Charles Mac Farlane
A Glance at revoluzioned Italy
A visit to Messina and a tour through the kingdom of Naples, the Abruzzi, the Marches of Ancona, Rome, the States of the Church,…. In the Summer of 1818
In two volumes - Vol. I, London 1849
[…] Being very desirous of seeing two or three old friends who had retired to Ischia, I made up my mind to pay a visit to that beautiful island. I preferred going by one of the common passage-boats, which make the voyage by night, for by day-time the weather was excessively hot. We dined in Naples, and were summoned to the boat nearly two hours before it was ready to depart. We occupied that interval of time by taking a calesso and driving to the new cemetery, the beauty of which I had heard much extolled. The poorer classes of Neapolitans had long been buried outside the town, in a peculiar cemetery, which has often been described ; but until the dreadful visitation of the cholera in 1836, the richer classes had persisted in burying their dead within the crowded city, in vaults under the churches. But after the fatal cholera several important sanitary reforms were introduced, and it was ordered that the rich as well as the poor should be buried outside the city, that the basements of the churches should be cleared and no longer be permitted to be crammed with decomposing corpses, which in many instances had scarcely been three feet underneath the pavement or flooring of the church. The present new cemetery was then begun, somewhat on the model of the Père de la Chaise at Paris, and the Neapolitan gentry were suddenly seized by a taste for costly mausoleums, cenotaphs, tombs, and monumental decorations. This new cemetery is very spacious, and its situation is admirable: it covers part of the green shelving hills which lie between the Campo di Marte and Poggio Reale, and the high road leading to Avellino and Apulia. It looks over the fertile, highly cultivated Paduli or valley of the Sebeto; it directly faces Mount Vesuvius and the Apennine chain in the rear of that volcano; at certain points it embraces a good part of the Bay of Naples, with the towns and villages on its shores. At a short distance from it, on the same green acclivities, to your right hand as you stand with your back to the hills and your face turned to Mount Vesuvius, is a church with a very romantic name, and to which Mrs. Radcliffe has attached a very romantic interest: this is the church of "La Madonna del Pianto". Our Lady of Tears; but. the church is neither picturesque nor romantic in itself, and the Neapolitan people have long since spoiled the romance of the name by proverbially saying that players who lose in the lottery go there to weep their losses.
Those who bury their morts de qualité in the new cemetery have erected a great many chapels, crucifixes, and images of saints. Nearly every noble or respectable confraternity, or burying-club, has built a chapel on the spot, wherein the service for the dead and other duties are performed. These chapels, all spick and span new, prominent and garish, are in nearly every possible style of architecture, and compose and group together in the oddest manner. As most of them are diminutive, and none of them of imposing proportions, they look like models or patterns: they reminded me of some of the new streets or avenues in the London suburbs, where no two houses are alike. There were chapels in the Egyptian style, Grecian chapels, Roman, Gothic, and one that looked Elizabethan, and another that looked very Byzantine. The new Franciscan monastery they have built on a swelling eminence in the midst of the grounds is in better taste, but it never can harmonize with the other edifices, nor they with themselves. Among the tombs there was a still greater want of harmony. How different the ancient mausoleums in the Street of Tombs at Pompeii 1 but the Neapolitans only share in a bad taste which is universally prevalent. Of all the places upon earth our modern burying, places are those in which vanity, caprice, conceit, and a worse than Lower Empire barbarism allow themselves to take the widest and most reckless range. Some of the monuments here, with their sparkling white marble faces, and glowing letters in gold, and their busts, bassi-rilievi, or full-statured statues, looked rather splendid, and doubtlessly had cost a very great deal of money. The Neapolitans are a free, money-spending people: they never were, and never will be, economical like the Romans, or parsimonious like the Tuscans; and as a taste for these gaudy tombs was a novelty, they had indulged it with the ardour people usually throw into a new branch of enjoyment or expenditure. One of the old Franciscan friars was quite scandalized at this expensive taste. "Ci stanno malamente i muorti," the dead are badly off here, said he.
" How so? Surely they are better here, on this beautiful hill-side, among trees and flowers, and under this open sky, than in the charnel, under the churches, in the close streets of Naples."
