. It is the excellent Von Riedesel, whose little volume I carry about with me in my bosom, like a breviary or talisman. At all times I have had great pleasure in looking up to those whom I know to be possessed of what I am most wanting in myself. And this is exactly the case here. A steady purpose, a fixed object, direct and appropriate means, due preparation and store of knowledge, an intimate connection with a masterly teacher,—he studied under Winckelmann,—of all these advantages I am devoid, as well as of all that follows from them. And yet I cannot feel angry with myself that I am obliged to gain by indirect arts and means, and to seize at once, what my previous existence had refused to grant me gradually in the ordinary way. Oh that this worthy person could, at this moment, in the midst of his bustling world, be sensible of the gratitude with which one, travelling in his footsteps, celebrates his merits, in that beautiful but solitary spot which had so many charms for him as to induce the wish that he might end his days there!
Oblitusque suorum obliviscendus et illis.
With my guide, the little parson, I now retraced our yesterday's walk, observing the objects from several points, and every now and then taking a peep at my industrious friend.
My guide called my attention to a beautiful institution of the once flourishing city. In the rocks and masses of masonry which served as bulwarks to ancient Agrigentum, are found graves, probably intended for the resting-place of the brave and good. Where could they more fitly have been buried, for the sake of their own glory, or for perpetuating a vivid emulation of their great and good deeds!
In the space between the walls and the sea there are still standing the remains of an ancient temple, which are preserved as a Christian chapel. Here, also, are found round pilasters, worked up with, and beautifully united to, the square blocks of the wall, so as to produce an agreeable effect to the eye. One fancies that one here discerns the very spot where the Doric style reached its perfection.
Many an insignificant monument of antiquity was cursorily glanced at; but more attention was paid to the modern way of keeping the corn under the earth in great vaulted chambers. Of the civil and ecclesiastical condition of the city, my guide gave me much information; but I heard of nothing that showed any signs of improvement. The conversation suited well with the ruins, which the elements are still preying upon.
The strata of the muschelkalk all incline toward the sea,—banks of rock strangely eaten away from beneath and behind, while the upper and front portions still remain, looking like pendent fringes.
Great hatred is here felt against the French, because they have made peace with the people of Barbary. They are even charged with betraying the Christians to the infidels.
From the sea there was an ancient gateway, which was cut through the solid rock. The foundation of the walls, which are still standing, rests as it were on steps in the rocks.
Our cicerone is Don Michaele Vella, antiquary, residing at the house of Signore Cerio, near St. Maria's.
In the planting of marsh-beans they proceed in the following way: Holes are made in the earth at a convenient distance from each other, and a handful of dung is thrown in. They then wait for rain, after which they put in the seed. The people here burn the bean-haulms, and wash their linen with the ashes. They never make use of soap. The outer shells of almonds are likewise burnt, and used instead of soda. They first of all wash the clothes with pure water, and then with the lye of these ashes.
The succession of their crops is, beans, wheat, and tumenia. By beans I mean the marsh-bean. Their wheat is wonderfully fine. Tumenia, of which the name is derived from bimenia, or trimenia, is a glorious gift of Ceres. It is a species of spring wheat, which is matured within three months. It is sown at different times, from the first of January to June, so that for a certain period there is always a crop ripe. It requires neither much rain nor great warmth. At first it has a very delicate leaf, but in its growth it soon overtakes the wheat, and at last is very strong. Wheat is sown in October and November, and ripens in June. The barley sown in November is ripe by the first of June. Near the coast it ripens sooner, but on the mountains more slowly.
The flax is already ripe. The acanthus has unrolled its splendid leaves. The Salsala fruticosa is growing luxuriantly.
On the uncultivated hills grows a rich sanfoin. It is farmed out, and then carried into the town in small bundles. In the same way, the oats which are weeded out of the wheat are done up for sale.
For the sake of irrigation, they make very pretty divisions with edgings, in the plots where they plant their cabbages.
The figs have put forth all their leaves, and the fruit is set. They are generally ripe by midsummer, when the tree sets its fruit again. The almond-trees are well loaded: a sheltered carob-tree has produced numberless pods. The grapes for the table are trained on arbours supported by high props. Melons set in March, and ripen by June. Among the ruins of Jupiter's temple they thrive vigorously without a trace of moisture.
Our vetturino eats with great zest raw artichokes and the turnip-cabbage. However, it is necessary to add, that they are more tender and more delicate than with us. When you walk through the fields the farmers allow you to take as many of the young beans, or other crops, as you like.
As my attention was caught by some hard, black stones, which looked like lava, my antiquary observed that they were from Ætna; and that at the harbour, or rather landing-place, many similar ones were to be found.
Of birds there are not many kinds native here: quails are the most common. The birds of passage are nightingales, larks, and swallows. The rinnine—small black birds, which come from the Levant—hatch their young in Sicily, and then go farther or retire. The ridene come in December or January, and after alighting, and resting awhile on Acragas, take their flight toward the mountains.
Of the vase in the cathedral one word more. The figures upon it are, a hero in full armour, seemingly a stranger, before an old man whom a crown and sceptre point out to be a king. Behind the latter stands a female figure, with her head slightly inclined, and her hand under her chin,—a posture indicating thoughtful attention. Right opposite to her, and behind the hero, is an old man who also wears a crown, and is speaking to a man armed with a spear, probably one of the body-guard of the former royal personage. This old man would appear to have introduced the hero, and to be saying to the guard, "Just let him speak to the king: he is a brave man."
Red seems to be the ground of the vase, the black to be laid on. It is only in the female's robe that red seems to be laid on the black.
Friday, April 27, 1787.
If Kniep is to finish all he proposes, he must sketch away incessantly. In the meantime I walk about with my little antiquary. We took a walk toward the sea, from which Agrigentum must, as the ancients asserted, have looked extremely well. Our view was turned to the billowy expanse; and my guide called my attention to a broad streak of clouds, toward the south, which, like a ridge of hills, seemed to rest on the line of the horizon. "This," he said, "indicated the coast of Africa." About the same time another phenomenon struck me as singular. It was a rainbow, in a light cloud, which, resting with one limb on Sicily, threw its arch high against the clear sky, and appeared to rest with the other on the sea. Beautifully tinted by the setting sun, and showing but little movement, it was to the eye an object as rare as it was agreeable. This bow, I was assured, was exactly in the direction of Malta; and perhaps its other limb rested on that island. The phenomenon, I was told, was of common occurrence. It would be singular if the attractive force of these two islands should thus manifest itself even in the atmosphere.
This conversation excited again the question I had so often asked myself: whether I ought to give up all idea of visiting Malta. The difficulties and dangers, however, which had been already well considered, remained the same; and we, therefore, resolved to engage our vetturino to take us to Messina.
But, in the meantime, a strange and peculiar whim was to determine our future movements. For instance, in my travels through Sicily, I had as yet seen but few districts rich in corn: moreover, the horizon had everywhere been confined by nearer or remoter lines of hills, so that the island appeared to be utterly devoid of level plains, and I found it impossible to conceive why Ceres had so highly favoured this island. As I sought for information on this point, I was answered, that, in order to see this, I ought, instead of going to Syracuse, to travel across the island, in which case I should see corn-fields in abundance. We followed this temptation of giving up Syracuse, especially as I was well aware that of this once glorious city scarcely anything but its splendid name remained. And, at any rate, it was easy to visit it from Catania.
Saturday, April 28, 1787.
At last we are able to understand how Sicily gained the honourable title of the Granary of Italy. Shortly after leaving Girgenti, the fertile district commenced. It does not consist of a single great plain, but of the sides of mountains and hills, gently inclined toward each other, everywhere planted with wheat or barley, which present to the eye an unbroken mass of vegetation. Every spot of earth suited to these crops is so put to use and so jealously looked after, that not a tree is anywhere to be seen. Indeed, the little villages and farmhouses all lie on the ridges of the hills, where a row of limestone rocks (which often appear on the surface) renders the ground unfit for tillage. Here the women reside throughout the year, busily employed in spinning and weaving; but the men, while the work in the fields is going on, spend only Saturday and Sunday at home, staying away at their work during the other days, and spending their nights under temporary straw sheds.
And so our wish was gratified—even to satiety. We almost wished for the winged car of Triptolemus to escape from the monotony of the scene.
After a long drive under the hot sun, through this wilderness of fertility, we were glad enough when, at last, we reached the well-situated and well-built Caltanisetta; where, however, we had again to look in vain for a tolerable inn. The mules are housed in fine vaulted stables; the grooms sleep on the heaps of clover which are intended for the animals' food; but the stranger has to look out for and to prepare his own lodging. If, by chance, he can hire a room, it has first of all to be swept out and cleaned. Stools or chairs, there are none; the only seats to be had are low little forms of hard wood; tables are not to be thought of.
If you wish to convert these forms into a bedstead, you must send to a joiner, and hire as many planks as you want. The large leathern bag, which Hackert lent me, was of good use now, and was, by way of anticipation, filled with cut straw.
But, above all things, provision must be made for your meals. On our road we had bought a fowl: our vetturino ran off to purchase some rice, salt, and spice. As, however, he had never been here before, he was for a long time in a perplexity for a place to cook our meal in, as in the post-house itself there was no possibility of doing it. At last an old man of the town agreed for a fair recompense to provide us with a hearth, together with fuel, and cooking and table utensils. While our dinner was cooking, he undertook to guide us round the town, and finally to the market-house, where the principal inhabitants, after the ancient fashion, met to talk together, and also to hear what we or other strangers might say.
We were obliged to talk to them of Frederick the Second; and their interest in this great king was such that we thought it advisable to keep back the fact of his death, lest our being the bearers of such untoward news should render us unwelcome to our hosts.
