Read CHAPTER XII - GREECE of As Seen By Me, free online book, by Lilian Bell, on ReadCentral.com.

After our ship left Smyrna, where the camels are the finest in the world, and where the rugs set you crazy, we came across to the Piraeus, and arrived so late that very few of the passengers dared to land for fear the ship would sail without them. It was blowing a perfect gale, the sea was rough, and the captain too cross to tell us how long we would have on shore. I looked at my companion and she looked at me. In that one glance we decided that we would see the Acropolis or die in the attempt. A Cook’s guide was watching our indecision with hungry eyes. We have since named him Barabbas, for reasons known to every unfortunate who ever fell into his hands. But he was clever. He said that we might cut his head off if he did not get us back to the boat in time. We assured him that we would gladly avail ourselves of his permission if that ship sailed without us. Then we scuttled down the heaving stairway at the ship’s side, and away we went over (or mostly through) the waves to the Piraeus. There we took a carriage, and at the maddest gallop it ever was my lot to travel we raced up that lovely smooth avenue, between rows of wild pepper-trees which met overhead, to Athens; through Athens at a run, and reached the Acropolis, blown almost to pieces ourselves, and with the horses in a white foam.

Up to that time the Acropolis had been but a name to me. I landed because it was a sight to see, and I thought an hour or so would be better than to miss it altogether. But when I climbed that hill and set my foot within that majestic ruin, something awful clutched at my heart. I could not get my breath. The tears came into my eyes, and all at once I was helpless in the grasp of the most powerful emotion which ever has come over me in all Europe. I could not understand it, for I came in an idle mood, no more interested in it than in scores of other wonders I was thirsting to see; Luxor, Karnak, Philae, Denderah all of those invited me quite as much as the Acropolis, but here I was speechless with surprise at my own emotion, I can imagine that such violence of feeding might turn a child into a woman, a boy into a man. All at once I saw the whole of Greek art in its proper setting. The Venus of Milo was no longer in the Louvre against its red background, where French taste has placed it, the better to set it off. Its cold, proud beauty was here again in Greece; the Hermes at Olympia; the Wingless Victory from the temple of Nike Apteros, made wingless that victory might never depart from Athens; the lovelier Winged Victory from the Louvre, with her electric poise, the most exhilarating, the most inspiring, the most intoxicating Victory the world has ever known, was loosed from her marble prison, and was again breathing the pure air of her native hills. Their white figures came crowding into my mind.

The learning of the philosophers of Greece; the “plain living and high thinking” they taught; the unspeakable purity of her art; the ineffable manner in which her masters reproduced the idea of the stern, cold pride of aloofness in these sublime types of perfect men, wrung my heart with a sense of personal loss. I can imagine that Pygmalion felt about Galatea as I felt that first hour in the Acropolis. I can imagine that a woman who had loved with the passion of her life a man of matchless integrity, of superb pride, of lofty ideals, and who had lost that love irretrievably through a fault of her own, whose gravity she first saw through his eyes when it was too late, might have felt as I felt in that hour. All the agony of a hopeless love for an art which never can return; all the sense of personal loss for the purity which I was completely realizing for the first time when it was too late; all the intense longing to have the dead past live again, that I might prove myself more worthy of it, assailed me with as mighty a force as ever the human heart could experience and still continue to beat. The piteous fragments of this lost art which remained a few columns, the remnants of an immortal frieze, the long lines of drapery from which the head and figure were gone, the cold brow of the Hermes, the purity of his profile, the proud curve of his lips, the ineffable wanness of his smile I could have cast myself at the foot of the Parthenon and wept over the personal disaster which befell me in that hour of realization.

