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Title:      Siren Land
Author:     Norman Douglas
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0300571.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted:          March 2003
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Siren Land
Author:     Norman Douglas





First published 1911
NEW AND REVISED EDITION
New York: Dodd, Mead & Company 1923
Printed in Great Britain




CONTENTS

I.   SIRENS AND THEIR ANCESTRY
II.  UPLANDS OF SORRENTO
III. THE SIREN ISLETS
IV.  TIBERIUS
V.   THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE BLUE GROTTO
VI.  BY THE SHORE
VII. THE COVE OF CRAPOLLA
VIII RAIN ON THE HILLS
IX.  THE LIFE OF SISTER SERAFINA
X.   OUR LADY OF THE SNOW
XI.  ON LEISURE
XII. CAVES OF SIREN LAND
XIII THE HEADLAND OF MINERVA
INDEX  [omitted for this electronic edition]




I. SIRENS AND THEIR ANCESTRY


It was the Emperor Tiberius who startled his grammarians with the
question, what songs the Sirens sang? I suspect he knew more about the
matter than they did, for he was a Siren-worshipper all his life,
though fate did not allow him to indulge his genius till those last
few years which he spent among them on the rock-islet of Capri. The
grammarians, if they were prudent, doubtless referred him to Homer,
who has preserved a portion of their lay.

Whether Sirens of this true kind are in existence at the present day
is rather questionable, for the waste places of earth have been
reclaimed, and the sea's untrampled floor is examined and officially
reported upon. Not so long ago some such creatures were still found.
Jacobus Noierus relates that in 1403 a Siren was captured in the
Zuider Sea.  She was brought to Haarlem and, being naked, allowed
herself to be clothed; she learned to eat like a Dutchman; she could
spin thread and take pleasure in other maidenly occupations; she was
gentle and lived to a great age. But she never spoke. The honest
burghers had no knowledge of the language of the sea-folk to enable
them to teach her their own tongue, so she remained mute to the end of
her days--a circumstance to be regretted, since, excepting in the Arab
tale of "Julnar the Sea-born," little information has been handed down
to us regarding the conversational and domestic habits of mediaeval
Sirens.

In the royal archives of Portugal are preserved the records of a
costly litigation between the Crown and the Grand Master of the Order
of Saint James, as to who should possess the Sirens cast up by the sea
on the Grand Master's shores. The suit ended in the ting's favour: BE
IT ENACTED--THAT SIRENS AND OTHER MARINE MONSTERS EJECTED BY THE WAVES
UPON LAND OWNED BY THE GRAND MASTER SHALL PASS INTO THE POSSESSION OF
THE KING.  This would show that Sirens were then fairly plentiful. And
one of the best authenticated cases is that recorded by the veracious
Captain John Smith--he of Pocahontas fame. "I cannot here omit to
mention," says he, "the admirable creature of God which in the year
1610 I saw with these my own eyes. I happened to be standing, at
daybreak, on the shore not far from the harbour of St. John, when I
observed a marine monster swiftly swimming towards me. Lovely was her
shape; eyes, nose, ears, cheeks, mouth, neck, forehead, and the whole
face was as that of the fairest maiden; her hair, of azure hue, fell
over her shoulders...." Altogether, a strange fish. The rest of the
quotation will be found in Gottfried's _Historia Antipodum_.

Consult also Gessner, Rondeletius, Scaliger, and other good folks,
from whose relations it appears evident that Sirens were common enough
in their days and, doubtless for that reason, of little repute; for
whatever is common becomes debased, as the very word "vulgar" proves.
This perhaps helps to explain their fishy termination, for the oldest
Sirens were of bird kind. The change took place, I imagine, about the
time of Saint Augustine, when so many pagan shapes began to affect new
vestments and characters, not always to their advantage. It influenced
even those born in Hellenic waters, whom we might have supposed to
have remained more respectable and conservative than the others.

Thus Theodorus Gaza, whose name is a guarantee of good faith and
intelligence--did he not write the first Greek grammar?--once related
in a large and distinguished company (Pontanus was also present) how
that, after a great storm in the Peloponnesus, a sea-lady was cast up
with other jetsam on the beach. She was still alive and breathing
hard; her face and body were "absolutely human" and not uncomely.
Immediately a large concourse of people gathered round, but her sighs
and heaving breast plainly showed how embarrassed she was by their
vulgar curiosity.  Presently she began to cry outright. The
compassionate scholar ordered the crowd to move away and escorted her,
as best he could, to the water's edge. There, throwing herself into
the waves with a mighty splash, she vanished from sight.  This one,
again, partook rather of the nature of a fish than of a bird.

In Greece, too, Sirens of every kind have ceased to sing.

I remember a long-drawn, golden evening among the Cyclades. A spell
had fallen over all things; the movement of Nature seemed to be
momentarily arrested; there was not a sound below, but, overhead, the
sunbeams vibrated with tuneful melodies, Janko, the fisherman, had
dropped his oars, and our boat, the only moving object in that
preternatural stillness, was drawn by an invisible hand towards the
ruddy pool in the west. But athwart our path lay a craggy islet, black
and menacing against the background of crimson conflagration. Soon it
came in upon us in swarthy confusion of rock and cloven ravine, a few
gleams of emerald in its sheltered recesses.  Here if anywhere,
methought, Sirens might still dwell unmolested. The curly-pated rascal
steered with cunning hand towards a Lilliputian inlet; like a true
Greek, he appreciated curiosity in every form. But he resolutely
refused to set foot on shore. I began my explorations alone,
concluding that he had visited the place before.

It was no Siren islet. It was an islet of fleas. I picked them off my
clothes in tens, in hundreds, in handfuls. Never was mortal nearer
jumping out of his skin. Janko was surprised and shocked.

Now, whether these fleas had inhabited the island from time
immemorial, being degenerate descendants of certain heroic creatures
that sailed thither in company of Jason and his Argonauts, or had been
left there by shipwrecked mariners of modern days; how it came about
that they multiplied to the exclusion of every other living thing;
what manner of food was theirs--whether, anthropophagous-wise, they
preyed upon one another or had learned to content themselves with the
silvery dews of morning, like Anacreon's cicada, or else had acquired
the faculty of long fasting between rare orgies such as they enjoyed
on that afternoon: these and other questions have since occurred to me
as not unworthy of consideration.  Mr. Hudson, in his _La Plata_, has
vexed himself with similar problems. But at that moment I was far too
busy to give any thought to such matters.

Ay, they have deserted Greece, the Sirens. It was never more than a
half-way house to them.  But they stayed there long enough to don new
clothes and habits. Nothing indeed ever entered that little country
but came out rejuvenated and clarified. A thousand turbid streams,
pouring into Hellas from every side, issued thence grandly, in a calm
and transparent river, to fertilise the world. So it was with the
Sirens. Like many things, they were only an importation, one of the
new ideas that, following the trade routes, crept in to feed the
artistic imagination of the Greeks.  Now that we know a little
something of the ancient civilisations of countries like Egypt and
Phoenicia that traded with Greece, we can appreciate the wonderful
Hellenic genius for borrowing and adapting. Hermes, the intelligent
thief, is a typical Greek. For whatever they stole or
appropriated--religions, metals, comforts of life, architecture,
engineering--they stole with exquisite taste; they discarded the dross
and took only what was of value.  All traces of the theft quickly
vanished; it looked absurd, as Monsieur du Presle has pointed out, to
acknowledge indebtedness to others for things which they might as well
have invented themselves.  For the rest, the stolen material was
re-modelled till its original creator could hardly have recognised it.
The grotesque, the cruel, became humane.  Borrowed gods of frantic
aspect put on fair and benignant faces. And every item was forthwith
stamped with the hall-mark of Hellas: temperance.  All these _objets
de vertu_ have been handled a good deal since those days; they were
sadly knocked about in the uproarious Middle Ages; but this hall-mark
in not thumbed away: connoisseurs know it.

I question whether Phorcus himself, the father of the Sirens--or was
it Achelous? these old family histories are delicate ground--would
have recognised his girls again. How did they look on entering Greece?
Ask Messieurs Weicker, Schrader, De Petra, Corcia, Klausen, and their
colleagues.  They will tell you everything, for they have performed
the unknightly task, suggested by Anaxilas, of "plucking the Sirens."
In the interests of anatomy it was no doubt desirable, since it
enabled them to count the vertebra; and teeth, and perhaps to decide
whether the Sirens were really cannibals or not; artists and poets
complain of unnecessary mutilation. Dreamers are always complaining.
How they looked? They were the personification of sultry dog-days when
Sirius (whence their name) burns fiercely in the parching firmament;
they were vampires, demons of heat, of putrefaction, of voluptousness,
of lust.  But Hellas clothed them anew in virginal hearts and garments
and sent them westward--in bad company to be sure, for it seems they
travelled with the Teleboeans or Taphians, incorrigible cutthroats and
cattle-stealers. It must have been something like "the Baby and the
Burglar."

Yes; from the minute specialised researches of scholars it is quite
clear that the Sirens were nowise indigenous to Greece; they belonged
to wilder, non-Hellenic cycles, "remaining," says Butcher, "as foreign
words borrowed into a language, but never wholly nationalised." Like
other animistic conceptions common to many seas and lands, they
drifted into Hellas and were _deodorised_. Our familiar Sirens are not
demons of putrefaction; they are creatures full of charm and go to
prove the humanising influence of the Greeks; not of the Greek crowd,
as is sometimes inferred (for a more intemperate set of bigots and
ruffians never breathed), but only of its teachers, who resented
ugliness as a sin and ever held up to them the ideal of
ncmesis--measure.

Homer began the work, and nothing is more true than that saying of
Herodotus, that "Homer arranged the generations of the gods." The
_Odyssey_, which sweeps along its current the legend-wrecks of
multitudinous extra-Hellenic races, has wafted down to us a fragment
of the foreign and cannibalistic old Siren-lore---

  In verdant meads they sport, and wide around
  Lie human bones, that whiten all the ground;
  The ground polluted floats with human gore,
  And human carnage taints the dreadful shore....

but there is no further elaboration of this ungracious aspect; on the
contrary, their song, which follows, is conceived in the true spirit
of beauty and quite at variance with this primeval picture of crude
bloodthirstincss. A characteristic hellcnisa-tion, caught in the act.
This first step inwards purification accomplished, later poets and
philosophers dwelt ever more on the human attributes of the Sirens, on
their charms of voice and feature, till finally the "whitening bones"
and other harsh traits faded from sight.

After Hellas came the Alexandrian period with its philological and
historical vagaries, and the prodigious syncretism of gods in the
second and third centuries; then medievalism, which dwarfed Hellenic
shapes into caco-demons and with their glories crowned its saints.

The Siren Parthenope escaped by taking refuge during mediasval storms
in the narrow confines of an amulet, such Siren-charms as are still
seen in the streets of Naples and credited with peculiar efficacity
against the evil eye. In this, I seem to see the homoeopathic
principle at work, for the Sirens themselves were witches at the
time--sea-witches, and to this day the bathing population may be
observed to cross themselves devoutly before plunging into the water,
in order to paralyse these malevolent genii of the deep. Others, such
as Venus, sheltered themselves behind musty saints; Santa Venere is in
high repute as Healer of certain diseases.

And another point of general interest becomes clear from these
scientific disquisitions: that the Sirens of Homer must be sought in
the West rather than where Gladstone and others have located them.  A
variety of speculations are now converging to show that the Odyssean
fable is the record of one of many westward processions of gods and
men and is, indeed, only another example of that suggestive "westing"
law first propounded, I believe, by the Russian naturalist, Von Baer.
Curiously enough, Baer himself asserted that the adventures of
Odysseus, including the Siren episode, took place in the Black Sea;
but this may have been due to a kind of patriotism on his part--if we
always knew from what motives our profoundest convictions have sprung!
An interesting phenomenon, by the way, this of exact thinkers
relapsing, in old age, into hazardous theorisings. So Baer, the
physiologist, discourses about the legendary Phseacians; Virchow, the
pathologist, about prehistoric man; Wallace, the biologist, about the
world of spirits.  And sometimes the weariness, the acquiescent mood
is premature: Lodge, the mathematician, has already begun to preach of
reons and ethics. It is the way of individual man and the way of
nations; none exemplifies it better than Hellas: from "pillars of
unwrought stone" to Aristotle and back again, via Plato, to the
_logos_, which is obscurity once more. But not all of us follow this
natural curve; some are born old and others never attain maturity, the
discords being adjusted in some posthumous or antenatal existence.

The Greek Sirens, at least, are stamped with features of eternal
youth. They linger on sea-girt rocks, lyre in hand, or rise from the
gleaming water, clash their cymbals, and again vanish.  So you may see
them pictured on Greek vases.  There is a vagueness, remoteness, and
restraint about them which permits of multifarious interpretations and
constitutes the charm of so many of these Hellenic conceptions. They
are not the product of one mind, but a complex, many-faceted growth
which reflects the touches of various layers of culture superimposed
upon one another--fair but elusive shapes. Here is one aspect. Long
ago, the Sirens engaged the Muses in a singing-contest.  They were
worsted, and the Muses decked themselves with their enemies'
feather-plumes.  Who is not tempted to detect in this legend the
victory of disciplined music over the wild improvisations of natural
song? And another: the three sister-Sirens drowned themselves out of
Jove for Odysseus. This is the impress of strong human feelings--a
hopeless passion, you perceive: no school-girl sentimentality. Picture
a "demon of putrefaction" casting itself into the sea for a mortal!
Oh, they had changed considerably in the air of Hellas. The
purification--the hallmark.  The "_chaste_ Parthenope" found a
resting-place and an honoured tomb on the spot where now stands
Naples. For a thousand years she dominated its social and religious
institutions.  She dominates them still. Is Parthenope dead?  Who,
then, is Santa Lucia? The madonnas of Naples are all sea-queens whose
crowns shine with a borrowed lustre; the Madonna della Libera, the
Stella di Mare--they are all reincarnations of antique shapes, of the
Sirens, of Leucothea, Euploia, and the Nereids, and their cult to this
day is pagan rather than Christian. You will not find such saints in
Tuscany.

A large Siren literature has sprung up within recent times. But I
would still like to see a book which should develop the idea as a
whole, tracing their genealogy from birth through all the changes of
character they have undergone since ancient days--a book which might
be entitled _Les Sirenes a travers les siecles_ (why does it sound
better in French?), and which would afford an interesting measure of
the corresponding state of the human intelligence. For we create our
gods in our own likeness.



There is an imp of the imagination called the familiar spirit or
guardian angel, who often runs parallel to these eerie water-ladies.
Like the Sirens that occur everywhere--in Chinese and Saxon tradition,
in Brazil and in the grey-green reaches of Polar seas, [Henry Hudson's
crew saw one when seeking a passage to the North Pole near Nova
Zemblya. She was like a woman above, "her skin very white and long
hair hanging behind, of colour black." Her tail was speckled and
shaped like that of a porpoise.] the attendant demon is of animistic
growth, springing up, independently, in Burma, among the old Irish,
the Eskimos, the Chilians.

Our particular Sirens are probably of Phoenician origin, while our
particular guardian angels come from the Chaldaeans. The crystal
spaces of their aether were alive with fluttering divas who grew in
holiness as they receded from earth; Hellenic and Roman culture took
them over from direct contact with the East, but Christian Europe
received them indirectly as a legacy from the Jews who had imbibed
this poetic demonology during their Babylonian sorrows and had
enriched their sacred books with these terrible and lovely creatures
of air, which the Gnostics and Sabaeans elaborated into a glittering
hierarchy. So the seven planetary spirits of Persian mythology melted
into the seven arch-angels of Cabbalistic dreamings; but our ideas of
ordinary ones, of winged forms intermediate between God and man, are
purely Chaldaean.  Christians were actually forbidden by the Council
of Laodicea to call upon the angels, and it was not till the second
Council of Nicca that this "idolatrous practice" was sanctioned;
Byzance indeed, rather than Rome, is the mother of angel worship.
Even as the Sirens soon took on fixed aesthetic attributes, so the
guardian angel was early installed in his moral functions. Every man
had his own; angels and gods likewise; the graves of the dead
likewise, and high divinities were sometimes pleased to play the part
with deserving mortals like Tobias or Telemachus. Pythagoras, strongly
tainted with Orientalism, made his _daimon_ perceptible to the senses,
whereas the familiar of Socrates was invisible, the "divine voice" of
reason. This point of time is approximately the high-water mark of
both conceptions--hence onward there is the exuberance of decline. And
as in Homer we can designate the precise poetic touch which raised the
Sirens from their lowly place, so in Plato we may note the very
blunder whereby the familiar became gross once more. For the master
can hardly have meant by "a divine something" that which his disciples
thought--interpreting literally an allegorical remark of his, they
built up that anthropomorphic theory which stultified Socrates and
re-materialised the _demon_.

It is characteristic of mankind that only then did he, like the
Sirens, become "popular." Xenophon, Menander, Apuleius, and the rest
of them waxed eloquent in explanations; Diogenes and Apollonius also
began to consult private devils, and of course Plotinus, the ape of
Socrates, had one too. And soon the curious spirit of Alexandrian
pedantry was at work upon them, dwelling, with erudite dilettantism,
upon the origins and meanings of the Sirens, while Philo mised his
astounding _salade russe_ of Greek and Jewish demons.

The Romans, busy and honest, had no use for things of beauty, save as
plunder of war to decorate their temples and villas. They rejected the
Sirens, but the stern Pelasgic cast of their religion led them to
identify the _demon_ with what philosophers called the idiosyncracy,
the genius. Enlarging upon this sober notion, they gave congenial
spirits to corporate bodies and towns, the grandest being that of Rome
itself; the patron saints of modern Italian cities and villages are so
firmly rooted only because they represent the lineal descendants of
these old tutelar deities. And sometimes a good and a bad genius lived
conjointly in the body of one man, striving for the mastery: a problem
which already confronted these Chaldaeans whose religious
cursing-tablets (models of what such literature ought to be) are
largely taken up with conjurations for the expulsion of malefic demons
in favour of beneficial ones. The dilemma was inevitable--one of the
two antagonistic forces must preponderate--and so these imaginary
intra-corporeal mannikins are a microcosmic illustration of the
pitfalls of dualistic creeds.

Medievalism came, and the familiar or paredral spirits went through
the same degrading metamorphosis as the Sirens. They grew common;
philosophers like Simon Magus, saints like Teresa, poets like
Tasso--everybody had one or more of them. That of Cornelius Agrippa
lived in the shape of a black dog (Faust): on his death-bed at Lyons
the sage thus cursed it--_Hence, beast of damnation, that hast wholly
damned me_! (whereupon it vanished), and his great disciple Wier, who
also believed in them, is sharply reprimanded for doubting this
particular tale. The idea commingled with a host of mandrake legends;
idols, of which numbers were sold in England under Henry VIII, were
carved out of this plant and gravely consulted.

I think the Crusades and the Western domination of the Arabs, in whose
lore the attendant genius plays a conspicuous part, may have helped to
spread the superstition throughout Europe, which was then in a fit
condition to believe anything. The familiar lived no longer inside
man, prompting him to moral actions; he was imprisoned in capsules or
rings (Parthenope in her amulet) and could be constrained to appear or
dismissed from service (Ariel). Up to this day, _humunculi_ in glass
phials are bought in German fairs and kept "for luck"--I have seen
them hawked about the streets of London--and the following will show
that this trade, like all others, had its risks:--"In the year 1650 a
merchant of Augsburg kept some of these quaint spirits sealed up, like
flies or ants, in bottles, intending to bring them to the fair of
Leipzig; but when, by means of a letter, it was discovered that he was
about to offer them for sale, he denied the whole matter--_perhaps
they themselves had whispered to him_ that he might have to answer
awkward questions on their account." Awkward questions!

Despoiled of their pristine ennobling qualities, these beings were
still sociable and not without hopes of heaven; the familiar had
become realistic, swayed by passions like mankind, sometimes lovable
and often tinged with a vein of sadness, while Sirens like Undine and
Melusine were strangely human in their tears and laughter. We were not
yet wholly afraid of these our creatures. But soon enough, by that
process of deterioration of which the word "demon" is itself an
example, they were absorbed into the essence of the Evil One and
became his slaves--past redemption. Witches only, and not
philosophers, kept familiars in the shape of cats, and the belief was
merged into that of incubi, Satanic Pact; the Church warning its
adherents against them: _Ipse simulat se captum, ut te capiat; a te
inclusum, ut contra te finaliter concludat_. Thus the rebellious
angels confined in copper vessels by the great Lord Solomon have
degenerated into a bottled imp, an infant's toy; and from the voice of
reason of the Greek sage, from the guardian angel that watches over
the slumbers of innocent childhood, from the genuis of divine Augustus
and eternal Rome, we descend to the "harmless, necessary cat."

I rather question whether the familiar spirit would have maintained
its strong fascination if it had not lent itself to practical
purposes, and one may speculate how much of the worldly prestige of
men like Mahomet, Numa, or Carbajal was due to their fiction of a
ghostly counsellor, which justified actions unintelligible to the
vulgar. The familiar has lately appeared in a new guise: the control
of the medium.

Will he quite die out? No more than the Sirens. The pious Silvio
Pellico addressed a prayer to his spiritual custodian; the Catholic
Church, however, has never favoured this individualistic tendency,
convinced that the role of guardian angel is more properly performed
by confessors or one of the thousand saints appointed for that
purpose. Protestantism, meanwhile, has reverted to the "still, small
voice," though in neurotic men, like George Fox, a vision is required
to supplement the conscience. All those who fail to attribute their
well-being to natural causes will crave for something of the
guardian-angel type, even as simple mariners, in moments of danger,
may wonder whether there is indeed no truth in those tales of spiteful
she-devils lurking in the depths.  And if this were a philosophical
age, I would endeavour to show that the whole invisible-companion-idea
is merely an exemplification of Lotze's views, as to that striving of
the human personality to extend and consolidate its sphere of
domination which has induced us to carry walking-22 sticks and to wear
tall hats; while the Sirens are--well, no matter. Fortunately,
metaphysics are out of fashion just now.



It seems to me that the Sirens, like other old Hellenic ideals, are
coming to honour again.

During their westward progress they tarried long about the headland of
Athenaeum, which is the southern horn of the Bay of Naples now called
Punta Campanella, and about its islands. A snowy temple, one of the
wonders of the western world, rose in their honour near this
wave-beaten promontory--for promontories were sacred in oldest days
from their dangers to navigation; colonnades and statutes are swept
away, but its memory lies embedded in the name of the village of Massa
Lubrense (_delubrum_). A wondrous mode of survival, when one comes to
think of it: a temple enshrined in the letters of a word whose very
meaning is forgotten, handed down from father to son through
tumultuous ages of Romans and Goths and Saracens, Normans, French, and
Spaniards, and persisting, ever cryptic to the vulgar, after the more
perishable records of stone and marble are clean vanished from earth.

A good idea of the country can be obtained from the well-known Deserto
convent above Sorrento or, nearer the point of the promontory, from
the summit of Mount San Costanzo which, if I mistake not, ought to be
an island like Capri near at hand, but will probably cling to the
mainland for another few thousand years. The eye looks down upon the
two gulfs of Naples and Salerno, divided by a hilly ridge; the
precipitous mass of Sant' Angelo, stretching right across the
peninsula in an easterly direction, shuts off the view from the world
beyond. This is Siren Land. To the south lie the islets of the Sirens,
nowadays known as the Galli; westwards, Capri, appropriately
associated with them from its craggy and yet alluring aspect;
Sorrento, whose name has been derived from them--I wonder some
adventurous scholar has not identified it with the Homeric
_Surie_--lies on the northern slope. A favoured land, flowing with
milk and honey; particularly the former: Saint Non mentions as proof
of its fertility the fact that you can engage wet-nurses there from
the ages of fourteen to fifty-five.

I am not going to describe its natural features; the thing has been
done by five hundred travellers already. Imagine to yourself a tongue
of limestone about three miles across and six long, jutting into the
sea; a few islands hanging upon its skirts; villages and farms whose
inhabitants reflect the various cultures that have been imposed upon
them during the last two thousand years of political changes. A
microscopic territory; but overgrown with hoary traditions of which
that of the seamaidens is only one. We need merely think of those
quaintly carved vessels which in olden days sailed in between Capri
and Point Campanella, bearing westwards certain gods and letters and
aspirations--much of what is best, in fact, in our own modern
civilisation. And more recent memories, grim and glorious, cluster
thickly about its rocks and inlets....

It was no doubt during one of those spells of deathlike summer
stagnation, known hereabouts as _scirocco chiaro_ or _tempo di
bafogna_, that Odysseus encountered the Sirens---

  While yet I speak the winged galley flies
  And lo! The Siren shores like mists arise.
  Sunk were at once the winds; the air above,
  And waves below, at once forgot to move.
  Some daemon calmed the air, and smoothed the deep,
  Hushed the loud winds, and charmed the waves
    to sleep---

for scirocco is the withering blast whose hot and clammy touch hastens
death and putrefaction.

This passage may have suggested to Cerquand the idea that the Sirens
"sont le calme sous le vent des hautes falaises et des iles" an
interpretation which he subsequently discarded. Loosely speaking, this
would imply that _some_ thing had been created out of nothing; even
as, on the same principle, Pan has been called the personification of
the midday hush that can be felt. The Swiss painter Boecklin, whose
Gothic exuberance often ran on lines antithetical to what we call
Hellenic serenity, has yet divined the psychology of the matter in
"Das Schweigen im Walde"--the shudder that attunes the mind to receive
chimerical impressions, the silence that creates; though I cannot but
think that the effect of this particular picture would have been
improved by the omission of Madame Boecklin. So may those pioneers of
navigation have felt when, becalmed in the noonday heat amid
pale-shimmering cliffs, they grew conscious of the unseen presence.
Sirens dwell here! For the genii of earth and air were ready enough to
commune with untutored men of early ages, to whom everything unknown
was marvellous. Such fruitful shadows cast by inanimate nature upon
the human phantasy are not rare; the secondary stage is reached when
the artist endeavours to fix in stone these wavering shapes, or the
bard in verse; the third is that of the philosopher or grammarian who
explains them as the splashing of waves and what not.

What not, indeed? The Sirens, says one, are the charms of the Gulf of
Naples. No, says another; they were chaste priestesses. They were
neither chaste nor priestesses, but exactly the reverse.  They were
sunbeams. They were perilous cliffs.  They were a race of peaceful
shepherds. They were symbols of persuasion. They were cannibals.  They
were planetary spirits. They were prophets.  They were a species of
Oriental owl. They were the harmonious faculties of the soul. They
were penguins.

Penguins! That is the final pronouncement of commentatorial erudition.

Yet I must add my own mite of conjecture regarding the so-called "eyed
Sirens." These, I hold, may well represent a pristine version of the
Beasts in the Apocalypse. And Eustathius has already explained how
they came by their feather-dresses.  They used to be young girls like
any other nymphs or naiads, but Venus was so annoyed at their
persistent chastity that she changed them into birds. Just like
Venus--the Venus of the grammarians.

So may they have felt, those ancient mariners, spell-bound in drowsy
scirocco-chains; but I question whether this was the true genesis of
the Sirens. The bird-termination.... It recurs in the harpies, of
Egyptian origin. Those Egyptians, too, had that notable conceit of the
dead body being visited by its soul in the shape of a human-headed
hawk ("Die Seelenvogel"), and it was also--says Doughty--"an ancient
opinion of the idolatrous Arabs, that the departing spirit flitted
from man's brain-pan as a wandering fowl, complaining thenceforward in
deadly thirst her unavenged wrong." Leucothea, a Phoenician goddess,
could likewise assume the bird-form, [Footnote: Professor Correra
gives various reasons for supposing that the cult of Leucothea was
more widely diffused in these regions than is generally believed. So,
for example, he refers to this divinity the statue of a sea-lady
seated upon a marine monster which was found in the ancient Villa
Pausilipon and is now in the Naples Museum. I observe that in the
Blacas collection there was a gem which exactly reproduces this
statue--King has figured it under the title of _Venus Euploia_ whose
temple is supposed, though not by Beloch, to have stood near the site
of this Villa at the western point of the Bay of Naples, facing the
Athenaeum promontory on the east. This identical gem is also
photographed as "Nereid or Thetis" in the beautiful work of
Furtwaenglcr, who thinks that the several gems depicting this subject
are antique copies of a stone dating about 400 B.C. Here are three
different versions of one figure: Leucothea, Venus, and Nereid; whence
we may conclude that the sages have not yet quite disentangled the
genealogies of these wave-born divinities. It used to be thought that
some of them, like the Sirens, Leucothea and Aphrodite, had come to
these shores with their old Phoenician worshippers.  These traders
have doubtless left their mark in certain South Italian local names,
such as Megaris (their depot at Naples), Marata, and Sama--Megaris,
Marathon, and Samos in Greece are also of Phoenician origin--but their
gods, as we now know them, only entered the country later on, under
Hellenic auspices.] and--who knows?--some crazy enthusiast may yet
succeed in establishing a cousinship between the Sirens and those
enigmatical swan-maidens who winged their way from snowy Himalaya to
grace the bridal couch of northern hero-kings.

For the rest, such days of heavy-lidded atmospheric brooding are rare
in Siren land.

They are clear-eyed and caressing as a rule, these summer breezes;
caressing and cleansing; they set all the shining leaves a-tremble and
scatter town-memories and the fumes of musty learning. How the bizarre
throng of water-witches and familiars grows uneasy in that brave
light, and wan--how they fade away, like the ghosts they are!




II. UPLANDS OF SORRENTO


With the exception of Capri, which is the only spot within a hundred
miles of Naples where a foreigner is reasonably well treated, no
accommodation in the septentrional sense of the word can be found in
Siren land save at Sorrento and Sant' Agata, the idea being that
"foreigners must first come" before anything can be done to welcome
the few that flee into these solitudes from the din and confusion of
that fair land whose frontier-station bears the ominous name of
Chiasso (noise). Massa is rich and populous, but contains not a single
hotel or even restaurant; it is a community of peasant-proprietors who
live, some of them, in fine country houses built in pre-Bourbon days
by Spanish and Neapolitan grandees--indeed, it is one of the
surprising things in this district to see mouldering structures with
ample courtyards, arched galleries, and noble escutcheons over their
gates, now inhabited by mean-looking folk whose manners, at least, are
still in harmony with their dwellings.  Massa is full of them, but
even the humblest village can boast of one or two. The terrors of a
century of Bourbonism reduced this country to direst distress. Capri,
after the discovery of the Blue Grotto, began to thrive in spite of
its sovereigns, but the mainland portions are only just now recovering
from the blight. Neapolitans have grown rich again and seek the fine
air of the hills as of yore, while the inhabitants themselves bring
much money from New York; and from Argentina, where a good half of
them are periodically em-ployed in sellling potatoes to the Spaniards,
who apparently eat nothing else. "Good people" they call therm,
because they are easily gulled in the matter of weights and measures.

One consequence of this revival is that the price of land is rising
once more and new houses are being built. This would be satisfactory,
were it not that the style of architecture has changed for the worse.
That harmonious medley of small vaulted chambers with their
vine-shaded loggia in front, so becoming to this climate and charming
to look upon, has been displaced by hideous _palazzi_ constructed with
iron beams, asphalt, and roofing tiles--things formerly unheard of. No
person with a sense of the fitness of things will ever fall in love
with these new dwellings, although they are built, as the architects
will tell you, according to the latest _regola d'arte_. When a
Southerner discourses upon _regola d'arte_, he is generally up to some
mischief.

Even the colossal hand-made house-keys of the olden days, now replaced
by weedy cast-iron abominations, were not without a certain austere
beauty: there was a smack of Saint Peter about them. And they had
their uses, too. Three years ago a wealthy landowner, returning home
at night, was attacked by two ruffians with knives.  Having no
ordinary weapon of defence, not even a walking-stick, he began to
wield his house-key with such dexterity that one of his assailants was
brained on the spot, while the other crawled into the fields, where he
was found dead next morning--at least, he ought to have been.

The ridge or backbone which divides the gulfs of Salerno and Naples is
called "Le Tore"--an obscure and venerable word which is common all
over this region and takes us back to Mount Taurus in Cilicia and to
the Celtic and Sinaitic Tor.  Perhaps the poet Statius was referring
to these Tore when he spoke of the "green Taurubula;" of Sorrento or
Capri, but unfortunately nobody can tell us exactly what he meant, as
in the whole of ancient literature the word occurs only in this one
passage. A modern scholar derives the "Tore" from the Greek _ta ore_,
the mountains; which, if not correct, is at least simple. There is a
village called Torco on the southern slope of the ridge just below
Sant' Agata, whose name has been drawn by some from the Latin
_torqueo_, because the road "turns" there, and by others from the
Greek _theorica_ because, they say, a religious procession of youths
and maidens used to wend thither in olden days. Though the church of
Torco is one of the oldest in the district, there are no classic
remains whatever in the neighbourhood, and I rather disbelieve this
tempting theorica-derivation, although it is adopted in his _Magic and
Astrology_ by Maury who copied it, I suspect, from the old Sorrentine
writer, Onofrio Gargiulli. It seems more natural to connect the word
Torco with this backbone or Tor.

It is not a crest but a rounded plateau, and as the divide approaches
far nearer to the southern shore, the rocks on this incline needs must
rush precipitously into the sea, with perilous paths into grottos, and
thrifty olives on the middle heights grasping the limestone ledges or
climbing warily down the gullies; the northern slope, on which Massa
and Sorrento lie, is a gentle declivity planted with vines and oranges
and walnuts, and refreshed by streams that run through the heat of the
dog-days. The Tore reach their highest elevation immediately behind
Sorrento. Here, in the early morning, when sea-mists on either side
shroud the two gulfs from view, the wanderer has all the illusion of
being on some lonely Alpine meadow--not a sign of human habitation or
handiwork; a chill nip in the air; browsing cattle with deep-toned
bells round their necks, and real, close-cropped turf under foot.
This, I imagine, is the track which the wolves follow when they leave
their fastnesses on the Sant' Angelo in winter to scour the richer
country.

A path, the _via delle Tore_, runs along the whole summit, passing
through Sant' Agata and ending at Termini, which is the last village
on the peninsula. An ideal summer walk, for those who do not feel a
little dry heat. But if you sit down, it is well to seek out the
shadow of some wall or an umbrageous carob, for the reverberation of
the light may induce a sun-stroke.

The olives make scanty shade: they are too ferociously pruned
hereabouts. The whole of the southern incline is planted with them
wherever a little soil can be scraped together, and their oil is
excellent--better, says Pliny, than that of Venafrum--probably because
the inhabitants know the secret of preparing it. As soon as it is
plucked, the fruit must be pressed in those picturesque rustic mills
where, by the dim light of a lantern--the work is nearly always done
at night--half-naked, Praxitelean shapes of men and boys may be
discerned turning the heavy stone wheel which crushes the berry to a
clammy pulp. Alas, these trees are now remorselessly uprooted wherever
the soil will feed the more profitable grape; Capri has lost half its
olives, Ischia all: a consummation to be deplored since the vine,
however gladsome in its summer greenery, is bare for six months in the
year when its straggling limbs have a peculiarly unkempt and
disreputable appearance. Were the landscape alone to be considered, I
could wish that some new scourge like phylloxera might be introduced,
for there is enough wine in the country already. At this moment it is
being sold for three francs a barrel (forty-four litres) on Ischia,
whereas the oil-crop has failed altogether; there has been no rain,
the grub has invaded the fruit, and the preceding winter was too mild
(the olive likes a good shiver once a year). These trees are small in
size, mere pigmies beside the writhing monsters of Spain and Greece
and Apulia; their upper limbs are stretched in a nervous tension which
is the despair of artists, but in those tumid roots there sits--to all
appearances--a deep repose. Yet who can tell what passionate alchemy
is astir in that subterranean laboratory, sustaining life and
fashioning fruit through those scorching summer months, among stones
that are often too hot to handle?

At this season the olive's complexion wanes to a yellowish green; with
the autumn rains it becomes blue-grey; the plant also varies in tint
according to locality. This may help to explain the contradictory
colour-epithets which the ancients bestowed upon it. Even now it is
still revered as emblem of peace and plenty, a sprig of olive being
attached to boats and houses after the Easter blessing. There is this
peculiarity in its leaves, that they can make no fluttering movements
like those of most plants; they are affixed to the stem like metal
plates, and if the wind blows it is the whole limb of the tree which
sways. And so a pretty effect may often be seen upon these
olive-coloured slopes: the branches bending with one accord to the
breeze expose the white under-surface of all the leaves, and the
hillside is clothed in silver.

Here, on these remote uplands, I prefer to turn my back on the green
undulations of Massa and Sorrento, on Vesuvius and Naples, Ischia and
the Phlegraean Fields: all these regions are trite and familiar. I
prefer to gaze towards the mysterious South, the mountains of
Basilicata and the fabled headland Licosa, where Leucosia,
sister-Siren of Parthenope, lies buried. At this height the sea's
horizon soars into the firmament smooth as a sheet of sapphire, and
the eye never wearies of watching those pearly lines and spirals that
crawl upon its surface, the paths of silver-footed Thetis--a restful
prospect, with dim suggestions of love and affinity for this
encircling element that reach back, for aught we know, to primeval
days of Ascidian-life.  There is a note of impotence in the sea's
wintry storms, for it can but rage against its prison bars or drown a
few sailormen, an ignoble business: true grandeur is only in its
luminous calm.

Licosa is the furthest point visible but, on rare occasions, other
lands with peaks and promontories unknown loom upon the sky-line, and
sometimes, by the same atmospheric witchcraft, the volcanic cone of
Stromboli is projected out of the waves.  Early mornings in spring and
autumn are most propitious for these delicate trickeries. So Hehn saw
the island of Ischia from Monte Cavo near Albano, though it must have
been well below the horizon. Dream-pageants, swift-fading....

This is essentially a land of line, of irreproachable contours, and
your painter had best begin by throwing away his palette and striving
to see it aright: a land of classical parsimony, limestone and blue
sea, whose chastened beauty none save a really great craftsman, with
disciplined hand and heart attuned to eternal melodies, can hope to
disentangle from among the prejudices and traditions of his own mind.
What caricatures are the works of even world-famous artists who have
painted on these shores; what faulty draughtsmanship, meretricious
effects, and lack of decent restraint! How they fail to see the
simplicity underlying those complex natural formations!  For the
loveliness of this landscape is not that of Phryne, and the painter
errs who thinks that his inmost thoughts are met half-way by a smile
of encouragement. The smile is there, but not for him. It is for the
constraining mortal who disregards it; who stands to his work in the
relation of God to man.



A gradual change is taking place in the orographical modelling of the
Bay of Naples. Capri and the other limestone portions must formerly
have presented a smoother aspect to the eye, as they were covered with
trees and soil which gave them a rounded look. The trees being felled,
the earth slipped down, exposing the jagged asperities of the rock.
With the volcanic districts it is generally the reverse, for these
craters are of soft material, and the longer they are exposed, the
smoother they become. The lower eminences of Baite and Ischia are now
merely a jumble of curving lines, and a small crater near Fuorigrotta
is in the last stage of liquescence; soon the rain and the plough will
have merged it into the earth whence it arose--the limestone tracts,
meanwhile, grow more peaked every day.

Capri is a microcosm whose perfection of _decor_ and hieratic
lineaments can only have been the inspiration of some divinely
frenzied Prometheus.  But its beauty, though vital and palpitating, is
now cramped and impaired by the encroachments of humanity. Rocks are
blasted away for driving roads; shrubs are cut down; high walls and
houses everywhere invade its primitive comeliness.  The place is too
small to endure these affronts without prejudice. It must have been
different in the days when the Sirens were its only inhabitants; if,
indeed, it was really their island.  For I cannot help thinking that
commentators of the Homeric cosmography take the "islands" too
seriously, and thereby involve themselves in need-Iess trouble.
Ancient navigators were inordinately fond of islands, and slow sailing
without a compass may well turn an indented coastline or promontory
into a group of them. This is plain from _Sindbad the Sailor_, and
from Hanno's _Periplus_. People living on continents are more likely
to locate marvels in islands--India and America were also "islands";
so was Paradise, according to Lam-bertus Floridus; to say nothing of
Atlantis--and the ingenious Pelliccia has written a book to prove that
the whole Sorrentine peninsula was likewise an island in olden days.
He argues thus: The Sirens dwelt at Capri; Circe, the enchantress,
lived on another island near at hand; Sorrento is near at hand;
therefore Sorrento must have been the island of Circe--falsifying
geography and geology in order to vindicate a prehistoric sailor's
yarn. What strange creatures we are, placing more faith in deductions
than in facts--why? God created the facts and they may take care of
themselves, but the deductions are our own, to be clung to with
parental attachment. Even so Vargas, that monster of misapplied
erudition, insists that the Siren Parthenope was not worshipped at
Naples, because--well, it would injure his pet theory about the
Semitic races.

A wonderful discovery was made on Capri three years ago: the bones of
mammoth, hippopotami, and other improbable beasts embedded together
with human weapons of the earliest palaeolithic ages. Inasmuch as a
pair of mammoths would soon nibble away the last leaf on a rock of
this size, we must presume it to have been joined to the mainland in
those days. These relics were found below the ashes of the terrific
Phlegraean convulsions which may have done the work of detachment
later on.

Capri is curious also for its Tyrrhenian fauna and flora; it is part
of the wreck of that submerged continent whose ruins still lift their
head above the water here and there, and whose configuration is being
patiently mapped out by the labours of men like Suess, Blanchard,
Parato, and Forsyth Major. The remains of the fallow-deer, a
Tyrrhenian creature, have been unearthed here; certain snails and
various Tyrrhenian plants still occur on the island, such as the
_convolvulus cneorum_ with its creamy blossoms, and the wild palm,
which used to hang in exquisite clusters, untouched from time
immemorial, on the rocky ledges, but is now ruthlessly torn down to
decorate gardens, in which ninety per cent of them perish.

How much of this drowned world still saw the light of sun and stars
when the Sirens sang, I, for one, would be glad to know. For it can
hardly have vanished with a _Hey, presto_! like Graham's Island;
doubtless it sank slowly; Odysseus may yet have drawn up his ship on
beaches that are now, for aught we can tell, slumbering beneath the
waves. We have all heard that story of Plato's, and how the priest of
Sais told Solon of the mighty island of Atlantis which lay beyond the
Pillars of Hercules and was engulfed by the sea. An old Orphic
tradition runs to the same effect. Of the former existence of this
true Atlantic continent there are abundant grave indications--may not
this legend have become amalgamated in the course of ages with that of
the Tyrrhenian catastrophe?  Humboldt seems to have thought so.

It is easy to see, from the summit of the Tore, that Capri is merely a
prolongation, a dependency, of the mainland. And in point of shape,
too, it is almost a repetition--on an enlarged scale, of course--of
the mountain of San Costanzo, which terminates the peninsula and is
itself something of an island. That the chief beauty of Capri, its
insular position and the noble line of cliffs fronting the town on the
west, should be due to what they call a "fault," proves that
scientific nomenclature is not always appropriate for ordinary
purposes.

I often gaze down upon Siren land from those inspiring heights of
Faito on Sant' Angelo which afford, from splendour and associations,
one of the finest prospects in the world. It is cool up here among the
mountain pastures, and there are still ancient beech trees and firs
that look strangely out of place--relics of the autochthonous
woodlands that have now been stripped of their timber like that once
famous Sila forest, which is being eradicated so conscientiously that
its chief town already lies in a desert of glaring rocks and to gather
a handful of firewood there entails a scramble of half a day. Conceive
what this means in a winter of Northern severity, how it makes for
misery and depopulation, and how easily it could have been avoided!

It is a relief to think that the wooded tracts above Siren land have
fallen into the hands of a man like their present owner. For they are
an historical monument worth preserving: they display the flora of the
Italian continent as it was in the days when the pious Aeneas sailed
hitherwards. We are apt to forget that the whole appearance of Italian
scenery has been changed owing to imported plants--the very cypress,
the orange and maize and a hundred others great and small, which we
regard as so characteristic, are aliens to the soil. [Footnote: So,
for instance, the spiky agave which they call _mal' occhio_ because
its point is a defence against the evil eye; the mesembry-anthemum,
known as _ungbia di iannara_ (witches' claws) from the shape of its
leaves; or the grotesque Indian fig--one of God's earliest attempts at
tree-making--which Prellcr, by mistake, depicted in his "Homeric
Landscapes." The _kaklos_ of the Greeks seems to have been a kind of
artichoke.] And the idea of preserving such tracts, absurd as it may
seem to modern Italians, is really not inherently preposterous:
certain civilised nations, such as the French, Americans, and English,
have already by private gift or public subscription enclosed
delectable woodlands to be an eternal delight and precept to their
children; and only the other day the German Emperor rescued, in the
very heart of Italy, the hoary oaks of Olevano from their impending
fate. These, unless I am much mistaken, will be monuments more
acceptable and more intelligible to posterity than the forests now
growing up in Italy: forests of trousered political nonentities in
bronze and marble, whose doctrines, often enough, became a derision
before their protagonists were yet fairly in their graves.



The stealthy teachings of the sea, the Sirens' abode, still lie open
to all, but those of earth-nature have been sadly misread of late and
thwarted; and although we have heard much concerning the hygienic and
economic advantages of properly controlled woodlands, there is room
for another benefactor to mankind--for him, namely, who would proclaim
their ethical significance, their influence as a refining and
civilising agency in the education of the human race. Who will deny
that forests, once they have abandoned their hostile attitude to man's
progress upon earth, exercise a benignant power, subtle and profound,
upon the mind of a people; that music, architecture, and other
generous arts have in forests sought, and found, high inspiration;
that some of the sublimest efforts of literary genius could not have
been conceived in regions as denuded of timber as Italy, Greece, and
Spain now are? Rentzsch ascribes the political decadence of Spain
almost wholly to the destruction of forest. Even if this be going too
far, I cannot but think that in sweeping away woodlands many deeply
rooted humane aspirations, interwoven in their leafy solitudes, are
likewise swept away, and a legion of gracious phantoms, who wandered
freely among those solemn aisles ready to converse with all, banished
for evermore. Shakespeare's England can still be found by those who
look for it, but they who would discover the Italy of her poets must
go far afield. Communion with nature, which exalts and purifies the
mind, has ceased and in its place has arisen that pest of the South:
futile inquisitiveness concerning man in his meanest manifestations.

It was not without an intuition of this truth that the ancients
contrived their exquisite fable of Eresichthon, and whoever yet
remembers the elves and fairies of his childhood may be envied of a
talisman indeed. It will hardly profit us, I think, to withhold from
our children the contemplation of woodland marvels, with their tender
symbolism of leaf and flower, birth and decay; the wonder-period of
our remote ancestors, through which we must all pass in youth, that
fleeting hour of nature-worship, may well be abbreviated, but cannot
wholly be cut out of the programme of our moral growth without
detriment to the race.

The elimination of mystery: what has it not done for modern Italy?
Whether the disfigurement of the landscape has not reflected itself
upon the race? Whether the listlessness of so many Italian
townspeople, and the evil precocity of their children, be not the
nymphs' revenge for Eresich-thon's crime? The old Greeks felt
differently and so do their modern descendants; their humblest
mechanic loves the country, and has therefore preserved a far nobler
curiosity upon the things of life. The boy of the streets, who sees
nothing of the protean witchery of flowers and living waters, is not a
veritable boy at any time, since his youth is ended ere it began. We
are not yet ripe for growing up in the streets; they stimulate the
social instincts of the adult, but stunt the adolescent who craves for
solitude and surroundings habitual to earlier periods of human
history. We know what is said of the second generation of
city-dwellers, even of high social standing; and has any good ever
come out of that foul-clustering town-proletariat, beloved of
humanitarians? Nothing--never; they are only waiting for a leader,
some "inspired idiot," to rend to pieces our poor civilisation.
Whereas out of the very dregs of the country-folk has often arisen, by
the operation of that dark law which regulates the meteoric appearance
of "sports," a Lincoln, a Winckelmann, to guide men's footsteps in the
path.

On these Siren heights--_Montes Sireniani_, they used to be
called--the human element is lacking; there is no sound save the
chirping of the cicadas among the olive branches; an azure calm, a
calm of life, streams down from on high, permeating every sense with
tremulous scintillations of vitality. It is always difficult to
analyse sensations--imponderable moods; and in such moments of
breathless summer radiance every one will have feelings commensurate
to the bent of his mind and habitual associations.  Here, in spite of
the solitude, it seems to me that no genii of earth or heaven are
waiting to hold communion with mankind. I have felt the awe-inspiring
midday hush in many wilds and wolds, and often enough the mind,
surrounded by the unfamiliar, is prone to conjure up phantoms from
inanimate nature. Here it is merely aglow with life; self-centred in
the circumambient calm and stimulated to attention by the sun's rays,
it is yet at rest. The landscape, therefore, and not only the hour and
the man, plays a part when gods are to be created. Perhaps this helps
us to understand the enigma of universal Pan. From being an Arcadian
forest-god he became, as culture advanced, diffused and impalpable.
The forest lost its noonday mystery and its Embodiment was no longer
seen of men; he was merged into the brooding meridian stillness of all
earth which no clearings, no cornfields, no sparkling cities could
impair; his weaker comrades, the fauns and dryads, unable to endure
this searching light, took refuge in yet shadier groves, or pined
away.

