CAT 120. Samuel Read. The Bay of Naples. In The Illustrated London News, December 22, 1860. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.
Melville’s colored lithograph of The Bay of Naples is postcard perfect. From the stone pines in the foreground to smoking Vesuvius in the distance, with the sweep of the bay contrasting the free play of the white sailing boats against the steep cliffs of the gleaming city, Melville had an indelible reminder of the spatial breath and the sunstruck sheen that had so entranced him in 1857. His granddaughter Eleanor, who donated this framed engraving to the Berkshire Athenaeum in 1952, recalled it fondly in her 1953 biography of Melville. In the years shortly before his death, when she was not yet ten years old, he would take her on “pilgrimages” to Central Park or other spots in the city. “We never came in from a trip of this kind, nor indeed from any walk, but we stopped in the front hall under a coloured engraving of the Bay of Naples, its still blue dotted with tiny white sails. He would point to them with his cane and say, ‘See the little boats sailing hither and thither.’ ‘Hither and thither’—more funny words, thought I, at the same time a little awed by something far away in the tone of voice” (Metcalf, Cycle and Epicycle, 282).
Melville noted again and again the breathtaking beauty of Naples in his 1857 journal. “Calm & Beautiful. Populous shores & very mountainous and high. Scenery very fine. . . Splendor of city. . . Magnificence of the city. Vesuvius in sight from square. Smoking. . . . From balcony over garden of Church of San Martino got glorious view of bay & town” (NN J 101-2). Melville’s engraving is so detailed that he could see not only the tiny white boats on the bay but also specific churches and buildings and avenues up the hills and along the shore, including the Cathedral of San Januarius at the top of the Capo di Monte at the upper left. As he left the city for Rome, Melville marveled that a city whose “burning mountain” and furious history represent “the remorselessness of Nature” and the “ravages of war” is nevertheless “the gayest city in the world.” Ultimately what strikes him is “the beauty of the place, in connection with its perilousness” (105). His color lithograph of the bay depicts the beauty without the peril. It is in this sense a perfect pictorial companion to Melville’s epigraph for “An Afternoon in Naples”: “The world of fact and the world of Art are two. The sole aim of Art is beauty” (NN BBO 177).
In section 7 of “An Afternoon in Naples” Melville suspends his sequence of vignettes contrasting the vibrancy of the street life and the oppressiveness of Bomba’s military forces to provide a brief history of the cruelty and brutality that have often operated freely beneath the city’s veneer of beauty. One “flash of thought” carries him
Back to five hundred years ago. I saw the panoramic bay In the afternoon beneath me spread— All Naples from siesta risen Peopling the beaches, barges, moles.
What he sees, however, within that distant past, within “her casement by the sea,” is Queen Joanna, both “queen and bride.” She is “twining three strands of silk and gold / Into a cord” from which her bridegroom husband’s body was soon to swing from a balcony whose vines were “violently torn” (NN BBO 191-92).
We are then transported back to “quite another scene” in the days of ancient Rome. Inspired by one of the bronze sculptures Melville had seen in the famous hall of the Museo Borbonico, the narrator enters the mind of the statue of
Of seated Agrippina—she The truest woman who ever wed In tragic widowhood transfixed; In cruel craft exiled from Rome To gaze on Naples’ sunny bay, More sharp to feel her sunless doom O ageing face, O youthful form O listless hand in idle lap. (192)
The cruel fate of Agrippina had deeply touched J. M. W. Turner when creating the 1838 oil painting of Ancient Rome that Melville acquired in the 1859 engraving made by J. T. Willmore “from the picture in the National Gallery” that Melville had probably seen when visiting its Turner Gallery in 1857 (CAT number to be assigned). Turner’s subtitle for Ancient Rome when exhibiting it at the Royal Academy was Agrippina landing with the Ashes of Germanicus (NN J 128; Wallace, Melville and Turner, 614).
The personal tragedies inflicted or felt by Agrippina or Joanna centuries ago are momentarily interrupted by “time present” in the form of the “flower-girl” selling “love-apples” and “blood-oranges” from Cyprus. As soon as she passes,
Murky along the sunny strand New spectres streamed from shades below, Spectres of Naples under Spain, Phantoms of that incensed Revolt With whose return Wrath threatens still Bomba engirt with guards.