I never again wish to go through such an agony of emotion. The Acropolis made the whole of Europe seem tawdry. I felt ashamed of the gorgeous sights I had seen, of the rich dinners I had eaten, of the luxuries I had enjoyed. I felt as if I would like to have the whole of my past life fall away from me as a cast-off garment, and that if I could only begin over I could do so much better with my life. I could have knelt and beat my hands together in a wild, impotent prayer for the past to be given into my keeping for just one more trial, one more opportunity to live up to the beauty and holiness and purity I had missed. When I looked up and saw the naked columns of the Parthenon silhouetted against the sky, bereft of their capitals, ragged, scarred, battered with the war of wind and weather and countless ages, all about me the ruins seemed to say, “Your appreciation is in vain; it is too late, too late!”

I have an indistinct recollection of stumbling into the carriage, of driving down a steep road, of having the Pentelikon pointed out to me, of knowing that near that mountain lay Marathon, of seeing the statue of “Greece crowning Byron,” but I heard with unhearing ears, I saw with unseeing eyes. I had left my heart and all my senses in the Acropolis. I believe that one who had left her loved one in the churchyard, on the way home for the first time to her empty house, has felt that dazed, unrealizing yet dumb heartache that I felt for days after leaving the Parthenon.

It grew worse the farther I went away from it, and for two months I have longed for Athens, Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis. I wanted to stand and feast my soul upon the glories which were such living memories, All through Egypt and up the Nile my one wish was to live long enough and for the weeks to fly fast enough for me to get back to Athens. Now I am here for the second time, and for as long as I wish to remain.

We came sailing into the harbor just at sunset. Such a sunset! Such blue in the Mediterranean! Such a soft haze on the purple hills! How the gods must have loved Athens to place her in the garden spot of all the earth; to pour into her lap such treasures of art, and to endow her masters with power to create such an art! The approach is so beautiful. Our big black Russian ship cut her way in utter silence through the bluest of blue seas, with scarcely a ripple on the sunlit waters, between amethyst islands studded with emerald fields, making straight for that which was at one time the bravest, noblest, most courageous, most beautiful country on earth.

“The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all except their sun is set.”

Byron’s statue stands in the square, surrounded by evergreens; his picture is in the Ecole Polytechnique, and his memory and his songs are revered throughout all Greece. How her beauty tore at his soul! How her love for freedom met with an echo in his own heart! No wonder he sang, with such a theme! It was enough to give a stone song and the very rocks utterance.

It was Sunday, and as we drove through the clean, white streets, feeling absolutely hushed with the beauty which assailed us on every side, suddenly we heard the sound of music, mournful as a dirge a martial dirge. And presently we saw approaching us the saddest, most touching yet awful procession I ever beheld. It was a military funeral. First came the band; then came two men bearing aloft the cover to the casket, wreathed in flowers and streaming with crape. Then, borne in an open coffin by four young officers of his staff, with bands of crape on their arms and knots of crape on their swords, was the dead officer, an old, gray-haired general, dressed in the full uniform of the Greek army, with his browned, wrinkled, deep-lined hands crossed over his sword. The casket was shallow, and thus he was exposed to the view of the gaping multitude, without even a glass lid to cover his bronzed face, and with the glaring sun beating down upon his closed eyes and noble gray head. Just behind him they led his riderless black horse, with his master’s boots reversed in the stirrups and the empty saddle knotted with crape. It was at once majestic, heartrending, and terrible. It unnerved me, and yet it was not surprising to have such a moving spectacle greet me on my return to Greece.

We drove over the same road from the Piraeus to Athens, but in the two months of our absence they had mended a worn place in this road and had unearthed a most beautiful sarcophagus, which they placed in the national museum. The cement which held it on its pedestal was not yet dry when we saw it. They do not know its date, nor the hand of the sculptor who carved it, yet it needs no name to proclaim its beauty.

I have now seen Athens as I wanted to see it. I have seen it consecutively. It was beautiful to begin with the Acropolis and to take all day to examine just the frieze of the Parthenon. We had to have written permission, which we received through the American minister, to allow us to climb up on the scaffolding and get a near view of it. But we did it, and we were close enough to touch it, to lay our hands on it, and we waited hours for the sun to sink low enough to creep between the giant beams and touch the métopes so that we could photograph them. Of course, we could have bought photographs of them, but it seemed more like possessing them to take them with our own little cameras.