“Signore", said the monk, "that is not what I mean. Volevo dire, I wanted to say that their survivors, who spend so much money for these monuments, will spend hardly anything in masses for the dead. The stonemasons and sculptors get what used to go to the clergy. We are seven monks and three lay-brothers up in our house; we are bound to attend to the cemetery, we have neither the permission nor the time to do outside duty, and send the lay-brothers on the cerca (seeking or begging), as other Franciscans use; and all the salary we get, for our entire establishment, is fourteen ducats a month, paid by the municipality of Naples. When we first came here. we expected to get a good, deal of money by masses for the dead. We get little, very little! People spend all the money on the tombstones-so much the worse for them, and so much the worse for the dead, say I! And very bad it is for us poor Franciscans !"
The old friar was so depressed, that J was obliged to raise his spirits with a donation of three carlini. I had my reward, for he led us away from the gaudy mausoleums to some quiet, modest, touching tombs, at the foot of a few Italian pine-trees-a spot such as poor Ugo Foscolo imagined to himself when he was writing the best of his poems, and one which never ought to be let perish, 'I Sepolcri.' On extending our ramble over this extensive Necropolis, we found several such groups, and probably there were others which we did not see. We lingered about the grounds until the Franciscan convent and the church of La Madonna del Pianto sounded the solemn "Ave Maria," and from the city
.. A drowsy chime of distant bells came down."
It is difficult to overrate the beauty of the spot; and at that time it was holily beautiful-the tall pines, the cedars, the cypresses, the flowery shrubs, the green sward, and the white marble monuments, being all softened, harmonized, and made solemn in the brief twilight. Let no traveller quit Naples without paying one visit to this cemetery; and let him find himself here at the I( Ave Maria." Besides, it merits attention as one of the recent improvements of the country.
The moon was up and shining brightly before our Ischia passage-boat got oot of port. We had plenty of company, the boat being crowded with passengers. They were chiefly little traders, vine-dressers, and peasants from the island; several of them had their wives with them, and all of them were talkative and good humoured. The only decidedly disagreeable person of the party was a young priest, who was very conceited, very ignorant, and not over delicate in his language; but, having carefully stowed away his new shining broad-brimmed beaver, and tied a red cotton handkerchief over his tonsure and round his jaws, he soon laid himself down in the bottom of the boat and fell fast asleep. He snored; but his snoring was less disagreeable than his talk. The rest of the company and the sailors kept gossiping very cheerfully about their own little affairs and the affairs of their neighbours, about the fishery and the prospects of the next vintage, about their sports and pastimes, and, most of all, about the pleasure and revelry they anticipated from one of the Virgin Mary's ten thousand festivals which was near at hand, and which the Ischiotes invariably celebrate with great devotion and joviality.
The night was deliciously cool; but there was scarcely a breath of wind, and the boatmen had to row their heavy bark nearly the whole distance -some good twenty English miles. As we pulled past the point of Posilippo, we saw the little hermitage on the rock close over the sea, the hermit in his gown and cowl, the long canna stretching over the waves, with a little basket at the end of it to receive the contributions of the sea-going faithful, and the torch and burning tow (dipped in aqua vitae) which the hermit always lights up when a large boat is approaching, and which serve as the only light to illuminate him when the nights are dark. The man is a heathen who passes that out-stretching cane and supplicatory basket without dropping in his mite. So it was a quarter of a century ago-and so is it now; and 80 will it be for many a long year to come. The Liberals assure us that Italie is not what she was at the time of the Congress of Vienna. Popularly she is what she was then, and what she has been for many ages. Go out of any given capital or great town, and at a step you get into the twelfth century. Nay, without leaving capitals and great towns, visit their old popular quarters, and there you will find the habits, usages, thoughts, feelings, superstitions of the middle ages, scarcely touched by our boasted modern civilization and encycloprediacal knowledge. It is so at Rome quite as much as at Naples, at Florence as much as at Rome, and at Turin and Milan perhaps even more than at Florence. The day was dawning when we landed at Ischia, just under the romantic old castle, which stands on the summit of a high, rugged, detached rock - as Mr. Stanfield has so admirably described upon canvas. In 1812 that old fortress surrendered to one who bore my name, and who was my brother-clansman and friend. His name is not forgotten either here or in Sicily, for he was a man of high principle and generous humanity, who could infuse mildness even into the harshness of military command and martial rule: wherever he went he was beloved, and the odour of a good name which he left in dying has its fragrance on the shores and islands of the Mediterranean.