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Title: Sketches and Studies in Italy and Greece, Second Series
Author: Symonds, John Addington, 1840-1893
Language: English
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SKETCHES AND STUDIES IN ITALY AND GREECE



BY JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS


AUTHOR OF "RENAISSANCE IN ITALY" "STUDIES OF THE GREEK POETS," ETC



SECOND SERIES

LONDON JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.

1914

_All rights reserved_



  FIRST EDITION (_Smith, Elder & Co._)    _October, 1898_
  _Reprinted_                                 _May, 1900_
  _Reprinted_                                _June, 1902_
  _Reprinted_                            _November, 1905_
  _Reprinted_                            _December, 1907_
  _Reprinted_                            _February, 1914_
  _Taken over by John Murray_             _January, 1917_



_Printed in Great Britain at_ THE BALLANTYNE PRESS _by_ SPOTTISWOODE,
BALLANTYNE & Co. LTD. _Colchester, London & Eton_



CONTENTS

                                                   PAGE

  RAVENNA                                            1
  RIMINI                                            14
  MAY IN UMBRIA                                     32
  THE PALACE OF URBINO                              50
  VITTORIA ACCORAMBONI                              88
  AUTUMN WANDERINGS                                127
  PARMA                                            147
  CANOSSA                                          163
  FORNOVO                                          180
  FLORENCE AND THE MEDICI                          201
  THE DEBT OF ENGLISH TO ITALIAN LITERATURE        258
  POPULAR SONGS OF TUSCANY                         276
  POPULAR ITALIAN POETRY OF THE RENAISSANCE        305
  THE 'ORFEO' OF POLIZIANO                         345
  EIGHT SONNETS OF PETRARCH                        365



SKETCHES AND STUDIES IN ITALY AND GREECE



_RAVENNA_


The Emperor Augustus chose Ravenna for one of his two naval stations,
and in course of time a new city arose by the sea-shore, which
received the name of Portus Classis. Between this harbour and the
mother city a third town sprang up, and was called Cæsarea. Time and
neglect, the ravages of war, and the encroaching powers of Nature have
destroyed these settlements, and nothing now remains of the three
cities but Ravenna. It would seem that in classical times Ravenna
stood, like modern Venice, in the centre of a huge lagune, the fresh
waters of the Ronco and the Po mixing with the salt waves of the
Adriatic round its very walls. The houses of the city were built on
piles; canals instead of streets formed the means of communication,
and these were always filled with water artificially conducted from
the southern estuary of the Po. Round Ravenna extended a vast morass,
for the most part under shallow water, but rising at intervals into
low islands like the Lido or Murano or Torcello which surround Venice.
These islands were celebrated for their fertility: the vines and
fig-trees and pomegranates, springing from a fat and fruitful soil,
watered with constant moisture, and fostered by a mild sea-wind and
liberal sunshine, yielded crops that for luxuriance and quality
surpassed the harvests of any orchards on the mainland. All the
conditions of life in old Ravenna seem to have resembled those of
modern Venice; the people went about in gondolas, and in the early
morning barges laden with fresh fruit or meat and vegetables flocked
from all quarters to the city of the sea.[1] Water also had to be
procured from the neighbouring shore, for, as Martial says, a well at
Ravenna was more valuable than a vineyard. Again, between the city and
the mainland ran a long low causeway all across the lagune like that
on which the trains now glide into Venice. Strange to say, the air of
Ravenna was remarkably salubrious: this fact, and the ease of life
that prevailed there, and the security afforded by the situation of
the town, rendered it a most desirable retreat for the monarchs of
Italy during those troublous times in which the empire nodded to its
fall. Honorius retired to its lagunes for safety; Odoacer, who
dethroned the last Cæsar of the West, succeeded him; and was in turn,
supplanted by Theodoric the Ostrogoth. Ravenna, as we see it now,
recalls the peaceful and half-Roman rule of the great Gothic king. His
palace, his churches, and the mausoleums in which his daughter
Amalasuntha laid the hero's bones, have survived the sieges of
Belisarius and Astolphus, the conquest of Pepin, the bloody quarrels
of Iconoclasts with the children of the Roman Church, the mediæval
wars of Italy, the victory of Gaston de Foix, and still stand gorgeous
with marbles and mosaics in spite of time and the decay of all around
them.

As early as the sixth century, the sea had already retreated to such a
distance from Ravenna that orchards and gardens were cultivated on
the spot where once the galleys of the Cæsars rode at anchor. Groves
of pines sprang up along the shore, and in their lofty tops the music
of the wind moved like the ghost of waves and breakers plunging upon
distant sands. This Pinetum stretches along the shore of the Adriatic
for about forty miles, forming a belt of variable width between the
great marsh and the tumbling sea. From a distance the bare stems and
velvet crowns of the pine-trees stand up like palms that cover an
oasis on Arabian sands; but at a nearer view the trunks detach
themselves from an inferior forest-growth of juniper and thorn and ash
and oak, the tall roofs of the stately firs shooting their breadth of
sheltering greenery above the lower and less sturdy brushwood. It is
hardly possible to imagine a more beautiful and impressive scene than
that presented by these long alleys of imperial pines. They grow so
thickly one behind another, that we might compare them to the pipes of
a great organ, or the pillars of a Gothic church, or the basaltic
columns of the Giant's Causeway. Their tops are evergreen and laden
with the heavy cones, from which Ravenna draws considerable wealth.
Scores of peasants are quartered on the outskirts of the forest, whose
business it is to scale the pines and rob them of their fruit at
certain seasons of the year. Afterwards they dry the fir-cones in the
sun, until the nuts which they contain fall out. The empty husks are
sold for firewood, and the kernels in their stony shells reserved for
exportation. You may see the peasants, men, women, and boys, sorting
them by millions, drying and sifting them upon the open spaces of the
wood, and packing them in sacks to send abroad through Italy. The
_pinocchi_ or kernels of the stone-pine are largely used in cookery,
and those of Ravenna are prized for their good quality and aromatic
flavour. When roasted or pounded, they taste like a softer and more
mealy kind of almonds. The task of gathering this harvest is not a
little dangerous. Men have to cut notches in the straight shafts, and
having climbed, often to the height of eighty feet, to lean upon the
branches, and detach the fir-cones with a pole--and this for every
tree. Some lives, they say, are yearly lost in the business.

As may be imagined, the spaces of this great forest form the haunt of
innumerable living creatures. Lizards run about by myriads in the
grass. Doves coo among the branches of the pines, and nightingales
pour their full-throated music all day and night from thickets of
white-thorn and acacia. The air is sweet with aromatic scents: the
resin of the pine and juniper, the mayflowers and acacia-blossoms, the
violets that spring by thousands in the moss, the wild roses and faint
honeysuckles which throw fragrant arms from bough to bough of ash or
maple, join to make one most delicious perfume. And though the air
upon the neighbouring marsh is poisonous, here it is dry, and spreads
a genial health. The sea-wind murmuring through these thickets at
nightfall or misty sunrise, conveys no fever to the peasants stretched
among their flowers. They watch the red rays of sunset flaming through
the columns of the leafy hall, and flaring on its fretted rafters of
entangled boughs; they see the stars come out, and Hesper gleam, an
eye of brightness, among dewy branches; the moon walks silver-footed
on the velvet tree-tops, while they sleep beside the camp-fires; fresh
morning wakes them to the sound of birds and scent of thyme and
twinkling of dewdrops on the grass around. Meanwhile ague, fever, and
death have been stalking all night long about the plain, within a few
yards of their couch, and not one pestilential breath has reached the
charmed precincts of the forest.

You may ride or drive for miles along green aisles between the pines
in perfect solitude; and yet the creatures of the wood, the sunlight
and the birds, the flowers and tall majestic columns at your side,
prevent all sense of loneliness or fear. Huge oxen haunt the
wilderness--grey creatures, with mild eyes and spreading horns and
stealthy tread. Some are patriarchs of the forest, the fathers and
the mothers of many generations who have been carried from their sides
to serve in ploughs or waggons on the Lombard plain. Others are
yearling calves, intractable and ignorant of labour. In order to
subdue them to the yoke, it is requisite to take them very early from
their native glades, or else they chafe and pine away with weariness.
Then there is a sullen canal, which flows through the forest from the
marshes to the sea; it is alive with frogs and newts and snakes. You
may see these serpents basking on the surface among thickets of the
flowering rush, or coiled about the lily leaves and flowers--lithe
monsters, slippery and speckled, the tyrants of the fen.

It is said that when Dante was living at Ravenna he would spend whole
days alone among the forest glades, thinking of Florence and her civil
wars, and meditating cantos of his poem. Nor have the influences of
the pine-wood failed to leave their trace upon his verse. The charm of
its summer solitude seems to have sunk into his soul; for when he
describes the whispering of winds and singing birds among the boughs
of his terrestrial paradise, he says:--

  Non però dal lor esser dritto sparte
    Tanto, che gli augelletti per le cime
    Lasciasser d' operare ogni lor arte:
  Ma con piena letizia l' aure prime,
    Cantando, ricevano intra le foglie,
    Che tenevan bordone alle sue rime
  Tal, qual di ramo in ramo si raccoglie
    Per la pineta in sul lito di Chiassi
    Quand' Eolo Scirocco fuor discioglie.

With these verses in our minds, while wandering down the grassy
aisles, beside the waters of the solitary place, we seem to meet that
lady singing as she went, and plucking flower by flower, 'like
Proserpine when Ceres lost a daughter, and she lost her spring.'
There, too, the vision of the griffin and the car, of singing
maidens, and of Beatrice descending to the sound of Benedictus and of
falling flowers, her flaming robe and mantle green as grass, and veil
of white, and olive crown, all flashed upon the poet's inner eye, and
he remembered how he bowed before her when a boy. There is yet another
passage in which it is difficult to believe that Dante had not the
pine-forest in his mind. When Virgil and the poet were waiting in
anxiety before the gates of Dis, when the Furies on the wall were
tearing their breasts and crying, 'Venga Medusa, e si 'l farem di
smalto,' suddenly across the hideous river came a sound like that
which whirlwinds make among the shattered branches and bruised stems
of forest-trees; and Dante, looking out with fear upon the foam and
spray and vapour of the flood, saw thousands of the damned flying
before the face of one who forded Styx with feet unwet. 'Like frogs,'
he says, 'they fled, who scurry through the water at the sight of
their foe, the serpent, till each squats and hides himself close to
the ground.' The picture of the storm among the trees might well have
occurred to Dante's mind beneath the roof of pine-boughs. Nor is there
any place in which the simile of the frogs and water-snake attains
such dignity and grandeur. I must confess that till I saw the ponds
and marshes of Ravenna, I used to fancy that the comparison was
somewhat below the greatness of the subject; but there so grave a note
of solemnity and desolation is struck, the scale of Nature is so
large, and the serpents coiling in and out among the lily leaves and
flowers are so much in their right place, that they suggest a scene by
no means unworthy of Dante's conception.

Nor is Dante the only singer who has invested this wood with poetical
associations. It is well known that Boccaccio laid his story of
'Honoria' in the pine-forest, and every student of English literature
must be familiar with the noble tale in verse which Dryden has founded
on this part of the 'Decameron.' We all of us have followed Theodore,
and watched with him the tempest swelling in the grove, and seen the
hapless ghost pursued by demon hounds and hunter down the glades. This
story should be read while storms are gathering upon the distant sea,
or thunderclouds descending from the Apennines, and when the pines
begin to rock and surge beneath the stress of labouring winds. Then
runs the sudden flash of lightning like a rapier through the boughs,
the rain streams hissing down, and the thunder 'breaks like a whole
sea overhead.'

With the Pinetum the name of Byron will be for ever associated. During
his two years' residence in Ravenna he used to haunt its wilderness,
riding alone or in the company of friends. The inscription placed
above the entrance to the house he occupied alludes to it as one of
the objects which principally attracted the poet to the neighbourhood
of Ravenna: 'Impaziente di visitare l' antica selva, che inspirò già
il Divino e Giovanni Boccaccio.' We know, however, that a more
powerful attraction, in the person of the Countess Guiccioli,
maintained his fidelity to 'that place of old renown, once in the
Adrian Sea, Ravenna.'

Between the Bosco, as the people of Ravenna call this pine-wood, and
the city, the marsh stretches for a distance of about three miles. It
is a plain intersected by dykes and ditches, and mapped out into
innumerable rice-fields. For more than half a year it lies under
water, and during the other months exhales a pestilential vapour,
which renders it as uninhabitable as the Roman Campagna; yet in
springtime this dreary flat is even beautiful. The young blades of the
rice shoot up above the water, delicately green and tender. The
ditches are lined with flowering rush and golden flags, while white
and yellow lilies sleep in myriads upon the silent pools. Tamarisks
wave their pink and silver tresses by the road, and wherever a plot of
mossy earth emerges from the marsh, it gleams with purple orchises and
flaming marigolds; but the soil beneath is so treacherous and spongy,
that these splendid blossoms grow like flowers in dreams or fairy
stories. You try in vain to pick them; they elude your grasp, and
flourish in security beyond the reach of arm or stick.

Such is the sight of the old town of Classis. Not a vestige of the
Roman city remains, not a dwelling or a ruined tower, nothing but the
ancient church of S. Apollinare in Classe. Of all desolate buildings
this is the most desolate. Not even the deserted grandeur of S. Paolo
beyond the walls of Rome can equal it. Its bare round campanile gazes
at the sky, which here vaults only sea and plain--a perfect dome,
star-spangled like the roof of Galla Placidia's tomb. Ravenna lies low
to west, the pine-wood stretches away in long monotony to east. There
is nothing else to be seen except the spreading marsh, bounded by dim
snowy Alps and purple Apennines, so very far away that the level rack
of summer clouds seem more attainable and real. What sunsets and
sunrises that tower must see; what glaring lurid afterglows in August,
when the red light scowls upon the pestilential fen; what sheets of
sullen vapour rolling over it in autumn; what breathless heats, and
rainclouds big with thunder; what silences; what unimpeded blasts of
winter winds! One old monk tends this deserted spot. He has the huge
church, with its echoing aisles and marble columns and giddy
bell-tower and cloistered corridors, all to himself. At rare
intervals, priests from Ravenna come to sing some special mass at
these cold altars; pious folk make vows to pray upon their mouldy
steps and kiss the relics which are shown on great occasions. But no
one stays; they hurry, after muttering their prayers, from the
fever-stricken spot, reserving their domestic pieties and customary
devotions for the brighter and newer chapels of the fashionable
churches in Ravenna. So the old monk is left alone to sweep the marsh
water from his church floor, and to keep the green moss from growing
too thickly on its monuments. A clammy conferva covers everything
except the mosaics upon tribune, roof, and clerestory, which defy the
course of age. Christ on His throne _sedet aternumque sedebit_: the
saints around him glitter with their pitiless uncompromising eyes and
wooden gestures, as if twelve centuries had not passed over them, and
they were nightmares only dreamed last night, and rooted in a sick
man's memory. For those gaunt and solemn forms there is no change of
life or end of days. No fever touches them; no dampness of the wind
and rain loosens their firm cement. They stare with senseless faces in
bitter mockery of men who live and die and moulder away beneath. Their
poor old guardian told us it was a weary life. He has had the fever
three times, and does not hope to survive many more Septembers. The
very water that he drinks is brought him from Ravenna; for the vast
fen, though it pours its overflow upon the church floor, and spreads
like a lake around, is death to drink. The monk had a gentle woman's
voice and mild brown eyes. What terrible crime had consigned him to
this living tomb? For what past sorrow is he weary of his life? What
anguish of remorse has driven him to such a solitude? Yet he looked
simple and placid; his melancholy was subdued and calm, as if life
were over for him, and he were waiting for death to come with a
friend's greeting upon noiseless wings some summer night across the
fen-lands in a cloud of soft destructive fever-mist.

Another monument upon the plain is worthy of a visit. It is the
so-called Colonna dei Francesi, a _cinquecento_ pillar of Ionic
design, erected on the spot where Gaston de Foix expired victorious
after one of the bloodiest battles ever fought. The Ronco, a straight
sluggish stream, flows by the lonely spot; mason bees have covered
with laborious stucco-work the scrolls and leafage of its ornaments,
confounding epitaphs and trophies under their mud houses. A few
cypress-trees stand round it, and the dogs and chickens of a
neighbouring farmyard make it their rendezvous. Those mason bees are
like posterity, which settles down upon the ruins of a Baalbec or a
Luxor, setting up its tents, and filling the fair spaces of Hellenic
or Egyptian temples with clay hovels. Nothing differs but the scale;
and while the bees content themselves with filling up and covering,
man destroys the silent places of the past which he appropriates.

In Ravenna itself, perhaps what strikes us most is the abrupt
transition everywhere discernible from monuments of vast antiquity to
buildings of quite modern date. There seems to be no interval between
the marbles and mosaics of Justinian or Theodoric and the
insignificant frippery of the last century. The churches of
Ravenna--S. Vitale, S. Apollinare, and the rest--are too well known,
and have been too often described by enthusiastic antiquaries, to need
a detailed notice in this place. Every one is aware that the
ecclesiastical customs and architecture of the early Church can be
studied in greater perfection here than elsewhere. Not even the
basilicas and mosaics of Rome, nor those of Palermo and Monreale, are
equal for historical interest to those of Ravenna. Yet there is not
one single church which remains entirely unaltered and unspoiled. The
imagination has to supply the atrium or outer portico from one
building, the vaulted baptistery with its marble font from another,
the pulpits and ambones from a third the tribune from a fourth, the
round brick bell-tower from a fifth, and then to cover all the concave
roofs and chapel walls with grave and glittering mosaics.

There is nothing more beautiful in decorative art than the mosaics of
such tiny buildings as the tomb of Galla Placidia or the chapel of the
Bishop's Palace. They are like jewelled and enamelled cases; not an
inch of wall can be seen which is not covered with elaborate patterns
of the brightest colours. Tall date-palms spring from the floor with
fruit and birds among their branches, and between them stand the
pillars and apostles of the Church. In the spandrels and lunettes
above the arches and the windows angels fly with white extended wings.
On every vacant place are scrolls and arabesques of foliage,--birds
and beasts, doves drinking from the vase, and peacocks spreading
gorgeous plumes--a maze of green and gold and blue. Overhead, the
vault is powdered with stars gleaming upon the deepest azure, and in
the midst is set an aureole embracing the majestic head of Christ, or
else the symbol of the sacred fish, or the hand of the Creator
pointing from a cloud. In Galla Placidia's tomb these storied vaults
spring above the sarcophagi of empresses and emperors, each lying in
the place where he was laid more than twelve centuries ago. The light
which struggles through the narrow windows serves to harmonise the
brilliant hues and make a gorgeous gloom.

Besides these more general and decorative subjects, many of the
churches are adorned with historical mosaics, setting forth the Bible
narrative or incidents from the life of Christian emperors and kings.
In S. Apollinare Nuovo there is a most interesting treble series of
such mosaics extending over both walls of the nave. On the left hand,
as we enter, we see the town of Classis; on the right the palace of
Theodoric, its doors and loggie rich with curtains, and its friezes
blazing with coloured ornaments. From the city gate of Classis virgins
issue, and proceed in a long line until they reach Madonna seated on a
throne, with Christ upon her knees, and the three kings in adoration
at her feet. From Theodoric's palace door a similar procession of
saints and martyrs carry us to Christ surrounded by archangels. Above
this double row of saints and virgins stand the fathers and prophets
of the Church, and highest underneath the roof are pictures from the
life of our Lord. It will be remembered in connection with these
subjects that the women sat upon the left and the men upon the right
side of the church. Above the tribune, at the east end of the church,
it was customary to represent the Creative Hand, or the monogram of
the Saviour, or the head of Christ with the letters A and [Greek Ô].
Moses and Elijah frequently stand on either side to symbolise the
transfiguration, while the saints and bishops specially connected with
the church appeared upon a lower row. Then on the side walls were
depicted such subjects as Justinian and Theodora among their
courtiers, or the grant of the privileges of the church to its first
founder from imperial patrons, with symbols of the old Hebraic
ritual--Abel's lamb, the sacrifice of Isaac, Melchisedec's offering of
bread and wine,--which were regarded as the types of Christian
ceremonies. The baptistery was adorned with appropriate mosaics
representing Christ's baptism in Jordan.

Generally speaking, one is struck with the dignity of these designs,
and especially with the combined majesty and sweetness of the face of
Christ. The sense for harmony of hue displayed in their composition is
marvellous. It would be curious to trace in detail the remnants of
classical treatment which may be discerned--Jordan, for instance,
pours his water from an urn like a river-god crowned with sedge--or to
show what points of ecclesiastical tradition are established these
ancient monuments. We find Mariolatry already imminent, the names of
the three kings, Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, the four evangelists
as we now recognise them, and many of the rites and vestments which
Ritualists of all denominations regard with superstitious reverence.

There are two sepulchral monuments in Ravenna which cannot be passed
over unnoticed. The one is that of Theodoric the Goth, crowned by its
semisphere of solid stone, a mighty tomb, well worthy of the conqueror
and king. It stands in a green field, surrounded by acacias, where the
nightingales sing ceaselessly in May. The mason bees have covered it,
and the water has invaded its sepulchral vaults. In spite of many
trials, it seems that human art is unable to pump out the pond and
clear the frogs and efts from the chamber where the great Goth was
laid by Amalasuntha.

The other is Dante's temple, with its basrelief and withered garlands.
The story of his burial, and of the discovery of his real tomb, is
fresh in the memory of every one. But the 'little cupola, more neat
than solemn,' of which Lord Byron speaks, will continue to be the goal
of many a pilgrimage. For myself--though I remember Chateaubriand's
bareheaded genuflection on its threshold, Alfieri's passionate
prostration at the altar-tomb, and Byron's offering of poems on the
poet's shrine--I confess that a single canto of the 'Inferno,' a
single passage of the 'Vita Nuova,' seems more full of soul-stirring
associations than the place where, centuries ago, the mighty dust was
laid. It is the spirit that lives and makes alive. And Dante's spirit
seems more present with us under the pine-branches of the Bosco than
beside his real or fancied tomb. 'He is risen,'--'Lo, I am with you
alway'--these are the words that ought to haunt us in a
burying-ground. There is something affected and self-conscious in
overpowering grief or enthusiasm or humiliation at a tomb.

