Sir Francis Ronalds' Travel Journal: Naples and the Miracle
May 27th 
"I fall in love about twice a week with Dardanelli"
I think I have been very indulgent to you in passing over such an immense length of time without any grumpings. The fact is that my life has been quite as monotonous as if I were at home. I get up not very early in the Morning, breakfast, paint clouds (if there are any), go to mass (sometimes, particularly on Sundays, by way of distinguishing the end of the week from the middle and for other little affairs which it is not necessary to detail), read or lounge at Booksellers, dress, Walk in the Villa Reale, or make a little mineralogical excursion, or an excursion of observation amongst the Natives, dine at a Trattoria with a General de Gourbillon (whose acquaintance I made soon after the loss of my Irish friends), go to St Carlo's or the Fondo (where I fall in love about twice a week with Dardanelli) or to the Accademie dei Nobili (where the newly arrived Squirrels get me by the Button to know what is to be seen at Naples), go home, go to bed, go to sleep, dream of England and of you.
But I beg your pardon for all this egotism, I sat down with the intention of telling you about the Miracle. What says Mr Eustace or Mad de Stael or the tourists about this stupendous Miracle? I think the former passes it over by a short remark upon its clumsy performance but the wide spread belief in it amongst all ranks did not appear perhaps to him a catholic half so miraculous as it does to me a Unitarian born, bred and educated and cushioned[?] with the ridiculous prejudices of my Country. I shall tell you what I sage but I absolve you entirely in the particular instance from the conditions under which you lie in regard to Soap, if any of you were to tell me such a story I should certainly feel a strong inclination to fly pidgeons, or it would at least cause the sensation of an obstruction in my throat.
"a precession of Priests arrived from the treasury of the Church with the real head of the holy Saint enclosed in another head of silver smeared with his blood and having placed it upon the altar and muttered a few prayers... fumigated him with incense (they themselves required fumigation much more I thought but we won't joke)"
Phials containing the blood of St Gennaro
On Tuesday last at 9 in the morning I went to the Cathedral in front of which were assembled an immense mob of Lazzeroni and I had some difficulty to make my way amongst the Carriages of the Nobility and Gentry of Naples who had come to see the annual liquefaction of the blood of St Gennaro, the patron saint of the City, and to pay him their adorations. I desired to speak with the Duke --- (I forget his name) who acted as a sort of master of the ceremonies on the occasion and having told him that as a foreigner I wished particularly for a good opportunity of seeing the Miracle, he very politely posted me in an excellent place close to the Altar of one of the Chapels. Here I stood about an hour.
At last a precession of Priests arrived from the treasury of the Church with the real head of the holy Saint enclosed in another head of silver smeared with his blood and having placed it upon the altar and muttered a few prayers proceeded to remove the little red cloak and fools cap which are his every day dress and to invest him with a most superb cloak and Mitre crowded with diamonds & other jewels of immense size and value, then they prayed again and fumigated him with incense (they themselves required fumigation much more I thought but we won't joke), then a little silver altar was brought into the chapple with much solemnity and placed upon the other altar also at the opposite end. This little altar bore a cylinder of about the size and in nearly the same proportions as a verry large snuff Box, the two plane surfaces were of glass and it was supported (upon a gothic arch on the top of the little altar) by a stem attached to the side so that the contents might be plainly seen by the idolaters. These contents consisted of two phyals [sic], one of a spherical form almost full of blood and the other long shaped containing but a few [?]. During all this time nothing was to be heard from the crowd but fervent ejaculations, sighs, sobs, & invocations upon the buon S. Gennaro; but at twelve o'clock the blood had not liquefied so the murmur began to grow louder, it became mingled now and then with complainings and soon amounted to a clamorous sort of whining and at last to a downright row. It is said that when the blood does not melt for 2 or 3 days which has frequently occurred, the people abuse their poor saint dreadfully calling him all sorts of names, some so arduous that I can't put them down. Amongst others they call him (Faccia giallotta) old yellow face and implicate in their impatience their most cruel curses upon him such as Mannaggia l'anima di Mamma tua e'l padre (cursed be thy Mother's Soul and thy father's too) & Santo Diavolo frequently enters their catalogue of ejaculations).
