NAPLES AND HER JOYFUL NOISE
We heard the joyful noise of Naples as soon as our steamer came to anchor within the moles whose rigid lines perhaps disfigure her famous bay, while they render her harbor so secure. The noise first rose to us, hanging over the guard, and trying to get phrases for the glory of her sea and sky and mountains and monuments, from a boat which seemed to have been keeping abreast of us ever since we had slowed up. It was not a largo boat, but it managed to contain two men with mandolins, a mother of a family with a guitar, and a young girl with an alternate tambourine and umbrella. The last instrument was inverted to catch the coins, such as they were, which the passengers flung down to the minstrels for their repetitions of "Santa Lucia," "Funicoli-Funicola," "II Cacciatore," and other popular Neapolitan airs, such as "John Brown's Body" and "In the Bowery." To the songs that had a waltz movement the mother of a family performed a restricted dance, at some risk of falling overboard, while she smiled radiantly up at us, as, in fact, they all did, except the young girl, who had to play simultaneously on her tambourine and her inverted umbrella, and seemed careworn. Her anxiety visibly deepened to despair when she missed a shilling, which must have looked as large to her as a full moon as it sank slowly down into the sea.
But her despair did not last long; nothing lasts long in Naples except the joyful noise, which is incessant and perpetual, and which seems the expression of the universal temperament in both man and beast. Our good-fortune placed us in a hotel fronting the famous Castel dell' Ovo, across a little space of land and water, and we could hear, late and early, the cackling and crowing of the chickens which have replaced the hapless prisoners of other days in that fortress. At times the voices of the hens were lifted in a choral of self-praise, as if they had among them just laid the mighty structure which takes its name from its resemblance to the egg they ordinarily produce. In other lands the peculiar note of the donkey is not thought very melodious, but in Naples before it can fade away it is caught up in the general orchestration and ceases in music. The cabmen at our corner, lying in wait by scores for the strangers whom it is their convention to suppose ignorant of their want of a carriage, quarrelled rhythmically with one another; the mendicants, lying everywhere in wait for charity, murmured a modulated appeal; if you heard shouts or yells afar off they died upon your ear in a strain of melody at the moment when they were lifted highest. I am aware of seeming to burlesque the operatic fact which every one must have noticed in Naples; and I will not say that the neglected or affronted babe, or the trodden dog, is as tuneful as the midnight cat there, but only that they approach it in the prevailing tendency of all the local discords to soften and lose themselves in the general unison. This embraces the clatter of the cabs, which are seldom less than fifty years old, and of a looseness in all their joints responsive to their effect of dusty decrepitude. Their clatter penetrates the volumed tread of the myriad feet in a city where, if you did not see all sorts of people driving, you would say the whole population walked. Above the manifold noises gayly springing to the sky spreads and swims the clangor of the church-bells and holds the terrestrial uproar in immeasurable solution. It would be rash to say that the whole population of Naples is always in the street, for if you look into the shops or cafes, or, I dare say, the houses, you will find them quite full; but the general statement verifies itself almost tiresomely in its agreement with what everybody has always said of Naples. It is so quite what you expect that if you could you would turn away in satiety, especially from the swarming life of the poor, which seems to have no concealments from the public, but frankly works at all the trades and arts that can be carried on out-of-doors; cooks, eats, laughs, cries, sleeps, wakes, makes love, quarrels, scolds, does everything but wash itself - clothes enough it washes for other people's life. There is a reason for this in the fact that in bad weather at Naples it is cold and dark and damp in-doors, and in fine so bright and warm and charming without that there is really no choice. Then there is the expansive temperament, which if it were shut up would probably be much more explosive than it is now. As it is, it vents itself in volleyed detonations and scattered shots which language can give no sense of.