NAPLES undoubtedly ought to be approached by sea, rather than by rail. Far more so than Venicemore, indeed, than any other city, is she a City of the Sea. Personally, of all Italian cities, Naples appeals to me the most. I am quite aware that this confession will call forth a grunt of dissent and disapproval from the majority of my English readers, and very possibly some unflattering remarks as to my lack of good taste, and, perhaps, of good sense both artistic and moral. ” Beastly, noisy hole” is the expression with which most English people dismiss Naples ; while the Neapolitans are usually referred to as a race steeped to the core in every sort of villainy and iniquity. Now, I can sympathise with both criticisms ; or, rather, I can sympathise with that altogether superficial frame of mind which gives rise to them. I have passed through that phase myself ; and I suppose that most foreigners have experienced it on finding themselves for the first time in Naples and among the Neapolitans. I will even go so far as to admit that one must have a peculiar temperament really to appreciate the great, noisy, ill-conditioned city ; and that, in order to do so, one must banish from one’s mind some pet prejudices. Assuredly, he who judges Naples and the Neapolitans from the Anglo-Saxon point of view of customs and morals will never fall under the spell of the placeand Naples will for ever remain to him a ” beastly, noisy hole,” only made tolerable by the natural beauties of her surroundings and by the art treasures in her magnificent museums.
As I have taken my readers through the Pontine Marshes and as far as Monte Cassino, I cannot bring them into Naples with me by sea. I regret the inability ; for the water-way into the Neapolitan Gulf is a dream of beauty, especially if undertaken in the early hours of a spring or summer morning, when the islands of Ischia, Procida, and Capri are glowing like jewels in the rays of the newly risen sun, and the great city lies bathed in a delicate pink light as though wrought out of the corals in which she does so large a trade. Except that to Constantinople, I know of no sea-approach so lovely, and certainly none at all so rich in history, legend, and tradition, as the entry into Naples by her water-gates. I am bound to admit, however, that once the vessel has come into port, beauty and romance flee away for a time, and the traveller may well be excused for wondering whether he has not happened upon an inferno, and whether the screaming, gesticulating, foul – mouthed, and often foul-gestured crowd by which it is instantly surrounded be not demons rather than human beings. He may take heart. Everything that is vilest and most base congregates around the port of Naples, and it is only just to remember that a large proportion of the appalling types of humanity, male and female, which the arrival and departure of every passenger steamer attract, are not Neapolitans, but Greeks, Levantines, Maltesethe scum of the Mediterranean. Things are better than they used to be, but it is still a matter for surprise that the police authorities of Naples do not do more than they do to keep this scum in order. Concerning the Neapolitan police, however, I shall have something to say hereafter.
There is at least one compensation which I can offer for having continued our journey from Monte Cassino by land instead of water, quite apart from the obvious fact that there is no choice in the matter.
Of the many who hurry from Rome to Naples by rail or road, there are comparatively very few who take the trouble to break their journey at Caserta. And yet here is to be seen one of the finest royal palaces in the world. Both inside and outside it is a magnificent building, and the pity of it is that it should be to all intents and purposes deserted. Built by Charles III. in 1750, it is a rival, and no mean one, of Versailles ; and its interior, indeed, far surpasses in stateliness the palace of the Roi Soleil. The park and gardens behind it, with their wonderful cascades and ” conceits,” still speak, albeit pathetically, of past pomps and pleasures. The number of royal palaces and villas which, since the suppression of the various Italian States and their unification into the Kingdom of Italy, the sovereign has to maintain are endless. None of them, however, equals that of Caserta, for none of them has so regal an aspect. It is a pity that, it is not in Rome instead of in a small and altogether unattractive suburban town, for it would certainly form a far more fitting abode for the sovereigns of Italy than that particularly ugly and tasteless edifice, the Quirinal.
Caserta, however, as a town, possesses no attractions. A considerable number of troops are kept here, not only for the protection of Naples, but also because from this point communication is easy with the Adriatic coast. I sincerely pity the soldiers who are quartered here, and, from what I have heard from some among them, I imagine that they pity them-selves. No doubt there are compensations, but I fancy that the chief one is the vicinity of Naples.