But to proceed All'attività, the blood being still a pudding, the head was placed upon a portable altar and carried in procession preceded by a military band playing the Tarantella and other lively tunes (Moll in the Mad was one I think, English tunes are all the go) to make the tour of several of the principal streets, and then having resumed its original place on the Altar in the Chapple the people went home to reason with great gravity or sorrow or anger each as he felt most disposed upon the cause of the failure of the Miracle. I suppose you will conclude that I went home to philosophize.
The next morning I went again to the Church and posted myself next to a tolerably clean priest (who gave me the benefit of his conversation but in recompense almost emptied my snuff box). The people were now all extreemly gracious to the good Saint, they seemed to use every art of coaxing and persuasion, they regaled him with some of the very prettiest tunes and furnished him with two immense nosegays, and were soon gratified by the compleat success of their courtesy for the Blood in the Phyals actually became fluid, which was announced by a congratulatory smile of one of the chief priests. This was a moment far beyond my powers to describe so I shall not attempt to do it. A messenger was instantly dispatched to the King to announce the happy event and those were the happiest of mortals in could first obtain the opportunity of Kissing the precious box which contained the precious bottles which contained the precious blood of their most precious Saint. Don't imagine that the enthusiasm was confined to Lazzeroni. No the very richest, the very gayest, the very gravest, the very prettiest, all partook of it. On my return home this day, I fell insensibly into a comparison of Unitarianism & Catholicism but I actually came to the conclusion that the former is the best belief because if at any time one should find oneself cheated by the Book, and the Parsons, it is a less bore to be cheated in an affair relating to reason than in one relating to imagination & enthusiasm.
"I will call miraculous the belief in such things which so far-fetched as it seems to us you revere as a true miracle"
But I went again on the third day and found the chapple full of women, some young enough and prettyish [sic], who had come to Kiss the Box then because they could not support the crowd of the preceding days, and returned confirmed in my former opinion. At this juncture arrived my parling Master Sigr Fergola. Ebbene caro Signore non ha futuro niente = Scusi Signr Ecco un disegno del Sangue del buon S. Gennaro - Dunque La veduto il Miracolo - Ho veduto un Miracolo Ma = Ma parlo del grand Miracolo non e catolico non presta credenza ci miracoli moderni? = Sicuro non sono catolico ma nondimeno le veduto oggi un grand Miracolo nella credenza generale sopra questo soggetto perché noi chiamamo miracolosa la credenza di quelle cose le quale ci sembrano tanto stravagante quanto ci sembra questo che voi stimate un vero miracolo. Ma scusi Signr Caro dite di questa nuvole = Sono troppo dure troppo distinte no c'é quella bella graduazione do tante di oscurita che si trovano nelle rappresentazioni di cieli ben scelte sono troppo somigliante alla vostra religion Dipingerano piu tante quelle montagne mescolate con quelle nuvole che donare un idea piu piacevole in quanto che ci lasciano qualche casa da da immaginarsi. I commission my whig to translate this instructive letter for those who cannot translate it themselves and so I wish you all a very good night and the protection of the holy Virgin & S. Gennaro.
