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"Filled with the face of heaven, which from afar,
And now they change; a paler shadow strews
and all is grey." Childe Harold
THE charms of the Tyrrhenian Sea have been sung since the days of Homer. That the Mediterranean, generally. and its beautiful boundaries of Alps and Apennines, with its deeply indented and irregular shores, forms the most delightful region of the known earth, in all that relates to climate, productions, and physical formation, will be readily enough conceded by the traveller. The countries that border on this midland water, with their promontories buttressing mimic ocean—their mountain-sides teeming with the pictu resque of human life—their heights crowned with watch towers their rocky shelves consecrated by hermitages, and their unrivalled sheet dotted with sails, rigged, as it might be, expressly to produce effect in a picture, form a sort of world apart, that is replete with delights to all who have the happy fortune to feel charms, which not only fascinate the beholder, but which linger in the memories of the absent like visions of a glorious past.
Our present business is with this fragment of a creation that is so eminently beautiful, even in its worst aspects, but
which is so often marred by the passions of man, in its best. While all admit how much nature has done for the Mediterranean, none will deny that, until quite recently, it has been the scene of more ruthless violence, and of deeper personal wrongs, perhaps, than any other portion of the globe. With different races, more widely separated by destinies, than even by origin, habits and religion, occupying its northern and southern shores, the outwork, as it might be, of Christianity and Mohammedanism, and of an antiquity that defies history, the bosom of this blue expanse has mirrored more violence, has witnessed more scenes of slaughter, and heard more shouts of victory, between the days of Agamemnon and Nelson, than all the rest of the dominions of Neptune together. Nature and the passions have united to render it like the human countenance, which conceals by its smiles and godlike expression, the furnace that so often glows within the heart, and the volcano that consumes our happiness. For centuries, the Turk and the Moor rendered it unsafe for the European to navigate these smiling coasts; and when the barbarian's power temporarily ceased, it was merely to give place to the struggles of those who drove him from the arena by their larger resources.
The circumstances which rendered the period that occurred between the years 1790 and 1815, the most eventful of modern times, are familiar to all; though the incidents which chequered that memorable quarter of a century, have already passed into history. All the elements of strife that then agitated the world, appear now to have subsided as completely as if they owed their existence to a remote age; and living men recall the events of their youth, as they regard the recorded incidents of other centuries. Then, each month brought its defeat, or its victory; its account of a government overturned, or of a province conquered. The world was agitated like men in a tumult. On that epoch the timid look back with wonder; the young, with doubt; and the restless, with envy.
The years 1798 and 1799 were two of the most memorable of this ever-memorable period; and to that stirring and teeming season we must carry the mind of the reader, in order to place it in the midst of the scenes it is our object to portray.
Towards the close of a fine day in the month of August, a light fairy-like craft was fanning her way, before a gentle westerly air, into what is called the Canal of Piombino, steering easterly. The rigs of the Mediterranean are pro verbial for their picturesque beauty and quaintness, embracing the xebeque, the felucca, the polacre, and the bombarda, or ketch; all unknown, or nearly so, to our own seas; and occasionally the lugger. The latter, a species of craft, however, much less common in the waters of Italy, than in the Bay of Biscay and the British Channel, was the construction of the vessel in question; a circumstance that the mariners who eyed her from the shores of Elba, deemed indicative of mischief. A three-masted lugger, that spread a wide breadth of canvass, with a low, dark hull, relieved ̧ by a single and almost imperceptible line of red beneath her channels, and a waist so deep that nothing was visible above it but the hat of some mariner, taller than common, was considered a suspicious vessel, and not even a fisherman would have ventured out within reach of a shot, so long as her character was unknown. Privateers, or corsairs, as it vas the fashion to term them, (and the name, with even its English signification, was often merited by their acts,) not unfrequently glided down that coast; and it was sometimes dangerous for those who belonged to friendly nations to meet them, in moments when the plunder that a relic of barbarism still legalizes, had failed.
