The Claudian Emissary
THE middle of March found me at Naples still, with an inflexible necessity upon me of being in May at Paris, whither I proposed to go by way of Ancona and Venice. But between Naples and the northern sea, stretching for many leagues from the frontier of the Ecclesiastical States along the Apennines, lay those three provinces of the old Sicilian kingdom, — almost untrodden by modern travel, infested to a proverb with banditti and vermin, and no less barren of all the comforts of modern civilization, — the rugged, picturesque Abruzzi. Against these, and all dealings with them, Murray warned with the voice of authority ; and Murray’s authority was enforced by many friendly dissuasions on the spot. Yet dissuasions and warnings, pictures of a country without inns, of inns without food that could be eaten or beds that could be slept in, or, graver yet, of highways untravelled by peaceful strangers, in regions where every peasant was a brigand, and where the gendarmerie were worse than banditti,— all these but confirmed me in my thirst for exploration.
But though dissuasions were of no avail, those who dissuaded were none
the less earnest in offering such other services as seemed to them next in value. Our courteous Minister Resident (for Naples had at the time of which I write a court for ministers to reside near) deemed it best to provide me with surer protection than my ordinary Washington passport might afford against the persecutions of the atrocious rural police, and so presented me with a special certificate, over the broad seal of the Legation. This paper declared that the bearer’s “journey was not connected with politics, military science, nor the acquisition of any knowledge of such subjects”; and that “the undersigned commended him to the good offices of those whom this might reach.” Still more marked was the obliging interest shown by my bankers, who, together with the ponderous silver dollars alone current in the Abruzzi, handed me letters to gentlemen upon the line of my projected journey, assuring me that in the Abruzzi a document of that sort was not merely, as elsewhere, a “ ticket for soup,” but entitled the bearer to board and lodging on presentation. Nor did they suffer their obstinate beneficiary to set out until they had, unknown to him, sought out the best itinerary and topographical chart of the Abruzzi that Naples afforded, and given it to him as a guide to his feet and a remembrance of the courteous givers.
Thus abundantly equipped, one lovely Monday morning in March saw me at the railway station, and, an hour later, at the gates of Capua, whence I had issued three weeks earlier on my way from Rome. A sentry in the stiff Neapolitan uniform glanced listlessly at me as I crossed the drawbridge. When I crossed it before, stopping to look about at the bastions and ravelins,— which, conforming faithfully to the principles of Vauban, had given Capua a high repute among fortified places before Vauban was made obsolete by Todleben and Gillmore and Parrott and Dalilgren, — I had ventured to ask the sentinel how long he thought the town would hold out if the French came, — a possible event which had been a few months earlier the terror of “legitimate ” authority in Italy. Looking hastily about him for listeners, “ About three hours,” he answered. A bold hill juts from the Apennines into the plain on which the town is built, to within a mile of its walls ; and it seemed then, as I looked at it, the topographical fact on which depended the failing strength of Capua. Well, three months later came, —not the French, to be sure, for they had stopped work at Solferino,—but Garibaldi and his red-shirted multitude.
Capua held them easily at bay until hope began to fail them ; but when at last the well-trained legions of Piedmont came to Garibaldi’s relief, and engineers, as good as the best in Europe, planted on that hill batteries of Cavalli guns, such as Vauban’s philosophy had made no calculations for, down came the flag of the Two Sicilies, and nothing remained but Rome and Venice to complete the unity of Italy. I hope my friendly sentinel came to no harm ; but the event was a most acceptable confirmation of my theory.
In Capua, I had only the enforced delay of a few minutes at the dirty headquarters of the police, while the “ Ispettore,” carefully comparing the somewhat imaginative description of my passport with its bearer, and scrutinizing closely its unimpeachable visas, made various entries in a register, and affixed the seal of his official approval. As I took the liberty of looking over his shoulder during the process, I had the pleasure of seeing entered in a column for general remarks the suspicious circumstance, a piede (afoot), — the one circumstance which, more perhaps than even my American origin, subjected me in all this journey to the especial annoyances of the vilest police in Christendom. But even a Neapolitan inspector could discover no flaw in my record ; and it was not yet eleven when, my knapsack slung, my passport submitted to examination again at the opposite city gate, I trudged rapidly across the bridge over the swift Volturno, and was on my way to the Abruzzi.
For four miles the road was the same over which I had come from Rome, until at Lo Spartimento (The Forks) my new course left the Roman highway, going off at a right angle to the left, straight toward the mountain range which rose distinct, though distant, in front. But though mountains faced me, on either hand the road was flanked by a dull, flat region, grown lifeless under the extortionate tyranny of the Farnese Bourbons. The highway itself, though a principal one, was a rough, broken bed of hard clay, which, in the winter rains, had been by the few passing wagons cut into ruts and clods, and now was baked by the vernal sun into the rugged form left by the last wheels that furrowed it ; while no green banquette, as along the magnificent causeways of France and England, offered relief to the pedestrian’s feet.