- It was not without reason that Guido put the horses attached to the car of Aurora at the galloping pace: day-dawn in Southern Italy comes and goes most rapidly. By the time we were a hundred yards from the landing-place it was broad daylight. It was, however, too early to disturb anybody, so we went to the house of, one of the boatmen which stood at the edge of the little town of Ischia, and there lay down to take a rest for three or four hours. It happened to me to have to do the same thing one early morning in the autumn of 1817, when I was in company with a Greek student and my philological friend E. N. We were kindly entertained then, as we were now; but the present mariner's house, though homely enough, was a palace compared with the den we then occupied. This advance in material comfort-and I found it general not only throughout the island of Ischia, but in nearly every well-known place and district which I revisited in the kingdom-affords the best ' of all proofs of the blessings of peace, and surely bears testimony to the mildness of the old Neapolitan government. We were fresh from regions as fertile and as highly favoured by nature as any of these-and what had we seen in Turkey? A population in rags and misery, villages unroofed and abandoned, towns which I had seen well-peopled twenty years ago falling into a rapid decay, crazy wooden houses, wretched hovels tottering to their fall because their occupants were afraid to repair them lest such an improvement should be taken by the government authorities and the blood-sucking tax-gatherers as evidence of increasing prosperity, the least suspicion of which must entail an increase of taxation. We had Been and carefully examined, during eleven months, a country going headlong to ruin under real tyranny and unlimited corruption; we were familiar with all the symptoms of national ruin, and what to most people must be a mere figure of rhetoric, a metaphor without a distinct meaning, was to U8 a stern reality, a demonstrated problem, a bare fact. We were familiar with all the diagnostics of decay, and could not again be mistaken in them if they came under our eye. But how different were the symptoms which had presented themselves to our observation from the day we landed at Naples!
Our boatman's spare bed was a very large one~ and sweet and clean. At its head were the neverfailing cross and picture of the Virgin. Nor were other lares missing. There was a print of the patron saint of the house, whose name was borne by the mariner; and in a dark passage or landing-place at the top of the stairs, outside the room, there was another picture of the Madonna, with a very tiny silver lamp burning before it. Round the chamber was some plain but good substantial furniture, and a well-filled chest of drawers intimated that our host and his wife were provided with the wherewithal to cut a good figure at the festival. What gave me less satisfaction was the sight of a musket and bayonet, and a military cap with a scarlet band. When we rose from our short sleep the boatman brought us in an admirable refreshment, in the shape of good wheaten bread, deliciously ripe figs just plucked from the tree, and thin slices of smoked ham. This is the best time and this is the best manner of eating fresh figs. I took up the musket and asked Gennaro whether he belonged to the national guard.
" Certamente," certainly, said he; "there are four hundred of us in this island, and I am a corporal."
The town of Ischia had considerably increased. I noticed a good many new houses along the marina, and most of the old houses which used to show their rough materials of lava, sandstone, and volcanic tufa, were neatly stuccoed over. The main street, which used to be encumbered and filthy, was clear and clean. Our short ride was most pleasant, exhibiting at nearly every step a wonderful view and some more or less important sign of improvement. A number of villas on the hill-sides had been repaired and rather tastefully decorated, and the peasants' cottages, scattered among the luxuriant vineyards, wore an air of more neatness and comfort than they had done when I was last here. The people we met on the road, or saw at work in the vineyards or fields, were decently dressed, clean. and cheerful. The little villages through which we passed, swarmed with healthy-looking children. The volcanic mud-baths, the hot mineral water-baths, and the other thermae and springs which are found to be so efficacious in many disorders, and which have long given a celebrity to the island, were well frequented; but the visitors were chiefly sick soldiers sent over at the expense of government, and poor people maintained by some of the numerous and not ill-managed charitable institutions of the capital. There were very few foreigners; and here, as at Castellamare, we heard lamentations and complaints.
