Read CHAPTER XIV of Fair Italy‚ the Riviera and Monte Carlo, free online book, by W. Cope Devereux, on ReadCentral.com.

Unprecedented cold of 1883--Departure from Naples--Virgil’s Tomb--Journey to Messina--Italy’s future--Scylla and Charybdis--Beautiful Messina--The Electrico--Malta--Knight Crusaders--Maltese society--An uncommon fish-- An earthquake at sea--Journey to Palermo--Picturesque scenery--Etna--Among the mountains--The lights of Palermo.

There seems to have been quite an unprecedented winter in the Mediterranean this year (1883). Marseilles, Cannes, Nice, Mentone, Genoa, and other places, were all affected by the extreme and unusual cold Stromboli, and even Etna, were quite capped with snow, while in the north of Europe the weather was comparatively mild. It was rather unfortunate for us that it should have been so; having travelled to escape the cold in our own island home, we had certainly not bargained for it pursuing us wherever we went. The residents, more particularly the poor of these semi-tropical places, were much to be pitied for the uncommon severity with which these bleak and cutting winds visited them. As a rule, Naples is considered tonic and bracing, not unlike Brighton, and is exceedingly pleasant in late summer and autumn, but in the early part of the year is trying to delicate persons. I do not think it is a healthy place for continual residence, for the sewerage and water supply are both very defective, and the place is over-crowded by a population anything but clean in its habits. This, and the begging, cheating propensities of the lower classes, go very far to counterbalance its natural beauty of situation, and I was obliged to confess myself decidedly disappointed in the Naples of which I had heard and expected so much.

The hotel expenses are much the same as at Rome, and no matter how you try to economize and cut down expenditure, you will find, when you arrive home and tot up the figures, that the average amount per day, travelling included, is no less than L1 for each person. You may of course forego wines, etc., but in so doing you take your chance of being poisoned with the water, which is very bad here, and which no one seems to think of filtering or improving in any way. This is a great pity, and it is to be hoped that the matter will soon receive a due amount of attention, and that means will be taken to secure an adequate supply of pure water, without which no place can really be considered healthy.

We remained at Naples in all five days, and on January 25th left for Messina, from whence my wife was to make her journey to Malta, and remain with her sister, awaiting my return to the south, for I found my presence was required in London for a short time.

We felt genuine regret and compunction at being obliged to leave the “Queen of the summer sea” without paying our devoirs at the tomb of Virgil, father of Latin poets. The last resting-place of the “dead king of melody” he who, in his own words, “sung of shepherds, fields, and heroes’ deeds” (cecini pascua, rura, duces) lies “shadowed by the wild ivy,” in the road leading from Naples to Puteoli:

“Ivy and flowers have half o’ergrown
And veiled his low sepulchral stone:
Yet still the spot is holy still,
Celestial footsteps mount the hill.”

We had unfortunately been unable to make any excursions in this direction, owing to our limited time.

The railway journey to Messina is both tedious and expensive, we therefore secured berths in one of the Florio line of steamers. The day of our departure was enjoyably warm and sunny though perhaps a little too warm to be pleasant in the dirty and crowded harbour of Naples, which is the chief lounging-place of all the idlers and beggars of the city; yet under this burst of summer sunshine Naples was in smiles again, and we saw something of her natural beauty.

By the time the crowds of boatmen had done quarrelling with one another to secure our fare, we were glad to get away from their Babel, and get on board the vessel the boatman, of course, doing all in his power to charge us treble fare! There were some half-dozen passengers in the saloon, travellers like ourselves. Our departure was somewhat delayed by the steamer having to carry a regiment of soldiers to Sicily, and we got off at six o’clock in the evening only about an hour after the time of starting, which was very punctual for Italians.

Naples, illuminated, and gradually enfolded in the gathering shadows of night, is in truth a beautiful sight, and the occasional bursts of bright flame from Vesuvius added a touch of imposing grandeur to the scene we viewed from the deck, as we steamed away for the Straits of Messina.