After the torment of a walk of near a dozen miles in a pair of cruel Neapolitan shoes, which I had bought just before leaving the city, I beheld as welcome a vision as ever a sail to shipwrecked mariner,—an open wagon, with but one occupant, and going my way. If South Italy has in fact (as those deny who can see no future for her but brigandage and priestly reaction) a middle class, this man is one of them, — evidently a roturier, a small rural landholder, whose gun lying at his side indicates that his rank is such at least as to entitle him to the privileges of keeping arms and of killing game. It is with evident distrust that he yields to my piteous appeal; but before our two miles of companionship are over, we are on terms of confidence. The primary announcement of his new companion as an American served, as it always docs upon the Continent, with every one but Englishmen and police agents, to arouse the warmest good-will and the liveliest interest, and to open the way for a torrent of exclamation, of inquiry, and of admiration. Nor were these expressions limited, in the conversation of my new carrier, to questions about our country, and envy of our good fortune ; all fear of gendarmi seemed at once to have vanished, and the poor fellow indulged in invective against his own government, — imputing to it, not without reason, all the misfortunes of his country, — as if he had been kept all his lifetime under a pressure of ninety pounds to the inch, and believed that this half-hour was to be his last chance for relieving his mind. We crossed two or three times the line of the projected railroad from Rome to Naples, whose massive embankments lay incomplete, and unvexed by the tread of laborers. “ Why don’t they finish it ? ” “ O, the government is doing it, and the government does n’t want the road built. They have been at it three or four years, and every year they work a little to keep up appearances, and then lie idle. O, it is a vile government, and a wretched people ; but America ! that is un paese celeste, — a heavenly country ! ”
It must have been one o’clock when my friendly roturier deposited me at a roadside inn, where I was first to test the truth of my Neapolitan advices concerning the entertainment which my route would afford. Small comfort so far ! A small, square house of white stucco, with a broad archway in its front
giving access for vehicles to the enclosed court-yard about which it was built, and for guests to the interior of the tavern itself, — court-yard and archway deep with all imaginable filth,—-the rooms of the house almost unfurnished, dilapidated, offensive to every sense,— it was unhappily a fair type of the Italian locanda in districts unfrequented by foreign travel. A bit of coarse bread, with a knife incrusted with ancient evidence of its former uses, and a tumbler of muddy red wine, were the best means of refreshment the house afforded. But even this fare gave me strength to stumble along over a few miles more of broken road, with the help of another hour’s lift in the wagon of a party of farmers, whose deep disaffection to the plundering government under which they lived was only less outspoken than my friend’s of the morning. Near nightfall, I come in sight of what, as I have already learned by inquiry, must be my shelter until morning, unless I can go several miles farther, with no danger indeed of “ faring worse,” but little hope of doing better. It is a nameless den, standing almost alone by the roadside ; so nearly alone that the place, known in the neighborhood as Pietra Storta, is not even mentioned in Murray. Nameless, as I have said; but over the broad archway in front is nailed a withered, leafless bough, which cheaply indicates, all over Europe, the low cabaret, or tavern, and which is so apt to verify the adage to which it gives rise, “ Good wine needs no bush.” The house is larger than my noonday resting-place, but even more squalid than that ; the solitude of the spot brings up rather too plainly the varied warnings of my friends against robbery and murder ; but there is no alternative ; my tortured feet will carry me no farther. Within there is little to reassure one. A grimy old woman, who appears to be the padrona, takes my orders. But there is nothing to eat in the house, almost absolutely nothing ; nor does the landlady appear disposed in any way either to accommodate or to conciliate her unwonted guest. An ill-cooked omelet at last furnishes all my dinner, and I lock myself into a great, desolate barn of a room, and fight with vermin until morning.
Tuesday, a breakfast like yesterday’s dinner, and an early start. Getting well into the mountains to-day. The country is charming; the seventeen miles of it that I make abound in varied and sometimes striking scenery. The road passes several villages, all of them too squalid to offer even the poor refreshment with which I would gladly supplement my slender breakfast. To-day another companion, travelling also on foot,—a workingman bound to San Germano for a job. At noon, as we sit by the roadside together, resting and chatting, — it is hard if my Italian, bad as it is, is worse than his ! — he draws from his wallet a loaf of dark-brown bread, and cheese as white almost as snow, and will take no answer but that I shall share them with him. Then we jog on together, until, some hours before sunset, he leaves me at the inn, outside the town of San Germano, which bears the imposing title of " Villa Rapido.” Not so bad a place either; for this town has been not without attractions to foreign visitors. Here is at least one good dinner on my route, despite all prognostications ; but ; is not my place of halt for to-night.
