In Italy: Spallanzani, P. Shelley, Morgan

Extracts from: Abbe Lazzaro Spallanzani, Travels in the Two Sicilies (1798); P. B. Shelley, Letters from Naples (1818-19); Lady Morgan (Sydney Owenson), Italy (1821), taken from texts on Romanticism: The CD-ROM, ed. David S. Miall.

Spallanzani: On Vesuvius; Vesuvius and Etna compared; Arrives at the summit of Etna
Shelleys: Ascent of Vesuvius; Visit Pompeii
Lady Morgan: Contemplations near Mont Cenis; Ascent of Vesuvius


Spallanzani

On Vesuvius

[Vol. I, 22] Pursuing my way to the south, along the [23] declivity of the mountain, I arrived at the part where the lava ran above the ground. Where the stream was broadest, it was twenty-two feet in breadth, and eighteen where narrowest. The length of this torrent was two miles, or nearly so. This stream of lava, when compared with others which have flowed from Vesuvius, and extended to the distance of five or six miles, with a proportionate breadth, must certainly suffer in the comparison; but considered in itself, and especially by a person unaccustomed to such scenes, it cannot but astonish and most powerfully affect the mind. When I travelled in Switzerland, the impression made upon me by the Glacieres was, I confess, great; to see, in the midst of summer, immense mountains of ice and snow, placed on enormous rocks, and to find myself shake with cold, wrapped up in my pelisse on their frozen cliffs, while in the plain below Nature appeared languid with the extreme heat. But much more forcibly was I affected at the sight of this torrent of lava, which resembled a river of fire. It issued [24] from an aperture excavated in the congealed lava, and took its course towards the south. For thirty or forty paces from its source, it had a red colour, but less ardent than that of the lava which flowed within the cavern I have mentioned above. Through this whole space its surface was filled with tumours which momentarily arose and disappeared. I was able to approach it to within the distance of ten feet; but the heat I felt was extremely great, and almost insupportable, when the air, put in motion, crossed the lava, and blew upon me. When I threw into the torrent pieces of the hardened lava, they left a very slight hollow trace. The sound they produced was like that of one stone striking against another; and they swam following the motion of the stream. The torrent at first descended down an inclined plain which made an angle of about 45 degrees with the horizon, flowing at the rate of eighteen feet in a minute; but at about the distance of thirty or forty paces from its source, its superficies, cleared from the tumours I have before mentioned, shewed [25] only large flakes of the substance of the lava, of an extremely dull red, which, clashing together, produced a confused sound, and were borne along by the current under them.

Vesuvius and Etna compared

[194] Though Vesuvius, considered in itself, may be justly called a grand volcano, and though, from the destruction and calamities it has at various times occasioned, it has continually been an object of consternation and terror to the inhabitants of the neighbouring country; yet when it is compared with Etna it must lose much of its celebrity, and appear so diminished, that, if the expression may be allowed, it may be called a volcano for a cabinet. Vesuvius does not, perhaps, rise higher than a mile above the level of the sea; and the whole circuit of its base, [195] including Ottajano and Somma, is not more than thirty miles; while Mount Etna covers a space of one hundred and eighty, and in its height above the sea considerably exceeds two miles. From the sides of Etna other lesser mountains rise, which are as it were its offspring, and more than one of which equals Vesuvius in size. The most extensive lavas of the latter mountain do not exceed seven miles in length; while those of Etna are fifteen or twenty, and some even thirty miles in extent. The borders of the crater of Mount Etna are never less than a mile in circuit, and, according to the changes to which they are subject, sometimes two or three miles; it is even reported, that in the dreadful eruption of 1669 they were enlarged to six. But the circumference of the Vesuvian crater is never more than half a mile, even when widest distended, in its most destructive conflagrations. Lastly, the earthquakes occasioned [196] by the two volcanoes, their eruptions, showers of ignited stones, and the destruction and desolation they occasion, are all likewise proportionate to their respective dimensions. We cannot therefore wonder that visits to Vesuvius should be considered as undertakings of little consequence, and never be made public, except lavas should have been flowing at the time; while a journey to Etna is considered as no trivial enterprise, both from the difficulty of the way, and the distance; as from Catania, whence it is usual to set out, it is thirty miles to the summit of Etna. On such a journey, likewise, we have to pass through three different climates; whereas to go from Naples to Vesuvius should be rather called an excursion than a journey. We find also little difference between the temperature of the air at the bottom of this latter mountain, and that of its summit. Notwithstanding these difficulties, however, the [197] gigantic majesty of the Sicilian volcano, its sublime elevation, and the extensive, varied, and grand prospects its summit presents, have induced the curious, in every age, to ascend and examine it; and not a few have transmitted to posterity the observations they have made during their arduous journey.

