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For the Monthly Magazine.
Letters from the South of Italy,
by a recent Traveller.
(Continuedfrom No. 358, p. 102J
Naples, July 20,1819.
IN my last I described the ruins of Pompeii, accompanied by three drawings, and I now subjoin another view of the ruins, representing the house of a dealer in milk, indicated by the figure of a she-goat, sculptured on the stone.
The allurements of pleasure, to which even the climate transports us, have not prevented me from visiting the curious objects of nature and art diffused around Naples; I have already ascended three times to the summit of Vesuvius. Can you conceive that a great number of Neapolitans have never had the curiosity to go to the mountain? Yet such is the fact. The sight of a volcano is certainly one of the most curious objects in the world.
The first time that I went with my friend, M. Camille Rey, we hired mules: but mine proved so bad, that 1 swore I would go the next time on foot. In a frightful road you march for sometime by the light of torches, the smoke of which greatly annoys you. As this road is difficult, you generally keep behind the guide, On both sides
are the vines which produce the famous wine called Lachryma Christi. After marching an hour you come to a torrent of lava about three quarters of a mile in breadth. The astonishment with which I beheld the first aspect of these lavas, makes me despair of giving you a satisfactory description of them. They are huge blocks of blackish stone, the surface of which is pierced into a number of holes, a sure sign that it has formerly boiled out and become cold by the air. If I wished to compare the sight of a torrent of lava to any thing, it would be to a field of heavy land newly ploughed, supposing each lump of earth infinitely more singular than another, more irregular in its form, and twenty or thirty times larger. These pieces of lava, are in fact, sometimes more than eight or ten feet in height.
Having traversed the torrent, and ascended a steep rock, we arrived at the Hermitage. It is surrounded by great elms; these are the last trees of the mountain: we could hardly perceive even a few briars. A single hermit formerly lived in this place; at present there are two and sometimes three. I don't know if it is with reason that they are accused of being the harbingers of the brigands of Vesuvius. You find at the hermitage, bread, fruit
Mid and wine of the mountain, all articles for which they very humbly demand twice their value. However this may be, the stay which you make there is very curious: the hermitage,the church, the great trees which surround them, the whole is lighted up In a very picturesque manner, at one time by the light of the torches, and at another by the modest lamp of the hermits.
On my first journey, we halted at this place. A noise was heard similar to that of thunder, but without its rolling. The guide took me by the arm and discovered to me the summit of the mountain; it was all on fire. We quickened our march, still riding on the mules. In the course of half an hour we arrived at the foot of the cone which encloses the crateT, it is formed of lava, ashes, and stones. You there abandon the mules, and have only three quarters of an hour's walk to arrive at the summit. The slope is rapid, the ashes and the stones give way and roll under your steps, and the ascent is so fatigueing, that some persons are drawn up by ropes which the guide passes round their shoulders. An irregularity of the mountain makes you at first believe that you are jiear arriving,but soon the very summit presents itself at a distance, and you must again recruit your strength. It is generally in the midst of a torrent of lava such as burst forth in 1813, that the travellers arrest their progress. This lava is still hot, and as you are generally in a perspiration, although the morning wind is cold, you sit down with pleasure in the crevices pr fissures of this torrent. In some
places they are still burning; and by thrusting down a piece of paper, it will speedily take fire. Here you generally boil eggs for your breakfast, a repast which you cannot dispense with making on the borders of the crater.
The day now began to dawn: we extinguished the torches; the inarch became easier, and every moment the mountain trembled, and threw out red hot stones, half dissolved, to a great distance. Our guide, in order to avoid them, made us keep to the side of the wind. At length we arrived at the brink of the gulph. At the bottom a reddish matter rose up and descended slowly; all of a sudden it began to swell, a thick cloud of smoke traversed it and rose up into the air, carrying along with it pieces of burning lava. By degrees this black ish flake expanded itself and totally disappeared; some stones again rolled down the abyss, tvhich seemed for an instant to suspend its workings.
I could not have seen it at a more favourable period. I was surprised with this grand effect; which my imagination could not have conceived. I remained there two hours; at every ten minutes a similar explosion took place.
Every thing we can imagine of the nature of volcanos is lost at the bottom of the crater, which, in all the truth of description, seemed to be the mouth of hell. In the smallest works of nature, we see some utility: but what is there in that of a volcano?
