Copyright
Friedrich von Raumer.

Italy and the Italians (Volume 2) online

. (page 9 of 22)
Online LibraryFriedrich von RaumerItaly and the Italians (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


peace is infused into the soul, and the joys and
griefs of this life seem to lie far behind, after the
regeneration for another world, heightening and
softening mortal beauty, has taken place.

The heat was very great. I descended the moun-



144 EVENING PARTY.

tain on foot, enjoyed the prospects which every
turn of the way presented, and purposed after this
exertion to rest for a few hours, or at least to give the
reins to my thoughts. It was decreed, however, that
I should employ my limited time more conscien-
tiously. The principe G took me with him

to the Observatory, where I made the acquaintance
of M. Cacciatore, and had an extensive view over
thi" city and environs. The beautifully-situated
botanical garden has many southern plants growing
in the open air, but it has been found necessary to
erect a hothouse also for tropical vegetables.

At ten in the evening, I was fetched by

to a brilliant party at , where there was a great

deal of dancing to a Vienna piano-forte. I could
have imagined myself in Berlin, Vienna, London, &c.,
so little of any thing peculiar to Sicily was there to
be perceived. I looked about sharply after hand-
some ladies ; but here you must seek in order
rarely to find ; whereas in London, and in our
country too, you find without seeking. About one
o'clock I went home, and rose at six to give you a
report of all this in a temperature of 20° (77° F).

You often imagine that, according to our proverb,
you have got hold of all the ends, and yet have
missed one, and in consequence all that you are
carrying is spilt or broken. Thus have I fared
with the plan for travelling through the interior of
the island. I had been already rendered doubtful



PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE. 145

by the unanimous declaration of all Sicilians, that
in this way there was nothing whatever to be seen ;
but the matter was decided by the remark of the

principe S that I should suffer so much from

the carriage that I must arrive half dead. I had
not yet taken the nature of this carriage into serious
consideration ; I was told that it was a close car-
riage, much like a post-chaise, with a back seat, so
small that the four persons crammed into it could
not move either hand or foot. To sit in this cramped
position for one day and two nights, at this season
of the year, would certainly be a most severe punish-
ment : the only course I had left, therefore, was to
have recourse to the sea. At six this evening I
shall set out for Messina in the steamer Marie
Christine.



LETTER XCIII.

Passage to Messina — Aspect of the City — Poverty of the
Nobles of Palermo — Travelhng Companions — Environs
of Messina.

Messina, August 12th.

The steamer was to start, as I was told on the
10th, at six o'clock precisely, but she did not begin
to move till about half-past seven. Around me
presently commenced a lamentable medley of sighs
and moans and ; but, in spite of these ex-

VOL. II. H



146 PASSAGE TO MESSINA.

amples, and though exposed to the influence of the
same cause, I was not at all affected, and was able
to remain on deck till late in the beautiful, warm,
starry night. This I was the more inclined to do,
as my birth had been assigned me in a real hiferno
barntro, under the principal cabin. I preferred
lying on a small mattress in the middle of the floor
of the latter, and slept better than I expected, but
was on deck again by daybreak. Beyond the Li-
pari islands, most of which rise from the sea in the
form of broad-based cones, the first tinge of dawn
began to appear ; before me lay Calabria, like a
misty stripe ; to the right, but rather more clearly
defined, the north coast of Sicily. As we approached
St. Agatha and Cape Orlando, the sun had already
risen on the left, and I could perceive with the
naked eye, and still better with my Vienna glass,
that the forms of the hills, vales, and ravines, were
diversified, and that the country in general had not
the dry and naked aspect of that about Palermo.
Brolo, Calava, Piatti, Melazzo, Rosacolmo, Faro,
passed in pleasing succession before me, and the
steep mountains of Calabria formed the back-ground
till we entered the strait of Messina. Scylla and
Charybdis showed an agitation which heightened
the diversity of the play of colours in the blue sea ;
as to danger for a vessel of the size of our's, that
was out of the question. Messina rose by degrees
from the sea, backed by high hills, with a distinct



