I arrived in due time at Toulon. The town is not very striking in itself. It is surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains of hard magnesian limestone. These are almost devoid of vegetation. This it is which gives so arid an aspect to this part of the coast. Facing the south, the sun's rays, reflected from the bare surface of the rocks, place one at mid-day as if in the focus of a great burning mirror, and send every one in quest of shade. This intense temperature has its due effect upon the workers in the dockyard. I found the place far inferior to the others which I had visited. The heat seemed to engender a sort of listlessness over the entire place. The people seemed to be falling asleep. Though we complain of cold in our northern hemisphere, it is a great incentive to work. Even our east wind is an invigorator; it braces us up, and strengthens our nerves and muscles.
It is quite possible that the workmen of the Toulon dockyard might fire up and work with energy provided an occasion arose to call forth their dormant energy. But without the aid of an almost universal introduction of self-acting tools in this sleepy establishment, to break, with the busy hum of active working machinery, the spell of indolence that seemed to pervade it, there appeared to me no hope of anything like continuous and effective industry or useful results. The docks looked like one vast knacker's yard of broken-down obsolete ships and wretched old paraphernalia--unfortunately a characteristic of other establishments nearer home than Toulon.
After transacting my business with the directing officers of this vast dockyard I returned to Marseilles. There I found letters requiring me to proceed to Naples, in order to complete some business arrangements in that city. I was exceedingly rejoiced to have an opportunity of visiting the south of Italy. I set out at once. A fine new steamer of the Messageries Imperiales, the Ercolano, was ready to sail from the harbour. I took my place on board. I found that the engines had been made by Maudsley Sons and Field; they were of their latest improved double-cylinder construction. When I went down into the engine-room I felt myself in a sense at home; for the style of the engines brought to my mind many a pleasant remembrance of the days gone by.
We steamed out of the harbour, and passed in succession the beautiful little islands which gem the bay of Marseilles. Amongst others, the isle of If, crowned by its castle, once a State prison, and the Chateau d'If, immortalised by Dumas. Then Pomegne, Ratoneau, and other islands. We were now on the deep blue Mediterranean, watching the graceful curves of the coast as we steamed along. Soon after, we came in sight of the snow-capped maritime Alps behind Nice. The evening was calm and clear, and a bright moon shone overhead. Next morning I awoke in the harbour of Genoa, with a splendid panoramic view of the city before me. I shall never forget the glorious sight of that clear bright morning as long as I live.
As the steamer was to remain in the harbour until two o'clock next day, I landed with the passengers and saw the wonders of the city. I felt as if I were in a new world. On every side and all around me were objects of art lighted up by glorious sunshine. The picturesque narrow streets, with the blue sky overhead and the bright sunshine lighting up the beautiful architecture of the palatial houses, relieved by masses of clear shade, together with the picturesque dresses of the people, and the baskets of oranges and lemons with the leaves on the boughs on which they had been born and reared, the brilliant greenery of the inner courts into which you peeped while passing along the Strada Nuova, literally a street of palaces, threw me into a fervency of delight. Here, indeed, was architecture to be proud of--grand, imposing, and massive--chastely yet gloriously ornamented. There was nothing of the gingerbread order here!
The plan of these palaces is admirable. They are open to the street, so that all the inner arrangements may be seen. There is the court, surrounded by arcades, the arches of which rest upon columns; the flights of marble steps on each side, leading to the great hall or the principal apartments; and inside the court, the pink daphnes and Tangerine orange frees, surrounded by greenery, with which the splendour of the marble admirably contrasts;--the whole producing a magnificent effect. I remembered that Genoa la superba was one of my father's pet subjects when talking of his first visit to Italy; and now I could confirm all that he had said about the splendour of its palaces.
I do not know of anything more delightful than to grope one's way through a foreign city, especially such a city as Genoa, and come unexpectedly upon some building that one has heard of--that has dimly lived in the mind like a dream--and now to see it realised in fact. It suddenly starts into life, as it were, surrounded by its natural associations. I hate your professional guides and their constant chatter. Much better to come with a mind prepared with some history to fall back upon, and thus be enabled to compare the present with the past, the living with the dead.
I climbed up some of the hills surrounding Genoa--for it is a city of ups and downs. I wandered about the terraced palaces surrounded by orange groves and surveyed the fortified heights by which the place is surrounded. What exquisite bits of scenery there were to sketch; what a rich combination of nature and art! And what a world of colour, with the clear blue sea in the distance! Altogether, that one day at Genoa--though but a succession of glimpses formed a bright spot in my life, that neither time nor distance can dim or tarnish.