It is certainly surprising, that this most interesting city should have remained undiscovered until so late a period, and that antiquaries and learned men should have so long and materially erred about its situation. In many places masses of ruins, portions of the buried theatres, temples, and houses were not two feet below the surface of the soil; the country people were continually digging up pieces of worked marble, and other antique objects; in several spots they had even laid open the outer walls of the town; and yet men did not find out what it was, that peculiar, isolated mound of cinders and ashes, earth and pumice-stone, covered. There is another circumstance which increases the wonder of Pompeii remaining so long concealed. A subterranean canal, cut from the river Sarno, traverses the city, and is seen darkly and silently gliding on under the temple of Isis. This is said to have been cut to-wards the middle of the fifteenth century, to supply the contiguous town of the Torre dell’Annunziata with fresh water; it probably ran anciently in the same channel. But, cutting it, or clearing it, workmen must have crossed under Pompeii from one side to the other.
As you walk round the walls of the city, and see now the volcanic matter is piled upon it in one heap, it looks as though the hand of man had purposely buried it, by carrying and throwing over it the volcanic matter. This matter does not spread in any direction beyond the town, over the fine plain which gently declines towards the bay of Naples. The volcanic eruption was so confined in its course or its fall, as to bury Pompeii, and only Pompeii: for the shower of ashes and pumice- stone which descended in the immediate neighborhood certainly made but a slight difference in the elevation of the plain.
Where a town has been buried by lava, like Herculaneum the process is easily traced. You can follow the black, hardened lava from the cone of the mountain to the sea whose waters it invaded for many a rood,” and those who have seen the lava in its liquid state. when it flows on like a river of molten iron, can conceive at once how it would bury every thing it found in its way. There is often a confusion of ideas, among those who have not had the advantages of visiting these interesting places, as to the matter which covers Pompeii and Herculaneum: they fancy they were both buried by lava. Herculaneum was so, and the work of excavating there, was like digging in a quarry of very hard stone. The descent into the places cleared is like the descent into a quarry or mine, and you are always under ground, lighted by torches.
But Pompeii was covered by loose mud, pumice-stone, and ashes, over which, in the course of centuries, there collected vegetable soil. Beneath this shallow soil, the whole is very crumbly and easy to dig, in few spots more difficult than one of our common gravel-pits. The matter excavated is carried off in carts, and thrown outside of the town; and in times when the labor is carried on with activity, as cart alter cart withdraws with the earth that covered them, you see houses entire, except their roofs,, which have nearly always fallen in, make their appearance, and, by degrees, a whole street opens to the sun-shine or the shower, just like the streets of any inhabited neighboring town. It is curious to observe, as the volcanic matter is removed, that the houses are principally built of lava, the more ancient product of the same Vesuvius, whose later results buried and concealed Pompeii for so many ages.
In the autumn of 1822 I saw Pompeii under very interesting circumstances. It was a few days after an eruption of Vesuvius which I had witnessed, and which was considered by far the grandest eruption of recent times. From Portici, our road was coated with lapilla or pumice-stone, and a fine, impalpable powder, of a palish gray hue, that had been discharged from the mountain, round whose base we were winding. In many places this coating was more than a foot deep, but it was pretty equally spread, not accumulating in any particular spot. As we drove into Pompeii our carriage wheels crushed this matter, which contained the principal components of what had buried the city : it was lodged on the edges of the houses’ walls, and on their roofs, (where the Neapolitan government had furnished them with any;) it lay inches thick on the tops of the pillars and truncated columns of the ancient temples, it covered all the floors of the houses that had no roofs, and concealed the mosaics. In the amphitheatre, where we sat down to refresh ourselves, we were obliged to make the guides clear it away with shovels it was every where. Looking from the upper walls of the amphitheatre, we saw the whole country covered with it trees and all were coated with the pale-gray plaster, nor did it disappear for many months after.
Some ignorant fellows at Naples pretended the fine ashes, or powder, contained gold! Neapolitans began to collect it. They found no gold, but it turned out to be an excellent thing for cleaning and polishing plate!
This dust continued to be blown from the mountain many days after the eruption had ceased. It once made a pretty figure of me! I was riding u the Posilippo road when it came on to rain; th rain brought down and gave consistency to the dust which adhered to my black coat and pantaloons, until I looked as if I had been rolled in plaster of Paris.
But it travelled farther than Posilippo, for a friend of mine, an officer in the navy, assured me it had tallen with rain on the deck of his ship, when between three and four hundred miles from Naples and Mount Vesuvius. There is an old story, that during one of the great eruptions of this mountain, or Etna, cinders were thrown as far as Constantinople; by substituting the fine powder I have alluded to, for cinders, the story becomes not improbable.