Naples, November 9th.
WE made our excursion to Pompeii, passing through Portici, and over the last lava of Mount Vesuvius. I experienced a strange mixture of sensations, on surveying at once the mischiefs of the late eruption, in the ruin of villages, farms, and vineyards; and, all around them, the most luxuriant and delightful scenery of nature. It was impossible to resist the impressions of melancholy from viewing the former, or not to admit that gaiety of spirits which was inspired by the sight of the latter. I say nothing of the Museum at Portici, which we saw in our way, on account of the ample descriptions of its contents already given to the public; and, because, it should be described no otherwise, than by an exact catalogue, or by an exhibition of engravings. An hour and half brought us from this celebrated repository to Pompeii. Nothing can be conceived more delightful than the climate and situation of this city. It stands upon a gently-rising hill, which commands the bay of Naples, with the islands of Caprea and Ischia, the rich coasts of Sorento, the tower of Castel a Mare; and, on the other side, Mount Vesuvius, with the lovely country intervening. It is judged to be about an Italian mile long, and three and an half in circuit. We entered the city at the little gate which lies towards Stabiæ. The first object upon entering, is a colonade round a square court, which seems to have formed a place of arms. Behind the colonade, is a series of little rooms, destined for the soldiers barracks. The columns are of stone, plaistered with stucco, and coloured. On several of them we found names, scratched in Greek and Latin; probably those of the soldiers who had been quartered there. Helmets, and armour for various parts of the body, were discovered, amongst the skeletons of some soldiers, whose hard fate had compelled them to wait on duty, at the perilous moment of the city's approaching destruction. Dolphins and tridents, sculptured in relief on most of these relics of armour, seem to shew they had been fabricated for naval service. Some of the sculptures on the arms, probably belonging to officers, exhibit a greater variety of ornaments. The taking of Troy, wrought on one of the helmets, is beautifully executed; and much may be said in commendation of the work of several others.
We were next led to the remains of a temple and altar, near these barracks. From thence, to some rooms floored (as indeed were almost all that have been cleared from the rubbish) with tesselated, mosaic pavements of various patterns, and most of them of very elegant execution. Many of these have been taken up, and now form the floors of the rooms in the Museum at Portici; whose best ornaments of every kind, are furnished from the discoveries at Pompeii. From the rooms just mentioned, we descended into a subterraneous chamber, communicating with a bathing apartment. It appears to have served as a kind of office to the latter. It was, probably, here, that the cloaths, used in bathing, were washed. A fire-place, a capacious caldron of bronze, and earthen vessels proper for that purpose, found here, have given rise to the conjecture. Contiguous to this room, is a small circular one with a fire-place; which was the stove to the bath. I should not forget to tell you, that the skeleton of the poor laundress (for so the antiquaries will have it) who was very diligently washing the bathing cloaths, at the time of the eruption, was found lying in an attitude of the most resigned death, not far from the washing caldron, in the office just mentioned.
We were now conducted to the temple, or rather chapel, of Isis. The chief remains are, a covered cloister; the great altar, on which was, probably, exhibited the statue of the goddess; a little edifice to protect the sacred well; the pediment of the chapel, with a symbolical vase in relief; ornaments in stucco on the front of the main-building, consisting of the lotus, the sistrum, representations of gods, Harpocrates, Anubis, and other objects of Egyptian worship. The figures on one side of this temple, are Perseus with the Gorgon's head; on the other, Mars and Venus, with Cupids bearing the arms of Mars. We next observe three altars of different sizes. On one of them, is said to have been found the bones of a victim unconsumed; the last sacrifice having, probably, been stopt by the dreadful calamity which had occasioned it. From a niche in the temple, was taken a statue of marble; a woman pressing her lips with her fore-finger. Within the area is a well, where the priest threw the ashes of the sacrifices. We saw, in the Museum at Portici, some lovely arabesque paintings, cut from the walls of the cloister. The foliage, which ran round the whole sweep of the cloister itself, is in the finest taste. A tablet of basalte, with Egyptian hieroglyphics, was transported from hence to Portici, together with the following inscription, taken from the front gate of the chapel:


Behind one of the altars we saw a small room, in which our guide informed us a human skeleton was discovered, with some fish-bones on a plate near it, and a number of other culinary utensils. We then passed on to another apartment, almost contiguous, where nothing more remarkable had been found than an iron crow, an instrument with which, perhaps, the unfortunate wretch, whose skeleton I have mentioned above, had vainly endeavoured to extricate herself; this room being, probably, barricaded by the matter of the eruption. This temple, rebuilt, as the inscription imports, by N. Popidius, had been thrown down by a terrible earthquake, that likewise destroyed a great part of the city (sixteen years before the famous eruption of Vesuvius, described by Pliny, which happened in the first year of Titus, A.D. 79) and buried, at once, both Herculaneum, and Pompeii. As I lingered alone in these environs sacred to Isis, some time after my companions had quitted them, I fell into one of those reveries, which my imagination is so fond of indulging; and, transporting myself seventeen hundred years back, fancied I was sailing with the elder Pliny, on the first day's eruption, from Misenum, towards Retina and Herculaneum; and, afterwards, toward the villa of his friend Pomponianus at Stabiæ. The course of our galley seldom carried us out of sight of Pompeii; and, as often as I could divert my atten- tion from the tremendous spectacle of the eruption, its enormous pillar of smoke standing conically in the air, and tempests of liquid fire, continually bursting out from the midst of it, then raining down the sides of the mountain, and flooding this beautiful coast with innumerable streams of red-hot lava, methought I turned my eyes upon this fair city, whose houses, villas, and gardens, with their long ranges of columned courts and porticos, were made visible through the universal cloud of ashes, by lightning from the mountain; and saw its distracted inhabitants, men, women, and children, running to and fro in despair. But in one spot, I mean the court and precincts of the temple, glared a continued light. It was the blaze of the altars; towards which I discerned a long-robed train of priests, moving in solemn procession, to supplicate by prayer and sacrifice, at this destructive moment, the intervention of Isis, who had taught the first fathers of mankind the culture of the earth, and other arts of civil life. Methought, I could distinguish in their hands, all those paintings and images sacred to this divinity, brought out, on this portentous occasion, from the subterraneous apartments, and mystic cells of the temple. There was every form of creeping thing, and abominable beast, every Egyptian pollution, which the true Prophet had seen in vision, among the secret idolatries of the temple at Jerusalem. The priests arrived at the altars; I saw them gathered round, and purifying the three, at once, with the sacred meal; then, all moving slowly about them, each with his right hand towards the fire: it was the office of some, to seize the firebrands of the altars, with which they sprinkled holy water on the numberless by-standers. Then, began the prayers, the hymns, and lustrations of the sacrifice. The priests had laid the victims, with their throats downward, upon the altars; were ransacking the baskets of flour and salt, for the knives of slaughter, and proceeding in haste to the accomplishment of their pious ceremonies; when one of our company, who thought me lost, returned with impatience, and, calling me off to some new object, put an end to my strange reverie. We were now summoned to pay some attention to the scene and corridor of a theatre, not far from the temple. Little more of its remains being yet cleared away, we hastened back to a small house and garden, in the neighbourhood of Isis. Sir W. Hamilton (in his account of Pompeii, communicated to the Society of Antiquaries) when speaking of this house, having taken occasion to give a general idea of the private mansions of the antient citizens, I shall take the liberty of transcribing the whole passage. "A covered cloister, supported by columns, goes round the house, as was customary in many of the houses at Pompeii. The rooms in general are very small; and, in one, where an iron bedstead was found, the wall had been pared away to make room for this bedstead; so that it was not six feet square, and yet this room was most elegantly painted, and had a tesselated, or mosaic floor. The weight of the matter erupted from Mount Vesuvius has universally damaged the upper parts of the houses; the lower parts are mostly found as fresh as at the moment they were buried. The plan of most of the houses at Pompeii is a square court, with a fountain in the middle, and small rooms round, communicating with that court. By the construction and distribution of the houses, it seems, the inhabitants of Pompeii were fond of privacy. They had few windows towards the street, except where, from the nature of the plan, they could not avoid it; but, even in that case, the windows were placed too high for any one in the streets to overlook them. Their houses nearly resemble each other, both as to distribution of plan, and in the manner of finishing the apartments. The rooms are in general small, from ten to twelve feet, and from fourteen to eighteen feet; few communications between room and room; almost all without windows, except the apartments situated to the garden, which are thought to have been allotted to the women. Their cortiles, or courts, were often surrounded by porticos, even in very small houses. Not but there were covered galleries before the doors of their apartments, to afford shade and shelter. No timber was used in finishing their apartments, except in doors and windows. The floors were generally laid in mosaic work. One general taste prevailed, of painting the sides and ceilings of the rooms. Small figures, and medallions of low relief, were sometimes introduced. Their great variety consisted in the colours, and in the choice and delicacy of the ornaments, in which they displayed great harmony and taste. Their houses were some two, others three stories high."
