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   Chapter 4 NAPLES POEMS.

Life of John Sterling By Thomas Carlyle Characters: 18968

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

In the bleak weather of this spring, 1842, he was again abroad for a little while; partly from necessity, or at least utility; and partly, as I guess, because these circumstances favored, and he could with a good countenance indulge a little wish he had long had. In the Italian Tour, which ended suddenly by Mrs. Sterling's illness recalling him, he had missed Naples; a loss which he always thought to be considerable; and which, from time to time, he had formed little projects, failures hitherto, for supplying. The rigors of spring were always dangerous to him in England, and it was always of advantage to get out of them: and then the sight of Naples, too; this, always a thing to be done some day, was now possible. Enough, with the real or imaginary hope of bettering himself in health, and the certain one of seeing Naples, and catching a glance of Italy again, he now made a run thither. It was not long after Calvert's death. The Tragedy of Strafford lay finished in his desk. Several things, sad and bright, were finished. A little intermezzo of ramble was not unadvisable.

His tour by water and by land was brief and rapid enough; hardly above two months in all. Of which the following Letters will, with some abridgment, give us what details are needful:-

"To Charles Barton, Esq., Leamington.

"FALMOUTH, 25th March, 1842.

"MY DEAR CHARLES,-My attempts to shoot you flying with my paper pellets turned out very ill. I hope young ladies succeed better when they happen to make appointments with you. Even now, I hardly know whether you have received a Letter I wrote on Sunday last, and addressed to The Cavendish. I sent it thither by Susan's advice.

"In this missive,-happily for us both, it did not contain a hundred-pound note or any trifle of that kind,-I informed you that I was compelled to plan an expedition towards the South Pole; stopping, however, in the Mediterranean; and that I designed leaving this on Monday next for Cadiz or Gibraltar, and then going on to Malta, whence Italy and Sicily would be accessible. Of course your company would be a great pleasure, if it were possible for you to join me. The delay in hearing from you, through no fault of yours, has naturally put me out a little; but, on the whole, my plan still holds, and I shall leave this on Monday for Gibraltar, where the Great Liverpool will catch me, and carry me to Malta. The Great Liverpool leaves Southampton on the 1st of April, and Falmouth on the 2d; and will reach Gibraltar in from four to five days.

"Now, if you should be able and disposed to join me, you have only to embark in that sumptuous tea-kettle, and pick me up under the guns of the Rock. We could then cruise on to Malta, Sicily, Naples, Rome, &c., a discretion. It is just possible, though extremely improbable, that my steamer of Monday (most likely the Montrose) may not reach Gibraltar so soon as the Liverpool. If so, and if you should actually be on board, you must stop at Gibraltar. But there are ninety-nine chances to one against this. Write at all events to Susan, to let her know what you propose.

"I do not wait till the Great Liverpool goes, because the object for me is to get into a warm climate as soon as possible. I am decidedly better.

"Your affectionate Brother,


Barton did not go with him, none went; but he arrives safe, and not hurt in health, which is something.

"To Mrs. Sterling, Knightsbridge, London.

"MALTA, 14th April, 1842.

"DEAREST MOTHER,-I am writing to Susan through France, by to-morrow's mail; and will also send you a line, instead of waiting for the longer English conveyance.

"We reached this the day before yesterday, in the evening; having had a strong breeze against us for a day or two before; which made me extremely uncomfortable,-and indeed my headache is hardly gone yet. From about the 4th to the 9th of the month, we had beautiful weather, and I was happy enough. You will see by the map that the straightest line from Gibraltar to this place goes close along the African coast; which accordingly we saw with the utmost clearness; and found it generally a line of mountains, the higher peaks and ridges covered with snow. We went close in to Algiers; which looks strong, but entirely from art. The town lies on the slope of a straight coast; and is not at all embayed, though there is some little shelter for shipping within the mole. It is a square patch of white buildings huddled together; fringed with batteries; and commanded by large forts on the ridge above: a most uncomfortable-looking place; though, no doubt, there are cafes and billiard-rooms and a theatre within,-for the French like to have their Houris, &c., on this side of Paradise, if possible.

