Sir Francis Ronalds' Travel Journal: Naples and Pompeii
Naples Jany 16th 1819
I arrived here with my three Irish Companions de Voyage on the 7th [actually 9 January] after a very pleasant and easy journey. We found the Inns better instead of Worse (as the general accounts would have it) on this side of Rome than the other and the danger of meeting with Banditti is imaginary or nearly so for the positions favourable to such gentry are now well guarded by regular Pickets at every quarter or half mile. The Road from Rome, the ancient Via Appia, presented nothing very striking to me untill we arrived at the Pontine Marshes. We were diligent in observing every object pointed out to us by Mr Vasi's guide, but it forms no part of my plan you know to put down anything more than what has left some impression or greater degree of interest than I can possibly derive from looking at an ancient monument or any other object with a guide in my hand.
"Surely it is still practicable to drain these marches and render them fruitfull... It suits us better to build Churches says Pope Pius VII; by draining marshes we drain our purses, but by building Churches we fill them"
On entering the Pontine Marshes we seemed to be trespassing upon the territory of a different race of beings viz the Wild-fowl; their number is incredible at this time of year, and they seemed drawn up in parties of observation, and immense armies, and with their outstretched necks and shrill cries to demand in the most imperative manner our business there and our passports. Our reply was brief for having neglected to bring guns (which no traveller fond of shooting ought to do if he can possibly get one) we were so exasperated at their impatience that we could not forbear cracking off our pistols at them, but our Rage was redoubled at the thorough contempt in which they held our feeble attack. Their squeals seemed to us very much like loud laughter and they scarcely deigned to remove 50 yards from their positions. What acres were covered with these feathered Squadrons, but during all the time of our journey we could not succeed in securing one Victim. Sir H. Davy and a party had come from Rome for sport and I believe succeed tolerably well but I saw a great many misses! Nothing appeared horrific in these marshes and the country [?] passing them presented new[?] objects which delighted me greatly. I gathered some fine ripe oranges from the top of a tree of about 50 feet in height and the day of our passing the Marshes was the first on which I saw a Palm of considerable size growing luxuriantly in the open air. Surely it is still practicable to drain these marches and render them fruitfull [sic]. Shall we who boast every day of the advance of modern Science yield to ancient Rome the glory of having done more than us in this way. Pope Pius the Sixth has begun the task in a masterly style, why not follow his example? It suits us better to build Churches says Pope Pius the Seventh; by draining marshes we drain our purses, but by building Churches we fill them.
"I am impatient to bring you to Naples, to me, to this Paradise inhabited by Devils"
Mola di Gaeta is a Town which I shall certainly never forget, Nothing can be more beautifull than the view of the Bay and Cicero's Villa, nothing more gratifying than the Romantic scenery of the neighbourhood and the exhilarating heavenly perfume of the orange & citron in full blossom which skirt the town on the side of the Seas. The evening was remarkably fine. I hope[?] wandering about the face of the earth will not become an habitual medicine like opium. I met with one very serious accident in the middle of one night but to relate it without getting a scolding from that Charlotte I am sure would require much greater ingenuity that I possess. Your own ingenuity must supply you with an explanation when I tell you that a very disagreeable misunderstanding arose between me and one of my companions de Voyage in Consequence of my mistaking one of his movements for that an Italian who slept in the same rooms, however after a little sulking the next day the breach was made up and we are very good friends. But I am impatient to bring you to Naples, to me, to this Paradise inhabited by Devils (as the saying goes).
The road from Aversa & entrance to Naples seemed quite devoid of any particular object of interest at this time of year. The dust was intolerable to us but the natives did not seem to mind it, many being engaged in parties of pleasure in the curious little triangular gigs called Curiculi (or Curi sometimes) and other kinds of open carriage. We nicked the officer of the Dogana very completely; he gave us a specimen of Neapolitan roguery in demanding two Dollars each for passing our Baggage without examination, which being a most extortionate demand we made him search by which he got nothing. By the Time the English arrive at Naples they generally begin to discover the folly of paying to be laughed at by them and other such Villains. I suppose Mad de Stael's purse was little sensible to the outgoings for a few extra payments, double payments, and payments of all Kinds. Excuses may be admitted for their unbounded rapacity perhaps, such for instance is great poverty, but what shall we say of the Jacks of the police office itself cheating you out of a few paltry Carlini whenever they have the opportunity. But I have begun to Complain too soon.
