Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry July 2011                       
from the series:

Through the Eyes of...

Arthur John Strutt

Arthur John Strutt (1818 – 1888) was an English painter, engraver, writer and traveler. He established residence in Rome in 1831. In 1841 he traveled on foot through central and southern Italy with his friend, the poet William Jackson, starting in Rome and ending in Palermo. He wrote and published the account of this journey as A Pedestrian Tour in Calabria & Sicily (T.C. Newby, London, 1842.) When Strutt says "pedestrian," he doesn't mean that word in the secondary sense of "dull" or "uninspired." He means it in the primary sense —he walked. Indeed, in the preface there is a quote from Goldsmith:
"A man who is whirled through Europe in a post-chaise, and the Pilgrim
  who walks the ground tour on foot, will form very different conclusions."

The excerpt below is about his stay in Naples and Salerno.

(Strutt's entry: Naples, May 5th)

Portrait of
Arthur John Strutt

HERE we are at last. The Italian proverb says "See Naples and die" but I say, see Naples and live; for there seems a great deal worth living for. The most wonderful occurrence we met with on our journey was, that we walked straight into the city without being asked at the gate for our passports, I question whether any traveller within the last fifty years can say as much. Being a little ashamed of our dusty appearance, amidst the gay crowds that we met at every step, we took a one-horse vehicle, in order to arrive sooner at the hotel where we expected to find our friend S--- with our luggage. We found, however, that we were much more conspicuous in our carriage than on foot, for, in our haste, we had taken the first we saw, and our driver, a ragged baboon, whose utmost exertions scarcely sufficed to ''stir his horse to active trot," seemed to be a known character, and many were the gibes he indignantly underwent, as we slowly steered up the noisy and crowded Toledo.

As soon as we had equipped ourselves, we went in search of Madame F--- and Miss B--- , and had the good fortune to meet them on the public walk of the Villa Reale. They are at Greenwood's, on the Chiaja, and their apartment commands a delightful view of the bay. There is a table d' hote in the house, which the inmates can join or not, as they are inclined. Madame F--- speaks highly of the establishment, and indeed it seems replete with comfort.

After the tranquillity of Rome, the racket of Naples appears insupportable. It has the reputation of being the noisiest city in Europe, and I should think in the world. Nevertheless the main streets are spacious and noble,—the pavement of lava is so smooth that carriages run along it "on the nail," as the English road phrase is, with equal ease and celerity; from many parts of the city fine views of the country are obtained, and the scenery from the beach, the shores of Pozzuoli and Baia on one side, Vesuvius, and the hills that shelter Castellamare and Sorrento on the other, with the island of Capri a connecting object in the middle, its outline and colour varying with every change in the atmosphere, is exquisite—the fishing  boats, too, give interest and animation to the generally unruffled surface of the blue waters, and the fishermen themselves, with their bronzed skins, fine muscular limbs, easy gait, and animated countenances are capital models. I have been sketching some of them to cheer me a little, for not having heard from you to day, which, to say the truth, has much disappointed me, I am anxious to know how you all are. I understand however that letters frequently miscarry between this place and Rome, you must not therefore be uneasy if you do not hear from me so regularly as I intend you to do. We have arranged with Madame F--- to go up Vesuvius the day after tomorrow.

Pompeii, May 7th.

You will see from the date of my letter that we have not been able to resist a visit to this most interesting place, en attendant Vesuvian trip with the ladies, and most delighted we have been with the result. The city is in many respects far more perfect than I had anticipated, and as we wandered down some of the winding streets, through rows of shops, with the signs and inscriptions of their various wares, unfaded by the lapse of eighteen hundred years, we could almost fancy we had merely come at the hour of siesta, and should presently see the busy tradesmen come forth and people the thoroughfare. The few figures that met our eyes, however, were occupied in the excavations that are still continuing, and the beautiful meek oxen convey their loads of ashes along the same narrow pavements that witnessed the patient labours of their forefathers, before the fatal eruption.

One strange being haunts the temples, like the ghost of Pan, unwilling to leave the scene of former grandeur, in the shape of a lame old man who plays on a pipe and dances, not nearly so gracefully, you may imagine, as the elegant figurante adorning the stuccoed walls.

A first rate Pompeian house must certainly have been a perfect bijou: its mosaic floors, marble tanks and steps all so cool; the paintings so varied, so gay and so graceful! then its columns, corridors, and gardens, to complete the suite with a peep of verdure. We were told that one of the most perfect specimens is soon to be entirely restored, and filled with its legitimate household furniture and ornaments, which, together with the forlorn Lares and Penates, are to leave the Museum at Naples, and be established once more in their native homes. Every article will thus have a double interest, from being seen in its original destination, and the house itself will no longer wear the denuded aspect which reigns in the generality of Pompeian mansions, owing to the system of carrying away to Naples every thing worth notice.

We have spent a most delightful day, and have taken up our quarters in the little locanda hard by the walls of the town, in order to enjoy once more, at sun-rise, the glowing tints which this evening threw such a magic hue over the deserted forum, the prostrate city, and its old destructive enemy, Vesuvius. Adieu.

Naples, May 9th.