Arrives at the summit of Etna

[245] Having passed this place, and recovered by degrees my former presence of mind; in less than an hour I arrived at the utmost summit of Etna, and began to discover the edges of the crater; when our guides, who had preceded me at some distance, turned back, [246] and, hastening towards me, exclaimed in a kind of transport, that I never could have arrived at a more proper time to discover and observe the internal part of this stupendous volcano. The reader will easily conceive, without my attempting to describe it, how great a pleasure I felt at finding my labours and fatigue at length crowned with such complete success. This pleasure was exalted to a kind of rapture, when I had completely reached the spot, and perceived that I might, without danger, contemplate this amazing spectacle. I sat down near the edge of the crater, and remained there two hours, to recover my strength after the fatigues I had undergone in my journey. I viewed with astonishment the configuration of the borders, the internal sides, the form of the immense cavern, its bottom, an aperture which appeared in it, the melted matter which boiled within, and the smoke which ascended from it. The whole of this stupendous scene was distinctly displayed before me; and I shall now proceed to give some description of it, though it [247] will only be possible to present the reader with a very feeble image, as the sight alone can enable him to form ideas at all adequate to objects so grand and astonishing.

The upper edges of the crater, to judge by the eye, are about a mile and a half in circuit, and form an oval, the longest diameter of which extends from east to west. As they are in several places broken, and crumbled away in large fragments, they appear as it were indented, and these indentations are a kind of enormous steps, formed of projecting lavas and scoriŠ. The internal sides of the cavern, or crater, are inclined in different angles in different places. To the west their declivity is slight: they are more steep to the north; still more so to the east; and to the south-east, on which side I was, they are almost perpendicular. Notwithstanding this irregularity, however, they form a kind of funnel; large at the top, and narrow at the bottom; as we usually observe in other craters. The sides appear irregularly rugged, and abound with [248] concretions of an orange colour, which, at first, I took for sulphur; but, afterwards, found to be the muriate of ammoniac; having been able to gather some pieces of it from the edges of the gulf. The bottom is nearly a horizontal plane, about two-thirds of a mile in circumference. It appears striped with yellow, probably from the above-mentioned salt. In this plain, from the place where I stood, a circular aperture was visible, apparently about five poles [5 x 16.5 feet, or 82.5 feet] in diameter, from which issued the larger column of smoke, which I had seen before I arrived at the summit of Etna. I shall not mention several streams of smoke, which arose like thin clouds from the same bottom, and different places in the sides. The principal column, which at its origin might be about twenty feet in diameter, ascended rapidly in a perpendicular direction, while it was within the crater; but, when it had risen above the edges, inclined towards the west, from the action of a light wind; and, when it had risen higher, dilated into an extended but thin volume. This smoke was white, and, [249] being impelled to the side opposite that on which I was, did not prevent my seeing within the aperture; in which, I can affirm, I very distinctly perceived a liquid ignited matter, which continually undulated, boiled, and rose and fell; without spreading over the bottom. This certainly was the melted lava which had arisen to that aperture from the bottom of the Etnean gulf.

