Part 2 out of 2
I prefer not to describe St. Peter's. It has been done before. The
ashes of Peter, the disciple of the Saviour, repose in a crypt under the
baldacchino. We stood reverently in that place; so did we also in the
Mamertine Prison, where he was confined, where he converted the soldiers,
and where tradition says he caused a spring of water to flow in order
that he might baptize them. But when they showed us the print of Peter's
face in the hard stone of the prison wall and said he made that by
falling up against it, we doubted. And when, also, the monk at the
church of San Sebastian showed us a paving-stone with two great
footprints in it and said that Peter's feet made those, we lacked
confidence again. Such things do not impress one. The monk said that
angels came and liberated Peter from prison by night, and he started away
from Rome by the Appian Way. The Saviour met him and told him to go
back, which he did. Peter left those footprints in the stone upon which
he stood at the time. It was not stated how it was ever discovered whose
footprints they were, seeing the interview occurred secretly and at
night. The print of the face in the prison was that of a man of common
size; the footprints were those of a man ten or twelve feet high. The
discrepancy confirmed our unbelief.
We necessarily visited the Forum, where Caesar was assassinated, and also
the Tarpeian Rock. We saw the Dying Gladiator at the Capitol, and I
think that even we appreciated that wonder of art; as much, perhaps, as
we did that fearful story wrought in marble, in the Vatican--the Laocoon.
And then the Coliseum.
Every body knows the picture of the Coliseum; every body recognizes at
once that "looped and windowed" band-box with a side bitten out. Being
rather isolated, it shows to better advantage than any other of the
monuments of ancient Rome. Even the beautiful Pantheon, whose pagan
altars uphold the cross, now, and whose Venus, tricked out in consecrated
gimcracks, does reluctant duty as a Virgin Mary to-day, is built about
with shabby houses and its stateliness sadly marred. But the monarch of
all European ruins, the Coliseum, maintains that reserve and that royal
seclusion which is proper to majesty. Weeds and flowers spring from its
massy arches and its circling seats, and vines hang their fringes from
its lofty walls. An impressive silence broods over the monstrous
structure where such multitudes of men and women were wont to assemble in
other days. The butterflies have taken the places of the queens of
fashion and beauty of eighteen centuries ago, and the lizards sun
themselves in the sacred seat of the Emperor. More vividly than all the
written histories, the Coliseum tells the story of Rome's grandeur and
Rome's decay. It is the worthiest type of both that exists. Moving
about the Rome of to-day, we might find it hard to believe in her old
magnificence and her millions of population; but with this stubborn
evidence before us that she was obliged to have a theatre with sitting
room for eighty thousand persons and standing room for twenty thousand
more, to accommodate such of her citizens as required amusement, we find
belief less difficult. The Coliseum is over one thousand six hundred
feet long, seven hundred and fifty wide, and one hundred and sixty-five
high. Its shape is oval.
In America we make convicts useful at the same time that we punish them
for their crimes. We farm them out and compel them to earn money for the
State by making barrels and building roads. Thus we combine business
with retribution, and all things are lovely. But in ancient Rome they
combined religious duty with pleasure. Since it was necessary that the
new sect called Christians should be exterminated, the people judged it
wise to make this work profitable to the State at the same time, and
entertaining to the public. In addition to the gladiatorial combats and
other shows, they sometimes threw members of the hated sect into the
arena of the Coliseum and turned wild beasts in upon them. It is
estimated that seventy thousand Christians suffered martyrdom in this
place. This has made the Coliseum holy ground, in the eyes of the
followers of the Saviour. And well it might; for if the chain that bound
a saint, and the footprints a saint has left upon a stone he chanced to
stand upon, be holy, surely the spot where a man gave up his life for his
faith is holy.
Seventeen or eighteen centuries ago this Coliseum was the theatre of
Rome, and Rome was mistress of the world. Splendid pageants were
exhibited here, in presence of the Emperor, the great ministers of State,
the nobles, and vast audiences of citizens of smaller consequence.
Gladiators fought with gladiators and at times with warrior prisoners
from many a distant land. It was the theatre of Rome--of the world--and
the man of fashion who could not let fall in a casual and unintentional
manner something about "my private box at the Coliseum" could not move in
the first circles. When the clothing-store merchant wished to consume
the corner grocery man with envy, he bought secured seats in the front
row and let the thing be known. When the irresistible dry goods clerk
wished to blight and destroy, according to his native instinct, he got
himself up regardless of expense and took some other fellow's young lady
to the Coliseum, and then accented the affront by cramming her with ice
cream between the acts, or by approaching the cage and stirring up the
martyrs with his whalebone cane for her edification. The Roman swell was
in his true element only when he stood up against a pillar and fingered
his moustache unconscious of the ladies; when he viewed the bloody
combats through an opera-glass two inches long; when he excited the envy
of provincials by criticisms which showed that he had been to the
Coliseum many and many a time and was long ago over the novelty of it;
when he turned away with a yawn at last and said,
"He a star! handles his sword like an apprentice brigand! he'll do for
the country, may be, but he don't answer for the metropolis!"
Glad was the contraband that had a seat in the pit at the Saturday
matinee, and happy the Roman street-boy who ate his peanuts and guyed the
gladiators from the dizzy gallery.
For me was reserved the high honor of discovering among the rubbish of
the ruined Coliseum the only playbill of that establishment now extant.
There was a suggestive smell of mint-drops about it still, a corner of it
had evidently been chewed, and on the margin, in choice Latin, these
words were written in a delicate female hand:
"Meet me on the Tarpeian Rock tomorrow evening, dear, at sharp
seven. Mother will be absent on a visit to her friends in the
Sabine Hills. CLAUDIA."
Ah, where is that lucky youth to-day, and where the little hand that
wrote those dainty lines? Dust and ashes these seventeen hundred years!
Thus reads the bill:
NEW PROPERTIES! NEW LIONS! NEW GLADIATORS!
Engagement of the renowned
MARCUS MARCELLUS VALERIAN!
FOR SIX NIGHTS ONLY!
The management beg leave to offer to the public an entertainment
surpassing in magnificence any thing that has heretofore been attempted
on any stage. No expense has been spared to make the opening season one
which shall be worthy the generous patronage which the management feel
sure will crown their efforts. The management beg leave to state that
they have succeeded in securing the services of a
GALAXY OF TALENT!
such as has not been beheld in Rome before.
The performance will commence this evening with a
GRAND BROADSWORD COMBAT!
between two young and promising amateurs and a celebrated Parthian
gladiator who has just arrived a prisoner from the Camp of Verus.
This will be followed by a grand moral
between the renowned Valerian (with one hand tied behind him,) and two
gigantic savages from Britain.
After which the renowned Valerian (if he survive,) will fight with the
against six Sophomores and a Freshman from the Gladiatorial College!
A long series of brilliant engagements will follow, in which the finest
talent of the Empire will take part
After which the celebrated Infant Prodigy known as
"THE YOUNG ACHILLES,"
will engage four tiger whelps in combat, armed with no other weapon than
his little spear!
The whole to conclude with a chaste and elegant
In which thirteen African Lions and twenty-two Barbarian Prisoners will
war with each other until all are exterminated.
BOX OFFICE NOW OPEN.
Dress Circle One Dollar; Children and Servants half price.
An efficient police force will be on hand to preserve order and keep the
wild beasts from leaping the railings and discommoding the audience.
Doors open at 7; performance begins at 8.
POSITIVELY NO FREE LIST.
Diodorus Job Press.
It was as singular as it was gratifying that I was also so fortunate as
to find among the rubbish of the arena, a stained and mutilated copy of
the Roman Daily Battle-Ax, containing a critique upon this very
performance. It comes to hand too late by many centuries to rank as
news, and therefore I translate and publish it simply to show how very
little the general style and phraseology of dramatic criticism has
altered in the ages that have dragged their slow length along since the
carriers laid this one damp and fresh before their Roman patrons:
"THE OPENING SEASON.--COLISEUM.--Notwithstanding the inclemency of
the weather, quite a respectable number of the rank and fashion of
the city assembled last night to witness the debut upon metropolitan
boards of the young tragedian who has of late been winning such
golden opinions in the amphitheatres of the provinces. Some sixty
thousand persons were present, and but for the fact that the streets
were almost impassable, it is fair to presume that the house would
have been full. His august Majesty, the Emperor Aurelius, occupied
the imperial box, and was the cynosure of all eyes. Many
illustrious nobles and generals of the Empire graced the occasion
with their presence, and not the least among them was the young
patrician lieutenant whose laurels, won in the ranks of the
"Thundering Legion," are still so green upon his brow. The cheer
which greeted his entrance was heard beyond the Tiber!
"The late repairs and decorations add both to the comeliness and the
comfort of the Coliseum. The new cushions are a great improvement
upon the hard marble seats we have been so long accustomed to. The
present management deserve well of the public. They have restored
to the Coliseum the gilding, the rich upholstery and the uniform
magnificence which old Coliseum frequenters tell us Rome was so
proud of fifty years ago.
