My Visit to Sybaris
IT is a great while since I first took an interest in Sybaris. Sybarites have a bad name. But before I had heard of them anywhere else, I had painfully looked out the words in the three or four precious anecdotes about Sybaris in the old Greek Reader; and I had made up my boy’s mind about the Sybarites. When I came to know the name they had got elsewhere, I could not but say that the world had been very unjust to them !
O dear ! I can see it now, — the old Latin school-room, where we used to sit, and hammer over that Greek, after the small boys had gone. They went at eleven ; we —because we were twelve years old — stayed till twelve. From eleven to twelve we sat, with only those small boys who had been “kept” for their sins, and Mr. Dillaway. The room was long and narrow ; how long and how narrow, you may see, if you will go and examine M. Duchesne’s model of “ Boston as it was,” and pay twentyfive cents to the Richmond schools. For all this is of the past; and in the same spot in space where once a month the Examiner Club now meets at Parker’s, and discusses the difference between religion and superstition, the folly of copyright, and the origin of things, the boys who did not then belong to the Examiner Club, say Fox and Clarke and Furness and Waldo Emerson, thumbed their Greek Readers in “ Boston as it was,” and learned the truth about Sybaris ! A long, narrow room, I say, whose walls, when I knew them first, were of that tawny orange wash which is appropriated to kitchens. But by a master stroke of Mr. Dillaway’s these walls were made lilac or purple one summer vacation. We sat, to recite, on long settees, peagreen in color, which would teeter slightly on the well-worn floor. There, for an hour daily, while brighter boys than I recited, I sat an hour musing, looking at the immense Jacobs’s Greek Reader, and waiting my turn to come. If you did not look off your book much, no harm came to you. So, in the hour, you got fifty-three minutes and a few odd seconds of day-dream, for six minutes and turn thirds of reciting, unless, which was unusual, some fellow above you broke down, and a question passed along of a sudden recalled you to modern life. I have been sitting on that old green settee, and at the same time riding on horseback in Virginia, through an open wooded country, with one of Lord Fairfax’s grandsons and two pretty cousins of his, and a fallow deer has just appeared in the distance, when, by the failure of Hutchinson or Wheeler, just above me, poor Mr. Dillaway has had to ask me, “ Ingham, what verbs omit the reduplication ? ” Talk of war ! Where is versatility, otherwise called presence of mind, so needed as in recitation at a public school ?
Well, there, I say, I made acquaintance with Sybaris. Nay, strictly speaking, my first visits to Sybaris were made there and then. What the Greek Reader tells of Sybaris is in three or four anecdotes, woven into that strange, incoherent patchwork of “ Geography.” In that place are patched together a statement of Strabo and one of Athenæus about two things in Sybaris which may have belonged some eight hundred years apart. But what of that to a school-boy ! Will your descendants, dear reader, in the year 3579 A. D., be much troubled, if, in the English Reader of their day, Queen Victoria shall be made to drink Spartan black broth with William the Conqueror out of a conch-shell in New Zealand ?
With regard to Sybaris, then, the old Jacobs’s Greek Reader tells the following stories : “The Sybarites were distinguished for luxury. They did not permit the trades which made a loud noise, such as those of brass-workers, carpenters, and the like, to be carried on in the heart of the city, so that their sleep might be wholly undisturbed by noise. . . . . And a Syba-
rite who had gone to Lacedæmon, and had been invited to the public meal, after he had sat on their wooden benches and partaken of their fare, said that he had been astonished at the fearlessness of the Lacedæmonians when he knew it only by report; but now that he had seen them, he thought that they did not excel other men, for he thought that any brave man had much rather die than be obliged to live such a life as they did.” Then there is another story, among the “ miscellaneous anecdotes,” of a Sybarite who was asked if he had slept well. He said, No, that he believed he had a crumpled rose-leaf under him in the night. And there is yet another, of one of them who said that it made his back ache to see another man digging.
I have asked Polly, as I write, to look in Mark Lemon’s Jest-Book for these stories. They are not in the index there. But I dare say they are in Cotton Mather and Jeremy Taylor. Any way, they are bits of very cheap Greek. Now it is on these stories that the reputation of the Sybarites in modern times appears to depend.
Now look at them. This Sybarite at Sparta said, that in war death was often easier than the hardships of lite. Well, is not that true ? Have not thousands of brave men said it ? When the English and French got themselves established on the wrong side of Sebastopol, what did that engineer officer of the Frepch say to somebody who came to inspect his works ? He was talking of St. Arnaud, their first commander. “Cunning dog,” said he, “he went and died.” Death was easier than life. But nobody ever said he was a coward or effeminate because he said this. Why, if Mr. Fields would permit an excursus in twelve numbers here, on this theme, we would defer Sybaris to the 1st of April, 1868, while we illustrated the Sybarite’s manly epigram, which these stupid Spartans could only gape at, but could not understand
Then take the rose-leaf story. Suppose by good luck you were breakfasting with General Grant, or Pelissier, or the Duke of Wellington. Suppose you said, “ I hope you slept well,” and the great soldier said, “ No, I did not; I think a rose-leaf must have stood up edgewise under me.” Would you go off and say in your book of travels that the Americans, or the French, or the English are all effeminate pleasureseekers, because one of them made this nice little joke ? Would you like to have the name “ American ” go down to all time, defined as Webster1 defines Sybarite ?
AMĚR'I-CAN, n, [Fr. Américain, Lat. Americanus, from Lat. America, a continent noted for the effeminacy and voluptuousness of its inhabitants.] A person devoted to luxury and pleasure.
Should you think that was quite fair for your great-grandson’s grandson’s descendant in the twenty-seventh remove to read, who is going to be instructed about Queen Victoria and William the Conqueror ?
Worst of all, and most frequently quoted, is the story of the coppersmiths. The Sybarites, it is said, ordered that the coppersmiths and brassfounders should all reside in one part of the city, and bang their respective metals where the neighbors had voluntarily chosen to listen to banging. What if they did ? Does not every manufacturing city practically do the same thing ? What did Nicholas Tillingliast use to say to the boys and girls at Bridgewater ? “The tendency of cities is to resolve themselves into order.”
Is not Wall Street at this hour a street of bankers ? Is not the Boston Pearl Street a street of leather men ? Is not the bridge at Florence given over to jewellers ? Was not my valise, there, bought in Rome at the street of trunk-makers ? Do not all booksellers like to huddle together as long as they can ? And when Ticknor and Fields move a few inches from Washington Street to Tremont Street, do not Russell and Bates, and Childs and Jenks, and De Vries and Ibarra, follow them as soon as the shops can be got ready ?
“ But it is the motive,” pipes up the old gray ghost of propriety, who started this abuse of the Sybarites in some stupid Spartan black-broth shop (English that for café), two thousand two hundred and twenty-two years ago, — which ghost I am now belaboring, — “it is the motive. The Sybarites moved the brass-founders, because they wanted to sleep after the brass-founders got up in the morning.” What if they did, you old rat in the arras ? Is there any law, human or divine, which says that at one and the same hour all men shall rise from bed in this world ? My excellent milkman, Mr. Whit, rises from bed daily at two o’clock. If he does not, my family, including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts, will not have their fresh milk at 7.37, at which time we breakfast or pretend to. But because he rises at two, must we all rise at two, and sit wretchedly whining on our respective camp-stools, waiting for Mr. Whit to arrive with the grateful beverage ? Many is the time, when I have been watching with a sick child at five in a summer morning, when the little fellow had just dropped into a grateful morning doze, that I have listened and waited, dreading the arrival of the Providence morning express. Because I knew that, a mile and a half out of Boston, the engine would begin to blow its shrill whistle, for the purpose, I believe, of calling the Boston station-men to their duty. Three or four minutes of that skre-e-e-e must there be, as that train swept by our end of the town. And hoping and wishing never did any good ; the train would come, and the child would wake. Is not that a magnificent power for one engine-man to have over the morning rest of thirty thousand sleeping people, because you, old Spartan croaker, who can't sleep easy underground it seems, want to have everybody waked up at the same hour in the morning. When I hear that whistle, and the fifty other whistles of the factories that have since followed its wayward and unlicensed example, I have wished more than once that we had in Boston a little more of the firm government of Sybaris.
