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could not be open; but the door was open, and thus to all intents and purposes I dined out of doors, which is never pleasant in January, even in Sicily. The host was literally a killingly handsome Sicilian, for he was one of those whom you always think of with flashing daggers in their hands and bent on murderous intents. He said he had a brother in America, who lived at Buenos Ayres, but frequently went up to New York.
The great attraction of Syracuse is the classic remains of its former greatness; and these, I should say, are decidedly the third in Europe; ranking next after Romc and Athens. They have that peculiar melancholy background which makes such a beautiful setting for things whose glory has departed. The hills are low, forming a blue line behind the town, broken here and there by the umbrella-pines; and there are those long white roads so common in Italy, that are dazzling at mid-day, but lose their brightness at sunset when they fade out in the distance. All bears a look of decay, which is unrelieved by any activity in the present. Naples is one of the liveliest, noisiest cities in the world. Rome being an eternal city, has never a look of torpor and deadness, even in the midst of its ruins. Athens is a thriving modern town. But Syracuse is only a memento mori. There seems to be no trade, and nothing of modern times at all but life. There is always that in an Italian town: the gay dresses, and bright sunshine, and the violent gesticulation of the people, give the idea of life, though all else be dead.
They have two theatres in Syracuse, which are remarkable as having been largely hollowed out of one stone. We hear many complaints now-a-days of flimsy, insubstantial building, but these men of old built as if not for time but for eternity, and it brings to mind the description of the proud in the Psalms, "they think that their house shall continue forever." Instead of heaping up stones which might be thrown down, and not one left standing upon another, they hollowed amphitheatres out of the living rock. Here in these mighty play-houses of ancient Syracuse, the wild beasts of the arena, and the gladiator bleeding and vanquished upon the sands, were treading the same stone as the fair lady high up among the spectators, pointing with her thumb downwards, and making the merciless signal for death. Such buildings can never be ruins in the proper sense of the word, until some more geological eras have passed away, which shall so alter the condition of the earth as to render it no longer recognizable to the present race of men.
There is a species of pits in Syracuse called Latomie, which are perfectly unique. Amidst much discussion as to their origin and uses, it seems to be generally agreed that they were used as quarries. To the American mind there is not much that is picturesque in the idea of a quarry, and yet these are some of the most picturesque spots on earth. The most beautiful is the Latomia de'Capuccini, so called because it is close by the church of the Capuchins. It is a vast cavern, deeper than a respectable house is high, cut out of the stone, with its walls polished and quite smooth. Two immense piers of stone are left to support the roof, and give somewhat of the appearance of a cathedral underground, with nave and aisles, but long disused for all purposes of worship. For the ground, which is undulating, is thickly planted with orange trees and cypresses.
Then there is an undergrowth of roses and acanthi; and the great masses of rock that have fallen down from the roof are entirely covered with olives and fig trees; and where these have left any space that a few gleams of sunshine can reach, it is filled up with ivy and other vines. The walls are smooth and shining, and curtained with wild creepers. In one place I saw a tree, to all appearance growing out of a large stone, without a handful of earth wherein its roots could find nourishment. And only by examining the spot carefully did I discover that the root, after striking the surface of the rock, had split into several smaller trunks which wound themselves around the stone before they reached the ground. It is a marvel of fertility even in Sicily-nature gone mad and asserting its rights over man as it did at the first, as it has often done since, and is to do in the end.
There are other Latomie, all of the same general type. One is now used by rope makers, and is called the “Grotta de' Corderi.” There are men and women in gay Sicilian costumes, stretching ropes from one end of the vast cavern to another; they move about with a brisk motion, and the effect is very much that of a gorgeous ballet or Christmas pantomime, where sometimes a whole act is passed in the bowels of the earth.
Syracuse is a city which might be said to consist of two tiers, for there is almost as much of interest underground as there is above the earth, amongst other things, a curious cavern known as the “Ear of Dionysius.” It is in the shape horizontally of the letter S, and vertically it is narrow and pointed like an ass's ear. Its acoustic properties are so marvellous that the tyrant Dionysius used to station himself comfortably above, and thence he could hear plainly all that was said, even though it might be in the lowest whisper, by the prisoners who were languishing in the dungeons below.
The catacombs too are scarcely inferior in interest to those of Rome, or those of Kieff, in Russia. They are of uncertain extent, and all that can be said of them is that they are vast, for, according to some authorities, they are eight miles long, while others think they reach to Catania, a distance of sixty miles. There are three tiers one above another, and their chief beauty lies in the frequent openings into the outer world, so that from these dismal labyrinthine passages underground there appear occasionally the most charming glimpses of the surrounding country.
