Sir Francis Ronalds' Travel Journal: Naples and Paestum
"I met with rather a droll adventure this morning. Being in the midst of a thorough wash, bounce came open the door of my room which communicated with the French Lady's and in bounded Madam apparently somewhat flurried..."
Feby 7th 
I met with rather a droll adventure this morning. Being in the midst of a thorough wash, bounce came open the door of my room which communicated with the French Lady's and in bounded Madam apparently somewhat flurried - but as it was a regular Scene I think I can tell it best in Scena. The Dramatis Personae are A French lady, Somebody else, Myself. Scene A, chamber in a lodging house, Strada St Giacomo Naples.
|(Washing his neck)
|Ah how wonderfully are the dispensations of Providence adapted to the exigencies and infirmities of humanity. Naples, the dirtiest place in the World, is supplied with the best Soap in the world. Dr Paley --
|(Enter Lady agitated and a little confused)
|(In attitude of quiet surprise with Towel in one hand and soap in the other)
|Mon dieu, Madam, Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?
|(Appearing about to swoon)
|(Supporting lady to chair then seizing a glass containing by chance a mixture of Water and Eau Dentifrice and giving it to lady to drink)
|P - Prenez, Madam, Prenez
|(Drinks then spouts the mixture into Myself's face)
|D - D - Damn it
|Fermez bien la porte. Ah tout suite (stamping) fermez la, serez la. Je suis perdu concerne, je suis infortuneé
|(Locks the door, wipes his face, and arranges his dress a little then approaches lady)
|Soyez tranquille ma chere, parlez, commandez
|(Places her finger upon her lips in token of silence then advances gracefully on tip toe to the door and peeps through the key hole)
|(in the other chamber)
|Jamais, Jamais, je partirez de Naples sans la voir si elle n'est pas ici je la trouverez chez Madam N---
|Hah. Je comprend tout, un avant passioné
|Silence Monsieur pour l'amour de Dieu, Monsieur, je vous prie soyez discret ne parlez pas encore
|(Shews signs of impatience after an interval of about half a minute)
|Mais. Monsieur, Excusez, Vous [?] avez obligé. Adieu, au revoir, Adieu
|Adieu, au revoir
|Hey. Hum --- Well--- Hey--- no go--- old birds--- Hey devilish odd though. Hey. Hum. The Masked Ball tonight, I had better hire a domino immediately, perhaps I may get a little fun (che su che) who knows
It is all pother. It seems that the Lady in her journey from Paris encountered a Worthy of about 50 who having a Wife, a family and a Mistress could not be happy without adding a second chere aime to his Comforts. The lady attractive force is by no means very great but a single man finding a single woman under such circumstances might be excused for allowing his taste to ---.
There was a capital devil at the Ball untill the Ruffians pulled his tail out, when he was obliged to go home without one. We were again rather tempted to take the part of the poor devil. There was also some other rather funny beings but I have now been to 6 or 7 of these masked balls at St Carlo's, they are generally far worse than our public masquerades in as much as there is more noise, less evil, more right, and no dancing of any Consequence.
"A large number of trivial & habitual incidents by being forgotten almost as soon as they have occurred can scarcely mark the passage of time. This can only be done by such events as create Ideas which are Retained"
My Journal begins to flag. Days appear long & weeks short when events do not occur to mark the passage of time, & events are the only real indicators of the passage of time. I don't recollect whether Mr Belsham in his excellent chapter on Duration takes into account the strength of the impressions which events make upon the mind as well as the number of Ideas. A large number of trivial & habitual incidents by being forgotten almost as soon as they have occurred can scarcely mark the passage of time. This can only be done by such events as create Ideas which are Retained more or less. But this is a very pleasing way of journalizing, for want of a better I shall set down a few raw Memo's.
