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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter XXIX

Innocents Abroad

Chapter XXIX

The ship is lying here in the harbor of Naples--quarantined. She has
been here several days and will remain several more. We that came by
rail from Rome have escaped this misfortune. Of course no one is allowed
to go on board the ship, or come ashore from her. She is a prison, now.
The passengers probably spend the long, blazing days looking out from
under the awnings at Vesuvius and the beautiful city--and in swearing.
Think of ten days of this sort of pastime!--We go out every day in a boat
and request them to come ashore. It soothes them. We lie ten steps from
the ship and tell them how splendid the city is; and how much better the
hotel fare is here than any where else in Europe; and how cool it is; and
what frozen continents of ice cream there are; and what a time we are
having cavorting about the country and sailing to the islands in the Bay.
This tranquilizes them.

                         ASCENT OF VESUVIUS.

I shall remember our trip to Vesuvius for many a day--partly because of
its sight-seeing experiences, but chiefly on account of the fatigue of
the journey. Two or three of us had been resting ourselves among the
tranquil and beautiful scenery of the island of Ischia, eighteen miles
out in the harbor, for two days; we called it "resting," but I do not
remember now what the resting consisted of, for when we got back to
Naples we had not slept for forty-eight hours. We were just about to go
to bed early in the evening, and catch up on some of the sleep we had
lost, when we heard of this Vesuvius expedition. There was to be eight
of us in the party, and we were to leave Naples at midnight. We laid in
some provisions for the trip, engaged carriages to take us to
Annunciation, and then moved about the city, to keep awake, till twelve.
We got away punctually, and in the course of an hour and a half arrived
at the town of Annunciation. Annunciation is the very last place under
the sun. In other towns in Italy the people lie around quietly and wait
for you to ask them a question or do some overt act that can be charged
for--but in Annunciation they have lost even that fragment of delicacy;
they seize a lady's shawl from a chair and hand it to her and charge a
penny; they open a carriage door, and charge for it--shut it when you get
out, and charge for it; they help you to take off a duster--two cents;
brush your clothes and make them worse than they were before--two cents;
smile upon you--two cents; bow, with a lick-spittle smirk, hat in hand--
two cents; they volunteer all information, such as that the mules will
arrive presently--two cents--warm day, sir--two cents--take you four
hours to make the ascent--two cents. And so they go. They crowd you--
infest you--swarm about you, and sweat and smell offensively, and look
sneaking and mean, and obsequious. There is no office too degrading for
them to perform, for money. I have had no opportunity to find out any
thing about the upper classes by my own observation, but from what I hear
said about them I judge that what they lack in one or two of the bad
traits the canaille have, they make up in one or two others that are
worse. How the people beg!--many of them very well dressed, too.

I said I knew nothing against the upper classes by personal observation.
I must recall it! I had forgotten. What I saw their bravest and their
fairest do last night, the lowest multitude that could be scraped up out
of the purlieus of Christendom would blush to do, I think. They
assembled by hundreds, and even thousands, in the great Theatre of San
Carlo, to do--what? Why, simply, to make fun of an old woman--to deride,
to hiss, to jeer at an actress they once worshipped, but whose beauty is
faded now and whose voice has lost its former richness. Every body spoke
of the rare sport there was to be. They said the theatre would be
crammed, because Frezzolini was going to sing. It was said she could not
sing well, now, but then the people liked to see her, anyhow. And so we
went. And every time the woman sang they hissed and laughed--the whole
magnificent house--and as soon as she left the stage they called her on
again with applause. Once or twice she was encored five and six times in
succession, and received with hisses when she appeared, and discharged
with hisses and laughter when she had finished--then instantly encored
and insulted again! And how the high-born knaves enjoyed it! White-
kidded gentlemen and ladies laughed till the tears came, and clapped
their hands in very ecstacy when that unhappy old woman would come meekly
out for the sixth time, with uncomplaining patience, to meet a storm of
hisses! It was the cruelest exhibition--the most wanton, the most
unfeeling. The singer would have conquered an audience of American
rowdies by her brave, unflinching tranquillity (for she answered encore
after encore, and smiled and bowed pleasantly, and sang the best she
possibly could, and went bowing off, through all the jeers and hisses,
without ever losing countenance or temper:) and surely in any other land
than Italy her sex and her helplessness must have been an ample
protection to her--she could have needed no other. Think what a
multitude of small souls were crowded into that theatre last night. If
the manager could have filled his theatre with Neapolitan souls alone,
without the bodies, he could not have cleared less than ninety millions
of dollars. What traits of character must a man have to enable him to
help three thousand miscreants to hiss, and jeer, and laugh at one
friendless old woman, and shamefully humiliate her? He must have all the
vile, mean traits there are. My observation persuades me (I do not like
to venture beyond my own personal observation,) that the upper classes of
Naples possess those traits of character. Otherwise they may be very
good people; I can not say.

