“Break, break, break,
On thy cold, gray crags, O Sea!”
“I remember a day,” said a friend not long since, “a day as sweet, calm, cool, and bright as that whose wedding and funeral song the poet sings in the same verse, when I stood upon the white sea-coast near Naples, and looked far away across the blue, silent waters, and up the gray, flowery steeps, to where the towering cone of Vesuvius cleaves the skies. It was in the spring-time; luxuriant nature seemed to have nothing to do but to grow and bloom, and the huge mountain itself was profoundly at peace, — smiling a welcome, apparently, to the delicate bean-plants and wild vines which clambered up its sides, and wearing a light curl of smoke, like a gay coronal, around its brow. The bay was alive with red-capped fishermen, each one intent on fishing up his inverted brother below him; the beach was thronged with women, who chattered cheerfully over their baskets; and along the road scampered soldiers in bright uniforms, as if they had no conceivable purpose in life but to bathe in that clear sunshine, and breathe that soft, delicious air.
“A few hours later,” continued he, “I stood not far from the same spot, and saw that mountain angrily belching forth pitch and flames; the earth beneath my feet groaned with sullen, suppressed rage, or as if it were in pain; vast volumes of lurid smoke rolled through the sky, and streams of melted brimstone coursed down the hill-sides, burning up the pretty flowers, crushing the trees, and ruthlessly devouring the snug farms and cottages of the loving Philemons and Baucises who had incautiously built too near the fatal precinct. The poor contadini, who lately chaffered so vivaciously over their macaroni and chestnuts, were flying panic-smitten in all directions; some clasped their crucifixes, and called wildly upon the saints for protection; others leaped frantically into boats and rowed themselves dead, in the needless endeavor to escape death; while the general expression of the people was that of a multitude who, the next minute, expected to see the skies fall to crush them, or the earth open to swallow them up forever. But I was myself unmoved,” our friend concluded, in his usual vein of philosophy, “though, I trust, not unsympathizing; because I saw, through those dun clouds of smoke, the stars still shining serenely aloft, and because I felt that after that transient convulsion of nature the great sun would rise as majestically as ever on the morrow, to show us, here and there, no doubt, a beautiful tract now desolate, here and there a fruitful vale now filled with ashes, — but also, the same glorious bay breathing calmly in its bed, the same cloudless sky holding the green and peaceful earth in its complacent embrace.”