Until comparatively recent years the arrival by rail at Naples was almost as disagreeable an ordeal as the arrival by sea. The stranger was apt to be literally besieged, in his railway carriage, by touts and villains of all kinds before the train had finally come to a standstill. Now, however, all this is changed, and it would be well if the authorities of the port exercised as much vigilance and care for the comfort of travellers as do those of the railway station. These observations, however, are beside the mark. With first impressions of Naples I have no intention of concerning myself or my readers. In stating the fact that they are, owing to the immense purification I can use no other termof the city, which its municipal authorities have accomplished in the last few years, infinitely more pleasant than they were, I by no means wish to assume that they are as agreeable as they might be. I believe that there is a certain tropical fruit which is equalled by none for its delicious flavour, but which possesses a rind of perfectly appalling nastiness. Well, it is the rind of Naples that one must carefully put to one side, though, personally, I have come to realise that, if one wishes properly to appreciate the place and the people, it is not wise to put it aside entirely as being too unpleasant for examination.
The German historian, Von Raümer, than whom few have written of things Neapolitan in a more exhaustive and delightful way, observes that the Neapolitans were created before the fuss concerning the seven deadly sins. The observation is not really so cynical as it would appear to be. The Neapolitans are the children of circumstances, and to understand them it is very necessary to have some acquaintance with the circumstances which produced them. The long centuries of appalling tyranny and misgovernment which followed the fall of the Hohenstaufen dynastyin the course of which the unspeakable Houses of Anjou and Aragon successively vanished in a mist of blood and cruelty, to be replaced by cruel and bigoted rulers belonging to the House of Bourbonwould have demoralised a population of angels. I am not suggesting that the Neapolitans at any time in their history were possessed of angelic qualities ; but I do suggest that they are not quite as black as they are usually painted. Immoral, as a whole, they undoubtedly are ; but at least their immorality has none of that hypocritical mask which immorality is constrained to wear in many places upon which the world does not look askance, as it does upon Naples. There is something refreshing in that.
Now, immorality is a wide term, embracing various modes of departure from those standards of conduct to which we are all of us anxious that our neighbours should believe us to adhere. I do not think it either necessary or becoming that I should dwell upon the very frank and open indifference on the part of a large section of the inhabitants of Naples and its surroundings towards what is generally implied by the word morals. This in-difference certainly exists, and it is apt to show itself in ways that are startling to the inexperienced stranger. It is quite useless, however, for the stranger to wax indignant over the matter, or to feel that his own morality, or even dignity, is insulted should he find himself exposed to passing incidents which might justly excite his resentment should they occur to him elsewhere. Let him take a little word of warning, and dismiss any such little incidents with a cheerful laugh instead of an angry frown or an indignant rejoinder. The contemptuous but good-natured laugh will be at once understood ; but the scandalised frown or angry word is as likely as not to lead to complications. It should never be forgotten that Naples is one of the gates of the East, and that she has always been so. Eastern and Western views on certain matters are not identical, as we all know. I do not remember who it was who said, or wrote, that morals are a mere question of geography, but there is indisputably a great deal of truth in the observation.
To the stranger wandering about the streets of Naples I would venture to give one golden rulea rule practised by all respectable Neapolitans themselves. The golden rule is to be silent when any observation is addressed to one by any person whose attitude may be suspicious. Silence in Naples is, indeed, golden, and a gesture produces more effective results than any number of words ; but the gesture must be the right oneunderstanded of the people. There are many such gestures, but one among them is of particular utility, for it at once implies that its maker ” knows his way about,” and that he cannot be such a stranger to Naples as, perhaps, his outward appearance may lead his accosters to suppose. The gesture in question is a very simple one. It consists merely of a slow and indolent upward movement of the head, performed as though it were too much trouble to use speech.
Let me explain clearly. The head must not be shaken, for this motion, however violent or decisive, would imply nothing beyond that its owner was a foreigner speaking no language but his own. But if the lazy, upward motion is properly performed, and its performance is accompanied by absolute silence, the immediate results obtained are almost always surprising. Your accoster, whether beggar, tout, ” guide “I place the word in inverted commas designedlyor other form of scoundrel, will probably fall back and disappear as if by magic among the crowd. The simple little gesture will have told him, in far plainer language than any you could use, that, non c’è da far’ nulla,” or, in vulgar English, that it was a case of ” no go.” Nor is instant relief from present persecutionfrom beggars, cabmen, touts, and other gentry of a still more objectionable and even dangerous a naturethe only beneficial result which the gesture I singled out from among many of a similar kind will obtain. It is extraordinary that, in so large and populous a city as Naples, a stranger should so quickly become known by sight to those belonging to the Mala Vita, as it is called. It is a fact, however, that in an incredibly short space of timea few days at mostif an individual, of no matter what nationality, practise one of these gestures when occasion arises, he will find himself able to walk anywhere without being exposed to molestations of any sort.