The central metope is the most beautiful and in the best state of preservation of all this marvel from the hand of Phidias; yet the work of destruction goes on, as only last year the head of the rider fell and broke into a thousand pieces, so that only the horse, the figure, and the electric splendor of his wind-blown garments floating out behind him remain. There is so little of this frieze left that it requires the full scope of the imagination, as one stands and looks at it, to picture this triumphal procession of Pan-Athenians which every four years formed at the Acropolis and wound majestically down through the Sacred Way to the Temple of Mysteries to sacrifice to the goddess in honor of Marathon and Salamis.

But we followed this road ourselves. We, too, took the Sacred Way. On the loveliest day imaginable we drove along this smooth white road; we saw the Bay of Salamis; we wound around the sweetheart curve of her shore; the purple hills forming the cup which holds her translucent waters are the background to this famous battle-ground; and beyond, set on the brow of one of these hills like a diadem, is all that remains of the Temple of Mysteries. Broken columns are there, pedestals, fragments of proud arches, now shattered and trodden under foot. Its majesty is that of a sleeping goddess, so still, so tranquil, proud even, in its ruins; yet in such utter silence it lies. In the cracks of the marble floors, in the crannies of the walls, springing from beneath the broken statue, voiceless yet persistent, grow scarlet poppies the sleep flowers of the world, yielding to this yellowing Temple of Mysteries the quieting influence of their presence.

The next day, almost in the spirit of worship, we went to Marathon. If Salamis was my Holy Grail, then Marathon was my Mecca. We started out quite early in the morning, with relays of horses to meet us on the way. It tried to rain once or twice, but it seemed not to have the heart to spoil my crusade, for presently the sun struggled through the ragged clouds and shed a hazy half light through their edges, which completely destroyed the terrible, blinding glare and made the day simply perfect.

The road to Marathon led through orchards of cherry-trees white with blossoms, through green vineyards, past groves of olive-trees which look old enough to have seen the Persian hosts, through groups of cypress-trees, such noble sentinels of deathless evergreen; through fields of wild-cabbage blooms, making the air as sweet as the alfalfa-fields of the West; across the Valanaris by a little bridge, and suddenly an isolated farmhouse with a wine-press, and then Marathon!

“The mountains look on Marathon,
And Marathon looks on the sea,
And musing there an hour alone,
I dreamed that Greece might still be free;
For standing by the Persian’s grave,
I could not deem myself a slave!”

Marathon is only a vast plain, but what a plain! It has only a small mound in the centre to break its smoothness, but what courage, what patriotism, what nobility that mound covers! It was there, many authorities say, that all the Athenians were buried who fell at Marathon, although Byron claims that it covers the Persian dead.

How Greece has always loved freedom! In the Ecole Polytechnique are three Turkish battle-flags and some shells and cannon-balls from a war so recent that the flags have scarcely had time to dry or the shells to cool. What a pity, what an unspeakable pity, that all the glory of Greece lies in the past, and that the time of her power has gone forever! Nothing but her brave, undaunted spirit remains, and never can she live again the glories of her Salamis, her Marathon, her Thermopylae.

We have seen Athens in all her guises, the Acropolis in all her moods, at sunrise, in a thunder-storm, in the glare of mid-day, at sunset, and yet we saved the best for the climax. On the last night we were in Athens we saw the Acropolis by moonlight. We nearly upset the whole Greek government to accomplish this, for the King has issued an edict that only one night in the month may visitors be admitted, and that is the night of the full moon. But I had returned to Athens with this one idea in my mind, and if I had been obliged to go to the King myself I would have done so, and I know that I would have come away victorious. He never could have had the heart to refuse me.

