« PreviousContinue »
cause ; such as a scarcity of bread : every other grievance they bear as if it were their charter. When we consider thirty thousand human creatures without beds or habitations, wandering almost naked in search of food through the streets of a well-built city; when we think of the opportunities they have of being together, of comparing their own destitute situation with the affluence of others, one cannot help being astonished at their patience.
Let the prince be distinguished by splendour and magnificence ; let the great and the rich have their luxuries ; but, in the name of hnmanity, let the poor, who are will. ing to labour, have food in abundance to satisfy the cravings of nature, and raiment to defend them from the inclemencies of the weather !
If their governors, whether from weakness or neglect, do not supply them with these, they certainly have a right to help themselves.-Every law of equity and common sense will justify them, in revolting against such governors, and in satisfying their own wants from the superflu. ities of lazy luxury.
Naples. I have made several visits to the museum at Portici, principally, as you may believe, to view the antiquities dug out of Herculaneum and Pompeii. The work publishing by government, ornamented with engravings of the chief articles of this curious collection, will, in all probability, be continued for many years, as new articles worthy of the sculptor's art are daily discovered, and as a vast mine of curiosities is supposed to be concealed in the unopened streets of Pompeii. Among the ancient paintings, those which ornamented the theatre of Herculaneum are more elegant than any that have hitherto been found at Pompeii. All those paintings were executed upon the stucco which lined the walls; they have been sawed off with great labour and address, and are now preserved in
glass cases; the colours, we are told, were much brighter before they were drawn out of their subterraneous abode, and exposed to the open air; they are, however, still wonderfully lively: the subjects are understood at the first glance by those who are acquainted with the Grecian history and mythology. There is a Chiron teaching Achilles to play on the lyre, Ariadne deserted, the Judg. ment of Paris, some Bacchantes and Fauns ; the largest piece represents Theseus's victory over the Minotaur. It consists of seven or eight figures very well grouped; but a Frieze, with a dancing woman, on a black ground, not above ten inches long, is thought the best.
We ought not, however, to judge of the progress which the ancients had made in the art of painting, by the degree of perfection which appears in those pictures. It is not probable that the best paintings of ancient Greece or Italy were at Herculaneum; and, if it could be ascertained that some of the productions of the best masters were there, it would not follow that those which have been discovered are of that class. If a stranger were to enter at random a few houses in London, and see some tolerably good pictures there, he could not with propriety conclude that the best of them were the very best in London. The paintings brought from Herculaneum are perfect proofs that the ancients had made that progress in the art, which those pictures indicate ; but do not form even a presumption, that they had not made a much greater. It is almost demonstrable that these paintings are not of their best. The same school which formed the sculptor to correctness, would form the painter to equal correctness in his drawings, however deficient he might be in all the other parts of his art. Their best statues are correct in their proportions, and elegant in their forms: these paint ings are not correct in their proportions, and are compara. tively inelegant in their forms.
Among the statues, the drunken Faun and the Mercury are the best. There are some fine bronze busts; the intaglios and cameos, which hitherto have been found
either in Herculaneum or Pompeii, are reckoned but in. different.
The elegance of form, with the admirable workman. ship, of the ornamental furniture and domestic utensils, in silver and other metals; the variety and beauty of the lamps, tripods, and vases ; sufficiently testify, if there were no other proofs, the fertile imagination and exqui. site execution of the ancient artists. And, had their own poets and historians been quite silent concerning the Roman refinements in the art of cookery, and the luxury of their tables ; the prodigious variety of culinary instruments, the moulds for jellies, for confections, and pastry, which are collected in this museum, would afford a strong presumption that the great men of our own days have a nearer resemblance to those ancient conquerors of the world, than is generally imagined.