I must truthfully say that it is not, as a rule, in the most populous parts of Naples, such as in the old quarters of the cityinto which, by the way, for some inexplicable reason foreigners comparatively rarely penetratethat one is liable to meet with these molestations. These quarters have their Mala Vita too, and a ” malissima vita ” it often is, but the stranger is not likely to encounter it, unless, of course, he be in deliberate quest of adventures. The worst of Neapolitan life, in so far as this life affects the foreigner, is concentrated round those more fashionable parts of the modern quarters where foreigners chiefly congregate, and also in and around the Galleria, which is the resort of all that is most corrupt.
But I will not dwell any longer on these un-savoury subjects. So far as personal safety is concerned, a stranger may explore every part of Naples on foot without incurring any more danger than would be the case in other cities. Of course, as I have observed before, if he is in search of adventures, he may find them in greater variety than, probably, in any other European city. In this case, however, he must blame himself rather than the Neapolitans if disagreeable things befall him. A stranger, who is not in search of adventures but merely gratifying a natural taste for exploration and the indulgence of curiosity, has only to conduct himself with ordinary prudence, and nothing very unpleasant is at all likely to happen to him.
There is one little trap, however, into which even the most prudent might unwittingly fall, and into this, I believe, many strangers do fall, with consequences which, though not really serious, must be annoying enough, and also, probably, a little expensive. The offers frequently made by loafing youths to act as guide to some sightthe offer very often takes the form of conducting the stranger to the residence of the sacristan of some church which he has found closedshould be promptly declined, and this not by words, but by the silent gesture I have described. But, whatever the nature of the nets spread for the unwary may be, they are better avoided by laughter than by any display of scandalised indignation or wrath. That there should be the slightest legitimate cause for the latter the Neapolitan could never be made to understand. He was created before the fuss arose concerning the seven deadly sins. But laughter, so long as it is good-natured, appeals to him ; and, if he be evilly inclined, his evil intentions generally melt away under its influence.
The chief factor in the Mala Vita of Naples is, of course, the Camorra. The Camorra is not, as is often imagined, a vast and mysterious secret society possessing unlimited power. In point of fact it is not a secret society at all, though certain absurd and melodramatic formalities are performed at the initiation of a Camorrista. It is rather an entirely sordid and corrupt state obtaining in an enormous section of Neapolitan lifean abominable system of blackmailing carried on at the expense of those who are earning their living whether honestly or dishonestly. The Camorra preys more or less on every class of the population, and penetrates into every department of the public service. Even the prisons are under its influence, and so, it is regret-table to say, are the police. Of recent years much has been done by the Government to eradicate this canker ; but so long as there is corruption in high places, and its assistance is invoked by officials and other comparatively prosperous individuals to further their personal aims or the political aims of some candidate for parliamentary or municipal elections, the process of eradication must perforce be extremely slow. Even as I write, a trial is taking place at Viterbo, to which city it was removed from Naples for obvious reasons, which reveals not only the depths of sordid depravity of the Camorristi, but also the far-reaching influence which the Camorra still exerts in the middle and lower strata of Neapolitan life.
But we need waste no time on so low and contemptible an institution as the Camorraif institution it can be called. Foreigners are never brought into contact with it, unless, unhappily, they have business relations with those who are under its influence.
It belongs to the black and seamy side of Naples ; and, in a city in which there is so much that is beautiful, and among a population which, when all is said and done, is by no means as bad at heart as it would, perhaps, at first sight appear to be, why should we dwell upon ugliness ?
I suppose that most sojourners at Naples take up their abode at one of the many hotels along the Chiaia and the Via Caracciolo, as being the most conveniently situated for sight-seeing. Probably the picturesque black mass of the Castel dell’ Uovo, the Castle of the Egg, is the most prominent object they look upon from their windows. The Neapolitans will tell you that the poet-wizardat Naples he is far more wizard than poetVirgil raised it in a night, laying its foundations on an egg. This, however, was a trifle compared with some of the feats the poet is said to have performed at Naples and in its vicinity.
