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Saunterings - Fascination Post by :why97 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :3709

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Saunterings - Fascination

There are three places where I should like to live; naming them in the inverse order of preference,--the Isle of Wight, Sorrento, and Heaven. The first two have something in common, the almost mystic union of sky and sea and shore, a soft atmospheric suffusion that works an enchantment, and puts one into a dreamy mood. And yet there are decided contrasts. The superabundant, soaking sunshine of Sorrento is of very different quality from that of the Isle of Wight. On the island there is a sense of home, which one misses on this promontory, the fascination of which, no less strong, is that of a southern beauty, whose charms conquer rather than win. I remember with what feeling I one day unexpectedly read on a white slab, in the little inclosure of Bonchurch, where the sea whispered as gently as the rustle of the ivy-leaves, the name of John Sterling. Could there be any fitter resting-place for that most, weary, and gentle spirit? There I seemed to know he had the rest that he could not have anywhere on these brilliant historic shores. Yet so impressible was his sensitive nature, that I doubt not, if he had given himself up to the enchantment of these coasts in his lifetime, it would have led him by a spell he could not break.

I am sometimes in doubt what is the spell of Sorrento, and half believe that it is independent of anything visible. There is said to be a fatal enchantment about Capri. The influences of Sorrento are not so dangerous, but are almost as marked. I do not wonder that the Greeks peopled every cove and sea-cave with divinities, and built temples on every headland and rocky islet here; that the Romans built upon the Grecian ruins; that the ecclesiastics in succeeding centuries gained possession of all the heights, and built convents and monasteries, and set out vineyards, and orchards of olives and oranges, and took root as the creeping plants do, spreading themselves abroad in the sunshine and charming air. The Italian of to-day does not willingly emigrate, is tempted by no seduction of better fortune in any foreign clime. And so in all ages the swarming populations have clung to these shores, filling all the coasts and every nook in these almost inaccessible hills with life. Perhaps the delicious climate, which avoids all extremes, sufficiently accounts for this; and yet I have sometimes thought there is a more subtle reason why travelers from far lands are spellbound here, often against will and judgment, week after week, month after month.

However this may be, it is certain that strangers who come here, and remain long enough to get entangled in the meshes which some influence, I know not what, throws around them, are in danger of never departing. I know there are scores of travelers, who whisk down from Naples, guidebook in hand, goaded by the fell purpose of seeing every place in Europe, ascend some height, buy a load of the beautiful inlaid woodwork, perhaps row over to Capri and stay five minutes in the azure grotto, and then whisk away again, untouched by the glamour of the place. Enough that they write "delightful spot" in their diaries, and hurry off to new scenes, and more noisy life. But the visitor who yields himself to the place will soon find his power of will departing. Some satirical people say, that, as one grows strong in body here, he becomes weak in mind. The theory I do not accept: one simply folds his sails, unships his rudder, and waits the will of Providence, or the arrival of some compelling fate. The longer one remains, the more difficult it is to go. We have a fashion--indeed, I may call it a habit--of deciding to go, and of never going. It is a subject of infinite jest among the habitues of the villa, who meet at table, and who are always bidding each other good-by. We often go so far as to write to Naples at night, and bespeak rooms in the hotels; but we always countermand the order before we sit down to breakfast. The good-natured mistress of affairs, the head of the bureau of domestic relations, is at her wits' end, with guests who always promise to go and never depart. There are here a gentleman and his wife, English people of decision enough, I presume, in Cornwall, who packed their luggage before Christmas to depart, but who have not gone towards the end of February,--who daily talk of going, and little by little unpack their wardrobe, as their determination oozes out. It is easy enough to decide at night to go next day; but in the morning, when the soft sunshine comes in at the window, and when we descend and walk in the garden, all our good intentions vanish. It is not simply that we do not go away, but we have lost the motive for those long excursions which we made at first, and which more adventurous travelers indulge in. There are those here who have intended for weeks to spend a day on Capri. Perfect day for the expedition succeeds perfect day, boatload after boatload sails away from the little marina at the base of the cliff, which we follow with eves of desire, but--to-morrow will do as well. We are powerless to break the enchantment.

I confess to the fancy that there is some subtle influence working this sea-change in us, which the guidebooks, in their enumeration of the delights of the region, do not touch, and which maybe reaches back beyond the Christian era. I have always supposed that the story of Ulysses and the Sirens was only a fiction of the poets, intended to illustrate the allurements of a soul given over to pleasure, and deaf to the call of duty and the excitement of a grapple with the world. But a lady here, herself one of the entranced, tells me that whoever climbs the hills behind Sorrento, and looks upon the Isle of the Sirens, is struck with an inability to form a desire to depart from these coasts. I have gazed at those islands more than once, as they lie there in the Bay of Salerno; and it has always happened that they have been in a half-misty and not uncolored sunlight, but not so draped that I could not see they were only three irregular rocks, not far from shore, one of them with some ruins on it. There are neither sirens there now, nor any other creatures; but I should be sorry to think I should never see them again. When I look down on them, I can also turn and behold on the other side, across the Bay of Naples, the Posilipo, where one of the enchanters who threw magic over them is said to lie in his high tomb at the opening of the grotto. Whether he does sleep in his urn in that exact spot is of no moment. Modern life has disillusioned this region to a great extent; but the romance that the old poets have woven about these bays and rocky promontories comes very easily back upon one who submits himself long to the eternal influences of sky and sea which made them sing. It is all one,--to be a Roman poet in his villa, a lazy friar of the Middle Ages toasting in the sun, or a modern idler, who has drifted here out of the active currents of life, and cannot make up his mind to depart.

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