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The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner Volume 2 by Charles Dudley Warner

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I find a good deal of companionship in the rows of plaster busts that
stand on the wall, in all attitudes of listlessness, and all stages
of decay. I thought at first they were penates of the premises; but
better acquaintance has convinced me that they never were gods, but
the clayey representations of great men and noble dames. The stains
of time are on them; some have lost a nose or an ear; and one has
parted with a still more important member--his head,--an accident
that might profitably have befallen his neighbor, whose curly locks
and villainously low forehead proclaim him a Roman emperor. Cut in
the face of the rock is a walled and winding way down to the water.
I see below the archway where it issues from the underground recesses
of our establishment; and there stands a bust, in serious expectation
that some one will walk out and saunter down among the rocks; but no
one ever does. Just at the right is a little beach, with a few old
houses, and a mimic stir of life, a little curve in the cliff, the
mouth of the gorge, where the waves come in with a lazy swash. Some
fishing-boats ride there; and the shallow water, as I look down this
sunny morning, is thickly strewn with floating peels of oranges and
lemons, as if some one was brewing a gigantic bowl of punch. And
there is an uncommon stir of life; for a schooner is shipping a cargo
of oranges, and the entire population is in a clamor. Donkeys are
coming down the winding way, with a heavy basket on either flank;
stout girls are stepping lightly down with loads on their heads; the
drivers shout, the donkeys bray, the people jabber and order each
other about; and the oranges, in a continual stream, are poured into
the long, narrow vessel, rolling in with a thud, until there is a
yellow mass of them. Shouting, scolding, singing, and braying, all
come up to me a little mellowed. The disorder is not so great as on
the opera stage of San Carlo in Naples; and the effect is much more

This settlement, the marina, under the cliff, used to extend along
the shore; and a good road ran down there close by the water. The
rock has split off, and covered it; and perhaps the shore has sunk.
They tell me that those who dig down in the edge of the shallow water
find sunken walls, and the remains of old foundations of Roman
workmanship. People who wander there pick up bits of marble,
serpentine, and malachite,--remains of the palaces that long ago fell
into the sea, and have not left even the names of their owners and
builders,-the ancient loafers who idled away their days as everybody
must in this seductive spot. Not far from here, they point out the
veritable caves of the Sirens, who have now shut up house, and gone
away, like the rest of the nobility. If I had been a mariner in
their day, I should have made no effort to sail by and away from
their soothing shore.

I went, one day, through a long, sloping arch, near the sailors'
Chapel of St. Antonino, past a pretty shrine of the Virgin, down the
zigzag path to this little marina; but it is better to be content
with looking at it from above, and imagining how delightful it would
be to push off in one of the little tubs of boats. Sometimes, at
night, I hear the fishermen coming home, singing in their lusty
fashion; and I think it is a good haven to arrive at. I never go
down to search for stones on the beach: I like to believe that there
are great treasures there, which I might find; and I know that the
green and brown and spotty appearance of the water is caused by the
showing through of the pavements of courts, and marble floors of
palaces, which might vanish if I went nearer, such a place of
illusion is this.

The Villa Nardi stands in pleasant relations to Vesuvius, which is
just across the bay, and is not so useless as it has been
represented; it is our weather-sign and prophet. When the white
plume on his top floats inland, that is one sort of weather; when it
streams out to sea, that is another. But I can never tell which is
which: nor in my experience does it much matter; for it seems
impossible for Sorrento to do anything but woo us with gentle
weather. But the use of Vesuvius, after all, is to furnish us a
background for the violet light at sundown, when the villages at its
foot gleam like a silver fringe. I have become convinced of one
thing: it is always best when you build a house to have it front
toward a volcano, if you can. There is just that lazy activity about
a volcano, ordinarily, that satisfies your demand for something that
is not exactly dead, and yet does not disturb you.

Sometimes when I wake in the night,--though I don't know why one ever
wakes in the night, or the daytime either here,--I hear the bell of
the convent, which is in our demesne,--a convent which is suppressed,
and where I hear, when I pass in the morning, the humming of a
school. At first I tried to count the hour; but when the bell went
on to strike seventeen, and even twenty-one o'clock, the absurdity of
the thing came over me, and I wondered whether it was some frequent
call to prayer for a feeble band of sisters remaining, some reminder
of midnight penance and vigil, or whether it was not something more
ghostly than that, and was not responded to by shades of nuns, who
were wont to look out from their narrow latticed windows upon these
same gardens, as long ago as when the beautiful Queen Joanna used to
come down here to repent--if she ever did repent--of her wanton ways
in Naples.

On one side of the garden is a suppressed monastery. The narrow
front towards the sea has a secluded little balcony, where I like to
fancy the poor orphaned souls used to steal out at night for a breath
of fresh air, and perhaps to see, as I did one dark evening, Naples
with its lights like a conflagration on the horizon. Upon the tiles
of the parapet are cheerful devices, the crossbones tied with a cord,
and the like. How many heavy-hearted recluses have stood in that
secluded nook, and been tempted by the sweet, lulling sound of the
waves below; how many have paced along this narrow terrace, and felt
like prisoners who wore paths in the stone floor where they trod; and
how many stupid louts have walked there, insensible to all the charm
of it!

If I pass into the Tramontano garden, it is not to escape the
presence of history, or to get into the modern world, where travelers
are arriving, and where there is the bustle and proverbial discontent
of those who travel to enjoy themselves. In the pretty garden, which
is a constant surprise of odd nooks and sunny hiding-places, with
ruins, and most luxuriant ivy, is a little cottage where, I am told
in confidence, the young king of Bavaria slept three nights not very
long ago. I hope he slept well. But more important than the sleep,
or even death, of a king, is the birth of a poet, I take it; and
within this inclosure, on the eleventh day of March, 1541, Torquato
Tasso, most melancholy of men, first saw the light; and here was born
his noble sister Cornelia, the descendants of whose union with the
cavalier Spasiano still live here, and in a manner keep the memory of
the poet green with the present generation. I am indebted to a
gentleman who is of this lineage for many favors, and for precise
information as to the position in the house that stood here of the
very room in which Tasso was born. It is also minutely given in a
memoir of Tasso and his family, by Bartolommeo Capasso, whose careful
researches have disproved the slipshod statements of the guidebooks,
that the poet was born in a house which is still standing, farther to
the west, and that the room has fallen into the sea. The descendant
of the sister pointed out to me the spot on the terrace of the
Tramontano where the room itself was, when the house still stood;
and, of course, seeing is believing. The sun shone full upon it, as
we stood there; and the air was full of the scent of tropical fruit
and just-coming blossoms. One could not desire a more tranquil scene
of advent into life; and the wandering, broken-hearted author of
"Jerusalem Delivered " never found at court or palace any retreat so
soothing as that offered him here by his steadfast sister.

If I were an antiquarian, I think I should have had Tasso born at the
Villa Nardi, where I like best to stay, and where I find traces of
many pilgrims from other countries. Here, in a little corner room on
the terrace, Mrs. Stowe dreamed and wrote; and I expect, every
morning, as I take my morning sun here by the gate, Agnes of Sorrento
will come down the sweet-scented path with a basket of oranges on her


It is not always easy, when one stands upon the highlands which
encircle the Piano di Sorrento, in some conditions of the atmosphere,
to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. It seems.
practicable, at such times, for one to take ship and sail up into
heaven. I have often, indeed, seen white sails climbing up there,
and fishing-boats, at secure anchor I suppose, riding apparently like
balloons in the hazy air. Sea and air and land here are all kin, I
suspect, and have certain immaterial qualities in common. The
contours of the shores and the outlines of the hills are as graceful
as the mobile waves; and if there is anywhere ruggedness and
sharpness, the atmosphere throws a friendly veil over it, and tones
all that is inharmonious into the repose of beauty.

The atmosphere is really something more than a medium: it is a
drapery, woven, one could affirm, with colors, or dipped in oriental
dyes. One might account thus for the prismatic colors I have often
seen on the horizon at noon, when the sun was pouring down floods of
clear golden light. The simple light here, if one could ever
represent it by pen, pencil, or brush, would draw the world hither to
bathe in it. It is not thin sunshine, but a royal profusion, a
golden substance, a transforming quality, a vesture of splendor for
all these Mediterranean shores.

The most comprehensive idea of Sorrento and the great plain on which
it stands, imbedded almost out of sight in foliage, we obtained one
day from our boat, as we put out round the Capo di Sorrento, and
stood away for Capri. There was not wind enough for sails, but there
were chopping waves, and swell enough to toss us about, and to
produce bright flashes of light far out at sea. The red-shirted
rowers silently bent to their long sweeps; and I lay in the tossing
bow, and studied the high, receding shore. The picture is simple, a
precipice of rock or earth, faced with masonry in spots, almost of
uniform height from point to point of the little bay, except where a
deep gorge has split the rock, and comes to the sea, forming a cove,
where a cluster of rude buildings is likely to gather. Along the
precipice, which now juts and now recedes a little, are villas,
hotels, old convents, gardens, and groves. I can see steps and
galleries cut in the face of the cliff, and caves and caverns,
natural and artificial: for one can cut this tufa with a knife; and
it would hardly seem preposterous to attempt to dig out a cool, roomy
mansion in this rocky front with a spade.

As we pull away, I begin to see the depth of the plain of Sorrento,
with its villages, walled roads, its groves of oranges, olives,
lemons, its figs, pomegranates, almonds, mulberries, and acacias; and
soon the terraces above, where the vineyards are planted, and the
olives also. These terraces must be a brave sight in the spring,
when the masses of olives are white as snow with blossoms, which fill
all the plain with their sweet perfume. Above the terraces, the eye
reaches the fine outline of the hill; and, to the east, the bare
precipice of rock, softened by the purple light; and turning still to
the left, as the boat lazily swings, I have Vesuvius, the graceful
dip into the plain, and the rise to the heights of Naples, Nisida,
the shining houses of Pozzuoli, Cape Misenum, Procida, and rough
Ischia. Rounding the headland, Capri is before us, so sharp and
clear that we seem close to it; but it is a weary pull before we get
under its rocky side.

Returning from Capri late in the afternoon, we had one of those
effects which are the despair of artists. I had been told that
twilights are short here, and that, when the sun disappeared, color
vanished from the sky. There was a wonderful light on all the inner
bay, as we put off from shore. Ischia was one mass of violet color,
As we got from under the island, there was the sun, a red ball of
fire, just dipping into the sea. At once the whole horizon line of
water became a bright crimson, which deepened as evening advanced,
glowing with more intense fire, and holding a broad band of what
seemed solid color for more than three quarters of an hour. The
colors, meantime, on the level water, never were on painter's
palette, and never were counterfeited by the changeable silks of
eastern looms; and this gorgeous spectacle continued till the stars
came out, crowding the sky with silver points.

Our boatmen, who had been reinforced at Capri, and were inspired
either by the wine of the island or the beauty of the night, pulled
with new vigor, and broke out again and again into the wild songs of
this coast. A favorite was the Garibaldi song, which invariably ended
in a cheer and a tiger, and threw the singers into such a spurt of
excitement that the oars forgot to keep time, and there was more
splash than speed. The singers all sang one part in minor: there was
no harmony, the voices were not rich, and the melody was not
remarkable; but there was, after all, a wild pathos in it. Music is
very much here what it is in Naples. I have to keep saying to myself
that Italy is a land of song; else I should think that people mistake
noise for music.

The boatmen are an honest set of fellows, as Italians go; and, let us
hope, not unworthy followers of their patron, St. Antonino, whose
chapel is on the edge of the gorge near the Villa Nardi. A silver
image of the saint, half life-size, stands upon the rich marble
altar. This valuable statue has been,, if tradition is correct, five
times captured and carried away by marauders, who have at different
times sacked Sorrento of its marbles, bronzes, and precious things,
and each time, by some mysterious providence, has found its way back
again,--an instance of constancy in a solid silver image which is
worthy of commendation. The little chapel is hung all about with
votive offerings in wax of arms, legs, heads, hands, effigies, and
with coarse lithographs, in frames, of storms at sea and perils of
ships, hung up by sailors who, having escaped the dangers of the
deep, offer these tributes to their dear saint. The skirts of the
image are worn quite smooth with kissing. Underneath it, at the back
of the altar, an oil light is always burning; and below repose the
bones of the holy man.