Strange legends are told of the Castel dell’ Uovo of its secret passages running to the grim Castel Nuovo half a mile off, of its caverns under the sea full of treasure and guarded by demons who, on the discovery of the gold and jewels, would break the wizard’s egg and cause the castle itself to disappear for ever under the sea. Many and wonderful are the tales, some of them going back to a dozen or more of centuries, which are told of Virgil’s magic deeds on this bit of coast, which ancient tradition declares to be also his place of burial. In the early Middle Ages, and no doubt long before that period, the body of the mighty wizardfor his wizardry seems ever to have been more popular than his poetrywas believed to rest in a fortress surrounded by the sea, evidently the Castel dell’ Uovo. It is even said that King Roger of Sicily gave permission to a certain Englishman of learning to keep the poet’s bones if he could find them. And find them the Englishman did. The body was lying in a tomb hewn out of rock in a cliff, and it was no case of bones only, but of flesh covering themincorrupt and intact as on the day of death. The head was supported by volumes of magic lore. Perhaps it was because the English scholar found no bones, but good solid flesh, that King Roger’s representative at Naples thought himself justified in breaking the royal promise ; for he refused to give up Virgil’s body to a foreign pedant, but permitted him to take the volumes away with him to England. Perhaps our own wizard got some useful hints out of them afterwardsfor Michael Scott, too, exercised his art in Southern Italy. As to the body, the viceroy removed it to the Castel dell’ Uovo, where I for one intend to believe that it still remains, together with the treasure, the demon guardians, and the magic egg which supports the grim old castle.
It is a great mistake to be anything but a pagan in Magna Grecia, and especially on the Campanian coast. I do not mean the least irreverence when I say that, in these districts, Christianity appears to be a most uninteresting and even vulgar creed. Saints and martyrs cut but sorry figures beside the ancient gods and their attendant companies of sirens, nymphs, dryads, fauns, and satyrs. The Madonna is the only personage in the Christian celestial hierarchy who rises to the situation. She is never out of the picturedoubtless because all that she does is in itself so palpably paganand she never does anything unpleasant, or anything which is out of harmony with the poetic beauty of her surroundings. The saints and the martyrs, on the other hand, are even more tiresome and tactless people than they are elsewhere, which, in the case of very many among them, is saying a great deal.
By far the most interesting building historically is the Castel Nuovo, and I believe that comparatively few strangers visit it during their stay in Naples. Perhaps this is because it is guarded by sentinels, and would-be visitors are afraid of being turned away. Any one may enter its frowning gateway, however, on mentioning that he wishes to see the interior of the castle. The palace of the Anjou and Aragon dynasties, all that was most brilliant, and all that was darkest and most tragic in the history of Naples was enacted here. Of the brilliancy there are few remaining traces, but of the tragic there are many, and among them one at least which, for its horrible grimness, is not to be outdone by any chamber of horrors in the world. An ” official ” guide, who is sometimes a small and extremely dirty boy, and sometimes a personage clad in uniform, will take the visitor through various gloomy, vaulted apartments to the Chapel of Santa Barbara ; and, after showing this, will probably intimate to him that there is nothing more to see.
There is a good deal more to see, however, and those who have a taste for horrors will do well to hint that they would like to be shown the secret chamber under the sacristy. The request is seldom denied. Candles are lighted, and the visitor is taken through a low doorway and down a stone staircase in the thickness of the wall into a mysterious room. When his eyes have become accustomed to the dim light shed by the flickering candle ends, his first impression will be that of having penetrated into a family vault. Four coffins are arranged on low shelves, and two of them are open. Each of these contains the mummified body of a man ; but the heads are not on the shoulders. They lie alongside of them. So far, the sight is grim enough, but one feels that there must be similar ones even in such eminently respectable places of burial as Westminster Abbey. There is much worse to come. The guide raises the lid of one of the closed coffins, and I defy any one who sees its contents not to start back in very genuine horror and disgust. The corpse is that of a powerful man who has met his death by strangulation. The stiffened, mummified limbs, and the terrible look of anguish on the distorted face, the attitude of the arms and handsall bear witness to an appalling struggle for life. They bear witness, too, to appalling acts of treachery and cruelty, do these four pitiful corpses, for they are dressed in gay attire, and evidently met their deaths at a moment when they least expected to do so.
One’s natural question isWho were these unfortunates, and why have their bodies been so carefully preserved ? I will quote an extract from an old historian, who says : “It was the constant habit of King Ferdinand and King Alfonso (of Aragon), when their enemies had fallen into their hands, to cut off their heads and keep them salted in chambers underneath their palace.” It is permissible to infer that the four corpses, preserved in their entirety, and in the very clothes they were wearing when they were murdered, were those of some very special and dreaded enemies ; and no doubt King Ferdinand, or King Alfonso, amused himself by occasionally paying a visit to, this chamber to gloat over his fallen foes and to satisfy himself that they were really dead and harmless. However this may be, I know no grimmer spectacle than that which is held by this underground chamber beneath the Castel Nuovo, nor any which affords so positive a proof of the fiendish cruelty of the Aragon rulers of Naples. King Alfonso, indeed, is reported to have committed a deed of such nameless horror on a band of political refugees, who had taken sanctuary in a church now no longer in existence, that no man was found to write down its details. What-ever it was, it was bad enough finally to arouse the conscience even of the monster who committed it. Haunted by a terrible remorse, he abandoned his crown and fled to a Sicilian monastery, in which he ended his evil days.