Some of the “swarthier” faces among the mercenaries currently occupying Naples remind the narrator of “brigands and outlaws” in paintings by Salvator Rosa. Current tensions remind him of the courage with which young Masaniello had come forth to lead a revolt against “the foreign lords / Whose grinding heel provoked the spark / That fired the populace into flame.” This youthful “Apollo” with “dark eyes and sunny locks” soon had “his curled head Gorgoned on the pike, / and jerked aloft for all to see.” From Ancient Rome right up to the present day, the “clime” of this splendid city has been “mocked” by “Hell’s cornucopia crammed with crime!” (NN J 193-94). No wonder Eleanor’s grandfather had “something far away in the tone of voice” when pointing to the tiny boats going “hither and thither” on the glorious bay.
Valery opened his section on Naples in Travels in Italy by declaring that “the Mediterranean, since the long voyages on the Ocean and the discoveries of great modern navigators, has degenerated into a kind of lake for the use of poets and men of letters.” No longer the “sea of commerce and industry,” it is more than ever the sea of the Odyssey and the Æneid.” Its shores “have witnessed the immortal scenes painted by the historians of antiquity,” but “the beautiful brilliancy of its waters has suffered nothing from the flight of ages.” These waters will continue to inspire both “poets and painters” to convey “the enchantments of the gulf of Naples, with the graceful and imposing mixture of woods, mountains, houses, forts, churches, chapels and ruins which decorate this magnificent amphitheatre (438).
Melville the poet described those enchantments in section 5 of “An Afternoon in Naples,” where “A hill there is that laves its feet / in Naples’ bay and lifts its head / In jovial season, curled with vines” (NN BBO 184). This hill in the poem is one in the foreground of Melville’s colored lithograph of The Bay of Naples. There, too, this hill “laves its feet in Naples’ bay” and “lifts its head . . . in curly vines.” In Melville’s poem, this hill is the site of the narrator’s encounter with the unfortunate Silvio and his loyal daughter. The “surcease” from pain promised by Pausilippo, the name of the hill, does not “ease” the pain of this patriot who has lived a life of oppression. Quite the opposite. For Silvio and his daughter, the “dream of years serene” promised by the name of this hillside has served “to wake,” only “to dash, delight.” The narrator, “in pity,” silently “doled” out a “silver” coin, but his “pity [was] futile as the ore!” As he leaves them, “in low and languid tone / The tideless ripple lapped the passive shore. / As listlessly the bland untroubled heaven / looked down” (186).
Melville had himself visited Pausilippo on his third day in Naples in February 1857. From its “beautiful promontory of villas—along the sea” he had gone to explore the “remains of school of Virgil & other ruins of villas. Ruined stone balcony overhanging deep cave in cliff.” Returning back through Pausilippo, he had “visited Virgil’s tomb—mere ruin—high up,” with “great view of bay & Naples.” At Pausilippo, Melville, like Silvio and his daughter, “found not the cessation which the name expresses” (NN J 102). But he did find inspiration for the extended tribute to Virgil, “Rome’s wreathed laureate,” at the beginning of section 6 of “An Afternoon in Naples.”
Melville’s keen interest in Virgil, the great Roman poet and author of the Æneid, has already been seen this chapter in the bust of Virgil engraved by George Cooke (CAT 71) and in the twenty-three engravings in which Virgil accompanies Dante in Reveil’s French edition of Flaxman’s Purgatory from Dante’s Divine Comedy (CAT 80-102). Melville’s tribute to Virgil at the beginning of section 6 of “An Afternoon in Naples” is directly inspired by his own visit to the “ruins” of Virgil’s tomb on Pausilippo.