Dinner passed pleasantly; we had a very agreeable captain, and the smoothness of the water enabled the ladies to enjoy it in comfort, and also to spend an hour or two on deck afterwards, in the full beauty of the clear moon and cloudless star-lit skies

“Then gentle winds arose
With many a mingled close
Of wild AEolian sound and mountain odours keen:
And where the Baian ocean
Welters with air-like motion,
Within, above, around its bowers of starry green.”

Who could be surrounded by such influences without thinking kindly and tender thoughts of the glorious land that owns such a sea and sky? I mused over Italy her past, her present, and the bright future which I hope awaits her. The Papal star is growing dim; the pageantry of the Dark Ages is fading out, and the minds of men awakening. Slowly, but I trust surely, a more enlightened era is approaching; and perhaps the nineteenth century will see the last of superstition, which has held the minds and hearts of men in such an iron grasp.

God has His own wondrous and omnipotent way of working, and man can but guess at the manner and means by which the problems that perplex him will be solved in the end.

“Great Spirit, deepest Love!
Which rulest and dost move
All things which live and are, within the Italian shore;
Who spreadest heaven around it,
Whose woods, rocks, waves surround it;
Who sittest in thy star, o’er Ocean’s western floor!

“Oh, with thy harmonizing ardours fill
And raise thy sons, as o’er the prone horizon
Thy lamp feeds every twilight wave with fire
Be man’s high hope and unextinct desire,
The instrument to work Thy Will divine!”

The next morning we found ourselves close to the Stromboli group of islands. Nearly all were capped with snow, and, with the sea around and the blue sky above, formed a charming picture.

Soon after breakfast we were steaming through the beautiful straits, and passing the famous Scylla and Charybdis, the former a low dark cliff topped by an old castle, and with a little town nestling below. The sea varied its colour constantly blue, green, brown, and even red, mingling and changing in the bright sunshine. As we neared Messina, we were struck with admiration at its exceeding beauty.

“Messina sits like a queen, her white robes sweeping the sea. Never was city so exquisitely poised between earth and sky! Very beautiful, with fair white face, the poetic lines of your mountain drapery about you; the azure straits gliding past you in homage, and bringing the world’s treasures to your feet! Very beautiful, but false and fickle and cowardly in every phase of your history, a ready victim for every invader, a facile prey, ever siding with the strongest!”

Thus a late writer, whose pen has charmingly described her life in this lovely island.

At noon we anchored in the finely sheltered harbour, the finest, indeed, in the Mediterranean. The commerce and shipping of Messina are most extensive, and make her quite cosmopolitan. The city undulates with a gentle rise, so as to present to the highest advantage every fine building, the exceeding purity and whiteness of which is thrown up by the dark green forest behind. In speaking of Genoa, I remarked that its situation was unequalled in its imposing grandeur; and here in Messina we have a beauty equally unsurpassed, though of a different kind; perhaps as a bit of our English landscape would compare with the grander Scotch loch scenery a soft, bewitching, and enticing loveliness. The style of architecture resembles that of Pisa.

We had only a few hours here, as the steamer for Malta was to leave the same evening. There was sufficient time, however, to take a walk through the town, which has fine and well-paved streets. There is but little of antiquity left in Messina, except the old Cathedral, which contains some good mosaics and bas-reliefs; and perhaps a few mementoes of the gallant Knight Crusaders, who sorrowfully made this their temporary home about the year 1523, after surrendering Rhodes to the hated Moslem. The constant earthquakes, as well as the many vicissitudes of war it has passed through, has destroyed all other relics of the past.

The hotel charges and living generally were exceedingly moderate, more so than we had experienced since leaving England. I believe this is the case with all the hotels in Sicily, the soil being so prolific and productive. At 5 p.m. I saw my wife on board the Florio steamer Electrico, which carried the mails, and was due at Malta the next morning about six. It was a nice little paddle vessel, and her captain a very gentlemanly officer; the stewardess, though a Maltese, spoke English, and so I felt my wife would be comfortable and well cared for during the voyage. Unfortunately, however, the wind increased, and by morning there was quite a gale blowing, which made me a little anxious about her safe arrival.

