Page images

house, the least sound startles, as if the proprietor was coming out of the back apartments. The traveller may long indulge the illusion, for not a voice is heard, not even the sound of a foot to disturb the loneliness of the place, or interrupt his reflections. All around is silence, not the silence of solitude and repose, but of death and devastation, the silence of a great city without one single inhabitant:—

Horror ubique animus, simul ipsa silentia terrent.

Immediately above the buildings the ground rises, not into a cliff, casting gloom, as the sides of a grave, or the hollow below, but as a gentle swell formed by nature to shelter the houses at its base. It is clothed with corn, poplars, mulberries, and vines in their most luxuriant graces, waving from tree to tree, still covering the greater part of the city with vegetation, and forming with the dark brown masses half buried below, a singular and most affecting contrast. This scene of a city, raised as it were from the grave, where it had lain forgotten during the long night of eighteen centuries, when once beheld, must remain for ever pictured on the imagination, and whenever it presents itself to the fancy, it comes, like the recollection of an awful apparition, accompanied by thoughts and emotions solemn and melancholy. Eustace.

The remains of this town afford a truly interesting spectacle. It is like a resurrection from the dead;—the progress of time and decay is arrested, and you are admitted to the temples,

the theatres, and the domestic privacy of a people who have ceased to exist for seventeen centuries. Nothing is wanting but the inhabitants. Still a morning's walk through the solemn silent streets of Pompeii will give you a livelier idea of their modes of life, than all the books in the world. They seem, like the French of the present day, to have existed only in public.

Their theatres, temples, basilica, forums, are on the most splendid scale, but in their private dwellings, we discover little or no attention to comfort. The houses in general have a small court, round which the rooms are built, which are rather cells than rooms;—the greater part are without windows, receiving light only from the door.

There are no chimneys;—the smoke of the kitchen, which is usually low and dark, must have found its way through a hole in the ceiling. The doors are so low, that you are obliged to stoop to pass through them. There are some traces of Mosaic flooring, and the stucco paintings, with which all the walls are covered, are but little injured: and upon being wetted they appear as fresh as ever. Brown, red, yellow, and blue, are the prevailing colours. It is pity that the contents of the houses could not have been allowed to remain in the state in which they were found;—but this would have been impossible. Travellers are the greatest thieves in the world. As it is, they will tear down, without scruple, the whole side of a room, to cut out a favourite specimen of the stucco painting. If it were not for this pilfering propensity, we


might have seen every thing as it really was left at the time of this great calamity, even to the skeleton, which was found with a purse of gold in its hand, trying to run away from the impending destruction, and exhibiting " the ruling passion strong in death" in the last object of its anxiety. In the stocks of the guardroom, which were used as a military punishment, the skeletons of four soldiers were found sitting; but these poor fellows have now been released from their ignominious situation, and the stocks, with every thing else that was moveable, have been placed in the Museum; the bones being consigned to their parent clay.

Pompeii, therefore, exhibits nothing but bare walls, and the walls are without roofs; for these have been broken in, by the weight of the shower of ashes and pumice stones that caused the destruction of the town.

The amphitheatre is very perfect, as indeed are the other two theatres, intended for dramatic representations; though it is evident that they had sustained some injury from the earthquake, which, as we learn from Tacitus, had already much damaged this devoted town, before its final destruction by the eruption of Vesuvius.

The paintings on the walls of the amphitheatre represent the combats of gladiators and wild beasts, the dens of which remain just as they were seventeen hundred years ago.

The two theatres for dramatic entertainments are as close together as our own Drury Lane and Covent Garden. The larger one, which might have contained five thousand persons, like the amphitheatres, had no roof, but was open to the light of day. The stage is very much circumscribed—there is no depth, and there are consequently no side scenes: the form and appearance are like that of our own theatres when the drop scene is down, and forms the extent of the stage. In this back scene of the Roman stage, which, instead of canvas, is composed of unchangeable brick and marble, are three doors; and there are two others on the sides, answering to our own stage doors. It seems that it was the theatrical etiquette that the premiers roles should have their exits and entrances through the doors of the back scene, and the inferior ones through those on the sides.

The little theatre is covered, and in better preservation than the other; and, it is supposed, that this was intended for musical entertainments.

The Temple of Isis has suffered little injury. The statues alone have been taken away. You see the very altar on which the victims were offered; — and you may now ascend without ceremony the private stairs which led to the sanctum sanctorum of the goddess; where those mysterious rites were celebrated, the nature of which may be shrewdly guessed, from the curiosities discovered there, which are now to be seen in the Museo Borbonico. In a niche, on the outside of the temple, was a statue of Harpocrates, appropriately placed, as a warning not to kiss and tell, but—

Foul deeds will rise,
Though all the world o'erwhelm them, to man's eyes.

The streets are very narrow, the marks of wheelB on the pavement show that carriages were in use; but there must have been some regulation to prevent their meeting each other, for one carriage would have occupied the whole of the street, except the narrow trottoir raised on each side for foot passengers, for whose accommodation there are also raised stepping-stones, in order to cross from one side to the other. The distance between the wheel-tracks is four feet three inches.

There is often an emblem, over the door of a house, that determines the profession of its former owner.—The word "Salve" on one, seems to denote that it was an inn, as we have, in our days, the sign of " The Salutation." In the outer brick work of another is carved an emblem which shocks the refinement of modern taste: but which has been an object even of religious adoration, in many countries, probably as a symbol of creative power. The same device is found on the stucco of the inner court of another house, with this intimation, Hie habitat felicitas, which is a sufficient explanation of the character of its inhabitants.

Many of the paintings on the walls are very elegant in the taste and design, and they often assist us in ascertaining the uses for which the different rooms were intended. For example,— in the baths, we find Tritons and Naiads; in the bedchamber, Morpheus scatters his poppies, and in the eating-rooms, a sacrifice to iEsculapius teaches us that we should eat to live, and not live to eat. In one of these rooms are the remains of a triclinium.

« PreviousContinue »