By Sea From Genoa To Naples
( Originally Published 1893 )
LIKE the Englishman who had no prejudices, I do hate a Frenchman ; and there were many French-men among our passengers on the Messina, in whose company I could hardly have been happy, had I not seen them horribly sea-sick. After the imprudent old gentleman of the sardines and fruit-pie, these wretched Gauls were the first to be seized with the malady, which became epidemic, and were miserable up to the last moment on board. To the enormity of having been born Frenchmen, they added the crime of being commercial travellers, — a class of fellow-men of whom we know little at home, but who are met everywhere in European travel. They spend more than half their lives in movement from place to place, and they learn to snatch from every kind of travel its meagre comforts, with an insolent disregard of the rights and feelings of other passengers. They excuse an abominable trespass with a cool " Pardon ! " take the best seat everywhere, and especially treat women with a savage rudeness, to which an American vainly endeavors to accustom his temper. I have seen commercial travellers of all nations, and I think I must award the French nation the discredit of producing the most odious commercial travellers in the world. The Englishman of this species wraps himself in his rugs, and rolls into his corner, defiantly, but not aggressively, boorish ; the Italian is almost a gentleman ; the German is apt to take sausage out of a newspaper and eat it with his penknife ; the Frenchman aggravates human nature beyond endurance by his restless ill-breeding, and his evident intention not only to keep all his own advantages, but to steal some of yours upon the first occasion. There were three of these monsters on our steamer : one a slight, bloodless young man, with pale blue eyes and an incredulous grin ; another, a gigantic full-bearded animal in spectacles ; the third an infamous plump little creature, in absurdly tight pantaloons, with a cast in his eye, and a habit of sucking his teeth at table. When this wretch was not writhing in the agonies of sea-sickness, be was on deck with his comrades, lecturing them upon various things, to which the bloodless young man listened with his incredulous grin, and the bearded giant in spectacles attended with a choked look about the eyes, like a suffering ox. They were constantly staggering in and out. of their state-room, which, for my sins, was also mine ; and opening their abominable commodious travelling bags, or brushing their shaggy heads at the reeling mirror, and since they were born into the world, I think they had never cleaned their finger-nails, They wore their hats at dinner, but always went way, after soup, deadly pale.
In contrast with these cattle, what polished and courtly gentlemen were the sailors and firemen ! As for our captain, he would in any company have won notice for his gentle and high-bred way ; in his place at the head of the table among these Frenchmen, he seemed to me the finest gentleman I had ever seen. He had spent his whole life at sea, and had voyaged in all parts of the world except Japan, where he meant some day, he said, to go. He had been first a cabin-boy on a little Genoese schooner, and he had gradually risen to the first place on a sailing-vessel, and now he had been selected to fill a commander's post on this line of steamers. (It is an admirable line of boats, not belonging I believe to the Italian government, but much under its control, leaving Genoa every day for Leghorn, Naples, Palermo, and Ancona, on the Adriatic coast.) The captain had sailed a good deal in American waters, but chiefly on the Pacific coast, trading from the Spanish republican ports to those of California. He had been in that State during its effervescent days, when every thing foul floated to the top, .and I am afraid he formed there but a bad opinion of our people, though he was far too courteous to say outright any thing of this sort.
He had very fine, shrewd blue eyes, a lean, weather-beaten, kindly face, and a cautious way of saying things. I hardly expected him to turn out so red-hot Democrat as he did on better acquaintance, but being a warm friend of man myself, I was not sorry. Garibaldi was the beginning and ending of his political faith, as he is with every enthusiastic Italian. The honest soul's conception of all concrete evil was brought forth in two words, of odd enough application. In Europe, and Italy more particularly, true men have suffered chiefly from this form of evil, and the captain evidently could conceive of no other cause of suffering anywhere. We were talking of the American war, and when the captain had asked the usual question, " Quando finira mai questa guerra?" and I had responded as usual, "Ah, ci vuol pazienza !" the captain gave a heavy sigh, and turning his head pensively aside, plucked his grapes from the cluster a moment in silence.
Then he said : " You Americans are in the habit of attributing this war to slavery. The cause is not sufficient."
I ventured to demur and explain. " No," said the captain, " the cause is not sufficient. We Italians know the only cause which could produce a war like this."
I was naturally anxious to be instructed in the Italian theory, hoping it might be profounder than the English notion that we were fighting about tariffs.
The captain frowned, looked at me carefully, and then said : —
" In this world there is but one cause of mischief - the Jesuits."
