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March 1832

March.--Embarked on an excursion to Paestum, with Sir William Gell and Mr. Laing-Meason, in order to see the fine ruins. We went out by Pompeii, which we had visited before, and which fully maintains its character as one of the most striking pieces of antiquity, where the furniture treasure and household are preserved in the excavated houses, just as found by the labourers appointed by Government. The inside of the apartments is adorned with curious paintings, if I may call them such, in mosaic. A meeting between Darius and Alexander is remarkably fine.[520] A street, called the street of Tombs, reaches a considerable way out of the city, having been flanked by tombs on each side as the law directed. The entrance into the town affords an interesting picture of the private life of the Romans. We came next to the vestiges of Herculaneum, which is destroyed like Pompeii but by the lava or molten stone, which cannot be removed, whereas the tufa or volcanic ashes can be with ease removed from Pompeii, which it has filled up lightly. After having refreshed in a cottage in the desolate town, we proceed on our journey eastward, flanked by one set of heights stretching from Vesuvius, and forming a prolongation of that famous mountain. Another chain of mountains seems to intersect our course in an opposite direction and descends upon the town of Castellamare. Different from the range of heights which is prolonged from Vesuvius, this second, which runs to Castellamare, is entirely composed of granite, and, as is always the case with mountains of this formation, betrays no trace of volcanic agency. Its range was indeed broken and split up into specimens of rocks of most romantic appearance and great variety, displaying granite rock as the principal part of its composition. The country on which these hills border is remarkable for its powers of vegetation, and produces vast groves of vine, elm, chestnut, and similar trees, which grow when stuck in by cuttings. The vines produce Lacryma Christi in great quantities--not a bad wine, though the stranger requires to be used to it. The sea-shore of the Bay of Naples forms the boundary on the right of the country through which our journey lies, and we continue to approach to the granite chain of eminences which stretch before us, as if to bar our passage.

As we advanced to meet the great barrier of cliffs, a feature becomes opposed to us of a very pronounced character, which seems qualified to interrupt our progress. A road leading straight across the branch of hills is carried up the steepest part of the mountain, ascending by a succession of zig-zags, which the French laid by scale straight up the hill. The tower is situated upon an artificial eminence, worked to a point and placed in a defensible position between two hills about the same height, the access to which the defenders of the pass could effectually prohibit.

Sir William Gell, whose knowledge of the antiquities of this country is extremely remarkable, acquainted us with the history.

In the middle ages the pasturages on the slope of these hills, especially on the other side, belonged to the rich republic of Amain, who built this tower as an exploratory gazeeboo from which they could watch the motions of the Saracens who were wont to annoy them with plundering excursions; but after this fastness [was built] the people of Amalfi usually defeated and chastised them. The ride over the opposite side of the mountain was described as so uncommonly pleasant as made me long to ride it with assistance of a pony. That, however, was impossible. We arrived at a country house, near a large town situated in a ravine or hollow, which was called La Cava from some concavities which it exhibited.

We were received by Miss Whyte, an English lady who has settled at La Cava, and she afforded us the warmest hospitality that is consistent with a sadly cold chilling house. They may say what they like of the fine climate of Naples--unquestionably they cannot say too much in its favour, but yet when a day or two of cold weather does come, the inhabitants are without the means of parrying the temporary inclemency, which even a Scotsman would scorn to submit to. However, warm or cold, to bed we went, and rising next morning at seven we left La Cava, and, making something like a sharp turn backwards, but keeping nearer to the Gulf of Salerno than in yesterday's journey, and nearer to its shore. We had a good road towards Paestum, and in defiance of a cold drizzling day we went on at a round pace. The country through which we travelled was wooded and stocked with wild animals towards the fall of the hills, and we saw at a nearer distance a large swampy plain, pastured by a singularly bizarre but fierce-looking buffalo, though it might maintain a much preferable stock. This palace of Barranco was anciently kept up for the King's sport, but any young man having a certain degree of interest is allowed to share in the chase, which it is no longer an object to preserve. The guest, however, if he shoots a deer, or a buffalo, or wild boar, must pay the keeper at a certain fixed price, not much above its price in the market, which a sportsman would hardly think above its worth for game of his own killing. The town of Salerno is a beautiful seaport town, and it is, as it were, wrapt in an Italian cloak hanging round the limbs, or, to speak common sense, the new streets which they are rebuilding. We made no stop at Salerno, but continued to traverse the great plain of that name, within sight of the sea, which is chiefly pastured by that queer-looking brute, the buffalo, concerning which they have a notion that it returns its value sooner, and with less expense of feeding, than any other animal.

