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Title: Sterminator Vesevo (Vesuvius the great exterminator)
Author: Serao, Matilde
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             MATILDE SERAO


                   (Vesuvius the great Exterminator)

                 Diary of the eruption of April 1906.

[Illustration: LOGO]

                      FRANCESCO PERRELLA, EDITOR


                        Naples--Print A. TRANI.

_In translating this book by Matilde Serao, I have felt as if none of
its beautiful local colour, of its warmly felt and vivid description
should be altered by an attempt on my part to give to its pages a
perfect English intonation. One thing would have been, unavoidably,
the loss of the other, as no language can render in all its truth and
form, the warm and deep expression of southern Italian imagination and
sentiment. Thus, this diary retains the deep impression of the moment
in which it was written, while the bold strokes of colour and the
tender pathos of some of its pages, bring, once more forward to public
admiration, the brilliant name of Italy foremost woman writer, Matilde

                             _the translator_
                                            L. H.

Friend and reader,

Do not ask of these pages the prestige of art or the fascination of
stile. They were written day by day, with a trembling heart, and with
an emotion that often caused the pen to drop from the hand of the tired
and distressed writer. They were written, each night on returning from
the country where the exterminating fury of the mountain had destroyed
men and things, and while still under the horror of the terrible
vision. Thus, rather than a cold literary dissertation, my reader,
you will find in these pages, the simple, deep and tragic story of
the eruption, witnessed by my own mortal eyes. You will find tales
of heroic people, and noble deeds which deserve to be recalled and
exalted. My friend and reader, these are pages of sorrow and distress,
and they are written with a sincere heart. Nothing else.

                                Naples--May 1906.

                                           MATILDE SERAO


[Illustration: DECORATION]

It all happened very suddenly, just about half past two, while the
last smart equipages were hurriedly driving to the Campo di Marte.
In a moment a huge brownish cloud, pushed by the wind, arose from
Vesuvius, spreading all over the sky, hiding the white light of the
day, darkening the sun. An immense cloud which wrapped all the mountain
in a black thick smutty shade, and fell dark and menacing on the green
carpet of the race-ground, and on the brilliant gathered crowd. A
strange curious, indescribable spectacle it was indeed, bringing to
mind, as through an extraordinary vision, the feast-day when Pompei
was destroyed and the people were crowding at the Circus. A spectacle
both powerful and mysterious, with the strange contrasting effect of
the select and gay crowd merrily circulating, on the spacious grounds.
Then, all at once, to everybody's wonder, cinders began to fall,
quite a rain of fine dusty ashes, gradually increasing into a regular
shower. A whole array of elegant sun-shades were soon spread-open, and
a general transformation took place all around. Ladies' white dresses
became grayish almost black, dark clothes took instead a lighter almost
whitish hue, white hats looked as if powdered all over, while all the
roses, the innumerable roses on the hats were thickly spread with
ashes, as if the «memento homo quia pulvis es», had been pronounced
on them. Tears brought on by the caustic rain were in everybody's
eyes, though, all smiled fearlessly and gayly. The Duchess of Aosta's
black dress looked as if a gray gauze had been spread over it; every
man, every officer, the most elegant young men, the smartest sportsmen
were not to be recognised. As for the beaver hats, their condition
was indescribable. And ashes, ashes on the coaches, on the autos, on
the houses, ashes everywhere! At a certain moment however, the wind
changed, the heavy cloud became lighter, the sun took leave from the
dying day, and the pale azure sky smiled again on us. And nothing could
be then more curious to look at, than all those people, all those
equipages, all that scenery, bearing the signs of a strange and rare
telluric phenomena. Yet, with the exception of servants, chambermaids,
and coachmen, who naturally had hard work on hand brushing, washing and
cleaning everything, nobody seemed preoccupied. As for the undersigned,
a victim of her duty, while she is writing, ashes are falling thickly
over her hair, shoulders, paper, and every object around her.

  April 1906.


All night long, hour after hour, we have had more and more alarming
news from Vesuvius, and a rain of cinders in the late night, has
increased the terror in everybody's mind and heart. The morning is
profoundly sad with its still dark sea, with all the streets so black,
with that strange sense of anxiety and surprise, among those we meet.

The duke of Aosta has set off for Boscotrecase, Cardinal Prisco has
gone also there, and later, the duchess of Aosta has followed. It looks
as though a whole crowd was starting out for that town. All carriages
seem to go in the same direction, towards the Circumvesuviana station.
The tramways are loaded! What are we doing here, why don't we start
like all the others? Let us go, and see these deserted, and destroyed
countries, let us go and see Boscotrecase threatened by the monstruous
lava ready to burn it up. Let us run to see Torre Annunziata threatened
by the same, let us go to hear the desperate weeping of women, the
screams of children, the moans of the old people. In the train, in the
train, for it is too slow going by carriage. Let us go like thousand of
people have gone, in the train, since we don't possess an automobile
which could help us to fly on the main roads, way up yonder, where
destruction takes place.

In the train, in the train! It is easier said, than done. An immense
crowd of people anxious to start, are seiging the station of the
Circumvesuviana, and the most extraordinary scenes naturally happen,
since, if this beautiful and fine railroad, girdling Vesuvius, carries
generally about a thousand persons a day, it cannot transport to-day
fifty thousand. And really it has already worked wonders, due of
course, to the energy, calm, and tact of Mr. E. Rocco, and director
Ingarami. It has worked wonders, doubling and multiplying its trains
from dawn to mid-night, each of them starting with their platforms
packed, with their cars jammed with people, standing the most impetuous
assaults at every small, intermediate station. For whole bands of
foreigners, are waiting in these small stations, and they rush in to
take whatever seat they may find. Here all species of Neapolitans are
coming, the best known as the least: groups, coteries, families,
parties of friends, who like an immense human legion intend to go
to Boscotrecase. And little by little, with the young foreign girls
attired in their short excursion dresses, their hats covered with large
white veils, with the elegant and loquacious Neapolitan ladies, with
the friends and acquaintances which one meets, with the continuous
screaming and yelling, now stronger, now softer, with the most
extraordinary buzz of conversation, the sense of fright and anguish
gradually dies away. The big cloud of ashes which wrapped us up in the
beginning of the trip, disappears after Bellavista, the sky is getting
clearer, and of a delicate azure colour. In the train people begin to
joke, and at S. Giorgio a Cremano, a whole company of young girls,
jesting and laughing, gets up in our train. And now this immense
torrent of humanity running towards Boscotrecase, looks almost like a
large pleasure excursion. One would think that merry and thoughtless
life had had the best of fright. And what fright! The main-road going
from Torre Annunziata to Boscotrecase, is getting dark, almost black
with carriages and automobiles. One of these is coming down from
Boscotrecase. There are friends in it, and the train having stopped,
we ask them what is the latest news. "The lava has stopped", they cry,
shaking their heads and shoulders as if disappointed. In the train
people are getting altogether merry.

A big crowd of people coming down, meets at Boscotrecase a still bigger
crowd going up, with a confusion of carriages, wagons, automobiles,
byciclets, all moving towards that fine country, so richly surrounded,
by farms, vines, gardens, and which seems still so calm under the
grasp of its terrible enemy. And the people coming down describe with
gesticulations, and impressive words, what they have seen not very far
off, and they look all excited as though they had witnessed a grand
and incomparable spectacle! The crowd moves on, then stands still for
some time, for there is no place for it, in the beautiful little town.
The peasants of Boscotrecase stand around the tourists, silent and
still. Nobody is crying, no sad faces are to be seen, no complaints are
to be heard, nobody asks or pretends to ask for anything. A liturgic
sound reaches our ears at a cross path off the road, and a general
silence is made in the thick crowd. A rough wooden cross appears, and
behind it, over the heads of the people, an ancient statue of S. Anne,
the protectress of Boscotrecase, the Madonna's mother. S. Anne, the
powerful old woman, as these southern people call her, is seen. This
statue must be very ancient. It has a thin face, crowned by locks of
white hair, the thoughtful face of an old woman bending down on the
fresh and young face of a little girl. The statue moving on, waves over
the crowd. It was taken out yesterday from the church of the Oratorio,
which is near B. quite close to the lava, and it has been left there,
on the very extreme spot where the lava was rapidly advancing, in the
direction of Boscotrecase. This morning, at ten o'clock, this first
lava has stopped ten meters from the statue of S. Anne, while the
other branch on the right, stopped half an hour later. Far away in the
country, five or six farm houses, abandoned two days before, have been
surrounded by it, fortunately they were empty, without even furniture
in them. But Boscotrecase is safe, and S. Anne carried in triumphal
procession, enters the town.

The women sing softly some religious verses while walking behind the
statue. There is a certain sadness in their voices. Many kneel down
and pray, men lift their hats. The old statue of the thoughtful woman,
looking calmly to her daughter, is above the crowd. Foreigners look
with interest, and the sceptic, and those who have no faith dare say
nothing, for really, the lava has stopped this morning, at a certain
distance from S. Anne, and if this fact is due to nature, these people
don't care, all they want to know is that they have been saved once
more, by the prayers of the Protectress.

Now, a priest speaks to the people, begging them to be calm and hope
in God's help. This priest is very fervent, he has been preaching and
speaking for two days, advising his people to be calm! This morning
he has spoken before the lava. The statue descends slowly towards its
church, having done its work of charity. Automobiles are rushing every
where, whips are cracking, torrents of people push on. Bosco is black,
the country is black all around, swarms of men and women rush down,
while others come up. We pass by a mound of earth accumulated there for
the purpose of deviating, if possible, the lava. Near this mound the
houses are empty, and the doors open. Perhaps this same night, their
owners, eluding the watch, will return to sleep in them. I have seen
some mattresses brought in these abandoned houses.

       *       *       *       *       *

But while we climb up towards the lava, the mouth of Vesuvius above our
heads, roars and thunders. A great column of white, gray, and black
smoke stands erect on the cone, and notwithstanding the full day light,
we see through those dark and light clouds, long flames arising as
through a veil, and showers of sparkles fall in a mass of fire around
the mouth, towards our right. The mountain thunders, and breathes as a
colossus, it sparkles terribly, dashing stones of fire, masses of fire,
rocks of fire every where.

The merriness of the trip seems subdued, and the frivolous chattering
is hushed altogether. People going towards the lava walk in awe, and
silent wonder. Every path either steep or easy, is now getting black
with people.

But in the great silence of this crowd, in that immense silence, only
the roaring of the Vulcano tells the story of this great telluric
cataclism. Are we not feeling, perhaps, the earth trembling under our
steps? The mountain lightens in flames, getting redder and redder,
more brilliant and dazzling every moment. Here in this great valley,
once formed by another eruption, here were vines, and olives grew on
old lavas of remote times, here is the lava of yesterday. Amazing
spectacle! The gigantic black mass rises powerful and straight, quite
at a few steps from us, and it looks like a dark sea petrified in its
foaming waves, a stormy black sea, magically transformed in stone or
rocky substance, a hardened, dead sea. Ah! why isn't it dead? Fire and
flames are still living within, and now and then it blazes, burns out,
shows its incandescence. Under our feet the earth is warm, but a little
further it is burning.

On the right, the other branch of the lava, the one which has still an
imperceptible movement, shows a burning furnace under its black and
rough stratus, from which masses of fire detach themselves rolling
down at our feet, while all around it, large drops of fire fall on the
ground, and gradually melt away. Wonderful sight!

Little by little, the fascination of this tremendous thing, of this
black and stony sea which once was fire and lava, which is now rock,
but still is lava, still is fire inside, seems to fascinate all of us,
even the most timid. Women, old people, children draw imprudently
near, bend over, plunge theirs sticks, their umbrellas in the furnace,
with a daring and audacity nearing madness. And Vesuvius continues to
roar quite over us. Way up go the flames of the crater, while night

Before us the brown and monstruous mass of the two still lavas, rises
frightful and menacing. Terror seems now to take hold of peasants,
gentlemen, indigens, Neapolitans, foreigners. A hush of tragedy is over
that country of tragedy, with the hardly conjured danger of this night,
and the imminent danger of to-morrow.

  April 8 1906.


Surely, there does not live a pious and tender soul who, in these days
of anguish, has not pronounced with intimate ardour, with intimate
impulse, some sacred words, imploring the mercy of God on a population
struck by such terrible calamity.

There lives not a warm soul who, under the shock of this terrible pang,
has not felt the need of appealing to a divine power of kindness and
mercy. There lives not a cold soul who has not been moved and, has not
silently asked for peace, in such a tragic misfortune.