       *       *       *       *       *



_RIMINI_

SIGISMONDO PANDOLFO MALATESTA AND LEO BATTISTA ALBERTI


Rimini is a city of about 18,000 souls, famous for its Stabilmento de'
Bagni and its antiquities, seated upon the coast of the Adriatic, a
little to the south-east of the world-historical Rubicon. It is our
duty to mention the baths first among its claims to distinction,
since the prosperity and cheerfulness of the little town depend on
them in a great measure. But visitors from the north will fly from
these, to marvel at the bridge which Augustus built and Tiberius
completed, and which still spans the Marecchia with five gigantic
arches of white Istrian limestone, as solidly as if it had not borne
the tramplings of at least three conquests. The triumphal arch, too,
erected in honour of Augustus, is a notable monument of Roman
architecture. Broad, ponderous, substantial, tufted here and there
with flowering weeds, and surmounted with mediaeval machicolations,
proving it to have sometimes stood for city gate or fortress, it
contrasts most favourably with the slight and somewhat gimcrack arch
of Trajan in the sister city of Ancona. Yet these remains of the
imperial pontifices, mighty and interesting as they are, sink into
comparative insignificance beside the one great wonder of Rimini, the
cathedral remodelled for Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta by Leo Battista
Alberti in 1450. This strange church, one of the earliest extant
buildings in which the Neopaganism of the Renaissance showed itself in
full force, brings together before our memory two men who might be
chosen as typical in their contrasted characters of the transitional
age which gave them birth.

No one with any tincture of literary knowledge is ignorant of the fame
at least of the great Malatesta family--the house of the Wrongheads,
as they were rightly called by some prevision of their future part in
Lombard history. The readers of the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth
cantos of the 'Inferno' have all heard of

  E il mastin vecchio e il nuovo da Verucchio
      Che fecer di Montagna il mal governo,

while the story of Francesca da Polenta, who was wedded to the
hunchback Giovanni Malatesta and murdered by him with her lover Paolo,
is known not merely to students of Dante, but to readers of Byron and
Leigh Hunt, to admirers of Flaxman, Ary Scheffer, Doré--to all, in
fact, who have of art and letters any love.

The history of these Malatesti, from their first establishment under
Otho III. as lieutenants for the Empire in the Marches of Ancona, down
to their final subjugation by the Papacy in the age of the
Renaissance, is made up of all the vicissitudes which could befall a
mediaeval Italian despotism. Acquiring an unlawful right over the
towns of Rimini, Cesena, Sogliano, Ghiacciuolo, they ruled their petty
principalities like tyrants by the help of the Guelf and Ghibelline
factions, inclining to the one or the other as it suited their humour
or their interest, wrangling among themselves, transmitting the
succession of their dynasty through bastards and by deeds of force,
quarrelling with their neighbours the Counts of Urbino, alternately
defying and submitting to the Papal legates in Romagna, serving as
condottieri in the wars of the Visconti and the state of Venice, and
by their restlessness and genius for military intrigues contributing
in no slight measure to the general disturbance of Italy. The
Malatesti were a race of strongly marked character: more, perhaps,
than any other house of Italian tyrants, they combined for generations
those qualities of the fox and the lion, which Machiavelli thought
indispensable to a successful despot. Son after son, brother with
brother, they continued to be fierce and valiant soldiers, cruel in
peace, hardy in war, but treasonable and suspicious in all
transactions that could not be settled by the sword. Want of union,
with them as with the Baglioni and many other of the minor noble
families in Italy, prevented their founding a substantial dynasty.
Their power, based on force, was maintained by craft and crime, and
transmitted through tortuous channels by intrigue. While false in
their dealings with the world at large, they were diabolical in the
perfidy with which they treated one another. No feudal custom, no
standard of hereditary right, ruled the succession in their family.
Therefore the ablest Malatesta for the moment clutched what he could
of the domains that owned his house for masters. Partitions among sons
or brothers, mutually hostile and suspicious, weakened the whole
stock. Yet they were great enough to hold their own for centuries
among the many tyrants who infested Lombardy. That the other princely
families of Romagna, Emilia, and the March were in the same state of
internal discord and dismemberment, was probably one reason why the
Malatesti stood their ground so firmly as they did.

So far as Rimini is concerned, the house of Malatesta culminated in
Sigismondo Pandolfo, son of Gian Galeazzo Visconti's general, the
perfidious Pandolfo. It was he who built the Rocca, or castle of the
despots, which stands a little way outside the town, commanding a fair
view of Apennine tossed hill-tops and broad Lombard plain, and who
remodelled the Cathedral of S. Francis on a plan suggested by the
greatest genius of the age. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta was one of
the strangest products of the earlier Renaissance. To enumerate the
crimes which he committed within the sphere of his own family,
mysterious and inhuman outrages which render the tale of the Cenci
credible, would violate the decencies of literature. A thoroughly
bestial nature gains thus much with posterity that its worst qualities
must be passed by in silence. It is enough to mention that he murdered
three wives in succession,[2] Bussoni di Carmagnuola, Guinipera
d'Este, and Polissena Sforza, on various pretexts of infidelity, and
carved horns upon his own tomb with this fantastic legend
underneath:--

  Porto le corna ch' ognuno le vede,
  E tal le porta che non se lo crede.

He died in wedlock with the beautiful and learned Isotta degli Atti,
who had for some time been his mistress. But, like most of the
Malatesti, he left no legitimate offspring. Throughout his life he was
distinguished for bravery and cunning, for endurance of fatigue and
rapidity of action, for an almost fretful rashness in the execution of
his schemes, and for a character terrible in its violence. He was
acknowledged as a great general; yet nothing succeeded with him. The
long warfare which he carried on against the Duke of Montefeltro ended
in his discomfiture. Having begun by defying the Holy See, he was
impeached at Rome for heresy, parricide, incest, adultery, rape, and
sacrilege, burned in effigy by Pope Pius II., and finally restored to
the bosom of the Church, after suffering the despoliation of almost
all his territories, in 1463. The occasion on which this fierce and
turbulent despiser of laws human and divine was forced to kneel as a
penitent before the Papal legate in the gorgeous temple dedicated to
his own pride, in order that the ban of excommunication might be
removed from Rimini, was one of those petty triumphs, interesting
chiefly for their picturesqueness, by which the Popes confirmed their
questionable rights over the cities of Romagna. Sigismondo, shorn of
his sovereignty, took the command of the Venetian troops against the
Turks in the Morea, and returned in 1465, crowned with laurels, to die
at Rimini in the scene of his old splendour.

A very characteristic incident belongs to this last act of his life.
Dissolute, treacherous, and inhuman as he was, the tyrant of Rimini
had always encouraged literature, and delighted in the society of
artists. He who could brook no contradiction from a prince or soldier,
allowed the pedantic scholars of the sixteenth century to dictate to
him in matters of taste, and sat with exemplary humility at the feet
of Latinists like Porcellio, Basinio, and Trebanio. Valturio, the
engineer, and Alberti, the architect, were his familiar friends; and
the best hours of his life were spent in conversation with these men.
Now that he found himself upon the sacred soil of Greece, he was
determined not to return to Italy empty-handed. Should he bring
manuscripts or marbles, precious vases or inscriptions in half-legible
Greek character? These relics were greedily sought for by the
potentates of Italian cities; and no doubt Sigismondo enriched his
library with some such treasures. But he obtained a nobler
prize--nothing less than the body of a saint of scholarship, the
authentic bones of the great Platonist, Gemisthus Pletho.[3] These he
exhumed from their Greek grave and caused them to be deposited in a
stone sarcophagus outside the cathedral of his building in Rimini. The
Venetians, when they stole the body of S. Mark from Alexandria, were
scarcely more pleased than was Sigismondo with the acquisition of this
Father of the Neopagan faith. Upon the tomb we still may read this
legend: 'Jemisthii Bizantii philosopher sua temp principis reliquum
Sig. Pan. Mal. Pan. F. belli Pelop adversus Turcor regem Imp ob
ingentem eruditorum quo flagrat amorem huc afferendum introque
mittendum curavit MCCCCLXVI.' Of the Latinity of the inscription much
cannot be said; but it means that 'Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta,
having served as general against the Turks in the Morea, induced by
the great love with which he burns for all learned men, brought and
placed here the remains of Gemisthus of Byzantium, the prince of the
philosophers of his day.'

Sigismondo's portrait, engraved on medals, and sculptured upon every
frieze and point of vantage in the Cathedral of Rimini, well denotes
the man. His face is seen in profile. The head, which is low and flat
above the forehead, rising swiftly backward from the crown, carries a
thick bushy shock of hair curling at the ends, such as the Italians
call a _zazzera_. The eye is deeply sunk, with long venomous flat
eyelids, like those which Leonardo gives to his most wicked faces. The
nose is long and crooked, curved like a vulture's over a petulant
mouth, with lips deliberately pressed together, as though it were
necessary to control some nervous twitching. The cheek is broad, and
its bone is strongly marked. Looking at these features in repose, we
cannot but picture to our fancy what expression they might assume
under a sudden fit of fury, when the sinews of the face were
contracted with quivering spasms, and the lips writhed in sympathy
with knit forehead and wrinkled eyelids.

Allusion has been made to the Cathedral of S. Francis at Rimini, as
the great ornament of the town, and the chief monument of Sigismondo's
fame. It is here that all the Malatesti lie. Here too is the chapel
consecrated to Isotta, 'Divæ Isottæ Sacrum;' and the tombs of the
Malatesta ladies, 'Malatestorum domûs heroidum sepulchrum;' and
Sigismondo's own grave with the cuckold's horns and scornful epitaph.
Nothing but the fact that the church is duly dedicated to S. Francis,
and that its outer shell of classic marble encases an old Gothic
edifice, remains to remind us that it is a Christian place of
worship.[4] It has no sanctity, no spirit of piety. The pride of the
tyrant whose legend--'Sigismundus Pandulphus Malatesta Pan. F. Fecit
Anno Gratiæ MCCCCL'--occupies every arch and stringcourse of the
architecture, and whose coat-of-arms and portrait in medallion, with
his cipher and his emblems of an elephant and a rose, are wrought in
every piece of sculptured work throughout the building, seems so to
fill this house of prayer that there is no room left for God. Yet the
Cathedral of Rimini remains a monument of first-rate importance for
all students who seek to penetrate the revived Paganism of the
fifteenth century. It serves also to bring a far more interesting
Italian of that period than the tyrant of Rimini himself, before our
notice.

In the execution of his design, Sigismondo received the assistance of
one of the most remarkable men of this or any other age. Leo Battista
Alberti, a scion of the noble Florentine house of that name, born
during the exile of his parents, and educated in the Venetian
territory, was endowed by nature with aptitudes, faculties, and
sensibilities so varied, as to deserve the name of universal genius.
Italy in the Renaissance period was rich in natures of this sort, to
whom nothing that is strange or beautiful seemed unfamiliar, and who,
gifted with a kind of divination, penetrated the secrets of the world
by sympathy. To Pico della Mirandola, Lionardo da Vinci, and Michel
Agnolo Buonarroti may be added Leo Battista Alberti. That he achieved
less than his great compeers, and that he now exists as the shadow of
a mighty name, was the effect of circumstances. He came half a century
too early into the world, and worked as a pioneer rather than a
settler of the realm which Lionardo ruled as his demesne. Very early
in his boyhood Alberti showed the versatility of his talents. The use
of arms, the management of horses, music, painting, modelling for
sculpture, mathematics, classical and modern literature, physical
science as then comprehended, and all the bodily exercises proper to
the estate of a young nobleman, were at his command. His biographer
asserts that he was never idle, never subject to ennui or fatigue. He
used to say that books at times gave him the same pleasure as
brilliant jewels or perfumed flowers: hunger and sleep could not keep
him from them then. At other times the letters on the page appeared to
him like twining and contorted scorpions, so that he preferred to gaze
on anything but written scrolls. He would then turn to music or
painting, or to the physical sports in which he excelled. The language
in which this alternation of passion and disgust for study is
expressed, bears on it the stamp of Alberti's peculiar temperament,
his fervid and imaginative genius, instinct with subtle sympathies and
strange repugnances. Flying from his study, he would then betake
himself to the open air. No one surpassed him in running, in
wrestling, in the force with which he cast his javelin or discharged
his arrows. So sure was his aim and so skilful his cast, that he could
fling a farthing from the pavement of the square, and make it ring
against a church roof far above. When he chose to jump, he put his
feet together and bounded over the shoulders of men standing erect
upon the ground. On horseback he maintained perfect equilibrium, and
seemed incapable of fatigue. The most restive and vicious animals
trembled under him and became like lambs. There was a kind of
magnetism in the man. We read, besides these feats of strength and
skill, that he took pleasure in climbing mountains, for no other
purpose apparently than for the joy of being close to nature.

In this, as in many other of his instincts, Alberti was before his
age. To care for the beauties of landscape unadorned by art, and to
sympathise with sublime or rugged scenery, was not in the spirit of
the Renaissance. Humanity occupied the attention of poets and
painters; and the age was yet far distant when the pantheistic feeling
for the world should produce the art of Wordsworth and of Turner. Yet
a few great natures even then began to comprehend the charm and
mystery which the Greeks had imaged in their Pan, the sense of an
all-pervasive spirit in wild places, the feeling of a hidden want, the
invisible tie which makes man a part of rocks and woods and streams
around him. Petrarch had already ascended the summit of Mont Ventoux,
to meditate, with an exaltation of the soul he scarcely understood,
upon the scene spread at his feet and above his head. Æneas Sylvius
Piccolomini delighted in wild places for no mere pleasure of the
chase, but for the joy he took in communing with nature. How S.
Francis found God in the sun and the air, the water and the stars, we
know by his celebrated hymn; and of Dante's acute observation, every
canto of the 'Divine Comedy' is witness.

Leo Alberti was touched in spirit by even a deeper and a stranger
pathos than any of these men: 'In the early spring, when he beheld the
meadows and hills covered with flowers, and saw the trees and plants
of all kinds bearing promise of fruit, his heart became exceeding
sorrowful; and when in autumn he looked on fields heavy with harvest
and orchards apple-laden, he felt such grief that many even saw him
weep for the sadness of his soul.' It would seem that he scarcely
understood the source of this sweet trouble: for at such times he
compared the sloth and inutility of men with the industry and
fertility of nature; as though this were the secret of his melancholy.
A poet of our century has noted the same stirring of the spirit, and
has striven to account for it:--

  Tears from the depth of some divine despair
  Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
  In looking on the happy autumn fields,
  And thinking of the days that are no more.

Both Alberti and Tennyson have connected the _mal du pays_ of the
human soul for that ancient country of its birth, the mild Saturnian
earth from which we sprang, with a sense of loss. It is the waste of
human energy that affects Alberti; the waste of human life touches the
modern poet. Yet both perhaps have scarcely interpreted their own
spirit; for is not the true source of tears deeper and more secret?
Man is a child of nature in the simplest sense; and the stirrings of
the secular breasts that gave him suck, and on which he even now must
hang, have potent influences over his emotions.

Of Alberti's extraordinary sensitiveness to all such impressions many
curious tales are told. The sight of refulgent jewels, of flowers, and
of fair landscapes, had the same effect upon his nerves as the sound
of the Dorian mood upon the youths whom Pythagoras cured of passion by
music. He found in them an anodyne for pain, a restoration from
sickness. Like Walt Whitman, who adheres to nature by closer and more
vital sympathy than any other poet of the modern world, Alberti felt
the charm of excellent old age no less than that of florid youth. 'On
old men gifted with a noble presence and hale and vigorous, he gazed
again and again, and said that he revered in them the delights of
nature (_naturæ delitias_).' Beasts and birds and all living creatures
moved him to admiration for the grace with which they had been gifted,
each in his own kind. It is even said that he composed a funeral
oration for a dog which he had loved and which died.

To this sensibility for all fair things in nature, Alberti added the
charm of a singularly sweet temper and graceful conversation. The
activity of his mind, which was always being exercised on subjects of
grave speculation, removed him from the noise and bustle of
commonplace society. He was somewhat silent, inclined to solitude,
and of a pensive countenance; yet no man found him difficult of
access: his courtesy was exquisite, and among familiar friends he was
noted for the flashes of a delicate and subtle wit. Collections were
made of his apophthegms by friends, and some are recorded by his
anonymous biographer.[5] Their finer perfume, as almost always happens
with good sayings which do not certain the full pith of a proverb, but
owe their force, in part at least, to the personality of their author,
and to the happy moment of their production, has evanesced. Here,
however, is one which seems still to bear the impress of Alberti's
genius: 'Gold is the soul of labour, and labour the slave of
pleasure.' Of women he used to say that their inconstancy was an
antidote to their falseness; for if a woman could but persevere in
what she undertook, all the fair works of men would be ruined. One of
his strongest moral sentences is aimed at envy, from which he suffered
much in his own life, and against which he guarded with a curious
amount of caution. His own family grudged the distinction which his
talents gained for him, and a dark story is told of a secret attempt
made by them to assassinate him through his servants. Alberti met
these ignoble jealousies with a stately calm and a sweet dignity of
demeanour, never condescending to accuse his relatives, never seeking
to retaliate, but acting always for the honour of his illustrious
house. In the same spirit of generosity he refused to enter into wordy
warfare with detractors and calumniators, sparing the reputation even
of his worst enemy when chance had placed him in his power. This
moderation both of speech and conduct was especially distinguished in
an age which tolerated the fierce invectives of Filelfo, and applauded
the vindictive courage of Cellini. To money Alberti showed a calm
indifference. He committed his property to his friends and shared with
them in common. Nor was he less careless about vulgar fame, spending
far more pains in the invention of machinery and the discovery of
laws, than in their publication to the world. His service was to
knowledge, not to glory. Self-control was another of his eminent
qualities. With the natural impetuosity of a large heart, and the
vivacity of a trained athlete, he yet never allowed himself to be
subdued by anger or by sensual impulses, but took pains to preserve
his character unstained and dignified before the eyes of men. A story
is told of him which may remind us of Goethe's determination to
overcome his giddiness. In his youth his head was singularly sensitive
to changes of temperature; but by gradual habituation he brought
himself at last to endure the extremes of heat and cold bareheaded. In
like manner he had a constitutional disgust for onions and honey; so
powerful, that the very sight of these things made him sick. Yet by
constantly viewing and touching what was disagreeable, he conquered
these dislikes; and proved that men have a complete mastery over what
is merely instinctive in their nature. His courage corresponded to his
splendid physical development. When a boy of fifteen, he severely
wounded himself in the foot. The gash had to be probed and then sewn
up. Alberti not only bore the pain of this operation without a groan,
but helped the surgeon with his own hands; and effected a cure of the
fever which succeeded by the solace of singing to his cithern. For
music he had a genius of the rarest order; and in painting he is said
to have achieved success. Nothing, however, remains of his work and
from what Vasari says of it, we may fairly conclude that he gave less
care to the execution of finished pictures, than to drawings
subsidiary to architectural and mechanical designs. His biographer
relates that when he had completed a painting, he called children and
asked them what it meant. If they did not know, he reckoned it a
failure. He was also in the habit of painting from memory. While at
Venice, he put on canvas the faces of friends at Florence whom he had
not seen for months. That the art of painting was subservient in his
estimation to mechanics, is indicated by what we hear about the
camera, in which he showed landscapes by day and the revolutions of
the stars by night, so lively drawn that the spectators were affected
with amazement. The semi-scientific impulse to extend man's mastery
over nature, the magician's desire to penetrate secrets, which so
powerfully influenced the development of Lionardo's genius, seems to
have overcome the purely æsthetic instincts of Alberti, so that he
became in the end neither a great artist like Raphael, nor a great
discoverer like Galileo, but rather a clairvoyant to whom the miracles
of nature and of art lie open.

After the first period of youth was over, Leo Battista Alberti devoted
his great faculties and all his wealth of genius to the study of the
law--then, as now, the quicksand of the noblest natures. The industry
with which he applied himself to the civil and ecclesiastical codes
broke his health. For recreation he composed a Latin comedy called
'Philodoxeos,' which imposed upon the judgment of scholars, and was
ascribed as a genuine antique to Lepidus, the comic poet. Feeling
stronger, Alberti returned at the age of twenty to his law studies,
and pursued them in the teeth of disadvantages. His health was still
uncertain, and the fortune of an exile reduced him to the utmost want.
It was no wonder that under these untoward circumstances even his
Herculean strength gave way. Emaciated and exhausted, he lost the
clearness of his eyesight, and became subject to arterial
disturbances, which filled his ears with painful sounds. This nervous
illness is not dissimilar to that which Rousseau describes in the
confessions of his youth. In vain, however, his physicians warned
Alberti of impending peril. A man of so much stanchness, accustomed
to control his nature with an iron will, is not ready to accept
advice. Alberti persevered in his studies, until at last the very seat
of intellect was invaded. His memory began to fail him for names,
while he still retained with wonderful accuracy whatever he had seen
with his eyes. It was now impossible to think of law as a profession.
Yet since he could not live without severe mental exercise, he had
recourse to studies which tax the verbal memory less than the
intuitive faculties of the reason. Physics and mathematics became his
chief resource; and he devoted his energies to literature. His
'Treatise on the Family' may be numbered among the best of those
compositions on social and speculative subjects in which the Italians
of the Renaissance sought to rival Cicero. His essays on the arts are
mentioned by Vasari with sincere approbation. Comedies, interludes,
orations, dialogues, and poems flowed with abundance from his facile
pen. Some were written in Latin, which he commanded more than fairly;
some in the Tuscan tongue, of which owing to the long exile of his
family in Lombardy, he is said to have been less a master. It was
owing to this youthful illness, from which apparently his constitution
never wholly recovered, that Alberti's genius was directed to
architecture.