Noise. On my first arrival I could not help running to the window to ascertain what could be the cause of the astounding noises I frequently heard in the streets but I always found they were only occasioned by Mr Pulcinella, or a fellow crying veal cutlets, or another crying his Curiculo for hire, or a fellow speaking to his Ox &c &c, or all these combined. They say every thing here. You may imagine what would be the most extraordinary things to cry & I'll warrant you would scarcely guess any thing which they don't cry, but I'll defy you to imagine what sort of music this union of stentoria verily makes. It is the Custom for every crier to make all which god has enabled him to make and if that is not a great deal he or she hires somebody else to help him. There are a great many little boys whose limbs not being strong enough to get them their living, let out their lungs and if they are paid in proportion to their labour in this line ought to be tolerably well off, for their shrill piercing cries amid the others are entirely the most distinguishable. But beside the cries their noisy dogs are always roaring and squabbling about the worst trifles. They remind one of school, or rather of a nursery of fractious children. I hope my godson or any other son I may chance to have will never be so fond of sugar plumbs and Punch as these gentlemen.
"Ancient Tombs. It is surely a much more decent and polite method of taking leave of our fellow creatures to be burnt than to be encumbering the earth with one's nasty carcass after death"
Virgil's tomb - Exterior
Virgil's tomb - Interior
The Solfatara. Some say and not a few actually believe that this is one of the entrances to Hell. They throw down an immense stone upon the ground which produces a sound resembling what one might expect if one was to suppose oneself walking over a cavern, but this sound is evidently produced only by the loose nature of the soil. It is very curious to observe the process of evaporation for procuring Alum carried on by the natural heat of the earth, what a famous plan it would be for Hugh's tanning scheme or for Peter's Sugar Pans.
Ancient Tombs. It is surely a much more decent and polite method of taking leave of our fellow creatures to be burnt than to be encumbering the earth with one's nasty carcass after death. I desire if should die without expressing it in my will that my executor will have me burnt. Virgil's tomb as it is called is certainly "une chose à voir" mais "pas grande chose". I could find neither laurel nor myrtle growing upon it. The Strada dei Sepoleri at Pompeii has nothing about it to excite melancholy in comparison with the other streets but I admired very much the semicircular seats which were frequented by the inhabitants of the town for holding conversations (serious I suppose) with the inhabitants of the Tombs.
St Carlo's. This Theatre is one of the few things which I found more superb than I expected in Italy. On the Ball nights it is very well lighted and the gold open carving of the front of the Boxes certainly produces a most Sumptuous effect. Some architects say it is too much crowded with ornament. Others that a theatre can bear more ornament than any other building. It is too large for any common rate voices and they have not here at present any first rate power (for I cannot style either Colbran's or David's so). The Band is certainly very perfect but they appear to have no idea of accompanying the voice in that gentle style which our Opera Band employs. The Voice seems to be merely an instrument forming a part of the Band, and Band & Voice seem to vie with each other in noise.
The Fondo, being much smaller than St Carlo's, one can hear the dialogue a little and they perform droll things enough sometimes and have better acting if the singing is not so good, but I call Dardanelli a very good singer and she is a very elegant accomplished Woman so upon the whole I like the Fondo. But although lounging and conversation afford far greater amusement in Italy than in England yet it is principally amongst the natives of a country that easy chat is agreeable. Differing countrymen find the necessary explanations destructive of enjoyment (as Mad de Stael says or something like it) and long explanations are much worse than long stories. I have been to most of the other Theatres. The Florentine is the best but bad however, I see Goldoni's Plays there and improve my Italian a little, I have also paid my respects to Sigr Pulcinella but as he never talks any thing but Neapolitan I loose [sic] most of the fun. He succeeds very badly when he don't made the Natives split their sides but it is not often that he fails in doing so. I attribute it to nothing but my own downright stupidity that I cannot understand Sigr Punch here. Sometimes he is invisible, sometimes a thief, sometimes a guardian angel, sometimes a malicious being but always a great wit & there is some other strong link of connection in his character which unites them all, I cannot make him out.