POVERTY OF THE SICILIAN NOBLES. 147

view of the Calabrian coast, which is less bold here.
Very beautiful no doubt ; but I must confess that
all I have seen in Sicily is inferior to Naples, and
only strengthens my predilection for that city and
its environs. Messina produces the impression of a
busy commercial place, where the tiers ^tat of course
has the preponderance. Palermo, on the contrary,
wears the appeai-ance of an ancient, sinking capital,
where the nobility itself is on the decline, and ahnost
all are grumbling, with or without reason. I know
not whether it be true or not, but I was told by
several Palermitans, that some of the princlpi who
drive about there scarcely know how to find them-
selves a dinner, and that the jewels which they
wear in company must first be redeemed with great
difficulty from the pawnbroker. I am assured
from various quarters that many who are wealthy
and not in debt have scarcely ever seen their
estates, and never attend to the management of
them. Of course, observed another, because they
are too fond of the conveniences of a town life to
travel thither by unfrequented tracks, and to trans-
port all they want and don't want to and fro on
the backs of innumerable asses and mules.

In the steam-vessel I met with two Frenchmen,
M. Malherbe, a naturalist from Metz, and a young
Count du Prat, well informed and a man of correct
judgment ; that is to say, his opinions and mine in
general coincided respecting what we had seen in our

H 2



148 FORCED STAY AT MESSINA.

travels. Want of accommodation brought us both
into one room yesterday, and all three this evening
into the same carriage together.

You, at a distance, will have much fault to find
with my travelling plans and their execution ; hei'e,
however, you cannot travel as you please, but are
forced to adopt this or that course. This you will
perceive from the following dialogue with my in-
telligent host.

We wish to set off this evening or early in the
morning. — Impossible, because this is Sunday, and
you cannot get back your passports before noon to-
morrow. — We wish to have a driver to take us to
Taormina and thence to Catanea. — Impossible, for
on account of the festival of Messina, there is not a
driver to be got. — We wish to travel extra-post. —
Impossible, as you have not your own carriage ;
the post supplies none, and does not stop at Taor-
mina. — We wish to go by steamer to Catanea. —
Impossible, because the steamer does not touch at
Catanea.

So we were obliged to stay six days in Messina,
where we could have done all our business in six
hours, or avail ourselves of the accidental extraor-
dinary opportunit}' of a post-coach going off this
evening to Catanea. The ordinary one has but
two places ; both were engaged, and supplementary
vehicles are utterly unknown here.

There came with us a French count, eighty-two



FRENCH COURT. 149

years old, attended by an already venerable cham-
ber-maid, a perfect picture of the ancien regime.
Powdered hair, large frill, ruffles, &c., and withal
a man of extraordinary activity and extraordinary
appetite. Yesterday evening he had wrapped him-
self in a long and handsome morning gown, but
hearing goats bleating in the street, he conceived a
great fancy for some new milk. He ran, therefore,
to the balcony, and bawled as loud as he could,
Capre, capre ! All eyes below were instantly upon
him, and loud laughter and jokes of all sorts ensued.
In his hurry, the good man had stretched out his
arms, his wide morning gown followed this ex-
ample, and there he stood stark-naked before the
venerable public in the street, shouting for goats.

This circumstance brings to my recollection
another story which Prince L of S re-
lated from official accounts. A man elegantly but
showily dressed, richly provided with watches and
chains, hired a bathing-machine, undressed, and
plunged into the sea. Meanwhile, a rogue who
had watched him plunged into the sea too, got into
the machine from below, put on the clothes, pocketed
money and watches, and quietly went his way.
The attendant admitted another into the machine,
and when the latter was about to descend from it
into the sea, he met the first occupant coming into
it again. A violent altercation took place, till the
affair was explained, and a mean dress was with



150 MESSINA.

difficulty procured to enable the person who had
been robbed to return to his lodgings.

Early this morning, I walked with Du Prat
through all the principal streets, saw a singular
medley of ancient and modern in the cathedral, and
then enjoyed, from the lofty old tower, a delicious
prospect of land, city, and sea. Towards the
interior of the country, hills and mountains, with
small intervening declivities, rise irregularly one
above another ; the houses, roofed entirely with
tiles, exhibit none of the peculiarities of southern
towns. Towards the Faro the soil is flat and
sandy ; the coast of Calabria is higher and steeper
on the left, but declines towards Reggio ; between
is the Strait. All very beautiful, though I scarcely
know wherein the beauty consists ; by no means the
romantic, fantastic impression produced by Naples.
We shall get away as the festivals are beginning.
What a scandal ! But church festivals, and mili-
tary festivals, and what are called popular festivals,
are alike tedious in such repetitions ; and to throw
away a fortnight for the sake of enjoying six festival
days would be too much for me in heaven itself. I
am glad to follow the example of the Dutchman
whom I saw at Trieste, and who ran away when-
ever he merely heard mention made of processions
and festivals.

