Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
By John Richard Green (18371883)
From Stray Studies
AMONG the broken heights to the east or in the two central valleys there are scores of different walks and a hundred different nooks, and each walk and nook has its own independent charm. Steeps clothed from top to bottom in the thick greenery of the lemon or orange; sudden breaks like that of Metromania where a blue strip of sea seems to have been cunningly let in among the rocks; backgrounds of tumbled limestone; slopes dusty grey with wild cactus; thickets of delightful greenery where one lies hidden in the dense scrub of myrtle and arbutus; olive-yards creeping thriftily up the hill-sides and over the cliffs and down every slope and into every rock-corner where the Caprese peasant-farmer can find footing; homesteads of grey stone with low domed Oriental roofs on which women sit spinning, their figures etched out against the sky; gardens where the writhed fig-trees stand barely waiting for the foliage of the spring; nooks amidst broken boulders and vast fingers of rock with the dark mass of the carouba flinging its shade over them; heights from which one looks suddenly northward and southward over a hundred miles of seathis is Capri. The sea is everywhere. At one turn its waters go flashing away unbroken by a single sail towards the far-off African coast where the Caprese boatmen are coral-fishing through the hot summer months; at another the eye ranges over the tumbled mountain masses above Amalfi to the dim sweep of coast where the haze hides the temples of Pactum; at another the Bay of Naples opens suddenly before us, Vesuvius and the blue deep of Castellamare and the white city-line along the coast seen with a strange witchery across twenty miles of clear air.
The island is a paradise of silence for those to whom silence is a delight. One wanders about in the vineyards without a sound save the call of the vinedressers; one lies on the cliff and hears a thousand feet below the dreamy wash of the sea. There is hardly the cry of a bird to break the spell; even the girls who meet one with a smile on the hill-side smile quietly and gravely in the Southern fashion as they pass by. It is the stillest place that the sun shines on; but with all its stillness it is far from being a home of boredom. There are in fact few places in the world so full of interest. The artist finds a world of studies in its rifts and cliff-walls, in the sailor groups along its beach and the Greek faces of the girls in its vineyards. The geologist reads the secret of the past in its abruptly tilted strata, in a deposit of volcanic ash, in the fossils and bones which Augustus set the fashion of collecting before geology was thought of. The historian and the archæologist have a yet wider field. Capri is a perfect treasure-house of Roman remains, and though in later remains the island is far poorer, the ruins of mediæval castles crown the heights of Castiglione and Anacapri, and the mother church of San Costanzo with its central dome supported on marble shafts from the ruins hard by is an early specimen of Sicilian or southern Italian architecture. Perhaps the most remarkable touch of the South is seen in the low stone vaults which form the roofs of all the older houses of Capri, and whose upper surface serves as a terrace where the women gather in the sunshine in a way which brings home to one oddly the recollections of Syria and Jerusalem.