For if, as it would appear from these instances, Sybaris were a city which grew to wealth and strength by the recognition of the personal rights of each individual in the state, — if Sybaris were a republic, where the individual was respected, had his rights, and was not left to the average chances of the majority of men,—then Sybaris had found out something which no modern city has found out, and which it is a pity we have all forgotten.
I do not say that I went through all this speculation at the Latin school.
I got no further there than to see that the Sybarites had got a very bad name, and that the causes did not appear in the Greek Reader. I supposed there were causes somewhere, which it was not proper to put into the Greek Reader. Perhaps there were. But if there were, I have never found them, — not being indeed very well acquainted with the lines of reading in which those who wanted to find them should look for them.
WHAT I did find of Sybaris, when I could read Greek rather more easily, and could get access to some decent atlases, was briefly this.
Well forward in the hollow of the arched foot of the boot of Italy, two little rivers run into the Gulf of Tarentum. One was named Crathis, one was named Sybaris. Here stood the ancient city of Sybaris, founded, about the time of Romulus or Numa Pompilius, by a colony from Greece. For two hundred years and more, — almost as long, dear Atlantic, as your beloved Boston has subsisted, — Sybaris flourished, and was the Rome of that region, ruling it from sea to sea.
It was the capital of four states,— a sort of New England, if you will observe,— and could send three hundred thousand armed men into the field. The walls of the city were six miles in circumference, while the suburbs covered the banks of the Crathis for a space of seven miles. At last the neighboring state of Crotona, under the lead of Milon the Athlete (he of the calf and ox and split log), the Heenan or John Morrissey of his day, vanquished the more refined Sybarites, turned the waters of the Crathis upon their prosperous city, and destroyed it. But the Sybarites had had that thing happen too often to be discouraged. Five times, say the historians, had Sybaris been destroyed, and five times they built it up again. This time the Athenians sent ten vessels, with men to help them, under Lampon and Xenocritus. And they, with those who stood by the wreck, gave their new city the name of Thurii. Among the new colonists were Herodotus, and Lysias the orator, who was then a boy. The spirit that had given Sybaris its comfort and its immense population appeared in the legislation of the new state. It received its laws from CHARONDAS, one of the noblest legislators of the world. Study these laws and you will see that in the young Sybaris the individual had his rights, which the public preserved for him, though he were wholly in a minority. There is an evident determination that a man shall live while he lives, and that, too, in no sensual interpretation of the words.
Of the laws made by Charondas for the new Sybaris a few are preserved.
I. A calumniator was marched round the city in disgrace, crowned with tamarisk. “ In consequence,” says the Scholiast, “ they all left the city.” O for such a result, from whatever legislation, in our modern Pedlingtons, great or little !
2. All persons were forbidden to associate with the bad.
3. “ He made another law, better than these, and neglected by the older legislators. For he enacted that all the sons of the citizens should be instructed in letters, the city paying the salaries of the teachers. For he held that the poor, not being able to pay their teachers from their own property, would be deprived of the most valuable discipline.” There is FREE EDUCATION for you, two thousand and seventy-six years before the date of your first Massachusetts free school; and the theory of free education completely stated.
4. Deserters or cowards in battle had to sit in women’s dresses in the Forum three days.
5. With regard to the amendment of laws, any man or woman who moved one did it with a noose round his neck, and was hanged if the people refused it. Only three laws were ever amended, therefore, all which are recorded in the history. Observe that the women might move amendments, — and think of the simplicity of legislation !
6. The law provided for cash payments, and the government gave no protection for those who sold on credit.
7. Their communication with other nations was perfectly free.
I might give more instances. I should like to tell some of the curious stories which illustrate this simple legislation. Poor Charondas himself fell a victim to it. One of the laws provided that no man should wear a sword into the public assembly. No Cromwells there! Unfortunately, by accident, Charondas wore his own there one day. Brave fellow ! when the fault was pointed out, he killed himself with it.
Now do you wonder that a city where there were no calumniators, no long credit, no bills at the grocers, no fighting at town meetings, no amendments to the laws, no intentional and open association with profligates, and where everybody was educated by the state to letters, proved a comfortable place to live in ? It is of the old Sybaris that the coppersmith and the rose-leaf stories are told ; and it was the new Sybaris that made the laws. But do you not see that there is one spirit in the whole ? Here was a nation which believed that the highest work of a nation was to train its people. It did not believe in fight, like Milon or Heenan or the old Spartans ; it did not believe in legislation, like Massachusetts and New York ; it did not believe in commerce, like Carthage and England. It believed in men and women. It respected men and women. It educated men and women. It gave their rights to men and women. And so the Spartans called them effeminate. And the Greek Reader made fun of them. But perhaps the people who lived there were indifferent to the opinions of the Spartans and of the Greek Reader. Herodotus lived there till he died ; wrote his history there, among other things. Lysias, the orator, took part in the administration. It is not from them, you may be sure, that you get the anecdotes which ridicule the old city of Sybaris !
You and I would probably be satisfied with such company as that of Herodotus and Charondas and Lysias. So we hunt the history down to see if there may be lodgings to let there this summer, but only to find that it all pales out in the ignorance of our modern days. The name gets changed into Lupiæ ; but there it turns out that Pausanias made “a strange mistake,” and should have written Copia,— which was perhaps Cossa, or sometimes Cosa. Pyrrhus appears, and Hadrian rebuilds something, and the “ Oltramontani,” whoever they may have been, ravage it, and finally the Saracens fire and sack it ; and so, in the latest Italian itinerary you can find, there is no post-road goes near it, only a strada rotabile (wheeltrack) upon the hills ; and, alas ! even the rotabile gives way at last, and all the map will own to is a strada pedonale, or foot-path. But the map is of the less consequence, when you find that the man who edited it had no later dates than the beginning of the last century, when the family of Serra had transferred the title to Sybaris to a Genoese family without a name, who received from it forty thousand ducats yearly, and would have received more, if their agents had been more faithful. There the place fades out of history, and you find in your Swinburne, “that the locality has never been thoroughly examined”; in your Smith’s Diction-
ary, that “the whole subject is very obscure, and a careful examination still much needed ” ; in the Cyclopædia, that the site of Sybaris is lost Craven saw the rivers Crathis and Sybaris. He seems not to have seen the wall of Sybaris, which he supposed to be under water. He does say of Cassano, the nearest town he came to, that “no other spot can boast of such advantages.” In short, no man living who has written any book about it dares say that anybody has looked upon the certain site of Sybaris for more than a hundred years.2 If a man wanted to write a mythical story, where could he find a better scene ?
