Half the hours we waste over desultory memoirs of very minor personages and long-drawn biographies of mere mutes on the mighty stage of our world, would enable us all to know our " Decline and Fall," the most masterly survey of an immense epoch ever elaborated by the brain of man. There is an old saying that over the portal of Plato's Academy it was written, "Let no one enter here till he is master of geometry." So we might imagine the ideal School of History to have graven on its gates, " Let none enter here till he has mastered Gibbon." Those who find his eight crowded volumes beyond their compass might at least know his famous first three chapters, the survey of the Roman Empire down to the age of the Antonines; his seventeenth chapter on Con-stantine and the establishment of Christianity ; the reign of Theodosius (chaps. 32-34); the Conversion of the Barbarians (chap. 37); the Kingdom of Theodoric (chap. 39); the reign of Justinian (chaps. 40, 41, 42); with the two famous chapters on Roman Law (chaps. 43, 44). If we add others, we may take the career of Charlemagne (chap. 49); of Mahomet (chaps. 50, 51); the Crusades (chaps. 58, 59), which are not equal to the first-mentioned; the rise of the Turks (chaps. 64, 65); the last Siege of Constantinople (chap. 68); and the last chapters on the City of Rome (69, 70, 71).'
It seems ridiculous, but to me there was more life and realism in the pages of Sienkiewicz's novel, ' Quo Vadis ' than in any chapter of Gibbon. Nowadays, it is the fashion to defend the character of the worst Roman emperors, making out, what is probably quite true, that they were not as black as they were painted. But Sien-kiewicz's object is not to exonerate Nero; on the contrary, his line is a prejudiced one against the old world in favour of the new, and offends many people with its dogmatic tone.
As is usual with me when I get home, I find out all sorts of books that would have been a great help had I taken them with me. It is so different reading books in the atmosphere of the locality to which they refer, compared with merely seeking for general information. There are many books of this kind in Bohn's Classical Library, and the 'Lives of the Twelve Caesars,' by C. Suetonius Tranquillus, translated by Alexander Thompson, M.D., is a classic which would vivify the old world to a great many. This account of these emperors by a contemporary - Suetonius was the son of a Roman knight who commanded a legion - seems to bring the old world as near to us as do Pliny's Letters, many of which were addressed to this same Suetonius, with whom he lived in the closest friendship.Lately, Macmillan has republished in the 'Golden Treasury Series' Cicero's two famous essays on Old Age and Friendship. It is a new English translation, by E. S. Shuckburgh. In the introduction he kindly tells us that these essays were written while Cicero in his old age (63) was travelling about with his secretaries. He says, ' With the palace of fame so laboriously raised tumbling about his ears, Cicero found consolation in two things - literature and philosophy. While moving from villa to villa on that enchanting coast' (which was the coast about Naples) ' he was incessantly reading and writing; keeping his staff of literary slaves, or freedmen, so hard at work that they longed for the holiday to be over, and to return to the less fatiguing duties of city life.'
Our return journey from Baiae was in the cool twilight, when our little ponies took us back to our hotel at Naples. I had had a pretty hard thirty-six hours, and reserved to myself the right of having milk and bread in my room instead of going to the table-d'hote. I woke the next morning as fresh as usual.
Walking about Naples is full of interest; for though the principal streets are like those of many other continental towns, this only shows up the remarkable contrast of the side streets and alleys, so narrow, so small, so picturesque, with their strip of blue sky above, the shops windowless - only large black holes in the wall. The goods displayed are half of them inside and half tumbling out on to the old cobbled roadway with the gutter running down the middle of it. So much in the Naples of to-day seems like Pompeii brought to life again. The very method of driving suggests a chariot behind the coach-man instead of a fly. Everything seems to make one realise that the dark ages of barbaric destruction left Southern Italy comparatively untouched. Perhaps as a natural consequence of this, art, having lingered and clung inevery direction to the traditions of the past, the Renaissance was here without life or originality, and the pictorial art which grew up in Naples in the middle ages permeated gradually from the North. This is interestingly shown by the couple of pages in Kugler's 'Handbook of Painting' which he finds sufficient to describe 'the school of Naples.' The chief interest of this 'school,' as he calls it, is that many of the pictures are original works by Flemish painters which served as models to the Neapolitan artists. Later they were affected by the Spanish school.
Oh! we had so little time for everything. What is a week in Naples for seeing all one wants to see, even in the most superficial way ? The aquarium is, I believe, one of the best in Europe, not only for superiority of arrangement and lighting, but for the scientific interest of the exhibits. With a little friendliness to the custodian, he shows off for one's benefit some of the peculiarities of the inhabitants of the sea by feeding them. For me aquariums have a great fascination, though I have to harden myself against a feeling of extreme depression aroused by the cruelties of nature as there displayed.
Walking home in the evening, we met one of the flocks of goats that are driven about the better parts of the town to be milked at the house doors. Seeing goats in the streets of Naples first gave me the idea, which I work out earlier in the book, of what an immense benefit the keeping of goats might be in England.