Many of the ancient manuscripts found at Herculaneum have been carried to Madrid ; but a great number still remain at Portici. Great pains have been bestowed, and much ingenuity displayed, in separating and unrolling the sheets, without destroying the writing. This has succeeded in a certain degree; though, in spite of all the skill and attention of those who are employed in this very delicate work, the copiers are obliged to leave many blanks where the letters are obliterated. The manuscripts hitherto unrolled and copied, are in the Greek language, and not of a very important nature. As the unrolling those papers must take up a great deal of time, and requires infinite address, it is to be wished that his Neapolitan majesty would send one at least to every university in Europe, that the abilities of the most ingenious men of every country might be exercised on a subject so universally interesting. The method which should be found to succeed best, might be immediately made known, and applied to the unfolding of the remaining manuscripts. The probability of recovering those works, whose loss the learned have so long lamented, would by this means be greatly increased.
Herculaneum and Pompeii were destroyed by the same eruption of Mount Vesuvius, about seventeen hundred years ago. The former was a town of much more magnificence than the other ; but it is infinitely more difficult to be cleared of the matter which covers it. Sir William Hamilton, in his accurate and judicious observations on Mount Vesuvius, asserts, that there are evident marks that the matter of six eruptions has taken its course over this devoted town, since the great explosion which involved it in the same fate with Pompeii. These different eruptions have all happened at considerable distances of time from each other. This appears by the layers of good soil which are found between them. But the matter which immediately covers the town, and with which the theatre, and all the houses hitherto examined, were found filled, is not lava, but a sort of soft stone, composed of pumice and ashes, intermixed with earth. This has saved the pictures, manuscripts, busts, utensils, and other antiquities, which have been recovered out of Herculaneum, from utter destruction. For if any of the six succeeding eruptions had happened previous to this, and the red-hot liquid lava, of which they consisted, had flowed into the open city, it would have filled every street, scorched up every combustible substance with intense heat, involving the houses, and all they contained, in one solid rock of lava, undistinguishable, and for ever inseparable, from it. The eruption, which buried the city in cinders, earth, and ashes, has in some measure preserved it from the more destructive effects of the fiery torrents which have overwhelmed it since.
When we consider that the intervals between those eruptions were sufficiently long to allow a soil to be formed upon
the hardened lava of each : that a new city has been actually built on the lava of the last eruption ; and that the ancient city is from seventy to one hundred feet below the present surface of the earth; we must acknowledge it more surprising that any, than that so few, of its ornaments have been recovered. At the beginning of the
present century, any body would have imagined that the busts, statues, and pictures of Herculaneum had not a much better chance, than the persons they represent, of appearing again, within a few years, upon the surface of this globe.
The case is different with regard to Pompeii. Though it was not discovered till about twenty five years ago, which is forty years almost after the discovery of Herculaneum, yet the probability was greatly in favour of its being discovered sooner, for Pompeii has felt the effects of a single eruption only, it is not buried above twelve feet below the surface of the ground, and the earth, ashes, cinders, and pumice-stones, with which it is covered, are so light, and so little tenacious, that they might be removed with no great difficulty. If the attention of his Neapolitan majesty were not engrossed with more important concerns, he might have the whole town uncovered in a very short space of time; half the lazzaroni of Naples could complete the business in one year. Hitherto only one street and a few detached buildings are cleared ; the street is well paved with the same kind of stone of which the ancient roads are made; narrow causeways are raised a foot and an half on each side for the conveniency of foot passengers. The street itself, to my recollection, is not so broad as the narrowest part of the Strand, and is supposed to have been inhabited by tradespeople. The traces of wheels of carriages are to be seen on
pave. ment; the distance between the traces is less than that between the wheels of a modern post-chaise. I remarked this the more as, ou my first viewing the street, I doubted whether there was room for two modern coaches to pass each other. I plainly saw there was sufficient room for two of the ancient chariots, whose wheels were of no greater distance than between the traces on the pavement. The houses are small, and in a very different style from the modern Italian houses; for the former gave an idea of neatness and conveniency. The stucco on the walls is hard