For some unaccountable reason the most ancient, and by far the most interesting, portion of Naples does not receive the attention from foreigners that it deserves. These, as a rule, confine their peregrinations to the more fashionable parts of the city, and to the business quarters. But the narrow lanes and stairs of the old part of Naples have a peculiar attraction of their own. They are dirty, of course, and their smells are many, and of, some-times, quite laughable nastiness ; they are crowded, and abominably noisy. But, notwithstanding all such drawbacks, those who know something of the history and of the folklore of Naples, and who wish to study Neapolitan life, will find them full of links with the past. By turning out of the interminable Via Roma, as it is now called, though its original name of Via Toledo might surely have been adhered to with advantage, if only for the purpose of maintaining its ancient traditions, the Via dei Tribunali is soon reached, and by this characteristic Neapolitan thoroughfare it is easy to penetrate into some of the most interesting parts of old Naples.
It is the fashion to scoff at the Neapolitan churches as being architecturally in the worst possible Barocco taste, and so, indeed, they are. They have a habit, too, of shutting themselves up from ten o’clock in the morning till late in the afternoon ; therefore, it is well to visit them early if one wishes to see their contents. To any one versed in the history of -Naples these sanctuaries are repositories of vast interest ; and to the student of humanity they are places in which the by-paths of human nature may be studied with enormous advantage. It is in the churches that an insight into Neapolitan life may be gained, especially by any one who can follow sufficiently the Neapolitan dialect. Here, if one keeps one’s eyes and one’s ears open, one may observe how religious superstition and all the passions to which human nature is the victim are made subservient to each other. Perhaps, in the case of the Neapolitans and of the Meridionali generally, it is as well that they should be so. Were it not for their religionvery far removed from genuine Catholicism as it is, being, in reality, merely a debased form of polytheismit would be difficult to discover any influence which would act as a check on passions liable at any moment to become unbridled.
I am speaking, of course, of the basso popolo. And yet there can be no greater mistake than to suppose that even among the basso popolo there are not to be found characteristics making not only for righteousness, but for the formation of an energetic and virile race. Amidst much that is sordid and unworthy there is much among this strange people which commands admiration. They are amazingly ready to succour each other when in distress. Contrary to the general idea entertained by foreigners regarding them, they are extraordinarily hard-workingwhile they are at workand they perform their work in a far more honest and conscientious spirit than, I fear, does a very large percentage of British workmen in the present day.
Their kindness to their children is carried to an almost exaggerated extent, and it is a pity that the same kindness is not extended to their animals. For Italian cruelty to animals, however, the priests are largelyperhaps, indeed, entirelyto blame. For centuries the priests have openly scoffed at any responsibility on the part of man towards lower animals, on the ground that the last have no souls. To their credit be it said that in Naples there are several enlightened priests who do all in their power to remedy the abuses created by the attitude of their colleagues in this matter. The improvement in the treatment of horses and mules of late years is immense. By one of those strange inconsistencies of the human mindand especially of the Latin mindwhich are so difficult to account for, this very religion, which practically denies any responsibility on the part of a man for the welfare of his beast, is very punctilious that the said beast should receive the blessing of the Church on the feast of San Antonio ? Moreover, notwithstanding the dictum of the priests that animals have no ” souls,” the idea that a future state awaits them is deeply engrained in the minds of the lower orders throughout Italy. Some years ago the fattore of a large landed proprietor of , my acquaintance had occasion to announce to his employer an outbreak of some mysterious disease among the live-stock on his fattoria, and the fact that many cattle and pigs had been carried off by it. The last incident was tersely expressed in his letter in the following words : ” E molti ce ne sono andati in Paradiso.”
But when all is said and done, we English are the last people in the world who can afford to preach to others on the subject of cruelty to animals. A nation which tolerates private slaughter – houses destitute of any official control or supervision ; which shuts its eyes to the untold horrors that take place on any estate where game is preserved and where the trapping is not subjected to a rigorous supervision, not only as to the nature of the traps used, but also as to the regularity with which they are visited ; a nation which permits the existence of certain ” sports ” indulged in by the populace for the sake of gamblinghas no right to criticise the humanity of other races. That much unnecessary cruelty to animals exists in Italy, and especially in the south of Italy, no one will deny. But, like private morals, cruelty to animals appears to me to depend upon geography. The Englishman is indignant that a horse or a mule should be ill-treated but he regards certain cruelties practised on other equally sentient creatures with the utmost indifference, though these cruelties would revolt an Italian.