"The opening scene last night--the broadsword combat between two
young amateurs and a famous Parthian gladiator who was sent here a
prisoner--was very fine. The elder of the two young gentlemen
handled his weapon with a grace that marked the possession of
extraordinary talent. His feint of thrusting, followed instantly by
a happily delivered blow which unhelmeted the Parthian, was received
with hearty applause. He was not thoroughly up in the backhanded
stroke, but it was very gratifying to his numerous friends to know
that, in time, practice would have overcome this defect. However,
he was killed. His sisters, who were present, expressed
considerable regret. His mother left the Coliseum. The other youth
maintained the contest with such spirit as to call forth
enthusiastic bursts of applause. When at last he fell a corpse, his
aged mother ran screaming, with hair disheveled and tears streaming
from her eyes, and swooned away just as her hands were clutching at
the railings of the arena. She was promptly removed by the police.
Under the circumstances the woman's conduct was pardonable, perhaps,
but we suggest that such exhibitions interfere with the decorum
which should be preserved during the performances, and are highly
improper in the presence of the Emperor. The Parthian prisoner
fought bravely and well; and well he might, for he was fighting for
both life and liberty. His wife and children were there to nerve
his arm with their love, and to remind him of the old home he should
see again if he conquered. When his second assailant fell, the
woman clasped her children to her breast and wept for joy. But it
was only a transient happiness. The captive staggered toward her
and she saw that the liberty he had earned was earned too late. He
was wounded unto death. Thus the first act closed in a manner which
was entirely satisfactory. The manager was called before the
curtain and returned his thanks for the honor done him, in a speech
which was replete with wit and humor, and closed by hoping that his
humble efforts to afford cheerful and instructive entertainment
would continue to meet with the approbation of the Roman public
"The star now appeared, and was received with vociferous applause
and the simultaneous waving of sixty thousand handkerchiefs. Marcus
Marcellus Valerian (stage name--his real name is Smith,) is a
splendid specimen of physical development, and an artist of rare
merit. His management of the battle-ax is wonderful. His gayety
and his playfulness are irresistible, in his comic parts, and yet
they are inferior to his sublime conceptions in the grave realm of
tragedy. When his ax was describing fiery circles about the heads
of the bewildered barbarians, in exact time with his springing body
and his prancing legs, the audience gave way to uncontrollable
bursts of laughter; but when the back of his weapon broke the skull
of one and almost in the same instant its edge clove the other's
body in twain, the howl of enthusiastic applause that shook the
building, was the acknowledgment of a critical assemblage that he
was a master of the noblest department of his profession. If he has
a fault, (and we are sorry to even intimate that he has,) it is that
of glancing at the audience, in the midst of the most exciting
moments of the performance, as if seeking admiration. The pausing
in a fight to bow when bouquets are thrown to him is also in bad
taste. In the great left-handed combat he appeared to be looking at
the audience half the time, instead of carving his adversaries; and
when he had slain all the sophomores and was dallying with the
freshman, he stooped and snatched a bouquet as it fell, and offered
it to his adversary at a time when a blow was descending which
promised favorably to be his death-warrant. Such levity is proper
enough in the provinces, we make no doubt, but it ill suits the
dignity of the metropolis. We trust our young friend will take
these remarks in good part, for we mean them solely for his benefit.
All who know us are aware that although we are at times justly
severe upon tigers and martyrs, we never intentionally offend
"The Infant Prodigy performed wonders. He overcame his four tiger
whelps with ease, and with no other hurt than the loss of a portion
of his scalp. The General Slaughter was rendered with a
faithfulness to details which reflects the highest credit upon the
late participants in it.
"Upon the whole, last night's performances shed honor not only upon
the management but upon the city that encourages and sustains such
wholesome and instructive entertainments. We would simply suggest
that the practice of vulgar young boys in the gallery of shying
peanuts and paper pellets at the tigers, and saying "Hi-yi!" and
manifesting approbation or dissatisfaction by such observations as
"Bully for the lion!" "Go it, Gladdy!" "Boots!" "Speech!" "Take
a walk round the block!" and so on, are extremely reprehensible,
when the Emperor is present, and ought to be stopped by the police.
Several times last night, when the supernumeraries entered the arena
to drag out the bodies, the young ruffians in the gallery shouted,
"Supe! supe!" and also, "Oh, what a coat!" and "Why don't you pad
them shanks?" and made use of various other remarks expressive of
derision. These things are very annoying to the audience.
"A matinee for the little folks is promised for this afternoon, on
which occasion several martyrs will be eaten by the tigers. The
regular performance will continue every night till further notice.
Material change of programme every evening. Benefit of Valerian,
Tuesday, 29th, if he lives."
I have been a dramatic critic myself, in my time, and I was often
surprised to notice how much more I knew about Hamlet than Forrest did;
and it gratifies me to observe, now, how much better my brethren of
ancient times knew how a broad sword battle ought to be fought than the
So far, good. If any man has a right to feel proud of himself, and
satisfied, surely it is I. For I have written about the Coliseum, and
the gladiators, the martyrs, and the lions, and yet have never once used
the phrase "butchered to make a Roman holiday." I am the only free white
man of mature age, who has accomplished this since Byron originated the
Butchered to make a Roman holiday sounds well for the first seventeen or
eighteen hundred thousand times one sees it in print, but after that it
begins to grow tiresome. I find it in all the books concerning Rome--and
here latterly it reminds me of Judge Oliver. Oliver was a young lawyer,
fresh from the schools, who had gone out to the deserts of Nevada to
begin life. He found that country, and our ways of life, there, in those
early days, different from life in New England or Paris. But he put on a
woollen shirt and strapped a navy revolver to his person, took to the
bacon and beans of the country, and determined to do in Nevada as Nevada
did. Oliver accepted the situation so completely that although he must
have sorrowed over many of his trials, he never complained--that is, he
never complained but once. He, two others, and myself, started to the
new silver mines in the Humboldt mountains--he to be Probate Judge of
Humboldt county, and we to mine. The distance was two hundred miles. It
was dead of winter. We bought a two-horse wagon and put eighteen hundred
pounds of bacon, flour, beans, blasting-powder, picks and shovels in it;
we bought two sorry-looking Mexican "plugs," with the hair turned the
wrong way and more corners on their bodies than there are on the mosque
of Omar; we hitched up and started. It was a dreadful trip. But Oliver
did not complain. The horses dragged the wagon two miles from town and
then gave out. Then we three pushed the wagon seven miles, and Oliver
moved ahead and pulled the horses after him by the bits. We complained,
but Oliver did not. The ground was frozen, and it froze our backs while
we slept; the wind swept across our faces and froze our noses. Oliver
did not complain. Five days of pushing the wagon by day and freezing by
night brought us to the bad part of the journey--the Forty Mile Desert,
or the Great American Desert, if you please. Still, this
mildest-mannered man that ever was, had not complained. We started across
at eight in the morning, pushing through sand that had no bottom; toiling
all day long by the wrecks of a thousand wagons, the skeletons of ten
thousand oxen; by wagon-tires enough to hoop the Washington Monument to
the top, and ox-chains enough to girdle Long Island; by human graves;
with our throats parched always, with thirst; lips bleeding from the
alkali dust; hungry, perspiring, and very, very weary--so weary that when
we dropped in the sand every fifty yards to rest the horses, we could
hardly keep from going to sleep--no complaints from Oliver: none the next
morning at three o'clock, when we got across, tired to death.
Awakened two or three nights afterward at midnight, in a narrow canon, by
the snow falling on our faces, and appalled at the imminent danger of
being "snowed in," we harnessed up and pushed on till eight in the
morning, passed the "Divide" and knew we were saved. No complaints.
Fifteen days of hardship and fatigue brought us to the end of the two
hundred miles, and the Judge had not complained. We wondered if any
thing could exasperate him. We built a Humboldt house. It is done in
this way. You dig a square in the steep base of the mountain, and set up
two uprights and top them with two joists. Then you stretch a great
sheet of "cotton domestic" from the point where the joists join the
hill-side down over the joists to the ground; this makes the roof and the
front of the mansion; the sides and back are the dirt walls your digging
has left. A chimney is easily made by turning up one corner of the roof.
Oliver was sitting alone in this dismal den, one night, by a sage-brush
fire, writing poetry; he was very fond of digging poetry out of himself
--or blasting it out when it came hard. He heard an animal's footsteps
close to the roof; a stone or two and some dirt came through and fell by
him. He grew uneasy and said "Hi!--clear out from there, can't you!"