Oh! yes. Let all tender and fervid hearts, all humble and brotherly
spirits, all creatures strong with faith and hope, firm in an
undoubtful promise, let them ask to the Lord, in every conceivable
form, the end of this tremendous punishment.

It has fallen on too many people, it has devastated too many countries,
it frightens now the most sceptic, and the most audacious. Let all
those who know, who will, who can pray, in the secret of their
consciences, of their houses, in the shadow of the churches, all,
even those who never pray, those who will not pray, let them ask of
God the end of this horrible calamity. It now weighs too heavily,
with its terrible unforeseen, with its funestous surprises, with its
more and more frightful forms, not only, on those picturesque and
thriving villages, extending from the cone down to the sea, but it
weighs on Naples, on its six hundred thousand inhabitants, and on all
the southern region. All Italy is trembling with sorrow, listening to
the fabulous and yet real story of such a great catastrophe. God of
mercy listen, listen to the prayer of all those who pour out their soul
to you, who raise their hands to you. Listen God of goodness, father
of the unfortunate, of the miserable, of the poor, of those who are
running away, grant the desolate, desperate, hopeful trusting prayers
of those who ask of you the end of this terrible cataclysm. Sinners and
innocents are begging you oh Lord of all Charities, children, women,
old people, men who have lived too much, and young ones who have not
lived enough, and together they implore you to let this tremendous
sea of fire, stones, lapillus, and ashes be stopped. They implore
you to let this lightning and thunder, these roars, these terrible
convulsions of the mountain be ended, oh Lord, ended! Thousands,
hundred of thousands of persons ask for the end of this dream of
devastation and ruin! Cries, tears, sobs reach your throne oh! Lord,
do grant the supreme grace, let this terrible destruction end. Man is
only a poor being of flesh and blood, he is weak, and his mind wonders,
and his conscience sinks. Oh Lord! oh Lord! what is happening is much
stronger than our courage and patience so unexpected and unheard as
it is, so monstrously sad, and irreparable, alas! If you don't help
us, oh Lord, your children will perish of grief, or will end in
untold anguish of despair while those who know, who want, who can pray
implore your divine mercy on Naples on this splendid coast, and on this
sublime gulf. Let all those who can think and act fight against this
destruction, let them try to master it and to render it less terrible
than it is, let the people go not only through frivolous curiosity to
the places where the scenes of the Vesuvian catastrophe in all their
horror are going on, but let them go with eyes of compassion, and earth
souls full of charity.

Do not let this visit to the squalid and deserted villages, to the
places where the black mountain of lava is advancing in waves of stone,
and in waves of fire, be a sport. Don't let it be a diversion or a
pastime to relate among friends the sensational scenes which have been
witnessed. Men of good will, women of good will, each as one may, as
one knows, as one must, put your energy, your patience and all your
virtues in a sublime effort to mitigate this calamity, to fight it,
and, at last, with the help of God and that of men, to conquer it. Let
every man find all his strength, forgetting himself and his own small,
and perhaps miserable interests, and let the sense of charity become
heroic in all those who have some will, strength, courage, and valor.

Let everybody do his own duty and even beyond his duty, and to this
terrible catastrophe will then be opposed another amount of will,
of thinking and reasoning will. Let this panic of the more cultured
classes be conquered by influential words, and by the example of all
the directing classes; let everybody sacrifice himself, from the
prince to the civil functioneer, and let each of them perform those
acts of abnegation which are the seal of human fraternity. Let cold
blood and the stubborn decision to fight the conflagration triumph,
and victory will be man's. Let this folly of lies, inventions, and
exaggerations end, and with it, this infamy of false news printed in
some papers with the sole intent to sell them. Let those who have some
heart show it by advising others to be calm, by consoling the afflicted
and the poor, and providing to their material and moral needs! Let this
heart be demonstrated by all the civic virtue which are necessary in
these terrible crisis, and this will be another way to show that they
are men, christians, and that they are all bound in a same part of joy
and sorrow.

  9th April 1906.


To day, our trip towards the countries where destruction goes on,
is much sadder and silent. Whilst on every side, from every person,
from every telephonic communication, from every telegram, the most
distracting news reach us, whilst the first impulse is that of
starting, of running there where people are suffering, where they are
agonizing with fright and sorrow, we all know that the Circumvesuviana
railway is interrupted, and we understand how difficult it is to
go there quickly, or in any useful way. A secret rage is in our
heart against this blind and brutal power on which all our arms of
civilisation fall and break, and we unwillingly resign ourselves to go
as we can, just where the lava permits us, where the eruption allows
us, where Vesuvius wishes, and no further.

We leave Naples by carriage, in the afternoon. The city has a depressed
look, and is unusually quiet. While we cross from Ponte della Maddalena
to S. Giovanni a Teduccio, the last people on the road disappear.
Only now and then an automobile passes us, but the people inside are
quite hidden under their wraps and masks. Then an old dirty char-banc
rolls by, then again a loaded tram, but nobody is laughing, nobody
is speaking. All along the streets, on the sidewalks, in the shops,
silence is getting deeper, and more intense. True it is Sunday, it
is four o'clock, the hour when people here rest, but the silence is
still more intense at Portici, and its closed villas, its closed shops,
have a singular aspect. Now and then something moving comes towards
us, directed to Naples. It is a little cart, two little carts, several
carts, all loaded with furniture, especially with mattresses. A silent
driver leads the wagon, and we turn round to look at these last people
escaping, for in these last fifteen hours everybody has been running
away with his furniture, in all directions, especially towards Naples.
These whom we meet must have been delayed in their flight, they are
worn out from exertion, and almost prostrated. Portici is deserted and
solitary, not a single woman at the window, not a person before the

Hall doors and shutters are locked, and the most absolute emptiness
and desertion reigns every where. Our mind is getting depressed, and
our sadness increases when we see the complete solitude of Resina and
Torre del Greco, the lovely little towns layed between gardens of
orange trees, and the sea. It is indeed a heart-rending squallor! The
charming towns of Portici, Resina, Torre del Greco, are now completely
abandoned, not a soul is left there. They look as dead towns, quite as
if dead and deserted since many and many years--Nobody is there to tell
us the panic, the terrible panic that has set these people flying for
safety, but we know it, we can easily imagine it since we see with our
mortal eyes, abandon and death every where. But did Resina, Portici,
and Torre del Greco, ever live? Did these windows, these doors ever
open? Were there ever people in these houses, in these streets? Like
an immense colossus the pine of smoke rises on the mountain, and
everything is shut out from our sight on account of the ashes, clouds,
and vapors filling the air. Only the lightning is visible, the thousand
flashes cutting the livid and opaque gray. And life is only there on
the mountain of horrors, whilst here nothing more is living.

                                  * *

We now wonder whether we shall still find Torre Annunziata the same
thriving town, full of energy, work, and action, Torre Annunziata
of which we are so proud, which is a glory of ours, since its life
has a great importance, and its population is good active; and very
laborious. This is our hope as we enter it. Alas! Here are some
wagons coming with furniture, and there is a sick man, an old man on
a mattress, laying in a small carriage. They are all slowly moving
towards Naples.

Yes also Torre Annunziata is dead! All the houses are closed, all the
working shops are deserted. Foundries, manufactures, establishments,
all is closed. Never could we have believed that in a single hour, in a
short hour of desperate panic, all this could have happened, and that
this town this magnificent instrument of work and industry, should be
stopped and destroyed like the pines up yonder, in the great valley of
the Oratorio at Boscotrecase.

At mid-night, the nine tenth of the population, at the terrible cry
that the lava is advancing towards the city, begin to escape. In one
single night 30,000 people have abandoned their roof, have gathered
their dear ones, their goods, and have fled to Nocera, Castellamare,
Sarno, Salerno, Naples, Calabria, Basilicata. All have fled in one
single night. But why? And how has this possibly happened? Men of
the people in silent groups, hardly answer our queries; they simply
point to a street towards which people, alighting from carriages and
autos, direct their steps. The lava is there, much nearer than that
which stopped outside Boscotrecase the other night, and which invaded
it altogether later in the night. The lava is yonder, on the livid
background, darkened by the clouds wrapping up the mountain, there
where a large white smoke arises, pushed by the wind. It is the road
which leads to Boscotrecase, the same road which day before yesterday,
while laughing and jesting, we saw full of carriages, cabs, and merry
people. Now, all is changed. From that road the lava has come down.
The great white smoke leads us, while the wind blows harder. We see
trees bending down, they are cypress, the rich cypress of the cemetery
of Torre Annunziata, one of the neatest, most poetical cemeteries I
ever saw.

And the monster is here, quite near. The lava is here, its scorching
monstruosity is here, in front of the cemetery, but somehow it has
branched out, it has not touched the ground sacred to the dead. It
comes down in deformed and grotesque waves, wide, high, incandescent on
the sides and on the edges, it has unwalled a house, it has destroyed
the railway of the Circumvesuviana but, happily, it has not touched the

A dead silence reigns among the people grouped on the low walls,
on stone piles, behind the gates, and all gaze at the lava, at the
monster, but thank heaven, the picturesque cemetery is still untouched.

But what will happen in the night what will happen to-morrow? Can't
the dead rest even under the ground, and they who will want to pray
to-morrow on the tombs of their dear ones, will they be obliged to
realize that a new mound of earth, and this time of fire, has buried
them, and their graves, for the second time.



While we run at all speed with the elegant automobile a kind friend has
lent us towards the other Vesuvian countries not touched by the lava,
but about which all kind of sad reports reach us, we hear on all sides
the same selfish expressions, the same striking, and wounding words.
Where are you going? Where do you wish to go? Are you mad? You cannot
go any farther up, there is lava, there are stones, lapillus, ashes!
That country is destroyed! The other side is surrounded! You are mad!

But though irritated, annoyed, offended by this superficial and
selfish talk, we go on, we advance towards Cercola, Sant'Anastasia, the
Madonna dell'Arco, following the tracks of the Royal Automobile, as the
king and queen have climbed up there before us, and have already come
back. We cannot believe that we may not reach Somma, or that Somma is
destroyed; we do not believe that one cannot get to Ottaiano by some
means at least, even if this pretty and rich little town is destroyed
as people with a half ironical, half resigned smile, tell us, unwilling
as they are to go, and give their help. Ah! sure, we poor writers of
human troubles can do but very little, but we want to see this sorrow
with our own eyes, we want to relate it that it might touch the heart
of people to heroism and pity, and we want to relate it just as it is,
just as it exists, by personally witnessing everything, as we have
always done.

On this road that goes to Somma, other people have passed an hour ago,
and we also want to go over it all, even through ashes and lapillus,
over the stones, just as we can, by carriage, on foot, any-way. As we
advance we begin to see all over the country around us, something like
a mantle of snow. Has it snowed on the fields, on the trees?

No, the Vesuvian ashes, with the rain and the dew, have already changed
into chlorate of ammonia, and all is now white and brilliant under the
pale rays of the sun. Here on the right, behind the mountain of Somma,
things have taken a dark, livid aspect. An immense cloud of ashes
and smoke is bending down over the hidden cone in the direction of
Torre Annunziata, Resina Portici, and night seems to reign there. Here
instead, all is clear, all is candidly white. Our automobile is now
going slower, it cracks between two deep sinks of ashes and lapillus.
The wheels are now beginning to sink, and at the first little houses
of Somma Vesuviana we stop, and ask the people if the king has passed.
Yes, yes, the king has reached Somma Vesuviana with his automobile,
and has insisted on continuing to Ottaiano, but the automobile having
been caught and sunk in the ashes and lapillus, it has been impossible
to advance. He has insisted on going on foot, but it would have been
at least a four hours' journey. The carabineers have tried to push,
the royal automobile with their arms, but without success. Then the
king has decided to go back. And now, in the great solitude of this
grand landscape, in the silence of things, we are really struck by the
idea that something terrible must have happened up there, and that the
disaster may come near being, what it was one day at Pompei!