[254] Etna rises to a prodigious height above the level of the sea, and its summit is usually covered with snows and ice, and obscured with clouds, except when the latter are low and range along the sides. The [255] winds, likewise, frequently blow with such violence that persons can scarcely keep their feet, not to mention the acute cold which benumbs the limbs. But the most formidable impediments to the progress of the adventurers who attempt this perilous journey, are the streams of sulphureous vapour which rise on the sides, and the thick clouds of sulphureous smoke which burst forth from the mouth of the volcano, even when not in a state of agitation. It seems as if Nature had placed these noxious fumes as a guard to Etna, and other fiery mountains, to prevent the approach of curiosity, and secure her mysterious and wondrous labours from discovery. I should, however, justly incur the reproach of being ungrateful, were I not to acknowledge the generous partiality she appeared to manifest towards me. At the time I made my visit, the sky was clear, the mountain free from snows, the temperature of the atmosphere not incommodious, the thermometer standing at seven degrees above the freezing point (48░ of Fahrenheit), and the wind favouring my design, [256] by driving the smoke of the crater from me, which otherwise would alone have been sufficient to have frustrated all my attempts. The streams of smoke I met with in my way were, indeed, somewhat troublesome, but they might have been much more so; though, had our guides conducted us by another road, as, on my return to Catania, I found they might have done, we should have escaped this inconvenience.

[281] After having, for two hours, indulged my eyes with a view of the interior of the crater, that is, in the contemplation of a spectacle which, in its kind, and in the present age, is without a parallel in the world; I turned them to another scene, which is likewise unequalled for the multiplicity, the beauty and the variety of the objects it presents. In fact, there is, perhaps, no elevated region on the whole globe which offers, at one view, so ample an extent of sea and land as the summit of Etna. The first of the sublime objects which it presents is the immense mass of its own colossal body. When in the country below it, near Catania, we raise our eyes to this sovereign of the mountains, we [282] certainly survey it with admiration, as it rises majestically, and lifts its lofty head above the clouds; and with a kind of geometric glance we estimate its height from the base to the summit: but we only see it in profile. Very different is the appearance it presents, viewed from its towering top, when the whole of its enormous bulk is subjected to the eye. The first part, and that nearest the observer, is the Upper Region, which, from the quantity of snows and ice beneath which it is buried during the greater part of the year, may be called the frigid zone, but which, at that time, was divested of this covering, and only exhibited rough and craggy cliffs, here piled on each other, and there separate, and rising perpendicularly; fearful to view and impossible to ascend. Towards the middle of this zone, an assemblage of fugitive clouds, irradiated by the sun, and all in motion, increased the wild variety of the scene. Lower down, appeared the Middle Region, which, from the mildness of its climate, may merit the name of the temperate zone. Its numerous [283] woods, interrupted in various places, seem, like a torn garment, to discover the nudity of the mountain. Here arise a multitude of other mountains, which in any other situation would appear of gigantic size, but are but pigmies compared to Etna. These have all originated from fiery eruptions. Lastly, the eye contemplates, with admiration, the Lower Region, which, from its violent heat, may claim the appellation of the torrid zone; the most extensive of the three, adorned with elegant villas and castles, verdant hills, and flowery fields, and terminated by the extensive coast, where, to the south, stands the beautiful city of Catania, to which the waves of the neighbouring sea serve as a mirror.

But not only do we discover, from this astonishing elevation, the entire massy body of Mount Etna; but the whole of the island of Sicily, with all its noble cities, lofty hills, extensive plains, and meandering rivers. In the indistinct distance we perceive Malta; but have a clear view of the environs of [284] Messina, and the greater part of Calabria; while Lipari, the fuming Vulcano, the blazing Stromboli, and the other Eolian isles, appear immediately under our feet, and seem as if, on stooping down, we might touch them with the finger.

Another object no less superb and majestic, was the far-stretching surface of the subjacent sea which surrounded me, and led my eye to an immense distance, till it seemed gradually to mingle with the heavens.