The whole shore is fascinating to one in an idle mood, and is good
mousing-ground for the antiquarian. For myself, I am content with
one generalization, which I find saves a world of bother and
perplexity: it is quite safe to style every excavation, cavern,
circular wall, or arch by the sea, a Roman bath. It is the final
resort of the antiquarians. This theory has kept me from entering
the discussion, whether the substructions in the cliff under the
Poggio Syracuse, a royal villa, are temples of the Sirens, or caves
of Ulysses. I only know that I descend to the sea there by broad
interior flights of steps, which lead through galleries and
corridors, and high, vaulted passages, whence extend apartments and
caves far reaching into the solid rock. At intervals are landings,
where arched windows are cut out to the sea, with stone seats and
protecting walls. At the base of the cliff I find a hewn passage, as
if there had once been here a way of embarkation; and enormous
fragments of rocks, with steps cut in them, which have fallen from

Were these anything more than royal pleasure galleries, where one
could sit in coolness in the heat of summer and look on the bay and
its shipping, in the days when the great Roman fleet used to lie
opposite, above the point of Misenum? How many brave and gay
retinues have swept down these broad interior stairways, let us say
in the picturesque Middle Ages, to embark on voyages of pleasure or
warlike forays! The steps are well worn, and must have been trodden
for ages, by nobles and robbers, peasants and sailors, priests of
more than one religion, and traders of many seas, who have gone, and
left no record. The sun was slanting his last rays into the
corridors as I musingly looked down from one of the arched openings,
quite spellbound by the strangeness and dead silence of the place,
broken only by the plash of waves on the sandy beach below. I had
found my way down through a wooden door half ajar; and I thought of
the possibility of some one's shutting it for the night, and leaving
me a prisoner to await the spectres which I have no doubt throng here
when it grows dark. Hastening up out of these chambers of the past,
I escaped into the upper air, and walked rapidly home through the
narrow orange lanes.


The tiptop of the Villa Nardi is a flat roof, with a wall about it
three feet high, and some little turreted affairs, that look very
much like chimneys. Joseph, the gray-haired servitor, has brought my
chair and table up here to-day, and here I am, established to write.

I am here above most earthly annoyances, and on a level with the
heavenly influences. It has always seemed to me that the higher one
gets, the easier it must be to write; and that, especially at a great
elevation, one could strike into lofty themes, and launch out,
without fear of shipwreck on any of the earthly headlands, in his
aerial voyages. Yet, after all, he would be likely to arrive
nowhere, I suspect; or, to change the figure, to find that, in
parting with the taste of the earth, he had produced a flavorless
composition. If it were not for the haze in the horizon to-day, I
could distinguish the very house in Naples--that of Manso, Marquis of
Villa,--where Tasso found a home, and where John Milton was
entertained at a later day by that hospitable nobleman. I wonder, if
he had come to the Villa Nardi and written on the roof, if the
theological features of his epic would have been softened, and if he
would not have received new suggestions for the adornment of the
garden. Of course, it is well that his immortal production was not
composed on this roof, and in sight of these seductive shores, or it
would have been more strongly flavored with classic mythology than it
is. But, letting Milton go, it may be necessary to say that my
writing to-day has nothing to do with my theory of composition in an
elevated position; for this is the laziest place that I have yet

I am above the highest olive-trees, and, if I turned that way, should
look over the tops of what seems a vast grove of them, out of which a
white roof, and an old time-eaten tower here and there, appears; and
the sun is flooding them with waves of light, which I think a person
delicately enough organized could hear beat. Beyond the brown roofs
of the town, the terraced hills arise, in semicircular embrace of the
plain; and the fine veil over them is partly the natural shimmer of
the heat, and partly the silver duskiness of the olive-leaves. I sit
with my back to all this, taking the entire force of this winter sun,
which is full of life and genial heat, and does not scorch one, as I
remember such a full flood of it would at home. It is putting
sweetness, too, into the oranges, which, I observe, are getting
redder and softer day by day. We have here, by the way, such a habit
of taking up an orange, weighing it in the hand, and guessing if it
is ripe, that the test is extending to other things. I saw a
gentleman this morning, at breakfast, weighing an egg in the same
manner; and some one asked him if it was ripe.

It seems to me that the Mediterranean was never bluer than it is
to-day. It has a shade or two the advantage of the sky: though I
like the sky best, after all; for it is less opaque, and offers an
illimitable opportunity of exploration. Perhaps this is because I am
nearer to it. There are some little ruffles of air on the sea, which
I do not feel here, making broad spots of shadow, and here and there
flecks and sparkles. But the schooners sail idly, and the
fishing-boats that have put out from the marina float in the most
dreamy manner. I fear that the fishermen who have made a show of
industry, and got away from their wives, who are busily weaving nets
on shore, are yielding to the seductions of the occasion) and making
a day of it. And, as I look at them, I find myself debating which I
would rather be, a fisherman there in the boat, rocked by the swell,
and warmed by the sun, or a friar, on the terrace of the garden on
the summit of Deserto, lying perfectly tranquil, and also soaked in
the sun. There is one other person, now that I think of it, who may
be having a good time to-day, though I do not know that I envy him.
His business is a new one to me, and is an occupation that one would
not care to recommend to a friend until he had tried it: it is being
carried about in a basket. As I went up the new Massa road the other
day, I met a ragged, stout, and rather dirty woman, with a large
shallow basket on her head. In it lay her husband, a large man,
though I think a little abbreviated as to his legs. The woman asked
alms. Talk of Diogenes in his tub! How must the world look to a man
in a basket, riding about on his wife's head? When I returned, she
had put him down beside the road in the sun, and almost in danger of
the passing vehicles. I suppose that the affectionate creature
thought that, if he got a new injury in this way, his value in the
beggar market would be increased. I do not mean to do this exemplary
wife any injustice; and I only suggest the idea in this land, where
every beggar who is born with a deformity has something to thank the
Virgin for. This custom of carrying your husband on your head in a
basket has something to recommend it, and is an exhibition of faith
on the one hand, and of devotion on the other, that is seldom met
with. Its consideration is commended to my countrywomen at home. It
is, at least, a new commentary on the apostolic remark, that the man
is the head of the woman. It is, in some respects, a happy division
of labor in the walk of life: she furnishes the locomotive power, and
he the directing brains, as he lies in the sun and looks abroad;
which reminds me that the sun is getting hot on my back. The little
bunch of bells in the convent tower is jangling out a suggestion of
worship, or of the departure of the hours. It is time to eat an

Vesuvius appears to be about on a level with my eyes and I never knew
him to do himself more credit than to-day. The whole coast of the
bay is in a sort of obscuration, thicker than an Indian summer haze;
and the veil extends almost to the top of Vesuvius. But his summit
is still distinct, and out of it rises a gigantic billowy column of
white smoke, greater in quantity than on any previous day of our
sojourn; and the sun turns it to silver. Above a long line of
ordinary looking clouds, float great white masses, formed of the
sulphurous vapor. This manufacture of clouds in a clear, sunny day
has an odd appearance; but it is easy enough, if one has such a
laboratory as Vesuvius. How it tumbles up the white smoke! It is
piled up now, I should say, a thousand feet above the crater,
straight into the blue sky,--a pillar of cloud by day. One might sit
here all day watching it, listening the while to the melodious spring
singing of the hundreds of birds which have come to take possession
of the garden, receiving southern reinforcements from Sicily and
Tunis every morning, and think he was happy. But the morning has
gone; and I have written nothing.


If ever a northern wanderer could be suddenly transported to look
down upon the Piano di Sorrento, he would not doubt that he saw the
Garden of the Hesperides. The orange-trees cannot well be fuller:
their branches bend with the weight of fruit. With the almond-trees
in full flower, and with the silver sheen of the olive leaves, the
oranges are apples of gold in pictures of silver. As I walk in these
sunken roads, and between these high walls, the orange boughs
everywhere hang over; and through the open gates of villas I look
down alleys of golden glimmer, roses and geraniums by the walk, and
the fruit above,--gardens of enchantment, with never a dragon, that I
can see, to guard them.

All the highways and the byways, the streets and lanes, wherever I
go, from the sea to the tops of the hills, are strewn with
orange-peel; so that one, looking above and below, comes back from a
walk with a golden dazzle in his eyes,--a sense that yellow is the
prevailing color. Perhaps the kerchiefs of the dark-skinned girls
and women, which take that tone, help the impression. The
inhabitants are all orange-eaters. The high walls show that the
gardens are protected with great care; yet the fruit seems to be as
free as apples are in a remote New England town about cider-time.

I have been trying, ever since I have been here, to ascertain the
price of oranges; not for purposes of exportation, nor yet for the
personal importation that I daily practice, but in order to give an
American basis of fact to these idle chapters. In all the paths I
meet, daily, girls and boys bearing on their heads large baskets of
the fruit, and little children with bags and bundles of the same, as
large as they can stagger under; and I understand they are carrying
them to the packers, who ship them to New York, or to the depots,
where I see them lying in yellow heaps, and where men and women are
cutting them up, and removing the peel, which goes to England for
preserves. I am told that these oranges are sold for a couple of
francs a hundred. That seems to me so dear that I am not tempted
into any speculation, but stroll back to the Tramontano, in the
gardens of which I find better terms.

The only trouble is to find a sweet tree; for the Sorrento oranges
are usually sour in February; and one needs to be a good judge of the
fruit, and know the male orange from the female, though which it is
that is the sweeter I can never remember (and should not dare to say,
if I did, in the present state of feeling on the woman question),--or
he might as well eat a lemon. The mercenary aspect of my query does
not enter in here. I climb into a tree, and reach out to the end of
the branch for an orange that has got reddish in the sun, that comes
off easily and is heavy; or I tickle a large one on the top bough
with a cane pole; and if it drops readily, and has a fine grain, I
call it a cheap one. I can usually tell whether they are good by
splitting them open and eating a quarter. The Italians pare their
oranges as we do apples; but I like best to open them first, and see
the yellow meat in the white casket. After you have eaten a few from
one tree, you can usually tell whether it is a good tree; but there
is nothing certain about it,--one bough that gets the sun will be
better than another that does not, and one half of an orange will
fill your mouth with more delicious juices than the other half.

The oranges that you knock off with your stick, as you walk along the
lanes, don't cost anything; but they are always sour, as I think the
girls know who lean over the wall, and look on with a smile: and, in
that, they are more sensible than the lively dogs which bark at you
from the top, and wake all the neighborhood with their clamor. I
have no doubt the oranges have a market price; but I have been
seeking the value the gardeners set on them themselves. As I walked
towards the heights, the other morning, and passed an orchard, the
gardener, who saw my ineffectual efforts, with a very long cane, to
reach the boughs of a tree, came down to me with a basketful he had
been picking. As an experiment on the price, I offered him a
two-centime piece, which is a sort of satire on the very name of
money,--when he desired me to help myself to as many oranges as I
liked. He was a fine-looking fellow, with a spick-span new red
Phrygian cap; and I had n't the heart to take advantage of his
generosity, especially as his oranges were not of the sweetest. One
ought never to abuse generosity.

Another experience was of a different sort, and illustrates the
Italian love of bargaining, and their notion of a sliding scale of
prices. One of our expeditions to the hills was one day making its
long, straggling way through the narrow street of a little village of
the Piano, when I lingered behind my companions, attracted by a
handcart with several large baskets of oranges. The cart stood
untended in the street; and selecting a large orange, which would
measure twelve inches in circumference, I turned to look for the
owner. After some time a fellow got from the open front of the
neighboring cobbler's shop, where he sat with his lazy cronies,
listening to the honest gossip of the follower of St. Crispin, and
sauntered towards me.

"How much for this?" I ask.

"One franc, signor," says the proprietor, with a polite bow, holding
up one finger.

I shake my head, and intimate that that is altogether too much, in
fact, preposterous.