The lugger was actually of about one hundred and fisty tons admeasurement; but her dark paint, and low hull, gave her an appearance of being much smaller than she really was; still, the spread of her canvass, as she came down before the wind wing-and-wing, as seamen term it, or with a sail fanning like the heavy pinions of a sea-fowl, on each side, betrayed her pursuits; and, as has been intimated, the mariners on the shore, who watched her movements, shook their heads in distrust, as they communed among themselves, in very indifferent Italian, concerning her destination and object. This observation, with its accompanying discourse, occurred on the rocky bluff above the town of Porto Ferrajo, in the Island of Elba, a spot that has since become so renowned as the capital of the mimic dominion of Napoleon. Indeed, the very dwelling which was subsequently used by
the fallen emperor as a palace, stood within a hundred yards of the speakers, looking out towards the entrance of the canal, and the mountains of Tuscany; or rather, of the little principality of Piombino, the system of merging the smaller in the larger states of Europe not having yet been brought into extensive operation. This house, a building of the size of a better sort of country residence of our own, was then, as now, occupied by the Florentine governor of the Tuscan portion of the island. It stands on the extremity of a low rocky promontory that forms the western ramparts of the deep extensive bay, on the side of which, ensconced behind a very convenient curvature of the rocks, which here incline westward in the form of a hook, lies the small port, completely concealed from the sea, as if in dread of visits like those which might be expected from craft resembling the suspicious stranger. This little port, not as large in itself as a modern dock in places like London or Liverpool, was sufficiently protected against any probable dangers, by suitable batteries; and as for the elements, a vessel laid upon a shelf in a closet would be scarcely more secure. In this domestic little basin, which, with the exception of a narrow entrance was completely surrounded by buildings, lay a few feluccas, that traded between the island and the adjacent main, and a solitary Austrian ship, which had come from the head of the Adriatic, in quest of iron, as it was pretended, but as much to assume the appearance of trade with the Italian dependency, as with any other purpose.
At the moment of which we are writing, however, but a dozen living beings were visible in or about all these craft. The intelligence that a strange lugger, resembling the one described, was in the offing, had drawn nearly all the mari ners ashore; and most of the habitués of the port had followed them up the broad steps of the crooked streets which led to the heights behind the town; or to the rocky elevation that overlooks the sea from north-east to west. The approach of the lugger had produced some such effect on the mariners of this unsophisticated and little-frequented port, as that of the hawk is known to excite among the timid tenants of the barn-yard. The rig of the stranger, in itself a suspicious circumstance, had been noted two hours before, by one or two old coasters, who habitually passed their idle
moments on the heights, examining the signs of the weather, and indulging in gossip; and their conjectures had drawn to the Porto Ferrajo mall some twenty men, who fancied themselves, or who actually were, cognoscenti in matters of the sea. When, however, the low, long, dark hull, which upheld such wide sheets of canvass, became fairly visible, the omens thickened, rumours spread, and hundreds collected on the spot, which, in Manhattanese parlance, would proba bly have been called a battery. Nor would the name have been altogether inappropriate, as a small battery was estab lished there, and that, too, in a position which would easily throw a shot two-thirds of a league, into the offing; or about the distance that the stranger was now from the shore.
Tommaso Tonti was the oldest mariner of Elba, and, luckily, being a sober, and usually a discreet man, he was the oracle of the island, in most things that related to the sea. As each citizen, wine-dealer, grocer, innkeeper, or worker in iron, came upon the height, he incontinently inquired for Tonti, or 'Maso, as he was generally called; and getting the bearings and distance of the grey-headed old seaman, he invariably made his way to his side, until a group of some two hundred men, women and children, had clustered near the person of the pilota, as the faithful gather about a favourite expounder of the law, in moments of religious excitement. It was worthy of remark, too, with how much consideration this little crowd of gentle Italians treated their aged seaman, on this occasion; none bawling out their questions, and all using the greatest care not to get in front of his person, lest they might intercept his means of observation. Five or six old sailors, like himself, were close at his side: these, it is true did not hesitate to speak as became their experience. But Tonti had obtained no small part of his reputation by exercising great moderation. in delivering his oracles, and, perhaps, by seeming to know more than he actually revealed. He was reserved, therefore; and while his brethren of the sea ventured on sundry con flicting opinions concerning the character of the stranger, and a hundred idle conjectures had flown from mouth to mouth, among the landsmen and females, not a syllable that could commit the old man, had escaped his lips. He let the others talk at will; as for himself, it suited his habits, and