After a drive of several hours through enchanting scenery we reached the village of Amalfi. I can hardly imagine a more picturesque situation than this town possesses. Behind it, frowning cliffs rise perpendicularly from the sea; and on these, perched at dizzy heights, are hundreds of dwellings, tier above tier, as if a hurricane had blown them there, and a slight earthquake shock might send them tumbling off the ledges like an avalanche of stones. Incredible though it seems, Amalfi was, eight hundred years ago, a prominent commercial city, and the centre of a powerful republic which vied with Genoa and Pisa, made laws that governed the Mediterranean, from the Rock of Gibraltar to the Golden Horn, and founded colonies even in Africa and Asia. But now Amalfi lies upon the shore, like the frail remnant of a vessel cast upon the rocks, and hardly a vestige of its former grandeur remains; for Pisa conquered it at last, and earthquakes and invading waves have tried to finish what was thus begun. The present degenerate inhabitants of Amalfi are engaged principally in begging, and, incidentally, in manufacturing soap and macaroni. So far as my observation went, however, they are exceedingly partial in their use of these manufactured articles, - devouring the macaroni with the keenest appetite, but carefully excluding soap from the list of articles for home consumption.
The Pleasures Of The Chase.
Casamicciola, Isch1a. Before The Earthquake.
A jewel, rivaling even Capri in the gorgeous setting of the Bay of Naples, is the island of Ischia which, every year for centuries, has, siren-like, lured thousands of admirers to its sea-girt cliffs. Few islands in the world have been more famous for their beauty and enchanting situation than Ischia. Renan called it his "dear volcano," and every one who knows it feels its charm. Yet Ischia has been a pitiless enchantress, and her loveliness has proved a veritable magnet of misfortune; for it is estimated that its earthquakes have destroyed, in all, no less than seventy thousand people. According to the poet Virgil the island rests upon the rebellious giant Typhoeus who, ever and anon writhing in agony, shakes the earth in his convulsive efforts to throw off the crushing weight; but, notwithstanding the long record of calamities caused by this restless monster, such is the fascination of the view from Ischia, so healthful are its mineral baths, and so delightful are its summer breezes, that all its injured villages have been invariably rebuilt after an earthquake, just as luxuriant vegetation comes again to hide earth's scars beneath a mass of roses, and clothe the hills once more with beauty and fertility.
Castle Of Ischia.
There is something pathetic in the trust which human beings have in the goodness and immutability of Nature. No matter what may have been the world's upheavals in the past, men look up into the blue vault of heaven, or on the tranquil ground beneath their feet, and do not deem it possible that any more disasters can occur. Alas, how frequently they are deceived! For Nature, "red in tooth and claw," seems absolutely indifferent to human suffering and destruction; and nothing is more certain, as we trace the history of the race, than that millions of our fellow-beings have been destroyed, not only by wild beasts and reptiles, but by the ravages of natural forces, - cyclones, volcanoes, avalanches, tidal waves, and earthquakes.
In the summer of 1883 some twenty thousand people, heedless of danger or trusting confidently in the future, were living on this island of Ischia. Steamers brought hither hundreds of tourists daily, and on the night of the 28th of July the villas and hotels of the principal town of Ischia - Casamicciola -were filled with happy residents and guests. It was a beautiful evening. The sea was calm, the air was balmy, the town was bright with lights and gay with music. How horrible to think that just beneath this charming picture, underlying all the little villas nestling in their rose gardens, the awful forces of destruction were gathering to strike a deadly blow! It was half-past nine o'clock. Dinner was over in the hotels. Most of the guests were strolling on the flowery terraces, enjoying the refreshing coolness of the sea, and gazing with delight into the starlit heavens, upon the ruddy glow above the crest of Mount Vesuvius, or on the placid surface of the bay. In the hotel called La Piccola Sentinella an impromptu concert was in progress. An English gentleman was seated at the piano, and, strangely enough, the piece he was playing was Chopin's "Funeral March." A Frenchman, shrugging his shoulders at the lugubrious selection, left the room, and out of all that company he alone was saved.