Naples is a place which whoever asks me how I like I shall answer very much. It is more à mon goût than Rome, nothing mouldering & [?] about it & much that is interesting to all sorts of tastes. This place is as much superior to Rome in regard to the Allegro as London is to Oxford or Cambridge, but moderation is the order of the day with the English as well as the natives for [?] the time they arrive here they generally find that their purses and their health require it. I am not very well lodged being too near that eternally noisy Strada di Toledo but I shall move in a day or two. The Weather is delightfull [sic] & Vesuvius is now in a state of fever and slight eruption & I promise myself some fine fun during the Carnival which is about to begin. My Health is tolerably good.
"the explosions... threw up to a very considerable height stones of at least 8 feet diameter... I found one still hot enough to fry up my glove"
Yesterday I made my first Visit to the Mountain. What I saw there was much the same as what every body has heard of I suppose. I took my position first at a spot nearly in a line with Naples & the crater and about 1/8 of mile from the Crater. The lava on which I stood was not hot enough to injure my Boots much, but a stick which I thrust into a small fissure immediately took fire and the lava was red hot at the depth of about a foot. The exhalation of heated but respirable air I had to pass through issuing from a chasm was extreemly oppressive but some fumes of Muriatic Acid which now and then accompanied it were intolerable. It is rather curious that the guides and most of the visitors of Vesuvius still call these Sulphurous fumes, and the substance produced by their action and that of Sulph acid[?] on the Scoria & lava, Sulphur. Their yellow product possesses none of the characters of sulphur except the Colour. In order to get a nearer view of the eruption I descended a little by the same way I came and reascended to a higher spot on the left of the Crater, passing through a cloud of dense vapour (merely steam) and a thick shower of fine dust. Here I enjoyed an excellent view of the explosions which threw up to a very considerable height stones of at least 8 feet diameter. The guide desired me to run past one place where some of these stones had lately fallen and indeed I found one still hot enough to fry up my glove. I took an hour to ascend the Cone and ran down over my ankles in Cinders in about 5 Minutes. The guide found snow under some of these cinders which he seemed to enjoy greatly. My next journey shall be a nocturnal one.
My ride to Pozzuoli &c today has furnished much to think about but nothing to write about, for you don't want to know about Alum & Sulphur & I don't choose to describe what has been well enough and often enough described by others. The poor little skeleton of a dog at the Grotta del Cane excited my pity & having determined to save him one death, poor fellow, I took a good Snuff of the Carbonic acid myself and persuaded my companions to convince themselves of the reality of its existence and of the torture of dying [sic] in it by following my example. I say of dying in it because I am sure the poor little devil is left quite without sensation and, if suffered to remain a few moments longer in it, sensation would be as unlikely to return before his death as afterwards as our Irishmen might say. The argument used by some namely that he is used to it is I take it about as good as that of the Joe Miller's fish woman:
"Lord Ma'am, the Eels be used to skinning"
I have spent the greater part of this morning in the garden of a Villa at the northern part of the Town. This Garden comes nearer to my ideas of excellence than any I ever before saw. You enjoy the most ravishing and extraordinary view in the world from it perhaps and in it the most delicious retirements. If this spot had been left uncultivated it would have been too savage. It is just cultivated enough to unite and harmonize human with inanimate nature and no more; whoever planned it was greater in his way than Raphael in his, and I think that as much genius though not so much skill is required in the one as in the other art.
The weather is coldish but I basked in the Sun under a fine Palm with great content - Vesuvius was on my left, Naples at my foot, Posillipo on my right & the Bay in front. Of all the places I ever visited I would chuse this for a Panorama.
You will no doubt have heard of the death of the King of Spain long before you receive this letter. His Majesty is now lying in State here. An immense square platform about 8 feet high is erected in one of the principal chambers of the Pallace, covered with canvass very badly painted in imitation of marble. On this is placed another smaller platform hung with cloth made with tinsel (I don't know the proper name for it) and on this stands a sort of bin in a sloping position which serves his majesty to recline on in full uniform and looking very well, his household and officers standing round as if he were giving an audience. The chamber is hung with very coarse black cloth spotted with pieces of white paper pinned on & called tears & 6 or 8 great pasteboard candlesticks with Tapers stand upon the floor near the pedestal. Ever & anon the Mass is performed by a set of dirty priests and the whole has a very trumpery effect.