The first night out, from Genoa to Leghorn, was bad enough, but that which succeeded our departure from the latter port was by far the worst of the three we spent in our voyage to Naples. How we envied the happy people who went ashore at Leghorn ! I think we even envied the bones of the Venetians, Pisans, and Genoese who met and slew each other in the long forgotten sea-fights, and sank too deeply through the waves to be stirred by their restless tumult. Every one has heard tell of how cross and treacherous a sea the Mediterranean is in winter, and my own belief is, that he who has merely been sea-sick on the Atlantic should give the Mediterranean a trial before professing to have suffered every thing of which human nature is capable. Our steamer was clean enough and staunch enough, but she was not large — no bigger, I thought, than a gondola, that night as the waves tossed her to and fro, till unwinged things took flight all through her cabins and over her decks. My berth was placed transversely instead of lengthwise with the boat, — an ingenious arrangement to heighten sea-sick horrors, and dash the blood of the sufferer from brain to boots with exaggerated violence at each roll of the boat ; and I begged the steward to let me sleep upon one of the lockers in the cabin. I found many of my agonized species already laid out there ; and the misery of the three French commercial travellers was so great, that, in the excess of my own dolor, it actually afforded me a kind of happiness, and I found myself smiling at times to see the giant, with the eyes of a choked ox, rise up and faintly bellow. Indeed, there was something eldritch and unearthly in the whole business, and I think a kind of delirium must have resulted from the sea-sickness. Otherwise, I shall not know how to account for having attributed a kind of consciousness and individuality to the guide-book of a young American who had come aboard at Leghorn. He turned out after-ward to be the sweetest soul in the world, and I am sorry now that I regarded with amusement his failure to smoke off his sickness. He was reading his guide-book with great diligence and unconcern, when suddenly I marked him lay it softly, softly down, with that excessive deliberation which men use at such times, and vanish with great dignity from the scene. Thus abandoned to its own devices, this guide-book began its night-long riots, setting out upon a tour of the cabin with the first lurch of the boat that threw it from the table upon the floor. I heard it careen at once wildly to the cabin door, and knock to get out ; and failing in this, return more deliberately to the stern of the boat, interrogating the tables and chairs, which had got their sea-legs on, and asking them how they found themselves. Arrived again at the point of starting, it seemed to pause a moment, and then I saw it setting forth on a voyage of pleasure in the ,ow company of a French hat, which, being itself a French book, I suppose it liked. In these travels they both ran under the feet of one of the stewards and were replaced by an immense tour de force on the table, from which the book eloped again, — this time in company with an overcoat ; but it seemed the coat was too miserable to go far : it stretched itself at full length on the floor, and suffered the book to dance over it, back and forth, I know not how many times. At last, as the actions of the book were becoming unendurable, and the general sea-sickness was waxing into a frenzy, a heavy roll, that made the' whole ship shriek. and tremble, threw us all from our lockers ; and gathering myself up, bruised and sore in every fibre, I lay down again and became sensible of a blissful, blissful lull ; the machinery had stopped, and with the mute hope that we were all going to the bottom, I fell tranquilly asleep.
IT appeared that the storm had really been dangerous. Instead of being only six hours from Naples, as we ought to be at this time, we were got no further than Porto Longone, in the Isle of Elba. We woke in a quiet, sheltered little bay, whence we could only behold, not feel, the storm left far out upon the open sea. From this we turned our heavy eyes gladly to the shore, where a white little town was settled, like a flight of gulls upon the beach, at the feet of green and pleasant hills, whose gentle lines rhymed softly away against the sky. At the end of either arm of the embracing land in which we lay, stood gray, placid old forts, with peaceful sentries pacing their bastions, and weary ships creeping round their feet, under guns looking out so kindly and harmlessly, that I think General himself would not have hesitated (except, perhaps, from a profound sentiment of regret for offering the violence) to at-tack them. Our port was full of frightened shipping — steamers, brigs, and schooners — of all sizes and nations ; and since it was our misfortune that Napoleon spent his exile in Elba at Porto Ferrato instead of Porto Longone, we amused ourselves with looking at the vessels and the white town and the soft hills, instead of hunting up dead lion's tracks.
Our fellow-passengers began to develop themselves : the regiment of soldiers whom we were transporting picturesquely breakfasted forward, and the second-cabin people came aft to our deck, while the English engineer (there are English engineers on all the Mediterranean steamers) planted a camp-stool in a sunny spot, and sat down to read the " Birmingham Express."
Our friends of the second cabin were chiefly officers with their wives and families, and they talked for the most part of their sufferings during the night. They spoke such exquisite Italian that I thought them Tuscans, but they told me they were of Sicily, where their beautiful speech first had life. Let us hear what they talked of in their divine language, and with that ineffable tonic accent which no foreigner perfectly acquires , and let us for once translate the profanities Pagan and Christian, which adorn common parlance in Italy : —
" Ah, my God ! how much I suffered!" says a sweet little woman with gentle brown eyes, red, red lips, and blameless Greek lines of face. " I broke two basins ! "
" There were ten broken in all, by Diana !" says this lady's sister.
Presence of the Devil ! " says her husband ; and " Body of Bacchus ! " her young brother, puffing his cigar.
" And you, sir," said the lady, turning to a handsome young fellow in civil dress, near her, " how did you pass this horrible night ? "
" Oh ! " says the young man, twirling his heavy blond mustache, " mighty well, mighty well ! " Oh mercy of God ! You were not sick 7"
" I, signora, am never sea-sick. I am of the navy." At which they all cry oh, and ah, and declare they are glad of it, though why they should have been I don't know to this day.
"I have often wished," added the young man meditatively, and in a serious tone, as if he had indeed given the subject much thought, " that it might please God to let me be sea-sick once, if. only that I might know how it feels. But no! He turned the conversation, as if his disappointment were too sore to dwell upon ; and hearing our English, he made out to let us know that he had been at New York, and could spik our language, which he proceeded to do, to the great pride of his countrymen, and our own astonishment at the remarkable forms of English speech to which he gave utterance.
WE set out from Porto Longone that night at eight o'clock, and next evening, driving through much-abated storm southward into calm waters and clear skies, reached Naples. At noon, Monte Circeo, where Circe led her disreputable life, was a majestic rock against blue heaven and broken clouds ; after nightfall, and under the risen moon, Vesuvius crept softly up from the sea, and stood a graceful steep, with wreaths of lightest cloud upon its crest, and the city lamps circling far round its bay.