"rolling burning rocks, a river of fire, a soil of Cinders, supernatural lights, mysterious shading, A boiling Abyss, neapolitan Devils... this confusion of elements produced on me only a confusion of Ideas, an attempt to describe which would only produce confounded nuisance"
I have just returned from a nocturnal expedition to Vesuvius which was interesting enough for I had a compleat view of the Crater. I went with the Apothecary and a friend of his (you will scarcely recollect that I have spoken of an Apothecary at Milan, he says he left poor old Coins very ill, poor Coins, I shan't forget him easily). We met with nothing different from what I expected scarcely untill we arrived at the summit to see the Sun rise. During our ascent the effect of Moonlight upon the Clouds below us and particularly on Mount Somna was somewhat striking, even beautifull aye sublime. A poet (the Squirrel for instance) might have made Something of it. Sulphureous fumes (they are principally muriatic fumes I believe but never mind that), rolling burning rocks, a river of fire, a soil of Cinders, supernatural lights, mysterious shading, A boiling Abyss, neapolitan Devils, a Dante might make much of it, but this confusion of elements produced on me only a confusion of Ideas, an attempt to describe which would only produce confounded nuisance. The short length of time we remained on the verge of the crater only allowed us to see the Lava and fragments of rock boiling up like a saucepan of Potatoes, & the ebulition increased so rapidly that at last we were compelled to slide or roll or tumble down at a much more rapid rate than we climbed up scarcely knowing whether we were rolling into the crater or away from it, & the guide who dared not go up (I mean up the last little cone the cone of the crater) assured us that we had luckily escaped from a Vapour bath and a Scent which was much more powerfull than any neapolitan Doctor would prescribe for any of his patients. Indeed we soon afterwards saw a cloud arise from the Crater whose embraces I don't think we should have stomached much. I had spread out my handkerchief to sit upon, disposed myself firmly on my seat, taken a good pinch of Snuff, and was preparing my drawing materials with the view of getting a leisurely Sketch, when the hurry of our retreat scarcely gave me time to save them. They say the Devil never allows people to take surveys of this entrance to his dominions without special licence, but the guides are precious Cowards. The Apothecary's friend dryly remarked (when we had shaken our feathers and ascertained that we were still inhabitants of these heathen regions) that Hell had only made a little belch, which is a very nasty idea you know very nasty, but its poetic merit appeared to me so great and the analogy seemed so perfect that I cannot forbear putting it down. Sensate -
"[Matthew Wade] is a jolly old Cock... Baldpate, long pigtail, red face, bottle nose, stick, nap gout guts... He tells me all about Lord Nelson... and Sir W. Hamilton and Lady Hamilton. He says Lady Hamilton always drank a Bottle of his port after supper & sometimes two and grew fat upon it"
Since I write last I have made a new acquaintance a friend a Mr Ward Governor of the Castle dell'Uovo, which is almost opposite my lodgings about a quarter of a mile distant in the Sea. He is a jolly old Cock, regular quite regular, just such a character as you sometimes see in Dorton, Baldpate, long pigtail, red face, bottle nose, stick, nap gout guts, a regular Uncle Toby. I used to go there to paint Vesuvius, now I go to get a little of his old Port sometimes. Aye Peter, old Port, you will know the value of old Port when you come here. He tells me all about Lord Nelson who very frequently supped upon fish with him and Sir W. Hamilton and Lady Hamilton. He says Lady Hamilton always drank a Bottle of his port after supper & sometimes two and grew fat upon it, and wrote some of her letters to the bishop of Bristol in his presence but he thinks that many of those published are not authentic. But I believe I must give up painting, it makes me rather yellow by the confinement, & perhaps the vexation I experience in making so slow progress adds to its bad effect on my health. What can these scamps be about. Naples is the paradise for Painters. Naples fostered a Giotto, a Salvator Rosa. Naples, formerly a school of Painters, it is now a school of Dullness. Carriages. Theatres. Gambling tables. Licentiousness of every kind, everything but Arts and Sciences flourish here. I have been fazing hard at a wretched daub of Virgil's tomb (as it is called) much harder than I ever faged at this writings, but my master can scarcely endure the bore of my taking him there in the middle of these hot days sometimes; we shall have a few words soon I think about painting dal vero but I am determined not to copy. So good night.
Everything is packed up for my voyage to Palermo tomorrow with the General (who pretends that I have persuaded him to accompany me into Sicily) except my paper and pen so I am going now to say all I have got to say about Naples & myself untill we arrive there and wish you good bye.
I shall first tell you about a sore foot which I have been plagued with partly for the sake of displaying my great medical skill in curing it & partly for the sake of any of you who may chance to come to Naples and fall into the same unlucky scrape, for it is an extreemly common complaint here and particularly attacks foreigners. I know at this moment Six Englishmen who, for want of pursuing a mode of treatment which I think the best, at least better than salves and ointments in this hot climate, have suffered it to torment them most unmercifully. Five of them however are getting better because they have followed my advice. The Symptoms are these (quite regular you see). At first small pimples or pusticles appeared on the foot in constellations (these were the Great Bear, & the Little Bear and Orion as perfect as possible). These became daily more angry and the itching intollerable [sic] so that I could not sleep or rest for a moment or avoid scratching them, which of course produced greater inflammation, increase of their size and at last 2 of them came to downright suppurations in which state they continued to spread and distress me very much, I feared I should be quite laid up. The Cure was this. On rising in the morning I always bathed the foot in sea water as hot as I could bear it. Then I laid it upon the Sofa untill the smarting had subsided which commonly happened during breakfast time. Then I laid it in a dish (like a calves foot, Hey!) and covered it with bibulous paper (printers' paper which contains no size) steeped in iced water or sometimes I applied Snow itself and in this manner kept it constantly moistened and cold. The result was that the inflammation soon began to subside very sensibly, the little red points made their appearance and the ulcers rapidly diminished in size in fact began to heal, and if I had not heated the foot again in the hot ashes of Vesuvius it would no doubt have been quite well much sooner than it was. - Don't laugh at my cure because it was not scientific and was so very Simple.