It is impossible. I utterly abandon the idea of making even my nearest and dearest see what I saw and hear what I heard and think what I thought on that matchless night. There was just a breath of wind. The mountains and hills rose all around us, Lykabettos, Kolonos the home of Sophocles Hymettos, and Pentelikon with its marble quarries, made an undulating line of gray against the horizon, while away at the left was the Hill of Mars. How still it was! How wonderful! The rows of lights from the city converged towards the foot of the Acropolis like the topaz rays in a queen’s diadem. The blue waters of the harbor glittered in the pale light. A chime of bells rang out the hour, coming faintly up to us like an echo. And above us, bathed, shrouded, swimming in silver light, was the Parthenon. The only flowers that grow at the foot of the Parthenon are the marguerites, the white-petaled, golden-hearted daisies, and even in the moonlight these starry flowers bend their tender gaze upon their god.

I leaned against one of the caryatides of the Erechtheion and looked beyond the Parthenon to the Hill of Mars, where Paul preached to the Athenians, and I believe that he must have seen the Acropolis by moonlight when he wrote, “Wherefore, when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone!”

What a week we have had in Athens! If I were obliged to go home to-morrow, if Greece ended Europe for me, I could go home satisfied, filled too full of bliss to complain or even to tell what I felt. I have lived out the fullest enjoyment of my soul; I have reached the limit of my heart’s desire. Athens is the goddess of my idolatry. I have turned pagan and worshipped.

In all my travels I have divided individual trips into two classes those which would make ideal wedding journeys and those which would not. But the greatest difficulty I have encountered is how to get my happy wedded pair over here in order to begin. I have not the heart to ask them to risk their happiness by crossing the ocean, for the Atlantic, even by the best of ships, is ground for divorce (if you go deep enough) in itself. I have not yet tried the Pacific, but I am told that, like most people who are named Theodosia and Constance and Winifred, the Pacific does not live up to its name. However, if I could transport my people, chloroformed and by rapid transit, to Greece, I would beg of them to journey from Athens to Patras by rail; and if that exquisite experience did not smooth away all trifling difficulties and make each wish to be the one to apologize first, then I would mark them as doomed from the beginning, by their own insensate and unappreciative natures, as destined to finish their honeymoon by separate maintenance and alimony.

How I hate descriptions of scenery! How murderous I feel when the conventional novelist interrupts the most impassioned love-scene to tell how the moonlight filtered through the ragged clouds, or how the wind sighed through the naked branches of the trees, just as if anybody cared what nature was doing when human nature held the stage! And yet so marvellous is the fascination of Greece, so captivating the scenes which meet the eye from the uninviting window of a plain little foreign railroad train, that I cannot forbear to risk similar malédictions by saying that it is too heavenly for common words to express.

Now, I abominate railroads and I loathe ships. The only things I really enjoy are a rocking-chair and a book. But much as I detest the smell of car-smoke, and to find my face spotted with soot, and ill as it makes me to ride backward, I would willingly travel every month of the year over the road from Athens to Patras. The mountains are not so high as to startle, the gulf not so vast as to shock. But with gentleness you are drawn more and more into the net of its fascination until the tears well to your eyes and there is a positive physical ache in your heart.

Greece is considerate. I have seen landscapes so continuously and overpoweringly beautiful that they bored me. I know how to sympatize with Alfred Vargrave when he says to the Duc de Luvois:

“Nature is here too pretentious; her mien
Is too haughty. One likes to be coaxed, not compelled,
To the notice such beauty resents if withheld.
She seems to be saying too plainly, ‘Admire me;’
And I answer, ‘Yes, madam, I do; but you tire me.’”

Not so with Greece, for when you become almost intoxicated with her wonderful blues and greens and purples, and you move your head restlessly and beg a breathing-space, she compassionately recognizes your mood and lowers a silver veil over her brilliant beauty, so that you see her through a gauzy mist, which presently tantalizes you into blinking your tired eyes and wondering what she is so deftly concealing. It is like the feeling which assails you when you see a veiled statue. You long for the sculptor to chisel away the marble gauze and reveal the features. And when the craving becomes intolerable, lo! Greece, the past mistress of the art of beauty, grants your desire, and with the regal gift of a goddess brings your soul into its fruition. Cleopatra would have tantalized and left your heart to eat itself out in hopeless longing. But Cleopatra was only a queen; Venus was a goddess.

