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friends seconded the advice; and thus in a moment, not without a painful emotion, with me expired the last ray of hope, so long and so fondly cherished, of visiting the most interesting portion of the earth, not even excepting the classic scenes of Italy, which had afforded us so much delight.
As the utmost limits of our tour towards the south and east had now been reached, the same party that had anticipated the pleasure of visiting the islands and climbing the hills of Greece together, agreed to return to Rome in company. A vetturino was put in requisition, to take us on in a coach by ourselves; a full load for the miserable team. At the moment of leaving, it was found that the driver had engaged to take another passenger without our knowledge or consent. Remonstrances were in vain, till an appeal was made to the American Consul, who had had the kindness, among his many other favours, to agree for the carriage, being much better acquainted with the Neapolitans than ourselves. The great overgrown coachman was so angry at being foiled in his scheme to impose upon us and abuse his horses, as actually to burst into tears. This attempt at fraud brings to mind another instance of a similar kind, which occurred in the same city. A vetturino endeavoured to impose on a party of our countrymen, who appealed to the law for redress, but soon learned that the Justice had been bribed to give a decision against them. In this dilemma they applied to the Consul, who informed them, that they had only to give a fee of two ducats instead of one to the Judge. They followed his advice, and the suit was instantly decided in their favour! This anecdote is said to be illustrative of judicial proceedings at Naples.
Our rights on this occasion were the more strenuously contested, for the sake of making room for the American gentleman, so often alluded to in my sketch of Naples, who concluded to take a seat with us as far as Caserta, fifteen or twenty miles from the city, whither we all wished to go, to examine a celebrated aqueduct and palace of the king. After sundry delays and disasters, incident to a dishonest, lazy, and shiftless people, the morning of the 4th of June saw us fairly off towards the north, not unwilling to escape from a region, where the physical and moral worlds present such striking contrasts. The troops of clamorous beggars and custom-house officers, who pursued the coach, in some measure alleviated the poignancy of feeling, on taking a last view of the beautiful bay and its elysian shores.
At the town of Aversa, we made a diversion to the right of the great Capua road, and after crossing a broad fertile plain, tolerably well cultivated, waving with harvests and vineyards, we reached Caserta about noon. A decent breakfast was obtained at the village hotel.
One of the party incurred the expense of a carlin, for the sake of seeing a lazzarone eat a few yards of macaroni-a sight which all travellers are curious to witness. Whoever has seen a conjurer swallow tow, and spin from it red ribbon, may form some idea of the play of the muscles in this gormandizing process. The great art consists in swallowing a pound or two, without pausing to take breath, or interrupting the continuity of the rope. It is not an exhibition of a very intellectual or elevated kind, and the half-starved showman appeared to enjoy it with much more gout than the lookers-on.
After breakfast, we procured a local cicerone, and went to the famous palace, built by Charles III. a monarch of handsome talents, great magnificence, and no mean taste. This colossal pile is in point of architecture decidedly the finest edifice to be found south of Rome. Its length is eight hundred feet, and its breadth four hundred; three stories high, besides the attic; and of the composite order. The material is a light coloured stone, which shows remarkably well. There are three lofty arched doors in front, opening quite through the building, and disclosing in long perspective the elevated ridges of hills in the rear. Through the vista formed by the middle entrance, a copious stream is seen falling in cascades from the mountains, which are comparatively naked, uniform, and tame. The artificial character of the water also detracts much from the beauty of the prospect. In front of the palace, which, in spite of all its faults, presents an imposing façade, the view extends across a wide plain to the south, towards Naples and the sea. The old town of Caserta, seated on the top of one of the hills, and now in ruins, forms by far the most striking and romantic feature in the scenery. It is difficult to assign any particular reasons for selecting this spot, as the site of such a proud structure; since it enjoys neither the advantages of the town nor country. The modern village of Caserta is populous, and deprives the palace of retirement and the charm of a rural situation. But the kings of Naples seem to have planted their ten or a dozen residences abroad among their subjects, as they would have established so many fortresses, without much regard to taste.
The interior of the palace is entirely unique in its construction, and notwithstanding its oddity, presents a coup d'oeil of perhaps unequalled architectural grandeur. It is erected round four spacious courts, two on each side of the central arched and pillared passage. From the middle of the edifice four magnificent avenues open diagonally into the courts, and afford views of the rich façades by which they are bordered. The spectator here finds himself in the midst of a splendid panorama of palaces rising on all sides, magnified and seen to
more advantage through the long perspective of arches, forming hexagonal radii, including the two running transversely through the building. So far as my observation extends, this plan has the merit of perfect originality, and the unity of idea in such a maze of splendour produces a very happy effect.
The stair-way can hardly be surpassed in grandeur. It springs from the central arch, and ascends by a flight of marble steps, perhaps thirty feet in breadth, to the first story, where there is a spacious landing; and thence two other flights, of nearly the same width, rise laterally on each side of the former, to the second floor. In an alcove, opposite the foot, stands a colossal Hercules, a copy of the one in the Studii at Naples; while the head of the steps is guarded by two beautiful lions in marble. The upper flights are enriched with balustrades and Ionic columns of the richest materials and the most exquisite workmanship. If there be any thing of the kind more magnificent in the range of our travels in Great Britain or on the Continent, none of our party can boast of much taste in architecture; for we all gazed in admiration and astonishment at the richness of the view. Yet it is not improbable, that critics might pick flaws; since there is scarcely a work of art in Italy, from the Venus de' Medicis downward, which has not alternately been the subject of panegyric and censure; so that after wading perhaps through fifty volumes, a person after all must judge for himself.