Nor do immortal gods look down from cloudy pavilions, for the sky here
is a vast dome, and not a plane. Wherever thunder-clouds touch
mountain summits this quaint belief will arise, and Zeus, whatever his
origin, found a congenial home in Greece, where the exhalations,
formerly more abundant, even now repose upon the hill-tops. In Siren
land they do not; they sail overhead in summer-time, a painted argosy
that seldom anchors to spill its dewy freight against the
mountain-sides, though the _Cloud-gatherer_--when the south wind
blows--is busy as at Aegina, collecting out of a sunny sea invisible
wreaths of vapour which he spins into a crown about the grey head of
Capri. The community of this two-story-world idea in Scandinavia and
Greece is hardly a proof of the boreal descent of some Hellenic gods
(we might as well trace it to old Australia, where a Walhalla was
fabled among the interlacing boughs of lofty eucalypti); nor yet their
violence and unruliness, for in early stages divinity naturally
reflects the turbulence of human environment. Wotan, had he survived
to this day, would doubtless have become an orderly fellow, even as
Zeus did. Altogether, some little nonsense has been written concerning
the anthropomorphism of the gods of Greece. As if any deity could
afford to dispense with these traits! The Jahveh of the Jews was
sufficiently human in his vindictiveness and jealousy; later on, when
he became etherealised, the humanity of his son refreshed our interest
in him. And what lends the devil his charm? His quasi-human
attributes; his bargainings, his ill-treatment at the hands of heaven.
Beings wholly divine are inevitably endowed with qualities of good and
evil identical with our own: they are mere caricatures of good or bad
men. The profoundly divine therefore is, and ever has been, profoundly
uninteresting. These Greek gods are extra-human rather than
super-human; they are interpenetrations of human motives with new and
unaccountable elements. Much might also be said in favour of the view
that their absurdities and excesses were deliberately contrived as a
foil to the moderation-ideal of the Greeks themselves. Yet, polish
away all excrescences and subtilise them to the vanishing point of
purity--their pedigrees cannot be wholly expunged; some Lucian will
always be there to rake up old scandals; to remind Jupiter Optimus
Maximus of certain Cretan meadows and Venus, the _alma mater_, of that
affair of the net.

Here, on these odorous Siren heights, far removed from duty's sacred
call--for duty has become the Moloch of modern life--it may not be
amiss to build a summer hut wherein to undergo a brief period of
_katharsis_, of purgation and readjustment.  For we do get sadly out
of perspective with our environment in the fevered North, out of touch
with elemental and permanent things; we are for ever looking
up-stream. It is well, now and then, to glance backwards adown that
flowing river and to note, before they fade from sight, the strange,
half-forgotten landscapes one has traversed.  Is it I, one wonders,
who thought and felt thus?  How one changes! And one's friends--how
they change! And even public opinion, that exemplary biped which
stands, nose in air and uttering incomprehensible grunts, with one leg
in the illusions of the past and the other in those of the future--how
it changes!

An old Hebrew, who taught the pleasures of a virtuous life after
exhausting those of a voluptuous one, said: Go to the ant; he forgot
to remember that the ant sleeps for half the year. Man alone is a
perennial drudge. Yet many of us would do well to _mediterraneanise_
ourselves for a season, to quicken those ethic roots from which has
sprung so much of what is best in our natures. To dream in Siren land,
pursuing the moods and memories as they shift in labyrinthine mazes,
like shadows on a woodland path in June; to stroll among the hills and
fill the mind with new images upon which to browse at leisure, casting
off outworn weeds of thought with the painless ease of a serpent and
un-perplexing, incidentally, some of those "questions of the day" of
which the daily papers nevertheless know nothing--this is an antidote
for many ills There is repose in Siren land; there is none of that
delirious massing-together in which certain mortals, unable to stand
alone, can lean up against one another and so gain, for a moment, a
precarious condition of equipoise.

To dream--yes; but, as De Quincey observed, _he whose talk is of oxen
will dream of oxen_, and I am not attempting to prescribe for the
uncivilised, particularly as they are in loving hands just now: is not
the whole trend of our legislation a sustained effort to pamper the
unfit at the expense of the fit, to foster the moral delusions of the
crowd--of those whose spiritual activities are in abeyance? May they
prosper! There will ever remain one badge of distinction to mark them
from those of another fibre--their imperviousness to the meaning of
certain old Siren voices---

  O stay, oh pride of Greece! Ulysses stay!
  O cease thy course, and listen to our lay!
  Blest is the man our song ordain'd to hear,
  The song instructs the soul, and charms the ear,
  Approach! Thy soul shall into rapture rise!
  Approach! And learn new wisdom from the wise!
  We know whate'er the kings of mighty name
  Achieved at Ilium in the field of fame;
  Whate'er beneath the sun's bright journey lies.
  O stay and learn new wisdom from the wise....

for I perceive in this lay no promise of any of those things which
they covet, of gold and diamonds and fair women and long life and
earthly honours and the joys of Heaven; but only of enlightenment.

And whoso hears these voices, says Homer, nevermore returns to his
home and family, which may be taken to mean that certain persons have
rated wisdom higher than domestic bliss; doubtless a poetic
exaggeration.




III. THE SIREN ISLETS


Of the five Siren rocks only three lie close together, and these are
the so-called Galli. The old name Sirenusae gradually died out; no
earlier reference to them under their present one occurs, I believe,
than that contained in the chronicle of the Abbot of Telese (1133),
who records their capture by Roger of Sicily. He speaks of them as
"Guallo"--evidently, therefore, a patronymic from the family of Guallo
or Gallo on the mainland--and, what is more singular, he calls them "a
little town placed _infra mare_." Now there is a spot called Guallo on
the peninsula, but wise men will have it that he meant these islands,
and I am not for arguing the point.

It is not absolutely clear, from this and other old documents, whether
in those days the three rocks had the same configuration as now;
presumably, yes; at the same time, they were certainly spoken of as
one and single, and the Amalfitan doge, who lived awhile in exile
here, might have found it a more tolerable residence if they had all
been joined together. But he had been blinded, and they, whose hands
are their eyes, may as well grope about on a rock as on a continent.

How fond they were of blindings and mutilations at this period--the
straightforward killing of the Romans was too harsh for these
Byzantines, who, like all squeamish people, were proportionately
cruel.

Perhaps, too, he was confined in a dungeon, although there is no
mention of any buildings on the islands when, in 1330, King Robert
reared a brave tower there, whose cistern is still resorted to by
fishermen and quail-hunters, for the protection of seafaring men
against pirates. In fact, the island, or islands, are expressly called
"uncultivated" in the deed which confers the guardianship of this keep
to his trusty and well-beloved Pasquale Celentano, who established
himself there with four soldiers, and seems to have liked it, for it
was he who had applied for the post. His family is still extant.

And so they are at this present moment; uncultivated, treeless and, in
summer, aflame with heat; struck by the sun's first beams, they
glister through the livelong day and remain fiercely glowing, like
incandescent rubies, long after the coast-line is drowned in the
shades of evening. Yet there are wandering breezes and a harmonious
wave-lapping suggestive of coolness. They lie in a rough circle, and
anyone but a geologist familiar with the inevitable "quaquaversal dip"
would take them to be the relics of a submerged crater, an illusion
which is strengthened by the outward slope and half-moon shape of the
greater islet, and by the riven pinnacles of stone gnawed by the waves
into bizarre shapes and painted, wherever the spray can reach them, to
a murky brown. And this is exactly what one old traveller called
them--a mistake for which he was sternly rebuked by Breislack. So
Dumas talks of the "granitic ramparts" of Capri, and a Swiss, writing
only three years ago, praises its "parois verticales de porphyre et
basalte" A deplorable lack of general intelligence, seeing that the
principal charm of all Italian scenery, its graceful outlines and much
of its delicate aerial tints, are exclusively due to a peculiar
natural formation.  Limestone, and no other rock, is able to produce
them.

The Galli, again, are nothing but Apennine limestone--wrecks of the
neighbouring peninsula which used to slope southward with a gentle
incline so as to include them in its body, even as on the other side
it still descends gradually seawards: they were torn off in some
terrific prehistoric convulsion.  In one spot the laminated strata are
broken to form a melodious sea-cave--each cave in Siren land sings its
own peculiar melody--the haunt of countless sly-twittering swifts who
rear their families in the shelving rock.

Were I writing a guide-book or historical account of this region, I
would endeavour to give a systematic description of these legendary
islets, supplemented with measurements and hints for travellers. But I
am doing nothing of the kind; I am only dreaming through the summer
months to the music of the cicadas, and dreams are irresponsible
things that flit about aimlessly, dwelling with absurd gravity upon
unconsidered trifles and never quoting statistics.

I sail across to the neighbouring rock of La Rotonda and
find--nothing, save a peregrine that dashes off the cliff at my
approach. "Ah, if I had brought my gun!" exclaims my companion, with
unfeigned anguish. Does he eat peregrines? To be sure he does, and
finds them "better than pigeons." Of all the hawk tribe, they are only
surpassed by the lesser kestrel, which is _squisi-tissimo_.

Long ago, the Anjou sovereigns caused the peregrines "in the territory
of Capri and Sorrento" to be caught and trained for purposes of
falconry.

The third islet, called "Castelletto" from its castellated appearance,
is known to sailors as "Punta da Vuccacia"=Boccaccia=a piece of
ordnance which, at some period, was placed there to command the
straits. A broad rock-cut path, worthy of the Romans, and probably
built to allow ships to be drawn on land, ascends part of the way: the
rest is rather a dangerous climb. A precipitous crag, inaccessible to
invaders; all the summit built over and the limestone chiselled smooth
in certain tracts where a sentinel may have paced. I suspect that this
fortress dates from 1532, for in that year a native of Sorrento
received the grant of all three islets on the condition that one of
them should be fortified. It looks as if no inspector had been sent
down from head-quarters to see that the work was properly done: a
jerry-built affair-King Robert's tower will long outlast it.

Treeless they are, the Siren rocks; but not flowerless. Now that the
riot of vegetation has been allowed to grow for the last year or two,
one can form some idea of what it would become if left undisturbed for
longer periods. Capri, I believe, holds a record for variety of plants
on a small space---

  La Flore est de telle richesse
  Que dans ce rcduit limite
  A huit cents arrive l'espece,
  A trois cents, la variete....

sings the truthful bard, but nowhere on Capri do flowering plants rush
into such reckless overgrowth as here. In the winter months the
narcissus dominates; its scent is heavy upon the air and the glossy
brown bulbs thrust each other out of the earth; in May the ground is
hidden under a radiant tangle of many-hued blossoms that must be seen
to be believed. Every flower of Campania seems to have taken refuge on
this lonely rock.  The rapid evaporation of sea-air no doubt
contributes to this luxuriance, and also the rich soil of the outer
slope.

I once attempted to draw up a list of the Galli flowers, but abandoned
the idea; they shift with every month. Let him, whose mind is at
peace, sojourn awhile on these rocks, and there elaborate a catalogue
of all of them, great and small, with a shepherd's calendar setting
forth their seasons of flowering and decay. Or better still if,
detached from sordid cares, he buys the islets outright and replants
them with ten thousand shade-giving trees, marrying the rough
exhalations of briny sun-scorched rock with the fragrance of rose and
cedar.  What joy to watch their rapid growth in the deep, warm soil!
In these days, when life is so complicated as to lose all homogeneity
and unity of purpose, when our fine edges are worn off by never-ending
trivialities and meannesses, I often think that planting trees and
reclaiming the waste places of earth are among the few occupations
that still commend themselves to gentler natures--pleasure and
instruction for oneself, health and profit to posterity....

According to Strabo, the Siren islets were "three stony and _desert_
little rocks." His words are plain enough, and he uses them twice
over.

Were they true, when he wrote?

For whoever, climbing up the usual path from the sea, arrives at the
summit of the larger island, will perceive that the rocky surface here
has been artificially levelled down for a length of some fifty yards,
and, jutting out of the soil, will be seen the substructures of two
thick parallel walls of the first century--Strabo's lifetime. Here,
then, stood a grandiose edifice, slightly curved so as to follow the
natural crescent of the island, with its larger facades fronting east
and west. The nameless Siren-worshipper who designed this lordly
pleasure-house had studied local conditions of landscape and
ventilation; the site could not have been more happily chosen. In the
hottest days of midsummer a sea-breeze rustled through those ample
halls, and his view was superb, whether, in early morning, he let his
eye wander over leagues of violet sea-calm towards Pzestum and the
shapely peak of Alburno that fades into mist as the sun gains
strength, or glanced westwards into the chaos of rocks and many-hued
waters at his feet, with Capri and lerate in the background, shutting
out the world beyond.

The marbles are gone--gone into the mortar of King Robert's tower.
Yet, searching among the debris on the hill-side, I found some
fragments of white penthelic and _giallo antico_ slabs for a pavement,
and a systematic hunt might yield brick-stamps which would help to
decide the age of the building. The ground sounds hollow in certain
places, as if there were chambers beneath.

The foundations of this structure are massive enough to have supported
a temple, but I question whether they ever did so, because we should
probably possess some record of an ancient divinity worshipped here,
and also because, at the water's edge on the inner side of the islet,
are the remains of a bathing-house or harbour, or both combined,
without which such a large establishment as that above could hardly
have been considered complete.  Its flooring, of irregular shape, is
surrounded by formidable walls of reticulated Posilipo tufa leaning
against the hill-side: in the centre stands a modern lime-kiln. Rocks
have tumbled upon it and into the sea beyond, but I can detect no
traces of its continuation below the waves. At the promontory of
Marciano near Massa, on the contrary--a highly interesting
point--there is another (contemporary) Roman villa with its little
_dependence_ at sea-level, and here the masonry descends into the
deep. These are the sites which ought to be examined by those who wish
to settle the debated question of the former water-level.

Altogether, it would be well if some trained archaeologist were to
investigate this and other remains upon the southern shore of the
peninsula, of whose existence no one seems to be aware.  [Footnote: So
there is the contorted ruin of a Roman building on the beach at
Cantone, below the large tower, not far from a spring which gushed
into the sea. The bricks, unfortunately, bear no stamp.] No great
outlay would be required to lay bare what is left of this building on
the Galli-rock, and nothing more enjoyable or interesting could be
imagined than this kind of work. Crusades are gone out of fashion for
the moment and the only warfare at present worthy of the name is the
bloodless crusade against fools ("The Warfare of the Future?")--can
any nobler participation in it be imagined than that of unearthing
those monuments of bygone ages in whose presence the veriest hind must
perforce pause and bethink himself?

The ethics of ruins--their educational value: what has it not done for
Italy of the Renaissance?  Petrarca already, and Samiuzaro ami
Boccaccio, had drawn deep draughts of enthusiasm from this source. And
all this quite apart from the possibility that these deformed heaps of
rubbish may hide some marble head, soiled with the dust of ages, from
under whose stony brow there gleams a look of rare wisdom or
sweetness; a revelation--inspiring, compelling.

Meanwhile, what of Strabo and his _desert_ Siren islets? This: either
the villa here and that on the islet of Isca, of which I will speak
later, were only built after his death or, if during his lifetime, he
had no knowledge of them. Supposing Mommsen to be correct in surmising
that his _Geography_ was written as late as the reign of Tiberius,
there is still much to be said for the hypothesis of another scholar
that it was composed in a distant region of Asia Minor, where it is
not likely that the latest information was to be procured.

Be this as it may, one thing is interesting: he says that there were
_three_ Siren islets. Now if Isca be omitted from this group, as lying
too near the land, there is still the large rock of Vetara close to
the Galli which cannot be overlooked and which raises their number to
four. Can this mean that the three (true) Galli rocks were at that
time united into one single block making, together with Isca and
Vetara, the three of Strabo? It almost looks like it. Far be it from
one who has grown up under the shadow of Lyell to advocate cataclysms:
in comparison with other catastrophes which have occurred in these
regions the disruption of the Galli rocks from each other would be the
merest trifle. We have some historical account of the havoc wrought
here during the last thousand years by gales and landslides (ice and
earthquakes have done little damage), and it stands to reason that the
preceding ten centuries must have been equally fertile in disasters;
all the time, too, majestic earth-contortions, they say, have tilted
the country up and down, disquieting the works of man.

Where is the house of the poet Tasso, the convent of Revigliano, the
town of Marcina, the harbour and arsenals of Amalfi, or the ancient
Conca, whose picturesque horn juts into the waves opposite the Siren
rocks, and where Richard Coeur-de-Lion halted on his way to Palestine?
Engulfed, all of them. A complex study, bristling with difficulties,
but full of geological and historical interest. Concerning the
"Serapis" temple alone a voluminous literature has sprung up; whether
the marshy situation of Paestum be due to some such subsidence may
still be questioned--the deforestation of the mountain slopes, which
filled the plains with alluvial soil and damned up the river beds,
might also be suggested as an explanation. So the islet of the Siren
Ligeia has lately become joined to the mainland through the deposits
of the Calabrian streams.

The Greek period over, ancient life on these eastern shores of the
Parthenopean Bay resolves itself into one word--Tiberius. His
predecessor, it is true, _discovered_ Capri, for no earlier Roman, not
even the diffuse Cicero, so much as mentions the island; it was as
unknown to the aristocracy of his day as it is to the modern _Romani
di Roma_, who would as soon think of sailing to the stillvex'd
Bermoothes as to Capri: Augustus it was who landed here time after
time, charmed with the convivial Greek natives and the mild climate;
who built those twelve Imperial palaces. But the court remained
nominally in the capital. Of Tiberius we know that he "insederat,"
concerning which cryptic word enough has been written, and that he
lived here for ten consecutive years (Plutarch, who sometimes blunders
in his dates, says seven); and what this entails may be observed when
some sovereign of to-day establishes a temporary residence among the
mountains, while country-houses of officials and snobs grow up like
mushrooms all around. The Sirens always called Augustus back to them:
Tiberius they held fast for good.

This island--Capri--was too small to contain the swarm of nobles and
administrators who helped to conduct the affairs of the world; they
overflowed and brought life to the mainland, and their names survive
to this day in Ceserano, Marcigliano, Mitigliano, and so forth. To
this inundation there is the testimony of Sorrentine inscriptions, of
works of art like the Aphrodisieus statue, and, above all, of the
actual existing masonry.

No doubt there was a revival on these shores under Marcus Aurelius and
another under Hadrian, but these were men of a different stamp; they
were not true Siren-worshippers; they knew what _Weltschmerz_ meant.
The world had aged frightfully in those few intervening years. Marcus
was a conscientious valetudinarian whom the world has agreed to take
at his own valuation (that correspondence with Pronto has a sick-room
air--the querulous note of expiring antiquity); in Hadrian were summed
up all the romanticism and disordered curiosity of a soup-bubble
renaissance.

The builder of this sumptuous villa on the Siren rock was no freedman,
nor yet a mere worlding. I can conceive such persons establishing
themselves in the fat fields of Sorrento, where there was "society"
and some business to be done in wine or oil, or among the reeking
baths at Baise; but it is contrary to what one knows of human nature
to suppose that an islet like this should appeal to them. No, he was a
civilised man, and it is to be imagined that, unlike Tiberius, who
could create his own society, bidding men come and go as he pleased,
this one returned city-wards in the winter months to stimulate
himself: with the din of the Forum and the conversation of his town
friends, and to test anew the capabilities of his digestion.  The
hermit's motto, _vixit qui latuit_, was not altogether his, since the
man that has the true feeling for seclusion among these scenes will be
the last to prolong his stay, though he may well return year after
year, as the Sirens call him back. Nearly all the Roman villas on
Capri and the opposite mainland face to the north, which proves that
they viewed this country as a summer resort. Who can live here in the
winter? Only "foreigners" come at that season. From November to April
the whole wind-bag of Aeolus is let loose; when there is no hurricane,
it rains in torrents; Capri, even with modern appliances (such as they
are) is often inaccessible, while the Galli rocks are surrounded for
weeks by a weltering waste of foam.  No sensible person, unprovided
with the comforts--as well as the disillusions--of Tiberius could
stand the uproar for three or four months on end; it is like being on
board a boat, and when men come to like that kind of life they are, as
Johnson remarked, "not fit to live on land...."



Unavoidably one learns to take an interest in the winds hereabouts,
seeing that these Siren regions are fanned by every breath of Heaven.
In summer it is a simple matter; sea-breeze by day and land-breeze by
night, stepping into each other's shoes with praiseworthy regularity;
but later on things become complicated, and the catalogue of local
winds swells to a formidable size. The northern _tramontana_ which
closes the pores (speak not of love to these folk when the
_tramontana_ blows), and the scirocco that relaxes them, are the best
known, but not the most popular; the latter may well have increased
since ancient times, perhaps on account of the deforestation of
northern Africa, else the Romans, who had absurdly sensitive skins and
nerves, would have execrated it even more than they did.

Blue-black tints and crisp waves prevail during the _tramontana_; an
"honest" wind, because, blowing off the land, it is debarred from
becoming dishonest so near the shore. The scirocco's tints are green
and yellow, and it has no pretensions to honesty--its wintry
convulsions are sometimes so violent that the salty spray is carried
far inland, and can be tasted in secluded orchards on the last
remaining figs. But perhaps this is cloud-work, for when the delirium
is at its height, the clouds often descend and join the fun, tempting
the waves to meet them half-way. When these waterspouts, careering
distractedly over the waste, break, the clouds cling to what they can
of the nether element and bear it away with them on their aerial
voyages.

The great storm of 1343, described by Neapolitan chroniclers and in
one of Petrarca's letters, blew from this quarter; it destroyed
shipping and villages, swallowing what little was left of Amalfi (for
that town had been reduced to a fragment before Mola da Tramonti wrote
his chronicle in 1149), obliterating landmarks all along this coast,
and thrusting even rivers, like the Sebeto, from their courses.
Intense darkness fell over the land during those awful days, and
turned men's minds to thoughts of prayer.

I can remember a scirocco phenomenon equally unearthly, perhaps, in
appearance. At that time, too, our hearts were somewhat perturbed;
things had happened; there had been wars and assassinations of kings,
and it was feared, by the simpler sort, that retribution was due. A
sultry afternoon was drawing to its close, and I had been observing a
small cloud that emerged above the sky-line.  It was round as a disc,
of ruddy hue, and in texture so compact and un-ethereal as to appear
solid.  Slowly it grew, and never changed its shape; an hour passed;
it gradually expanded into a monstrous peony upon the firmament and,
instead of drifting as clouds do, seemed rather to be pushed forwards
mechanically from behind the scenes. Its uncommon shape and colour,
its spasmodic growth, began to attract attention; we herded together
and found ourselves watching its movements not without uneasiness.
Suddenly, after an unusually vigorous jerk, the cheering sun was
effaced, blotted out behind the curtain, leaving the world in a dim
roseate fog. The change was disquieting, and there fell upon us the
hush of an eclipse. Then it rained in big, warm drops. I looked at my
hand--blood!

"Male pioggia, signorc," said an old man, hurrying past me. _Male_;
that was the word--an evil rain.

Next morning trees and flowers were smeared over with an incrustation
of mud, and sprightly white-stuccoed houses splotched with brown.  And
presently wise men came with microscopes and chemical paraphernalia;
they analysed a speck of the deposit of the blood-rain and found in it
plant-spores from the Sahara and animalcules of a thousand kinds--a
whole world in minature, fallen in a raindrop from the sky....



It is rather puzzling when one comes to think of it, to conceive how
the old Sirens passed their time on days of wintry storm. Modern ones
would call for cigarettes, Grand Marnier, and a pack of cards, and bid
the gale howl itself out. But those ancient feathered fowls--did they
peck at each other viciously, or content themselves with shivering in
silence among their crags? So have I seen, during a blizzard, the
bedraggled vultures perched among the bleak hills of Asia Minor. They
sat round the corpse of a camel, one of the unhappiest of its race,
that had dragged huge carpets over the mountain tracks and expired in
the performance of a task for which it seemed peculiarly unfitted. The
vultures craned their necks, but not one of them moved from its stone.
They were plainly hungry. But they preferred it dry.

No; summer is the time to pasture in Siren land. Even Mrs. Shelley,
for whom I entertain no profound respect, could not but feel the charm
of this season. "It seems," she writes from Sorrento in summer, "as if
I had not before visited Italy." The heat is too considerable for
violent exertion, but time passes quickly doing even nothing, if one
does it well. And for studious persons who desire local information,
there is literature galore--histories and chronicles of the rich city
of Massa in the olden days. They read pleasantly under some vine-clad
arbour.

Rich and populous it must have been, for older authors give glowing
accounts of its palaces and industries and great men. How, then, came
it to sink to its present level? The sages will refer you to corsair
raids or to the plague of 1656, quite forgetting that the writers who
describe such a flourishing state of things lived exactly at the time
of these events. I rather think it was another kind of plague, the
plague of a century of Bourbon-ism, which reduced these regions to a
condition of misery whence they are now, thanks to a better government
and to Argentina, slowly emerging.  For ordinary pestilences and
famines and earthquakes are mere amateurs in destruction whose effects
are healed in briefest time: there may even be witnessed, after
occasions when the plough of affliction has violently disruptured the
soil, a strange quickening of growth. But misrule strikes at the root
of things, since the humane strivings in a people, those of its
elements that actively make for good, are so sporadic that their
annihilation is wholly different from a haphazard calamity. And there
was a sinister thoroughness in the Bourbon system which insured
success. The effects of such a conscientious selection of badness must
necessarily endure; it takes longer to rear up that which is humane
than its opposite, seeing that there are a thousand wrongs for one
right. "There is no town and there is no country," says a Neapolitan
historian, "which would not inevitably be impoverished by the loss of
so many and such distinguished men." It is this same elimination of
progressive elements which has done so much harm to Spain and Russia,
and which paved the way, according to Professor Seeck, for the fall of
ancient Rome. Medical men are beginning to estimate, with something
approaching accuracy, the effect of wear and tear upon the individual
organism; experiments on the lines laid down by Mosso and De Fleury
may soon enable us to express it in mathematical terms; but its effect
upon the organic system of communities--upon their arts, commerce,
industry, and all the finer fibres of their social being--who shall
compute it? Who shall estimate the vital strain of a century of
terrorism?

Those Englishmen, therefore, who complain of certain unpleasant
characteristics of modern Neapolitans, might do well to remember that
the Bourbons had been incapacitated from further mischief when their
saviours from over the sea appeared on the scene and allowed them to
continue for another half-century that rule of brigands, monks,
_lazzari_, and other vermin which was responsible for this deplorable
state of affairs.  There had been tyrannies before in Naples, odious
tyrannies; but despots, secular and religious, had been powerless to
smother the grand traditions of Hellenic culture, the envy and delight
of ancient and mediaeval Europe. A glance into early literature will
show what Naples has done in the domain of philosophy--it was ever the
first city of Italy for speculative thought; a glance into the works
of pre-Bourbon travellers will afford a description of the inhabitants
of Naples, and of the provinces, as _they_ saw them. The Neapolitan
Academy for the Study of Nature was the first to be founded in the
world: it preceded the English Royal Society by nearly a century. One
of the brightest pages in human history is the successful struggle of
the Neapolitans against the inquisition.  This, and much else, might
be said in praise of pre-Bourbon Naples. But where philosophical books
may not even be imported into a country, much less printed; where the
reading of Voltaire is punished with three years' galley-slavery, and
that of the Florence newspapers with six months' imprisonment--how
incredible it seems, nowadays!--the flower of civilisation withers and
fades away.  Despotism, priestcraft, and proletariat have ever been
good friends; a kind of freemasonry, unintelligible to simple folks,
has conjoined them from time immemorial against the honest and
educated classes. Unable to stand alone, they lean against one another
for mutual support, and thus in the mephitic calm of ignorance, the
structure remains upright, a marvel of equipoise: like a child's house
built of cards, a breath of enlightenment--and it collapses.

We find natives of Siren land involved in all the movements of the
capital. Capri, for instance, distinguished itself in the
inquisition-frays--a certain Costanzo of that town was one of the
three chiefs of the _fuorasciti_ who, while numbers of the Neapolitans
fled into the country to escape the bloodshed, purposely came to
Naples with their adherents in order to support the city against Don
Pietro di Toledo and his proposed inquisition.  The contest was no
laughing matter. It lasted for months; the streets ran with blood;
sparks, they say, flew from the eyes of the terrible viceroy, and the
notary Grassi, who had been deputed to read the city's protest to him,
was so overcome by the ordeal that he took to his bed afterwards and
died in three days. As a pendant to this liberalism, the pious
Monsignor Apuzzo, Bishop of Sorrento, perpetrated the official Bourbon
"philosophical catechism"--an exquisite monument of bigotry.  And
foreign residents, too, have sometimes come forward with honour. There
died at Capri, in 1892, the Englishman Wreford who for nearly half a
century, as _Times_ correspondent, waged unceasing warfare against
Bourbonism and whose report on the ill-treatment of political martyrs
furnished the material for Gladstone's letter to Lord Aberdeen of
1851. It is fitting that a man like this, who "did a knight's service
for Italy and the world," should not be forgotten, and the
municipality of Capri will do well to erect a tablet to his memory. He
came to the island, originally, for an afternoon, and stayed there
over thirty years.

The Sirens, says Hyginus, were fated to live so long as they could
detain passers-by. Can they be still alive?

And he who really finds time heavy on his hands might do worse than
compile a literary _catalogue raisonne_ of this region. [Footnote: An
unmistakably wholesome sign of the times in Southern Italy is the
revival of local historical studies. Societies are formed, libraries
collected, and every little spot has its champion biographer--often
busy professional men, who sacrifice their leisure to patriotic
researches. Siren land is no exception; much has been written of late
concerning Sorrento and Capri; Filangieri's new account of Massa is
scholarly and exhaustive and the bibliography of Doria promises well.
Works which used to be picked up for a few sous arc now worth as many
francs, and the chief second-hand bookseller in Naples tells me that
for the last three years not one of the rarer writings on Capri has
passed through his handsj old monographs like that of Persico on
Massa, Sccondo on Capri, or Molcgnano on Sorrento have clean vanished
from the market: when found, they can be weighed against gold. Such
facts are at convincing as a good Treasury budget.] By Janus! A little
while ago I found myself recommending the planting of trees and the
unearthing of Roman remains, but now it seems to me that the compiling
of bibliographies is a more respectable occupation, for in
tree-planting there are degrading collisions to be anticipated with
thievish gardeners and workmen, as well as the painful reflection that
posterity will turn into cash the fragrant groves, chuckling at the
old fellow's sentimentalism ("he blundered into a good thing, now and
then"); while the excavation of antiques runs perilously near the
bric-a-brac business, a demoralising form of commercialism.  How one
changes! But _malbeur_, says Rcnan, _a qui ne se contredit pas--une
fois par jour_! Around the bibliographer's table there lies a
passionless calm, unruffled by politics or sex-problems; we all become
tender-hearted towards the innocuous enthusiast who writes for the
delectation of one odd lunatic-scholar in every hundred years. The
thing has been done, of course, by various writers--but in a
perfunctory fashion; the ideal catalogue of a region like this must be
compiled _con amore_....

Here meanwhile, is a curious item touching a shipwreck on the Galli
rocks which will be referred to therein. I translate it from a
manuscript entitled "Dies brumales" in the convent of Sant' Anna del
Pertuso. So far as I can discern, the "Dies brumales" seems to be the
product of some monkish pedant-poet who aimed at inculcating, under
the cloak of adventures, moral maxims to youths preparing for a
religious life; somewhat after the fashion of the Jesuit Daniele
Bartoli who published, in the seventeenth century, an edifying but
wholly unreadable "Geography Transported into Morals."

"When Anselmus had done, the Prior told us that this about the
Arimaspians was only an old fable contrived to show the folly of
gold-seeking.  For gold and love to aught save God, said he, are the
mainsprings of wrong action, and few evils that afflict mankind cannot
be traced to one or the other. And he said that long before regular
trafficke with the Orient was established by the Vessel of Cava,
certain mariners of Amalfi went forth in ships and were often killed
by barbarians or shipwrecked for their greed.

"And now a rare tale, quoth he, comes to my mind anent a vessel which
foundered in a siroc not far from the Siren rocks, where all hands
were drowned save only the captain's son, who was reserved for a worse
fate. Him the waves bore to a pebbly beach, as far as might tire a
little child to run, whereon sat a maiden singing, who looked up with
eyes of friendship. Being a grave lad, he walked aside and, stumbling
among the stones, happened upon a heap of decaying human bones, a
loathly thing. Yet she followed with endearing words, till he lost
reason for her sake. Fair to see was this maiden, and to bespeak--fair
beyond all imagining to those she had fooled, and he deemed himself
favoured above the angels. A brief infatuation, for soon a change came
over her, and while he cherished her more than before, the light of
love faded out of her eyes, and there stole into them the look of an
hundred generations of tigers.  Then ever and anon he would bethink
himself of what he had seen among the rocks, and would fear for his
life. For he had given his heart, but she had sharpened her teeth.

"And Anselmus said:

"'I conjecture that this was some Siren's mischief.'

"But the Prior held that Sirens are fables of the pagans, and that
belike this was an earthly maiden, and what befell between the two is
called earthly love."




IV.  TIBERIUS


Let us examine this Siren-loving monster, Tiberius, a little nearer.

Broad-shouldered, stooping, and tall above the common measure, slow in
his movements and speech, with great glittering eyes and hair falling
over the nape of his neck, wrapped in a ceremonious and almost awkward
reserve--such is the external impression we gain of him. And if,
forgetting awhile his character as ruler of the world, we survey him
in private life, we soon discover what manner of man he was--a
specimen of what the French call la _vieille roche_. Courteous and
formal, a strenuous cultivator of the "grand manner," a conservative
in speech, detesting all slipshod expressions, slang, and Gallicisms
(Hellenisms); economical, conscientious, methodical; a scorncr of
luxury and dissipation and an outspoken enemy of the irregularities of
fashionable married life: this old man--he was old, before he became
emperor--possessed many of the virtues which, if we are to believe our
grandfathers, were far commoner in their days than in ours. Of course
his frugality was interpreted as avarice, while a certain invincible
shyness, peculiar to many great men, was put down to pride--that
celebrated pride of the Claudian house, whose true significance, like
that of the democratic Gracchi, it has taken the world twenty
centuries to understand.  The younger generation of his day hardly
appreciated traits like that recorded of him when, one day, only half
a boar being served up at table--the other half having been eaten
previously--he observed to the embarrassed company that "the half boar
has just the same taste as the whole." A particularly fine fish was
brought to him; he sent it out to be sold, remarking that some rich
fellow like Apicius or Octavius would be sure to buy it. He was right;
after some bidding, it fell to Octavius for 5000 sesterces. The
profligate youngster Caligula, we are told, was kept very strictly
"under the simple and wholesome mode of life" of Tiberius on Capri;
whenever he went out for a spree, he disguised himself in a wig and
muffler so as to escape unobserved....

Of the military genuis of Tiberius, his political sagacity, his
assiduity in work: of his wonderful ability for finance and
administration, there has never been a question. If the Roman world
was able to withstand the shocks of the madmen who succeeded him on
the throne, it was due to the stability and prosperity in which he
left it. And wherein lies the secret of his intellectual superiority
and successes? In this, I think: that he had a conspicuous preference
for the able and honest common man. He knew the rottenness of the
aristocrats of his day and treated them accordingly.  "He was always
unwilling to admit them to authority, and it is unquestionably true
that, taking them as a class, they were during his long and prosperous
reign treated with unusual disrespect.... Although he evinced the
greatest anxiety to surround the throne with men of ability, he cared
little for those conventional distinctions by which the minds of
ordinary sovereigns are greatly moved. He made no account of dignity
of rank, he did not even care for purity of blood. He valued men
neither for the splendour of their pedigree, nor for the grandeur of
their titles....  His large and powerful intellect, cultivated to its
highest point by reflection and study, taught him the true measure of
affairs and enabled him to see that to make a government flourish its
councillors must be men of ability and virtue; but that if these two
conditions are fulfilled, the nobles may be left to repose in the
enjoyment of their leisure, unoppressed by those cares for the state
for which, with a few brilliant exceptions, they are naturally
disqualified by the number of their prejudices and by the frivolity of
their pursuits."

Is not this an exceedingly truthful account of the aims and methods of
Tiberius? Yet it is extracted out of no biography of that emperor;
convert the "he" into "she," and the words will be found in Buckle's
description of Queen Elizabeth.

Both sovereigns correctly judged that the nobles of their time had
played their part--idle, intriguing, and discontented, they were now
merely a menace to the peace of the empire. Among the self-made men
whom the Roman emperor drew to his court was the senator Lucilius
Longus, who clung to Tiberius "in good and evil days" and whose death,
we are told, afflicted him as much as that of his only son. Another
was the knight Curtius Rufus. To those who reminded Tiberius of this
man's lack of pedigree, he was wont to reply: "Rufus, it seems to me,
is his own ancestor." The minister Sejanus was also one of these _new
men_, as the Romans disparagingly called some of the ablest of their
time. The persons who witnessed the testament of Tiberius were "quite
ordinary people." He married his grand-daughter to a man whose
grandfather, Tacitus regrets to say, "everybody had known as a common
knight in Tibur." Like Elizabeth, too, he had little respect for the
senate, whose xiadiguified flunkeyisin made him sick. "O generation
fit for slavery!" he exclaimed to them. And simultaneously he
detested--an ancestral trait and one that he possesses in common with
refined persons of all ages--the grossness of the proletariat. He
never encouraged their cravings for gladiatorial shows.  He gave few
games. That sufficed to damn him in their eyes and to make them forget
all he had done for the maintenance of public order, and all his
munificence towards them in moments of public distress, "Into the
Tiber with Tiberius!" may well have been sincere, for the common herd
of ancient Rome was the same ignoble beast, governed only by its
appetites, and as incapable of any generous or even consecutive
thought, as that of our day.

The events of his life, a series of sharp disappointments, brought out
more clearly with increasing age the characteristic of the Claudian
house: cynical aloofness. Embittered in his family and marital
relations, thwarted by the intelligent plebeian (Sejanus) in whom he
had placed his confidence, he felt all the loneliness of his position.

He felt also--his power.

Modern Europe, grown wise with age, has muzzled its sovereigns. Thus
has arisen a race of constitutional marionettes, whose chief
occupation--to judge by the newspapers, at least--consists in
"swopping" uniforms, rushing about the continent in special trains,
and hanging ribbons and decorations round each other's necks. This is
all as it should be, and it is well to remember that the muzzling has
been done by the class of men whom Tiberius respected and sought to
bring to honour.  It is also well, now and then, to ask ourselves this
question: how many of those who now "govern" Europe would display the
magnanimity of Tiberius if they possessed a tithe of his power--how
many would follow his example in refusing all external honours, or
exercise his clemency towards religious dissentients, caricaturists,
and political adversaries? The mind shudders to think of the
pandemonium that would break loose if these were allowed, only for a
day, the freedom of Tiberius.  On that day, there would be more
prosecutions for _lese majeste_ in Germany than in the immense Roman
world under the whole reign of Tiberius; Austria and Russia would be
aflame with the fires of _autos-da-fe_. There is recorded, on this
last matter of religious persecution, a remark illustrating the
fundamental sanity of Tiberius which cannot be too often repeated. A
man was about to be put on his trial for insulting the divinity of the
deceased Augustus, but the emperor stopped the proceedings by saying
that "gods could avenge their own wrongs": _deorum iniurias deis
cures_--a genial, golden pronouncement, which deserves to be graven
over the portals of every church on earth.

The fact is, he had learned worldly wisdom where our present rulers
can never hope to learn it--in the rough school of life. And he had
the courage of his convictions. How many men and women of to-day, the
slaves of contradictory conventionalities, might take to heart that
saying of his: "Let them hate me, so long as they approve my actions."
This is monumental. We may place it beside that sentence which Stahr,
with great propriety, has cited at the end of his volume of Tiberius,
and which shows his real feelings in regard to public opinion. After
repeating the words of Tacitus to the effect that "it was not so much
that he cared to gratify the present generation, as that he was
desirous of standing well with posterity," Stahr quotes the final
passages from a speech in which Tiberius deprecates the erection of a
temple to himself and his mother: "For myself, conscript fathers, I am
a mortal man; I am confined to the functions of human nature; and if I
well supply the principal place amongst you, it suffices me, I
solemnly assure you; and I would have posterity remember it. They will
render enough to my memory, if they believe me to have been worthy of
my ancestors; watchful of your interests; unmoved in perils and, in
defence of the public weal, fearless of private enmities. These are
the temples I would raise in your breasts; these are the fairest
effigies and such as will endure. As for those of stone, if the
judgment of posterity changes from favour to dislike, they are
despised as no better than sepulchres. Hence it is I here invoke the
gods, that to the end of my life they would grant me a spirit
undisturbed, and discerning in duties human and divine: and hence,
too, I implore our citizens and allies that, whenever my dissolution
comes, they would celebrate my actions and the odour of my name with
praises and benevolent testimonies of remembrance." "And
thenceforward," Tacitus adds--I cannot resist quoting this
characteristic touch--"thenceforward he persevered in slighting upon
all occasions, and even in private conversation, this worship of
himself; a conduct which was by some ascribed to modesty; by many to
distrust of his merit; by others to degeneracy of spirit"--and by
none, it seems (certainly not by Tacitus), to its most natural cause,
common sense.

Common sense--that is the mark of Tiberius, and no wonder it was a
feature offensive, almost unintelligible, to dreamers who yearned for
things that are not, for things to come or things that have been. A
destructive flood had overswept some districts of Rome, and there was
an outcry that the goblins overhead must be appeased and the Sibylline
Books consulted with that object.  Tiberius thought it more profitable
to appoint a commission to inquire into the causes of the disaster and
report upon the measures to be taken for avoiding it in future. Sober
talk like this will never win a crowd.  [Footnote: When it was
announced to him that the skeleton of a giant had been unearthed and
his views were asked as to what should be done with it, he replied
that "they had better leave the giant lying where he was." How
different from Augustus, who possessed lomething of the curious spirit
of Sir John Soane and founded the first palaeontological museum in the
world, containing "giants' bones and weapons of heroes," which were
zealously collected for him on Capri.] Towards the end of his life he
allowed senate and nobles, both equally worthless and effete, to seize
each other by the throat; anticipating, probably, that the most
impulsive and incapable on both sides would be the first to succumb,
leaving the men of moderation to survive.  A rugged method, the method
of nature; yet a cynical and civilised modern aristocrat like the late
Lord Salisbury would have acted in precisely the same manner.
Brutality and common sense are not rarely different names for the same
thing. There are men who call surgeons brutal, because they amputate
limbs.

This firm grasp of general principles never degenerated with Tiberius
into coldness. On the contrary, there ran through his nature an
opposing current: a strong vein of kindliness and consideration for
others which alone can explain many of the enigmas, as they are
called, of his life. He was capable both of feeling, and of inspiring
in others, deep attachment. He might even be called an idealist in the
sense that he seems to have expected more of the world than he found
it could, or would, perform; and, as such, his sufferings at the blows
of fortune were proportionately the more intense. For the calculating
individual changes little during life; from the cradle to the grave he
pursues the even and not always lovely tenor of his way: the man of
heart, as we say, has only to live long enough in order to become
something of a cynic. And Tiberius lived to the age of seventy-eight.

Of his kindliness many instances are on record.  Such was that little
incident at Rhodes. "One morning, in settling the course of his daily
excursion, he happened to say that he should visit all the sick people
in the town. This being not rightly understood by those about him, the
sick were brought into a public portico, and ranged in order,
according to their several distempers. Being extremely embarrassed by
this unexpected occurrence, he was for some time irresolute how he
should act; but at last determined to go round them all, and make an
apology for the mistake even to the meanest among them, and such as
were entirely unknown to him." By what an accident of history has this
charming episode been preserved! When his brother, whom he loved
sincerely, died, Tiberius accompanied the funeral cortege, on foot,
all the way from the forests of Germany to Rome. Paterculus, speaking
from personal experience, has recorded how thoughtful he was, during
his campaigns, for the health and comfort of his troops. When any
officer was ill, Tiberius saw that everything was done for his
well-being and recovery; "for all, who required it, a carriage was in
waiting; the use of his sedan-chair was free to all, and I myself,
among others, have profited by it." When at last his dissolute second
wife Julia, the cause of endless trouble and pain to Tiberius, had
been divorced from him by decree of her father Augustus, he
"interposed by frequent letters to Augustus on her behalf, that he
would allow her to retain the presents he had made her,
notwithstanding the little regard she merited from him." His affection
for his first wife Vipsania, whom Augustus obliged him to divorce for
political reasons "not without great anguish of mind," is recorded by
various ancient writers. A chance meeting of the two that took place
after this event is thus described: "At divorcing Vipsania he felt the
deepest regret: and upon meeting her afterwards, he looked after her
with eyes so passionately expressive of affection that care was taken
she should never again come in his sight." Observe, now, how so simple
and natural a story can be misconstrued. After referring to this
passage, Beule says: "Peu de mots peignent beaucoup de choses: ce ne
sont point des larmes qui jaillissent des yeux de Tibere a la vue de
la compagne de sa jevmesse; il n'eprouve ni douleur ni regret; ses
yeux s'enflent, se tendent, s'enflamment. Les sens parlent done seuls,
c'est le cheval qui hennit devant une belle cavale." Truly, the
"dernier mot" of Beule's _odium republicanum_.

Although such flagrant defamations are scarce, there are various
passages where a misinterpretation of some authority, now lost, has
led to far more serious errors. Here is an interesting example from
the classics which I do not remember having seen recorded among the
thirty odd monographs on Tiberius that have come under my notice. On
the one hand, we have the careful tables drawn up by Sievers, Freytag,
and others, analysing the criminal cases under his reign, from which
it can be seen how frequently he intervened to mitigate the sentence
of the condemned. We have even the testimony of Tacitus, who records a
senator saying: "I have often heard our prince (Tiberius) bewail the
event, when, by suicide, a criminal has prevented the exercise of his
mercy." On the other hand, we are told that the emperor was so
bloodthirsty that he lamented whenever a criminal "escaped" him by
killing himself. "For he thought death so slight a punishment," says
Suetonius, "that upon hearing that Carnulius, one of the accused who
was under prosecution, had killed himself, he exclaimed: 'Carnulius
has escaped me!'" The accounts both of Suetonius and of Tacitus may
well have been drawn from the same original source. Now: this
preventing--this escaping: what shall we make of it? Does the suicide
escape his cruelty or his clemency? We may decide for the latter
version by throwing into the balance the fine trait recorded of him to
the effect that, although slow in his usual speech and almost
wrestling, as it were, with the utterance of his words, "his language
flowed freely and rapidly whenever he had occasion to succour
(_quotiens subveniret_)."

Can anything definite as to the character of Tiberius be read out of
his busts? I think not. I think we are not yet in a position to deduce
a single mental quality from the features of any human being, alive or
in effigy. Grossly asymmetrical lines will of course suggest a flawed
physical structure and consequent disharmony of mind; but phrenology,
the theory of Gall, and physiognomy, as expounded by Lavater and his
disciples, are still on a plane with astrology; the modern historian
or critic, who builds a hypothesis of character upon the evidence
furnished by such vague speculations, is no less of a quack than
Nostradamus. Like many inexact arts, to be sure, these tend to become
more scientific every day; various currents are converging in that
direction; but nothing exemplifies better the worthlessness of
present-day authority in these matters than the conflicting
characteristics which writers, according to their several passions or
prepossessions, succeed in discovering in the busts of the Roman
Caesars.  When one remembers with what slavish fidelity the artists of
ancient Rome reproduced the original features in these works, it would
stand to reason that the character to be read out of any single one of
them would be constant. Yet it is no exaggeration to say that a
portrait of one of the Csesars is capable of as many interpretations
as a contested passage in Holy Scripture. There is no vice, and there
is no virtue, that has not been plainly read out of the busts of
Tiberius. His mouth, according to one writer, betrays "indecision";
another discovers that "about the delicate mouth plays a smile of
superiority"; a third writes, "probably at no time has nature formed
such a perfect diplomatic mouth. Firmly closed, it illustrates
Talleyrand's saying that speech was given us to conceal our thought";
while a fourth shudders at "the horrible grimace, which one cannot
drive from one's remembrance." And so on, with every other item of the
face.