I mused on Virgil, here inurned On Pausilippo, legend tells— Here on the slope that pledges ease to pain, For him a pledge assuredly true If here indeed his ashes be— Rome’s minstrel in Rome’s palmy time; Nor less whose epic’s undertone In volumed numbers rolling bland, Chafing against the metric bound, Plains like the South Sea ground-swell heaved Against the palm-isle’s halcyon strand. (PP BBO 187)
These compact, expansive lines represent Melville’s most studied attempt to enroll himself among the long line of poets and painters who had continued, in Valery’s words, to “describe the enchantments of the gulf of Naples.”
From his melancholy musings on the supposed site of Virgil’s ashes and the plaintive “undertone” of Virgil’s epic poem, the consciousness of the speaker in Melville’s poem extends across the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius and up through the centuries to the present time of Bomba. He sees the citizens of Naples caught “betwixt two threatening bombardiers / Their mortars loaded, linstocks lit— / Vesuvius yonder—Bomba here.” His eye moving “round these curved volcanic shores, / Vined urn of ashes, bed on bed,” he senses the energy of a living city through which “abandonment as thoughtless pours, / As when the reveling pagan led.” And suddenly he finds himself down on that “curved volcanic shore” himself. He sees the “juggler in brocade” who “made rainbows of his glittering balls” accompanied by his “ditty deftly timed.” Before the juggler could complete his act, a tumbler dropped down as if from heaven, “alighting on winged feet” with which he danced and clicked his heels while singing a song of his own:
‘Over mines, by vines, That take hot flavor From Vesuvius— Hark, in vintage Sounds the tabor!’ (NN BBO 188-90).
The tumbler’s song and dance enact the essence of the narrator’s more ponderous Virgilian meditation.
For Melville in composing “An Afternoon in Naples in the Time of Bomba,” as well as for readers of the poem today, his color lithograph of The Bay of Naples provides the perfect pictorial panorama of the city in which the poem is set. Melville’s copy of the lithograph includes no information as to its artist, title, publisher of date. Samuel Otter in the process of working on this project discovered a black-and-white engraving of this image in the November 29, 1856, issue of The Illustrated London News. There it was identified as The Bay of Naples, from Posilipo, engraved by Edmund Evans after a drawing by S. Read (fig. 1; see also Otter and Wallace, pp. 95-99, fig. 5).
Figure 1. Edmund Evans after Samuel Read. The Bay of Naples, from Posilipo. In The Illustrated London News, November 29, 1856. Collection of Samuel Otter.
The essay that accompanied this engraving locates the “lovely spot” in the foreground of the image “in a garden not far from the Tomb of Virgil.” From this spot we see “one of the grandest, and yet the softest, views in the world.” By contrast, the Castle of St. Elmo, ascending high up mountain to the left, is among the most ominous. This fortress “stands, with its guns pointed at the city,” as does the Castel d’Uovo at the other end of the graceful “half-moon” bay. Indeed, the entire city of Naples, as Melville was to emphasize in his journal a few months later, is “fortified” with “guns pointed inwards” at its citizens (“View of Naples,” 544). Otter found the same drawing by Read reproduced three months later, again in black-and-white, in the American magazine Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. There its title was expanded to The Bay of Naples, Capital of the Two Sicilies, Taken from the Tomb of Virgil, Vesuvius in the Distance (February 7, 1857, p. 152).
The color lithograph of Read’s Bay of Naples that Melville acquired was taken from a rare two-page spread in a special Christmas Double Number of The Illustrated London News on December 22, 1860. Still preserved in Melville’s own frame, the print, donated to the Berkshire Athenaeum by Eleanor Melville Metcalf in 1952, had an unsightly golden streak running vertically through the center of the image that has recently been ameliorated by careful restoration procedures overseen by the Berkshire Athenaeum; that streak is still faintly visible on the print itself and in the reproduction at the beginning of this entry. Once Otter saw that the print had originally appeared as a two-page spread in The Illustrated London News, he recognized that the discoloration had derived from a crease where the print had been folded in the middle when published. Beyond being reproduced in color, the essential ingredients of Read’s original 1856 drawing had remained the same. But the context in which the image was seen had changed entirely. In October 1860, the combined forces of Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi in the Battle of Naples had liberated the city from decades of Spanish rule in scenes vividly depicted by images in November 17 and 24 issues of TheIllustrated London News. The November 24 issue also announced the forthcoming Christmas Double Number with a “large and beautiful View of The Bay of Naples, printed in Colours” (484).