Now is not this a very remarkable thing ? Here was a city, which, under its two names of Sybaris or of Thurium, was for centuries the regnant city of all that part of the world. It could call into the field three hundred thousand men, —an army enough larger than Athens ever furnished, or Sparta. It was a far more populous and powerful state than ever Athens was, or Sparta, or the whole oi Hellas. It invented and carried into effect free popular education, — a gift to the administration of free government larger than ever Rome rendered. It received and honored Charondas, the great practical legislator, from whose laws no man shall say how much has trickled down into the Code Napoleon or the Revised Statutes of New York, through the humble studies of the Roman jurists. It maintained in peace, prosperity, happiness, and, as its maligners say, in comfort, an immense population. If they had not been as comfortable as they were, — if a tenth part of them had received alms every year, and a tenth part were flogged in the public schools every year, it one in forty had been sent to prison every year, as in the happy city which publishes the “Atlantic Monthly,” — then Sybaris, perhaps, would never have got its bad name for luxury. Such a city lived, flourished, ruled, for hundreds of years. Of such a city all that you know now with certainty is, that its coin is “ the most beautifully finished in the cabinets of ancient coinage ” ; and that no traveller even pretends to be sure that he has been to the site of it for more than a hundred years. That speaks well for your nineteenth century.
Now the reader who has come thus far will understand that I, having come thus far, in twenty-odd years since those days of teetering on the pea-green settee, had always kept Sybaris in the background of my head, as a problem to be solved, and an inquiry to be followed to its completion. There could hardly have been a man in the world better satisfied than I to be the hero of the adventure which I am now about to describe.
IF the reader remembers anything about Garibaldi’s triumphal entry into Porto Cavallo in Sicily in the spring of 1859, he will remember that, between the months of March and April in that year, the great chieftain made, in that wretched little fishing haven, a long pause, which was not at the time understood by the journals or by their military critics, and which, indeed, to this hour has never been publicly explained. I suppose I know as much about it as any man now living. But I am not writing Garibaldi’s memoirs, nor, indeed, my own, excepting so far as they relate to Sybaris ; and it is strictly nobody’s business to inquire as to that detention, unless it interest the ex-king of Naples, who may write to me, if he chooses, addressing, Frederic Ingham, Esq., Waterville, N. H. Nor is it anybody’s business how long I had then been on Garibaldi’s staff. From the number of his staff-officers who have since visited me in America, very much in want of a pair of pantaloons, or a ticket to New York, or something with which they might buy a glass of whiskey, I should think that his staff alone must have made up a much more considerable army than Naples, or even Sybaris, ever brought into the field. But where these men were when I was with him,
I do not know. I only know that there was but a handful of us then, hardworked fellows, good-natured, and not above our work. Of its military details we knew wretchedly little. But as we had no artillery, ignorance was less dangerous in the chief of artillery ; as we had no maps to draw, poor draughtsmanship did not much embarrass the engineer in chief. For me, I was nothing but an aid, and I was glad to do anything that fell to me as well as I knew how. And, as usual in human life, I found that a cool head, a steady resolve, a concentrated purpose, and an unselfish readiness to obey, carried me a great way. I listened instead of talking, and thus got a reputation for knowing a great deal. When the time to act came, I acted without waiting for the wave to recede ; and thus I sprang into many a boat dry-shod, while people who believed in what is popularly called prudence missed their chance, and either lost the boat or fell into the water.
This is by the way. It was under these circumstances that I received my orders, wholly secret and unexpected, to take a boat at once, pass the straits, and cross the Bay of Tarentum, to communicate at Gallipoli with — no matter whom. Perhaps I was going to the “ Castle of Otranto.” A hundred years hence anybody who chooses will know. Meanwhile, if there should be a reaction in Otranto, I do not choose to shorten anybody’s neck for him.
Well, it was five in the afternoon, — near sundown at that season. I went to dear old Frank Chaney, — the jolliest of jolly Englishmen, who was acting quartermaster-general, — and told him I must have transportation. I can see him and hear him now, — as he sat on his barrel head, smoked his vile Tunisian tobacco in his beloved short meerschaum, which was left to him ever since he was at Bonn, as he pretended, a student with Prince Albert. He did not swear, — I don’t think he ever did. But he looked perplexed enough to swear. And very droll was the twinkle of his eye. The truth was, that every sort of a thing that would sail, and every wretch of a fisherman that could sail her, had been, as he knew, and as I knew, sent off that very morning to rendezvous at Carrara, for the contingent which we were hoping had slipped through Cavour’s pretended neutrality. And here was an order for him to furnish me “transportation” in exactly the opposite direction.
“ Do you know of anything, yourself, Fred ? ” said he.
“ Not a coffin,” said I.
“ Did the chief suggest anything ?”
“ Not a nutshell,” said I.
“ Could not you go by telegraph ? ” said Frank, pointing up to the dumb old semaphore in whose tower he had established himself. “Or has not the chief got a wishing carpet? Or can’t you ride to Gallipoli ? Here are some excellent white-tailed mules, good enough for Pindar, whom Colvocoressis has just brought in from the monastery. ‘Transportation for one!’ Is there anything to be brought back ? Nitre, powder, lead, junk, hard-tack, mules, horses, pigs, polenta, or olla podrida, or other of the stores of war ? ”
No ; there was nothing to bring back except myself. Lucky enough if I came back to tell my own story. And so we walked up on the tower deck to take a look.
Blessed St. Lazarus, chief of Naples and of beggars ! a little felucca was just rounding the Horse Head and coming into the bay, wing-wing. The fishermen in her had no thought that they were ever going to get into the Atlantic. May be they had never heard of the Ocean or of the Monthly. Can that be possible ? Frank nodded, and I. He filled up with more Tunisian, beckoned to an orderly, and we walked down to the landing-jetty to meet them.
“ Viva Italia !” shouted Frank, as they drew near enough to hear.
“ Viva Garibaldi!” cried the skipper, as he let his sheet fly and rounded to the well-worn stones. A good voyage had they made of it, he and his two brown, ragged boys. Large fish and small, pink fish, blue, yellow, orange, striped fish and mottled, wriggled together, and flapped their tails in the well of the little boat. There were even too many to lie there and wriggle. The bottom of the boat was well covered with them, and, if she had not shipped waves enough to keep them cool, the boy Battista had bailed a plenty on them. Father and son hurried on shore, and Battista on board began to fling the scaly fellows out to them.
A very small craft it was to double all those capes in, run the straits, and stretch across the bay. If it had been mine “to make reply,” I should undoubtedly have made this, that I would see the quartermaster hanged, and his superiors, before I risked myself in any such rattletrap. But as, unfortunately, it was mine to go where I was sent, I merely set the orderly to throwing out fish with the boys, and began to talk with the father.
Queer enough, just at that moment, there came over me the feeling that, as a graduate of the University, it was my duty to put up those red, white, and blue scaly fellows, who were flopping about there so briskly, and send them in alcohol to Agassiz. But there are so many duties of that kind which one neglects in a hard-worked world ! As a graduate, it is my duty to send annually to the College Librarian a list of all the graduates who have died in the town I live in, with their fathers’ and mothers’ names, and the motives that led them to College, with anecdotes of their career, and the date of their death. There are two thousand three hundred and forty-five of them I believe, and I have never sent one half-anecdote about one ! Such failure in duty made me grimly smile as I omitted to stop and put up these fish in alcohol, and as I plied the unconscious skipper with inquiries about his boat. “Had she ever been outside ? ” “ O signor, she had been outside this very day. You cannot catch tonno till you have passed both capes, — least of all such fine fish as that is,”—and he kicked the poor wretch. Can it be true, as C— says, that those dying flaps of theirs are exquisite luxury to them, because for the first time they have their fill of oxygen ? “ Had he ever been beyond Peloro ? ” “ O yes, signor ; my wife, Caterina, was herself from Messina,” — and on great saints’ days they had gone there often. Poor fellow, his great saint’s day sealed his fate. I nodded to Frank,— Frank nodded to me, — and Frank blandly informed him that, by order of General Garibaldi, he would take the gentleman at once on board, pass the strait with him, “ and then go where he tells you.”