--from time to time. But by and by he fell asleep where he sat, and pretty
soon a mule fell down the chimney! The fire flew in every direction, and
Oliver went over backwards. About ten nights after that, he recovered
confidence enough to go to writing poetry again. Again he dozed off to
sleep, and again a mule fell down the chimney. This time, about half of
that side of the house came in with the mule. Struggling to get up, the
mule kicked the candle out and smashed most of the kitchen furniture, and
raised considerable dust. These violent awakenings must have been
annoying to Oliver, but he never complained. He moved to a mansion on
the opposite side of the canon, because he had noticed the mules did not
go there. One night about eight o'clock he was endeavoring to finish his
poem, when a stone rolled in--then a hoof appeared below the canvas--then
part of a cow--the after part. He leaned back in dread, and shouted
"Hooy! hooy! get out of this!" and the cow struggled manfully--lost
ground steadily--dirt and dust streamed down, and before Oliver could get
well away, the entire cow crashed through on to the table and made a
shapeless wreck of every thing!
Then, for the first time in his life, I think, Oliver complained. He
"This thing is growing monotonous!"
Then he resigned his judgeship and left Humboldt county. "Butchered to
make a Roman holyday" has grown monotonous to me.
In this connection I wish to say one word about Michael Angelo
Buonarotti. I used to worship the mighty genius of Michael Angelo--that
man who was great in poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture--great in
every thing he undertook. But I do not want Michael Angelo for
breakfast--for luncheon--for dinner--for tea--for supper--for between
meals. I like a change, occasionally. In Genoa, he designed every
thing; in Milan he or his pupils designed every thing; he designed the
Lake of Como; in Padua, Verona, Venice, Bologna, who did we ever hear of,
from guides, but Michael Angelo? In Florence, he painted every thing,
designed every thing, nearly, and what he did not design he used to sit
on a favorite stone and look at, and they showed us the stone. In Pisa
he designed every thing but the old shot-tower, and they would have
attributed that to him if it had not been so awfully out of the
perpendicular. He designed the piers of Leghorn and the custom house
regulations of Civita Vecchia. But, here--here it is frightful. He
designed St. Peter's; he designed the Pope; he designed the Pantheon, the
uniform of the Pope's soldiers, the Tiber, the Vatican, the Coliseum, the
Capitol, the Tarpeian Rock, the Barberini Palace, St. John Lateran, the
Campagna, the Appian Way, the Seven Hills, the Baths of Caracalla, the
Claudian Aqueduct, the Cloaca Maxima--the eternal bore designed the
Eternal City, and unless all men and books do lie, he painted every thing
in it! Dan said the other day to the guide, "Enough, enough, enough!
Say no more! Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made Italy from
designs by Michael Angelo!"
I never felt so fervently thankful, so soothed, so tranquil, so filled
with a blessed peace, as I did yesterday when I learned that Michael
Angelo was dead.
But we have taken it out of this guide. He has marched us through miles
of pictures and sculpture in the vast corridors of the Vatican; and
through miles of pictures and sculpture in twenty other palaces; he has
shown us the great picture in the Sistine Chapel, and frescoes enough to
frescoe the heavens--pretty much all done by Michael Angelo. So with him
we have played that game which has vanquished so many guides for us
--imbecility and idiotic questions. These creatures never suspect--they
have no idea of a sarcasm.
He shows us a figure and says: "Statoo brunzo." (Bronze statue.)
We look at it indifferently and the doctor asks: "By Michael Angelo?"
"No--not know who."
Then he shows us the ancient Roman Forum. The doctor asks: "Michael
A stare from the guide. "No--thousan' year before he is born."
Then an Egyptian obelisk. Again: "Michael Angelo?"
"Oh, mon dieu, genteelmen! Zis is two thousan' year before he is born!"
He grows so tired of that unceasing question sometimes, that he dreads to
show us any thing at all. The wretch has tried all the ways he can think
of to make us comprehend that Michael Angelo is only responsible for the
creation of a part of the world, but somehow he has not succeeded yet.
Relief for overtasked eyes and brain from study and sightseeing is
necessary, or we shall become idiotic sure enough. Therefore this guide
must continue to suffer. If he does not enjoy it, so much the worse for
him. We do.
In this place I may as well jot down a chapter concerning those necessary
nuisances, European guides. Many a man has wished in his heart he could
do without his guide; but knowing he could not, has wished he could get
some amusement out of him as a remuneration for the affliction of his
society. We accomplished this latter matter, and if our experience can
be made useful to others they are welcome to it.
Guides know about enough English to tangle every thing up so that a man
can make neither head or tail of it. They know their story by heart--the
history of every statue, painting, cathedral or other wonder they show
you. They know it and tell it as a parrot would--and if you interrupt,
and throw them off the track, they have to go back and begin over again.
All their lives long, they are employed in showing strange things to
foreigners and listening to their bursts of admiration. It is human
nature to take delight in exciting admiration. It is what prompts
children to say "smart" things, and do absurd ones, and in other ways
"show off" when company is present. It is what makes gossips turn out in
rain and storm to go and be the first to tell a startling bit of news.
Think, then, what a passion it becomes with a guide, whose privilege it
is, every day, to show to strangers wonders that throw them into perfect
ecstasies of admiration! He gets so that he could not by any possibility
live in a soberer atmosphere. After we discovered this, we never went
into ecstasies any more--we never admired any thing--we never showed any
but impassible faces and stupid indifference in the presence of the
sublimest wonders a guide had to display. We had found their weak point.
We have made good use of it ever since. We have made some of those
people savage, at times, but we have never lost our own serenity.
The doctor asks the questions, generally, because he can keep his
countenance, and look more like an inspired idiot, and throw more
imbecility into the tone of his voice than any man that lives. It comes
natural to him.
The guides in Genoa are delighted to secure an American party, because
Americans so much wonder, and deal so much in sentiment and emotion
before any relic of Columbus. Our guide there fidgeted about as if he
had swallowed a spring mattress. He was full of animation--full of
impatience. He said:
"Come wis me, genteelmen!--come! I show you ze letter writing by
Christopher Colombo!--write it himself!--write it wis his own hand!
He took us to the municipal palace. After much impressive fumbling of
keys and opening of locks, the stained and aged document was spread
before us. The guide's eyes sparkled. He danced about us and tapped the
parchment with his finger:
"What I tell you, genteelmen! Is it not so? See! handwriting
Christopher Colombo!--write it himself!"
We looked indifferent--unconcerned. The doctor examined the document
very deliberately, during a painful pause.--Then he said, without any
show of interest:
"Ah--Ferguson--what--what did you say was the name of the party who wrote
"Christopher Colombo! ze great Christopher Colombo!"
Another deliberate examination.
"Ah--did he write it himself; or--or how?"
"He write it himself!--Christopher Colombo! He's own hand-writing, write
Then the doctor laid the document down and said:
"Why, I have seen boys in America only fourteen years old that could
write better than that."
"But zis is ze great Christo--"
"I don't care who it is! It's the worst writing I ever saw. Now you
musn't think you can impose on us because we are strangers. We are not
fools, by a good deal. If you have got any specimens of penmanship of
real merit, trot them out!--and if you haven't, drive on!"
We drove on. The guide was considerably shaken up, but he made one more
venture. He had something which he thought would overcome us. He said:
"Ah, genteelmen, you come wis me! I show you beautiful, O, magnificent
bust Christopher Colombo!--splendid, grand, magnificent!"
He brought us before the beautiful bust--for it was beautiful--and sprang
back and struck an attitude:
"Ah, look, genteelmen!--beautiful, grand,--bust Christopher Colombo!
--beautiful bust, beautiful pedestal!"
The doctor put up his eye-glass--procured for such occasions:
"Ah--what did you say this gentleman's name was?"
"Christopher Colombo!--ze great Christopher Colombo!"
"Christopher Colombo--the great Christopher Colombo. Well, what did he
"Discover America!--discover America, Oh, ze devil!"
"Discover America. No--that statement will hardly wash. We are just
from America ourselves. We heard nothing about it. Christopher Colombo
--pleasant name--is--is he dead?"
"Oh, corpo di Baccho!--three hundred year!"
"What did he die of?"
"I do not know!--I can not tell."
"I do not know, genteelmen!--I do not know what he die of!"
"May be--may be--I do not know--I think he die of somethings."
"Ah--which is the bust and which is the pedestal?"
"Santa Maria!--zis ze bust!--zis ze pedestal!"
"Ah, I see, I see--happy combination--very happy combination, indeed.
Is--is this the first time this gentleman was ever on a bust?"
That joke was lost on the foreigner--guides can not master the subtleties
of the American joke.
We have made it interesting for this Roman guide. Yesterday we spent
three or four hours in the Vatican, again, that wonderful world of
curiosities. We came very near expressing interest, sometimes--even
admiration--it was very hard to keep from it. We succeeded though.
Nobody else ever did, in the Vatican museums. The guide was bewildered
--non-plussed. He walked his legs off, nearly, hunting up extraordinary
things, and exhausted all his ingenuity on us, but it was a failure; we
never showed any interest in any thing. He had reserved what he
considered to be his greatest wonder till the last--a royal Egyptian
mummy, the best preserved in the world, perhaps. He took us there. He
felt so sure, this time, that some of his old enthusiasm came back to
"See, genteelmen!--Mummy! Mummy!"
The eye-glass came up as calmly, as deliberately as ever.