We leave our automobile. Two other large empty ones watched by a
chauffeur, are here. One belongs to the duke of Aosta, who has come
here this afternoon with count d'Aglié and lieutenant Gaston Pagliano
proceeding with them on horseback or on foot to Ottaiano or S. Giuseppe
di Ottaiano, knee deep through ashes, stones, and lava. The other
automobile belongs to the duchess or Aosta. This brave and courageous
woman has reached this place a little later, and has gone to Ottaiano
on foot, not caring for the enormous difficulties and fatigue she
would encounter. While we are trying to imitate her, here is all the
population of pretty Somma Vesuviana around us: men, women, children,
crowding, and putting to us a thousand questions, while we, answering,
address just as many to them. Digging up the earth they show us the
three stratus forming the mound that has covered their little homes
and fields. Three stratus, a reddish one, a blackish one, and one of
stones, alas! just like Pompei. Women with babies in their arms speak
slow and low, and mournfully complain of their fate. They have, had, as
they say, three nights of hell: the first all lightning and flashes,
when their terror has been terrible, though they thought they were
protected by the great mountain of Somma, and no lava would run down on
their side. The second a night full of fright and ruination, and the
third, the one between Saturday and Sunday, when the terrible rain of
ashes, lapillus, and stones, began.

They have fled terrified through their farthest fields, way down as
possible. The most courageous have past the night in the open air, with
their children around them, trembling with fear praying, and weeping.
Next day they have been wandering around their houses, trying to free
them from the weight of the cinders and stones, helping each other,
simply resigned and abandoned to their fate, trying all the means to
conquer it. The third night, the last one, they have all slept with
their poor little ones, clasped in their arms, on the straw, in the
fields, not daring to go back into the houses.

Men and women are now looking at their buried fields, their destroyed
harvest, the heavy cinders, the heavy rocks. They look at the work of
this night which throws them in the most abject poverty and starvation,
they look over it all with eyes of calm despair, and it seem to me a
shame for the human heart that they hope nothing, and ask nothing from
the men of Naples, their brothers in God, their brothers in Jesus. They
ask nothing, because they know of obtaining nothing.

At Somma Vesuviana one man has died in Margarita street. An old man by
the name of Raffaele, known as Tuppete, He died in his bed, crushed
under the fall of his roof. Twenty or thirty houses have tumbled down
at Somma Vesuviana, one church is in great danger, the walls of another
are cracked. Men bend their heads and are silent, others sadly admit
that their misery is nothing compared to the destruction of Ottaiano
where more than one hundred and fifty people have died. Has Ottaiano
then been destroyed only by the fall of lapillus and stones? Surely
the lava cannot run on it, as the town is placed on the opposite side
of the eruption.--Have really so many people perished under this heavy
and fiery rain, while not one has perished under the lava? Is it Pompei
again? Let us go there then, if it is true.


Here we are on the road of the Croce, going step by step, with the
slowness of death, sinking deep in the ashes, and looking in vain for
a safer path. We go over it with a sense of immense oppression, not
knowing when or whether we will arrive, not knowing if our strength
will last until we get there. We meet a cart coming down. The poor
horse is already tired. It would take at least three horses to drag a
carriage through these roads now made of ashes and stones. The cart
driver tells us about the many people who have perished at Ottaiano
and shakes his head when we ask him the number. It is large, many
people were killed while praying in the Oratorio of San Giuseppe!
Crushed under the weight of our sorrow, we resume our walk on the road
of the Croce, where so few people have passed before. Only a prince of
Casa Savoia, only a daughter of the house of France and the soldiers
of Italy, the brave soldiers the good soldiers, have come this way.
What time is it when we reach Ottaiano? Who knows? Who knows anything
more about the hour, about time, about life, in these last four days?
We feel as if we had been walking for centuries in this hard, rough,
horrible street: we feel as if we had to stop at every step and rest;
at last, we reach the new Pompei, Ottaiano.

An untold horror of devastation is around us. The most beautiful as
well as the poorest houses have tumbled down under the weight of the
cinders and stones, and everywhere you see a precipice of bricks,
beams, and rocks: it is the death-like solitude of the places where
death has passed. A gentleman from Ottaiano, who has just returned
here to give some help, tells us all about the catastrophe. It seems
that the cinders have begun to fall thickly during the second night
from Saturday to Sunday, and it was then that the people, getting
alarmed, have left their houses, the exodus having started about dawn.
But in the following morning, the stones have come down thicker and
larger, rebounding and accumulating, and, at the remembrance of the
horrible scene, and the flight from Ottaiano, poor M. Cola's voice
trembles. He however, with the help of his brothers, managed to save
his mother, carrying her in his arms to Sarno where she is now, he
told us, perfectly safe. It seems that in a few minutes all the panes
of the windows were broken, people running away with chairs and tables
on their heads, to protect themselves from the rocks, others with
folded covers and pillows, shielding their heads, and shoulders. And
while they fled on every side, falling down in their haste, wounding
their hands and knees under the infernal shower of hissing rocks, the
houses at Ottaiano, were tumbling down. Poor baroness Scudieri, while
running away, must have heard the crash of her palace, and of the whole
manufacture Scudieri falling in ruins, while in the same moment on the
other side Ateneo Chierchia, and the house belonging to the brothers
Cola, just then remoderned, were falling in a heap. What struck us
as strange was how, in the midst of so great a ruination, the grand
palace of Prince Ottaiano remained untouched, standing alone and erect
as if in mute contemplation of this immense destruction.

To Nola, Sarno, Castellamare, Marigliano, people fled from Ottaiano,
and the poorest, finding no shelter, ran about the fields, and over
the whole country, as far as possible from the place of the disaster.
There must be dead people under these stones. In a house seven persons
have been buried, a whole family, and through the door we see the half
bust of a man, dead, a poor wretch who must have tried to open it,
and escape, just as many did in the catastrophe of Pompei! Beautiful
Ottaiano, the finest place in the Vesuvian comunes is, sadly to say,
destroyed for four fifth, and what remains will have to be demolished,
being quite in a dangerous condition. Poor abandoned, isolated country,
helped by nobody, left to its fate for a whole day and a half. But
for the duke of Aosta, who went there with his troops, it would have
remained in this condition with its dead and wounded for eight days
longer. And yet people are returning here and they even dare to go over
the road of the Croce. Here comes a family of peasants on an old broken
down char-à banc. The poor mother has a child clasped in her arms,
she is as pale as death! The father holds another child, four larger
ones are laying on some straw, a real human pile, sad and deserted. We
tell them not to return to Ottaiano, for their house will surely fall
on their heads. But they protest, and declare that they will sleep in
the open air, that they want to return among the ruins. The woman is
terribly pale, and the children are terrorised. Here is a tall thin old
man, coming on foot. Ah! how he weeps, how he weeps! How sad it is to
see an old man weeping. We tell him not to venture in Ottaiano, we beg
him not to go, and he excitedly exclaims: I want to see, I want to see
whether anything has remained of our country, and, he goes in almost
stumbling, disappearing into the new Pompei.


Only this formidable name can be given to Ottaiano. From that terrible
Saturday night, till the following Sunday when the first threatening
signs appeared, the church bells have been ringing madly and everybody
has started to pray.

The fall of ashes increasing and getting quite menacing, Rev. parson
Luigi d'Ambrosio has requested the population to meet in the church of
the Oratorio of San Giuseppe. How many were they? Three-hundred? Yes,
perhaps three-hundred. The bells continued to ring desperately, as in
a frantic appeal, the ashes fell thicker and thicker, down bounded the
stones accumulating heavily everywhere, and crushing every thing. All
at once, with a tremendous roar, down comes the roof of the church
crushing and killing all those who were under it praying. Perhaps
hundred or eighty people have escaped, running away mad with terror,
and among these, fortunately, the Rev. parson d'Ambrosio has saved his

But from one hundred to one hundred and twenty persons have been
crushed and asphyxiated under the rocks and beams of the old church,
and by the enormous quantity of ashes which have buried them. And yet,
while they are taken out by our brave and intrepid soldiers, we realize
that most of these poor victims, have really died from suffocation.

The women are many, and many are the children. But behold! Here comes
the woman of all goodness and tenderness, here comes the Duchess of
Aosta, led by her tender heart to this country of death. She bends over
the corpses and is piously praying over them.

Then she goes towards a tent where the wounded people have been
taken, and speaks kindly to them, encouraging and helping them. How
many are the corpses already drawn out from the ruins at S. Giuseppe
of Ottaiano? Sixty? There are some more. How many are the wounded?
Twenty, thirty? The soldiers are still searching and more will be
found. As for the people remaining, they are frightened to death from
the shock, we must give them bread, and shelter. This, this is really
the country of death! There, where the lava has passed, people have
fled, where showers of mud have fallen, people have been able to
escape, where there has been great danger, help has been brought, like
at Boscotrecase, Torre Annunziata, Resina, Torre del Greco, but here,
at Ottaiano, at S. Giuseppe, in this great solitude and abandon, the
terrible host, death, has passed.

  April 10th 1906.


We shall see, we must see, it is our duty to see later, but not too
late, who have been the cowards, the depraved, the stupid men who have
dishonored humanity with their cowardice, with their vileness, with
their stupidity, in this horrible catastrophe.

More especially those who have been discharging public and
administrative duties, and have abandoned their posts even when there
was no danger. Those cowards who did not go where their functions
called them, giving all kind of pretexts or excuses, and prudently
locking themselves up in their houses. Those cowards who, having the
greatest duties of civic courage to fulfil, have tried to blame others'
courage and valor in order to retain the respect of the public. Let all
these, and the soonest possible, that is, as soon as this devastation
is finished, let all these cowards be denounced to public opinion!
We have already heard many of their names, later on more will be
called out, and every body will know who are those who muffled their
conscience in this terrible plight, and neglected their duties. And
we shall also speak of those who have been so degenerated as to turn
to their advantage this calamity unexpectedly fallen on an innocent
people, and among these speculators of all kind, we shall also place
those newspaper men who have set the greatest panic among the people,
printing continually false news, increasing (and there was no need of
it!) the proportions of this tremendous catastrophe, simply for the
greed of selling their papers, the consequences of which have been of
the greatest damage to the poor people of those communities, not only,
but have made a terrible impression on Naples especially, destroying
its very life! We shall not spare either those foolish individuals who
seem to add to all calamities by their stupidity, who fall among us
like a punishment of God, nor those who prevent willing people from
working, or acting, in fact who are a real disaster to humanity. And
yet it looks as if, of disasters, we had had more than our share! We
will speak of all this but not just now, it is not quite time to settle
our accounts, we must wait for this terrible conflagration to end!
Then all those who have been miserably vile, who have been mercenary
and stupid, all these people, real calamity of calamities, must be
called before a moral tribunal, and must be branded forever before the

Not now! The moment of their judgement will come, must come!

                                  * *

But what must not be delayed another moment, is the proclamation,
before our whole country, before the world, of those who have been the
heroes of this scene of horror and despair.

The soldiers have been the heroes, the soldiers are the heroes!
From the first of them, Emanuele Filiberto of Savoia, high minded,
noble hearted man, from this duke of Aosta to whom is due all the
organization of rescue, and of forder, from this worthy nephew of
Victor Emanuel the great king, from this very worthy nephew of Umberto
of Savoia, who twenty-two years ago, in the hospitals of Naples,
helped and tendered the people dying from cholera, from this Emanuele
Filiberto, who is tenderly loved and admired, to the humblest, to the
most modest of soldiers, they only and alone have been the heroes of
this terrible eruption. Not only heroes of courage, but of untiring
activity, not only of impulse but of faithfujness, not only heroes
before danger, but before fatigue, privations and sacrifice.

Everything has been done by these brave soldiers in these last five
days, beginning with the duke of Aosta, who has had no rest, going
every where calm and silent, without pomp, without blague, without any
useless talking, giving the most efficacious orders with the kindest
manners, resolution, and firmness, to general Tarditi the illustrious
man, the great soul of soldier, full of talent, culture, and valor,
down to all the other officers to all the other soldiers. They have
defied and conquered the lava, and lapillus, going always ahead there
where duty called them. They have looked for the dead and the wounded
among the ruins, and they have buried the corpses with their own
hands. They have demolished the tumbling houses and built straw-huts
for those who were running away: they have divided their bread, yes,
their bread, these dear soldiers, with the peasants and women, with the
children: they have kept long watches in the most dangerous places;
they have given the greatest help there where destruction seemed worse,
and all this has been truly heroic! Who has gone to Boscotrecase
surrounded by fire, but the soldiers? Who, has gone to Ottaiano and to
S. Giuseppe, from the very first day, when nobody had dared go there,
but the soldiers, from the duke of Aosta, the majors, the captains,
the lieutenants, to the last soldier? Who has brought bread to the
hungry, and water to the thirsty? Who has tried to free the streets,
the houses from the ashes and stones? At Ottaiano, the sister of one of
our newspaper men owes her children's life to the soldiers, who, after
having saved them, have fed them, taking the bread from their very own

At Torre Annunziata, in a desperate moment, when the lava was almost
touching the cemetery, I bent over the opening of a wooden fence which
closed a large field on which the lava was advancing, and before this
great black and red monster, the field seemed deserted! Only a soldier,
a simple soldier was there in a solitary corner. There he stood before
the lava advancing near him: he was there alone, perhaps to keep the
little fence from being broken down by the frivolous curiosity of the
crowd. Here in the barracks the soldiers are sheltering those who are
running away, giving them food and courage, and with the same courage
and heart, they gather to them all lost children. Oh unknown heroes! oh
our own heroic brothers! oh! our heroic own sons, here through you, the
honor of humanity is saved. For you we are still left to believe that
the most admirable virtues can still live in the heart of men. Oh you
heroes before life and death, heroes for valor and for goodness, you
great heroes from your young leader to the generals and officers, all
of you martyrs and heroes, our own salvation, our own strength, our own
glory, our soldiers!

