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List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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how many stupid louts have walked there, insensible to all the charm
of it!

If I pass into the Tramontano garden, it is not to escape the
presence of history, or to get into the modern world, where travelers
are arriving, and where there is the bustle and proverbial discontent
of those who travel to enjoy themselves.  In the pretty garden, which
is a constant surprise of odd nooks and sunny hiding-places, with
ruins, and most luxuriant ivy, is a little cottage where, I am told
in confidence, the young king of Bavaria slept three nights not very
long ago.  I hope he slept well.  But more important than the sleep,
or even death, of a king, is the birth of a poet, I take it; and
within this inclosure, on the eleventh day of March, 1541, Torquato
Tasso, most melancholy of men, first saw the light; and here was born
his noble sister Cornelia, the descendants of whose union with the
cavalier Spasiano still live here, and in a manner keep the memory of
the poet green with the present generation.  I am indebted to a
gentleman who is of this lineage for many favors, and for precise
information as to the position in the house that stood here of the
very room in which Tasso was born.  It is also minutely given in a
memoir of Tasso and his family, by Bartolommeo Capasso, whose careful
researches have disproved the slipshod statements of the guidebooks,
that the poet was born in a house which is still standing, farther to
the west, and that the room has fallen into the sea.  The descendant
of the sister pointed out to me the spot on the terrace of the
Tramontano where the room itself was, when the house still stood;
and, of course, seeing is believing.  The sun shone full upon it, as
we stood there; and the air was full of the scent of tropical fruit
and just-coming blossoms.  One could not desire a more tranquil scene
of advent into life; and the wandering, broken-hearted author of
"Jerusalem Delivered " never found at court or palace any retreat so
soothing as that offered him here by his steadfast sister.

If I were an antiquarian, I think I should have had Tasso born at the
Villa Nardi, where I like best to stay, and where I find traces of
many pilgrims from other countries.  Here, in a little corner room on
the terrace, Mrs. Stowe dreamed and wrote; and I expect, every
morning, as I take my morning sun here by the gate, Agnes of Sorrento
will come down the sweet-scented path with a basket of oranges on her


It is not always easy, when one stands upon the highlands which
encircle the Piano di Sorrento, in some conditions of the atmosphere,
to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins.  It seems.
practicable, at such times, for one to take ship and sail up into
heaven.  I have often, indeed, seen white sails climbing up there,
and fishing-boats, at secure anchor I suppose, riding apparently like
balloons in the hazy air.  Sea and air and land here are all kin, I
suspect, and have certain immaterial qualities in common.  The
contours of the shores and the outlines of the hills are as graceful
as the mobile waves; and if there is anywhere ruggedness and
sharpness, the atmosphere throws a friendly veil over it, and tones
all that is inharmonious into the repose of beauty.

The atmosphere is really something more than a medium: it is a
drapery, woven, one could affirm, with colors, or dipped in oriental
dyes.  One might account thus for the prismatic colors I have often
seen on the horizon at noon, when the sun was pouring down floods of
clear golden light.  The simple light here, if one could ever
represent it by pen, pencil, or brush, would draw the world hither to
bathe in it.  It is not thin sunshine, but a royal profusion, a
golden substance, a transforming quality, a vesture of splendor for
all these Mediterranean shores.

The most comprehensive idea of Sorrento and the great plain on which
it stands, imbedded almost out of sight in foliage, we obtained one
day from our boat, as we put out round the Capo di Sorrento, and
stood away for Capri.  There was not wind enough for sails, but there
were chopping waves, and swell enough to toss us about, and to
produce bright flashes of light far out at sea.  The red-shirted
rowers silently bent to their long sweeps; and I lay in the tossing
bow, and studied the high, receding shore.  The picture is simple, a
precipice of rock or earth, faced with masonry in spots, almost of
uniform height from point to point of the little bay, except where a
deep gorge has split the rock, and comes to the sea, forming a cove,
where a cluster of rude buildings is likely to gather.  Along the
precipice, which now juts and now recedes a little, are villas,
hotels, old convents, gardens, and groves.  I can see steps and
galleries cut in the face of the cliff, and caves and caverns,
natural and artificial: for one can cut this tufa with a knife; and
it would hardly seem preposterous to attempt to dig out a cool, roomy
mansion in this rocky front with a spade.