"Ah,--Ferguson--what did I understand you to say the gentleman's name
"Name?--he got no name!--Mummy!--'Gyptian mummy!"
"Yes, yes. Born here?"
"No! 'Gyptian mummy!"
"Ah, just so. Frenchman, I presume?"
"No!--not Frenchman, not Roman!--born in Egypta!"
"Born in Egypta. Never heard of Egypta before. Foreign locality,
likely. Mummy--mummy. How calm he is--how self-possessed. Is, ah--is
"Oh, sacre bleu, been dead three thousan' year!"
The doctor turned on him savagely:
"Here, now, what do you mean by such conduct as this! Playing us for
Chinamen because we are strangers and trying to learn! Trying to impose
your vile second-hand carcasses on us!--thunder and lightning, I've a
notion to--to--if you've got a nice fresh corpse, fetch him out!--or by
George we'll brain you!"
We make it exceedingly interesting for this Frenchman. However, he has
paid us back, partly, without knowing it. He came to the hotel this
morning to ask if we were up, and he endeavored as well as he could to
describe us, so that the landlord would know which persons he meant. He
finished with the casual remark that we were lunatics. The observation
was so innocent and so honest that it amounted to a very good thing for a
guide to say.
There is one remark (already mentioned,) which never yet has failed to
disgust these guides. We use it always, when we can think of nothing
else to say. After they have exhausted their enthusiasm pointing out
to us and praising the beauties of some ancient bronze image or
broken-legged statue, we look at it stupidly and in silence for five,
ten, fifteen minutes--as long as we can hold out, in fact--and then ask:
"Is--is he dead?"
That conquers the serenest of them. It is not what they are looking for
--especially a new guide. Our Roman Ferguson is the most patient,
unsuspecting, long-suffering subject we have had yet. We shall be sorry
to part with him. We have enjoyed his society very much. We trust he
has enjoyed ours, but we are harassed with doubts.
We have been in the catacombs. It was like going down into a very deep
cellar, only it was a cellar which had no end to it. The narrow passages
are roughly hewn in the rock, and on each hand as you pass along, the
hollowed shelves are carved out, from three to fourteen deep; each held a
corpse once. There are names, and Christian symbols, and prayers, or
sentences expressive of Christian hopes, carved upon nearly every
sarcophagus. The dates belong away back in the dawn of the Christian
era, of course. Here, in these holes in the ground, the first Christians
sometimes burrowed to escape persecution. They crawled out at night to
get food, but remained under cover in the day time. The priest told us
that St. Sebastian lived under ground for some time while he was being
hunted; he went out one day, and the soldiery discovered and shot him to
death with arrows. Five or six of the early Popes--those who reigned
about sixteen hundred years ago--held their papal courts and advised with
their clergy in the bowels of the earth. During seventeen years--from
A.D. 235 to A.D. 252--the Popes did not appear above ground. Four were
raised to the great office during that period. Four years apiece, or
thereabouts. It is very suggestive of the unhealthiness of underground
graveyards as places of residence. One Pope afterward spent his entire
pontificate in the catacombs--eight years. Another was discovered in
them and murdered in the episcopal chair. There was no satisfaction in
being a Pope in those days. There were too many annoyances. There are
one hundred and sixty catacombs under Rome, each with its maze of narrow
passages crossing and recrossing each other and each passage walled to
the top with scooped graves its entire length. A careful estimate makes
the length of the passages of all the catacombs combined foot up nine
hundred miles, and their graves number seven millions. We did not go
through all the passages of all the catacombs. We were very anxious to
do it, and made the necessary arrangements, but our too limited time
obliged us to give up the idea. So we only groped through the dismal
labyrinth of St. Callixtus, under the Church of St. Sebastian. In the
various catacombs are small chapels rudely hewn in the stones, and here
the early Christians often held their religious services by dim, ghostly
lights. Think of mass and a sermon away down in those tangled caverns
In the catacombs were buried St. Cecilia, St. Agnes, and several other of
the most celebrated of the saints. In the catacomb of St. Callixtus, St.
Bridget used to remain long hours in holy contemplation, and St. Charles
Borromeo was wont to spend whole nights in prayer there. It was also the
scene of a very marvelous thing.
"Here the heart of St. Philip Neri was so inflamed with divine love
as to burst his ribs."
I find that grave statement in a book published in New York in 1808, and
written by "Rev. William H. Neligan, LL.D., M. A., Trinity College,
Dublin; Member of the Archaeological Society of Great Britain."
Therefore, I believe it. Otherwise, I could not. Under other
circumstances I should have felt a curiosity to know what Philip had for
This author puts my credulity on its mettle every now and then. He tells
of one St. Joseph Calasanctius whose house in Rome he visited; he visited
only the house--the priest has been dead two hundred years. He says the
Virgin Mary appeared to this saint. Then he continues:
"His tongue and his heart, which were found after nearly a century
to be whole, when the body was disinterred before his canonization,
are still preserved in a glass case, and after two centuries the
heart is still whole. When the French troops came to Rome, and when
Pius VII. was carried away prisoner, blood dropped from it."
To read that in a book written by a monk far back in the Middle Ages,
would surprise no one; it would sound natural and proper; but when it is
seriously stated in the middle of the nineteenth century, by a man of
finished education, an LL.D., M. A., and an Archaeological magnate, it
sounds strangely enough. Still, I would gladly change my unbelief for
Neligan's faith, and let him make the conditions as hard as he pleased.
The old gentleman's undoubting, unquestioning simplicity has a rare
freshness about it in these matter-of-fact railroading and telegraphing
days. Hear him, concerning the church of Ara Coeli:
"In the roof of the church, directly above the high altar, is
engraved, 'Regina Coeli laetare Alleluia." In the sixth century
Rome was visited by a fearful pestilence. Gregory the Great urged
the people to do penance, and a general procession was formed. It
was to proceed from Ara Coeli to St. Peter's. As it passed before
the mole of Adrian, now the Castle of St. Angelo, the sound of
heavenly voices was heard singing (it was Easter morn,) Regina
Coeli, laetare! alleluia! quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia!
resurrexit sicut dixit; alleluia!" The Pontiff, carrying in his
hands the portrait of the Virgin, (which is over the high altar and
is said to have been painted by St. Luke,) answered, with the
astonished people, 'Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia!' At the same time
an angel was seen to put up a sword in a scabbard, and the
pestilence ceased on the same day. There are four circumstances
which 'CONFIRM'--[The italics are mine--M. T.]--this miracle: the
annual procession which takes place in the western church on the
feast of St Mark; the statue of St. Michael, placed on the mole of
Adrian, which has since that time been called the Castle of St.
Angelo; the antiphon Regina Coeli which the Catholic church sings
during paschal time; and the inscription in the church."
From the sanguinary sports of the Holy Inquisition; the slaughter of the
Coliseum; and the dismal tombs of the Catacombs, I naturally pass to the
picturesque horrors of the Capuchin Convent. We stopped a moment in a
small chapel in the church to admire a picture of St. Michael vanquishing
Satan--a picture which is so beautiful that I can not but think it
belongs to the reviled "Renaissance," notwithstanding I believe they told
us one of the ancient old masters painted it--and then we descended into
the vast vault underneath.
Here was a spectacle for sensitive nerves! Evidently the old masters had
been at work in this place. There were six divisions in the apartment,
and each division was ornamented with a style of decoration peculiar to
itself--and these decorations were in every instance formed of human
bones! There were shapely arches, built wholly of thigh bones; there
were startling pyramids, built wholly of grinning skulls; there were
quaint architectural structures of various kinds, built of shin bones and
the bones of the arm; on the wall were elaborate frescoes, whose curving
vines were made of knotted human vertebrae; whose delicate tendrils were
made of sinews and tendons; whose flowers were formed of knee-caps and
toe-nails. Every lasting portion of the human frame was represented in
these intricate designs (they were by Michael Angelo, I think,) and there
was a careful finish about the work, and an attention to details that
betrayed the artist's love of his labors as well as his schooled ability.
I asked the good-natured monk who accompanied us, who did this? And he
said, "We did it"--meaning himself and his brethren up stairs. I could
see that the old friar took a high pride in his curious show. We made
him talkative by exhibiting an interest we never betrayed to guides.
"Who were these people?"
"We--up stairs--Monks of the Capuchin order--my brethren."
"How many departed monks were required to upholster these six parlors?"
"These are the bones of four thousand."
"It took a long time to get enough?"
"Many, many centuries."
"Their different parts are well separated--skulls in one room, legs in
another, ribs in another--there would be stirring times here for a while
if the last trump should blow. Some of the brethren might get hold of
the wrong leg, in the confusion, and the wrong skull, and find themselves
limping, and looking through eyes that were wider apart or closer
together than they were used to. You can not tell any of these parties
apart, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes, I know many of them."
He put his finger on a skull. "This was Brother Anselmo--dead three
hundred years--a good man."
He touched another. "This was Brother Alexander--dead two hundred and
eighty years. This was Brother Carlo--dead about as long."
