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Chapter 4

NAPLES: POEMS.

In the bleak weather of this spring, 1842, he was again abroad for a
little while; partly from necessity, or at least utility; and partly,
as I guess, because these circumstances favored, and he could with a
good countenance indulge a little wish he had long had. In the
Italian Tour, which ended suddenly by Mrs. Sterling's illness
recalling him, he had missed Naples; a loss which he always thought to
be considerable; and which, from time to time, he had formed little
projects, failures hitherto, for supplying. The rigors of spring were
always dangerous to him in England, and it was always of advantage to
get out of them: and then the sight of Naples, too; this, always a
thing to be done some day, was now possible. Enough, with the real or
imaginary hope of bettering himself in health, and the certain one of
seeing Naples, and catching a glance of Italy again, he now made a run
thither. It was not long after Calvert's death. The Tragedy of
_Strafford_ lay finished in his desk. Several things, sad and bright,
were finished. A little intermezzo of ramble was not unadvisable.

His tour by water and by land was brief and rapid enough; hardly above
two months in all. Of which the following Letters will, with some
abridgment, give us what details are needful:--

"_To Charles Barton, Esq., Leamington_.
"FALMOUTH, 25th March, 1842.

"MY DEAR CHARLES,--My attempts to shoot you flying with my paper
pellets turned out very ill. I hope young ladies succeed better when
they happen to make appointments with you. Even now, I hardly know
whether you have received a Letter I wrote on Sunday last, and
addressed to The Cavendish. I sent it thither by Susan's advice.

"In this missive,--happily for us both, it did not contain a
hundred-pound note or any trifle of that kind,--I informed you that I
was compelled to plan an expedition towards the South Pole; stopping,
however, in the Mediterranean; and that I designed leaving this on
Monday next for Cadiz or Gibraltar, and then going on to Malta, whence
Italy and Sicily would be accessible. Of course your company would be
a great pleasure, if it were possible for you to join me. The delay
in hearing from you, through no fault of yours, has naturally put me
out a little; but, on the whole, my plan still holds, and I shall
leave this on Monday for Gibraltar, where the _Great Liverpool_ will
catch me, and carry me to Malta. The _Great Liverpool_ leaves
Southampton on the 1st of April, and Falmouth on the 2d; and will
reach Gibraltar in from four to five days.

"Now, if you _should_ be able and disposed to join me, you have only
to embark in that sumptuous tea-kettle, and pick me up under the guns
of the Rock. We could then cruise on to Malta, Sicily, Naples, Rome,
&c., _a discretion_. It is just _possible_, though extremely
improbable, that my steamer of Monday (most likely the _Montrose_) may
not reach Gibraltar so soon as the _Liverpool_. If so, and if you
should actually be on board, you must stop at Gibraltar. But there
are ninety-nine chances to one against this. Write at all events to
Susan, to let her know what you propose.

"I do not wait till the _Great Liverpool_ goes, because the object for
me is to get into a warm climate as soon as possible. I am decidedly
better.

"Your affectionate Brother,
"JOHN STERLING."

Barton did not go with him, none went; but he arrives safe, and not
_hurt_ in health, which is something.

"_To Mrs. Sterling, Knightsbridge, London_.
"MALTA, 14th April, 1842.

"DEAREST MOTHER,--I am writing to Susan through France, by to-morrow's
mail; and will also send you a line, instead of waiting for the longer
English conveyance.

"We reached this the day before yesterday, in the evening; having had
a strong breeze against us for a day or two before; which made me
extremely uncomfortable,--and indeed my headache is hardly gone yet.
From about the 4th to the 9th of the month, we had beautiful weather,
and I was happy enough. You will see by the map that the straightest
line from Gibraltar to this place goes close along the African coast;
which accordingly we saw with the utmost clearness; and found it
generally a line of mountains, the higher peaks and ridges covered
with snow. We went close in to Algiers; which looks strong, but
entirely from art. The town lies on the slope of a straight coast;
and is not at all embayed, though there is some little shelter for
shipping within the mole. It is a square patch of white buildings
huddled together; fringed with batteries; and commanded by large forts
on the ridge above: a most uncomfortable-looking place; though, no
doubt, there are _cafes_ and billiard-rooms and a theatre within,--for
the French like to have their Houris, &c., on _this_ side of Paradise,
if possible.