We now pursued our way through, what is with some probability thought to have been, the principal street. Its narrowness, however, surprised me. It is scarcely eleven feet wide, clear of the foot-ways each side of it. The pavement is formed of a large sort of flattish-surfaced pebbles; not laid down with the greatest evenness, or regularity. The side-ways may be about a yard wide, each paved, irregularly enough, with small stones. There are guard-stones, at equal intervals, to defend the foot-passengers from carriages and horses. I cannot say I found any thing either elegant or pleasant in the effect of this open street. But, as the houses in general present little more than a dead wall toward it, I do not imagine any views, beyond mere use and convenience, were consulted in the plan. It led us, however, through the principal gate, or entrance, to a sort of Villa Rustica, without the limits of the city; which amply recompensed our curiosity. The arcade, surrounding a square garden, or court-yard, offers itself first to the observer's notice. Into this, open a number of coved rooms, adorned with paintings of figures, and arabesque. These rooms, though small, have a rich and elegant appearance, their ornaments being very well executed, and retaining still their original freshness. On the top of the arcade runs a walk, or open terrace, leading to the larger apartments of the higher story. One of the rooms below has a capacious bow-window, where several panes of glass, somewhat shattered, were found, but in sufficient preservation to shew that the antients were not without knowledge of this species of manufacture. As Horace, and most of the old Latin Poets, dwell much on the praises of antient conviviality, and appear to have valued themselves considerably on their connoisseurship in wine, it was with great pleasure I descended into the spacious cellars, sunk and vaulted beneath the arcade abovementioned. Several earthen amphorae were standing in rows against the walls; but the Massic and Falernian, with which they were once stored, had probably long been totally absorbed by the earth and ashes, which were now the sole contents of these venerable jars. The antients are thought to have used oil instead of corks; and that the stoppers were of some matter that could make but little resistance, seems confirmed by the entrance of that which now supplied the place of wine. The skeletons of several of the family, who had possessed this villa, were discovered in the cellar; together with brass and silver coins, and many such ornaments of dress as were of more durable materials. On re-ascending, we went to the hot and cold baths; thence, to the back of the villa, separated by a passage from the more elegant parts of the house: we were shewn some rooms which had been occupied by the farmer, and from whence several implements of agriculture had been carried to enrich the collection at Portici. On the whole, the plan and construction of this villa are extremely curious, and its situation very happily chosen. I could not, however, help feeling some regret, in not having had the good fortune to be present at the first discovery. It must have been highly interesting to see all its antient relics (the greatest part of which are now removed) each in its proper place; or, at least, in the place they had possessed for so long a course of years. His Sicilian majesty has ordered a correct draught of this villa to be taken, which, it is hoped, will one day be published, with a complete account of all the discoveries at Pompeii.
Our next walk was to see the Columbarium, a very solemn-looking edifice, where probably the families of higher rank only at Pompeii deposited the urns of their deceased kindred. Several of these urns, with their ashes, and one, among the rest, of glass, inclosed in another of earth, were dug out of the sepulchral vaults. A quantity of marble statues, of but ordinary execution, and colossal masks of terra cotta, constituted the chief ornaments of the Columbarium. It is situated without the gates, on the same side of the city with the villa, just described. There is something characterictically sad in its aspect. It threw my mind into a melancholy, but not disagreeable, tone. Under the mixed sentiments it inspired, I cast one lingering look back on the whole affecting scene of ruins, over which I had, for several hours, been rambling; and quitted it to return to Naples, not without great reluctance.

Letter I ::: Letter II ::: Letter III ::: Letter IV ::: Letter V ::: Letter VI ::: Letter VII ::: Letter VIII ::: Letter IX ::: Letter X ::: Letter XI ::: Letter XII ::: Letter XIII ::: Letter XIV ::: Letter XV ::: Letter XVI ::: Letter XVII ::: Letter XVIII ::: Letter XIX ::: Letter XX ::: Letter XXI ::: Letter XXII ::: Letter XXIII ::: Letter XXIV ::: Letter XXV ::: Letter XXVI ::: Letter XXVII
Additional letters, I-VII
An Excursion to the Grande Chartreuse in the year 1778