The summit of the mountain is several acres in breadth, and hollowed into apertures in the form of a funnel, wh ich frequently, by changing it's figure, renders the description of travellers so very different. The largest of the present craters is, I think, one hundred feet deep, by three or four hundred in diameter. At the bottom arc twoapertures, which throw up alternately, the one stones and ashes, the other vapour and rubbish. On the side towards Naples, but lower than the large crater, there exists one truly curious: ils sides are perpendicular. Three feet in bi'eadth, it seems to be a chimney from whence issues continually a burning smoke. I believe that at the time of the eruptions of the grand crater, so far from pouriDg out its lava, it ceases altogether; but I could not make the experiment. To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.
On my second journey, which I made with some friends, the mountain was tranquil: the stones which roll without ceasing from the sides of the crater had stopped the mouth of it: I threw myself amongst them and was speedily followed by my companions. I experienced some pleasure at finding myself above the vault, that vast furnace which, fifteen days previous, appeared to me so terrible.
I don't know if I havegiven you an idea of the form of the crater: at times it is stained by the finest yellow and the most brilliant white. The first colour proceeds from sulphur, the odour of which fills all the atmosphere around the summit; the white is owing to different oxides formed in this laboratory of nature. I picked up stones variously coloured; and soon after, like children, I threw them away to pick up others which appeared to me more curious; Salvator, our guide, possesses a very fine collection of them. The habitude of seeing scientific men has in some measure instructed him in the mineralogy of volcanos. The last time I went to Vesuvius there had been formed within a short time, a new crater still more profound; it threw out stones at every moment. I wished to make an oil sketch of the view before me, but it was entirely covered with ashes. The officers of a Swedish vessel being seated on the mountain, we shared the provisions which were to serve us for breakfast, and we directed our steps towards the edge of the crater, which had just made an eruption. The wind was sharp and cold, I wished to take shelter from it by seating myself some feet lower than the brink of the crater. The ashes gave way under my feet; I wished to rest on some stones, but they were burning, And I thought for an instant (hat
I was about to roll down into the abyss. M. Nouchy, secretary of M. Itey, our guide, and the Swedes, immediately made a sort of chain, and drew me up Justin time: for an instant after, the bottom of the crater opened and vomited a blast of ashes and burning stones.
After walking for a long time on the black ashes, sometimes dry and sometimes wet, the guide conducted us under a kind of natural grotto, open on both sides, formed by pieces of lava, decorated with the most brilliant colours. The vapour which issues from it is so suffocating, that the first time I could not traverse it; but since, by retaining my respiration, I succeeded in the attempt. You generally breakfast on an elevated point, from whence you enjoy a panorama the most extensive which you can imagine: you are then nearly eighteen hundred feet above the level of the sea; the Gulph of Naples is at your feet. That city decorates the distant horizon; the Isles of Capri and Ischia, which are" at its mouth, terminate the view on this side, instead of being prolonged to a distance, as on the other side, over the rich country which borders the route from Naples to Capua. On the east, the horizon is bounded by the blue summits of the mountains, and nearer is an immense valley formed by Vesuvius and Somma. Vesuvius seems to arise in the bosom of a greater volcano which, in a great eruption, (that, perhaps, which covered Pompeii), drove back to a distance every thing which formed its centre; and the circular mountain, called Somma, which surrounds Vesuvius on one of its sides, is the remainder of it.
But there is another route more curious, perhaps, and less known: it is by the side of Somma. After descending five or six hundred feet, you find akind of chimney, eighty-five feet in height, and four or five feet in width, at the base; at a distance it seems to be constructed like a swallow's nest. It is only a swelling of the lava; the middle of it is hollow, and almost entirely cylindrical; under it is an aperture from whence the lava escapes, which runs for a space of twelve miles towards the plain. Under this same chimney exists a canal three feet high and four broad, so regular, that it seems to be made by the hand of man: it is entirely cold. I entered it, but having no light, I could not penetrate far into this aperture, which seemed to be a secret door of the volcano. The declivity then become* lets rapid; you begin to see
*ome plants, and you soon arrive at Pompeii, of which I have already given you a description.