"Our party of fifty people (we had taken some on board at Gibraltar)
broke up, on reaching this; never, of course, to meet again. The
greater part do not proceed to Alexandria. Considering that there was
a bundle of midshipmen, ensigns, &c., we had as much reason among us
as could perhaps be looked for; and from several I gained bits of
information and traits of character, though nothing very
remarkable....

"I have established myself in an inn, rather than go to Lady
Louis's;[27] I not feeling quite equal to company, except in moderate doses. I
have, however, seen her a good deal; and dine there to-day, very
privately, for Sir John is not quite well, and they will have no
guests. The place, however, is full of official banqueting, for
various unimportant reasons. When here before, I was in much distress
and anxiety, on my way from Rome; and I suppose this it was that
prevented its making the same impression on me as now, when it seems
really the stateliest town I have ever seen. The architecture is
generally of a corrupt Roman kind; with something of the varied and
picturesque look, though much more massive, of our Elizabethan
buildings. We have the finest English summer and a pellucid sky....
Your affectionate

"JOHN STERLING."

At Naples next, for three weeks, was due admiration of the sceneries
and antiquities, Bay and Mountain, by no means forgetting Art and the
Museum: "to Pozzuoli, to Baiae, round the Promontory of
Sorrento;"--above all, "twice to Pompeii," where the elegance and
classic simplicity of Ancient Housekeeping strikes us much; and again
to Paestum, where "the Temple of Neptune is far the noblest building I
have ever seen; and makes both Greek and Revived Roman seem quite
barbaric.... Lord Ponsonby lodges in the same house with me;--but, of
course, I do not countenance an adherent of a beaten Party!"[28]--Or
let us take this more compendious account, which has much more of
human in it, from an onward stage, ten days later:--

"_To Thomas Carlyle, Esq., Chelsea, London_.
"ROME, 13th May, 1842,

"MY DEAR CARLYLE,--I hope I wrote to you before leaving England, to
tell you of the necessity for my doing so. Though coming to Italy,
there was little comfort in the prospect of being divided from my
family, and pursuits which grew on me every day. However, I tried to
make the best of it, and have gained both health and pleasure.

"In spite of scanty communications from England (owing to the
uncertainty of my position), a word or two concerning you and your
dear Wife have reached me. Lately it has often occurred to me, that
the sight of the Bay of Naples, of the beautiful coast from that to
this place, and of Rome itself, all bathed in summer sunshine, and
green with spring foliage, would be some consolation to her.[29] Pray
give her my love.

"I have been two days here; and almost the first thing I did was to
visit the Protestant burial-ground, and the graves of those I knew
when here before. But much as being now alone here, I feel the
difference, there is no scene where Death seems so little dreadful and
miserable as in the lonelier neighborhoods of this old place. All
one's impressions, however, as to that and everything else, appear to
me, on reflection, more affected than I had for a long time any notion
of, by one's own isolation. All the feelings and activities which
family, friends and occupation commonly engage, are turned, here in
one's solitude, with strange force into the channels of mere
observation and contemplation; and the objects one is conversant with
seem to gain a tenfold significance from the abundance of spare
interest one now has to bestow on them. This explains to me a good
deal of the peculiar effect that Italy has always had on me: and
something of that artistic enthusiasm which I remember you used to
think so singular in Goethe's _Travels_. Darley, who is as much a
brooding hermit in England as here, felt nothing but disappointment
from a country which fills me with childish wonder and delight.

"Of you I have received some slight notice from Mrs. Strachey; who is
on her way hither; and will (she writes) be at Florence on the 15th,
and here before the end of the month. She notices having received a
Letter of yours which had pleased her much. She now proposes spending
the summer at Sorrento, or thereabouts; and if mere delight of
landscape and climate were enough, Adam and Eve, had their courier
taken them to that region, might have done well enough without
Paradise,--and not been tempted, either, by any Tree of Knowledge; a
kind that does not flourish in the Two Sicilies.