In regard to the bust as a whole, a similar uncertainty prevails. In
the Paris sardonyx cameo, Beule recognises, admirably portrayed, all
the vicious qualities that form his idea of Tiberius, "la bouche, le
menton, sont gras, sensuels, epais, et tourncnt au type de Vitellius.
Le you est enorme, enfle par le vin, la bonne chere, et comme par un
venin secret, etc. etc." According to Bernoulli there is no reason for
supposing this cameo to represent Tiberius at all! The "veiled head"
sold to the British Museum by Castellani is rejected by some of the
best authorities as not representing Tiberius, while many persons
consider it one of his most life-like busts. As in most of them, the
nose, the telling feature of the face, has been restored, and in the
present instance by an unusually inferior artist, so as to change its
whole expression.  The nose of Tiberius was probably moulded after the
aquiline pattern of his mother's, with whom he had many points of
character and physiognomy in common. The restorer of this "veiled
head" has given it a nose of a peculiarly London cast, so that the
portrait at a distance looks less like Tiberius than like his family
butler. The ears are also restored in conventional
fashion--altogether, the bust is a good instance of the unwarrantable
liberties that are taken with ancient works of art.  And yet if this
London head were placed side by side with that in the Naples museum,
the resemblance would appear in a flash, in spite of the disfiguring
"repairs." The London portrait represents him fifteen or twenty years
older than the other; there are lines of age about the face, and the
eyes are more sunk under the prominent orbitals, but there can be no
doubt as to the identity of the person. To compare photographs of
these marbles is misleading; they must be examined on the spot, for a
slight change in the position or height of the camera may affect the
entire physiognomy; nor must it be forgotten that the profile differs
on the two sides of the face. But what type of man these busts figure
forth can only be deciphered by those who have made up their minds on
the subject beforehand. Long years will elapse before serious
psychological deductions can be drawn from the data of iconography.



After a youth of exemplary virtue, and half a century more of public
life, during which the manners and morals of Tiberius were an honour
to his age, he retired in his sixty-ninth year to the island of Capri,
in order at last to be able to indulge his latent proclivities for
cruelty and lust. So, at least, the wisest of us believed for twenty
centuries.  We have all heard of the reformed rake; Tiberius was the
reverse: from being an Admirable Crichton, he became the prototype of
the Marquis de Sade.  But it is needless to go into this _res
adiudicata_; historians like Duruy, Merivale, and Ferrero, however
much they may disagree upon other questions, are at one upon this:
that no scholar of to-day, with a reputation to lose, should stake it
upon the veracity of Tacitus and Suetonius. That is a great step
forward. Napoleon called Tacitus a "detractor of humanity": he seems
to have arrived at this opinion upon purely _a priori_ reasoning, but
critical researches have borne it out. The Roman historian has been
tumbled from his pinnacle, and there is poetic justice in the fact
that Tiberius, whose memory he succeeded in disparaging for nearly two
thousand years, has been the cause of this revision of judgment. Nor
need we call this stately writer hard names; it suffices to say, what
no one will deny, that he suffered from a constitutional dislike of
the obvious; his mind was involuted; he worked with a fixed idea, and
that fixed idea was diametrically opposed to the fixed idea of
Tiberius.

We often observe that an individual who is not fully bred exaggerates
all the peculiarities of the race to which he desires to belong. Thus
a German Jew, domiciled in London, will eat his plover not only
putrid, like the rest of us, but putrid and raw.  Even so Tacitus, as
an aristocrat of the lower order, was extreme in his aristocratic
tendencies, he was _plus royaliste que le roi_; for no one save really
great people, like the Claudians of Rome, can afford to treat their
class at its true value. According to Boissier, Tacitus "resigned
himself" to the empire; it seems to me that he resigned himself with
sufficiently bad grace, and if, like Tacitus himself, I could claim
the gift of knowing the inmost thoughts of men, I should say that the
anti-oligarchical leanings of Tiberius appeared reprehensible to this
reactionary who yearned, in his heart of hearts, for turbulent days of
immature political development, which every Roman of sense rejoiced
not to have witnessed,

He took his pen in hand and wrote. All ancient literature of this
class is what the Germans call a _Tendenzschrift_: we must ever
remember that such a thing as truth is neither what authors
endeavoured to write, nor what readers cared to read; the extent to
which the whole world was tainted with the rhetorical spirit is not
easily appreciated nowadays. And beside this love of simple veracity,
another recent product of human growth is that of scientific
psychology. The "great psychologist" Tacitus, who imposed upon ancient
and mediaeval Europe with his childlike and subjective method of
approaching these problems, with his sublimely artful manner of
reading imaginary characteristics into historical personages in order
to draw puritanical conclusions therefrom, will find himself ill at
ease among men who have outgrown scholastic morality, and think
themselves quite moral enough when they try to discover a plain answer
to this plain question: Is it true, or is it false?

The shrewd Montaigne seems to have been the first to doubt the
sincerity of Tacitus; Schedlbauer cites a German pamphlet of 1646 in
favour of Tiberius; but it was reserved for the French sceptic
movement to shatter eternally the faith hitherto reposed upon Tacitus
and Suetonius. As with other authoritative writings, it was little
suspected how rotten--once touched--they would prove to be. Previous
to that time, these tales were blindly believed. So Gilles de Rays,
who was executed in 1440 after having murdered eight hundred children,
confessed in his defence that he was led into these excesses through
reading Suetonius' life of Tiberius. Strange to think that, but for
Suetonius--are we never to have an annotated modern translation of
him?--we might not have heard of Bluebeard.

Then followed the inevitable reaction, a wave of sentimentalism and
general obfuscation from which we are, at this moment, emerging.
During this long and dark period, Tiberius again put on his old
character; he was a "deified beast"; his court was composed of "pale
and trembling slaves, dissolute women, and executioners." In this
exhilarating company the old gentleman is supposed to have lived from
the age of sixty-eight up to his death ten years later. That sane
people could be found to listen to such nonsense, proves what a
systematic education in "believing the impossible" can accomplish.
What would they now say of Monsieur Bacha, the last of a succession of
conscientious scholars that have dissected the fables of Tacitus, who
consistently refers to the once revered historian as "le poete"? "Dans
l'invention dc ses contes, Tacite s'est incessamment preoccupe
d'interesser le lecteur." I suspect that the chief reason why it
pleased us to dislike Tiberius arose from the fact that Christ was
crucified under his reign; the culpability of the emperor in this
matter is not obvious, but when religious feelings come into play, the
mind ceases to trouble itself with cause and effect. The logic of the
emotions, says Ribot, does not acknowledge the fundamental principles
of the logic of the intellect. One point is noteworthy: with this
recent revival of rationalism has gone, hand in hand, an increased
feeling of decency. The obscenities which charmed our pious
forefathers of the Grand Tours, who would muse for hours over the
_Sellaria_ of Capri, and sell their last shirt to buy a sham
sphinctrian medal, have ceased to absorb a generation fed upon
healthier mental fare.

If we knew exactly why Tiberius, as a young man, shut himself up in
Rhodes, we might understand the reason of his retirement to Capri.
This departure for Rhodes may be regarded as the key to his character,
and a great diversity of motives--fear, disgust, cunning, hatred of
Julia, ambition, self-abnegation, disappointment, pride, general
moroseness--have been assigned by various writers for this step.
Family reasons, the eternal intrigues of the women of the Julian and
Claudian houses, and his own mother's behaviour towards him, probably
weighed heavily in the case of Capri; but, as Mr. Baring-Gould points
out: "Throughout life that passion to be away from the stir of life,
and to be alone with his thoughts and with his books, manifested
itself spasmodically." It is quite likely, too, that, convinced of the
impracticability of republican and despotic systems of government, his
friends and helpers all dead, he attempted the experiment of
constitutional rule, interfering as little as possible in the
machinery of the state, while reserving to himself the last word upon
all graver matters. Above all, he was weary after a public life of
nearly sixty years of incessant toil.  The idea of retiring from the
cares of government may seem absurd to us. But we must consider the
kind of work which confronted Tiberius.  Modern sovereigns, whose most
violent physical exercise takes the form of shooting tame pheasants or
leading a drowsy state-ball quadrille, would be killed outright by a
single one of his many campaigns: the economic problems with which he
grappled day after day would permanently liquefy their brains. The
labour of government is taken out of their hands by persons who are
fitted to perform it; not one of them could say, with Tiberius, that
"he found in work his only refuge from cares." Unlike him, therefore,
they remain ever delightfully young, and it is hardly to be expected
of them that they should bid good-bye to the world in this heyday of
perennial youth.  Our rulers never retire from the cares of
government: they never feel them. Tiberius, at the age of sixty-eight,
felt them, and this retirement to the rock-islet of Capri is of grave
significance in the world's history, inasmuch as then, for the first
time, the centre of the world was displaced, the spell of the Eternal
City broken and, in the words of J. R. Green, "never thoroughly
restored. If Milan, Ravenna, Nicomedia, Constantinople, became
afterwards her rivals or supplanters as the scat of empire, it was
because Capri had led the way." And small wonder if these closing
years of the tyrant have appealed to the imagination of poets from
early times, for he looms grandly in his majestic and mysterious
isolation; there is pathos, too, in that ruined family life, and a
tragic note in his hopeless endeavour to stem the rising flood of
irrationalism and slave-spirit that were soon to overwhelm the great
Roman world.

Where did all these Tiberius-legends arise? I question whether they
were actually manufactured in Rome; they were probably a local product
that found its way into the memoirs of the younger Agrippina. To the
Greek population of Capri the personality and habits of this emperor
were hardly sympathetic; no doubt his presence made them feel
uncomfortable, especially when contrasted with the easy-going
conviviality of Augustus. A certain sycophantic spirit of ancient
lineage (the Romans would have associated it with their conception of
_graeculus_)--a certain hcllenistico-political tendency to anonymous
letters and misrepresentations, may have laid the foundations upon
which Tacitus and the others erected their surprising fabrics. Dion
Cassius, who ought to have known better, since he warns his readers of
the general untrustworthiness of all Augustan history, was yet too
much of a Greek not to enjoy a little gossip of this kind. We all know
that "les absents ont toujours tort" and that, as Bacon says, "mankind
is possessed of a natural though corrupt love of the lie
itself"--particularly when it is told of the moral shortcomings of
great people. Some escapades of Caligula or other youngsters may be
responsible for the origin of a few of these tales, all of which, if
related of Tiberius, are improbable, and some impossible--a fact which
did not strike his biographers, who, like our own earlier historians
and painters, were less anxious about veracity than about making as
fine a picture as possible. As Mr.  Huidekoper justly observes, the
persons whom Tiberius selected to accompany him to Capri were all good
men, and the last to condone any form of vice. But the strongest
evidence lies not in the praises of Paterculus. It lies in the silence
of Seneca, who is outspoken enough as regards the irregularities of
other emperors. "What necessity," asks G. M. Secondo, the contemporary
of Voltaire, "drove Tiberius to indulge his lusts on Capri, when
nothing hindered him from doing so at Rome?"

Among the many explanations of these Capri orgies that of
Wiedermeister must not be omitted.  He seriously suggests that the
thoughtful entourage of the old man merely carried out the precepts of
the contemporary physician Celsus as to the stimulating effects of
sensuous pleasures upon the declining health of Tiberius. The tortures
of prisoners and the nautch-dances were only nerve-tonics,
scientifically applied. Perhaps the _gerocomic_ method, not unknown
among the ancients, was also attempted. Celsus probably drew his
knowledge of it from the Orientals who still practise it; a certain
old king in the Bible derived strength from it; as late as 1700 the
great physician Boerhaave (according to Hufeland) was in the habit of
recommending it for the infirmities of old age, and I am told that it
is not yet altogether out of fashion in good society.

Wiedermeister is a good illustration of the evils of writing history
on the _Leitmotif_ system. Even as Pasch--to my thinking--perverts
some evidence and omits the rest in order to show that "ambition" is
the mainspring of every action of Tiberius, so this writer finds
everything to agree with his preconceived theory of "insanity."
Tiberius at Capri is supposed to have suffered from the mania of
persecution, ending in senile dementia.  In proof of his madness is
adduced the fact that he _complained of the debauched habits of his
(adopted) grandson Nero_. As if Tiberius had not been making
complaints of this kind, and with perfect justice, all his life! We
can understand Tacitus considering that a man who lives outside _la
ville_ must be a lunatic or a desperate person; the Emperor may well
have been an enigma to republican bourgeois, but a modern writer,
surveying this period of Roman history, might have noticed that the
gift of self-control and sanity is precisely what distinguished
Tiberius in a world that was rapidly losing the faculty of dominating
its reflexes. The empire was breaking up from psychical disorders.
Hysterical and otherwise mentally deranged individuals are apt to
distrust the saneness of those who are placed in charge of them, and
this, I think, accounts for most of the "madness" of Tiberius. In
retiring at the close of an arduous life to enjoy the tranquil
beauties of nature on fabled Siren shores, he was only doing what any
civilised person might be expected to do.

Even at this distance of time it seems not easy to write of this man,
as Tacitus claims to have done, without passion or partiality. Of the
prodigious literature which has sprung up around his name, one of the
best surveys will be found in Professor Gentile's interesting
monograph. Happily it cannot be said of this controversy, as of many
others, that it has produced more heat than light. I would express the
opinion that the Tiberius question has been practically settled;
nothing more, at least, can be learned out of books; the material at
our disposal has been sifted in a perfectly satisfactory manner. Yet
the record is far too incomplete to allow us to form a final judgment.
To do this, we require the memoirs which he wrote himself, as well as
the lost historical works of Pliny the Elder, Cremutius Corda,
Paterculus, Seneca, and others.  Of this ancient literature, which
would complete our picture of Tiberius, a great portion is lost for
all eternity; some of it remains, in all probability, within a few
feet of our reach.

Whoever wishes to consult it must wait till a generation, which really
possesses the civilisation it vaunts, shall rescue it from the lava of
Herculaneum.




V.  THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE BLUE GROTTO


To-day the north wind, the _tramontana_, is blowing. A glance out of
the window suffices: the sea is deep blue, with ruffled face;
mountains and villages are standing out in clear-cut sunshiny reality.
And yonder goes the steamer conveying six hundred foreigners for their
day's visit to Capri and its celebrated Blue Grotto. Unhappy mortals!
They are packed like sheep, although they have paid untold sums for
their tickets.

But--in parenthesis--if the foreigners were not constrained to travel
first class and at exorbitant rates how could the steam-boat company
pay its expenses? For the natives of the country are divided into two
great sections: those who travel with third-class tickets, and those
who travel with no tickets at all. And of these two sections the
latter is by far the most numerous, comprising, as it does, every one
who claims to be a friend or patron of the company, such as: all
persons connected with marine service in any part of Italy;
stationmasters, engineers, signalmen, soldiers, and so forth, as
"colleagues"; hotel proprietors and their families and servants,
because, if there were no hotels, there would be no foreigners for the
steamers to carry; village fishermen, because they can handle an oar,
and their wives and sisters who cook fish which comes out of the sea;
certain privileged shopkeepers who once sold a piece of soap or a
cigar to a patron; greengrocers, because the captain is fond of
vegetables; pastry-cooks and confectioners, because the second stoker
has a large family of children--in fact, almost the entire population
of the country is exempted, for one reason or another, from purchasing
tickets. Eight days ago a grimy house-painter, travelling in the
"foreigners'" steamer, informed me that he always voyaged gratis
because he lived in the same street as the captain.

Only the poorest of the poor, those who command no respect from either
captain, crew, or agents, are obliged to buy third-class fares.

On board, however, the company makes no invidious distinction between
these two great sections of natives: they are all accommodated with
seats in the first cabin.

And occasionally it arranges for a public example _in terrorem_. Only
a short time ago I listened to a stately old gentleman protesting,
with tears in his eyes, that he was a prince of the blood besides
being mayor of-------. But on that day the official was obdurate. It
was "tickets or stay behind." Loudly grumbling, the venerable one
extracted a few sous out of his pocket for a third-class fare, and
presently I found him seated at my side, explaining to a sympathetic
audience that the company had lost what little reputation for honesty
it ever possessed....

The _tramontana_ generally blows for three days, and is followed by a
spell of halcyon calm. Then is the time to visit the Blue Grotto, as
an English poet of the thirties has very correctly pointed out---

  The day must cloudless be to visit it,
  The brilliant skies of Italy should pour
  A flood of radiance o'er the tranquil deep,
  And zephyrs even should be hushed and still, etc.

But not in the tourist crowd, although Augustus Hare tells us that the
magical effect is enhanced by the rush of boats, the general
confusion, and impassioned shrieks that burst forth on all sides. Nor
yet in the morning hours, whatever the guide-books may say to the
contrary, for it is only later in the day that the roof and sides of
the cavern begin to clothe themselves with that quivering violet sheen
due to the low position of the sun. This fairy-like bloom more than
compensates for some lack of intensity in the blue of the water.

Dear Ouida! Is there really nothing to be said for the full-blooded
generosity, for the passionate blend of realism and idealism of her
earlier work?  However that may be, it was these afternoon hours which
her heroine Idalia, with her usual good taste, selected upon a
memorable occasion for a visit to this "temple not built of men."

"Passion was stilled here; love was silenced; the chastened solemnity,
the purity of its mysterious divinity, had no affinity with the
fevered dreams and sensuous sweetness of mortal desires.... The boat
paused in the midst of the still violet lake-like water. Where he lay
at her feet he looked upwards at her through the ethereal light that
floated round them, and seemed to sever them from earth....  Would to
God I could die now!"

This was the Blue Grotto of the last generation.

"When I entered it," says Gregorovius, somewhat more articulately, "I
felt myself transported into one of those fairy-tales so real to
childhood.  The world and daylight have disappeared suddenly, and one
finds oneself in the over-arching earth and in the blue twilight of
electric fire. Gently the waves lap and the bubbles rise sparkling, as
though flashing emeralds, ruddy rubies, and countless carbuncles were
shooting up through the depths.  The walls are of phantom-like blue
and mysterious as the palaces of fairies. It is a glamour of strange
nature and strange effects, quite marvellous, at the same time weird
and familiar."

Plainly, the Blue Grotto must be one of the wonders of the world. Yet
I question whether, if it were discovered to-day, it would attract the
attention it once did. For it appeared on the crest of an immense wave
of cavern and ruin worship that overswcpt Northern Europe--the
reaction after the hard and brilliant sceptic movement of the
preceding century. It was part of the return to nature; of the revolt
from reason. Mankind was weary, for the moment, of straight thinking.
Shelley warbled of odorous caves so tunefully that men were almost
tempted to become troglodytes again; Rousseau raved of noble savages:
he showed us how to discover beauty in Switzerland--the beauty of a
coloured photograph. Yes; and long may Switzerland with its sham
honey, sham wine, sham coffee, sham cigars, and sham Wilhelm
Tell--with its inhabitants whose manners and faces reflect their
sombre and craggy mountains--long may it continue to attract, and
wholly absorb, the superbly virile energies of our own
upper-better-middle classes! Thanks, Rousseau; thanks for not living
in Italy.

Others did. Flaxen-haired dreamers, like Hans Christian Andersen,
began to sing the praises of the Blue Grotto to a generation reeling
with emotionalism. Says Speckter, another sentimentalist: "A
melancholy, dreamy effulgence irradiates all things, and in this Blue
Wonder are blended Love, Art, and Nature. The Blue Grotto is the full,
the over-full, nectar-goblet of Phantasy." They who wish to know to
what depths of inanity this kind of talk can be carried, should read
_Fiormona_.

The South Italian, constitutionally more sober and familiar with
things of beauty, cannot wind himself up to this pitch of rapture over
natural objects, besides being quite deficient in that pathetic
fallacy which sets up a bond of communion between ourselves and the
inanimate world. There are wondrous tints of earth, sky, and sea in
these regions--flaring sunsets and moons of melodramatic amplitude
that roll upon the hill-tops or swim exultingly through the aether;
amber-hued gorges where the shadows sleep through the glittering days
of June, and the mad summer riot of vines careering in green frenzy
over olives and elms and figs; there are tremulous violet flames
hovering about the sun-scorched limestone, sea-mists that climb in
wreathed stateliness among wet clefts, and the sulphurous gleams of a
scirocco dawn when fishing-boats hang like pallid spectres upon the
sky-line: there are a thousand joys like these, but the natives do not
see them, although, to please foreigners, they sometimes pretend to.

The Blue Grotto belongs to that multitudinous class of objects whose
connotation is uselessness and whose full charm is not to be perceived
by the bodily eye alone. If the beauty, even of landscape, were to be
perceived solely through the medium of the optic nerve, the myopic
Hearn would assuredly not be the best describer of things Japanese.
This is clear from the way Northerners used to write about this cave;
it is not only intensely blue, but it also reminds them of things
quite immaterial--of the fairies of their childhood, of the fabled
blue flower of romance, of the legend of Glaucus and Elysian skies.
Its beauty, therefore, lies partly in suggestion; there is something
behind the blue--the mystic's spiritual associations.  To a delightful
Frenchman, on the other hand, its colour suggested a very material
object: a candle held at the back of a bowl of sulphate of copper.

The old theory that the Greeks were insensible to the romance of
scenery is exploded; apart from the testimony of the anthology and
other literature, a single building, like the temple of Bassie, proves
that they were a-tremblc in sympathy with the milder voices of nature.
And what we may call the indifferent attitude of the South Italian in
such matters results, I think, from two causes: the influence of the
Romans, whose chief idea of beauty was some snug villa remote from
politics and bores; and of mediaeval movements, that destroyed certain
finer emotional fibres and sundered the connection with the mythopoeic
lore and nature-gods of olden days.

The coils of muscle about the shoulders of some stripling as he
strains himself to raise a heavy limestone block; a young girl whose
swelling form gives promise of fruitful maternity; a waving cornfield,
a shower in May, a dish of fat roasted quails--all this is still
legitimately _bello_: but mountains are mere hindrances to
agriculture, unsightly protuberances upon the fair face of earth, as
the pre-romantic Englishman Burnet also called them (no ancient trait
of ours, this fellow-feeling with nature: the very word "romantic," as
applied to scenery, occurs for the first time in Addison); land-caves
are useful for storing hay; sea-caves, blue or green, for sheltering
boats in rain; the sea itself, with all its choral harmonies, is
merely a place where fishes are caught. The war of elemental forces,
stimulating to complex modern minds, has never laid aside for them the
terrible and anti-human character with which Greek poets and artists
long ago invested it, and which seems to have exceeded their limit of
romantic beauty because of its destructiveness to man's life or
handiwork.  But while the native is beginning to understand, though
not to share, the Northerner's passion for storms and cliffs and
solitude, he still remains hopelessly at a loss to comprehend those
recondite ideas of the beauty of pathological states, of suffering and
disease which, creeping in from the East, have affected even us, the
children of Goths.  In short, it seems to me that the South Italian's
notion of beauty is never disassociated from that of actual or
potential well-being.



It is therefore hardly surprising that the Blue Grotto appealed so
slightly to the inhabitants of Capri that they never succeeded in
discovering what there was to discover in it. More than three-quarters
of them, at this present moment, have not entered it. Those who have
been there express no desire to behold its marvels a second time.

And are we not coming round once more to this old pre-romantic point
of view? To the romanticists who flocked hithervvard in such shoals
that their writings and engravings still flood the market, Italy--her
landscape, literature, and art-relics--was a teacher, _the_ teacher,
the very crown of life.  What is Italy now? I open a catalogue of
travel publications and find, on three consecutive pages, a list of
sixty-eight new books describing every corner of the globe, three of
which deal with Italy: three out of sixty-eight, and one of them a
belated translation of old De Brasses' gossip (1739).

If we now go to Italy at all, we go not to learn, but to compare.
Horizons undreamed-of, intellectual and geographical, have recently
dawned upon us. Greece was discovered; then Egypt and Babylonia and
the Sanscrit regions, and--to take only the case of antiquarians--men
whose sole idea of research had been to excavate statues for
decorative purposes and who, if they ventured to theorise at all,
confined themselves to searching for ordered designs of Providence
among disordered accidents of history--these men are now engaged in
building up, out of mounds of Asiatic kitchen-refuse and such-like
trash, a plan of man's early existence upon earth which their
ancestors would have deemed the height of folly and blasphemy.
Everything has shifted since _homo sapiens_ himself shifted and ceased
to be hinge of the universe; life, once the gift of a jealous god, has
become a mere series of readjustments, and "nature" the summary of our
experience of them; it is hopelessly old-fashioned, nowadays, to read
benevolent intentions out of, or into, a movement of things of which
we ourselves, together with all the gods and devils we ever created,
are only an aspect--an emanation; and which, though it displays
neither good nor evil, has yet taught us an entirely new code of
morality: the code of truthfulness.  We are no longer men of a book,
like the Turk with his Koran or the ancients who ended in being
hypnotised by their Homer--things that may be a strength in early
stages but that lead to ossification; if we now die of a kind of
national arteriosclerosis, it will not be the fault of our teachers.

The attitude of a present-day visitor to spots like the Blue Grotto is
unintelligible unless one remembers this change in the
world-spirit--unintelligible often to himself. I have heard people
lamenting that they cannot feel its beauties as acutely as they think
they ought. And yet there is nothing to grieve ourselves about; we
receive as much sensuous stimulation from the landscape as is good for
us and, to atone for lack of sentimentality, we are probably
interested in many things of which our grandfathers never dreamt. A
sincere zest in diverse facts of life--an opening of moral pores: this
is the result of the new departure.  Man's field of inquiry used to be
limited, while his credulity was unlimited: it is now the reverse in
both cases.

Who of us nowadays writes in language like that of Speckter? Alas, we
are tired of dreaming; we have become materialistic once more, like
those horrid Frenchmen; we will read our Haeckel over and over again,
but none of us--no, not one--visits the Blue Grotto twice. And yet it
has made Capri. It has slowly but surely routed the rivals of this
island, Ischia, Sorrento, and Amalfi, who are bursting with envy; it
has created hotels, steamboats, and driving-roads; it has stuffed the
pockets of the gentle islanders with gold, transforming shoeless and
hatlcss goatherds into high-collared Parisian cavaliers; it has
altered their characters and faces, given them comfortable homes and a
wondrous fine opinion of themselves. _Viva la Grotta Azzurra_! It has
lately built the funicular railway; it has dappled the island with the
villas of eccentric strangers; it has studded the lonely sea-shore
with caves fancy-tinted like Joseph's coat.  For hardly was the Blue
Grotto discovered and the meaning of the word "blue" explained to
these children of nature before other gorgeous caverns, hitherto
unnoticed, claimed attention. The foreigners liked colour in caves.
The foreigners brought money. Colour in caves is cheap. Let them have
it! Therefore, in a twinkling, the two-mouthed Grotta del Turco became
the Green Grotto; the venerable Grotta Ruofolo put on a roseate hue
sufficient to justify the poetic title of Red Grotto, and the Grotta
Monacone (_vide_ the relation of Kopisch) was discovered to be
white--actually quite white! The stranger had his wilful way, and the
metamorphosis had cost the Capriotes not a soldo. It was a blessed
time: every one beamed with joy. But what will the future bring? The
gentle islanders have grown rich, rich beyond the dreams of avarice,
and almost turn up their noses at _soldo's_; while travellers are
beginning to turn up their noses at Capri caverns, whose odours, to
tell the truth, are not always of violets.

If the Green and other grottos had ancient names, what was that of the
Blue? It used to be called Grotta Gradola: a pleonasm, inasmuch as
Gradola, or Gratula, is merely a corruption of Grottola (grottola,
gruptula, grupta, crypta), and the district overhead bears the old
name to this day. I know no earlier proof to show that the Italians
were acquainted with the Blue Grotto than that contained in
Coronelli's _Atlante Veneto_, which includes an interesting map of
Capri, whereon it is marked as "Grotta Gradola." Coronelli was
cosmographer to the Venetian Republic, and his work is dated 1696. In
the face of a document like this, how absurd it is to say that the
cave was unknown to the natives and discovered by a foreigner! It was
Landor, I believe, who said that people who talk loudest are always in
the right.  This was exemplified only the other day when some Germans
once more "discovered" a new cave above the Grotta Bianca and filled
the newspapers with reports of their achievement, which consisted in
using the rope left there by a previous party and effacing an
inscription by which they had recorded their visit. The true facts are
preserved in the _Geographical Journal_.

The poet Kopisch took a swim in the Blue Grotto in August, 1826--it
was not "inaccessible," for he entered it, a few days later, in a
boat--but to Andersen belongs the merit of drawing the attention of
Europe to its beauties. If the "Improvisatore" had not created such a
sensation--who can read it nowadays?--Kopisch would not have thought
it worth while publishing, at a later period (in 1838), his well-known
account of this exploit, which he calls a discovery, though he admits
that the grotto was known to the islanders at the time. The fame of
the Blue Grotto was the cause, not the result, of this publication.
And another proof of Andersen's moral claim has just come to light in
the recently printed diaries of the poet Platen, who spent a few days
on Capri in 1827 with Kopisch, sailing all about the island, and not
so much as mentioning the marvellous grotto found by his friend in the
preceding year. These two romanticists--Kopisch and Anderson--beat the
drum. And it strikes me as characteristic of the Northerner that he
should suppose that "superstitious dread" prevented fishermen, during
long centuries, from visiting this particular cave. Little they know
these folk who imagine that superstitious dread plays any part in
their daily lives or that supernatural beings, devils or saints, are
allowed to interfere in the main objects of existence! Every nook of
the shore had been searched by them from time immemorial, and
Beelzebub himself could never keep a Capri fisherman out of a sea-cave
if there were half a franc's worth of crabs inside it.



Nor was Kopisch the first person to disport himself in this enchanted
pool. Long ago, as the islanders will tell you, the Emperor Tiberius
and the fair nymphs of his harem did the same, as is plainly proved by
ancient masonry about the cave; indeed, seeing that nearly every
sea-cave on Capri bears traces of old walls, all of which were built
by Tiberius for bathing purposes, it may be imagined what a clean old
gentleman he must have been.  The only question that remains to be
solved is how he entered the cavern; volumes have been written to show
that the sea-level is not what it used to be in his time, and it is
therefore hotly disputed whether he walked, dived, swam, drove, or
flew into it. There is even something to be said for the hypothesis
that he crawled on all fours. For at the back of the grotto is a
mysterious and narrow passage opening westwards into the bowels of the
earth, which certain sages, who have assuredly never explored it,
declare to be an artificial tunnel leading from the imperial villa of
Damecuta to the cool waters of the grotto. Tiberius and his frail
cortege, after scrambling on their stomachs for half a league through
this dank and dismal drain, certainly deserved, and perhaps needed, a
bath. Let the sages decide these matters: if we do not arrive at the
truth, it will not be for lack of theories. Like every one else, I
have my own views on the subject, but nothing would induce me to set
them down here, for I dread controversy, and there is no more fearful
wild-fowl living than your historico-physico-geologist. Another of
these tunnels, near at hand, is said to connect the _Palazzo a Mare_
with the villa of Jupiter, about three miles distant! It is nothing
but an ancient cloaca, even as that at the Blue Grotto is a natural
crevice supplying in former days tha water which helped to erode the
cavern.

There was a confusion at one time between the Blue Grotto and a huge
sea-cave called the Grotta Oscura, which lay on the south side of
Capri underneath the Certosa convent. This Grotta Oscura used to be
one of the sights of the island, and many writers have left us
descriptions of its magical twilight effects and drippings of water.
The locality is now covered by earth and rocks, a landslip having
taken place there in 1808 which closed it up and carried down two
donkeys who happened to be grazing overhead at the critical moment, as
well as a stout martello tower which the monks had built as a refuge
from pirates. The hour was well chosen for this catastrophe, for the
days were at hand when the corsairs ceased to threaten these shores,
and when a rival cave was to become world-famous which would have
eclipsed the beauties of the old. New institutions, new attractions,
had made them superfluous; they were swept away at the right moment,
and no trace of them remains save the still fresh scar on the hillside
which affronts the traveller's eye as he sails past under the shadow
of _l' Unghia Marina_.

The shade of Tiberius, which used to haunt the Grotta Oscura,
forthwith emigrated to the new cave, where it has since resided.

This is one of the many myths invented by the _Cicerones_ of past
days, who understood the value of quoting historical authorities and
of showing pseudo-historical sites to the credulous traveller of the
Grand Tours. Thus there is also a "Grotto of Polyphemus" both at
Sorrento and at Capri, and at the latter place an appropriately chosen
"Point of the Sirens" which, seeing that it is not mentioned in any
old deeds, maps, or books of travel, must be taken to be of modern
manufacture.  At a certain period, Neapolitans began to take a keen
interest in their Siren origin; a large literature sprang up on the
subject and the name _La Sirena_ has been popular ever since: witness
the ill-omened palace on the Posilipo.

On Capri the greater part of these legends are woven round the name of
Tiberius. When one remembers that no serious antiquarian researches
have been carried out on this island for the last hundred years,
during which the science of excavating and interpreting ancient relics
has been not so much revolutionised as created, one can understand the
prevalence of this Cicerone-archaeology.  The "Villa of Jupiter"
itself, which every tourist visits, is a purely modern fiction; old
writers never describe it by that name; and so is the "Salto di
Tiberio," where he threw objectionable people over the cliff, and the
_Sellaria_, where other things occurred which are best left in the
obscurity of a learned tongue. Yet to what outpourings of virtuous
indignation have they not given rise on the part of our travelling
forefathers, who were hugely interested in the misdeeds of Tiberius.

"May the memory of the monster vanish in the presence of this
_wunderschone Naturscene_!" exclaims the pious Stollberg, who became
still more pious later on. "Quoi!" echoes a Frenchman, "cette terre
souillee n'est pas devenue sterile?" An English author improves upon
the Salto-legend by causing the spot to be artificially levelled "in
order that the condemned might be made to take clean and flying jumps
in his presence," while an Italian laments the "rocky promontory from
which he was wont to cast his poor, innocent girl-victims." Such are
the fruits of Cicerone-archaeology.

It is a mistake, I think, to suppose that the various legends of
Tiberius which now form part of the mental equipment of the Caprioles
and constitute a profitable source of revenue have remained vivid in
their memory ever since his day.  This is the common belief: but I
would hazard the statement that for more than a thousand years--before
Italy began to be visited by tourists--every reminiscence of the old
Roman had faded out of the popular mind. Be this as it may, from Ben
Jonson onwards a long succession of imaginative writers have chosen
this theme. Byron meditated a play on the subject. Some of these
stories are good, but many are sad drivel--there is whispered talk of
grottos and weird abominations; [Footnote: Old Ausonius evidently had
something of this kind on his mind when he wrote that third
tetrastych---

  Frustra dehinc solo Caprearum clausus in antro
  Quae prodit vitiis, credit aperta locis.]

artless Anacapri maidens, Oriental slaves, Caligula, and other
familiar figures enliven the scene, with an occasional _pas de
caractere_ (decidedly so) by the ladies of the ballet.

Meanwhile, it is really fitting that the inhabitants of this island,
who owe to Tiberius more than to all the saints in the calendar,
should put up a memorial to their benefactor. For _Timberio_ is still
a name to conjure with: to conjure things out of the foreigner's
pockets. He is no dim memory, but a clear-cut personality who becomes
more distinct and tangible in proportion as these gentle folk conceive
themselves of his commercial uses. Several of the former generation
knew him quite intimately, and found him most condescending and
amiable--_un vero galantuomo_, one old man used to describe him.  It
is curious, too, to observe that the bloodthirsty aspect of the tyrant
is becoming effaced, the popular mind having always a sneaking
fondness for a genuine devil or Don Juan, who is never so black as he
is painted. Even Timberio, every one knows, had his little traits of
gentlemanliness. He was rather too fond of a pretty face, but Lord! so
are our priests and a good many others as well. And then he was a real
Signore, not like the people who come to the island nowadays and who
are worse than any Neapolitan for haggling about small change; he paid
for everything just what we liked to ask, he built deuced fine
cisterns, and he was the only man who could afford a carriage and pair
on Capri before there were driving roads. Fine sprees in the Blue
Grotto: Ha, ha! As for that Salto of his--why, if that were put into
working order again, it would be the best thing possible for the
place; Timberio knew what he was doing, he knew!... Has His Excellency
perchance a cigar about him? Ah!... And he had electric light in his
bathroom, the scoundrel! Yes, signore, it is a pity Timberio died so
young--those infernal women....




VI. BY THE SHORE


It was on a cloudy morning in the days when I still suffered under the
delusion that one could come to South Italy in winter-time, that I
made my first acquaintance with the shores of the Sorrentine peninsula
in Ciro's fragile barque. His surviving parent, a stalwart peasant
woman, a veritable mother of the Gracchi, forcefully pressed his
claims; he was the chief support of a large family, the perfection of
qualities, and strong to handle an oar. He did not even smoke "like
these vagabonds here," pointing to her other four male off-spring,
"who smoked before they were born"; in short, a _figlio di giudizio_,
meaning that he possessed tact and politeness combined with attention
to personal advantage, a Homeric quality which calls for high praise
among a people who admire a man in proportion as he thinks for
himself.

I looked at the lowering sky and demurred on the ground of his
inexperience. His age, yes; who could tell what his age was? Soon
enough they would pounce down on him for military service, and then we
would find out all about it.  A blessed country, where women never
know their ages, and men only for a brief month or so.  For why keep
track of one's years? Is it not like remembering one's infirmities?
Wise men have enough to do, remembering those of their friends.

"Very well, then," she said. "You shall have the little Matilda as
well. She is _appassionato_, for her brother."

It was more than I had bargained for to take a squalling brat of four
in a small boat as a guarantee that the weather would be fine, and I
was casting about for an objection that should be unanswerable and yet
not offensive to maternal feelings, when Ciro settled the matter by
seizing the child with one arm and rowing off with the other. There
was nothing more to be said. He quieted its fears with the tenderness
of a mother and the resourcefulness of an experienced grand-aunt, and
I must confess that, as infants go, she behaved with exemplary tact.
They like babies, these boys.  On subsequent occasions the little
Matilda was left at home.

I asked him, as I have asked many others since, about the Sirens who
sang among these rocks. But Ciro's only Siren was an imaginary
_innamorata_ who still loomed far ahead, though he would have me
believe she was waiting for him round the next corner. And the other
Siren stories I have heard all bear a modern stamp, thus: that there
are three Sirens, young girls, but accursed (_maladette_); that there
is one Siren, whom nobody has ever seen and who lives on the Galli
islands, where she "calls the weather"; and lastly, that "the English
caught the Siren and took her away with them." I am not sure to what
this may refer. The English surveyed the coast in Bourbon times and
drew up an excellent map of it; they left certain diabolical marks
upon the cliffs which are still pointed out with awed respect. The
rape of the Siren may date from those days.

Nor could he, or anyone else, give me information about the legend
recorded by K. A. Mayer to the effect that "about the Siren islets a
huge spectral ship, called _nave di Papa Lucerna_, sails by night; it
dates from Roman times and is manned by Roman sailors. It blocks up
the straits from Cape Campanella to Capri." This story seems to have
faded out of the popular mind.

He knew all about quail-catching and how to snare the red-legged
partridges on Mount San Costanzo, which are now, perhaps for that
reason, as rare as the dodo; he had also killed some of the wild
rock-doves that haunt the _Grotta delle Palumbe_, a yawning sea-cave
which throbs with an emerald light-reflection not unlike that of the
celebrated Green Grotto at Capri. You will do well to pay it a visit.
It lies between Recomone and Isca, close to the rock-needle of Scopolo
(locally pronounced Scrofolo)--a word of ancient Pelasgic origin,
signifying cliffs in or near the sea, and recurring on Capri and on
Ischia.

It is something of a coincidence that two out of the five Siren rocks
should bear the names of Isca and Vivara, like the larger islands of
Ischia--it used also to be called Isca--and Vivara on the other side
of the Bay of Naples. The derivation of Isca is not quite certain;
there are Iscas all along the coast; the other means a vivarium (of
rabbits).  Yet the Siren islet Vivara, though spelt thus on maps, is
pronounced Vetara, and I cannot help thinking that this is a
corruption of its mediaeval name Avetaria. On Vetara there are quails
and grass which are rented for about thirty francs a year; a few
ancient bricks, probably imported in post-Roman times; an open
cistern; and a race of lizards darker than those on the sister-rocks
and approaching in colour the well-known Faraglione breed of Capri.

Isca, which lies like some brooding, round-backed sea-monster within a
hundred yards of the shore between Crapolla and Rccomone, is a far
more interesting place. For here are the remains of two Roman
buildings, one at either extremity; the best preserved facing
eastwards with a couple of rooms still intact, and marbles and
fragments of pottery lying around; the other at the sunset end.  At
both points are old rock-cut steps climbing up from the sea; those at
the western corner wind past a roofless Roman chamber clinging to the
hill-side which the fishermen--by way of giving it an expiatory name,
at least--call the chapel of Saint Anthony, though it clearly never
served that purpose.

The most suggestive relic of paganism on Isca is a small grotto which
Ciro showed me, and which lies about a yard above sea-level beneath
this "chapel." Its entrance has been artificially heightened by
chiselwork; within, is a dim and irregular rock-chamber, lined with
Posilipo tufa.  The builder or proprietor seems to have been
dissatisfied with his original design, for new walls of the same
period have been constructed across some of its angles, hiding the old
ones and making the grotto smaller but more pleasing in shape.  The
masonry is still covered, in patches, with a fanciful incrustation of
limestone pebbles, presumably to heighten the quaint effect. Perhaps
it was painted within, or partially inlaid with shining _tessera_ of
blue glass, like some of the caves on Capri.

What deity dwelt here? The water that now oozes from above, fashioning
bosses and ridges of translucent opaline stalagmite upon the old
flooring, may well have been collected in those days into a shapely
marble basin which now serves, for aught we know, as font in some
village church. Fully to enjoy this chill retreat one must escape into
it, as I have sometimes done, on a breathless July afternoon and
listen to the water dripping musically in the twilight and look back,
through the narrow opening, upon the burning world beyond; then indeed
one feels that its Haunter, whoever he was, deserved worship, and
deserves it still. Ciro suggested that the "gentiles" used it _per
pranzare_--for dining purposes, which is likely enough; they were fond
of taking their pleasure in cool grottos, as we know from that
accident at Spelunca where Tiberius nearly lost his life. At the
water's edge is a diminutive harbour with what looks like an
artificial entrance for a skiff; it reminds me of the Grotta Arsenale
at Capri, which has also a small rock-hewn basin of ancient origin at
water-level for the convenience of visitors; all of which would go to
prove that the sea-level was approximately the same then as now.

Not far away is another semicircular cave with Roman walls and
pavement. It lies about ten metres above the sea.

Did these two villas on Isca belong to different families? I like to
think otherwise: Isca is too small for two families; too small,
almost, for one.  I like to think of some solitary Siren-worshipper
here, spending a brief summer month amid his vines and books and
flute-girls, and flitting from one end to the other of his microscopic
domain according to the posture of the planets or his own ephemeral
moods; or perhaps a pair of them who, in moments of misunderstanding,
would separate awhile, each wending to his own abode, there to
meditate upon words and actions misconstrued and the frailty of all
human concerns, and how the thing called friendship, once that blithe
communion of boyhood is past, is but the gossamer bond of the
disillusioned or a frankly utilitarian speculation, seeing that most
of us, but chiefly the noblest, arc shaggy solitaries growling
distrustfully, each in his own cave.

In Roman times the two villas may well have been embowered in trees
and connected by a shady arbour. The islet at this moment is utterly
bare, and it is hard to believe that only a few years ago it was
partly covered with vines, potatoes, and melon-plantations, and partly
with timber: six thousand bundles of firewood were taken from it.  It
is at present on the market; two or three thousand francs are asked,
and I would be glad to think that it fell into the hands of one who
would renew its forgotten charms. It has the great advantage of being
easily rendered inaccessible, for the cliffs, though not high, are
nearly unbroken all round the island.

A ship was wrecked here not long ago in a wintry storm; the sailors
were cast ashore, where they lived for four days on grass and lizards
till the gale subsided and they could be taken off. Such disasters are
not invariably accidental. There was one on the south coast of Capri
lately; the crew escaped, as usual, but the boat was shattered to
pieces and the sea covered for miles with its floating cargo of corn.
The vessel was old and heavily insured, and the captain received the
congratulations of all sensible folks....

There are spots on this southern shore, as at Ierate, where the
precipices are wondrously beautiful, descending perpendicularly into
the waves, with mysteriously shaped openings in their smooth walls.
One of these fissures, under the lighthouse at Campanella, passes
clean athwart the rock and out at the other side, the sky looking
through the rift like a passionless eye of blue.  Clouds of swifts
emerge from these rents and oval recesses, skimming the water with
rapid wings.

Cliffs, sunny and bird-haunted.... How true is this old language! If a
man took thought for never so long, could he devise two happier
epithets for these sheets of southern sea-rock, flashing in the
sunshine and enlivened by wild cries and flutterings?

What are these Aeschylean birds? The grey swift and its
harsh-screaming northern companion; swallows of more than one kind;
the two kestrels.  These are ubiquitous. Then: peregrines and other
falcons; rock-doves; the Mediterranean herring-gull with its jocular
laughing-note, and the azure-tinted thrush, whose cunning brings tears
to the eyes of the native sportsmen. It contributes little towards the
general commotion, but its loud and tuneful song re-echoes among the
clefts. In the breeding season it makes a long roundabout to approach
its nest, with countermarches and stealthy diversions, a piece of
_malizia_ which extorts the fisherman's approbation. Sometimes, too,
you may see the exotic wall-creeper hovering among the ledges with
jerky butterfly-movements, or the kingfisher picking its way southward
from rock to rock, when the streams in the north have begun to freeze
over. They call it _uceello di San Martino_, because it generally
appears on that saint's day in November. It is strange to see this
bird, which we associate with dim forest pools and reedy streamlets,
darting like a blue meteor along the open salt-water beaches. Eagles
and ravens, sea-fowl in Greece, have deserted Siren land; the latter
used to be so common in Anacapri that one of the reproaches levelled
in olden days at its inhabitants was to the effect that they had
learnt their harsh dialect from the raven's croak.  No doubt an
ornithologist would find much to interest him here during the spring
and autumn migrations, for a number of rare birds alight at these
seasons. But the country will wait long for its Gaedke, since every
feathered thing is shot and eaten, irrespective of size or species.

It is not good to be a bird in Siren land.

On the mainland opposite Isca is situated a miniature Blue Grotto,
which can be entered at low water or viewed from above through a hole
in the rock--whence its name _grotta perciata_ (cloven). It is a
favourite abode of the _bove marina_ or hooded seal, an amiable
monster which used to frequent the caverns of the Tyrrhenian but will
soon be extinct.  In severe storms this huge creature sometimes takes
refuge among the rocks, emerging with half its body above the
breakers: the face and cowl-markings are human enough to be mistaken
by simple folks for those of a monk, and wherever there is a cave or
promontory along these shores called Monaco or Monacone, it refers to
the apparition of this sea-monk in days of old. The _monstrum marinum
monachi forma_, was a ceaseless source of marvel to the learned
Aldrovandus, Olaus Magnus, Pontoppidan, Maiolus, and other sages; in
1531 there was even captured, in his full vestments, a sea-bishop,
_vir marinus episcopi forma_--he was presented to King Sigismund. Of
this race must have been the triton sounding a conch in a cave,
concerning whose discovery ambassadors were specially despatched from
Portugal to the Emperor Tiberius, and that other one, six cubits long,
which was caught in the waters of Posilipo in 1660, with a trumpet in
his mouth and a crown on his head.  Like the Sirens, these male
sea-dignitarics became so common in the Middle Ages as to lose much of
their consequence. And, like them, they were generally mute: De
Maillet reports that one who was kept alive at Sestri used to sit in a
chair all day long, sobbing and refusing food, and could not te
induced to utter a syllable.

Ciro told me how the _bove marina_ lives here and at the point of
Campanella, and now and then, on moonlight nights, swims over to the
Galli rocks to cat the celebrated _frutta di mare_ there, or to the
Reel Grotto at Capri to visit "certain relations"; which visits, he
added, were always scrupulously returned. I imagined that these
animals, familiar to me from the Aegean, had nearly vanished
hereabouts.  Not a bit of it, says Ciro. They are only sly--infernally
sly.

"Why, only two years ago," he told me, "I caught one myself on this
beach. I heard its voice: it was calling for its mother. And soon
enough the old woman came up, but--! you should have seen how she made
oil when she saw me. It had no teeth and was as gentle as a little
puppy-dog, a most delectable beast."

"What did you give it to eat?"

"Bread and beans. But it died all the same.  One day they killed a
very, very old one. He was the grandfather of the whole family, and he
had a tremendous moustache as white as the sky. We all had compassion
on him--he was so like the old general at Sant' Agata. But the fish he
had eaten!  And sometimes they climb into the vineyards at night to
steal the grapes, just like a confounded _cristiano_. Many people have
had their grapes stolen that way. And when they have had enough, they
fold themselves into a sort of ball, like an orange, and roll back
into the water, and drink, and drink...."

"Don't you think some one else might steal the grapes?"

"Boys' tricks," he replied scornfully.

You will not hear folklore from the girls of Siren land. They are not
going to be caught talking nonsense, like their brothers. They are
quicker than boys in perceiving why a foreigner asks after such
things, and can cast off old memories of the race more easily, having
worked them on, I suppose, less thoroughly. Besides, for a stranger to
converse for any length of time with peasant girls or married women is
one of those things which are tolerated (foreigners are queer people,
anyhow) but not viewed with pleasure, and he will be respected in
proportion as he avoids the familiar tone with women. Old crones, of
course, who have concluded their duties towards society, are to be
considered as outside this convention. They are often perfect mines of
animistic lore.