Seated in the midst of this theatre of the wonders of Nature, I felt an indescribable pleasure from the multiplicity and beauty of the objects I surveyed; and a kind of internal satisfaction and exultation of heart. The sun was advancing to the meridian, unobscured by the smallest cloud, and Reaumur's thermometer stood at the tenth degree above the freezing point. I was therefore in that temperature which is most friendly to man; and the refined air I breathed, as [285] if it had been entirely vital, communicated a vigour and agility to my limbs, and an activity and life to my ideas, which appeared to be of a celestial nature.

Not without regret, I, at length, recollected it was time to return, and relinquish this enchanting scene; since I had determined to pass the ensuing night at San Niccolo dell' Arena, to avoid the hard bed and inconveniencies of the Grotto delle Capre. I had resolved, likewise, to return to Catania by another way, in order to examine objects which might render my journey of greater utility.

The Shelleys in Italy

Ascent of Vesuvius

[177] Our next excursion was to Vesuvius. We went to Resina in a carriage, where Mary and I mounted mules, and C____ was carried in a chair on the shoulders of four men, much like a member of parliament after he has gained his election, and looking, with less reason, quite as frightened. So we arrived at the hermitage of San Salvador, where an old [178] hermit, belted with rope, set forth the plates for our refreshment.

Vesuvius is, after the glaciers, the most impressive exhibition of the energies of nature I ever saw. It has not the immeasurable greatness, the overpowering magnificence, nor, above all, the radiant beauty of the glaciers; but it has all their character of tremendous and irresistible strength. From Resina to the hermitage you wind up the mountain, and cross a vast stream of hardened lava, which is an actual image of the waves of the sea, changed into hard black stone by enchantment. The lines of the boiling flood seem to hang in the air, and it is difficult to believe that the billows which seem hurrying down upon you are not actually in motion. This plain was once a sea of liquid fire. From the hermitage we crossed another vast stream of lava, and then went on foot up the cone -- this is the only part of the ascent in which there is any difficulty, and that difficulty has been much exaggerated. It is composed of rocks of lava, and declivities of ashes; by ascending the former and descending the latter, there is very little fatigue. On the summit is a kind of irregular plain, the most horrible chaos that can be imagined; riven into ghastly chasms, and heaped up with tumuli of great stones and cinders, and enormous rocks [179] blackened and calcined, which had been thrown from the volcano upon one another in terrible confusion. In the midst stands the conical hill from which volumes of smoke, and the fountains of liquid fire, are rolled forth forever. The mountain is at present in a slight state of eruption; and a thick heavy white smoke is perpetually rolled out, interrupted by enormous columns of an impenetrable black bituminous vapour, which is hurled up, fold after fold, into the sky with a deep hollow sound, and fiery stones are rained down from its darkness, and a black shower of ashes fell even where we sat. The lava, like the glacier, creeps on perpetually, with a crackling sound as of suppressed fire. There are several springs of lava; and in one place it gushes precipitously over a high crag, rolling down the half-molten rocks and its own overhanging waves; a cataract of quivering fire. We approached the extremity of one of the rivers of lava; it is about twenty feet in breadth and ten in height; and as the inclined plane was not rapid, its motion was very slow. We saw the masses of its dark exterior surface detach themselves as it moved, and betray the depth of the liquid flame. In the day the fire is but slightly seen; you only observe a tremulous motion in the air, and streams and fountains of white sulphurous smoke.

[180] At length we saw the sun sink between CapreŠ and Inarime, and, as the darkness increased, the effect of the fire became more beautiful. We were, as it were, surrounded by streams and cataracts of the red and radiant fire; and in the midst, from the column of bituminous smoke shot up into the air, fell the vast masses of rock, white with the light of their intense heat, leaving behind them through the dark vapour trains of splendour. We descended by torch-light, and I should have enjoyed the scenery on my return, but they conducted me, I know not how, to the hermitage in a state of intense bodily suffering, the worst effect of which was spoiling the pleasure of Mary and C____. Our guides on the occasion were complete savages. You have no idea of the horrible cries which they suddenly utter, no one knows why, the clamour, the vociferation, the tumult. C____ in her palanquin suffered most from it; and when I had gone on before, they threatened to leave her in the middle of the road, which they would have done had not my Italian servant promised them a beating, after which they became quiet. Nothing, however, can be more picturesque than the gestures and the physiognomies of these savage people. And when, in the darkness of night, they unexpectedly begin to sing in chorus some fragments of their wild but sweet national music, the effect is exceedingly fine.