"if a person begins with 5 dollars and wins upon it at first he is only tempted to play longer... and he is seldom contented to leave off untill he has lost the whole of his original stake"
The Ridotto. The Games at these tables appear to me to be fair enough yet the renter pays [blank] a year to the government for them. The gain is derived principally from those who play with small stakes for amusement I think rather than from the professed gamblers. Thus if a person begins with 5 dollars and wins upon it at first he is only tempted to play longer than if he began by loosing upon it perhaps, and he is seldom contented to leave off untill he has lost the whole of his original stake so that the Banker is almost sure to pocket it sooner or later. I have frequently observed players of this class for a great length of time & think I may say that not one in ten is ever content to go away a winner. On the Ball nights if the fun is very bad the Banker makes a fine haul of this small fry but I have also seen some most tremendous gambling & in one instance he was almost broken by an Englishman. The English play high compared with the Neapolitans as you may easily imagine. The Ridotto is open on all the Festivals but the Theatres shut, I can't help thinking that this is a contrivance of the government to favour a vice which is so profitable to it.
Temperature. The Clerks in the Royal Tuscany Bank opposite my windows were shivering over a pan of charcoal this morning whilst I was compelled to open my window and shade off the sun with a curtain. Now I am as cold as they because the sun no longer shines on this side of the street. The thermometer stood at 110 in the sun (with a blackened ball) now at 3 it stands at 52. Everybody coming to Naples in the Winter should choose a sunny lodging if they cannot get one with a fire place (a very rare thing). The Pans of charcoal are horrid things. The people seem to be happy when the Sun shines and when it does not they are like "summer flies in Winter". Why have they not a Sant Sole, surely it would be as reasonable as a Santo Diavolo.
(By the by you can't imagine what beautifull salts they have in the northern towns of Italy, I will certainly get a parcel of them if I think of it when I get to Venice. They go down like milk, they are as mild as possible, it is quite a luxury to take them.)
Politicks. There was a report a few days ago that the King of Spain had been deposed and was in the hands of a party of Guerrilla's[?] & that our minister attempted in vain to afford him protection in his house, nobody now knows or enquires any thing about him. Ask a Neapolitan what news there is, the answer is always Che su che? What do I know?
Eustace has I think described the sensations which one experiences in visiting Paestum extreemly well. The story goes that these beautifull ruins were discovered only a few years ago by an Englishman (altho' this cannot be true in the strict sense of the word, but perhaps they were known only to a few Italians who then cared as little about their antiquities as they now affect to pride themselves on them). You may now hear an Italian describe and boast of monuments which he never went ten miles out of his way to look at and which he has only learned to describe from Foreign Travellers. Suppose I were to put down in my journal that whilst shooting one Day over a certain part of the country near Eboli I was overtaken by night and after wandering about some time in the Dark I arrived at a most miserable habitation, whose inmates bore a most wretched appearance being clad in little else than a sheep skin and wearing long black beards, in fact were regular Robinson Crusoe's; that I seated myself on a rude stone before a fire whose chimney was the only window and went to sleep; that on waking in the morning and getting out of this Den I discovered myself to be in the midst of an immense plain bounded on all sides except that facing the sea by apparently inaccessible mountains caped with Snow; that these magnificent Temples of the earliest Doric order stood full in my view more perfect than any I had ever before seen or heard of; that the Sun rising in all the glory of an Italian morning heightened the yellow tint of the material of which they were formed and the little spots of light green herbage gracefully distributed here and there by the hand of time into a splendid glow; suppose I were to say that I rubbed my eyes and could not convince myself that I were not dreaming but expected every moment to see Sacerdoti winding in solemn procession amid the gigantic columns about to commence a sacrifice to Neptune or Ceres; and suppose I were to add that the delusion lasted untill one of the these gentlemen with a long black bead & armed with a fowling piece approached me to demand or rather to command alms; if I were to put down all this would you not laugh heartily at my imaginative and stretching powers? But I assure you the representation might contain but little of either quality.