Wandering among the people here are also certain fairy tales, _conti
di fata_, reminiscences of Bidpai and _The Arabian Nights_--the
Hashish Eater, Sindbad, and about twenty others--some dull, others
humorous, many of phenomenal indecency. But when they are told with an
open, frank countenance, amid hearty peals of laughter, they go forth
naked and unashamed, like Adam and Eve; and far more amusing. Hard to
catch, these Milesian ghosts--the men have no time for such
trivialities, the boys are growing sophisticated and self-conscious,
and old women of the right sort are becoming rarer every day. I have
sometimes thought of collecting them for scholars and doing them into
monkish Latin, a sonorous tongue allowing of tergiversations and
_double entendres_ and a mock dignity peculiarly adapted to this kind
of literature; not omitting, in certain parts, some of those
magnificent verses which are chiefly associated with church music, but
would serve a worldly purpose equally well, such as---

  O iuvamen oppressorum
  O solamen miserorum
  Da contemptum supernorum
  Dixit custos rotulorum....

The Romans may have invented Latin and the Moors rhyme, but it was
reserved for Christiana to contrive this happy blend of both, these
full-blooded cadences that crash through the thin troubadourish
squeakings of medievalism like some purple-nosed abbot elbowing his
way to the refectorium.

Projects!

Some of the men are good raconteurs, but they are apt to know too
much; they are overlaid with recent experiences, and so they overlay
their tales.  Even as the young blackbird best displays the ancestral
thrush-like markings of the race which become over-coloured in the
adult, so here the younger generation portrays most clearly some of
the traits and feelings of the past--of that incomprehensible,
lawless, and terror-stricken past of which the individual child-mind
is no mirror, but only a distorted reflection. For children begin by
being older than their parents, and end in being younger, and the
recesses of their minds arc inaccessible as that Hercynian forest of
old.

Compared with that of northerners, the mental outlook of these boys is
restricted, and a narrow frame will hold the picture of their hopes
and fears.  But this picture has all the directness, the _naivete_, of
what is called the youth of the world; a very ancient youth, since it
already bears the impress of uncounted generations of
anti-lawlessness. It is not praising them unduly to say that their
minds, like their limbs, grow straight without schooling, and that
they possess an inborn sobriety which would be sought in vain among
the corresponding class in the North. It is the quality which the
Greeks called _sophrosyne_. Inured to patriarchal discipline from
earliest childhood and familiar with every phenomenon of life from
birth to death, they view their surroundings objectively and
glide-through adolescence without any of the periodical convulsions
and catastrophes of more introspective races. Their entire vocabulary
consists, I should think, of scarce three hundred words, many of which
would bring a blush to the cheek of Rabelais; yet their conversation
among themselves is refreshingly healthy, and many subjects, popular
enough elsewhere, are tacitly ignored or tabooed. Not Puritans, by any
means, nor yet the reverse; they will bend either way, but, the strain
relaxed, they forthwith straighten like a willow wand: if this be not
virtue, according to Aristotle's definition, what is? Emigration is
unfortunately producing a very different crop of youths; gamblers,
wine-bibbers, and flashily dressed _mezzo-signori_.

The environment, to be sure, to which these people are so well
adapted, is one of archaic simplicity, and every one of its social and
ethical problems has long ago been solved and codified; amid the
wilderness of our ever-changing worldly circumstances they would be
hopelessly lost; indeed, they regard our whole civilisation as a vast
perambulating lunatic asylum.

Small wonder, considering the exemplars of septentrional culture which
occasionally stray hither: elderly females that wander by the sad
sea-waves, distributing Protestant tracts to illiterate pagan
fishermen; beetle-collectors; pale youths who fix up a hammock in
which they live night and day, declaring that such was the way of the
Christian Fathers, then suddenly vanish, leaving their bills unpaid;
or downright lunatics like that batch of men and women who arrived the
other day _vom lieben Schwabenlande_ in apostolic garments, which they
proceeded to doff in the market-place, till the population rose up
against them. (They said it was the newest fashion in religion, which
is quite a mistake, because it is the oldest--that of the pre-Adamites
and gymnoso-phists.  Francis of Assisi endeavoured to revive this
sunshiny method of adoring the Almighty, to which Krafft-Ebing has
given a new name.) To minds accustomed to militarism and the "Thing In
Itself," there is something intoxicating in the purity of the
atmosphere and the comparative freedom from police inspection--your
Teuton loves being supervised--to be enjoyed here: it prompts them to
improbable deeds....

"Do you see that old house over there?" Ciro once asked me, pointing
to a ruined tenement. "A _male sito_--a bad place, signore. Strange
things come flying out of that window; bricks, and pieces of cloth,
and lightnings, and God knows what.  And sometimes--sometimes one can
see a light burning inside. Ugly things."

"Would you be afraid of living there?"

"Afraid? Not likely! But they carried away everything years and years
ago. Why, the carpenter alone said he would not do his part of the job
for less than three hundred francs."

"The _munaciello_?" I suggested.

"Who believes in the _munaciello_!"

A good many people, apparently. Or perhaps they only pretend to; it is
hard to say. He is quite a useful domestic spirit, if you know how to
deal with him; he gives lucky numbers for the lottery and shows where
money is buried. But you must keep the information to yourself, and
not imitate the foolish woman whose oil jar he filled up day after day
till she confided the secret to a neighbour, which spoilt everything.
Sometimes he guards the house in the shape of a snake, or appears to
the terrified wayfarer as a ghoul--a bodiless head.

More often he is simply spiteful; he throws people about. They
re-furnished a certain resort of his, a decayed tower, thinking to
drive him out: on the very first evening, he tumbled the proprietor
out of bed. If you look up from the sea at Cantone you will observe to
the westward, under the cliff of San Costanzo hill, a yellow house,
solitary, among olives; it is called "Grale"--a name I cannot
explain--or _casa degli spiriti_, and it used to be a summer residence
of the monks who lived below: its subsequent history is also curious
but not edifying. This "house of the spirits," then, is a chosen abode
of the _munaciello_--he threw a woman off the roof and a child out of
bed; disguised as a pig, he actually tempted a man to cast himself
over the precipice and so perish.

I lived in it for two months, but never caught sight of him.

A volume could be filled with the local legends of the _munaciello_,
who is sometimes accompanied by one or more cats. It is the malicious
and sly monk, with one foot in hell; but what makes him interesting is
that around this rather plump modern contrivance have grouped
themselves many fragments of ancient and mediaeval beliefs, floating
dispersedly adown the stream of time: the witch-element, Sabazius,
Queen Mab, Poltergeist, the Familiar, Proteus, and so forth. A
heterogeneous accretion; like those wanton islands of the South that
are formed of multifarious river-debris lingering around some
insignificant nucleus.

The Mammone, though he only frightens children, has a far purer
pedigree, being the lineal descendant, they say, of Mormo, the terror
of little Greeks and Romans. But perhaps this is a mistake; perhaps he
is Mammon, one of the many heathen idols who become a demon. There is
something of the _beetle_ in Mammone which is not clear to me:
beetles, great and small, are often called by this name, and if you
ask why, the answer will be: "Because they are so ugly." It stands to
reason that gnosticism and suchlike observances were more hateful than
downright paganism to the early church, and I sometimes ask myself
whether this _mammone_, this god of the heathen, was not identified in
a manner with these cults and with the scarabs which poured into Italy
during the later Empire, or were found among its ruins and worn, here
as elsewhere, as amulets for their occult virtues. If you show a
scarab to a child he will always call it "Mammone." However that may
be, the beetle-charm, which differs from the ancient scarab shape,
still survives and is credited with great efficacity: the Neapolitan
murderer Erricone, when arrested recently in New York, was wearing one
of them round his neck.

It is a singular parallelism, by the way, that the Mammone, a beetle,
should be useful for frightening purposes, even as we talk of a
bug-bear: bug signifying both a beetle and a fright....

Many other caves and inlets we explored together in that craft of
Ciro's, and much he told me of their wondrous lore: far-off memories
now, flashing like sunny gleams across the intervening gulf....

What Ciro's ambitions were, I never learned.  Or perhaps I have
forgotten. Doubtless they were modest and well within range of
realisation, for the improbable had no place in his worldly
calculations. On him Athene had set her seal of temperance; that want
of self-knowledge, the greatest sin of the Greeks, could never be laid
to his charge. Maybe he dreamed of some white-domed cottage among
vines and olives, not far from the sea, with a boat near at hand, and
five or six children as amiable and simple-minded as himself. His
dreams, whatever they were, remained unfulfilled, for he lies buried
in an alien land, under a flaming sun. So his mother told me some
years ago, merely adding, with antique resignation, that he was a good
son.

_Requiescat_.




VII.  THE COVE OF CRAPOLLA


One of the quaintest spots in Siren land is the inlet of Crapolla on
the south coast. A rugged path, frequented by fishermen who bring
their produce over the ridge to Sorrento and by a few bathing
enthusiasts of Sant' Agata, leads down the incline, becoming more
precipitous as it breaks away, perforce, from the stream which flows
alongside, and which ends in a cascade at the back of the inlet. This
is no walk for a summer morning when the glare from the shadeless
limestone rock is terrific, and one wonders how those old monks who
lived in the abbey of San Pietro di Crapolla close by the sea were
able to endure it. Likely enough, the road was shaded in those days by
oaks, single groups of which may still be seen along this slope in
isolated spots where it has been found too troublesome to cut them
down. These Theocritean vales are fast disappearing, since oaken
timber is in great request for shipbuilding at Piano di Sorrento and
Castellamare--though not for purposes of furniture, as it grows too
fast to be solid; the chestnut takes its place in this respect.

The monks were of the Basilian order, and documents relating to the
abbey go back to the twelfth century: in fact, all along these shores,
at Nerano, Sant' Elia, Capri, and elsewhere, were small monastic
establishments, generally of Franciscans or Benedictines, who spent
calm and godlike days in these abodes of peace, content with what
vineyards and houses and ducats the pious inhabitants gave them in
exchange for spiritual consolations. No doubt the corsairs are
responsible for the abandonment of some of these convents.  This one
at Crapolla must have remained fairly intact till the thirties, except
that it was unroofed, for Marianna Stark describes the mural paintings
and the interior of the church, which was separated into three aisles
by a double row of columns, eight in number; six being of Parian
marble, the others of granite. It is an utter ruin now. Some of the
columns are supposed to have been taken from the great Minerva temple
at the promontory of Campanella--Donnorso, who wrote in 1744, is one
of the first to make this assertion, which may well be true. The grey
granite ones are still there, lying among the debris, and undoubtedly
antique; the others, the white ones, were carried away from Crapolla
about thirty years ago and sawn up, I was told, into window-sills,
mortars for pounding sugar, and other domestic implements. _Sic
transit_! At the entrance of the so-called Abbazia in Sant' Agata are
two small marble columns which are said to come from Crapolla--they
are grooved in a spiral whose centre depression may have been overlaid
with mosaic.

A hermit lived among the ruins of the ancient abbey so long as
visitors went there to supply him with donations, solving the problem
which ever confronts these holy men: how to _mangiare franco_ (eat
gratis).

Every one knows who took away the wealth of Crapolla and other sacred
buildings all over Italy.  It was Napoleon.

"Come here, Don Gioacchino," he said one day to one of his scoundrel
friends, "and let me see what advice you have to offer. Listen: I must
make war with Moscow, a paltry half-year's job, and--well, I have no
money. Now?"

"Half a year, your Majesty?"

"Not a day more."

"Make money with the church plate of these Italians and buy cannons
with it. That will suffice for exactly six months."

"An excellent suggestion, _caro into_. And you shall be general in my
army."

And so it came about that the convents were raided and a new sort of
money, called Napoleons, coined with their proceeds. But the war
lasted seven months instead of six, and everybody was killed except
Napoleon and his friend, who had sewn themselves up in the belly of a
horse. Even that did not humble Don Gioacchino, for he afterwards
tried to be governor of Naples, and the king was obliged to have him
shot at Pizzo in Calabria.

Some say that the ship which took the wealth of Crapolla was so laden
with gold that it foundered just outside the islet of Isca. _Chi lo
sa_! If so, it will be fished up again when the blessed Bourbons
return to power.

There was one thing which Napoleon overlooked when he sacked this
abbey: its _tesoro_, or buried treasure. It was a hen and six chickens
of pure gold, and it was raised not so very long ago.  A boat arrived
late one evening with three men, who stepped out and walked up to the
ruin; the first man carried a sack, the second a pick-axe, and the
third--_the book_. That looked suspicious....  They hammered all night
long, and when the sun rose they were gone. How it was found out? Why,
a short time afterwards a small boy went to look at the excavation
they had made and picked up a golden chicken which they must have lost
or forgotten--he took it to the tax-collector at Sorrento, who gave
him a few sous for it. (Lucky tax-collector! It was worth many hundred
thousand francs.) Then other people looked more carefully, and soon
discovered the exact spot where the hen had been sitting in the earth,
with three chickens on each side of her.

The country is full of these treasure-legends, but the natives are not
prone to supply information on the subject, fearing that the stranger
may be versed in _l'arte_ (magic) and thereby enabled to unseal the
enchantment for his own benefit. This same "chicken-motif" occurs in
many parts of Italy. It all depends upon the proper use of "the book";
few people, naturally, understand it, else the hoards would all have
been raised long ago.  At Campanclla there is a golden lamb hidden in
some crevice; at Pastena, too, in the subterranean passage of San
Paolo, lies a fabulous treasure. A man crept in one day and filled his
pockets with precious things, but on turning to go home he found, to
his surprise, the tunnel barred with an iron gate. Then a Voice
said---

"Disgorge your gold!"

He did so and the gate vanished. But he had shrewdly kept back a few
coins and was creeping away well pleased with himself when, suddenly,
the passage was blocked again.

"Out with the rest of it!" thundered the Voice; whereupon he
reluctantly emptied his pockets and was allowed to escape into
daylight again.

I, too, once crawled into this tunnel, but discovered nothing more
valuable than the skeleton of a goat....

And the legend of Campanella is interesting because, instead of the
magic volume of Virgil or what not, the explorers entered the cave
armed with a talismanic ring (Oriental influence). There, a monstrous
figure on horseback issued from the darkness, saying that unless they
succeeded in raising the treasure by the third attempt their lives
would be sacrificed. They failed; and an immense wave of the sea rose
up to drown them, which they appeased, in the nick of time, by casting
the ring into the foaming gulf.

>From Crapolla you can be rowed eastwards to Sant' Elia, the Ultima
Thule of Siren land, where another treasure lies buried. It can also
be reached by walking down from Torco, along a stony path skirting the
cliff, with incomparable views over the Salernitan Bay and the Galli
rocks; or again--an easier route--from the Colli di Sorrento past the
once famous limestone arch, _Arco di Sant' Elia_, a portentous freak
of nature. It is a sad wreck now, this once majestic portal opening
upon the blue wonderland of sky and sea; the wind, which fashions the
arches and pinnacles and melon-shaped grottos and all the bizarre
accoutrements of these coasts, gnawed at the keystone till the span
yielded.  Richard Burton climbed over it in 1835--in 1843 it is
described as "shattered."

There used to be a theory, still popular, that all these natural
features had been eroded by the sea, a curious delusion, which
postulated a frequent rising and sinking of the land and took no
account of the fact that similar structures exist in limestone regions
hundreds of miles inland. Subterranean threads of water, and rain, and
wind, are responsible for them. The water filters through the rock in
minute channels, disintegrating it by chemical action and, later on,
by sheer mechanical force; where it issues, a cave is formed, with the
help of winds and rain. This is the origin of nearly all the
land-caves of the district such as the _gratia dell' Arco_ and _del
Castello_ at Capri; in some, like that below the "Villa Jovis," the
old water-course, now dried up, can still be plainly seen. Where the
elements attack a rock which is softest in the centre, a natural arch
is formed: a pinnacle, where it yields at the sides. The force of the
wind is incalculable; even on apparently calm days, a terrific current
may be rushing upwards from the sea, as on that fateful occasion in
September, 1902, when some wood gatherers on Monte Lauro at Capri,
throwing away a lighted match, suddenly found themselves enveloped in
a conflagration and perished miserably all but one. The accident was
witnessed by many fishermen from their boats, but nothing could be
done for them; one by one they dropped down the awful six hundred feet
of cliff into the sea, whence the charred bodies were afterwards
recovered--their shrieks could be heard as far as the opposite
mainland. Which, by the way, is not as wonderful as it seems; in this
air, persons can sometimes carry on a conversation across half a mile
of land or a mile of water.

I often find my way to Sant' Elia. It is a steep olive-covered slope
trending sea-wards, and in former times may well have supported a few
families that fled away when a cataract of rocks descended from above,
among the debris of which their ruined houses are still discernible.
Two shattered gateways against corsair-surprises, built at precipitous
points on the paths leading east and west, also testify to the
existence of a population at this remote spot, as do the mouldering
remains of a once fair chapel by the water's edge.  The place is
sufficiently venerable, as its Byzantine name indicates; and a few
fragments of antique marbles among the masonry of this sanctuary show
that, in still earlier ages, some Roman villa may have stood near this
site. An ancient land....

The jewel of Sant' Elia is an old farm-house which lies out of the
track of descending stones and, though uninhabited, is still in use.
It is a sturdy little building and simplicity itself as regards
architectural ornament and inner arrangement; a genial simplicity,
born of rustic needs and corrected, and re-corrected, by ages of
steady thought, which discarded all superfluities and culminated, at
last, upon a note dignifying the lowliest things: fitness. There is a
beauty in fitness which no art can enhance. This structure displays
nothing of the prettiness, the mazy irregularity, of many Southern
peasants' houses--much less the Giulio-Romano stateliness of sleek
Lombardy farms: you enter into a rectangular loggia opening, in
bungalow fashion, upon a row of rooms that shelter animals and
implements and a ponderous oil-press and piles of glowing lemons;
then, climbing up to the next floor, where the "famiglia" once lived,
you find exactly the same pattern repeated. What more simple? But the
site has been correctly chosen; the exposure duly calculated; the
arches of the loggia are well proportioned, so are those of the rooms,
whose vaulted ceilings are solid and high: in short, of ten thousand
chances of wrong-doing, every one has been avoided and, like some
smooth river at the end of its course, it now displays no trace of the
torments and struggles which accompanied earlier stages. Such a
dwelling marks the survival of the fittest--the coincidence of
efficiency with economy _thus, and not otherwise_: the justification
of yonder falcon floating, a speck of gold, in the empyrean; or, for
that matter, of some humble beast that, trusting to immobility and a
mottled pelt, even now evades his eye.

This _masseria_ is utterly deficient, of course, in the comforts of
civilisation: it was built for no such purpose. Yet I have memories of
certain impromptu luncheons--quails and cream cheeses and succulent
raisins preserved in vine-leaves--on that upper loggia with a
civilised and charming companion; memories of blue sea shimmering
through a silvery network of olive branches, with talks, over coffee,
of far-away things....



Less innocent conversations have also echoed within these walls. Here
was a favourite meeting-place of the brigands who infested the
peninsula up to the seventies--here they caroused and discussed their
plans of operations, climbing up afterwards, by break-neck paths, to
the heights of Marecoccola, where they separated. The great Pillone
was the most celebrated of them--you can read about him in Bergsoe's
_Italian Novels_.

An old woman, who witnessed their last stand against the
_carabinieri_, told me how it befell.  They were bivouacking on a
hillock below Termini called "La Chiunca," which in those days was
covered with immense oaks; their enemies silently encompassed them and
demanded a surrender.  They refused, and a sanguinary fray began--the
brigands shooting from behind the trees with deadly precision upon
their unprotected assailants.  But their ammunition was soon exhausted
and they all fell fighting, save a few who managed to escape.  Not a
man of them was taken alive; a wounded one crawled away as far as
Monte Faito, where he was afterwards found dead, with a crucifix
(probably stolen) upon his breast. Such deeds of daring are over, for
the present, in this country; the brigands of modern Italy have
deserted their ancient fastnesses; they recline in the Chamber of
Deputies, where no one molests them.

When I first heard this story the Germans were engaged in testing
their new bullets upon the natives of Samoa, who thought themselves
safe behind trees, and I imprudently told the venerable dame that her
brigands would stand a poor chance against modern weapons such as
these: bullets that pierce an oak. She said nothing--she was far too
polite to contradict; but she thought a good deal, and I saw that I
had sunk considerably in her estimation, not so much for trying to
foist a fairytale upon her, as for believing it myself.

And the treasure of Sant' Elia? It lies buried under a tower near the
sea. A workman's spade one day encountered an underground marble slab
which bore the lettering: BEATO CHI SCAVA (Blessed who digs). Wild
with excitement, the man delved lower and presently struck another one
inscribed "Blessed who digs deeper," and after some hours of frenzied
toil the third tablet was at last revealed. It was inscribed----. No,
I cannot possibly pen that inscription; suffice to say, it was not
very explicit as to the whereabouts of the treasure. Whoever is
interested in the matter, must make a pilgrimage to the spot; the
peasant who works the land is called _figlio del malpensiero_ and will
doubtless supply the desired information.  It was his own father to
whom the adventure happened, which proves that it must be true.

On Capri, at Veterino and in other parts of the island, there are a
variety of treasure-legends; perhaps the best known is that of the
equestrian statue of Tiberius, which a boy is said to have seen in a
chink of the rock--the _motif_ recurs in that of the Suabian
Barbarossa, of Gyges as narrated by Herodotus, in Plato's _Republic_,
and no doubt elsewhere.

All these hoards are guarded by spirits of the gentiles (Romans)--evil
genii that have sought a refuge underground from the effulgence of
Christianity.  So it is all the world over: Minos creeps into the
earth, into the universal Venusberg, and when the time is
accomplished, great Jove, at Demogorgon's call, will descend and
follow him down the abyss. Each deity becomes a demon in his turn, and
his adherents pagans or provincials; to argue a common origin for
those religions which possess an underworld is surely a mistake, for
if the rulers of the moment are overhead, and the man on earth,
whither shall the devils betake themselves save down below?

The Sirens, too, have suffered a sea-change; once earth-powers, they
have now retired into the dim purple depths of ocean--a transmigration
which necessitated some structural changes in their anatomy. Euripides
already spoke of them as dwelling in Hades with Persephone. So gods
and demi-gods go the way of men--_eodem cogimur_.

Strange, by the way, this startling metamorphosis of the Sirens in
mediaeval days. How came it about? According to Schrader, the first
mention of the fish-tailed ones occurs in the "Liber monstrorum" which
was written towards the end of the sixth century. He calls them a
"Frankish invention." It seems to me more likely that fish-tailed
mermaids existed from time immemorial all over the North, and that the
compiler of this early work, being naturally puzzled what to make of
the classic Sirens, brought them into the category of shapes familiar
to him. Saint Isidore, a contemporary of the "Liber monstrorum," and
the Byzantines all invest them with the ancient bird-attributes.

Below the old abbey is the cove of Crapolla, a tiny beach dotted with
fishing-boats and hemmed in by mighty walls of orange-tawny limestone.
A colony of Roman fishermen lived here; their ruined abodes cling like
bee-cells to the rock, and the conduit they built to regulate the
cataract still serves its purpose. This is a lively place in
summertime, at sunrise when the fish are brought in, or in the late
afternoon when you may contemplate the preparations for the coming
night's work and watch the boats as they glide off severally, like
seagulls taking flight from their nests, till the last one has
vanished round the rocks, and you suddenly find yourself alone, quite
alone, on the smooth, warm pebbles. Then is the time to dream awhile.

In winter Crapolla is uninhabited; the boats are drawn up out of reach
of the waves which thunder in between the encircling precipices. Only
one white-bearded fisherman, with a face like Father Christmas, lives
here throughout this wild season.  His name is Giuseppe Garibaldi, and
no one knows better how to catch the wary _cernia_ as it lies hidden
among the rocks; if he wished, he could be as rich as a king. But
money slips like sea-water through his fingers, and when he makes a
good catch, he prefers to treat his friends. For forty years he has
known no other life than this, though he can tell of stirring times
when he lived at Naples before turning his back on the world and
carving out a quiet existence for himself in this secluded nook, where
he now potters about, blithe and loquacious, in his leaky black tub.
So he lives, this _cigale_ of seventy summers, reckless of to-morrow
and often gaily fasting for days together when his purse is empty.
All too soon, I fear, he will be found lying lifeless upon the stone
floor of his hut (his bed was pawned thirty years ago and never
redeemed) and there will be one gentleman less on earth.

Several deaths have occurred at Crapolla owing to the rapacity of the
country folk who lose their lives in scrambling upon the face of the
cliff in search of firewood. Not long ago, the spirit of the last of
these victims began to be troublesome by haunting the place, but the
priests compromised matters by erecting a wooden cross on the spot
where he fell, which satisfied every one. Near at hand, at Recomone,
something of the same kind ought to be done, for it is a _male sito_
in spite of all its natural charm, A shingly beach, solitary,
overgrown with slender rushes and the strangely beautiful sea-thistle
and other uncommon plants which have clambered down the hot gulley
overhead, Recomone is the chosen abode of a spectre, an _ombra_ which
does an infinity of mischief, such as throwing down stones and
loosening the ropes of boats moored to the shore. The fisher-folk
"fanno l'indiano," they play the Indian--feign complete ignorance of
the matter.

"How, signore?" they will say, "you believe in ghosts?"

The peasants are more communicative. There are two or three variants
of the story, but the most generally accepted version is that, some
years ago, a certain woman who had made much money by adulterating
wine, died, and the sin preyed so much upon her spirit after death
that it left her no peace. She used to wander dolefully about her
former home, scaring old and young. At last it became such a scandal
that they got a "strong" priest to talk to her. It was on this wise---

PRIEST. Now then, what is this they tell me?  Prowling about the
village, eh?

SPECTRE. I can't help it; I watered the wine.

PRIEST. You ought to have thought of that sooner.

SPECTRE. I did. But I always forgot again.

PRIEST. _Peggio per te_. I shall now banish you to some lonely spot,
where you may do what you please.

SPECTRE. Oh, oh....

PRIEST. Let me see--there is Fossa di Papa.

SPECTRE. Not there--not there! Rather to Recomone.

PRIEST. To Recomone then, and off with you!

This story is interesting, as an _ex post facto_ explanation of some
forgotten incident: this beach was in bad repute long before the
present ghost was born. So the traveller Swinburne writes, in 1780,
that "Nerano is famous among mariners for being haunted by evil
spirits." Whether they really believe these tales is quite another
matter. I think they merely derive from them a certain emotional
shiver, an echo out of their own past, such as some persons obtain
from a spiritualistic seance or from a creepy story well told.

These spirit conjurations are not invariably successful, and a priest
of questionable reputation should never attempt the task, for spectres
see things invisible to mortal eye and are notoriously recalcitrant
and plain-spoken. "And who the devil are _you_?" said one of them the
other day to a fat _canonico_ who was threatening him. "I know!  A
drunkard and a thief! You doctored your father's will; you had four
and a half litres of wine yesterday, and last Wednesday you cheated
sixteen francs out of your uncle. And what are you doing to-day?
Looking for a new cook, as usual. And why? Because----"

But the _canonico_ suddenly remembered another engagement.

It is chiefly the young priests who are chosen to constrain these
rebellious spirits; chastity, and chastity alone, can rivet their
obedience, and the people are hopelessly sceptical as to the
asceticism of the older ones....



The name Crapolla has been derived from "akron Apollinis," as though a
temple of Apollo had stood here. But this is pure
Cicerone-etymology--the origin of the word is the same as that of
Capri, and in old deeds it is actually called Capreola. What Capri
means is not quite certain; it is neither Greek nor Phoenician; there
are places with similar names all over Italy and half a dozen Capri's
and Caprile's within a few miles of here. Quaranta deduces it from a
Tyrrhenian root signifying rocky or stony. Why not? When, nearly two
centuries ago, Greek etymology could no longer explain all local names
and traditions, the enlightened took refuge in Semiticism, and thus
there grew up the ponderous Shem-Ham-and-Japheth literature of
Martorelli and his disciples, which we have outgrown in its turn.
Nowadays, the conveniently obscure Tyrrhenian language helps to solve
old difficulties.  But it makes new ones.

This Cicerone-etymology which has infected the whole of this
region--the whole of Italy, in fact--is a legacy left us by the _a
priori_ scholarship of past generations which worked with fixed ideas:
it was pleasant to make learned assertions, and to believe is always
easier than to doubt or to deny.  There is Nerano, for instance, which
has become fancifully connected with Nero--"Re Nerone" they call
him--who plays approximately the same part here as Tiberius does at
Capri. These are his baths; yonder, in those caverns, were celebrated
the orgies of which we have all heard. There are three of these
caverns under the crag of Mount San Costanzo; the largest, a noble
grot, distils limpid water which is collected into a small reservoir.
In one of these three lies the treasure, a golden statue of a child,
but only one man had the book, and that was the old hermit of Capri
who promised over and over again to come and perform the necessary
adjurations, but somehow or other never kept his word; and now he is
dead. He was the last person whom the Caprioles would have suspected
of being versed in necromancy, an ex-shoemaker and a great simpleton,
but the men of Nerano knew better: a prophet is of no account in his
own country.

And how curious is the Cicerone-etymology which derives Citarella, the
breezy hermitage upon Monte Solaro on Capri, from Venus Cytherea.
Ever since it was wrongly reported that an antique pavement had been
found here, learned local writers had elaborated visions of a snowy
temple on this height, Eryx-fashion, with roses and doves and grave
youthful priests--wisely omitting, however, the chief part of such
temple equipment.  The medical baths of Citara on Ischia--which is the
same name--have also been brought into connection with this Venus and
are therefore recommended as a cure for sterility. Here we have an
instance of a serious custom growing out of wrongly derived etymology.
These baths, which lasolini also recommended for baldness and
elephantiasis, are no longer taken by women.  Perhaps waters with a
contrary effect would not have lost their popularity so soon.
[Footnote: The strangest of all these derivations are those invented
solely _for the sake of symmetry_--the above-mentioned Veterino is
derived from Vitellius because near at hand lies a "Timberino"; the
islet of Vervece, near Massa, signifies a _sheep_ (vervex) because
Capri, just across the water, means a _goat_. The real origin of
Vervece is _verruca_, a wart, an isolated protuberance; it is the same
root as that of Eryx.]

I do not know the meaning of Nerano (it is also called Anarano,
Donerano, Inerano, and Inderano in old deeds), but Citarella is one of
the many names on Capri which wandered over during the Amalfitan
domination--the result, I suppose, of overcrowding in the days before
the Republic received its death-blow in the war with Pisa, when the
Pandects were carried off. Says Edrisius: "The island of Capri is
inhabited by men of Amalfi who keep flocks there." The family of
Citarella is a well-known one; they were nobles of Ravello and
patricians of Amalfi, and no doubt drew their name from the town of
Cetara (Cctarelli) on that coast.  Now what does Cetara mean? I cannot
say. All kinds of origins have been suggested for the names of such
places in Italy; perhaps it also means _rocky_, for Hecataeus has a
"Kyterion polls," which is now Cirisano, on a rocky height; Cetraro in
Calabria is similarly situated; citarella, the rock-haunting bird, is
the same as our kestrel; Berard derives it from a Hebrew word
signifying high spot, mount of sacrifice. The islet of Kythairon,
whence Venus took her epithet of Cytherea, is notoriously stony and
bare; Phoenicians founded her temple there, and her cult spread thence
over Cyprus and Greece to Campania. And so we arrive, as the result of
this philological disquisition, at a most unexpected conclusion: the
name Citara (Citarella) is not derived from Venus Cytherea, but _vice
versa_.

Let us never visit Capri without climbing up to Citrella, for it is a
fair spot. It was a Dominican foundation and up to a short time ago a
hermit used to dwell here, but the hermit business has decayed all
over Western Europe, and of the six or more devotees who used to haunt
the rocks and ruins of Capri only one has survived--the successor of
that over-talkative Consalvo who, in 1528, as Gregorio Rossi relates,
was in large part responsible for the defeat of the Spanish fleet and
the death of the viceroy at the hands of Doria in the sea-fight near
Conca. This cloudy abode used to be surrounded by a grove of wild
Aleppo pines, but they have now been cut down as fuel and to supply
the newly imported craving for Christmas trees: an amazing custom,
when one thinks of it--to load a tree with lighted candles and other
incongruous trumpery--which might well have remained in the land of
its birth.

Here, at Citrella, were buried the victims of the cholera of the
thirties, many foreigners among them, and it would be hard to find a
pleasanter resting-place for all eternity, unless it be the
crater-meadow of Monte Rotaro on Ischia where, simultaneously, the
cholera victims of that island were interred. What a contrast between
the two! On Rotaro the volcanic earth with its hoary mantle of
vegetation and, within the deep funnel, a green woodland calm, as
though seas and storms no longer existed upon earth: Citrella, poised
like a swallow's nest upon its windswept limestone crag; far below,
the Titanic grandeur of South Capri and the dimpled ocean, strewn with
submarine boulders that make it look, from such aerial heights, like a
map of the moon enamelled in the matchless blues and greens of a
Damascus vase.



Citrella, of course, has its treasure. Some men saw a heap of gold and
silver lying in a cleft of the rock, but a tremendous thunderstorm
broke in upon their operations, the torch they carried was blown out
three times, and... certain other things occurred; one of them died
the same evening; all of which did not prevent the others from
resuming the search next day. It is truly astonishing to hear educated
natives, who have visited the university, speaking of these things in
a hushed whisper. An occasional discovery of real value may have
fostered the growth of these legends; in Campania, as in parts of the
Orient, the ruins of an ancient civilisation, with its subterraneous
passages and marks of vanished pomp, gave them verisimilitude and a
_locus standi_; Naples is half-way to Baghdad, and no one quite
understands the native character who has not lived in the East.

This Oriental trait, if such it be, is only one of many that have been
gradually superimposed upon one another. Whoever rightly deciphers the
human palimpsest of the Parthenopean region will perceive how faint
are the traces of Greco-Roman schooling, how skin-deep--as regards
primitive tracts of feeling--the scars of medieval tyranny and
bestiality. And Christianity has only left a translucent veneer, like
a slug's track, upon the surface; below, can be read the simple desire
for sunshine and family life, and a pantheism vague and charming, the
impress of nature in her mildest moods upon the responsive human
phantasy.  Our Gothic gloom and the sand-wastes of the East beget
fearful gods and demons; those of Campania, though equally well
accredited, are all in a manner sunny and humane, for the atmosphere
is too limpid to permit the formation of terrifying spectres like
those of Nurcia or even Beneventum.

There are witches hereabouts, _giannare_ (from Diana, now queen of
witches), but they are rather like ordinary women; there is nothing
mysterious or malefic about them. As for the devil--did I tell you of
the man who saw the devil last week?  He was walking up this very
road, about sunset, and there was the devil sitting on a stone in
front of him. What he looked like? Oh, horns and hoofs and all the
rest of it--nothing out of the way--just the devil, you know. The
people will tell stories of the devil, popularly known as Saint
Pantaleone, because foreigners like to hear such things, foreigners
being rather simple folks in some respects; but though they speak with
fervour and conviction, they do not take him seriously. Dozens of
houses are haunted by him and his imps but, unlike many in our
civilised England, the rents do not fall, and _cristiani_ live in them
all the year round.

How came the revered Saint Pantaleone to be identified with the Prince
of Darkness? Because he gives lucky numbers for the lottery; therefore
he must be in league with him; therefore he is the devil himself--an
example of the rhetorical figure we learnt at school: "the part for
the whole."

It is the same with the saints. Every one of the heavenly host may be
cheated at a bargain; live Virgin and her infant Son--the adult Jesus
is practically unknown here--are adored with feasts and flowers; they
are _tanto belli_; but to endeavour to imitate cither of them would be
deemed a most unprofitable speculation. A Greek fashion of regarding
the gods.

Saint John alone is an exception to the rule--he is positively
vindictive in seeing his bargains carried out to the letter and has
become quite unpopular for that reason. I cannot help thinking that
this is because he represents to the common mind some ancient and
ferocious heathen shape, whose solstitial fires are lighted to this
day in many places: inexorability being the proud attribute of all the
older deities. "'Tis hard to reach the heart of Zeus."

I picked up a curious local legend which amalgamates this ancient
shape with the more recent Adonis and the still later Christian saint.
Here it is:

They say that Saint John had a purse of money.  And there was a mother
and a daughter. Said the daughter: "How shall we manage to take away
his purse?" Then the mother answers: "We must cut off his head." They
say that the daughter took a sword and cut off Saint John's head and
took the purse. When the _festa_ of Saint John comes round (midsummer)
he sleeps the whole time, because, if he were to wake up, the world
would come to an end. On that day, the mother and daughter are always
running across the sky, the mother with a beam of fire in her hand, to
burn the daughter for having cut off Saint John's head.  When Saint
John wakes up, he always asks Saint Peter: "I say, when is my _festa_
coming round?" And Saint Peter answers: "That's past long ago!" The
old men say that if one puts a plateful of water outside the balcony
and looks into it, one can see in the sky the mother with the beam of
fire in her hand and the daughter running before her. Says the
daughter: "Mother, Mother, why did you say it?" Says the mother:
"Daughter, daughter, why did you do it?" And all that day long they
are running across the sky.

That German divine who lately traced, with some little exacerbation,
Catholic institutions to their pagan origins, forgot to discover, or
perhaps to mention, that his own pseudo-rationalistic creed is far
more deadly, since it infects those who lead the march of culture. If
Italians are ever to have that reformation of which they talk so much,
it is to be hoped that they will go a step further than the Germans,
who pulled up at the first _Wirtshaus_.  Even now, Neapolitans shrug
their shoulders at Saint Januarius, whose periodical liquefaction is a
fine pretext for fireworks and military music, and while the world is
astonished at the nuptials between the lord of a great _Kulturstaat_
and the Antique Fraud, Catholicism in Naples, ever serene and
infantile, is gracefully expiring; its venerable frame suffused,
dolphin-like, with all the myriad hues of the rainbow-tinted paganism
whence it sprang. All this must be a matter of climate.  New names
will supplant old names, but so long as the climate of Campania does
not change, its religious beliefs--ceremonies, rather--will always
cluster round radiant elemental powers of sun and ocean.

We have wandered far, too far, from Crapolla.  But there is nothing to
hinder us from returning when, the mood fits. And let us choose the
sea-route on a night of full moon, for all discords dissolve in the
mellow sheen of a Southern night and blossom forth, if you care to
look, into new and ghostly harmonies. Peasants and bourgeois may sleep
in their beds; your Siren-worshipper has this in common with Arabs and
other primitive folk, that he knows the uses of night. (How often do
the sensuous needs and pleasures of civilisation coincide with those
of wilder stages!) At such an hour the twin rocks guarding the
entrance to Crapolla might well be mistaken for the portal of some
Ossianic realm--the representation of it, rather; for stereoscopic
vision being annulled, all depth and distance, rents and ravines, are
merely indicated by mauve shadows upon a plain surface.

Have you never sailed under one of these precipices by moonlight? It
is a picture that you sec, not a palpable cliff of limestone; a
picture that floats past you; some enormous, silver-tinted cartoon
conceived by William Blake, in the mad moments betwixt sleep and
waking. Those ancient, seared rocks, so familiar at noontide, have put
on strange faces since the moon rose. Their complexion has waned to a
livid splendour, and their wrinkles and bosses resolve themselves into
unsuspected designs--designs of spears and shields and bastions and
all the pomp of heraldry that melt away, under incessant showers of
gentle light from above, into other combinations of form, ever new and
so convincing, that at last the mind, weary of riddles, surrenders to
the stony enchantment and drifts along in a calm disdain of reality.

Such, maybe, was the spirit that swayed those blameless seekers of the
Holy Grail.




VIII.  RAIN ON THE HILLS


A most unusual occurrence, this steady summer rain. The sky is thickly
overcast; it pours in sheets. A month ago, it might at least have done
good to the country. But what is the country to me, weatherbound in a
small village far from my base, with every prospect of spending the
night half-supperless among strange folks and in a strange bed?  What
demon guided my steps this morning?

There is this at least to be said in favour of a region denuded of
trees, that a summer rain cools the air. England, with its dense
vegetation, exhales a steamy heat after a shower at this season, and
the sodden fields, with their sleek round trees, make the wanderer
feel more than ever as though he were some caterpillar crawling about
an interminable bed of lettuces. Yes, English nature is too green, and
that green too monotonous in shade and outline; it is (_entre nous_) a
salad landscape; you may find pretty vignettes of the sugar-water
type, but London alone is picturesque in the large sense of the
word--London and Newcastle-on-Tyne.

This rain will produce a short-lived crop of grass, to be scorched
again in a few days. The year of Siren land has only three seasons:
the cloudless summer of brown fields, cicada-days; the green spell of
rain and storms; three months of flowery spring. Summer melts into
winter by bland transition, without hectic tints of death and castings
of leaves, and when, in May, the grass begins to wither, the vines
take up the joyous refrain.  One fact must have struck all who have
spent a summer here--the difference in temperature between the
cultivated and barren lands. The latter are perceptibly warmer. The
coolness of Sant' Agata is due not so much to its height above
sea-level or to its exposure to the refreshing mistral as to the fact
that it lies in an ocean of fruit-trees and leafy walnuts and hazels;
nor is it their shade, but rather what Professor Marsh calls the
"frigoric effect of leafy structure" which brings about the chill. To
step from sunshine into shadow is naturally cooling, but whoever
enters this cultivated zone even at midnight will shiver
involuntarily.

A few hectic tints there are, but one must know where to look for
them. If, in the early days of December, you happen to glance down
some of the gullies clothed in ilex, you will be surprised to see the
uniform green surface flecked with alien markings. This is the
flowering ash, companion of the ilex, about to cast its leaves; each
tree has a particular tint which it reproduces year after year at this
season; some are spectral grey, others straw-coloured, but the most
beautiful are the deep crimson whose effect, among the sombre
holm-oaks, is exactly that of the red spots upon a blood-stone.

A month before the cicada strikes up, the last firefly has already
extinguished its candle. Ischia is as full of fireflies as the
Sorrentine peninsula, but there is not one on Capri; too little
verdure, perhaps, or too much wind. I have never watched the brilliant
tropical night-luminaries with greater pleasure than these humble
ones, for there are sounds in the jungle at all hours of the night,
but here the attention is unconsciously riveted by what seems an
anomaly in nature--the noiselessness of so much commotion. They call
them _fuochi morti_, with reference to their flickering lights; other
nations connect them with Saint John, the midsummer saint, which would
be inappropriate here, as they are all gone by that time. On the other
hand, the common wood-louse (_Oniscus_) goes by the name of "porcello
di San Giovanni," and the naturalist Latreille seems also to have been
struck by its resemblance to a little pig, for he dubbed another kind
_porcellio_. How this diminutive beast came to be connected with the
great saint is past my finding out; in point of pedigree, at least, it
is not unworthy of him, for if Saint John goes back to Attys and
Adonis, the "little pig's" ancestors were already great people in
Siluria.

And still it rains....

Wild and exhilarating perfumes will arise as soon as the clouds
disperse. As volatile oils, they start from the ground; afterwards,
when the sun has warmed the withered plants, each one begins to
breathe out its characteristic odour. It is rather hard to analyse
this fragrant multi-herbal emanation: I suspect that the dried
fennel-stalks are the _Leitmotif_ in the symphony. The cistus bushes,
whose frail purple and white roses would enchant a Japanese artist,
give forth a pungent aroma when the sun beats upon them; other spots
are dominated by the honey-sweet savour of scorched thistles, of the
wild juniper which, nowadays, can be seen to full perfection only on
the inaccessible crags of Montalto, or the common fig. Those persons
who are so curiously insensible to this last odour should go to a
certain mossy court-yard overshadowed by gnarled fig trees and heavily
permeated by their cloying scent: pleasant were the November hours
spent here long years ago when nothing to the purpose was said, and
every now and then a dry leaf, falling upon the pavement with a
metallic clang, startled the tongue-tied ones into a full
consciousness of their own thoughts....

And far away can be descried, on clear days, a tall building,
firm-seated upon a rocky eminence above Amalfi: the Torre di Orlando.
This place is associated in my mind with the scent of wild thyme, for
its terrace is, or was, overgrown with it. General Avitabile, an
Italian adventurer and vice-governor of the Punjaub during the Indian
Mutiny, whose life has lately been written by an Englishman, built
this noble palace, intending to end his days there with a young wife
whom he adored. Hardly had they settled down when she murdered him.
'Tis wonderful--to paraphrase a saying of Thackeray's--'tis wonderful
what a woman may do, and a man yet think her an angel.  But the
general appears, from all accounts, to have been also something of a
scoundrel. The house is at present to be sold; the bidders are many,
but I am told there are sixty-two heirs to the property, and as soon
as sixty-one have agreed on the terms of sale the odd man raises
objections. So it crumbles to pieces, day by day.

And what more? Shall I tell of certain plants abhorred by the
peasants? There is the asphodel, the flower of the Elysian fields,
which became the English "daffodil," and whose derivation from
_a-sphodelos_ (unburied) may be fanciful, but is none the less
appropriate, as can be perceived by anyone who tries to keep the
stately roseate blossoms in a room. They call it "borro" or "cefalia."

Harmful to cattle, it multiplies incredibly and the roots insinuate
themselves into the rocks with such demoniac tenacity that only
dynamite will dislodge them permanently. "Assai terribile, questa
figlia di putana," I overheard a farmer saying the other day as, with
pick-axe and crowbar, he endeavoured to clear a patch of ground of
them for cultivation. Next comes the bitter sea-squill, known as
_cipollana_, from its immense onion-shaped bulb. In winter a bunch of
juicy green leaves crowns the root and nothing would be easier than to
extirpate it at this season. But the peasant has other things to do
just then; besides, he is waiting for the flower to appear in spring.
Spring comes, but no flower; on the contrary, the leaves die away and
the _cipollana_ sinks into the earth and is forgotten. But in the heat
of summer, when every other plant is withered and mankind walks as
little as possible about the parched fields, detached spires of
silvery blossom start in breathless haste from the ground. These are
the flowers of the squill, beloved of Egyptian she-mummies as symbols
of generation; the seeds are scattered broadcast in the nick of time
to catch the first rain and the mischief is done. A sly plant. By the
time the tell-tale leaves again sprout forth, the flowers have
vanished; the peasant once more waits for the spring; and so on, _in
saecula saeculorum_.  Unscrupulous Neapolitans import cart-loads of
the leafless bulbs into the city, where the plant is unknown, and hawk
them about the streets as "Californian lilies."

The ivy-leaved smilax is another pest; its inconspicuous blossoms
smell sweetly for a few days and the red berries are pretty enough to
see, but it is armed with poisonous claws and, once established among
trees or walls, there is no ejecting it. They call it _raie_ from its
white roots (_radici_), which are sometimes boiled into a medicinal
broth and which travel underground in all directions and at any depth,
coming up to the surface whenever they feel inclined to make a fresh
tangle of thorns for the discomfiture of optimistic cultivators. A
friend of mine employed a man for a few months in eradicating them out
of a small piece of land, paying him for the roots by weight; after an
absence of two years, the smilax returned smiling from Tartarus.

Detested also by man and beast is the tree-euphorbia; even the goats
sniff at its venomous secretion. But it is worth while strolling over
these hills at the end of May to observe this plant before it sheds
its leaves. Green all through the winter, it now takes on every shade
of colour in its annual death-agony. No two bushes are tinted alike,
not even when their roots are interwined; earthy and ghostly white,
orange and brown and vermilion, from coral pink to a rich burnished
copper, from palest saffron to tawny gold. The red kinds are visible
from afar and often shine with a lustrous iridescence, a rare freak of
coquetry, the true _reflet metallique_ of Oriental pottery. Ten
days--and all is over; the gaunt stalks only begin to clothe
themselves anew in autumn. Its acrid milk was formerly put to a
singular use--the boys, in order to escape military service, injected
a drop into their eyes, provoking inflammation and greatly puzzling
the good doctors, till the trick became too popular.

Whereas the asphodel, owing to shallow soil, never attains any great
size here, the "totomaglia" (euphorbia) seems to fatten on air and
sun-scorched rock; one, a perfect monster of about sixteen feet in
height, was lately cut down near Campanella: it yielded three faggots
of wood, weighing, approximately, fifty kilograms apiece. Such giants
are becoming scarce.

Other plants, rare and beautiful, grow in abundance on these limestone
hills. The flora of Siren land has been better studied than other
departments of natural history, particularly that of Capri; old Paolo
Boccone already, in the seventeenth century, named certain plants
peculiar to this island; others were engraved by the wise and lovable
Cirillo, whose work remained incomplete (the first volume is dedicated
to Sir Joseph Banks) because he was strangled by the Bourbons in 1799;
Capri flowers have also been collected or described by Giraldi,
Graeffer, Tenore, Gussone, and such a large number of recent botanists
that a respectable literature exists on the subject. No one can fail
to notice the red lily on the higher grounds, the gcntiau-hucd
lithospcrmum which fills up the crannies of the rocks, the wild stock,
the brilliant vetch, the large purple anemone, and the blue thistle
(not so blue, however, as its representative on the African hills). It
is astonishing that this plant, so common on the mainland of Italy,
has not found its way to Capri. But the orchid tribe is particularly
numerous there, twenty-eight species having been found. There is the
sweetly smelling kind which is the last to blossom; bee orchids and
butterfly orchids and birds'-nest orchids; the weird _homme pendu_
orchid from which dangles the effigy of a man; others with monks'
faces peering from under dusky cowls.