Names which were but names to you before become living realities now. We are crossing the Attic plain, and from that we find ourselves in the Thracian plain. What girl has not heard her brother spout concerning these names, famous in Greek history? Then we are in Megara, on the lovely blue Bay of Salamis. From Megara the Bay of Salamis becomes Saronic Gulf, and after an hour or two of its unspeakable beauty we cross over to Corinth and find, if possible, that the blues of the Gulf of Corinth are even more sapphire, that its purples are even more amethyst, that its greens are more emerald than the blues and purples and greens of Salamis.

From Corinth the road skirts the sea, and all these white plains are devoted to the drying of currants. At Sikyon, called “cucumber town,” but originally, with the mystic beauty of the ancient Greeks, called “poppy town,” the American school at Athens has made some wonderful excavations. It has discovered the supports of the stage of the famous theatre there. Then, still with the sea before us, we are at Aegium, a name full of memories of ancient Greece. It has olive, currant, grape, and mulberry plantations, and lies shrouded and bedded in beauty and romance. There, over a high iron bridge, we cross a rushing mountain torrent and are at Patras, in the moonlight, with our big ship waiting to take us across the Adriatic Sea to Brindisi.

It was with real pain that we left Greece. I would like to go back to-morrow. But there were reasons for reaching Italy without further delay, and we hurried through Corfu with only a day there to see its loveliness, instead of a week, as we would have liked. The Empress of Austria’s villa lies tucked up on a hill-side, in a mass of orange, lemon, cypress, and magnolia trees. Such an enchanting picture as it presents, and such wonderful beauty as it encloses. But all that is modern. What fascinates me in Corfu is that opposite the entrance to the old Hyllaean harbor lies the isle of Pontikonisi (Mouse Island), with a small chapel and clergy-house. Tradition says that it is the Phaeacian ship which brought Ulysses to Ithaka, and which was afterwards turned into stone by the angry Poseidon (Neptune). The brook Kressida at the point where it enters the lake is also pointed out as the spot where Ulysses was cast ashore and met the Princess Nausicaa. A seasick sort of name, that!

I feel an inexplicable delight in letting my imagination run riot in the Greek traditions of their gods and goddesses. Their heroes are more real to me than Caesar and Xerxes and Alexander. And Hermes and Venus and the dwellers of Olympus have been such intimate friends since my childhood that the scenes of their exploits are of much more moment to me than Waterloo and Austerlitz. I cannot forbear laughing at myself, however, for my holy rage over Greek mythology, as founded upon no better ground than that upon which Mark Twain apologized for his admiration for Fenimore Cooper’s Indians, for he admitted that they were a defunct race of beings which never had existed!

We arrived at Brindisi at four o’clock in the morning. Brindisi at four o’clock in the morning is not pleasant, nor would any other city be on the face of this green footstool. We were in quarantine, and we had to cope with a cross stewardess, who declared that we demanded too much service, and that she would not bring us our coffee in bed, and who then went and did it like an angel, so that we patted her on the back and told her in French that she was “well amiable,” although at that hour in the morning we would have preferred to throttle her for her impertinence, and then to throw her in the Adriatic Sea as a neat little finish. Such, however, is our diplomatic course of travel.