My third & last Expedition to Vesuvius was made in company with the General at first, to whom I had promised to act in capacity of Cicerone but as you will see performed my promise very badly. I also wished to satisfy my curiosity about the electrical Phenomena in the vicinity of the eruption. We left Naples at about 7 o clock in the evening and arrived at Resina at 9 where we fell in with a Mr Gimbernat who has been long occupied in examining the different Gasses [sic] and Vapours of Vesuvius (he says he has discovered an animal substance in some craters procured by the condensation of Vapours of some fumarole and it is he who has established a fountain of pure water by means of condensation in the midst of the fiery region of Vesuvius (upon almost the top of it)). We had before seen this gentleman at the Albergo Reale so we immediately joined company and he procured me a Portantine at a reasonable price (A Portantine is an Arm chair carried upon two poles by four men and two others to assist them by walking or rather climbing up before them and pulling them up with cords).
After resting a little at the hermitage the General proceeded with his guide & I deserted him to remain with My brother Chip Mr Gimbernat to assist in the preparation of some apparatus for new experiments of his as well as to adjust my own. A little before sun rise we renewed our [?] - I in my portantine cutting a figure something like a Guy Fox and Mr G - surrounded by his lazzeroni charged with Pots & Pans and Tubes & boxes, but notwithstanding my bad foot I could not bear to see and feel the poor devils labouring and sweating to death under me and was obliged sometimes to get down and crawl up on all fours to relieve them. At last we arrived at our destination and to cut the account as short as I can I will only add that the Genl was highly gratified with his view of the rising sun & the nice flow of Lava, that Mr Gimbernat succeeded in his object of establishing another fountain at an acid fumarole in which I hope I was of some little use to him, & that I passed a few hours with my electrometer very satisfactorily, but as I keep no other register of my scientific observations than this journal you must excuse me in putting them down now.
I found that the Electricity was increased as the Sun rose (as usual), that it varied in intensity frequently, that the variations amounted to about one third of the mean intensity, that they sometimes accompanied a change of Wind which occurred very frequently (6 or 7 times in the course of half an hour) and which sometimes blew from S. & then immediately afterwards from NE (or even N), that sometimes the variations of Elecy immediately followed explosions of the Crater and sometimes did not seem to be at all influenced by them or by the wind altho' the wind came in exactly the direction of the Crater, that they were sometimes evidently produced by the approach of Vapour from a Fumarole, and that finally it sometimes seemed impossible to discover any coincident circumstance which could produce them. Sometimes the signs diminished rapidly after an explosion. Sometimes they increased rapidly - I think the black exhalations from the older crater (for a new one opened about a fortnight ago) diminished the signs much more frequently than the White. Therefore I incline to suppose the black fumes negative and that their electric tension is sometimes overcome by and sometimes overcomes the tension of the white fumes which consist principally of aqueous Vapour, Sulphur, Sulphuric acid & Muriatic acid and are constantly positive, that is to say when they are sensibly electric at all, when the Vapours become vesicular as Saussure would say and when the Sulphur sublimes in the Air. And sometimes I think that these two states of the Separate explosions or exhalations partially or totally neutralize each other which may perhaps be the cause of their want of effect upon the electrometer. But I don't know how to theorize upon the want of effect when the explosions took place separately and under circumstances which according to Volta appeared the most favourable for producing them. I should like to undertake a great many more experiments on this subject as every body does who begins such expts but I have already staid [sic] too long at Naples and am not in a fit state of health. My rod was placed perpendicularly on the highest point of the Mountain on the North of the Craters and about 500 yards from there, it was 14 ft high and a Wire about 20 ft long descended from the Iron point on the top to the Electrometer placed on the ground. The insulation was very good for it remd electrified when not connected with the rod for 5 minutes without sensible elimination, it was of the finest straws made according to Volta's standard.