Geology by way of an appendix! From Girgenti, the muschelkalk rocks. There also appeared a streak of whitish earth, which afterward we accounted for. The older limestone formation again occurs, with gypsum lying immediately upon it. Broad fiat valleys, cultivated almost up to the top of the hillside, and often quite over it, the older limestone mixed with crumbled gypsum. After this appears a looser, yellowish, easily crumbling, limestone: in the arable fields you distinctly recognise its colour, which often passes into darker, indeed occasionally violet, shades. About halfway the gypsum again recurs. On it you see growing, in many places, sedum, of a beautiful violet, almost rosy red; and on the limestone rocks, moss of a beautiful yellow.
The former crumbling limestone often shows itself ; but most prominently in the neighbourhood of Caltanisetta, where it hes in strata, containing a few fossils: there its appearance is reddish, almost of a vermilion tint, with little of the violet hue which we formerly observed near San Martino.
Pebbles of quartz I only observed at a spot about half-way on our journey, in a valley which, shut in on three sides, is open toward the east, and consequently also toward the sea.
On the left, the high mountain in the distance, near Camerata, was remarkable, as also was another, looking like a propped-up cone. For the greatest half of the way not a tree was to be seen. The crops looked glorious, though they were not so high as they were in the neighbourhood of Girgenti and near the coast; however, as clean as possible. In the fields of corn, which stretched farther than the eye could reach, not a weed to be seen. At first we saw nothing but green fields; then some ploughed lands; and lastly, in the moister spots, little patches of wheat, close to Girgenti. We saw apples and pears everywhere else; on the heights, and in the vicinity of a few little villages, some fig-trees.
These thirty miles, together with all that I could distinguish either on the right or left of us, was limestone of earlier or later formations, with gypsum here and there. It is to the crumbling and elaboration of these three together by the atmosphere that this district is indebted for its fertility. It must contain but very little sand, for it scarcely grates between the teeth. A conjecture with regard to the river Achates must wait for the morrow to confirm it.
The valleys have a pretty form; and although they are not flat, still one does not observe any trace of rain gullies,—merely a few brooks, scarcely noticeable, ripple along them, for all of them flow direct to the sea. But little of the red clover is to be seen; the dwarf palm also disappears here, as well as all the other flowers and shrubs of the southwestern side of the island. The thistles are permitted to take possession of nothing but the waysides: every other spot is sacred to Ceres. Moreover, this region has a great similarity to the hilly and fertile parts of Germany,—for instance, the track between Erfurt and Gotha,—especially when you look out for points of resemblance. Very many things must combine in order to make Sicily one of the most fertile regions of the world.
On our whole tour we have seen but few horses: ploughing is carried on with oxen, and a law exists which forbids the killing of cows and calves. Goats, asses, and mules, we met in abundance. The horses are mostly dapple-gray, with black feet and manes. The stables are very splendid, with well-paved and vaulted stalls. For beans and flax the land is dressed with dung: the other crops are then grown after this early one has been gathered in. Green barley in the ear, one up in bundles, and red clover in like fashion, are offered for sale to the traveller as he goes along.
On the hill above Caltanisetta I found a hard limestone with fossils: the larger shells lay lowermost, the smaller above them. In the pavement of this little town, we noticed a limestone with pectinites.
Behind Caltanisetta the hill subsided suddenly into many little valleys, all of which pour their streams into the river Salso. The soil here is reddish and very loamy, much of it unworked: what was in cultivation bore tolerably good crops, though inferior to what we had seen elsewhere.
Sunday, April 29, 1787.
To-day we had to observe still greater fertility, and want of population. Heavy rains had fallen, which made travelling anything but pleasant, as we had to pass through many streams which were swollen and rapid. At the Salso, where one looks round in vain for a bridge, I was struck with a very singular arrangement for passing the ford. Strong, powerful men were waiting at the riverside. Of these, two placed themselves on each side of a mule, and conducted him, rider, baggage, and all, through the deep part of the river, till they reached a great bank of gravel in the middle: when the whole of the travellers have arrived at this spot, they are again conducted in the same manner through the second arm of the stream; while the fellows, by pushing and shoving, keep the animal in the right track, and support him against the current.
On the waterside I observed bushes, which, however, do not spread far into the land. The Salso washes down rubbles of granite,—a transition of the gneiss,—and marble, both breccian and also of a single colour.
We now saw before us the isolated mountain ridge on which Castro Giovanni is situate, and which imparts to the country about it a grave and singular character. As we rode up the long road which traverses its side, we found that the rock consisted of muschelkalk; large calcined shells being huddled together in heaps. You do not see Castro Giovanni until you reach the very summit of the ridge, for it lies on the northern declivity of the mountain. The singular little town, with its tower, and the village of Caltaseibetta, at a little distance on the left, stand, as it were, solemnly gazing at each other. In the plains we saw the bean in full blossom; but who is there that could take pleasure in such a sight? The roads here were horrible, and the more so because they once were paved, and it rained incessantly. The ancient Enna received us most inhospitably,—a room with a paved floor, with shutters and no window, so that we had either to sit in darkness or be again exposed to the beating rain, from which we had thought to escape by putting up here. We ate some remnants of our travelling provisions, and passed a most miserable night. We made a solemn vow never to direct our course again toward never so mythological a name.
Monday, April 30, 1787.
The road leading from Castro Giovanni was so rough and bad, that we were obliged to lead our horses down it. The sky before us was covered with thick and low clouds, while high above them a singular phenomenon was observable. It was striped white and gray, and seemed to be something corporeal; but how could aught corporeal get into the sky? Our guide enlightened us. This subject of our amazement was a side of Mount Ætna, which appeared through the opening clouds. Snow alternating with the crags formed the stripes: it was not, however, the highest peak that we saw.
The precipitous rock, on which ancient Enna was situated, lay behind us; and we drove through long, long, lonely valleys: there they lay, uncultivated and uninhabited, abandoned to the browsing cattle, which we observed were of a beautiful brown colour, not large, short-horned, clean-limbed, lank and lively as deer. These poor cattle had pasturage enough; but it was greatly encroached upon, and in some parts wholly taken possession of, by the thistles. These plants have here the finest opportunities to disperse their seed and to propagate their kind: they take up an incredible space, which would make pasture-land enough for two large estates. As they are not perennial, they might, if mowed down before flowering, be easily eradicated.
However, after having thus seriously meditated an agricultural campaign against the thistles, I must, to my shame, admit they are not altogether useless. At a lonely farmhouse where we pulled up to bait, there were also stopping two Sicilian noblemen, who, on account of some lawsuit, were riding straight across the country to Palermo. With amazement we saw both of these grave personages standing before a patch of these thistles, and with their pocket-knives cutting off the tops of the tall shoots. Then holding their prickly booty by the tips of their fingers, they peeled off the rind, and devoured the inner part with great satisfaction. In this way they occupied themselves a considerable time, while we were refreshing ourselves with wine (this time it was unmixed) and bread. The vetturino prepared for us some of this marrow of thistle-stalks, and assured us that it was a wholesome, cooling food: it suited our taste, however, as little as the raw cabbage at Segeste.
On the Road, April 30, 1787.
Having reached the valley through which the rivulet of St. Pacio winds its way, we found the district consisting of a reddish-black and crumbly limestone, many brooks, a very white soil,—a beautiful valley, which the rivulet made extremely agreeable. The well-compounded, loamy soil is in some places twenty feet deep, and for the most part of similar quality throughout. The crops looked beautiful; but some of them were not very clean, and all of them very backward as compared with those on the southern side. Here there are the same little dwellings, and not a tree, as was the case immediately after leaving Castro Giovanni. On the banks of the river, plenty of pasture-land, but sadly confined by vast masses of thistles. In the gravel of the river we again found quartz, both simple and breccian.
Molimenti, quite a new village, wisely built in the centre of beautiful fields, and on the banks of the rivulet St. Paolo. The wheat in its neighbourhood was unrivalled: it will be ready for cutting as early as by the 20th of May. In the whole district I could not discover as yet a trace of volcanic influence: even the stream brings down no pebbles of that character. The soil is well mixed, heavy rather than light, and has, on the whole, a coffee-brown and slightly violet hue. All the hills on the left, which enclose the stream, are limestone, whose varieties I had no opportunity of observing. They, however, as they crumble under the influence of the weather, are evidently the causes of the great fertility that marks the district throughout.
Tuesday, May 1, 1787.
Through a valley, which, although by nature it was throughout alike destined to fertility, was unequally cultivated, we rode along very moodily because, among so many prominent and irregular shapes, not one appeared to suit our artistic designs. Kniep had sketched a highly interesting outline; but because the foreground and intermediate space were thoroughly revolting, he had with a pleasant joke appended to it a foreground of Poussin's, which cost him nothing. However, they made together a very pretty picture. How many "picturesque tours," in all probability, contain half truths of the like kind.
Our courier, with the view of soothing our grumbling humour, promised us a good inn for the evening. And, in fact, he brought us to a hotel which had been built but a few years since, on the roadside, and, being at a considerable distance from Catania, cannot but be right welcome to all travellers. For our part, finding ourselves, after twelve days of discomfort, in a tolerable apartment, we were right glad to be so much at our ease again. But we were surprised at an inscription pencilled on the wall in beautiful English characters. The following was its purport: "Traveller, whoever you may be, be on your guard against the inn known in Catania by the sign of the Golden Lion. It is better to fall into the claws of all the Cyclops, Sirens, and Scylla together than to go there." Although we at once supposed that the well-meaning counsellor had, no doubt, by his mythological figures magnified the danger, we nevertheless determined to keep out of the reach of the "Golden Lion," which was thus proclaimed to us to be so savage a beast. When, therefore, our muleteer demanded of us where we would wish to put up in Catania, we answered, anywhere but at the "Golden Lion!" Whereupon he ventured to recommend us to stop where he put up his beasts, only he said we should have to provide for ourselves just as we had hitherto done.