The proprietor is very indifferent, and shrugs his shoulders in an
amiable manner. He picks up a fair, handsome orange, weighs it in
his hand, and holds it up temptingly. That also is one, franc.

I suggest one sou as a fair price, a suggestion which he only
receives with a smile of slight pity, and, I fancy, a little disdain.
A woman joins him, and also holds up this and that gold-skinned one
for my admiration.

As I stand, sorting over the fruit, trying to please myself with
size, color, and texture, a little crowd has gathered round; and I
see, by a glance, that all the occupations in that neighborhood,
including loafing, are temporarily suspended to witness the trade.
The interest of the circle visibly increases; and others take such a
part in the transaction that I begin to doubt if the first man is,
after all, the proprietor.

At length I select two oranges, and again demand the price. There is
a little consultation and jabber, when I am told that I can have both
for a franc. I, in turn, sigh, shrug my shoulders, and put down the
oranges, amid a chorus of exclamations over my graspingness. My
offer of two sous is met with ridicule, but not with indifference. I
can see that it has made a sensation. These simple, idle children of
the sun begin to show a little excitement. I at length determine
upon a bold stroke, and resolve to show myself the Napoleon of
oranges, or to meet my Waterloo. I pick out four of the largest
oranges in the basket, while all eyes are fixed on me intently, and,
for the first time, pull out a piece of money. It is a two-sous
piece. I offer it for the four oranges.

"No, no, no, no, signor! Ah, signor! ah, signor!" in a chorus from
the whole crowd.

I have struck bottom at last, and perhaps got somewhere near the
value; and all calmness is gone. Such protestations, such
indignation, such sorrow, I have never seen before from so small a
cause. It cannot be thought of; it is mere ruin! I am, in turn, as
firm, and nearly as excited in seeming. I hold up the fruit, and
tender the money.

"No, never, never! The signor cannot be in earnest."

Looking round me for a moment, and assuming a theatrical manner,
befitting the gestures of those about me, I fling the fruit down,
and, with a sublime renunciation, stalk away.

There is instantly a buzz and a hum that rises almost to a clamor. I
have not proceeded far, when a skinny old woman runs after me, and
begs me to return. I go back, and the crowd parts to receive me.

The proprietor has a new proposition, the effect of which upon me is
intently watched. He proposes to give me five big oranges for four
sous. I receive it with utter scorn, and a laugh of derision. I
will give two sous for the original four, and not a centesimo more.
That I solemnly say, and am ready to depart. Hesitation and renewed
conference; but at last the proprietor relents; and, with the look of
one who is ruined for life, and who yet is willing to sacrifice
himself, he hands me the oranges. Instantly the excitement is dead,
the crowd disperses, and the street is as quiet as ever; when I walk
away, bearing my hard-won treasures.

A little while after, as I sat upon the outer wall of the terrace of
the Camaldoli, with my feet hanging over, these same oranges were
taken from my pockets by Americans; so that I am prevented from
making any moral reflections upon the honesty of the Italians.

There is an immense garden of oranges and lemons at the village of
Massa, through which travelers are shown by a surly fellow, who keeps
watch of his trees, and has a bulldog lurking about for the unwary.
I hate to see a bulldog in a fruit orchard. I have eaten a good many
oranges there, and been astonished at the boughs of immense lemons
which bend the trees to the ground. I took occasion to measure one
of the lemons, called a citron-lemon, and found its circumference to
be twenty-one inches one way by fifteen inches the other,--about as
big as a railway conductor's lantern. These lemons are not so sour
as the fellow who shows them: he is a mercenary dog, and his prices
afford me no clew to the just value of oranges.

I like better to go to a little garden in the village of Meta, under
a sunny precipice of rocks overhung by the ruined convent of
Camaldoli. I turn up a narrow lane, and push open the wooden door in
the garden of a little villa. It is a pretty garden; and, besides
the orange and lemon-trees on the terrace, it has other fruit-trees,
and a scent of many flowers. My friend, the gardener, is sorting
oranges from one basket to another, on a green bank, and evidently
selling the fruit to some women, who are putting it into bags to
carry away.

When he sees me approach, there is always the same pantomime. I
propose to take some of the fruit he is sorting. With a knowing air,
and an appearance of great mystery, he raises his left hand, the palm
toward me, as one says hush. Having dispatched his business, he
takes an empty basket, and with another mysterious flourish, desiring
me to remain quiet, he goes to a storehouse in one corner of the
garden, and returns with a load of immense oranges, all soaked with
the sun, ripe and fragrant, and more tempting than lumps of gold. I
take one, and ask him if it is sweet. He shrugs his shoulders,
raises his hands, and, with a sidewise shake of the head, and a look
which says, How can you be so faithless? makes me ashamed of my

I cut the thick skin, which easily falls apart and discloses the
luscious quarters, plump, juicy, and waiting to melt in the mouth. I
look for a moment at the rich pulp in its soft incasement, and then
try a delicious morsel. I nod. My gardener again shrugs his
shoulders, with a slight smile, as much as to say, It could not be
otherwise, and is evidently delighted to have me enjoy his fruit. I
fill capacious pockets with the choicest; and, if I have friends with
me, they do the same. I give our silent but most expressive
entertainer half a franc, never more; and he always seems surprised
at the size of the largesse. We exhaust his basket, and he proposes
to get more.

When I am alone, I stroll about under the heavily-laden trees, and
pick up the largest, where they lie thickly on the ground, liking to
hold them in my hand and feel the agreeable weight, even when I can
carry away no more. The gardener neither follows nor watches me; and
I think perhaps knows, and is not stingy about it, that more valuable
to me than the oranges I eat or take away are those on the trees
among the shining leaves. And perhaps he opines that I am from a
country of snow and ice, where the year has six hostile months, and
that I have not money enough to pay for the rich possession of the
eye, the picture of beauty, which I take with me.


There are three places where I should like to live; naming them in
the inverse order of preference,--the Isle of Wight, Sorrento, and
Heaven. The first two have something in common, the almost mystic
union of sky and sea and shore, a soft atmospheric suffusion that
works an enchantment, and puts one into a dreamy mood. And yet there
are decided contrasts. The superabundant, soaking sunshine of
Sorrento is of very different quality from that of the Isle of Wight.
On the island there is a sense of home, which one misses on this
promontory, the fascination of which, no less strong, is that of a
southern beauty, whose charms conquer rather than win. I remember
with what feeling I one day unexpectedly read on a white slab, in the
little inclosure of Bonchurch, where the sea whispered as gently as
the rustle of the ivy-leaves, the name of John Sterling. Could there
be any fitter resting-place for that most, weary, and gentle spirit?
There I seemed to know he had the rest that he could not have
anywhere on these brilliant historic shores. Yet so impressible was
his sensitive nature, that I doubt not, if he had given himself up to
the enchantment of these coasts in his lifetime, it would have led
him by a spell he could not break.

I am sometimes in doubt what is the spell of Sorrento, and half
believe that it is independent of anything visible. There is said to
be a fatal enchantment about Capri. The influences of Sorrento are
not so dangerous, but are almost as marked. I do not wonder that the
Greeks peopled every cove and sea-cave with divinities, and built
temples on every headland and rocky islet here; that the Romans built
upon the Grecian ruins; that the ecclesiastics in succeeding
centuries gained possession of all the heights, and built convents
and monasteries, and set out vineyards, and orchards of olives and
oranges, and took root as the creeping plants do, spreading
themselves abroad in the sunshine and charming air. The Italian of
to-day does not willingly emigrate, is tempted by no seduction of
better fortune in any foreign clime. And so in all ages the swarming
populations have clung to these shores, filling all the coasts and
every nook in these almost inaccessible hills with life. Perhaps the
delicious climate, which avoids all extremes, sufficiently accounts
for this; and yet I have sometimes thought there is a more subtle
reason why travelers from far lands are spellbound here, often
against will and judgment, week after week, month after month.

However this may be, it is certain that strangers who come here, and
remain long enough to get entangled in the meshes which some
influence, I know not what, throws around them, are in danger of
never departing. I know there are scores of travelers, who whisk
down from Naples, guidebook in hand, goaded by the fell purpose of
seeing every place in Europe, ascend some height, buy a load of the
beautiful inlaid woodwork, perhaps row over to Capri and stay five
minutes in the azure grotto, and then whisk away again, untouched by
the glamour of the place. Enough that they write "delightful spot"
in their diaries, and hurry off to new scenes, and more noisy life.
But the visitor who yields himself to the place will soon find his
power of will departing. Some satirical people say, that, as one
grows strong in body here, he becomes weak in mind. The theory I do
not accept: one simply folds his sails, unships his rudder, and waits
the will of Providence, or the arrival of some compelling fate. The
longer one remains, the more difficult it is to go. We have a
fashion--indeed, I may call it a habit--of deciding to go, and of
never going. It is a subject of infinite jest among the habitues of
the villa, who meet at table, and who are always bidding each other
good-by. We often go so far as to write to Naples at night, and
bespeak rooms in the hotels; but we always countermand the order
before we sit down to breakfast. The good-natured mistress of
affairs, the head of the bureau of domestic relations, is at her
wits' end, with guests who always promise to go and never depart.
There are here a gentleman and his wife, English people of decision
enough, I presume, in Cornwall, who packed their luggage before
Christmas to depart, but who have not gone towards the end of
February,--who daily talk of going, and little by little unpack their
wardrobe, as their determination oozes out. It is easy enough to
decide at night to go next day; but in the morning, when the soft
sunshine comes in at the window, and when we descend and walk in the
garden, all our good intentions vanish. It is not simply that we do
not go away, but we have lost the motive for those long excursions
which we made at first, and which more adventurous travelers indulge
in. There are those here who have intended for weeks to spend a day
on Capri. Perfect day for the expedition succeeds perfect day,
boatload after boatload sails away from the little marina at the base
of the cliff, which we follow with eves of desire, but--to-morrow
will do as well. We are powerless to break the enchantment.

I confess to the fancy that there is some subtle influence working
this sea-change in us, which the guidebooks, in their enumeration of
the delights of the region, do not touch, and which maybe reaches
back beyond the Christian era. I have always supposed that the story
of Ulysses and the Sirens was only a fiction of the poets, intended
to illustrate the allurements of a soul given over to pleasure, and
deaf to the call of duty and the excitement of a grapple with the
world. But a lady here, herself one of the entranced, tells me that
whoever climbs the hills behind Sorrento, and looks upon the Isle of
the Sirens, is struck with an inability to form a desire to depart
from these coasts. I have gazed at those islands more than once, as
they lie there in the Bay of Salerno; and it has always happened that
they have been in a half-misty and not uncolored sunlight, but not so
draped that I could not see they were only three irregular rocks, not
far from shore, one of them with some ruins on it. There are neither
sirens there now, nor any other creatures; but I should be sorry to
think I should never see them again. When I look down on them, I can
also turn and behold on the other side, across the Bay of Naples, the
Posilipo, where one of the enchanters who threw magic over them is
said to lie in his high tomb at the opening of the grotto. Whether
he does sleep in his urn in that exact spot is of no moment. Modern
life has disillusioned this region to a great extent; but the romance
that the old poets have woven about these bays and rocky promontories
comes very easily back upon one who submits himself long to the
eternal influences of sky and sea which made them sing. It is all
one,--to be a Roman poet in his villa, a lazy friar of the Middle
Ages toasting in the sun, or a modern idler, who has drifted here out
of the active currents of life, and cannot make up his mind to


On heights at either end of the Piano di Sorrento, and commanding it,
stood two religious houses: the Convent of the Carnaldoli to the
northeast, on the crest of the hill above Meta; the Carthusian
Monastery of the Deserto, to the southwest, three miles above
Sorrento. The longer I stay here, the more respect I have for the
taste of the monks of the Middle Ages. They invariably secured the
best places for themselves. They seized all the strategic points;
they appropriated all the commanding heights; they knew where the sun
would best strike the grapevines; they perched themselves wherever
there was a royal view. When I see how unerringly they did select
and occupy the eligible places, I think they were moved by a sort of
inspiration. In those days, when the Church took the first choice in
everything, the temptation to a Christian life must have been strong.

