List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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in the picturesque Middle Ages, to embark on voyages of pleasure or
warlike forays!  The steps are well worn, and must have been trodden
for ages, by nobles and robbers, peasants and sailors, priests of
more than one religion, and traders of many seas, who have gone, and
left no record.  The sun was slanting his last rays into the
corridors as I musingly looked down from one of the arched openings,
quite spellbound by the strangeness and dead silence of the place,
broken only by the plash of waves on the sandy beach below.  I had
found my way down through a wooden door half ajar; and I thought of
the possibility of some one's shutting it for the night, and leaving
me a prisoner to await the spectres which I have no doubt throng here
when it grows dark.  Hastening up out of these chambers of the past,
I escaped into the upper air, and walked rapidly home through the
narrow orange lanes.


The tiptop of the Villa Nardi is a flat roof, with a wall about it
three feet high, and some little turreted affairs, that look very
much like chimneys.  Joseph, the gray-haired servitor, has brought my
chair and table up here to-day, and here I am, established to write.

I am here above most earthly annoyances, and on a level with the
heavenly influences.  It has always seemed to me that the higher one
gets, the easier it must be to write; and that, especially at a great
elevation, one could strike into lofty themes, and launch out,
without fear of shipwreck on any of the earthly headlands, in his
aerial voyages.  Yet, after all, he would be likely to arrive
nowhere, I suspect; or, to change the figure, to find that, in
parting with the taste of the earth, he had produced a flavorless
composition.  If it were not for the haze in the horizon to-day, I
could distinguish the very house in Naples--that of Manso, Marquis of
Villa,--where Tasso found a home, and where John Milton was
entertained at a later day by that hospitable nobleman.  I wonder, if
he had come to the Villa Nardi and written on the roof, if the
theological features of his epic would have been softened, and if he
would not have received new suggestions for the adornment of the
garden.  Of course, it is well that his immortal production was not
composed on this roof, and in sight of these seductive shores, or it
would have been more strongly flavored with classic mythology than it
is.  But, letting Milton go, it may be necessary to say that my
writing to-day has nothing to do with my theory of composition in an
elevated position; for this is the laziest place that I have yet

I am above the highest olive-trees, and, if I turned that way, should
look over the tops of what seems a vast grove of them, out of which a
white roof, and an old time-eaten tower here and there, appears; and
the sun is flooding them with waves of light, which I think a person
delicately enough organized could hear beat.  Beyond the brown roofs
of the town, the terraced hills arise, in semicircular embrace of the
plain; and the fine veil over them is partly the natural shimmer of
the heat, and partly the silver duskiness of the olive-leaves.  I sit
with my back to all this, taking the entire force of this winter sun,
which is full of life and genial heat, and does not scorch one, as I
remember such a full flood of it would at home.  It is putting
sweetness, too, into the oranges, which, I observe, are getting
redder and softer day by day.  We have here, by the way, such a habit
of taking up an orange, weighing it in the hand, and guessing if it
is ripe, that the test is extending to other things.  I saw a
gentleman this morning, at breakfast, weighing an egg in the same
manner; and some one asked him if it was ripe.