The fact is that the Englishman is an arrant hypocrite in this as in many other things. He exclaims loudly against Italian barbarism because he sees a horse or a mule beaten or worked with a sore backand yet he never stops to think of the daily barbarisms his keepers are perpetrating at home. As to the overloading and overworking of beasts of traction, I have never seen in all Italy worse examples of this form of cruelty to animals than may be seen any day during the tourist season in Scotland, where horses are worse treated in this way by hotel and livery-stable proprietors than in any country I know. Moreover, in the whole of Italy I will mention one place in which merciless cruelty to oxen and other beasts of traction is carried to an extent which makes a visit to it well-nigh unendurableand that place is the marble quarries of Carrara, which are chiefly under the direction of English companies.
The Italian is seldom cruel for cruelty’s sake.
He is thoughtless and impatient, and of course there are brutes in human form in Italy as there are in England who delight in inflicting pain. But in the general way even the roughest Italian is not brutal. In nine cases out of ten one may see a carter giving all his strength to assist the efforts of his overladen beast. That it should be overladen is often not his fault, but that of his employer. It is almost in-variably, too, the fault of the Government which taxes the poor man’s beast of burden to an excessive extent, thereby compelling him to make one animal suffice to do the work of two or more.
The Italian public will not tolerate barbarous spectacles given for public amusement. Some years ago an attempt was made to add bull-fights to the attractions of the Carnival at a well-known resort on the Italian Riviera. An Italian friend of mine asked me if I would, as an Englishman, protest in the name of my compatriots, who so largely frequent the place in question, against this foreign introduction, by writing to a leading Roman newspaper on the subject. I ventured to do this, basing my protest not as coming from one belonging to a nation which did not possess the slightest right to consider itself more humane to animals, except theoretically, than another, but as a simple foreigner who regretted any attempt to make Italy take a backward step in civilisation. My letter of protest was supported so widely throughout Italy that an order was at once sent from Rome to the Prefect of the province in which the place was situated that no proposal of the kind was to be entertained.
It turned out that the promoters of the scheme were chiefly foreigners, among whom English people were prominent. And, indeed, I have sometimes smiled to myself when I have been in Spanish towns while bull-fights were going on, at the way in which English people, both male and female, would hasten to the arena to witness them, while I have not the slightest doubt that the same excellent though entirely illogical individuals would have excited themselves to a white heat of indignation if the driver of the carriage which conveyed them thither had flogged his horses. At the time of writing, a similar proposal emanating from a group of speculators to hold bull-fights in the newly formed stadium at Rome during the Roman Exhibition has raised a storm of indignation in the country, and even the students at the Roman University have formally protested against it in the name of humanity. The proposal, of course, has been scouted by the authorities, although the usual assurances were given by its promoters that neither bulls nor horses should be killed in the course of the performances. I mention these facts in order to attempt to demonstrate to my English readers that Italians are by no means the cruel people that they are too ready to believe them to beand also to assure them that charges of cruelty to animals, coming from a people which tolerates in their midst such abuses as I have named, are of precisely the same nature as the charges brought by the pot against the kettle.
The Society for the Protection of Animals which exists at Rome and in Naples, under the title of Società contro il maltrattimento degli Animali, has done vigorous and excellent work for many years in both cities, and there exist other societies of purely Italian organisation in other parts of Italy for the same object. There can be no doubt, how-ever, that the often silly and sentimental attitude of our compatriots in the matter, and the exaggerated charges they are so prone to utter and to print regarding Italian inhumanity to animals, has done much to deprive the Roman society of Italian sympathy. How often have I not heard English people pour out a torrent of abuse (in their own tongue, of course !) against some perfectly harmless driver who happened to be encouraging his horse in the native way of cracking his whip close to the animal’s flanks or ears. In vain have I pointed out that the lash on these occasions never touches the beast. No ; the man was Italian, therefore he was cruel to horses, and of course he was flogging his horse most brutally ! Most people interested in the subject will have seen the ” museum ” of the Roman society in question at their offices in Rome, where instruments of torture confiscated by officers of the society are exposed to view. These, indeed, are horrible enough, and among the carettieri, especially the carettieri of Rome and the Roman province, there are, I fear, many inhuman brutes. But not on account of these, the lowest scum of the population, should exaggerated charges of inhumanity, such as too often find their way into English print against Italians in general, be based.
