Trevelyan, Raleigh: The Shadow of Vesuvius.

Trevelyan, Raleigh - The Shadow of Vesuvius. Folio Society, 1976, 1st thus. Vesuvius was 'bright and snowy in the peaceful distance' when Charles Dickens saw it first on a cool spring day in 1845. He instructs the visitor to stand in the forum of Pompeli and admire ffie volcano through the columns of The Temple of Isis; seeing it as a thing of beauty, not just as a symbol of 'doom and destiny, biding its terrible time'. A thousand years before Christ a fearful eruption had deposited ash and dust as far away as Avellino and Benevento, twenty to thirty miles away. By AD 79, the memory had vanished, and the shadow of Vesuvius fell on a busy, slightly raffish town of some twenty thousand souls, as big as Chichester today. Along the beautiful Bay of Naples stretched a Riviera-like string of luxury villas which Strabo said made the whole coast 'seem like one continuous town'. The eruption started around one o'clock on 24 August. with the appearance from the mountain of a cloud of unusual shape and size-'like a pine tree', said Pliny, observing from the other side of the bay. Curiosity aroused, his uncle, the admiral and scientist, set off by boat to investigate: Pliny went back to his books. Nearer the mountain, although still daytime, it was as though 'the final endless night of which we had heard had come upon the world'. The admiral died in the sulphurous fumes 'looking more like a man asleep than dead'. Earthquakes shook the ground 'so that the chariots we had ordered were so agitated backwards and forwards that we could not keep them steady'. Buildings tottered and fell. Storms of ash and stones rained down. Panic-stricken crowds attempted ffight in the lurid darkness. 'The sea seemed to roll back on itself so that the shore was considerably eularged and several sea animals were left upon it. On the other side, a black and dreadful cloud, broken with rapid zigzag flashes, revealed behind it variously-shaped masses of flame.' Then for sixteen hundred years the shadow of Vesuvius fell on a silent, unpeopled city, its life arrested like an abruptly frozen film. Today the same dorninating shadow falls on the greatest tourist attraction of the Western World. The turn of fate which revealed the lost cities of Pornpeli and Herculanetim began in 1710 when a peasant, digging a well, struck costly marbles from the theatre of Herculaneum. The discoveries in the two centuries that followed p roduced a revolution in artistic taste; and ushered in a Neo-classical revival w a ected furniture, decoration and art in the whole civilised world. Raleigh Trevelyan's The Shadow of Vesuvius gives a striking, personal impression of this ghostly city where, in Shelley's words, one hears 'the autumnal leaves like light footfiills of spirits passing through the streets'. He gives, too, an entertaining history of the slow unfmished striptease of time which gradually, tantalizingly, is revealing one of the greatest storehouses of treasures the world has seen; the source of much of our knowledge of daily life in the Roman world. (Folio Society). 10" x 7¼", 128pp, quarter brown cloth with decorative paper sides, blocked in gold, hardback. Illustrated endpapers (monochrome, different). Illustrated with 45 colour and 47 monochrome illustrations. Very good (no inscriptions, no bumps, not ex-library) complete with good (slight marks to lower-half and spine-edge of one panel, 5¾" tear to same panel from foot up; usual slight edge-wear/creasing/faint-browning) original, glassine wrapper (not issued in a slip-case).


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