We have just been taken to the police-office. I
have now three passports, one from Berlin for the



JOURNEY TO CATANEA. 151

whole tour, a Neapolitan for all Sicily, and a Paler-
mitan for half Sicily. As neither description of the
person nor the signature is annexed, and no certi-
ficate is furnished on delivering up the passport,
the obligation itself to run to the office is a useless
annoyance.



LETTER XCIV.

Journey from Messina to Catanea — Attempted Ascent of
Etna — Syracuse.

Syracuse, August 17th.
O, THRICE-BLESSED Naples ! take me, repentant
prodigal, again to thy bosom ! Never will I again
suffer myself to be enticed to forsake thee, and to
seek elsewhere that which thou so bountifully be-
stowest of far superior quality ! That sounds, you
will say, not like a voluntary hymn, but like the
ejaculation of a discontented man, one who is out of
humour. And so it really is, or at least something
very like it, as the following species Jacti will more
clearly show. About nine in the evening of Mon-
day, the 10th of August, we took our places in the
carriage to proceed from Messina to Catanea. The
carriage was certainly large enough to permit us to
stretch our legs, the horses spirited, but the roads
so bad that in the first five minutes one would have
been flung from an English outside. Even in the



152 CATANEA.

niglit it was so light that we could plainly distin-
guish the high rocks of Taormina, and its position
from bottom to top. We saw the sun rise from
the beautifully situated Sciarra, and then pursued
our way to Jacireale, having on one side the lofty
and threatening Etna. Siamo la dof^ana, (and
this word I had already heard numberless times,)
said a red-nosed fellow, and he took the regular
fee for not doing his duty. Siamo la do^a7ia, cried
three fellows a hundred paces off, and insisted that
those we had just passed were not authorised to re-
ceive the dues. I lost all patience, and replied that
we would pay them nothing, but they might ex-
amine as much as they pleased ; and that I would
inquire of the authorities if their conduct was cor-
rect. They deemed it prudent to withdraw into
the shade without searching and without fee.

The unsightly desolating torrents of lava extend
to Catanea. The town itself has broad, straight
streets, and there are not a few considerable build-
ings ; but the whole produces neither a cheerful
nor a brilliant effect. There is something unfinished
and mean throughout ; but shop stands close to
shop, and w^orkshop to workshop ; but in many
a one aie to be found only a shoemaker's awl and
two pennyworth of leather, and in many another
only a tailor's needle and two pennyworth of cloth.
With the contents of a single shop in Oxford Street
or the Strand, I would buy a whole street in Ca-



ETNA. 153

tanea. So much the greater abundance is there of
ecclesiastics, monks, nuns, convents, and bells are
ringing and tolling from morning till night. The
people were busily preparing for the great festival,
which follows that of Messina. To us, recollecting
what we had seen elsewhere, these preparations ap-
peared paltry, nay, many of them resembled the
decorations of a provincial theatre.

(3ut of modesty or indolence, I deemed myself
incapable or unworthy to ascend Etna, and this
time I was nearer the mark than in my opinion on
the festival. The first plan, to start after dinner,
about two o'clock, and to ride up the mountain for
twelve hours together, and in the night upon a
mule, and then climb two hours more till sunrise —
this awful plan I rejected in the most decided man-
ner. A second proposal was then made— to set out
early in the morning, so as to reach the Casa del
Inglesi by evening, to sleep there and to climb the
rest of the way, from three to half-past four. After
many objections, I suffered myself to be persuaded,
and at five in the morning of the 14th of August,
we — that is to say, Du Prat, Malherbe, and I —
mounted horses and mules. I had represented to
myself the cultivated region of the mountain as a
paradise of oranges, figs, grapes, fantastic habita-
tions, charming females, &c. This was an egregious
mistake : you ascend mostly between walls, now and
then getting a glimpse, sometimes of trees, at othe>"s

H 5



I54i ETNA.

of lava, nothing beautiful, nothing picturesque.
The woody region succeeds. Noble trunks of very-
ancient oaks, but despoiled of their crowns, applied,
like willows, to every sort of unworthy use, and
headed down. More and more of these witnesses
of antiquity are annually felled, and the selfish im-
provident race never thinks of planting even a
single tree, so that the desert at top will soon com-
pletely conquer the middle region. After the most
laborious efforts, we reached the Casa dei higlesi,
and the question naturally was whether we were to
climb to the summit on the following morning. Of
course — you will say from your sofa. We came to
a different conclusion. Respiration became very
difficult at this height, the eyes smarted, the lips
were swollen and painful, the hands purple, the
face still darker, and in two days we had twice to
endure a variation of 30*^, that is to say, from 5° to
350 Reaumur (68" F. from 43o to lllo.)