The Southern Italian has the reputation, derived from Tom Moore, of being a coward. When I used to speak at school,
stamping my foot at “dust,” I certainly thought they were a very mean crew. But I dare say that Neapolitan schoolboys have some similar school piece about the risings of Tom Moore’s countrymen, which certainly have not been much more successful than the poor little Neapolitan revolution which he was pleased to satirize. Somehow or other, Victor Emanuel is, at this hour, king of Naples. Coward or not, this fine fellow of a fisherman did not flinch. It is my private opinion that he was not nearly as much afraid of the enterprise as I was. I made this observation at the moment with some satisfaction, sent Frank’s man up to my lodgings with a note ordering my own traps sent down, and in an hour we were stretching out, under the twilight, across the little bay.
No ! I spare you the voyage. Sybaris is what we are after, all this time, if we can only get there. Very easy it would be for me to give you cheap scholarship from the Æneid, about Palinurus and Scylla and Charybdis. Neither Scylla nor Charybdis bothered me,— as we passed wing-wing between them before a smart north wind. I had a little Hunter’s Virgil with me, and read the whole voyage, — and confused Battista utterly by trying to make him remember something about Palinuro, of whom he had never heard. It was much as I afterwards asked my negro waiter at Fort Monroe about General Washington at Yorktown. “Never heard of him, sir,—was he in the Regular army ? ” So Battista thought Palinuro must have fished in the Italian fleet, with which the Sicilian boatmen were not well acquainted. Messina made no objections to us. Perhaps, if the sloop of war which lay there had known who was lying in the boat under her guns, I might not be writing these words to-day. Battista went ashore, got lemons, macaroni, hard bread, polenta, for themselves, the Giornale di Messina for me, and more Tunisian; and, not to lose that splendid breeze, we cracked on all day, passed Reggio, hugged the shore bravely, though it was rough, ran close under those cliffs which are the very end of the Apennines, — will it shock the modest reader if I say the very toe-nails of the Italian foot? — hauled more and more eastward, made Spartivento blue in the distance, made it purple, made it brown, made it green, still running admirably, — ten knots an hour we must have got between four and five that afternoon, — and by the time the lighthouse at Spartivento was well ablaze we were abreast of it, and might begin to haul more northward, so that, though we had a long course before us, we should at last be sailing almost directly towards our voyage’s end, Gallipoli.
At that moment — as in any sea often happens, if you come out from the more land-locked channel into the larger body of water-— the wind appeared to change. Really, I suppose, we came into the steady southwest wind which had probably been drawing all day up toward the Adriatic. In two hours more we made the lighthouse of Stilo, and I was then tired enough to crawl down into the fearfully smelling little cuddy, and, wrapping Battista’s heavy storm-jacket round my feet, I caught some sort of sleep.
But not for very long. I struck my watch at three in the morning. And the air was so unworthy of that name, — it was such a thick paste, seeming to me more like a mixture of tar and oil and fresh fish and decayed fish and bilge-water than air itself, — that I voted three morning, and crawled up into the clear starlight, — how wonderful it was, and the fresh wet breeze that washed my face so cheerily ! — and I bade Battista take his turn below, while I would lie there and mind the helm. If — if he had done what I proposed, I suppose I should not be writing these lines ; but his father, good fellow, said : “No, signor, not yet. We leave the shore now for the broad bay, you see ; and if the wind haul southward, we may need to go on the other tack. We will all stay here, till we see what the deepsea wind may be.” So we lay there, humming, singing, and telling stories, still this rampant southwest wind behind, as if all the powers of the Mediterranean meant to favor my mission to Gallipoli. The boat was now running straight before it. We stretched out bravely into the gulf; but, before the wind, it was astonishing how easily the lugger ran. He said to me at last, however, that on that course we were running to leeward of our object; but that it was the best point for his boat, and if the wind held, he would keep on so an hour longer, and trust to the land breeze in the morning to run down the opposite shore of the bay.
“ If” again. The wind did not keep on. Either the pole-star, and the dipper, and all the rest of them, had rebelled and were drifting westward, — and so it seemed; or this steady southwest gale was giving out; or, as I said before, we had come into the sweep of a current even stronger, pouring from the Levantine shores of the Mediterranean full up the Gulf of Tarentum. Not ten minutes after the skipper spoke, it was clear enough to both of us that the boat must go about, whether we wanted to or not, and we waked the other boy, to send him forward, before we accepted the necessity. Half asleep, he got up, courteously declined my effort to help him by me as he crossed the boat, stepped round on the gunwale behind me as I sat, and then, either in a lurch or in some misstep, caught his foot in the tiller as his father held it firm, and pitched down directly behind Battista himself, and, as I thought, into the sea. I sprang to leeward to throw something after him, and found him in the sea indeed, but hanging by both hands to the gunwale, safe enough, and in a minute, with Battista’s help and mine, on board again. I remember how pleased I was that his father did not swear at him, but only laughed prettily, and bade him be quick, and step forward ; and then, turning to the helm, which he had left free for the moment, he did not swear indeed, but he did cry “ Santa Madre ! ” when he found there was no tiller there. The boy’s foot had fairly wrenched it, not only from his father’s hand, but from the rudderhead, — and it was gone !
We held the old fellow firmly by his feet and legs, as he lay over the stern of the boat, head down, examining the condition of the rudder-head. The report was not favorable. I renewed the investigation myself in the same uncomfortable attitude. The phosphorescence of the sea was but an unsteady light, but light enough there was to reveal what daylight made hardly more certain, — that the wrench which had been given to the rotten old fixtures, shaky enough at best, had split the head of the rudder, so that the pintle hung but loosely in its bed, and that there was nothing available for us to rig a jury-tiller on. This discovery, as it became more and more clear to each of us four in succession, abated successively the volleys of advice which we were offering, and sent us back to our more quiet “ Santa Madres ” or to meditations on “what was next to best.”
Meanwhile the boat was flying, under the sail she had before, straight before the wind, up the Gulf of Tarentum.
If you cannot have what you like, it is best, in a finite world, to like what you have. And while the old man brought up from the cuddy his wretched and worthless stock of staves, ropeends, and bits of iron, and contemplated them ruefully, as if asking them which would like to assume the shape of a rudder-head and tiller, if his fairy godmother would appear on the top of the mast for a moment, I was plying the boys with questions,—what would happen to us if we held on at this tearing rate, and rushed up the bay to the head thereof. The boys knew no more than they knew of Palinuro. Far enough, indeed, were we from their parish. The old man at last laid down the bit of brass which he had saved from some old waif, and listened to me as I pointed out to them on my map the course we were making, and, without answering me a word, fell on his knees and broke into most voluble prayer, — only interrupted by sobs of undisguised agony. The boys were almost as much surprised as I was. And as he prayed and sobbed, the boat rushed on !