  11th April 1906.


Very Eminent Prisco, archbishop of Naples, sitting on the mystic throne
where the great pious soul of Sisto Riario Sforza shone of deepest
faith, where the simple and kind soul of Guglielmo Sanfelice shone with
the tenderest religious charity, you, whose loving heart as a minister
is certainly aching, you who have already spoken to the people and
to the clergy in the name of Christ, you who have already helped and
promoted help, look very Eminent Prisco, our archbishop of Naples, look
at the despair of the people of Naples. The calamity which strikes
us all, more or less, is indeed tremendous! But its aspect above all
has something so dreadfully threatening, to fill even the coldest and
most courageous, with a sense of apprehension and awe. These immense
clouds now gray, now livid, now reddish now black, towering over our
heads, stretching from Vesuvius till here, covering the sea, the city,
hiding the sun, darkening the air, these clouds, which will later fall
in a long and heavy shower of cinders, these clouds which science and
experience declares perfectly innocent it is true, and which enfold
the whole city, oppressing it, and giving it such gloomy look, are
terrifying, and frightening every body.

In the first days of the disaster, Neapolitans have maintained their
usual calm and serenity, but now terror has stricken the most,
and has almost grown into a frenzy. We know, of course, that all
these phenomena are more terrible in their appearance than in their
substance, but the lower classes don't know this, and don't wish to
know it, and their fear assumes now a furious dangerous character.

Through the papers we can do nothing, as the people don't read us, and
generally do not know how to read us, neither can Government notices
stuck on the city walls have any effect on them, since they cannot
read them. And yet they seem to go mad, to lose complete control of
themselves, they cry, scream, run madly, they yell, they don't pray
anymore before the images of saints and madonnas. They have the despair
of the child, of the savage, and this very frenzy is a rapid contagion
rendering life more desolate and difficult before this calamity.

All the most terrible instincts give way before this mad terror. We
tremble at this new coming danger, and see no way to conquer it.

                                  * *

You, our dear bishop must conquer it. You must speak to the people once
more, and with a calm and firm word, tell them that their life is in
no danger, that they have nothing to fear from these black clouds sent
by the eruption, from the ashes which fall on the streets and on the
houses. Call your clergy, and tell them to speak to the people, in the
churches, in the chapels, in the congregations, in the sacristies. The
priests of Naples are all very kind, they are quite near to the people
for their virtues of Christian simplicity, and humility: they know how
to make the people love them by the gentleness of their manners, and by
that fatherly familiarity which is such treasure among us. Set these
priests, rectors, parsons, speak to the people, especially in this
holy week, when sacred services are so frequent, when, oftener than
ever, people go to church. Let the rectors, the parsons and all these
men of holy moral authority, say to them that they must be calm, and
serene, that there is no fear of death, that nobody will die under the
lapillus, under the ashes, and that all these screams and moans are not
acceptable to God, nor to his saints. Let those who always speak to
the people from the altar, from the pulpit, from, the confessional,
from the sacristies, speak now, using all that influence they possess
to control the soul of the most ignorant obscure. Let religion glorify
itself in this civilised work of peace in the minds of this population.
Let yourself and your clergy have the merit as Christian and as
Neapolitan citizen, to calm this delirium of fright and give back
tranquillity to all this population in confusion. Repeat, repeat to
these poor people, that for them and their families no danger is to be
feared, and people will believe it. Let this noble and great, work be
one of those beautiful and glorious social events, of which religion
has always been and is always capable when any misfortune has befallen
to this city. Neapolitan people are accused of being superstitious
and are despised for this: Be it your work and that of the clergy to
demonstrate that only faith in its civil form, in its form of high
moral beauty, can accomplish certain moral miracles where no other
power of mind can reach.

  April 12th 1906.


Women of Naples whose heart knows how to beat for all great, noble,
beautiful things, oh! women of Naples, possessing fervently and
efficaciously the great virtue of piety, women of Naples, always kind
and tender, whatever be your condition, either brilliant or obscure,
whatever be your fortune, great or modest, whether God has granted you
the supreme goods of life, or whether your life runs its simple and
shaded course, you to whom the unfortunate ones never turn in vain,
to whom the words of Christ, "who gathers to him a poor man, gathers
me", are a law of the heart, oh! women of Naples, look around you,
and see how thousands and thousands of poor unfortunate beings, men,
women, and children, your own brethren in Christ, have been stricken
down by this tremendous calamity. They had a home and they have been
obliged to flee from it not to remain buried under its ruins: they had
an orchard and it is gone, they had a field and it is all buried under
the stones, they had work and they cannot work anymore, they had some
kind of industry, and all this is gone! They are poor, exiled people,
escaping for life, and notwithstanding all help, notwithstanding the
great impulse of charity, they are too many, they are all a population
of poor people, of starving people of naked people, and more must be
done for them. Each of you women, either rich or poor, must open her
arms and heart to these poor miserable creatures. For even if they
have a shelter, they are often without any bed; if they have a bed,
they are perhaps without bread or without clothes. Women, Neapolitan
women, let your help be given in all the possible forms and ways,
gather up to your heart these poor unfortunate beings, just as if
they represented the figure of Christ, and be generous to them in the
kindest and noblest of charities. Look after these poor people, they
are everywhere, in every public institution, at Granilis, barracks
at the Albergo dei Poveri, and we cannot do all for them, if you
Neapolitan women don't give your part in bread, in clothes, in all that
is needed to feed a poor man, and to shelter him from cold. Neapolitan
women, good Christians, in these days of mourning, be a heavenly smile
to these poor unfortunate ones. Good Christian women celebrate this
Easter in the closest brotherhood with those who suffer.

                                  * *

Have you heard? In Granilis barracks from three thousand to three
hundred people from the Vesuvian comunes, have been sheltered, and
among them there is an immense number of terrified and sorrowful
women, and little children. There are a great many, perhaps thousand
poor little creatures escaped from death in their mothers' arms,
in the terrible nights when the storm of cinders, stones, and fire
was at its worst.--The noble impulse of the soldiers there, works
wonders, and the 19th infantry is certainly first in this noble and
generous hospitality.--In this barrack, the people who escaped from
the conflagration have shelter and food, and colonel Belluzzi, and his
officers are entirely given to this high work of charity. But these
poor people have no clothes to change, and the children especially are
almost in a naked condition. What can these poor soldiers and officers
do to clothe these destitute children? It is your task, Neapolitan
women, now that you know it to gather up from your house all the coats,
dresses, linen covers, all that is superfluous, and send it to the
miserable people at Granilis barracks. You all have girls and boys, and
your children have plenty of clothes they don't wear any more. Give
them to these unfortunate ones, to these babies who are dear to their
mothers as yours are to you! Gather up everything you can, bundle it
up and send it all to the barracks. All will be useful, everything is
useful. Also they who have no money to give, have a dress, a shift, a
pair of shoes to dispose of, and thus you also, if you are not rich,
can show your heart in this useful and simple way. Great committees are
a great thing, but their work is too slow for too many reasons! Without
committees, without signing subscriptions, give your motherly charity,
give bread and clothes, let it go from your hand to other hands, from
heart to heart, at once, just as Christ has prescribed. And in doing
this noble work, you Neapolitan women, will feel your soul expand with
emotion and tenderness thinking that each of those little creatures
you will dress with your own children's clothes is a little unknown
brother to them, and you will bless God to have been able to perform
one of the noblest and highest works, one of the highest duties which
belongs to our soul.

  April 12th 1906.


A few hours after this paper will have reached your hands, my readers,
you will hear, in the morning air a sound from afar, or perhaps near,
a light and touching sound. And even if in that moment you are quite
taken up by thoughts of interest and pleasure, by the cares of a long
day, you will start, and a whole crowd of remembrances, perhaps of
hopes, will spring out from your heart living in the past, and filled
with illusions. Thus the Easter bells, those which Wolfgang Goethe, the
poet of poets loved and exalted, those which touched the heart of old
Faust, the Easter bells, grave and soft at the same time, will tell you
that a whole anniversary of sorrow has started and closed, and that
a new spring, spring of triumph has appeared in a glory of light and
perfumes, in the large and pure horizons where the spirits live. Never
before as in this year did the holy week look so dark and sad to all
hearts, for it was marred by the desperate cry of those who ran away
under the shower of burning stones, by the missing of many frightened
children, under the black threatening sky full of flashes and
lightnings. Never before as in this week, the ancient prodigies which
surrounded with their frightful expression the death of Christ, the
flaming sky, the trembling earth, the torn veil from the Temple, seemed
to repeat themselves in all their terrible truth. And never before
as in this year, the heart of all Christians wished ardently, through
their warmest prayers, that these sad days should pass quickly away,
and that resurrection of life, peace, serenity and joy should console
human beings from the deep and terrible things they had experienced.
How much sweeter, this morning, in the distance, will these Easter
bells ring for us all, announcing to us, as a particular grace, the end
of a conflagration that has troubled us so much, and brought so many
bitter tears to our eyes. Resurrection to-day will mean also in its
symbolic and yet real language, the end of a week of passion and death,
the end of a spiritual and material tragedy which has twice oppressed
our tired and worn out souls: resurrection to-day with its slow and
subtle bell-sound will mean, to those who were agonising with dread
the return of life.

                                  * *

Well let us live again! Let this palpitating city undertake once more
its works, its fatigues, its industries, all kind of business, all
light-houses of progress: and from its hills, green in their spring
dress, not withstanding its Vesuvian cinders to its sea so wonderfully
calm, in these days let Naples live again its magnificent life!--In
every order of things let the almost dead organism resuscitate: from
the offices to the theatres, from the churches to the schools from the
banks to the tribunals, from art places to worldly centers, let Naples
resuscitate from its week of passion and death.

Let the existence of six hundred thousand inhabitants proclaim its
rights, reacting against a mortal depression, and let, in fact,
existence conquer in a better way the incommensurable damages of this
week of passion and death. Ah no! don't let us forget from one day
to the other this terrible cataclysm which only yesterday made us
tremble, and the traces of which will never, be effaced again. Don't
let us forget the dead who slept in that tremendous night, and the
living who were deprived of their roofs, bread and clothes.--But in
order to exercise the most efficacious discipline in order to be of
some relief to the hundred and fifty thousand unfortunate ones of the
Vesuvian communities, let us live again, let us think, let us wish,
act, and work. Let the authorities help with wisdom and generosity this
new life of Naples, making away with all prohibitions, making easy
all difficulties of this crisis; untangling one by one, all the knots
which obstructed our movements; and let every single citizen develope
all their activity, without obstacles, without any stumbling stones.
Let beautiful Naples resuscitate from this day, in all its beauty,
goodness, and strength, this unfortunate city which has had its night
of Chetsemane, sweating blood, but is now a stronger, younger and
greater conqueror.

Let us live again for our country for our families, and for ourselves.
Let us live again that we may help all our unfortunate brothers to
live anew: let us live again in the fervor of actions in the ardor of
will towards a great good, not only in ourselves not around us only,
but beside ourselves and much farther, towards all those who suffered
unjustly and cruelly. The sad trial is finished: the hour of suffering
is gone! our soul has been soothed. Let us all live again: let us each
live for the other! and all for all.

  April 14th 1906.