We walked in line under the doctor’s eye, and he pronounced us sanitary and permitted us to land. We were four hours late, but we scalded ourselves with a second cup of coffee and tried for the six-o’clock train for Naples, missed it, sent a telegram to Cook to send our letters to the train to meet us, and then went back to the ship to endure with patience and commendable fortitude the jeers of our fellow-passengers. Virtue was its own reward, however, for soon, under the rays of the rising sun, which we did not get up to see, and did not want to see, there steamed into the harbor alongside of us the P. & O. ship Sutly, six hours ahead of time (did you ever hear of such a thing?), bearing our belated friends, the Jimmies, from Alexandria. They had been booked for the China, which was wrecked, so the Sutly took her passengers. The Jimmies had bought their passage for Venice, but we teased them to throw it up and come with us, and such is our fascination that they yielded. The love which reaches the purse is love indeed. So in a fever of joy we all caught the nine-o’clock train for Naples.

They have a sweet little way on Italian railroads of making no provision for you to eat. We did not know this, and our knowledge of Italian was limited to Quanto tempo? (How much time?) and Quanto costa? (How much is it?) So we punctuated the lovely journey among the Italian hills, and between their admirable waterways, by hopping off the train for coffee every time they said “Cinque minuti.” It was like a picnic train. Half the passengers were from the P. & O., and knew the Jimmies, and the other half were from our Austrian Lloyd, and knew us, so it was perfectly delicious to see every compartment door fly open and everybody’s friend appear with tea-kettles for hot water in one hand and tea-caddies in the other, and to see people who hated boiled eggs buying them, because they were about all that looked clean; and to see staid Englishmen in knickerbockers and monocles with loops of Italian bread over each tweed arm, and in both hands flasks of cheap red Italian wine oh, so good! and only costing fifty centimes, but put up in those lovely straw-woven decanters which cost us a real pang to fling out of the window after they were emptied. And it was anything but conventional to hear one friend shout to another, “Don’t pay a lira for those mandarins; I got twice that many from this pirate!” And then the five minutes would be up, and the guard would come along and call “Pronto,” which is much prettier than “All aboard,” but which means about the same thing; and then two ear-splitting whistles and a jangling of bells, and the doors would slam, and we were off again.

It was moonlight when we skirted the Bay of Naples the same moonlight which lighted the Acropolis for us at Athens, which shed its silver loveliness upon the Adriatic Sea, where we had no one whose soul shared its beauty with us, and which we found again glittering upon the Bay of Naples. We stood at the car-window and watched it for an hour, for all that time our train was winding its way around the shore into Naples.

That curve of the shore, that sheet of rippling sapphire, the glint of the moon on the water, the train trailing its slow length around the bay, are associated in my mind with one of those emotional upheavals which travellers must often experience in passing from one phase of civilization to another. It marks one of the mile-stones in my inner life. I was leaving the East, the pagan East, with its mysterious influence, and I was getting back to Cooks’ tourists and Italy. My mind was in a whirl. Which was best? Why should I so love one, and why did the other bore me? I was afraid to follow the yearnings of my own soul, and yet I knew that only there lay happiness. To make up one’s mind to be true to one’s love even if it be only the love of beauty requires courage. And the trial of my bravery came to me on that curve of the Bay of Naples. I dared. I am daring now. I am still true to the Orient.

As I look back I remember that the phrase, “See Naples and die,” gave me the hazy idea that it must be very beautiful, but just how I did not know, and did not particularly care. I knew the bay would be lovely; I only hoped it would be as lovely as I expected. Celebrated beauties are so apt to be disappointing. I imagined that all Neapolitan boys wore their shirt-collars open and that a wavy lock of coal-black hair was continually blowing across their brown foreheads. That eternal porcelain miniature has maddened me with its omnipresence ever since I was a child. But aside from these half-thoughts and dim expectations I had no hopes at all. I was prepared to be gently and tranquilly pleased; not wildly excited, but satisfied; not happy, but contented with its beauty. But I have found more. The bay is more lovely than I anticipated, and I have discovered that Italian hair is not coal-black; it begins to be black at the roots, and evidently had every intention of being black when it started out, but it grew weary of so much energy, and ended in sundry shades of russet brown and sunburned tans. It generally has these two colors, black and tan, like the silky coat of a fine terrier, and it waves in lovely little tendrils, and is much prettier than hair either all black or all brown.