Then he took a skull and held it in his hand, and looked reflectively
upon it, after the manner of the grave-digger when he discourses of
"This," he said, "was Brother Thomas. He was a young prince, the scion
of a proud house that traced its lineage back to the grand old days of
Rome well nigh two thousand years ago. He loved beneath his estate. His
family persecuted him; persecuted the girl, as well. They drove her from
Rome; he followed; he sought her far and wide; he found no trace of her.
He came back and offered his broken heart at our altar and his weary life
to the service of God. But look you. Shortly his father died, and
likewise his mother. The girl returned, rejoicing. She sought every
where for him whose eyes had used to look tenderly into hers out of this
poor skull, but she could not find him. At last, in this coarse garb we
wear, she recognized him in the street. He knew her. It was too late.
He fell where he stood. They took him up and brought him here. He never
spoke afterward. Within the week he died. You can see the color of his
hair--faded, somewhat--by this thin shred that clings still to the
temple. This, [taking up a thigh bone,] was his. The veins of this
leaf in the decorations over your head, were his finger-joints, a hundred
and fifty years ago."
This business-like way of illustrating a touching story of the heart by
laying the several fragments of the lover before us and naming them, was
as grotesque a performance, and as ghastly, as any I ever witnessed. I
hardly knew whether to smile or shudder. There are nerves and muscles in
our frames whose functions and whose methods of working it seems a sort
of sacrilege to describe by cold physiological names and surgical
technicalities, and the monk's talk suggested to me something of this
kind. Fancy a surgeon, with his nippers lifting tendons, muscles and
such things into view, out of the complex machinery of a corpse, and
observing, "Now this little nerve quivers--the vibration is imparted to
this muscle--from here it is passed to this fibrous substance; here its
ingredients are separated by the chemical action of the blood--one part
goes to the heart and thrills it with what is popularly termed emotion,
another part follows this nerve to the brain and communicates
intelligence of a startling character--the third part glides along this
passage and touches the spring connected with the fluid receptacles that
lie in the rear of the eye. Thus, by this simple and beautiful process,
the party is informed that his mother is dead, and he weeps." Horrible!
I asked the monk if all the brethren up stairs expected to be put in this
place when they died. He answered quietly:
"We must all lie here at last."
See what one can accustom himself to.--The reflection that he must some
day be taken apart like an engine or a clock, or like a house whose owner
is gone, and worked up into arches and pyramids and hideous frescoes, did
not distress this monk in the least. I thought he even looked as if he
were thinking, with complacent vanity, that his own skull would look well
on top of the heap and his own ribs add a charm to the frescoes which
possibly they lacked at present.
Here and there, in ornamental alcoves, stretched upon beds of bones, lay
dead and dried-up monks, with lank frames dressed in the black robes one
sees ordinarily upon priests. We examined one closely. The skinny hands
were clasped upon the breast; two lustreless tufts of hair stuck to the
skull; the skin was brown and sunken; it stretched tightly over the cheek
bones and made them stand out sharply; the crisp dead eyes were deep in
the sockets; the nostrils were painfully prominent, the end of the nose
being gone; the lips had shriveled away from the yellow teeth: and
brought down to us through the circling years, and petrified there, was a
weird laugh a full century old!
It was the jolliest laugh, but yet the most dreadful, that one can
imagine. Surely, I thought, it must have been a most extraordinary joke
this veteran produced with his latest breath, that he has not got done
laughing at it yet. At this moment I saw that the old instinct was
strong upon the boys, and I said we had better hurry to St. Peter's.
They were trying to keep from asking, "Is--is he dead?"
It makes me dizzy, to think of the Vatican--of its wilderness of statues,
paintings, and curiosities of every description and every age. The "old
masters" (especially in sculpture,) fairly swarm, there. I can not write
about the Vatican. I think I shall never remember any thing I saw there
distinctly but the mummies, and the Transfiguration, by Raphael, and some
other things it is not necessary to mention now. I shall remember the
Transfiguration partly because it was placed in a room almost by itself;
partly because it is acknowledged by all to be the first oil painting in
the world; and partly because it was wonderfully beautiful. The colors
are fresh and rich, the "expression," I am told, is fine, the "feeling"
is lively, the "tone" is good, the "depth" is profound, and the width is
about four and a half feet, I should judge. It is a picture that really
holds one's attention; its beauty is fascinating. It is fine enough to
be a Renaissance. A remark I made a while ago suggests a thought--and a
hope. Is it not possible that the reason I find such charms in this
picture is because it is out of the crazy chaos of the galleries? If
some of the others were set apart, might not they be beautiful? If this
were set in the midst of the tempest of pictures one finds in the vast
galleries of the Roman palaces, would I think it so handsome? If, up to
this time, I had seen only one "old master" in each palace, instead of
acres and acres of walls and ceilings fairly papered with them, might I
not have a more civilized opinion of the old masters than I have now? I
think so. When I was a school-boy and was to have a new knife, I could
not make up my mind as to which was the prettiest in the show-case, and I
did not think any of them were particularly pretty; and so I chose with a
heavy heart. But when I looked at my purchase, at home, where no
glittering blades came into competition with it, I was astonished to see
how handsome it was. To this day my new hats look better out of the shop
than they did in it with other new hats. It begins to dawn upon me, now,
that possibly, what I have been taking for uniform ugliness in the
galleries may be uniform beauty after all. I honestly hope it is, to
others, but certainly it is not to me. Perhaps the reason I used to
enjoy going to the Academy of Fine Arts in New York was because there
were but a few hundred paintings in it, and it did not surfeit me to go
through the list. I suppose the Academy was bacon and beans in the
Forty-Mile Desert, and a European gallery is a state dinner of thirteen
courses. One leaves no sign after him of the one dish, but the thirteen
frighten away his appetite and give him no satisfaction.
There is one thing I am certain of, though. With all the Michael
Angelos, the Raphaels, the Guidos and the other old masters, the sublime
history of Rome remains unpainted! They painted Virgins enough, and
popes enough and saintly scarecrows enough, to people Paradise, almost,
and these things are all they did paint. "Nero fiddling o'er burning
Rome," the assassination of Caesar, the stirring spectacle of a hundred
thousand people bending forward with rapt interest, in the coliseum, to
see two skillful gladiators hacking away each others' lives, a tiger
springing upon a kneeling martyr--these and a thousand other matters
which we read of with a living interest, must be sought for only in
books--not among the rubbish left by the old masters--who are no more, I
have the satisfaction of informing the public.
They did paint, and they did carve in marble, one historical scene, and
one only, (of any great historical consequence.) And what was it and why
did they choose it, particularly? It was the Rape of the Sabines, and
they chose it for the legs and busts.
I like to look at statues, however, and I like to look at pictures, also
--even of monks looking up in sacred ecstacy, and monks looking down in
meditation, and monks skirmishing for something to eat--and therefore I
drop ill nature to thank the papal government for so jealously guarding
and so industriously gathering up these things; and for permitting me, a
stranger and not an entirely friendly one, to roam at will and unmolested
among them, charging me nothing, and only requiring that I shall behave
myself simply as well as I ought to behave in any other man's house. I
thank the Holy Father right heartily, and I wish him long life and plenty
The Popes have long been the patrons and preservers of art, just as our
new, practical Republic is the encourager and upholder of mechanics. In
their Vatican is stored up all that is curious and beautiful in art; in
our Patent Office is hoarded all that is curious or useful in mechanics.
When a man invents a new style of horse-collar or discovers a new and
superior method of telegraphing, our government issues a patent to him
that is worth a fortune; when a man digs up an ancient statue in the
Campagna, the Pope gives him a fortune in gold coin. We can make
something of a guess at a man's character by the style of nose he carries
on his face. The Vatican and the Patent Office are governmental noses,
and they bear a deal of character about them.
The guide showed us a colossal statue of Jupiter, in the Vatican, which
he said looked so damaged and rusty--so like the God of the Vagabonds
--because it had but recently been dug up in the Campagna. He asked how
much we supposed this Jupiter was worth? I replied, with intelligent
promptness, that he was probably worth about four dollars--may be four
and a half. "A hundred thousand dollars!" Ferguson said. Ferguson
said, further, that the Pope permits no ancient work of this kind to
leave his dominions. He appoints a commission to examine discoveries
like this and report upon the value; then the Pope pays the discoverer
one-half of that assessed value and takes the statue. He said this
Jupiter was dug from a field which had just been bought for thirty-six
thousand dollars, so the first crop was a good one for the new farmer.
I do not know whether Ferguson always tells the truth or not, but I
suppose he does. I know that an exorbitant export duty is exacted upon
all pictures painted by the old masters, in order to discourage the sale
of those in the private collections. I am satisfied, also, that genuine
old masters hardly exist at all, in America, because the cheapest and
most insignificant of them are valued at the price of a fine farm. I
proposed to buy a small trifle of a Raphael, myself, but the price of it
was eighty thousand dollars, the export duty would have made it
considerably over a hundred, and so I studied on it awhile and concluded
not to take it.