Visit Pompeii

[184] I was astonished at the remains of this city; I had no conception of anything so perfect yet remaining. . . .

[185] The rooms are built round a court, or sometimes two, according to the extent of the house. In the midst is a fountain, sometimes surrounded with a portico, supported on fluted columns of white stucco; the floor is paved with mosaic, sometimes wrought in imitation of vine leaves, sometimes in quaint figures, and more or less beautiful, according to the rank of the inhabitant. There were paintings on all, but most of them have been removed to decorate the royal museums. Little winged figures, and small ornaments of exquisite elegance, yet [186] remain. There is an ideal life in the forms of these paintings of an incomparable loveliness, though most are evidently the work of very inferior artists. It seems as if, from the atmosphere of mental beauty which surrounded them, every human being caught a splendour not his own. . . . The houses have only one story, and the apartments, though not large, are very lofty. A great advantage results from this, wholly unknown in our cities. The public buildings, whose ruins are now forests as it were of white fluted columns, and which then supported entablatures, loaded with sculptures, were seen on all sides over the roofs of the houses. This was the excellence of the ancients. Their private expenses were comparatively moderate; the dwelling of one of the chief senators of Pompeii [187] is elegant indeed, and adorned with most beautiful specimens of art, but small. But their public buildings are everywhere marked by the bold and grand designs of an unsparing magnificence. In the little town of Pompeii, (it contained about twenty thousand inhabitants,) it is wonderful to see the number and the grandeur of their public buildings. Another advantage, too, is, that, in the present case, the glorious scenery around is not shut out, and that, unlike the inhabitants of the Cimmerian ravines of modern cities, the ancient Pompeians could contemplate the clouds and the lamps of heaven; could see the moon rise high behind Vesuvius, and the sun set in the sea, tremulous with an atmosphere of golden vapour, between Inarime and Misenum.

We next saw the temples. Of the temple of Ăsculapius little remains but an altar of black stone, adorned with a cornice imitating the scales of a serpent. His statue, in terra-cotta, was found in the cell. The temple of Isis is more perfect. It is surrounded by a portico of fluted columns, and in the area around it are two altars, and many ceppi for statues; and a little chapel of white stucco, as hard as stone, of the most exquisite proportion; its panels are adorned with figures in bas relief, slightly indicated, but of [188] a workmanship the most delicate and perfect that can be conceived. They are Egyptian subjects, executed by a Greek artist, who has harmonized all the unnatural extravagances of the original conception into the supernatural loveliness of his country's genius. They scarcely touch the ground with their feet, and their wind-uplifted robes seem in the place of wings. The temple in the midst, raised on a high platform, and approached by steps, was decorated with exquisite paintings, some of which we saw in the museum at Portici. It is small, of the same materials as the chapel, with a pavement of mosaic, and fluted Ionic columns of white stucco, so white that it dazzles you to look at it. . . .

[189] The day was radiant and warm. Every now and then we heard the subterranean thunder of Vesuvius; its distant deep peals seemed to shake the very air and light of day, which inter-penetrated our frames, with the sullen and tremendous [190] sound. This scene was what the Greeks beheld (Pompeii, you know, was a Greek city). They lived in harmony with nature; and the interstices of their incomparable columns were portals, as it were, to admit the spirit of beauty which animates this glorious universe to visit those whom it inspired. If such is Pompeii, what was Athens? What scene was exhibited from the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the temples of Hercules, and Theseus, and the Winds? The islands and the Ăgean sea, the mountains of Argolis, and the peaks of Pindus and Olympus, and the darkness of the Boeotian forests interspersed?