In a pleasant house high up the hills, in the very pleasantest and coolest spot of the island, we found my ancient and steady ally, J. W. I had been with him at Ischia in 1824: our last parting had been in the streets of Cheltenham in 1840. He had not grown younger, but he was as cheerful, as full of heart, and as overflowing with kindness as ever. A near neighbour was his and my very old friend General Florestan Pepe. It grieved me to find the General in a very infirm and precarious state. His health had suffered severely during the Russian campaign of 1812, and had been still further impaired in the subsequent siege of Dantzic, where he was frostbitten and almost frozen to death. He was somewhat of a valetudinarian all the time I knew him, but, compared to what he was in 1827, he was now a complete wreck. I was told by others that some three years ago he had made a hasty journey to Paris to see his exiled brother William, who could then have had but little hope of being allowed to return to hill own country. The fatigues of that journey, undertaken solely out of fraternal affection, had given a shock from which he had never rallied. He had not been well a single day since then; and it was evident to everyone who associated with him that distress and anxiety about his brother were now working fatally upon his enfeebled frame and hurrying him to the grave. When I had sat with him for an hour or two, talking of old times, of old incidents which interested him, and of old friends (among whom his English horses were not forgotten), he recovered a little of his former spirit and placid, pleasant humour. He had been as brave a man as ever led troops in battle, he had passed all his early life in camps and campaigns, and he had been made familiar with blood and carnage; but a more gentle, unassuming, amiable man, or one more considerate of other men's feelings, and more alive to the sorrows and misfortunes of others, it has not been my lot to know. This true-hearted Neapolitan or Calabrian (for he was born in Calabria, where his family had long been settled) has been true on all occasions, and has preserved the honour of a soldier without spot or blemish. With thoroughly Italian feelings, he wished for the independence, the internal freedom, the advancement, and the greatness of Italy; but he deplored the rashness and violence of the ultraliberal party, who were throwing away the best chance the country has had any time these last two hundred years. Of politics, however, we spoke very little; the subject was too exciting, and an allusion could scarcely have been made to it without causing him to think of Venice and his brother. The General allowed that the morale of the Neapolitan army had been improved since the accession of the present King. But his eye became bright and his weakened voice was firm when .he spoke of some old battles in which Neapolitan troops had done as well as the best. He spoke most modestly of his own operations against the revolted Palermitans in 1820; and, as a soldier. he showed in one concise sentence how the King's last expedition against Palermo had of necessity failed.
M. Baudin, the French admiral, was staying at Ischia, for the benefit of his health, as was said. He had chosen a very snug and comfortable retreat. We were told that his fleet was still on the coast of Sardinia; but he had a fine war-steamer in attendance on him, and now at anchor here. We saw and heard more of the utter hollowness of this new French republicanism, and Gallo-Spartanism, and democratic simplicity, and perfect equality, and the rest of that “dodge." The republican admiral was living like a Sybarite. The officers of the steamer were running after all the pleasures which the island afforded, and were intent upon a dejeuner and a dance on board; and the greatest uneasiness then agitating the breasts of these stem republicans arose out of the apprehension that the ices might not be well made, and that there would not be dames and demoiselles enough to make a merry, brilliant parti de plaisir.
We passed three days at Ischia, and right pleasant days they were. High up the hills, our friend's quarters benefited by the morning breeze, and the evening, and every little wind that blew. They were hot and broiling down below, but up at the Sentinella we were always cool We had no mosquitoes, no sandflies, no vermin of any kind, and the air which came into the house from all sides was exhilarating and sweet-a delightful contrast to this time last year, when we were perched upon the foul hill of Pera, at Constantinople, tormented with bugs, fleas, sandflies, and mosquitoes, and breathing an atmosphere loaded with noxious vapours. I did not extend my excursion much beyond this choice spot, but I learned from my friends that Foria and the rest of the island were as much improved as the town of Ischia and the other parts we had seen; that the cultivation of the vine was extended; that by means of terraces and strong buttresses cultivation had been carried high up the mountains, and by another application of industry and ingenuity, a good way across the volcanic plain of rough lava, which covers tbe western part of the island and surrounds Foria.
We hired a small row-boat to carry us back as far as Pozzuoli. We started from the little marina below La Sentinella, about noon, on another glorious day. Keeping between Procita and the main, we had near and distinct views of all that enchanting coast, and of all those places of ancient name and fame with which I had been so familiar in my young days, and the images of which had remained faithfully impressed on my memory. In about three hours we were landed at Pozzuoli. I would gladly have turned off here to the north-west, to revisit certain scenes and localities which must always interest me. In that direction, at the distance of some eight miles from Pozzuoli, lies Vico di Pantano, an estate of my friend the Prince of Ischitella.