Through his friendship with Flavio Biondo, the famous Roman antiquary,
Alberti received an introduction to Nicholas V. at the time when this,
the first great Pope of the Renaissance, was engaged in rebuilding the
palaces and fortifications of Rome. Nicholas discerned the genius of
the man, and employed him as his chief counsellor in all matters of
architecture. When the Pope died, he was able, while reciting his long
Latin will upon his deathbed, to boast that he had restored the Holy
See to its due dignity, and the Eternal City to the splendour worthy
of the seat of Christendom. The accomplishment of the second part of
his work he owed to the genius of Alberti. After doing thus much for
Rome under Thomas of Sarzana, and before beginning to beautify
Florence at the instance of the Rucellai family, Alberti entered the
service of the Malatesta, and undertook to remodel the Cathedral of S.
Francis at Rimini. He found it a plain Gothic structure with apse and
side chapels. Such churches are common enough in Italy, where pointed
architecture never developed its true character of complexity and
richness, but was doomed to the vast vacuity exemplified in S.
Petronio of Bologna. He left it a strange medley of mediæval and
Renaissance work, a symbol of that dissolving scene in the world's
pantomime, when the spirit of classic art, as yet but little
comprehended, was encroaching on the early Christian taste. Perhaps
the mixture of styles so startling in S. Francesco ought not to be
laid to the charge of Alberti, who had to execute the task of turning
a Gothic into a classic building. All that he could do was to alter
the whole exterior of the church, by affixing a screen-work of Roman
arches and Corinthian pilasters, so as to hide the old design and yet
to leave the main features of the fabric, the windows and doors
especially, _in statu quo_. With the interior he dealt upon the same
general principle, by not disturbing its structure, while he covered
every available square inch of surface with decorations alien to the
Gothic manner. Externally, S. Francesco is perhaps the most original
and graceful of the many attempts made by Italian builders to fuse the
mediæval and the classic styles. For Alberti attempted nothing less. A
century elapsed before Palladio, approaching the problem from a
different point of view, restored the antique in its purity, and
erected in the Palazzo della Ragione of Vicenza an almost unique
specimen of resuscitated Roman art.

Internally, the beauty of the church is wholly due to its exquisite
wall-ornaments. These consist for the most part of low reliefs in a
soft white stone, many of them thrown out upon a blue ground in the
style of Della Robbia. Allegorical figures designed with the purity of
outline we admire in Botticelli, draperies that Burne-Jones might
copy, troops of singing boys in the manner of Donatello, great angels
traced upon the stone so delicately that they seem to be rather drawn
than sculptured, statuettes in niches, personifications of all arts
and sciences alternating with half-bestial shapes of satyrs and
sea-children:--such are the forms which fill the spaces of the chapel
walls, and climb the pilasters, and fret the arches, in such abundance
that had the whole church been finished as it was designed, it would
have presented one splendid though bizarre effect of incrustation.
Heavy screens of Verona marble, emblazoned in open arabesques with the
ciphers of Sigismondo and Isotta, with coats-of-arms, emblems, and
medallion portraits, shut the chapels from the nave. Who produced all
this sculpture it is difficult to say. Some of it is very good: much
is indifferent. We may hazard the opinion that, besides Bernardo
Ciuffagni, of whom Vasari speaks, some pupils of Donatello and
Benedetto da Majano worked at it. The influence of the sculptors of
Florence is everywhere perceptible.

Whatever be the merit of these reliefs, there is no doubt that they
fairly represent one of the most interesting moments in the history of
modern art. Gothic inspiration had failed; the early Tuscan style of
the Pisani had been worked out; Michelangelo was yet far distant, and
the abundance of classic models had not overwhelmed originality. The
sculptors of the school of Ghiberti and Donatello, who are represented
in this church, were essentially pictorial, preferring low to high
relief, and relief in general to detached figures. Their style, like
the style of Boiardo in poetry, of Botticelli in painting, is specific
to Italy in the middle of the fifteenth century. Mediæval standards of
taste were giving way to classical, Christian sentiment to Pagan; yet
the imitation of the antique had not been carried so far as to efface
the spontaneity of the artist, and enough remained of Christian
feeling to tinge the fancy with a grave and sweet romance. The
sculptor had the skill and mastery to express his slightest shade of
thought with freedom, spirit, and precision. Yet his work showed no
sign of conventionality, no adherence to prescribed rules. Every
outline, every fold of drapery, every attitude was pregnant, to the
artist's own mind at any rate, with meaning. In spite of its
symbolism, what he wrought was never mechanically figurative, but
gifted with the independence of its own beauty, vital with an
inbreathed spirit of life. It was a happy moment, when art had reached
consciousness, and the artist had not yet become self-conscious. The
hand and the brain then really worked together for the procreation of
new forms of grace, not for the repetition of old models, or for the
invention of the strange and startling. 'Delicate, sweet, and
captivating,' are good adjectives to express the effect produced upon
the mind by the contemplation even of the average work of this period.

To study the flowing lines of the great angels traced upon the walls
of the Chapel of S. Sigismund in the Cathedral of Rimini, to follow
the undulations of their drapery that seems to float, to feel the
dignified urbanity of all their gestures, is like listening to one of
those clear early Italian compositions for the voice, which surpasses
in suavity of tone and grace of movement all that Music in her
full-grown vigour has produced. There is indeed something infinitely
charming in the crepuscular moments of the human mind. Whether it be
the rathe loveliness of an art still immature, or the beauty of art
upon the wane--whether, in fact, the twilight be of morning or of
evening, we find in the masterpieces of such periods a placid calm and
chastened pathos, as of a spirit self-withdrawn from vulgar cares,
which in the full light of meridian splendour is lacking. In the
Church of S. Francesco at Rimini the tempered clearness of the dawn is
just about to broaden into day.

       *       *       *       *       *



_MAY IN UMBRIA_

FROM ROME TO TERNI


We left Rome in clear sunset light. The Alban Hills defined themselves
like a cameo of amethyst upon a pale blue distance; and over the
Sabine Mountains soared immeasurable moulded domes of alabaster
thunderclouds, casting deep shadows, purple and violet, across the
slopes of Tivoli. To westward the whole sky was lucid, like some
half-transparent topaz, flooded with slowly yellowing sunbeams. The
Campagna has often been called a garden of wild-flowers. Just now
poppy and aster, gladiolus and thistle, embroider it with patterns
infinite and intricate beyond the power of art. They have already mown
the hay in part; and the billowy tracts of greyish green, where no
flowers are now in bloom, supply a restful groundwork to those
brilliant patches of diapered _fioriture_. These are like
praying-carpets spread for devotees upon the pavement of a mosque
whose roof is heaven. In the level light the scythes of the mowers
flash as we move past. From their bronzed foreheads the men toss
masses of dark curls. Their muscular flanks and shoulders sway
sideways from firm yet pliant reins. On one hill, fronting the sunset,
there stands a herd of some thirty huge grey oxen, feeding and raising
their heads to look at us, with just a flush of crimson on their
horns and dewlaps. This is the scale of Mason's and of Costa's
colouring. This is the breadth and magnitude of Rome.

Thus, through dells of ilex and oak, yielding now a glimpse of Tiber
and S. Peter's, now opening on a purple section of the distant Sabine
Hills, we came to Monte Rotondo. The sun sank; and from the flames
where he had perished, Hesper and the thin moon, very white and keen,
grew slowly into sight. Now we follow the Tiber, a swollen, hurrying,
turbid river, in which the mellowing Western sky reflects itself. This
changeful mirror of swift waters spreads a dazzling foreground to
valley, hill, and lustrous heaven. There is orange on the far horizon,
and a green ocean above, in which sea-monsters fashioned from the
clouds are floating. Yonder swims an elf with luminous hair astride
upon a sea-horse, and followed by a dolphin plunging through the fiery
waves. The orange deepens into dying red. The green divides into
daffodil and beryl. The blue above grows fainter, and the moon and
stars shine stronger.

Through these celestial changes we glide into a landscape fit for
Francia and the early Umbrian painters. Low hills to right and left;
suavely modelled heights in the far distance; a very quiet width of
plain, with slender trees ascending into the pellucid air; and down in
the mystery of the middle distance a glimpse of heaven-reflecting
water. The magic of the moon and stars lends enchantment to this
scene. No painting could convey their influences. Sometimes both
luminaries tremble, all dispersed and broken, on the swirling river.
Sometimes they sleep above the calm cool reaches of a rush-grown mere.
And here and there a ruined turret, with a broken window and a tuft
of shrubs upon the rifted battlement, gives value to the fading pallor
of the West. The last phase in the sunset is a change to blue-grey
monochrome, faintly silvered with starlight; hills, Tiber, fields and
woods, all floating in aërial twilight. There is no definition of
outline now. The daffodil of the horizon has faded into scarcely
perceptible pale greenish yellow.

We have passed Stimigliano. Through the mystery of darkness we hurry
past the bridges of Augustus and the lights of Narni.


THE CASCADES OF TERNI


The Velino is a river of considerable volume which rises in the
highest region of the Abruzzi, threads the upland valley of Rieti, and
precipitates itself by an artificial channel over cliffs about seven
hundred feet in height into the Nera. The water is densely charged
with particles of lime. This calcareous matter not only tends
continually to choke its bed, but clothes the precipices over which
the torrent thunders with fantastic drapery of stalactite; and,
carried on the wind in foam, incrusts the forests that surround the
falls with fine white dust. These famous cascades are undoubtedly the
most sublime and beautiful which Europe boasts; and their situation is
worthy of so great a natural wonder. We reach them through a noble
mid-Italian landscape, where the mountain forms are austere and boldly
modelled, but the vegetation, both wild and cultivated, has something
of the South-Italian richness. The hillsides are a labyrinth of box
and arbutus, with coronilla in golden bloom. The turf is starred with
cyclamens and orchises. Climbing the staircase paths beside the falls
in morning sunlight, or stationed on the points of vantage that
command their successive cataracts, we enjoyed a spectacle which might
be compared in its effect upon the mind to the impression left by a
symphony or a tumultuous lyric. The turbulence and splendour, the
swiftness and resonance, the veiling of the scene in smoke of
shattered water-masses, the withdrawal of these veils according as the
volume of the river slightly shifted in its fall, the rainbows
shimmering on the silver spray, the shivering of poplars hung above
impendent precipices, the stationary grandeur of the mountains keeping
watch around, the hurry and the incoherence of the cataracts, the
immobility of force and changeful changelessness in nature, were all
for me the elements of one stupendous poem. It was like an ode of
Shelley translated into symbolism, more vivid through inarticulate
appeal to primitive emotion than any words could be.


MONTEFALCO


The rich land of the Clitumnus is divided into meadows by transparent
watercourses, gliding with a glassy current over swaying reeds.
Through this we pass, and leave Bevagna to the right, and ascend one
of those long gradual roads which climb the hills where all the cities
of the Umbrians perch. The view expands, revealing Spello, Assisi,
Perugia on its mountain buttress, and the far reaches northward of the
Tiber valley. Then Trevi and Spoleto came into sight, and the severe
hill-country above Gubbio in part disclosed itself. Over Spoleto the
fierce witch-haunted heights of Norcia rose forbidding. This is the
kind of panorama that dilates the soul. It is so large, so dignified,
so beautiful in tranquil form. The opulent abundance of the plain
contrasts with the severity of mountain ranges desolately grand; and
the name of each of all those cities thrills the heart with memories.

The main object of a visit to Montefalco is to inspect its many
excellent frescoes; painted histories of S. Francis and S. Jerome, by
Benozzo Gozzoli; saints, angels, and Scripture episodes by the gentle
Tiberio d'Assisi. Full justice had been done to these, when a little
boy, seeing us lingering outside the church of S. Chiara, asked
whether we should not like to view the body of the saint. This
privilege could be purchased at the price of a small fee. It was only
necessary to call the guardian of her shrine at the high altar.
Indolent, and in compliant mood, with languid curiosity and half an
hour to spare, we assented. A handsome young man appeared, who
conducted us with decent gravity into a little darkened chamber behind
the altar. There he lighted wax tapers, opened sliding doors in what
looked like a long coffin, and drew curtains. Before us in the dim
light there lay a woman covered with a black nun's dress. Only her
hands, and the exquisitely beautiful pale contour of her face
(forehead, nose, mouth, and chin, modelled in purest outline, as
though the injury of death had never touched her) were visible. Her
closed eyes seemed to sleep. She had the perfect peace of Luini's S.
Catherine borne by the angels to her grave on Sinai. I have rarely
seen anything which surprised and touched me more. The religious
earnestness of the young custode, the hushed adoration of the
country-folk who had silently assembled round us, intensified the
sympathy-inspiring beauty of the slumbering girl. Could Julia,
daughter of Claudius, have been fairer than this maiden, when the
Lombard workmen found her in her Latin tomb, and brought her to be
worshipped on the Capitol? S. Chiara's shrine was hung round with her
relics; and among these the heart extracted from her body was
suspended. Upon it, apparently wrought into the very substance of the
mummied flesh, were impressed a figure of the crucified Christ, the
scourge, and the five stigmata. The guardian's faith in this
miraculous witness to her sainthood, the gentle piety of the men and
women who knelt before it, checked all expressions of incredulity. We
abandoned ourselves to the genius of the place; forgot even to ask
what Santa Chiara was sleeping here; and withdrew, toned to a not
unpleasing melancholy. The world-famous S. Clair, the spiritual sister
of S. Francis, lies in Assisi. I have often asked myself, Who, then,
was this nun? What history had she? And I think now of this girl as of
a damsel of romance, a Sleeping Beauty in the wood of time, secluded
from intrusive elements of fact, and folded in the love and faith of
her own simple worshippers. Among the hollows of Arcadia, how many
rustic shrines in ancient days held saints of Hellas, apocryphal,
perhaps, like this, but hallowed by tradition and enduring homage![6]


FOLIGNO


In the landscape of Raphael's votive picture, known as the Madonna di
Foligno, there is a town with a few towers, placed upon a broad plain
at the edge of some blue hills. Allowing for that license as to
details which imaginative masters permitted themselves in matters of
subordinate importance, Raphael's sketch is still true to Foligno. The
place has not materially changed since the beginning of the sixteenth
century. Indeed, relatively to the state of Italy at large, it is
still the same as in the days of ancient Rome. Foligno forms a station
of commanding interest between Rome and the Adriatic upon the great
Flaminian Way. At Foligno the passes of the Apennines debouch into the
Umbrian plain, which slopes gradually toward the valley of the Tiber,
and from it the valley of the Nera is reached by an easy ascent
beneath the walls of Spoleto. An army advancing from the north by the
Metaurus and the Furlo Pass must find itself at Foligno; and the level
champaign round the city is well adapted to the maintenance and
exercises of a garrison. In the days of the Republic and the Empire,
the value of this position was well understood; but Foligno's
importance, as the key to the Flaminian Way, was eclipsed by two
flourishing cities in its immediate vicinity, Hispellum and Mevania,
the modern Spello and Bevagna. We might hazard a conjecture that the
Lombards, when they ruled the Duchy of Spoleto, following their usual
policy of opposing new military centres to the ancient Roman
municipia, encouraged Fulginium at the expense of her two neighbours.
But of this there is no certainty to build upon. All that can be
affirmed with accuracy is that in the Middle Ages, while Spello and
Bevagna declined into the inferiority of dependent burghs, Foligno
grew in power and became the chief commune of this part of Umbria. It
was famous during the last centuries of struggle between the Italian
burghers and their native despots, for peculiar ferocity in civil
strife. Some of the bloodiest pages in mediæval Italian history are
those which relate the vicissitudes of the Trinci family, the
exhaustion of Foligno by internal discord, and its final submission to
the Papal power. Since railways have been carried from Rome through
Narni and Spoleto to Ancona and Perugia, Foligno has gained
considerably in commercial and military status. It is the point of
intersection for three lines; the Italian government has made it a
great cavalry depôt, and there are signs of reviving traffic in its
decayed streets. Whether the presence of a large garrison has already
modified the population, or whether we may ascribe something to the
absence of Roman municipal institutions in the far past, and to the
savagery of the mediæval period, it is difficult to say. Yet the
impression left by Foligno upon the mind is different from that of
Assisi, Spello, and Montefalco, which are distinguished for a certain
grace and gentleness in their inhabitants.

My window in the city wall looks southward across the plain to
Spoleto, with Montefalco perched aloft upon the right, and Trevi on
its mountain-bracket to the left. From the topmost peaks of the Sabine
Apennines, gradual tender sloping lines descend to find their quiet in
the valley of Clitumnus. The space between me and that distance is
infinitely rich with every sort of greenery, dotted here and there
with towers and relics of baronial houses. The little town is in
commotion; for the working men of Foligno and its neighbourhood have
resolved to spend their earnings on a splendid festa--horse-races, and
two nights of fireworks. The acacias and paulownias on the ramparts
are in full bloom of creamy white and lilac. In the glare of Bengal
lights these trees, with all their pendulous blossoms, surpassed the
most fantastic of artificial decorations. The rockets sent aloft into
the sky amid that solemn Umbrian landscape were nowise out of harmony
with nature. I never sympathised with critics who resent the intrusion
of fireworks upon scenes of natural beauty. The Giessbach, lighted up
at so much per head on stated evenings, with a band playing and a
crowd of cockneys staring, presents perhaps an incongruous spectacle.
But where, as here at Foligno, a whole city has made itself a
festival, where there are multitudes of citizens and soldiers and
country-people slowly moving and gravely admiring, with the decency
and order characteristic of an Italian crowd, I have nothing but a
sense of satisfaction.

It is sometimes the traveller's good fortune in some remote place to
meet with an inhabitant who incarnates and interprets for him the
_genius loci_ as he has conceived it. Though his own subjectivity will
assuredly play a considerable part in such an encounter, transferring
to his chance acquaintance qualities he may not possess, and
connecting this personality in some purely imaginative manner with
thoughts derived from study, or impressions made by nature; yet the
stranger will henceforth become the meeting-point of many memories,
the central figure in a composition which derives from him its
vividness. Unconsciously and innocently he has lent himself to the
creation of a picture, and round him, as around the hero of a myth,
have gathered thoughts and sentiments of which he had himself no
knowledge. On one of these nights I had been threading the aisles of
acacia-trees, now glaring red, now azure, as the Bengal lights kept
changing. My mind instinctively went back to scenes of treachery and
bloodshed in the olden time, when Gorrado Trinci paraded the mangled
remnants of three hundred of his victims, heaped on mule-back, through
Foligno, for a warning to the citizens. As the procession moved along
the ramparts, I found myself in contest with a young man, who readily
fell into conversation. He was very tall, with enormous breadth of
shoulders, and long sinewy arms, like Michelangelo's favourite models.
His head was small, curled over with crisp black hair. Low forehead,
and thick level eyebrows absolutely meeting over intensely bright
fierce eyes. The nose descending straight from the brows, as in a
statue of Hadrian's age. The mouth full-lipped, petulant, and
passionate above a firm round chin. He was dressed in the shirt, white
trousers, and loose white jacket of a contadino; but he did not move
with a peasant's slouch, rather with the elasticity and alertness of
an untamed panther. He told me that he was just about to join a
cavalry regiment; and I could well imagine, when military dignity was
added to that gait, how grandly he would go. This young man, of whom I
heard nothing more after our half-hour's conversation among the
crackling fireworks and roaring cannon, left upon my mind an
indescribable impression of dangerousness--of 'something fierce and
terrible, eligible to burst forth.' Of men like this, then, were
formed the Companies of Adventure who flooded Italy with villany,
ambition, and lawlessness in the fifteenth century. Gattamelata, who
began life as a baker's boy at Narni and ended it with a bronze statue
by Donatello on the public square in Padua, was of this breed. Like
this were the Trinci and their bands of murderers. Like this were the
bravi who hunted Lorenzaccio to death at Venice. Like this was Pietro
Paolo Baglioni, whose fault, in the eyes of Machiavelli, was that he
could not succeed in being 'perfettamente tristo.' Beautiful, but
inhuman; passionate, but cold; powerful, but rendered impotent for
firm and lofty deeds by immorality and treason; how many centuries of
men like this once wasted Italy and plunged her into servitude! Yet
what material is here, under sterner discipline, and with a nobler
national ideal, for the formation of heroic armies. Of such stuff,
doubtless, were the Roman legionaries. When will the Italians learn to
use these men as Fabius or as Cæsar, not as the Vitelli and the Trinci
used them? In such meditations, deeply stirred by the meeting of my
own reflections with one who seemed to represent for me in life and
blood the spirit of the place which had provoked them, I said farewell
to Cavallucci, and returned to my bedroom on the city wall. The last
rockets had whizzed and the last cannons had thundered ere I fell
asleep.


SPELLO


Spello contains some not inconsiderable antiquities--the remains of a
Roman theatre, a Roman gate with the heads of two men and a woman
leaning over it, and some fragments of Roman sculpture scattered
through its buildings. The churches, especially those of S.M. Maggiore
and S. Francesco, are worth a visit for the sake of Pinturicchio.
Nowhere, except in the Piccolomini Library at Siena, can that master's
work in fresco be better studied than here. The satisfaction with
which he executed the wall paintings in S. Maria Maggiore is testified
by his own portrait introduced upon a panel in the decoration of the
Virgin's chamber. The scrupulously rendered details of books, chairs,
window seats, &c., which he here has copied, remind one of Carpaccio's
study of S. Benedict at Venice. It is all sweet, tender, delicate, and
carefully finished; but without depth, not even the depth of
Perugino's feeling. In S. Francesco, Pinturicchio, with the same
meticulous refinement, painted a letter addressed to him by Gentile
Baglioni. It lies on a stool before Madonna and her court of saints.
Nicety of execution, technical mastery of fresco as a medium for Dutch
detail-painting, prettiness of composition, and cheerfulness of
colouring, are noticeable throughout his work here rather than either
thought or sentiment. S. Maria Maggiore can boast a fresco of Madonna
between a young episcopal saint and Catherine of Alexandria from the
hand of Perugino. The rich yellow harmony of its tones, and the
graceful dignity of its emotion, conveyed no less by a certain
Raphaelesque pose and outline than by suavity of facial expression,
enable us to measure the distance between this painter and his
quasi-pupil Pinturicchio.