The little rock-islet of Monacone has a species of narcissus all to
itself.



And still it rains....

It will be some time before the picture of this room is effaced from
my memory. It is vaulted in the old style and the white walls are
adorned with American calendars and advertisements; under foot, a
richly tinted pavement of Victri tiles, broken yellows and blues,
dating from the days ere the modern Neapolitan ware, with its
undignified patterns and anemic coloration, was exported hitherward.
The massive furniture gives an air of well-being to the place; upon a
commodious wardrobe stands the inevitable _lar familiaris_--the infant
Jesus--under a glass case, and a fine selection of _caccio-cavallo_
cheeses, suspended from iron hooks in the ceiling, reminds me of the
dinner awaiting me at home.

Pazienza!

The good folks have retired into the kitchen region, leaving me in
sole possession here; the rain seems to have chilled their wonted
communicativeness; an uncle, too, has lately arrived from over the sea
and certain family questions, I understand, are likely to become
acute. Every ten minutes a polite young girl thrusts her head within
the doorway to ask if I am comfortable.  Incomparably more
comfortable, I reply, than out of doors. Perhaps the signore would
prefer to write with a _calamaio_? No, the signore will continue to
use his pencil, having learned long ago that neither pens, ink, nor
blotting-paper can be procured in the kingdom of Italy.

"A long letter," she ventures to remark.

"To my _sposa_--at Naples."

"My bridegroom," she informs me, "is twenty-two and has been twice to
New York. The last time he returned with three thousand francs, and
the next time we go together."

"Is that your engagement ring?"

"Yes; it cost him thirty-five francs. And this watch and chain, a
hundred and fifteen francs.  And now he has bought me twenty pairs of
silk stockings and says I must put them on, all twenty, when we go
through the American custom-house, else the officials will steal them.
I think it will be difficult."

"The _sposo_ might wear half of them."

"Oh, he! He could wear forty, but he won't."

Of course she will marry him; they all do; the old maid, so familiar
to lovers of English landscape, is practically unknown in Siren land.
But the husbands seldom take them to America, contenting themselves
with sending money home and returning every now and then. Like the
women of Lcmnos, these sit manless among their rocks, doing a little
laundry work and an infinity of chattering.

The Italian field-labourers wash their clothes but never their bodies;
the Russian, their bodies but never their clothes; ours--neither....

Dirty clothes, says Saint Jerome, are a sign of a clean mind. Saint
Bernard, if I remember rightly, lays down a contrary maxim....

"Perhaps the signore would like to read? I have brought a book."

Ariosto!

God forgive me; I cannot read Ariosto on a rainy day, and when the sun
shines, he always contrives to make himself invisible. A very retiring
disposition these heroic poets have.

Such modesty would ill become the present generation, and accordingly
I find, in my very pocket, a modern trade circular--not always the
worst kind of literature--Felix Alcan's catalogue.  A pleasant sound,
that name of Alcan; it smacks of--I know not what; of
alcoves--alcohol....  It seems to me that the Jew is now doing more
towards civilising the West than he ever did in the past; he spends as
liberally as we do, but more wisely, having a saner conception of
charity: in short, he has learnt his lesson. And when the day of
reckoning comes, the services rendered to the cause of enlightenment
by Hebrew publishers and journalists will also not be forgotten. A
nation fed upon Monsieur Alcan's pap has grown out of its infancy; it
may well smile at bogies like Jupiter tonans, or Vaticanus fulminans
with his attendant swarm of tonsured anachronisms. How we change!
Here is a nation of Christians thanking Jews for their enfranchisement
from the most odious tyranny on earth, that of the mind, engendered by
a creed in defence of which they once persecuted them with fire and
sword. The irony of history, with a vengeance.

What firm can show a list like this? Even if one wished to learn about
things English, one could hardly do better than consult all these
works on English trade unions, logic, psychology, free trade, ethics,
and so forth. And our Anglo-American writers are represented in
translations: Bagehot, Bain, Balfour Stewart, and all the rest of
them.  Have we anything approaching this widespread desire for
knowledge; does our public ever hear of corresponding French authors,
like Fere, Fouillee, Guyau? Would they care, moreover, to read
abstruse works on _Education de la volonte_ or _Solidarite morale_,
many of which are here in their tenth, their twentieth, editions? And
our publishers would not swoon away at the suggestion of bringing out
those translations from foreign monumental works that figure here--at
half the original cost? A poor student lamented to me some time ago
that he was charged eighteen shillings for Shipley's _Invertebrata_
and thirty-two shillings for Weismann's last book. "Young man," I
said, "learn French--you are never too old to learn--and buy all your
books, even those by English authors, in French translations; the
balance saved, send home to your aged mother." "By Jove," he replied,
"I never heard of anyone teaching French. The very thing! And as for
that balance----"

Altogether--Alcan's catalogue: what a text for a lay sermon, if the
preacher were not rather in the mood for edibles than ethics. Such,
however, being the case, farewell, good monsieur! On some later
occasion, perchance, I shall desire you of more acquaintance.
Meanwhile, _Felix esto_. May your shadow, the _bulletin annuel_, never
grow less!  May it outlast the Bo-tree's in miasmic Anurajpura; may it
outspread that of world-ash Ygdrasill, whose boughs encircle heaven
and earth and under whose branch-charmed twilight the deathless gods
revolve our fates.



"Can you supply me with something to eat, fair Costanza?"

"How not? Whatever you command."

Whatever you command. Fairy-like bubbles of Southern politeness which,
when pricked, evaporate--as a friend of mine used to say--into
indifferent macaroni. Yes; not even macaroni can be correctly prepared
here; what goes by the name of parmesan being a compound containing
ninety per cent of potato flour, while of butter, edible butter, not
an ounce is made in all Siren land; statistics reveal a disquieting
importation of margarine.  Were those early authors, the Swiss
Rehfues, the "junger Deutsche" of the _Fragment_?  De Blainville,
Portarelli, William Russell, and a dozen others--to say nothing of
Boccaccio--were they dreaming when they praised the cow-products of
Sorrento and Massa and Capri? No. But the vineyards have hunted grass
out of the land; the timber-cutting has dried up all the hill-sides
and watersprings. Fifty years ago the slopes of Monte Solaro on Capri
were so thickly overgrown that the cows which pastured there used to
wear bells round their necks in order that they could be traced in the
dense shrubbery; three hundred head of cattle were exported yearly;
nowadays, a single dyspeptic calf could engulf the whole island in a
day, so far as normal fodder is concerned. May I never live far from a
cow! A real cow, I mean--not a tottering, scrofulous phantom that
skulks in dank cellars; a cow that eats grass and not bitter walnut
twigs and sulphate-of-copper-bespattered vine leaves; a cow whose
natural functions culminate in butter, not in lard. Oh that I had the
framing of the laws! How I would broil certain respected merchants in
their own margarine tubs--ay, and their wives and children--how I
would broil them!

"We have a fish soup; _guarracini_ and _scorfani_ and _aguglie_ and
_toteri_ and----"

Take breath, gentle maiden; the while I explain to the patient reader
the ingredients of the diabolical preparation known as "_zuppa di
pesce_." The _guarracino_, for instance, is a pitch-black marine
monstrosity, one to two _inches_ long, a mere blot, with an Old Red
Sandstone profile and insufferable manners, [Footnote: Its ridiculous
airs and graces have struck even the unobservant natives, and small
boys may be heard singing, among other _guarracino_ songs, the
following ditty which I will transcribe phonetically for the benefit
of the Ollendorff student---

  Guarracino che ghieva per mar
  Ieva trattando di s'insudar
  Belle scarp' e ben pulit'
  Nu capiello a cannonat'
  E Nannina lo porta al lat'.]

whose sole recommendation is that its name is derived from _korakinos_
(korax = a raven; but who can live on Greek roots?). As to the
_scorfano_, its name is unquestionably onomato-poetic, to suggest the
spitting-out of bones; the only difference, from a culinary point of
view, between the _scorfano_ and a toad being that the latter has
twice as much meat on it. The _aguglia_, again, is all tail and
proboscis; the very nightmare of a fish--as thin as a lead pencil. Who
would believe that for this miserable sea-worm with verdigris-tinted
spine, which an ordinary person would thank you for not setting on his
table, the inhabitants of Siren land fought like fiends; the blood of
their noblest was shed in defence of privileges artfully wheedled out
of Anjou and Aragoncsc kings defining the _ius quoddam pescandi
vulgariter dictum sopra le aguglie_; that a certain tract of sea was
known as the "aguglie water" and owned, up to the days of Murat, by a
single family who defended it with guns and man-traps?  And everybody
knows the _totero_ or squid, an animated ink-bag of perverse leanings,
which swims backwards because all other creatures go forwards and
whose india-rubber flesh might be useful for deluding hunger on desert
islands, since, like American gum, you can chew it for months, but
never get it down.

These, and such as they, float about in a lukewarm brew of rancid oil
and garlic, together with a few of last week's bread-crusts, decaying
sea-shells and onion-peels, to give it an air of consistency.

This is the stuff for which Neapolitans sell their female relatives.
But copious libations will do wonders with a _zuppa di pesce_.

"Wine of Marciano, signore."

"Then it must be good. It grows on the mineral."

"Ah, you foreigners know everything."

We do; we know, for example, that nothing short of a new creation of
the world will ever put an end to that legend about the "mineral."

How unfavourably this hotch-potch compares with the Marseillese
bouillabaisse! But what can be expected, considering its ingredients?
Green and golden scales, and dorsal fins embellished with elaborate
rococo designs, will satisfy neither a hungry man nor an epicure, and
if Neapolitans pay untold sums for the showy Mediterranean sea-spawn,
it only proves that they eat with their eyes, like children who prefer
tawdry sweets to good ones. They have colour and shape, these fish of
the inland sea, but not taste; their flesh is either flabby and slimy
and full of bones in unauthorised places, or else they have no flesh
at all--heads like Burmese dragons but no bodies attached to them; or
bodies of flattened construction on the _magnum in parvo_ principle,
allowing of barely room for a sheet of paper between their skin and
ribs; or a finless serpentine framework, with long-slit eyes that leer
at you while you endeavour to scratch a morsel off the reptilian
anatomy.

There is not a cod, or turbot, or whiting, or salmon, or herring in
the two thousand miles between Gibraltar and Jerusalem; or if there
is, it never comes out; its haddocks (haddocks, indeed!) taste as if
they had fed on mouldy sea-weed and died from the effects of it; its
lobsters have no claws; its oysters are bearded like pards; and as for
its soles--I have yet to see one that measures more than five inches
round the waist. The fact is, there is hardly a fish in the
Mediterranean worth eating and therefore: _ex nihilo nihil fit_.
Bouillabaisse is only good because cooked by the French, who, if they
cared to try, could produce an excellent and nutritious substitute out
of cigar-stumps and empty matchboxes. But even as a Turk is furious
with a tender chicken because it cheats him out of the pleasure of
masticating, so the Neapolitan would throw a boneless _zuppa di pesce_
out of the window: the spitting and sputtering is half the fun.

"There is a fine _palamide_, too, from Mortella, brought in this
morning...."

It is the misfortune of Siren land to have been celebrated, since
centuries, for these noble-looking fish, which are exported in
thousands to the epicures of Naples and whose flesh tastes like
shoe-leather soaked in paraffin. The natives, and not the foreigners,
keep up the price of fish hereabouts; they are all icthyophagous, like
the Athenians of old, and it is nothing short of a miracle that any
kind of swimming or crawling creature continues to frequent these
coasts, considering the way they are persecuted.

It is not good to be a fish in Siren land.

Hundreds of fry, which in a month or two would have weighed half a
pound apiece, are caught to make a single dish; dynamite is also used,
as well as the juice of the euphorbia and the roots of the
cyclamen--locally termed _spaccapiatti_: split-plate--which poison the
water and bring the fish to the surface. How admirable are the Italian
fishery laws and how admirable it would be, for the little fishes at
least, if they were obeyed, now and then!  Latterly, too, acetylene
has been substituted for the old-fashioned pine-torches at night, and
with tremendous effect: the startled creatures collecting from far and
near and thrusting their noses out of the waves to see the grand
illumination. I have counted two hundred and eighty of these lights
gleaming upon the dark waste of waters--they look like stars fallen
upon the deep.

At this same Mortella (it lies near Cantone on the south side of the
peninsula and the name derives from its myrtle-thickets) a tunny
fishery was formerly established, which paid a yearly rent of four
hundred ducats, and another one further along the coast at 'Sant'
Elia; but the municipality, they say, taxed them so disproportionately
to their gains that they emigrated to Conca. In these _tonnare_
everything is caught except the tunny, which has wisely ceased to
visit these regions. There was another establishment of the same kind
on Capri, near the Palazzo a Mare, long ago.

>From the summit of Mortella, too, you can often watch the dolphins
playing, this stretch of sea being one of their favourite resorts. It
is easy to conceive a liking for this sportive and classical beast,
even if one disbelieves both the theory of Professor Schubert of
Munich, who, in the nineteenth century (A.D.), wrote a treatise to
prove that the human race was descended from a dolphin, as well as
those old fables concerning his affection for mankind--how he helps
them to catch fish, how he loves their arts and music, and has often
saved the noblest of them from a watery grave....



And still it rains.

The window where I sit would afford a fair view upon vineyards and
distant sea, if the panes were not streaming with the downpour, which
can be heard rushing like a cataract into the cistern at the back of
the house. It has converted the roadway beside the door into a
water-course--sticks and straws and nondescript objects careering
downhill on its yellow flood....

That is a humane conceit, too, of the dolphin's piercing the armour of
the crafty crocodile as it lies hidden in the muddy African river,
enticing to death the compassionate traveller with mock groans and
tearful complaint; and a pretty story is told by Aulus Gellius or
another of the ancients about a friendship between a boy and a
dolphin. Let me see if I can remember it.

Hermias lived with his father, a fisherman, and of all the boys who
learned letters at the gymnasium none was blither of heart or comelier
of limb, and none excelled him in those manly sports which were so
highly commended in those days. Swimming was his chief delight, and so
it came about that one day when he was far from land, having
outstripped all his fellows in a race, he was hardly surprised to see
a dolphin plunging alongside of him. It played about him in fondest
fashion, hiding its deadly fin as in a sheath--for the smallest wound
from a dolphin's fin is death to man--and, as soon as the boy grew
tired, took him gently on its back and bore him to the shallow water.
It was plain that the sea-beast had conceived an attachment for him,
for the next day and on all the following days, when work was over and
the lads ran down to bathe, Hermias found the dolphin waiting for him.
Whenever he wished to play with his new companion, he used to call
out, "Simo, Simo!" and the dolphin instantly swam to the shore to meet
him, vaulting in glad wheels over the surface of the water. Why did he
call him Simo? He never thought about it; it seemed to be his natural
name.

The news of this friendship soon spread about the town, and crowds of
folk used to collect on the beach to see the fun. Stranger things were
done in those times than nowadays; nevertheless, it was so remarkable
that even Octavius Avitus, a mighty great lord and governor of the
province, came down to see the boy and ask him questions. The old
fisherman alone hated Simo, for he knew that the merest scratch from
the dolphin's fin would be fatal to his son.

"That fish-friend of yours," he used to say, "mislikcs me. Beware, my
boy, of his terrible fin." Sooner or later, he feared, some mischief
would happen.

Even so it fell out.

"Ah, Simo, you have hurt me!" Hcrmias suddenly cried out. He had
jumped too hastily on the dolphin's back and scratched his breast on
the sharp point. Then he laughed again and thought it a small matter.

Simo saw the waves stained with blood and guessed the truth. He
carried him to the beach and watched him slowly limping homewards; he
even tried to rise out of the water, so as to follow his
boy-companion, but could only struggle a few paces up the dusty path.
And there he lay, panting on the hot earth. He could hear the waves
behind him, lapping on the sandy shore and inviting him to glide back
into his cool home, but he only thought of Hermias. Great tears
dropped from his lidless eyes.

"I am hurt, father," cried the boy, as he fainted on the doorstep. The
fisherman laid him on the couch and looked at the wound.

"That is the dolphin's work!" he exclaimed with anguish. "My poor
child--my poor child!" Hcrmias never spoke again.

Then the father took down a brave axe that was hanging over the couch,
and nets and other implements, and a lusty pair of oars, and strode
seawards to reach his boat, determined to battle with the murderer of
his son. Suddenly he staggered backwards and the axe dropped from his
hand: his enemy, the sea-beast, was stretched across the sunlit path
before his eyes.

The old man stared in wonderment at this prodigy.

Simo lay in the agony of death. His eye was glazed, and colours of
every imaginable hue chased each other over his smooth body, while now
and again the flanks heaved, as though a sigh had escaped his heart.
All at once his skin became wrinkled and ashen grey. The dolphin had
died out of love for his lost playmate.

The townsfolk, when they heard the news, took counsel how best to
honour the memory of this strange and strong attachment. They laid the
two friends in one tomb, and over it they reared a marble statue of a
fair lad astride upon a dolphin, in order that all who passed that way
might learn that loving affection is still in repute upon earth. And
Octavius Avitus, the governor, was not content even with this, but
caused medals to be struck, with an effigy of the two comrades upon
them, and therein showed not only his kindliness but also his
understanding, for the tomb and the statue have long since crumbled
away, but these coins are still scattered all over the world, bearing
into distant ages the report of their happy friendship and unhappy
fate....



No tales of this kind are in circulation among the people here; still,
they certainly regard the dolphin with no hostile feelings, probably
because they have observed its reckless, death-scorning love for its
offspring, which appeals to their own hearts.  Regarding the fabled
play of colours before death, I have also inquired: they know nothing.
This may be due to lack of observation, for they have little eye for
such things. But, so far as it goes, it coincides with my own
experience, which I cannot claim to be extensive, since I only once
had an opportunity of watching a dying dolphin. It had been harpooned
and dragged on board, where it lay shivering and breathing hard. A
youth was then seen to sharpen a long knife: he was a student of
physiology. Turning up his sleeve, lie plunged the blade swiftly into
the dolphin's breast, whence he drew forth a quivering something,
which he examined carefully. There was no iridescence--not the
faintest trace of it; perhaps the death-stroke had been too rapid.

The fishermen here have elaborated what seems to be a myth for
excusing this animal's ravages among the fish. It is not the common
dolphin, they say, which is responsible, but a rarer kind called
_ferone_. The _ferone_ never travels in schools, but by himself; he
destroys the nets out of sheer spite and makes a point of killing more
fish than he can possibly eat. When the _ferone_ appears on the scene,
all the common ones, the _fere_, take to flight.  In short, he lords
it over the others, he is guileful and malicious, and no death is bad
enough for him.  This reminds me of "bull-elephant" stories in India,
and may possibly have the same foundation in fact.

A much more mysterious monster is the _gatta marina_, or sea-cat. It
raises its head above water to see where the nets are, and then dives
in that direction to eat the fish in the meshes. It has four feet with
prodigiously long claws and only comes at certain seasons, and then
not always. Its colour is black--that is, not altogether black; and it
weighs less than a hundredweight, but often more.  It is covered with
a sort of fur, rather like the dolphin, but a little different. Nobody
eats the sea-cat except some people, who do....

Inexhaustible is the fish-lore of Siren land; they have a firm belief
that everything which creeps and flies on earth has its counterpart
under the waves. Shall I tell you of the sea-turtle and how, every now
and then, a "marine flea" crawls under its flapper, which makes it
very angry, because, at such times, it can only swim sideways in an
absurd fashion, and all the other fishes laugh at it and pull its
tail, till at last-----

"Perhaps the signore would prefer a hen?"

No, thank you. I know those hens and how they are caught. This is the
manner of it. The careful housewife singles out the scraggiest of her
fowls, which forthwith stops eating and watches her steadily with one
eye, doubtless aware of her intentions. The preliminary coaxing being
of no avail (it is merely done for form's sake), five small boys are
despatched in pursuit with sticks and stones. They begin by liking the
job, for their prey, sure of victory, marches straight in front of
them without deigning to look round, an easy mark for projectiles. One
stone grazing its tail, it takes flight and settles in the vineyards
on the hill-side, amid howls of execration from the boys. Other
pursuers are roused and join in the chase; a cloud of missiles
envelopes the bird as it gallops and flutters over stones and up
trees, into gullies and thickets; the rabble vanishes from sight--you
can hear them shouting a mile off.

An hour or so having elapsed, the hen is seen, a speck on the horison,
flying down from the mountains in a straight line, pressed hard by an
undaunted knot of pursuers. _Sant' Antonio_! It is going into the
water like last year! And, sure enough, it glides into the waves about
three hundied yards from the shore and begins to preen its remaining
feathers. May its mother be barren! May its children die unblest! The
boat--the boat! It is launched, and at the very moment when the oar is
about to descend with a crash upon the muscular frame of the victim,
it rises like a lark and perches upon the roof of the church. _A chi
t'e morto_!  Out with the ladder! All work ceases in the village, the
school is closed for the day; the priest and the tobacconist, mortal
enemies, are observed to exchange a few breathless words.  Bedridden
hags crawl into the piazza and ask whether there is an earthquake. No,
the hen!  The church! The signore! The foreign signore wants the
hen--the hen on the church! Just as the nimble _figlio di Luisella_
has placed his foot upon the last rung of the ladder--_Ah, Santo Dio!_
It has flown away, away into the brushwood, where none but the
swiftest and surest-footed can hope to follow.

Towards Ave Maria it is carried in, vanquished.  The conqueror,
streaming with perspiration and attended by the entire populace,
proudly holds it up for your inspection by one leg--the other is
missing, A small boy, reluctantly, produces it from his pocket.

Is this a hen?

There is not a vestige of feathers on its body; the head, too, seems
to have come off in the heat of the fray. The conqueror tells you that
he could have shot it, but was afraid of spoiling its plumage.  The
careful housewife asks whether you will have it boiled or _al
cacciatore_?

What is left of the bird looks as if it were already half cooked....




IX.  THE LIFE OF SISTER SERAFINA


An authoritative, religious biography of Sister Serafina di Dio, the
Christian ornament of these regions, was published at Naples in 1723,
and further details concerning her can be gleaned from certain
_Positiones super Dubio_--ecclesiastical writings printed at various
times with a view to procuring her beatification and containing
statements as to her life and habits made by eye-witnesses under oath.
>From these sources, and from them alone, I cull the following facts,
so far as they concern her.  And inasmuch as these documents prove her
to have modelled the incidents of her birth, life, and death in a
truly amazing manner upon those of the more celebrated Spanish nun,
Saint Teresa di Dio (born nearly a century earlier), I will
occasionally refer--for a reason which will become apparent later
on--to the latter saint, whose biographies arc in the hands of all
scholars....

This remarkable woman, foundress of seven convents of the Carmelite
order, whose influence extended beyond the limits of Siren land, was
born, the third in a family of six children, at Naples on October 24,
1621. Her father was a Neapolitan man of business, and her mother--she
was the man's second wife--belonged to the noble family of Strina,
which is conspicuous in the mediaeval records of Capri. She was
baptised, on the day of her birth, in the church of Saint John at
Naples, receiving the worldly name of Prudentia; and it was observed
with surprise that the infant did not weep during the ceremony, but
kept her eyes gravely fixed upon the officiating priest.

Saint Teresa's mother was of nobler stock, too, than her father. She
was, moreover, the mother's third child, and likewise the offspring of
her father's second marriage. And furthermore she was baptised on the
day of her birth, in a church dedicated to Saint John.

At an early age, the child Prudentia was taken to Capri, where she
lived with her parents at the foot of the Castiglione hill, and at a
remote house which is still pointed out in the district Moneta as the
"house of Sister Serafina." In this rural solitude, as it must have
been in those days, she soon began to read the _Lives of the Martyrs_,
and to brood over their past torments and present bliss--fervent
dreamings, which were strenuously fostered by her mother, as well as
by her maternal uncle, who, as her confessor and parish priest, had
been enabled to discern in the infant all the elements of future
holiness. Doubtless this compilation, that has produced many saints
and ascetics, profoundly influenced the unfolding of her childish
mind, but her mother had simultaneously hit upon a second and equally
effective device for working upon little Prudentia's emotions: she
used to take the child into churches and chapels [Footnote: Among
these, the hermit chapel on the summit of the "Villa Jovis" is
particularly mentioned, and the picture of Madonna del Soccorso which
she there worshipped exists to this day; it is the oldest of its kind
on Capri; the type is semi-Byzantine and of that dark tint (_bruna,
nera, schiavona: nigra sum, sed formosa_) which is credited with
peculiar cfficacity. Many of these miraculous pictures, like that of
Monte Vergine or the "brown mother" which was imported to Naples from
Mount Carmel, were painted by Saint Luke, but some are unquestionably
of later date. So the managers of the Pompeii sanctuary have wisely
acquired a genuine "black" madonna, which was manufactured not long
ago by a Neapolitan artist. Black idols are also adored in Russia and
Greece--the idea goes back to Pessinus and the Kaaba, to lingams,
meteorites, and what not. This chapel, by the way, used to be
dedicated to Saint Leonard, one of the many saints of Siren land who
have faded away before the effulgent humanity of the Mother of God,
whose picture was then appropriately "discovered under a mass of old
masonry": a common motif all over Italy.] and allow her to gaze,
wonder-struck, upon the marvels within. Flickering lights, odours of
incense, sternly resplendent images, grave and wondrously clad
priests, swaying censers and rapid torrents of exultation from the
organ overhead: all these contrivances, so strange, so purposeful, so
different from the green and sunshiny fields of Moneta; and all of
them moving to the glory of Something still more wonderful, still more
mysterious, that hovered around and above the altar--how indelible an
impression must they have made upon the fabric of her young senses!
When adults, with fairly developed reasoning powers, cannot withstand
the sensual allurements, what shall be expected of a child?  Without
understanding a jot of the meaning of all this golden pantomime, her
thirsty youth drank it in, and with such effect that in later years
Sister Serafina could never retain full control over herself at the
sight of a holy object; her trances were of so peculiarly an automatic
form that at the sight of a crucifix, for instance, she would at once
fall into an ecstasy, thus learning to believe implicitly and devoutly
what most of her fellow-Christians can but dimly hope to understand:
the Real Presence.  The crucifix which _spoke to her_ (like that of
Saint Thomas Aquinas) is still preserved at Massa.

Saint Teresa was very remarkable for her crucifix worship.

The penances which this infant imposed upon herself reached the number
of twenty a day. In order to cleanse her tongue for the reception of
the Eucharist, to which she had been accustomed since the age of
eight, she would lick the ground; she disciplined herself with chains,
poured hot wax upon her skin, and was advancing fast, by these and
similar outrages upon her body, in the favour of God, when the devil
was permitted to make use of certain light-hearted girlish friends in
order to bring about, as he thought, her destruction. She was then a
lively and beautiful girl of fourteen, and the following avowal to her
confessor reads rather seriously: "To put it shortly, plainly, and
truthfully, I have committed all the sins that can be committed in
this world." In point of fact, her earthly cravings had merely
manifested themselves in a reprehensible desire to see the carnival
like her friends; a desire that was providentially not gratified
because, finding in her pocket a copy of the _Legends of the Holy
Virgins_, she glanced into the book and was led to see the error of
her ways before the masks appeared on the scene. A scveie reaction
followed upon this irregularity, and further diabolical attempts by
seductive or terrifying images were victoriously repulsed.

A more important matter, and one that marks an epoch in her
development, was the determination of her father to have her married
to a Neapolitan acquaintance. This father, although pious enough (two
of his brothers were Jesuits), strongly disapproved of what he called
his daughter's religious excesses and, judging a rich and happy
marriage to be a sound counter-irritant, pressed the matter
forcefully, and would doubtless have gained his point but for the
wiles of the uncle, the parish priest, and of a certain Sister
Ippolita, a Dominican nun, who played, at this period, the role of
spiritual intermediary between Prudcntia and Jesus, her Elected
Spouse. Sister Ippolita, a shrewd woman, understood that this was no
time for half-measures. She cut off Prudentia's long and beautiful
hair, dressed her in some of her own oldest clothes that were absurdly
too big for the girl, and induced her to present herself in this garb
before her enraged father, whose exact words the biographer, perhaps
wisely, fails to report, though their sense may be inferred from the
statement that he heaped threats and maledictions upon his disobedient
child. After this defeat the father yielded, like a sensible man, to
the importunities of his household, and was thenceforward left in
peace. He had done his best, and failed. We are told that throughout
life he had been little more than an instrument in the hands of the
devil, so far as Prudcntia was concerned, and it was not without
significance that he should die early, confessing his errors and
imploring the pardon of his virtuous daughter who was now left, at the
age of twenty-four, to indulge her genius without fear of
contradiction.

Saint Teresa, it will be remembered, was also led into an excess of
childish piety by the _Lives of the Martyrs_. She too, as a comely
girl of fourteen, was tempted by the devil, who made use of certain
youthful friends to compass his end. And, exactly like Sister
Serafuia, she was re-converted through the instrumentality of a nun
and a pious uncle.

What that genius was, may be read in the life of Saint Catherine or
any of her innumerable prototypes in mediaeval or still earlier
Christianity.  It was an uninterrupted rhapsody of love to Jesus, her
Spouse. She was "consumed, burned, maddened, suffocated, intoxicated,
liquefied" with Love; she "desired to turn to ashes by reason of the
Fire of Love, and then arise in order to become ashes once more out of
Love." Her voluminous writings (an enumeration of their titles and
contents fills nearly five printed folio pages) breathe an atmosphere
of intensest passion--of love, warm and palpitating; they are
essentially non-theological, personal lucubrations. For she had all
the mystic's impatience of dogma; when touching, at the suggestion of
her confessors, upon themes like the Procession of the Holy Spirit or
the Incarnation of the Word, her speech at once becomes obscure; how
indeed--as Professor Maudsley asks--how speak ineffable things save in
unintelligible language? Like Saint Teresa, she merely coquetted, if I
may decently so express myself, with the mysteries of the Trinity,
that tremendous doctrine which exerts, from its very incredibility, a
magnetic attraction upon this class of persons, affording the simplest
test of what constitutes the true religious mystic, whose mind,
attuned to improbabilities, discovers to be plain, necessary and
beautiful, what others describe as--somewhat puzzling.

Saint Teresa's epigram on this subject, "the greater the absurdity,
the more I believe," finds an echo in Sister Serafina's pious
exclamation: "O luminous obscurity, so clear to all who love you!"

And what may be called the Gothic or Hell-fire sub-species of
Christianity, with its charnels and skeletons, inspired her with
peculiar and proper disgust. She could not bring herself to think upon
these gloomy aspects of her faith, the bottomless pit, the wailings,
fiery torments, and gnashings of teeth; convinced, like many other
charitable Christians, that the threat-and-bribe system was
incompatible with a pure and spontaneous love to God. "A strange
thing," she says, "that one should love God out of interest or out of
fear." For this reason, she "wished to abolish Hell and Paradise
alike."

Even so, Saint Teresa desired to "blot out both Heaven and Hell."

Nor did her religion lack that typical roseate complexion which
demonstrates that _naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret_. Her
numerous letters and poems to her Divine Lover would shock the ears of
Northern Puritans; they resemble the languishing Celestial Amours of
Saint Gertrude--amorous plaints, couched in language that might be
addressed with equal propriety by some terrestrial Juliet to her
Romeo. The very name of Jesus was of so sweet a taste in her mouth
that on uttering it she frequently swooned away, and was therefore
obliged to deprive herself of this joy in the presence of others "till
she was given sufficient robustness of spirit to repress these
external movements," In this respect she resembled a certain bishop of
Saluzzo who, according to Saint Alfonso di Ligurio, perceived such a
pleasant aroma in his mouth each time he pronounced the sacred word
_Maria_, that he invariably licked his lips afterwards.

She had been subject to ecstatic conditions ever since the age of
eight. She distinguished, during these trances, four principal modes
of perceiving the presence of Jesus: the student of psychology will
find them highly interesting, as they are defined with the
pseudo-scientific precision of the Spanish nun.

Saint Teresa also speaks of four modes, though later on, in the
"Castello Interior," she raised the number to seven.

This is how her trances appeared to others:---

"One evening she retired into her cell so liquefied with love that she
seemed actually to die, and she began to say: Do you not see Jesus
Christ?  making signs towards the altar, which was visible from her
cell; and became so liquefied that she fainted away, so that we could
hardly hear the words she was saying. Sometimes she said: 'Dio bello,
quanto e bello Dio!' and whilst uttering these words she seemed to
die, and then suddenly laughed aloud, and cried almost at the same
time, and seemed deprived of all strength...." [Footnote: Whoever
wishes to understand the true nature of these seizures will find ample
materials in the works of Havelock Ellis und other modern scholars.]

It was not long before her Divine Spouse gave token of His particular
affection for her. He told her, in visions, "Thou art my bride--I wish
to remain ever with thee;" indeed, He loved her, we are told, more
than she Him, and thus spake He to the angels: "Behold how fair is My
bride, how she resembleth Me; yea, she is altogether My image"; and
she, on her part, would remain convulsed with joy on hearing the word
_Amami_ (love Me) softly uttered as she partook of the Celestial Food.
In order to render herself more worthy of His affection she indulged
in an orgy of mortifications such as would have killed a more grossly
constituted individual. Her very chastity became a form of
voluptuousness; never was maidenly modesty carried to a more frenzied
pitch.  As an infant at the breast she had already felt uneasiness
when a man entered the room, and never ceased crying till he left, and
such was her sensitiveness in later years that on discovering that one
of her pupils secretly cherished a portrait of her brother, a male,
she fainted with grief and surprise, and would have died outright "had
not Christ, compassionately appearing to His bride, fortified her
soul." She refused to sit in chairs that men, even priests, had
previously occupied; suckling infants of the male sex were not
tolerated within the precincts of her convents, and her eyes were so
well trained in a downcast look that, walking one day in the streets
of Naples, she accidentally collided with her head against the feet of
a criminal who was hanging from a gallows in front of her, to the
intense astonishment of passengers.

Earthly womanhood was even more distasteful to her, for while she
regarded men, exclusive of priests, as a necessary evil, a beast by
nature, whose only _raison d'etre_ in this world--Saint Jerome held
the same view--was the procreation of female children for conventual
purposes, women were grievously to blame, if they choose the wrong
path. After an unavoidable visit to her convent of the wife of the
governor of Capri, who came in somewhat fashionable attire, she
addressed her pupils on the appalling example of vanity displayed
before their eyes and, as a humiliation, set the example of taking a
skull and licking it with her tongue in every part. Her infectious
zeal fired them to cut off their hair and torture their bodies with a
variety of instruments which the biographer describes as "horrible to
behold," in spite of the protests of the parents, who reminded Sister
Serafina that hers was an educational establishment, a
_conservatorio_, and not a nunnery--claustral confinement was not
inaugurated here till nearly a century after her death--all this, "in
order that they might render themselves more attractive in the eyes of
God," whose taste, on the subject of female beauty, would seem to
differ considerably from ours.

More repulsive to her than all was any manifestation, or even hint, of
the natural functions of womanhood. The "Life" speaks relatively
little of her love to the Mother of God, and, reading between the
lines, one gains the conviction that even the motherhood of the
Madonna, so touching and sublime to many, was hardly congenial to her
ultra-virginal mind. Thus, when the Virgin and Son appeared to her
simultaneously, she was always in a dilemma whom to adore, and finally
she prayed the Virgin not to bring the Son, as He attracted her so
strongly that she feared to be wanting in due reverence towards her.
"She was so ravished by the incomparable beauties of the Divine Son
that she reverently prayed the Virgin Mother to excuse her if in His
presence she lacked due respect for her"--a frame of mind which the
Mother of God, we are told, benignly appreciated.  This is what we
should expect, for even holy men cannot escape from the toils of their
organic nature. So male saints, in all times and places, prefer the
milder charms of female divinities, and the greatest panegyrists of
the Madonna have always been of that sex.

Nothing but the ideal youth, spotless and eternal, of Jesus or Saint
Michael appealed to her heart. This may be purity. But it is the
purity neither of Nausikaa nor of the sage ("The purity which
proceedeth from knowledge is the best."--_Mahabharatha_).



The same comparative lack of veneration for the Mother of God was a
marked trait in the Spanish nun, who, like Sister Serafina, wrote
innumerable love poems and letters to Jesus and was finally adopted by
Him as bride.

I will not weary the reader with a list of the torments which Sister
Serafina underwent in order to please her Spouse: the catalogue of her
cilices and other machinery for self-torture is a truly formidable
one. She would pray for hours, extended in the attitude of crucifixion
on the stone flags of her cell; she starved herself, and her girdle,
to prevent her from satisfying hunger, was so tightly drawn that it
was found at her death imbedded in the flesh; being forced by the
physician to eat meat, to which she had been unaccustomed, she
experienced a double joy--the joy of swallowing what was pre-eminently
unpleasant to her palate, and the joy of immediately vomiting what her
stomach refused to contain. Her modesty forbade her to take a bath,
but when this became urgently necessary on account of her health "she
discovered a manner of enjoying an heroical suffrance by sitting in it
when too hot, so that all the skin came off her body." Many of her
penances are devised in apparent emulation of Elizabeth of Hungary and
far too nauseating to be printed; disorganised, indeed, must be the
mind that thinks to please its Maker by such refinements of nastiness
that even an enthusiastic religious eye-witness, beholding these
things, is obliged to confess: "Which when I saw, I grew sick, and
reverently vomited." Instead of ordinary food, she lived on the
Eucharist. Its Mysteries had become Realities and she saw through the
veil of its earthly allegory into the bright realms of truth beyond.
Her confessors were perpetually forced to interpose their authority to
restrain this luxury of self-maceration, and her implicit obedience to
them is all the more remarkable in one who, by her hourly personal
communication with the Powers of Heaven, could well, one might
suppose, have dispensed with any mediation on the part of man. Can
obedience go higher than this?

"One day having been forbidden to approach the Sacred Table, she
perceived Jesus coming towards her after the consecration of the Host
and kindly inviting her to partake of it; Whom nevertheless this child
of perfect obedience repelled.  ..."

The confessors of Saint Teresa were likewise obliged frequently to
moderate her excessive love of penances. Like Serafina, she worshipped
obedience, regarding it as the greatest of the virtues.

One result of this godly mode of life was the inevitable impairment of
health. Sister Serafina was infirm throughout life; one illness alone
lasted for ten years and brought her to death's door. She suffered
from chronic feeling of heat, while hallucinations of all the five
senses were everyday occurrences; she was declared to be "hectic" and
inwardly consumed to cinders, though free from all organic disease.

Even so, Saint Teresa was delicate throughout life and near death's
door at one time; she had the same hallucinations and feelings of
heat; she was likewise declared to be "hectic" and inwardly consumed
to cinders, though of a naturally vigorous constitution.  [Footnote: A
recent author, A. Marie (_Mysticisme et Folie_, Paris, 1907),
discovers traces of constitutional hysteria in the Spanish nun.] Yes;
they were all "burnt," these spouses who approached so near to the
Most Highest; for God is a consuming fire....

But another result was an increase of favours showered down upon her
by the Divine Lover, who now openly avowed His predilection for her.
The stigmata appeared on her hands; her heart was wounded with a dart
borne by an angelic child of about twelve years of age, "presumably
Jesus Christ;" she enjoyed ecstatic raptures of Heaven and Hell, and
wrote, under spiritual guidance, upon the different methods of prayer.

How miraculously parallel is the career of Saint Teresa! She had the
same visions of Heaven and Hell and wrote similar treatises upon
methods of prayer; the stigmata likewise appeared on her hands, while
an angelic child, belonging to the highest order of cherubim,
transverberated her heart with God's spear. (See Bernini's monument in
the church of S. M. della Vittoria in Rome.)

Sometimes Sister Serafina wrote at the inspiration of Jesus, and it is
with surprised regret that the reader of the "Life" learns that a
dissertation on Divine Love, _taken down at the immediate dictation of
Our Lord_, has been deliberately discarded from this work. Why has the
author neglected to publish this treatise? "On account of its length!"
Surely this, in a book of seven hundred and forty printed octavo pages
in double columns, filled with so many irrelevant details and
repetitions, is an unpardonable oversight! Her influence in celestial
spheres was such that the patron saint of Capri used her as a vehicle
of communication with the Pope, and the Pope, in his turn, besought
her intermediation with Heaven.  She was furnished with the services
of two guardian angels (Saint Teresa had but one), and with what
amounts to almost the same thing, namely, the enviable gift, common to
many pious persons, of a vision which decides on all occasions of
doubt what is to be done. This comfortable faculty, indeed, if the
matter be regarded aright, docs constitute the piety of pious people
and contradistinguishes them from ordinary mortals, who have only
judgment and experience to go upon; for how shall they whose every
action, down to the most trivial of life, is regulated by divine
orders--how _can_ they go far wrong? She performed many miracles, such
as appearing in two places at once, foretelling the deaths of friends
and others, curing diseases by touch, and instinctively detecting
priests who had led immoral lives.

These are among the very miracles of Saint Teresa.

The laws of nature were frequently "suspended"--to use a phrase
popular both with Gibbon and the late Duke of Argyll--at the request
of Sister Serafina; she allays a storm at sea; quiets an eruption of
Vesuvius; like Saint Anthony of Padua, she preaches to animals who
understand; like Apollonius of Tyana or the _flying monk_ Saint Joseph
of Copertino, she is levitated and suspended in air with her head
almost touching the ceiling; like Sixtus V and General Manhes, but
unlike anyone else in ancient or modern times, she succeeded in
extirpating brigandage in the kingdom of Naples; she is useful for
childless families, and undergoes a variety of naming transformations:
all of which things are seen and vouched for by devout persons, whose
testimomy needs must fortify those who possess any belief in the value
of witness to the miraculous. But, in my opinion, the most useful
wonder that she performed was by liberating in September, 1683,
through her intercession with Saint Michael, the beleaguered town of
Vienna, the bulwark of Faith, from the Turks. Little did the
inhabitants of that city think that they, and thousands of their
fellow-religionists, were saved from a fate too awful to contemplate
through the supplications--more effectual than those of all
Christianity combined--of the humble nun of Siren land. This act
alone, if her biographer is indeed not mistaken, might be thought to
entitle her to that honour of beatification which fell to the lot of
Saint Teresa.

These peculiar graces provoked not only the envy of man, who is ever
ready to persecute with his calumnies all that emerge above the common
herd, but also of the devil. Throughout life Sister Serafina had
frequent visitations of the prince of darkness, and her behaviour in
these embarrassing moments may be commended to all who undergo similar
experiences; for instead of proceeding to Luther's lengths of
undignified personal rudeness, she tried rather conciliatory methods,
and once actually induced him to pray and adore the Saviour. For the
rest, his insinuations were not always characterised by the astuteness
with which he is commonly credited. One day she observed a young man
seated in the corridor of the convent, guitar in hand, who informed
her that he was tempting the nuns--a transparent device, which she had
no difficulty in confounding ("The Devil as Troubadour" is a common
apparition all over Christianity--cf. Lermontoff's _Demon_.) Such was
her reputation in the infernal regions that the devils were heard
complaining angrily that she would not let them settle even upon the
roof of the monastery.

Saint Teresa, too, had life-long conflicts with devils.

Altogether, there is an astonishing uniformity in the lives, miracles,
penances, temptations, and deaths of the ten thousand saints that have
sprung up from the fertile soil of the South. Many of their holy
idiosyncracies, such as self-mutilations, devil-visitations, odour of
sanctity, etc., will be found to be already the property of pagan
predecessors in every part of the world. Is this due to wilful
plagiarism? Surely not. It is due to the small range of their
mentalities, for in proportion as materials are limited, so will their
permutations and combinations be limited. Like some great writer on
human affairs, who fails to express his rich and varied thoughts in
the restricted medium of a provincial dialect through sheer deficiency
of adequate words and phrases, even so the Great Contriver of all
things, harping, for His or our pleasure, on the same few strings of
these His poor defective instruments, can coax forth no fresh sound,
but ekes out lack of novelty by reiteration of monotony. Nor let it be
forgotten that the merit of Catholic saintship belongs by one half, at
least, to the confessor, to whom these willing creatures have
surrendered body and soul for the glorification of himself, his Order,
or his God.

With the approach of the seventh climacteric an immense change comes
over Sister Serafina: it is nothing less than a psychic revolution.
>From being an ascetic dreamer, a trembling Spouse of Christ, a writer
of visionary colloquies and poems, she is transformed into a practical
woman. There are convents to be founded. Her friends and relations
fostered the scheme; the apostolic injunction _virgines castas
exhibere Christo_--what anguish would have been avoided if that phrase
had never been written!--was interpreted as implying a command, and a
timely vision in a Neapolitan church, during which the Virgin and her
Son gave minute instructions as to the order of the monastery to be
founded, and the colour and cut of the clothes of its inmates,
naturally left her no further choice in the matter. She at once went
to Capri with seven Neapolitan girls who were to become the first
inmates of a convent which was dedicated to the Saviour, but is
generally known as Saint Teresa. We are told that the building of this
establishment cost about 150,000 ducats; this will give some idea of
the energy and resources of its foundress. Where had she found the
money?

The fearful plague of 1656, which crept over from the mainland, they
say, in a lock of hair sent by a maiden to her lover on Capri, had
claimed among its victims Sister Serafina's mother, as well as her
pious maternal uncle and confessor, the parish priest, who made a will
on his death-bed leaving his wealth to his niece on condition that it
should be employed in the erection of a convent.  This was a very
humble start, but a divine vision promised further help, which
presently arrived, contributions flowing in from her new confessor,
from the Archbishop of Amalfi, the Viceroy of Naples, and other devout
friends and relatives.  The convent was completed in 1678 and
festively inaugurated by Cardinal Orsini, afterwards Pope Benedict
XIII, who was Sister Serafina's firm friend throughout life. (It was
about this time that she permanently discarded her worldly name of
Prudentia.)

It had been a fierce struggle. So much local opposition had been
raised by the clergy and populace of the island that the work was
nearly abandoned at one time, though it proceeded rapidly towards the
end. The devil, too, with characteristic malice, endeavoured to raise
an obstacle at the very moment of inauguration: he delayed, up to the
day preceding the ceremony, the despatch from Naples of a large slab
of marble destined for the high altar, and as it arrived nevertheless
in time, he caused it to break in two pieces during its transport; but
the crafty cardinal, determined not to be outdone, discovered a block
of antique travertine, which served the purpose equally well.

Saint Teresa, too, underwent a complete revulsion of character at the
approach of the seventh climacteric; a new epoch begins; the mystic is
transmuted into a shrewd and active woman.  She had a divine vision in
church which commanded the foundation of her first monastery.  The
work began like that of Sister Serafina, in humblest fashion; but
another vision promised help, which presently arrived. Yet she had to
combat so much local opposition that the building was nearly
abandoned: later on, it proceeded rapidly, though the devil took a
personal interest in the matter and contrived a variety of obstacles.

Meanwhile other convents were being built by Sister Serafina; one at
Massa Lubrense in 1673; another one, two years later, at Vico Equense.
A fourth grew up at Nocera in 1680, while the large one in Anacapri
was constructed, in 1683, in accordance with a vow made during the
Turkish siege of Vienna to the Archangel Michael, who, having
performed his share of the bargain, insisted politely, but firmly,
upon the fulfilment of hers.  Next, a convent was reorganised at Torre
del Greco in 1685, while the seventh and last was consecrated at
Fischiano near Salerno in 1691.  Thus, in a remarkably short space of
time, these establishments were begun and ended.

One of the chief peculiarities in their internal organisation was that
they were nearly always recruited from the first convent of Saint
Teresa on Capri. This, in its turn, was filled by girls from Naples,
as the islanders, acting probably under orders from their bishop and
clergy, looked askance at her schemes from the outset. The inmates
were all of good families, and in Anacapri most of them had two rooms
and a servant. From Capri, where they learned the rules from the lips
of the foundress, they were transplanted, as occasion arose, to her
other institutions, and such was their discipline that even after her
death the nuns of Capri were held in great request for-reforming
convents. It is not reported in full how far those rules differed from
those of similar houses; they are described as "veritable distillation
of the finest perfection of Christianity," and elsewhere as "those of
Saint Teresa, but accommodated to various circumstances of time and
place, some things modified, others added, whenever she thought them
necessary for the improvement of souls."

It may be well to inquire what gifts enabled Sister Serafina to carry
forward these great works.  She possessed a dominating personality, a
whole-heartedness and zeal, the vehemence of which swept all
opposition before it. What persons animated by one single idea, and
that grounded on pure emotionalism, can do, may be seen in the life of
Mahomet or Joan of Arc or, for that matter, of Saint Teresa. She would
have allowed herself to be hewn in pieces rather than yield in her
conviction, and all who came under her influence--children, paupers,
bishops, workmen, sinners, politicans--were swayed to think as she
did. Of her power over the female mind, a pathetic example occurred
when a young girl, who loved her home and had long resisted all
temptations to be won over to a more saintly life, yielded at last to
the torrent of Sister Serafina's golden eloquence and confessed that
"the _disordered love to her parents_, by which she had been
previously blinded, had left her heart." Another instance of this
hateful destruction of the most sacred ties of humanity is afforded by
the history of a nun of Saint Teresa convent. As a vain young girl,
she had been persuaded to kneel down before a crucifix by Sister
Scrafina who then, with great fervour of spirit and in a loud voice,
exclaimed to the Symbol: "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,
illumine this creature," and hardly had the girl heard this terrific
invocation (for the strange-sounding Semitic names must have been less
familiar to her than to Protestant Bible-readers) than "she saw five
rays of light issuing from the five wounds of the Crucified, which,
uniting together, formed as it were a dart which came towards her and
perceptibly wounded her heart, making her feel as though she had
entered from a great darkness into the Light," whereupon Sister
Serafina joyfully called the others to embrace the new nun. This
account is curious, as it illustrates the artificial production of an
illusion under the contagious influence of what Murisicr calls
_expectant attention_: doubtless the identical form of deranged vision
that manifested itself to Sister Serafina upon every provocation.