Your letters received yesterday, afforded me the greatest satisfaction, and made me feel quite happy. You must direct your next to me at Reggio. I fear it will be three weeks or a month before I shall receive it, but at any rate you will be able by that time to fix the period of your coming to Naples, and as we shall enjoy it much more when we explore it altogether, we have resolved to continue our route into Calabria without delay.

We went yesterday to Vesuvius, according to our arrangement; and highly interested we were in the excursion. Leaving our carriage at Resina, we selected from the variety, offered us, of ass, horse, and mule, such as we deemed most suitable to our respective personages, and after a short halt at the Hermitage, reached the foot of the cone, where we dismounted and commenced the ascent. This, however, proved too fatiguing for Madame F--- , notwithstanding the vigorous efforts of the muleteer to drag her up with the pony bridle; she therefore returned to the Hermitage there to await our descent.

Miss W--- courageously proceeded, and in spite of the rolling cinders and loose sand, arrived enfin at the summit. Our first care was to see what the crater was about; we looked down, and perceived a variety of flaming operations going on, as if a treat were preparing for his Satanic Majesty; and by the nauseous smoke which now and then enveloped us, we were led to imagine that sulphur formed the principal condiment. The roar of the combustion was like a smith's forge, heated a hundredfold. Not a very sublime comparison, but it was that which presented itself, unsought for. Do not think, however, that I was not interested and delighted with this "splendid mystery of creation" but the fact is that it has been so often described, in every mood of prose and verse, that ones courage and enthusiasm are alike damped, at the thought of adding to the thousand and one descriptions of it already extant.

But then there is the surrounding prospect, magnificent beyond conception, as we fully believe, but of which I shall equally spare you any account as the fact is, the shades of night were too far advanced to allow us to discern the variety of its attractions, moreover, both J---and I hope to have the pleasure of repeating our visit when we meet you at Naples on our return. Adieu, tomorrow we start for Calabria.

Salerno, May 10th.

BEHOLD us at Salerno, a charming town situated on the sea shore in a bay like that of Naples. We have got over twenty-six miles of ground to day, almost always between houses, for in this fertile and abundantly populated country, the towns and villages are joined to one another in nearly uninterrupted succession. We passed through Nocera and La Cava; with the last we were very much pleased; its arcades reminded me of Bologna.

The country and mountains become wilder after La Cava. Darkness nearly overtook us before we got out of the defile; nevertheless, through the obscurity I descried before us some bonnets which appeared to me of the true English cut. "It would be droll enough," said I to J--- ''to fall in again with our compatriots so soon," and as I spoke we gained upon the parties, and sure enough heard a Miss Laura somebody, descanting in our mother's tongue, upon the probable cheapness of living in such a situation.

The remainder of our walk was agreeably beguiled by, to me, the novel sight of numerous fireflies—their tiny and vacillating flashes illumining the woods and rocks: they would have made an admirable accompaniment to a fairy fete. Their light is redder than that of our glow-worms, and less steady. The latter part of our road, descending from the rocks to the water's level, reminded me much of that from Lausanne to Vevay; perhaps it was on this account that it appeared so agreeable: every step seemed to awaken in me, unconsciously, some pleasing recollection.

Salerno, May 11th.

You see we are still here. The beauty of the environs has tempted us into the comparative idleness of lingering a day to explore them. I was first attracted by the old castle which, placed on a lofty eminence, commands the town. As I walked round its walls, no one appeared on the battlements save a little boy, and an ancient crone, who sourly enquired what I wanted there.

I employed the whole day in drawing; for though there is no particular costume here, it is the very country for a landscape painter. The scene on the quay was animated and picturesque. The sailors, reposing under sails stretched from the sides of their boats, formed admirable groups, and I thought an hour well employed in making a careful study of two of the more characteristic mariners, with their scarlet or brown caps, loose white dress, and bare legs.

At dinner our host amused us with accounts of the brigands, who, it should seem, begin to be very rife in this part of the world. A contest took place, a few days ago, between the urbans and brigands; the urbans, you must know, are a sort of national guard of the place; they are armed with guns, but wear no uniform, and are not a whit more respectable in appearance than the bandits themselves. A plan had been formed by these latter gentry to rob a house standing in a lonely situation, where they expected to find good booty. Five urbans, however, crossing the country in that direction, happened to stop for refreshment at a little winehouse, previously fixed upon by the brigands, as their rendezvous on this occasion. A boy who was placed there as scout, seeing five armed men arrive, never doubted that they were the party he had been told to wait for; he informed them that supper was ready, but that it was prepared for seven, and enquired why the other two had not come. The urbans immediately smoked the affair, and replied, they were coming; meanwhile they thought they could not do better than cut off the immediate supplies, and therefore sat down and ate the supper; which, having dispatched, they left the boy with strict injunctions to wait for the other two, and went out to place themselves in ambush. They had not been there long, before the hungry bandits approached, and had forthwith to sustain an unexpected fusillade, which they were not slow in returning. In the end, however, they were worsted. Three were killed, three brought in triumph to Salerno, and the seventh, more fortunate, escaped. We are not at all ambitious of the honour of making his acquaintance on the road. After dinner we went to the Cathedral. I was much struck with the pillars, and bassi rilievi, evidently the spoils of some pagan temple: we were told afterwards that they had been brought from Paestum. I hope tomorrow to see the remainder of their brethren on their native soil, as we intend to set off early in the morning. Adieu.

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