If our readers tempted by the Italian proverb about seeing Naples
and then dying were to ask us what is the most favourable moment for
visiting the enchanted city we should advise them to land at the
mole or at Mergellina on a fine summer day and at the hour when
some solemn procession is moving out of the cathedral. Nothing can
give an idea of the profound and simple-hearted emotion of this
populace which has enough poetry in its soul to believe in its own
happiness. The whole town adorns herself and attires herself like a
bride for her wedding; the dark facades of marble and granite
disappear beneath hangings of silk and festoons of flowers; the
wealthy display their dazzling luxury the poor drape themselves
proudly in their rags. Everything is light harmony and perfume;
the sound is like the hum of an immense hive interrupted by a
thousandfold outcry of joy impossible to describe. The bells repeat
their sonorous sequences in every key; the arcades echo afar with the
triumphal marches of military bands; the sellers of sherbet and
water-melons sing out their deafening flourish from throats of
copper. People form into groups; they meet question gesticulate;
there are gleaming looks eloquent gestures picturesque attitudes;
there is a general animation an unknown charm an indefinable
intoxication. Earth is very near to heaven and it is easy to
understand that if God were to banish death from this delightful
spot the Neapolitans would desire no other paradise.
The story that we are about to tell opens with one of these magical
pictures. It was the Day of the Assumption in the year 1825; the sun
had been up some four or five hours and the long Via da Forcella
lighted from end to end by its slanting rays cut the town in two
like a ribbon of watered silk. The lava pavement carefully cleaned
shone like any mosaic and the royal troops with their proudly
waving plumes made a double living hedge on each side of the street.
The balconies windows and terraces the stands with their
unsubstantial balustrades and the wooden galleries set up during the
night were loaded with spectators and looked not unlike the boxes
of a theatre. An immense crowd forming a medley of the brightest
colours invaded the reserved space and broke through the military
barriers here and there like an overflowing torrent. These
intrepid sightseers nailed to their places would have waited half
their lives without giving the least sign of impatience.
At last about noon a cannon-shot was heard and a cry of general
satisfaction followed it. It was the signal that the procession had
crossed the threshold of the church. In the same moment a charge of
carabineers swept off the people who were obstructing the middle of
the street the regiments of the line opened floodgates for the
overflowing crowd and soon nothing remained on the causeway but some
scared dog shouted at by the people hunted off by the soldiers and
fleeing at full speed. The procession came out through the Via di
Vescovato. First came the guilds of merchants and craftsmen the
hatters weavers bakers butchers cutlers and goldsmiths. They
wore the prescribed dress: black coats knee breeches low shoes and
silver buckles. As the countenances of these gentlemen offered
nothing very interesting to the multitude whisperings arose little
by little among the spectators then some bold spirits ventured a
jest or two upon the fattest or the baldest of the townsmen and at
last the boldest of the lazzaroni slipped between the soldiers' legs
to collect the wax that was running down from the lighted tapers.
After the craftsmen the religious orders marched past from the
Dominicans to the Carthusians from the Carmelites to the Capuchins.
They advanced slowly their eyes cast down their step austere their
hands on their hearts; some faces were rubicund and shining with
large cheek-hones and rounded chins herculean heads upon bullnecks;
some thin and livid with cheeks hollowed by suffering and
penitence and with the look of living ghosts; in short here were
the two sides of monastic life.
At this moment Nunziata and Gelsomina two charming damsels taking
advantage of an old corporal's politeness pushed forward their
pretty heads into the first rank. The break in the line was
conspicuous; but the sly warrior seemed just a little lax in the
matter of discipline.
"Oh there is Father Bruno!" said Gelsomina suddenly. "Good-day
"Hush cousin! People do not talk to the procession."
"How absurd! He is my confessor. May I not say good-morning to my
"Who was that spoke?"
"Oh my dear it was Brother Cucuzza the begging friar."
"Where is he? Where is he?"
"There he is along there laughing into his beard. How bold he is!"
"Ah God in heaven! If we were to dream of him---"
While the two cousins were pouring out endless comments upon the
Capuchins and their beards the capes of the canons and the surplices
of the seminarists the 'feroci' came running across from the other
side to re-establish order with the help of their gun-stocks.
"By the blood of my patron saint" cried a stentorian voice "if I
catch you between my finger and thumb I will straighten your back
for the rest of your days."
"Who are you falling out with Gennaro?"
"With this accursed hunchback who has been worrying my back for the
last hour as though he could see through it."
"It is a shame" returned the hunchback in a tone of lamentation;
"I have been here since last night I slept out of doors to keep my
place and here is this abominable giant comes to stick himself in
front of me like an obelisk."
The hunchback was lying like a Jew but the crowd rose unanimously
against the obelisk. He was in one way their superior and
majorities are always made up of pigmies.
"Hi! Come down from your stand!"
"Hi! get off your pedestal!"
"Off with your hat!"
"Down with your head!"