We did not, however, drive to Spello to inspect either Roman
antiquities or frescoes, but to see an inscription on the city walls
about Orlando. It is a rude Latin elegiac couplet, saying that, 'from
the sign below, men may conjecture the mighty members of Roland,
nephew of Charles; his deeds are written in history.' Three agreeable
old gentlemen of Spello, who attended us with much politeness, and
were greatly interested in my researches, pointed out a mark
waist-high upon the wall, where Orlando's knee is reported to have
reached. But I could not learn anything about a phallic monolith,
which is said by Guerin or Panizzi to have been identified with the
Roland myth at Spello. Such a column either never existed here, or
had been removed before the memory of the present generation.


EASTER MORNING AT ASSISI


We are in the lower church of S. Francesco. High mass is being sung,
with orchestra and organ and a choir of many voices. Candles are
lighted on the altar, over-canopied with Giotto's allegories. From the
low southern windows slants the sun, in narrow bands, upon the
many-coloured gloom and embrowned glory of these painted aisles. Women
in bright kerchiefs kneel upon the stones, and shaggy men from the
mountains stand or lean against the wooden benches. There is no moving
from point to point. Where we have taken our station, at the
north-western angle of the transept, there we stay till mass be over.
The whole low-vaulted building glows duskily; the frescoed roof, the
stained windows, the figure-crowded pavements blending their rich but
subdued colours, like hues upon some marvellous moth's wings, or like
a deep-toned rainbow mist discerned in twilight dreams, or like such
tapestry as Eastern queens, in ancient days, wrought for the pavilion
of an empress. Forth from this maze of mingling tints, indefinite in
shade and sunbeams, lean earnest, saintly faces--ineffably
pure--adoring, pitying, pleading; raising their eyes in ecstasy to
heaven, or turning them in ruth toward earth. Men and women of whom
the world was not worthy--at the hands of those old painters they have
received the divine grace, the dovelike simplicity, whereof Italians
in the fourteenth century possessed the irrecoverable secret. Each
face is a poem; the counterpart in painting to a chapter from the
Fioretti di San Francesco. Over the whole scene--in the architecture,
in the frescoes, in the coloured windows, in the gloom, on the
people, in the incense, from the chiming bells, through the
music--broods one spirit: the spirit of him who was 'the co-espoused,
co-transforate with Christ;' the ardent, the radiant, the beautiful in
soul; the suffering, the strong, the simple, the victorious over self
and sin; the celestial who trampled upon earth and rose on wings of
ecstasy to heaven; the Christ-inebriated saint of visions supersensual
and life beyond the grave. Far down below the feet of those who
worship God through him, S. Francis sleeps; but his soul, the
incorruptible part of him, the message he gave the world, is in the
spaces round us. This is his temple. He fills it like an unseen god.
Not as Phoebus or Athene, from their marble pedestals; but as an
abiding spirit, felt everywhere, nowhere seized, absorbing in itself
all mysteries, all myths, all burning exaltations, all abasements, all
love, self-sacrifice, pain, yearning, which the thought of Christ,
sweeping the centuries, hath wrought for men. Let, therefore, choir
and congregation raise their voices on the tide of prayers and
praises; for this is Easter morning--Christ is risen! Our sister,
Death of the Body, for whom S. Francis thanked God in his hymn, is
reconciled to us this day, and takes us by the hand, and leads us to
the gate whence floods of heavenly glory issue from the faces of a
multitude of saints. Pray, ye poor people; chant and pray. If all be
but a dream, to wake from this were loss for you indeed!


PERUSIA AUGUSTA


The piazza in front of the Prefettura is my favourite resort on these
nights of full moon. The evening twilight is made up partly of sunset
fading over Thrasymene and Tuscany; partly of moonrise from the
mountains of Gubbio and the passes toward Ancona. The hills are capped
with snow, although the season is so forward. Below our parapets the
bulk of S. Domenico, with its gaunt perforated tower, and the finer
group of S. Pietro, flaunting the arrowy 'Pennacchio di Perugia,' jut
out upon the spine of hill which dominates the valley of the Tiber. As
the night gloom deepens, and the moon ascends the sky, these buildings
seem to form the sombre foreground to some French etching. Beyond them
spreads the misty moon-irradiated plain of Umbria. Over all rise
shadowy Apennines, with dim suggestions of Assisi, Spello, Foligno,
Montefalco, and Spoleto on their basements. Little thin whiffs of
breezes, very slight and searching, flit across, and shiver as they
pass from Apennine to plain. The slowly moving population--women in
veils, men winter-mantled--pass to and fro between the buildings and
the grey immensity of sky. Bells ring. The bugles of the soldiers blow
retreat in convents turned to barracks. Young men roam the streets
beneath, singing May songs. Far, far away upon the plain, red through
the vitreous moonlight ringed with thundery gauze, fires of unnamed
castelli smoulder. As we lean from ledges eighty feet in height, gas
vies with moon in chequering illuminations on the ancient walls;
Etruscan mouldings, Roman letters, high-piled hovels, suburban
world-old dwellings plastered like martins' nests against the masonry.

Sunlight adds more of detail to this scene. To the right of Subasio,
where the passes go from Foligno towards Urbino and Ancona, heavy
masses of thundercloud hang every day; but the plain and
hill-buttresses are clear in transparent blueness. First comes Assisi,
with S.M. degli Angeli below; then Spello; then Foligno; then Trevi;
and, far away, Spoleto; with, reared against those misty battlements,
the village height of Montefalco--the 'ringhiera dell' Umbria,' as
they call it in this country. By daylight, the snow on yonder peaks is
clearly visible, where the Monti della Sibilla tower up above the
sources of the Nera and Velino from frigid wastes of Norcia. The lower
ranges seem as though painted, in films of airiest and palest azure,
upon china; and then comes the broad green champaign, flecked with
villages and farms. Just at the basement of Perugia winds Tiber,
through sallows and grey poplar-trees, spanned by ancient arches of
red brick, and guarded here and there by castellated towers. The mills
beneath their dams and weirs are just as Raphael drew them; and the
feeling of air and space reminds one, on each coign of vantage, of
some Umbrian picture. Every hedgerow is hoary with May-bloom and
honeysuckle. The oaks hang out their golden-dusted tassels. Wayside
shrines are decked with laburnum boughs and iris blossoms plucked from
the copse-woods, where spires of purple and pink orchis variegate the
thin, fine grass. The land waves far and wide with young corn, emerald
green beneath the olive-trees, which take upon their under-foliage
tints reflected from this verdure or red tones from the naked earth. A
fine race of _contadini_, with large, heroically graceful forms, and
beautiful dark eyes and noble faces, move about this garden, intent on
ancient, easy tillage of the kind Saturnian soil.


LA MAGIONE


On the road from Perugia to Cortona, the first stage ends at La
Magione, a high hill-village commanding the passage from the Umbrian
champaign to the lake of Thrasymene.

It has a grim square fortalice above it, now in ruins, and a stately
castle to the south-east, built about the time of Braccio. Here took
place that famous diet of Cesare Borgia's enemies, when the son of
Alexander VI. was threatening Bologna with his arms, and bidding fair
to make himself supreme tyrant of Italy in 1502. It was the policy of
Cesare to fortify himself by reducing the fiefs of the Church to
submission, and by rooting out the dynasties which had acquired a
sort of tyranny in Papal cities. The Varani of Camerino and the
Manfredi of Faenza had been already extirpated. There was only too
good reason to believe that the turn of the Vitelli at Città di
Castello, of the Baglioni at Perugia, and of the Bentivogli at Bologna
would come next. Pandolfo Petrucci at Siena, surrounded on all sides
by Cesare's conquests, and specially menaced by the fortification of
Piombino, felt himself in danger. The great house of the Orsini, who
swayed a large part of the Patrimony of S. Peter's, and were closely
allied to the Vitelli, had even graver cause for anxiety. But such was
the system of Italian warfare, that nearly all these noble families
lived by the profession of arms, and most of them were in the pay of
Cesare. When, therefore, the conspirators met at La Magione, they were
plotting against a man whose money they had taken, and whom they had
hitherto aided in his career of fraud and spoliation.

The diet consisted of the Cardinal Orsini, an avowed antagonist of
Alexander VI.; his brother Paolo, the chieftain of the clan;
Vitellozzo Vitelli, lord of Città di Castello; Gian-Paolo Baglioni,
made undisputed master of Perugia by the recent failure of his cousin
Grifonetto's treason; Oliverotto, who had just acquired the March of
Fermo by the murder of his uncle Giovanni da Fogliani; Ermes
Bentivoglio, the heir of Bologna; and Antonio da Venafro, the
secretary of Pandolfo Petrueci. These men vowed hostility on the basis
of common injuries and common fear against the Borgia. But they were
for the most part stained themselves with crime, and dared not trust
each other, and could not gain the confidence of any respectable power
in Italy except the exiled Duke of Urbino. Procrastination was the
first weapon used by the wily Cesare, who trusted that time would sow
among his rebel captains suspicion and dissension. He next made
overtures to the leaders separately, and so far succeeded in his
perfidious policy as to draw Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da Fermo,
Paolo Orsini, and Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, into his nets at
Sinigaglia. Under pretext of fair conference and equitable settlement
of disputed claims, he possessed himself of their persons, and had
them strangled--two upon December 31, and two upon January 18, 1503.
Of all Cesare's actions, this was the most splendid for its successful
combination of sagacity and policy in the hour of peril, of persuasive
diplomacy, and of ruthless decision when the time to strike his blow
arrived.


CORTONA


After leaving La Magione, the road descends upon the lake of
Thrasymene through oak-woods full of nightingales. The lake lay
basking, leaden-coloured, smooth and waveless, under a misty,
rain-charged, sun-irradiated sky. At Passignano, close beside its
shore, we stopped for mid-day. This is a little fishing village of
very poor people, who live entirely by labour on the waters. They
showed us huge eels coiled in tanks, and some fine specimens of the
silver carp--Reina del Lago. It was off one of the eels that we made
our lunch; and taken, as he was, alive from his cool lodging, he
furnished a series of dishes fit for a king.

Climbing the hill of Cortona seemed a quite interminable business. It
poured a deluge. Our horses were tired, and one lean donkey, who,
after much trouble, was produced from a farmhouse and yoked in front
of them, rendered but little assistance.

Next day we duly saw the Muse and Lamp in the Museo, the Fra
Angelicos, and all the Signorellis. One cannot help thinking that too
much fuss is made nowadays about works of art--running after them for
their own sakes, exaggerating their importance, and detaching them as
objects of study, instead of taking them with sympathy and
carelessness as pleasant or instructive adjuncts to our actual life.
Artists, historians of art, and critics are forced to isolate
pictures; and it is of profit to their souls to do so. But simple
folk, who have no aesthetic vocation, whether creative or critical,
suffer more than is good for them by compliance with mere fashion.
Sooner or later we shall return to the spirit of the ages which
produced these pictures, and which regarded them with less of an
industrious bewilderment than they evoke at present.

I am far indeed from wishing to decry art, the study of art, or the
benefits to be derived from its intelligent enjoyment. I only mean to
suggest that we go the wrong way to work at present in this matter.
Picture and sculpture galleries accustom us to the separation of art
from life. Our methods of studying art, making a beginning of
art-study while traveling, tend to perpetuate this separation. It is
only on reflection, after long experience, that we come to perceive
that the most fruitful moments in our art education have been casual
and unsought, in quaint nooks and unexpected places, where nature,
art, and life are happily blent.

The Palace of the Commune at Cortona is interesting because of the
shields of Florentine governors, sculptured on blocks of grey stone,
and inserted in its outer walls--Peruzzi, Albizzi, Strozzi, Salviati,
among the more ancient--de' Medici at a later epoch. The revolutions
in the Republic of Florence may be read by a herald from these
coats-of-arms and the dates beneath them.

The landscape of this Tuscan highland satisfies me more and more with
sense of breadth and beauty. From S. Margherita above the town the
prospect is immense and wonderful and wild--up into those brown,
forbidding mountains; down to the vast plain; and over to the cities
of Chiusi, Montepulciano, and Foiano. The jewel of the view is
Trasimeno, a silvery shield encased with serried hills, and set upon
one corner of the scene, like a precious thing apart and meant for
separate contemplation. There is something in the singularity and
circumscribed completeness of the mountain-girded lake, diminished by
distance, which would have attracted Lionardo da Vinci's pencil, had
he seen it.

Cortona seems desperately poor, and the beggars are intolerable. One
little blind boy, led by his brother, both frightfully ugly and ragged
urchins, pursued us all over the city, incessantly whining 'Signore
Padrone!' It was only on the threshold of the inn that I ventured to
give them a few coppers, for I knew well that any public beneficence
would raise the whole swarm of the begging population round us.
Sitting later in the day upon the piazza of S. Domenico, I saw the
same blind boy taken by his brother to play. The game consists, in the
little creature throwing his arms about the trunk of a big tree, and
running round and round it, clasping it. This seemed to make him quite
inexpressibly happy. His face lit up and beamed with that inner
beatitude blind people show--a kind of rapture shining over it, as
though nothing could be more altogether delightful. This little boy
had the smallpox at eight months, and has never been able to see
since. He looks sturdy, and may live to be of any age--doomed always,
is that possible, to beg?


CHIUSI


What more enjoyable dinner can be imagined than a flask of excellent
Montepulciano, a well-cooked steak, and a little goat's cheese in the
inn of the Leone d'Oro at Chiusi? The windows are open, and the sun is
setting. Monte Cetona bounds the view to the right, and the wooded
hills of Città della Pieve to the left. The deep green dimpled valley
goes stretching away toward Orvieto; and at its end a purple mountain
mass, distinct and solitary, which may peradventure be Soracte! The
near country is broken into undulating hills, forested with fine
olives and oaks; and the composition of the landscape, with its
crowning villages, is worthy of a background to an Umbrian picture.
The breadth and depth and quiet which those painters loved, the space
of lucid sky, the suggestion of winding waters in verdant fields, all
are here. The evening is beautiful--golden light streaming softly from
behind us on this prospect, and gradually mellowing to violet and blue
with stars above.

At Chiusi we visited several Etruscan tombs, and saw their red and
black scrawled pictures. One of the sepulchres was a well-jointed
vault of stone with no wall-paintings. The rest had been scooped out
of the living tufa. This was the excuse for some pleasant hours spent
in walking and driving through the country. Chiusi means for me the
mingling of grey olives and green oaks in limpid sunlight; deep leafy
lanes; warm sandstone banks; copses with nightingales and cyclamens
and cuckoos; glimpses of a silvery lake; blue shadowy distances; the
bristling ridge of Monte Cetona; the conical towers, Becca di Questo
and Becca di Quello, over against each other on the borders; ways
winding among hedgerows like some bit of England in June, but not so
full of flowers. It means all this, I fear, for me far more than
theories about Lars Porsenna and Etruscan ethnology.


GUBBIO


Gubbio ranks among the most ancient of Italian hill-towns. With its
back set firm against the spine of central Apennines, and piled, house
over house, upon the rising slope, it commands a rich tract of upland
champaign, bounded southward toward Perugia and Foligno by peaked and
rolling ridges. This amphitheatre, which forms its source of wealth
and independence, is admirably protected by a chain of natural
defences; and Gubbio wears a singularly old-world aspect of antiquity
and isolation. Houses climb right to the crests of gaunt bare peaks;
and the brown mediæval walls with square towers which protected them
upon the mountain side, following the inequalities of the ground, are
still a marked feature in the landscape. It is a town of steep streets
and staircases, with quaintly framed prospects, and solemn vistas
opening at every turn across the lowland. One of these views might be
selected for especial notice. In front, irregular buildings losing
themselves in country as they straggle by the roadside; then the open
post-road with a cypress to the right; afterwards, the rich green
fields, and on a bit of rising ground an ancient farmhouse with its
brown dependencies; lastly, the blue hills above Fossato, and far away
a wrack of tumbling clouds. All this enclosed by the heavy archway of
the Porta Romana, where sunlight and shadow chequer the mellow tones
of a dim fresco, indistinct with age, but beautiful.

Gubbio has not greatly altered since the middle ages. But poor people
are now living in the palaces of noblemen and merchants. These new
inhabitants have walled up the fair arched windows and slender portals
of the ancient dwellers, spoiling the beauty of the streets without
materially changing the architectural masses. In that witching hour
when the Italian sunset has faded, and a solemn grey replaces the
glowing tones of daffodil and rose, it is not difficult, here dreaming
by oneself alone, to picture the old noble life--the ladies moving
along those open loggias, the young men in plumed caps and curling
hair with one foot on those doorsteps, the knights in armour and the
sumpter mules and red-robed Cardinals defiling through those gates
into the courts within. The modern bricks and mortar with which that
picturesque scene has been overlaid, the ugly oblong windows and
bright green shutters which now interrupt the flowing lines of arch
and gallery; these disappear beneath the fine remembered touch of a
sonnet sung by Folgore, when still the Parties had their day, and this
deserted city was the centre of great aims and throbbing aspirations.

The names of the chief buildings in Gubbio are strongly suggestive of
the middle ages. They abut upon a Piazza de' Signori. One of them, the
Palazzo del Municipio, is a shapeless unfinished block of masonry. It
is here that the Eugubine tables, plates of brass with Umbrian and
Roman incised characters, are shown. The Palazzo de' Consoli has
higher architectural qualities, and is indeed unique among Italian
palaces for the combination of massiveness with lightness in a
situation of unprecedented boldness. Rising from enormous
substructures mortised into the solid hillside, it rears its vast
rectangular bulk to a giddy height above the town; airy loggias
imposed on great forbidding masses of brown stone, shooting aloft into
a light aërial tower. The empty halls inside are of fair proportions
and a noble size, and the views from the open colonnades in all
directions fascinate. But the final impression made by the building is
one of square, tranquil, massive strength--perpetuity embodied in
masonry--force suggesting facility by daring and successful addition
of elegance to hugeness. Vast as it is, this pile is not forbidding,
as a similarly weighty structure in the North would be. The fine
quality of the stone and the delicate though simple mouldings of the
windows give it an Italian grace.

These public palaces belong to the age of the Communes, when Gubbio
was a free town, with a policy of its own, and an important part to
play in the internecine struggles of Pope and Empire, Guelf and
Ghibelline. The ruined, deserted, degraded Palazzo Ducale reminds us
of the advent of the despots. It has been stripped of all its
tarsia-work and sculpture. Only here and there a Fe.D., with the
cupping-glass of Federigo di Montefeltro, remains to show that Gubbio
once became the fairest fief of the Urbino duchy. S. Ubaldo, who gave
his name to this duke's son, was the patron of Gubbio, and to him the
cathedral is dedicated--one low enormous vault, like a cellar or
feudal banqueting hall, roofed with a succession of solid Gothic
arches. This strange old church, and the House of Canons, buttressed
on the hill beside it, have suffered less from modernisation than most
buildings in Gubbio. The latter, in particular, helps one to
understand what this city of grave palazzi must have been, and how the
mere opening of old doors and windows would restore it to its
primitive appearance. The House of the Canons has, in fact, not yet
been given over to the use of middle-class and proletariate.

At the end of a day in Gubbio, it is pleasant to take our ease in the
primitive hostelry, at the back of which foams a mountain-torrent,
rushing downward from the Apennines. The Gubbio wine is very fragrant,
and of a rich ruby colour. Those to whom the tints of wine and jewels
give a pleasure not entirely childish, will take delight in its
specific blending of tawny hues with rose. They serve the table still,
at Gubbio, after the antique Italian fashion, covering it with a
cream-coloured linen cloth bordered with coarse lace--the creases of
the press, the scent of old herbs from the wardrobe, are still upon
it--and the board is set with shallow dishes of warm, white
earthenware, basket-worked in open lattice at the edge, which contain
little separate messes of meat, vegetables, cheese, and comfits. The
wine stands in strange, slender phials of smooth glass, with stoppers;
and the amber-coloured bread lies in fair round loaves upon the cloth.
Dining thus is like sitting down to the supper at Emmaus, in some
picture of Gian Bellini or of Masolino. The very bareness of the
room--its open rafters, plastered walls, primitive settees, and
red-brick floor, on which a dog sits waiting for a bone--enhances the
impression of artistic delicacy in the table.


FROM GUBBIO TO FANO


The road from Gubbio, immediately after leaving the city, enters a
narrow Alpine ravine, where a thin stream dashes over dark, red rocks,
and pendent saxifrages wave to the winds. The carriage in which we
travelled at the end of May, one morning, had two horses, which our
driver soon supplemented with a couple of white oxen. Slowly and
toilsomely we ascended between the flanks of barren hills--gaunt
masses of crimson and grey crag, clothed at their summits with short
turf and scanty pasture. The pass leads first to the little town of
Scheggia, and is called the Monte Calvo, or bald mountain. At
Scheggia, it joins the great Flaminian Way, or North road of the Roman
armies. At the top there is a fine view over the conical hills that
dominate Gubbio, and, far away, to noble mountains above the Furlo and
the Foligno line of railway to Ancona. Range rises over range,
crossing at unexpected angles, breaking into sudden precipices, and
stretching out long, exquisitely modelled outlines, as only Apennines
can do, in silvery sobriety of colours toned by clearest air. Every
square piece of this austere, wild landscape forms a varied picture,
whereof the composition is due to subtle arrangements of lines always
delicate; and these lines seem somehow to have been determined in
their beauty by the vast antiquity of the mountain system, as though
they all had taken time to choose their place and wear down into
harmony. The effect of tempered sadness was heightened for us by
stormy lights and dun clouds, high in air, rolling vapours and flying
shadows, over all the prospect, tinted in ethereal grisaille.