Just back of the little compact town, towering hundreds of feet above it, and looking out far and wide over the level plains of Campania, rises that lordly eminence, the Monte Cassino. On its lonely summit, more than thirteen hundred years ago, three years before the Emperor Justinian laid, at Constantinople, the corner-stone of that gorgeous cathedral which he dedicated to the Holy Wisdom, the saintly Benedict, overturning the heathen altars of Apollo, set up instead his lowly monkish oratory, and founded the mother house of the great order of Benedictines ; and here, after all the successive pillage of Lombards, of Saracens, and of the ruthless Gauls of this nineteenth century, still endures the grandest monastic establishment in Europe. The inn-people furnish conveyance to the convent in the shape of a scrubby donkey, with a hardly better-kept boy for propulsive power. I bestride the uncomely beast, and the driver attaches himself by one hand to its tail, while with the other he incites progress by means of a sharpened stick ; and so we trot through the crooked streets of San Germano, and commence the tortuous ascent. It was a delightful hour’s ride. Below, covered with the soft haze of sunset, spread the broad vailey of the Garigliano, bounded, some eight miles beyond, by mountains of ragged and picturesque outline, and stretching away up beyond the Papal frontier. Into this valley projects like a promontory, from the mass of the loftier and snowy Apennines close behind it, the mountain we were climbing; and at its very summit, visible in something like palatial majesty for many miles on either side, is the great mother house of the Benedictines.
My arrival there was, on one account, somewhat inopportune. It was the eve of St. Benedict’s day ; and the convent, notwithstanding the stupendous extent of its courts and quadrangles and corridors, was so full of visitors, attracted from the country around either by religious zeal or by the free hospitality of the holy fathers, that when I entered through a low passage tunnelled in the rock up into a noble court-yard with a fountain, the servitor who met me told me I could hardly be received. Fortunately, a Neapolitan friend, just before my start, had given me, unasked, a card addressed to the prior. On receiving this, the servitor disappears for a moment, and returns, bearing the commands of the prior that I should be conducted into his presence.
The head of an establishment at once so venerable and so majestic, — to whose membership no person of less than gentle birth or less than independent fortune is admissible, and whose chief, always noble, in more prosperous days was by virtue of his mitre the first baron of the Sicilian kingdom, — Don Carlo de’ Veri seemed, even to my democratic and Protestant eyes, a fit successor of the most princely abbots and of the most saintly fathers. A slender, graceful man, of about forty years, his fine intellectual face and pale blue eyes gave unquestionable signs that the vigils and fasting which were common enough on Monte Cassino a thousand years ago were no rare exercise there in more degenerate days ; and his features and expression and manner had all more of ideal saintliness than I ever have seen before or since, outside of a mediæval picture. He received me, in the presence of two or three of his subordinates, with great dignity and courtesy, and shortly led me to a large, fine room, well furnished (a far different apartment from the narrow cells which served to lodge the good fathers themselves); and, stealing a few moments for the rites of hospitality from the unusual burdens of this anniversary time, sat and talked, in French and Italian, of the news of the outer world, which seemed to reach him but seldom. Soon an attendant served in my room such frugal but wholesome dishes — an omelet, a salad, bread, butter, but no fleshly meats — as the rules of a convent would allow; and with very thankful and kindly feelings toward my entertainers, I turned to a pleasanter sleep than that of the night before.
St. Benedict’s day was ushered in, as the great bell struck midnight, by matins in the church. But not until broad day did I awake, to look out, from the giddy height of my window, on the same boundless beauty of prospect which had been so delicious in yesterday’s ascent of the mountain. Directly beneath my window, from the monastery gates below, there passed out into sight, as I looked, a party of pilgrims, who had done their devoir at St. Benedict’s shrine, and received, no doubt, their dole of alms ; and who now, like so many palmers of old, wrapped in their rough brown cloaks, and bearing long staffs with little crosses at the top, wound their way down the mountain, chanting as they went a strange, wild chorus, that rose like an echo from the Crusades into the clear upper air. For an hour or more, after another ascetic, though delicate, repast of eggs and lettuce, I rambled through the labyrinthine structures of the convent, lingeringlongest and most reverently, and most loath to leave it, in the great Abbey Church, to which nothing in Italy, still less anything out of Italy,—not the Church of the Annunciation at Genoa, not the metropolitan church of the whole world at Rome, — can be remotely compared for wealth of decoration in mosaics and paintings and rich marbles. That square inch or two of mosaic, madam, that your cousin brought you from Florence, you value enough to wear, set in gold, at your throat; and rightly. What think you, then, of a church, greatly larger than Trinity in Broadway, whose whole interior surface— roof, walls, columns, altars, and chapels, save such space as is covered by the paintings of Bassano and Luca Giordano—-is encased in Florentine mosaics, larger in pattern, indeed, but scarcely less delicate, than your cherished ornament,—while even the broad acres of its pavement form one harmonious device in mosaic of such beauty and richness as the most undevout visitor would rather kneel than tread upon ?