I was pleased that my wife should visit this small but most memorable island, though I was unable to accompany her, as there are so many historic associations attaching to it. During my Naval career from the Crimean War days, I had myself often been to Malta, but to her it would indeed be a new world.

Malta, or Melita, is probably chiefly interesting to English people as their great Mediterranean stronghold and Naval Arsenal; to Christendom, for the glorious deeds of the brave and self-sacrificing Knights of St. John, and as the place where the great apostle to the Gentiles was cast ashore and bitten by the viper, and where he preached so fervently and effectually. These are probably the best-remembered events touching the history of Malta. That it was originally colonized by the Phoenicians, and taken from them by the Greeks some eight hundred years B.C.; then captured by the Carthaginians, and afterwards by the Romans, Vandals and Goths, Saracens and Normans successively; and, finally, was attached to the Government of Sicily few would care perhaps to go far enough back to remember, content simply to commence with its glorious and imperishable history in connection with the chivalrous Knight Crusaders.

Owing chiefly to the labours of the brave Knights, under their grand old masters, L’Isle Adam and La Valette, and their skill and heroism in defending it from the repeated assaults of the Moslem, of the Crescent against the Cross, the fortifications are a marvel of almost impregnable strength and engineering ability, and, owing to its wonderful provision of underground granaries, etc., could stand a siege for years. These great mathematical, dazzling granite walls, bristling with big guns, and rising defiantly and almost abruptly out of the blue sea, form a proud sight to Englishmen when approached from seaward. And, then, glancing at its geographical position, almost in the centre of the Mediterranean, in proximity to three Continents, and taking into consideration that other great stronghold (the door to the Mediterranean, of which Englishmen are even more proud), Gibraltar and our interest in the East, one gets some idea of its great maritime importance to England. The harbours, the great docks (capable of holding the largest ironclads) and stores for the equipment of our fleets, the frowning ramparts rising tier upon tier above and around, amply confirm this impression.

But how different the Malta of to-day, with its marvellously cultivated soil; its teeming, peaceful, and prosperous population, great docks, fine city, and developed industries, to the days when the valiant Knights of St. John, under their brave old Grand-Master, L’Isle Adam, almost sorrowfully took possession of it, as the permanent home of the Order, when, alas! all seemed nearly lost to them! Yes, it was then indeed but a barren, arid rock. Though wondrously fertile, considering the small quantity of soil, Malta is still little else than a huge fortress and series of sun-smitten rocks; and therefore, beyond the great docks and fortifications, not very interesting except for its history and mementoes of past glory for there is little or no beautiful country to see, no undulating plains, hills, lakes, or forests, but endless rocks, stone walls, old palaces, guns, soldiers, churches, and priests.

