THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA.
Steamer Calabrese, January 17th. - If I had remained at Marseilles, I might have found many peculiarities and characteristics of that Southern city to notice; but I fear that these will not be recorded if I leave them till I touch the soil of Italy. Indeed, I doubt whether there be anything really worth recording in the little distinctions between one nation and another; at any rate, after the first novelty is over, new things seem equally commonplace with the old. There is but one little interval when the mind is in such a state that it can catch the fleeting aroma of a new scene. And it is always so much pleasanter to enjoy this delicious newness than to attempt arresting it, that it requires great force of will to insist with one's self upon sitting down to write. I can do nothing with Marseilles, especially here on the Mediterranean, long after nightfall, and when the steamer is pitching in a pretty lively way.
(Later.) - I walked out with J - - -yesterday morning, and reached the outskirts of the city, whence we could see the bold and picturesque heights that surround Marseilles as with a semicircular wall. They rise into peaks, and the town, being on their lower slope, descends from them towards the sea with a gradual sweep. Adown the streets that descend these declivities come little rivulets, running along over the pavement, close to the sidewalks, as over a pebbly bed; and though they look vastly like kennels, I saw women washing linen in these streams, and others dipping up the water for household purposes. The women appear very much in public at Marseilles. In the squares and places you see half a dozen of them together, sitting in a social circle on the bottoms of upturned baskets, knitting, talking, and enjoying the public sunshine, as if it were their own household fire. Not one in a thousand of them, probably, ever has a household fire for the purpose of keeping themselves warm, but only to do their little cookery; and when there is sunshine they take advantage of it, and in the short season of rain and frost they shrug their shoulders, put on what warm garments they have, and get through the winter somewhat as grasshoppers and butterflies do, - being summer insects like then. This certainly is a very keen and cutting air, sharp as a razor, and I saw ice along the borders of the little rivulets almost at noonday. To be sure, it is midwinter, and yet in the sunshine I found myself uncomfortably warm, but in the shade the air was like the touch of death itself. I do not like the climate.
There are a great number of public places in Marseilles, several of which are adorned with statues or fountains, or triumphal arches or columns, and set out with trees, and otherwise furnished as a kind of drawing-rooms, where the populace may meet together and gossip. I never before heard from human lips anything like this bustle and babble, this thousand-fold talk which you hear all round about you in the crowd of a public square; so entirely different is it from the dulness of a crowd in England, where, as a rule, everybody is silent, and hardly half a dozen monosyllables will come from the lips of a thousand people. In Marseilles, on the contrary, a stream of unbroken talk seems to bubble from the lips of every individual. A great many interesting scenes take place in these squares. From the window of our hotel (which looked into the Place Royale) I saw a juggler displaying his art to a crowd, who stood in a regular square about him, none pretending to press nearer than the prescribed limit. While the juggler wrought his miracles his wife supplied him with his magic materials out of a box; and when the exhibition was over she packed up the white cloth with which his table was covered, together with cups, cards, balls, and whatever else, and they took their departure.
I have been struck with the idle curiosity, and, at the same time, the courtesy and kindness of the populace of Marseilles, and I meant to exemplify it by recording how Miss S - - - and I attracted their notice, and became the centre of a crowd of at least fifty of them while doing no more remarkable thing than settling with a cab-driver. But really this pitch and swell is getting too bad, and I shall go to bed, as the best chance of keeping myself in an equable state.