The Thermometer at 8 o clock in the shade stood at 76 in the Sun, with a black ball 83. At Naples at same time the thermr stood at 78 in the shade in the Sun, with black ball 100. This Observ
Now I am going to rake up a Catalogue of Raw Memo's. I am surprised on looking back that I should after all my anxiety to see the Carnival have omitted saying any thing on the subject scarcely after I had seen it. The fact is it was after all (niente) nothing therefore if I had said anything it would have been quite of the grumping kind. In the day time it was not half so good as Bartholomew's Fair and at night the only thing was the Ball at St Carlo's which as I have said was not better or so good as our Masquerades. Some people paraded up and down the Strada di Toledo in the most [?] dresses possible to pelt Sugar Plumbs, others paraded up and down to be pelted and others stood gaping at the Balconies untill their mouths were stretched to the utmost to look on. It was nothing more than a display of native Dullness and I can't help gaping now at the recollection of it. The Crowd was enormous and whoever dared to pass through it on foot was considered a very bold man for the danger of his person being invaded by hoards of the insect tribe was far from imaginary, but it was kept in very perfect order by the Soldiers, and its principal amusement was that of breaking the carriage windows and exciting the [?] of the poor coachmen and postilions who were persecuted most unmercifully. I heard of no Stiletto work at night. So much for the famous Carnival of Naples.
Hall of Justice:
"Nothing like juries. No Appeals. Almost every time I went, there were the concluding processes of several trials for murder which were dispatched each at an average of about half an hour"
In my constitutional walks before dinner I have frequently strolled to the Hall of Justice where as far as I am able to judge of the matter not being well conversant with neapolitan jargon, Justice or the Semblance of it is dealt out in a very summary manner. Nothing like juries. No Appeals. Almost every time I went, there were the concluding processes of several trials for murder which were dispatched each at an average of about half an hour & when the sentences were passed every body but the judges and criminals were obliged to withdraw. Revisions may be made at the demand of the Prisoner by the Supreme court and, if irregularity in this process is by help of money or interest discovered, the affair is remitted to the criminal court of a neighbouring intendenza. So the life of a poor Wretch is in the hands of a few great Whigs appointed by the King. Not frequent, a man may sometimes get off by interest or money. I have only heard of one execution for murder during my stay but that was a most atrocious instance. A Priest was tried a little time ago for the murder of a Woman's husband of whom he was jealous (a priest jealous of woman's husband!), there is nothing uncommon in this. Amongst his books was found one in which was a long list of women whom he had seduced & when he was executed he declared that he forgave every body but one of his judges who had solemnly promised him his life if he would confess. The judge neither kept his promise nor denied having made it. A judge tampering with a culprit (here "my absurd English prejudices" are shocked Peter). I can't say any thing positive about civil cases.
The mode of collecting the Taxes is this. The tax gatherers walk into a man's house some "fine day" and say do us the pleasure to pay us so much for the use of the government (shewing his assessment). The man asks no questions, let the sum be ever so disproportionate to his means or his neighbour's rate (which frequently happens) he pays the money, sees his goods seized or walks off to prison saying pazienza for unless he is rich he can get no redress. But arbitrary as the system of laws may appear to our Englishmen, it is good compared with the execution of them, sometimes by favour a man is allowed a little time & the tax gatherers are very polite.
"I was admiring the lovely Moon, the beautifull Bay, the astonishing Vesuvius, "giving way to my imagination" and very contentedly picking my teeth..."
Castle of St Elmo in Naples
Rooves in Naples
Dirt. In one of my evening walks after Dinner by moonlight in the quarter called Sta Lucia near the Strada del Gigante, I was admiring the lovely Moon, the beautifull Bay, the astonishing Vesuvius, "giving way to my imagination" and very contentedly picking my teeth when I suddenly perceived that my feet were "giving way" to my body & that I had arrived in the spot where one of my Irish friends had his hat borrowed. It may well be said of this part of the quarter St Lucia what the common maxim says of Naples in general viz that it is a Paradise inhabited by Devils and the term dirty may be fairly added to the epithet. There are other such quarters and other such people but enough of this subject.
