And as to disinfection ! What does he know about that, he who, alas! shows so little inclination to master the first great rule of disinfection, the popular antiseptic which consists in sometimes dipping one's hands and face in water. . . . Just give a thought to all this, and then it will no longer strike you as so wonderful that these poor people should believe more in the censer's clouds than in the sulphur's fumes, and more in holy water than in a ten per cent, solution of carbolic acid.'
I felt thrilled on arriving at Pompeii, which all my life I had so longed to see; but the dust, the dirt, the crowd of tourists at the little hotel where we had to breakfast were most destructive of all the higher emotions. The old world faded away, and the degradedness of what is called civilisation was terribly to the fore. But in this motley crowd my son and I were really alone - a fact which contrasted favourably with my recollection of Mrs. Jameson's description in her 'Diary of an Ennuiee' of a fashionable society picnic. How much happier and how much more real is the enjoyment of anything we see with one chosen companion than with a host of even intimate acquaintances ? Writing on March 30, 1824, Mrs. Jameson says: 'Yesterday we dined al fresco in the Boboli Gardens; and though our party was rather too large, it was wellassorted, andthe day went off:' admirably
The queen of our feast was in high good humour, and irresistible in charms. . . . Everybody played their part well, each by a tacit convention sacrificing to the amour propre of the rest. Every individual really occupied with his own particular role, but all apparently happy and mutually pleased. Vanity and selfishness, indifference and ennui, were veiled under a general mask of good humour and good breeding, and the flowery bonds of politeness and gallantry held together those who knew no common tie of thought or interest; and when parted (as they soon will be, north, south, east, and west) will probably never meet again in this world; and whether they do or not, who thinks or cares? '
We finished our very indifferent breakfast as quickly as possible, engaged a guide - which is absolutely essential if one only has time for a single visit - and got a chaise-d-porteur and two strong porters to carry me about. The entrance to the town is now arranged with a turnstile, and everything you pass is known and explained to you by the guides, who seem to exercise their monotonous duties with great civility. Although it is absolutely right of the Italian Government to preserve their treasures against the modern inroad of tourists from all over the world, I think there must have been immensely greater charm in visiting Pompeii in the old free days when everybody could poke about and wonder and muse as he liked. Shelley certainly could not have said to-day as he did in 1820 in the 'Ode to Naples' -
I stood within the city disinterr'd ; And heard the autumnal leaves like light footfalls Of spirits passing through the streets ; and heard The mountain's slumbrous voice at intervals Thrill through those roofless halls.
In those happy days before the Italian Government undertook the guardianship of the treasures at Pompeii, it almost seems that anybody could dig, buy, or rob at his own discretion. Even so late as Mrs. Jameson's day (1824), she tells how a little imp of a lazzarone clawed away the dust and dirt to show her a most beautiful aerial figure with floating drapery, representing either Fame or Victory. He quickly covered it up again that the other workmen might not see, and grinningly appealed for a few pence as his reward. Bulwer is, some say, little read now by the young; but I expect as long as the English language is spoken his 'Last Days of Pompeii' will remain to tourists at Naples what George Eliot's 'Romola ' is to visitors at Florence. I wonder if it is more true to the spirit of those classic days than 'Romolo' is to the middle ages, though George Eliot is none the less interesting from being modern - not mediaeval - in feeling.
The general characteristic of the Pompeiian buildings is their extreme smallness, and the houses must have been what we should think very cramped and uncomfortable, even in a seaside lodging, to-day. A wish for shade and dread of sunshine seem to have been the first considerations rather than warmth or ease. A cortile, or cloister, generally surrounded the little garden or yard in the middle of the houses. It was here that the Pompeiians evidently spent their days. In one of these I saw fixed tables placed in two or three different directions so as to be suitable for use at various hours of the day. One often wonders whether the climate of Italy is colder now, or if the people are much more chilly than they used to be from want of health. It is only in my lifetime that warming houses in Italy has been considered at all necessary, and certainly 150 years ago the clothes that women wore even in England were strangely insufficient compared with the furs and wraps which people hardly ever put away now.
There has been such immense improvement of late in the art of excavation, that now it can be done without injuring even the most delicate wall-decorations. So good have some of these proved that the houses are being roofed over in order to preserve them. This will make the future excavations much more interesting, as the treasures can now be left on the spot instead of carrying them off to the museum. The mural decorations were evidently not the work of great painters, like the frescoes of mediaeval Italy. They are without much variety, they have no gradation, and are painted in a conventionally fantastic style rather than in the realistic or poetical. In fact, they rank as the upholsterer's purely decorative art. But, given this fact, the wonder is that so high an artistic level was attained, and they prove that the ordinary ' decorator' of the day was essentially an artist in his own particular line. The patterns on the walls, even when only stencilled, are well drawn and in excellent taste. In spite, however, of their charm of a miniature kind in these little empty rooms, I do not think the decorations displayed on the black or red walls of Pompeii would bear imitation in our northern houses. The rooms evidently must have been comparatively devoid of furniture, which made the wall-painting their chief ornament; as in Japan to this day, one hanging picture and one flower arrangement are thought sufficient decoration.