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was buried there, yet how distinctly does the record of this scene present before the mind, like a thing of yesterday, that dying mother's fond affection for her dying child.
Fishing nets were very abundant in both cities, and are often quite entire. Linen, with the texture well defined, has been found at Herculaneum, and in a fruit shop, there were vessels full of almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, and other fruit, all retaining their shape. A loaf of bread was also found in a baker's shop with his name stamped upon it. On the counter of an apothecary, was a box of pills, changed into a fine earthy substance, and by the side of it a small roll, apparently prepared to be cut into pills. They may be seen in the Studii at Naples. After descending from the mountain, I visited Herculaneum by torchlight, the large theatre alone being open ; the Forum, the temple of Jupiter, and other buildings having been filled with the rubbish removed from the theatre, owing to the difficulty of raising it from so great a depth to the surface of the ground.
We have no certain account of the flowing of lava from Vesuvius until the year 1036, which was the seventh eruption after that in 79. In 1049, there was another eruption, after which there were none for 168 years. During this period there was an eruption at Solfaterra, in 1198, and another at the island of Ischia, in the bay of Naples, in 1302. This last volcano had then been quiet about seventeen centuries. There were eruptions of Vesuvius in the years 1138, 1306, 1500, and 1631.
During the night of September 29th, 1538, a large fissure approached the town of Tripergola, near Solfaterra, and about fourteen miles from Vesuvius. It advanced with a tremendous noise, emitting flame, and throwing forth volcanic substances. The sea retired suddenly 200 yards, the coast for some distance was raised many feet above the sea, and remains so still, and, during a day and a night, a hill was thrown up 440 feet high, with a base 8000 feet, or nearly a mile and a half in circumference, and a crater 421 feet deep. Such was the origin of Monte Nuovo, or the New Mountain, which we visited when on an excursion to Baia.
After the rise of this mountain, for near a century, Vesuvius was quiet. Previous to the eruption of 1631, the crater was five miles in circumference, and about 1000 paces deep. Its sides were covered with bushes, and at the bottom was a plain, on which cattle grazed. In December, 1631,
seven streams of lava poured, at once, from the crater, and overflowed several villages. In 1666, there was another eruption, and from that time to the present, there has rarely been a period of ten years, in which the mountain has remained tranquil. During these 300 years, other volcanos in the region have been quiet, while on the other hand, during the three centuries preceding 1631, when Vesuvius was at rest, Etna was so active as to favor the idea of a connexion between the two volcanos, although they are more than 200 miles distant from each other.
It is said that during the eruption of Vesuvius in 1779, jets of liquid lava, mixed with stones and cinders, were thrown up to the height of at least 10,000 feet, having the appearance of a column of fire. Some of them falling, still red-hot and liquid, on Vesuvius, covered its whole cone, part of the mountain of Somma, and the valley between them. The falling matter vividly enflamed, together with that issuing fresh from the crater, formed one complete body of fire, of at least two and a half miles in breadth, and casting a heat to the distance of six miles around. The consistency of running lava is such, that rocks of sixty or eighty pounds weight, float upon its surface, while those weighing 300 pounds, gradually sink beneath it.
Minerals, in great variety, are found in the lavas of Vesuvius. Of these, felspar, mica, olovine, augite, leucite, and sulphur, are most frequent. Of the 380 species of minerals described by Hauy, as all that were known to him, 82 have been found in an area of three square miles around Vesuvius, a larger number than have been met with in any other equal space, on the face of the earth. Many of these have not been found elsewhere. Salvadore, the guide to the mountain, collects and labels these minerals, and sells boxes of them, containing about 500 specimens, for five or six dollars each. Several of our officers purchased boxes of them, as presents to scientific friends, or college cabinets, at home.
It is computed that about 15,000 persons have been destroyed by the different eruptions of Vesuvius, which is only one third of the number that perished in the town of Catania, during an eruption of Mount Etna. Vesuvius is an object of peculiar pride and pleasure to the inhabitants of Naples, as the grandest and most attractive object, in the beautiful and richly-varied landscape which surrounds them. On its sides and around its base, a population of 80,000 souls are sustained by the teeming fertility given to the soil, by the matter thrown forth from the volcano, which is at least twenty times the number that could have lived there, had the original limestone of the Apennines remained uncovered. Hence it is not strange, that when the lava has buried towns and villages, other towns should be built, and fields planted on the richly fertile mass thus thrown forth from the bowels of the earth.
Sorrento is on the seacoast, about 16 miles southeast of Naples. Availing myself of two or three days of leisure, I made an excursion there, and to Amalfi. I reached Sorrento just at sunset in one of the large market-boats, which daily ply between there and Naples. Having secured lodgings for the night, I forthwith repaired to the residence of that veteran cruiser, Madam Mariana Starke, whose “Travels in Europe" has been the guide-book of travellers during most of the present century. The eighth Paris edition, published in 1833, is now before me, and numerous other editions have been published elsewhere in Europe. She was a native of England, a maiden lady, and for nearly half a century was engaged in repeatedly visiting every portion of Europe, with the exception of Poland and Turkey, and has embodied in her books a large amount of useful and interesting information, as to objects of curiosity, modes of conveyance, the best hotels, expense of living, and various other matters. Sorrento has been a favorite residence of hers for many years. I found her a very intelligent lady, and she imparted much useful information to me. She has since died at Milan, aged about 80 years.