We will now conjure one of you (Charlotte) to me to take a little turn in the Villa Reale and a drive in a Curi through the Grotta di Posillipo and along the Mergellena. This Villa Reale is the revoiracy[?] of the fashionables and would be fashles every day at about 3 o clock. It is a very neat garden on the sea side about half a mile long and 50 yards broad decorated with many statues &c not worth a pithi[?] except the celebrated Group called the Toro Farnese (turn to a book for its description). I think Mrs Dirce is rather too much like Mrs Siddons and that Queen Antiope might have affected her object of liberating the poor lady from her parlous condition without encountering quite so much risqué herself, but the Group was to be admired for being cut out of one piece of marble as well as for its beautifull execution so nature was violated by art and the figures are all crowded together in a lump. But I may accept too this Europa & the Bull which has just been brought from [blank] and is being placed in a fountain with a Sea nymph on each side of her who had much better have been immersed[?] in their native element I think & the Lava from the fiery mountain which surrounds them have been left in its native element. Other additions and improvements such as little temples &c are you see still going on and alltogether the place in certainly a fine lounge & well adapted to the lounging natives. But Charlotte don't you think that the Ladies try to supply by dress what they want in Beauty, they understand the art well enough do they not? I have no patience with the complacency of the Belles (there are a few), they might have the modesty to keep it to themselves a little more, they seem to come to the Villa Reale or the Chiara to hook the people and then go to the Accademie dei Nobili to sport with their prey.
However having now duly admired them we have arrived at the end of the Villa Reale and will seat ourselves in the Curi. You start at the sound of the driver behind speaking to his little horse and cracking his whip as loud as a Pistol and at the enormous rate we go, never mind there is not the least danger. No. = Not in this horrid dark subterranean passage so long that the opening at the end seems only a little hole in a wall and the final glimmering light of the lamps scarcely sufficient to illuminate our horses ears? = No, none. But as there is nothing to see were we to get to the other end different from what we have seen, and as we have already arrived at the little chapple in the Middle, we will turn back again for this dust makes you cough and this freezing draught of air don't suit your rheumatism. = And you call this the Grotta di Posillipo do you? = Yes, some call it also the Grotta di Pozzuoli and the Tufo of which the hill is composed Pozzolane, it serves for making capital cement = Good. Andiamo, but we shall certainly run over somebody if that fellow continues to cry at such a rate to his Pony, for little fellow he is in excellent condition. Are they all so. = Yes, the hack horses are I think generally much better at Naples than in any other place I have been at. That inscription on our right is a lying inscription they say for Virgil never speaks of his family yet what they call his tomb is a family tomb. Now we shall take the fashionable drive along the Mergellena but we cut rather a sorry figure in our Curi. = Never mind, Andiamo. = This firm road is also a late improvement. The view is very fine is it not? You see on the left the finest part of Naples and when you get to the end of Promontory of Posillipo we shall have the view of almost all the town = How very red Vesuvius looks, what is the reason of that? = I don't know. But I have endeavoured to imitate the tint in my little painting because it makes a good contrast and on a fine afternoon it always has that tint viewed from Naples. The lava &c is nearly black, the air when not influenced by any foreign tint, Blue, and the setting sun you see is yellowish red, these are the tints which combined make that Dirty red perhaps. = Perhaps as you say but I want my dinner, how much longer am I to be jumbled about in this uncomfortable Curi as you call it. =
I only want to shew you the Island of Nisida when we get to the end of the Promontory, there now you can see it. It is applied now as the Lazaretto, a very different purpose from what it was applied to in the time of Lucullus & Brutus. And in going back we will take a peep at the School of Virgil which they say was a temple of Fortune, we may make another expedition this way to see the rest of the [?] = Oh Mercy, mercy not in a Curi then I hope. Take care how you drive down this steep hill and on these great flat stones. But now conjure me home pray do, Mama has been waiting dinner for me this half hour I'm sure = Well just look once more at the mountain, you see as the sun sets low the tint grows purple and darker, the two first colours black and blue begin to prevail upon the red = Oh yes black and blue, if you don't conjure me out of this nasty Curi I shall be black & blue too = Well give my love to every body and be ready against I conjure you to me again, good bye. Houkerinikous incotterelle pisaw[?].