"The ignorance of the Neapolitans, from the highest to the lowest, is
very eminent; and excites the admiration of all the rest of Italy. In
the great building containing all the Works of Art, and a Library of
150,000 volumes, I asked for the best existing Book (a German one
published ten years ago) on the Statues in that very Collection; and,
after a rabble of clerks and custodes, got up to a dirty priest, who
bowing to the ground regretted 'they did not possess it,' but at last
remembered that 'they _had_ entered into negotiations on the subject,
which as yet had been unsuccessful.'--The favorite device on the walls
at Naples is a vermilion Picture of a Male and Female Soul
respectively up to the waist (the waist of a _soul_) in fire, and an
Angel above each, watering the sufferers from a watering-pot. This is
intended to gain alms for Masses. The same populace sit for hours on
the Mole, listening to rhapsodists who recite Ariosto. I have seen I
think five of them all within a hundred yards of each other, and some
sets of fiddlers to boot. Yet there are few parts of the world where
I have seen less laughter than there. The Miracle of Januarius's
Blood is, on the whole, my most curious experience. The furious
entreaties, shrieks and sobs, of a set of old women, yelling till the
Miracle was successfully performed, are things never to be forgotten.

"I spent three weeks in this most glittering of countries, and saw
most of the usual wonders,--the Paestan Temples being to me much the
most valuable. But Pompeii and all that it has yielded, especially
the Fresco Paintings, have also an infinite interest. When one
considers that this prodigious series of beautiful designs supplied
the place of our common room-papers,--the wealth of poetic imagery
among the Ancients, and the corresponding traditional variety and
elegance of pictorial treatment, seem equally remarkable. The Greek
and Latin Books do not give one quite so fully this sort of
impression; because they afford no direct measure of the extent of
their own diffusion. But these are ornaments from the smaller class
of decent houses in a little Country Town; and the greater number of
them, by the slightness of the execution, show very clearly that they
were adapted to ordinary taste, and done by mere artisans. In general
clearness, symmetry and simplicity of feeling, I cannot say that, on
the whole, the works of Raffaelle equal them; though of course he has
endless beauties such as we could not find unless in the great
original works from which these sketches at Pompeii were taken. Yet
with all my much increased reverence for the Greeks, it seems more
plain than ever that they had hardly anything of the peculiar
devotional feeling of Christianity.

"Rome, which I loved before above all the earth, now delights me more
than ever;--though at this moment there is rain falling that would not
discredit Oxford Street. The depth, sincerity and splendor that there
once was in the semi-paganism of the old Catholics comes out in St.
Peter's and its dependencies, almost as grandly as does Greek and
Roman Art in the Forum and the Vatican Galleries. I wish you were
here: but, at all events, hope to see you and your Wife once more
during this summer.

"Yours,
"JOHN STERLING."

At Paris, where he stopped a day and night, and generally through his
whole journey from Marseilles to Havre, one thing attended him: the
prevailing epidemic of the place and year; now gone, and nigh
forgotten, as other influenzas are. He writes to his Father: "I have
not yet met a single Frenchman, who could give me any rational
explanation _why_ they were all in such a confounded rage against us.
Definite causes of quarrel a statesman may know how to deal with,
inasmuch as the removal of them may help to settle the dispute. But
it must be a puzzling task to negotiate about instincts; to which
class, as it seems to me, we must have recourse for an understanding
of the present abhorrence which everybody on the other side of the
Channel not only feels, but makes a point to boast of, against the
name of Britain. France is slowly arming, especially with Steam, _en
attendant_ a more than possible contest, in which they reckon
confidently on the eager co-operation of the Yankees; as, _vice
versa_, an American told me that his countrymen do on that of France.
One person at Paris (M. ---- whom you know) provoked me to tell him
that 'England did not want another battle of Trafalgar; but if France
did, she might compel England to gratify her.'"--After a couple of
pleasant and profitable months, he was safe home again in the first
days of June; and saw Falmouth not under gray iron skies, and whirls
of March dust, but bright with summer opulence and the roses coming
out.