As we pull away, I begin to see the depth of the plain of Sorrento,
with its villages, walled roads, its groves of oranges, olives,
lemons, its figs, pomegranates, almonds, mulberries, and acacias; and
soon the terraces above, where the vineyards are planted, and the
olives also.  These terraces must be a brave sight in the spring,
when the masses of olives are white as snow with blossoms, which fill
all the plain with their sweet perfume.  Above the terraces, the eye
reaches the fine outline of the hill; and, to the east, the bare
precipice of rock, softened by the purple light; and turning still to
the left, as the boat lazily swings, I have Vesuvius, the graceful
dip into the plain, and the rise to the heights of Naples, Nisida,
the shining houses of Pozzuoli, Cape Misenum, Procida, and rough
Ischia.  Rounding the headland, Capri is before us, so sharp and
clear that we seem close to it; but it is a weary pull before we get
under its rocky side.

Returning from Capri late in the afternoon, we had one of those
effects which are the despair of artists.  I had been told that
twilights are short here, and that, when the sun disappeared, color
vanished from the sky.  There was a wonderful light on all the inner
bay, as we put off from shore.  Ischia was one mass of violet color,
As we got from under the island, there was the sun, a red ball of
fire, just dipping into the sea.  At once the whole horizon line of
water became a bright crimson, which deepened as evening advanced,
glowing with more intense fire, and holding a broad band of what
seemed solid color for more than three quarters of an hour.  The
colors, meantime, on the level water, never were on painter's
palette, and never were counterfeited by the changeable silks of
eastern looms; and this gorgeous spectacle continued till the stars
came out, crowding the sky with silver points.

Our boatmen, who had been reinforced at Capri, and were inspired
either by the wine of the island or the beauty of the night, pulled
with new vigor, and broke out again and again into the wild songs of
this coast. A favorite was the Garibaldi song, which invariably ended
in a cheer and a tiger, and threw the singers into such a spurt of
excitement that the oars forgot to keep time, and there was more
splash than speed.  The singers all sang one part in minor: there was
no harmony, the voices were not rich, and the melody was not
remarkable; but there was, after all, a wild pathos in it.  Music is
very much here what it is in Naples.  I have to keep saying to myself
that Italy is a land of song; else I should think that people mistake
noise for music.

The boatmen are an honest set of fellows, as Italians go; and, let us
hope, not unworthy followers of their patron, St. Antonino, whose
chapel is on the edge of the gorge near the Villa Nardi.  A silver
image of the saint, half life-size, stands upon the rich marble
altar.  This valuable statue has been,, if tradition is correct, five
times captured and carried away by marauders, who have at different
times sacked Sorrento of its marbles, bronzes, and precious things,
and each time, by some mysterious providence, has found its way back
again,--an instance of constancy in a solid silver image which is
worthy of commendation.  The little chapel is hung all about with
votive offerings in wax of arms, legs, heads, hands, effigies, and
with coarse lithographs, in frames, of storms at sea and perils of
ships, hung up by sailors who, having escaped the dangers of the
deep, offer these tributes to their dear saint.  The skirts of the
image are worn quite smooth with kissing.  Underneath it, at the back
of the altar, an oil light is always burning; and below repose the
bones of the holy man.

The whole shore is fascinating to one in an idle mood, and is good
mousing-ground for the antiquarian.  For myself, I am content with
one generalization, which I find saves a world of bother and
perplexity: it is quite safe to style every excavation, cavern,
circular wall, or arch by the sea, a Roman bath.  It is the final
resort of the antiquarians.  This theory has kept me from entering
the discussion, whether the substructions in the cliff under the
Poggio Syracuse, a royal villa, are temples of the Sirens, or caves
of Ulysses.  I only know that I descend to the sea there by broad
interior flights of steps, which lead through galleries and
corridors, and high, vaulted passages, whence extend apartments and
caves far reaching into the solid rock.  At intervals are landings,
where arched windows are cut out to the sea, with stone seats and
protecting walls.  At the base of the cliff I find a hewn passage, as
if there had once been here a way of embarkation; and enormous
fragments of rocks, with steps cut in them, which have fallen from

Were these anything more than royal pleasure galleries, where one
could sit in coolness in the heat of summer and look on the bay and
its shipping, in the days when the great Roman fleet used to lie
opposite, above the point of Misenum?  How many brave and gay
retinues have swept down these broad interior stairways, let us say

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