On arriving, however, from the sea, it is a lively scene inside the harbour; the moles and creeks crowded with shipping, all trimly stowed in serried rows. Hundreds of gaily painted Venetian-like boats dart off from the shore, with their picturesquely dressed boatmen curiously facing one another while pulling and pushing the boat along for, says the legend, one day the man pulling stroke suddenly missed the bowman, and as he was never found, it was gravely supposed the devil had walked off with him (a little before his time, for the Maltese are great rascals, and are exceedingly superstitious), and ever since they have faced each other, for self-protection against another Diabolical surprise! Shoals of these boats dart off from the shore immediately on the arrival of a ship. The “bumboat,” laden with delicious fruits and every kind of fresh provender to tempt the Blue jacket and hungry midshipman in my own days, utterly sick of the “salt-horse” (salt meat) and weevilly biscuit; but now, alas! the sailor is a spoilt child and quite daintily fed, hence the bumboat is not so great a treat to him when coming from “blue water.” Then there are legions of washwomen (much to the relief of the officers’ marine servants, who in “olden times” had to do all their masters’ washing when at sea), declaring, of course, that they have done your washing “ages ago.” Hungry tailors and other tradesmen also besiege the ship, swarming on board to make the most out of the new arrivals. And oh, what a Babel-like jargon of tongues alongside with a hundred church bells ringing and clanging around and the fierce though harmless quarrelling of the Maltese boatmen! Then, on landing at one of the quays, after having, of course, been cheated in the fare (for the Maltese will never lose an opportunity of robbing you, though, to give the creature his due, he will not let any one else do so if he can prevent it you are his own sweet pastures, and his solely), we pass through the motley, swarthy crowd of boatmen and fishermen, and, holding our nose to exclude the rancid smell of fish, boiling oil, and powerful odours of garlic, commence the ascent of the dreaded endless series of stone stairs up to the city of Valetta. And, when under a powerful sun such as one can experience at Malta in, say, July, and before we reach the top, how often do Byron’s truthful words occur to us:

“Adieu, ye joys of La Valette!
Adieu, scirocco, sun, and sweat!
Adieu, ye cursed streets of stairs!
How surely he who mounts you swears!”

A friend who had long resided at Malta, suggested a slight alteration in the above to

“Adieu, ye streets of stinks and stairs!”

The reason for these wearisome steps was, I believe, owing to the following facts: After the brave old knight, La Valette, had repulsed the Turks with great slaughter, and had consequently obtained a little breathing time, he set about re-fortifying the island and rebuilding the city, with the intention of levelling the rocky parapet for its foundation; but, owing to reports of another expedition of the Moslem being fitted out at Constantinople, for a still more powerful and revengeful attack on their fortress, the city had to be finished quickly, and so was built on the rocky slope in all haste and hence the steep flight of steps leading up to the highest part of the city from the harbour.

Having taken breath, we move on and find ourselves in the stony narrow streets of the city, almost every other person met with being a priest or a nun, the church bells still clanging with utmost discord around. The houses, with their green painted jalousies, are all built of a kind of white limestone, and so reflect the dazzling heat and glare of the sun as to prove exceedingly painful and injurious to the eyes; hence, ophthalmia is rather prevalent at Malta. Never was there a place so priest-ridden and superstitious; everywhere in the streets, under the lamps at the corners, within niches cut in the walls, you see some painted image of a saint, bedizened with jewels, silver and gold and tinsel, grandly painted and decorated the objects of abject adoration to the benighted poor people and other passers-by. Indeed, of late years some very serious disturbances have occurred at Malta, because our soldiers and sailors would not bow down before some superstitious priestly procession through the streets; and one feels ashamed to confess (no longer for an Englishman civis Romanus) that some of these men were punished for not doing so. Surely it should be enough that the Maltese are allowed full freedom to enjoy their own religious, or rather grossly superstitious, ceremonies!

In many of the palaces and churches in the city, there are very interesting mementoes of the gallant Knight Crusaders; and the pictures and tapestries are also very fine. Few edifices are more full of mediaeval interest than the Church of St. John, with all its treasured relics of the brave, self-denying Knights of Malta. I scarcely think that we in this nineteenth century quite realize the service rendered to Christendom in their deeds of heroism and noble self-sacrifice. It was their indomitable power and courage alone, at one time and another, that prevented the Moslem from overrunning and devastating Europe and the Christian world, and the fair Mediterranean shores from becoming a prey to the hordes of merciless and cruel pirates which would have followed in their wake. One cannot look at the great forts of Malta without a glow of the deepest admiration for, and gratitude to, those valiant Knights of St. John, who held the place for so many months, all alone, against the whole power of the Moslem under the great Solyman. There at St. Elmo, a handful of brave Knights kept the army and fleets of the powerful Mustapha at bay, and hurled them back in assault after assault, the walls gaping with breaches; and then, when all had been done that brave men could do, and further resistance was hopeless, in simple obedience to the stern commands of their loved Grand-Master, La Valette, and to save the city and the other forts, these brave Knights preferred death at their posts, and that a cruel death, rather than dishonour. Wounded knights were actually wheeled on chairs to the breaches, and there died like heroes. And the Christian world, meanwhile, stood by with bated breath at such heroism, and awaiting the dreadful issue.