"we got too much horrid rum punch, which made us as sick as dogs all night"
Our journey there was very triste. The weather was fine only during the three hours we remained there. Our Carriage was full of holes. Our postilions were regular Neapolitan blackguards. We encountered the most extreem importunity and wretchedness amongst the inhabitants of the places we passed through (altho' good wine is sold at less than a halfpenny a pint and bread at [blank] a pound). The Bridge over the Sele (the ancient famous Silarus) was broken down by the torrent which was running like a race horse so that we met with great delay and some danger in crossing it (we nearly lost a horse) & in recrossing it the Savages tried our tempers to the utmost by their extortionate demands. And to compleat our misfortunes, drenched with rain when we arrived at Eboli we got too much horrid rum punch, which made us as sick as dogs all night. However we got home safe yesterday and thanked god that we had seen Paestum. We all agreed that nothing we had before seen in Italy could compare with it. I spare you and myself as usual all the historical details and other circumstances which you may find in the Books but beg of you to turn to them. I was surprised at the extreem hardness and durability of the stone, the angles are generally as sharp as they were on the first day of their being made, it is a kind of Stalactite or petrified wood such as is found in the bed and in the neighbourhood of the River Sele whose waters you know (or may know) were so [ends]
Having now lost all my irish friends and finding a change of weather likely to occur soon, I have changed my lodgings in the centre of the town for others much more pleasantly situated for summer weather at the Chiatamone in the Villa di Svezia exactly opposite the garden of the little Pallace. The view is delightfull, on the right is the promontory of Posillipo, on the left the whole eastern side of the Bay, and in front the Island of Capri. I intend now to enjoy Naples, every thing I have hitherto seen and done here has been seen and done with a view rather to fulfil a sort of obligation to see all the Lions and Kill the time. I intend to paint, or read, or sail, or walk, or ride, or in short to make myself at home.
Peter I find to be one of those who because he is prejudiced in favour of Italy takes those to be prejudiced against it and in favour of their own country, who having arrived at the top of the sunny hill like the poor little squirrel in the fable see those objects in their proper colours which derived a brilliancy only in his own imagination and from the effect of a brilliant sky and distance; he wants me to describe what I see and to experience or pretend to experience a sort of mawkish enthusiasm for antiquities and an affected admiration for the Ladies and the Music. Let him go to his books if he wants a glowing picture of Italy, he may paint a Study from them much better than I can do dal vero. I believe he wants me to get up out of his pidgeon trap that he may get a sly shot. No No, old fox, "give way to my imagination" hey - Eustace lies buried nearly under my pillow but his spirit don't haunt me, I hope his poor soul is not still frying for the many lies he has written. I should like to hear Peter giving way to his imagination here at the Opera, at the Albergo Reale, at the Accademie dei Nobili, in any Conversazione whatever.
Naples 31st March
"In a word I like Naples but I hate the People, nobody hates them more cordially & I don't think they have many admirers"
You're going to have in London the first Violin player of Italy viz Paganini but I hope he's not going from Naples just yet, his execution is astonishing but not superior to his taste & expression. But there is a great deal of Charlatanerie in his manner which though it delights these ragamuffins (who esteem a man a fool who is not full of tricks) will not go down with us. He played some Airs with variations on the fourth string only of his Violin which drove the audience mad the other night. It was the first time I ever saw a mad audience. Peter (Peter again!) wants to know if there are no Customs that strike me, tell him there are none that strike very hard which have not been told fifty times except this custom of raving, of converting a theatre into a bedlam. Don't fall into the Common error and imagine that all this row is the sign of great musical goût. No, said an old gentleman in spectacles who sat next to me Questi Signori non vogliamo altro se non che stimarsi conocenti. These gentlemen only want to pay for company & they think that the more noise they make both in applauding others & in playing themselves the more seriousness[?] they display, the disgusting fools. It's only because they love a noise that they love Rossini. I have not room to enlarge upon the Neapolitan character. In a word I like Naples but I hate the People, nobody hates them more cordially & I don't think they have many admirers.