Pious eloquence alone will not build convents.  Unlike many
enthusiasts, this one, in her worldly relations, kept well within the
bounds of sanity, and her calm self-restraint and business capacity in
the presence of man affords a striking contrast to her
self-abandonment towards God. The analogy with Saint Teresa instantly
occurs to the mind. How useful this gift must have been during the
construction of her various convents, in reconciling the conflicting
interests of workmen, architects, and landowners, in steering her path
through the inevitable social intrigues of priests and private
families that are connected with all such undertakings, may easily be
imagined. It was these practical talents, inherited, no doubt, from
her much-despised father, that commended her to the notice of the high
ecclesiastical dignitaries who employed her for these various tasks,
and in this respect she may not inaptly be compared to Swedenborg, who
had likewise inherited from his father a judgment in earthly affairs
that was often surprisingly sane. But here the likeness ends.  The
Scandinavian dreamer speaks from celestial heights as the friend, nay,
the instructor, of angels, and his hysterical utterances, that reflect
the violent climatic changes of his home, are always expected to
contain some hidden allegory which his disciples must unravel if they
wish to save their souls: Sister Serafina is only an occasional
visitor to Heaven, not an _habituee_; she is humble in the presence of
the heavenly hosts, and there is no misinterpreting her central,
narrow, but intense creed of love, for it glows as the bland and
steady sun "under the roof of blue Ionian weather."

In her own department she was a born administrator.  She would take no
child over the age of thirteen years, and preferred them still
younger, even four years old. This surprised others, but she knew,
from personal experience, the importance of perverting the senses ere
reason awakes; to seduce the enemy's outposts while the main body of
his troops is yet distant--what general will not admire these tactics?
She was particularly severe in not allowing intimacies between girls,
well aware of the truth that it is evil communications, and not evil
examples, that corrupt good manners.  She disapproved of their undue
affection for confessors; their love should be all for God.  Widows
and others who had been in contact with the world were not encouraged
to enter her convents, and this, again, is true wisdom--of its
kind....

No significance need be attached to the fact that the rules of
Serafina resemble those of Teresa, as she deliberately set herself to
copy them, which can hardly be said of involuntary things, such as
hallucinations, visits from celestial personages, and miracles
performed after death. Yet the reader of Teresa's life cannot but be
struck by her surprising similarity in traits of character to the
other: she had the same passion for making nuns; she was equally
severe in not allowing friendships; like Serafina, she did the
humblest menial work in her capacity of prioress; she made the
discipline harsher than many nuns could bear, etc. etc.



A life so active was not without tribulations.  Her independence, her
originality, and, in one word, her success were provocative of no
small ferment on the island of Capri, for a woman enjoying familiar
converse not only with cardinals and other exalted members of the
Church, but also with supernatural powers, exposed herself to much
friction with the local clergy who could claim no such distinctions,
and who resented her influence upon the family life and general social
condition of Capri. This lurking grudge sometimes broke into open
conflict; she was often on the worst of terms with the bishops who,
for the rest, were not always distinguished by appropriate pastoral
virtues. Thus, in 1652, Saint Costanzo was obliged to appear in a
vision to Sister Serafina, requesting her to draw the attention of the
Vatican to the unsatisfactory conduct of the bishop, in consequence of
which the offending ecclesiastic was suspended from his functions and
an apostolic vicar appointed. Nor was she the only person who had
difficulties with these prelates: the prior of the Carthusian
monastery on Capri obtained an order from Gregory XV "that the
monastery may not be molested by the Bishop of Capri," and, at an
earlier period, a papal injunction had been issued against the local
secular clergy "who, with armed hands, robbed the farms and live stock
of that monastery at the instigation of their bishop." Stirring
times....

She had also her competitors, if such a word can be used. A small
island like Capri, which contained at that time only two thousand
inhabitants, would seem to have had its spiritual needs sufficiently
supplied by a saint like Sister Serafina, two monkeries and two
nunneries, a bishop and a staff of about fifty priests, to say nothing
of innumerable errant religious teachers of various denominations, two
archbishops and half a dozen bishops within a few miles, and at least
six permanent resident hermits as examples of holy life.

And yet we learn that about 1695 "the islanders had little assistance
in spiritual affairs" and that it had therefore been deemed advisable
to send out for their guidance and consolation the Father Bonaventura
da Potenza, then a young man. The biography of Sister Serafina makes
no more mention of this incident than the biography of the male saint
makes of her. He lived in the ancient monastery of San Francesco, and
though he performed miracles and penitences after the manner of his
kind, yet he seems to have lacked the _eclat_ of the mystic nun, and
his stay on the island--doubtless merely an anti-Oratarian
demonstration--was cut short. He left, after three months, for Ischia;
convinced, probably, that Capri was not large enough for two saints at
a time.

There were more serious matters. She was accused in her younger days
of immoral relations with her uncle and confessor, the parish priest,
an affair that gave rise to a "horrible scandal," and the Bishop of
Capri, without inquiring into the matter, punished both severely, but
afterwards relented. There is no reference in her biography to this
story, which I refuse to believe, though the Devil's Advocate (whose
duty it was to reply to the above-named _Positiones super Dubio_)
doubtless made good use of it by designating the priest's legacy for
the construction of the convent as an "expiatory" one.

She was called a hypocrite, witch, drunkard, liar, lunatic, thief: all
of which things she bore with Christian meekness. She was accused of
consulting twelve books of necromancy and, strangest of all, of
adorning herself with lace undergarments. Here we see the foolish
lengths to which human malevolence will go. Lace underwear! Will
calumniators never learn that there are limits to what can be
believed? And yet, according to Lea, this was a favourite accusation
on the part of the Spanish Inquisition.

She was inveigled into the controversy concerning Molinos the
quietist, whose insinuating doctrines spread rapidly and had wrought
much mischief among the faithful before they were discovered to be
heretical, although she wrote a treatise condemning the views of the
subtle Aragonian monk, a treatise which was the fruit of a vision
during which Jesus expressed to her His horror that "these persons"
would do away with His humanity.  This vision is interesting on
account of its self-evident genesis; it was generated by her own
strong preconceptions upon this subject, for if Christ were to lose
His humanity, love for Him, as she conceived it, would lose its
flavour.

Saint Teresa was also particularly sensitive regarding the humanity of
the Saviour.

So long as she remained superior of Saint Teresa convent all went
well, but on resigning the post she was often ill-treated by her
successors and subjected to every kind of malignity and petty
annoyance.

The most painful episode in her life was her imprisonment in her cell,
without the consolation of the Eucharist, for two years and a half, by
order of the Inquisition--a humiliation that redounded in the end to
her glory, for by a decree of the holy office she was liberated in
1691 and declared to be "most innocent of the charges laid against
her." I do not know what these charges were; the "Life" hints at the
matter obscurely, to the effect that the "holy office was desirous of
trying her spirit." It is pretty certain that she would not have been
treated so well but for the intercession of her friend the powerful
Cardinal Orsini; and the true cause of this violent seclusion is
doubtless to be sought in the old rivalry between Jesuits and
Oratarians--Sister Serafina was largely under the influence of the
latter order--that broke out at this period in recrudescence of a
peculiarly petulant character. She had been frequently confessed by
Jesuits, who helped her at times but, as is seen in this matter, could
also become her bitterest enemies.

Even so, Saint Teresa was frequently confessed by Jesuits, who
assisted her on some occasions and turned ferociously against her on
others.

Excess of piety and impiety alike aroused the hatred of this infamous
band of man-demons, whose repeated discomfiture in the kingdom of
Naples does eternal honour to its inhabitants.  What, after all, can
possibly be the explanation of an institution so anti-human in its
aims and methods? Is it not a form of Sadism? The movement towards
enforcing sacerdotal chastity which began soon after Hildebrand, and
the rise of Orders like Dominicans and Franciscans who strove to make
the ascetic principle a reality in life, produced a mania intelligible
enough to a modern alienist: a mania for the infliction of cruelty.
These flesh-subduing tendencies on the part of the religiously earnest
crystallised themselves in the person of the mediaeval inquisitor,
whose office, ostensibly designed for promoting orthodox notions, was
in reality a contrivance for the relief of lust by the infliction of
torture. _Usque recurret_!  The procedure itself, carefully framed so
as to afford the judges every opportunity of tormenting the accused
who, by the same rules, was deprived of all chances of explaining
himself, proves this sufficiently clearly: a form of Sadism....



I linger upon the personality of this energetic single-minded woman,
for she is the embodiment of what the Hellenic spirit was _not_: its
very antithesis. Earthly existence she held to be an illusion; the
world was death; the body a sinful load which must be tortured and
vexed in preparation for the real life--the life beyond the grave.  To
those Greeks, the human frame was a subtle instrument to be kept
lovingly in tune with the loud-voiced melodies of earth and sky and
sea; these were their realities; as for a life beyond, let the gods
see to it--a shadowy, half-hearted business, at best.

Is it not a suggestive coincidence that her convent at Massa should
have been built upon the presumable site of that old Siren temple,
perhaps with its very stones? Here, upon this spot, these two ideals
confront one another, threatening, irreconcilable.  ...

And now what of this religion of Sister Serafina?

To pronounce upon it, is to pronounce upon the Christianity of which
she is an exponent or, at least, a representative. She was a nun, an
enemy of normally constituted human society, and in so far to be
highly extolled among her fellow-religionists, since "the true
monk"--to quote the words of Professor Harnack--"is the true and most
perfect Christian." But the monasticism of the seventeenth century,
though it still professed the ideals and conformed to the three
fundamental rules of earlier days, could not fail to be profoundly
modified in form and method by the events of fourteen centuries.

The Christianity of Sister Serafina is that of Saint Teresa. It
appeals to primitive, but not always noble, impulses in human nature.
Too indolent to scale the heights of doubt or dogmatic speculation, it
avoids those fruitful sources of dissension and finds contentment in
phlegmatic submission to authority; too selfish to expend its energies
in altruistic schemes, it silently disregards, while professing
loudly, the perilous and irksome doctrine of neighbourly love; too
sensual to desire or conceive an impersonal deity, it throws the
impetus of its misguided sexual yearnings into a sub-carnal passion
for the Son of God who, by a presumption unique and degrading, is
supposed to appreciate and actually to reciprocate such sentiments:
the whole edifice, if it deserve that name, being interpenetrated and
enlivened by mysticism, the convenient refuge of all who can feel, but
not reason. No wonder its adherents declare themselves ready to die
for so comfortable a creed; but martyrdom, whatever Dr. Johnson may
say to the contrary, is a test neither of truth nor of usefulness.

And yet, as a religion, it lacks not vitality--the vitality of the
tortoise, a living fossil, uncouth, rigid in structure, tenacious of
life. For unlike most things upon earth, Christianity cannot be
improved. The many "modernised" varieties of that cult which invite
criticism with inevitable and fatal results--how unfavourably do they
compare with that of Saint Teresa, which not only ignores critical
methods but actually thrives on ridicule and turns so-called disproof
to its own nourishment.  This is its strength, and in this sense, and
because it fosters the emotions and leaves reason severely alone, it
may truly be called a Christianity after the heart of its founder.
_Let him become a fool, that he may be wise_.

This is assuredly not the best that can be said of the faith of Sister
Serafina, but it is the truth; and when it is added that hers was a
somewhat grim and uncompromising personality--she had all the
_adamantine hardness_ of Saint Teresa--it may well be asked wherein
lies the attraction which she exercises even upon those who differ
fundamentally from her in their whole conception of life. Simply in
this: that she was a sincere, homogeneous entity. What she believed to
be true she sought with all her heart, and this alone entitles her to
respect in a world that is only too full of composite, disharmonious
characters, where sincerity and saintliness do not always blossom on
one tree, where each wears a different face according to the occasion,
and the few religiously minded are either sunk in drowsy pragmatism
[Footnote: Pragmatism: the last ditch in the metaphysico-sentimcntal
steeplechase; a bastard Buddhism which the artistic Professor James
has conjured up, like an enchantment, out of the rubbish-heaps of
Koenigsberg and Athens. And yet, watching the antics of a certain
disciple, he must sometimes experience sensations akin to those of a
domestic fowl which has hatched a duckling. "The only certain and
ultimate test of reality is the absence of internal friction." What is
this but Newman's _illative sense_? I like a thing, therefore it is
true: pleasure the test of truth! Rather let us ask: what reality has
ever been established without internal friction?  Or again: "The
Beatific Vision as the ideal of knowledge." What is this but the
"divine frenzy" of Plato or Saint Teresa? Under such auspices,
conscientious intellectual labour may well take a back seat; after
pragmatism--the new Messiah. I have not followed recent phases beyond
noting that Mr. Hobhouse, in the _Aristotelian Proceedings_, has made
short work of these mystic, creative-feminine drcamings, while Mr.
Peirce, the inventor of the word pragmatism, has been obliged to coin
a new one "pragmaticism," in order to explain what he originally
meant: an ominous symptom which reminds one of Goethe's "wo der
Gedanke fehlt, da stellt das Wort sich ein." What is the whole of
pragmatism but a systemisation of those disordered flashes of
intelligence that animate the savage or child, who create realities to
coincide with emotional states? Its votaries yearn for the non-real,
for consolation from the bewildering stress of phenomena: the _horror
of a fact_ underlies all such conciliatory, "demi-vierge" systems of
philosophy.] or distracted by frantic endeavours to reconcile ancient
folk-lore and modern science.

The twofold aspects of her Christianity are admirably epitomised by
herself in a letter to a confessor: "O that I could shed a thousand
times my blood for the saving of souls; I weep for the Turks,
heretics, and other infidels, and for Christian sinners," but then
follow immediately the words: "O that I could steal all the daughters
from their mothers and lock them in a monastery."

She lived in an atmosphere of cowardice, intrigue, and hypocrisy; she
saw mankind in some of its worst aspects and suffered experiences that
might well embitter a saint; but her faith remained childlike and
mild. There are, to be sure, occasional spasms in her writings that
savour more of the ferocious vindictiveness of the Old Testament than
the unwholesome slave-morality of the New; yet, on the general score
of tolerance, she may be held up as an example to Christians of all
colours.  Our intelligence, our humanity, turns with loathing from the
unspeakable cult that thirsted for the blood of the noblest, and would
gladly furbish anew its rusty engines of horror: had its adherents
thought and felt as Serafina did, there would have been no burnings
and thumb-screwings, no hag-glings as to probabiliorism, _filioque_,
or Gadarene pigs--unlovely phenomena, calculated to make the
world-reformer despair of uplifting a race that can wallow in such
abysses of criminality and absurdity.

We may unhesitatingly condemn the compulsory seclusion in convents of
sane and well-behaved individuals, but it is well to suspend judgment
on certain other aspects of her life. She cultivated fasting "in order
to have the mind more free to think of God." What, in itself, more
laudable?  And if early training and natural disposition had caused
her exalted tendencies to run in one particular direction, are
therefore similar mortifications wholly to be eschewed, or is it not
rather true that, mischievous if carried to excess, they constitute
nevertheless a veritable means of procuring enlightenment? No
advancement in learning will come from gross feeders; whoso seeketh
knowledge must mortify the flesh; the wisdom of all ages is proof of
this. Many who are paid to preach continence to others would be
listened to with greater respect if they practised it themselves, and
some of Sister Serafina's "spiritual exercises" would assuredly have
no harmful influence upon the pampered prelates of our own Church.

But the majority of those who divine this truth fail to grasp it
entirely, and thus it has come about that the splendid ideal of
self-discipline, which has given to humanity so much of beauty and of
use, has likewise created monstrosities of the type of Macarius or
Simon Stylites; for the machinery of the mind is artfully balanced and
the penances must be precisely such that the nerve-centres respond to
the finest impulses--beyond that point lies the dream-region, where
the ravings of an ill-nourished brain are mistaken for divine truths.

Self-macerations can be defended only on hedonistic principles.
Arguing on these lines, it may clearly be contended that neither the
philosopher nor yet the Christian dare disapprove of the maxim that
each may do as he likes with his own body (_If thine eye offend thee,
cut it out_: contrary texts, as usual, are at hand), and that
pleasure, which entails no harm on others, may be sought where it can
be found by every one, according to his varying tastes and
temperament, let the manner of it be condemned by the physician,
derided by the worldling, and imitated only by the fool. Such
practices bring their own reward, for saints who despise the flesh
will necessarily leave no children to inherit this idiosyncracy, which
perhaps accounts for the extinction of the saintly species in these
later days.

Above all things, she must be judged in relation to her times.
Devil-beatings were commoner then than now, but sane thinking is still
at a discount; _incubi_ have merely been replaced by "Christian
Science."...

And lastly, it is important to remember that the appearance in these
regions of types like Sister Serafina is of an episodic character;
they are not an indigenous growth, but a fruit of that graft of
Spaniardism which--if we are to believe modern Neapolitans--is the
greatest evil that has ever afflicted their province. Spaniardism is
responsible for the cloud of monks and confessors that settled like
locusts upon the land and of whose deadly works the reader may form
some opinion from the pages of Giannone--himself their victim; for the
shattering of political life and of wholesome domestic ideals by
spy-systems, Jesuit-horrors, and the enforced seclusion of women in
inner chambers, of children in convents; Spaniardism brutaliscd the
Neapolitans by beast-shows, dazed them with ultra-Oriental
ceremonials, maddened them by outrageous exactions, bad faith, by the
gallows, the rack, and the wheel; Spaniardism filled the provinces
with the fierce unrest of brigandage, shackled in ruffs and
grandiloquent buffooneries the old native freedom of costumes and of
speech; it smothered letters, music, arts, and science in the sandy
deserts of theology and infected decent Catholic observances by an
alien ascetic taint, by gloomy absurdities of the Saint-Teresa type,
[Footnote: the viceroys introduced her cult, and one may speculate to
what an extent such a tissue of puerile fictions, forcefully
disseminated by confessor and civil magistrate, sapped the
well-springs of common sense and of common morality. "It was a curse
of the Spanish administration, to make the present unendurable and to
sow no teed for the future... a pattern of what a government should
not be"; so says Von Reumont, in his _Carafa von Maddaloni_, a
carefully documented study of this period, which deserves to be
brought up to date. (An English translation in Holm's Edition.)] and
by a hideous and still-persisting realism such as when, on Good
Friday, the head of the Crucified is ornamented with real human hair,
while His body and the snowy winding sheet are bespattered with fresh
cow's blood, in order to make the effect more "life-like." There have
been unceasing protests on the part of Neapolitans of all classes,
priests and laymen, against these abominations which the viceroys
imported from their savage and sombre Spain, the least Christian of
all Catholic countries.  Thus, Signor Manfredi Fasulo has discovered
at Sorrento the declaration of two young girls of noble family, aged
twelve and sixteen respectively, who in 1555 went before a notary and
publicly avowed that "they did not wish to become nuns, being, on the
contrary, somewhat in favour of the married state." Great must have
been the abuses ere timid children could be driven to take a step of
this kind. Indeed the history of Siren land during this period is one
long wail of suffering; it will be long ere the Spanish virus is
eliminated.

Her end was full of griefs.

For many years she had suffered ill-health and a variety of
calamities. A rebellious faction sprang up in the convent of Saint
Teresa; the superior lost no opportunity of ill-treating her; the nuns
were at discord among themselves; a slip of paper, with a variety of
improper words on it, was found pinned to the door of her cell. Her
own niece drowned herself in the cistern of the convent, a sad and
mysterious affair that "caused much gossip"; some spoke of incurable
melancholy, others, in whispers, of harsh treatment. Powerless to
help, she saw a rapid decline going on under her very eyes. Meat,
which she had contrived to eliminate from the bill of fare (Saint
Teresa had done the same), was plentifully eaten; the nuns refused to
rise at early hours for prayers; the spirit of chastity abated; a
friendship between a priest and a _conversa_ gave her much pain, and
the dismissal to Naples of a young doctor to whom many inmates of the
convent had shown themselves more attached than may have been needful,
was attributed to her machinations and gave the signal for open
rebellion.

During her last days all was trouble and confusion.  She was hated and
avoided by the whole establishment, and some of the nuns insisted upon
leaving it, although they were warned that they would lose one half of
their dowries. Simultaneously with these inner convulsions there arose
such a mighty tempest at sea that no doctor could come from Naples,
and her ordinary confessor, who had been apprised of the approaching
end, was unable to console her dying moments. She had to content
herself with the ministrations of two Capuchin monks who happened to
be on the island, as she seems at this time to have been on bad terms
with all the local secular clergy.

Nor was this all. For the devil, driven to desperation by his repeated
failures to undermine her saintlincss, took violent measures and was
beating her in her cell. How the nuns were able to distinguish these
diabolical flagellations from those which Sister Serafina habitually
inflicted upon herself--sometimes a thousand strokes without
interruption--we are not told; but we may rest assured that this
somewhat brusque method of persuasion, not unknown in the histories of
other saints, met with as little success as it deserved.

Sister Serafina viewed all these tribulations as a particular favour
of Heaven, for she had always prayed that she might depart this life
purified in the crucible of griefs, in torments, and alone.

Even so it fell out.

After lying for some days in an ecstatic condition, and in the
attitude of crucifixion, she expired on March 17, 1699, in the
seventy-eighth year of her age. And immediately there followed a
general reconciliation in the convent; all were united in much love
and perfect charity "as had never been her lot, during life, to
witness." She passed away in a trance of love and with paralysed
tongue. Her corpse, assuming a roseate hue, remained incorruptible and
flexible for a. long time and exhaled an ineffably sweet perfume; her
blood flowed as freely after death as in life....

Thus went to her rest, in the _odour of sanctity_, the venerable
Sister Serafina di Dio, and as to her present state no Christian can
be in doubt, for if Paradise be reserved for those who practise
poverty, chastity, and obedience with all the sincerity of a simple
heart, then assuredly she is sitting there now.  She performed
miracles three years after death and gave advice as ghost; her picture
sweats and speaks, the oil that burns before it being medicinally
useful; pieces of her clothing are efficacious as talismans, and
pilgrimages to her tomb have been known to produce cures for various
ailments, though I have been unable to obtain authentic records of any
recent cases.

She was buried, amid an incredible concourse of people, in the church
of S. Salvatore on Capri; but in 1813 her coffin was taken out and
reverently entombed in the parochial church of that island, and, in
1820, once more reverently changed to another part of that church,
whence, in 1856, it was again shifted, reverently opened and closed
again, and deposited in a different locality, whence, in 1893, her
remains were once more removed, examined by the chief medical officer
and other notabilities, scaled up again, and laid to rest elsewhere,
with a lengthy inscription to record these reverend exhumations and
peregrinations.

May she now rest, if possible, in peace!

Before her burial, however, a number of pious experiments had been
made with her corporeal parts, in order to justify a claim to
saintliness. A death-mask was taken thirty-four hours after her
demise, but the plaster of Paris became warm from the heat of her
corpse, the cause of which was soon seen to be the heart, which
exhibited miraculous signs and, like that of Saint Teresa, maintained
heat throughout her body. The lungs, the liver, the kidneys were all
taken out and found to bear tokens of a holy life; the bowels were
likewise removed and examined, and on the fourth day after death her
veins were again opened and blood flowed freely, proclaiming her
miraculous state.  Five days later her scattered remains were
collected in a coffin, and crowds of men and women came to satisfy
their _pious curiosity_ by gazing upon the decomposing organs of this
venerable ascetic.  To their hallucinated senses these poor shreds of
mortality appeared more lovely and fragrant than ever. Truly an
edifying spectacle! The pagans, for superstitious purposes,
scrutinised the entrails of beasts: the Christians, those of
saints....

The concordance with the Spanish nun, in these latter events, is so
amazingly close that, were not similar parallelisms observable in the
life-histories of many other saints, a critical reader might almost be
tempted to suspect the biographer's _bona fides_.  Without dilating
upon these extraordinary coincidences, it will suffice to report that
Saint Teresa, too, died in a trance of love and with paralysed tongue;
that her corpse, assuming a roseate hue, remained incorruptible and
flexible for a long time and exhaled an ineffably sweet perfume; that
the blood from her dead body flowed as freely as during life; that her
coffin was frequently shifted about, while her soul performed miracles
and gave advice as ghost.

Nevertheless a medical practitioner, who was called to view the
remains of Sister Serafina, refused to depose that they were _in statu
miraculoso_, whereas the physician who examined those of Saint Teresa
had no hesitation in giving a certificate to that effect.

I cannot say how far this conduct on the Italian doctor's part proved
a hindrance to the beatification of Sister Serafina, or to what an
extent his Spanish colleague's certificate weighed favourably in the
balance when the case of the Spanish nun was considered. Save in this
one microscopic detail, the saintly lives and works of these two
mystics are so alike that it would seem hardly just to refuse the
highest honour to one of them merely by reason of the pronouncement of
a worldly professional, who may well have been mistaken, prejudiced,
or even bribed to conceal the truth. Nor will I endeavour to solve the
enigma of the quasi-miraculous concordance in the lives and deaths of
these two women, but my reason for referring so frequently to Saint
Teresa will now be clear: namely, that the reader should observe what
apparently trifling circumstances can influence the decisions of the
Vatican. A carnal doctor's certificate seems to dispose of Sister
Serafina's claims to the honour of beatification; outweighing a
lifetime of saintliness, of miracles and Christian propaganda in
which--to judge by the official biographies sanctioned and approved by
the Pope--she differed not a jot from the more fortunate Spanish
ascetic.  In view of the issue at stake, such a respect for the
pronouncement of a nameless man of science would be regarded, even in
lay circles, as a kind of rationalistic bigotry.

Her contemporaries, at least, judged well of her merits; hardly was
she in the grave before the project was set afoot to procure her
beatification; among the number of these early promoters I find the
name of "Jacobus Tertius Magnae Britannix Rex." The attempt has been
repeated up to the days of Leo XIII without success; and thus she, who
deserves the title of Beata as well as many another one, must content
herself, meanwhile, with that of Venerabile. A Carmelite Pope would
doubtless entertain the project if the necessary gold were
forthcoming, and Monsignor Canale, the religious historian of Capri,
naively but correctly laments the poverty of the island as the cause
of its failure. Yet saints have often waited long for their final
honours--Saint Elizabeth, for instance, three hundred years; Saint
Leopold, three hundred and fifty. These regions have also grown richer
of late, while the price of canonisation, according to Silvagni, has
now been reduced to 200,000 francs.

Thus the hope of many may still be realised, if the stream of wordly
prosperity at present flowing into Siren land from Argentina can be
diverted into channels of unworldly zeal.




X. OUR LADY OF THE SNOW


How strange is that process of mental association, and how a mood, the
most volatile of things upon earth, will often persist and grow into a
suggestion and become attached to some locality, twining itself
inextricably among houses and fields and pathways! Can anything be
more unlike these many-folded radiant coast-lands than the
interminable plains of Russia, with their pale skies and weary
humanity? Yet the first time I came here I fell in with a Russian
gentleman and his daughter, and memories of that ephemeral
acquaintance have tinged the country for me. He was not even a true
Siren worshipper, such as I have met many since that day; lie came
here on account of his health, and she, either to be near him or to
think out certain problems for herself. Parthenope was Greek to both
of them.

Still there are Sirens, too, in the chilly waters of the Baltic, and
the name of one of them, Russalka, was soon to have a mournful sound
in many Russian cars.

Although I never met them after that winter, the septentrional mood is
apt to return, like the subtle odour of birch trees clinging to the
olives and myrtles of an alien shore. No harm in this, for things are
best perceived by contrasts; the Englishman, who never submerges his
identity, is a good describer of foreign lands, and the image of the
South is not seen so clearly on the spot as when it rises like an
exhalation before the mind's eye amid hyperborean gloom. That was a
sage remark of him who said "the material furnished by the tropics can
only be utilised in a Northern atmosphere."

The good Ivan Nicolaevitch was probably a professor of philosophy or
geology at some public institution, but I never had the curiosity to
inquire; I like to taste my friends, but not to eat them.  He can
hardly be alive at this day. As for the daughter, she may well be
sojourning in Siberia, for she was a liberal of the type which Russia
needs and therefore banishes. As I remember her now, she seems to have
been one of the million good-humoured Northern girls with barbaric
splendour of complexion and eyes of intense velvety blue, eyes like
twin mountain lakes lying deep down in fringe of fir, calm and
mysterious. The father was of another type, pale with a straggling
beard--meekness graven into every line of his face; full of perplexing
and suggestive theories, one of them--based, he said, on
"statistics"--to the effect that the next Messiah would be a Russian
pauper, and another, that parents ought to be forbidden by law to
argue with their children (he detested Locke).  His ideal was state
management in everything, a delusion which crops up in the
"anticipations" of many modern writers who would complicate life
instead of simplifying it.

Forcibly were those times recalled to me when I revisited the
Cimentaro, where we had been together. The Cimentaro is a bank of
volcanic tufa which lies in a valley above Massa; they hew tunnels
into the soft material and extract it as a building stone. You can cut
it with a knife. It becomes more valuable--that is less spongy--the
deeper you excavate, and the rock is not blasted, but artfully split
away from the cliff with wooden wedges and then chopped up into blocks
of convenient size. Walls built of such fliable stone must necessarily
bo thick and coated with plaster against the damp, but it is none the
less cheaper than limestone in the long run.

My friend was hugely interested in the operations.  At last he said:

"We have no stones in our country. Before a house can be built, a road
must be laid down to bring the stones for the house. And before the
road can be built, a railway must be laid down to bring the stones for
the road from God knows where--Finland, perhaps. The railway? It is
laid, at first, on wood."

It struck me as an extraordinary statement.  But I found it
sufficiently true when I visited his country some eight years later.

The tufa of Naples is of yellow tint and harder in texture than this,
which changes, in proportion as its moisture evaporates, from a rich
purple-brown through mouse colour and hyacinthine shades to a bluish
grey. They tell me it cost four centimes a brick at the quarries, but
the price is doubled and even trebled by the time it reaches its
destination, for it must be transported on the backs of mules who can
only carry about seven bricks apiece. These volcanic deposits probably
date from the times of the grand Phlegrasan eruptions.

Days of the Titans! Like a section of an Emmenthaler cheese is the map
of that smoking Cimmerian region west of Naples with its craters,
great and small, many of them now submerged beneath the waves but
still traceable with the sounding-line, that belched forth in
prehistoric ages a fiery deluge; the sea must have turned solid, for
its caves and inlets are chocked up with cinders; the air likewise,
since deep deposits, like this one, are everywhere. At Villa Nova, on
Capri, you can see bombs of pumice over a metre in circumference:
conceive the height to which they must have flown in order to reach
this spot in their parabolic descent! Vesuvius, whose last column of
ashes rose eighteen kilometres into the firmament, is a child's popgun
when compared with these engines of primeval wrath.  And the sport
went on for centuries. No wonder the firm-seated limestone was
"dislocated" in these earth-convulsing battles of the giants, and
Capri and the Siren rocks shook themselves free from the mainland.

The church of Pastena, higher up the stream which flows past the
Cimentaro, reposes on a bed of this material, and here and there along
the sides of the valley, at various elevations, can be seen patches of
tufa resting upon its limestone ledges. They tell a curious story,
namely, that the river-bed was already fashioned by water at the time
of the catastrophe: the stream was temporarily choked up and obliged
to do the work of erosion over again.  Whence I conclude that the
Cimentaro is an aerial formation--that it fell from the sky to where
it now is. And if this be the correct way to account for these upland
deposits, it would surely be more logical to extend this explanation
to the immense contemporary layer on which Sorrento stands, rather
than to postulate an aqueous origin of which we have no proofs.

>From here we walked, I remember, through the village of Monticchio up
to the summit of Monte Arso, the burnt mountain, which Maldacea
described as an extinct volcano--so easily are legends formed from
names. It was _burnt_ only because unproductive in his day and has now
ceased to merit this designation, being crowned with a house and green
vineyards. The rock of the Tore is a soft Tertiary sandstone called
_macigno_, which overlies the limestone in many places; all the lanes
are paved with it, and often have I thanked Providence for causing
Massa to be built in the neighbourhood of its quarries, for it is
never slippery in summer and never wet in winter, whereas the
limestone is objectionable at all seasons unless one goes barefoot or
wears the corded shoes called _paragatti_ which were introduced from
Spanish South America. The peasant, with characteristic
anthropomorphism, calls this sandstone "pietra morta," dead stone; as
opposed to the "pietra viva" or limestone.

It is hard work, at first, bringing such recalcitrant stuff into a fit
state for cultivation; the stones must be crushed and mixed with earth
and the trenches for the vines excavated to a depth of six feet. But
the trouble is amply repaid, and green oases, like this one, are now
springing up in various parts of the Tore. I have tried to obtain data
of revenue and expenditure, but in vain, as the cultivators are shy of
giving information which might lead, they think, to an increase of
taxes.  Certain it is, that after the vines have begun to thrive, the
produce of a single season will often exceed the entire initial outlay
including the cost of the land--not a bad speculation, therefore, for
those who can afford to wait a few years.

This peasant on Monte Arso has also had the luck to strike water, if
luck it can be called which is the inevitable result of digging. The
Tore are saturated with springs which dry up, for the most part, in
summer, but there must be a permanent supply of liquid between the
porous "pietra morta" and the impenetrable limestone. To Ivan
Nicolaevitch it seemed a simple matter to tap this reservoir by means
of artesian wells sunk through a few feet of sandstone, and a
profitable one, seeing that the villages are largely dependent on rain
water collected in cisterns which is apt to fail or to become tainted,
although living eels are kept in them for purposes of "purification."
But I should like to see the faces of the gentlemen of the _municipio_
if his proposal were submitted to them.  No doubt the water of clean
cisterns is purer and cooler than this surface-flow, but they are not
always kept as they should be; many hundred people draw their supply
from one not far from here which was recently found to contain 1440
microorganisms to the cubic centimetre.

Here, beside the "burnt mountain," stands the burial ground of seven
villages; it is called Santa Maria della Neve--Our Lady of the Snow. A
depressing place. Nature is cheerful all around, but within--an
ill-kept square of earth, immense and bare, surrounded by high walls
and overgrown with weeds. Are these people so poor that they cannot do
anything for its appearance? It is hard to believe; money is pouring
in from America.

No Sirens will sing dirges on a spot like this. Yet that was their
charge in olden days; they were divinities of death, symbols of
funeral chant and lamentation, and this one attribute of their many
was reverentially clung to by the Athenians.

Upon the grave of Sophocles was sculptured a Siren, bewailing the loss
of the master whose golden voice was to be heard no more, "and even
now," says Pausanias, "the Athenians are wont to compare the
persuasiveness of his poetry and discourses to a Siren's song."

Siren-vases, such as that formerly in the Pourtales collection, have
been discovered at Sorrento, but no Greek tombs with these elaborate
ornaments. Those that have been unearthed seem to have belonged to the
lower classes; they are simply inscribed; FAREWELL. It is touching,
this simple word, though our modern conscience might well be
disquieted with such eloquent and candid brevity. And yet--after the
conventional sepulchres of our ancestors, with their paraphernalia of
skulls and cross-bones, their laboured lies in barbarous Gothic
Latinity or worse English, setting forth virtues which the dead never
exercised and hopes of Heaven he may well have derided--how true is
the pathos of this last greeting; how it speaks of a time when men
looked serenely into the eye of death and found in their hearts, not
in their heads, the feelings they would utter! Some ancient funeral
inscriptions are as untrustworthy as our own, and the Roman vale had
doubtless grown to be a mere formality; but the men who first of all
carved this salute on sepulchres meant what they said: farewell!



Hither--to Our Lady of the Snow--they bring the dead for burial from
various villages. The road is a mere track in many places and the
discomfort must be considerable for all who take part in these
scrambling processions, especially during the many wintry days of rain
and storm. I have often asked why these communities do not buy a
burial ground nearer home, and have received a variety of
explanations--none convincing. The truth seems to be that irksomeness
is counterbalanced by cheapness, for a plot of land near a village
costs money, while the waste of time counts as nothing. Orientals! At
Tramonti, further inland, the cemetery is at the head of the valley
and on the summit of a truly formidable hill--a funeral there must
mean half a day's loss of time for those who attend it from beginning
to end. One would think that the expense of conveying the coffin up
these rough tracks would alone swallow up a considerable sum.  But
this is avoided by the system of confraternities, each member of whom
pays a small yearly contribution which entitles him to a free burial
when his time comes. No wonder everybody belongs to these societies,
for they make interments enticingly cheap.

But will they sleep in peace?

Ay, there's the rub. Soon enough their bodies will be ousted to make
room for others, even as in old England men were "knav'd out of their
graves" in the same callous fashion. Surely this disrespect for those
who have gone before is a sinister feature of Catholicism, and a
sensitive person, haunted perpetually with the spectre of Unrest after
Death before his eyes, may well become predisposed of the fiery
resolution. Poor men's bones are cast to the winds, for an avaricious
progeny denies them even a few square feet of earth wherein to repose;
the skeletons of their betters are periodically resuscitated and
examined, put into new coffins, and reverently moved about: lucky the
saint or warrior whose anatomy is complete after all these posthumous
perambulations. The ancients displayed more piety in this matter. The
Romans, it is true, had their Esquilinus, their _ager informis_, but
their respectable dead were respectably dealt with and left in peace.
Yet even the present system is an improvement upon that which was in
vogue up to a short time ago, whereby the poorer dead were simply
pitched, uncoffined and head foremost, into a black hole, _fossa
carnaria_, which lay below the church. In this pit of abominations
they lay undisturbed, until some newcomer, sliding down, jolted them
into another position. The _fossa carnaria_ at Massa is closed with a
marble slab inscribed "The Way of all Flesh"; others bear the familiar
but wholly untruthful legend "Return whence Ye came."

Can these bones live? If so, great will be the confusion in such
caverns when the last trumpet sounds. The Italian government abolished
these horrors under vehement protests on the part of the Vatican; but
it will be long ere the priests can bring themselves to countenance
cremation, which would cut off one of their chief sources of revenue.
Religions should stand on their merits, no doubt.  Yet there is
something to be said, even for a State-paid clergy....

Not all the cemeteries of Siren land are in this sad case. The two
burial-grounds on Capri are decent and harmonious spots, and a
picturesque one crowns the summit of Santa Maria above Massa, where
the scarlet geraniums grow to gigantic clusters. It is forlorn but
still fair, this ancient citadel; they fought furiously here in the
fifteenth century--Ferdinand of Aragon besieging it for two years to
oust the obstinate Anjou adherents. When at last it yielded, the
citizens were emptied out of the contumacious rock and made to settle
at its foot.  Their devotion to the Anjou cause had been constant and
not unrequited. There has lately been printed, from a manuscript in
the Paris National Library, a really interesting book--the diary of
Jean le Fevre, who died in 1390, after being Bishop of Chartrcs and
chancellor to the Anjou kings Louis I. and Louis II. Reading this
honest old-world journal, one might think that the inhabitants of
Siren land were an exceptional order of beings to be favoured out of
all proportion to the rest of mankind--honours and benefits of every
kind being showered upon them by the Court. A positive infatuation: on
one day alone--July 2, 1387--the queen wrote over twenty-five letters
to private citizens of Capri. Where are these letters now?  _Muribus
corrosae_, no doubt; eaten by the mice, which already fattened on
Capri documents in old Le Fevre's day.

And a charming site is the new cemetery at Capo Corno near Massa,
where the ordered cypresses, flame-like children of Zoroaster,
overhang the sea and sway to its breezes. Here one can realise how
greatly the appearance of the country would be improved if there were
more of these queenly growths punctuating the landscape, as in
Tuscany.  The natives will not have them, on account of their funereal
associations: a puerile prejudice, which gives to churchyards the
monopoly of a beautiful and useful tree.



Resting, the other day, outside the walls of the desolate cemetery on
the Tore, I found at my feet an unusual object--a pebble of flint. How
came it here? Soon enough I discovered others; a mine, a vein of it.
Is this, then, the place whence the prehistoric cannibals who lived in
Siren land drew their supply for their weapons? No; the quality was
not good enough for these fastidious creatuies who, nor content with
flints of the first water, imported obsidian from the distant island
of Palmarola and jade from still further away.  The Tore are utterly
barren in useful minerals; there is nothing worthy of exploitation to
be found on these hills; no salt or iron or petroleum or coal. Perhaps
we ought to thank God for this.

Perhaps not. For are these things really the curses which dreamers
like Ruskin would have us believe? I thought of pre-commercial
Scotland, a land of brigands and bigots. And now? A swarthy mineral,
hidden in the bowels of the earth, has woke up latent possibilities in
human minds, transforming uncouth savages into thoughtful citizens;
giving to England some of her best administrators and to the world a
number of glowing writers and of thinkers, deep and daring, who have
overturned pernicious maxims of conduct and set up sound ones in their
stead. Many a single county in Scotland has produced more men of
original genius than tracts twice as large in the more favoured
climates of Europe. Coal! For if you reckon it out, it will be seen
that most of the great men of that country have been born within a
remarkably small radius of time and an equally restricted one of
space; the commercial rise of the central plain, conditioned by the
discovery of coal, has led to this unprecedented intellectual rise.
True, the pristine beauty of Edinburgh is now shrouded in coal-dust
and smoke--but there! you will never satisfy an artist.

Would a similar quickening effect, I wonder, be produced by the
discovery of coal on these hills?

At this awkward question my musings were interrupted by the arrival of
a funeral procession; a young man had died; he was preparing for some
notarial post to enable him to help his large family with occasional
contributions and had succumbed to a brain fever from over-work. He
seemed to have been a general favourite, yet no one was here to
testify affection or esteem on his last journey.  Besides the two
priests who received three and five francs respectively and who walked
about a hundred yards in front of the coffin chatting and laughing,
there was only the carpenter, the confraternity in their white frocks,
and the youth's two brothers, whom custom compelled to attend; no
comrades, no unpaid priests, no teachers, not a single woman, not one
of his fifty relatives--every one is related hereabouts--not a soul,
in fact, but went under compulsion. They had not even the questionable
pretext of bad weather for avoiding the ceremony, as it was a lovely
day; but that, perhaps, afforded an even better one. And the service
was of barbarous brevity--a Toda would have been ashamed of it. Then
the confraternity and priests dashed their vestments into a box and
tripped back over the hills in work-a-day clothes, a merry group.
Only the carpenter, a serious-looking man of middle age, paced along
apart from the others in solitary and sombre abstraction, smoking a
black pipe. I inquired why he did not join the rest of them, and
received the enigmatical reply: "It is ever thus." He had driven a
harder bargain than usual on this occasion--eighty-five francs.

"Walnut?" I queried.

"All imitation! Assassin of the poor!..."

"I know a cemetery in my country," Ivan Nicolaevitch once said to me,
"which is liquid mud.  The dead are lowered into it, but soon enough
they rise and float on the surface."

There is no end to these unnecessary horrors.  At Capri they
excavated, a good many years ago, an urn of blue cameo glass reposing
in a leaden casket. It contained ashes and a coin and was of such fine
workmanship that its price quickly rose to 100 pounds. These fair and
fragile vessels, of which the Portland vase is the best example, were
used both for festive and funereal purposes, and so dignified ancient
life in two of its aspects--the cinerary purpose, to preserve intact
the ashes of the dead, which we allow to rot, in an imperishable
envelope; the festive one, inasmuch as their conviviality was a less
trivial function than ours, almost a rite, in the performance of which
nothing was considered too good, however precious or liable to be
broken on such occasions. But these choice urns lead up to the glass
sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, to the mummies and exquisite
tomfooleries of Egypt, where Death tyrannised over Life. So the
treatment of the dead, taken by itself, is hardly an index of a
people's intelligence or kindliness; the clever and humane Parsees
have a custom which appals us, and the Eskimos, warm-hearted folk, are
as callous as beasts in this respect....

After the stragglers of the procession had vanished round the hill, I
retraced my steps and conversed awhile with the guardian or
grave-digger, who was amiable enough, but rather commonplace for a man
of his absorbing occupation. "This," he said, "is the chapel of
Monticchio; this, of Sant' Agata; this, of Termini--and life is short,
signore, and we must all manage somehow to eat."_Dobbiamo tutti
mangiare_: that was the extent of his worldly philosophy.

In the last of these burial chapels I was struck by the frequent
recurrence of an historical name upon the tombstones, that of
Amitrano. According to Capecelatro, an abbot of this name was beheaded
by Masaniello, and his brother also killed in that tumult. In those
days many conspicuous men in Naples came from this peninsula, which
was populated more numerously, and by better classes, than it is
nowadays. This clan presumably draws its name from the spot called
Metrano or Mitrano near Termini, which now consists of only five
houses, but seems to have been larger formerly, for Persico reports
that sixteen captives were taken from here in the corsair raid of
1558. Perhaps it overflowed into Termini, which is of comparatively
modern growth, having only become a parish in 1615, and where the name
of Amitrano is very common. A-Mitrano--from Mitrano. On the same
principle, Amalfi has been derived (wrongly, they say) from A-Melfi,
as though originally a colony from the town of Melfi.

Another member of this family wrote a description of that same corsair
raid, and yet another one was a celebrated local brigand who died not
so long ago and who had hit upon a singular method of impressing the
country-folk. He gave it to be understood that he had sewn a
consecrated wafer into his body, with the consequence that however
much blood he might lose in encounters with the police, his wounds
immediately healed again. His pursuers were taken in like the others,
for, to corroborate this fraud, he used to carry a skinful of animal
blood about with him and spill large quantities of it wherever he had
exchanged shots with them, turning up safe and sound a few days later.
The theory of his charmed life is still believed by some of the old
people.

And the derivation of Mitrano?



>From Mithra, I think: the sun-god. He is known to have been worshipped
at Naples, Pompeii, and Capri, and votive chapels sprang up in his
honour all over Italy. Why not on these hills? The Oriental element
was not lacking in the courts of Augustus and Tiberius; at later
periods, too, when the cult of Mithra became more widely disseminated,
these coastlands must have been the residence of Eastern merchants
from their natural attractions or from convenience of situation near
the great trade-routes; of freedmen, or retired military officers who
had become attached to the cult of the Persian god which accompanied
them on their campaigns into the remotest parts of earth.

Thus Siren land has contributed its mite towards unhinging the reason
of the Western world. For Eastern religions lose their finest strains
when transplanted out of their native soil, and that of Mithra,
imported into Italy, efficiently carried on the work of undermining
the common sense of Europe. Only the modern Scotchman, the Roman of
the Republic, and a few other favoured races whose minds are
constructed on the watertight-compartment system, can withstand the
toxic effects of certain speculations which in no wise impair the
sanity of those among whom they originated. We lack the light touch in
spiritual matters. Our climate and racial development has made us
strenuous and prone to turn words into deeds; of the many things that
we take too seriously, none have wrought greater social havoc than the
airy religious dreamings of the East.

Christianity has moulded our destinies; if the sun-god, to whose
former worship these engraved tombstones on the Tore remotely testify,
had supplanted Christ, what then? The answer is not difficult. They
underwent a progressive convergent development; the world-spirit that
presided over their birth (to use a now antiquated mode of speech)
drew from both what its then bilious appetite craved for, and rejected
the rest.  It would have ended in a mere difference of name.  And not
even that: Mithra, like Christ, is the "Light of the World," and
Cybele, his whilom associate, is the Madonna or _Gran Madre di Dio_,
the Magna Mater of old, who was worshipped both at Capri and Sorrento.
The "Monumentum Ancyranum" has shown that Augustus was not
unfavourable to her cult--a fact which may have contributed to her
popularity in this part of Campania which he visited so frequently.

