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The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine, February 1844 Volume 23, Number 2   By:

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T H E K N I C K E R B O C K E R.




A few months only have elapsed since I travelled over the classic land of Sicily; and the impressions left on my mind by its picturesqueness, fertility, and the grandeur of its architectural remains, are more vivid, and fraught with more sublime associations, than any I received during my late sojourn in Europe. The pleasure of travelling, it seems to me, is chiefly experienced after the journey is over; when we can sit down by our own snug fire side, free from all the fatigues and annoyances which are its usual concomitants; and, if our untravelled friends are with us, indulge in the comfortable and harmless vanity of describing the wonders and dangers of those distant lands, and like Goldsmith's old soldier, 'Shoulder the crutch and show how fields were won.' I was about to remark, that those who travel only in books travel with much less discomfort, and perhaps enjoy as much, as those who travel in reality; but I fancy there are some of my young readers who would rather test the matter by their own experience, than by the inadequate descriptions which I have to offer them.

Sicily, as is well known, is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It was anciently called Trinacria, from its triangular shape, and is about six hundred miles in circumference. Each of its extremities is terminated by a promontory, one of which was called by the ancients Lilybeum, and faces Africa; another called Pachynus, faces the Peloponessus of Greece; and the third, Pelorum, now Capo di Boco, faces Italy. The aspect of the country is very mountainous: some of the mountains are lofty; but towering above all, like an enthroned spirit, rises Ætna. His giant form can be seen from elevated grounds in the most remote parts of the island, and the mariner can discern his snowy crown more than a hundred miles. But Sicily abounds in luxuriant plains and charming valleys, and its soil is proverbially rich: it once bore the appellation of the Granary of Rome; and it is now said that if properly tilled it would produce more grain than any country of its size in the world. Its beauty and fertility were often celebrated by ancient bards, who described the sacred flocks and herds of Apollo on its delightful slopes. The plain of Enna, where Proserpine and her nymphs gathered flowers, was famous for delicious honey; and according to an ancient writer, hounds lost their scent when hunting, in consequence of the odoriferous flowers which perfumed the air; and this may be no fable; for in Spring, as I myself have seen, the flowers are abundant and fragrant beyond description; and it seemed to me that the gardens of Europe had been supplied with two thirds of their choicest treasures from the wild stores of Sicily.

The history of Sicily is as varied and interesting as the features of its surface; but of this I must give only such a brief and hurried sketch as, to those who are not conversant with it, will serve to render the scenes I intend to describe more intelligible and interesting than they otherwise would be. Its early history, then, like that of most nations of antiquity, is wrapped in obscurity. Poets feign that its original inhabitants were Cyclops; after them the Sicani, a people supposed to have been from Spain, were the possessors; then came the Siculi, a people of Italy. The enterprising Phoenicians, those early monarchs of the sea, whose ships had even visited the remote and barbarous shores of Britain, formed some settlements upon it; and in the eighth century before Christ various colonies of Greeks were planted on its shores, and became in time the sole possessors of the island. These Grecian founders of Syracuse, Gela, and Agrigentum, seduced from their own country by the love of enterprise, or driven by necessity or revolution from their homes, brought with them the refinement, religion, and love of the beautiful, that have distinguished their race above all others; and in a short time after their establishment in Sicily, the magnificence of their cities, the grandeur of their temples, equalled if they did not surpass those of their fatherland... Continue reading book >>

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