"Our party of fifty people (we had taken some on board at Gibraltar) broke up, on reaching this; never, of course, to meet again. The greater part do not proceed to Alexandria. Considering that there was a bundle of midshipmen, ensigns, &c., we had as much reason among us as could perhaps be looked for; and from several I gained bits of information and traits of character, though nothing very remarkable....

"I have established myself in an inn, rather than go to Lady Louis's; 27 I not feeling quite equal to company, except in moderate doses. I have, however, seen her a good deal; and dine there to-day, very privately, for Sir John is not quite well, and they will have no guests. The place, however, is full of official banqueting, for various unimportant reasons. When here before, I was in much distress and anxiety, on my way from Rome; and I suppose this it was that prevented its making the same impression on me as now, when it seems really the stateliest town I have ever seen. The architecture is generally of a corrupt Roman kind; with something of the varied and picturesque look, though much more massive, of our Elizabethan buildings. We have the finest English summer and a pellucid sky.... Your affectionate


At Naples next, for three weeks, was due admiration of the sceneries and antiquities, Bay and Mountain, by no means forgetting Art and the Museum: "to Pozzuoli, to Baiae, round the Promontory of Sorrento;"-above all, "twice to Pompeii," where the elegance and classic simplicity of Ancient Housekeeping strikes us much; and again to Paestum, where "the Temple of Neptune is far the noblest building I have ever seen; and makes both Greek and Revived Roman seem quite barbaric.... Lord Ponsonby lodges in the same house with me;-but, of course, I do not countenance an adherent of a beaten Party!" 28-Or let us take this more compendious account, which has much more of human in it, from an onward stage, ten days later:-

"To Thomas Carlyle, Esq., Chelsea, London.

"ROME, 13th May, 1842,

"MY DEAR CARLYLE,-I hope I wrote to you before leaving England, to tell you of the necessity for my doing so. Though coming to Italy, there was little comfort in the prospect of being divided from my family, and pursuits which grew on me every day. However, I tried to make the best of it, and have gained both health and pleasure.

"In spite of scanty communications from England (owing to the uncertainty of my position), a word or two concerning you and your dear Wife have reached me. Lately it has often occurred to me, that the sight of the Bay of Naples, of the beautiful coast from that to this place, and of Rome itself, all bathed in summer sunshine, and green with spring foliage, would be some consolation to her. 29 Pray give her my love.

"I have been two days here; and almost the first thing I did was to visit the Protestant burial-ground, and the graves of those I knew when here before. But much as being now alone here, I feel the difference, there is no scene where Death seems so little dreadful and miserable as in the lonelier neighborhoods of this old place. All one's impressions, however, as to that and everything else, appear to me, on reflection, more affected than I had for a long time any notion of, by one's own isolation. All the feelings and activities which family, friends and occupation commonly engage, are turned, here in one's solitude, with strange force into the channels of mere observation and contemplation; and the objects one is conversant with seem to gain a tenfold significance from the abundance of spare interest one now has to bestow on them. This explains to me a good deal of the peculiar effect that Italy has always had on me: and something of that artistic enthusiasm which I remember you used to think so singular in Goethe's Travels. Darley, who is as much a brooding hermit in England as here, felt nothing but disappointment from a country which fills me with childish wonder and delight.

"Of you I have received some slight notice from Mrs. Strachey; who is on her way hither; and will (she writes) be at Florence on the 15th, and here before the end of the month. She notices having received a Letter of yours which had pleased her much. She now proposes spending the summer at Sorrento, or thereabouts; and if mere delight of landscape and climate were enough, Adam and Eve, had their courier taken them to that region, might have done well enough without Paradise,-and not been tempted, either, by any Tree of Knowledge; a kind that does not flourish in the Two Sicilies.