Santa Madre, San Giovanni, and Sant’ Antonio, — we needed all their help, if it were only to keep him quiet; and when at last he rose from his knees, and came to himself enough to tend the sheets a little, I asked, as modestly as I could, what put this keen edge on his grief or his devotions. Then came such stories of hobgoblins, witches, devils, giants, elves, and fairies, at this head of the bay ! — no man ever returned who landed there; his father and his father’s father had charged him, and his brothers and his cousins, never to be lured to make a voyage there, and never to run for those coves, though schools of golden fish should lead the way. It was not till this moment, that, trying to make him look upon the map, I read myself there the words, at the mouth of the Crathis River, “Sybaris Ruine.”
Surely enough, this howling Euroclydon — for Euroclydon it now was — was bearing me and mine directly to Sybaris !
And here was this devout old fisherman confirming the words of Smith’s Dictionary, when it said that nobody had been there and returned, for generation upon generation.
At a dozen knots an hour, as things were, I was going to Sybaris ! Nor was I many hours from it. For at that moment we cannot have been more than five-and-thirty miles from the beach, where, in less than four hours, Euroclydon flung us on shore.
The memory of the old green settees, and of Hutchinson and Wheeler and the other Latin-school boys, sustained me beneath the calamity which impended. Nor do I think at heart the boys felt so bad as their father about the djins and the devils, the powers of the earth and the powers of the air. Is there, perhaps, in the youthful mind, rather a passion for “ seeing the folly ” of life a little in that direction? None the less did we join him in rigging out the longest sweep we had aft, lashing it tight under the little rail which we had been leaning on, and trying gentle experiments, how far this extemporized rudder might bring the boat round to the wind. Nonsense the whole. By that time Euroclydon was on us, so that I would never have tried to put her about if we had had the best gear I ever handled, and our experiments only succeeded far enough to show that we were as utterly powerless as men could be. Meanwhile day was just beginning to break. I soothed the old man with such devout expressions as heretic might venture. I tried to turn him from the coming evil to the present necessity. I counselled with him whether it might not be safer to take in sail and drift along. But from this he dissented. Time enough to take in sail when we knew what shore we were coming to. He had no kedge or grapple or cord, indeed, that would pretend to hold this boat against this gale. We would beach her, if it pleased the Virgin ; and if we could not, — shaking his head, — why, that would please the Virgin, too.
And so Euroclydon hurried us on to Sybaris.
The sun rose, O how magnificently ! Is there anywhere to see sunrise like the Mediterranean ? And if one may not be on the top of Katahdin, is there any place for sunrise like the very level of the sea ? Already the Calabrian mountains of our western horizon were gray against the sky. One or another of us was forward all the time, trying to make out by what slopes the hills descended to the sea. Was it cliff of basalt, or was it reedy swamp, that was to receive us. I insisted at last on his reducing sail. For I felt sure that he was driving on under a sort of fatality which made him dare the worst. I was wholly right, for the boat now rose easier on the water, and was much more dry.
Perhaps the wind flagged a little as the sun rose. At all events, he took courage, which I had never lost. I made his boy find us some oranges. I made them laugh by eating their cold polenta with them. I even made him confess, when I called him aft and sent Battista forward, that the shore we were nearing looked low. For we were near enough now to see stone pines and chestnut-trees. Did anybody see the towers of Sybaris ?
Not a tower! But, on the other hand, not a gnome, witch, Norna’s Head, or other intimation of the underworld. The shore looked like many other Italian shores. It looked not very unlike what we Yankees call saltmarsh. At all events, we should not break our heads against a wall! Nor will I draw out the story of our anxieties, varying as the waves did on which we rose and fell so easily. As she forged on, it was clear at last that to some wanderers, at least, Sybaris had some hospitality. A long, low spit made out into the sea, with never a house on it, but brown with stormworn shrubs, above the line of which were the stone-pines and chestnuts which had first given character to the shore. Hard for us, if we had been flung on the outside of this spit. But we were not. Else I had not been writing here to-day. We passed it by fifty fathom clear. Of course under its lee was our harbor. Battista let go the halyards in a moment, and the wet sails came rattling down. The old man, the boy, Battista, and I seized the best sweeps he had left. Two of us at each, working on the same side, we brought her head round as fast as she would bear it in that fearful sea. Inch by inch we wrought along to the smoother water, and breathed free at last, as we came under the partial protection of the friendly shore.
Battista and his brother then hauled up the sail enough to give such headway to the boat as we thought our sweeps would control. And we crept along the shore for an hour, seeing nothing but reeds, and now and then a distant buffalo, when at last a very hard knock on a rock the boy ahead had not seen under water started the planks so that we knew that was dangerous play ; and, without more solicitation, the old man beached the boat in a little cove where the reeds gave place for a trickling stream. I told them they might land or not, as they pleased. I would go ashore and get assistance or information. The old man clearly thought I was going to ask my assistance from the father of lies himself. But he was resigned to my will,—said he would wait for my return. I stripped, and waded ashore with my clothes upon my head, dressed as quickly as I could, and pushed up from the beach to the low upland.
Clearly enough I was in a civilized country. Not that there was a gallows, as the old joke says ; but there were tracks in the shingle of the beach showing where wheels had been, and these led me to a cart-track between high growths of that Mediterranean reed which grows all along in those low flats. There is one of the reeds on the hooks above my gun in the hall as you came in. I followed up the track, but without seeing barn, house, horse, or man, for a quarter of a mile, perhaps, when behold, —
Not the footprint of a man! as to Robinson Crusoe ; —
Not a gallows and man hanging! as in the sailor story above named ; —
But a railroad track ! Evidently a horse-railroad.
“A horse-railroad in Italy!” said I, aloud. “ A horse-railroad in Sybaris ! It must have changed since the days of the coppersmiths ! ” And I flung myself on a heap of reeds which lay there, and waited.
In two minutes I heard the fast step of horses, as I supposed ; in a minute more four mules rounded the corner, and a “ horse-car ” came dashing along the road. I stepped forward and waved my hand, but the driver bowed respectfully, pointed back, and then to a board on top of his car, and I read, as he dashed by me, the word
displayed full above him ; as one may read Complet on a Paris omnibus.
Now Пλήρον is the Greek for full. “ In Sybaris they do not let the horserailroads grind the faces of the passengers,” said I. “ Not so wholly changed since the coppersmiths.” And, within the minute, more quadrupedantal noises, more mules, and another car, which stopped at my signal. I entered, and found a dozen or more passengers, sitting back to back on a seat which ran up the middle of the car, as you might ride in an Irish jauntingcar. In this way it was impossible for the conductor to smuggle in a standing passenger, impossible for a passenger to catch cold from a cracked window, and possible for a passenger to see the scenery from the window. “ Can it be possible,” said I, “ that the traditions of Sybaris really linger here ? ”
I sat quite in the front of the car, so that I could see the fate of my first friend Пλήρον, — the full car. In a very few minutes it switched off from our track, leaving us still to pick up our complement, and then I saw that it dropped its mules, and was attached, on a side track, to an endless chain, which took it along at a much greater rapidity, so that it was soon out of sight. I addressed my next neighbor on the subject, in Greek which would have made my fortune in those old days of the pea-green settees. But he did not seem to make much of that, but in sufficiently good Italian told me, that, as soon as we were full, we should be attached in the same way to the chain, which was driven by stationary engines five or six stadia apart, and so indeed it proved. We picked up one or two market-women, a young artist or two, and a little boy. When the child got in, there was a nod and smile on people’s faces ; my next neighbor said to me, Пλήρον, as if with an air of relief; and sure enough, in a minute more, we were flying along at a 2.20 pace, with neither mule nor engine in sight, stopping about once a mile to drop passengers, if there was need, and evidently approaching Sybaris.