Tomorrow he will proceed in grand procession to take possession of his subterranean pallace & his departure excites universal regret as it is said that the Carnival will not take place in Consequence. One does not, au premier coup, perceive the full force of a misfortune sometimes. When I think seriously of the loss of my carnival I stamp my foot with vexation and add a foot to the length of my face. What can I do. The devil take the old fool (if he has not already) for going off at such as unseasonable moment; he must [?] have a blister on the stomach to cure the gout. I must go to consult my best adviser here, my waiter at the Albergo Reale who has been every where & knows every thing & every body. I find his information far superior to what I can derive from Mr Eustace or Mad de Stael or any tourist or guide whatever for he saves me from vexatious journeys and disappointments whilst the others lead me to them. I can't go back to Rome to the carnival there, then come here again. I should die at Rome & to hasten back to Venice after the carnival at Rome would destroy my plan of seeing Sicily. To be sure my evenings are rather triste here just now for altho' I dine comfortably enough with my good irish friends, yet I often get rather more figs than is good for me for we have no fire places or other means of keeping ourselves warm. However when the Theatres &c are opened again (when the Royal Soul is safely delivered from Purgatory and comfortably lodged in Paradise) I suppose I shall be more comfortable too. Good night - I'm afraid I shall lose my Carnival.
Hey dey, what a Row. The drums are beating and preparations making for the Funeral. I will endeavour to shew [sic] you what passes - The streets are already crowded. Garlick [sic] "fills the Air" and the troops which by the by are regular clean looking fellows enough marching to their appointed posts to keep the ground. Now the fine black eyes begin to twinkle and smiles and bows to cross each other in all directions from the Balconies, and knowing glances and old acquaintance like nod from the house tops. Blue, Red, Yellow, Green, no one colour seems more fashionable than another. I think they are very fond of gaudy dress but there are some smart looking girls too. I must shave. (Thank god for these and all his mercies, I have had a delightfull as well as most expeditious shave, Naples Soap for ever). Ah here comes a poor Cow and her calf to bring me my milk, the driver thinks me as great bestia as himself I suppose by coming this stuck in crowd with the poor Cow, perhaps I might have been so at any other time but in the presence of pretty smiling faces - Here they come. Here they come. Here - no, a false alarm. Diable, says the French lady. Baugh, says the Prince, the prince Gallitzin[?]. Damn it, says I. Now we get a little music not solemn though something of Rossini's, I'll swear he has a style of his own yet he is a consummate plagiarist Madam. Vous avez raisin Monsieur. Now we begin to talk knowingly. Now we being to gaaape a little. Now we crack jokes. Now the jokes are all cracked so we gaaape a little more and the wit grows flat. Now we tuck in a few Oysters, [?] eh! a bad one. The prince says they like good oysters better than bad ones in Petersburg.
"His majesty's running footmen, most ridiculous figures clad in
short red jackets, white breeches and stockings and a kind of Helmet surmounted by an immense plume of different coloured feathers"
"Some tell me that the King will be placed upon a Seat in the church and Dinners &c served to him during 2 or 3 days as usual, of which not partaking or replying to certain interrogations put to him by the proper officer, this latter will declare his firm conviction to be that his majesty is actually dead and consequently must be buried"
"how greatly might the pleasure if not the instruction have been increased by leaving the different implements, domestic utensils &c in the houses... than to have removed these things to the Academy (where they are passed by with a yawn frequently)"
"We spied out one or two houses bearing inscriptions over the door which would not in our day be thought quite the thing"
Now, Now, Now they are coming, really. First the Corps of Halberteers of the Pallace, about 50_ of His majesty's running footmen, most ridiculous figures clad in short red jackets, white breeches and stockings and a kind of Helmet surmounted by an immense plume of different coloured feathers, and other footmen uncovered. The State Carriage (something like our lordmayor's coach in clumsiness and gingerbread work) illuminated in the interior by wax tapers and drawn by 10 beautifull white horses with white plumes, containing his deceased majesty together with an archbishop & a Cardinal. About 20 General officers on horseback. The body guard of the King of Naples with music. The several other regiments close the whole procession - which is certainly respectable but not the slightest semblance of mourning is displayed except by a few little pieces of black crepe on some of the columns, indeed it does not seem intended that it should appear other than a royal procession from the pallace to the Church.
Some tell me that the King will be placed upon a Seat in the church and Dinners &c served to him during 2 or 3 days as usual, of which not partaking or replying to certain interrogations put to him by the proper officer, this latter will declare his firm conviction to be that his majesty is actually dead and consequently must be buried. Others say that he will reply to some of the questions that he will decline politely to eat and will declare his intention of not returning to the Pallace. I must ascertain which is the correct account.