[191] . . . These tombs were the most impressive things of all. The wild woods surround them on either side; and along the broad stones of the paved road which divides them, you hear the late leaves of autumn shiver and rustle in the stream of the inconstant wind, as it were, like the step of ghosts. The radiance and magnificence of these dwellings of the dead, the white freshness of the scarcely finished marble, the impassioned or imaginative life of the figures which adorn them, contrast strangely with the simplicity of the houses of those who were living when Vesuvius overwhelmed them.

I have forgotten the amphitheatre, which is of great magnitude, though much inferior to the Coliseum. [192] I now understand why the Greeks were such great poets: and, above all, I can account, it seems to me, for the harmony, the unity, the perfection, the uniform excellence, of all their works of art. They lived in a perpetual commerce with external nature, and nourished themselves upon the spirit of its forms. Their theatres were all open to the mountains and the sky. Their columns, the ideal types of a sacred forest, with its roof of interwoven tracery, admitted the light and wind; the odour and the freshness of the country penetrated the cities. Their temples were mostly upaithric; and the flying clouds, the stars, or the deep sky, were seen above. O, but for that series of wretched wars which terminated in the Roman conquest of the world; but for the Christian religion, which put the finishing stroke on the ancient system; but for those changes that conducted Athens to its ruin, -- to what an eminence might not humanity have arrived!

Lady Morgan

Contemplations near Mont Cenis

[33] Whoever has wandered far, and seen much, has learned to distrust the promises of books; and (in respect of the most splendid efforts of human labour) must have often felt how far the unworn expectation starts beyond its possible accomplishment. But nature never disappoints. Neither the memory nor the imagination of authorship can go beyond the fact she dictates, or the image she presents. If general feelings can be measured by individual impressions, Italy, with all her treasures of art, and associations of history, has nothing to exhibit that strikes the traveller like the Alps which meet his view on his ascent to the summit of Mount Cenis, or of the Semplon. That is a moment in which the imagination feels the real poverty of its resources, the narrow limits of its range. An aspect of the material world then presents itself, which genius, even in its highest exaltation, must leave to original creation, as unimitated and inimitable. The sensation it produces is too strong for pleasure, too intense for enjoyment. There, where all is so new, novelty loses its charm; where all is so safe, conscious security is no proof against "horrible imaginings;" [Macbeth, I.iii.138] and those splendid evidences of the science and industry of man, which rise at every step, recede before the terrible possibilities with which they mingle, and which may render the utmost precaution of talent and philanthropy unavailable. It is in vain that the barrier rises and the arch springs; that the gulf is platformed and the precipice skreened -- [34] still the eye closes and the breath is suspended, while danger, painted in the unmastered savagery of remote scenes, creates an ideal and proximate peril. Here experience teaches the falsity of the trite maxim, that the mind becomes elevated by the contemplation of nature in the midst of her grandest works, and engenders thoughts "that wander through eternity." [Paradise Lost II, 148] The mind in such scenes is not raised. It is stricken back upon its own insignificance. Masses like these sublime deformities, starting out of the ordinary proportions of nature, in their contemplation reduce man to what he is -- an atom. In such regions nothing is in conformity with him, all is at variance with his end and being, all is commemorative of those elementary convulsions, which sweep away whatever lives and breathes, in the general wreck of inanimate matter. Engines and agents of the destructive elements that rage around them, these are regions fitted only to raise the storm, and to launch the avalanche, to cherish the whirlwind, and attract the bolt; until some convulsive throe within the mystic womb, awakens fiercer contentions: then they heave and shift, and burst and burn, again to subside, cool down, and settle into awful stillness and permanent desolation; at once the wreck and the monument of changes, which scoff at human record, and trace in characters that admit no controversy, the fallacy of calculation and the vanity of systems. Well may the countless races of successive ages have left the mysteries of the Alps unexplored, their snows untracked: but immortal glory be the meed of them, the brave, bold spirits, whose unaccommodated natures [King Lear III.iv.107], in these regions, where "cold performs the effect of fire," [Paradise Lost II, 595] braved dangers in countless forms, to oppose the invading enemies of their country's struggling rights; who climbing where the eagle had not soared, nor the chamois dared to spring, raised the shout of national independence amidst echoes which had never reverberated, save to the howl of the wolf, or the thunder of the avalanche. Gratitude as eternal as the snows of Mount Blanc to them or him, who grappled with obstacles coeval with creation, levelled the pinnacle and blew up the rock, pierced the granite, and spanned the torrent, disputing with nature in all her potency her right to separate man from man, [35] and made straight in the desert an highway for progressive civilization!

