Still another characteristic sight in Neapolitan streets is the public letter-writer. I saw these scriveners everywhere a score of years ago, and even recently I found them yet employed in certain quarters of the city, especially on Sunday afternoons; for, notwithstanding the popular education which prevails in Italy, the public letter-writer's occupation is not gone. In 1863 ninety per cent. of the Neapolitan population could neither read nor write! Then these professional scribes were almost a necessity. Under the present Government immense improvement has been made; but when we reflect how great is the effort for an illiterate person to express his thoughts on paper, it is not strange that the old fashion still prevails. When I could do so, unobserved, I watched this business with much interest. There is so much to study in the different applicants! Their faces always tell the story. A man, for example, will appear awkward, bashful and laughing foolishly at any term of endearment that he whispers to the scribe; and he may be succeeded by a pretty girl, whose flashing eyes and trembling lips betray her jealous doubts and anger at not hearing from her absent lover; while another characteristic person here is an aged mother who murmurs in a feeble voice some tender message for her absent boy, a conscript in the army. In contrast to all this, the scribe himself is almost as machine-like as the pen he wields. The stories are old to him. Accordingly he writes, cold and impassive as a telegraph wire, which, with complete indifference, transmits the news of life or death along its metal thread.
When in the company of Italians, particularly in Naples, I have often noticed in all classes indications of the singular superstition known as jettatura, or the " evil eye." Educated and cultivated people, it is true, affect to laugh at it, as foreigners do, and call it childish folly; but many of them are quite as ready to make, in secret, the sign which they believe averts the evil spell, as some Americans are to see the new moon over the right shoulder, or to avoid commencing a journey-on Friday. It is quite generally believed by Italians that certain people can bring misfortune, either purposely or unintentionally, by the glance of the eye, and that the only antidote for such a calamity, when in the presence of such persons, is to hold the forefinger and little finger pointed outward, while the rest of the hand is closed. The wearing of coral is also thought to be of great use in averting the effects of jettatura, particularly if it be in the form of a little charm, shaped like two horns. Just what excites the suspicion that an individual has the "evil eye," I have never been able to ascertain, but, probably, it is the result of some unfortunate coincidence, or, possibly, of ill-will on the part of the first accuser. Happily, the supposed possessor of the fatal gift is frequently entirely unconscious of the power attributed to him; for, as a rule, however much his presence may be dreaded, he will not see any outward manifestation of that feeling. The initiated observer, however, will perhaps detect in several members of the company a hasty gesture of the hand behind the back or under the table. To point the fingers openly toward any one would be an unpardonable insult. That this superstition and its antidote are of great antiquity, and have been legitimately inherited by the modern Italians, is proved by the interesting fact that some of the bodies excavated in Pompeii have the hands closed and the two fingers extended in the identical gesture frequently made use of at the present time.
Mount Vesuvius is to the Neapolitan bay what Fujiyama is to many a landscape of Japan, - the lofty background of the picture, and the grand presiding genius of the place. By day it proudly waves its plume of smoke, by night its torch of fire, as if it claimed to be the champion of destruction. It has two parts: one standing as firm as the eternal hills, the other varying with each new eruption. The former is the main body of the mountain; the latter is its cone, up to the base of which an admirable carriage road has been constructed.