Then, when the victorious Moslem, mad with the blood of the St. Elmo garrison, threw their united forces against the other great forts, especially St. Angelo, where the brave Valette was in command, the gallant besieged, inspired by the undaunted courage of their chief, long resisted their impetuous assaults; and on the glorious 8th of September, 1565, compelled the shattered armies of the Turks to raise the siege (leaving twenty thousand of their dead behind), and leave them alone for ever. The Christian world once more breathed freely and was grateful. Ever afterwards and I believe to this day the 8th of September has been held in reverence by the Maltese, and kept almost as a sacred festival, in remembrance of their great deliverance, and of the brave Knights who fought and died so heroically.

The capital of Valetta, or rather Valette, founded in 1566, and named after the chivalrous Grand-Master, John de Valette, was subjected to such extensive and judicious improvements under the late governorship of Sir Gaspard le Marchant, as to compare with many a fine colonial city. An infinite amount of interest centres round the old Phoenician Città Vecchia, with its numerous catacombs, and the ancient palace of St. Antonio, where, within the last decade a little English princess, Victoria Melita, first saw the light. A very peculiar stone quarry-like appearance is given to Malta from the fact of its being much divided off into small gardens, surrounded by extraordinarily high and thick walls, in order to protect the valuable orange, lemon, and other numerous and varied fruit-bearing trees, from the tempestuous and destructive winds which frequently visit the island by the name of scirocco, etc. and from this cause little verdure can be seen until you are on a level with the plantations.

Though tradition says that most of the soil was originally brought to Malta in ship-loads, etc., from Sicily and other places, I am not very much inclined to believe it; still, there is comparatively little soil in the island, and it is therefore astonishing to see how the place abounds in vegetables and fruits, and almost every kind of flower, among which are some very rare and high order of orchids. It is said that even potatoes are exported from Malta to Greece, Turkey, and also to England, though the root was introduced into the island only forty years ago. What little land there is, is certainly marvellously cultivated, and speaks volumes for the thrifty industry of the Maltese; indeed, I have often heard that a Maltese could live luxuriously where even a canny Scotchman would starve. It is said that a greater number of people live in Malta than in the same number of square miles anywhere else in the world.

There is a fishing industry at Malta, some of the more extensive bays being completely interlaced with huge nets sunken perpendicularly. This kind of preserve extends some miles, and is, I think, used chiefly for catching the great tunny-fish. I shall not easily forget some little experience of these nets during my Naval career. Being caught in a fierce gale of wind outside Malta, we ran for a bay called Marsa Scirocco, lying on the lee side of the island, and to our great astonishment found ourselves firmly enmeshed in a gigantic net, parts of it entangling our screw propeller. Indeed, the ship could not be released until we had almost cut the net to pieces; for which our Government had to pay some hundreds of pounds sterling to the proprietors of the fish-preserve.

Vast quantities of mackerel and other fish are also caught, dried, and exported to the various adjacent Roman Catholic countries; but, I believe, excepting perhaps shellfish prawns, lobsters, crabs, etc. there is little or no fresh fish worth eating.

Maltese society is very proud and exclusive, and dreadfully reserved and jealous of the English community; indeed, little or no sympathy exists between them, which is much to be regretted. The nobility, so-called, are seemingly content to live almost to themselves, as it were in the past, amongst their ancient ancestry (putting one in mind of Mr. and Mrs. German Reed’s entertainment of “Ages Ago”) rather than in the present and with the people surrounding them. They are reputed to be excessively mean and close, but perhaps they have but a scanty allowance to support their nobility, and therefore, by necessity, it is half starved. A friend who has resided at Malta many years, related to me a little incident of his own experience. For once breaking through their usual reserve, an Englishman was invited to the funeral of one of the Maltese nobility; when, in accordance with the usual rites, a candle or taper is provided by the mourners, which is generally carried home by each as a memento, and perhaps as possessing some virtue from the priestly blessing. But the day after the funeral, much to his surprise and disgust, having simply taken it as a mark of respect to the family, he was requested to return the said candle, “which had only been lent to him.”