At length we came to two streams which join their forces, and would seem to flow across the plain to the bottom of the hills. One, however, flows so flat as almost scarcely to move, and sinking into a kind of stagnant pool is swallowed up by the earth, without proceeding any further until, after remaining buried for two or three [miles?] underground, it again bursts forth to the light, and resumes its course. When we crossed this stream by a bridge, which they are now repairing, we entered a spacious plain, very like that which we had [left] and displaying a similar rough and savage cultivation. Here savage herds were under the guardianship of shepherds as wild as they were themselves, clothed in a species of sheepskins, and carrying a sharp spear with which they herd and sometimes kill their buffaloes. Their farmhouses are in very poor order, and with every mark of poverty, and they have the character of being moved to dishonesty by anything like opportunity; of this there was a fatal instance, but so well avenged that it is not like to be repeated till it has long faded out of memory. The story, I am assured, happened exactly as follows:--A certain Mr. Hunt, lately married to a lady of his own age, and, seeming to have had what is too often the Englishman's characteristic of more money than wit, arrived at Naples a year or two ago _en famille_, and desirous of seeing all the sights in the vicinity of this celebrated place. Among others Paestum was not forgot. At one of the poor farmhouses where they stopped, the inhabitant set her eyes on a toilet apparatus which was composed of silver and had the appearance of great value. The woman who spread this report addressed herself to a youth who had been [under] arms, and undoubtedly he and his companions showed no more hesitation than the person with whom the idea had originated. Five fellows, not known before this time for any particular evil, agreed to rob the English gentleman of the treasure of which he had made such an imprudent display. They were attacked by the banditti in several parties, but the principal attack was directed to Mr. Hunt's carriage, a servant of that gentleman being, as well as himself, pulled out of the carriage and watched by those who had undertaken to conduct this bad deed. The man who had been the soldier, probably to keep up his courage, began to bully, talk violently, and strike the _valet de place_, who screamed out in a plaintive manner, "Do not injure me." His master, hoping to make some impression, said, "Do not hurt my servant," to which the principal brigand replied, "If he dares to resist, shoot him." The man who stood over Mr. Hunt unfortunately took the captain at the word, and his shot mortally wounded the unfortunate gentleman and his wife, who both died next day at our landlady's, Miss Whyte, who had the charity to receive them that they might hear their own language on their deathbed. The Neapolitan Government made the most uncommon exertions. The whole of the assassins were taken within a fortnight, and executed within a week afterwards. In this wild spot, rendered unpleasing by the sad remembrance of so inhuman an accident, and the cottages which served for refuge for so wretched and wild a people, exist the celebrated ruins of Paestum. Being without arms of any kind, the situation was a dreary one, and though I can scarce expect now to defend myself effectually, yet the presence of [_illegible_] would have been an infinite cordial. The ruins are of very great antiquity, which for a very long time has not been suspected, as it was never supposed that the Sybarites, a luxurious people, were early possessed of a style of architecture simple, chaste, and inconceivably grand, which was lost before the time of Augustus, who is said by Suetonius to have undertaken a journey on purpose to visit these remains of an architecture, the most simple and massive of which Italy at least has any other specimen. The Greeks have specimens of the same kind, but they are composed not of stone, like Paestum, but of marble. All this has been a discovery of recent date. The ruins, which exist without exhibiting much demolition, are three in number. The first is a temple of immense size, having a portico of the largest columns of the most awful species of classic architecture. The roof, which was composed of immense stones, was destroyed, but there are remains of the Cella, contrived for the sacrifices to which the priests and persons of high office were alone [admitted].

A piece of architecture more massive, without being cumbrous or heavy, was never invented by a mason.

A second temple in the same style was dedicated to Ceres as the large one was to Neptune, on whose dominion they looked, and who was the tutelar deity of Paestum, and so called from one of his Greek names. The fane of Ceres is finished with the greatest accuracy and beauty of proportion and taste, and in looking upon it I forgot all the unpleasant feelings which at first oppressed me. The third was not a temple, but a Basilica, or species of town-house, as it was called, having a third row of pillars running up the middle, between the two which surrounded the sides, and were common to the Basilica and temple both. These surprising public edifices have therefore all a resemblance to each other, though also points of distinction. If Sir William Gell makes clear his theory he will throw a most precious light on the origin of civilisation, proving that the sciences have not sprung at once into light and life, but rose gradually with extreme purity, and continued to be practised best by those who first invented them. Full of these reflections, we returned to our hospitable Miss Whyte in a drizzling evening, but unassassinated, and our hearts completely filled with the magnificence of what we had seen. Miss Whyte had in the meanwhile, by her interest at La Trinità with the Abbot, obtained us permission to pay a visit to him, and an invitation indeed to dinner, which only the weather and the health of Sir William Gell and myself prevented our accepting. After breakfast, therefore, on the 18th of March, we set out for the convent, situated about two or three miles from the town in a very large ravine, not unlike the bed of the Rosslyn river, and traversed by roads which from their steepness and precipitancy are not at all laudable, but the views were beautiful and changing incessantly, while the spring advancing was spreading her green mantle over rock and tree, and making that beautiful which was lately a blighted and sterile thicket. The convent of Trinità itself holds a most superb situation on the projection of an ample rock. It is a large edifice, but not a handsome one--the monks reserving their magnificence for their churches--but was surrounded by a circuit of fortifications, which, when there was need, were manned by the vassals of the convent in the style of the Feudal system. This was in some degree the case at the present day. The Abbot, a gentlemanlike and respectable-looking man, attended by several of his monks, received us with the greatest politeness, and conducted us to the building, where we saw two great sculptured vases, or more properly sarcophagi, of [marble?], well carved in the antique style, and adorned with the story of Meleager. They were in the shape of a large bath, and found, I think, at Paestum. The old church had passed to decay about a hundred years ago, when the present fabric was built; it is very beautifully arranged, and worthy of the place, which is eminently beautiful, and of the community, who are Benedictines--the most gentlemanlike order in the Roman Church.