Toward Hybla Major, pebbles of lava present themselves, which the stream brings down from the north. Over the ferry you find hmestone, which contains all sorts of rubble, hornstone, lava, and calx; and then hardened volcanic ashes, covered over with calcareous tufa. The hills of mixed gravel continue till you come near to Catania, at and beyond which place you find the lava flux from Ætna. You leave on the left what looks like a crater. (Just under Molimenti the peasants were pulling up the flax.) Nature loves a motley garb; and here you may see how she contrives gaily to deck out the dark bluish-gray lava of the mountains. A few seasons bring over it a moss of a high yellow colour, upon which a beautiful red sedum grows luxuriantly, and some other lovely violet flowers. The plantations of cactus and the vine-rows bespeak a careful cultivation. Now immense streams of lava begin to hem us in. Motta is a beautiful and striking rock. The beans are like very high shrubs. The fields vary very much in their geological features,—now very gravelly, now better mixed.
The vetturino, who probably had not for a long time seen the vegetation of the southeastern side of the island, burst into loud exclamations about the beauty of the crops, and with self-complaisant patriotism demanded of us if we ever saw such in our own country. Here, however, everything is sacrificed to them: you see few if any trees. But the sight that most pleased us was a young girl, of a splendid but slight form, who, evidently an old acquaintance, kept up with the mule of our vetturino, chatting the while, and spinning away with as much elegance as was possible.
Now yellow tints begin to predominate in the flowers. Toward Misterbianco the cactuses are again found in the hedges; but hedges entirely of this strangely grown plant become, as you approach Catania, more and more general, and are even still more beautiful.
Catania, May 2, 1787.
In our quarters we found ourselves, we must confess, most uncomfortable. The meal, such as our muleteer could alone furnish, was none of the best. A fowl stewed in rice would have been tolerable, but for an immoderate spice of saffron, which made it both yellow and unpalatable. The most abominable of bad beds had almost driven me a second time to bring out Hackert's leathern bag, and we therefore next morning spoke on this subject to our obliging host. He expressed his regret that it was not in his power to provide better for us; "but," he said, "there is, above there, a house where strangers are well entertained, and have every reason to be satisfied."
Saying this, he pointed to a large corner house, of which the part that was turned toward us seemed to promise well. We immediately hurried over to it, and found a very active personage, who declared himself to be a waiter, and who, in the absence of the landlord, showed us an excellent bedroom, with a sitting-room adjoining, and assured us, at the same time, that we should be well attended to. Without delay, we demanded, according to our practice, what was the charge for dinner, for wine, for luncheon, and other particulars. The answers were all fair; and we hastily had our trifles brought over to the house, and arranged them in the spacious and gilded buffets. For the first time since we left Palermo, Kniep found an opportunity to spread out his portfolio, and to arrange his drawings, as I did my notes. Then, delighted with our fine room, we stepped out on the balcony of the sitting-room to enjoy the view. When we had done looking at and extolling the prospect, we turned to enter our apartment, and commence our occupations, when, lo! over our head was a large golden lion, regarding us with a most threatening aspect. Quite serious we looked for a moment into one another's faces, then smiled, and laughed outright. From this moment, however, we began to look around us to see whether we could discover any of these Homeric goblins.
Nothing of the kind was to be seen. On the contrary, we found in the sitting-room a pretty young woman, who was playing about with a child, from two to three years old, who stood suddenly still on being hastily scolded by the vice-landlord. "You must take yourself off!" he testily exclaimed: "you have no business here." "It is very hard," she rejoined, "that you drive me away: the child is scarcely to be pacified in the house when you are away; and the signori will allow me, at least while you are present, to keep the child quiet." The husband made no reply, but proceeded to drive her away: at the door the child cried most miserably, and at last we did most heartily wish that the pretty young madam had stayed.
Warned by the Englishman, it was no art to see through the comedy: we played the Neulinge, the Unschuldige; he, however, with his very loving paternal feelings, prevailed very well. The child, in fact, was evidently very fond of him; and probably the seeming mother had pinched him at the door to make him cry so.
And so, too, with the greatest innocence possible she came and stayed with him as the man went out to deliver for us a letter of introduction to the domestic chaplain of Prince Biscari. She played and toyed with the child till he came back, bringing word from the abbé that he would come himself, and talk with us on the matter.
Thursday, May 3, 1787.
The abbé, who had come last night and paid his respects to us, appeared this morning in good time, and conducted us to the palace, which is of one story, and built on a tolerably high socle. First of all we visited the museum, where there is a large collection of marble and bronze figures, vases, and all sorts of such like antiques. Here we had once more an opportunity of enlarging our knowledge; and the trunk of a Jupiter, with which I was already acquainted through a cast in Tischbein's studio, particularly ravished me. It possesses merits far higher than I am able to estimate. An inmate of the house gave us all necessary historical information. After this we passed into a spacious and lofty saloon. The many chairs around and against the walls indicated that a numerous company was often assembled here. We seated ourselves in hope of a favourable reception. Soon afterward two ladies entered, and walked several times up and down the room. From time to time they spoke to each other. When they observed us, the abbé rose: I did the same; and we both bowed. I asked, "Who are they?" and learned that the younger was the daughter of the prince, but the elder a noble lady of Catania. We resumed our seats, while they continued to walk up and down as people do in a market-place.
We were now conducted to the prince, who (as I had been already given to understand) honoured me with a singular mark of his confidence in showing me his collection of coins, since, by such acts of kindness, both his father and himself had lost many a rare specimen; and so his general good nature, and wish to oblige, had been naturally much contracted. On this occasion I probably appeared a little better informed than formerly, for I had learned something from the examination of Prince Torremuzza's collection. I again contrived to enlarge my knowledge, being greatly helped by Winckelmann's never failing clues, which safely led the way through all the different epochs of art. The prince, who was well informed in all these matters, when he saw that he had before him not a connoisseur, but an attentive amateur, willingly informed me of every particular that I found it necessary to ask about.
After having given to these matters considerable time, but still far less than they deserved, we were on the point of taking our leave, when the prince conducted us to the princess, his mother, in whose apartments the smaller works of art are to be seen.
We found a venerable, naturally noble lady, who received us with the words, "Pray look round my room, gentlemen: here you still see all that my late husband collected and arranged for me. This I owe to the affection of my son, who not only allows me still to reside in his best room, but has even forbidden the least thing to be taken away or removed that his late father purchased for me and chose a place for. Thus I enjoy a double pleasure: not only have I been able these many years to live in my usual ways and habits, but have also, as formerly, the opportunity to see and form the acquaintance of those worthy strangers who come hither from widely distant places to examine our treasures."
She thereupon, with her own hands, opened for us the glass case in which the works in amber were preserved. Sicilian amber is distinguished from the northern by its passing from the transparent and nontransparent—from the wax and the honey-coloured—through all possible shades of a deep yellow, to the most beautiful hyacinthian red. In the case there were urns, cups, and other things, for executing which, large pieces of a marvellous size must have been necessary: for such objects, and also for cut shells such as are executed at Trapani, and also for exquisitely manufactured articles in ivory, the princess had an especial taste, and about some of them she had amusing stories to tell The prince called our attention to those of more solid value; and so several hours slipped away; not, however, without either amusement or edification.
In the course of our conversation, the princess discovered that we were Germans: she therefore asked us after Riedesel, Bartels, and Münter, all of whom she knew, and whose several characters she seemed well able to appreciate and to discriminate. We parted from her reluctantly; and she, too, seemed loath to bid us farewell An insular life has in it something very peculiar to be thus excited and refreshed by none but passing sympathies.
From the palace the abbé led us to the Benedictine Monastery, and took us to the cell of a brother of the order, whose reserved and melancholy expression (though he was not of more than middle age) promised but little of cheerful conversation. He was, however, the skilful musician who alone could manage the enormous organ in the church of this monastery. When he had rather guessed than waited to hear our request, he complied with it in silence. We proceeded to the very spacious church, where, sitting down at the glorious instrument, he made the softest notes whisper through its remotest corners, or filled the whole of it with the crash of the loudest tones.
If you had not previously seen the organist, you would fancy that none but a giant could exercise such power: as, however, we were already acquainted with his personal appearance, we only wondered that the necessary exertion had not long since worn him out.
Soon after dinner our abbé arrived with a carriage, and proposed to show us a distant part of the city. Upon getting in we had a strange dispute about precendence. Having entered first, I had seated myself on the left-hand side. As he ascended, he begged of me to move, and to take the right-hand seat. I begged him not to stand on such ceremony. "Pardon me," he replied, "and let us sit as I propose; for, if I take my place on your right, everybody will believe that I am taking a ride with you; but if I sit on your left it is thereby indicated that you are riding with me,—that is, with him who has, in the prince's name, to show you the city." To this nothing could, of course, be objected; and he was settled accordingly.
We drove up the streets where the lava, which in 1699 destroyed a great part of this city, remains visible to this day. The solid lava had been worked like any other rock: streets had even been marked out on its surface, and partly built. I placed under the seat of our carriage an undoubted specimen of the molten rock, remembering that just before my departure from Germany the dispute had arisen about the volcanic origin of basalt. And I did so in many other places, in order to have several varieties.