All along now were houses, each with its pretty garden of perhaps an acre, no fences, because no cattle at large. I wonder if the Vineland people know they caught that idea from Sybaris ! All the houses were of one story, — stretching out as you remember Pliny’s villa did, if Ware and Van Brunt ever showed you the plans, — or as Erastus Bigelow builds factories at Clinton. I learned afterwards that stair-builders and slaveholders are forbidden to live in Sybaris by the same article in the fundamental law. This accounts, with other things, for the vigorous health of their women. I supposed that this was a mere suburban habit, and, though the houses came nearer and nearer, yet, as no two houses touched in a block, I did not know we had come into the city till all the passengers left the car, and the conductor courteously told me we were at our journey’s end.
When this happens to you in Boston, and you leave your car, you find yourself huddled on a steep sloping sidewalk, under the rain or snow, with a hundred or more other passengers, all eager, all wondering, all unprovided for. But I found in Sybaris a large glass-roofed station, from which the other lines of neighborhood cars radiated, in which Women and even little children were passing from route to to route, under the guidance of civil and intelligent persons, who, strange enough, made it their business to conduct these people to and fro, and did not consider it their duty to insult the traveller. For a moment my mind reverted to the contrast at home ; but not long. As I stood admiring and amused at once, a bright, brisk little fellow stepped up to me, and asked what my purpose was, and which way I would go. He spoke in Greek first, but, seeing I did not catch his meaning, relapsed into very passable Italian, quite as good as mine.
I told him that I was shipwrecked, and had come into town For assistance. He expressed sympathy, but wasted not a moment, led me to his chief at an office on one side, who gave me a card with the address of an officer whose duty it was to see to strangers, and said that he would in turn introduce me to the chief of the boat-builders ; and then said, as if in apology for his promptness,
He called to me a conductor of the red line, said Ξέος, which we translate guest, but which I found in this case means “dead-head,” or “free,” bowed, and I saw him no more.
“ Strange country have I come to, indeed,” said I, as I thought of the passports of Civita Vecchia, of the indifference of Scollay’s Buildings, and of the surliness of Springfield. “And this is Sybaris ! ”
WE sent down a tug to the cove which I indicated on their topographical map, and to the terror of the old fisherman and his sons, to whom I had sent a note, which they could not read, our boat was towed up to the city quay, and was put under repairs. That last thump on the hidden rock was her worst injury, and it was a week before I could get away. It was in this time that I got the information I am now to give, partly from my own observations, partly from what George the Proxenus or his brother Philip told me, — more from what I got from a very pleasing person, the wife of another brother, at whose house I used to visit freely, and whose boys, fine fellows, were very fond of talking about America with me. They spoke English very funnily, and like little schoolbooks. The ship-carpenter, a man named Alexander, was a very intelligent person ; and, indeed, the whole social arrangement of the place was so simple, that it seemed to me that I got on very fast, and knew a great deal of them in a very short time.
I told George one day, that I was surprised that he had so much time to give to me. He laughed, and said he could well believe that, as I had said that I was brought up in Boston. “ When I was there,” said he, “ I could see that your people were all hospitable enough, but that the people who were good for anything were made to do all the work of the vauriens, and really had no time for friendship or hospitality. I remember an historian of yours, who crossed with me, said that there should be a motto stretched across Boston Bay, from one fort to another, with the words, “No admittance, except on business.”
I did not more than half like this chaffing of Boston, and asked how they managed things in Sybaris.
“ Why, you see,” said he, “we hold pretty stiffly to the old Charondian laws, of which perhaps you know something; here’s a copy of the code, if you would like to look over it,” and he took one out of his pocket. “We are still very chary about amendments to statutes, so that very little time is spent in legislation ; we have no bills at shops, and but little debt, and that is all on honor, so that there is not much account-keeping or litigation ; you know what happens to gossips, — gossip takes a good deal of time elsewhere, —and somehow everybody does his share of work, so that all of us do have a good deal of what you call ‘ leisure.’ Whether,” he added pensively, “ in a world God put us into that we might love each other, and learn to love, — whether the time we spend in society, or the time we spend caged behind our office desks, is the time which should be called devoted to the ‘ business of life,’ that remains to be seen.”
“ How came you to Boston,” said I, “ and when ? ”
“ O, we all have to travel,” said George, “if we mean to go into the administration. And I liked administration. I observe that you appoint a foreign ambassador because he can make a good stump speech in Kentucky. But since Charondas’s time, training has been at the bottom of our system. And no man could offer himself here to serve on the school committee, unless he knew how other nations managed their schools.”
“ Not if he had himself made schoolbooks ? ” said I.
“No!” laughed George, “for he might introduce them. With us no professor may teach from a text-book he has made himself, unless the highest council of education order it ; and on the same principle we should never choose a bookseller on the school committee. And so, to go back,” he said, “when my father found that administration was my passion, he sent me the grand tour. I learned a great deal in America, and am very fond of the Americans. But I never saw one here before.”
I did not ask what he learned in America, for I was more anxious to learn myself how they administered government in Sybaris.
THE INNS at Sybaris are not very large, not extending much beyond the compass of a large private house. Mine was kept by a woman. As we sat there, smoking on the piazza, the first evening I was there, I asked George about this horse-railroad management, and the methods they took to secure such personal comfort.
He said that my question cut pretty low down, for that the answer really involved the study of their whole system. “I have thought of it a good deal,” said he, “ when I have been in St. Petersburg, and in England and America; and as far as I can find out, our peculiarity in everything is, that we respect—I have sometimes thought we almost worshipped — the rights, even the notions or whims, of the individual citizen. With us the first object of the state, as an organization, is to care for the individual citizen, be he man, woman, dr child. We consider the state to be made for the better and higher training of men, much as your divines say that the Church is. Instead of our lumping our citizens, therefore, and treating Jenny Lind and Tom Heenan to the same dose of public schooling,— instead of saying that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, — we try to see that each individual is protected in the enjoyment, not of what the majority likes, but of what he chooses, so long as his choice injures no other man.”
I thought, in one whiff, of Stuart Mill, and of the coppersmiths.
“ Our horse-railroad system grew out of this theory,” continued he. “ As long ago as Herodotus, people lived here in houses one story high, with these gardens between. But some generations ago, a young fellow named Apollidorus, who had been to Edinburgh, pulled down his father’s house and built a block of what you call houses on the site of it. They were five stories high, had basements, and so on, with windows fore and aft, and, of course, none on the sides. The old fogies looked aghast. But he found plenty of fools to hire them. But the tenants had not been in a week, when the Kategoros, district attorney, had him up ‘for taking away from a citizen what he could not restore.’ This, you must know, is one of the severest charges in our criminal code.
“ Of course, it was easy enough to show that the tenants went willingly ; he showed dumb-waiters, and I know not what infernal contrivances of convenience within. But he could not show that the tenants had north windows and south windows, because they did not. The government, on their side, showed that men were made to breathe fresh air, and that he could not ventilate his houses as if they were open on all sides; they showed that women were not made to climb up and down ladders, and to live on stages at the tops of them ; and he tried in vain to persuade the jury that this climbing was good for little children. He had lured these citizens into places dangerous for health, growth, strength, and comfort. And so he was compelled to erect a statue typical of strength, and a small hospital for infants, as his penalty. That spirited Hercules, which stands in front of the market, was a part of his fine.