We were conducted to the private repertory of the chapel, which contains a number of interesting deeds granted by sovereigns of the Grecian, Norman, and even Saracen descent. One from Roger, king of Sicily, extended His Majesty's protection to some half dozen men of consequence whose names attested their Saracenism.

In all the society I have been since I commenced this tour, I chiefly regretted on the present occasion the not having refreshed my Italian for the purpose of conversation. I should like to have conversed with the Churchmen very much, and they seem to have the same inclination, but it is too late to be thought of, though I could read Italian well once. The church might boast of a grand organ, with fifty-seven stops, all which we heard played by the ingenious organist. We then returned to Miss Whyte's for the evening, ate a mighty dinner, and battled cold weather as we might.

In further remarks on Paestum I may say there is a city wall in wonderful preservation, one of the gates of which is partly entire and displays the figure of a Syren under the architrave, but the antiquity of the sculpture is doubted, though not that of the inner part of the gate--so at least thinks Sir William, our best authority on such matters. Many antiquities have been, and many more probably will be, discovered. Paestum is a place which adds dignity to the peddling trade of the ordinary antiquarian.

March 19.--This morning we set off at seven for Naples; we observed remains of an aqueduct in a narrow, apparently designed for the purpose of leading water to La Cava, but had no time to conjecture on the subject, and took our road back to Pompeii, and passed through two towns of the same name, Nocera dei [Cristiani] and Nocera dei Pagani.[521] In the latter village the Saracens obtained a place of refuge, from which it takes the name. It is also said that the circumstance is kept in memory by the complexion and features of this second Nocera, which are peculiarly of the African caste and tincture. After we passed Pompeii, where the continued severity of the weather did not permit us, according to our purpose, to take another survey, we saw in the adjacent village between us and Portici the scene of two assassinations, still kept in remembrance. The one I believe was from the motive of plunder. The head of the assassin was set up after his execution upon a pillar, which still exists, and it remained till the skull rotted to pieces. The other was a story less in the common style, and of a more interesting character:--A farmer of an easy fortune, and who might be supposed to leave to his daughter, a very pretty girl and an only child, a fortune thought in the village very considerable. She was, under the hope of sharing such a prize, made up to by a young man in the neighbourhood, handsome, active, and of a very good general character. He was of that sort of person who are generally successful among women, and the girl was supposed to have encouraged his addresses; but her father, on being applied to, gave him a direct and positive refusal. The gallant resolved to continue his addresses in hopes of overcoming this obstacle by his perseverance, but the father's opposition seemed only to increase by the lover's pertinacity. At length, as the father walked one evening smoking his pipe upon the terrace before his door, the lover unhappily passed by, and, struck with the instant thought that the obstacle to the happiness of his life was now entirely in his own power, he rushed upon the father, pierced him with three mortal stabs of his knife, and killed him dead on the spot, and made his escape to the mountains. What was most remarkable was that he was protected against the police, who went, as was their duty, in quest of him, by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, who afforded him both shelter and such food as he required, looking on him less as a wilful criminal than an unfortunate man, who had been surprised by a strong and almost irresistible temptation. So congenial, at this moment, is the love of vengeance to an Italian bosom, and though chastised in general by severe punishment, so much are criminals sympathised with by the community.

March 20.--I went with Miss Talbot and Mr. Lushington and his sister to the great and celebrated church of San Domenico Maggiore, which is the most august of the Dominican churches. They once possessed eighteen shrines in this part of Naples. It contains the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas, and also the tombs of the royal family, which remain in the vestry. There are some large boxes covered with yellow velvet which contain their remains, and which stand ranged on a species of shelf, formed by the heads of a set of oaken presses which contain the vestments of the monks. The pictures of the kings are hung above their respective boxes, containing their bones, without any other means of preserving them. At the bottom of the lofty and narrow room is the celebrated Marquis di [Pescara], one of Charles V.'s most renowned generals, who commanded at the battle of Pavia.... The church itself is very large and extremely handsome, with many fine marble tombs in a very good style of architecture. The time being now nearly the second week in Lent, the church was full of worshippers.