After Scheggia, one enters a land of meadow and oak-trees. This is the
sacred central tract of Jupiter Apenninus, whose fane--

        Delubra Jovis saxoque minantes
  Apenninigenis cultae pastoribus arae

--once rose behind us on the bald Iguvian summits. A second little
pass leads from this region to the Adriatic side of the Italian
watershed, and the road now follows the Barano downward toward the
sea. The valley is fairly green with woods, where mistletoe may here
and there be seen on boughs of oak, and rich with cornfields. Cagli is
the chief town of the district, and here they show one of the best
pictures left to us by Raphael's father, Giovanni Santi. It is a
Madonna, attended by S. Peter, S. Francis, S. Dominic, S. John, and
two angels. One of the angels is traditionally supposed to have been
painted from the boy Raphael, and the face has something which reminds
us of his portraits. The whole composition, excellent in modelling,
harmonious in grouping, soberly but strongly coloured, with a peculiar
blending of dignity and sweetness, grace and vigour, makes one wonder
why Santi thought it necessary to send his son from his own workshop
to study under Perugino. He was himself a master of his art, and this,
perhaps the most agreeable of his paintings, has a masculine sincerity
which is absent from at least the later works of Perugino.

Some miles beyond Cagli, the real pass of the Furlo begins. It owes
its name to a narrow tunnel bored by Vespasian in the solid rock,
where limestone crags descend on the Barano. The Romans called this
gallery Petra Pertusa, or Intercisa, or more familiarly Forulus,
whence comes the modern name. Indeed, the stations on the old
Flaminian Way are still well marked by Latin designations; for Cagli
is the ancient Calles, and Fossombrone is Forum Sempronii, and Fano
the Fanum Fortunæ. Vespasian commemorated this early achievement in
engineering by an inscription carved on the living stone, which still
remains; and Claudian, when he sang the journey of his Emperor
Honorius from Rimini to Rome, speaks thus of what was even then an
object of astonishment to travellers:--

  Laetior hinc fano recipit fortuna vetusto,
  Despiciturque vagus praerupta valle Metaurus,
  Qua mons arte patens vivo se perforat arcu
  Admittitque viam sectae per viscera rupis.

The Forulus itself may now be matched, on any Alpine pass, by several
tunnels of far mightier dimensions; for it is narrow, and does not
extend more than 126 feet in length. But it occupies a fine position
at the end of a really imposing ravine. The whole Furlo Pass might,
without too much exaggeration, be described as a kind of Cheddar on
the scale of the Via Mala. The limestone rocks, which rise on either
hand above the gorge to an enormous height, are noble in form and
solemn, like a succession of gigantic portals, with stupendous
flanking obelisks and pyramids. Some of these crag-masses rival the
fantastic cliffs of Capri, and all consist of that southern mountain
limestone which changes from pale yellow to blue grey and dusky
orange. A river roars precipitately through the pass, and the
roadsides wave with many sorts of campanulas--a profusion of azure and
purple bells upon the hard white stone. Of Roman remains there is
still enough (in the way of Roman bridges and bits of broken masonry)
to please an antiquary's eye. But the lover of nature will dwell
chiefly on the picturesque qualities of this historic gorge, so alien
to the general character of Italian scenery, and yet so remote from
anything to which Swiss travelling accustoms one.

The Furlo breaks out into a richer land of mighty oaks and waving
cornfields, a fat pastoral country, not unlike Devonshire in detail,
with green uplands, and wild-rose tangled hedgerows, and much running
water, and abundance of summer flowers. At a point above Fossombrone,
the Barano joins the Metauro, and here one has a glimpse of faraway
Urbino, high upon its mountain eyrie. It is so rare, in spite of
immemorial belief, to find in Italy a wilderness of wild flowers, that
I feel inclined to make a list of those I saw from our carriage
windows as we rolled down lazily along the road to Fossombrone. Broom,
and cytisus, and hawthorn mingled with roses, gladiolus, and sainfoin.
There were orchises, and clematis, and privet, and wild-vine, vetches
of all hues, red poppies, sky-blue cornflowers, and lilac pimpernel.
In the rougher hedges, dogwood, honeysuckle, pyracanth, and acacia
made a network of white bloom and blushes. Milk-worts of all bright
and tender tints combined with borage, iris, hawkweeds, harebells,
crimson clover, thyme, red snap-dragon, golden asters, and dreamy
love-in-a-mist, to weave a marvellous carpet such as the looms of
Shiraz or of Cashmere never spread. Rarely have I gazed on Flora in
such riot, such luxuriance, such self-abandonment to joy. The air was
filled with fragrances. Songs of cuckoos and nightingales echoed from
the copses on the hillsides. The sun was out, and dancing over all the
landscape.

After all this, Fano was very restful in the quiet sunset. It has a
sandy stretch of shore, on which the long, green-yellow rollers of the
Adriatic broke into creamy foam, beneath the waning saffron light over
Pesaro and the rosy rising of a full moon. This Adriatic sea carries
an English mind home to many a little watering-place upon our coast.
In colour and the shape of waves it resembles our Channel.

The sea-shore is Fano's great attraction; but the town has many
churches, and some creditable pictures, as well as Roman antiquities.
Giovanni Santi may here be seen almost as well as at Cagli; and of
Perugino there is one truly magnificent altar-piece--lunette, great
centre panel, and predella--dusty in its present condition, but
splendidly painted, and happily not yet restored or cleaned. It is
worth journeying to Fano to see this. Still better would the journey
be worth the traveller's while if he could be sure to witness such a
game of _Pallone_ as we chanced upon in the Via dell' Arco di
Augusto--lads and grown-men, tightly girt, in shirt sleeves, driving
the great ball aloft into the air with cunning bias and calculation of
projecting house-eaves. I do not understand the game; but it was
clearly played something after the manner of our football, that is to
say; with sides, and front and back players so arranged as to cover
the greatest number of angles of incidence on either wall.

Fano still remembers that it is the Fane of Fortune. On the fountain
in the market-place stands a bronze Fortuna, slim and airy, offering
her veil to catch the wind. May she long shower health and prosperity
upon the modern watering-place of which she is the patron saint!

       *       *       *       *       *



_THE PALACE OF URBINO_


I

At Rimini, one spring, the impulse came upon my wife and me to make
our way across San Marino to Urbino. In the Piazza, called
apocryphally after Julius Cæsar, I found a proper _vetturino_, with a
good carriage and two indefatigable horses. He was a splendid fellow,
and bore a great historic name, as I discovered when our bargain was
completed. 'What are you called?' I asked him. '_Filippo Visconti, per
servirla!_' was the prompt reply. Brimming over with the darkest
memories of the Italian Renaissance, I hesitated when I heard this
answer. The associations seemed too ominous. And yet the man himself
was so attractive--tall, stalwart, and well looking--no feature of his
face or limb of his athletic form recalling the gross tyrant who
concealed worse than Caligula's ugliness from sight in secret
chambers--that I shook this preconception from my mind. As it turned
out, Filippo Visconti had nothing in common with his infamous namesake
but the name. On a long and trying journey, he showed neither sullen
nor yet ferocious tempers; nor, at the end of it, did he attempt by
any master-stroke of craft to wheedle from me more than his fair pay;
but took the meerschaum pipe I gave him for a keepsake, with the frank
goodwill of an accomplished gentleman. The only exhibition of his hot
Italian blood which I remember did his humanity credit.

While we were ascending a steep hillside, he jumped from his box to
thrash a ruffian by the roadside for brutal treatment to a little boy.
He broke his whip, it is true, in this encounter; risked a dangerous
quarrel; and left his carriage, with myself and wife inside it, to the
mercy of his horses in a somewhat perilous position. But when he came
back, hot and glowing, from this deed of justice, I could only applaud
his zeal.

An Italian of this type, handsome as an antique statue, with the
refinement of a modern gentleman and that intelligence which is innate
in a race of immemorial culture, is a fascinating being. He may be
absolutely ignorant in all book-learning. He may be as ignorant as a
Bersagliere from Montalcino with whom I once conversed at Rimini, who
gravely said that he could walk in three months to North America, and
thought of doing it when his term of service was accomplished. But he
will display, as this young soldier did, a grace and ease of address
which are rare in London drawing-rooms; and by his shrewd remarks upon
the cities he has visited, will show that he possesses a fine natural
taste for things of beauty. The speech of such men, drawn from the
common stock of the Italian people, is seasoned with proverbial
sayings, the wisdom of centuries condensed in a few nervous words.
When emotion fires their brain, they break into spontaneous eloquence,
or suggest the motive of a poem by phrases pregnant with imagery.

For the first stage of the journey out of Rimini, Filippo's two horses
sufficed. The road led almost straight across the level between
quickset hedges in white bloom. But when we reached the long steep
hill which ascends to San Marino, the inevitable oxen were called out,
and we toiled upwards leisurely through cornfields bright with red
anemones and sweet narcissus. At this point pomegranate hedges
replaced the May-thorns of the plain. In course of time our _bovi_
brought us to the Borgo, or lower town, whence there is a further
ascent of seven hundred feet to the topmost hawk's-nest or acropolis
of the republic. These we climbed on foot, watching the view expand
around us and beneath. Crags of limestone here break down abruptly to
the rolling hills, which go to lose themselves in field and shore.
Misty reaches of the Adriatic close the world to eastward. Cesena,
Rimini, Verucchio, and countless hill-set villages, each isolated on
its tract of verdure conquered from the stern grey soil, define the
points where Montefeltri wrestled with Malatestas in long bygone
years. Around are marly mountain-flanks in wrinkles and gnarled
convolutions like some giant's brain, furrowed by rivers crawling
through dry wasteful beds of shingle. Interminable ranges of gaunt
Apennines stretch, tier by tier, beyond; and over all this landscape,
a grey-green mist of rising crops and new-fledged oak-trees lies like
a veil upon the nakedness of Nature's ruins.

Nothing in Europe conveys a more striking sense of geological
antiquity than such a prospect. The denudation and abrasion of
innumerable ages, wrought by slow persistent action of weather and
water on an upheaved mountain mass, are here made visible. Every wave
in that vast sea of hills, every furrow in their worn flanks, tells
its tale of a continuous corrosion still in progress. The dominant
impression is one of melancholy. We forget how Romans, countermarching
Carthaginians, trod the land beneath us. The marvel of San Marino,
retaining independence through the drums and tramplings of the last
seven centuries, is swallowed in a deeper sense of wonder. We turn
instinctively in thought to Leopardi's musings on man's destiny at war
with unknown nature-forces and malignant rulers of the universe.


              Omai disprezza
  Te, la natura, il brutto
  Poter che, ascoso, a comun danno impera,
  E l' infinita vanità del tutto.

And then, straining our eyes southward, we sweep the dim blue distance
for Recanati, and remember that the poet of modern despair and
discouragement was reared in even such a scene as this.

The town of San Marino is grey, narrow-streeted, simple; with a great,
new, decent, Greek-porticoed cathedral, dedicated to the eponymous
saint. A certain austerity defines it from more picturesque
hill-cities with a less uniform history. There is a marble statue of
S. Marino in the choir of his church; and in his cell is shown the
stone bed and pillow on which he took austere repose. One narrow
window near the saint's abode commands a proud but melancholy
landscape of distant hills and seaboard. To this, the great absorbing
charm of San Marino, our eyes instinctively, recurrently, take
flight. It is a landscape which by variety and beauty thralls
attention, but which by its interminable sameness might grow almost
overpowering. There is no relief. The gladness shed upon far humbler
Northern lands in May is ever absent here. The German word
_Gemüthlichkeit_, the English phrase 'a home of ancient peace,' are
here alike by art and nature untranslated into visibilities. And yet
(as we who gaze upon it thus are fain to think) if peradventure the
intolerable _ennui_ of this panorama should drive a citizen of San
Marino into out-lands, the same view would haunt him whithersoever he
went--the swallows of his native eyrie would shrill through his
sleep--he would yearn to breathe its fine keen air in winter, and to
watch its iris-hedges deck themselves with blue in spring;--like
Virgil's hero, dying, he would think of San Marino: _Aspicit, et
dulces moriens reminiscitur Argos_. Even a passing stranger may feel
the mingled fascination and oppression of this prospect--the monotony
which maddens, the charm which at a distance grows upon the mind,
environing it with memories.

Descending to the Borgo, we found that Filippo Visconti had ordered a
luncheon of excellent white bread, pigeons, and omelette, with the
best red muscat wine I ever drank, unless the sharp air of the hills
deceived my appetite. An Italian history of San Marino, including its
statutes, in three volumes, furnished intellectual food. But I confess
to having learned from these pages little else than this: first, that
the survival of the Commonwealth through all phases of European
politics had been semi-miraculous; secondly, that the most eminent San
Marinesi had been lawyers. It is possible on a hasty deduction from
these two propositions (to which, however, I am far from wishing to
commit myself), that the latter is a sufficient explanation of the
former.

From San Marino the road plunges at a break-neck pace. We are now in
the true Feltrian highlands, whence the Counts of Montefeltro issued
in the twelfth century. Yonder eyrie is San Leo, which formed the key
of entrance to the duchy of Urbino in campaigns fought many hundred
years ago. Perched on the crest of a precipitous rock, this fortress
looks as though it might defy all enemies but famine. And yet San Leo
was taken and re-taken by strategy and fraud, when Montefeltro,
Borgia, Malatesta, Rovere, contended for dominion in these valleys.
Yonder is Sta. Agata, the village to which Guidobaldo fled by night
when Valentino drove him from his dukedom. A little farther towers
Carpegna, where one branch of the Montefeltro house maintained a
countship through seven centuries, and only sold their fief to Rome in
1815. Monte Coppiolo lies behind, Pietra Rubia in front: two other
eagles' nests of the same brood. What a road it is!

It beats the tracks on Exmoor. The uphill and downhill of Devonshire
scorns compromise or mitigation by _détour_ and zigzag. But here
geography is on a scale so far more vast, and the roadway is so far
worse metalled than with us in England--knotty masses of talc and
nodes of sandstone cropping up at dangerous turnings--that only
Dante's words describe the journey:--

  Vassi in Sanleo, e discendesi in Noli,
  Montasi su Bismantova in cacume
  Con esso i piè; ma qui convien ch' uom voli.

Of a truth, our horses seemed rather to fly than scramble up and down
these rugged precipices; Visconti cheerily animating them with the
brave spirit that was in him, and lending them his wary driver's help
of hand and voice at need.

We were soon upon a cornice-road between the mountains and the
Adriatic: following the curves of gulch and cleft ravine; winding
round ruined castles set on points of vantage; the sea-line high
above their grass-grown battlements, the shadow-dappled champaign
girdling their bastions mortised on the naked rock. Except for the
blue lights across the distance, and the ever-present sea, these
earthy Apennines would be too grim. Infinite air and this spare veil
of spring-tide greenery on field and forest soothe their sternness.
Two rivers, swollen by late rains, had to be forded. Through one of
these, the Foglia, bare-legged peasants led the way. The horses waded
to their bellies in the tawny water. Then more hills and vales; green
nooks with rippling corn-crops; secular oaks attired in golden
leafage. The clear afternoon air rang with the voices of a thousand
larks overhead. The whole world seemed quivering with light and
delicate ethereal sound. And yet my mind turned irresistibly to
thoughts of war, violence, and pillage. How often has this
intermediate land been fought over by Montefeltro and Brancaleoni, by
Borgia and Malatesta, by Medici and Della Rovere! Its _contadini_ are
robust men, almost statuesque in build, and beautiful of feature. No
wonder that the Princes of Urbino, with such materials to draw from,
sold their service and their troops to Florence, Rome, S. Mark, and
Milan. The bearing of these peasants is still soldierly and proud. Yet
they are not sullen or forbidding like the Sicilians, whose habits of
life, for the rest, much resemble theirs. The villages, there as here,
are few and far between, perched high on rocks, from which the folk
descend to till the ground and reap the harvest. But the southern
_brusquerie_ and brutality are absent from this district. The men have
something of the dignity and slow-eyed mildness of their own huge
oxen. As evening fell, more solemn Apennines upreared themselves to
southward. The Monte d'Asdrubale, Monte Nerone, and Monte Catria hove
into sight. At last, when light was dim, a tower rose above the
neighbouring ridge, a broken outline of some city barred the sky-line.
Urbino stood before us. Our long day's march was at an end.

The sunset was almost spent, and a four days' moon hung above the
western Apennines, when we took our first view of the palace. It is a
fancy-thralling work of wonder seen in that dim twilight; like some
castle reared by Atlante's magic for imprisonment of Ruggiero, or
palace sought in fairyland by Astolf winding his enchanted horn. Where
shall we find its like, combining, as it does, the buttressed
battlemented bulk of mediæval strongholds with the airy balconies,
suspended gardens, and fantastic turrets of Italian pleasure-houses?
This unique blending of the feudal past with the Renaissance spirit of
the time when it was built, connects it with the art of Ariosto--or
more exactly with Boiardo's epic. Duke Federigo planned his palace at
Urbino just at the moment when the Count of Scandiano had began to
chaunt his lays of Roland in the Castle of Ferrara. Chivalry,
transmuted by the Italian genius into something fanciful and quaint,
survived as a frail work of art. The men-at-arms of the Condottieri
still glittered in gilded hauberks. Their helmets waved with plumes
and bizarre crests. Their surcoats blazed with heraldries; their
velvet caps with medals bearing legendary emblems. The pomp and
circumstance of feudal war had not yet yielded to the cannon of the
Gascon or the Switzer's pike. The fatal age of foreign invasions had
not begun for Italy. Within a few years Charles VIII.'s holiday
excursion would reveal the internal rottenness and weakness of her
rival states, and the peninsula for half a century to come would be
drenched in the blood of Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, fighting for
her cities as their prey. But now Lorenzo de' Medici was still alive.
The famous policy which bears his name held Italy suspended for a
golden time in false tranquillity and independence. The princes who
shared his culture and his love of art were gradually passing into
modern noblemen, abandoning the savage feuds and passions of more
virile centuries, yielding to luxury and scholarly enjoyments. The
castles were becoming courts, and despotisms won by force were
settling into dynasties.

It was just at this epoch that Duke Federigo built his castle at
Urbino. One of the ablest and wealthiest Condottieri of his time, one
of the best instructed and humanest of Italian princes, he combined in
himself the qualities which mark that period of transition. And these
he impressed upon his dwelling-house, which looks backward to the
mediæval fortalice and forward to the modern palace. This makes it the
just embodiment in architecture of Italian romance, the perfect
analogue of the 'Orlando Innamorato.' By comparing it with the castle
of the Estes at Ferrara and the Palazzo del Te of the Gonzagas at
Mantua, we place it in its right position between mediæval and
Renaissance Italy, between the age when principalities arose upon the
ruins of commercial independence and the age when they became dynastic
under Spain.

The exigencies of the ground at his disposal forced Federigo to give
the building an irregular outline. The fine façade, with its embayed
_loggie_ and flanking turrets, is placed too close upon the city
ramparts for its due effect. We are obliged to cross the deep ravine
which separates it from a lower quarter of the town, and take our
station near the Oratory of S. Giovanni Battista, before we can
appreciate the beauty of its design, or the boldness of the group it
forms with the cathedral dome and tower and the square masses of
numerous out-buildings. Yet this peculiar position of the palace,
though baffling to a close observer of its details, is one of singular
advantage to the inhabitants. Set on the verge of Urbino's towering
eminence, it fronts a wave-tossed sea of vales and mountain summits
toward the rising and the setting sun. There is nothing but
illimitable air between the terraces and loggias of the Duchess's
apartments and the spreading pyramid of Monte Catria.

A nobler scene is nowhere swept from palace windows than this, which
Castiglione touched in a memorable passage at the end of his
'Cortegiano.' To one who in our day visits Urbino, it is singular how
the slight indications of this sketch, as in some silhouette, bring
back the antique life, and link the present with the past--a hint,
perhaps, for reticence in our descriptions. The gentlemen and ladies
of the court had spent a summer night in long debate on love, rising
to the height of mystical Platonic rapture on the lips of Bembo, when
one of them exclaimed, 'The day has broken!' 'He pointed to the light
which was beginning to enter by the fissures of the windows. Whereupon
we flung the casements wide upon that side of the palace which looks
toward the high peak of Monte Catria, and saw that a fair dawn of rosy
hue was born already in the eastern skies, and all the stars had
vanished except the sweet regent of the heaven of Venus, who holds the
borderlands of day and night; and from her sphere it seemed as though
a gentle wind were breathing, filling the air with eager freshness,
and waking among the numerous woods upon the neighbouring hills the
sweet-toned symphonies of joyous birds.'


II

The House of Montefeltro rose into importance early in the twelfth
century. Frederick Barbarossa erected their fief into a county in
1160. Supported by imperial favour, they began to exercise an
undefined authority over the district, which they afterwards converted
into a duchy. But, though Ghibelline for several generations, the
Montefeltri were too near neighbours of the Papal power to free
themselves from ecclesiastical vassalage. Therefore in 1216 they
sought and obtained the title of Vicars of the Church. Urbino
acknowledged them as semi-despots in their double capacity of Imperial
and Papal deputies. Cagli and Gubbio followed in the fourteenth
century. In the fifteenth, Castel Durante was acquired from the
Brancaleoni by warfare, and Fossombrone from the Malatestas by
purchase. Numerous fiefs and villages fell into their hands upon the
borders of Rimini in the course of a continued struggle with the House
of Malatesta: and when Fano and Pesaro were added at the opening of
the sixteenth century, the domain over which they ruled was a compact
territory, some forty miles square, between the Adriatic and the
Apennines. From the close of the thirteenth century they bore the
title of Counts of Urbino. The famous Conte Guido, whom Dante placed
among the fraudulent in hell, supported the honours of the house and
increased its power by his political action, at this epoch. But it was
not until the year 1443 that the Montefeltri acquired their ducal
title. This was conferred by Eugenius IV. upon Oddantonio, over whose
alleged crimes and indubitable assassination a veil of mystery still
hangs. He was the son of Count Guidantonio, and at his death the
Montefeltri of Urbino were extinct in the legitimate line. A natural
son of Guidantonio had been, however, recognised in his father's
lifetime, and married to Gentile, heiress of Mercatello. This was
Federigo, a youth of great promise, who succeeded his half-brother in
1444 as Count of Urbino. It was not until 1474 that the ducal title
was revived for him.