The next day after my visit to the Queen of Sorrento, as Madam Starke is styled in that region, I sallied forth to view the wonders of the place. From the peculiar beauty of its scenery, Sorrento was anciently called Syrentum, or the abode of the Syrens. The tradition is, that it was founded by Ulysses, but it is more probable that it was of Phænician origin. In the days of Augustus and Tiberius, it is supposed to have been more extensive than Naples, and, as illustrating what Homer and Thucydides say of giants in this region, we may notice the fact, that in the ancient tombs there, skeletons upwards of eight feet long have been found, with skulls proportionably large.
In addition to the ruins of numerous arches, baths, and
temples, there are still traces of some of the splendid villas of the old Romans. In that of Vedius Pollio may be seen the kitchen, with its stoves and fireplace entire, as also several other rooms, and near the ruins are two salt-water reservoirs for fishes, into one of which flows a rill of spring water. This last is supposed to have been used for the morunna, a species of fish which were thought to thrive best in a mixture of fresh and salt water. It is said that when the Emperor Augustus was feasting with Vedius Pollio, a slave broke by accident a crystal vase, belonging to a costly set, on account of which Pollio condemned him to be thrown into the reservoir, as food for the fishes. Augustus, indignant at this cruel order, forbade its execution, commanded the whole set of crystal to be broken and thrown into the sea, and the reservoir to be rendered useless.
The ancient public burial-ground, where gigantic skeletons have been found, is just without the town; and besides Phænician tombs, Carthaginian, Greek, and Roman coins, lamps, and vases have been discovered there. The fortifications of the city, though modern, were the first erected in Italy, for the purpose of having cannon placed upon them.
The place of greatest interest to travellers, at Sorrento, is the house in which Torquato Tasso, one of the most persecuted and unfortunate men, and one of the greatest epic poets of any age, was born. The house is on a cliff, supposed to have been the site of an ancient temple, but the room in which the poet was born has fallen into the sea. There are, in and around the mansion, busts, and other relics of the family of Tasso, and until recently it was occupied by a descendant of Cornelia, the favorite sister of the poet, whose name and virtues his verse has immortalized. The family of Tasso were peculiarly unfortunate. Louis, his maternal uncle, and the guardian of his father, was assas sinated by banditti. Bernardo, his father, who was himself no mean poet, was driven by political proscription from Bergamo, his native place, and, delighted with the mildness of the climate, the peculiar courtesy of the inhabitants, and the splendor and beauty of the natural scenery of Sorrento, fixed his abode there. His house, placed as it was on the promontory which divides the bay of Naples from the larger bay of Salerno, surrounded by scenes of the highest classic interest, and near the point where the losty Apennines meet the sea, and with frowning grandeur overlook the quiet
waters which wash their base, - such a place was indeed
“ A home befitting fancy's wayward child ;” and, when standing there, one ceases to wonder that he, whose childhood was spent amid such scenes, should have taken his place as one of the first epic poets in the world, and, by the efforts of his genius, have cast a halo of glory over the wars of the Crusaders, for regaining the Holy City, such as rests only on those deeds of noble and heroic daring, which the strains of Homer and Virgil, of Dante and Milton, have made immortal. Though, during his lifetime, Tasso was the victim of untiring and deadly persecution and abuse,
now immured in a prison, and then fleeing before the jealous rage of his enemies, – yet, since his death, marble monuments have been raised to his memory, and portions of his manuscripts are preserved and shown as precious relics, in many of the large public libraries of Italy. Such has too often been the history of genius, where, amid surrounding darkness, she has dared to breathe forth her noble aspirations, and to burst the galling chains with which civil and religious bigotry and oppression had vainly striven to bind her.
The Piano, or plain of Sorrento, seems to have been the mouth of an extinct volcano, as it rests on volcanic rocks, while the surrounding mountains are all of limestone. It is about three miles in length, and one in breadth, rising gradually to the height of one thousand feet above the level of the sea, and covered with a beautiful and luxuriant growth of the pomegranate, the aloe, the acacia, the apricot, the vine, the olive, the fig, and numerous other fruit and forest trees. The plain is bounded on the east by the Lactarii mountains, beyond which Mount St. Angelo rises to the height of five thousand feet. Thus defended from the cold and piercing winds of winter, and shielded from the scorching suns of summer, the thermometer rarely rises above seventy-six, or sinks below sixty degrees, during the year. Such was the opinion of the ancients of this delightful climate, that Galen, one of the most distinguished physicians of antiquity, advised all his patients who required invigorating air, to visit this plain. When his illustrious patient, the Emperor Antoninus Pius, was there, such was his interest in the place, that he caused the artificial reservoirs for fish, at Sorrento, to be repaired.