How great the irony of things is! Since last Thursday the fifth of
April, when the cinders began to fall from Vesuvius, indeed, while
they were having the races at the Campo di Marte, and Naples was gay
and merry, for the last eight days our post-offices have shipped more
than four thousand wooden boxes. At first all this lot of small and
curious boxes, carefully sealed, some registered as samples of no
valour, others as postal-parcels, seemed to greatly puzzle the postal
officers. After a little the strange mystery was revealed, by opening
eight or ten of them, as they were not well closed nor well sealed.
These singular little boxes contained ashes from Vesuvius. More than
four-thousand boxes of Vesuvian dust have gone and are still going.
Irony of things!

These little boxes are sent as a strange and rare thing, to the
farthest parts of the world, even to Australia, that the people from
every part of the world, may see the Vesuvius ashes fallen over
Naples. Till Australia! But especially to England and America: And by
investigating the matter it has been seen that nearly all those who had
shipped the boxes were foreigners. Which means that all the foreigners
passing through here or established in Naples, or who had come here to
see the eruption had immediately thought of gathering this dust, put it
in little boxes, and send it to their relations, friends, lovers, and
flirts. And this has been one of the most interesting points of this
sad period: it has been a proof of the coldblood of these foreigners
who in a conflagration like this see but the curious side of things.
Four-thousand little boxes and perhaps more! And we here, feel sad
and oppressed by these cinders burying us! How much better it would
have been if the little boxes instead of four thousand had been forty
thousand! it might have been the means of lessening this danger.

  April 1906.


  Monday April 9

This has been one of the worst and saddest of the five days of tragic
anguish of things, and men. I reached Somma Vesuviana at half past
three, and the automobile which was carrying me, was obliged to stop
quite outside the town closed, and over-powered as it was by the new
strata of dust and lappillus. Then with the companions of this sad but
dutiful excursion we have gone on on foot, sinking so deeply at every
step, that fatigue seemed and was almost umbearable.--Few people
peeped out of the doors of their country houses, nearly all covered
and hidden under the ashes and lappillus, and spoke of two towns not
very near, but not far, quite destroyed; S. Giuseppe and Ottaiano.
These people told us of the dead of the many dead and wounded that
were there and insisted before our incredulity. We thought that those
poor peasants lied or exaggerated, we did not really believe it, but
we hoped it! But alas! they were right and nothing of all that had
happened there had been known, till the morning in Naples, and we
ourselves, had climbed the sad calvary, only through vague presentiment
of misfortune. It was quite true that more than three-hundred people
lay dead between Ottaiano and S. Giuseppe. We walked dumb and trembling
with deep sorrow, among stones and lappillus stopping now and then
as if exhausted. An automobile had stopped in the midst of Somma
Vesuviana, it had found it impossible to proceed, and was guarded by
a chauffeur only. Two brave carabineers roamed sadly about, and when
we asked them whose the automobile was, I was informed it belonged to
the Duchess of Aosta, who having taken her leave from their Majesties
about twelve o'clock, had gone up to Somma Vesuviana a little after
mid-day. Not having been able to proceed towards Ottaiano either by the
automobile or by carriage or horses since there were none to be had,
and quite decided to reach Ottaiano, she had started on foot, on a road
buried under ashes and lappillus, a road, which in ordinary times can
be run over in two hours, and over which she had walked at least for
four painful ones. Calm and resolute she had not hesitated a moment to
undertake that difficult walk, but had gone through the whole way in a
simple and silent manner reaching Ottaiano all alone on monday 9th
of April, where pale with emotion she had witnessed the unburying of
the first fifty dead. Then she had given all her cares and attendance
to each of the bodies, with her own charitable hands with her kind and
sweet words, with the tenderest encouragement to the most unfortunate.

And till sun-set in that terrible day in which all the horror of the
conflagration seemed worst, since the catastrophe of Pompei seemed to
be renewed in Ottaiano and in S. Giuseppe, there among the dead and the
wounded stood the Duchess of Aosta helping the work of the doctors,
giving orders, and providing for all. And when night fell covering so
many funestous things, she got up on a horse, a simple carabineer's
horse and sinking deep in rocks, and stones she reached at night Somma
Vesuviana and returned to the Royal house of Capodimonte, letting
nobody know what her day and her work had been.

                                  * *

I relate this fact in its high simplicity since it does not only
testify to the goodness of this woman but to her incomparable moral
valour, since it is not only an act of charity, but from a woman, from
a lady, from a princess it is an act of heroism. And of these deeds
Elena of Aosta the daughter of the king of France, has accomplished a
great many every day in this terrible week. She has gone all about the
places where it is difficult and dangerous to go, in every place worthy
of a great soul and fibre like hers is; where men, and especially men,
have been afraid to go, she has gone bravely several times where need
was most urgent, and where storm seemed stronger, there she has gone:
and every where her steps have been usefully taken, her vivid strength
has been used for the good, her hands have helped and consoled, her
will has accomplished miracles. And do you know in what manner? Without
official notices, without any pomp, without anybody knowing it, almost
as if in secrecy. Often people have not known her, and many don't know
now that she, who has quenched the thirst and hunger of so many, she
who has helped the dying in the ruins and fire, is the descendant of S.

She has hidden herself when meeting people who could notice her, she
has always worn modest and dark clothes, and her face has been hidden
by veils, and she has withdrawn when frivolous and curious people
have tried to observe her doings. This noble woman has not found any
rest before this terrible misfortune of ours, and her work has been a
high spiritual beauty, and the modesty and silence with which she has
surrounded herself has been really sublime. And I stamp here her moral
image with humble admiration and proud to know she is a woman as I am;
and I am happy not to have to write down only in the daily news the
Duchess of Aosta wore on her white satin waist a magnificent emerald
pin; I am happy that a feminine soul in a vigorous fibre should show
the world what is the power of virtue in a woman and in a christian.
And for all those whom she has conforted really, in the terrible hour
not caring herself for dangers and unconforts, for all the wounded and
agonizing ones, for all those who weep, and were consoled by her, I
implore on her all God's blessings and may her life be sowed with all
goods, and may her children be blessed through her.


The night before Easter has been full of fright and confusion for the
people already prostrated by so many emotions.

This ringing of telephones, this continued and sudden ringing, in the
depth of night, repeated every where, in military offices, government
offices, newspaper offices, this anxious running to the telephones,
this news given with trembling voice, these brief dialogues sometimes
impetuous, sometimes sad, have been, and still are an incubus on
us all, from the general to the reporter, from the Prefect to the
municipal usher, from the director of a railway station to the firemen!
Indeed, this ringing which makes our nerves thrill in the most painful
way, the exhausted nerves of all those who have been obliged to suffer
for the last ten days, and think, and act, in the mean time, this
terrible, continued noise has not permitted us to sleep in this night
before Easter. We all have been the victims of a deathly joke, invented
by a man who, mad with terror, has made himself guilty of the lowest of

But obeying to our rigorous duty as publishers, also in this night
before Easter, and in this very Easter morning we have given, in a
very brief and simple form, without clamour or exaggeration, without
lugubrious inventions, the news which the idleness of this M. Fedele
had changed in a tolling of bells, and in a breath of death. It is
natural that Prefects, under Prefects, Commissaries of Prefecture,
should have been more than concerned, and that at head quarters they
should have kept watch all night, giving orders on all the lines,
awakening every body, and mobilitating every thing. Has not our M.
Fedele spread terror every where? Later on in that same Easter morning,
while our hearts rejoicing, especially this year when the day had
brought peace and resurrection, every body was suddenly saddened by the
spreading of this false news, not given by us, but thrown among us in
the most emphatic and cruel way, spreading sorrow in the hardly revived
spirits of the people, announcing that there were dead and wounded,
even among the officers and the soldiers. Oh! poor mothers of officers
and soldiers near and far away, you must have been the first to get
the sad news, this low lying news, and your poor heart must have been
broken before you were able to know that this news it was false.

                                  * *

If an example is not given, if cowardice, lying, and foolishness are
not punished, life will become even more difficult and complicated
than it is for all those who have duties and responsibilities, and for
the mass of citizens who need to rebuild for themselves a quiet and
laborious life.

We want to know who must do it, whether this M. Fedele has been or has
not been punished, he who has not only deserted his place, but who has
upset this whole region through his fright? Will he be punished? Will
all those functioneers, who believed this foolish news, and have called
for help before knowing the truth, will they be called and invited to
show some courage, some cold blood, and equilibrium? As for the Agenzia
Stefani which has covered itself with ridicule during all the period
of the eruption, telegraphing all over the world, that the Vesuvian
Observatory had been destroyed, while the news was false, and which
has been obliged to contradict the news that it had given half an hour
before, it has already been justly and severely upbraided and censured
by our Prefect who will write to Rome to the central Government, that
the director may be called, and an investigation made. Let the culprits
be punished, and let none of them have the chance to escape, or to
invent any thing more. Let nobody throw panic among those who have
duties to fulfil in these sad and trying moments.

Let nobody start panic in Naples, in this city which must revive and
begin again its work and energy. If a whole city like ours, a whole
region, a whole population, from a prince of the House of Savoia
to the humblest of soldiers must fall at the mercy of a frightened
panic-stricken man, of an official whose business is to be forever
mistaken, we would like to know if such absurd thing must be tolerated,
if such thing has to continue. Let all those who have any fault in the
panic of last night, be punished, and let military power interfere
where it must, and government one where it wants and can, provided
this dangerous and annoying scandal should not be repeated.

Let the Neapolitan public, the great punisher, act as it knows how to
act when needed, and let it severely punish those newspapers that have
printed false news exagrerating ruin and death.


For the present every thing is satisfactory. The Government could not,
and cannot do more or better than it has done, to organise ready help
through all the vast zone of the Vesuvian country stricken by this
dreadful conflagration. The life of one hundred and fifty thousand
people running away, has been guarded and protected with energy and
wisdom, and the deserted towns, those less damaged, have been in
the quickest possible way set again to their own normal life. The
streets quite destroyed have been rebuilt, at least in those parts
where circulation is more necessary, and with the return of the many
fugitives to the towns where the dreadful shower was worse, they
have managed to start again a life, abnormal perhaps, but at least a
life. You need only go over this long, fatiguing, hard pilgrimage,
in these countries stricken by the terrible disaster, to realize the
extraordinary new start to life, the work of reparation, the rebuilding
of everything, where nothing more had been left. All has been made
anew, from the bread for the famished, to the medical assistance to the
sick, from the first work in removing cinders and lappillus, to the
building of wooden barracks, from the trains already running through
the high piles of rocks, to the tearing down of tumbling roofs, from
the free dinners distributed all around, to the Serino water brought
here from Naples every day. All has sprung to a new life. To say who
has done all this is easy: The Government has had this simple, happy
idea. It has trusted two men of intelligence, two men of will, the Duke
of Aosta and General Tarditi; it has put its trust in the obedience,
abnegation, heroism of the chiefs and of the soldiers; it has added to
this sane, serious, and practical civil element, and has given much
money, it has adhered to all requests, it has answered to all demands.
Ready help is active, there where life is. How long will all this last?
And can it last? And must it last? The salvation of to day is done!
Man has saved man! Those who had power, intellect, good will, ardor,
enthusiasm have given it all! The history of these days will remain
memorable in the pages of human help! And I would like to have the
vigour and the time to write it up myself, as an homage to the ideal
which binds men. But what, and who will save to-morrow man and his
house, man and his descendence, man and his bread, man and his field?

Who and what will create a new life firm, continued, of constant

One is the secret: this country must be saved. Oh men! who are tenderly
concerned over the despair of nearly ten thousand people, oh! men of
heart and mind, give, give food to all these unfortunate beings, to
these poor people who have nothing to do, to the women, to the old
people, to the children! Alas! you will not be able to do it always!
Build, rebuild roofs and hearths that they may find a shelter, but the
house will perhaps be empty, and the hearth fireless. Have the streets
cleared free from the rocks, lapillus, and cinders which the fury of
the vulcano has brought down, but these streets will be deserted and
sad. Reform the social life with its laws and regulations, but all that
will be a dead letter. Ah! all is useless if the country is not saved.
The land which gives bread and fire, the land which gives life must be
saved in all its region so terribly damaged. This land alone knows the
secret of its resurrection. Save the land, you men of good will. Save
it in all its modest and imposing forms: save the little orchard, and
the small tract, the garden, the humble edge which closes the large
field, save the land of the poor farmer, of the modest peasant, of the
small land-owner, fertil or steril as it may be. Modest peasant, save
the land, no matter how it is, rich or poor; the land is always the
land, the spring of life, the earth which is flour, vegetables, the
earth which is life itself! From the miserable little grass, to the
highest of trees, the earth which enriches man, warms him up, lights up
his nights. The earth which gives food to the tired limbs, wood to the
hearth, oil to the lamp. Save this land! You cannot help these people
beyond a certain length of time, your money would not be enough, your
charitable impulse would not last, and of these charities people, after
all, will get tired. And so it will be, for the necessity of human
conscience, for the dignity of man, even if marked by misfortune.