Duke Frederick was a prince remarkable among Italian despots for
private virtues and sober use of his hereditary power. He spent his
youth at Mantua, in that famous school of Vittorino da Feltre, where
the sons and daughters of the first Italian nobility received a model
education in humanities, good manners, and gentle physical
accomplishments. More than any of his fellow-students Frederick
profited by this rare scholar's discipline. On leaving school he
adopted the profession of arms, as it was then practised, and joined
the troop of the Condottiere Niccolò Piccinino. Young men of his own
rank, especially the younger sons and bastards of ruling families,
sought military service under captains of adventure. If they
succeeded they were sure to make money. The coffers of the Church and
the republics lay open to their not too scrupulous hands; the wealth
of Milan and Naples was squandered on them in retaining-fees and
salaries for active service. There was always the further possibility
of placing a coronet upon their brows before they died, if haply they
should wrest a town from their employers, or obtain the cession of a
province from a needy Pope. The neighbours of the Montefeltri in
Umbria, Romagna, and the Marches of Ancona were all of them
Condottieri. Malatestas of Rimini and Pesaro, Vitelli of Città di
Castello, Varani of Camerino, Baglioni of Perugia, to mention only a
few of the most eminent nobles, enrolled themselves under the banners
of plebeian adventurers like Piccinino and Sforza Attendolo. Though
their family connections gave them a certain advantage, the system was
essentially democratic. Gattamelata and Carmagnola sprang from
obscurity by personal address and courage to the command of armies.
Colleoni fought his way up from the grooms to princely station and the
_bâton_ of S. Mark. Francesco Sforza, whose father had begun life as a
tiller of the soil, seized the ducal crown of Milan, and founded a
house which ranked among the first in Europe.

It is not needful to follow Duke Frederick in his military career. We
may briefly remark that when he succeeded to Urbino by his brother's
death in 1444, he undertook generalship on a grand scale. His own
dominions supplied him with some of the best troops in Italy. He was
careful to secure the goodwill of his subjects by attending personally
to their interests, relieving them of imposts, and executing equal
justice. He gained the then unique reputation of an honest prince,
paternally disposed toward his dependents. Men flocked to his
standards willingly, and he was able to bring an important contingent
into any army. These advantages secured for him alliances with
Francesco Sforza, and brought him successively into connection with
Milan, Venice, Florence, the Church of Naples. As a tactician in the
field he held high rank among the generals of the age, and so
considerable were his engagements that he acquired great wealth in the
exercise of his profession. We find him at one time receiving 8000
ducats a month as war-pay from Naples, with a peace pension of 6000.
While Captain-General of the League, he drew for his own use in war
45,000 ducats of annual pay. Retaining-fees and pensions in the name
of past services swelled his income, the exact extent of which has
not, so far as I am aware, been estimated, but which must have made
him one of the richest of Italian princes. All this wealth he spent
upon his duchy, fortifying and beautifying its cities, drawing youths
of promise to his court, maintaining a great train of life, and
keeping his vassals in good-humour by the lightness of a rule which
contrasted favourably with the exactions of needier despots.

While fighting for the masters who offered him _condotta_ in the
complicated wars of Italy, Duke Frederick used his arms, when occasion
served, in his own quarrels. Many years of his life were spent in a
prolonged struggle with his neighbour Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta,
the bizarre and brilliant tyrant of Rimini, who committed the fatal
error of embroiling himself beyond all hope of pardon with the Church,
and who died discomfited in the duel with his warier antagonist.
Urbino profited by each mistake of Sigismondo, and the history of this
long desultory strife with Rimini is a history of gradual
aggrandisement and consolidation for the Montefeltrian duchy.

In 1459 Duke Frederick married his second wife, Battista, daughter of
Alessandro Sforza, Lord of Pesaro. Their portraits, painted by Piero
della Francesca, are to be seen in the Uffizzi at Florence. Some years
earlier, Frederick lost his right eye and had the bridge of his nose
broken in a jousting match outside the town-gate of Urbino. After this
accident, he preferred to be represented in profile--the profile so
well known to students of Italian art on medals and basreliefs. It was
not without medical aid and vows fulfilled by a mother's
self-sacrifice to death, if we may trust the diarists of Urbino, that
the ducal couple got an heir. In 1472, however, a son was born to
them, whom they christened Guido Paolo Ubaldo. He proved a youth of
excellent parts and noble nature--apt at study, perfect in all
chivalrous accomplishments. But he inherited some fatal physical
debility, and his life was marred with a constitutional disease, which
then received the name of gout, and which deprived him of the free use
of his limbs. After his father's death in 1482, Naples, Florence, and
Milan continued Frederick's war engagements to Guidobaldo. The prince
was but a boy of ten. Therefore these important _condotte_ must be
regarded as compliments and pledges for the future. They prove to what
a pitch Duke Frederick had raised the credit of his state and war
establishment. Seven years later, Guidobaldo married Elisabetta,
daughter of Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. This union, though a
happy one, was never blessed with children; and in the certainty of
barrenness, the young Duke thought it prudent to adopt a nephew as
heir to his dominions. He had several sisters, one of whom, Giovanna,
had been married to a nephew of Sixtus IV., Giovanni della Rovere,
Lord of Sinigaglia and Prefect of Rome. They had a son, Francesco
Maria, who, after his adoption by Guidobaldo, spent his boyhood at
Urbino.

The last years of the fifteenth century were marked by the sudden rise
of Cesare Borgia to a power which threatened the liberties of Italy.
Acting as General for the Church, he carried his arms against the
petty tyrants of Romagna, whom he dispossessed and extirpated. His
next move was upon Camerino and Urbino. He first acquired Camerino,
having lulled Guidobaldo into false security by treacherous
professions of goodwill. Suddenly the Duke received intelligence that
the Borgia was marching on him over Cagli. This was in the middle of
June 1502. It is difficult to comprehend the state of weakness in
which Guidobaldo was surprised, or the panic which then seized him. He
made no efforts to rouse his subjects to resistance, but fled by night
with his nephew through rough mountain roads, leaving his capital and
palace to the marauder. Cesare Borgia took possession without striking
a blow, and removed the treasures of Urbino to the Vatican. His
occupation of the duchy was not undisturbed, however; for the people
rose in several places against him, proving that Guidobaldo had
yielded too hastily to alarm. By this time the fugitive was safe in
Mantua, whence he returned, and for a short time succeeded in
establishing himself again at Urbino. But he could not hold his own
against the Borgias, and in December, by a treaty, he resigned his
claims and retired to Venice, where he lived upon the bounty of S.
Mark. It must be said, in justice to the Duke, that his constitutional
debility rendered him unfit for active operations in the field.
Perhaps he could not have done better than thus to bend beneath the
storm.

The sudden death of Alexander VI. and the election of a Della Rovere
to the Papacy in 1503 changed Guidobaldo's prospects. Julius II. was
the sworn foe of the Borgias and the close kinsman of Urbino's heir.
It was therefore easy for the Duke to walk into his empty palace on
the hill, and to reinstate himself in the domains from which he had so
recently been ousted. The rest of his life was spent in the retirement
of his court, surrounded with the finest scholars and the noblest
gentlemen of Italy. The ill-health which debarred him from the active
pleasures and employments of his station, was borne with uniform
sweetness of temper and philosophy.

When he died, in 1508, his nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere,
succeeded to the duchy, and once more made the palace of Urbino the
resort of men-at-arms and captains. He was a prince of very violent
temper: of its extravagance history has recorded three remarkable
examples. He murdered the Cardinal of Pavia with his own hand in the
streets of Ravenna; stabbed a lover of his sister to death at Urbino;
and in a council of war knocked Francesco Guicciardini down with a
blow of his fist. When the history of Italy came to be written,
Guicciardini was probably mindful of that insult, for he painted
Francesco Maria's character and conduct in dark colours. At the same
time this Duke of Urbino passed for one of the first generals of the
age. The greatest stain upon his memory is his behaviour in the year
1527, when, by dilatory conduct of the campaign in Lombardy, he
suffered the passage of Frundsberg's army unopposed, and afterwards
hesitated to relieve Rome from the horrors of the sack. He was the
last Italian Condottiere of the antique type; and the vices which
Machiavelli exposed in that bad system of mercenary warfare were
illustrated on these occasions. During his lifetime, the conditions of
Italy were so changed by Charles V.'s imperial settlement in 1530,
that the occupation of Condottiere ceased to have any meaning. Strozzi
and Farnesi, who afterwards followed this profession, enlisted in the
ranks of France or Spain, and won their laurels in Northern Europe.

While Leo X. held the Papal chair, the duchy of Urbino was for a while
wrested from the house of Della Rovere, and conferred upon Lorenzo de'
Medici. Francesco Maria made a better fight for his heritage than
Guidobaldo had done. Yet he could not successfully resist the power of
Rome. The Pope was ready to spend enormous sums of money on this petty
war; the Duke's purse was shorter, and the mercenary troops he was
obliged to use, proved worthless in the field. Spaniards, for the
most part, pitted against Spaniards, they suffered the campaigns to
degenerate into a guerilla warfare of pillage and reprisals. In 1517
the duchy was formally ceded to Lorenzo. But this Medici did not live
long to enjoy it, and his only child Catherine, the future Queen of
France, never exercised the rights which had devolved upon her by
inheritance. The shifting scene of Italy beheld Francesco Maria
reinstated in Urbino after Leo's death in 1522.

This Duke married Leonora Gonzaga, a princess of the House of Mantua.
Their portraits, painted by Titian, adorn the Venetian room of the
Uffizzi. Of their son, Guidobaldo II., little need be said. He was
twice married, first to Giulia Varano, Duchess by inheritance of
Camerino; secondly, to Vittoria Farnese, daughter of the Duke of
Parma. Guidobaldo spent a lifetime in petty quarrels with his
subjects, whom he treated badly, attempting to draw from their pockets
the wealth which his father and the Montefeltri had won in military
service. He intervened at an awkward period of Italian politics. The
old Italy of despots, commonwealths, and Condottieri, in which his
predecessors played substantial parts, was at an end. The new Italy of
Popes and Austro-Spanish dynasties had hardly settled into shape.
Between these epochs, Guidobaldo II., of whom we have a dim and hazy
presentation on the page of history, seems somehow to have fallen
flat. As a sign of altered circumstances, he removed his court to
Pesaro, and built the great palace of the Della Roveres upon the
public square.

Guidobaldaccio, as he was called, died in 1574, leaving an only son,
Francesco Maria II., whose life and character illustrate the new age
which had begun for Italy. He was educated in Spain at the court of
Philip II., where he spent more than two years. When he returned, his
Spanish haughtiness, punctilious attention to etiquette, and
superstitious piety attracted observation. The violent temper of the
Della Roveres, which Francesco Maria I. displayed in acts of
homicide, and which had helped to win his bad name for Guidobaldaccio,
took the form of sullenness in the last Duke. The finest episode in
his life was the part he played in the battle of Lepanto, under his
old comrade, Don John of Austria. His father forced him to an
uncongenial marriage with Lucrezia d'Este, Princess of Ferrara. She
left him, and took refuge in her native city, then honoured by the
presence of Tasso and Guarini. He bore her departure with
philosophical composure, recording the event in his diary as something
to be dryly grateful for. Left alone, the Duke abandoned himself to
solitude, religious exercises, hunting, and the economy of his
impoverished dominions. He became that curious creature, a man of
narrow nature and mediocre capacity, who, dedicated to the cult of
self, is fain to pass for saint and sage in easy circumstances. He
married, for the second time, a lady, Livia della Rovere, who belonged
to his own family, but had been born in private station. She brought
him one son, the Prince Federigo-Ubaldo. This youth might have
sustained the ducal honours of Urbino, but for his sage-saint father's
want of wisdom. The boy was a spoiled child in infancy. Inflated with
Spanish vanity from the cradle, taught to regard his subjects as
dependents on a despot's will, abandoned to the caprices of his own
ungovernable temper, without substantial aid from the paternal piety
or stoicism, he rapidly became a most intolerable princeling. His
father married him, while yet a boy, to Claudia de' Medici, and
virtually abdicated in his favour. Left to his own devices, Federigo
chose companions from the troupes of players whom he drew from Venice.
He filled his palaces with harlots, and degraded himself upon the
stage in parts of mean buffoonery. The resources of the duchy were
racked to support these parasites. Spanish rules of etiquette and
ceremony were outraged by their orgies. His bride brought him one
daughter, Vittoria, who afterwards became the wife of Ferdinand, Grand
Duke of Tuscany. Then in the midst of his low dissipation and
offences against ducal dignity, he died of apoplexy at the early age
of eighteen--the victim, in the severe judgment of history, of his
father's selfishness and want of practical ability.

This happened in 1623. Francesco Maria was stunned by the blow. His
withdrawal from the duties of the sovereignty in favour of such a son
had proved a constitutional unfitness for the duties of his station.
The life he loved was one of seclusion in a round of pious exercises,
petty studies, peddling economies, and mechanical amusements. A
powerful and grasping Pope was on the throne of Rome. Urban at this
juncture pressed Francesco Maria hard; and in 1624 the last Duke of
Urbino devolved his lordships to the Holy See. He survived the formal
act of abdication seven years; when he died, the Pontiff added his
duchy to the Papal States, which thenceforth stretched from Naples to
the bounds of Venice on the Po.


III

Duke Frederick began the palace at Urbino in 1454, when he was still
only Count. The architect was Luziano of Lauranna, a Dalmatian; and
the beautiful white limestone, hard as marble, used in the
construction, was brought from the Dalmatian coast. This stone, like
the Istrian stone of Venetian buildings, takes and retains the chisel
mark with wonderful precision. It looks as though, when fresh, it must
have had the pliancy of clay, so delicately are the finest curves in
scroll or foliage scooped from its substance. And yet it preserves
each cusp and angle of the most elaborate pattern with the crispness
and the sharpness of a crystal.

When wrought by a clever craftsman, its surface has neither the
waxiness of Parian, nor the brittle edge of Carrara marble; and it
resists weather better than marble of the choicest quality. This may
be observed in many monuments of Venice, where the stone has been long
exposed to sea-air. These qualities of the Dalmatian limestone, no
less than its agreeable creamy hue and smooth dull polish, adapt it to
decoration in low relief. The most attractive details in the palace at
Urbino are friezes carved of this material in choice designs of early
Renaissance dignity and grace. One chimney-piece in the Sala degli
Angeli deserves especial comment. A frieze of dancing Cupids, with
gilt hair and wings, their naked bodies left white on a ground of
ultramarine, is supported by broad flat pilasters. These are engraved
with children holding pots of flowers; roses on one side, carnations
on the other. Above the frieze another pair of angels, one at each
end, hold lighted torches; and the pyramidal cap of the chimney is
carved with two more, flying, and supporting the eagle of the
Montefeltri on a raised medallion. Throughout the palace we notice
emblems appropriate to the Houses of Montefeltro and Della Rovere:
their arms, three golden bends upon a field of azure: the Imperial
eagle, granted when Montefeltro was made a fief of the Empire: the
Garter of England, worn by the Dukes Federigo and Guidobaldo: the
ermine of Naples: the _ventosa_, or cupping-glass, adopted for a
private badge by Frederick: the golden oak-tree on an azure field of
Della Rovere: the palm-tree, bent beneath a block of stone, with its
accompanying motto, _Inclinata Resurgam_: the cipher, FE DX. Profile
medallions of Federigo and Guidobaldo, wrought in the lowest possible
relief, adorn the staircases. Round the great courtyard runs a frieze
of military engines and ensigns, trophies, machines, and implements of
war, alluding to Duke Frederick's profession of Condottiere. The
doorways are enriched with scrolls of heavy-headed flowers, acanthus
foliage, honeysuckles, ivy-berries, birds and boys and sphinxes, in
all the riot of Renaissance fancy.

This profusion of sculptured _rilievo_ is nearly all that remains to
show how rich the palace was in things of beauty. Castiglione, writing
in the reign of Guidobaldo, says that 'in the opinion of many it is
the fairest to be found in Italy; and the Duke filled it so well with
all things fitting its magnificence, that it seemed less like a palace
than a city. Not only did he collect articles of common use, vessels
of silver, and trappings for chambers of rare cloths of gold and silk,
and suchlike furniture, but he added multitudes of bronze and marble
statues, exquisite pictures, and instruments of music of all sorts.
There was nothing but was of the finest and most excellent quality to
be seen there. Moreover, he gathered together at a vast cost a large
number of the best and rarest books in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, all
of which he adorned with gold and silver, esteeming them the chiefest
treasure of his spacious palace.' When Cesare Borgia entered Urbino as
conqueror in 1502, he is said to have carried off loot to the value of
150,000 ducats, or perhaps about a quarter of a million sterling.
Vespasiano, the Florentine bookseller, has left us a minute account of
the formation of the famous library of manuscripts, which he valued at
considerably over 30,000 ducats. Yet wandering now through these
deserted halls, we seek in vain for furniture or tapestry or works of
art. The books have been removed to Rome. The pictures are gone, no
man knows whither. The plate has long been melted down. The
instruments of music are broken. If frescoes adorned the corridors,
they have been whitewashed; the ladies' chambers have been stripped of
their rich arras. Only here and there we find a raftered ceiling,
painted in fading colours, which, taken with the stonework of the
chimney, and some fragments of inlaid panel-work on door or window,
enables us to reconstruct the former richness of these princely rooms.

Exception must be made in favour of two apartments between the towers
upon the southern facade. These were apparently the private rooms of
the Duke and Duchess, and they are still approached by a great winding
staircase in one of the _torricini_. Adorned in indestructible or
irremovable materials, they retain some traces of their ancient
splendour. On the first floor, opening on the vaulted loggia, we find
a little chapel encrusted with lovely work in stucco and marble;
friezes of bulls, sphinxes, sea-horses, and foliage; with a low relief
of Madonna and Child in the manner of Mino da Fiesole. Close by is a
small study with inscriptions to the Muses and Apollo. The cabinet
connecting these two cells has a Latin legend, to say that Religion
here dwells near the temple of the liberal arts:

  Bina vides parvo discrimine juncta sacella,
    Altera pars Musis altera sacra Deo est.

On the floor above, corresponding in position to this apartment, is a
second, of even greater interest, since it was arranged by the Duke
Frederick for his own retreat. The study is panelled in tarsia of
beautiful design and execution. Three of the larger compartments show
Faith, Hope, and Charity; figures not unworthy of a Botticelli or a
Filippino Lippi. The occupations of the Duke are represented on a
smaller scale by armour, _bâtons_ of command, scientific instruments,
lutes, viols, and books, some open and some shut. The Bible, Homer,
Virgil, Seneca, Tacitus, and Cicero, are lettered; apparently to
indicate his favourite authors. The Duke himself, arrayed in his state
robes, occupies a fourth great panel; and the whole of this elaborate
composition is harmonised by emblems, badges, and occasional devices
of birds, articles of furniture, and so forth. The tarsia, or inlaid
wood of different kinds and colours, is among the best in this kind of
art to be found in Italy, though perhaps it hardly deserves to rank
with the celebrated choir-stalls of Bergamo and Monte Oliveto. Hard by
is a chapel, adorned, like the lower one, with excellent reliefs. The
loggia to which these rooms have access looks across the Apennines,
and down on what was once a private garden. It is now enclosed and
paved for the exercise of prisoners who are confined in one part of
the desecrated palace!

A portion of the pile is devoted to more worthy purposes; for the
Academy of Raphael here holds its sittings, and preserves a collection
of curiosities and books illustrative of the great painter's life and
works. They have recently placed in a tiny oratory, scooped by
Guidobaldo II. from the thickness of the wall, a cast of Raphael's
skull, which will be studied with interest and veneration. It has the
fineness of modelling combined with shapeliness of form and smallness
of scale which is said to have characterised Mozart and Shelley.

The impression left upon the mind after traversing this palace in its
length and breadth is one of weariness and disappointment. How shall
we reconstruct the long-past life which filled its rooms with sound,
the splendour of its pageants, the thrill of tragedies enacted here?
It is not difficult to crowd its doors and vacant spaces with liveried
servants, slim pages in tight hose, whose well-combed hair escapes
from tiny caps upon their silken shoulders. We may even replace the
tapestries of Troy which hung one hall, and build again the sideboards
with their embossed gilded plate. But are these chambers really those
where Emilia Pia held debate on love with Bembo and Castiglione; where
Bibbiena's witticisms and Fra Serafino's pranks raised smiles on
courtly lips; where Bernardo Accolti, 'the Unique,' declaimed his
verses to applauding crowds? Is it possible that into yonder hall,
where now the lion of S. Mark looks down alone on staring desolation,
strode the Borgia in all his panoply of war, a gilded glittering
dragon, and from the dais tore the Montefeltri's throne, and from the
arras stripped their ensigns, replacing these with his own Bull and
Valentinus Dux? Here Tasso tuned his lyre for Francesco Maria's
wedding-feast, and read 'Aminta' to Lucrezia d'Este. Here Guidobaldo
listened to the jests and whispered scandals of the Aretine. Here
Titian set his easel up to paint; here the boy Raphael, cap in hand,
took signed and sealed credentials from his Duchess to the Gonfalonier
of Florence. Somewhere in these huge chambers, the courtiers sat
before a torch-lit stage, when Bibbiena's 'Calandria' and
Caetiglione's 'Tirsi,' with their miracles of masques and mummers,
whiled the night away. Somewhere, we know not where, Giuliano de'
Medici made love in these bare rooms to that mysterious mother of
ill-fated Cardinal Ippolito; somewhere, in some darker nook, the
bastard Alessandro sprang to his strange-fortuned life of tyranny and
license, which Brutus-Lorenzino cut short with a traitor's
poignard-thrust in Via Larga. How many men, illustrious for arts and
letters, memorable by their virtues or their crimes, have trod these
silent corridors, from the great Pope Julius down to James III.,
self-titled King of England, who tarried here with Clementina Sobieski
through some twelve months of his ex-royal exile! The memories of all
this folk, flown guests and masters of the still-abiding
palace-chambers, haunt us as we hurry through. They are but filmy
shadows. We cannot grasp them, localise them, people surrounding
emptiness with more than withering cobweb forms.