"The ignorance of the Neapolitans, from the highest to the lowest, is very eminent; and excites the admiration of all the rest of It

aly. In the great building containing all the Works of Art, and a Library of 150,000 volumes, I asked for the best existing Book (a German one published ten years ago) on the Statues in that very Collection; and, after a rabble of clerks and custodes, got up to a dirty priest, who bowing to the ground regretted 'they did not possess it,' but at last remembered that 'they had entered into negotiations on the subject, which as yet had been unsuccessful.'-The favorite device on the walls at Naples is a vermilion Picture of a Male and Female Soul respectively up to the waist (the waist of a soul) in fire, and an Angel above each, watering the sufferers from a watering-pot. This is intended to gain alms for Masses. The same populace sit for hours on the Mole, listening to rhapsodists who recite Ariosto. I have seen I think five of them all within a hundred yards of each other, and some sets of fiddlers to boot. Yet there are few parts of the world where I have seen less laughter than there. The Miracle of Januarius's Blood is, on the whole, my most curious experience. The furious entreaties, shrieks and sobs, of a set of old women, yelling till the Miracle was successfully performed, are things never to be forgotten.

"I spent three weeks in this most glittering of countries, and saw most of the usual wonders,-the Paestan Temples being to me much the most valuable. But Pompeii and all that it has yielded, especially the Fresco Paintings, have also an infinite interest. When one considers that this prodigious series of beautiful designs supplied the place of our common room-papers,-the wealth of poetic imagery among the Ancients, and the corresponding traditional variety and elegance of pictorial treatment, seem equally remarkable. The Greek and Latin Books do not give one quite so fully this sort of impression; because they afford no direct measure of the extent of their own diffusion. But these are ornaments from the smaller class of decent houses in a little Country Town; and the greater number of them, by the slightness of the execution, show very clearly that they were adapted to ordinary taste, and done by mere artisans. In general clearness, symmetry and simplicity of feeling, I cannot say that, on the whole, the works of Raffaelle equal them; though of course he has endless beauties such as we could not find unless in the great original works from which these sketches at Pompeii were taken. Yet with all my much increased reverence for the Greeks, it seems more plain than ever that they had hardly anything of the peculiar devotional feeling of Christianity.

"Rome, which I loved before above all the earth, now delights me more than ever;-though at this moment there is rain falling that would not discredit Oxford Street. The depth, sincerity and splendor that there once was in the semi-paganism of the old Catholics comes out in St. Peter's and its dependencies, almost as grandly as does Greek and Roman Art in the Forum and the Vatican Galleries. I wish you were here: but, at all events, hope to see you and your Wife once more during this summer.



At Paris, where he stopped a day and night, and generally through his whole journey from Marseilles to Havre, one thing attended him: the prevailing epidemic of the place and year; now gone, and nigh forgotten, as other influenzas are. He writes to his Father: "I have not yet met a single Frenchman, who could give me any rational explanation why they were all in such a confounded rage against us. Definite causes of quarrel a statesman may know how to deal with, inasmuch as the removal of them may help to settle the dispute. But it must be a puzzling task to negotiate about instincts; to which class, as it seems to me, we must have recourse for an understanding of the present abhorrence which everybody on the other side of the Channel not only feels, but makes a point to boast of, against the name of Britain. France is slowly arming, especially with Steam, en attendant a more than possible contest, in which they reckon confidently on the eager co-operation of the Yankees; as, vice versa, an American told me that his countrymen do on that of France. One person at Paris (M. -- whom you know) provoked me to tell him that 'England did not want another battle of Trafalgar; but if France did, she might compel England to gratify her.'"-After a couple of pleasant and profitable months, he was safe home again in the first days of June; and saw Falmouth not under gray iron skies, and whirls of March dust, but bright with summer opulence and the roses coming out.