As to Naples, it is sufficient to look at the smart, well-cared-for little horses that draw the public cabs, and compare them with those of a dozen years ago to realise how greatly the lives of these animals have changed for the better ; and the same may be said of the mules and donkeys belonging to the humbler ranks of the population. To the Naples Branch of the Society for the Protection of Animals is due this improvement ; and also, it is pleasant to add, to the efforts of certain of the Naples clergy who have had the courage to depart from the traditional attitude of the priests towards cruelty to animals, and to propagate among the lower classes a sense of responsibility towards the creatures which assist them to gain their living.
As I am discoursing about humanity, I may as well mention that it is well-nigh impossible to an Italian to believe that there should be any place in a civilised country for a society for the protection of children. I have sometimes been asked by Italians, when discussing the question of cruelty to animals, and the work done by the societies existing for its suppression, whether it were really a fact that in England there was an important body which carried on a similar work in aid of ill-treated children. And when, most unwillingly, I have been obliged to confess that not only did such a body exist, but that it was a very necessary institution, I have seen reflected on the countenances of the inquirers something of the irony of the situation.
But we were in the Via dei Tribunali when I made this sudden digression. I wish that the space at my disposal enabled me to enter more largely into details regarding the almost endless store of historic and traditional associations which make the old portion of Naples so interesting. My business, however, is to discuss only the characteristics of life in Italy, and not to intrude into the domain of the historian, the archaeologist, or even of the compilers of guide-books.
All around the Strada de’ Tribunali, to give it its correct name, are networks of passages, dark, narrow streets, and alleys which are the haunts of the Camorristi, and of that inner, mysterious, lurid life which seethes and bubbles below the surface of things in Naples. There is nothing that touches this grade of the population, unless it be their religious superstitions, and even these are made subservient to their humour. I suppose that the street scenes in this quarter of the city differ in no way from those which took place in the days of the Anjou and the Aragon rule. Nay, probably they differ but slightly from those which enlivened the streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum in classic times. Every tenth man one encounters is selling some-thing, and one wonders whether the Neapolitan of the people is ever under any necessity to enter a shop. Indeed, if you were so disposed, you might pass your whole day in the Strada de’ Tribunali, and I do not believe that there is a want which you could not gratify at the price of a soldo without stirring from any spot you chose to select. I am presuming, of course, that these wants should be those which suffice to the Neapolitan who purchases his food, his clothes, and other necessities of life, who conducts his affairs and even his correspondence in the open street. There are other domestic matters, too, which are apt to be conducted in the open street upon which it would be unseemly to dwell. It is all a little shocking at first, no doubt ; but one soon becomes used to it. After all, it is pure naturalism ; and whatever else the Neapolitan may be, in certain things he is no hypocrite.
Leaving the Strada de’ Tribunali, we may wander into the Largo and the Via Mezzacannone, and here we are surrounded by grim palaces-palaces no longer now, but given over to commerceonce the residences of the greatest families of Naples. What names recur to the memory as we thread these streets ! Here Boccaccio rambled in search of adventures which were afterwards to move the world to laughter through the pages of the Decameron. In the great Church of Santa Chiara near by, Giotto painted but alas, Spanish vandalism in the eighteenth century caused the whitewash brush to be passed over all the lovely frescoes he executed, and scarcely one survives to-day. There is a story to the effect that Giotto’s patron, King Robert of Sicily, found the artist busily at work when the thermometer (had there existed such an instrument in those days) would have registered something phenomenal in the way of heat. The king ex-postulated. ” If I were you, Giotto,” he said, ” I should not work in this weather.” The painter looked up. ” Neither should Iif I were you,” he answered, and went on with his painting.
In Santa Chiara many scoundrels of the House of Anjou are lying buried, and one feels that they would be unpleasant company among which to find oneself at the Judgment Day. That splendid Court attracted to Naples all that was most famous in art, literature, and philosophy in those days. I think those dead celebrities live again in the imagination more vividly at Naples than at Florence or Rome. Perhaps this may be because both Rome and Florence are very different from what they were when that goodly company of artists and men of letters trod their streets ; whereas much of the restless, lurid life passing around us in the old quarters of Naples must be identically the same which Giotto, Boccaccio, and all the rest of the brilliant company of Florentines saw and mingled with. And what a medley it all is, and how suggestive ! It is all very well to call these people Neapolitan, if by Neapolitan one means to imply Greeks, Orientals, Saracens, Normans, Spaniards, and Italians all rolled into one race. Of all the ingredients, the Italian is the smallest measure, though perhaps it would not do to say so in these daysexcept to Italians, who would regard the observation as complimentary rather than otherwise.