But I have far to go to-day. I cannot call away my courteous entertainer from the solemn services of his founder’s anniversary ; so, leaving a little contribution for the charity fund of the convent, the only acknowledgment I am permitted to make for its hospitality, I pass out again through the rocky tunnel, and down the mountain through the olive groves.
There is a fair in San Germano on St. Benedict’s day, and the pilgrims to the shrine above, having got there gratis much spiritual good, are busy exchanging their carlini for divers articles of worldly gear. Hurrying through the crowded alleys, and hardly pausing to look at the stately ruins of the amphitheatre of Roman Casinum, I turn to the right around the base of the mountain, and soon have struck into a good, swinging gait, along the broad high-road that leads up the valley of the Garigliano. The highway is as pleasant as an English rural lane, passing as it does through vineyards and rich plantations with grand old elms and oaks ; but before noon the renewed torture of those accursed Neapolitan shoes, reducing to a wretched limp the exultant stride of the outset, rendered grateful beyond expression the succor of a springless and most comfortless country wagon, in which a party of peasants helped me a dozen miles on my way into the hills.
The night was near when, having walked several hours after losing the aid of my rustic friends, and having gone far into the hills up the narrowing valley of the Liris, I arrived at the village of Isola. Among my letters from Naples was one to this place, introducing me to M. de Montgolfier, a French gentleman whose residence in these inhospitable wilds was compelled by his important office as manager of the most extensive paper-mills in South Italy. Trusting to these words in Murray, “Inn: small but clean,” I had looked forward to a tolerable dinner at that hostelry, and an evening call with some ceremony to present my letter. But a single glance at the " small, but clean” osteria, through the open door of which were seen a party of operatives, just dismissed from the day’s work, executing a kind of scalp-dance in the dirty public room, annihilated scruples. Calling to mind all I had heard at Naples regarding the comprehensive meaning of an introduction in the Abruzzi, I presented myself, dusty and halting from the march, without apology, at the carliera.
It would be pleasant to paint, from the experience of the twenty hours at Isola, the attractive picture, which those born to speak English are apt to deem impossible, of the graceful home and fireside life of a refined, cultivated French family. But the frank and cordial hospitality with which, upon no stronger claims than those of being a stranger, a traveller, and an American, with a formal commendation from a common acquaintance, I was admitted to this home imposes obligations which cannot be disregarded. No duty, however, is violated in saying that here, in the very heart of the Apennines, where I had thought myself perhaps the first visitor from over the sea, there greeted me the familiar face and voice of a house clock bearing the trade-mark of “ Chauncey Jerome, New Haven, Connecticut”; that in the great cluster of buildings—turned from their ancient service as a convent to the secular uses of a paper-mill — there was, what they said Europe could not supply the place of, an American “ pulp-machine ” ; and that even to this sequestered valley the fame of at least two countrymen of ours had come. One was the historic, almost mythologic Washington. The likeness of the other, with words of admiration, — rather of veneration, — as of an apostle and martyr, they brought and set before me. It was the grim, Puritan figure of him who, rightly or wrongly, was to them, as to Victor Hugo, the greatest of modern Americans, — of “ ce pauvre Jean Brown,” — of that crazy enthusiast whom the Virginians had hung as a felon at Charlestown, and made an end of, to be sure !
No wonder if the next afternoon was well advanced when I stepped out again into the high-road, and turned my back on Isola.
It was the declaration of the classical Mrs. Blimber, that, “if she could only have seen Cicero in his villa at Tusculum, she would have died contented.” I think, if that gifted woman could have shared with me this afternoon’s walk, it would have gone far to reconcile her to the pangs of dissolution. The readers of Mr. Forsyth’s entertaining “ Life” of the great lawyer and politician will recall the minute topographical sketch of the favorite ancestral villa of Arpinum. Its site, as accurately ascertained by the comparison of existing landmarks with the date in his correspondence with Atticus, lay just in my way to-day. Under the guidance of a truly venerable father from the conventual church of St. Dominic the Abbot, which stands upon the very site of the heathen philosopher’s countryseat, and is built up with broken columns, capitals and triglyphs, inscriptions and bas-reliefs, Mrs. Blimber might have traced out, as I did, the “island” formed by the ‘‘cold Fibrenus,” just before it “ falls headlong into the Liris.” But no sacrifice which she could have offered to the shades of the ancient proprietor could have surpassed the reverence with which a little peasant-girl approached the “ Cicerone ” who in the stead of Marcus Tullius was doing the honors of the place, and, looking up into his gentle face with timid confidence, took his hand, which hung scarcely within her reach, kissed it, and slipped away. Less than an hour brought me to the inn at Sora, which might have been endurable but for contrast with the Eden of Isola.