Death takes a stronger hold on us than bygone life. Therefore,
returning to the vast Throne-room, we animate it with one scene it
witnessed on an April night in 1508. Duke Guidobaldo had died at
Fossombrone, repeating to his friends around his bed these lines of
Virgil:

     Me circum limus niger et deformis arundo Cocyti tardaque
     palus inamabilis unda Alligat, et novies Styx interfusa
     coercet.

His body had been carried on the shoulders of servants through those
mountain ways at night, amid the lamentations of gathering multitudes
and the baying of dogs from hill-set farms alarmed by flaring
flambeaux. Now it is laid in state in the great hall. The dais and the
throne are draped in black. The arms and _bâtons_ of his father hang
about the doorways. His own ensigns are displayed in groups and
trophies, with the banners of S. Mark, the Montefeltrian eagle, and
the cross keys of S. Peter. The hall itself is vacant, save for the
high-reared catafalque of sable velvet and gold damask, surrounded
with wax candles burning steadily. Round it passes a ceaseless stream
of people, coming and going, gazing at their Duke. He is attired in
crimson hose and doublet of black damask. Black velvet slippers are on
his feet, and his ducal cap is of black velvet. The mantle of the
Garter, made of dark-blue Alexandrine velvet, hooded with crimson,
lined with white silk damask, and embroidered with the badge, drapes
the stiff sleeping form.

It is easier to conjure up the past of this great palace, strolling
round it in free air and twilight; perhaps because the landscape and
the life still moving on the city streets bring its exterior into
harmony with real existence. The southern façade, with its vaulted
balconies and flanking towers, takes the fancy, fascinates the eye,
and lends itself as a fit stage for puppets of the musing mind. Once
more imagination plants trim orange-trees in giant jars of Gubbio ware
upon the pavement where the garden of the Duchess lay--the pavement
paced in these bad days by convicts in grey canvas jackets--that
pavement where Monsignor Bombo courted 'dear dead women' with
Platonic phrase, smothering the Menta of his natural man in lettuce
culled from Academe and thyme of Mount Hymettus. In yonder loggia,
lifted above the garden and the court, two lovers are in earnest
converse. They lean beneath the coffered arch, against the marble of
the balustrade, he fingering his dagger under the dark velvet doublet,
she playing with a clove carnation, deep as her own shame. The man is
Giannandrea, broad-shouldered bravo of Verona, Duke Guidobaldo's
favourite and carpet-count. The lady is Madonna Maria, daughter of
Rome's Prefect, widow of Venanzio Varano, whom the Borgia strangled.
On their discourse a tale will hang of woman's frailty and man's
boldness--Camerino's Duchess yielding to a low-born suitor's stalwart
charms. And more will follow, when that lady's brother, furious
Francesco Maria della Rovere, shall stab the bravo in torch-litten
palace rooms with twenty poignard strokes 'twixt waist and throat, and
their Pandarus shall be sent down to his account by a varlet's
_coltellata_ through the midriff. Imagination shifts the scene, and
shows in that same loggia Rome's warlike Pope, attended by his
cardinals and all Urbino's chivalry. The snowy beard of Julius flows
down upon his breast, where jewels clasp the crimson mantle, as in
Raphael's picture. His eyes are bright with wine; for he has come to
gaze on sunset from the banquet-chamber, and to watch the line of
lamps which soon will leap along that palace cornice in his honour.
Behind him lies Bologna humbled. The Pope returns, a conqueror, to
Rome. Yet once again imagination is at work. A gaunt, bald man,
close-habited in Spanish black, his spare, fine features carved in
purest ivory, leans from that balcony. Gazing with hollow eyes, he
tracks the swallows in their flight, and notes that winter is at hand.
This is the last Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria II., he whose young
wife deserted him, who made for himself alone a hermit-pedant's round
of petty cares and niggard avarice and mean-brained superstition. He
drew a second consort from the convent, and raised up seed unto his
line by forethought, but beheld his princeling fade untimely in the
bloom of boyhood. Nothing is left but solitude. To the mortmain of the
Church reverts Urbino's lordship, and even now he meditates the terms
of devolution. Jesuits cluster in the rooms behind, with comfort for
the ducal soul and calculations for the interests of Holy See.

A farewell to these memories of Urbino's dukedom should be taken in
the crypt of the cathedral, where Francesco Maria II., the last Duke,
buried his only son and all his temporal hopes. The place is scarcely
solemn. Its dreary _barocco_ emblems mar the dignity of death. A bulky
_Pietà_ by Gian Bologna, with Madonna's face unfinished, towers up and
crowds the narrow cell. Religion has evanished from this late
Renaissance art, nor has the afterglow of Guido Reni's hectic piety
yet overflushed it. Chilled by the stifling humid sense of an extinct
race here entombed in its last representative, we gladly emerge from
the sepulchral vault into the air of day.

Filippo Visconti, with a smile on his handsome face, is waiting for us
at the inn. His horses, sleek, well fed, and rested, toss their heads
impatiently. We take our seats in the carriage, open wide beneath a
sparkling sky, whirl past the palace and its ghost-like recollections,
and are halfway on the road to Fossombrone in a cloud of dust and
whirr of wheels before we think of looking back to greet Urbino. There
is just time. The last decisive turning lies in front. We stand
bareheaded to salute the grey mass of buildings ridged along the sky.
Then the open road invites us with its varied scenery and movement.
From the shadowy past we drive into the world of human things, for
ever changefully unchanged, unrestfully the same. This interchange
between dead memories and present life is the delight of travel.

       *       *       *       *       *



_VITTORIA ACCORAMBONI_

AND THE TRAGEDY OF WEBSTER


I

During the pontificate of Gregory XIII. (1572-85), Papal authority in
Rome reached its lowest point of weakness, and the ancient splendour
of the Papal court was well-nigh eclipsed. Art and learning had died
out. The traditions of the days of Leo, Julius, and Paul III. were
forgotten. It seemed as though the genius of the Renaissance had
migrated across the Alps. All the powers of the Papacy were directed
to the suppression of heresies and to the re-establishment of
spiritual supremacy over the intellect of Europe. Meanwhile society in
Rome returned to mediæval barbarism. The veneer of classical
refinement and humanistic urbanity, which for a time had hidden the
natural savagery of the Roman nobles, wore away. The Holy City became
a den of bandits; the territory of the Church supplied a battle-ground
for senseless party strife, which the weak old man who wore the triple
crown was quite unable to control. It is related how a robber
chieftain, Marianazzo, refused the offer of a general pardon from the
Pope, alleging that the profession of brigand was far more lucrative,
and offered greater security of life, than any trade within the walls
of Rome. The Campagna, the ruined citadels about the basements of the
Sabine and Ciminian hills, the quarters of the aristocracy within the
city, swarmed with bravos, who were protected by great nobles and fed
by decent citizens for the advantages to be derived from the
assistance of abandoned and courageous ruffians. Life, indeed, had
become impossible without fixed compact with the powers of
lawlessness. There was hardly a family in Rome which did not number
some notorious criminal among the outlaws. Murder, sacrilege, the love
of adventure, thirst for plunder, poverty, hostility to the ascendant
faction of the moment, were common causes of voluntary or involuntary
outlawry; nor did public opinion regard a bandit's calling as other
than honourable.

It may readily be imagined that in such a state of society the
grisliest tragedies were common enough in Rome. The history of some of
these has been preserved to us in documents digested from public
trials and personal observation by contemporary writers. That of the
Cenci, in which a notorious act of parricide furnished the plot of a
popular novella, is well known. And such a tragedy, even more rife in
characteristic incidents, and more distinguished by the quality of its
_dramatis personæ_, is that of Vittoria Accoramboni.

Vittoria was born in 1557, of a noble but impoverished family, at
Gubbio, among the hills of Umbria. Her biographers are rapturous in
their praises of her beauty, grace, and exceeding charm of manner. Not
only was her person most lovely, but her mind shone at first with all
the amiable lustre of a modest, innocent, and winning youth. Her
father, Claudio Accoramboni, removed to Rome, where his numerous
children were brought up under the care of their mother, Tarquinia, an
ambitious and unscrupulous woman, bent on rehabilitating the decayed
honours of their house. Here Vittoria in early girlhood soon became
the fashion. She exercised an irresistible influence over all who saw
her, and many were the offers of marriage she refused. At length a
suitor appeared whose condition and connection with the Roman
ecclesiastical nobility rendered him acceptable in the eyes of the
Accoramboni. Francesco Peretti was welcomed as the successful
candidate for Vittoria's hand. His mother, Camilla, was sister to
Felice, Cardinal of Montalto; and her son, Francesco Mignucci, had
changed his surname in compliment to this illustrious relative. The
Peretti were of humble origin. The cardinal himself had tended swine
in his native village; but, supported by an invincible belief in his
own destinies, and gifted with a powerful intellect and determined
character, he passed through all grades of the Franciscan Order to its
generalship, received the bishoprics of Fermo and S. Agata, and
lastly, in the year 1570, assumed the scarlet with the title of
Cardinal Montalto. He was now upon the high way to the Papacy,
amassing money by incessant care, studying the humours of surrounding
factions, effacing his own personality, and by mixing but little in
the intrigues of the court, winning the reputation of a prudent,
inoffensive old man. These were his tactics for securing the Papal
throne; nor were his expectations frustrated; for in 1585 he was
chosen Pope, the parties of the Medici and the Farnesi agreeing to
accept him as a compromise. When Sixtus V. was once firmly seated on
S. Peter's chair, he showed himself in his true colours. An implacable
administrator of severest justice, a rigorous economist, an
iconoclastic foe to paganism, the first act of his reign was to
declare a war of extirpation against the bandits who had reduced Rome
in his predecessor's rule to anarchy.

It was the nephew, then, of this man, whom historians have judged the
greatest personage of his own times, that Vittoria Accoramboni married
on the 28th of June 1573. For a short while the young couple lived
happily together. According to some accounts of their married life,
the bride secured the favour of her powerful uncle-in-law, who
indulged her costly fancies to the full. It is, however, more probable
that the Cardinal Montalto treated her follies with a grudging
parsimony; for we soon find the Peretti household hopelessly involved
in debt. Discord, too, arose between Vittoria and her husband on the
score of a certain levity in her behaviour; and it was rumoured that
even during the brief space of their union she had proved a faithless
wife. Yet she contrived to keep Francesco's confidence, and it is
certain that her family profited by their connection with the Peretti.
Of her six brothers, Mario, the eldest, was a favourite courtier of
the great Cardinal d'Este. Ottavio was in orders, and through
Montalto's influence obtained the See of Fossombrone. The same
eminent protector placed Scipione in the service of the Cardinal
Sforza. Camillo, famous for his beauty and his courage, followed the
fortunes of Filibert of Savoy, and died in France. Flaminio was still
a boy, dependent, as the sequel of this story shows, upon his sister's
destiny. Of Marcello, the second in age and most important in the
action of this tragedy, it is needful to speak with more
particularity. He was young, and, like the rest of his breed,
singularly handsome--so handsome, indeed, that he is said to have
gained an infamous ascendency over the great Duke of Bracciano, whose
privy chamberlain he had become. Marcello was an outlaw for the murder
of Matteo Pallavicino, the brother of the Cardinal of that name. This
did not, however, prevent the chief of the Orsini house from making
him his favourite and confidential friend. Marcello, who seems to have
realised in actual life the worst vices of those Roman courtiers
described for us by Aretino, very soon conceived the plan of exalting
his own fortunes by trading on his sister's beauty. He worked upon the
Duke of Bracciano's mind so cleverly, that he brought this haughty
prince to the point of an insane passion for Peretti's young wife; and
meanwhile so contrived to inflame the ambition of Vittoria and her
mother, Tarquinia, that both were prepared to dare the worst of crimes
in expectation of a dukedom. The game was a difficult one to play. Not
only had Francesco Peretti first to be murdered, but the inequality of
birth and wealth and station between Vittoria and the Duke of
Bracciano rendered a marriage almost impossible. It was also an affair
of delicacy to stimulate without satisfying the Duke's passion. Yet
Marcello did not despair. The stakes were high enough to justify great
risks; and all he put in peril was his sister's honour, the fame of
the Accoramboni, and the favour of Montalto. Vittoria, for her part,
trusted in her power to ensnare and secure the noble prey both had in
view.

Paolo Giordano Orsini, born about the year 1537, was reigning Duke of
Bracciano. Among Italian princes he ranked at least upon a par with
the Dukes of Urbino, and his family, by its alliances, was more
illustrious than any of that time in Italy. He was a man of gigantic
stature, prodigious corpulence, and marked personal daring; agreeable
in manners, but subject to uncontrollable fits of passion, and
incapable of self-restraint when crossed in any whim or fancy. Upon
the habit of his body it is needful to insist, in order that the part
he played in this tragedy of intrigue, crime, and passion may be well
defined. He found it difficult to procure a charger equal to his
weight, and he was so fat that a special dispensation relieved him
from the duty of genuflexion in the Papal presence. Though lord of a
large territory, yielding princely revenues, he laboured under heavy
debts; for no great noble of the period lived more splendidly, with
less regard for his finances. In the politics of that age and country,
Paolo Giordano leaned toward France. Yet he was a grandee of Spain,
and had played a distinguished part in the battle of Lepanto. Now the
Duke of Bracciano was a widower. He had been married in 1553 to
Isabella de' Medici, daughter of the Grand Duke Cosimo, sister of
Francesco, Bianca Capello's lover, and of the Cardinal Ferdinando.
Suspicion of adultery with Troilo Orsini had fallen on Isabella, and
her husband, with the full concurrence of her brothers, removed her in
1576 from this world.[7] No one thought the worse of Bracciano for
this murder of his wife. In those days of abandoned vice and intricate
villany, certain points of honour were maintained with scrupulous
fidelity. A wife's adultery was enough to justify the most savage and
licentious husband in an act of semi-judicial vengeance; and the shame
she brought upon his head was shared by the members of her own house,
so that they stood by, consenting to her death. Isabella, it may be
said, left one son, Virginio, who became in due time Duke of
Bracciano.

It appears that in the year 1581, four years after Vittoria's
marriage, the Duke of Bracciano had satisfied Marcello of his
intention to make her his wife, and of his willingness to countenance
Francesco Peretti's murder. Marcello, feeling sure of his game,
introduced the Duke in private to his sister, and induced her to
overcome any natural repugnance she may have felt for the unwieldy and
gross lover. Having reached this point, it was imperative to push
matters quickly on toward matrimony.

But how should the unfortunate Francesco be entrapped? They caught him
in a snare of peculiar atrocity, by working on the kindly feelings
which his love for Vittoria had caused him to extend to all the
Acooramboni. Marcello, the outlaw, was her favourite brother, and
Marcello at that time lay in hiding, under the suspicion of more than
ordinary crime, beyond the walls of Rome. Late in the evening of the
18th of April, while the Peretti family were retiring to bed, a
messenger from Marcello arrived, entreating Francesco to repair at
once to Monte Cavallo. Marcello had affairs of the utmost importance
to communicate, and begged his brother-in-law not to fail him at a
grievous pinch. The letter containing this request was borne by one
Dominico d'Aquaviva, _alias_ Il Mancino, a confederate of Vittoria's
waiting-maid. This fellow, like Marcello, was an outlaw; but when he
ventured into Rome he frequented Peretti's house, and had made himself
familiar with its master as a trusty bravo. Neither in the message,
therefore, nor in the messenger was there much to rouse suspicion. The
time, indeed, was oddly chosen, and Marcello had never made a similar
appeal on any previous occasion. Yet his necessities might surely have
obliged him to demand some more than ordinary favour from a brother.
Francesco immediately made himself ready to set out, armed only with
his sword and attended by a single servant. It was in vain that his
wife and his mother reminded him of the dangers of the night, the
loneliness of Monte Cavallo, its ruinous palaces and robber-haunted
caves. He was resolved to undertake the adventure, and went forth,
never to return. As he ascended the hill, he fell to earth, shot with
three harquebuses. His body was afterwards found on Monte Cavallo,
stabbed through and through, without a trace that could identify the
murderers. Only, in the course of subsequent investigations, Il
Mancino (on the 24th of February 1582) made the following
statements:--That Vittoria's mother, assisted by the waiting woman,
had planned the trap; that Marchionne of Gubbio and Paolo Barca of
Bracciano, two of the Duke's men, had despatched the victim. Marcello
himself, it seems, had come from Bracciano to conduct the whole
affair. Suspicion fell immediately upon Vittoria and her kindred,
together with the Duke of Bracciano; nor was this diminished when the
Accoramboni, fearing the pursuit of justice, took refuge in a villa of
the Duke's at Magnanapoli a few days after the murder.

A cardinal's nephew, even in those troublous times, was not killed
without some noise being made about the matter. Accordingly Pope
Gregory XIII. began to take measures for discovering the authors of
the crime. Strange to say, however, the Cardinal Montalto,
notwithstanding the great love he was known to bear his nephew, begged
that the investigation might be dropped. The coolness with which he
first received the news of Francesco Peretti's death, the
dissimulation with which he met the Pope's expression of sympathy in a
full consistory, his reserve in greeting friends on ceremonial visits
of condolence, and, more than all, the self-restraint he showed in the
presence of the Duke of Bracciano, impressed the society of Rome with
the belief that he was of a singularly moderate and patient temper. It
was thought that the man who could so tamely submit to his nephew's
murder, and suspend the arm of justice when already raised for
vengeance, must prove a mild and indulgent ruler. When, therefore, in
the fifth year after this event, Montalto was elected Pope, men
ascribed his elevation in no small measure to his conduct at the
present crisis. Some, indeed, attributed his extraordinary moderation
and self-control to the right cause. _'Veramente costui è un gran
frate!_' was Gregory's remark at the close of the consistory when
Montalto begged him to let the matter of Peretti's murder rest. '_Of a
truth, that fellow is a consummate hypocrite!_' How accurate this
judgment was, appeared when Sixtus V. assumed the reins of power. The
same man who, as monk and cardinal, had smiled on Bracciano, though he
knew him to be his nephew's assassin, now, as Pontiff and sovereign,
bade the chief of the Orsini purge his palace and dominions of the
scoundrels he was wont to harbour, adding significantly, that if
Felice Peretti forgave what had been done against him in a private
station, he would exact uttermost vengeance for disobedience to the
will of Sixtus. The Duke of Bracciano judged it best, after that
warning, to withdraw from Rome.

Francesco Peretti had been murdered on the 16th of April 1581. Sixtus
V. was proclaimed on the 24th of April 1585. In this interval Vittoria
underwent a series of extraordinary perils and adventures. First of
all, she had been secretly married to the Duke in his gardens of
Magnanapoli at the end of April 1581. That is to say, Marcello and she
secured their prize, as well as they were able, the moment after
Francesco had been removed by murder. But no sooner had the marriage
become known, than the Pope, moved by the scandal it created, no less
than by the urgent instance of the Orsini and Medici, declared it
void. After some while spent in vain resistance, Bracciano submitted,
and sent Vittoria back to her father's house. By an order issued under
Gregory's own hand, she was next removed to the prison of Corte
Savella, thence to the monastery of S. Cecilia in Trastevere, and
finally to the Castle of S. Angelo. Here, at the end of December 1581,
she was put on trial for the murder of her first husband. In prison
she seems to have borne herself bravely, arraying her beautiful person
in delicate attire, entertaining visitors, exacting from her friends
the honours due to a duchess, and sustaining the frequent examinations
to which she was submitted with a bold, proud front. In the middle of
the month of July her constancy was sorely tried by the receipt of a
letter in the Duke's own handwriting, formally renouncing his
marriage. It was only by a lucky accident that she was prevented on
this occasion from committing suicide. The Papal court meanwhile kept
urging her either to retire to a monastery or to accept another
husband. She firmly refused to embrace the religious life, and
declared that she was already lawfully united to a living husband, the
Duke of Bracciano. It seemed impossible to deal with her; and at last,
on the 8th of November, she was released from prison under the
condition of retirement to Gubbio. The Duke had lulled his enemies to
rest by the pretence of yielding to their wishes. But Marcello was
continually beside him at Bracciano, where we read of a mysterious
Greek enchantress whom he hired to brew love-philters for the
furtherance of his ambitious plots. Whether Bracciano was stimulated
by the brother's arguments or by the witch's potions need not be too
curiously questioned. But it seems in any case certain that absence
inflamed his passion instead of cooling it.

Accordingly, in September 1583, under the excuse of a pilgrimage to
Loreto, he contrived to meet Vittoria at Trevi, whence he carried her
in triumph to Bracciano. Here he openly acknowledged her as his wife,
installing her with all the splendour due to a sovereign duchess. On
the 10th of October following, he once more performed the marriage
ceremony in the principal church of his fief; and in the January of
1584 he brought her openly to Rome. This act of contumacy to the Pope,
both as feudal superior and as supreme Pontiff, roused all the former
opposition to his marriage. Once more it was declared invalid. Once
more the Duke pretended to give way. But at this juncture Gregory
died; and while the conclave was sitting for the election of the new
Pope, he resolved to take the law into his own hands, and to ratify
his union with Vittoria by a third and public marriage in Rome. On the
morning of the 24th of April 1585, their nuptials were accordingly
once more solemnised in the Orsini palace. Just one hour after the
ceremony, as appears from the marriage register, the news arrived of
Cardinal Montalto's election to the Papacy, Vittoria lost no time in
paying her respects to Camilla, sister of the new Pope, her former
mother-in-law. The Duke visited Sixtus V. in state to compliment him
on his elevation. But the reception which both received proved that
Rome was no safe place for them to live in. They consequently made up
their minds for flight.

