Mass at the Post Office, Naples, 1848

“We had taken our places in the procaccia or carriage which conveys the courier and his letter-bags to Popoli and Acquila in the Abruzzi; and we had been charged to be ready and at the post-office by ten o’clock. We were true to time, but could see nothing of the courier, nor hear any note of preparation for departure… no courier, no drawn-out carriage, no signs of post-horses, and not a man or boy to speak to that could give an intelligible answer, or tell us when we really were to start… We then went back to the post-office, where a functionary or understrapper comforted us with a ‘subito, Signori, subito’ – presently, presently. But still no sign of horses, or the courier, or of his bags, without which there was no departing. As the clocks were striking the midnight hour we saw the mail-bags brought to the coach, and the courier coming out of a room under the archway. Now at last we are off.

“Not a bit of it! The courier made himself invisible again. My patience vanished with him, and I began to inquire, in the vernacular, and perhaps with some loudness of voice and a touch of Neapolitan gesticulation, what this irregularity and protracted delay could mean. ‘Signori,’ said a fellow in a white nightcap, ‘they are gone to refresh their souls with a mass.’

‘Who are gone to mass at this hour?’ said I.

‘Don Pepino, and the postilion who is to drive you, and the gentleman who is to be your fellow-traveler as far as Sulmona,’ responded white nightcap.

‘But this is a strange hour for mass.’

Niente affatto, not at all, please your Excellency; tomorrow, or to-day – for we are in it – is a grand festa of the holy and blessed Virgin, and mass must be heard by Christians, and there will be no time to hear it on the road, and Christians are Christians; and they do say that there are brigands out in the Abruzzi, and that people may get accisi – killed.’

“We had heard as much as the latter part of the nightcap’s speech before; but we had detected so many exaggerations and lies, that we had become incredulous to every report. I asked the man what church they had gone to for their mass. He told us that they had gone to no church at all; that there was a chapel for midnight masses in the post-office, as an indispensable part of the establishment; and he pointed to the door, a few yards from us, which led to it. We went, and found within that door a narrow staircase which smelt more strongly of tobacco and other fumes than of incense. We thought we must have mistaken the direction, but the tinkling of a priest’s hand-bell reassured us. We ascended the stone staircase, and found a little chapel – not larger than a moderately sized English parlour – and a tall tapestry-dressed priest saying mass, and eight or ten people genuflecting and crossing themselves. Among these were our courier, postilion, and fellow-traveler.

“The three looked very solemn by the light of those midnight tapers, but, owing to the owlishness of countenance natural to him, and never changing, the courier looked by far the most solemn of the three. Unless it be a messa cantata, no mass, whether at noonday or at midnight, lasts very long. We were soon out in the street – the horses then came up jingling their bells – the solemn courier ordered them to be put to, and when he had sworn an oath or two at some of the blundering half-asleep understrappers – not neglecting our friend in the white nightcap – we were ensconced in the vehicle and were off. It was one o’clock in the morning of the 15th of August. Naples was all asleep in the broad moonlight when we left it.”

— From A Glance at Revolutionized Italy: A Visit to Messina and a Tour through the Kingdom of Naples, the Abruzzi, the Marches of Ancona, Rome, the States of the Church, Tuscany, Genoa, Piedmont, etc., etc., in the Summer of 1848 by Charles Mac Farlane

Mail Art, 1898

dentist stamp

From The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects (2010) by John Tingey, a mailing using a “publicity stamp” as part of the address. The addressee was G. Forster, a dentist who used the stamps to publicize his practice, and also the cousin of Reginald Bray, the above-referenced Englishman who delighted in sending cryptic postcards. At this time, such stamps were also popular in Germany.