Samuel Read (1815-1883), an English watercolor artist, was a contemporary of Herman Melville. He was an avid traveler whose drawings appeared as illustrations in The Illustrated London News throughout his professional life, beginning in the mid-1840s. He exhibited at London’s Royal Academy annually from 1843 until 1857, when he became an associate of the Society of Painters of Water-Colours for the rest of his long life. In addition to illustrating Gothic churches and cathedrals in England, Read depicted a wide variety of picturesque views throughout Europe, including views from France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Italy that appeared in The Illustrated London News. In 1853, shortly before the start of the Crimean War, he was sent to Constantinople and the Black Sea as “the first special artist ever sent abroad by an illustrated newspaper” (“Read, Samuel”). During a visit to Naples in October 1856, Read made the drawing of The Bay of Naples that was reproduced in the Illustrated London News in November.
Herman Melville in October 1856 had sailed from New York on the voyage to the Mediterranean from which he was to return in May 1857. On November 29, when the black-and-white engraving of Read’s The Bay of Naples appeared in London, Melville was on the island of Malta after having sailed from Liverpool to Gibraltar and Algiers. From Malta, Melville embarked on a zigzag journey through the Greek islands that took him to Syra and Thessalonica on the way to Constantinople before returning through Syra to Alexandria and Cairo. By February 7, 1857, when Read’s Bay of Naples was reproduced in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine in New York, Melville had passed from Cairo through Jerusalem, Beirut, and Cyprus to Syra again. The next morning, he sailed to Piraeus and Athens before continuing to Messina and Naples. After entering the Bay of Naples at sunrise on the morning of February 18, Melville checked into his hotel, had breakfast, traveled to Pompei, climbed up Vesuvius, and got back to his hotel at midnight. Beginning the next morning, he explored Naples and its environs with his eyes, ears, legs, and imagination before leaving for Rome a week later (NN J 380-82, 101-05).
In November 1857, nine months after leaving Rome, Melville began the three-month tour in which he lectured on “Statues in Rome” to Lyceum audiences in sixteen American cities. After moderate success during his first year as a lecturer, Melville’s engagements, audiences, and receipts diminished sharply during the 1858-59 and 1859-60 seasons (NN PTO 398-423, 723-81). Again faced with an uncertain future early in 1861, he sailed in late May with his brother Thomas, now captain of the clipper ship Meteor, on a voyage around Cape Horn to San Francisco that they hoped would be extended across the Pacific Ocean to the Far East. Before sailing in May, Melville had prepared a book-length manuscript of his own poetry for publication and arranged for it to be submitted to several New York publishers. When the voyage to the Far East did not materialize, he had returned from San Francisco to New York in November only to learn that his proposed book of poems had been rejected by the publishers to whom it had been submitted. We do not have a table of contents for the proposed book of poems, but presumably it contained nearly all the poems Melville was to publish as the “Fruit of Travel Long Ago” in Timoleon in 1891.
All but one of the “Fruit of Travel Long Ago” poems featured sites or scenes Melville had seen or imagined in the Near East, Greece, or Italy during his Mediterranean voyage of 1856-57 (the one additional poem was inspired by an archaeological discovery in 1877). One of the longest of the “Fruit of Travel” poems was “Pausilippo,” whose poignant encounter with Silvio and his daughter was extracted almost verbatim from Melville’s treatment of that same encounter section 5 of the manuscript of “An Afternoon in Naples in the Time of Bomba” that was still unpublished at the time of his death. Since the “Fruit of Travel Long Ago” poems are not sufficient in themselves to fill a book-length collection of poetry, it seems likely that an early version of “An Afternoon in Naples” was part of Melville’s May 1860 submission, since it, too, related directly to his recent Mediterranean voyage (NN PP 443-451, 853).