No alms any longer, but some means by which everybody may rise
again, take up again his modest and laborious round of existence,
support himself and his family, and close every day, with a blessing
to God. Some means by which he may end his mortal pilgrimage having
accomplished his work among men, as a worker, and head of a family.
Save the earth, save the wheat and the vine, the oil and the oak, save
every inch of land around the silent country homes. Save the land which
slopes down over the cruel and fatal mountain, just as that, farther
off, which cannot fear its tragic explosion. Ah, those poor lands
ascending up to S. Anastasia all covered and buried, but still trying
to emerge, those poor country lands around beautiful Somma Vesuviana
cut out of existence, smothered and gone! Ah! that silent and deserted
grave which is now the country between Somma and Ottaiano, dead, under
half a meter of stones and cinders, everything dead, the grass, the
plants, the bushes, the trees! Who will forget, who will ever forget
that incomparable vision of death?

Call men of science, those who study science to better life, and tell
them to get together, to observe, to notice, to reveal to the ignorant
the secret to save this dead land. Call men of finances, not those who
understand it as a mere dance of cyphers, but those who know what it
means to life, and let them form a great project, by which the land may
be saved.

Money will come, people are already giving it, and more will still be
given, especially if people know that it is not only used for charities
but for the redemption of work, not only used for provisory help, but
for a larger, wiser, and more austere aid.

The Government will give now or later all that is necessary, and
perhaps beyond what is necessary. Form a great, serious practical
project, based on strong views, an agrary and financial project, which
may teach, guide, advise! Give little or much money, as needed or where
it is needed, in order that every farmer may get back his little tract
of land, that every peasant may rebuild his field, and every owner may
redeem his property.

Give your advice and take the easiest means to have it fulfilled.
Let money be given, not lent to he who has cleared and redeemed his
field. If the money has to be lent, let it be on long time, and let the
Government pay a strong part of the interest on the agrary loan, just
as was done at the time of the earthquake in Ligury. Let the cheapest
and most efficacious advice be given, that every man may start with his
own hands and the help of his people, to free his land from its funeral
shroud, and let help be given as a prize to will, and tenacity. Let it
be a civil help to honest citizens, that their small destroyed fortune
may be rebuilt for their children. This, at least, you must do, men of
good will.

Let all the land around be delivered from the heavy mantle which wraps
and smothers it, let it be free, and from one season to another, let
the grass, plants, trees, flowers and fruits grow up again.

May the waving crops spring up again, in the devastated fields, and
the olive and vines grow there anew. May the almond tree bloom once
more with red flowers there where the storm has passed, leaving death
behind. Oh men of good will if you will know how to do this, you will
have saved your country, and in renewing life where death has reigned,
you will have come as near to God as anybody ever did before.

  April 21, 1906.


It is not certainly through cold blooded and cruel newspaper work,
that I, with some strong and faithful collaborators of the "Giorno"
have gone in the places which have been more severely stricken by the
furies of Vesuvius; nor have I gone there through any stupid and vain
curiosity. We had all gone before, when the tremendous eruption was
at its worst and we went trembling with anxiety and we saw and felt
all the horror of that storm in its terrific aspect. We returned home
every evening, every night in a real convulsion of anguish. Every day
has its morrow, and to a period of great emotion, when all your soul
rebels and rises against a misfortune which nothing can fight, another
long and slow period follows, full of mortal sadness. The period of the
morrow of a catastrophe when your spirit calmed down, and clear in its
sadness, measures silently all the damage that people and things have

For the journalistic sportsman, Ottaiano, S. Giuseppe, Boscotrecase,
Torre Annunziata, Somma Vesuviana don't hold now any more the necessary
interest to suggest terrorising news, nor does the frivolous curiosity
of the frivolous reader find any interest in these exausted subjects.
But for me every day has its morrow, and so it is for all those who
have a heart, who feel to be citizens of a great country rather than
newspaper men; who feel the voice of their conscience before that of
their fancy. Every day has its morrow and it is this morrow that we
sadly and simply have gone to seek there where the ruins of country and
villages have been left. Another sentiment has urged me and the other
pilgrims of this humble duty, the thought that now, little by little,
the violent crisis being calmed down and passed, people may forget all
this great trouble! We are so willingly careless here when deep sorrow
has passed, and the sun shines on human misfortunes. We forget so
easily the pains and troubles of others, when the pang of their sorrow
is ended. But we should not forget; we must not stop having pity, we
must not stop giving our cares and help, we must continue! So we have
gone every where it seemed necessary, stopping first at Ottaiano, and
we have seen and inquired of the people, and things have told us their

  April 22, 1906.


Between two edges of lapillus which have formed on the right and left
of the rails, among mountains of ashes accumulated here and there in
order to free the way, that the trains might get as far as Ottaiano,
the little station is crowded with different and strange people. Here
are dark faced peasants, silently advancing from the villages where
they have been sheltered, and now looking for the little home which
once was theirs. Civil functioneers who come here perhaps to try and,
doubtless in vain, to rebuild some kind of social life among the
ruins of this new Pompei. Small proprietors have climbed up here just
through that sad curiosity some people, seem to feel who know they are
ruined: rich proprietors of lands and houses, who come to calculate
how much of their fortunes has been lost, and consider whether it
is worth the while to fight for the future; some weeping woman of
the people, a few but rare ladies who have come through a spirit of
charity. Many soldiers, many officers, all covered with dust, and not
brilliant looking certainly, but fulfilling the most constant and
patient duty, a duty always greater and more complex. Here is their
general in the midst of a group of persons, who draw close to him,
wishing for something, (every body wishes for something), and general
Durelli has an answer for everyone, a brief but kind answer. He has
a word for everybody, and promises only what he can keep. He is the
soul, the breath, the mind, of this new Pompei. I know all this, and I
simply bow to him, as I don't want to make him lose any of his precious
time. But later when all interrogatories, with every distinguished or
obscure person, peasants, gentlemen, poor traders or proprietors of
Ottaiano is over, every one declares to me that in this incomparable
trouble, in this ruination of the prettiest of towns, the choice of
General Durelli, as a reorganiser, could not be better. He occupies one
of the few standing houses left inhabited by the parson, and he sleeps
there a few hours, and takes his meals, but he is always on his feet,
always around, plunging his high boots deep in a meter of lapillus,
going to and fro, watching every thing, providing promptly to all with
clear and efficacious orders. Around him, groups of bare-footed women,
with half naked children in their arms, push and press, while new
people coming from the different main roads, arrive, urging him with
demands and requests. The women, especially the poorest of them, with
sad looking faces relate to him their misfortune, and general Durelli
always kind and patient tries to console them and give them what they
ask. He begs them to be quiet and wait, hoping for better times.

They draw slowly away, sitting in groups on the ground or on the
accumulated ashes, forming thus a strange and never to be forgotten
picture. Their clothes are gray with ashes and dust, whilst their
babies with smutty faces and hair, lay quietly in their arms, watching
eagerly around. They wait there in silence. Perhaps better hours will


In the long, hard fatiguing pilgrimage where every step costs untold
pain, where every look sees a precipice, a young peasant accompanies us
as a guide.

One reads trouble and misery in his dark eyes, his voice is low and
dragging, almost complaining.

Are you from Ottaiano, I ask him, while going up the steep road.

--Yes, I and my family are from that place.

--Did you run away from there in that terrible night?

--Yes, we fled just about dawn when the fall of stones was at its

--And how long did this last?

--Fully twenty four hours madam, from ten o'clock on Saturday night,
till ten o'clock on Palm Sunday.

A whole day, yes, a whole day. He doesn't lie nor exaggerate. If he
did, how could all this ruin be around us?

--Did your house fall down? I inquire.

--Yes, he answers sadly. There it stands on that height yonder. Look
at it! look at it! All I possessed is buried there! My bed, my poor
furniture, all.

Tears gather in his eyes. At least have you saved your family?

--Yes, he murmurs, they are at Sarno. But I have lost all. I was
supporting them, and have lost my wagon and my two mules, for I was a

--Are they buried?

--The wagon can be seen under the stones; and as he speaks he seems to
take heart all at once, It can be seen! perhaps I shall be able to drag
it out. But the mules! The mules are dead. How shall I manage?

A deep sigh heaves his broad chest.

--And you have come back here, I ask him? Many of you have come back?

--I have come back. This is my country. I have come to try to save my
wagon and those poor animals, Nothing, nothing!

--Will you remain here?

--I shall! Where could I go? This is my country. I will also make my
family return from Sarno. If you knew how many have returned!

--How many? How many?

--At least three thousand. Many have come back the following day. You
see, we could not stay away.

--And where do they live?

--Nearly all sleep out in the fields under straw sheds, and the others
in the few houses that remain standing now.

--They are building cabins, and little by little you will see every
body, coming back to their own country.

--Was this place, fine? I ask him quite touched.

--The finest of all, and our country is fine!

And he utters these words enthusiastically, but again he looks down
sighing, and is silent.


Of course the farther we get from the station, from Municipio square,
the fewer people we see, and the more we advance towards Scudieri's
house, Ateneo Chierchia, and the feudal palace of Ottaiano, where the
ruins take a more imposing and solemn aspect, the greater the solitude.

But while we stop at every step, to look from the top of the mountains
of stones and ashes, on which we climb and descend, while we look at
the piled up ceilings, shutters, stones, furniture, pictures, and
utensils all in demolition, now and then, we see somebody coming out of
a small lane closed by a small gate. Here is an old woman, she looks
to be seventy years old, she is thin, wrinkled, but quite straight. I
speak to her, I ask her all about that dreadful night.

--I was sleeping, madam, I was sleeping. I woke up and heard screams:
"The mountain, the mountain!" Who could believe that a disaster was on
us? What was there to be done? I turn entreating God, but I see death
coming. My lady! What noise, what darkness, what flashes! The door
could not be opened. I just jumped out of the window.

--Out of the window? at your age?

--The window was low and I fell on the ashes. I began to run madly, I
don't know where. I protected my head with my arm! Look how wounded it
is by a stone falling on me!

And she shows me her fore-arm. It has a long wound, a torn place which
is beginning to heal.

--And where did you go?

--Where could I go? Old as I am? In the country towards Somma; there I
spent the night. I said, this is the hour of my death! Let your will be
done my Lord!

--And you have come back?

--I have come back. What could I do in another country? Who wants an
old woman? If I have to die, I want to die here.

Here is a man of the people coming from a street. He bends over a
mattress, tucks it up and lays it on a cart which is in a corner, where
he has already layed other things.

--Have you found your things again? I ask him.

--I have found some of them, he tells me readily, with a rather excited
tone. I am taking these things to Sarno where my wife and children
are. They have no place where to sleep. But I am coming back at once. I
am a man, I can work. I am coming back day after to-morrow. I want to
work here.

--And what will you do?

--What they'll give me to do? Have you seen all those men on the
square? They are not from Ottaiano, they are from Marigliano,
Pomigliano, and other countries, all people coming here to seek work.
They take away the stones and cinders, and ask a great amount of money.
Well, this must be done by us, from Ottaiano. Also gratis, even if they
don't give us for it but the soldiers' ranch.

The country is ours, the trouble is ours, we must repair it. And he
ties with a rope his few things, loads them on the cart with a firm and
decided air.


Speaking with people, I find that the most touching episodes are those
concerning the babies.