Tertullian laments that the institutions of Christ and Mithra were
alike from the beginning; thus December 25, the feast of Mithra, was
the only occasion of the year when the king of the Persians was
allowed to get drunk: a custom of this kind still lingers in parts of
the Christian world. They grew up together and engaged awhile in
fierce competition; like rival trading concerns, each copied what was
successful in the other. But the religion of the sun-god was too
rational to survive, for it solved the problem of sin and evil without
recourse to predestination, and kept the door of hope ajar for the
believer who, by personal endeavour, should purge away his guilt. That
did not suit the hysterical spirit of an age which required faith and
prearranged damnation for its enemies. It succumbed also because it
seems to have excluded women from participation in the mysteries--a
fatal error, if propaganda was its aim.  Yet, before expiring,
Mithraism had been permitted--"by an inspiration of the devil," says
Saint Jerome--to leave many of its leading characteristics as a legacy
to the younger cult.  [Footnote: Original to Mithraism are: the idea
of moral regeneration; draught from the mystic cup; sacramental rites;
consecration of bread and water; confession of sins; the sacred flame
on the altar; asceticism; veneration of the Sabbath; the last
judgment; martyrdom; resurrection; hope of immortality; expiation of
sins; baptism; lustration of neophytes; confirmation; penitences,]

In these days, when humanity is infected with observances whose
grotesqueness is their only claim to success, it is well to look
backwards and to realize that there exists on earth no nearer
approximation to verity than the original figure of Mithra the
Mediator, the God of Light and Truth.  He is the hypostasis of
intelligent human effort adjusting itself to a non-moral environment.
Ormuzd and Ahriman are dim cloudy shapes; none can tell us what they
are about; Mithra, the Redeemer, is made man. In favour of dualistic
religions it has been contended that a single god, knowing all things
and responsible for all, is a profound immorality. The sun alone,
passionless contriver, enemy of lies, is above reproach. He makes and
unmakes the atoms in our brains which make and unmake Jehovahs; he is
responsible for all things on earth, good and evil; yet his name is
unsullied as his face. What divinity shall be compared to him? The
wise man of all ages will not hesitate whom to adore when he beholds
the Great Fire by whose operation all things derive their first breath
of life and the faculty of continued living; when he remembers that
the ruby is kindred not in colour only, but in substance, with the
arterial life which flows through his veins--a kinship of blood
binding the cosmos to himself, whose body contains the common
properties of the earth, whose humours, they say, are swayed by her
satellite, whose very thoughts are but expressions of solar virtues.

Our vistas on Mithraism and such themes have been widened by the
labours of men like Rawlinson, Champollion, and Cumont. The myth of
the sun-god was a simple matter for our grandfathers.  Now that we
know a little more, we know a little less; and it is really worth
contrasting the diffidence of a modern writer on this subject, like
Reville, with the facile _ex cathedra_ utterances of the great Dupuis
and his school. We are confronted by an agglomeration of facts and
ideas, by a complexity of geographical, psychological, and historical
data, that staggers the intelligence. Who will now unravel the
mysteries of Zeus, of Heracles? These protean phantoms, that figure
forth every aspect of human thought and passion, elude our grasp. True
it is that, modified almost beyond recognition, the old gods are still
alive within us; antique ideals permeate our spiritual life; the blood
of Apollo and Aphrodite flows through the veins of Christ and his
Virgin Mother. Yet these venerable shapes, though vital, remain
intangible. Their birth-places are beyond our ken. We pursue them, but
they flit tantalisingly into wilds of Thrace and Tartary, past Memphis
into regions of god-fearing Ethiopians where old Nile collects his
waters--from Italy to Greece and over cloud-capped Aryan uplands they
lead us on till, looming gigantic through the haze, they vanish in the
twilight, in the limbo of Oriental tradition, Promethean workshop of
the gods.



So I mused; but the radiance of Mithra did not avail to dispel a
spectral image floating before my eyes, the _phantasma_ of that
funeral with its unseemly haste and callousness, which I finally
decided to regard as a perversion of the ancient point of view--of
that serenity in the face of death which was praised as distinctively
Hellenic by men like Herder, whose enthusiasm for things Greek may
sometimes have overshot the mark, based, as it was, upon the contrast
between Periclean sunshine and the political and metaphysical fogs of
their own country.

It was another of these enlightened Germans, Lessing, who remarked
that without the help of revelation no intelligent man could ever have
come to regard death as a punishment. He was alluding to Christianity;
but the early Christians, to judge by the sepulchral monuments of the
catacombs, did not hold this sad and wrong view. And although certain
Romans like Seneca already began to dwell with luxurious introspection
upon the terrors of the grave--a habit which grew into an obsession
during the Middle Ages, when mankind was haunted by the fearfullest
shapes of gloom--yet it was reserved for later ages to cast the full
blight over reasonable men. We had not thrown aside our mirthfulness
with our mail-shirts; our ancestors took themselves less seriously
than we take them; the merry England of Chaucer, with its masks and
mummeries, has many affinities with South Italy of to-day. For so long
as indulgences can be cheaply purchased, the religious conscience
cannot be troublesome: that unction _in extremis_--what a glorious
salve! But when the ghostly intermediary was taken away and man found
himself face to face with a god whose time was occupied in noting down
his inmost thoughts, then the reign of haunting terror began; well
might he dread the approach of death and tremble for his chances
hereafter.

Siren land has been affected by these mediaeval fermentations, but
chiefly on the material side; on the moral, it seems to me that the
identical causes which have co-operated to form our Northern
sensibility in certain matters have here produced a clean contrary
effect: that spiritual blunting or anaesthesia of which this funeral
was an example.

And the Greeks? The idea that we entered into the world tainted from
birth, that feeling of duty unfulfilled which is rooted in the
doctrine of sin and has hindered millions from enjoying life in a
rational and plenary manner--all this was alien to their mode of
thought. A healthy man is naturally blithe, and the so-called joy of
life of the ancient Greeks is simply the appropriate reaction of the
body to its surroundings. And if Greek life was heaving with a soft
undercurrent of melancholy, it was the melancholy not of psychic
constipation but rather of wistfulness; it was what Pater called a
"pagan melancholy." They did not brood; a sane mind broods over
nothing; it insists upon being distracted. The death of a comrade
needs must convulse our organism, but, if sound, it resents the
intrusion and seeks to regain its equipoise; it must have certain
safety-valves of which our puritan conscience, speaking dimly of
something beyond the objective fact of death, does not approve. Or is
it not going too far to say of such calamities, as a well-known
American writer has done: "Every other wound we seek to heal--every
other affliction to forget; but this wound we consider it a duty to
keep open--this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude." We
consider it a duty. Why a duty? The masochistic note of modern
life....

Those men of old who carved upon sepulchres that single word
"farewell" struck the mean between our hyper-sensitiveness and the
indifference of the South.

It is easy to see that, in a general way, the inhabitants of the
Parthenopean region have deviated less than ourselves from the
standard of rightness as regards these tracts of primitive feeling,
the reason being that they received Jewish ascetics upon a foundation
of classical culture, as men; we, "as a little child" whose organism
was susceptible like that of the Pacific islanders when catarrhs were
introduced. They were never taught to disrespect the _encumbrance_ of
Oriental dreamers--the human body, that exquisite engine of delights;
the antagonism of flesh and spirit, the most pernicious piece of
crooked thinking which has ever oozed out of our poor deluded brain,
has always been unintelligible to them. That is why they remained
sober when the rest of us went crazy. There were no sour-faced
Puritans in Naples, no witch-burnings, no inquisition--the Neapolitans
never indulged in these fateful extravagances; they held that the
promptings of nature were righteous and reasonable, and their priests,
whatever they might profess to the contrary, still share this view and
act accordingly; anti-asceticism is the key-note of their lives, and
pruriency, offspring of asceticism, conspicuous by its absence in
young and old, in literature and society. More than ourselves, they
have kept in view the ancient Hellenic ideal of Nemesis, of that true
temperance which avoids troubling the equilibrium between man and his
environment.

The _ancient_ Hellenic ideal: for Greeks themselves overthrew it; soon
came Orphic mysteries, and Plato, and the rest of them, stuffed with
Eastern lore, and men found it easier to babble charming nonsense
about souls and essences than to investigate the facts of life. The
old idea of sanity perished; ethics ceased to be a department of
physiology; an ego-centric and introspective existence began. Men
regulated their behaviour not according to nature, but according to
the imaginary exigencies of an imaginary life beyond.  From such
incorrect premises it was impossible to draw correct conclusions.
Would it be wrong, I wonder, to call Pythagoras, albeit he hit upon a
few good things, one of the corner-stones of the temple of crooked
thinking, or even to say that all mankind, from Socrates to Kant, had
lost their bearings in the search after verity? Surely not, if the
leaders are to be taken as representative of the rest.

Most of us have learned to distrust apothegms.  You may cram a truth
into an epigram: the truth, never. Did not the stoics and epicureans,
for example, rebuild the old striving under the title of "virtue";
have not sane men lived sane lives from the beginning of the world,
despite their teachers? Thus every epigram requires a foot-note.

* * *

Assuredly, this sentimental lingering in burial-places is unwholesome.
For last night I had a dream, a horrible dream, one of those dreams
that endure, that haunt us with their white faces through all the
sunshine of the day.

It was evening, and the train had left me at some unknown spot. It
might have been a town or village in the English "black country," for
coal-dust had crept over houses and roads and trees, and a murky cloud
hung in the sky as though some demon, with outstretched wings, were
brooding over the land. Troubled in mind, I wandered about the
streets. Uncouth buildings, with a thousand chimneys and projections,
towered into the sky; everywhere lay, in chaotic confusion, mountains
of black mineral wealth, and carts, and iron contrivances of menacing
aspect, whose purport I could not fathom. Pallid men and women,
straggling home from the pits, scowled at me. It was all very gloomy
and evil; the fearsome exaggeration of dreams got hold upon me. Some
catastrophe was about to happen. I began to run.

My steps took me to a squalid cemetery. It contained tombs without
end--a wilderness of tombs. And there, suddenly, a tall
grave-monument, leaning against the enclosure, beckoned to me as
though to invite attention, and I found myself examining it carefully.
It was in good taste and had evidently been reared by some person of
means, but although scarcely ten years old, it already wore a look of
dismal neglect, for the stone was encrusted with unclean lichens and,
instead of bright flowers, a generation of rank summer weeds, black
with soot, had thrown themselves over it and there decayed.

Ah, the cemetery on the Tore! And yet....

What a spot, I thought, to lie in for all eternity!  If this should be
my lot! And--how soon are we forgotten! For this tombstone must have
been built and tended by some loving heart not so long ago; but that
friend had now died in his turn, and there was none left to cherish
the loved one's grave. A world of tenderness and affection wiped out,
as though it had never been... and only ten years: how soon, how soon!
Certain events flashed through my consciousness, until an intensity of
grief and compassion, such as only dreams can inspire, overwhelmed me
at the thought of this unknown fellow-creature.

Then curiosity tempted me to see who lay beneath this stone, but it
was too dark to read the inscription and, searching in my pockets, I
discovered that I must have lost or mislaid my matches. After all the
direful impressions of that evening, even this pleasure, this harmless
little caprice, was to be denied me. I felt like crying with the
peevish impotence of a child.

On the wall sat an old man, smoking a black pipe. The guardian! And
yet--he was changed somehow; his face wore a curious look. Can he have
guessed my very thoughts? With suspicious alacrity, he jumped down and
stood at my side.  There was a lantern in his hand: a stream of light
poured from it.

"Now," I said, "we shall see."

The name on the tomb was plainly legible.

It was my own.




XI.  ON LEISURE


Come, let us discourse beneath this knotty carob tree whose boughs
have been bent earthward by a thousand gales for the over-shadowing of
the Inspired Unemployed, and betwixt whose lustrous leaves the sea,
far down below, is shining turquoise-blue in a dream of calm
content--let me discourse, that is--for if other people are going to
talk, as Whistler used to say, there can be no conversation--let me
discourse of leisure, the Siren's gift to men. But, first of all, pass
nearer those flasks. They contain the closest approximation to that
"gold of Sant' Agata"--_oro stravvecchio, oro del padrone_--the
formula of whose composition was peevishly thrown away, like any
ordinary Great Seal of England, what time the inn became a menagerie.
Its label alone may be read on some bottles which need not be
uncorked. "Never," said an august personage long ago to me, "never
give a man cigars, wine, or food above ten per cent better than what
he gets at home. Never." The serpent's wisdom! On this principle these
caravanserais are worked, and all we can do is to seek our "gold"
elsewhere. Meanwhile: your health! Drink, my friend, and let me see
that smile of yours; soon enough, I daresay, neither of us will smile
any more, though we may grin for all ages to come, if the soil is
dry....

A sorry preamble, this; not exactly a "captation of benevolence" in
the Ciceronian style.  But what matters the exordium, if the _oro_ is
to our liking? Let us drown it in four inches, and begin again.

They had no _oro_ in those times. Cicero's son, that ineffable
drunkard and vagabond, knew this right well; if he had lived a little
later, he might have found a substitute in the pages of Athenseus.
But he was born before his time, like all great men.  For where the
_oro_ now grows were forests; Pollio built his temple with their beams
and the Amalfitans their fleets, and at their feet grew the wine of
Sorrento, which Caligula called "a respectable vinegar." A dangerous
liquor, by Hercules: did not doctors recommend it to their patients?
In those days, the boughs of the grapes at Sorrento waxed so high and
mighty that labourers were wont to insure their lives before climbing
up to gather them.

Be prepared, under such a mere boughing acquaintance, for indifferent
wine; like that inky fluid of the Naples Campagna where the grapes
likewise clamber up to heaven out of sight of the peasant, who
periodically forgets their existence and plants hemp and maize in
their earth. No vine will endure this treatment; personal contact is
the first requisite for good results. Where is that "master's eye"? He
would need a telescope to see his progeny. And the cultivator must
also be a man of feeling, for there is a communion between the vine
and him who tends it more subtle than between master and dog or lover
and his beloved, and, bless you, more enduring.  They end in
resembling one another. Think of the priest-ridden
Nieder-oesterreicher and his sour vintage! Then wander through golden
Provence, wander to the Mainthal and Deidesheim of old romance, where
the farmer loves his vines as children, and tell me if the liquor docs
not reflect the man?  The taste of the wine depends upon the heart of
the vintner.

And leisure is the _primum mobile_ of the universe.

Without leisure, the sun, moon, and stars would not have been created,
for it stands to reason that the Creator could not have carried out
this idea if lie had been busy at the time. Are not mankind and all
the beasts of the field also products of leisure moments?

The wine of Capri used to be famed throughout Italy. It has now become
a noisome sulphur-and-vinegar compound that will etch the bottom out
of a copper cauldron; and though the natives still drink it by the
gallon--what older travellers tell us of the sobriety of the Capriotes
is hard to believe--yet, in the interests of public health, it would
be better if the manufacturers of _vero vino di Capri_ were confined
to the distillers of the relatively harmless Neapolitan preparation
which goes by that name. Montesquieu lodged with the Carthusians on
Capri and praises their wine in his journal.  This shows that the
exigencies of French politeness are not necessarily at variance with
truthfulness: no man of the world will sniff at monks' liquor. But the
amiable monarch Ferdinand, whom the Capriote Arcucci used to entertain
for weeks at his house with "Tears of Tiberius," a self-coined and
self-manufactured native wine of noble pedigree, hit upon a more
original way of showing grati tude, for he hanged his good host in
1799--hanged him, that is, after the Christian Bourbon fashion, when
white-haired patriots and delicately nurtured women and mere lads of
sixteen were attached by the neck to tall gibbets, and while one fiend
in human shape, called _tira-piedi_, clung to their feet, the
executioner climbed up from behind and seated himself firmly, like the
Old man of the Sea, upon their shoulders, where he was swayed to and
fro by the victim's convulsions till at last the vertebras were
broken--all this, amid the shrieks of ten thousand ruffians,
applauding the wit and wisdom of their lazzarone-king. It is well to
bear these things in mind when one hears so much, even at Naples, of
the good old times. Murat, the royal _tartarin_, had a finer
conception of humanity; instead of murdering his benefactors, he
planted French champagne grapes upon the heights beyond Naples, out of
which they still extract a drinkable stuff called Asprigno. Try it,
when you have the chance.

Another bottle?

So be it.

Now, leisure should not be spelt with a capital "L," otherwise it runs
the risk of becoming materialised, like many similar things which have
ceased to be abstractions. This is what they call "treating a concept
as if it were an entity." _The_ _Unknown_, for instance. I have passed
that stage: the _Hibbert Journal_ stage. We create a word for our
convenience and forthwith, unless we are on the look out, there comes
over it a horrid change. The word was made man. It puts on flesh and
blood and begins to give itself airs. Soon enough, it stares us in the
face, as though we were total strangers. "Know you?" it jeers. "Know
you for a fool!" Many respectable men have been eaten alive by the
words of their own creation, for their appetite exceeds that of
Frankenstein's healthful monster, and I have reasons for suspecting
that, like the ferocious Scythians of old, they only drink milk.

Milk! That explains everything.

Try, also that of Ischia. As a _vino da pasto_, it is surpassed by
none south of Rome; indeed, it is drunk all the world over (under
other names), and a pretty sight it is to see the many-shaped craft
from foreign ports jostling each other in the little circular harbour,
one of the few pleasing mementoes of Bourbonism. Try it, therefore,
through every degree of latitude on the island, from the golden
torrents of thousand-vatted Forio up to the pale primrose-hued ichor,
a drink for the gods, that oozes in unwilling drops out of the dwarfed
mountain grapes.

Large heart in small grape.

Try also the red kinds.

Try them all, over and over again. Such, at least, was the advice of a
Flemish gentleman whom I met, in bygone years, at Casamicciola. Like
most of his countrymen, mynheer had little _chiaro-scuro_ in his
composition; he was prone to call a spade, a spade; but his "rational
view of life," as he preferred to define it, was transfigured and
irradiated by a childlike love of nature. "Where there is no
landscape," he used to say, "there I sit (i.e. drink) without
pleasure. Only beasts sit indoors." Every morning he went in search of
new farm-houses in which to _sit_ during the afternoon and evening.
And every night, with tremendous din, he was carried to bed.  He never
apologised for this disturbance; it was his yearly holiday, he
explained. He must have possessed an enviable digestion, for he was up
with the lark and I used to hear him at his toilette, singing strange
ditties of Meuse or Scheldt. Breakfast over, he would sally forth on
his daily quest, thirsty and sentimental as ever. One day, I remember,
he discovered a cottage more seductive than all the rest--"with a view
over Vesuvius and the coastline--a view, I assure you, of entrancing
loveliness!" That evening he never came home at all.

Everything which distinguishes man from animals is the result of
leisure.

There must have been moments, for instance, when reclining at the
entrance of his cave, with his head in the shade and his feet in the
sun, the progenitor of our race amused himself with scratching
cabalistic signs upon his grandmother's skull or wondering how to
propitiate the rain-demon that spoilt yesterday's dinner. Here we have
the _prima stamina_ of art and religion accounted for--by leisure. Or,
to take a corporeal illustration: we still have muscles for flapping
our ears, but leisure has made them useless. A fly settling on our
ear, we soliloquise thus: "Ha! A teasing insect, as I conjecture. Let
me see if I can kill, capture, or at least disable it," and, instead
of an automatic and beast-like ear-twitching, we execute a careful
movement of hand and arm. Our godlike physiognomy is due to leisure
which has permitted of meditation, brain-changes, and consequent
skull-modification.  How could we have become the cosmopolitans we are
without leisure, which has allowed of observation, deduction of
conclusions, mathematics, astronomy, and navigation?

Unlike the beast, we walk upright because leisure has induced
curiosity, tools, hand-specialisation, and back-bone alteration. Our
teeth and digestive system are different from those of the
apes--leisure, forethought, seeds, settled habits, regular meals,
changes in stomach and teeth.

Leisure first made man formidable on earth.  And our virtue, so far as
it differs from that of animals, is purely the result of leisure. What
is virtue? The conduct which conduces to the actor's welfare; the line
of least resistance along which the sage walks and the fool is driven
or kicked. In this sense, a flea is exactly as virtuous as a man. But
a difference arises, when man begins to argue on the subject. Can
anyone argue without leisure?

No--not altogether; the taste of the wine does not wholly depend upon
the heart of the cultivator; it also depends upon the heart of him who
drinks it.  Wine is like friendship: we must meet it half-way.  But
often this is impracticable; one cannot try all brands; two faces
peering at one another through the windows of lighted railway
carriages.... The world is full of untasted liquor, of inchoate
friendships swallowed up in the murk of night. And even when possible,
what would it profit if a man carved out his heart and laid it at your
feet? The postman would return it next morning with an extra fee for
overweight. So the wise man, like our great English philosopher, will
slobber out his gruel if too hot; but not his heart, however ardent.
We be solitaires, despite our leisure.

Who is this exquisitely arrayed shadow that shakes its hyacinthine
locks in disapproval? Ah, I recognise you now, you precious creature,
though your hair has grown longer than ever since the angels took
you--quite absurdly long, in fact. No, you were never a solitaire, I
grant; you were sociable enough; you found your friends very useful.
So young and so wise, you used to remind me of that grey-haired babe,
the Etruscan god--with a difference. He never would drink wine, would
this quintessential, Cinque-Cento Symbol; it disturbed his delicate
thinking faculties and likewise, I doubt not, his complexion; he never
would listen to good Monsieur Janet, who has proved, to every one's
satisfaction, that "intolerance of alcohol is one of the stigmata of
degeneration."


Another bottle?

* * *

For this class of persons are built the hotels in the larger towns of
South Italy, where, even when the food will pass, no wine can be
procured at any price.  Whoever wishes to taste good native vintages
at Rome or Naples must gird his loins and crawl into the bowels of the
earth, into dank tartarean caverns such as Rembrandt loved to paint,
where a greasy oil-lamp, sputtering overhead, casts flickering lights
upon a double row of Gargantuan vats receding into the gloom and
strikes warm tints from the red noses of a group of coachmen,
wood-porters, and birds of that feather who are perched on rickety
chairs in the black gulf between, helping down their liquor with an
occasional plateful of some dubious vermilion stew that simmers in a
corner of the wine-soaked floor. These are the customers who get their
money's worth; theirs the wine that never enters the big hotels, whose
proprietor buys up falsified "Margaux" for the elite and, for the
simple tourist, poisonous local mixtures by the shipload, which he
sells at two francs fifty a bottle as "vin du pays," making a profit
of 350 per cent.

A Neapolitan costermonger would throw this stuff in his face: if we
all did the same, we would soon be better served. But we come to this
country armed with too much patience; the real "signore" pays gladly;
he never complains, even when at death's door from the effects of our
treatment; he would drink our ditch-water, if it did not cost us more
than the wine we give him. No wonder that word _signore_ has become
synonymous, in the vernacular, with _simpleton_, for nothing amazes
these people more than to see a man, apparently sane, meekly
submitting to outrageous extortion. For the rest, there is little
connoisseurship in the matter of Bacchus surviving in this country;
centuries of misrule and starvation have blighted the delicate flower.
The ancients, whatever may have been the real state of the case, at
least talked as if they had judiciously filled cellars; they bragged
in good style and in good cause. Their descendants have inherited
echoing subterranean vaults, dim and cathedral-like, full of
possibilities; but nothing more. And yet I have sometimes heard them
saying that the Germans are--relatively to themselves--savages.  Body
of Bacchus! When D'Annunzio shall compose an ode equal in ethical
significance to "Im tiefen Keller sitze ich," I may be prepared to
consider that proposition.

A nation without a cellar-lore can hardly be said to exist, save on
the map.

Yet the lower classes occasionally display a pathetic reverence for
good wine. I once intercepted a familiar acquaintance returning to
Siren land from Gragnano, where he had been transacting some macaroni
business. He informed me with a proud smile that he was bringing back
a present to his family. What was it, I asked? A scarf for his
wife--toys for the children? Nothing of the kind.  It was a
six-year-old bottle of that sparkling dry wine of Gragnano for which
the devil, unless I am much mistaken, will sell his soul at any hour
of the day or night; the poor fellow beamed all over in anticipation
of the family treat. I was quite touched by his kindliness.

"Will they really like it?" I queried.

"Won't they!"

But they never got it, for I loved him so dearly that I drank it
myself, then and there.

And those early Italian builder-monks, clearly, were connoisseurs of
the right kind. That was an ultra-modern yearning which led them to
dwell on lonely hill-tops and there to plant and ponder; depend upon
it, they felt impulses which the common herd never feels: the poet's
craving for solitude and rocks and clouds; the gourmet's stimulation
of a wilderness without and good cheer within; the creative joy of the
artist who covers the naked canvas with teeming life, of the god who
bids waters flow in dry places. Such retirement necessarily took on
the religious complexion of its age, but the cowl does not make the
monk: they were Strindbergs and Huysmans who dwelt at La Cava.  At
Cassino the Benedictines built nobly and meditated, but here amid
careering cloud-wisps and moist forest-gloom these sable academicians
junketed and entertained princes, caring nothing for external parade.
Those thick, plain walls tell their story; they are not the faltering
language of men who doubt; they have analogies, none too remote, with
the solid luxury of a London club. And if you would taste the fruits
of this mediaeval epicureanism, go to the archives. Hither came,
tottering with age and cares, the Wizard of the North, and knocked at
the gate; then sadly turned to go. No magic key was found to open for
him the world of glittering romance that slumbers within those
parchments; his age of miracles was over. Walter Scott at the portals
of La Cava--a fine subject for a picture....

And another also came in later years in whom Italy lost a perfect
lover. A Siren worshipper was Gissing, though his Sirens were not
always of the right kind. That is surely a strange criticism which
deplores the personal note in his Ionian Sea; as if the moods of such
a man were not as vital and veracious as the reasonings of others! I
am inclined to think that he died of congestion, for there was that
within him--some macrocosmic utterance--which vainly endeavoured to
pierce the gathering mists of introspection; the Rycroft litany,
beloved of the weaker brethren, marks the parabola into the enfolding
gloom. The old, old story: inefficient equipment, not of
intellectuality but of outlook and attitude, and likewise of _bete
humaine_; of that tough, cheerful egotism which, sanely regarded, is
but sanity itself. When they asked the Leontine philosopher how he
managed to attain a hundred years with such glowing health and
jollity, the sage was wont to shake his hoary locks and roar out:
"BECAUSE I NEVER WENT A STEP OUT OF MY WAY TO PLEASE ANYBODY BUT
MYSELF!" With a spark of that spirit, Gissing might be alive to this
day. To allow one's body to be torn to pieces by harpies is a freak of
chivalry beyond the dreams of Amadis.

These convent-builders loved old wine and, on this account alone,
cannot be accused of wholly misusing their leisure. But what chapters
could be written on that subject! Diseases due to misuse of leisure:
toothache, baldness. Customs due to misused leisure: tall hats,
picnics. Thought-products due to misused leisure: envy, fraud, the
_evil eye_. Institutions due to misused leisure: codes of honour among
schoolboys, army officers, and other imperfectly civilised
associations; the _vendetta_.  Modern examples of misused leisure:
German feudal barons (Sudermann's _Frau Sorge_), or those Spaniards
who can sustain life for a week on a glass of sugar-water, while, if
their conversation be stopped, they pine away and die. The
subject-matter of this endless debate? _Pesetas_.

Leisure is the curse of the poor in spirit.

What a mistake to say that complexity argues culture! Nobody but
savages, wasters of good leisure, could invent solemn, sense-defying
buffooneries like totemism, or the vendetta, as still practised
hereabouts. It is in the blood--the whole Iliad is nothing but a
vendetta; it is the soul of the people, their all-in-all; not a man
you meet but has half a dozen on hand, of one kind and another, to
amuse his idle moments, and if you suggested expeditious English
methods of settling accounts he would laugh at you; he does not want
his accounts settled; the brooding is exactly what he likes. There are
vendettas of a thousand kinds, each with its regulations and mode of
procedure firm-fixed as the Polar star; the simplest are those of the
young men and boys who, when they have differences to adjust, retire
to the nearest wine-shop and dig knives into each other; a kind of
game, they will tell you; if five or six are wounded on such occasions
they call it "mezza-quistionc"--half-a-dispute.

Which reminds me of a fine old-fashioned game they play in the
Caucasus. The Caucasian swells, like the Scotch, take great pride in
keeping up their time-honoured sports, and one of them is this: In
order to break the monotony of their interminable banquets and
drinking-bouts, the host, at a given moment, causes all the lights in
the room to be extinguished. This is the signal for the ancestral game
to begin. Forthwith each guest unbuckles his revolver and fires six
shots at random across or under the table. It is done in perfect good
humour, as the rules require. After that, the lamps are re-lighted,
the corpses counted and carried away, and the bowl passes round once
more. They call it "odd man out"--in the Georgian tongue.



Or the Evil Eye, which we all learn to believe in, sooner or later. At
Capri there dwells a tottering hag known as Serafina who, sixty or
seventy years ago, was useful for carrying postal telegrams to their
destination. She can barely crawl now, but, in spite of protests as to
her inefficiency on the part of ignorant visitors, she retains her
official place undisputed. So the authorities have ordained; and for
the best of reasons.

She has the Evil Eye.

"What would you, signore? Supposing we turned her out, and something
afterwards happened to our wives and children? We should have only
ourselves to blame."

Whence it follows that the _fascino_, the evil eye, is something of a
commercial asset, if you know how to use it; it is as good as a fixed
income, as was demonstrated to me by a soft-voiced, lamb-like
individual with whom I happened to be conversing the other day, and
who told me the following absolutely truthful



TALE OF THE EVIL EYE

"There is a restaurant in Sorrento, the 'Ace of Spades'--you have
heard of it, signore?--which was successfully managed, long ago, by
the masterful Don Peppino until his wife died and old age and
infirmities began to creep upon him. Having no sons and only one
daughter, a great beauty, who was going to inherit all his
money--every one was after her, but the old fellow never joked on that
subject: quite the reverse, in fact--he looked about for some one to
help him with serving the customers, and finally hit upon a penniless
youngster nicknamed 'cagnapezzo' (Autolycus, trash-collector)--a
miserable person, whose real name was Pasquale.

"Imagine, signore, Don Peppino's amazement when, the first day after
they had come to terms, this individual quietly observed---

"'I've been expecting this job for some time.  And now, dear Peppino
(the impudence!), I must ask you not to call me _cagnapezzo_ any more,
but Pasquale, _Don_ Pasquale, see? Because, in a month or so, I think
I'll marry your daughter.'

"'Out you go!' said Don Peppino, seizing him by the scruff of his
neck.

"'Wait a bit, old man. A pretty girl, your daughter; re-markably
pretty.'

"That same evening she was run over by a carriage and killed.

"In short, Don Pasquale, as he insisted upon being called, had the
evil eye; he was a _iettatore_; there was no denying the fact. And
there was no getting him out of the house again. That affair of the
daughter had established his reputation; the whole town began to fawn
upon him, and soon enough old Don Peppino died and the other
appropriated all his worldly goods and presently married a rich wife
and had a family of his own.

"The years went by, signore; and the lamented Don Peppino's business
flourished so well under the control of the evil-eyed Pasquale and his
three children that, his own wife having died, he too was obliged to
find an outsider to help in the concern.  This was a smart youth
called Antonio; yes, signore, a very smart youth.

"'And mind,' said the landlord, after explaining to him his
duties,'mind I don't see any goings-on with my daughter Concetta.
Because, if I do, you know--well, _you know_...' hinting, signore, at
his notorious capacities as _iettatore_.

"'No, I don't,' said the new waiter, quite calmly. 'Good-looking
young fellows, those sons of yours.'

"'Say _benedico_!' shrieked Don Pasquale, threateningly.

"'Say it yourself. Uncommonly fine boys; both of them, I mean.'

"Within a week they caught smallpox and died.

"A pure accident, signore."

Don Pasquale had unwittingly engaged another _iettatore_ as waiter: at
least, so he thought. Here was a mess; two evil eyes under one roof!
People thought that the business would go to pieces, but, like
sensible men, they arranged affairs between themselves in a kind of
armed truce, exercising their peculiar _fascino_-functions on
alternate days--so the priests said. But Antonio knew what he was
after.

As soon as due mourning for the sons was accomplished, he observed,
casual-like---

"'Pity they died. But Concetta would make a good manageress.'

"Don Pasquale pretended not to hear.

"'I was saying that Concetta would make a good manageress. _That was
rather awkward about the boys, eh_?'

"'Take her and be damned,' growled Don Pasquale.

"This marriage, signore, was the beginning of an unbroken friendship
in the family. The establishment is now thriving under their
triangular supervision to an extent which would have made the lamented
and masterful Don Peppino green with envy, green! Come and see for
yourself, signore!  Old Pasquale, I am sure, would be delighted to
welcome you, and so would Concetta."

... Rather a queer story, I thought. Who ever heard of two Evil-Eyed
Ones living together?

"How do you know all this?" I asked my lamblike informant.

"How do I know it?" he echoed. "Because I am Antonio, Concetta's
husband--at your service."

"Oh. Have a cigar, my friend! Here, take two of them...."



Then there was the wine of-----. I recall the times when as much of
this nectar as was good for any Christian could be drunk for a franc;
nowadays, the widow only sells it as a favour to old clients, "in
memory of her dear departed husband"--at four francs a bottle! It was
insidious stuff, most insidious. Your head remained serene like the
snowy peak of Olympus which reflects, above its misty girdle, the
crimson rays of sunset; the tongue wagged with eloquence and
discrimination: the rest was turned to marble. Even as that Indian
plant whose bended twigs incline to the soil and presently sprout up
around the parent stem, a goodly family of daughters--often the brown
herdsman, faint with the noonday heat, seeks refuge in that pillared
shade: even so your feet, hitherto free to move at your bidding, had
noiselessly descended into the floor and there taken root. You rose to
bid farewell--that is, tried to rise--and found yourself anchored to
earth firmer than rocky Olympus. Then, indeed, that frank departing
gesture crystallised into a strange phantasm of a grin; you smiled,
like the suitors of Penelope, "with alien lips." In this petrifying,
gorgonising action it resembled the wine of the Glotterthal, the wine
that Sybel loved. Not that he disparaged other vintages; he liked them
all; he was "no monopole," as the kindly hostess often had occasion to
observe.

_A propos_, are there any cases of women being held captive by the
Sirens? I know of very few. Have they been too preoccupied with their
own charms to take notice of any others? The Sirens themselves were
women, you know; and probably dressed rather oddly. Also, they were
idle fowls who kept men from their duty, whereas our wives and sisters
used to be stern champions of male drudgery--for man must work and
woman must dress--and this has led to a little bickering in the past.
But woman is changing once more; she is becoming free as after
Pericles or the Renaissance, and can therefore laugh herself out of
that time-honoured privilege of saying foolish things in the grand
manner which seems to have bewitched our gallant forefathers.  She is
beginning to realise what songs the Sirens sang.

Let me explain, my young friend--I am in the mood for
indiscretions--how it happened. Man, the infatuated idealist, always
on the look-out for something to adore, created, in one of his moments
of mediaeval vapours, the Madonna-woman. It was a benignantly grinning
idol, inanely oracular, to be approached on bended knees. In those
days, women had to acquiesce in all his unhealthy whimsies, and many
of them began to take the thing seriously and to play his game. Now,
they mean to have no more of it; they are sick, utterly sick, of the
Madonna business. They mean to laugh again and to enjoy life like
other beasts of the earth: like men, in fact. Whenever, therefore, you
catch yourself thinking that women are saints and angels, be sure you
take a blue pill. The whole epidemic would have been avoided if our
ancestors had thought of that.

By the way, it was rather an unflattering definition of a "real lady"
which I read not long ago, to the effect that _she alone knows how to
wear diamonds_.  However that may be, the real gentleman, I conceive,
is he who knows how to employ rationally any amount of leisure that
may fall to his lot. Every other of the ten thousand definitions of
that word is lame beside this one, which Aristotle already formulated,
or at least divined, when he bound up gentlemanliness with elegant
leisure and contradistinguished between _hedone_ and _eudaimonia_. And
well may we pause before condemning such Hellenic ideals, if we call
to mind what Gallon says of the average intellectual standard of the
Athenian as compared with ours. These men wrought not only in marble;
they were the master-critics of the art of life. What constitutes, I
wonder, the real test of a refined state of society? The existence of
a preponderating class of intelligent and good citizens, not actively
engaged in self-defence or the pursuit of wealth. This is honourable
leisure, the flower of human development. It may be said that such a
condition resembles that of the mariners who have dropped their oars,
spell-bound by Siren voices. Likely enough. But while it lasts, it
represents civilisation. Everything else, at its best, is only
progress. If the flower wither not, how shall the seed prosper?

We called him Sybel, because he seemed to have stepped straight out of
Auerbach's cellar. He liked it old and sweet and plentiful, no matter
where it came from. He used to take a nap halfway through and then,
waking up refreshed, laugh at us youngsters for being already so far
gone, which of course made us more uproarious than ever. But one
evening he sobered us effectually.  He had lain down with a beaming
countenance as usual, and we were beginning to wonder when he would
wake up again, for it was considered right never to disturb him, the
sleep being good for his heart, as he explained (he was far too fat
ever to mean what he said). Beside myself, only the theologian and an
Aesculapius had remained articulate at that hour; the latter, I
remember, was setting forth the symptoms of hydrophobia to the
hostess, who listened with an air of abstraction, having heard the
story before. A shred of conversation still lingers in my mind.

"I tell you, madam, the dog was as mad as could be. He was as mad--as
mad--as mad------"

"Then how did you escape?"

"Why (confidentially), you know, of course. By pretending to be a
mosquito."

But Sybel still slumbered and we began to discover that his behaviour
was disrespectful to the company at large. It was resolved that
energetic measures be taken. The theologian's eye wandered round the
room and finally reposed upon a stick of sealing-wax; but a hot liquid
drop, falling upon Sybel's outstretched arm, produced no effect. He
only beamed.

"Which goes to prove," said Aesculapius, gravely, "according to the
precepts of Hippocrates and Peter of Bokhara, that life is extinct."

And so it was. Poor Sybel must have been dead for two hours at least.
Yes, he sobered us effectually that evening.

Fear not, long-suffering friend; I am not yet in my anecdotage; I will
speedily make an end on't, so far, at least, as you are concerned. As
for me, I am only just beginning to enjoy myself, and I will not be
put out of my humour--no, not for the treasures of Mogul or Montezuma.
Say me, shall I explain how it came about that the Mexican nobles,
while quaffing _chocolatl_ at sunrise upon the summit of their
vapour-belted _teocallis_ to the martial chant of
_itzli-putzli-popocodl_--how it came about that these
warrior-chieftains were in so far not forgetful of their rank and
pedigree as to wish that some other kind of beverage could at last be
invented? _Chocolatl_, indeed! No wonder they were bloodthirsty
ruffians, for all their feathers.

There shall be no _chocolatl_ in the land, when I am king. A song, ho!

  My mother bids me bind my hair
  With Cinque-Cento ribbons rare,
  But oh my daddy, won't he swear---

--What, another bottle?"

We be creatures of habit, and it matters little what a man's habits
are, so long as they are regular.  Besides, what says this letter,
just received? _All strains to be avoided_. To resist is ever a
strain.  I have been subject to temptations from earliest childhood,
and always know beforehand whether I shall yield or not. I always
yield--the line of least resistance. But it is time, methinks, to
recapitulate the most salient points of the discourse. Let me see....

A flea hath virtue.

Excellent fooling, i'faith! Why, what a flea has cannot be worth much.
I'll have none of it.

Here is something better. Your health, my patient friend, and--as they
say hereabouts--_cento figli maschi_!

One of the most noteworthy features of that ancient Mexican
civilisation was the prevalence of the snuff-taking habit. Regarded as
an isolated phenomenon, there is not over-much to be said on the
subject; but when viewed, as the historian should view it, in
conjunction with the wonderful astronomical knowledge and other
accomplishments of this tenebrous and sombre race, it assumes another
import--quite another import.  His Grace the Archbishop Lorenzana, in
his account of New Spain....




XII.  CAVES OF SIREN LAND


What shall we think of that immense homogeneous civilisation which is
said to have covered the shores of the Mediterranean basin from
neolithic to Homeric times? Did it receive, in the course of ages,
affluents from wiser East or sterner North, or was some spark
enkindled in its midst--some skin-clad Gutenberg or Flavio Gioia or
Roger Bacon--that lighted the way over the dim gulf of years?  For if
it laboriously worked itself upwards step by step, the mind grows
dizzy at contemplating the abysm of time between the most cultured of
these men and the still rude society of prehistoric Troy or Cnossos.
But why a "homogeneous" civilisation?  Because their weapons and
dwelling-places are similar? So are those of the Papuan and Swiss
lake-dwellers.  Necessity produces these things by analogous
variation--even as certain snakes, nowise related, have in different
parts of the world hit upon the identical method of defending
themselves by poison. Their cranial capacity or configuration?
Skull-measurements are laudable studies, but when a wise man begins to
discuss their bearings upon race-problems, it it time, as the Persians
say, to put one's trust in God. And if "homogeneous" implies
contemporaneity, what is there to show that there may not be a lapse
of a thousand years between a flint knife from Tunis and a similar one
from Apulia? Sooner or later, I suspect, this homogeneous civilisation
will go the way of the Aryans, who probably never existed; being a
kind of nebular hypothesis which, in our present state of ignorance,
explains a small bundle of disconnected facts--not always correctly.

They tell me that prehistoric spear-heads have been found buried under
the soil of what afterwards became Paestum and Cumae. If this is true,
it shows that the Greeks were probably in contact with these people;
or, at all events, that they were satisfied with the localities once
chosen by them as settlements.

Previously to that they lived in wigwams or skin-shelters, for the
supply of caverns, though considerable, cannot possibly have been
equal to the demand. This is the first step in the direction of social
habits; God created the cave: man the wigwam. To this period must be
assigned the numberless fragments of hand-made pottery, red without
and black within, that litter the slopes of Anacapri. Some of these
pieces have a horizontal line of corded ornament in relief at the rim;
it seems to have been done by affixing a raised band of clay to the
vessel while unbaked and then modelling it with a turn of the thumb.
Into what wonderful phantasies has not the art of ceramics blossomed
since those days! And yet this prehistoric embellishment is identical
with that on the modern earthenware washing-tubs that stand outside
every cottage in Siren land. So pottery, universally distributed,
slow-moving and serving easily ascertained purposes throughout the
globe, is to the ethnologist what shells, despite their infinite
variety, are to the geologist--Ariadne's thread.

Wherever caves have been explored in this region, as the Grotta
Nicolucci at Sorrento or the Grotta delle Felci on Capri, interesting
results have been obtained; stone celts, terra-cotta vases, remains of
domestic animals, and knives of obsidian. Some seeds, too, seem to
have grown, for hand-mills are among the relics. But the people were
cannibals for all that; cracked human bones, mixed with those of pigs
and sheep, suggest marrow-sucking propensities. Likely enough, these
were the _Sirens_ of early navigators--the women being sent out by
their men-folk to lure sailormen ashore with their songs. And they
actually had cosmetics, the minxes; a shell containing a mixture of
red ochre and fat testifies to neolithic vanity. The skeleton of a
rachitic child has also been found. Ointment boxes and scrofulous
infants--here are some of the delights of modern life in embryo, to
say nothing of "a little music," not the least of them.

I can name various caves in this region which might well contain
relics of these anthropophagous Sirens. But such excavations, to be of
value, must be carried out cautiously and systematically, in order to
obtain some idea of the age of the embedded remains and of their age
in relation to one another, which can only be done by means of
sections and photographs showing their juxtaposition with the cave
deposit. And this deposit is a study in itself, for it varies greatly;
in some caves it is of extremely slow growth; in others, which are
more accessible to wind-drifts, vegetable matter, or materials falling
from above, it is relatively rapid. To excavate a cave on these
scientific lines requires a greater outlay than may be thought,
without which the remains are best left to repose where they are, in
expectation of some future enlightened amateur.

Excavating accidentally some years ago I came across the charred
remains of a fire, beside which lay a celt of jadeite, another of
limestone, and two or three round pebbles to be used for slinging. The
green celt is a rolled river-pebble, carefully worked up (it must be a
rare pleasure when a scientist like A. B. Meyer, who has fought a
lifetime for his pet theory of the European origin of these jade
implements, once hopelessly discredited, at last sees it universally
acknowledged).  A certain pathos attaches to these objects, all lying
close together as they had been left thousands of years ago, for they
cannot have been lost, in the ordinary sense of that word, seeing that
their owner would have remembered where he lit his fire and returned
to seek them there, and they were far too precious to have been thrown
away. No; the owner never returned because, for some reason, he could
not--he was hindered by death or capture.

The introduction of a fine material like jade must have created
something of a revolution in the social habits of these people, for
its blades are as superior to the ordinary ones of siliceous limestone
as a steel razor to one of obsidian.

What songs these Sirens sang, though a puzzling question, is not
beyond all conjecture. We may be sure that these fierce wenches were
not capable of modulating subtle strains. Their melodies may well have
been the original of those primeval chants, the Linus-song, the
_wailing in the vineyards_ of Isaiah--autochthonous, sphinx-like,
fraught with the hopes and fears of a forgotten race--that are still
wafted upon the summer breezes of Siren land and defy the musician's
art to record them, though Tosti has made the attempt in one of his
Neapolitan songs. They call this mournful and veritably prehistoric
wail the "peasant's tong," _canzone di personale_ (=parzionale=a
metayer): it can be heard at the time of harvest, vintage, or
olive-gathering (some suppose that it was imported by the Moors). Or
perhaps they resembled the yodler of the _homo alpinus_ or of the
London milkman---the most bestial of human cries. Life was simple in
those days, and with a little imagination it is not difficult to
construct a domestic scene of the period, after this fashion:---

WOMAN (_approaching_). I sang Hoio. Another sea-fool comes.

MAN. Who spoke to you? (_Enter a Greek sailor_.) The new green one for
_you_--white-faced) seal-eyed man-pig.

WOMAN. Hoiotoho-swar!

SAILOR. That song again! To what land of marvels have these goud folks
led me?

MAN. See this green stone. It cuts sharp: eia-weia! _You_ know.

SAILOR. Opopoi! I do begin to fear mightily. How he rolls his eye
under those cavernous brows; and she, with wolfish clashings of
teeth--Ai, Ai! l'apaiax--they seize me--attatai, papai, pai, io, moi,
moi, omoi, ototototoi---

WOMAN. They sing wrong.

MAN. They eat right.

(_Interval_)

WOMAN. Rightcr than the last, wallawa-hupla!

MAN. Who spoke to you? See this stone.

WOMAN. I sing right. Ja, ja.

MAN. Atcha! You eat wrong. Fetch another man-pig.



This little scene throws a light not only on the importance of jade in
the prehistoric household, but also on the theory of these savages
regarding the inverse ratio of musical talents and edibility which
alone explains how it came about that the Siren family did not end
after the fashion of the Kilkenny cats--namely, because, like the
modern inhabitants of Siren land, they devoured not each other but
only strangers from over the sea. Note, likewise, certain resemblances
between the neolithic, Teutonic, and Hindustani tongues, which may
help to elucidate the Aryan question.

It must have been these decoying arts which induced Servius to think
that "according to the truth" the Sirens were ladies of questionable
reputation. This it going too far. You ungentlemanly old fellow, what
maggot has got into your grammarian's brain? Those Sirens who strewed
the shore with whitening bones were respectable mothers of families
finding food for their husbands and little ones; but yours--what
occupation would they have on lone Tyrrhenian rocks? Seek them,
rather, in Memphis or Babylon.



This same Grotto delle Felci at Capri was afterwards transformed by
the ancients into a sylvan sanctuary of Pan or Priapus--to judge, at
least, by the remains of an altar and by three huge stalag-mitic
growths now broken off which may formerly have been of ceremonial
significance. The influence of these caverns upon the religious life
of olden days is easily underestimated. When one remembers with what
reverence these mysterious openings into the fertilising mother earth
were regarded, it might have been expected that many of them would
have been devoted to the worship of generative forces, even without
the written testimony of Suetonius, who connects these very _antra et
rupes_ with sexual orgies. Apposite popular names, which will not be
found on maps, have been given to some of those grottos and towering
rock-needles.  "Le culte de la generation," says Lefevre, "a exerce
une influence, variment enorme, sur la pensee humaine, sur la
conception de l'univers, sur les institutions sociales," and among a
population with an historical record like that of this province,
relics of ancient sex-worship can be found by whoever looks for them.
Strange, for instance, in a land where every beast, however harmless,
is doomed to death, is the serpent-worship which the Mosaic curse and
Christianity alike have not succeeded in extirpating; it brings
misfortune to kill those that establish themselves in the
neighbourhood of houses, and a drug prepared by chemists out of others
purposely caught on the hills imparts virility and long life--another
instance showing how frequently the attributes of this animal as a
priapic emblem and as one of eternity coincide (I presume the
conception of health, Aesculapius, is to be regarded, philosophically
at least, as intermediate between the two).

And not long ago I came across a striking relic of these unholy
observances at Torco: the larger intestine of an ox inflated with air
and affixed upright over the lintel of a private house, with a
streamer of red cloth attached to it--_for good luck_, the proprietor
told me (coalescence with horn-emblems against the evil eye). The fish
is another of these phallic symbols that go back into hoariest
antiquity; its Italian name has a very different colloquial
signification--in this province only--from that which the piety of
early Christians drew out of those mystic characters. And in the now
removed flooring of the church at Positano was a large marble
phallus--women knelt on it and maintained that prayers thus offered up
were of peculiar efficacity. I might mention also the shape of amulets
and, in certain localities, that of bread as baked at Easter-time, the
procreative festival of spring; the "sexes" attributed to domestic
objects like hinges, screws, bolts, mortars, hooks and eyes,
etc.--indeed a volume could be written, though perhaps not published,
on the subject.