We prepared to lie down, but there were only
two small mattresses and as many small pillows for
three persons, and, instead of pulling off our clothes,
we were obliged to heap all we had upon us to keep
ourselves warm. The middle place fell to my
share, in regard to warmth evidently the best ; but
I was so wedged in that I could not move either
hand or foot. Then again the two mattresses
and the two pillows parted from one another, so
that, rousing up through sheer numbness, I found



ETNA. 155

that I was lying on the bare boards, and that two
brooms, placed underneath to raise the head of the
bed, were my pillow. My mouth and tongue were
parched, and nothing but my last remaining lozenge
afforded me some relief. Friend B — , you must
know, presented me in his own name and that of
his family with a box of Berlin lozenges to take
with me, and these I used only on extraordinary
occasions.

The last of them I had till now carefully pre-
served, but thought that I could not do better than
resort to it in this doleful night. Sleep was out of
the question, especially as the mules kept up such
a trampling and stamping. At length, about mid-
night, our chief guide came to inform us that one
of the mules could not survive the fatigue, and
that he must ride away with the second, to save its
life by bleeding, and if possible to procure other
beasts.

On rising we were quite stiff, and unanimously of
opinion that it would be better to watch the sun
rise from some promontory of the mountain and to
obtain a view of three-fourths of the circle, than, by
climbing higher, to knock ourselves up, or at any
rate increase our sufferings more than our pleasures.
The summit of the mountain was moreover enve-
loped in clouds and afforded no promise of a view.

For the rest, I found what I have so often said
about bird's-eye views, and what I had asserted the



156 ETNA.

day before, completely verified. That from Etna
may, it is true, be the most extensive and the most
remarkable of all; and it may justly be objected
that I have seen but three-fourths of the whole
prospect, and not seen the shadow of Etna either in
the air or stretched over the land. But, at a greater
height, objects become more indistinct and more fore-
shortened. You see, as behind a curtain, a lighter
or a darker patch, a speck of green, or a speck of
yellow, and then you are told, That speck is Cata-
nea, and that other, of the size of a sixpence, Syra-
cuse, &c. How if we were to show a man a beau-
tiful woman at such a distance, and then desire him
to fall down and worship ? If the devil ever means
to tempt me, he must not show me landscapes in
bird's-eye perspective and as if on a map. That
the artist cannot avail himself of such views is a
proof that they are not the most beautiful, and to
Etna, the lirocken, the Schneekuppe, &c., I very
far prefer Vesuvius, the Rigi, Salzburg, Edinburgh,
Bamberg, the Camaldoli, &c. You have there, in
general, something above, something else facing, and
something different again below you 5 or you see
composition, outline, colour, light, shade, much more
diversified and beautiful.

Accordingly, after we had seen the sun rise like
a globe of fire, without the accompaniment of splen-
did clouds, and had viewed Sicily through the veil
of misty vapour, we went to the Valle del Buoi.



ETNA. 157

Figure to yourself a Swiss valley, burnt up so that
not a tree, not a shrub, not a blade of grass, not a
drop of water, not a human being, not a house, not
a brute animal, is left upon it, and you will have a
picture of that valley. 1 wrote to you about the
deserts of Radicofani and Pellegrino : they are but
a thimbleful in comparison with the masses of Etna.
There you see at least rocks, stones, forms, colours,
crystallisations ; in this kitchen of the devil, on the
contrary, every thing appears shapeless and colour-
less. Is is chaos, but not the undeveloped matter
of all forms ; it is the death of all living things ; a
repulsive negation of nature and of mind. Fire-
worshipping naturalists may commit idolatry with
these fire-vomiting mountains ; to me they appear
rather as vents, by which nature strives to eject
excrementitious matter. Let those who please exa-
mine it, reverence it, carry it about them, like that
of the Dalai Lama ; it is no vocation of mine.