By half past seven next morning all preliminaries were concluded with the proprietor, and I set forth in a shaky one-horse vehicle ; for the day was a little rainy, and the distance to another resting-place altogether too great to be accomplished on foot, with all that must be done besides. It was the narrow valley of the Liris, up which, almost to its head, I was still pressing. The ascent was constant ; the mountains, barren even of trees, grew nearer together, higher, and more rugged, yet without being picturesque. There were occasional squalid villages, the poverty of which was abject, and seemed universal. It was past noon when, following the road by a sharp turn to the right, and climbing through a narrow gorge, we came out upon a scene which seemed, in the raw mist of that March day, the very abomination of desolation. It was a very level plain ; its breadth, as we faced it, might have been a couple of miles ; on our right the mountains closed upon it, while to the left it stretched away in
fearful solitude some eight or ten miles, until the mountains appeared to shut down upon it, — all unvaried by tree or shrub or dwelling, or any sign of human occupation except the road along which we were travelling, and almost bare even of the commonest herbage. Opposite to us, all along the northern edge of this plain, a gray, bald mountain rose some fifteen hundred feet above the considerable elevation we had already attained, beyond which, and at about the level of the Campi Palentini, over which we were passing, lay the broad, shallow Lake Fucino, deeply set in a crater-like basin of the mountains. Under this Monte Salviano in front of us, under the plain we were traversing, more than eighteen hundred years ago, the Emperor Claudius, with eleven years’ labor of thirty thousand men, had pierced a tunnel from the lake through to the valley I had just left, — a tunnel three miles and a half in length, ten feet high, and four wide. It was carried all this distance through hard rock and argillaceous earth, for the beneficent purpose — which, no less than its grandeur, commended the work to an enlightened despotism — of keeping down to their ordinary level the waters of the lake, which, having no natural outlet, had often inundated its fertile borders. The grandeur of the conception, the vigor of the execution, the splendor with which the completed task was celebrated, were all alike worthy of a Cæsar. But it is one thing to create, and quite another to maintain. Whether from unskilful engineering, or faulty construction, or from whatever cause, the issue from the lake soon ceased ; the great Emissary was choked, and the water spread destructively, as before, over the many thousands of acres once open to tillage and habitation. From that time on, monarchs of many names had striven to renew the achievement of Claudius ; Roman Cæsars, German Kaisers, even Farnese Bourbons, most detested of tyrants, had essayed the task, and abandoned it. What emperors and kings vainly attempted had been, a few years before my visit, once more undertaken by the capital and Skill of a modern joint-stock company. A Roman banker, the Prince Torlonia, had contributed most of the capital; French engineers had supplied the science and the skill; and the work of restoring, on new and better plans, the Claudian construction, was now going bravely on. It was by the wish to visit these great works, the ancient and the modern ; to see the boldest enterprise of this character that Roman art had ever attempted, the proper companion and complement of those achievements which I had already marvelled at,-—-the Pont du Gard in Provence, the wall of the Theatre at Orange, and the Flaminian and Appian Ways; to see set face to face, in unflinching comparison, the old and the new science, — that I had been attracted, more than by anything else, into this wild region.
I have called the plain upon which we had entered a solitude. All that impaired the completeness of the solitude was a cluster of low temporary buildings just in front of us, much like those which an American railroad contractor knocks together of boards near some “ heavy job ” on the line, and destined, like them, for the workmen’s quarters and shops. The Frenchmen who are directing this work call them “ chantiers ” ; our American parlance changes the spelling slightly, and the sound less, and calls them " shanties.” My vetturino, having pointed out just at the right of the road a low, irregular pile of stones, then, some distance forward, another, and yet others, until they reached in a straight line a little way up the mountain in front, told me that these rude wellcurbs guarded the mouths of the ancient cuniculi, or air-shafts, and set me down, a little after noon, at one of the better of the " shanties.”
It was a rare good fortune which had brought to that place, at that moment, M. Bermont, at once contractor and engineer-in-chief of the work, to whom I bore a letter from Naples. My reception was cordial, of course; for M. Bermont was a gentleman and a Frenchman. A countrywoman of his made us, in the two-roomed cabin we had entered, an omelet, clean, for I saw the process, and French. Then followed an inspection with M. Bermont of his workshops, of his stables, where a hundred fine horses are kept, I listening meanwhile to the information which he freely gave concerning the history and the details of his work.