I wish here to mention an inscription I have seen, before I forget it:
"Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth TO MEN OF GOOD WILL!" It is
not good scripture, but it is sound Catholic and human nature.
This is in letters of gold around the apsis of a mosaic group at the side
of the 'scala santa', church of St. John Lateran, the Mother and Mistress
of all the Catholic churches of the world. The group represents the
Saviour, St. Peter, Pope Leo, St. Silvester, Constantine and Charlemagne.
Peter is giving the pallium to the Pope, and a standard to Charlemagne.
The Saviour is giving the keys to St. Silvester, and a standard to
Constantine. No prayer is offered to the Saviour, who seems to be of
little importance any where in Rome; but an inscription below says,
"Blessed Peter, give life to Pope Leo and victory to king Charles." It
does not say, "Intercede for us, through the Saviour, with the Father,
for this boon," but "Blessed Peter, give it us."
In all seriousness--without meaning to be frivolous--without meaning to
be irreverent, and more than all, without meaning to be blasphemous,--I
state as my simple deduction from the things I have seen and the things I
have heard, that the Holy Personages rank thus in Rome:
First--"The Mother of God"--otherwise the Virgin Mary.
Fourth--Some twelve or fifteen canonized Popes and martyrs.
Fifth--Jesus Christ the Saviour--(but always as an infant in arms.)
I may be wrong in this--my judgment errs often, just as is the case with
other men's--but it is my judgment, be it good or bad.
Just here I will mention something that seems curious to me. There are
no "Christ's Churches" in Rome, and no "Churches of the Holy Ghost," that
I can discover. There are some four hundred churches, but about a fourth
of them seem to be named for the Madonna and St. Peter. There are so
many named for Mary that they have to be distinguished by all sorts of
affixes, if I understand the matter rightly. Then we have churches of
St. Louis; St. Augustine; St. Agnes; St. Calixtus; St. Lorenzo in Lucina;
St. Lorenzo in Damaso; St. Cecilia; St. Athanasius; St. Philip Neri; St.
Catherine, St. Dominico, and a multitude of lesser saints whose names are
not familiar in the world--and away down, clear out of the list of the
churches, comes a couple of hospitals: one of them is named for the
Saviour and the other for the Holy Ghost!
Day after day and night after night we have wandered among the crumbling
wonders of Rome; day after day and night after night we have fed upon the
dust and decay of five-and-twenty centuries--have brooded over them by
day and dreampt of them by night till sometimes we seemed moldering away
ourselves, and growing defaced and cornerless, and liable at any moment
to fall a prey to some antiquary and be patched in the legs, and
"restored" with an unseemly nose, and labeled wrong and dated wrong, and
set up in the Vatican for poets to drivel about and vandals to scribble
their names on forever and forevermore.
But the surest way to stop writing about Rome is to stop. I wished to
write a real "guide-book" chapter on this fascinating city, but I could
not do it, because I have felt all the time like a boy in a candy-shop
--there was every thing to choose from, and yet no choice. I have drifted
along hopelessly for a hundred pages of manuscript without knowing where
to commence. I will not commence at all. Our passports have been
examined. We will go to Naples.
The ship is lying here in the harbor of Naples--quarantined. She has
been here several days and will remain several more. We that came by
rail from Rome have escaped this misfortune. Of course no one is allowed
to go on board the ship, or come ashore from her. She is a prison, now.
The passengers probably spend the long, blazing days looking out from
under the awnings at Vesuvius and the beautiful city--and in swearing.
Think of ten days of this sort of pastime!--We go out every day in a boat
and request them to come ashore. It soothes them. We lie ten steps from
the ship and tell them how splendid the city is; and how much better the
hotel fare is here than any where else in Europe; and how cool it is; and
what frozen continents of ice cream there are; and what a time we are
having cavorting about the country and sailing to the islands in the Bay.
This tranquilizes them.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS.
I shall remember our trip to Vesuvius for many a day--partly because of
its sight-seeing experiences, but chiefly on account of the fatigue of
the journey. Two or three of us had been resting ourselves among the
tranquil and beautiful scenery of the island of Ischia, eighteen miles
out in the harbor, for two days; we called it "resting," but I do not
remember now what the resting consisted of, for when we got back to
Naples we had not slept for forty-eight hours. We were just about to go
to bed early in the evening, and catch up on some of the sleep we had
lost, when we heard of this Vesuvius expedition. There was to be eight
of us in the party, and we were to leave Naples at midnight. We laid in
some provisions for the trip, engaged carriages to take us to
Annunciation, and then moved about the city, to keep awake, till twelve.
We got away punctually, and in the course of an hour and a half arrived
at the town of Annunciation. Annunciation is the very last place under
the sun. In other towns in Italy the people lie around quietly and wait
for you to ask them a question or do some overt act that can be charged
for--but in Annunciation they have lost even that fragment of delicacy;
they seize a lady's shawl from a chair and hand it to her and charge a
penny; they open a carriage door, and charge for it--shut it when you get
out, and charge for it; they help you to take off a duster--two cents;
brush your clothes and make them worse than they were before--two cents;
smile upon you--two cents; bow, with a lick-spittle smirk, hat in hand
--two cents; they volunteer all information, such as that the mules will
arrive presently--two cents--warm day, sir--two cents--take you four
hours to make the ascent--two cents. And so they go. They crowd you
--infest you--swarm about you, and sweat and smell offensively, and look
sneaking and mean, and obsequious. There is no office too degrading for
them to perform, for money. I have had no opportunity to find out any
thing about the upper classes by my own observation, but from what I hear
said about them I judge that what they lack in one or two of the bad
traits the canaille have, they make up in one or two others that are
worse. How the people beg!--many of them very well dressed, too.
I said I knew nothing against the upper classes by personal observation.
I must recall it! I had forgotten. What I saw their bravest and their
fairest do last night, the lowest multitude that could be scraped up out
of the purlieus of Christendom would blush to do, I think. They
assembled by hundreds, and even thousands, in the great Theatre of San
Carlo, to do--what? Why, simply, to make fun of an old woman--to deride,
to hiss, to jeer at an actress they once worshipped, but whose beauty is
faded now and whose voice has lost its former richness. Every body spoke
of the rare sport there was to be. They said the theatre would be
crammed, because Frezzolini was going to sing. It was said she could not
sing well, now, but then the people liked to see her, anyhow. And so we
went. And every time the woman sang they hissed and laughed--the whole
magnificent house--and as soon as she left the stage they called her on
again with applause. Once or twice she was encored five and six times in
succession, and received with hisses when she appeared, and discharged
with hisses and laughter when she had finished--then instantly encored
and insulted again! And how the high-born knaves enjoyed it!
White-kidded gentlemen and ladies laughed till the tears came, and
clapped their hands in very ecstacy when that unhappy old woman would
come meekly out for the sixth time, with uncomplaining patience, to meet
a storm of hisses! It was the cruelest exhibition--the most wanton, the
most unfeeling. The singer would have conquered an audience of American
rowdies by her brave, unflinching tranquillity (for she answered encore
after encore, and smiled and bowed pleasantly, and sang the best she
possibly could, and went bowing off, through all the jeers and hisses,
without ever losing countenance or temper:) and surely in any other land
than Italy her sex and her helplessness must have been an ample
protection to her--she could have needed no other. Think what a
multitude of small souls were crowded into that theatre last night. If
the manager could have filled his theatre with Neapolitan souls alone,
without the bodies, he could not have cleared less than ninety millions
of dollars. What traits of character must a man have to enable him to
help three thousand miscreants to hiss, and jeer, and laugh at one
friendless old woman, and shamefully humiliate her? He must have all
the vile, mean traits there are. My observation persuades me (I do not
like to venture beyond my own personal observation,) that the upper
classes of Naples possess those traits of character. Otherwise they may
be very good people; I can not say.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
In this city of Naples, they believe in and support one of the
wretchedest of all the religious impostures one can find in Italy--the
miraculous liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius. Twice a year the
priests assemble all the people at the Cathedral, and get out this vial
of clotted blood and let them see it slowly dissolve and become liquid
--and every day for eight days, this dismal farce is repeated, while the
priests go among the crowd and collect money for the exhibition. The
first day, the blood liquefies in forty-seven minutes--the church is
crammed, then, and time must be allowed the collectors to get around:
after that it liquefies a little quicker and a little quicker, every day,
as the houses grow smaller, till on the eighth day, with only a few
dozens present to see the miracle, it liquefies in four minutes.
And here, also, they used to have a grand procession, of priests,
citizens, soldiers, sailors, and the high dignitaries of the City
Government, once a year, to shave the head of a made-up Madonna--a
stuffed and painted image, like a milliner's dummy--whose hair
miraculously grew and restored itself every twelve months. They still
kept up this shaving procession as late as four or five years ago. It
was a source of great profit to the church that possessed the remarkable
effigy, and the ceremony of the public barbering of her was always
carried out with the greatest possible eclat and display--the more the
better, because the more excitement there was about it the larger the
crowds it drew and the heavier the revenues it produced--but at last a
day came when the Pope and his servants were unpopular in Naples, and the
City Government stopped the Madonna's annual show.