The last night I was in Syracuse being the Epiphany, the murderous-looking individual with a brother in Buenos Ayres, took me to a suppressed convent where they had the praesepe, or representation of the holy manger at Bethlehem. In the end of the church where once the altar stood, was a large platform covered with grass, and trees in miniature, and rock-work, part of which represented the Ear of Dionysius, in whose gloomy vaults were men and women making cheese. The puppets were all dressed in the Sicilian costume, and the central group of course was composed of Mary and Joseph and the attendant angels in adoration before the holy Child. This was all very solemn, and the simplicity of it very touching. It seemed to bring the Star of Bethlehem, and the infant Saviour, and all the incidents and actors of the “sweet story of old ” so near to us.
That morning I had been to Pontificial High Mass in the cathedral. Such an exhibition! First, there was a service at a side altar, with a great many priests "saying the office" and behaving outrageously. One of them amused himself by spitting with much dexterity and to a great distance. After a while some dozen bishops came in, whose conduct was if possible worse than that of the priests. They sat there with their gross, sensual faces, and plainly showing that they were very much bored by what was going on. Two of them seemed to me to be quarreling, for they looked at each other like thunder clouds, and talked in loud, angry tones. Perhaps, however, it was only a discussion, in which they were growing
I had not the slightest idea what all this bad behavior meant, but it seems they were dressing the archbishop, who appeared presently all ready for Pontificial High Mass. He was a repulsivelooking creature, and so fat that he literally waddled. His feet were quite shapeless, toes and instep and the distinctions of ordinary feet being lost in fat. Sitting in his chair, he preached a sermon which was not devoid of a certain kind of eloquence. The small congregation left their seats and crowded round the archiepiscopal throne to hear it, and there was a murmur of applause and suppressed bravos when it was over. From the fact of his looking at me and shaking his fist at me through the entire oration, which consisted chiefly of denunciations of heretics, I had the vanity to suppose that much of it was meant for my benefit.
The last place I saw in Sicily was Taormina, or as it was in classic times, Tauromenium. It is on a mountain, perhaps three-quarters of an hour's walk above the railway station. There is a ruined theatre not of unusual interest, but everybody should go to look at it and brave the loquacious custode for the sake of the magnificent panorama it affords of the Sicilian coast. I do not like panoramas as a general rule. They are apt to be spotty, and in the multiplicity of objects seen, nothing is seen well. Maps in nature are very apt to be like maps on paper, a number of different colors, in which you would not know which was land or which was sea unless you were told. But at Taormina there are distinct objects clearly relieved against what some one called a “background of infinity.” Through the ruined and broken arches of the amphitheatre there shines the bright expanse of the sea, and the rocky line of the coast stretching away past Naxos to Catania and Syra
Then close by is the ancient town, like Sicily itself filled with bits of broken buildings of every age, and the most prominent object in the whole scene is the snowy mass of Etna sloping majestically down to the sea.
It was a pleasant way of ending my short tour in Sicily, the beauties of nature which are perennial set in a framework of the decaying, perishable beauties of art. I hope it may long linger in my memory like the “summer sunset” of the Golden Legend. And I would advise any one who loves the beauty of Italy, who has seen the lake of Como, and the Campagna, and Sorrento, to visit those shores, of which I shall always cherish an affectionate remembrance. In our life which is generally so dull and commonplace, it is refresh
ing to see places which we have known in books and pictures, and tread the ways that were familiar to us in our childish dreams. Some of these dreams perhaps were more beautiful than the reality, but with Sicily that can never be. Raise your expectations as high as you can, read the most enchanting descriptions that you can find in poets of an earthly Paradise, and nothing will be disappointing in that beautiful island, which you will delight in while you are there, and long for after you have left it.
H. I. M.
GARFIELD'S PLAN OF RESUMPTION_BY VOTING OUR
SELVES BACK TO SPECIE.'
ENERAL GARFIELD'S article on “ The Currency Conflict"
in the Atlantic, for February, sheds nearly all the light on our currency question that can be shed from books, and that is—none at all. Books can no more teach the American Congress how to resume specie payments than they could teach Girard how to get rich, Napoleon how to win a battle, or Webster how to make a speech. We have Congressmen who have read nothing. Garfield is far above these. But a statesman would be one who having read what has heretofore been done in a manner wisely applicable to other occasions and people, should now do something equally applicable to our own occasion and needs, and worthy of furnishing new reading matter to those who are to follow. So far as the article in the Atlantic Monthly indicates, Gen. Garfield is merely cramming precedents, not inventing new ones. Greeley thought he could resume simply by writing over the door of the U. S. Treasury, “The United States have resumed.” His reserve fund for sustaining seven hundred millions of national and bank paper at par was simply “gush” and “sign painting." Garfield thinks to resume on a mere majority of votes. He regards the question not as one of means but of doctrines, not as requiring gold which we haven't got and which, if given us, we couldn't keep, but as requiring only votes, opinions, unanimity, a general hand-shaking all around, and a resolution to stand by coin as a Hindoo would stand by his God, whether he can see him or not—and even if he knows that the god in question is an imported
By Van Buren Denslow, Professor of Political Science and Law in University of Chicago.