How very novel and pleasant was the Idea of finding myself on visiting Pompeii yesterday in a dream as it were of a set of people who lived and [?] themselves more than 1700 years ago & whose achievements have excited so much the astonishment of later ages. I have not yet found nor do I expect to find again anything half as interesting in the way of antiquities in my life. But how greatly might the pleasure if not the instruction have been increased by leaving the different implements, domestic utensils &c in the houses (in a few of them at least), and to have preserved their houses in exactly the state they were found, than to have removed these things to the Academy (where they are passed by with a yawn frequently) and to have defaced the Walls by pulling down the painted stucco and the Inscriptions. However enough remains to afford the greatest delight to all sorts of visitors, even the walk through the Streets and lanes of Pompeii might inspire some portion of pleasurable melancholy to a man who had never heard of Cicero and all the other fine old fellows of those times. But to sit down with them in their own houses to learn if only by the evidence of sight their accustomed amusements and habits, even to make out without the shadow of uncertainty (and this certainly constitutes the chief pleasure of the thing) their different shops & manufactories of jewellery, Wine, Soap, oil, bread (the mill for grinding corn no less) & even the painted names of the Shopkeepers & Manufacturers & the Signs and inscriptions, all these things cannot fail to delight every body. We spied out one or two houses bearing inscriptions over the door which would not in our day be thought quite the thing. The Temples of Isis & Aesculapius are certainly interesting but I have seen temples upon temples before. The amphitheatre is also certainly a Very fine object and the view of Vesuvius from it superb.
The ordinance of the Police has just proclaimed that the Carnival shall take place, so one of my grievances is at an end. It also forbids any person to throw sugar plumbs in a straight line but recommends all such disposed citizens to chuck them in an arched direction, so I shan't get my head broke I hope. I was at a masked Ball at St Carlo's last night with 2 of my Irish friends, one of whom experienced some difficulty in resisting the temptation of defending a poor smack[?] who was treated in a most ruffian like manner by the crowd. A man in a mess here meets with very hard fate sometimes if he should not be under the protection of a Soldier. The gentlemen say they never mix with a mob and the blackguards are Cannibals, they remind me of a brood of chickens, every one takes his pick of any unfortunate lame or sick member of the family who can't defend himself. The expectation of justice from an English mob, altho' it may not always be fulfilled, forms a proud feature in our national character and furnishes the best argument in the world for excluding soldiers from keeping the peace of public assemblies. Are not the laws better appreciated, valued, known & understood by allowing the people to break them as well as each other others heads just a little now and then? Go on my dear Countrymen with the willing[?] system in order that you may feel the convenience of law.
This is a regular rainy day, good heavens how it comes down. I have seen it rain as hard in England I think, but I never knew so hard a shower last so long as Five hours without the slightest intermission which this has already done. These kind of Days have their conveniences here as well as in England and they come in no questionable shape, so you may make up your mind to sit at home all day over a nasty stinking charcoal fire in a Pan. I have had a conversation with my old friend Volta, I mean his books, & he came with such a familiar old acquaintance looking smile and brought me so much amusement that he has almost tempted me to make some electric observations on Vesuvius. But now the sky is clearing a little, I must dress and get a dinner.
"Whoever... stares at his neighbour, or hawks as if something had stuck in his throat... at the relation of any of my extraordinary adventures and achievements gets no Soap. Whoever gapes over my journal, or sighs, or talks loud on other subjects whilst I talk of Vesuvius, Lava, Tufo... or in short on any subject relating to my hobby horses; no Soap"
I would strongly recommend it to all the masculine gender of my Dear family both abroad and at home to take special care how they conduct themselves towards me both during my absence and on my return, seeing that it will lie in my power to grant or withhold from them one of the greatest luxuries of human existence viz an easy shave. You cannot have nobody ever yet had an easy shave without Naples Soap. Now if you dare to quiz or in any [way] neglect to treat me with all that profound respect which as your Pastor I am so justly entitled to and which it ought to be your highest honour and happiness to bestow, you get no Soap. Whoever flies Pidgeons [sic] or stares at his neighbour, or hawks as if something had stuck in his throat, or teaches any Woman or Girl to fly Pidgeons &c &c at the relation of any of my extraordinary adventures and achievements gets no Soap. Whoever gapes over my journal, or sighs, or talks loud on other subjects whilst I talk of Vesuvius, Lava, Tufo, Pompeii, Etna or in short on any subject relating to my hobby horses; no Soap. Whoever calls in question my management & economy or furnishes Emily or any body else with arguments against the same, no Soap (take care Peter). I shall divide the quantity which I may be able to get into portions which shall each relate with the greatest exactitude to my estimation of every person's behaviour. Now you have fair warning don't despise it and repent.