There we have two specimens of these Neapolitans--two of the silliest
possible frauds, which half the population religiously and faithfully
believed, and the other half either believed also or else said nothing
about, and thus lent themselves to the support of the imposture. I am
very well satisfied to think the whole population believed in those poor,
cheap miracles--a people who want two cents every time they bow to you,
and who abuse a woman, are capable of it, I think.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
These Neapolitans always ask four times as much money as they intend to
take, but if you give them what they first demand, they feel ashamed of
themselves for aiming so low, and immediately ask more. When money is to
be paid and received, there is always some vehement jawing and
gesticulating about it. One can not buy and pay for two cents' worth of
clams without trouble and a quarrel. One "course," in a two-horse
carriage, costs a franc--that is law--but the hackman always demands
more, on some pretence or other, and if he gets it he makes a new demand.
It is said that a stranger took a one-horse carriage for a course
--tariff, half a franc. He gave the man five francs, by way of experiment.
He demanded more, and received another franc. Again he demanded more,
and got a franc--demanded more, and it was refused. He grew vehement
--was again refused, and became noisy. The stranger said, "Well, give me
the seven francs again, and I will see what I can do"--and when he got
them, he handed the hackman half a franc, and he immediately asked for
two cents to buy a drink with. It may be thought that I am prejudiced.
Perhaps I am. I would be ashamed of myself if I were not.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
Well, as I was saying, we got our mules and horses, after an hour and a
half of bargaining with the population of Annunciation, and started
sleepily up the mountain, with a vagrant at each mule's tail who
pretended to be driving the brute along, but was really holding on and
getting himself dragged up instead. I made slow headway at first, but I
began to get dissatisfied at the idea of paying my minion five francs to
hold my mule back by the tail and keep him from going up the hill, and so
I discharged him. I got along faster then.
We had one magnificent picture of Naples from a high point on the
mountain side. We saw nothing but the gas lamps, of course--two-thirds
of a circle, skirting the great Bay--a necklace of diamonds glinting up
through the darkness from the remote distance--less brilliant than the
stars overhead, but more softly, richly beautiful--and over all the great
city the lights crossed and recrossed each other in many and many a
sparkling line and curve. And back of the town, far around and abroad
over the miles of level campagna, were scattered rows, and circles, and
clusters of lights, all glowing like so many gems, and marking where a
score of villages were sleeping. About this time, the fellow who was
hanging on to the tail of the horse in front of me and practicing all
sorts of unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, got kicked some fourteen
rods, and this incident, together with the fairy spectacle of the lights
far in the distance, made me serenely happy, and I was glad I started to
ASCENT OF MOUNT VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
This subject will be excellent matter for a chapter, and tomorrow or next
day I will write it.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
"See Naples and die." Well, I do not know that one would necessarily die
after merely seeing it, but to attempt to live there might turn out a
little differently. To see Naples as we saw it in the early dawn from
far up on the side of Vesuvius, is to see a picture of wonderful beauty.
At that distance its dingy buildings looked white--and so, rank on rank
of balconies, windows and roofs, they piled themselves up from the blue
ocean till the colossal castle of St. Elmo topped the grand white pyramid
and gave the picture symmetry, emphasis and completeness. And when its
lilies turned to roses--when it blushed under the sun's first kiss--it
was beautiful beyond all description. One might well say, then, "See
Naples and die." The frame of the picture was charming, itself. In
front, the smooth sea--a vast mosaic of many colors; the lofty islands
swimming in a dreamy haze in the distance; at our end of the city the
stately double peak of Vesuvius, and its strong black ribs and seams of
lava stretching down to the limitless level campagna--a green carpet that
enchants the eye and leads it on and on, past clusters of trees, and
isolated houses, and snowy villages, until it shreds out in a fringe of
mist and general vagueness far away. It is from the Hermitage, there on
the side of Vesuvius, that one should "see Naples and die."
But do not go within the walls and look at it in detail. That takes away
some of the romance of the thing. The people are filthy in their habits,
and this makes filthy streets and breeds disagreeable sights and smells.
There never was a community so prejudiced against the cholera as these
Neapolitans are. But they have good reason to be. The cholera generally
vanquishes a Neapolitan when it seizes him, because, you understand,
before the doctor can dig through the dirt and get at the disease the man
dies. The upper classes take a sea-bath every day, and are pretty
The streets are generally about wide enough for one wagon, and how they
do swarm with people! It is Broadway repeated in every street, in every
court, in every alley! Such masses, such throngs, such multitudes of
hurrying, bustling, struggling humanity! We never saw the like of it,
hardly even in New York, I think. There are seldom any sidewalks, and
when there are, they are not often wide enough to pass a man on without
caroming on him. So everybody walks in the street--and where the street
is wide enough, carriages are forever dashing along. Why a thousand
people are not run over and crippled every day is a mystery that no man
can solve. But if there is an eighth wonder in the world, it must be the
dwelling-houses of Naples. I honestly believe a good majority of them
are a hundred feet high! And the solid brick walls are seven feet
through. You go up nine flights of stairs before you get to the "first"
floor. No, not nine, but there or thereabouts. There is a little
bird-cage of an iron railing in front of every window clear away up, up,
up, among the eternal clouds, where the roof is, and there is always
somebody looking out of every window--people of ordinary size looking
out from the first floor, people a shade smaller from the second, people
that look a little smaller yet from the third--and from thence upward
they grow smaller and smaller by a regularly graduated diminution, till
the folks in the topmost windows seem more like birds in an uncommonly
tall martin-box than any thing else. The perspective of one of these
narrow cracks of streets, with its rows of tall houses stretching away
till they come together in the distance like railway tracks; its
clothes-lines crossing over at all altitudes and waving their bannered
raggedness over the swarms of people below; and the white-dressed women
perched in balcony railings all the way from the pavement up to the
heavens--a perspective like that is really worth going into Neapolitan
details to see.
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
Naples, with its immediate suburbs, contains six hundred and twenty-five
thousand inhabitants, but I am satisfied it covers no more ground than an
American city of one hundred and fifty thousand. It reaches up into the
air infinitely higher than three American cities, though, and there is
where the secret of it lies. I will observe here, in passing, that the
contrasts between opulence and poverty, and magnificence and misery, are
more frequent and more striking in Naples than in Paris even. One must
go to the Bois de Boulogne to see fashionable dressing, splendid
equipages and stunning liveries, and to the Faubourg St. Antoine to see
vice, misery, hunger, rags, dirt--but in the thoroughfares of Naples
these things are all mixed together. Naked boys of nine years and the
fancy-dressed children of luxury; shreds and tatters, and brilliant
uniforms; jackass-carts and state-carriages; beggars, Princes and
Bishops, jostle each other in every street. At six o'clock every
evening, all Naples turns out to drive on the 'Riviere di Chiaja',
(whatever that may mean;) and for two hours one may stand there and see
the motliest and the worst mixed procession go by that ever eyes beheld.
Princes (there are more Princes than policemen in Naples--the city is
infested with them)--Princes who live up seven flights of stairs and
don't own any principalities, will keep a carriage and go hungry; and
clerks, mechanics, milliners and strumpets will go without their dinners
and squander the money on a hack-ride in the Chiaja; the rag-tag and
rubbish of the city stack themselves up, to the number of twenty or
thirty, on a rickety little go-cart hauled by a donkey not much bigger
than a cat, and they drive in the Chiaja; Dukes and bankers, in sumptuous
carriages and with gorgeous drivers and footmen, turn out, also, and so
the furious procession goes. For two hours rank and wealth, and
obscurity and poverty clatter along side by side in the wild procession,
and then go home serene, happy, covered with glory!
I was looking at a magnificent marble staircase in the King's palace, the
other day, which, it was said, cost five million francs, and I suppose it
did cost half a million, may be. I felt as if it must be a fine thing to
live in a country where there was such comfort and such luxury as this.
And then I stepped out musing, and almost walked over a vagabond who was
eating his dinner on the curbstone--a piece of bread and a bunch of
grapes. When I found that this mustang was clerking in a fruit
establishment (he had the establishment along with him in a basket,) at
two cents a day, and that he had no palace at home where he lived, I lost
some of my enthusiasm concerning the happiness of living in Italy.
This naturally suggests to me a thought about wages here. Lieutenants in
the army get about a dollar a day, and common soldiers a couple of cents.
I only know one clerk--he gets four dollars a month. Printers get six
dollars and a half a month, but I have heard of a foreman who gets
To be growing suddenly and violently rich, as this man is, naturally
makes him a bloated aristocrat. The airs he puts on are insufferable.