However, if natives had not proved themselves the friends of their own land,—had they not even laboured, either for the sake of profit or of science, to bring together whatever is remarkable in this neighbourhood,—the traveller would have had to trouble himself long and to little purpose. In Naples I had received much information from the lava dealer, but still more information got I here from the Chevalier Gioeni. In his rich and excellently arranged museum I learned more or less correctly to recognise the various phenomena of the lava of Ætna: the basalt at its foot, stones in a changed state,—everything, in fact, was pointed out to me in the most friendly manner. What I saw to be wondered at most were some zeolites from the rugged rocks which rise out of the sea below Jaci.
As we inquired of the chevalier which was the best course to take in order to ascend Ætna, he would not hear of so dangerous an attempt as trying to reach the summit, especially in the present season of the year. "Generally," he observed, begging my pardon, however, "the strangers who come here think far too lightly of the matter: we, however, who are neighbours of the mountain, are quite contented if, twice in our life, we hit on a very good opportunity to reach the summit, Brydone, who was the first to kindle by his description a desire to see this fiery peak, did not himself ascend it. Count Borch leaves his readers in uncertainty; but, in fact, even he ascended only to a certain height: and the same may be said of many others. At present the snow comes down far too low, and presents insuperable obstacles. If you will take my advice, you will ride very early some morning for Monte Rosso, and be contented with ascending this height. From it you will enjoy a splendid view of Ætna, and at the same time have an opportunity of observing the old lava, which, bursting out from that point in 1697, unhappily poured down upon the city. The view is glorious and distinct: it is best to listen to a description for all the rest."
Friday, May 4, 1787.
Following this good counsel, we set out early on a mule; and, continually looking behind us on our way, reached at last the region of the lava, as yet unchanged by time. Jagged lumps and slabs stared us in the face, among which a chance road had been tracked out by the beasts. We halted on the first considerable eminence. Kniep sketched with wonderful precision what lay before us. The masses of lava in the foreground, the double peak of Monte Rosso on the left, right before us the woods of Nicolosi, out of which rose the snow-capped and slightly smoking summit. We drew near to the Red Mountain. I ascended it. It is composed entirely of red volcanic rubbish, ashes, and stones heaped together. It would have been very easy to go round the mouth of the crater, had not a violent and stormy east wind made my footing unsteady. When I wished to go a little way, I was obliged to take off my cloak; and then my hat was every moment in danger of being blown into the crater, and I after it. On this account I sat down in order to recover myself, and to take a view of the surrounding objects; but even this position did not help me at all. The wind came direct from the east, over the glorious land, which far and near, and reaching to the sea, lay before me. The outstretched strand, from Messina to Syracuse, with its bays and headlands, was before my eyes, either quite open, or else (though only in a few small points) covered with rocks. When I came down quite numbed, Kniep, under the shelter of the hill, had passed his time well, and with a few light lines on the paper had perpetuated the memory of what the wild storm had allowed me scarcely to see, and still less to fix permanently in my mind.
Returned once more to the jaws of the Golden Lion, we found the waiter, whom we had with difficulty prevented from accompanying us. He praised our prudence in giving up the thought of visiting the summit, but urgently recommended for the next day a walk by the sea to the rocks of Jaci,—it was the most delightful pleasure-trip that could be made from Catania; but it would be well to take something to eat and drink with us, and also utensils for warming our viands. His wife offered herself to perform this duty. Moreover, he spoke of the jubilee there was when some Englishmen hired a boat, with a band of music to accompany them, which made it more delightful than it was possible to form any idea of.
The rocks of Jaci had a strong attraction for me: I had a strong desire to knock off from them as fine zeolites as I had seen in Gioeni's possession. It was true we might reduce the scale of the affair, and decline the attendance of the wife; but the warning of the Englishman prevailed over every other consideration. We gave up all thoughts of zeolites, and prided ourselves not a little on this act of self-denial.
Saturday, May 5, 1787.
Our clerical companion has not failed us to-day. He conducted us to some remains of ancient architecture; in examining which, however, the visitor needs to bring with him no ordinary talent of restoration. We saw the remains of the great cisterns of a naumachy, and other similar ruins, which, however, have been filled up and depressed through the many successive destructions of the city by lava, earthquakes, and wars. It is only those who are most accurately acquainted with the architecture of the ancients that can now derive either pleasure or instruction from seeing them.
The kind abbé engaged to make our excuses for not waiting again on the prince, and we parted with lively expressions of mutual gratitude and good will.
Sunday, May 6, 1787.
God be thanked that all that we have here seen this day has been already amply described, but still more, that Kniep has resolved to spend the whole of tomorrow in the open air, taking sketches. When you have ascended to the top of the wall of rocks which rise precipitously at no great distance from the sea, you find two peaks, connected by a semicircle. Whatever shape this may have had originally from Nature has been helped by the hand of man, which has formed out of it an amphitheatre for spectators. Walls and other buildings have furnished the necessary passages and rooms. Right across, at the foot of the semicircular range of seats, the scene was built; and by this means the two rocks were joined, and thus a most enormous work of nature and art was complete.
Now, sitting down at the spot where formerly sat the uppermost spectators, you confess at once that never did audience, in any theatre, have before them such a spectacle as you there behold. On the right, and on high rocks at the side, castles tower in the air: farther on, the city lies below you; and although its buildings are all of modern date, still, similar ones, no doubt, stood of old on the same site. After this the eye falls on the whole of the long ridge of Ætna; then on the left it catches a view of the seashore, as far as Catania, and even Syracuse; and then the wide and extensive view is closed by the immense smoking volcano, but not horribly, for the atmosphere, with its softening effect, makes it look more distant and milder than it really is.
If now you turn from this view toward the passage running at the back of the spectators, you have on the left the whole wall of the rocks between which and the sea runs the road to Messina. And then, again, you behold vast groups of rocky ridges in the sea itself, with the coast of Calabria in the far distance, which only a fixed and attentive gaze can distinguish from the clouds rising rapidly from it.
We descended toward the theatre, and tarried awhile among its ruins, on which an accomplished architect would do well to employ, at least on paper, his talent of restoration. After this I attempted to make a way for myself through the gardens to the city. But I soon learned by experience what an impenetrable bulwark is formed by a hedge of agaves planted close together. You can see through their interlacing leaves, and you think, therefore, it will be easy to force a way through them; but the prickles on their leaves are very sensible obstacles. If you step on these colossal leaves, in the hope that they will bear you, they break off suddenly; and so, instead of getting out, you fall into the arms of the next plant. When, however, at last we had wound our way out of the labyrinth, we found but little to enjoy in the city; though from the neighbouring country we felt it impossible to part before sunset. Infinitely beautiful was it to observe how this countryside, of which every point had its interest, was gradually enveloped in darkness.
Below Taormina: on the seashore,
Monday, May 7, 1787.
Kniep, whom, by good luck, I brought with me hither, cannot be praised enough for relieving me of a burden which would have been intolerable to me, and which goes directly counter to my nature. He has gone to sketch in detail the objects of which he took a general survey yesterday. He will have to point his pencil many a time, and I know not when he will have finished. I shall have it in my power to see all these sights again. At first I wished to ascend the height with him; but then, again, I was tempted to remain here. I sought a corner like the bird about to build its nest. In a sorry and neglected peasant's garden I have seated myself on the trunk of an orange-tree, and lost myself in reveries. Orange-branches on which a traveller can sit, sounds rather strangely; but seems quite natural when one knows that the orange-tree, left to nature, sends out, at a little distance from the root, twigs which in time become decided branches.
And so, thinking over again the plan of the "Nausicaa," I formed the idea of a dramatic concentration of the "Odyssey." I think the scheme is not impracticable, only it will be indispensable to keep clearly in view the difference of the drama and the epopee
Kniep has come down, quite happy and delighted, and has brought back with him two large sheets of drawing-paper, covered with the clearest outlines. Both will contribute to preserve in my mind a perpetual memory of these glorious days.
It must not be left unrecorded, that on this shore, and beneath the clearest sky, we looked around us, from a little balcony, and saw roses, and heard the nightingales. These we are told sing here during at least six months of the twelve.
The activity of the clever artist who accompanies me, and my own more desultory and feeble efforts, having now assured me the possession of well-selected sketches of the country and its most remarkable points (which, either in outline, or, if I like, in well-finished paintings, will be mine for ever), I yielded all the more to an impulse which has been daily growing in strength. I have felt an irresistible impulse to animate the glorious scenes by which I am surrounded,—the sea, the island, the heavens,—with appropriate poetical beings, and here, in and out of this locality, to finish a composition in a tone and spirit such as I have not yet produced. The clear sky, the smell of the sea, the halo which merges, as it were, into one, the sky, the headlands, and the sea,—all these afforded nourishment to my purpose; and whilst I wandered in those beautiful gardens, between blossoming hedges of oleander, and through arbours of fruit-bearing orange and citron trees, and between other trees and shrubs which were unknown to me, I felt the strange influence in the most agreeable way possible.
Convinced that for me there could be no better commentary on the "Odyssey" than even this very neighbourhood, I purchased a copy, and read it, after my own fashion, with incredible interest. But I was also excited by it to produce something of my own, which. strange as it seemed at the first look, became dearer and dearer, and at last took entire possession of me. For I entertained the idea of treating the story of Nausicaa as the subject of a tragedy.
It is impossible for me even to say what I should have been able to make of it, but I had quite settled the plan in my mind. The leading idea was to paint Nausicaa as an amiable and excellent maiden who, wooed by many suitors, but conscious of no preference, coldly rejected all advances, but falling in love with a remarkable stranger, suddenly alters her conduct, and compromises herself by an overhasty avowal of her affection, and consequently gives rise to a truly tragic situation. This simple fable might, I thought, be rendered highly interesting by an abundance of subordinate motives, and especially by the naval and insular character of the locality, and of the personages where and among whom the scene would be laid, and by the peculiar tone it would thence assume.
