« PreviousContinue »
with a mask on his face, and a guitar in his hands. He assembled his audience by the songs he sung to the music of his instrument, and by a thousand merry stories he told them with infinite drollery. This assembly was in an open place, facing the bay, and near the palace. The old women sat listening, with their distaffs, spinning a kind of coarse flax, and wetting the thread with their spittle; their grandchildren sprawled at their feet, amused with the twirling of the spindle. The men and their wives, the youths and their mistresses, sat in a circle, with their eyes fixed on the musician, who kept them laughing for a great part of the evening with his stories, which he enlivened occasionally with tunes upon the guitar. At length, when the company was most numerous, and at the highest pitch of good humour, he suddenly pulled off his mask, laid down his guitar, and opened a little box which stood before him, and addressed the audience in the following words, as literally as I can translate them. * Ladies and gentlemen, there is a time for all things; we have had enough of jesting : innocent mirth is excellent for the health of the body, but other things are requisite for the health of the soul. I will now, with your permission, my honourable masters and mistresses, entertain you with something serious ; and of infinitely greater importance; something for which all of you will have reason to bless me as long as you live.' Here he shook out of a bag a great number of little leaden crucifixes. I am just come from the holy house of Loretto, my fellow Christians,' continued he, on purpose to furnish you with those jewels, more precious than all the gold of Peru, and all the pearls of the ocean. Now, my beloved brethren and sisters, you are afraid that I shall demand a price for those sacred crosses, far above your abilities, and something correspondent with their value, by way of in. demnification for the fatigue and expense of the long journey which I have made on your account, all the way from the habitation of the blessed Virgin to this thrice renowned city of Naples, the riches and liberality of whose inhabitants are celebrated all over the globe. No, my generous Neapolitans; I do not wish to take the advana tage of your pious and liberal dispositions. I will not ask for those invaluable crucifixes, all of which, let me inform you, have touched the foot of the holy image of the blessed Virgin, which was formed by the hands of St. Luke; and, moreover, each of them has been shaken in the Santissima Scodella, the sacred porringer in which the Virgin made the pap for the infant Jesus); I will not, I say, ask an ounce of gold, no not even a crown of silver; my regard for
is such, that I shall let you have them for a penny a piece.
You must acknowledge, my friend, that this morsel of eloquence was a very great pennyworth; and when we recollect the sums that some of our acquaintance receive for their oratory, though they never could produce $0 pathetic a specimen, you will naturally conclude that eloquence is a much rarer commodity in England thạn in Italy
Naples. I have made two visits to Mount Vesuvius, the first in company with your acquaintance Mr. Nisbet. Leaving the carriage at Herculaneum, we mounted mules, and were attended by three men, whose business it is to accompany strangers up the mountain. Being arrived at a hermitage, called Il Salvatore, we found the road so broken and rough, that we thought proper to leave the mules at that place, which is inhabited by a French hermit. The poor man must have a very bad opinion of mankind, to choose the mouth of Mount Vesuvius for his nearest neighbour, in preference to t' ir society. From the hermitage we walked over various fields of lava, which have burst out at different periods. These seemed to be perfectly well known to our guides, who mentioned their different dates as we passed. The latest appeared, before we left Rome, about two months ago ; it was, how, ever, but inconsiderable in comparison of other eruptions, there having been no bursting of the crater, or of the side of the mountain, as in the eruption 1767, so well described by Sir William Hamilton; but only a boiling over of lava from the mouth of the volcano, and that not in excessive quantity ; for it had doné no damage to the yineyards or cultivated parts of the mountain, having reached no farther than the old black lava on which soil had not as yet been formed. I was surprised to see this lava of the last eruption still smoking, and in some places, where a considerable quantity was confined in a kind of deep path like a dry ditch, and shaded from the light of the sun, it appeared of a glowing red colour. In other places, notwithstanding its being perfectly black and solid, it still retained such a degree of heat, that we could not stand upon it for any considerable time, but were obliged very frequently to step on the ground, or on older lava, to cool our feet. We had advanced a good way on a large piece of the latest lava, which was perfectly black and hard, and seemed cooler than the rest; while from this we looked at a stream of liquid lava, which flowed sluggishly along a hollow way at some distance. I accidentally threw my eyes below my feet, and perceived something, which mightily discomposed my contemplations. This was a small stream of the same matter, gliding to one side from beneath the black crust on which we stood. The idea of this crust giving way, and our sinking into the glowing liquid which it covered, made us shift our ground with great precipitation ; which one of our guides observing, he called out, Animo, animo, signori;' and immediately jumped on the incrustation which we had abandoned, and danced above it, to shew that it was sufficiently strong, and that we had no reason to be afraid. We afterwards threw large stones of the heaviest kind we could find, into this rivulet, on whose surface they floated like cork in water; and on thrusting a stick into the stream, it required a consider, able exertion of strength to make it enter.