The monastery at the Deserto was suppressed by the French of the
first republic, and has long been in a ruinous condition. Its
buildings crown the apex of the highest elevation in this part of the
promontory: from its roof the fathers paternally looked down upon the
churches and chapels and nunneries which thickly studded all this
region; so that I fancy the air must have been full of the sound of
bells, and of incense perpetually ascending. They looked also upon
St. Agata under the hill, with a church bigger than itself; upon more
distinct Massa, with its chapels and cathedral and overlooking feudal
tower; upon Torca, the Greek Theorica, with its Temple of Apollo, the
scene yet of an annual religious festival, to which the peasants of
Sorrento go as their ancestors did to the shrine of the heathen god;
upon olive and orange orchards, and winding paths and wayside shrines
innumerable. A sweet and peaceful scene in the foreground, it must
have been, and a whole horizon of enchantment beyond the sunny
peninsula over which it lorded: the Mediterranean, with poetic Capri,
and Ischia, and all the classic shore from Cape Misenum, Baiae, and
Naples, round to Vesuvius; all the sparkling Bay of Naples; and on
the other side the Bay of Salerno, covered with the fleets of the
commerce of Amalfi, then a republican city of fifty thousand people;
and Grecian Paestum on the marshy shore, even then a ruin, its
deserted porches and columns monuments of an architecture never
equaled elsewhere in Italy. Upon this charming perch, the old
Carthusian monks took the summer breezes and the winter sun, pruned
their olives, and trimmed their grapevines, and said prayers for the
poor sinners toiling in the valleys below.

The monastery is a desolate old shed now. We left our donkeys to eat
thistles in front, while we climbed up some dilapidated steps, and
entered the crumbling hall. The present occupants are half a dozen
monks, and fine fellows too, who have an orphan school of some twenty
lads. We were invited to witness their noonday prayers. The
flat-roofed rear buildings extend round an oblong, quadrangular
space, which is a rich garden, watered from capacious tanks, and
coaxed into easy fertility by the impregnating sun. Upon these roofs
the brothers were wont to walk, and here they sat at peaceful
evening. Here, too, we strolled; and here I could not resist the
temptation to lie an unheeded hour or two) soaking in the benignant
February sun, above every human concern and care, looking upon a land
and sea steeped in romance. The sky was blue above; but in the south
horizon, in the direction of Tunis, were the prismatic colors. Why
not be a monk, and lie in the sun?

One of the handsome brothers invited us into the refectory, a place
as bare and cheerless as the feeding-room of a reform school, and set
before us bread and cheese, and red wine, made by the monks. I
notice that the monks do not water their wine so much as the osteria
keepers do; which speaks equally well for their religion and their
taste. The floor of the room was brick, the table plain boards, and
the seats were benches; not much luxury. The monk who served us was
an accomplished man, traveled, and master of several languages. He
spoke English a little. He had been several years in America, and
was much interested when we told him our nationality.

"Does the signor live near Mexico?"

"Not in dangerous proximity," we replied; but we did not forfeit his
good opinion by saying that we visited it but seldom.

Well, he had seen all quarters of the globe: he had been for years a
traveler, but he had come back here with a stronger love for it than
ever; it was to him the most delightful spot on earth, he said. And
we could not tell him where its equal is. If I had nothing else to
do, I think I should cast in my lot with him,--at least for a week.

But the monks never got into a cozier nook than the Convent of the
Camaldoli. That also is suppressed: its gardens, avenues, colonnaded
walks, terraces, buildings, half in ruins. It is the level surface
of a hill, sheltered on the east by higher peaks, and on the north by
the more distant range of Great St. Angelo, across the valley, and is
one of the most extraordinarily fertile plots of ground I ever saw.
The rich ground responds generously to the sun. I should like to
have seen the abbot who grew on this fat spot. The workmen were busy
in the garden, spading and pruning.

A group of wild, half-naked children came about us begging, as we sat
upon the walls of the terrace,--the terrace which overhangs the busy
plain below, and which commands the entire, varied, nooky promontory,
and the two bays. And these children, insensible to beauty, want

In the rear of the church are some splendid specimens of the
umbrella-like Italian pine. Here we found, also, a pretty little
ruin,--it might be Greek and--it might be Druid for anything that
appeared, ivy-clad, and suggesting a religion older than that of the
convent. To the east we look into a fertile, terraced ravine; and
beyond to a precipitous brown mountain, which shows a sharp outline
against the sky; halfway up are nests of towns, white houses,
churches, and above, creeping along the slope, the thread of an
ancient road, with stone arches at intervals, as old as Caesar.

We descend, skirting for some distance the monastery walls, over
which patches of ivy hang like green shawls. There are flowers in
profusion, scented violets, daisies, dandelions, and crocuses, large
and of the richest variety, with orange pistils, and stamens purple
and violet, the back of every alternate leaf exquisitely penciled.

We descend into a continuous settlement, past shrines, past brown,
sturdy men and handsome girls working in the vineyards; we descend --
but words express nothing--into a wonderful ravine, a sort of refined
Swiss scene,--high, bare steps of rock butting over a chasm, ruins,
old walls, vines, flowers. The very spirit of peace is here, and it
is not disturbed by the sweet sound of bells echoed in the passes.
On narrow ledges of precipices, aloft in the air where it would seem
that a bird could scarcely light, we distinguish the forms of men and
women; and their voices come down to us. They are peasants cutting
grass, every spire of which is too precious to waste.

We descend, and pass by a house on a knoll, and a terrace of olives
extending along the road in front. Half a dozen children come to the
road to look at us as we approach, and then scamper back to the house
in fear, tumbling over each other and shouting, the eldest girl
making good her escape with the baby. My companion swings his hat,
and cries, "Hullo, baby!" And when we have passed the gate, and are
under the wall, the whole ragged, brown-skinned troop scurry out upon
the terrace, and run along, calling after us, in perfect English, as
long as we keep in sight, "Hullo, baby!" "Hullo, baby!" The next
traveler who goes that way will no doubt be hailed by the
quick-witted natives with this salutation; and, if he is of a
philological turn, he will probably benefit his mind by running the
phrase back to its ultimate Greek roots.


For three years, once upon a time, it did not rain in Sorrento. Not
a drop out of the clouds for three years, an Italian lady here, born
in Ireland, assures me. If there was an occasional shower on the
Piano during all that drought, I have the confidence in her to think
that she would not spoil the story by noticing it.

The conformation of the hills encircling the plain would be likely to
lead any shower astray, and discharge it into the sea, with whatever
good intentions it may have started down the promontory for Sorrento.
I can see how these sharp hills would tear the clouds asunder, and
let out all their water, while the people in the plain below watched
them with longing eyes. But it can rain in Sorrento. Occasionally
the northeast wind comes down with whirling, howling fury, as if it
would scoop villages and orchards out of the little nook; and the
rain, riding on the whirlwind, pours in drenching floods. At such
times I hear the beat of the waves at the foot of the rock, and feel
like a prisoner on an island. Eden would not be Eden in a rainstorm.

The drought occurred just after the expulsion of the Bourbons from
Naples, and many think on account of it. There is this to be said in
favor of the Bourbons: that a dry time never had occurred while they
reigned,--a statement in which all good Catholics in Sorrento will
concur. As the drought went on, almost all the wells in the place
dried up, except that of the Tramontano and the one in the suppressed
convent of the Sacred Heart,--I think that is its name.

It is a rambling pile of old buildings, in the center of the town,
with a courtyard in the middle, and in it a deep well, boring down I
know not how far into the rock, and always full of cold sweet water.
The nuns have all gone now; and I look in vain up at the narrow slits
in the masonry, which served them for windows, for the glance of a
worldly or a pious eye. The poor people of Sorrento, when the public
wells and fountains had gone dry, used to come and draw at the
Tramontano; but they were not allowed to go to the well of the
convent, the gates were closed. Why the government shut them I
cannot see: perhaps it knew nothing of it, and some stupid official
took the pompous responsibility. The people grumbled, and cursed the
government; and, in their simplicity, probably never took any steps
to revoke the prohibitory law. No doubt, as the government had
caused the drought, it was all of a piece, the good rustics thought.

For the government did indirectly occasion the dry spell. I have the
information from the Italian lady of whom I have spoken. Among the
first steps of the new government of Italy was the suppression of the
useless convents and nunneries. This one at Sorrento early came
under the ban. It always seemed to me almost a pity to rout out this
asylum of praying and charitable women, whose occupation was the
encouragement of beggary and idleness in others, but whose prayers
were constant, and whose charities to the sick of the little city
were many. If they never were of much good to the community, it was
a pleasure to have such a sweet little hive in the center of it; and
I doubt not that the simple people felt a genuine satisfaction, as
they walked around the high walls, in believing that pure prayers
within were put up for them night and day; and especially when they
waked at night, and heard the bell of the convent, and knew that at
that moment some faithful soul kept her vigils, and chanted prayers
for them and all the world besides; and they slept the sounder for it
thereafter. I confess that, if one is helped by vicarious prayer, I
would rather trust a convent of devoted women (though many of them
are ignorant, and some of them are worldly, and none are fair to see)
to pray for me, than some of the houses of coarse monks which I have

But the order came down from Naples to pack off all the nuns of the
Sacred Heart on a day named, to close up the gates of the nunnery,
and hang a flaming sword outside. The nuns were to be pulled up by
the roots, so to say, on the day specified, and without postponement,
and to be transferred to a house prepared for them at Massa, a few
miles down the promontory, and several hundred feet nearer heaven.
Sorrento was really in mourning: it went about in grief. It seemed
as if something sacrilegious were about to be done. It was the
intention of the whole town to show its sense of it in some way.

The day of removal came, and it rained! It poured: the water came
down in sheets, in torrents, in deluges; it came down with the
wildest tempest of many a year. I think, from accurate reports of
those who witnessed it, that the beginning of the great Deluge was
only a moisture compared to this. To turn the poor women out of
doors such a day as this was unchristian, barbarous, impossible.
Everybody who had a shelter was shivering indoors. But the officials
were inexorable. In the order for removal, nothing was said about
postponement on account of weather; and go the nuns must.

And go they did; the whole town shuddering at the impiety of it, but
kept from any demonstration by the tempest. Carriages went round to
the convent; and the women were loaded into them, packed into them,
carried and put in, if they were too infirm to go themselves. They
were driven away, cross and wet and bedraggled. They found their
dwelling on the hill not half prepared for them, leaking and cold and
cheerless. They experienced very rough treatment, if I can credit my
informant, who says she hates the government, and would not even look
out of her lattice that day to see the carriages drive past.

And when the Lady Superior was driven away from the gate, she said to
the officials, and the few faithful attendants, prophesying in the
midst of the rain that poured about her, "The day will come shortly,
when you will want rain, and shall not have it; and you will pray for
my return."

And it did not rain, from that day for three years.

And the simple people thought of the good Superior, whose departure
had been in such a deluge, and who had taken away with her all the
moisture of the land; and they did pray for her return, and believed
that the gates of heaven would be again opened if only the nunnery
were repeopled. But the government could not see the connection
between convents and the theory of storms, and the remnant of pious
women was permitted to remain in their lodgings at Massa. Perhaps
the government thought they could, if they bore no malice, pray as
effectually for rain there as anywhere.

I do not know, said my informant, that the curse of the Lady Superior
had anything to do with the drought, but many think it had; and those
are the facts.


The common people of this region are nothing but children; and
ragged, dirty, and poor as they are, apparently as happy, to speak
idiomatically, as the day is long. It takes very little to please
them; and their easily-excited mirth is contagious. It is very rare
that one gets a surly return to a salutation; and, if one shows the
least good-nature, his greeting is met with the most jolly return.
The boatman hauling in his net sings; the brown girl, whom we meet
descending a steep path in the hills, with an enormous bag or basket
of oranges on her head, or a building-stone under which she stands as
erect as a pillar, sings; and, if she asks for something, there is a
merry twinkle in her eye, that says she hardly expects money, but
only puts in a "beg" at a venture because it is the fashion; the
workmen clipping the olive-trees sing; the urchins, who dance about
the foreigner in the street, vocalize their petitions for un po' di
moneta in a tuneful manner, and beg more in a spirit of deviltry than
with any expectation of gain. When I see how hard the peasants
labor, what scraps and vegetable odds and ends they eat, and in what
wretched, dark, and smoke-dried apartments they live, I wonder they
are happy; but I suppose it is the all-nourishing sun and the equable
climate that do the business for them. They have few artificial
wants, and no uneasy expectation--bred by the reading of books and
newspapers--that anything is going to happen in the world, or that
any change is possible. Their fruit-trees yield abundantly year
after year; their little patches of rich earth, on the built-up
terraces and in the crevices of the rocks, produce fourfold. The sun
does it all.