There are other great churches hereabouts full of interesting traditionthe Gesù, San Domenico Maggiore, and San Lorenzo. Was it not in San Lorenzo that Boccaccio first saw ” Fiammetta,” that naughty Anjou princess? No doubt they ought both of them to have been attending devoutly to Mass instead of staring about them. But then, if they had not stared about them, the Decamerom would perhaps never have been written, and certainly other works of Boccaccio, such as the Filocopo, would never have seen the light. Then there is the Cathedralthe Duomoand it, too, is a place in which to pause and muse. Innocent iv. is buried here, that great Pope, the Destroyer of the Empire, whose ambition brought down a curse on Europe which endured for many centuries in the form of the temporal sovereignty of the Popes, the effects of which the world has even yet scarcely got rid. Here, of course, San Gennaro, St. Januarius, works his yearly fraud, or rather the priests work it for him. There are those who are impressed by this ” miracle.” It is certainly an object-lesson in dis-honesty, for, sanctioned by the Church and supported by the authorities year after year, this fraud is perpetrated in the presence of thousands. One smiles as one thinks of the early Christian fathers and their tirades against paganism. Were any of the supernatural wonders worked by the priests and priestesses of the ancient faiths more sordid and more absurd than the ” miracles ” worked by Christian machinery ? Occasionally, but very rarely, the spell does not work, and the blood of San Gennaro is not allowed to liquefy. It would obviously be foolish to permit the miracle to become a matter of certainty. Then, of course, there are weepings and wailings, and for a year everything goes wrong, and whatever happens San Gennaro is naturally held responsible. Poor saint ! were he not so jealously guarded and so valuable an asset, he would undoubtedly share the fate of other of his colleagues I know of, who, when they do not do what is expected of them by their worshippers, are, both figuratively and literally, soundly smacked. In certain places the local saint who so ventures to misbehave himself is kicked contumeliously into the sea, only to be withdrawn and replaced in his shrine in the church when he may be supposed to have had time to reflect on his shortcomings and to have repented of them.
Another characteristic Neapolitan festival, although it is accompanied by no ” miracle,” is that of the Piedigrotta on the 7th September. The Madonna in the church, which stands close to the entrance to the well-known tunnel, is the nominal raison d’être of this saturnaliabut I am afraid that not many people in the crowds which make the night hideous with an altogether undescribable din think much about her. The festa of the Piedigrotta is exclusively one dedicated to the amusement of the lowest classes of the community, and is, in reality, simply an enormous and rowdy fair without anything specially picturesque about it. One feature it certainly has which is interesting. It is on the night of the festa of the Piedigrotta that those popular Neapolitan songs make their début before the public, and in an incredibly short period are whistled and sung at the farthest ends of the earth. As on the night of San Giovanni at Rome, a car containing singers moves slowly through the multitude, halting at certain spots in order to sing the new songs which have been adjudged worthy of the popular favour. These are listened to with the greatest interest, and it is wonderful how quickly and unanimously the mob discover which among them is destined to live. The pity of it is that many of these really beautiful melodies, full of natural and spontaneous sentiment, speedily become so hackneyed, and so maltreated by the innumerable companies of sham Neapolitan singers which pervade the world, that their charm soon vanishes, to be replaced by distaste.
One would imagine that the composer of some of these songs which have become popular in all the quarters of the -globe would receive a handsome incomebut not a bit of it ! Twenty or thirty francs has hitherto been as much as one of these songs has been worth to its maker. And here we are confronted by a little piece of German enterprise which is only one among countless examples of how our Teutonic friends are gradually exploiting every hole and corner of the Italian market, no matter what the nature of the goods may be that markets produce. Within the last few months a German syndicate has discovered that there is money to be made out of these Neapolitan songs a fact which the Italian musical publishers have never been clear-headed enough to perceive. Instead of paying the composers of these songs a miserable sum of a few francs, and discouraging them to continue their efforts, this German publishing company has succeeded in getting the best known and most successful of the song-writers to contract with them for a certain number of years for a supply of new canzoni napoletani yearly paying not twenty or thirty francs promiscuously, but two thousand francs yearly to each composer during the term of contract. The world at large, there-fore, if it wishes in the future to listen to the prize-winning Neapolitan songs of the year, will have to pay for the privilege of doing so, and to paynot Naples, but Leipzig or Dresden. I am not quite certain whether this arrangement has been finally accomplished, but I am assured on good authority that it has been so.