The first act began with the game at ball. The unexpected acquaintance is made: the scruple to lead him herself into the city is already the harbinger of her love.
The second act unfolds the characters of the household of Alcinous, and of the suitors, and ends with the arrival of Ulysses.
The third is devoted entirely to exhibiting the greatness and merits of the newcomer; and I hoped to be able, in the course of the dialogue (which was to bring out the history of his adventures), to produce a truly artistic and agreeable effect by representing the various ways in which this story was received by his several hearers. During the narrative, the passions were to be heightened, and Nausicaa's lively sympathy with the stranger to be thrown out more and more by conflicting feelings.
In the fourth act, Ulysses (off the scene) gives convincing proofs of his valour; while the women remain, and give full scope to their likings, their hopes, and all other tender emotions. The high favour in which the stranger stands with all, makes it impossible for Nausicaa to restrain her own feelings, and she thus becomes irreparably compromised with her own people, Ulysses, who, partly innocent, partly to blame, is the cause of all this, now announces his intention to depart; and nothing remains for the unhappy Nausicaa, but in the fifth act to seek for an end of existence.
In this composition there was nothing but what I would have been able to depict from nature after my own experience. Even while travelling—even in peril—to excite favourable feelings, which, although they did not end tragically, might yet prove painful enough, and perhaps dangerous, and would, at all events, leave deep wounds behind; even the supposed accidents of describing in lively colours, for the entertainment of others, objects observed at a great distance from home, travelling adventures and chances of life; to be looked upon by the young as a demigod, but by the more sedate as a talker of rhodomontade, and to meet now with unexpected favour, and now with unexpected rebuffs,—all this caused me to feel so great an attachment to this plan, that, in thinking of it, I dreamed away all the time of my stay at Palermo, and, indeed, of all the rest of my Sicilian tour. It was this that made me care little for all the inconvenience and discomfort I met with; for, on this classic ground, a poetic vein had taken possession of me, causing all I saw, experienced, or observed, to be taken and regarded in a joyous mood.
After my usual habit, good or bad, I wrote down little or nothing of the play; but worked in my mind most of it with all the minutest detail. And there, in my mind, pushed out of thought by many subsequent distractions, it has remained until this moment, when, however, I can recollect nothing but a very faint idea of it.
On the road to Messina.
High limestone rocks on the left. They become more deeply coloured as you advance, and form many beautiful caves. Presently there commences a sort of rock which may be called clay slate, or sandstone (graywacke). In the brooks you now meet pebbles of granite. The yellow apples of the solanum, the red flowers of the oleander, give beauty to the landscape. The little stream of Nisi brings down with it mica-pebbles, as do also all the streams we reached afterward.
Wednesday, May 9, 1787.
Beaten by a stormy east wind, we rode between the raging sea on the right, and the wall of rocks from the top of which we were looking down yesterday; but this day we have been continually at war with the water. We had to cross innumerable brooks, of which the largest bears the honourable title of river. However, these streams, as well as the gravel which they bring down with them, were easier to buffet with than the sea, which was raging violently, and at many places dashed right over the road, against the rocks, which threw back the thick spray on the travellers. It was a glorious sight, and its rarity made us quite ready to put up with all its inconvenience.
At the same time there was no lack of objects for the mineralogical observer. Enormous masses of limestone, undermined by the wind and waves, fall from time to time; the softer particles are worn away by the continual motion of the waves, while the harder substances imbedded in them are left behind; and so the whole strand is strewn with variegated flints verging on the hornstone, I selected and carried off many a specimen.
Thursday, May 10, 1787.
And so at last we arrived in Messina, where, as we knew of no lodging, we made up our minds to pass the first night at the quarters of our vetturino, and look out for a more comfortable habitation in the morning. In consequence of this resolution, our first entrance gave us the terrible idea of entering a ruined city; for, during a whole quarter of an hour as we rode along we passed ruin after ruin, before we reached the auberge, which, being the only new building that has sprung up in this quarter, opens to you from its first-story window a view of nothing but a rugged waste of ruins. Beyond the circle of the stable-yard not a living being of any kind was to be seen. During the night the stillness was frightful. The doors would neither bolt nor even close. There was no more provision here for the entertainment of human guests than at any other of the similar posting-stations: however, we slept very comfortably on a mattress which our vetturino took away from beneath the very body of our host.
Friday, May 11, 1787.
To-day our worthy muleteer left us, and a good largesse rewarded him for his attentive services. We parted very amicably, after he had first procured us a servant to take us at once to the best inn in the place, and afterward to show us whatever was at all remarkable in Messina. Our first host, in order that his wish to get rid of us might be gratified as quickly as possible, helped to carry our boxes and other packages to a pleasant lodging nearer to the inhabited portion of the city,—that is to say, beyond the city itself. The following description will give some idea of it. The terrible calamity which visited Messina, and swept away twelve thousand of its inhabitants, did not leave behind it a single dwelling for the thirty thousand who survived. Most of the houses were entirely thrown down: the cracked and shaking walls of the others made them quite unsafe to live in. On the extensive meads, therefore, to the north of Messina, a city of planks was hastily erected, of which any one will quickly form an idea, who has ever seen the Römerberg at Frankfort during the fair, or passed through the market-place at Leipzig; for all the retail houses and workshops are open toward the street, and the chief business is carried on in front of them. Therefore, there are but few of the larger houses even that are particularly well closed against publicity. Thus they have been hving for three years; and the habits engendered by such booth-like, hut-like, and, indeed, tent-like dwellings, has had a decided influence on the character of the occupants. The horror caused by this unparallelled event, the dread of its recurrence, impels them with light-hearted cheerfulness to enjoy to the utmost the passing moment. A dreadful expectation of a fresh calamity was excited on the 21st of April—only twenty days ago, that is—by an earthquake which again sensibly shook the ground. We were shown a small church where a multitude of people were crowded together at the very moment, and perceived the trembling. Some persons who were present at the time do not appear even yet to have recovered from their fright.
In seeking out and visiting these spots, we were accompanied by a friendly consul, who spontaneously put himself to much trouble on our account,—a kindness to be gratefully acknowledged in this wilderness more than in any other place. At the same time, having learned that we were soon about to leave, he informed us that a French merchantman was on the point of sailing for Naples. The news was doubly welcome, as the flag of France is a protection against the pirates.
We made our kind cicerone aware of our desire to examine the inside of one of the larger (though still one-storied) huts, and to see their plain and extemporised economy. Just at this moment we were joined by an agreeable person, who presently described himself to be a teacher of French. After finishing our walk, the consul made known to him our wish to look at one of these buildings, and requested him to take us home with him and show us his.
We entered the hut, of which the sides and roof consisted alike of planks. The impression it left on the eye was exactly that of one of the booths in a fair, where wild beasts or other curiosities are exhibited. The timber-work of the walls and the roof was quite open. A green curtain divided off the front room, which was not covered with deals, but the natural floor was left just as in a tent. There were some chairs and a table, but no other article of domestic furniture. The space was lighted from above by the openings which had been accidentally left in the roofing. We stood talking together for some time, while I contemplated the green curtain, and the roof within, which was visible over it, when all of a sudden, from the other side of the curtain, two lovely girls' heads, black-eyed and black-haired, peeped over, full of curiosity, but vanished again as soon as they saw they were perceived. However, upon being asked for by the consul, after the lapse of just so much time as was necessary to adorn themselves, they came forward, and with their well-dressed and neat little bodies crept before the green tapestry. From their questions we clearly perceived that they looked upon us as fabulous beings from another world, in which most amiable delusion our answers must have gone far to confirm them. The consul gave a merry description of our singular appearance: the conversation was so very agreeable, that we found it hard to part with them. Not until we had got out of the door, it occurred to us that we had not seen the inner rooms, and, being entirely taken up with its fair inhabitants, had forgotten all about the construction of the house.
Saturday, May 12, 1787.
Among other things, we were told by the consul, that although it was not indispensably necessary, still it would be as well to pay our respects to the governor, a strange old man, who, by his humours and prejudices, might as readily injure as benefit us: that it always told in his (the consul's) favour if he introduced distinguished personages to the governor; and besides, no stranger arriving here can tell whether sometime or other he may not somehow or other require the assistance of this personage. So, to please my friend, I went with him.
As we entered the antechamber, we heard in the inner room a most horrible hubbub. A footman, with a very Punch-like expression of countenance, whispered in the consul's ear, "An ill day—a dangerous moment!" However, we entered, and found the governor, a very old man, sitting at a table near the window, with his back turned toward us. Large piles of old discoloured letters were lying before him, from which, with the greatest sedateness, he went on cutting out the unwritten portion of the paper,—thus giving pretty strong proofs of his love of economy. During this peaceful occupation, however, he was fearfully rating and cursing away at a respectable-looking personage, who, to judge from his costume, was probably connected with Malta, and who, with great coolness and precision of manner, was defending himself, for which, however, he was afforded but little opportunity. Though thus rated and scolded, he yet with great self- possession endeavoured, by appealing to his passport and to his well-known connections in Naples, to remove a suspicion which the governor, as it would appear, had formed against him as coming and going without any apparent business. All this, however, was of no use: the governor went on cutting his old letters, and carefully separating the clean paper, and scolding all the while.