And, speaking of wages, reminds me of prices of merchandise. In Paris
you pay twelve dollars a dozen for Jouvin's best kid gloves; gloves of
about as good quality sell here at three or four dollars a dozen. You
pay five and six dollars apiece for fine linen shirts in Paris; here and
in Leghorn you pay two and a half. In Marseilles you pay forty dollars
for a first-class dress coat made by a good tailor, but in Leghorn you
can get a full dress suit for the same money. Here you get handsome
business suits at from ten to twenty dollars, and in Leghorn you can get
an overcoat for fifteen dollars that would cost you seventy in New York.
Fine kid boots are worth eight dollars in Marseilles and four dollars
here. Lyons velvets rank higher in America than those of Genoa. Yet the
bulk of Lyons velvets you buy in the States are made in Genoa and
imported into Lyons, where they receive the Lyons stamp and are then
exported to America. You can buy enough velvet in Genoa for twenty-five
dollars to make a five hundred dollar cloak in New York--so the ladies
tell me. Of course these things bring me back, by a natural and easy
transition, to the
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
And thus the wonderful Blue Grotto is suggested to me. It is situated on
the Island of Capri, twenty-two miles from Naples. We chartered a little
steamer and went out there. Of course, the police boarded us and put us
through a health examination, and inquired into our politics, before they
would let us land. The airs these little insect Governments put on are
in the last degree ridiculous. They even put a policeman on board of our
boat to keep an eye on us as long as we were in the Capri dominions.
They thought we wanted to steal the grotto, I suppose. It was worth
stealing. The entrance to the cave is four feet high and four feet wide,
and is in the face of a lofty perpendicular cliff--the sea-wall. You
enter in small boats--and a tight squeeze it is, too. You can not go in
at all when the tide is up. Once within, you find yourself in an arched
cavern about one hundred and sixty feet long, one hundred and twenty
wide, and about seventy high. How deep it is no man knows. It goes down
to the bottom of the ocean. The waters of this placid subterranean lake
are the brightest, loveliest blue that can be imagined. They are as
transparent as plate glass, and their coloring would shame the richest
sky that ever bent over Italy. No tint could be more ravishing, no
lustre more superb. Throw a stone into the water, and the myriad of tiny
bubbles that are created flash out a brilliant glare like blue theatrical
fires. Dip an oar, and its blade turns to splendid frosted silver,
tinted with blue. Let a man jump in, and instantly he is cased in an
armor more gorgeous than ever kingly Crusader wore.
Then we went to Ischia, but I had already been to that island and tired
myself to death "resting" a couple of days and studying human villainy,
with the landlord of the Grande Sentinelle for a model. So we went to
Procida, and from thence to Pozzuoli, where St. Paul landed after he
sailed from Samos. I landed at precisely the same spot where St. Paul
landed, and so did Dan and the others. It was a remarkable coincidence.
St. Paul preached to these people seven days before he started to Rome.
Nero's Baths, the ruins of Baiae, the Temple of Serapis; Cumae, where the
Cumaen Sybil interpreted the oracles, the Lake Agnano, with its ancient
submerged city still visible far down in its depths--these and a hundred
other points of interest we examined with critical imbecility, but the
Grotto of the Dog claimed our chief attention, because we had heard and
read so much about it. Every body has written about the Grotto del Cane
and its poisonous vapors, from Pliny down to Smith, and every tourist has
held a dog over its floor by the legs to test the capabilities of the
place. The dog dies in a minute and a half--a chicken instantly. As a
general thing, strangers who crawl in there to sleep do not get up until
they are called. And then they don't either. The stranger that ventures
to sleep there takes a permanent contract. I longed to see this grotto.
I resolved to take a dog and hold him myself; suffocate him a little, and
time him; suffocate him some more and then finish him. We reached the
grotto at about three in the afternoon, and proceeded at once to make the
experiments. But now, an important difficulty presented itself. We had
ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.
At the Hermitage we were about fifteen or eighteen hundred feet above the
sea, and thus far a portion of the ascent had been pretty abrupt. For
the next two miles the road was a mixture--sometimes the ascent was
abrupt and sometimes it was not: but one characteristic it possessed all
the time, without failure--without modification--it was all
uncompromisingly and unspeakably infamous. It was a rough, narrow trail,
and led over an old lava flow--a black ocean which was tumbled into a
thousand fantastic shapes--a wild chaos of ruin, desolation, and
barrenness--a wilderness of billowy upheavals, of furious whirlpools, of
miniature mountains rent asunder--of gnarled and knotted, wrinkled and
twisted masses of blackness that mimicked branching roots, great vines,
trunks of trees, all interlaced and mingled together: and all these weird
shapes, all this turbulent panorama, all this stormy, far-stretching
waste of blackness, with its thrilling suggestiveness of life, of action,
of boiling, surging, furious motion, was petrified!--all stricken dead
and cold in the instant of its maddest rioting!--fettered, paralyzed, and
left to glower at heaven in impotent rage for evermore!
Finally we stood in a level, narrow valley (a valley that had been
created by the terrific march of some old time irruption) and on either
hand towered the two steep peaks of Vesuvius. The one we had to climb
--the one that contains the active volcano--seemed about eight hundred or
one thousand feet high, and looked almost too straight-up-and-down for
any man to climb, and certainly no mule could climb it with a man on his
back. Four of these native pirates will carry you to the top in a sedan
chair, if you wish it, but suppose they were to slip and let you fall,
--is it likely that you would ever stop rolling? Not this side of
eternity, perhaps. We left the mules, sharpened our finger-nails, and
began the ascent I have been writing about so long, at twenty minutes to
six in the morning. The path led straight up a rugged sweep of loose
chunks of pumice-stone, and for about every two steps forward we took, we
slid back one. It was so excessively steep that we had to stop, every
fifty or sixty steps, and rest a moment. To see our comrades, we had to
look very nearly straight up at those above us, and very nearly straight
down at those below. We stood on the summit at last--it had taken an
hour and fifteen minutes to make the trip.
What we saw there was simply a circular crater--a circular ditch, if you
please--about two hundred feet deep, and four or five hundred feet wide,
whose inner wall was about half a mile in circumference. In the centre
of the great circus ring thus formed, was a torn and ragged upheaval a
hundred feet high, all snowed over with a sulphur crust of many and many
a brilliant and beautiful color, and the ditch inclosed this like the
moat of a castle, or surrounded it as a little river does a little
island, if the simile is better. The sulphur coating of that island was
gaudy in the extreme--all mingled together in the richest confusion were
red, blue, brown, black, yellow, white--I do not know that there was a
color, or shade of a color, or combination of colors, unrepresented--and
when the sun burst through the morning mists and fired this tinted
magnificence, it topped imperial Vesuvius like a jeweled crown!
The crater itself--the ditch--was not so variegated in coloring, but yet,
in its softness, richness, and unpretentious elegance, it was more
charming, more fascinating to the eye. There was nothing "loud" about
its well-bred and well-creased look. Beautiful? One could stand and
look down upon it for a week without getting tired of it. It had the
semblance of a pleasant meadow, whose slender grasses and whose velvety
mosses were frosted with a shining dust, and tinted with palest green
that deepened gradually to the darkest hue of the orange leaf, and
deepened yet again into gravest brown, then faded into orange, then into
brightest gold, and culminated in the delicate pink of a new-blown rose.
Where portions of the meadow had sunk, and where other portions had been
broken up like an ice-floe, the cavernous openings of the one, and the
ragged upturned edges exposed by the other, were hung with a lace-work of
soft-tinted crystals of sulphur that changed their deformities into
quaint shapes and figures that were full of grace and beauty.
The walls of the ditch were brilliant with yellow banks of sulphur and
with lava and pumice-stone of many colors. No fire was visible any
where, but gusts of sulphurous steam issued silently and invisibly from a
thousand little cracks and fissures in the crater, and were wafted to our
noses with every breeze. But so long as we kept our nostrils buried in
our handkerchiefs, there was small danger of suffocation.
Some of the boys thrust long slips of paper down into holes and set them
on fire, and so achieved the glory of lighting their cigars by the flames
of Vesuvius, and others cooked eggs over fissures in the rocks and were
The view from the summit would have been superb but for the fact that the
sun could only pierce the mists at long intervals. Thus the glimpses we
had of the grand panorama below were only fitful and unsatisfactory.
The descent of the mountain was a labor of only four minutes. Instead of
stalking down the rugged path we ascended, we chose one which was bedded
knee-deep in loose ashes, and ploughed our way with prodigious strides
that would almost have shamed the performance of him of the seven-league
The Vesuvius of today is a very poor affair compared to the mighty
volcano of Kilauea, in the Sandwich Islands, but I am glad I visited it.
It was well worth it.
It is said that during one of the grand eruptions of Vesuvius it
discharged massy rocks weighing many tons a thousand feet into the air,
its vast jets of smoke and steam ascended thirty miles toward the
firmament, and clouds of its ashes were wafted abroad and fell upon the
decks of ships seven hundred and fifty miles at sea! I will take the
ashes at a moderate discount, if any one will take the thirty miles of
smoke, but I do not feel able to take a commanding interest in the whole
story by myself.