Claudius employed thirty thousand laborers to do his work. Torlonia and Bermont have under pay a number varying from twelve to fourteen hundred, besides the hundred horses. What compensation the ancient workmen had, if indeed they were not unrewarded slaves, can hardly be told. The skilled laborers, the mechanics and miners, receive now from half a ducat to a ducat, or from forty to eighty cents in silver, a day ; the common laborers, from thirty-five to forty-five grani, or from twenty-eight to thirtysix cents of our coin. “ Cheap enough, we should call that in my country, M. Bermont?” “ Yes, or in France; but I would rather have Frenchmen at double the wages. These Neapolitans are lazy and stupid, and are not to be trusted out of sight. Before I learned to take precautions against them, I lost from their thieving tools, stones, even things which could hardly be of the slightest value to them, however important to me. Why, sir, they would almost steal the shoes from the horses’ hoofs ! Mais,” with a shrug ot resignation, ” il faut toujour’s payer son experience ! ” At the engineer’s cabin again, removing outer garments, we were fitted out with rough suits, including hats and boots, which certainly defied injury from any ordinary stains, and set out upon our explorations.
Turning directly toward the mountain, we followed, on foot, the line marked, as already mentioned, by the piles of stones indicating the original pozzi, or shafts for light and air, and stopped to glance down into the dark abyss of one or two of them. Half a mile brought us to the base of the mountain. Before a low excavation in the side of the rock, my guide stopped. We received each from an attendant a rude lamp and a staff shod with an iron point, the use of both of which was evident enough before long. The engineer entered ; I followed, and found we were in a passage tunnelled downwards at the utmost slope which allowed the possibility — I do not say the facility — of walking with the help of our pointed staffs ; the grade may have been of thirty degrees. Its dimensions were perhaps something less than those of the work to which it led ; say something more than a man’s height, and wide enough for two to pass each other. Down this painful avenue, which was one of the many through which the Roman task-masters had driven their thirty thousand slaves in gangs to and from their illrequited work, we stumbled on, without much discourse, and perhaps with inchoate doubts in the mind of one of us whether it had been best, after all, to come through the Abruzzi. After what seemed a ten minutes’ journey, and was at any rate one of many hundred feet, other lamps than our own flickered before us, voices of workmen were heard, and we were in the Claudian Emissary. That is, we were where the Claudian work had been; but it was the engineer’s purpose, he explained, to show first his own completed work, and let me compare afterwards the architecture of the Roman Cæsar. At the point of our entrance, where excavation in the solid rock was all that needed to be done by either builders, the contrast was in little more than dimensions ; but by this contrast how sadly belittled was the imperial work! Instead of the somewhat irregular perforation, measuring in height now seven or eight feet, now a dozen, or even more, and in breadth from four to six feet,—-the discharging capacity of the tunnel being, of course, however the architects may have forgotten it, rigorously limited to that of its smallest cross-section,— instead of this, a spacious gallery, uniform and symmetrical, of that nearly elliptical shape which modern science has pronounced to be best adapted to sustain the peculiar pressure to which such structures are subjected, and which is especially familiar from views of the Thames Tunnel. This was its shape where we entered ; and throughout its length, where completed, from the lake at Incile to the river at Capistrello, it was the same ; while a crosssection would give a maximum width, just above the centre, of fourteen feet, and a height of twenty. This difference alone would have multiplied the discharging power of the old work by four or five ; and as we went on, new elements of improvement made the discrepancy still more striking.
Of the five thousand six hundred metres — as nearly as possible three miles and a half—-of the entire length of the Emissary, about three thousand eight hundred were at this time finished upon the new plans. Through nearly the whole of this completed work, through much in course of construction, and finally through much of the untouched Claudian work, we made our way by staff and lamp, stumbling along the track of a railroad with little gravel trains drawn by horses, and often in a rapid current of eight inches of water.
Soon we had passed out of the rockcutting, and were encompassed by the magnificent masonry of cut stone, with which the tunnel is carried through the earth excavations which make a large part of its course. A little farther on we came upon the most active operations; passed through swarms of workmen with their lamps, and found the passage blocked by great solid frame-works of timber, here and there already crushed by the mass of earth which it was their office to support in the interval between the removal of the excavated portion and the completion of the splendid masonry which formed the finished work. Over and under and through these massive frame-works we had now to scramble and climb, not without nervous respect for the silent energy which might again be exercised upon those broken timbers before we were well out of them. The timber structure came to an end ; in front of us was a bare surface of earth, and in the midst of it the oblong aperture of the Roman tunnel.
Every step in this heightened the contrast with the modern work. The masonry was of the famous Roman bricks, in that shape of broad, flat slabs, not more than two inches thick, which seems to have been, at least from Britain to Calabria, their unvarying form throughout the Empire. Their position, it is true, had put them to no gentle test in the eighteen hundred years since they were set; but it was no assumption of prophetic vision to foretell that the grand French work through which we had passed would be, saving the respect due to Mr. Miller and Dr. Cumming, in better condition after the next eighteen hundred years than they were then. Here and there the Roman masonry had altogether fallen in. Elsewhere, the substance of the bricks was disintegrated and washed away, to the depth of an inch or two from the face of the wall, while the grand cement with which they were joined, utterly unimpaired by all its exposure, stood out firmly from the receding bricks, defining their joints in bold relief.