Besides ourselves, there were about twelve other persons in the room, spectators of the bull-baiting, standing hovering in a very wide circle, and apparently envying us our proximity to the door as a desirable position, should the passionate old man seize his crutch, and strike away right and left. During this scene our good consul's face had lengthened considerably: for my part, my courage was kept up by the grimaces of a footman, who, though just outside the door, was close to me, and, as often as I turned round, made the drollest gestures to appease my alarm, by indicating that all this did not matter much.
And indeed the awful affair was quickly brought to an end. The old man suddenly closed it with observing that there was nothing to prevent him clapping the Maltese in prison, and letting him cool his heels in a cell. However, he would pass it over this time: he might stay in Messina the few days he had spoken of, but after that he must pack off, and never show his face there again. Very coolly, and without the slightest change of countenance, the object of suspicion took his leave, gracefully saluting the assembly, and ourselves in particular, as he passed through the crowd to get to the door. As the governor turned round fiercely, intending to add yet another menace, he caught sight of us, and immediately recovering himself, nodded to the consul, upon which he stepped forward to introduce me.
The governor was a person of very great age: his head bent forward on his chest, while from beneath his gray shaggy brows, black sunken eyes cast forth stealthy glances. Now, however, he was quite different from what he had been a few moments before. He begged me to be seated; and still uninterruptedly pursuing his occupation, asked me many questions, which I duly answered, and concluded by inviting me to dine with him as long as I should remain here. The consul, as well satisfied as myself, nay, even more so, since he knew better than I the danger we had escaped, made haste to descend the stairs; and, for my part, I had no desire ever again to approach the lion's den.
Sunday, May 13, 1787.
Waking this morning, we found ourselves in a much more pleasant apartment, and with the sun shining brightly, but still in poor, afflicted Messina. Singularly unpleasant is the view of the so-called Palazzata, a crescent-shaped row of real palaces, which for nearly a quarter of a league encloses and marks out the roadstead. All were built of stone, and four stories high. Of several, the whole front, up to the cornice of the roof, is still standing, while others have been thrown down as low as the first, or second, or third story; so that this once splendid line of buildings exhibits at present, with its many chasms and perforations, a strangely revolting appearance, for the blue heaven may be seen through almost every window. The interior apartments in all are utterly destroyed and fallen.
One cause of this singular phenomenon is the fact that the splendid architectural edifices erected by the rich tempted their less wealthy neighbours to vie with them, in appearance at least, and to hide, behind a new front of cut stone, the old houses, which had been built of larger and smaller rubble-stones, kneaded together and cousolidated with plenty of mortar. This joining, not much to be trusted at any time, was quickly loosened and dissolved by the terrible earthquake. The whole fell together. Among the many singular instances of wonderful preservation which occurred in this calamity, they tell the following: the owner of one of these houses had, exactly at the awful moment, entered the recess of a window, while the whole house fell together behind him; and there, suspended aloft, but safe, he calmly awaited the moment of his liberation from his airy prison. That this style of building, which was adopted in consequence of there not being any quarries in the neighbourhood, was the principal cause why the ruin of the city was so total as it was, is proved by the fact that the houses which were of a more solid masonry are still standing. The Jesuits' College and Church, which are solidly built of cut stone, are still standing uninjured, with their original substantial fabric unimpaired. But whatever may be the cause, the appearance of Messina is most oppressive, and reminds one of the times when the Sicani and Siculi abandoned this restless and treacherous district, to occupy the western coast of the island.
After passing the morning in viewing these ruins, we entered our inn to take a frugal meal. We were still sitting at table, feeling quite comfortable, when the consul's servant rushed breathless into the room, declaring that the governor had been looking for me all over the city: he had invited me to dinner, and yet I was absent. The consul earnestly entreated me to go immediately, whether I had dined or not,—whether I had allowed the hour to pass through forgetfulness or design. I now felt, for the first time, how childish and silly it was to allow my joy at my first escape to banish all further recollection of the Cyclop's invitation. The servant did not let me loiter: his representations were most urgent and most direct to the point; if I did not go the consul would be in danger of suffering all that this furious despot might choose to inflict upon him and his countrymen.
Whilst I was arranging my hair and dress, I took courage, and, with a lighter heart, followed, invoking Ulysses as my patron saint, and begging him to intercede in my behalf with Pallas Athène.
Arrived at the lion's den, I was conducted by a fine footman into a large dining-room, where about forty people were sitting at an oval table, without, however, a word being spoken. The place on the governor's right was unoccupied, and to it was I conducted accordingly.
Having saluted the host and his guests with a low bow, I took my seat by his side, excused my delay by the vast size of the city, and by the mistakes which the unusual way of reckoning the time had so often caused me to make. With a fiery look, he replied, that if a person visited foreign countries, he ought to make a point to learn its customs, and to guide his movements accordingly. To this I answered, that such was invariably my endeavour, only I had found that, in a strange locality, and amidst totally new circumstances, one invariably fell at first, even with the very best intentions, into errors which might appear unpardonable, but for the kindness which readily accepted in excuse for them the plea of the fatigue of travelling, the distraction of new objects, the necessity of providing for one's bodily comforts, and, indeed, of preparing for one's further travels.
Hereupon he asked me how long I thought of remaining. I answered that I should like, if it were possible, to stay here for a considerable period, in order to have the opportunity of attesting, by my close attention to his orders and commands, my gratitude for the favour he had shown me. After a pause he inquired what I had seen in Messina? I detailed to him my morning's occupation, with some remarks on what I had seen, adding that what most had struck me was the cleanliness and good order in the streets of this devastated city. And, in fact, it was highly admirable to observe how all the streets had been cleared by throwing the rubbish among the fallen fortifications, and by piling up the stones against the houses, by which means the middle of the streets had been made perfectly free and open for trade and traffic. And this gave me an opportunity to pay a well-deserved compliment to his Excellency, by observing that all the Messinese thankfully acknowledged that they owed this convenience entirely to his care and forethought. "They acknowledge it, do they," he growled: "well, every one at first complained loudly enough of the hardship of being compelled to take his share of the necessary labour." I made some general remarks upon the wise intentions and lofty designs of government being only slowly understood and appreciated, and on similar topics. He asked if I had seen the Church of the Jesuits; and when I said no, he rejoined that he would cause it to be shown to me in all its splendour.
During this conversation, which was interrupted with a few pauses, the rest of the company, I observed, maintained a deep silence, scarcely moving except so far as was absolutely necessary in order to place the food in their mouths. And so, too, when dinner was over, and coffee served, they stood round the walls like so many wax dolls. I went up to the chaplain, who was to show me the church, and began to thank him in advance for the trouble. However, he moved off, after humbly assuring me that the command of his Excellency was in his eyes all-sufficient. Upon this I turned to a young stranger who stood near, who, however, Frenchman as he was, did not seem to be at all at his ease; for he, too, seemed to be struck dumb and petrified, like the rest of the company, among whom I recognised many faces who had been anything but willing witnesses of yesterday's scene.
The governor moved to a distance; and, after a little while, the chaplain observed to me that it was time to be going. I followed him: the rest of the company had silently one by one disappeared. He led me to the gate of the Jesuits' Church, which rises in the air with all the splendour and really imposing effect of the architecture of these fathers. A porter came immediately toward us, and invited us to enter; but the priest held me back, observing that we must wait for the governor. The latter presently arrived in his carriage, and, stopping in the piazza, not far from the church, nodded to us to approach, whereupon all three advanced toward him. He gave the porter to understand that it was his command that he should not only show me the church and all its parts, but should also tell me in full the histories of the several altars and chapels; and, moreover, that he should open to me all the sacrists, and show me their remarkable contents. I was a person to whom he was to show all honour, and who must have every cause to speak well and honourably of Messina on his return home. "Fail not," he then said, turning to me with as much of a smile as his features were capable of,—"Fail not as long as you are here to be at my dinner-table in good time. You shall always find a hearty welcome." I had scarcely time to make him a most respectful reply before the carriage moved on.
From this moment the chaplain became more cheerful, and we entered the church. The castellan (for so we may well name him) of this fairy palace, so little suited to the worship of God, set to work to fulfil the duty so sharply enjoined to him, when Kniep and the consul rushed into the empty sanctuary, and gave vent to passionate expressions of their joy at seeing me again, and at liberty, who, they had believed, would by this time have been in safe custody. They had sat in agonies until the roguish footman (whom probably the consul had well feed) came and related, with a hundred grimaces, the issue of the affair; upon which excessive joy took possession of them, and they at once set out to seek me, as their informant had made known to them the governor's kind intentions with regard to the church, and thereby gave them a hope of finding me.
We now stood before the high altar, listening to the enumeration of the ancient rarities with which it was inlaid: pillars of lapis lazuli fluted, as it were, with bronzed and with gilded rods; pilasters and panellings after the Florentine fashion; gorgeous Sicilian agates in abundance; with bronze and gilding perpetually recurring and joining the whole.
And now commenced a wondrous counterpointed fugue. Kniep and the consul, dilating on the perplexities of the late incident, and the showman, enumerating the costly articles of the well-preserved splendour, broke in alternately, both fully possessed with their subject. This afforded a twofold gratification. I became sensible how lucky was my escape, and at the same time had the pleasure of seeing the productions of the Sicilian mountains, on which, in their native state, I had already bestowed attention, here worked up and employed for architectural purposes.
My accurate acquaintance with the several elements of which this splendour was composed, helped me to discover that what was called lapis lazuli in these columns was probably nothing but calcara, though calcara of a more beautiful colour than I remember to have ever seen, and withal most incomparably pieced together. But even such as they are, these pillars are still most highly to be prized; for it is evident that an immense quantity of this material must have been collected before so many pieces of such beautiful and similar tints could be selected; and, in the next place, considerable pains and labour must have been expended in cutting, splitting, and polishing the stone. But what task was ever too great for the industry of these fathers?