But I am ahead of my narrative. I am trying to decide whether Naples is more beautifully situated than Constantinople. Constantinople, being Oriental, fascinates me more. Western Europe begins to seem a little tame and conventional to me, because the pagan in my nature is so highly developed. I detest civilization except for my own selfish bodily comfort. When I eat and sleep I want the creature comforts. Otherwise I love those thieving Arab servants in Cairo (who would steal the very shoes off your feet if you dropped off for your forty winks) because of their uncivilization and unconventionality. Civilization has not yet spoiled them. I bought rugs in Cairo, and often when I went unexpectedly into my room I found my Arab man-servant on his knees studying their patterns and feeling their silkiness. I had everything locked up, or perhaps he would have made worse use of his time; but somehow the childishness of the East appeals to me.

Constantinople is so delightfully dirty and old. Mrs. Jimmie sniffs at me because I can stop the peasants who lead their cows through the streets of Naples, and because I can drink a glass of warm milk; Mrs. Jimmie wants hers strained. But if I can eat “Turkish Delight” in Constantinople, buying it in the bazaars, seeing it cut off the huge sticky mass with rusty lamp-scissors, perhaps dropped on the dirt-floor, and in a moment of abstraction polished off on the Turk’s trousers and rolled in soft sugar to wrap the real in the ideal if I can cope with that problem, surely a trifle like drinking unstrained milk, with the consoling satisfaction of stopping the carriage in an adorable spot, with the blue waters of the bay curling up on its shore down below on the right, and a sheer cliff covered with moss and clinging vines and surmounted by a superb villa on the left, is nothing. For to eat or to drink amid such romantic surroundings, even if it were unstrained milk, was an experience not to be despised.

Yet here are two cities situated like amphitheatres upon the convex curve of two ideally beautiful harbors. How do you compare them? Each according to your own temper and humor. You have seen hundreds of colored photographs both of Naples and Constantinople. But of the two you will find only Naples exactly like the pictures. Everybody agrees about Naples. People disagree delightfully about Constantinople. Some can never get beyond the dirt and smells and thievery. Some never get used to the delicious thrills of surprise which every turn and every corner and every vista and every night and every morning hold for the beauty-lover. Nothing could be more heterodox, more bizarre, more unconventional than Constantinople scenes. Nothing could be more orthodox than the views of Naples. To be sure, poets have written reams of poetry about it, travellers have sent home pages of rhapsodies about it, tourists have conscientiously “done” the town, with their heads cocked on one side and their forefingers on a paragraph in Baedeker; but just because of this, because everybody on earth who ever has been to Naples man or woman, Jew or Gentile, black or white, bond or free has wept and gurgled and had hysteria over its mild and placid beauty, is one reason why I find it somewhat tame. Italian scenery seems to me laid out by a landscape-gardener. Its beauty is absolutely conventional. Nobody will blame you if you admire it. To rave over it is like going to church it is the proper thing to do. People will raise their eyebrows if you don’t, and watch what you eat, and speculate on your ancestry, and wonder about your politics.

The beauty of Italy is so proper and Church of England that you are looked upon as a dissenter if you do not rhapsodize about it. But it disappoints me to feel obliged to follow the multitude like a flock of sheep and to take the dust of those feeble-minded tourists who have preceded me and set the pace. There is nothing in the scenery of all Italy to shock your love of beauty from the staid to the original. There is nothing to give your sensitive soul little shivers of surprise. There is nothing to make you hesitate for fear you ought not to admire; you know you ought. You feel obliged to do so because everybody has done it before you, and you will be thought queer if you don’t. There is a gentle, pretty-pretty haze of romance over Italian scenery which is like reading fairy-tales after having devoured Carlyle. It is like hearing Verdi after Wagner. The East has my real love. I find that I cannot rave over a pink and white china shepherdess when I have worshipped the Venus of Milo.