Now, too, by the help of the engineer’s explanations, there became apparent certain points of superiority of the new work over the old, other than the increase in size, the reform in crosssection, and the improvement in masonry. We were moving southwardly through the tunnel, in the direction, that is, of the flow of water from the lake to the river ; when there appeared before us an abrupt ascent, some three or four feet high, not only of the floor, but of the whole tunnel ; climbing which, we found the downward slope to be resumed only at the same gentle gradient as before, making a profile something like this : Here the ancient engineers, working towards each other from different pozzi, had preserved indeed with marvellous exactness the just alignment of the work, but had, on one side or both, made that prodigious error in their levelling discovered only at the meeting of the two gangs, and then left unrectified. Again, at another point of meeting between two shafts, the level was fortunately nearly enough identical; but this time such a deflection from the true alignment had occurred, that the parties had actually passed each other underground ; and the transverse gallery by which communication was opened between the two sections had been cut through, widi an astonishing defiance or ignorance of the laws of flowing water, not so favorably as at right angles to the general course, but at an acute angle, so that the current was compelled to turn sharply upon itself twice before it could pass on to its outlet. At this point a ground plan of the Emissary would be simply indicated by this line: the dotted mark showing how the French engineer, by a “ reversed curve,” had easily overcome the astounding blunder of his predecessor. The differences in level the new work had grandly disregarded, and moved on from lake to river in one fixed and gentle descent.
Before a tall aperture, which opened out of the side of the tunnel to the right, my conductor paused, and, with a special admonition to step carefully, entered it, and began at once to ascend. It was another conicolo, not upon an inclined plane like that by which we had entered, but very steep, and built in long and difficult steps. These were cut in the rock, and, where that failed, were laid in the same thin Roman bricks. Often they were broken and ruinous, and everywhere were worn hollow by the tramp of the thirty thousand workmen of the old Emissary; they were slippery with running water ; and the very darkness became a help in climbing, by saving a weak head from dizziness. After a long and weary pull, there was a little glimmer of light ahead, and in a moment we were in the glaring day, out upon the naked Campi Palentini, but, to my surprise, close by the company’s workshops, half a mile from where we had gone underground; having been two hours and a half in the bowels of the earth, and under the summit of gray Monte Salviano, with eighteen hundred feet of solid rock overhead.
It was a pleasant drive which M. Bermont, as the sun was sinking, took me m his chaise up that gray Monte Salviano, whose foundations we had been exploring. At its summit we paused to look out upon the broad expanse of Lake Fucino, deep set below us ; at the white villages, so fair from afar, so foul and sordid on near view, which dotted its borders ; at the grand snowy Apennines beyond ; and then slowly followed the windings of the well-made, but ill-maintained road, to the grimy town of Avezzano, where graceful hospitalities again cheered my solitary journey. Another short drive in the morning enabled me to complete the survey of the Claudian Emissary, by taking me around the shore of the lake to the point of outlet. Here the mountain comes down, almost a precipice, to the very shore, leaving but a few yards of level to the water’s edge. The Roman tunnel, still untouched at this upper end, is sunk fifteen feet below the bottom of the shallow lake. Up the steep mountain-side, marking sharply the line of the subterranean channel, rise, one above another, the mouths of three of the cuniculi which gave access to the work, the space left between the roof of each inclined gallery and the floor of the one above being only those few yards of rock needed to insure the safety of both. Down one of these we descended, not many yards indeed, until our advance was stopped by the water which filled all this upper part nearly to the level of the lake, and from which the operations below were protected, perhaps by that very obstruction which had frustrated the hopes of the first builders.
Reaching out from the water’s edge at this point of outlet, and enclosing, in an area of many acres, the site of the original mouth of the Emissary, now obliterated by the deposits of centuries, is an enormous double dike, shaped like the letter U, its extremities resting upon the shore. This, a most essential device of the new engineers, affords the means by which they will control, or at their will even cut off entirely, the flow of water into the Emissary; for none will be admitted but through strong floodgates at the toe of the horseshoe. Already the dikes had served to lay bare, within their enclosure, objects which should have attracted some part of the antiquarian research and reverent pilgrimage so freely bestowed upon the recent exhumation of the ruins of Uriconium, in Shropshire. When the work of Claudius had availed to reduce greatly the superficies of the lake, the entrance to the Emissary seems to have been chosen as a site for a little town. Ephemeral must have been its life ; written history preserves no record so much as of its name, which yet may be imperfectly preserved in the local tradition which still calls that spot, where is neither town nor house, Incile. Perhaps before that disastrous day when the Campanian cities disappeared under the stroke of one devouring element, the slow encroachment of another had usurped those pleasant habitations which now, after eighteen centuries of submersion, were laid bare to the gaze of the degenerate clowns who were raising those embankments, but of not one intelligent observer, save those French engineers and the solitary and accidental traveller who now inspected them. The streets, the foundations of the houses, their floors, doorways, and partitions, were laid out more distinctly than upon an architect’s ground-plan. In one part, in a house of special elegance, was a little bathroom, with its white tessellated pavement, and even the leaden dischargepipe set in the bottom of the bath ; — all fresh and clear as at Pompeii, and all to be destroyed within a few weeks in the progress of the work.