                     ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.

In this city of Naples, they believe in and support one of the
wretchedest of all the religious impostures one can find in Italy--the
miraculous liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius. Twice a year the
priests assemble all the people at the Cathedral, and get out this vial
of clotted blood and let them see it slowly dissolve and become liquid--
and every day for eight days, this dismal farce is repeated, while the
priests go among the crowd and collect money for the exhibition. The
first day, the blood liquefies in forty-seven minutes--the church is
crammed, then, and time must be allowed the collectors to get around:
after that it liquefies a little quicker and a little quicker, every day,
as the houses grow smaller, till on the eighth day, with only a few
dozens present to see the miracle, it liquefies in four minutes.

And here, also, they used to have a grand procession, of priests,
citizens, soldiers, sailors, and the high dignitaries of the City
Government, once a year, to shave the head of a made-up Madonna--a
stuffed and painted image, like a milliner's dummy--whose hair
miraculously grew and restored itself every twelve months. They still
kept up this shaving procession as late as four or five years ago. It
was a source of great profit to the church that possessed the remarkable
effigy, and the ceremony of the public barbering of her was always
carried out with the greatest possible eclat and display--the more the
better, because the more excitement there was about it the larger the
crowds it drew and the heavier the revenues it produced--but at last a
day came when the Pope and his servants were unpopular in Naples, and the
City Government stopped the Madonna's annual show.

There we have two specimens of these Neapolitans--two of the silliest
possible frauds, which half the population religiously and faithfully
believed, and the other half either believed also or else said nothing
about, and thus lent themselves to the support of the imposture. I am
very well satisfied to think the whole population believed in those poor,
cheap miracles--a people who want two cents every time they bow to you,
and who abuse a woman, are capable of it, I think.

                     ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.

These Neapolitans always ask four times as much money as they intend to
take, but if you give them what they first demand, they feel ashamed of
themselves for aiming so low, and immediately ask more. When money is to
be paid and received, there is always some vehement jawing and
gesticulating about it. One can not buy and pay for two cents' worth of
clams without trouble and a quarrel. One "course," in a two-horse
carriage, costs a franc--that is law--but the hackman always demands
more, on some pretence or other, and if he gets it he makes a new demand.
It is said that a stranger took a one-horse carriage for a course--
tariff, half a franc. He gave the man five francs, by way of experiment.
He demanded more, and received another franc. Again he demanded more,
and got a franc--demanded more, and it was refused. He grew vehement--
was again refused, and became noisy. The stranger said, "Well, give me
the seven francs again, and I will see what I can do"--and when he got
them, he handed the hackman half a franc, and he immediately asked for
two cents to buy a drink with. It may be thought that I am prejudiced.

Perhaps I am. I would be ashamed of myself if I were not.

                     ASCENT OF VESUVIUS--CONTINUED.

Well, as I was saying, we got our mules and horses, after an hour and a
half of bargaining with the population of Annunciation, and started
sleepily up the mountain, with a vagrant at each mule's tail who
pretended to be driving the brute along, but was really holding on and
getting himself dragged up instead. I made slow headway at first, but I
began to get dissatisfied at the idea of paying my minion five francs to
hold my mule back by the tail and keep him from going up the hill, and so
I discharged him. I got along faster then.

We had one magnificent picture of Naples from a high point on the
mountain side. We saw nothing but the gas lamps, of course--two-thirds
of a circle, skirting the great Bay--a necklace of diamonds glinting up
through the darkness from the remote distance--less brilliant than the
stars overhead, but more softly, richly beautiful--and over all the great
city the lights crossed and recrossed each other in many and many a
sparkling line and curve. And back of the town, far around and abroad
over the miles of level campagna, were scattered rows, and circles, and
clusters of lights, all glowing like so many gems, and marking where a
score of villages were sleeping. About this time, the fellow who was
hanging on to the tail of the horse in front of me and practicing all
sorts of unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, got kicked some fourteen
rods, and this incident, together with the fairy spectacle of the lights
far in the distance, made me serenely happy, and I was glad I started to


This subject will be excellent matter for a chapter, and tomorrow or next
day I will write it.

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