Ascent of Vesuvius

[289] During the whole of our stay in that capital [Naples], the mountain, though it never raged with that fury which adds alarm to admiration, was sufficiently active to excite an incessant interest. The ascent commences at Portici, where carriages are abandoned, and mules hired. The road is steep, but picturesque; and affords frequent views of the town and bay of Naples, of the greatest loveliness. As the elevation increases, the road is more frequently intersected by lava, the products of old eruptions, which pass, like dark and turbid torrents, through the vineyards. In one place we found a small space of a few square feet, between two streams of lava, an oasis in the desert, where the vegetation was not destroyed. On passing the hermitage, (where prayers and provisions, Litanies and Lacryma Christi, are prepared for adventurous travellers by two Franciscan monks, who constantly inhabit it,) an extensive plain, black and wavy with old lava, leads at once to the external base of the crater. Here the mules are left and the journey is continued on foot. The guide takes the bridle of his mule, and, winding it round his body, gives one end to the traveller, and almost drags him up a nearly perpendicular acclivity, partly formed of lava and partly of loose sand: this ascent, which requires an hour and a half to accomplish, is descended, on returning, in a few minutes. On arriving at the summit, the great crater was visible at a short distance, throwing up, at intervals, showers of stones, with a tremendous noise, which [290] kept us at a respectful distance; and we turned to the right, towards the side of the hill, to seek a lateral opening, at that time discharging a constant torrent of lava. To accomplish this object, we passed over an extensive surface, which resembled a sea suddenly congealed in the midst of its wildest agitation; and covered with huge masses of scoriŠ, often sufficiently warm to be unpleasant. On reaching the desired spot, (which a few days before had been liquid fire, and from which smoke and a sulphureous vapour were emitted at frequent air-holes,) by the sudden turn of an angle, we came unexpectedly upon a group of English dandies, of both sexes, of our acquaintance -- the ladies with their light garments something the worse for the adventure, and all laughing, flirting, and chattering over a chasm, which exhibited the lava boiling and bubbling up within a few feet below where they stood. This was very pleasant, but it was very provoking! To have travelled so far! -- to have endured all the exhaustion of inordinate fatigue, and other annoyances equally out of the sphere of daily habits of ease, in the vain hope of snatching at a new and a strong sensation (the great spell of existence) -- of meeting Nature, all solitary and sublime, in the awful process of one of her profoundest mysteries! -- and then, to be put off with a rechaussÚe of the St. Carlos party of the preceding evening, and the sight of faces seen for nothing in the Paris circles during the preceding winter; -- this was a terrible sacrifice of the sublime to the agreeable! -- for, after all, it was no ungracious sight to behold so many laughing lovely English faces; and to see their fair owners led by a laudable curiosity and an energy of character that belongs alone to British women, seemingly superior to fatigue, reckless alike of the sun that sullied their bloom, and the lava that burnt their chaussure, and excoriated their feet. Still the intention of the visit was frustrated; it was in vain the mind returned to its sublime and terrific object. There was no awe mingled with its contemplation! It was vain to gaze on the thin and trembling crust which vaulted the crater, and separated the spectator from an abyss of flame! There was no recoil of the imagination: inquiries, compliments, and recognitions, mingled with the deep subterranean murmurs of the volcano; parties were made, for distant days, on the brink of the engine of instant destruction; and the surprise most audibly evinced, was that of a rencontre so strange! Each knew the other's face was

"Neither new nor rare --
But wonder'd how the devil it got there!"
          [adapted from Pope, "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," 171-2]


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Document created March 30th 2003 / revised March 31st 2003