There is, however, apart from the Maltese element, plenty of society at Malta, amongst the English community, governor, and Naval and Military officers. Indeed, in the season it is rather a gay place. There is, or used to be, a very good little opera-house, where some of the most eminent prima donnas (Spamezi and Pareppa, etc.) made their debut; for the society at Malta is supposed to constitute rather a critical audience; and if an artiste once succeeds in winning its approval, she may go to England without fear and trembling.

Malta is, I believe, considered one of the most favoured of health resorts (especially since our good Queen Adelaide resided there), and particularly for chest complaints. But, from my own experience and that of many others (Europeans) who have resided there a long time, I can scarcely reconcile this to fact. It is exceedingly hot and oppressive in summer, the glare from the rocks and stone buildings being very injurious to the eyes, and the heat retained by the limestone during the day making the houses very close and sultry in the night. Towards autumn and winter there are violent atmospheric changes, and it would appear that the spring-time of the year and early autumn are really the only seasons in which the weather is agreeable.

I remember about December, in the year 1855, after returning from the Crimean War, being a whole fortnight in a dreadful gale and hurricane outside Malta. There was a tremendous sea, sometimes vivid forked lightning, thunder, and heavy rains, the skies as black as ink. Indeed, it was a grand and extraordinary scene, the sea in a wild and curious commotion, rearing up around us as it were in little mountains, and breaking in upon us in all directions, washing away some of our boats, and tumbling the vessel about in a most eccentric and exceedingly uncomfortable manner, almost as if the bottom of the sea were sinking beneath us. One night was particularly dreadful and awfully grand; the forked lightning cutting the black clouds asunder, the winds howling terribly, and occasionally an outburst of flame, or rather the reflection of it, from the far-distant Mount Etna splendidly lighting up for a moment the black sky. It was a strange and wonderful sight, bringing home to me the truth of the Psalmist’s words, “They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters; these men see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep,” etc.

Having at last put safely into Malta, we were not much surprised to hear that while we were at sea there had been violent earthquakes felt at Malta, and nearly all round the Mediterranean. At Malta there was great consternation; the houses were almost rocking, the church bells clanging to drive away the supposed evil spirit, and the people sitting up with lighted tapers.

As regards the reputed healthfulness of Malta, I think it is a mistake, for I believe the sanitary arrangement and sewerage system are extremely faulty, especially in the old part of the city, where the wells are absolutely contaminated and unsafe to use without boiling and filtering the water. There is also a kind of bad and dangerous intermittent fever at Malta, like that at Gibraltar endemic, I should think. My wife has recently lost a very dear sister (who resided in this island), chiefly, I believe, from these last two causes, and hence I speak rather earnestly on the subject.

Altogether, what with fever, ophthalmia, etc., one can scarcely call Malta a healthy place. The fact is, in that latitude, with so over-crowded a population, the natives most unclean in their habits, and with faulty and inadequate sewerage system, one could not expect otherwise.

In February, March, and a part of April, when my wife was there, the weather was unsettled, stormy, and cold nearly all the time.

Strada Reale, where the great public square and governor’s palace are, I believe, is (or used to be) the principal street, and the shops there are very attractive, especially the jewellers’, with their exquisite silver and gold filagree work; and also the places where the beautiful Maltese lace is sold. Strada Zecca, a peaceful, shady, and silent retreat, used to be the street of the Government offices; and we see here many of the old palaces and houses of the Knight Crusaders, some of which are rather peculiarly constructed inside. There are the overhanging shading roofs, as at Genoa and other places; but the Knights, not being permitted to marry, had no families, and so did not require many sleeping-rooms: therefore, in most of the houses of Valetta the reception-rooms and courts are spacious, lofty, and handsomely decorated, and occupy by far the larger portion of the building, while the sleeping-rooms are narrow, confined, and limited in extent.