LETTER IV. Catania, 2MA August, 1819. I have seen the famous fete of Saint Agatha. The whole city was illuminated with small lamps, supported by pyramids of wood planted on each side of the pavement. This uniform illumination produces a much finer effect than in our own country. At eight o'clock, the senate, composed of eight or nine personages, and the president, went to the cathedral in a coach, which for its antiquity may well reckon two centuries. I shall not undertake to describe to you here its ludicrous form. Having introduced myself, with some difficulty, into the midst of a crowd of persons, who all carried wax tapers, I found myself near to the altar. After several discourses, which fatigued the impatient enthusiasm of those around me, they carried away Saint Agatha, whom we had not yet perceived. This object of the adoration of the j>eople, was covered by a veil as far as the head, which was carefully adorned, and of the naturalsize, but looked a lit tledistorted. It was decorated with diamonds, and all kinds of precious stones, and reclined on a massive substance which appeared to be silver. Four priests carried it on their shoulders; the cries of Long live St. Agatha! resounded through the church, illuminated like
that of Messina. The soldiers, ranged in two lines, could hardly make a passage for it. Every one was in motion, and kept leaping before this statue: "Oh! how handsome she is—Oh! how good," &c. were the cries which accompanied it throughout the church and in the city. If there are idolaters, they are to be found, in reality, among the inhabitants of Catania.
It was not without pain that we witnessed this mummery in the heart of Europe. I can assure you that, of all the leligious ceremonies which I have seen in Italy, and above all in Sicily, there are very few which are dedicated to the Supreme Being; it is generally to some saint, sometimes to the virgin, and very rarely to Jesus Christ, that these people address their vows. The Neapolitan soldiers laughed at this enthusiasm of the Sicilians; they were not aware that they do the same thing for St. Januarius, at Naples. When the English call the catholics idolaters, they are certainly in the right, if they see them only in Italy, which appears to be the centre of catholic superstition; but travellers must perceive that in France the people are much more discreet in their outward demonstrations, and their ceremonies are much more imposing. A priest in France preserves the dignity of his character; he is not seen at the theatre, and above all, in the evening, giving his arm to a lady, &c. .. However, there are not, perhaps,
WE witnessed here on Sunday last a very singular phenomenon, of which as it nearly resembled in its appearance and effects, one of a similar kind which you described and figured in your Magazine, two or three years ago, I have taken the liberty of giving you a notice.
The weather had been for four weeks dry and sultry, interrupted about eight days before by a slight thunder storm, the skirts of whose accompanying rain our village partook of, and my barometer in the morning stood at 30. 15 inches. About mid-day a gentle breeze from WSW. wafted slowly a small cloud along the sky, which was reinforced by
a streaming cirrus as it approached the zenith, and as the population was returning from church about 3 o'clock, it had culminated and spread a louring and lurid gloom through the heavens. Suddenly, from tlie N.E. in the direction of (iourock, (a small fishing village in a bay a few miles from this) a pile or column of dense vapour advanced with a whirling, whizzing noise, and although as yet we felt no wind we could bear the noise of it, which produced a sublime effect «s it rushed through the woods of Ardgowan. The cloud in our zenith seemed rapidly moving in a rotatory direction to meet the other, and at the moment the storm began, presented something like this appearance.
A most violent storm of wind now arose, and before we could obtain shelter the two masses had united, and whirling into one, rolled tremendously majestic down the hill and deluged our valley with rain. In crossing the hill the column had come into contact with several pools of water, and in particular with those lodged in the cavities of some abandoned quarries which had been opened in search of copper, and having swept up these in its course, had become tinged with the green colour of the coppery solution! In discharging itself in the valley it deposited the leaves, small shrubs, light rubbish, and dead animals, such as frogs, &c. to the terror and amazement of the inhabitants, and the green colour of the torrent added to the consternation.
Considerable damage has been done in the shrubberies and gardens, and several houses were unroofed. In the evening all was quiet and still, and the weather has returned again to its dry and serene state. A thunder-storm, I nave since learned,occurred the same day, in a district not very remote from this on the other side of the Clyde. There seems very little doubt but that electrical agency is powerfully exerted in such phenomena, and is indeed the direct cause of these accumulations, attractions, and violent discharges of water which we call water-sp«uts. I witnessed one very similar to this in Barbadoes, in the year 1803, which conveyed large trees entire, to the distance of 500 yards. A C. R. Innerkip, near Greenock, June, 1821.