One month after Melville returned to New York from his voyage around Cape Horn in November 1860, The Illustrated London News published the two-page color reproduction of Read’s Bay of Naples in its Christmas Double Number. We don’t know when Melville acquired his personal copy of this picturesque lithograph, but whenever it was, it would have been not only a fine reminder of the week he had spent in the city in February 1857, but a resource and inspiration for any attention he was to give to “An Afternoon in Naples in the Time of Bomba” up to the time of his death three decades later.
The most obvious evidence that Melville had not completed the final version of that poem by the time he submitted the manuscript for a book of poems in May 1860 is found in the allusion he makes to the success of Garibaldi’s “Red Shirts in “toppling . . . Bomba’s son” from throne during the remarkable insurgency that freed Naples from Spanish rule in September and October 1860 (NN BBO 202). In February 1857, when Melville was himself exploring Naples, the smoke from Vesuvius in the black-and-white engravings of Read’s Bay of Naples that had appeared in London in November 1856 and again in New York immediately before Melville arrived in Naples, could be seen as symbolizing the suppressed emotion of a city under oppressive Spanish rule that Melville was to convey in the journal entries he wrote while in the city and then to intensify in his poem about Naples “in the Time of Bomba.” By the time the color lithograph of Read’s Bay of Naples was published in The Illustrated London News in December 1860, Bomba was gone; that same smoke being emitted from Vesuvius across the bay could now be seen as expressing the city’s liberation from decades, or even centuries, of oppressive rule (seen in this way, the smoke from Vesuvius resembled that which had risen intermittently from the Vatican in Rome since the early nineteenth century to indicate whether a new Pope has as yet been selected during a Papal Conclave).
By the time Read’s color lithograph of The Bay of Naples was published in The Illustrated London News on December 22, 1860, Melville, six weeks after having returned to the East Coast from his voyage to San Francisco, would have known enough about recent developments in Italy to add the lines about Garibaldi and his “Red Shirts” having “toppled” the “son of Bomba” to the end of his poem about “Naples in the Time of Bomba.” It would have taken longer, but not much longer, for him to be able to allude, in quite a comprehensive way, to the unification of the new nation of Italy, based in Turin, headed by Victor Emmanuel II, formerly King of Piedmont-Sardinia.
Much of northern Italy had been unified in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859 in which the forces of Emperor Napoleon III of France had aided those of Victor Emmanuel in Piedmont-Sardinia in driving the occupying Austrian army from all of northern Italy except the Venetian lands to the east. This expansion had eventually extended to the smaller kingdoms and Papal states in central Italy by the time Garibaldi and his fellow insurgents had defeated the Spanish rulers of Sicily and began marching up through southern Italy to Naples. After Garibaldi and his troops had fought the indecisive Battle of Voturno in early October against troops of the “son of Bomba” (who had fled from Naples to Capua, halfway between Naples and Rome), Victor Emmanuel had attacked Capua form the north to assist Garibaldi in ridding all southern Italy of Spanish control. When Garibaldi conceded all ruling authority for the newly united nation to Victoria Emmanuel (as was already reported in an editorial in the November 24 issue The Illustrated London News), it was only a matter of time, thanks to the resourceful statesmanship of Cavour, then prime minister of Sardinia, that Victor Emmanuel was ratified as the first King of a united Italy on March 17, 1861, with Cavour as his prime minister.
All these developments are amply alluded to in the opening section of “At the Hostelry,” the companion poem to “An Afternoon in Naples at the Time of Bomba” that Melville was also still revising at the time of his death in 1891. Some elements of this opening section could not have been added until the actual ratification of the new nation in March 1861, followed by the official annexation of Venice in 1866 and of the city of Rome in 1870. Many of the other elements would have been known to Melville by the time the colored lithograph of The Bay of Naples was published in London in late December.