[While at Naples Sir Walter wrote frequently to his daughter, to Mr. Cadell, Mr. Laidlaw, and Mr. Lockhart. The latter says, "Some of these letters were of a very melancholy cast; for the dream about his debts being all settled was occasionally broken." One may be given here. It is undated, but was written some time after receiving the news of the death of his little grandson, and shows the tender relations which existed between Sir Walter and his son-in-law:--

MY DEAR LOCKHART,--

I have written with such regularity that ... I will not recur to this painful subject. I hope also I have found you both persuaded that the best thing you can do, both of you, is to come out here, where you would find an inestimable source of amusement, many pleasant people, and living in very peaceful and easy society. I wrote you a full account of my own matters, but I have now more complete [information]. I am ashamed, for the first time in my life, of the two novels, but since the pensive public have taken them, there is no more to be said but to eat my pudding and to hold my tongue. Another thing of great interest requires to be specially mentioned. You may remember a work in which our dear and accomplished friend Lady Louisa condescended to take an oar, and which she has handled most admirably. It is a supposed set of extracts relative to James VI. from a collection in James VI.'s time, the costume (?) admirably preserved, and, like the fashionable wigs, more natural than one's own hair. This, with the Lives of the Novelists and some other fragments of my wreck, went ashore in Constable's, and were sold off to the highest bidder, viz., to Cadell, for himself and me. I wrote one or two fragments in the same style, which I wish should, according to original intention, appear without a name, and were they fairly lightly let off there is no fear of their making a blaze. I sent the whole packet either to yourself or Cadell, with the request. The copy, which I conclude is in your hands by the time this reaches you, might be set up as speedily and quietly as possible, taking some little care to draw the public attention to you, and consulting Lady Louisa about the proofs. The fun is that our excellent friend had forgot the whole affair till I reminded her of her kindness, and was somewhat inclined, like Lady Teazle, to deny the butler and the coach-horse. I have no doubt, however, she will be disposed to bring the matter to an end. The mode of publication I fancy you will agree should rest with Cadell. So, providing that the copy come to hand, which it usually does, though not very regularly, you will do me the kindness to get it out. My story of Malta will be with you by the time you have finished the Letters, and if it succeeds it will in a great measure enable me to attain the long projected and very desirable object of clearing me from all old encumbrances and expiring as rich a man as I could desire in my own freehold. And when you recollect that this has been wrought out in six years, the sum amounting to at least £120,000, it is somewhat of a novelty in literature.

I shall be as happy and rich as I please for the last days of my life, and play the good papa with my family without thinking on pounds, shillings, and pence. Cadell, with so fair a prospect before him, is in high spirits, as you will suppose, but I had a most uneasy time from the interruption of our correspondence. However, thank God, it is all as well as I could wish, and a great deal better than I ventured to hope. After the Siege of Malta I intend to close the [series] of _Waverley_ with a poem in the style of the _Lay_, or rather of the _Lady of the Lake_, to be a L'Envoy, or final postscript to these tales. The subject is a curious tale of chivalry belonging to Rhodes. Sir Frederick Adam will give me a cast of a steam-boat to visit Greece, and you will come and go with me. We live in a Palazzo, which with a coach and the supporters thereof does not, table included, cost £120 or £130 a month. So you will add nothing to our expenses, but give us the great pleasure of assisting you when I fear literary things have a bad time. We will return to Europe through Germany, and see what peradventure we shall behold. I have written repeatedly to you on this subject, for you would really like this country extremely. You cannot tread on it but you set your foot upon some ancient history, and you cannot make scruple, as it is the same thing whether you or I are paymaster. My health continues good, and bettering, as the Yankees say. I have gotten a choice manuscript of old English Romances, left here by Richard, and for which I know I have got a lad can copy them at a shilling a day. The King has granted me liberty to carry it home with me, which is very good-natured. I expect to secure something for the Roxburghe Club. Our posts begin to get more regular. I hope dear baby is getting better of its accident, poor soul.--Love to Sophia and Walter.

Your affectionate Father,

WALTER SCOTT.]

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FOOTNOTES:

[520] Of this visit to Pompeii Sir W. Gell says--"Sir Walter viewed the whole with a poet's eye, not that of an antiquarian, exclaiming frequently, 'The city of the Dead!'"

He examined, however, with more interest the "splendid mosaic representing a combat of the Greeks and the Persians."--_Life_, vol. x. p. 159.

[521] The places are now known as Nocera Superiore and Nocera Inferiore.

Sir Walter Scott