Bulwer-Lytton on a resort city
Imagine one of today's best-selling novelists 150 years from now -- that could be Sir Edward G. E. Bulwer-Lytton today. Emerson pegged him as ``an industrious writer, with occasional ability.'' Everyone still knows the phrase titling Bulwer-Lytton's most famous book, ``The Last Days of Pompeii.'' He added to antique romance some 19th-century research on the time of Vesuvius's eruption in the year 79. Here Glaucus from Greece and his Roman comrade Clodius stroll the resort city as rec onstructed by the author. They were now in a street less crowded than the rest, at the end of which they beheld that broad and most lovely sea, which upon those delicious coasts seems to have renounced its prerogative of terror, -- so soft are the crisping winds that hover around its bosom, so glowing and so various are the hues which it takes from the rosy clouds, so fragrant are the perfumes which the breezes from the land scatter over its depths. . . .
Pompeii was the miniature of the civilization of that age. Within the narrow compass of its walls was contained, as it were, a specimen of every gift which luxury offered to power. In its minute but glittering shops, its tiny palaces, its baths, its forum, its theatre, its circus -- in the energy yet corruption, in the refinement yet the vice, of its people, you beheld a model of the whole empire. It was a toy, a plaything, a showbox, in which the gods seemed pleased to keep the representation of the gr eat monarchy of earth, and which they afterwards hid from time, to give the wonder of posterity; -- the moral of the maxim, that under the sun there is nothing new.
Crowded in the glassy bay were the vessels of commerce and the gilded galleys for the pleasures of the rich citizens. The boats of the fishermen glided rapidly to and fro; and afar off you saw the tall masts of the fleet under the command of Pliny. Upon the shore sat a Sicilian, who, with vehement gestures and flexile features, was narrating to a group of fishermen and peasants a strange tale of shipwrecked mariners and friendly dolphins: -- just as at this day, in the modern neighborhood, you may hear upon the Mole of Naples.
Drawing his comrade from the crowd, the Greek bent his steps toward a solitary part of the beach, and the two friends, seated on a small crag which rose amidst the smooth pebbles, inhaled the voluptuous and cooling breeze, which, dancing over the waters, kept music with its invisible feet. There was, perhaps, something in the scene that invited them to silence and reverie. Clodius shading his eyes from the burning sky, was calculating the gains of the last week; and the Greek, leaning upon his hand, shr inking not from that sun, -- his nation's tutelary deity, -- with whose fluent light of poesy, and joy, and love, his own veins were filled, gazed upon the broad expanse, and envied, perhaps, every wind that bent its pinions towards the shores of Greece.