It was what I call his "_fifth_ peregrinity;" his fifth and last. He
soon afterwards came up to London; spent a couple of weeks, with all
his old vivacity, among us here. The AEsculapian oracles, it would
appear, gave altogether cheerful prophecy; the highest medical
authority "expresses the most decided opinion that I have gradually
mended for some years; and in truth I have not, for six or seven, been
so free from serious symptoms of illness as at present." So uncertain
are all oracles, AEsculapian and other!

During this visit, he made one new acquaintance which he much valued;
drawn thither, as I guess, by the wish to take counsel about
_Strafford_. He writes to his Clifton friend, under date, 1st July
1842: "Lockhart, of the _Quarterly Review_, I made my first oral
acquaintance with; and found him as neat, clear and cutting a brain as
you would expect; but with an amount of knowledge, good nature and
liberal anti-bigotry, that would much surprise many. The tone of his
children towards him seemed to me decisive of his real kindness. He
quite agreed with me as to the threatening seriousness of our present
social perplexities, and the necessity and difficulty of doing
something effectual for so satisfying the manual multitude as not to
overthrow all legal security....

"Of other persons whom I saw in London," continues he, "there are
several that would much interest you,--though I missed Tennyson, by a
mere chance.... John Mill has completely finished, and sent to the
bookseller, his great work on Logic; the labor of many years of a
singularly subtle, patient and comprehensive mind. It will be our
chief speculative monument of this age. Mill and I could not meet
above two or three times; but it was with the openness and freshness
of school-boy friends, though our friendship only dates from the
manhood of both."

He himself was busier than ever; occupied continually with all manner
of Poetic interests. _Coeur-de-Lion_, a new and more elaborate
attempt in the mock-heroic or comico-didactic vein, had been on hand
for some time, the scope of it greatly deepening and expanding itself
since it first took hold of him; and now, soon after the Naples
journey, it rose into shape on the wider plan; shaken up probably by
this new excitement, and indebted to Calabria, Palermo and the
Mediterranean scenes for much of the vesture it had. With this, which
opened higher hopes for him than any of his previous efforts, he was
now employing all his time and strength;--and continued to do so, this
being the last effort granted him among us.

Already, for some months, _Strafford_ lay complete: but how to get it
from the stocks; in what method to launch it? The step was
questionable. Before going to Italy he had sent me the Manuscript;
still loyal and friendly; and willing to hear the worst that could be
said of his poetic enterprise. I had to afflict him again, the good
brave soul, with the deliberate report that I could _not_ accept this
Drama as his Picture of the Life of Strafford, or as any _Picture_ of
that strange Fact. To which he answered, with an honest manfulness,
in a tone which is now pathetic enough to me, that he was much grieved
yet much obliged, and uncertain how to decide. On the other hand, Mr.
Hare wrote, warmly eulogizing. Lockhart too spoke kindly, though
taking some exceptions. It was a questionable case. On the whole,
_Strafford_ remained, for the present, unlaunched; and _Coeur de-Lion_
was getting its first timbers diligently laid down. So passed, in
peaceable seclusion, in wholesome employment and endeavor, the autumn
and winter of 1842-43. On Christmas-day, he reports to his Mother:--

"I wished to write to you yesterday; but was prevented by the
important business of preparing a Tree, in the German fashion, for the
children. This project answered perfectly, as it did last year; and
gave them the greatest pleasure. I wish you and my Father could have
been here to see their merry faces. Johnny was in the thick of the
fun, and much happier than Lord Anson on capturing the galleon. We
are all going on well and quietly, but with nothing very new among
us.... The last book I have lighted on is Moffat's _Missionary Labors
in South Africa_; which is worth reading. There is the best
collection of lion stories in it that I have ever seen. But the man
is, also, really a very good fellow; and fit for something much better
than most lions are. He is very ignorant, and mistaken in some
things; but has strong sense and heart; and his Narrative adds another
to the many proofs of the enormous power of Christianity on rude
minds. Nothing can be more chaotic, that is human at all, than the
notions of these poor Blacks, even after what is called their
conversion; but the effect is produced. They do adopt pantaloons, and
abandon polygamy; and I suppose will soon have newspapers and literary
soirees."

Thomas Carlyle

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