In this state were the operations upon the new Emissary in the spring of 1860. It had been commenced six or seven years before, upon an estimate that something more than a million of dollars, and five or six years of time, would be required for its construction, and that from seven to eight years more would be needed to drain its thirty-six thousand acres and restore them to cultivation. The work has not been uninterrupted, it is true. Within a few weeks from the time of my visit, the sovereignty which protected it passed by violence from the house of Bourbon to the house of Savoy; and the region of the Abruzzi was at times abandoned to the disorder of brigands and reactionaries. But last year it was stated in the English papers that "Prince Torlonia’s colossal undertaking of the drainage of the Lake of Fucino had recently been entirely centred in his own hands by the dissolution of the original company, and his purchase of all its shares, which are now twice the amount of the original estimate. On the 9th of August, 1862, the Torionia Emissary was opened for the first time, and in fifteen months it had drained 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of land. On the 28th of August, 1865, the Emissary was opened again, and will continue in operation about two years, during which period 5,000 or 6,000 hectares (12,000 to 15,000 acres) will be drained. All that will then remain to be effected will be a canal in the basin of the lake, which will drain 8.000 hectares more of most fertile land.”
Thus has a Roman prince of the nineteenth century accomplished what a Roman prince of tire first century vainly essayed. When the earlier one had completed, though so imperfectly, his audacious enterprise, and the waters were to be let into their unaccustomed channel, gorgeous beyond example was the display with which the pedantic tyrant celebrated his peaceful conquest. The pages of Suetonius, of Tacitus, of Dion, — with the brilliancy of the festival. The elder Pliny deems it worthy of mention, long after, (Hist. Nat., XXXIII. 3,) that in his youth he too had been present on that memorable day, and had seen the no less memorable Agrippina, clad in military robes, and sitting by her august consort’s side, as he presided over the great spectacle of the naval fight with which this unwarlike victory was inaugurated. The anecdotic Suetonius narrates how, when all had been prepared, the rival fleets “of Sicily” and “of Rhodes,” each of which was of twelve three-banked ships of war, passed with their death-devoted crews in review before the imperial pair. A silver Triton, raised by unseen machinery from the middle of the lake, gave the signal for the encounter, while, enclosing the borders of the lake, a powerful force of infantry was stationed to keep the marine gladiators, without compunction, to their bloody work. “ But the combatants on board them crying out, ‘ Health to you, noble Emperor! We, who are about to die, salute you!’ and he replying, ‘ Health to you too! ’ they all refused to fight, as if by that response he had meant to excuse them. Upon this, he hesitated for a time whether he should not destroy them all by fire and sword. At last, jumping from his seat, and running along the shore of the lake with tottering steps, the result of his foul excesses, he partly by fair words, and partly by threats, persuaded them to engage.” (Suet. Claudius, 20, 21, 32.)
Nor was this the only inauspicious incident of that great day. The stately chronicle of Tacitus relates how, when the bloody games were over, and the surrounding myriads stood intent upon the final opening of the gates through which the Fucine Lake was soon to disappear, the waters let into the tunnel, meeting some interior obstruction, (we have seen what impediments there were in the very construction of the work,) were choked and thrown back with such violence that the floating platform which bore Claudius anti his court was nearly destroyed, and the insulted lake had almost avenged upon those imperial savages the blood with which it had been incarnadined. (Annals, XXI. 56, 57.)
Thus in the year of grace 54 did the first of the two Roman princes celebrate his transient victory over nature. The later prince, in the year 1867, having accomplished that in which the other failed, will content himself with the inconspicuous glory of pocketing the ducats which his rich recovered land will yield. But since it belongs only to emperors to illustrate with pompous spectacles of naval splendor the works with which they may have “renewed the marvels of the Orient,” let us at least accord to Prince Torlonia and to M. Bermont — to Italian enterprise and French genius — the honor, which even a Cæsar would not have demanded, of publishing in this Western world their work, more beneficent and hardly less great than that of the two Napoleons at Cherbourg.