Every walk that we take here with open mind and cheerful heart is
sure to be an adventure. Only yesterday, we were coming down a
branch of the great gorge which splits the plain in two. On one side
the path is a high wall, with garden trees overhanging. On the
other, a stone parapet; and below, in the bed of the ravine, an
orange orchard. Beyond rises a precipice; and, at its foot, men and
boys were quarrying stone, which workmen raised a couple of hundred
feet to the platform above with a windlass. As we came along, a
handsome girl on the height had just taken on her head a large block
of stone, which I should not care to lift, to carry to a pile in the
rear; and she stopped to look at us. We stopped, and looked at her.
This attracted the attention of the men and boys in the quarry below,
who stopped work, and set up a cry for a little money. We laughed,
and responded in English. The windlass ceased to turn. The workmen
on the height joined in the conversation. A grizzly beggar hobbled
up, and held out his greasy cap. We nonplussed him by extending our
hats, and beseeching him for just a little something. Some passers
on the road paused, and looked on, amused at the transaction. A boy
appeared on the high wall, and began to beg. I threatened to shoot
him with my walkingstick, whereat he ran nimbly along the wall in
terror The workmen shouted; and this started up a couple of yellow
dogs, which came to the edge of the wall and barked violently. The
girl, alone calm in the confusion, stood stock still under her
enormous load looking at us. We swung out hats, and hurrahed. The
crowd replied from above, below, and around us, shouting, laughing,
singing, until the whole little valley was vocal with a gale of
merriment, and all about nothing. The beggar whined; the spectators
around us laughed; and the whole population was aroused into a jolly
mood. Fancy such a merry hullaballoo in America. For ten minutes,
while the funny row was going on, the girl never moved, having
forgotten to go a few steps and deposit her load; and when we
disappeared round a bend of the path, she was still watching us,
smiling and statuesque.

As we descend, we come upon a group of little children seated about a
doorstep, black-eyed, chubby little urchins, who are cutting oranges
into little bits, and playing "party," as children do on the other
side of the Atlantic. The instant we stop to speak to them, the
skinny hand of an old woman is stretched out of a window just above
our heads, the wrinkled palm itching for money. The mother comes
forward out of the house, evidently pleased with our notice of the
children, and shows us the baby in her arms. At once we are on good
terms with the whole family. The woman sees that there is nothing
impertinent in our cursory inquiry into her domestic concerns, but, I
fancy, knows that we are genial travelers, with human sympathies. So
the people universally are not quick to suspect any imposition, and
meet frankness with frankness, and good-nature with good-nature, in a
simple-hearted, primeval manner. If they stare at us from doorway
and balcony, or come and stand near us when we sit reading or writing
by the shore, it is only a childlike curiosity, and they are quite
unconscious of any breach of good manners. In fact, I think
travelers have not much to say in the matter of staring. I only pray
that we Americans abroad may remember that we are in the presence of
older races, and conduct ourselves with becoming modesty, remembering
always that we were not born in Britain.

Very likely I am in error; but it has seemed to me that even the
funerals here are not so gloomy as in other places. I have looked in
at the churches when they are in progress, now and then, and been
struck with the general good feeling of the occasion. The real
mourners I could not always distinguish; but the seats would be
filled with a motley gathering of the idle and the ragged, who seemed
to enjoy the show and the ceremony. On one occasion, it was the
obsequies of an officer in the army. Guarding the gilded casket,
which stood upon a raised platform before the altar, were four
soldiers in uniform. Mass was being said and sung; and a priest was
playing the organ. The church was light and cheerful, and pervaded.
by a pleasant bustle. Ragged boys and beggars, and dirty children
and dogs, went and came wherever they chose--about the unoccupied
spaces of the church. The hired mourners, who are numerous in
proportion to the rank of the deceased, were clad in white cotton,--a
sort of nightgown put on over the ordinary clothes, with a hood of
the same drawn tightly over the face, in which slits were cut for the
eyes and mouth. Some of them were seated on benches near the front;
others were wandering about among the pillars, disappearing in the
sacristy, and reappearing with an aimless aspect, altogether
conducting themselves as if it were a holiday, and if there was
anything they did enjoy, it was mourning at other people's expense.
They laughed and talked with each other in excellent spirits; and one
varlet near the coffin, who had slipped off his mask, winked at me
repeatedly, as if to inform me that it was not his funeral. A
masquerade might have been more gloomy and depressing.


The most serviceable saint whom I know is St. Antonino. He is the
patron saint of the good town of Sorrento; he is the good genius of
all sailors and fishermen; and he has a humbler office,--that of
protector of the pigs. On his day the pigs are brought into the
public square to be blessed; and this is one reason why the pork of
Sorrento is reputed so sweet and wholesome. The saint is the friend,
and, so to say, companion of the common people. They seem to be all
fond of him, and there is little of fear in their confiding relation.
His humble origin and plebeian appearance have something to do with
his popularity, no doubt. There is nothing awe-inspiring in the
brown stone figure, battered and cracked, that stands at one corner
of the bridge, over the chasm at the entrance of the city. He holds
a crosier in one hand, and raises the other, with fingers uplifted,
in act of benediction. If his face is an indication of his
character, he had in him a mixture of robust good-nature with a touch
of vulgarity, and could rough it in a jolly manner with fishermen and
peasants. He may have appeared to better advantage when he stood on
top of the massive old city gate, which the present government, with
the impulse of a vandal, took down a few years ago. The demolition
had to be accomplished in the night, under a guard of soldiers, so
indignant were the populace. At that time the homely saint was
deposed; and he wears now, I think, a snubbed and cast-aside aspect.
Perhaps he is dearer to the people than ever; and I confess that I
like him much better than many grander saints, in stone, I have seen
in more conspicuous places. If ever I am in rough water and foul
weather, I hope he will not take amiss anything I have here written
about him.

Sunday, and it happened to be St. Valentine's also, was the great
fete-day of St. Antonino. Early in the morning there was a great
clanging of bells; and the ceremony of the blessing of the pigs took
place,--I heard, but I was not abroad early enough to see it,--a
laziness for which I fancy I need not apologize, as the Catholic is
known to be an earlier religion than the Protestant. When I did go
out, the streets were thronged with people, the countryfolk having
come in for miles around. The church of the patron saint was the
great center of attraction. The blank walls of the little square in
front, and of the narrow streets near, were hung with cheap and
highly-colored lithographs of sacred subjects, for sale; tables and
booths were set up in every available space for the traffic in
pre-Raphaelite gingerbread, molasses candy, strings of dried nuts,
pinecone and pumpkin seeds, scarfs, boots and shoes, and all sorts of
trumpery. One dealer had preempted a large space on the pavement,
where he had spread out an assortment of bits of old iron, nails,
pieces of steel traps, and various fragments which might be useful to
the peasants. The press was so great, that it was difficult to get
through it; but the crowd was a picturesque one, and in the highest
good humor. The occasion was a sort of Fourth of July, but without
its worry and powder and flowing bars.

The spectacle of the day was the procession bearing the silver image
of the saint through the streets. I think there could never be
anything finer or more impressive; at least, I like these little
fussy provincial displays,--these tag-rags and ends of grandeur, in
which all the populace devoutly believe, and at which they are lost
in wonder,--better than those imposing ceremonies at the capital, in
which nobody believes. There was first a band of musicians, walking
in more or less disorder, but blowing away with great zeal, so that
they could be heard amid the clangor of bells the peals of which
reverberate so deafeningly between the high houses of these narrow
streets. Then follow boys in white, and citizens in black and white
robes, carrying huge silken banners, triangular like sea-pennants,
and splendid silver crucifixes which flash in the sun. Then come
ecclesiastics, walking with stately step, and chanting in loud and
pleasant unison. These are followed by nobles, among whom I
recognize, with a certain satisfaction, two descendants of Tasso,
whose glowing and bigoted soul may rejoice in the devotion of his
posterity, who help to bear today the gilded platform upon which is
the solid silver image of the saint. The good old bishop walks
humbly in the rear, in full canonical rig, with crosier and miter,
his rich robes upborne by priestly attendants, his splendid footman
at a respectful distance, and his roomy carriage not far behind.

The procession is well spread out and long; all its members carry
lighted tapers, a good many of which are not lighted, having gone out
in the wind. As I squeeze into a shallow doorway to let the cort6ge
pass, I am sorry to say that several of the young fellows in white
gowns tip me the wink, and even smile in a knowing fashion, as if it
were a mere lark, after all, and that the saint must know it. But
not so thinks the paternal bishop, who waves a blessing, which I
catch in the flash of the enormous emerald on his right hand. The
procession ends, where it started, in the patron's church; and there
his image is set up under a gorgeous canopy of crimson and gold, to
hear high mass, and some of the choicest solos, choruses, and
bravuras from the operas.

In the public square I find a gaping and wondering crowd of rustics
collected about one of the mountebanks whose trade is not peculiar to
any country. This one might be a clock-peddler from Connecticut. He
is mounted in a one-seat vettura,, and his horse is quietly eating
his dinner out of a bag tied to his nose. There is nothing unusual
in the fellow's dress; he wears a shiny silk hat, and has one of
those grave faces which would be merry if their owner were not
conscious of serious business on hand. On the driver's perch before
him are arranged his attractions,--a box of notions, a grinning
skull, with full teeth and jaws that work on hinges, some vials of
red liquid, and a closed jar containing a most disagreeable
anatomical preparation. This latter he holds up and displays,
turning it about occasionally in an admiring manner. He is
discoursing, all the time, in the most voluble Italian. He has an
ointment, wonderfully efficacious for rheumatism and every sort of
bruise: he pulls up his sleeve, and anoints his arm with it, binding
it up with a strip of paper; for the simplest operation must be
explained to these grown children. He also pulls teeth, with an ease
and expedition hitherto unknown, and is in no want of patients among
this open-mouthed crowd. One sufferer after another climbs up into
the wagon, and goes through the operation in the public gaze. A
stolid, good-natured hind mounts the seat. The dentist examines his
mouth, and finds the offending tooth. He then turns to the crowd and
explains the case. He takes a little instrument that is neither
forceps nor turnkey, stands upon the seat, seizes the man's nose, and
jerks his head round between his knees, pulling his mouth open (there
is nothing that opens the mouth quicker than a sharp upward jerk of
the nose) with a rude jollity that sets the spectators in a roar.
Down he goes into the cavern, and digs away for a quarter of a
minute, the man the while as immovable as a stone image, when he
holds up the bloody tooth. The patient still persists in sitting
with his mouth stretched open to its widest limit, waiting for the
operation to begin, and will only close the orifice when he is well
shaken and shown the tooth. The dentist gives him some yellow liquid
to hold in his mouth, which the man insists on swallowing, wets a
handkerchief and washes his face, roughly rubbing his nose the wrong
way, and lets him go. Every step of the process is eagerly watched
by the delighted spectators.

He is succeeded by a woman, who is put through the same heroic
treatment, and exhibits like fortitude. And so they come; and the
dentist after every operation waves the extracted trophy high in air,
and jubilates as if he had won another victory, pointing to the stone
statue yonder, and reminding them that this is the glorious day of
St. Antonino. But this is not all that this man of science does. He
has the genuine elixir d'amour, love-philters and powders which never
fail in their effects. I see the bashful girls and the sheepish
swains come slyly up to the side of the wagon, and exchange their
hard-earned francs for the hopeful preparation. O my brown beauty,
with those soft eyes and cheeks of smothered fire, you have no need
of that red philter! What a simple, childlike folk! The shrewd
fellow in the wagon is one of a race as old as Thebes and as new as
Porkopolis; his brazen face is older than the invention of bronze,
but I think he never had to do with a more credulous crowd than this.
The very cunning in the face of the peasants is that of the fox; it
is a sort of instinct, and not an intelligent suspicion.