In the opening lines of the poem, Naples is depicted as “long in chains / . . . Till Savoy’s red-shirt Perseus flew / And cut that fair Andromeda free” (NN BBO, pp. 149-52, lines 10-15). The next section explains that the news that Garibaldi’s forces, after “Trampling the royal lines massed” in Sicily, had crossed over to the Italian mainland had been enough to “rout King Fanny, Bomba’s heir / Already stuffing trunks and hampers” to flee (lines 18-32). The rest of the opening section of the poem celebrates the way the various principalities, kingdoms, national, and papal states known as Piedmont-Sardinia, the two kingdoms of Sicily, Mantua, Parma, Umbria, the Papal States, and eventually Venice had been brought together under “one state, one flag, one sword, one crown” by the statesmanship of Cavour (line 90). The military, political, and diplomatic achievements led by Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel, and Cavour had in combination made possible primary cultural achievement that Melville was to celebrate throughout the rest of “At the Hostelry”: “Art’s Holy Land redeemed” (line 70).
If Melville had returned to Italy any time after March 1861, he would no longer have had to pay such close attention to the maze of multi-colored lines he or someone else had drawn to designate the various nation states and principalities on the fold-out map in the back of the copy of Valery’s Travels in Italy he acquired in Florence in March 1857 (see figure 2 in our Introduction to Italian Renaissance Artists, immediately before CAT 106). In March 1861, Melville did indeed wish to return to Italy. With no audience for any other lectures he might wish to deliver on the Lyceum circuit, no ready audience for any new novels or short stories he might dream of writing, no publisher for the book of poems he had hoped to publish, and no prospects for gainful employment in the small town of Pittsfield, he had decided, with the encouragement of his father-in-law Chief Justice Shaw, to seek out a consular appointment overseas such as the one Nathaniel Hawthorne had held Liverpool. The most likely path for such an appointment was through Charles Sumner, the United States Senator from Massachusetts who was finally occupying his office again after having nearly been beaten to death on the Senate floor by Preston Brooks of South Carolina in 1856. Sumner was now chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs under the newly elected Republican president Abraham Lincoln and his voice would have a strong influence in future consular appointments. Melville desired above all else an appointment in Florence, Italy, a city so richly saturated in art, literature, and history.
After a well-coordinated campaign by an impressive variety of friends, colleagues, and extended family, Melville left for Washington, D. C., on March 23 with the hope of a face-to-face interview with Sumner himself. After attending sessions of the Senate twice, shaking the hand of Abraham Lincoln in a quickly moving line at a reception the newly elected president held for the general public at the White House, and waiting several days for an opportunity to meet with Senator Sumner, he was able to see him in person on the morning of March 28, just as he was hearing from his wife Elizabeth that her father Lemuel Shaw was very ill. After writing a short note to Sumner indicating that he would have to leave town the next morning, Herman arrived home just in time to find that Judge Shaw had already died. Sumner did recommend Melville the next day for a consular appointment in Glasgow or Manchester, but those did not materialize (Leyda, 2:636-39). Herman Melville spent the last thirty years of his life in the United States. Any further trips to Italy, and there would be many, would be in imagination and in retrospect.
Melville’s copy of the color lithograph of The Bay of Naples, whenever he acquired it, was an ideal vehicle for retrospection. This printed image is a time capsule depicting Naples as Melville himself had seen it. Inspired by Read’s visit to Naples four months before Melville arrived in February 1857, this image amplifies and enriches our experience not only of Naples itself but of the impressions Melville’s recorded in his journal during his one week in the city and later incorporated into "An Afternoon in Naples in the Time of Bomba." Read provides for us a pictorial panorama of the “curved volcanic shore” (from the Virgilian section of Melville’s poem) whose “magnificent amphitheatre” (from Valery’s description in Travels in Italy) shaped every element of Melville’s visit to the city.
Read’s color lithograph first fixes the viewer’s attention on Pausilippo, the “hill” that “laves its feet / In Naples’ bay” in Melville’s unpublished poem, visited by Melville himself on his third and fifth days in city. On the “verge” of this hill, Melville staged the touching encounter with Silvio and his daughter not only in the poem he published as “Pausilippo” but in the unpublished “An Afternoon in the Naples” from which it was extracted. Calling up the deep history and most sacred relics of this same hill, he then summoned up the living spirit of Virgil himself, “here inurned on this Pausilippo,” to accompany him now “on the slope that pledges ease to pain,” much as Dante had invoked Virgil to ease his own purgatorial journey (NN PP 184-87).