Sliema and St. Julian’s Bays, three or four miles off, are the little Brightons of Malta, whence the residents change the sultry heats of the city for the cool and refreshing sea breezes, healthful sea-bathing, and something in the shape of verdure and green fields. These places, St. Paul’s Bay, and the adjacent Island of Gozo, are the chief resorts for excursions, picnics, etc. At Valetta nearly the only country walk used to be to the (so-called) Gardens of St. Antonio; and it was rather melancholy to see the stream of poor human beings almost confined to this one walk, like invalids at some water-drinking health resort, or a moving mass of regimental ants.

The industries of Malta consist chiefly of its exquisitely made silver and gold filagree work, and its rich and Spanish-like lace, which find ready sale on the continent; its further exports being principally dried fish, luscious oranges and fruits, and vegetables.

Labour is remarkably cheap, the Maltese living on a mere nothing. A little rancid oil, shark, or any other half-putrid fish, a few olives, sour wine, and bread, and they are well feasted. Hotel expenses are not higher than on the Riviera; but amongst the best resident classes living is rather expensive, especially in the matter of clothing, nearly every article of which is imported from England. In my days, gloves used to be remarkably cheap, so much so that we could indulge in a fresh pair every evening for the Opera, and the gloves, with admittance, did not exceed the cost of an ordinary pair of gloves alone in England. The opera was our chief delight, and we could sympathize with the Italians in this pleasure.

One great drawback to visiting Malta is the fear of quarantine. Very recently a young friend of mine, an Oxford man, experienced the bitter disappointment of going all the way there, only to be “imprisoned” in the lazaretto, and was only able to talk to his friend from a distance of four yards, with a gen d’arme between them. Unfortunately, his time was too short to allow of his seeing Malta after his release from durance vile.

Having seen my wife off from Messina, I had arranged to go by steamer on the following day to Palermo, but the stormy weather had delayed the arrival of the vessel from Reggio, so I decided to go by rail instead, and hurried to the station in a violent storm of rain and hail.

The route was so full of interest, and the views so enchanting, that I did not regret the change in my plans. The coast scenery was grand and beautiful. For miles, while circling round great Etna, we were passing over vast fields of lava the land tumbled about like the waves of a tempestuous sea, as if recently thrown up by some mighty earthquake, and all sombre-coloured and sulphurous, as though we were traversing some part of the nether world. It was a most striking contrast to the lovely scenery we had already passed, and also to that we were approaching Aci Reale and Catania, in particular, comparing even with Monte Carlo and Monaco; groves of orange and olive trees and picturesque vineyards adorning the fine coast heights, and the blue sea beyond. The fine expansive plains around Etna brought to mind England’s great naval hero, Nelson, for here was situated the territory of his Dukedom of Bronte, which in those days yielded good crops of Marsala wine. I was really sorry not to be able to spend a few days at Catania, and view more closely the lovely region around Aci Reale; but it was just here that we suddenly branched off to the west, and plunged into the heart of the island. Away we went up the mountain heights, the night closing in, and a glorious moon uprising. Sometimes we were on the mountain-tops, then again descending into the valleys beneath, only to rise like eagles, and mount to the summits once more; the moon circling round the peaks, occasionally hidden, and then appearing as if again rising in silent majesty over the beautiful landscape. About midnight we approached the coast and proceeded along by the shore once more, the great waves dashing almost up to the train as we rushed swiftly by. Soon I saw the semicircular lights of the harbour of Palermo, and in a short time the train steamed into the station.

I think this was the grandest and most interesting railway journey I ever made, and I shall not soon forget the impression I received.