Entering the labyrinth of apartments, we first visited the Chapel, which is a compound of splendour and meanness. The walls are surrounded by colonnades of Corinthian pillars supporting the galleries. Some of these are said to be from the temple of Jupiter Serapis at Pozzuoli. As a contrast to this richness of columns, the High Altar is of painted stucco, without a fragment of marble or precious stone in its tawdry ornaments. The theatre is splendidly finished, having three tiers of boxes, making about forty in all, with a throne in front, for the king, little inferior in its decorations to the royal seat in San Carlo. On extraordinary occasions, his Majesty takes with him to Caserta a company of players from Naples.
The cicerone led us through an inextricable suite of vacant rooms, which looked all alike, and in which the points of compass were easily lost. One of our party lingered a moment, to examine a fresco upon the ceiling, and became so bewildered, that after wandering for some time in pursuit of his comrades, he was obliged to halloo for the guide to help him out. The floors are painted red and varnished, like those of all the other regal palaces. There is a scanty show of furniture and tapestry; and the frescoed ceilings are not very remarkable either for
design or execution. Among the groups of statues, is one representing Alexander Borghese crossing a river in triumph. The allegory is supremely ridiculous. With a sort of bombastic expression of bravery, the foot of the conqueror is planted upon the abdomen of the river-god, whose face is as much distorted, as if he was suddenly seized with a fit of the colic! It is an admirable caricature, although intended as a forcible illustration of the valour of this modern Alexander.
The gardens, fountains, and cascades in the rear of the Palace, are all in horrible taste. Such nudity and poverty of grounds were never seen in connexion with so much architectural splendour. A lawn more fit for a farm-yard, than for the park of one of the finest edifices in Europe, spreads back of the northern façade. A scanty coat of foliage; a few shorn trees and shrubs, bordering straight paths; parterres of flowers fantastically cut into the shape of baskets, disgust the visitant at every step. In the centre of the grounds is a large square fish-pond, substantially walled up, and guarded by a heavy balustrade. Not a leaf, nor an aquatic plant shades the finny tribes from the influence of a broiling sun. Fishes of a large size are numerous, and look like prisoners, shut up to satisfy the appetite of the king, when he shall be pleased to call for them, rather than as embellishments to gratify a man of taste, by their little sports. I would as soon look into a poultry-yard, as into the fish-ponds of Caserta. The swans and ducks are equally unhappy captives, swimming from side to side, impatient of their confinement, with no little green islands for their resting place. What a contrast is here to the rural charms of Studley Park! The cascades, instead of descending naturally, pour in regular sheets, as over a milldam; and the fountains, which might be made to gush from rocks and thickets, spout from the mouths of colossal fishes and other monsters. Yet on this Palace and its embellishments five millions of dollars have been squandered; while the only use made of it is a twenty days residence in September of each year. The aggregate cost of the several mansions of the king of Naples was originally twenty millions of dollars; and immense sums are annually expended to keep them in repair. Such are some of the blessings of royalty.
Again entering our coach, we set out for the aqueduct, at the distance of four or five miles. The road runs along the base of a high range of hills, crowned with the ruins of old fortresses and towns. It passes several pretty villages, and is bordered at intervals with pyramids of moderate elevation, surmounted by vases. Winding round under the cliffs of one of the mountains, the traveller sees the Aqueduct stretching across a deep, retired, rural vale half a mile or more in width. This stupendous work, which reminds one of the similar
structures of the Romans, is two hundred feet in height, consisting of triple rows of arches, stretching from hill to hill, and presenting a view of much grandeur. It is substantially constructed of yellowish stone; wide enough at top for the passage of a coach, and guarded by balustrades. The king has ridden across it in his chariot. It bears a striking resemblance to a work of the same kind at Montpellier, in the south of France, described in one of my former letters.
We climbed the rugged ascent, to the eastern end of it, and examined its arches, opening longitudinally through two of its stories, in lengthened perspective. The conduit is five feet deep, and eight or ten feet from the top. At the point, where the water enters, the stream is so rapid, that its roar may be heard at the depth of several feet below the surface. Half a mile farther on, the current descends from the hill in an open canal. It is rapid, clear, and cold; sufficiently copious to turn several grist-mills before entering the aqueduct. It comes from Beneventum, twenty miles to the north-east. After crossing the valley, it runs along the ridge of mountains, in one place through a tunnel two miles in length, and the rest of the way near the surface, till it bursts from the brow of the hill, in the rear of the palace at Caserta. Thence it is carried to Naples, making a distance in all of about forty miles.
We followed the track of the king's coach, across the top, and descended on the other side. The view into the secluded vale, winding up among the mountains, is extensive, rich, and beautiful. This aqueduct was constructed in the term of seven years, by Charles III. to supply his palace at Caserta with fountains and fish-ponds. Two long Latin inscriptions on the arches, give a history of the undertaking. Who that has examined this work, constructed for more than half of the way through a rough, mountainous country, and by a nation without enterprise or energy, can doubt the practicability of supplying New-York with water from the Bronx or the Croton! Either of these streams might be brought to the city for one half of the sum, which has here been expended.
Having accomplished all the objects of our visit, we returned to Caserta; and after parting with the friend, who had been with us almost daily during our residence at Naples, and who had done so much to render our tour both agreeable and instructive, the rest of our party set out for Capua, with feelings not a little saddened by such an incident. Just at twilight, a glance was obtained of the ruins of the old city of Capua, rising in dark masses from a plain, on the right of the road, and overgrown with luxuriant foliage. Half an hour more brought us to the centre of the modern town, scarcely less a ruin,