It seems to me that the Mediterranean was never bluer than it is
to-day.  It has a shade or two the advantage of the sky: though I
like the sky best, after all; for it is less opaque, and offers an
illimitable opportunity of exploration.  Perhaps this is because I am
nearer to it.  There are some little ruffles of air on the sea, which
I do not feel here, making broad spots of shadow, and here and there
flecks and sparkles.  But the schooners sail idly, and the
fishing-boats that have put out from the marina float in the most
dreamy manner.  I fear that the fishermen who have made a show of
industry, and got away from their wives, who are busily weaving nets
on shore, are yielding to the seductions of the occasion) and making
a day of it.  And, as I look at them, I find myself debating which I
would rather be, a fisherman there in the boat, rocked by the swell,
and warmed by the sun, or a friar, on the terrace of the garden on
the summit of Deserto, lying perfectly tranquil, and also soaked in
the sun.  There is one other person, now that I think of it, who may
be having a good time to-day, though I do not know that I envy him.
His business is a new one to me, and is an occupation that one would
not care to recommend to a friend until he had tried it: it is being
carried about in a basket.  As I went up the new Massa road the other
day, I met a ragged, stout, and rather dirty woman, with a large
shallow basket on her head.  In it lay her husband, a large man,
though I think a little abbreviated as to his legs.  The woman asked
alms.  Talk of Diogenes in his tub!  How must the world look to a man
in a basket, riding about on his wife's head?  When I returned, she
had put him down beside the road in the sun, and almost in danger of
the passing vehicles.  I suppose that the affectionate creature
thought that, if he got a new injury in this way, his value in the
beggar market would be increased.  I do not mean to do this exemplary
wife any injustice; and I only suggest the idea in this land, where
every beggar who is born with a deformity has something to thank the
Virgin for.  This custom of carrying your husband on your head in a
basket has something to recommend it, and is an exhibition of faith
on the one hand, and of devotion on the other, that is seldom met
with.  Its consideration is commended to my countrywomen at home.  It
is, at least, a new commentary on the apostolic remark, that the man
is the head of the woman.  It is, in some respects, a happy division
of labor in the walk of life: she furnishes the locomotive power, and
he the directing brains, as he lies in the sun and looks abroad;
which reminds me that the sun is getting hot on my back.  The little
bunch of bells in the convent tower is jangling out a suggestion of
worship, or of the departure of the hours.  It is time to eat an

Vesuvius appears to be about on a level with my eyes and I never knew
him to do himself more credit than to-day.  The whole coast of the
bay is in a sort of obscuration, thicker than an Indian summer haze;
and the veil extends almost to the top of Vesuvius.  But his summit
is still distinct, and out of it rises a gigantic billowy column of
white smoke, greater in quantity than on any previous day of our
sojourn; and the sun turns it to silver.  Above a long line of
ordinary looking clouds, float great white masses, formed of the
sulphurous vapor.  This manufacture of clouds in a clear, sunny day
has an odd appearance; but it is easy enough, if one has such a
laboratory as Vesuvius.  How it tumbles up the white smoke!  It is
piled up now, I should say, a thousand feet above the crater,
straight into the blue sky,--a pillar of cloud by day.  One might sit
here all day watching it, listening the while to the melodious spring
singing of the hundreds of birds which have come to take possession
of the garden, receiving southern reinforcements from Sicily and
Tunis every morning, and think he was happy.  But the morning has
gone; and I have written nothing.


If ever a northern wanderer could be suddenly transported to look
down upon the Piano di Sorrento, he would not doubt that he saw the
Garden of the Hesperides.  The orange-trees cannot well be fuller:
their branches bend with the weight of fruit.  With the almond-trees
in full flower, and with the silver sheen of the olive leaves, the
oranges are apples of gold in pictures of silver.  As I walk in these
sunken roads, and between these high walls, the orange boughs
everywhere hang over; and through the open gates of villas I look
down alleys of golden glimmer, roses and geraniums by the walk, and
the fruit above,--gardens of enchantment, with never a dragon, that I
can see, to guard them.

All the highways and the byways, the streets and lanes, wherever I
go, from the sea to the tops of the hills, are strewn with
orange-peel; so that one, looking above and below, comes back from a
walk with a golden dazzle in his eyes,--a sense that yellow is the
prevailing color.  Perhaps the kerchiefs of the dark-skinned girls
and women, which take that tone, help the impression.  The
inhabitants are all orange-eaters.  The high walls show that the
gardens are protected with great care; yet the fruit seems to be as
free as apples are in a remote New England town about cider-time.

I have been trying, ever since I have been here, to ascertain the
price of oranges; not for purposes of exportation, nor yet for the
personal importation that I daily practice, but in order to give an
American basis of fact to these idle chapters.  In all the paths I
meet, daily, girls and boys bearing on their heads large baskets of
the fruit, and little children with bags and bundles of the same, as
large as they can stagger under; and I understand they are carrying
them to the packers, who ship them to New York, or to the depots,
where I see them lying in yellow heaps, and where men and women are
cutting them up, and removing the peel, which goes to England for
preserves.  I am told that these oranges are sold for a couple of
francs a hundred.  That seems to me so dear that I am not tempted
into any speculation, but stroll back to the Tramontano, in the
gardens of which I find better terms.

The only trouble is to find a sweet tree; for the Sorrento oranges
are usually sour in February; and one needs to be a good judge of the

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