How heart-rending the cry and screams must have been of the parents and
relatives who were trying to gather them, that they might take them
away, lifting in their arms the youngest, tying to their clothes the
largest, what a tearing cry must have been heard under the terrible
shower of burning stones, lappillus, and ashes! Many of these children,
got lost through the country in that dark night, their parents, not
finding them, but after three days at long distances, while for three
days, they believed them dead and wept desperately over them! The
boarders of Ateneo Chierchia ran out helping the younger ones, and
carried them on their shoulders wrapped in blankets that they might
not be wounded, and in these conditions they fled through the terrible
night. The soldiers who had come from Nola during the day gathered a
number of other children, and fed them, keeping them with them till
the following days, when they could be returned to their parents. As
for mothers, in that terrible flight, half wild with despair, they
wrapped the little ones in their dresses and shawls thus repairing
them from certain death. A poor lady, who had a four months old baby,
hid it under her arms, covered it with a basket, and thus carried it
for eleven miles, on foot, at night, the baby however quietly sleeping
under its shelter. The children of one of the teachers in Ottaiano,
took their father who was very ill, closed him in a kind of covered
box, and carried him so, on their shoulders till Caserta. The poor
man naturally died there of his former trouble, but his children can
say that they have saved him from dying under the stones of Ottaiano.
Strange to say in this flight of fourteen thousand persons, not one
single baby has died, and the people from Ottaiano say, that this is a
miracle of the Madonna, a true, real miracle, and every mother clasping
her child alive in her arms, has been obliged to believe in this


From the ruins of his beautiful house, from the flowered terrace,
covered for one meter with vulcanic stones and cinders, comes Luigi
Scudieri, a friend of ours, a witness of the great cataclism. His
gay and open expression has not changed, his family is saved, all of
them, from his old parents to his children. The palaces of his noble
and powerful family have tumbled down one after the other and their
rich fabrics, their vast territories are now buried, for many, many
years perhaps. Their fortune is compromised, yet he is back here since
four or five days, back in Ottaiano, actively busying himself around,
advising, guiding, conforting the more desolate, the desperate, helping
every one, speaking to every body.

Of course I ask him to tell me all about the destruction of Ottaiano,
but notwithstanding his natural brightness, he gets confused and
troubled while he speaks.

--Dear Donna Matilde, in the first hours of Saturday night, I must
confess, we were not much preoccupied. As you know, we have had several
showers of cinders here in Ottaiano, but they were short and harmless.
Nothing was to be feared, that evening, as I tell you, but towards
mid-night the preoccupation began. The crater had fallen in, and at
every breath of the Vulcano, a more and more increasing fall of ashes
came down, passing over the mountain of Somma which protects us, and
striking the whole of our place. The alarm bells began to ring.

--How terrible! I exclaim.

--It was well they rang the bells he says. The peasants who had all
returned home for the holy week, were all fast asleep, the women at
the sound of the bells, came out from their houses, running madly away,
and to be sure many more would have died had the bells not rung.

--How many died here in Ottaiano?

--About seventy, and even those might have been saved, but the night
was so dark and the fall of ashes so thick.

--Did they all seem to lose their mind?

--In the beginning no! I telegraphed to Naples, and the poor telegraph
operator who sent my telegram, and whose courage and devotion should be
enhanced, sent these telegrams under the flashes of the mountain.

Twice the electric shocks threw her down. One only of my three wires,
the one to the Military Comand reached its destination.

--And your family, I ask?

He seems moved and hesitating.

--Don't speak to me about that, he exclaims, those hours have been
terrible! When I saw that we had to run away, I was obliged to nearly
carry my wife who was ill and weak, on the road. Quite exhausted and
discouraged, she stopped to recommend me the children, asking me to let
her die there in that very place. I knew nothing about my father and
mother; my nephews have saved them, they had sworn to die but to save
their grand parents, these brave boys. Only after four days I learned
that all my people were saved.

--And where did they all go?

--To Avellino! One would hardly believe it! we reached Avellino by
an extra train, and there we received from all the population, and
principally from good Achille Vetroni, a warm hospitality.

You can tell it to every body in honour of Vetroni and Avellino.
Imagine that in the shops, they refused to be paid, when we went to buy
shoes and boots.

Yes, they have really done prodigies of devotion and kindness.

Prodigies! Tell every body what the hospitality of Sarno has been
for the people from Ottaiano, how touching! You must also add that
the first good example, came from the seminary. The good rector has
promptly given up his room to M. Cola, who was flying from Ottaiano,
quite ill. The seminarists have distributed their own clothes to the
people. One can hardly realize all that has been done for the people of
Ottaiano everywhere they have gone, to Sarno, Caserta, Castellammare,
Marigliano and Nola. We shall never forget it.

--And what will you do now? I ask him after a brief silence.

--With what? he asks me.

--With Ottaiano.

--Rebuild it all, he answers me, quietly.

--Rebuild it all?

--And what else can we do? We are fourteen thousand. Four thousand
have already returned. Where do you want us to go? To Turin? To Milan?
It is not possible. Don't you see? Settle in the neighbourhood? At
Portici! at Torre Annunziata? We shall always be under the Vesuvius,
consequently, in constant danger. Better remain where we are.

But the houses have tumbled down. What then?

The roofs yes, but the walls are not cracked.

We shall have to build the new houses with arched small iron vaults
little by little! you will all help us, won't you? How can one abandon
one's own country? Here all of us possess much or little land, will you
take from us also the hope of redeeming it for our children? What would
become of us in Milan, Turin, even in Naples?

How could we hope to build up again, if we went away? But we shall need
much help.... I say.... You all must unite with us. And we shall work,
and we shall have to make the poor peasants work, and give them prizes
for their work, and no alms nor any kind of charity.

Life and hope are still strong in this man who has seen death near him
and his people, who has seen his village tumble down, and who is now
speaking only of its resurrection.


Here near us a woman is speaking eagerly. She is of the peasant type,
but a light of intelligence shines in her eyes, and while talking she
mixes correct Italian words with her dialect. She has a handkerchief
tied on her head, the image of a Saint hangs down on her breast, and
she discusses vivaciously.

I interrogate her. I know she has come back here the day after that
frightful shower, and has not moved from here ever since. She counts
up the houses that are still standing, she speaks of those who have
returned and will return. And I learn, that she is the mid-wife of the
village, Vincenza Arpaia.

--Have you your diploma, Vincenza, I ask her?

--Of course! I received it at the University of Naples, and I was
appointed to this place, she exclaims with pride. Not a single baby is
born here, without my assistance.

--All alive!

--All, madam! And thanks to the Lord there are no orphans. What a
destruction! But now it is finished, and it will take more than a
hundred years before it happens again.--She refers to the terrible
fall of stones at Ottaiano, in 1789, she is rather informed, yet she
preserves her popular simplicity.

--And why did you return so soon, Vincenza?

--To attend to my work, and see after new born babies, madam.

--New born babies? here?

--One was born the other day, she cries gaily! A fine boy! He was born
on the ruins and I shall take him to S. Giovanni, to the only church
still standing, and all the bells must be ringing!

This woman of the people says now unconsciously a great and deep thing.
A baby was born on the ruins! Oh! eternal resurrection of life!

Oh baby! You are a symbol! life never ends! it renews itself, and it is
the eternal bloom of strength and beauty.

  April 22, 1906.


When coming out from the station of the Circumvesuviana at Torre
Annunziata, as one goes towards the white and flowery cemetery, which
was reported destroyed, but fortunately has not been touched by the
fire, one suddenly sees, quite in front of the gate, at seven or eight
meters from the wall on the left, a large barrier of black or dark gray
stones, and pitch coloured rocks, a rocky irregular barrier closing at
a certain distance the restful home of the dead, and one wonders: Is
this the lava?

Yes, that is the lava. Still, asleep, and dead, it rests now under the
sun, having already become a harmless thing, transformed in an arid
rocky wall, in a mound of ruins, gathered there in confusion, for an
unlimited extension, and going down in an easy slope, like a stair of
stones. That is the lava, and who sees it for the first time, must ask
himself if, in that accumulation of still things, in that ocean of
fused bronze, life has existed, if that mass has not been deposited
there by chance, by the untiring arm of gigantic cyclops, and not by
its own strength, by its powerful and ardent life of fire. And one
smiles almost incredulously, as one would, before a made up spectacle.
One would like to tread over those scories, strike them with one's own
stick and show them all the contempt that naturally springs from one's
souls towards a stone. Stone? Oh no! from the cracks cutting here and
there, immense columns of white smoke, tinted with yellow vapours,
arise ... and if you look more intensely you perceive many, many more.
It is like an immense lighted field, spread all over with smoke,
similar to an early dawn in the month of November. That stone is still
living. Under those masses, fire is still burning. The blood of the
Vulcano beats yet in those stony veins.

The terrible thing appears to you then, in all its majestic and
frightful grandeur, always burning like the flame of the Vestals. And
you understand then more clearly what must have been the terrible
spectacle of this slow fall of living and destructive strength
advancing little by little, gaining inch by inch the fields and the
houses, this invincible strength carrying flames and destruction in its
breast, hearing no control, going where it pleased with the caprice
of a perverted will and bringing desolation and death every where it
has touched. You will well understand, what this rolling red river
must have been in the fatal night, with the black sky shrouded with
sun, crowned with lightnings like a revengeful divinity, this slow and
voracious river, which has swallowed up half a country. You will well
understand, how a picturesque little village can have been destroyed in
its rich lands, in one of its fractions, in its first houses.

A nice white little village, located by a black row of stone girdling
it with mourning after having wrapped it with destruction, and you
will then understand what must have been the panic and terror of
yesterday, and what is to day the serious loss of this place which is
now hardly spoken of, and which to-morrow will be probably forgotten:
of Boscotrecase prisoner of fire, like Brunhilde of the Walkyrian story
and which will never be waked up again from her sleep resembling death.

       *       *       *       *       *

If you want to go to Boscotrecase, from the cemetery of Torre
Annunziata, you may, avoiding to go down as far as Scafati, ascend
directly the course of the lava and coasting as I have done, three
steps further you see the line of the Circumvesuviana cut for several
meters by the lava, which has run over the rails, falling on the ground
underneath, rails being raised in that place.

Let us go through the fields, the front of the lava is quite wide and
one must take a long turn.

All around the black sleeping mass, the country has remained untouched,
the vines are in bloom and young green twigs hang from them. One step
from the last scories, advanced sentinels of death, little field
daisies, all gold, small stars wreathing the head of the monster, are
waving at the soft, light blowing breeze, while big bloody poppies like
large stains of blood, fill the ground all around.

Half way up over the low walls of the farms, a little house appears at
once before you. It is the first one which has been surrounded by the
lava. In fact the walls peep out of the crags under the rocks where
they are buried. All is in its place, not a shingle is missing from
the roof, not a pane from the windows. Only the inexorable lava closes
it all around.

And I have like the painful sensation of witnessing the agony of a
healthy and good creature, hugged in the arms of a giant who is slowly
suffocating it. Still more houses are to be seen farther on; but some
of them are in ruin, the lava has leant against the walls, has pressed,
has broken some pillars and has opened big cracks in the walls. From a
close window, I suddenly perceive, a thin line of grayish smoke.

The work of the hidden fire is only beginning.

The house is burning little by little. The shutters, the doors, all
wooden things in contact with the lava, are beginning to burn, then it
will be the turn of the beams, of the sustaining arches and the walls;
every thing will be consumed to ashes, and only some ruins will remain.

How long will it take? Who knows? The work of fire is silent and
tenacious like a human vengeance. After an hour's march we abandon
the poor, deserted dwellings, irremessibly condemned, vowed to death,
yonder in the great sea of lava, and we get back in the main road, full
of dust, leading to Boscotrecase.


Entering the little town one receives the impression that nothing
abnormal has happened there.

Truly few people are circulating in the streets, the shops are open,
women are standing at the doors of their houses, sewing, chattering,
while streams of children play in the sun. We go about the street which
bears the name of Cardinal Prisco. It is extremely quiet, almost asleep
in the meridian hours and we get to the Oratorio.

At the end of the road, between two houses we are surprised to see a
kind of fence made of wood and beams, in the shape of a cross. Is it a
barricade? No it is the barrier! On the other side there is lava.

There it is, in fact, the black enemy, there in the village, running
between two wings of houses, sneaking in a little lane, there it lies
dead without the strength to go any farther.

And this is only a little stream, but at a short distance, what vast
and imposing river. All the Oratorio square is invaded and submerged.
It is like a row of stormy waves, petrified as by a strange prodigy,
standing erect among the edifices. Here, and there on the crest, a
soldier, a sentinel appears. The image of S. Anna, the patron of the
place has been taken elsewhere to a house on the ground floor, in
Oratorio street, and the opened windows look like empty, while the
bells hang in a silence which will have no end. I turn to another side,
through a path the soldiers are opening. I pass between two lines of
infantry diggers, small creatures curved on the stones, in an audacious
and patient work.

They look and smile under the shade of their straw hats, and start
again to work.