Now for the descent from the mountain. I was
prepared for inconveniences, but found ten times
worse than I had imagined. From weariness and
exhaustion, my horse made a false step every ten
paces, which was not only in the highest degree
unpleasant, but likewise dangerous. I pushed for-
ward, therefore, on foot, for some hours in the
hottest part of the day, and at length flung myself
down exhausted under a tree to wait for those who
were behind. Here, however, I fared as I once



158 JOURNEY TO SYRACUSE.

did with friend H — , for inordinate admiration of
nature. As in the elysium of Halle, so in that of
Sicily, the ants came to visit me in great numbers.
Again on horseback ; 35" (112° F.) in the sun, to
which I was exposed, and such pains in the sinews
of the legs from incessant jolting and jarring, that
I could have roared outright. Only that part of
the body which usually rebels first against such
tasks, and puts on the red Jacobin cap, behaved
quietly, and displayed laudable firmness. Luckily,
we had ordered a carriage to meet us at Nicolosi.
That, on my return to Catanea, I felt no inclina-
tion to pay visits you will think perfectly natural.
During the day, too, I had time to rest only a
couple of hours, and after dark to sleep for the
same time, for, about midnight, between the 15th
and 16th of August, I was seated in a litter Avith
Du Prat, and on the way to Syracuse. Such a
litter is in reality a sedan for two persons who sit
opposite to each other. One mule goes before, ano-
ther behind in the shafts, and a third carries the
baggage. A prodigious tinkling of bells keeps the
animals lively and in step ; the sedan, however,
swags so violently that many become sea-sick. We
ailed nothing, and found ourselves extremely com-
fortable in comparison with the preceding day. But
for this comparison, the dark side would have ap-
peared a great deal darker. To be sure, one fre-
quently sees the Mediterranean and Etna, and both



SYRACUSE. 159

are respectable ingredients for a landscape ; but in
itself this, from Catanea to Syracuse, is a desert
covered with rocks and thistles, through which glide
the gray snakes of bald chalk hills. A country so
hideous and wretched that one would gladly give
money not to see it.

Sicily may in all ages have produced corn, and
formerly in greater abundance than now ; but upon
the whole the soil of the island is not fertile like that
of Lombardy, Belgium, the Golden Aue, and the
like. The sweltering sirocco was blowing as we
entered the modern Syracuse (we almost imagined
it to he an indispensable accessory) quarrelled with
the landlord, were furnished for five francs with as
much to eat as in Paris would have cost us two,
and entertained with panegyrics on the wondrous
things that we should see on this the 17th day of
August.

At five in the morning we set out under the
guidance of a servant of the Cavaliere Landolina's,
who was soon joined by other conductors, who, in
solo, duo, and trio, served up to us a medley of
truth and fiction. We inspected the remains of the
theatre and amphitheatre, the cisterns and the
street-pavement, the stone-quarries, and the ear of
Dionysius, as well as the town and its environs, ac-
cording to its ancient and modern divisions. I will
not describe for the hundred and first time that
which has been already described one hundred



160 GENERAL REMARKS

times : what one now sees is evidently but a shadow
of what once was. A surprising city, a prodigious
activity, even rejecting much as exaggeration. On
a small space Syracuse has done as much in propor-
tion as Rome, the mistress of the world, with in-
finitely greater resources, and besides under govern-
ments that were worse than the present. Who
can solve this enigma ? The afflicting idea forces
itself upon me, that, when temples and aqueducts
fall to ruin, men too decline. What their great
forefathers buih, this generation cannot even scratch
out of the ground. Since I left Messina I have
not seen a female, married or single, or a child,
that could be called at all handsome, but immense
numbers who were frightfully ugly. If there are
any handsome ones (which upon the whole I cannot
deny) they nuist at any rate have hid their light
under a bushel : and the preceding remark only
expresses the result of my own incontestable obser-
vation.

Have you, then, you will ask, found Sicily fall
short of your expectation ? The word expectation
has a very indefinite signification : but yet I may
answer that question in the affirmative. How hap-
pens this, since, in the first place, the experience of
my fellow-travellers agrees with mine ? We are
led partly by innate prejudices, partly by the
writers of travels, to place that which is afar off and
southern higher than what is nearer and northern.



ON SICILY. 161

Thus people think that the further they proceed in


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryFriedrich von RaumerItaly and the Italians (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 22)