This is Sunday in Sorrento, under the blue sky. These peasants, who
are fooled by the mountebank and attracted by the piles of adamantine
gingerbread, do not forget to crowd the church of the saint at
vespers, and kneel there in humble faith, while the choir sings the
Agnus Dei, and the priests drone the service. Are they so different,
then, from other people? They have an idea on Capri that England is
such another island, only not so pleasant; that all Englishmen are
rich and constantly travel to escape the dreariness at home; and
that, if they are not absolutely mad, they are all a little queer.
It was a fancy prevalent in Hamlet's day. We had the English service
in the Villa Nardi in the evening. There are some Englishmen staying
here, of the class one finds in all the sunny spots of Europe, ennuye
and growling, in search of some elixir that shall bring back youth
and enjoyment. They seem divided in mind between the attractions of
the equable climate of this region and the fear of the gout which
lurks in the unfermented wine. One cannot be too grateful to the
sturdy islanders for carrying their prayers, like their drumbeat, all
round the globe; and I was much edified that night, as the reading
went on, by a row of rather battered men of the world, who stood in
line on one side of the room, and took their prayers with a certain
British fortitude, as if they were conscious of performing a
constitutional duty, and helping by the act to uphold the majesty of
English institutions.


There is always a mild excitement about mounting donkeys in the
morning here for an excursion among the hills. The warm sun pouring
into the garden, the smell of oranges, the stimulating air, the
general openness and freshness, promise a day of enjoyment. There is
always a doubt as to who will go; generally a donkey wanting;
somebody wishes to join the party at the last moment; there is no end
of running up and downstairs, calling from balconies and terraces;
some never ready, and some waiting below in the sun; the whole house
in a tumult, drivers in a worry, and the sleepy animals now and then
joining in the clatter with a vocal performance that is neither a
trumpet-call nor a steam-whistle, but an indescribable noise, that
begins in agony and abruptly breaks down in despair. It is difficult
to get the train in motion. The lady who ordered Succarina has got a
strange donkey, and Macaroni has on the wrong saddle. Succarina is a
favorite, the kindest, easiest, and surest-footed of beasts,--a
diminutive animal, not bigger than a Friesland sheep; old, in fact
grizzly with years, and not unlike the aged, wizened little women who
are so common here: for beauty in this region dries up; and these
handsome Sorrento girls, if they live, and almost everybody does
live, have the prospect, in their old age, of becoming mummies, with
parchment skins. I have heard of climates that preserve female
beauty; this embalms it, only the beauty escapes in the process. As
I was saying, Succarina is little, old, and grizzly; but her head is
large, and one might be contented to be as wise as she looks.

The party is at length mounted, and clatters away through the narrow
streets. Donkey-riding is very good for people who think they cannot
walk. It looks very much like riding, to a spectator; and it
deceives the person undertaking it into an amount of exercise equal
to walking. I have a great admiration for the donkey character.
There never was such patience under wrong treatment, such return of
devotion for injury. Their obstinacy, which is so much talked about,
is only an exercise of the right of private judgment, and an
intelligent exercise of it, no doubt, if we could take the donkey
point of view, as so many of us are accused of doing in other things.
I am certain of one thing: in any large excursion party there will be
more obstinate people than obstinate donkeys; and yet the poor brutes
get all the thwacks and thumps. We are bound to-day for the Punta
della Campanella, the extreme point of the promontory, and ten miles
away. The path lies up the steps from the new Massa carriage-road,
now on the backbone of the ridge, and now in the recesses of the
broken country. What an animated picture is the donkeycade, as it
mounts the steeps, winding along the zigzags! Hear the little
bridlebells jingling, the drivers groaning their " a-e-ugh, a-e-ugh,"
the riders making a merry din of laughter, and firing off a fusillade
of ejaculations of delight and wonder.

The road is between high walls; round the sweep of curved terraces
which rise above and below us, bearing the glistening olive; through
glens and gullies; over and under arches, vine-grown,--how little we
make use of the arch at home!--round sunny dells where orange
orchards gleam; past shrines, little chapels perched on rocks, rude
villas commanding most extensive sweeps of sea and shore. The almond
trees are in full bloom, every twig a thickly-set spike of the pink
and white blossoms; daisies and dandelions are out; the purple
crocuses sprinkle the ground, the petals exquisitely varied on the
reverse side, and the stamens of bright salmon color; the large
double anemones have come forth, certain that it is spring; on the
higher crags by the wayside the Mediterranean heather has shaken out
its delicate flowers, which fill the air with a mild fragrance; while
blue violets, sweet of scent like the English, make our path a
perfumed one. And this is winter.

We have made a late start, owing to the fact that everybody is
captain of the expedition, and to the Sorrento infirmity that no one
is able to make up his mind about anything. It is one o'clock when
we reach a high transverse ridge, and find the headlands of the
peninsula rising before us, grim hills of limestone, one of them with
the ruins of a convent on top, and no road apparent thither, and
Capri ahead of us in the sea, the only bit of land that catches any
light; for as we have journeyed the sky has thickened, the clouds of
the sirocco have come up from the south; there has been first a mist,
and then a fine rain; the ruins on the peak of Santa Costanza are now
hid in mist. We halt for consultation. Shall we go on and brave a
wetting, or ignominiously retreat? There are many opinions, but few
decided ones. The drivers declare that it will be a bad time. One
gentleman, with an air of decision, suggests that it is best to go
on, or go back, if we do not stand here and wait. The deaf lady,
from near Dublin, being appealed to, says that, perhaps, if it is
more prudent, we had better go back if it is going to rain. It does
rain. Waterproofs are put on, umbrellas spread, backs turned to the
wind; and we look like a group of explorers under adverse
circumstances, "silent on a peak in Darien," the donkeys especially
downcast and dejected. Finally, as is usual in life, a, compromise
prevails. We decide to continue for half an hour longer and see what
the weather is. No sooner have we set forward over the brow of a
hill than it grows lighter on the sea horizon in the southwest, the
ruins on the peak become visible, Capri is in full sunlight. The
clouds lift more and more, and still hanging overhead, but with no
more rain, are like curtains gradually drawn up, opening to us a
glorious vista of sunshine and promise, an illumined, sparkling,
illimitable sea, and a bright foreground of slopes and picturesque
rocks. Before the half hour is up, there is not one of the party who
does not claim to have been the person who insisted upon going

We halt for a moment to look at Capri, that enormous, irregular rock,
raising its huge back out of the sea) its back broken in the middle,
with the little village for a saddle. On the farther summit, above
Anacapri, a precipice of two thousand feet sheer down to the water on
the other side, hangs a light cloud. The east elevation, whence the
playful Tiberius used to amuse his green old age by casting his
prisoners eight hundred feet down into the sea, has the strong
sunlight on it; and below, the row of tooth-like rocks, which are the
extreme eastern point, shine in a warm glow. We descend through a
village, twisting about in its crooked streets. The inhabitants, who
do not see strangers every day, make free to stare at and comment on
us, and even laugh at something that seems very comical in our
appearance; which shows how ridiculous are the costumes of Paris and
New York in some places. Stalwart girls, with only an apology for
clothes, with bare legs, brown faces, and beautiful eyes, stop in
their spinning, holding the distaff suspended, while they examine us
at leisure. At our left, as we turn from the church and its sunny
piazza, where old women sit and gabble, down the ravine, is a snug
village under the mountain by the shore, with a great square medieval
tower. On the right, upon rocky points, are remains of round towers,
and temples perhaps.

We sweep away to the left round the base of the hill, over a
difficult and stony path. Soon the last dilapidated villa is passed,
the last terrace and olive-tree are left behind; and we emerge upon a
wild, rocky slope, barren of vegetation, except little tufts of grass
and a sort of lentil; a wide sweep of limestone strata set on edge,
and crumbling in the beat of centuries, rising to a considerable
height on the left. Our path descends toward the sea, still creeping
round the end of the promontory. Scattered here and there over the
rocks, like conies, are peasants, tending a few lean cattle, and
digging grasses from the crevices. The women and children are wild
in attire and manner) and set up a clamor of begging as we pass. A
group of old hags begin beating a poor child as we approach, to
excite our compassion for the abused little object, and draw out

Walking ahead of the procession, which gets slowly down the rugged
path, I lose sight of my companions, and have the solitude, the sun
on the rocks, the glistening sea, all to myself. Soon I espy a man
below me sauntering down among the rocks. He sees me and moves away,
a solitary figure. I say solitary; and so it is in effect, although
he is leading a little boy, and calling to his dog, which runs back
to bark at me. Is this the brigand of whom I have read, and is he
luring me to his haunt? Probably. I follow. He throws his cloak
about his shoulders, exactly as brigands do in the opera, and loiters
on. At last there is the point in sight, a gray wall with blind
arches. The man disappears through a narrow archway, and I follow.
Within is an enormous square tower. I think it was built in Spanish
days, as an outlook for Barbary pirates. A bell hung in it, which
was set clanging when the white sails of the robbers appeared to the
southward; and the alarm was repeated up the coast, the towers were
manned, and the brown-cheeked girls flew away to the hills, I doubt
not, for the touch of the sirocco was not half so much to be dreaded
as the rough importunity of a Saracen lover. The bell is gone now,
and no Moslem rovers are in sight. The maidens we had just passed
would be safe if there were. My brigand disappears round the tower;
and I follow down steps, by a white wall, and lo! a house,--a red
stucco, Egyptian-looking building,--on the very edge of the rocks.
The man unlocks a door and goes in. I consider this an invitation,
and enter. On one side of the passage a sleeping-room, on the other
a kitchen,--not sumptuous quarters; and we come then upon a pretty
circular terrace; and there, in its glass case, is the lantern of the
point. My brigand is a lighthouse-keeper, and welcomes me in a quiet
way, glad, evidently, to see the face of a civilized being. It is
very solitary, he says. I should think so. It is the end of
everything. The Mediterranean waves beat with a dull thud on the
worn crags below. The rocks rise up to the sky behind. There is
nothing there but the sun, an occasional sail, and quiet, petrified
Capri, three miles distant across the strait. It is an excellent
place for a misanthrope to spend a week, and get cured. There must
be a very dispiriting influence prevailing here; the keeper refused
to take any money, the solitary Italian we have seen so affected.

We returned late. The young moon, lying in the lap of the old one,
was superintending the brilliant sunset over Capri, as we passed the
last point commanding it; and the light, fading away, left us
stumbling over the rough path among the hills, darkened by the high
walls. We were not sorry to emerge upon the crest above the Massa
road. For there lay the sea, and the plain of Sorrento, with its
darkening groves and hundreds of twinkling lights. As we went down
the last descent, the bells of the town were all ringing, for it was
the eve of the fete of St. Antonino.


"CAP, signor? Good day for Grott." Thus spoke a mariner, touching
his Phrygian cap. The people here abbreviate all names. With them
Massa is Mas, Meta is Met, Capri becomes Cap, the Grotta Azzurra is
reduced familiarly to Grott, and they even curtail musical Sorrento
into Serent.

Shall we go to Capri? Should we dare return to the great Republic,
and own that we had not been into the Blue Grotto? We like to climb
the steeps here, especially towards Massa, and look at Capri. I have
read in some book that it used to be always visible from Sorrento.
But now the promontory has risen, the Capo di Sorrento has thrust out
its rocky spur with its ancient Roman masonry, and the island itself
has moved so far round to the south that Sorrento, which fronts
north, has lost sight of it.