About this time the day began to overcast; this destroyed our hopes of enjoying the view from the top of the mountain, and we were not tempted to ascend any farther.
Sometime after, I went to the summit with another party ;-but I think it fair to inform you, that I have no thing new to say on the subject of volcanos, nor any philosophical remarks to make upon lavas. I have no guess of what time may be necessary for the formation of soil, nor do I know whether it accumulates in a regular progression, or is accelerated or retarded by various accidents, which may lead us into infinite errors, when we calculate time by such a rule. I have not the smallest wish to insinuate that the world is an hour older than Moses makes it; because I imagine those gentlemen whose calculations differ from his, are very nearly as liable to be as mistaken as he was; because an attempt to prove it more ancient, can be of no service to mankind; and finally, because, unless it could at the same time be proved that the world has acquired wisdom in proportion to its years, such an attempt conveys an oblique reflection on its character ; for many follies may be overlooked and forgiven to a world of only five or six thousand years of age, which would be quite unpardonable at a more advanced period of existence. Having forewarned you that I shall treat of none of those matters, but simply describe what I saw, and mention perhaps a few incidents, none of which, I confess, are of great importance, I leave it in your choice to ascend the mountain with me, or not, as you please.
Having proceeded on mules as far as on the former occasion, we walked to that part of the mountain which is almost perpendicular. This appears of no great height, yet those who have never before attempted this ascent, fatigue themselves here much more than during all the rest of the journey, notwithstanding their being assisted by laying hold of the belts which the guides wear about their waists for that purpose. This part of the mountain appearing much shorter than it really is, people are tempt. ed to make a violent effort, in the expectation of surmounting the difficulty at once; but the cinders, ashes, and other drossy materials, giving way, the foot generally sinks back two-thirds of each step; so that besides the height being greater than it appears, you have all the fatigue of ascending a hill three times as high as this is in reality. Those, therefore, who set out too briskly at first, and do not husband their strength at the beginning, have reason to repent their imprudence, being obliged to throw many a longing look, and make many a fruitless vow, before they, with the wretched guide who lugs them along, can arrive, panting and breathless, at the top; like those young men who, having wasted their vigour in early excesses, and brought on premature old age, link themselves to some ill-fated woman, who drags them, tormenting and tormented, to the grave. .
Those who wish to view Mount Vesuvius to the greatest advantage, must begin their expedition in the evening; and the darker the succeeding night happens to be, so much the better. By the time our company had arrived at the top of the mountain, there was hardly any other light than that which issued by interrupted flashes from the volcano.
Exclusive of those periods when there are actual eruptions, the appearance and quantity of what issues from the mountain are very various s sometimes, for a long space of time together, it seems in a state of almost perfect tranquillity; nothing but a small quantity of smoke ascending from the volcano, as if that vast magazine of fuel, which has kept it alive for so many ages, was at last exhausted, and nothing remained but the dying embers ; then, perliaps, when least expected, the cloud of smoke thickens, and is intermixed with flame ; at other times, quantities of pumice stone and ashes are thrown up with a kind of hissing noise. For near a week the mountain has been more turbulent than it has been since the small eruption, or rather boiling over of lava, which took place about two months ago; and while we remained at the top,