Moving up the mountain on the left side of Read’s image, we pass the ominous fortress of the Castle of Elmo to which Melville had ascended directly after leaving Virgil’s Tomb on Pausilippo on his second day in town. Beyond the Castle, we reach Capo di Monte, the top of the mountain overlooking the entire city. Melville visited the Church and Cathedral of Januarius at Capo de Monte on his second and fourth days in the city before descending into the narrow streets taking him to the broad expanse of the shore. From a square in the city on the second day, he had a “magnificent” view of Vesuvius “smoking”; after nightfall, he visited the famed San Carlo Opera House on the Strada di Toledo, the main thoroughfare in Read’s lithograph (see our discussion of the San Carlo Opera House in the entry for CAT 15). Melville’s more deliberate descent from Cape di Monte on his fourth day in the city inspired the contrast between the acrobat dancing on his hands and the soldiers bursting through arches with which he was to symbolize the tensions within the city in “An Afternoon in Naples” (101, 103).
Moving deeper and higher in Read’s image, far beyond the “curved volcanic shore” of the city itself, our eye is drawn up to the top of Vesuvius, the live volcano that was only a “dim mass” when Melville first saw it when approaching the city from out in the sea at daybreak. On the afternoon of the same day, he saw the “red and yellow . . . flare of flame” within the crater after traveling all the way out to the volcano and climbing over its rim after his visit to Pompei (101).
Beyond the slope of Vesuvius on the right side of the lithograph, the hills descend gracefully to Sorrento, the destination of Melville’s excursion on the fifth day. There, after a “grand drive” through “broad sweeps and curves,” he reached “Tasso’s house,” admiring “the beauty of site on cliffs overlooking the sea” (104). In Read’s lithograph, we can imagine the site of those cliffs somewhere near one of those clusters of white buildings along the shore. One can imagine Melville invoking the spirits of both Tasso and Virgil as he looked back across the Bay from the cliffs on which one was born to the hill on which the other was “inurned,” adding his own living spirit to the imagined discourse between them.
Coming back across the broad expanse of the bay from Sorrento to Naples in Read’s depiction of the scene, passing the most distant of the boats whose white sails Melville invariably pointed out to his granddaughter Eleanor, our eye follows the curving shoreline of Naples itself all the way back around to the “hill” that “laves its feet / in Naples’ bay” in Melville’s poem.
The text that accompanied the black and white engraving of Read’s The Bay of Naples, from Posilipo in 1856 returned to that same hill for its final view of “the Bay of Naples from the Tomb of Virgil.” One imagines its evocative words are from Samuel Read himself: “It was a fine October evening when the sketch was made. The smoke from Vesuvius was strongly defined on the blue canvas of the sky, a lateen sail slumbered here and there upon the water, and the gulls which hovered between us and the sea looked like flies in crystal” (“View in Naples,” 544).
Four months later Herman Melville was seeing the same smoking volcano, some of the same lateen sails, and maybe even some of the same seagulls on a fine evening in February. Three decades after that, every time he would return with his granddaughter Eleanor from one of their walks in the city, he would point with his cane to his “colored engraving of The Bay of Naples, its still blue dotted with tiny white sails,” always asking her to notice the “little boats sailing hither and thither” (Metcalf, Cycle and Epicycle, 282). Melville's copy of the print currently at the Berkshire Athenaeum (with which this entry begins) has faded substantially by exposure to light since it was first published in The Illustrated London News in December 1860. The copy reproduced below is closer in color to the print as Herman and Eleanor would have seen it in the entrance hall of the house on East 26th Street (fig. 2; see Otter and Wallace, fig. 4).
Figure 2. Samuel Read. The Bay of Naples. In The Illustrated London News, December 22, 1860. Collection of Samuel Otter.
Those special moments Eleanor had with her grandfather speak to Hazlitt’s observation that “there are only three pleasures in life pure and lasting . . . books, pictures, and the face of nature.” So does the fact that we know of those moments only from Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle, the book Eleanor published about him in 1953, sixty-two years after his death and one year after she had given nearly three hundred of his engravings, including this colored one in a frame, to the Berkshire Athenaeum.