It was what I call his "fifth peregrinity;" his fifth and last. He soon afterwards came up to London; spent a couple of weeks, with all his old vivacity, among us here. The AEsculapian oracles, it would appear, gave altogether cheerful prophecy; the highest medical authority "expresses the most decided opinion that I have gradually mended for some years; and in truth I have not, for six or seven, been so free from serious symptoms of illness as at present." So uncertain are all oracles, AEsculapian and other!

During this visit, he made one new acquaintance which he much valued; drawn thither, as I guess, by the wish to take counsel about Strafford. He writes to his Clifton friend, under date, 1st July 1842: "Lockhart, of the Quarterly Review, I made my first oral acquaintance with; and found him as neat, clear and cutting a brain as you would expect; but with an amount of knowledge, good nature and liberal anti-bigotry, that would much surprise many. The tone of his children towards him seemed to me decisive of his real kindness. He quite agreed with me as to the threatening seriousness of our present social perplexities, and the necessity and difficulty of doing something effectual for so satisfying the manual multitude as not to overthrow all legal security....

"Of other persons whom I saw in London," continues he, "there are several that would much interest you,-though I missed Tennyson, by a mere chance.... John Mill has completely finished, and sent to the bookseller, his great work on Logic; the labor of many years of a singularly subtle, patient and comprehensive mind. It will be our chief speculative monument of this age. Mill and I could not meet above two or three times; but it was with the openness and freshness of school-boy friends, though our friendship only dates from the manhood of both."

He himself was busier than ever; occupied continually with all manner of Poetic interests. Coeur-de-Lion, a new and more elaborate attempt in the mock-heroic or comico-didactic vein, had been on hand for some time, the scope of it greatly deepening and expanding itself since it first took hold of him; and now, soon after the Naples journey, it rose into shape on the wider plan; shaken up probably by this new excitement, and indebted to Calabria, Palermo and the Mediterranean scenes for much of the vesture it had. With this, which opened higher hopes for him than any of his previous efforts, he was now employing all his time and strength;-and continued to do so, this being the last effort granted him among us.

Already, for some months, Strafford lay complete: but how to get it from the stocks; in what method to launch it? The step was questionable. Before going to Italy he had sent me the Manuscript; still loyal and friendly; and willing to hear the worst that could be said of his poetic enterprise. I had to afflict him again, the good brave soul, with the deliberate report that I could not accept this Drama as his Picture of the Life of Strafford, or as any Picture of that strange Fact. To which he answered, with an honest manfulness, in a tone which is now pathetic enough to me, that he was much grieved yet much obliged, and uncertain how to decide. On the other hand, Mr. Hare wrote, warmly eulogizing. Lockhart too spoke kindly, though taking some exceptions. It was a questionable case. On the whole, Strafford remained, for the present, unlaunched; and Coeur de-Lion was getting its first timbers diligently laid down. So passed, in peaceable seclusion, in wholesome employment and endeavor, the autumn and winter of 1842-43. On Christmas-day, he reports to his Mother:-

"I wished to write to you yesterday; but was prevented by the important business of preparing a Tree, in the German fashion, for the children. This project answered perfectly, as it did last year; and gave them the greatest pleasure. I wish you and my Father could have been here to see their merry faces. Johnny was in the thick of the fun, and much happier than Lord Anson on capturing the galleon. We are all going on well and quietly, but with nothing very new among us.... The last book I have lighted on is Moffat's Missionary Labors in South Africa; which is worth reading. There is the best collection of lion stories in it that I have ever seen. But the man is, also, really a very good fellow; and fit for something much better than most lions are. He is very ignorant, and mistaken in some things; but has strong sense and heart; and his Narrative adds another to the many proofs of the enormous power of Christianity on rude minds. Nothing can be more chaotic, that is human at all, than the notions of these poor Blacks, even after what is called their conversion; but the effect is produced. They do adopt pantaloons, and abandon polygamy; and I suppose will soon have newspapers and literary soirees."

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