During my inspection of these rarities, the consul never ceased enlightening me on the danger with which I had been menaced. The governor, he said, not at all pleased, that, on my very first introduction to him, I should have been a spectator of his violence toward the quasi Maltese, had resolved, within himself, to pay me especial attention; and, with this view, he had settled in his own mind a regular plan, which, however, had received a considerable check from my absence at the very moment in which it was first to be carried into effect. After waiting a long while, the despot at last sat down to dinner, without, however, being able to conceal his vexation and annoyance, so that the company were in dread lest they should witness a scene either on my arrival or on our rising from table.
Every now and then the sacristan managed to put in a word, opened the secret chambers, which are built in beautiful proportion, and elegantly, not to say splendidly, ornamented. In them were to be seen all the movable furniture and costly utensils of the church still remaining, and these corresponded in shape and decoration with all the rest. Of the precious metals I observed nothing, and just as little of genuine works of art, whether ancient or modern.
Our mixed Italian-German fugue (for the good father and the sacristan chaunted in the former tongue, while Kniep and the consul responded in the latter) came to an end just as we were joined by an officer whom I remembered to have seen at the dinner-table. He belonged to the governor's suite. His appearance was certainly calculated to excite anxiety, and not the less so as he offered to conduct me to the harbour, where he would take me to certain parts which generally were inaccessible to strangers. My friends looked at one another: however, I did not let myself be deterred by their suspicions from going alone with him. After some talk about indifferent matters, I began to address him more familiarly, and confessed that during dinner I had observed many of the silent party making friendly signs to me, and giving me to understand that I was not among mere strangers and men of the world, but among friends, and, indeed, brothers; and that, therefore, I had nothing to fear. I felt it a duty to thank and to request him to be the bearer of similar expressions of gratitude to the rest of the company. To all this he replied, that they had sought to calm any apprehensions I might have felt, because, well acquainted as they were with the character of their host, they were convinced that there was really no cause for alarm: for explosions like that with the Maltese were but very rare; and when they did happen, the worthy old man always blamed himself afterward, and would for a long time keep watch over his temper, and go on for awhile in the calm and assured performance of his duty, until at last some unexpected rencontre would surprise and carry him away by a fresh outbreak of passion.
My valiant friend further added, that nothing was more desired by him and his companions than to bind themselves to me by a still closer tie; and therefore he begged that I would have the great kindness of letting them know where it might be done this evening, most conveniently to myself. I courteously declined the proffered honour, and begged him to humour a whim of mine, which made me wish to be looked upon during my travels merely as a man: if as such I could excite the confidence and sympathy of others, it would be most agreeable to me, and what I wished most; but that various reasons forbade me to form other connections.
Convince him I could not, for I did not venture to tell him what was really my motive. However, it struck me as remarkable, that, under so despotic a government, these kind-hearted persons should have formed so excellent and so innocent a union for mutual protection, and for the benefit of strangers. I did not conceal from him the fact, that I was well aware of the ties subsisting between them and other German travellers, and expatiated at length on the praiseworthy objects they had in view, and so only caused him to feel still more surprised at my obstinacy. He tried every possible inducement to draw me out of my incognito. However, he did not succeed, partly, because, having just escaped one danger, I was not inclined for any object whatever to run into another; and partly because I was well aware that the views of these worthy islanders were so very different from my own, that any closer intimacy with them could lead to neither pleasure nor comfort.
On the other hand, I willingly spent a few hours with our well-wishing and active consul, who now enlightened us as to the scene with the Maltese. The latter was not really a mere adventurer: still, he was a restless person, who was never happy in one place. The governor, who was of a great family, and highly honoured for his sincerity and habits of business, and also greatly esteemed for his former important services, was, nevertheless, notorious for his illimitable self-will, his unbridled passion, and unbending obstinacy. Suspicious, both as an old man and a tyrant, more anxious lest he should have, than convinced that he really had, enemies at court, he looked upon as spies, and hated, all persons who, like this Maltese, were continually coming and going, without any ostensible business. This time the red cloak had crossed him, when, after a considerable period of quiet, it was necessary for him to give vent to his passion, in order to relieve his mind.
Monday, May 14, 1787.
Both Kniep and myself awoke with the same feelings: both felt annoyed that we had allowed ourselves, under the first impression of disgust which the desolate appearance of Messina had excited, to form the hasty determination of leaving it with the French merchantman. The happy issue of my adventure with the governor, the acquaintance which I had formed with certain worthy individuals, and which it only remained for me to render more intimate, and a visit I had paid to my banker, whose country-house was situated in a most delightful spot,—all this afforded a prospect of our being able to spend most agreeably a still longer time in Messina. Kniep, quite taken up with two pretty little children, wished for nothing more than that the adverse wind, which in any other case would be disagreeable enough, might still last for some time. Meanwhile, however, our position was disagreeable enough: all had to remain packed up, and we ourselves to be ready for starting at a moment's warning.
And so, at last, about midday the summons came; and we hastened on board, and found among the crowd collected on the shore our worthy consul, from whom we took our leave with many thanks. The sallow footman, also, pressed forward to receive his douceur. He was accordingly duly rewarded, and charged to mention to his master the fact of our departure, and excuse our absence from dinner. "He who sails away is at once excused," exclaimed he; and then turning round with a very singular spring, quickly disappeared.
In the ship itself things looked very different from what they had done in the Neapolitan corvette. However, as we gradually stood off from the shore, we were quite taken up with the glorious view presented by the circular line of the Palazzata, the citadel, and by the mountains which rose behind the city. Calabria was on the other side. And then the wide prospect northwards and southwards over the straits, — a broad expanse indeed, but still shut in on both sides by a beautiful shore. While we were admiring these objects, one after another, our attention was diverted to a certain commotion in the water, at a tolerable distance on the left hand, and still nearer on the right, to a rock distinctly separate from the shore. They were Scylla and Charybdis. These remarkable objects, which in nature stand so wide apart, but which the poet has brought so close together, have furnished occasion to many to make grave complaints of the fabling of poetry. Such grumblers, however, do not duly consider that the imaginative faculty invariably depicts the objects it would represent as grand and impressive, with a few striking touches rather than in fulness of detail, and that thereby it lends to the image more of character, solemnity, and dignity. A thousand times have I heard the complaint that the objects for a knowledge of which we are originally indebted to description, invariably disappoint us when we see them with our own eyes. The cause is, in every case, the same. Imagination and reality stand in the same relation to each other as poetry and prose do: the former invariably conceives of its objects as powerful and elevated, the latter loves to dilate and expand them. A comparison of the landscape painters of the sixteenth century with those of our own day will strikingly illustrate my meaning. A drawing of Iodocus Momper, by the side of one of Kniep's outlines, would at once make the contrast intelligible.
With such and similar discourses we contrived to amuse ourselves; as the coasts were not attractive enough even for Kniep, notwithstanding his having prepared everything for sketching.
As to myself, however, I was again attacked with seasickness; but this time the unpleasant feeling was not relieved by separation and privacy, as it was on our passage over. However, the cabin was large enough to hold several persons, and there was no lack of good mattresses. I again resumed the horizonal position, in which I was diligently tended by Kniep, who administered to me plenty of red wine and good bread. In this position our Sicilian expedition presented itself to my mind in no very agreeable light. On the whole, we had really seen nothing but traces of the utterly vain struggle which the human race makes to maintain itself against the violence of Nature, against the malicious spite of Time, and against the rancour of its own unhappy divisions. The Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, and the many other races which followed in succession, built and destroyed. Selinus lies methodically overthrown by art and skill; two thousand years have not sufficed to throw down the temples of Girgenti; a few hours — nay, a few minutes — were sufficient to overwhelm Catania and Messina. These seasick fancies, however, I did not allow to take possession of a mind tossed up and down on the waves of life.
Tuesday, May 15, 1787.
My hope of having a quicker passage back to Naples, or at least of recovering sooner from my seasickness, has been disappointed. Several times I attempted, at Kniep's recommendation, to go up on deck: however, all enjoyment of the varying beauty of the scene was denied me. Only one or two incidents had power to make me forget awhile my giddiness. The whole sky was overcast with a thin, vapoury cloud, through which the sun (whose disk, however, was not discernible) illuminated the sea, which was of the most beautiful blue colour that ever was seen. A troop of dolphins accompanied the ship: swimming or leaping they managed to keep up with it. I could not help fancying, that in the deep water, and at the distance, our floating edifice must have seemed to them a black point, and that they had hurried toward it as to a welcome piece of booty and consumption. However that may be, the sailors did not treat them as kind guides, but rather as enemies: one was hit with a harpoon, but not hauled on deck.
The wind continued unfavourable; and, by continually tacking and manœuvring, we only just managed not to lose way. Our impatience at this only increased when some experienced persons among the passengers declared that neither the captain nor the steersman understood their business. The one might do very well as captain, and the other as a mariner: they were, however, not fit to be trusted with the lives of so many passengers and such a valuable freight.
I begged these otherwise most doughty personages to keep their fears to themselves. The number of passengers was very great, and among them were several women and children of all ages; for every one had crowded on board the French merchantman, without a thought of anything but of the protection from the pirates which the white flag assured to them. I therefore represented to these parties that the expression of their distrust and anxiety would plunge in the greatest alarm those poor folks who had hitherto placed all their hopes of safety in the piece of uncoloured and unemblazoned linen.
And in reality, between sky and sea this white streamer, as a decided talisman, is singular enough. As parting friends greet each other with their white waving handkerchiefs, and so excite in their bosoms a mutual feeling — which nothing else could call forth — of love and affection divided for awhile, so here in this simple flag the custom is consecrated. It is even as if one had fixed a handkerchief on the mast to proclaim to all the world, "Here comes a friend from across the sea."
