The Maltese are contented, and appear to thrive under the English administration. They are a peculiar people, reminding me of the Arab even more than the Italian, while a certain rudeness in their build and motions suggests their Punic ancestry. Their language is a curious compound of Arabic and Italian, the former being the basis. I find that I can understand more than half that is said, the Arabic terminations being applied to Italian words. I believe it has never been successfully reduced to writing, and the restoration of pure Arabic has been proposed, with much reason, as preferable to an attempt to improve or refine it. Italian is the language used in the courts of justice and polite society, and is spoken here with much more purity than either in Naples or Sicily.
The heat has been so great since I landed that I have not ventured outside of the city, except last evening to an amateur theatre, got up by the non-commissioned officers and privates in the garrison. The performances were quite tolerable, except a love-sick young damsel who spoke with a rough masculine voice, and made long strides across the stage when she rushed into her lover’s arms. I am at a loss to account for the exhausting character of the heat. The thermometer shows 90 deg. by day, and 80 deg. to 85 deg. by night—a much lower temperature than I have found quite comfortable in Africa and Syria. In the Desert 100 deg. in the shade is rather bracing than otherwise; here, 90 deg. renders all exercise, more severe than smoking a pipe, impossible. Even in a state of complete inertia, a shirt-collar will fall starchless in five minutes.
Rather than waste eight more days in this glimmering half-existence, I have taken passage in a Maltese speronara, which sails this evening for Catania, in Sicily, where the grand festival of St. Agatha, which takes place once in a hundred years, will be celebrated next week. The trip promises a new experience, and I shall get a taste, slight though it be, of the golden Trinacria of the ancients. Perhaps, after all, this delay which so vexes me (bear in mind, I am no longer in the Orient!) may be meant solely for my good. At least, Mr. Winthrop, our Consul here, who has been exceedingly kind and courteous to me, thinks it a rare good fortune that I shall see the Catanian festa.
The Festival of St. Agatha.
Departure from Malta—The Speronara—Our Fellow-Passengers—The First Night on Board—Sicily—Scarcity of Provisions—Beating in the Calabrian Channel—The Fourth Morning—The Gulf of Catania—A Sicilian Landscape—The Anchorage—The Suspected List—The Streets of Catania—Biography of St. Agatha—The Illuminations—The Procession of the Veil—The Biscari Palace—The Antiquities of Catania—The Convent of St. Nicola.
“The morn is full of holiday, loud
With rival clamors ring from every spire;
Cunningly-stationed music dies and swells
In echoing places; when the winds respire,
Light flags stream out like gauzy tongues of fire.”—Keats.