We never tire of watching it, thinking that it could not be spared
from the landscape. It lies only three miles from the curving end of
the promontory, and is about twenty miles due south of Naples. In
this atmosphere distances dwindle. The nearest land, to the
northwest, is the larger island of Ischia, distant nearly as far as
Naples; yet Capri has the effect of being anchored off the bay to
guard the entrance. It is really a rock, three miles and a half
long, rising straight out of the water, eight hundred feet high at
one end, and eighteen hundred feet at the other, with a depression
between. If it had been chiseled by hand and set there, it could not
be more sharply defined. So precipitous are its sides of rock, that
there are only two fit boat-landings, the marina on the north side,
and a smaller place opposite. One of those light-haired and freckled
Englishmen, whose pluck exceeds their discretion, rowed round the
island alone in rough water, last summer, against the advice of the
boatman, and unable to make a landing, and weary with the strife of
the waves, was in considerable peril.

Sharp and clear as Capri is in outline, its contour is still most
graceful and poetic. This wonderful atmosphere softens even its
ruggedness, and drapes it with hues of enchanting beauty. Sometimes
the haze plays fantastic tricks with it,--a cloud-cap hangs on Monte
Solaro, or a mist obscures the base, and the massive summits of rock
seem to float in the air, baseless fabrics of a vision that the
rising wind will carry away perhaps. I know now what Homer means by
"wandering islands." Shall we take a boat and sail over there, and so
destroy forever another island of the imagination? The bane of
travel is the destruction of illusions.

We like to talk about Capri, and to talk of going there. The
Sorrento people have no end of gossip about the wild island; and,
simple and primitive as they are, Capri is still more out of the
world. I do not know what enchantment there is on the island; but--
whoever sets foot there, they say, goes insane or dies a drunkard. I
fancy the reason of this is found in the fact that the Capri girls
are raving beauties. I am not sure but the monotony of being
anchored off there in the bay, the monotony of rocks and precipices
that goats alone can climb, the monotony of a temperature that
scarcely ever, winter and summer, is below 55 or above 75 Fahrenheit
indoors, might drive one into lunacy. But I incline to think it is
due to the handsome Capri girls.

There are beautiful girls in Sorrento, with a beauty more than skin
deep, a glowing, hidden fire, a ripeness like that of the grape and
the peach which grows in the soft air and the sun. And they wither,
like grapes that hang upon the stem. I have never seen a handsome,
scarcely a decent-looking, old woman here. They are lank and dry,
and their bones are covered with parchment. One of these brown-
cheeked girls, with large, longing eyes, gives the stranger a start,
now and then, when he meets her in a narrow way with a basket of
oranges on her head. I hope he has the grace to go right by. Let
him meditate what this vision of beauty will be like in twenty ears.

The Capri girls are famed as magnificent beauties, but they fade like
their mainland sisters. The Saracens used to descend on their
island, and carry them off to their harems. The English, a very
adventurous people, who have no harems, have followed the Saracens.
The young lords and gentlemen have a great fondness for Capri. I
hear gossip enough about elopements, and not seldom marriages, with
the island girls,--bright girls, with the Greek mother-wit, and
surpassingly handsome; but they do not bear transportation to
civilized life (any more than some of the native wines do): they
accept no intellectual culture; and they lose their beauty as they
grow old. What then? The young English blade, who was intoxicated
by beauty into an injudicious match and might, as the proverb says,
have gone insane if he could not have made it, takes to drink now,
and so fulfills the other alternative. Alas! the fatal gift of

But I do not think Capri is so dangerous as it is represented. For
(of course we went to Capri) neither at the marina, where a crowd of
bare-legged, vociferous maidens with donkeys assailed us, nor in the
village above, did I see many girls for whom and one little isle a
person would forswear the world. But I can believe that they grow
here. One of our donkey girls was a handsome, dark-skinned, black-
eyed girl; but her little sister, a mite of a being of six years, who
could scarcely step over the small stones in the road, and was forced
to lead the donkey by her sister in order to establish another lien
on us for buona mano, was a dirty little angel in rags, and her great
soft black eyes will look somebody into the asylum or the drunkard's
grave in time, I have no doubt. There was a stout, manly, handsome
little fellow of five years, who established himself as the guide and
friend of the tallest of our party. His hat was nearly gone; he was
sadly out of repair in the rear; his short legs made the act of
walking absurd; but he trudged up the hill with a certain dignity.
And there was nothing mercenary about his attachment: he and his
friend got upon very cordial terms: they exchanged gifts of shells
and copper coin, but nothing was said about pay.

Nearly all the inhabitants, young and old, joined us in lively
procession, up the winding road of three quarters of a mile, to the
town. At the deep gate, entering between thick walls, we stopped to
look at the sea. The crowd and clamor at our landing had been so
great that we enjoyed the sight of the quiet old woman sitting here
in the sun, and the few beggars almost too lazy to stretch out their
hands. Within the gate is a large paved square, with the government
offices and the tobacco-shop on one side, and the church opposite;
between them, up a flight of broad stone steps, is the Hotel Tiberio.
Our donkeys walk up them and into the hotel. The church and hotel
are six hundred years old; the hotel was a villa belonging to Joanna
II. of Naples. We climb to the roof of the quaint old building, and
sit there to drink in the strange oriental scene. The landlord says
it is like Jaffa or Jerusalem. The landlady, an Irish woman from
Devonshire, says it is six francs a day. In what friendly
intercourse the neighbors can sit on these flat roofs! How sightly
this is, and yet how sheltered! To the east is the height where
Augustus, and after him Tiberius, built palaces. To the west, up
that vertical wall, by means of five hundred steps cut in the face of
the rock, we go to reach the tableland of Anacapri, the primitive
village of that name, hidden from view here; the medieval castle of
Barbarossa, which hangs over a frightful precipice; and the height of
Monte Solaro. The island is everywhere strewn with Roman ruins, and
with faint traces of the Greeks.

Capri turns out not to be a barren rock. Broken and picturesque as
it is, it is yet covered with vegetation. There is not a foot, one
might say a point, of soil that does not bear something; and there is
not a niche in the rock, where a scrap of dirt will stay, that is not
made useful. The whole island is terraced. The most wonderful thing
about it, after all, is its masonry. You come to think, after a
time, that the island is not natural rock, but a mass of masonry. If
the labor that has been expended here, only to erect platforms for
the soil to rest on, had been given to our country, it would have
built half a dozen Pacific railways, and cut a canal through the

But the Blue Grotto? Oh, yes! Is it so blue? That depends upon the
time of day, the sun, the clouds, and something upon the person who
enters it. It is frightfully blue to some. We bend down in our
rowboat, slide into the narrow opening which is three feet high, and
passing into the spacious cavern, remain there for half an hour. It
is, to be sure, forty feet high, and a hundred by a hundred and fifty
in extent, with an arched roof, and clear water for a floor. The
water appears to be as deep as the roof is high, and is of a light,
beautiful blue, in contrast with the deep blue of the bay. At the
entrance the water is illuminated, and there is a pleasant, mild
light within: one has there a novel subterranean sensation; but it
did not remind me of anything I have seen in the "Arabian Nights." I
have seen pictures of it that were much finer.

As we rowed close to the precipice in returning, I saw many similar
openings, not so deep, and perhaps only sham openings; and the
water-line was fretted to honeycomb by the eating waves. Beneath the
water-line, and revealed here and there when the waves receded, was a
line of bright red coral.


At vespers on the fete of St. Antonino, and in his church, I saw the
Signorina Fiammetta. I stood leaning against a marble pillar near
the altar-steps, during the service, when I saw the young girl
kneeling on the pavement in act of prayer. Her black lace veil had
fallen a little back from her head; and there was something in her
modest attitude and graceful figure that made her conspicuous among
all her kneeling companions, with their gay kerchiefs and bright
gowns. When she rose and sat down, with folded hands and eyes
downcast, there was something so pensive in her subdued mien that I
could not take my eyes from her. To say that she had the rich olive
complexion, with the gold struggling through, large, lustrous black
eyes, and harmonious features, is only to make a weak photograph,
when I should paint a picture in colors and infuse it with the sweet
loveliness of a maiden on the way to sainthood. I was sure that I
had seen her before, looking down from the balcony of a villa just
beyond the Roman wall, for the face was not one that even the most
unimpressible idler would forget. I was sure that, young as she was,
she had already a history; had lived her life, and now walked amid
these groves and old streets in a dream. The story which I heard is
not long.

In the drawing-room of the Villa Nardi was shown, and offered for
sale, an enormous counterpane, crocheted in white cotton. Loop by
loop, it must have been an immense labor to knit it; for it was
fashioned in pretty devices, and when spread out was rich and showy
enough for the royal bed of a princess. It had been crocheted by
Fiammetta for her marriage, the only portion the poor child could
bring to that sacrament. Alas! the wedding was never to be; and the
rich work, into which her delicate fingers had knit so many maiden
dreams and hopes and fears, was offered for sale in the resort of
strangers. It could not have been want only that induced her to put
this piece of work in the market, but the feeling, also, that the
time never again could return when she would have need of it. I had
no desire to purchase such a melancholy coverlet, but I could well
enough fancy why she would wish to part with what must be rather a
pall than a decoration in her little chamber.

Fiammetta lived with her mother in a little villa, the roof of which
is in sight from my sunny terrace in the Villa Nardi, just to the
left of the square old convent tower, rising there out of the silver
olive-boughs,--a tumble-down sort of villa, with a flat roof and odd
angles and parapets, in the midst of a thrifty but small grove of
lemons and oranges. They were poor enough, or would be in any
country where physical wants are greater than here, and yet did not
belong to that lowest class, the young girls of which are little more
than beasts of burden, accustomed to act as porters, bearing about on
their heads great loads of stone, wood, water, and baskets of oranges
in the shipping season. She could not have been forced to such
labor, or she never would have had the time to work that wonderful

Giuseppe was an honest and rather handsome young fellow of Sorrento,
industrious and good-natured, who did not bother his head much about
learning. He was, however, a skillful workman in the celebrated
inlaid and mosaic woodwork of the place, and, it is said, had even
invented some new figures for the inlaid pictures in colored woods.
He had a little fancy for the sea as well, and liked to pull an oar
over to Capri on occasion, by which he could earn a few francs easier
than he could saw them out of the orangewood. For the stupid fellow,
who could not read a word in his prayer-book, had an idea of thrift
in his head, and already, I suspect, was laying up liras with an
object. There are one or two dandies in Sorrento who attempt to
dress as they do in Naples. Giuseppe was not one of these; but there
was not a gayer or handsomer gallant than he on Sunday, or one more
looked at by the Sorrento girls, when he had on his clean suit and
his fresh red Phrygian cap. At least the good Fiammetta thought so,
when she met him at church, though I feel sure she did not allow even
his handsome figure to come between her and the Virgin. At any rate,
there can be no doubt of her sentiments after church, when she and
her mother used to walk with him along the winding Massa road above
the sea, and stroll down to the shore to sit on the greensward over
the Temple of Hercules, or the Roman Baths, or the remains of the
villa of C. Fulvius Cunctatus Cocles, or whatever those ruins
subterranean are, there on the Capo di Sorrento. Of course, this is
mere conjecture of mine. They may have gone on the hills behind the
town instead, or they may have stood leaning over the garden-wall of
her mother's little villa, looking at the passers-by in the deep
lane, thinking about nothing in the world, and talking about it all
the sunny afternoon, until Ischia was purple with the last light, and
the olive terraces behind them began to lose their gray bloom. All I
do know is, that they were in love, blossoming out in it as the
almond-trees do here in February; and that all the town knew it, and
saw a wedding in the future, just as plain as you can see Capri from
the heights above the town.

It was at this time that the wonderful counterpane began to grow, to
the continual astonishment of Giuseppe, to whom it seemed a marvel of
skill and patience, and who saw what love and sweet hope Fiammetta
was knitting into it with her deft fingers. I declare, as I think of
it, the white cotton spread out on her knees, in such contrast to the
rich olive of her complexion and her black shiny hair, while she
knits away so merrily, glancing up occasionally with those liquid,
laughing eyes to Giuseppe, who is watching her as if she were an
angel right out of the blue sky, I am tempted not to tell this story
further, but to leave the happy two there at the open gate of life,
and to believe that they entered in.