Revived from time to time with a little wine and bread, to the annoyance of the captain, who said that I ought to eat what was bargained for, I was able at last to sit on deck, and occasionally take part in the conversation. Kniep managed to cheer me, for he could not this time, by boasting of the excellent fare, excite my energy: on the contrary, he was obliged to extol my good luck in having no appetite.
Wednesday, May 16,
and Thursday, May 17, 1787.
And thus midday passed without our being able, as we wished, to get into the Bay of Naples. On the contrary, we were continually driven more and more to the west; and our vessel, nearing the island of Capri, kept getting farther from Cape Minerva. Every one was annoyed and impatient: we two, however, who could contemplate the world with a painter's eye, had enough to content us, when the setting sun presented for our enjoyment the most beautiful prospect that we had yet witnessed during our whole tour. Cape Minerva, with the mountains which abut on it, lay before our eyes in the brilliant colouring of sunset; while the rocks which stretched southwards from the headland had already assumed a bluish tint. The whole coast, stretching from the cape to Sorrento, was gloriously lit up. Vesuvius was visible: an immense cloud of smoke stood above it like a tower, and sent out a long streak southward, — the result, probably, of a violent eruption. On the left lay Capri, rising perpendicularly in the air; and, by the help of the transparent blue halo, we were able distinctly to trace the forms of its rocky walls. Beneath a perfectly clear and cloudless sky, glittered the calm, scarcely rippling sea, which at last, when the wind died away, lay before us exactly like a clear pool. We were enraptured with the sight. Kniep regretted that all the colours of art were inadequate to convey an idea of this harmony, and that not even the finest of English pencils would enable the most practised hand to give the delicacy of the outline. I, for my part, convinced that to possess even a far poorer memorial of the scene than this clever artist could produce, would greatly contribute to my future enjoyment, exhorted him to strain both his hand and eye for the last time. He allowed himself to be persuaded, and produced a most accurate drawing (which he afterward coloured); and so bequeathed to me a proof, that to truly artistic powers of delineation, the impossible becomes the possible. With equally attentive eyes we watched the transition from evening to night. Capri now lay quite black before us; and, to our astonishment, the smoke of Vesuvius turned into flame, as, indeed, did the whole streak, which, the longer we observed it, became brighter and brighter. At last we saw a considerable region of the atmosphere, forming, as it were, the background of our natural picture, lit up, and, indeed, lightening.
We were so entirely occupied with these welcome scenes, that we did not notice that we were in great danger. However, the commotion among the passengers did not allow us to continue long in ignorance of it. Those who were better acquainted with maritime affairs than ourselves were bitterly reproaching the captain and his steersman. By their bungling, they said, they had not only missed the mouth of the straits, but they were very nigh losing the lives of all the passengers entrusted to them, cargo and all. We inquired into the grounds of these apprehensions, especially as we could not conceive how, during a perfect calm, there could be any cause for alarm. But it was this very calm that rendered these people so inconsolable. "We are," they said, "in the current which runs round the island, and which, by a slow but irresistible ground-swell, will draw us against the rugged rocks, where there is neither the slightest footing, nor the least cove to save ourselves by.
Made more attentive by these declarations, we contemplated our fate with horror. For, although the deepening night did not allow us to distinguish the approach of danger, still we observed that the ship, as it rolled and pitched, was gradually nearing the rocks, which grew darker and darker upon the eye, while a light evening glow was still playing on the water. Not the slightest movement was to be discerned in the air. Handkerchiefs and light ribbons were constantly being held up, but not the slightest indication of the much desired breath of wind was discernible. The tumult became every moment louder and wilder. The women with their children were on deck praying, not indeed on their knees, for there was scarcely room for them to move, but lying close pressed one upon another. Every now and then, too, they would rate and scold the captain more harshly and more bitterly than the men, who were calmer, thinking over every chance of helping and saving the vessel. They reproached him with everything, which, during the passage up to this point, had been borne with silence, — the bad accommodation; the high passage-money; the scanty bill of fare; his own manners, which, if not absolutely surly, were certainly forbidding enough. He would not give an account of his proceedings to any one: indeed, ever since the evening before he had maintained a most obstinate silence as to his plans, and what he was doing with his vessel. He and the steersman were called mere money-making adventurers, who, having no knowledge at all of navigation, had managed to buy a packet with a mere view to profit, and now, by their incapacity and bungling, were on the point of losing all that had been entrusted to their care. The captain, however, maintained his usual silence under all these reproaches, and appeared to be giving all his thoughts to the chances of saving his ship. As for myself, since I had always felt a greater horror of anarchy than of death itself, I found it quite impossible to hold my tongue any longer. I went up to the noisy railers, and addressed them with almost as much composure of mind as the rogues of Malsesine. I represented to them, that, by their shrieking and bawling, they must confound both the ears and the brains of those on whom all at this moment depended for our safety, so that they could neither think nor communicate with one another. All you have to do, I said, is to calm yourselves, and then to offer up a fervent prayer to the Mother of God, asking her to intercede with her blessed Son to do for you what he did for his apostles when on Lake Tiberias. The waves broke over the boat while the Lord slept, but who, when, helpless and inconsolable, they awoke him, commanded the winds to be still, and who, if it is only his heavenly will, can even now command the winds to rise.
These few words had the best effect. One of the men, with whom I had previously had some conversation on moral and religious subjects, exclaimed, "Ah, il Balarmé! Benedetto il Balarmé!" and they actually began, as they were already prostrate on their knees, to go over their rosaries with more than usual fervour. They were able to do this with the greater calmness, as the sailors were now trying an expedient, the object of which was, at any rate, apparent to every eye. The boat (which would not, however, hold more than six or eight men) was let down, and fastened by a long rope to the ship, which, by dint of hard rowing, they hoped to be able to tow after them. And, indeed, it was thought that they did move it within the current; and hopes began to be entertained of soon seeing the vessel towed entirely out of it. But whether their efforts increased the counter-action of the current, or whatever it was, the boat with its crew at the end of the hawser was suddenly drawn in a kind of a bow toward the vessel, forming with the long rope a kind of bow, — or just like the lash of a whip when the driver gives a blow with it. This plan, therefore, was soon given up. Prayer now began to alternate with weeping, — for our state began to appear alarming indeed, — when from the deck we could clearly distinguish the voices of the goatherds (whose fires on the rocks we had long seen), crying to one another, "There is a vessel stranding below." They also said something else, but the sounds were unintelligible to me: those, however, who understood their patois, interpreted them as exclamations of joy, to think of the rich booty they would reap in the morning. Thus the doubt we had entertained whether the ship was actually nearing the rocks, and in any immediate danger, was unfortunately too soon dispelled; and we saw the sailors preparing boat-poles and fenders, in order, should it come to the worst, to be ready to hold the vessel off the rocks, — so long, at least, as their poles did not break, in which case all would be inevitably lost. The ship now rolled more violently than ever, and the breakers seemed to increase upon us. And my sickness returning upon me in the midst of it all, made me resolve to return to the cabin. Half stupefied, I threw myself down on my mattress, still with a somewhat pleasant feeling, which seemed to me to come over from the sea of Tiberias, for the picture in Merian's pictorial Bible kept floating before my mind's eye. And so it is: our moral impressions invariably prove strongest in those moments when we are most driven back upon ourselves. How long I lay in this sort of half stupor I know not, for I was awakened by a great noise overhead: I could distinctly make out that it was caused by great ropes being dragged along the deck, and this gave me a hope that they were going to make use of the sails. A little while after this Kniep hurried down into the cabin to tell me that we were out of danger, for a gentle breeze had sprung up; that all hands had just been at work in hoisting the sails, and that he himself had not hesitated to lend a hand. We were visibly getting clear off the rocks; and, although we were not entirely out of the current, there was now good hope of our being able to make way against it. All was now still again overhead; and soon several more of the passengers came below to announce the happy turn of affairs, and to lie down.
When, on the fourth day of our voyage, I awoke early in the morning, I found myself quite fresh and well, just as I had been at the same period of the passage from Naples; so that on a longer voyage I may hope to get off free, after paying to the sea a three days' tribute of sickness.
From the deck I saw with no little delight the island of Capri, at a tolerable distance on our lee, and perceived that the vessel was holding such a course as afforded a hope of our being able ere long to enter the gulf, which, indeed, we very soon afterward accomplished. And now, after passing a hard night, we had the satisfaction of seeing the same objects as had charmed us so greatly the evening before, in a reversed light. We soon left this dangerous insular rock far behind us. While yesterday we had admired the right hand coast from a distance, now we had straight before us the castle and the city, with Posilippo on the left, together with the tongues of land which run out into the sea toward Procida and Ischia. Every one was on deck: foremost among them was a Greek priest, enthusiastic in the praises of his own dear East, but who, when the Neapolitans on board, who were rapturously greeting their glorious country, asked him what he thought of Naples as compared with Constantinople? very pathetically replied, "Anche questa è una città!" (This, too, is a city.)
We reached the harbour just at the right time, when it was thronged with people. No sooner were our trunks and the rest of our baggage unshipped and put on shore, when they were seized by two lusty porters, who, scarcely giving us time to say that we were going to put up at Moriconi's, ran off with the load as if with a prize, so that we had difficulty in keeping them in view as they darted through the crowded streets and bustling piazzas, Kniep kept his portfolio under his arm; and we consoled ourselves with thinking that the drawings at least were safe, should these porters, less honest than the poor Neapolitan devils, strip us of what the breakers had spared.