“ Of course, after a decision like this, concentration of inhabitants was out of the question. Every pulpit in Sybaris blazed with sermons on the text, ‘ Every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig-tree.’ Everybody saw that a house without its own garden was an abomination, and easy communication with the suburbs was a necessity.
“ It was, indeed, easy enough to show, as the city engineer did, that the power wasted in lifting people up, and, for that matter, down stairs, in a five-story house, in one day, would carry all those people I do not know how many miles on a level railroad track in less time. What you call horse-railroads, therefore, became a necessity.”
I said they made a great row with us.
“Yes,” said he, “I saw they did. With us the government owns and repairs the track, as you do the track of any common road. We never have any difficulty.
“ You see,” he added after a pause, “with us, if a conductor sprains the ankle of a citizen, it is a matter the state looks after. With you, the citizen must himself be the prosecutor, and virtually never is. Did you notice a pretty winged Mercury outside the station-house you came to ?”
I had noticed it.
“ That was put up, I don’t know how Jong ago, in the infancy of these things. They took a car off one night, without public notice beforehand. One old man was coming in on it, to his daughter’s wedding. He missed his connection out at Little Krastis, and lost half an hour. Down came the Kategoros. The company had taken from a citizen what they could not restore, namely, half an hour.”
George lighted another cigar, and laughed very heartily. “ That’s a great case in our reports,” he said. “The company ventured to go to trial on it. They hoped they might overturn the old decisions, which were so old that nobody knows when they were made, — as old as the dancing horses,” said he, laughing. “ They said time was not a thing, — it was a relation of ideas; that it did not exist in heaven ; that they could not be made to suffer because they did not deliver back what no man ever saw, or touched, or tasted. What was half an hour? But the jury was pitiless. A lot of business men, you know, — they knew the value of time. What did they care for the metaphysics ? And the company was bidden to put up an appropriate statue worth ten talents in front of their station-house, as a reminder to all their people that a citizen’s time was worth something,”
This was George’s first visit to me ; and it was the first time, therefore, that I observed a queer thing. Just at this point he rose rather suddenly and bade me good evening. I begged him to stay, but had to repeat my invitation twice. His hand was on the handle of the door before he turned back. Then he sat down, and we went on talking ; but before long he did the same thing again, and then again. At last I was provoked, and said : “ What is the custom of your country ? Do you have to take a walk every eleven minutes and a quarter ? ”
George laughed again, and indeed blushed. “ Do you know what a bore is ? ” said he.
“ Alas ! I do,” said I.
“Well,” said he, “the universal custom here is, that an uninvited guest, who calls on another man on his own business, rises at the end of eleven minutes, and offers to go. And the courts have ruled, very firmly, that there must be a bona fide effort. We get into such a habit of it, that, with you, I really did it unawares. The custom is as old as Cleisthenes and his wedding. But some of the decisions are not more than two or three centuries old, and they are very funny.
“ On the whole,” he added, “I think it works well. Of course, between friends, it is absurd, but it is a great protection against a class of people who think their own concerns are the only things of value. You see you have only to say, when a man comes in, that you thank him for coming, that you wish he would stay, or to take his hat or his stick,—you have only to make him an invited guest, — and then the rule does not hold.”
“ Ah ! ” said I ; “then I invite you to spend every evening with me while I am here.”
“ Take care,” said he ; “ the Government Almanac is printed and distributed gratuitously from the fines on bores. Their funds are getting very low up at the department, and they will be very sharp on your friends. So you need not be profuse in your invitations.”
THIS conversation was a clew to a good many things which I saw while I was in the city. I never was in a place where there were so many tasteful, pretty little conveniences for everybody. At the quadrants, where the streets cross, there was always a pretty little sheltered seat for four or five people, — shaded, stuffed, dry, and always the morning and evening papers, and an advertisement of the times of boats and trains, for any one who might be waiting for a car or for a friend. Sometimes these were votive offerings, where public spirit bad spoken in gratitude. More often they had been ordered at the cost of some one who had taken from a citizen what he could not repay. The private citizen might often hesitate about prosecuting a bore, or a nuisance, or a conceited company officer. But the Kategoroi made no bones about it. They called the citizen as a witness, and gave the criminal a reminder which posterity held in awe. Their point, as they always explained it to me, is, that the citizen’s health and strength are essential to the state. The state cannot afford to have him maimed, any more than it can afford to have him drunk or ignorant. The individual, of course, cannot be following up his separate grievances with people who abridge his rights. But the public accuser can and does.
With us, public servants, who know they are public servants, are always obliging and civil. I would not ask better treatment in my own home than I am sure of in Capitol, State-house, or city hall. It is only when you get to some miserable sub-bureau, where the servant of the servant of a creature of the state can bully you, that you come to grief. For instance the State of Massachusetts just now forbids corporations to work children more than ten hours a day. The corporations obey. But the overseers in the rooms, whom the corporations employ, work children eleven hours, or as many as they choose. They would not stand that in Sybaris.
I WAS walking one day with one of the bright boys of whom I spoke, and I asked him, as I had his father, if I was not keeping him away from his regular occupation. Ought he not be at school ?
“No,” said he; “this is my offterm.”
“ Pray, what is that ? ” “ Don’t you know ? We only go to school three months in winter and three in summer. I thought you did so in America. I know Mr. Webster did. I read it in his Life.”
I was on the point of saying that we knew now how to train more powerful men than Mr. Webster, but the words stuck in my throat, and the boy rattled on.
“The teachers have to be there all the time, except when they go in retreat. They take turns about retreat. But we are in two choroi; I am chorosboy now, James is anti-choros. Choros have school in January, February, March, July, August, September. Next year I shall be anti-choros.”
“ Which do you like best, —off-term or school ? ” said I.
“ O, both is as good as one. When either begins, we like it. We get rather sick of either before the three months are over.”
“ What do you do in your off-terms ? ” said I, — “ go fishing ? ”
“ No, of course not,” said he, “except Strep, and Hipp, and Chal, and those boys, because their fathers are fishermen. No, we have to be in our fathers’ offices, we big boys ; the little fellows, they let them stay at home. If I was here without you now, that truant - officer we passed just now would have had me at home before this time. Well, you see they think we learn about business, and I guess we do. I know I do,” said he, “and sometimes I think I should like to be a Proxenus when I am grown up, but I do not know.”
I asked George about this, the same evening. He said the boy was pretty nearly right about it. They had come round to the determination that the employment of children, merely because their wages were lower than men’s, was very dangerous economy. The chances were that the children were overworked, and that their constitution was fatally impaired. “We do not want any Manchester-trained children here.” Then they had found that steady brain-work on girls, at the growing age, was pretty nearly slow murder in the long run. They did not let girls go to school with any persistency after they were twelve or fourteen. After they were twenty, they might study what they chose.
“But the main difference between our schools and yours,” said he, “is that your teacher is only expected to hear the lesson recited. Our teacher is expected to teach it also. You have in America, therefore, sixty scholars to one teacher. We do not pretend to have more than twenty to one teacher. We do this the easier because we let no child go to school more than half the time ; nor, even with the strongest, more than four hours a day.
“Why,” said he, “ I was at a college in America once, where, with splendid mathematicians, they had had but one man teach any mathematics for thirty years. And he was travelling in Europe when I was there. The others only heard recitations of those who could learn without being taught.”
