« PreviousContinue »
released from quarantine Scott removed to a hotel in the Strada Ponente. He was twice taken to view the church of St. John, and thought it "by far the most magnificent place I ever saw in my life." He went down into the vaults and visited the splendid bronze tomb of La Valette, the Grand Master who defended the island against the Turks in 1563, and gave his name to its capital. Already he is inspired, by what he read and heard of this siege, with the idea of a new romance ; and this was actually written, though never published.
Meanwhile his own fame had followed him, for a "mad Italian improvisatore" was one day with difficulty prevented from imposing a crown upon his head. A ball was given in his honour by the garrison officers, as well as numerous dinners, from which his health had begun to suffer when he left the island. Before his departure Sir Walter waited on the bishop, who had done good service against the French in the Napoleonic day, and was gratified at Scott's suggestion that he should publish his Journal. A shock of earthquake gave the travellers a new experience on the night before they sailed for Naples; and their arrival there on December 17th was the signal for the greatest eruption of Vesuvius which had been seen for some time. Of the latter event the Journal has this: "I can only say, as the Frenchman said of the comet supposed to foretell his own death, 'Ah, messieurs, la comète me fait trop d'honneur.'" Sir Walter remained at Naples four months. To such a lover of the picturesque the Bay
naturally appeared "one of the finest things I ever saw"; but Lockhart judged from Sir William Gell's account that he took little interest in classical antiquities, though greatly attracted by any place connected with events in mediæval history.
Early in the new year he went by invitation to visit the old Bishop of Tarentum ("who almost rivals my fighting Bishop of Malta"), who had a superb Persian cat. The venerable prelate gave him a Latin devotional poem and an engraving of himself; but the interview was something of a disappointment, since one of the parties could speak no English and the other no French or Latin (or very little). It has been conjectured by the editor of Scott's Journal that the Bishop may have been identical with the subject of one of Landseer's illustrations to Rogers's Italy-a Cardinal with three cats. Sir William Gell, who was Scott's chief cicerone whilst in Italy, was the man whom Byron called in different editions of his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers "coxcomb Gell," "classic Gell," and "rapid Gell," according to the different stages of his acquaintance with the archæologist's person and achievements. He took three days, it is said, to discover and describe the site of Troy. The last sixteen years of his life he passed in Italy, having for some time houses both at Rome and Naples.
Scott attended a Court Ball on the King of Naples's birthday, going "in a very decent green uniform, laced at the cuffs, and pantaloons," as Brigadier-General of
the Archers' Guard. The King spoke to him about five minutes, "of which I hardly understood five words. I answered him in a speech of the same length, and I'll be bound equally unintelligible." He also went to the Opera, but thought more of the house than the performance. But he discovered something which excited his enthusiasm in an old manuscript of the romance of Sir Bevis of Hampton. His court influence stood him in such stead that he was able to have a transcript made of this treasure, though in the course of the preliminary proceedings he had painful experience of the leisurely ways of Italian men of letters and officials. Another literary find was "a dumpy fat 12mo edition of Mother Goose's Tales, with my old friends Puss in Boots, Bluebeard, and almost the whole stock of this very collection," which Mr. Lang thinks was a Neapolitan translation of Perrault. These things suggested fresh literary projects, and on the receipt of letters announcing that the two "apoplettic books" (Count Robert and Castle Dangerous) had sold fairly well after all, Sir Walter enumerates "what I have on the stocks," and on the strength of these projects, actually registers a determination to buy land again! He was frequently possessed of the idea that he was already clear of debt, and could begin again in the old way. In a letter to his son-in-law, in which he says he is a great deal better than he could have ventured to hope, he thus sums up what he has in view for the future :—
"After the Siege of Malta I intend to close the [series] of Waverley with a poem in the style of The Lady of the Lake, to be a L'Envoy, or final postscript to these tales. The subject is a curious tale of chivalry belonging to Rhodes."
It was a melancholy delusion. True things were in train for extinguishing the debt within an appreciable period; but Sir Walter was not himself to see the end. And he was doing his utmost to prevent it by the renewal of labours for which he was unfit. "The MS. of these painful days is hardly to be deciphered by any effort," comments Lockhart significantly upon the unpublished Siege of Malta.
Pompeii alone of the places shown him by the lionising Gell seems to have really impressed Scott. This, he viewed with a poet's eye, exclaiming frequently, "The City of the Dead!" Then great part of the treasure of the buried city had not been removed to the Naples Museum. Stories of the brigands of Southern Italy were an immense attraction to him, and a large amount of space in the closing pages of the Journal is devoted to them. Had he fallen in with such quarry when at his best the result would have been at least one masterpiece. One of the closing entries of the Journal shows Sir Walter the same sanguine strenuous man to the last :
April 15, Naples.-I am on the eve of leaving Naples after a residence of three or four months, my strength strongly returning, though the weather has been very uncertain. What with the interruption occasioned by the cholera and other inconveniences, I have not done much. I have sent home only the