This was about the time of the change of government, after this
region had come to be a part of the Kingdom of Italy. After the
first excitement was over, and the simple people found they were not
all made rich, nor raised to a condition in which they could live
without work, there began to be some dissatisfaction. Why the
convents need have been suppressed, and especially the poor nuns
packed off, they couldn't see; and then the taxes were heavier than
ever before; instead of being supported by the government, they had
to support it; and, worst of all, the able young fellows must still
go for soldiers. Just as one was learning his trade, or perhaps had
acquired it, and was ready to earn his living and begin to make a
home for his wife, he must pass the three best years of his life in
the army. The conscription was relentless.

The time came to Giuseppe, as it did to the others. I never heard
but he was brave enough; there was no storm on the Mediterranean that
he dare not face in his little boat; and he would not have objected
to a campaign with the red shirts of Garibaldi. But to be torn away
from his occupations by which he was daily laying aside a little for
himself and Fiammetta, and to leave her for three years,--that seemed
dreadful to him. Three years is a longtime; and though he had no
doubt of the pretty Fiammetta, yet women are women, said the shrewd
fellow to himself, and who knows what might happen, if a gallant came
along who could read and write, as Fiammetta could, and, besides,
could play the guitar?

The result was, that Giuseppe did not appear at the mustering-office
on the day set; and, when the file of soldiers came for him, he was
nowhere to be found. He had fled to the mountains. I scarcely know
what his plan was, but he probably trusted to some good luck to
escape the conscription altogether, if he could shun it now; and, at
least, I know that he had many comrades who did the same, so that at
times the mountains were full of young fellows who were lurking in
them to escape the soldiers. And they fared very roughly usually,
and sometimes nearly perished from hunger; for though the sympathies
of the peasants were undoubtedly with the quasi-outlaws rather than
with the carbineers, yet the latter were at every hamlet in the
hills, and liable to visit every hut, so that any relief extended to
the fugitives was attended with great danger; and, besides, the
hunted men did not dare to venture from their retreats. Thus
outlawed and driven to desperation by hunger, these fugitives, whom
nobody can defend for running away from their duties as citizens,
became brigands. A cynical German, who was taken by them some years
ago on the road to Castellamare, a few miles above here, and held for
ransom, declared that they were the most honest fellows he had seen
in Italy; but I never could see that he intended the remark as any
compliment to them. It is certain that the inhabitants of all these
towns held very loose ideas on the subject of brigandage: the poor
fellows, they used to say, only robbed because they were hungry, and
they must live somehow.

What Fiammetta thought, down in her heart, is not told: but I presume
she shared the feelings of those about her concerning the brigands,
and, when she heard that Giuseppe had joined them, was more anxious
for the safety of his body than of his soul; though I warrant she did
not forget either, in her prayers to the Virgin and St. Antonino.
And yet those must have been days, weeks, months, of terrible anxiety
to the poor child; and if she worked away at the counterpane, netting
in that elaborate border, as I have no doubt she did, it must have
been with a sad heart and doubtful fingers. I think that one of the
psychological sensitives could distinguish the parts of the bedspread
that were knit in the sunny days from those knit in the long hours of
care and deepening anxiety.

It was rarely that she received any message from him and it was then
only verbal and of the briefest; he was in the mountains above
Amalfi; one day he had come so far round as the top of the Great St.
Angelo, from which he could look down upon the piano of Sorrento,
where the little Fiammetta was; or he had been on the hills near
Salerno, hunted and hungry; or his company had descended upon some
travelers going to Paestum, made a successful haul, and escaped into
the steep mountains beyond. He didn't intend to become a regular
bandit, not at all. He hoped that something might happen so that he
could steal back into Sorrento, unmarked by the government; or, at
least, that he could escape away to some other country or island,
where Fiammetta could join him. Did she love him yet, as in the old
happy days? As for him, she was now everything to him; and he would
willingly serve three or thirty years in the army, if the government
could forget he had been a brigand, and permit him to have a little
home with Fiammetta at the end of the probation. There was not much
comfort in all this, but the simple fellow could not send anything
more cheerful; and I think it used to feed the little maiden's heart
to hear from him, even in this downcast mood, for his love for her
was a dear certainty, and his absence and wild life did not dim it.

My informant does not know how long this painful life went on, nor
does it matter much. There came a day when the government was shamed
into new vigor against the brigands. Some English people of
consequence (the German of whom I have spoken was with them) had been
captured, and it had cost them a heavy ransom. The number of the
carbineers was quadrupled in the infested districts, soldiers
penetrated the fastnesses of the hills, there were daily fights with
the banditti; and, to show that this was no sham, some of them were
actually shot, and others were taken and thrown into prison. Among
those who were not afraid to stand and fight, and who would not be
captured, was our Giuseppe. One day the Italia newspaper of Naples
had an account of a fight with brigands; and in the list of those who
fell was the name of Giuseppe---, of Sorrento, shot through the head,
as he ought to have been, and buried without funeral among the rocks.

This was all. But when the news was read in the little post office
in Sorrento, it seemed a great deal more than it does as I write it;
for, if Giuseppe had an enemy in the village, it was not among the
people; and not one who heard the news did not think at once of the
poor girl to whom it would be more than a bullet through the heart.
And so it was. The slender hope of her life then went out. I am
told that there was little change outwardly, and that she was as
lovely as before; but a great cloud of sadness came over her, in
which she was always enveloped, whether she sat at home, or walked
abroad in the places where she and Giuseppe used to wander. The
simple people respected her grief, and always made a tender-hearted
stillness when the bereft little maiden went through the streets,--a
stillness which she never noticed, for she never noticed anything
apparently. The bishop himself when he walked abroad could not be
treated with more respect.

This was all the story of the sweet Fiammetta that was confided to
me. And afterwards, as I recalled her pensive face that evening as
she kneeled at vespers, I could not say whether, after all, she was
altogether to be pitied, in the holy isolation of her grief, which I
am sure sanctified her, and, in some sort, made her life complete.
For I take it that life, even in this sunny Sorrento, is not alone a
matter of time.


The Great St. Angelo and that region are supposed to be the haunts of
brigands. From those heights they spy out the land, and from thence
have, more than once, descended upon the sea-road between
Castellamare and Sorrento, and caught up English and German
travelers. This elevation commands, also, the Paestum way. We have
no faith in brigands in these days; for in all our remote and lonely
explorations of this promontory we have never met any but the most
simple-hearted and good-natured people, who were quite as much afraid
of us as we were of them. But there are not wanting stories, every
day, to keep alive the imagination of tourists.

We are waiting in the garden this sunny, enticing morning-just the
day for a tramp among the purple hills--for our friend, the long
Englishman, who promised, over night, to go with us. This excellent,
good-natured giant, whose head rubs the ceiling of any room in the
house, has a wife who is fond of him, and in great dread of the
brigands. He comes down with a sheepish air, at length, and informs
us that his wife won't let him go.

"Of course I can go, if I like," he adds. "But the fact is, I have
n't slept much all night: she kept asking me if I was going!" On the
whole, the giant don't care to go. There are things more to be
feared than brigands.

The expedition is, therefore, reduced to two unarmed persons. In the
piazza we pick up a donkey and his driver for use in case of
accident; and, mounting the driver on the donkey,--an arrangement
that seems entirely satisfactory to him,--we set forward. If
anything can bring back youth, it is a day of certain sunshine and a
bit of unexplored country ahead, with a whole day in which to wander
in it without a care or a responsibility. We walk briskly up the
walled road of the piano, striking at the overhanging golden fruit
with our staves; greeting the orange-girls who come down the side
lanes; chaffing with the drivers, the beggars, the old women who sit
in the sun; looking into the open doors of houses and shops upon
women weaving, boys and girls slicing up heaps of oranges, upon the
makers of macaroni, the sellers of sour wine, the merry shoemakers,
whose little dens are centers of gossip here, as in all the East: the
whole life of these people is open and social; to be on the street is
to be at home.

We wind up the steep hill behind Meta, every foot of which is
terraced for olive-trees, getting, at length, views over the wayside
wall of the plain and bay and rising into the purer air and the scent
of flowers and other signs of coming spring, to the little village of
Arola, with its church and bell, its beggars and idlers,--just a
little street of houses jammed in between the hills of Camaldoli and
Pergola, both of which we know well.

Upon the cliff by Pergola is a stone house, in front of which I like
to lie, looking straight down a thousand or two feet upon the roofs
of Meta, the map of the plain, and the always fascinating bay. I
went down the backbone of the limestone ridge towards the sea the
other afternoon, before sunset, and unexpectedly came upon a group of
little stone cottages on a ledge, which are quite hidden from below.
The inhabitants were as much surprised to see a foreigner break
through their seclusion as I was to come upon them. However, they
soon recovered presence of mind to ask for a little money. Half a
dozen old hags with the parchment also sat upon the rocks in the sun,
spinning from distaffs, exactly as their ancestors did in Greece two
thousand years ago, I doubt not. I do not know that it is true, as
Tasso wrote, that this climate is so temperate and serene that one
almost becomes immortal in it. Since two thousand years all these
coasts have changed more or less, risen and sunk, and the temples and
palaces of two civilizations have tumbled into the sea. Yet I do not
know but these tranquil old women have been sitting here on the rocks
all the while, high above change and worry and decay, gossiping and
spinning, like Fates. Their yarn must be uncanny.

But we wander. It is difficult to go to any particular place here;
impossible to write of it in a direct manner. Our mulepath continues
most delightful, by slopes of green orchards nestled in sheltered
places, winding round gorges, deep and ragged with loose stones, and
groups of rocks standing on the edge of precipices, like medieval
towers, and through village after village tucked away in the hills.
The abundance of population is a constant surprise. As we proceed,
the people are wilder and much more curious about us, having, it is
evident, seen few strangers lately. Women and children, half-dressed
in dirty rags which do not hide the form, come out from their low
stone huts upon the windy terraces, and stand, arms akimbo, staring
at us, and not seldom hailing us in harsh voices. Their sole dress
is often a single split and torn gown, not reaching to the bare
knees, evidently the original of those in the Naples ballet (it will,
no doubt, be different when those creatures exchange the ballet for
the ballot); and, with their tangled locks and dirty faces, they seem
rather beasts than women. Are their husbands brigands, and are they
in wait for us in the chestnut-grove yonder?

The grove is charming; and the men we meet there gathering sticks are
not so surly as the women. They point the way; and when we emerge
from the wood, St. Maria a Castello is before us on a height, its
white and red church shining in the sun. We climb up to it. In
front is a broad, flagged terrace; and on the edge are deep wells in
the rock, from which we draw cool water. Plentifully victualed, one
could stand a siege here, and perhaps did in the gamey Middle Ages.
Monk or soldier need not wish a pleasanter place to lounge.
Adjoining the church, but lower, is a long, low building with three
rooms, at once house and stable, the stable in the center, though all
of them have hay in the lofts. The rooms do not communicate. That
is the whole of the town of St. Maria a Castello.

In one of the apartments some rough-looking peasants are eating
dinner, a frugal meal: a dish of unclean polenta, a plate of grated
cheese, a basket of wormy figs, and some sour red wine; no bread, no
meat. They looked at us askance, and with no sign of hospitality.
We made friends, however, with the ragged children, one of whom took
great delight in exhibiting his litter of puppies; and we at length
so far worked into the good graces of the family that the mother was
prevailed upon to get us some milk and eggs. I followed the woman
into one of the apartments to superintend the cooking of the eggs.
It was a mere den, with an earth floor. A fire of twigs was kindled
against the farther wall, and a little girl, half-naked, carrying a
baby still more economically clad, was stooping down to blow the
smudge into a flame. The smoke, some of it, went over our heads out
at the door. We boiled the eggs. We desired salt; and the woman
brought us pepper in the berry. We insisted on salt, and at length
got the rock variety, which we pounded on the rocks. We ate our eggs
and drank our milk on the terrace, with the entire family interested
spectators. The men were the hardest-looking ruffians we had met
yet: they were making a bit of road near by, but they seemed capable
of turning their hands to easier money-getting; and there couldn't be
a more convenient place than this.

When our repast was over, and I had drunk a glass of wine with the
proprietor, I offered to pay him, tendering what I knew was a fair
price in this region. With some indignation of gesture, he refused
it, intimating that it was too little. He seemed to be seeking an

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