“ I was once there,” said I.
THE boat’s repairs still lingered, and on Sunday little Phil. came round with a note from his mother, to ask if I would go to church with them. If I had rather go to the cathedral or elsewhere, Phil, would show me the way.
I preferred to go with him and her together. It was a pretty little church, — quite open and airy it would seem to us,—excellent chance to see dancing vines, or flying birds, or falling rains, or other “ meteors outside,” if the preacher proved dull or the hymns undevout. But I found my attention was well held within. Not that the preaching was anything to be repeated. The sermon was short, unpretending, but alive and devout. It was a sonnet, all on one theme; that theme pressed, and pressed, and pressed again, and, of a sudden, the preacher was done. “You say you know God loves you,” he said. “ I hope you do, but I am going to tell you once more that he loves you, and once more and once more.” What pleased me in it all was a certain unity of service, from the beginning to the end. The congregation’s singing seemed to suggest the prayer ; the prayer seemed to continue in the symphony of the organ ; and, while I was in revery, the organ ceased ; but as it was ordered, the sermon took up the theme of my revery, and so that one theme ran through the whole. The service was not ten things, like the ten parts of a concert, it was one act of communion or worship. Part of this was due, I guess, to this, that we were in a small church, sitting or kneeling near each other, close enough to get the feeling of communion,— not parted, indeed, in any way. We had been talking together, as we stood in the churchyard before the service began, and when we assembled in the church the sense of sympathy continued. I told Kleone that I liked the home feeling of the church, and she was pleased. She said she was afraid I should have preferred the cathedral. There were four large cathedrals, open, as the churches were, to all the town ; and all the clergy, of whatever order, took turns in conducting the service in them. There were seven successive services in each of them that Sunday. But each clergyman had his own special charge beside, — I should think of not more than a hundred families. And these families, generally neighbors in the town, indeed, seemed, naturally enough, to grow into very familiar personal relations with each other.
I ASKED Philip one day how long his brother George would hold his office of host, or Proxenus. Philip turned a little sharply on me, and asked if I had any complaints to make, being, in fact, rather a quick-tempered person. I soothed him by explaining that all that I asked about was the tenure of office in their system, and he apologized.
“ He will be in as long as he chooses, probably. In theory, he remains in until a majority of the voters, which is to say the adult men and women, join in a petition for his removal. Then he will be removed at once. The government will appoint a temporary substitute, and order an election of his successor.”
“ Do you mean there is no fixed election-day ? ”
“ None at all,” said Philip. “ We are always voting. When we stopped just now I went in to vote for an alderman of our Ward, in place of a man who has resigned. I wish I had taken you in with me, though there was nothing to see. Only three or four great books, each headed with the name of a candidate. I wrote my name in Andrew Second’s book. He is, on the whole, the best man. The books will be open three months. No one, of course, can vote more than once, and at the end of that time there will be a count, and a proclamation will be made. Then about removal ; any one who is dissatisfied with a public officer puts his name up at the head of a book in the election office. Of course there are dozens of books all the time. But unless there is real incapacity, nobody cares. Sometimes, when one man wants another’s place, he gets up a great breeze, the newspapers get hold of it, and everybody is canvassed who can be got to the spot. But it is very hard to turn out a competent officer. If in three months, however, at all the registries, a majority of the voters express a wish for a man’s removal, he has to go out. Practically, I look in once a week at that office to see what is going on. It is something as you vote at your clubs.”
“ Did you say women as well as men ? ” said I.
“ O, yes,” said Philip, “unless a woman or a man has formally withdrawn from the roll. You see, the roll is the list, not only of voters, but of soldiers. For a man to withdraw, is to say he is a coward and dares not take his chance in war. Sometimes a woman does not like military service, and if she takes her name off I do not think the public feeling about it is quite the same as with a man. She may have things to do at home.” “ But do you mean that most of the women serve in the army ? ” said I.
“ Of course they do,”said he. "They wanted to vote, so we put them on the roll. You do not see them much. Most of the women’s regiments are heavy artillery, in the forts, which can be worked just as well by persons of less as of more muscle if you have enough of them. Each regiment in our service is on duty a month, and in reserve six. You know we have no distant posts.”
“We have a great many near-sighted men in America,” said I, “who cannot serve in the army.”
“We make our near-sighted men work heavy guns, serve in light artillery, or, in very bad cases, we detail them to the police work of the camps,” said he. The deaf and dumb men we detail to serve the military telegraphs. They keep secrets well. The blind men serve in the bands. And the men without legs ride in barouches in state processions. Everybody serves somewhere.”
“ That is the reason,” said I, with a sigh, “ why everybody has so much time in Sybaris ! ”
BUT the reader has more than enough of this. Else I would print my journal of “ A Week in Sybaris.” By Thursday the boat was mended. I hunted up the old fisherman and his boys. He was willing to go where my Excellency bade, but he said his boys wanted to stay. They would like to live here.
“ Among the devils ? ” said I. The old man confessed that the place for poor men was the best place he ever saw; the markets were cheap, the work was light, the inns were neat, the people were civil, the music was good, the churches were free, and the priests did not lie. He believed the reason that nobody ever came back from Sybaris was, that nobody wanted to.
The Proxenus nodded, well pleased.
“ So Battista and his brother would like to stay a few months ; and he found he might bring Caterina too, when my Excellency had returned from Gallipoli ; or did my Excellency think that, when Garibaldi had driven out the Bourbons, all the world would be like Sybaris ? ”
My Excellency hoped so ; but did not dare promise.
“You see now,” said George, “why you hear so little of Sybaris. Enough people come to us. But you are the only man I ever saw leave Sybaris who did not mean to return.”
“And I,” said I, — “do you think I am never coming here again ? ”
“You found it a hard harbor to make,” said the Proxenus. “We have published no sailing directions since St. Paul touched here, and those which he wrote — he sent them to the Corinthians yonder — neither they nor any one else have seemed to understand.”
“ Good by.”
“ God bless you ! Good by.” And I sailed for Gallipoli.
- I am writing in Westerly’s snuggery, and in Providence they believe in Webster. I dare say it is worse in Worcester. A good many things are.↩
- The reader who cares to follow the detail is referred to Diodorus Siculus, XII. ; Strabo, VI. ; Ælian, V. H. 9, c. 24; Athenæus, XII. 518; Plutarch in Pelopidas ; Herodotus, V. and VI. Compare Laurent’s Geographical Notes, and Wheeler and Gaisford ; Pliny, III. 15, VII. 22, XVI. 33, VIII. 64, XXXI. 9; Aristotle, Polit. IV. 12, V. 3 ; Heyne’s Opuscula, II. 74 ; Bentley’s Phalaris, 367 ; Solinus, 2, § 10, “luxuries grossly exaggerated”; Scyrnnus, 337-360: Aristophanes, Vesp. 1427, 1436 ; Lycophron, Alex. 1079; Polybius, Gen. List. II. 3, on the confederation of Sybaris, Krotan, and Kaulonia, — “a perplexing statement,” says Grote, "showing that he must have conceived the history of Sybaris in a very different form from that in which it is commonly represented ”; third volume of De Non, who disagrees with Magnan as to the site of Sybaris, and says the sea-shore is uninhabitable ! Tuccagni Orlandini, Vol. XI., Supplement, p. 294 ; besides the dictionaries and books of travels, including Murray. I have availed myself, without other reference, of most of these authorities.↩