The introduction of Attis, Cybele, Flora, Liber, and so forth must
have helped to sustain these deeply rooted primitive cults which began
in fetich-ism and, after a thousand elaborations, are once more
relapsing into it. The church, meanwhile, unable to expel these lewd
shapes from their cloven rock of ages, has changed their names, and
Our Lady of Lourdes now occupies a cave on Capri: some weeks ago was
celebrated the tenth anniversary of her installation amid incredible
pomp and circumstance.  Simultaneously, it was thought well to purge
the Blue Grotto of its Tiberian associations by the erection of a
plaster-cast Madonna over the entrance, the passage of this image
across the water being attended by certain childlike religious
buffooneries which scandalised the more godly among the foreign
spectators.

Numberless are the caves in Siren land. They vary from minute fissures
to vast oval amphitheatres capable of sheltering a population, like
that one at Capri wherein the natives took refuge during Saracen
raids; some are dry, others distil water from invisible rifts or
pendent beards; they were all moister in the days when there was
timber overhead, as can be seen by the many distorted, discoloured,
and perennially dry stalactites which hang from their roofs. Some of
these caves, like that above Sant' Elia, are beautifully tinted in a
pattern of orange stripes converging towards the centre; nearly all of
them are decked out with fantastic pinnacles and niches, suggesting a
fairy-scene on the stage. The maidenhair fern droops in clusters from
the hedges; tufts of _campanula fragilis_ dangle their porcelain bells
of pale amethyst from the fretted vault overhead; here and there a
leafy fig, emblem of fecundity, thrusts formidable roots into the
crevices or writhes like an octopus over the stones. The flora of
these caverns would be worth studying, since even common flowers that
find their way into these rainless and dcwless recesses begin to look
a little different from their companions outside. In some of them,
like that which lies opposite the islet of Isca--a spacious grot,
divided into two chambers by a natural arch, with a fine southerly
prospect, a right royal abode in prehistoric times--can be found the
_mesembryanthemum nodiflorum_ and other rarer plants.  At their
entrance, on the sun-scorched rock, grows the eglantine, the rosemary,
thyme, and caper plant.

The materialistic peasant cuts down this fair vegetation and stores it
within against the winter; other caves he converts into goat-shelters
by a rude enclosure. Of the lore attached to these hollows, he
remembers chiefly the plutonic legends of buried wealth with its
guardian spirits.

In the narrower fissures, which often run into the bowels of the
earth, foxes establish themselves, to his great annoyance. They and
the wolves are the only wild beasts of the country. The latter descend
during the cold months in all directions from the clefts and
beech-woods of Faito on Mount Sant' Angelo; they seldom attack
"Christians." Yet only two years ago a boy of fifteen was devoured
near Cava by one of these furies--nothing was found save his feet
encased in their thick boots; and a woman was lacerated by another
while cooking macaroni in her kitchen. The ravening she-wolves are
blamed for these desperate deeds. It was calculated that during last
winter over one hundred dogs had been eaten by them in the district of
Preazzano and Ticciano, which lies just outside the gates of Siren
land--these gates being the openings which lead from the Sorrcntine
plain between walls of rock into higher regions, the flying buttresses
of the mighty Sant' Angelo.

The village of Sant' Agata, they say, owes its foundation to a wolf,
which carried off the daughter of a certain knight of Massa. The
father, having vowed to the virgin that if he rescued the child alive
he would then and there erect a church in her honour, found the little
one uninjured, and on that very spot built the church round which the
village of Sant' Agata subsequently grew up. If we laugh at
wolf-stories now, it is because we have forgotten what that grey
horror, with eyes aflame, meant to our ancestois--how for untold ages
it terrorised mankind, leaving a deep scar on lore and literature.

Few superstitions are more firmly rooted hereabouts--all over the
world, nearly--than that of the werewolf. The word _lupomanaro_ can be
heard every day as a vituperative, and any child will tell you that
there are two kinds of wolves--dog-wolves and man-wolves (_lupo-cane_
and _lupo-cristiano_).  Certain mortals and certain animals are
dowered with the gift of distinguishing the _versipellis_ even in
daytime, when he appears in human garb; a sure test is this--if a
shrine or crucifix happen to be on the path along which he is going,
he cannot proceed, but must turn back. There lives a _lupomanaro_, a
poor peasant called "il lungo," in a solitary cottage near Sant'
Agata. When the moon is full, he runs about exactly like a wolf, with
his hands resting on his knees; when he comes to a cross-way, he howls
fearfully.

"Does he change his skin?" I enquired.

"No."

"What do you call his disease?"

"_Male grande--male di luna_."

Thus lycanthropy, with advancing civilisation, is merged into
epilepsy. Other werewolves are men who work in hot bakeries at night
and suffer from "male piccolo" or convulsive asthma; they crawl about
the streets in the early hours of the morning, panting and groaning.
Then is the time to cure them. If you can creep up from behind and
stab them in the back with a piece of steel--a knife, for
instance--they will exhale all their wolfishness in one wild howl.

Even to the very tail of the peninsula these marauders penetrate; not
a year passes without some dogs or goats being killed at Termini, and
last winter they forced an entrance into the so-called _grotte delle
capre_ or goats' caves on San Cos-tanzo, and did a fearful massacre
among its inmates.



The summer is fast drawing to its close. But it will not do to say
farewell to Siren land without visiting this line of caves which lie
on the southern flank of the mountain, one above the other, under a
projecting wall of rock. Every morning some two hundred far-tinkling
quadrupeds issue from these caverns to graze the coarse herbage on the
slopes.  A rough path leads past them up the steep incline, and I
never walk that way without a feeling of reverential awe for these
immemorial shelters whose stones are polished by the footsteps of
bygone ages; They lie high up, in the solitude, among stones. The
glittering Tyrrhenian rises into the firmament and its many-tongued
laughter floats up to their threshold which, in olden days, may well
have been shaded by holm-oaks and laurels and pines. There is a fine
flavour in the wild landscape all around; but within, the atmosphere
is rank and murky with the odours of a thousand generations of goats.
For these grottos, remote as they are from human habitations, must
have been useful from earliest times as a refuge for flocks. On the
hill-side near at hand you may find fragments of the familiar black
and red prehistoric pottery. These men, already, took shelter here.

Whether the goats have greatly changed since those primeval days, I
cannot tell.

And the shepherds? The skin mantle was cast aside for a shapely tunic,
and the tunic replaced by the blue cotton shirt of yesterday; popes
and emperors have come and gone; the woodlands are swept away and the
very mountains have put on new faces, but these goat-boys are the same
dreamy, shy, sunburnt children as in the days when Phoenicians sailed
in their black ships past yonder headland.  They "think of nothing."
Simpler than fisher-folk or tillers of the soil who must ever revolve
contingencies of weather and market, gentler towards their charges
than keepers of horses and other beasts, they glide through youth
watching the combats and loves of their flocks, rescuing the little
ones from craggy ledges and tending the lame and weary, while day by
day an intense feeling of endearment towards these warm and frolicsome
comrades grows up in their breasts. This is their world--a goat-world;
their very countenances reflect it.

Stumbling upon such primitive conditions, we seem suddenly to step
outside and beyond the decent Hellenic civilisation, with its ordered
household, its sceptred kings, well-greaved warriors, and grave dames;
its cornfields and broad-browed oxen. We seem to enter that outer
world of hollow rocks where men neither sow nor reap; the
monster-engendering cycle of Polyphemus and his goats.

To what pipings have these caverns listened, when Troy was yet unsung?
To what mad, hot whisperings? The moon alone can tell, for she has
looked straight into them time out of mind. But the moon is discreetly
silent, having seen many things upon earth; she knows the ways of man
and beast, and is not easily made to blush. Maybe some Daphnis, when
the world was young, drove his flocks into them night after night and
year after year, thinking of nothing. And one day there emerged,
casting a wild glance about him, the progenitor of that troop of
faun-like creatures, whose poignant truthfulness first appalled, then
enslaved, our reluctant imagination.

Dreams?

Perhaps not altogether. I, too, have dwelt with shepherds in Arcadia.
And saints of God, wandering in the stony wilderness, have encountered
the fauns, face to face, ay, conversed with them; while Monsieur
Hedelin, advocate, priest, and preacher, has demonstrated their
existence beyond all possibility of doubt, if the facts in his book
are true.  The fauns _are_: they have been ever since Hellenic days.
But the Greeks did not invent them--they only found them. Pathetic
animalesque shapes, nymphs and fauns, titans and chimaeras, the
offspring of human intercourse with nature in her seductive and
sterner moods, crept into Greek art and were made man. Sometimes, by
an intuition of genius--how difficult the feat is, can be seen by
those who would imitate it--a compound imaginary being was
artistically fixed; the human element emprisoned in beast body
(sphynx), or remorselessly welded upon it (centaurs). But not all
these subhuman forms beloved of children and heralds express
single-hearted strivings like Pegasus--strength wedded to
heaven-soaring flight--or the winged Psyche.

The griffon is merely picturesque.

Yes; it was a feat of genius to arrest those composite phantoms in
that precise moment when, trooping past the mind's eye, their grace
outweighed their grotesqueness. An ingredient of strangeness, says the
English sage, is requisite to full beauty, and doubtless there is no
lack of strangeness in these conceptions. But what distinguishes Greek
man-beasts from those of other nations is that this ingredient, though
inevitably present, is forcefully subordinated to a human note of
pathos or graciousness. If, as I think, Greek artists held that the
grotesque, the horrible, may be a means, but rarely or never to an
end, it is easy to understand why certain things were beyond their
power or desire of expression. The man-wolf, for example, is
recalcitrant to the chisel under such conditions.  Not that there is
any lack of foundation in fact; he is as well authenticated as the
fauns and has been circumstantially described by eye-witnesses from
early times; but short of falsifying the truth im-measujrably--a
sin--nothing could be done towards investing the beast with that
element of gracious-ness which they deemed indispensable and which
even their direst imaginings, the medusa; or furies, display. Also: he
does not allow of the requisite vagueness of interpretation. Enviable
fauns!  In their happiest moments they were espied and eternalised by
loving friends: how many of us mortals will share their fate?

In the Sirens too, in the old Sirens, the Greeks had a hard task
before them. Gradually they moult; the feathers drop off from limbs
and bosom; it is a downward process of purification, the nobler parts
being the first to glow with the new light. Whatever Baudelaire may
have thought to the contrary, there is nothing so incontcstably
anti-bestial as the naked human body, and this perhaps explains the
startling fact that Greek gods and goddesses, in proportion as they
become civilised, tend to discard garments and covering devices of all
kinds. The brute may still lurk within fine clothing or feathers.  But
only the Etruscans despoiled the Sirens of all bird-like attributes.

Did the Greeks sometimes go too far in their rejuvenations? It was
well that those bearded Sirens were done away with, but what are we to
say of the old and new Bacchus, or that absurd Eros-baby, which has
supplanted the fair and pensive youth, fraught with a burden beyond
his years f Venus Urania, methinks, ought to have a beard.

One point strikes me as noteworthy. From whichever country these
creations entered Greece, and whatever may have been there original
guise and import, they were quickly remodelled and stamped with the
hall-mark. It may be a trifling matter, that of these mixed symbolic
art-productions, but it serves to illustrate the whole trend of
Hellenic thought. Nothing overmuch.... Two attributes, such as the
Minotaur possesses, are sufficient for the mind to assimilate at a
glance.

In Assyria they wrought man-headed winged bulls. A people nursed in
Chaldean modes of thought may have found no difficulty in rapidly
grasping the inner coherence of so much allegory, but a simple,
unprepared spectator is taken aback by this plethora of attributes and
ponders as to their meaning; these Assyrian bulls, like Irish ones,
seem to become valuable in proportion as they are pregnant.

The Greek sculptor thought otherwise; he demanded an instantaneous
flash of comprehension, and therefore rejected them and their fellows.
For Greek art remained objective long after philosophy had gone the
way of Plato, as we know from late masterpieces like the Nike of
Samothrace and the Venus of Milo, which speak, in clearest language,
to the beholder. The artist feels: the philosopher reasons, and
reasoning, the latest and most delicately etched pencilling on the
mind's surface, is the first to become blurred. Clear feeling will
outlast clear argument, because it is older: the drunkard, who strips
off the various layers in the order in which he has put them on, is an
admirable illustration of this. Gorgias might grow grey in discussing
problems of immortality; he might interpret them this way and that and
never solve the knot; but if the Greek citizen remained for a moment
in doubt as to the significance of a work of art, its purport was
missed.

And nowadays?

Nowadays we are become somewhat metaphysical and subjective to these
matters. The meaning of a picture or statue may not thrust itself upon
us in this crude, straightforward fashion; the morsel must be chewed
before swallowed and relished only of the elect; prayer and fasting
are requisite to initiate us into the mysteries which the master
sought to express. It is all for the best, no doubt.  Times are
changed. The Greeks liked garlic.

As for the fauns and their fellows--these dream-creatures wander over
flowery meads in the dim borderland between the monstrous and the
sublime, and whoever seeks them will not seek in vain, for their
existence is coeval with man and Hellenic art only discovered them in
the sense that Vasco de Gama discovered the Indies or Volta
electricity.  Critics, meanwhile, shake their heads in sagest fashion;
but whether they approve or not, who shall say? These conscientious
gentlemen are puzzled and disquieted, having no clear preceding
exemplar to guide them. They wish such things had never been invented.
There are _pros_ and _cons_; besides, there are fauns and fauns....

"Not guilty, but don't do it again," they mumble at last; a reasonable
verdict, when one comes to think of it, and one might well be extended
to certain faun-makers of later days.



POSTSCRIPT

Nobel says that the Slav religion was largely fashioned by forests.
Even so, it seems to me that the _prima stamina_ of what was
afterwards known as Hellenism were originally hewn out, so to speak,
under threats of a discordant and destructive environment.

Pelasgian immigrants, the stock of old Greece, the builders of bridges
and canals, the sowers of seeds, were leagued against a common
enemy--nature.  Old Mother Earth was false and ferocious to them; she
thwarted them at every turn; the land was peopled by things hostile to
man and his ordered ways; there were torrents and gloomy forests and
yawning clefts and swamps; the sea, unconquered, grim, or smiling only
to destroy; shaggy men, acorn-devouring, who skulked in caves.  So
those early settlers learned to feel acutely on the subject of
humanity, of man the regulator and res trainer of savagery; they held
in horror the crude shapes and forces of the outer world, and the
key-note of their spiritual strivings became an intense
anti-bestiality--far intenser than it is easy for us to conceive
nowadays. For times have changed, and we regard ourselves as a portion
of nature, rather than her foe.

Long afterwards, when earth and ocean had put on a friendly or at
least familiar demeanour, and when the infusion of fresh blood had
given to these people their plasticity and versatility, we find
persisting this venerable ideal, this humanising tendency, product of
forgotten struggles with the brute and sombre forest. It tinges to
latest periods their conception of art and literature and conduct,
cropping up in the most unexpected places.

I spoke of the Eros-baby, a late apparition, and one of their
relatively few representations of the infant-type. And the odd thing
is, that these infants in Greek art are not only few, but also of
rather different execution. The Plutus-infant, the baby Hercules, even
the Dionysus-child in the arms of Hermes--they have all come in for a
share of adverse comment, and Mr. John M. Robertson, who is not given
to talking at random, merely voices the general opinion of critics
when he says that "the Greek sculptors never learnt to model a
tolerable infant."

Can it be that from ignorance of its true genesis this particular
aspect of their creative genius has been misread? That the Greeks,
rather, never _deigned_ to model a tolerable infant?

I think they were quicker than ourselves to detect in the infant-type
with its convulsive movements, eyes far apart, flattened nose, crooked
legs, and prevailing animalcsque characteristics of structure and
locomotion, something abortive, incomplete; a caricature of that human
body which was for them the full expression of what I have called
anti-bestiality; particularly offensive, because it accentuated the
features which we possess in common with the brute. This made their
artists so niggardly and uncharitable towards babyhood that they never
cared to figure it, unless conventional reasons obliged them to do so.
Even we, who have outgrown such sensitiveness and become more robust
than the Greeks in such matters, still discover in infants a
resemblance to the ape, and in the ape the most odious distortion of
ourselves.

As soon as--without violating that approximation to truth which canons
of good art demand--the infantile traits could be made a subject for
idealisation; as soon as the child unveiled its heart and ambiguous
simian lines dissolved into the soft-stirring smile of boyhood, giving
promise of new beauties about to emerge triumphantly and drive the
bestial strains back into the dusky caverns of the past, no one has
treated the human form with more loving appreciation. But it is as if
they hesitated to give their artistic imprimatur to what was not
convincingly human, and in this one may be tempted to recognise an
echo of those old struggles with the brute.

The change in family life and the new position of women have fostered
greater intimacy between the father and his helpless offspring, and
from this relation has grown an infant-type, and a mother-type,
unknown to the Greeks. The Madonna, myrionymous like her prototype
Isis, and the infant Jesus--Horus in the arms of Isis--have also
contributed to the establishment of this new ideal.

If Greek art was stepmotherly towards babies, ours went too far in the
other direction, for the Christian, conception of this divine infant,
which may justifiably be idealised in virtue of its unique character,
disturbed our artistic treatment of ordinary ones. We over-idealised
them, expunging the simian traits before they had shown any indication
of fading away. Thus arose, by judicious modelling, a new infant, a
composite being with the features and limbs of man, woman, or child a
_discretion_, and in whom the naturally vacant stare of dawning life
was metamorphosed into a gaze of concentrated piety or world-wisdom,
reflecting sentiments such as no infant ever possessed; sentiments
such as those recorded of Saint Nicolas of Tolcntino who, as a
suckling babe, was already so convinced of the propriety of ascetism
that he voluntarily abstained from partaking of his mother's milk on
two fixed days of each week.

Whoever looks for such babies in Hellas will look in vain, for this is
the anti-bestiality of an age which regards man himself as the brute,
to be contrasted with a diaphanous angel-type hitherto unrevealed. The
Renaissance, too, was not over-conscientious in its plastic
representations of the infant-type: witness the "Cupid" of Donatello,
whose _torso_ might be mistaken for that of a Zeus or Neptune.
Altogether, this delirious blossoming is to be appreciated for what it
wrought upon the minds of men rather than for its artistic
achievements, which are flawed with introspection and not for ever
young. These men painted nature as they saw it, with seraphic
simplicity; but their renderings of the human form lack the universal
application of antiquity; they revived the form, without assimilating
the spirit, of their masters.

A scholar might amuse himself by tracing back the whole
Nemesis-conception of the Greeks to those old Pelasgian nightmares--to
the violence of nature, the immoderation of the beast, teaching them
their lesson of measure. He might speculate, too, upon the various
shapes that floated through early Greece without being artistically
adopted--upon the many creatures of earth and air and phantasy which
were thrust aside as abhorrent to this rather narrow sense of what was
good or fair. The primitive Sirens, I suspect, escaped this fate by a
miracle, the miracle of Homer's adoption and transmutation of them;
poets and writers of a more refined age would have been merely puzzled
or repelled by such fearsome forms. These demons of putrefaction, but
for the _Odyssey_, must have waited long centuries to be appreciated.

They must have waited till our day.

For, unlike those old farmers on jungle-clearings, we live on terms of
sympathy with our natural environment. We can afford to do so, even as
the Romans could afford to cherish conciliatory relations with their
conquered enemies. Thus, nature becoming our hand-maid, new fountains
of enjoyment have sprung up for us, such as the picturesque-ness of
the desert, of poverty and squalor, of decay; the weird and droll and
uncouth, the sumptuous and exotic, have all found a place in our
catholic estimation; we admire the extravagancies of Egyptian carvings
or Gothic skeletons, and gloat over grotesque _chinoiseries_ which a
Greek would have dismissed as abuses of man's higher faculties.

Humanity alone, as a subject for treatment, has expanded into a
many-voiced organ when compared with that clear but thin reed of
theirs. What did Hellenic art know of the humour of old age--of those
kindly wrinkles? Of the haunting charm of youthful etiolation? Of
barbarian strength and virtue? In the _Iliad_, again, we hear only of
captains and kings--the common herd does not exist.  But nowadays even
vulgar persons, with vulgar hopes and fears, may be made interesting.
We relish it at least on a level surface, in homely scenes, Delf-ware
style; for when a tragic passion with heights and depths is to be
sounded, none save a cunning master, who cheats us into giving them
the feelings of their betters, can make the thing endurable; they
_will_ wallow, these good folk, having, as Schopenhauer observed, "no
height from which to fall;" their griefs and joys are alike lowly, and
oftentimes past comprehension.

All this, even without the intervention of the Jesus-Horus ideal,
would have paved the way for a conception of beauty so extended as to
include the simian features of the infant.

The outlook is widened--forest-gloom dispersed.

But those keen human notes, the wild cry of Hellas, are no longer
heard: a choral symphony has drunk them up.





XIII.  THE HEADLAND OF MINERVA


There is a project afoot to continue the driving-road from Sorrento,
which now ends at Termini, as far as the point of Campanella. Italy is
full of such designs of local patriotism. Often enough, after some
thoughtful mayor has collected money during his term of office for an
undertaking of this kind--roads, drainage, or water-supply--his
successor will spend the whole sum in pyrotechnics in honour of the
village saint: thousands of francs carefully hoarded up being thus
thrown away in a wild orgy of a single night. Shoulders are shrugged;
a new collection begun: _Iialia fara da se_--that charming mixture of
enthusiasm and inefficiency! It will ever be thus under a communal
system as established here; no public spirit can exist where the good
intentions of a few are absorbed by the vices to which the institution
lends itself; where each reacts upon the other by tics of relationship
or business and by preordained obligations of love and hatred; where
the caprice or envy of a single man will suffice to frustrate a
project secretly approved by all. What they require, these villages,
is an independent and benevolent tyrant after the pattern of the old
"podesta:" the municipal system marks a theory of government which ill
accords with their habits of life.

Not that the building of this road is a pressing need. There are too
many roads in the country already, and were nothing else to be
amended, I could wish that the inhabitants might long continue to
waste their superfluous wealth in making noises and bad smells to the
glory of God--for such are the local fireworks.

The time to take this walk is the early morning, before the sun has
begun to beat down upon the western slope of Mount San Costanzo, along
which the path runs. The road leads gradually down wards, at first
through olives and then along the bare hillside, fragments of Roman
masonry and paving-stones proving that it follows the ancient track,
till we reach the platform on which stands the lighthouse and the
tower of Campanella--so called from a gong which used to be sounded
there at the approach of pirates. Here are abundant old remains, but
no trace of Minerva's temple. Holstenius, who wrote his annotations to
Cluver in 1666, and who seems to have visited the place, says that the
temple (of the Sirens, he calls it) stood upon the site of the present
Campanella tower, which was built with its materials; adding, however,
"so the inhabitants say"--which makes his testimony almost worthless.

And, favourable as the site is for a public building of this kind, yet
the Roman poet's description of the "Sorretine peak" from which the
goddess looked down is somewhat inappropriate, seeing that Campanella
is only about thirty yards above sea-level; unless, indeed, the whole
mountain was identified by a figure of speech with the deity herself,
whose shrine lay at its foot. The cosmographer of Ravenna has
"Syrrentum, Minerva," and Guido, about whose age there is some
uncertainty, speaks of "Minervum, in which is the temple of Minerva,
where Anchises the father of Aeneas first saw a man feeding horses, as
Virgil reports." No horses could pasture here nowadays. He was
alluding to the _castrum Minervae_ near Otranto.



I do not know when the promontory ceased to bear the name of the
goddess: in the Golden Book of King Roger (1154) it is called _ras
Mintirah_, which its latest editors consider a mistake for _ras
Manirbah_ (Minerva); the tower was erected _in loco ubi dicitur
Minerva_ in 1334, and is similar in shape to that on the Galli, which
was built at the same time, though in better repair. Many antiquities
have been found at this spot, but the traveller Borch, who landed here
in the eighteenth century to collect coins, was sadly disappointed,
for the natives whom he calls "aussi fourbes que betes et medians"
brought him "un petit ecu de France use et une piece d'argent
aragonaise, disant que c'etaient deux antiques de grand prix"--which
annoyed him considerably.

In the fourteenth century, too, the corals between "Capram et
Minervinum" were a royal monopoly: so says a document which has been
excavated by Monsieur Georges Yver in that vast post-tertiary deposit
known as the Archivio at Naples.

Among the stones to be picked up at the site are certain lumps of red
volcanic scoria. I regard them with interest, as proving that some, if
not all, of the buildings at Campanella date from the early imperial
epoch. For I have found this material, which was used by the Romans
for the modelling of vaults, and where lightness was to be combined
with strength, nowhere save in those ruins of Capri which cannot have
been built before Augustus.  Now if this scoria, as I strongly
suspect, was brought from Vesuvius--like the "tufa of Herculanum"
concerning which there have been learned discussions--before that
mountain was covered with ashes in 79, the age of these buildings is
determined pretty accurately within two close-lying limits.
Mason-bees now construct their houses in its almond-shaped cavities,
selecting it for the same reasons which commended it to the architects
of Roman palaces: because it is dry, porous, and adhesive to plaster.

In winter the waves dash fiercely against this hoary promontory, and
even in the bluest days of midsummer there is an unquiet heaving of
the waters near the point. No wonder the Sirens chose it for their
seat, for once ships began to pass between here and Capri, there can
have been no lack of wrecks and victims. A part of the fleet of
Augustus was shattered against these very rocks in the year 34. Gold
and silver galore must be lying under the waves in those narrow three
miles; anchors and chains, too, and rusty implements such as were used
on one memorable occasion when the great medical school of Salerno was
flourishing; flourishing and yet envious; envious of the fame of the
mineral waters of Pozzuoli which attracted travellers away from their
own town--for the waters, you perceive, cured patients gratis, while
the Salerno doctors used to send in heavy bills--so envious, that
certain rich and well-reputed physicians of that school, to wit, Sir
Antoninus Sulimella, Sir Philippus Capograssus, and Sir Hector de
Prochyta, after taking counsel how to remedy this vexatious state of
affairs, decided that it was no time for half-measures.

They therefore embarked in Salerno upon a small vessel carrying
certain iron instruments wherewith to deface the marble inscriptions
and figures at Pozzuoli which set forth the blessings of those healing
waters. That, they thought, would ruin the reputation of the
sister-town. But alas! on the return journey after this impious
expedition the boat was "miraculously submerged between Capri and
Minerva" and the iconoclastic physicians engulfed together with their
crow-bars, hammers, and chisels. The defiant letterings were doubtless
engraved anew, there being no lack of Roman marble tablets at
Pozzuoli; as for the waters, they flow on health-giving as in times of
yore, for have not their virtues been contrived, ere the beginning of
the world, by Virgil, the archimage?

It was a frankly mediaeval expedient of revenge, inconceivable
nowadays; and yet--hearts do not change so quickly; we only weave new
garments in which to clothe hopes and fears that are for ever old. And
a relative or descendant of this same Hector de Prochyta was the most
un-mediaeval of Italy's sons--John of Procida. Often enough he sailed
through these straits. If we could but read his diary! What perils by
sea and wanderings in lonely places, momentous battle-councils,
beggarly rags exchanged for the splendours of Byzantine court or
Vatican, and as easily resumed again; what shifts and intrigues! How
comes it, I wonder, that none of our scholars has written a monograph
on him and the great Hohenstaufcn, their aims and aspirations? Why
does our reading public, so greedy of things Italian, know of him
nothing save schoolboy recollections of Sicilian Vespers?  If they
would turn aside from their Cinque-Cento infatuation and forget, for a
while, the squabbles of microscopic Tuscan princelings and the
hallucinations of neurotic monks and carvers of saints, they would
behold, in John of Procida, a MAN.  They could watch how this man's
character is drawn out by adversity, _educed_, till he towers like an
Ifrit above his fellows and his age. More than this: they would be
confronted by a phenomenon rare indeed in mediaeval history--by a
striving, an ideal, that would do honour to themselves in this
twentieth century.

Vengeance is mine, said the Jewish god who liked to keep all the good
things for himself; such was not the notion of _Dominus Iohannes_. He
tumbled into a dishonoured grave the proudest prince in Christendom,
and the tremors of his splendid, sanctified hatred were felt from
London to Constantinople.  His ambition was the unity of Italy--a
portent, a dream undreamed in that night of barbarism, a cry that none
save the prophetic voice of Dante echoed down the centuries to come.
This doctor of Salerno was endowed with an astuteness and a tenacity
that verge on the preternatural; he was no party conspirator, but an
independent stateman of singularly modern cast, who drove popes and
kings and emperors, with the precision of an automaton, the way he
meant them to go. That transient gleam is the "wolf's tail" of our
present political status; it prefigures the triumph of reason over its
hereditary enemies, monkery and militarism. With a keen eye to the
advantages of trade in an age of feudal putrefaction, he built the
harbour of Salerno and instituted an annual fair, which is still held
in that town. And amid a life of breathless State activity, he calmly
continued to practise medicine; he was _facile princeps_ in the land;
great men travelled hundreds of miles to consult him, and some of his
recipes are printed in pharmacopoeias of to-day. At his advice, no
doubt, the Emperor Frederick actually permitted the dissection of dead
bodies for anatomical purposes, a concession to common sense not rare,
but unique, in mediaeval times. It was John of Procida, too, who
thought fit to adorn, at his own expense, the last resting-place of
Hildebrand, Prince of Popes.  This act alone would suffice to stamp
the man: there was, without a doubt, an element of grandeur in him.

It is easy to be modern nowadays, though not all of us have discovered
the secret; it was easy, maybe, at Rome or Cuzco or Nineveh; but to be
modern under the sterilising, paralysing blight of European
medievalism was reserved for a few prodigies--martyrs, rather, since
most of them paid for this distinction with their blood. And even in
the matter of dying, John of Procida was phenomenal.  At a patriarchal
age, he expired in his bed; almost forgotten, as one historian
remarks.  Likely enough he was "almost forgotten." Mont Blanc does not
show to full advantage from the Grands Mulets, and it takes a far
distance of time to see John of Procida in his true perspective.

In these waters, too, his friend Roger de Lauria, with a
resourcefulness and audacity unparalleled up to that day, crushed the
fleet of the Anjou king and captured his son....

One is apt to forget that Athene was a _parvenue_ in these lands of
the Sirens; travelling westwards, she ousted them from their headland
whose oldest name, Sircnusson, was then changed, in her honour, to
Athenaion. In early days, before the temple of the Sirens was actually
built at Massa, their residence was probably imagined to lie on the
south side of the promontory and about its storm-tossed capes and
islands; they gradually crept away from their homesteads, Athene
following in their wake. It is quite intelligible that these old but
deathless maidens of the sea, in whose nature were elements
incongruous and hard to expound, should yield before a wholly
beneficent goddess with clearly marked sexual and mental attributes.
For, previous to setting out on this voyage, she had passed through
the crucible of Hellenic purification--it is as far a step from the
astute companion of Odysseus or the Egyptian Tritogeneia to her whom
we know, as from the wooden xoanon of Athene Polias to the
idealisations of Periclean art.  Man first appeases, then worships,
his devils. There was nothing left to appease or disentangle in
bright-eyed Athene; she is cast in one mould and her aegis gleams with
fine humanity, flashing the message onward into furthest ages. The
older Sirens were enigmatical, if not hostile. They retreated before
her and never turned to look back, and when the sanctuary of
Parthenope at Naples became celebrated, that in Massa decayed--the
familiar movement from East to West, to which the township of Massa
itself and of Sorrento, of Naples and Paris and London, all bear
witness.

This was explained somewhat differently in the Middle Ages. Says the
old Cronaca di Parthenope: "A virgin girl, unmarried and called
Parthenope, of surpassing beauty, daughter of the King of Sicily, came
with great number of ships to Chiaia (Naples).  By a chance she
sickened there and died of that same distemper and was buried. And
here, on her grave, was the temple erected."



If you are in the mood for a scramble, you can be rowed from
Campanella a mile in the Massa direction as far as the Cala di
Mitigliano, and thence climb up the ravine to the summit of Mount San
Costanzo. It is rough walking till the farm of Mitiliano, about
half-way, is reached. In the vineyards here may be seen a few Roman
remains and four huge amphorae, one of them still intact and in its
original position. This, then, is the ancient Metellianum (there is
another place of this name near Cava). And not far from this site were
unearthed, some six years ago, a "shepherd" of gold and a metal helmet
which were sold for fifty francs to a Sorrento jeweller, though "who
knows how many millions they were really worth." It is impossible to
obtain clear details of such discoveries; not only are the natives
incapable of describing what they see with their eyes, but also, like
the Irish, they hesitate to reply until they know whit one would be
glad to hear; if one persists in merely asking for the truth, they
suspect hidden motives and become evasive. The Oriental influence, I
suppose--the same which always prompts them to answer one question
with another.

"Why do you invariably answer my questions with another question?" I
once inquired.

"Why shouldn't I?"

Above this farm stands the venerable chapel of Mitigliano with a
"miraculous" picture, and the ruins of a small convent whose inmates,
they say, were enslaved by the Turks. A furious nocturnal
treasure-hunt took place here not long ago in which cellars, walls,
and cisterns were demolished.  "They found nothing," the farmer told
me; "at least (with a wink) so they said."

Mount San Costanzo has two summits divided by a saddle-shaped
depression--La Croce and the chapel itself. The mists of Byzantium
still cling to those grey rocks, for Saint Costanzo was patriarch of
Constantinople, whose body, carefully packed in a barrel, floated from
the Euxine into the Bay of Naples; it arrived fresh and uninjured, nor
is there anything profane in the conjecture that the occupant of the
barrel had been treated with bitumen, large quantities of which must
then have been stored at Byzance for the manufacture of _Greek Fire_.
His relics, what is left of them, are now lying at Monte Vergine, that
vast repository of bones which were imported in ship-loads from the
saintly East to the confiding West; nearly every calendar saint is
represented in the official catalogue by a tooth or a knuckle, and
among the items I observe, to my astonishment, "the skeletons of
Shadrac, Meshac, and Abednego," which Frederick II, who could never
resist a joke, is supposed to have sent over from Jerusalem.

Now: how did this come about? For, if I remember rightly, the
patriarch Theophilus was also anxious to possess these anatomies and
despatched the monk Colobi on a boat of clouds to Babylon for the
purpose of fetching them, but the three saints stoutly refused to quit
their tombs, though promising to oblige the patriarch in other
matters. How did they come to reach Jerusalem, and to change their
minds on the subject of exportation?

It is all rather incredible nowadays; men like Trajan, Pericles, or
Sardanapalus are of yesterday, in comparison. Yet the bone trade
revived quite recently; not with the East, but with His Holiness the
Pope, who forwarded saints' skeletons from the Vatican to Naples in
exchange for castrated boys to warble the praises of God in the
Sistine Chapel.  San Domingo and other travellers have collected
details of this interchange of commodities.

The Oriental notes lingered long in these regions: San Costanzo, Santa
Maria di Costantinopoli, Sant' Elia, Santa Sofia, and others all date
from the times when the shadowy exarch still reigned at Ravenna. And
mediaeval Greek was spoken here up to remarkably late days; the
Suabian laws were promulgated in Greek and Latin; Greek was in
familiar and official usage up to 1450, and six Greek churches, says
the learned Mazzocchi, survived in Naples up to the thirteenth
century. But the Normans whose piety, or shrewdness, generally placed
them on the side of the Roman pontiff, had meanwhile dealt an
unexpected death-blow to the power of Byzantium in the West, by
introducing the silkworm into Sicily.

We are apt to be unfair towards Byzantium. It must not be judged, I
think, by what it created or wrought into fresh forms, but by what it
preserved.  As a period of repose and conservation--as a mere wedge of
time and dominion interposed while the savage North was ripening for
its legacy of antiquity--its services to mankind are past all
reckoning.

In those centuries, when the inhabitants of this district may often
have wondered to whom they owed allegiance, were laid the seeds of
that opportunism and lack of living conviction in public affairs which
now, after another thousand years of misgovernment, have borne such
baleful fruits.  It is good to read, now and then, in the old
chronicles, of the deeds of those improbable creatures, of Sikard and
Grimoald, Radelchis, Gaidelgrime and Sigelgaita, whose very names
sound like a roll-call from the Niebelungen-lied; of the Greek dukes
of Sorrento and other lordly phantoms that conjure up visions of
Shakespeare's mellow geography.

A seething witches' cauldron was South Italy; dark and passionate
shapes emerge from the brew, clash their weapons or mutter a prayer,
and again sink down.

In those ages, too, when men really believed the unbelievable, they
built sanctuaries upon the hilltops--proximity to heaven being
esteemed favourable for the exaudition of prayers; nowadays, mankind
refusing to climb, the churches have descended into the valleys to
suit the convenience of a lukewarm generation. An attractive site like
San Costanzo hill must have been occupied from earliest times:
Christianity in Siren land under Marcus Aurelius is no impossibility,
if we are to trust Tertullian and Origen. Yet the arch-pagan Symmachus
praises for its (heathen) religious zeal the town of Naples where they
used to say, "it was easier to meet with a god than with a man."
Hill-worship in the provinces gradually declined: the saint-bishop
Antoninus of Sorrento was charged before the Pope, in the ninth
century, with "celebrating mass on mountain summits against Christian
usage, and thus propagating a new and most pernicious heresy." Why
_new_--why this exacerbation?  There is more than meets the eye in
this indictment.  The good man's heresy would be no heresy in these
days when every Catholic bishop, according to a convenient fiction, is
accompanied by a "portable altar" wherever he goes.

And the crucifix on the sister-summit also goes back, I suspect, to
the days of Constantine the Croat, being a repetition of one of those
legendary crosses on which the archangel Michael, the Apollo and
Lucifer of Christianity, who then winged his way westwards and settled
upon cloudy peaks all over Europe, was wont to alight; the material
emblem surviving while the Oriental tradition faded away before the
western one of Calvary. Yet not all the crosses hereabouts can claim
this venerable origin. That on the rock Vervece was erected only a few
years ago in commemoration of some sailors who were shipwrecked there;
two others, which do not improve the landscape, were placed on peaks
behind Sorrento, in order that storm-tossed mariners "might have
something to look at," by certain mighty landlords to whom much may be
forgiven, for they have planted much.

There runs a legend at Termini to the effect that the chapel on San
Costanzo hill was built by the saint himself, under protest. The
elders of the village having determined to construct his shrine lower
down, the saint sent several messages to say that he preferred the
hill-top; and all in vain.  The site of the new church, they told him,
was already mapped out, and the sooner he acquiesced the better.

"You won't?" he said. "Well, then, I must build it myself."

So saying, he collected stones and mortar, and in a night the whole
edifice was completed. That settled it. This, of course, took place
hundreds of years ago, or even more; but what he did to the men of
Nerano who refused to send their _figlie di Maria_ to his feast at
Termini, even under promises of payment, is a matter of yesterday. He
simply "shook his chains"--is this a reminiscence of some
Typhoeus-legend?--and an avalanche of rocks poured down upon their
village from the heights overhead. Since that time, the _figlie di
Maria_ of Nerano are the first to put in an appearance at Termini on
the festive 14th day of May, and the last to depart homewards--and
gratis.

Then, two years ago, there was that affair of the grasshoppers....

Sometimes, too, he fashions a boat out of a walnut with a tiny sail to
it, and steps on board. In this cockle-shell he paddles out from among
the rocks with the merest phantom of an oar; but the barque swells to
a goodly size as he recedes from land, and lucky fishermen have
sometimes met the saint cruising about in broad daylight: he likes to
take his pleasure on the water, like any other _cristiano_.

A very mysterious transaction took place in the Middle Ages. The
present patron of Massa is no longer San Costanzo but San Cataldo, an
Irishman who terminated his wild mission in the seventh century at
Taranto, where there used to be a wonderful wooden statue of him (now
replaced by the usual metal abomination), and where his epitaph, which
has a familiar sound, may still be read---

  Me tulit Hibernae, Solimae traxere, Tarentum
  Nunc tenet: huic ritus, dogmata, iura dedi.

In Capri, however, there is a deserted shrine of San Cataldo, and we
are told that long ago the men of Capri "piously robbed the bones of
San Costanzo from Massa, where he used to be protector, and made _him_
their patron, which he still is." In short, it seems as if the two
communities, with some little violence, had "swopped saints." In those
troubled days, San Costanzo was useful at Capri for scaring away the
Saracens with his torch, and this is the attitude in which he used to
be conventionally depicted. Now, inasmuch as it stands to reason that
an ordinary torch would have been ineffectual for this purpose, we
must assume that he was granted the power to brandish some more
conspicuously effulgent meteor, probably a fax ardens; or perhaps a
capra saltans, a lancea, a trabs verticalis, a draco volans, a
clypeus, stipula, pyramis, jaculum, or some other of those fiery
coruscations which Cardanl--or is it Paracelsus?--conjectures to be
the excrements of the stellar firmament.  [Footnote: Correct as this
particular proposition of Cardan's may be, it would be wrong to esteem
him unassailable at all points, as has been done. He errs, to my
thinking, in respect of the salamander.  Your salamander is a cold
lizard, hairless and poisonous by nature, and while all of this family
have four legs and a head, yet none save the true salamander can
withstand the action of fire. Though generated in the flames, as
Aristotle in one passage affirms (he contradicts it in another), his
cold is nevertheless held to be such as to extinguish them. Pliny,
Galen, Aelian, Dioscorides and others of the ancients hold this view.
Olympiodorus and Saint Augustine, with other Christian Fathers,
likewise. Even so Nierembergius, who elucidates certain of the
opinions of his predecessors touching the matter. And likewise, to my
amazement, the illustrious Cardan. For is it not improbable, I ask,
that so exiguous a creature should quench a fire however great, or
even permanently live in it? Wherefore I submit as follows: That the
salamander, by reason of his chilly humour, may well extinguish a
small fire, but never a great one; and that, if placed in a combustion
similar to the one which flickered about the above-mentioned Shadrac,
Meshac and Abednego, he may, and does, survive for some days or even
years, but not--like the pyrausta, Charistian Birds and other
fire-loving creatures--for ever. _Profiteor me baud alio sensu banc
sententiam proferre, aut accipi ab omnibus velle quam quo ea solent,
quae bumana tantummodo auctoritate, etc. etc._]

Yes, I can well believe that THE INFINITE was the one original product
of mediaeval cogitations and their chief intellectual legacy to
posterity; that word epitomises the intellectual inertia and moral
dyspepsia of those times.



Lucky the mortal who arrives on the summit of San Costanzo during one
of those bewitching moments when the atmosphere is permeated with a
glittering haze of floating particles, like powdered gold-dust. The
view over the Gulf of Naples, at such times, with its contours framed
in a luminous aureole rather than limned, is not easily forgotten.
They are rare, and their glory of brief duration.  On other occasions
this fairy-like effect is atoned for by the clarity; not only Siren
land, but half Campania, lies at our feet. Far away, the sinuous
outlines of Tyrrhenian shores with the headland of Circe and the Ponza
islets that call up grim memories of Roman banishments; the complex
and serrated Apennines whose peaks are visible into the far Abruzzi
country; nearer at hand, Elysian Fields, Tartarus and Cimmerian gloom,
and the smoking head of Vesuvius decked with a coral necklace of towns
and villages. Not an inch of all this landscape but has its
associations. Capua and Hannibal; the Caudine Forks; Misenum and
Virgil; Nisida, the retreat of a true Siren-worshipper, Lucullus; the
venerable acropolis of Cumae; Pompeii; yonder Puteoli, where the
apostle of the gentiles touched land; here the Amalfitan coast,
Pcestum, and the Calabrian hills.

And everywhere the unharvested sea. The sea, with its intense
restfulness, is the dominant note of Siren land. There is no escaping
from it. Incessant gleams of light flash from that mirror-like
expanse; even when unperceived by the senses, among squalid tenements
or leafy uplands, they will find you out and follow, like some
all-pervading, inevitable melody. How the _Odyssey_ throbs with those
luminous vibrations! Forest voices are the music of Bach; we seem to
wander in cool wooded glades with sunlight pouring through leaves
overhead, to breathe the fragrance of dew-spangled moss and fern, to
hear the caress of light winds playing among the crowns and the
rustling of branches and streamlets and all those elfish woodland
notes which the master himself, in his solitary wanderings, had heard
and thenceforth emprisoned everlastingly--coaxing their echoes into
those numbers whose enchantment none but chosen spirits, little less
than angels, can unseal. Some are of multiple voice, like that
god-gifted Tschaikovsky, whose melancholy is flecked by exotic
passions such as Mozart or Beethoven never sang--for how shall that
come out of a man which was never in him?--lilting, super-sensuous
measures from old Samarkand where they loved with the love of daemons;
muffled pulsations, oft-repeated, doom-enforcing; or an ominous
metallic quaver--the wail of the myriad Tartars who fell by the
blood-stained waters of Tengis, or, it may be, some premonitory cry of
his own tormented soul that fled from earth, all too soon.

Others may reflect the camp or court. But Homer voices the sea....



There are many spots on earth as fair as the Parthenopean bay--equally
fair at least to us moderns, whose appreciation of art and of nature
has become less exclusively human. The steaming Amazonian forests and
the ice-crags of Jan Mayen appeal since yesterday to our catholic
taste; but whoever takes the antique point of view will still accord
the palm to the Mediterranean. Here, true beauty resides with its
harmony of form and hue--here the works of man stand out in just
relation to those of nature, each supplementing the other.  Elsewhere,
she is apt to grow menacing--gloomy or monstrous. In the North, the
sun refuses her aid and man struggles with the elements; he vegetates,
an animated lump of blubber and dirt, or rushes frantically in
starving hordes to overrun the bright places of earth; in the tropics
his works shrink into insignificance, he is lost in a fierce tangle of
greenery, sucked dry by the sun, whom he execrates as a demon--he
dwindles into a stoic, a slave. Here, too, an ancient world, our
ancient world, lies spread out in rare charm of colour and outline,
and every footstep is fraught with memories. The lovely islands of the
Pacific have a past, but their past is not our past, and men who
strike deep notes in such alien soil are like those who forsake their
families and traditions to live among gipsies. Niagara will astound
the senses, but the ruins of Campania wake up sublimer and more
enduring emotions.

No person of culture, however prosaic, will easily detach himself from
such scenes and thoughts--is it not the prerogative of civilised man
to pause and ponder before the relics of his own past?



It is time to depart. The swallows have flown overhead on their long
journey, and the red-breast's plaintive whistle announces that the
summer is ended.

And how much there is still to see--the remains of Pollio's temple
with the baths of Queen Joan, and crumbling towers and sites
innumerable!  Yonder is Erche, for instance--a commanding plateau
opposite Santa Maria surrounded by ravines on three sides and within a
few hundred yards of which the old Roman road to Minerva's temple must
have passed: how came the name of Hercules to wander so far inland?
And only the other day I found my way to a solitary group of houses
called Scuola, a singular appellation which reminds me of that
_school_ of poets and philosophers which was imagined to lie near the
promontory of Athenaeum; the Sirens' songs, according to Pontanus,
being nothing but the irresistible seduction of eloquence and literary
pursuits.  "What has been said of the sweet voices and songs of the
Sirens is a fable illustrating the attractions of eloquence, and the
cult and knowledge of letters." Was it not good of the old humanist to
associate the Sirens with lettered ease? At Scuola, too, there stands
a decayed chapel with a pavement of hand-painted tiles that depict the
expulsion of our first parents from Paradise. They shine with the
lustre of eternal youth and, to judge by the date, the work may well
have been executed by the hand of the celebrated Lionardo Chiaiese
who, together with his two brothers, was a pioneer of majolica in
Naples, and whose two other pavements, at Anacapri and in the
Neapolitan nunnery of Suor Orsola Benincasa, are considered
masterpieces impossible to reproduce with modern methods.  The scene
is drawn with great freedom and taste, and I have endeavoured, twice,
to interest certain folks at Naples to safeguard it ere the crazy
roof, through which green plants are vigorously sprouting, shall crash
down upon the stern young archangel and all the wondrous beasts of the
garden.

It is the same everywhere. Go where you will, new discoveries and
suggestions are lying in wait; impossible to avoid stumbling upon
relics of Roman rule, of old Hellas, or mediaeval romance that are
crowded into these few miles. The memories start up at our feet, like
the fabled dragon-brood of Cadmus. These are the delights of Siren
land.

But the summer is ended, though there may well be another kind of
Siren land where we can take our joy at all seasons, if so disposed.
Not in the stars, however: nobody but Plato would have thought of
making the Sirens live in those remote spheres.  What you cannot find
on earth is not worth seeking.

Yet there will still come days of sunlit splendour--Saint Martin's
summer, they call them--when the sea uplifts an unruffled countenance
to the crystalline dome overhead, which then looks so securely built
as though it could never be broken up--days when it might be well to
sail over to Capri once more or to examine the site of the old Siren
temple at Fontanella near Massa (if such it was), whose marbles were
hammered to pieces and scattered broadcast in the year of grace 1896.
"It is best not to speak of these things," said my informant, who
witnessed the desecration. Montorio, though he knew nothing of the
temple buried beneath the soil, relates that a religious procession
used to wend to this spot in former days and to salute it with
cannon-shots, as if a spectral Siren-cult had persisted far into
Christian times------Enough! The half is better than the whole, and
whoso hurries unduly will never catch the _genius_ loci of these
regions. Fontanella and the rest of them must wait for another season,
since the scanty olives are gathered and vine leaves changing to
yellow.

Cicadas no longer sing.

Green patches have sprung up on the burnt Tore yonder.

The summer is ended.



THE END




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