How many days have they been there?

How long will they still remain? Who knows? They themselves don't
know it. And they bend on the fatiguing and tenacious work like brave
boys asking nothing for themselves, and they give all their fatigue,
strength, youth, happy in the hard striking of their picks, in the hard
digging of their hoe, singing softly the ritornelli, of their native
songs as if they were in their native villages beyond the mountains
working in the corn fields or among the vines.


This large tract of Lava which thanks to the works of repair can be
crossed in a carriage, has cut the town in two. From this point the
streets begin again to be quiet and the houses to be inhabited, normal
life seems to reign every where.

Here is Citarella street, here is Giordano street with its green
orchards, and the dogs sleeping on the thresholds of the houses, and
the old people bathing in the sun. But suddenly another branch of lava
is standing in front of you, it is the one that has invaded the other
side of the Oratorio cutting the communication with Tre Case.

It has sneaked in the town, getting in the lanes, through the
orchards, assaulting the houses from behind, reversing itself from
the ground-floors against which the wave has struck. I see a house
completely surrounded and taken by the lava, quite in front of
Pagliarella street, it is the house of a certain Giuseppe Principini.
The first floor has fallen in, the lava has penetrated through a
window at the shoulders of the house, it has invaded the first room,
it has filled the second, it has made the floor fall in, and has then
reversed itself down in a cascade which has remained petrified, looking
almost like a fantastic bridge of black scories, gracefully modelled
on bronze. Another little room near is full of lava up to the windows.
Among the black masses, a little twisted serpent peeps out. It is all
that remains of a bed stead. The wall near the house is dry, the water
has evaporated, before the fire touched it.


On the three first high steps of the branch of lava which runs to Tre
Case, I met engineer Pasquale Acunzo, a technical engineer. He has
been at his place untiringly, from the first moment of the danger,
directing the work of dikes when the lava was coming down, and now he
directs the construction of the street which must unite Boscotrecase
to its nearest centers. All our communications with Torre Annunziata
and Tre Case are cut off; it is the death of the country. The only road
that remains open to us, is the long and rough one to Scafati. Engineer
Acunzo accompanies us up the steep way, on the lava. M. Luigi Casella,
worthy mayor of Boscotrecase, joins us. He has been one of the bravest
and busiest in this sad fight, and has given himself entirely to the
saving of his country, uncaring of himself, of his goods, of his houses
which he has lost, all buried under the lava. The front part of the
lava is getting higher and higher. From its brief starting point, it
touches already the first floor of a house. We walk near the balconies,
with their banisters split, all bent outside as if a gigantic hand
had twisted them. Working men belonging to the Genio Civile, are
working hard to carry away all that can be saved, to demolish what is
in danger, and to prop up the rest. Gushes of suffocating smoke, come
out from the cracks. Here also the silent work of fire has begun. All
around the temperature is very high: it feels as if one was near the
mouth of an oven.

All at once, here we are on the large spreaded lavas, opening wide
and free as far as the skirts of the mountain. It is a sea, rough and
upset, a race of points, pics, crests, a chain of small hills as far
as the eye can reach. The sun snatches from that sea reflections of
bronze which become more and more opaque with the drawing back of the
wave up the mountain.

Further it blends itself in a grayish and uniform stratus. Here and
there dense smoke comes out from the cracks it is like the burning of
copious incense to an unknown God, a God of terror and destruction. Now
and then small houses are seen. Here is a half tumbled down palace,
the panes of the windows are all pierced with holes it is the home of
M. Bifulco. Here is a part of a ruined wall, it is the little church
that Bernardo Tanucci has built in remembrance of another eruption.
And other houses, and other ruins, and everything buried under the
great infinite sea, scattered everything. But as a contrast, if you
look down, the slope at the left, there beyond the stretch of green
orchards, behind the white girdles of the houses, far, away, at the end
there is the sea ample and serene, bathed in a soft, sapphire colour
just as in an April day. The sea shining as a hope, in front of the
ruins of a country, which has no other confort but to hope.


It is urgent to provide.

The damages of Boscotrecase are very grave and serious. It is
calculated, that two hundred and fifty houses have been surrounded by
lava or destroyed, almost the fourth part of the town, and with them
about a thousand acres of land are destroyed, each acre here is worth
two thousand francs. The lava has thus swallowed two million francs.

And the houses are worth perhaps another million, perhaps more.
And there is a suburb Tre Case which has remained cut out from all
communications, because the lava surrounds it on every side.

What is done for this country? Our courageous soldiers are working, it
is true, M. Acunzo's working men are also desperately working, and the
mayor, good M. Casella does what he can. But it is necessary to do much
and to give much. This poor devastated and blocated country must spring
up to life again, measures must be taken by those that can and must.

The population is all back, and those who have found the little houses
untouched by the fire, but emptied by thieves, have, gone back to it,
providing at best to all that had been stolen, and those who have not
found it any longer, have arranged themselves the best they could,
resigned, because they hope.

And the hopeful words on everybody's lips, the trusting words repeated
by all those who accompanied, me especially by M. Acunzo and Mayor
Casella, have greatly moved me for I felt that by encouraging them, I
was only an accomplice in a pitiful lie.

Our return has been discouraging, and while our little tram was rapidly
going down through the fields, I was looking at the great and silent
murderer still proudly showing its top all covered with ashes, almost
as an espiation.


It is possible now for every body to go everywhere, in the places
where the conflagration has passed in all its most varied and terrible
forms. The Circumvesuviana and all those great men who are its very
soul, strength, and organism accomplish real miracles, from Giuseppe
Sirignano, to Emmanuele Rocco and its director Ingaranni, all deserve
the deepest sympathy and gratitude. It is owing to them and their
abnegation that the Circumvesuviana has been able to resume its
work, rendering thus both a great service to the work of help and
to the help organizers. But for them no one could have got to Torre
Annunziata, Boscotrecase, Ottaiano, San Giuseppe, or Somma Vesuviana,
for the lava, the burning stones, lapillus and ashes have passed every
where. Now one may go over there, not only by rail but to certain
points by auto, and to some others by carriages. The roads are open.
They certainly are not pleasure or excursion roads, you do not go there
as you would go to a pic-nic, but whoever has a charitable heart, may
go now and see, this most terrible catastrophe of the Vesuvian comunes.
It is a pilgrimage of piety which certainly will bear its good fruits.
So many people need to see in order to believe, so many people need
to let the truth of human troubles descend from their eyes into their
hearts. The roads are opened for trains, automobiles, carriages, even
bicycles, and for those who have to go on foot, many roads are quite
practicable. Let every person of good will know it. The misery of the
people there is great, help must be great. The crowd, the crowd must
go with the 5000 lire, of the modest giver and the 50000 of the richer
one. The roads are open, the pilgrimage can be made, without spending
much, without asking too much, without taking too much trouble, without
losing much time. And those who go will realize how great this calamity
is, and how great the remedy must be.

  April 23th 1906.


Well, my dear readers, you who are living in Naples, you who will
come to Naples to morrow or later, you can now safely go on the roads
damaged by the eruption, by any means of transportation you like.
The best, of course, the one I would suggest as the best, being more
comfortable, very rapid and suiting all pockets is the quite popular
railway of the Circumvesuviana, that same road, which has saved men
and things, which is really the best help for the reorganization of
life, up there. It will carry you easily to see the lava at Torre
Annunziata, and farther still if you like to see the new Pompei, that
is, Ottaiano and S. Giuseppe of Ottaiano. Reader, if you are a woman
going, don't wear nice clothes, because there is always some wind
raising the ashes and your clothes would be ruined; put on a simple
woollen dress, a gown, a shirt waist and a simple figaro, so that you
may take it off if it gets too hot. Put on a small hat, if you go there
by train, and a cap if you go by automobile, and cover up either of
them with a white, gray, or pale lilac veil hiding thus your face, your
hair, and your neck. If you possess a big white chiffon scarf, wrap up
your hat and face in it and tie it under your chin. If you have weak
eyes put on a myrtle green or golden brown veil but large and closed.
Wear a good pair of black boots, with low heels and comfortable. A
parasol is useless: with your large veil, you are protected from the
sun, whilst a parasol would be an encumbrance.

A good stick might not be useless. Then with your short skirt which
enable you to walk quickly and well protected from the gushes of ashes
raised by the wind, you may go any where you like even on the lava
of Boscotrecase, on the mountains of lappillus in Ottaiano, on the
observatory and the crater, if you have the strength and courage to
do it. You may see all, and know all, and you will return home with a
world of new and deep impressions. If you want to breakfast, you will
find what is necessary anywhere even in Ottaiano or Boscotrecase, but
don't forget to carry within you a tender heart, and any thing you can
possibly gather to give to women and to babies. Anything, an apron or
an handkerchief to one single woman, or a small shirt or a little dress
to one single child. Don't forget this and God will bless your steps.

  April 23th 1906.


I stop a moment to look at him! I had always seen him silent and
thoughtful through the fields, when the black lava smoked furiously
covered by the sepulchral sheet of ashes, in those towns destroyed by
the stones, but in that day he was thoughtful and sad. On his brow was
written a silent sorrow.

We were in a deserted spot, outside Somma Vesuviana in the saddest hour
of that sad Monday, which will never leave anybody's memory. We saw him
going away, without daring to inquire from anybody, what could be the
reason of his depression. But two hours later we found out that he
had been witnessing at S. Giuseppe the drawing out of the bodies from
the ruins of the church, where more than two hundred persons had been
buried. Till then the Duke had only witnessed the destruction of the
houses and lands where human life had been spared. But there he had
seen death, the formidable host, and all the horror of it, and all his
sorrow as a man and as a Christian rose from his kind tender heart and
showed in his brow.

       *       *       *       *       *

No commemorative inscription, nor the plause of assemblies can be an
adequate recompense to the work of this prince. These forms are all
academical and nearly bureaucratic. Let them go with the banalities
which are still smotering modern society, it is difficult to escape
such conventionalism. For us that is not enough. We think with terror
of what would have become of one hundred and fifty thousand people,
running away under a rain of fire, if the Duke of Aosta had not been
there! We tremble at the thought of what would have happened if he
had not thought of all, ordered all, provided to all. What is an
inscription, a vote, an applause before this real great soul, where
one finds harmoniously blended, the virtues of the soldier and of
the Christian? where a prince has all the virtues of a true citizen,
where heroism is united to simplicity and where the ardour of good is
ineffable? Let your memorial stone raise a word of admiration, but all
this will never tell how high, pure, efficacious has been the energetic
enthusiasm of Emmanuele Filiberto in order to save a whole population.
Let him continue. Don't you see? All his spirit and will are now ready
to every thing. He wants to get to the point, he wants not only to help
but he is already looking forward to the building of the places. He
wants to save the lands, the fields, he wants work to start over again,
he wants every man to build again his roof, his bread. Let him continue.

To morrow every body will forget perhaps the terrible catastrophe. He
does not forget, he will not let the others forget, he will surmount
every obstacle with his moral strength, he will accomplish a longer,
deeper, and more lasting work, he will rebuild a civil life there where
it has been destroyed. We, profoundly moved, and full of admiration for
all that this prince is doing, we mark this first period of his great
work, where he has saved by his example and his strength of action this
country, and we see him going ahead fortified by his faith, towards the
greatest of works, and our eyes are wandering, and our soul believes in

  April 26 1906.


  QUIA PULVIS ES                           _pag._  17

  TOWARDS THE CITY OF FIRE                   "     23

  A PRAYER                                   "     39

  IN THE DEAD TOWNS                          "     49

  IN THE COUNTRY OF DEATH                    "     61

  THE HEROES                                 "     85

  LET US SPEAK TO THE PEOPLE                 "     97

  TO THE WOMEN OF NAPLES                     "    107

  EASTER OF RESURRECTION                     "    117

  FOUR-THOUSAND LITTLE BOXES                 "    127

  A WOMAN                                    "    133

  LET THE GUILTY ONES BE PUNISHED            "    143

  LET THE LAND BE SAVED                      "    153

  EVERY DAY HAS ITS MORROW                   "    167

  THE NEW POMPEI                             "    173

  IGNIS ARDENS                               "    201

  OPEN ROADS                                 "    223

  THE WAY TO GO                              "    229

  A PRINCE                                   "    235

                          TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:

--Obvious print and punctuation errors were corrected.

--The exact name of the town is "Ottaviano"; since "Ottaiano" is
  constantly used in the book, it has been left as it is.

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