A chronic illness from which Bracciano had lately suffered furnished a
sufficient pretext. This seems to have been something of the nature of
a cancerous ulcer, which had to be treated by the application of raw
meat to open sores. Such details are only excusable in the present
narrative on the ground that Bracciano's disease considerably affects
our moral judgment of the woman who could marry a man thus physically
tainted, and with her husband's blood upon his hands. At any rate,
the Duke's _lupa_ justified his trying what change of air, together
with the sulphur waters of Abano, would do for him.

The Duke and Duchess arrived in safety at Venice, where they had
engaged the Dandolo palace on the Zuecca. There they only stayed a few
days, removing to Padua, where they had hired palaces of the Foscari
in the Arena and a house called De' Cavalli. At Salò, also, on the
Lake of Garda, they provided themselves with fit dwellings for their
princely state and their large retinues, intending to divide their
time between the pleasures which the capital of luxury afforded and
the simpler enjoyments of the most beautiful of the Italian lakes. But
_la gioia dei profani è un fumo passaggier_. Paolo Giordano Orsini,
Duke of Bracciano, died suddenly at Salò on the 10th of November 1585,
leaving the young and beautiful Vittoria helpless among enemies. What
was the cause of his death? It is not possible to give a clear and
certain answer. We have seen that he suffered from a horrible and
voracious disease, which after his removal from Rome seems to have
made progress. Yet though this malady may well have cut his life
short, suspicion of poison was not, in the circumstances, quite
unreasonable. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, the Pope, and the Orsini
family were all interested in his death. Anyhow, he had time to make a
will in Vittoria's favour, leaving her large sums of money, jewels,
goods, and houses--enough, in fact, to support her ducal dignity with
splendour. His hereditary fiefs and honours passed by right to his
only son, Virginio.

Vittoria, accompanied by her brother, Marcello, and the whole court of
Bracciano, repaired at once to Padua, where she was soon after joined
by Flaminio, and by the Prince Lodovico Orsini. Lodovico Orsini
assumed the duty of settling Vittoria's affairs under her dead
husband's will. In life he had been the Duke's ally as well as
relative. His family pride was deeply wounded by what seemed to him an
ignoble, as it was certainly an unequal, marriage. He now showed
himself the relentless enemy of the Duchess. Disputes arose between
them as to certain details, which seem to have been legally decided in
the widow's favour. On the night of the 22nd of December, however,
forty men disguised in black and fantastically tricked out to elude
detection, surrounded her palace. Through the long galleries and
chambers hung with arras, eight of them went, bearing torches, in
search of Vittoria and her brothers. Marcello escaped, having fled the
house under suspicion of the murder of one of his own followers.
Flaminio, the innocent and young, was playing on his lute and singing
_Miserere_ in the great hall of the palace. The murderers surprised
him with a shot from one of their harquebuses. He ran, wounded in the
shoulder, to his sister's room. She, it is said, was telling her beads
before retiring for the night. When three of the assassins entered,
she knelt before the crucifix, and there they stabbed her in the left
breast, turning the poignard in the wound, and asking her with savage
insults if her heart was pierced. Her last words were, 'Jesus, I
pardon you.' Then they turned to Flaminio, and left him pierced with
seventy-four stiletto wounds.

The authorities of Padua identified the bodies of Vittoria and
Flaminio, and sent at once for further instructions to Venice.
Meanwhile it appears that both corpses were laid out in one open
coffin for the people to contemplate. The palace and the church of the
Eremitani, to which they had been removed, were crowded all through
the following day with a vast concourse of the Paduans. Vittoria's
wonderful dead body, pale yet sweet to look upon, the golden hair
flowing around her marble shoulders, the red wound in her breast
uncovered, the stately limbs arrayed in satin as she died, maddened
the populace with its surpassing loveliness. '_Dentibus fremebant_,'
says the chronicler, when they beheld that gracious lady stiff in
death. And of a truth, if her corpse was actually exposed in the
chapel of the Eremitani, as we have some right to assume, the
spectacle must have been impressive. Those grim gaunt frescoes of
Mantegna looked down on her as she lay stretched upon her bier, solemn
and calm, and, but for pallor, beautiful as though in life. No wonder
that the folk forgot her first husband's murder, her less than comely
marriage to the second. It was enough for them that this flower of
surpassing loveliness had been cropped by villains in its bloom.
Gathering in knots around the torches placed beside the corpse, they
vowed vengeance against the Orsini; for suspicion, not unnaturally,
fell on Prince Lodovico.

The Prince was arrested and interrogated before the court of Padua. He
entered their hall attended by forty armed men, responded haughtily to
their questions, and demanded free passage for his courier to Virginio
Orsini, then at Florence. To this demand the court acceded; but the
precaution of way-laying the courier and searching his person was
very wisely taken. Besides some formal dispatches which announced
Vittoria's assassination, they found in this man's boot a compromising
letter, declaring Virginio a party to the crime, and asserting that
Lodovico had with his own poignard killed their victim. Padua placed
itself in a state of defence, and prepared to besiege the palace of
Prince Lodovico, who also got himself in readiness for battle.
Engines, culverins, and firebrands were directed against the
barricades which he had raised. The militia was called out and the
Brenta was strongly guarded. Meanwhile the Senate of S. Mark had
dispatched the Avogadore, Aloisio Bragadin, with full power to the
scene of action. Lodovico Orsini, it may be mentioned, was in their
service; and had not this affair intervened, he would in a few weeks
have entered on his duties as Governor for Venice of Corfu.

The bombardment of Orsini's palace began on Christmas Day. Three of
the Prince's men were killed in the first assault; and since the
artillery brought to bear upon him threatened speedy ruin to the house
and its inhabitants, he made up his mind to surrender. 'The Prince
Luigi,' writes one-chronicler of these events, 'walked attired in
brown, his poignard at his side, and his cloak slung elegantly under
his arm. The weapon being taken from him, he leaned upon a balustrade,
and began to trim his nails with a little pair of scissors he happened
to find there.' On the 27th he was strangled in prison by order of the
Venetian Republic. His body was carried to be buried, according to his
own will, in the church of S. Maria dell' Orto at Venice. Two of his
followers were hung next day. Fifteen were executed on the following
Monday; two of these were quartered alive; one of them, the Conte
Paganello, who confessed to having slain Vittoria, had his left side
probed with his own cruel dagger. Eight were condemned to the galleys,
six to prison, and eleven were acquitted. Thus ended this terrible
affair, which brought, it is said, good credit and renown to the lords
of Venice through all nations of the civilised world. It only remains
to be added that Marcello Accoramboni was surrendered to the Pope's
vengeance and beheaded at Ancona, where also his mysterious
accomplice, the Greek sorceress, perished.


II

This story of Vittoria Accoramboni's life and tragic ending is drawn,
in its main details, from a narrative published by Henri Beyle in his
'Chroniques et Novelles.'[8] He professes to have translated it
literally from a manuscript communicated to him by a nobleman of
Mantua; and there are strong internal evidences of the truth of this
assertion. Such compositions are frequent in Italian libraries, nor is
it rare for one of them to pass into the common market--as Mr.
Browning's famous purchase of the tale on which he based his 'Ring
and the Book' sufficiently proves. These pamphlets were produced, in
the first instance, to gratify the curiosity of the educated public in
an age which had no newspapers, and also to preserve the memory of
famous trials. How far the strict truth was represented, or whether,
as in the case of Beatrice Cenci, the pathetic aspect of the tragedy
was unduly dwelt on, depended, of course, upon the mental bias of the
scribe, upon his opportunities of obtaining exact information, and
upon the taste of the audience for whom he wrote. Therefore, in
treating such documents as historical data, we must be upon our
guard. Professor Gnoli, who has recently investigated the whole of
Vittoria's eventful story by the light of contemporary documents,
informs us that several narratives exist in manuscript, all dealing
more or less accurately with the details of the tragedy. One of these
was published in Italian at Brescia in 1586. A Frenchman, De Rosset,
printed the same story in its main outlines at Lyons in 1621. Our own
dramatist, John Webster, made it the subject of a tragedy, which he
gave to the press in 1612. What were his sources of information we do
not know for certain. But it is clear that he was well acquainted with
the history. He has changed some of the names and redistributed some
of the chief parts. Vittoria's first husband, for example, becomes
Camillo; her mother, named Cornelia instead of Tarquinia, is so far
from abetting Peretti's murder and countenancing her daughter's shame,
that she acts the _rôle_ of a domestic Cassandra. Flaminio and not
Marcello is made the main instrument of Vittoria's crime and
elevation. The Cardinal Montalto is called Monticelso, and his papal
title is Paul IV. instead of Sixtus V. These are details of
comparative indifference, in which a playwright may fairly use his
liberty of art. On the other hand, Webster shows a curious knowledge
of the picturesque circumstances of the tale. The garden in which
Vittoria meets Bracciano is the villa of Magnanapoli; Zanche, the
Moorish slave, combines Vittoria's waiting-woman, Caterina, and the
Greek sorceress who so mysteriously dogged Marcello's footsteps to the
death. The suspicion of Bracciano's murder is used to introduce a
quaint episode of Italian poisoning.

Webster exercised the dramatist's privilege of connecting various
threads of action in one plot, disregarding chronology, and hazarding
an ethical solution of motives which mere fidelity to fact hardly
warrants. He shows us Vittoria married to Camillo, a low-born and
witless fool, whose only merit consists in being nephew to the
Cardinal Monticelso, afterwards Pope Paul IV.[9] Paulo Giordano
Ursini, Duke of Brachiano, loves Vittoria, and she suggests to him
that, for the furtherance of their amours, his wife, the Duchess
Isabella, sister to Francesco de' Medici, Grand Duke of Florence,
should be murdered at the same time as her own husband, Camillo.
Brachiano is struck by this plan, and with the help of Vittoria's
brother, Flamineo, he puts it at once into execution. Flamineo hires a
doctor who poisons Brachiano's portrait, so that Isabella dies after
kissing it. He also with his own hands twists Camillo's neck during a
vaulting-match, making it appear that he came by his death
accidentally. Suspicion of the murder attaches, however, to Vittoria.
She is tried for her life before Monticelso and De' Medici; acquitted,
and relegated to a house of Convertites or female reformatory.
Brachiano, on the accession of Monticelso to the Papal throne,
resolves to leave Rome with Vittoria. They escape, together with her
mother Cornelia, and her brothers Flamineo and Marcello, to Padua; and
it is here that the last scenes of the tragedy are laid.

The use Webster made of Lodovico Orsini deserves particular attention.
He introduces this personage in the very first scene as a spendthrift,
who, having run through his fortune, has been outlawed. Count
Lodovico, as he is always called, has no relationship with the Orsini,
but is attached to the service of Francesco de' Medici, and is an old
lover of the Duchess Isabella. When, therefore, the Grand Duke
meditates vengeance on Brachiano, he finds a fitting instrument in the
desperate Lodovico. Together, in disguise, they repair to Padua.
Lodovico poisons the Duke of Brachiano's helmet, and has the
satisfaction of ending his last struggles by the halter. Afterwards,
with companions, habited as a masquer, he enters Vittoria's palace and
puts her to death together with her brother Flamineo. Just when the
deed of vengeance has been completed, young Giovanni Orsini, heir of
Brachiano, enters and orders the summary execution of Lodovico for
this deed of violence. Webster's invention in this plot is confined to
the fantastic incidents attending on the deaths of Isabella, Camillo,
and Brachiano, and to the murder of Marcello by his brother Flamineo,
with the further consequence of Cornelia's madness and death. He has
heightened our interest in Isabella, at the expense of Brachiano's
character, by making her an innocent and loving wife instead of an
adulteress. He has ascribed different motives from the real ones to
Lodovico in order to bring this personage into rank with the chief
actors, though this has been achieved with only moderate success.
Vittoria is abandoned to the darkest interpretation. She is a woman
who rises to eminence by crime, as an unfaithful wife, the murderess
of her husband, and an impudent defier of justice. Her brother,
Flamineo, becomes under Webster's treatment one of those worst human
infamies--a court dependent; ruffian, buffoon, pimp, murderer by
turns. Furthermore, and without any adequate object beyond that of
completing this study of a type he loved, Webster makes him murder his
own brother Marcello by treason. The part assigned to Marcello, it
should be said, is a genial and happy one; and Cornelia, the mother of
the Accoramboni, is a dignified character, pathetic in her suffering.
Webster, it may be added, treats the Cardinal Monticelso as allied in
some special way to the Medici. Yet certain traits in his character,
especially his avoidance of bloodshed and the tameness of his temper
after Camillo has been murdered, seem to have been studied from the
historical Sixtus.

III

The character of the 'White Devil, or Vittoria Corombona,' is perhaps
the most masterly creation of Webster's genius. Though her history is
a true one in its leading incidents, the poet, while portraying a real
personage, has conceived an original individuality. It is impossible
to know for certain how far the actual Vittoria was guilty of her
first husband's murder. Her personality fails to detach itself from
the romance of her biography by any salient qualities. But Webster,
with true playwright's instinct, casts aside historical doubts, and
delineates in his heroine a woman of a very marked and terrible
nature. Hard as adamant, uncompromising, ruthless, Vittoria follows
ambition as the loadstar of her life. It is the ambition to reign as
Duchess, far more than any passion for a paramour, which makes her
plot Camillo's and Isabella's murders, and throws her before marriage
into Brachiano's arms. Added to this ambition, she is possessed with
the cold demon of her own imperial and victorious beauty. She has the
courage of her criminality in the fullest sense; and much of the
fascination with which Webster has invested her, depends upon her
dreadful daring. Her portrait is drawn with full and firm touches.
Although she appears but five times on the scene, she fills it from
the first line of the drama to the last. Each appearance adds
effectively to the total impression. We see her first during a
criminal interview with Brachiano, contrived by her brother Flamineo.
The plot of the tragedy is developed in this scene; Vittoria
suggesting, under the metaphor of a dream, that her lover should
compass the deaths of his duchess and her husband. The dream is told
with deadly energy and ghastly picturesqueness. The cruel sneer at its
conclusion, murmured by a voluptuous woman in the ears of an
impassioned paramour, chills us with the sense of concentrated vice.
Her next appearance is before the court, on trial for her husband's
murder. The scene is celebrated, and has been much disputed by
critics. Relying on her own dauntlessness, on her beauty, and on the
protection of Brachiano, Vittoria hardly takes the trouble to plead
innocence or to rebut charges. She stands defiant, arrogant, vigilant,
on guard; flinging the lie in the teeth of her arraigners; quick to
seize the slightest sign of feebleness in their attack; protesting her
guiltlessness so loudly that she shouts truth down by brazen strength
of lung; retiring at the close with taunts; blazing throughout with
the intolerable lustre of some baleful planet. When she enters for the
third time, it is to quarrel with her paramour. He has been stung to
jealousy by a feigned love-letter. She knows that she has given him no
cause; it is her game to lure him by fidelity to marriage. Therefore
she resolves to make his mistake the instrument of her exaltation.
Beginning with torrents of abuse, hurling reproaches at him for her
own dishonour and the murder of his wife, working herself by studied
degrees into a tempest of ungovernable rage, she flings herself upon
the bed, refuses his caresses, spurns and tramples on him, till she
has brought Brachiano, terrified, humbled, fascinated, to her feet.
Then she gradually relents beneath his passionate protestations and
repeated promises of marriage. At this point she speaks but little.
We only feel her melting humour in the air, and long to see the scene
played by such an actress as Madame Bernhardt. When Vittoria next
appears, it is as Duchess by the deathbed of the Duke, her husband.
Her attendance here is necessary, but it contributes little to the
development of her character. We have learned to know her, and expect
neither womanish tears nor signs of affection at a crisis which
touches her heart less than her self-love. Webster, among his other
excellent qualities, knew how to support character by reticence.
Vittoria's silence in this act is significant; and when she retires
exclaiming, 'O me! this place is hell!' we know that it is the outcry,
not of a woman who has lost what made life dear, but of one who sees
the fruits of crime imperilled by a fatal accident. The last scene of
the play is devoted to Vittoria. It begins with a notable altercation
between her and Flamineo. She calls him 'ruffian' and 'villain,'
refusing him the reward of his vile service. This quarrel emerges in
one of Webster's grotesque contrivances to prolong a poignant
situation. Flamineo quits the stage and reappears with pistols. He
affects a kind of madness; and after threatening Vittoria, who never
flinches, he proposes they should end their lives by suicide. She
humours him, but manages to get the first shot. Flamineo falls,
wounded apparently to death. Then Vittoria turns and tramples on him
with her feet and tongue, taunting him in his death agony with the
enumeration of his crimes. Her malice and her energy are equally
infernal. Soon, however, it appears that the whole device was but a
trick of Flamineo's to test his sister. The pistol was not loaded. He
now produces a pair which are properly charged, and proceeds in good
earnest to the assassination of Vittoria. But at this critical moment
Lodovico and his masquers appear; brother and sister both die
unrepentant, defiant to the end. Vittoria's customary pride and her
familiar sneers impress her speech in these last moments with a
trenchant truth to nature:

                _You_ my death's-man!
  Methinks thou dost not look horrid enough,
  Thou hast too good a face to be a hangman:
  If thou be, do thy office in right form;
  Fall down upon thy knees, and ask forgiveness!

         *       *       *       *       *

  I will be waited on in death; my servant
  Shall never go before me.

         *       *       *       *       *

                Yes, I shall welcome death
  As princes do some great ambassadors:
  I'll meet thy weapon half-way.

         *       *       *       *       *

                 'Twas a manly blow!
  The next thou giv'st, murder some sucking infant;
  And then thou wilt be famous.

So firmly has Webster wrought the character of this white devil, that
we seem to see her before us as in a picture. 'Beautiful as the
leprosy, dazzling as the lightning,' to use a phrase of her
enthusiastic admirer Hazlitt, she takes her station like a lady in
some portrait by Paris Bordone, with gleaming golden hair twisted into
snakelike braids about her temples, with skin white as cream, bright
cheeks, dark dauntless eyes, and on her bosom, where it has been
chafed by jewelled chains, a flush of rose. She is luxurious, but not
so abandoned to the pleasures of the sense as to forget the purpose of
her will and brain. Crime and peril add zest to her enjoyment. When
arraigned in open court before the judgment-seat of deadly and
unscrupulous foes, she conceals the consciousness of guilt, and stands
erect, with fierce front, unabashed, relying on the splendour of her
irresistible beauty and the subtlety of her piercing wit. Chafing with
rage, the blood mounts and adds a lustre to her cheek. It is no flush
of modesty, but of rebellious indignation. The Cardinal, who hates
her, brands her emotion with the name of shame. She rebukes him,
hurling a jibe at his own mother. And when they point with spiteful
eagerness to the jewels blazing on her breast, to the silks and satins
that she rustles in, her husband lying murdered, she retorts:

     Had I foreknown his death, as you suggest, I would have
     bespoke my mourning.

She is condemned, but not vanquished, and leaves the court with a
stinging sarcasm. They send her to a house of Convertites:

     _V.C_. A house of Convertites! what's that?

     _M_. A house of penitent whores.

     _V.C_. Do the noblemen of Rome Erect it for their wives,
     that I am sent To lodge there?

Charles Lamb was certainly in error? when he described Vittoria's
attitude as one of 'innocence-resembling boldness.' In the trial
scene, no less than in the scenes of altercation with Brachiano and
Flamineo, Webster clearly intended her to pass for a magnificent
vixen, a beautiful and queenly termagant. Her boldness is the audacity
of impudence, which does not condescend to entertain the thought of
guilt. Her egotism is so hard and so profound that the very victims
whom she sacrifices to ambition seem in her sight justly punished. Of
Camillo and Isabella, her husband and his wife, she says to Brachiano:

     And both were struck dead by that sacred yew, In that base
     shallow grave that was their due.

IV

It is tempting to pass from this analysis of Vittoria's life to a
consideration of Webster's drama as a whole, especially in a book
dedicated to Italian byways. For that mysterious man of genius had
explored the dark and devious paths of Renaissance vice, and had
penetrated the secrets of Italian wickedness with truly appalling
lucidity. His tragedies, though worthless as historical documents,
have singular value as commentaries upon history, as revelations to us
of the spirit of the sixteenth century in its deepest gloom.

Webster's plays, owing to the condensation of their thought and the
compression of their style, are not easy to read for the first time.
He crowds so many fantastic incidents into one action, and burdens his
discourse with so much profoundly studied matter, that we rise from
the perusal of his works with a blurred impression of the fables, a
deep sense of the poet's power and personality, and an ineffaceable
recollection of one or two resplendent scenes. His Roman history-play
of 'Appius and Virginia' proves that he understood the value of a
simple plot, and that he was able, when he chose, to work one out with
conscientious calmness. But the two Italian dramas upon which his fame
is justly founded, by right of which he stands alone among the
playwrights of all literatures, are marked by a peculiar and wayward
mannerism. Each part is etched with equal effort after luminous effect
upon a back-ground of lurid darkness; and the whole play is made up
of these parts, without due concentration on a master-motive. The
characters are definite in outline, but, taken together in the conduct
of a single plot, they seem to stand apart, like figures in a _tableau
vivant_; nor do they act and react each upon the other in the play of
interpenetrative passions. That this mannerism was deliberately
chosen, we have a right to believe. 'Willingly, and not ignorantly, in
this kind have I faulted,' is the answer Webster gives to such as may
object that he has not constructed his plays upon the classic model.
He seems to have had a certain sombre richness of tone and intricacy
of design in view, combining sensational effect and sententious
pregnancy of diction in works of laboured art, which, when adequately
represented to the ear and eye upon the stage, might at a touch obtain
the animation they now lack for chamber-students.

When familiarity has brought us acquainted with his style, when we
have disentangled the main characters and circumstances from their
adjuncts, we perceive that he treats poignant and tremendous
situations with a concentrated vigour special to his genius; that he
has studied each word and trait of character, and that he has prepared
by gradual approaches and degrees of horror for the culmination of his
tragedies. The sentences which seem at first sight copied from a
commonplace book, are found to be appropriate. Brief lightning flashes
of acute perception illuminate the midnight darkness of his all but
unimaginably depraved characters. Sharp unexpected touches evoke
humanity in the _fantoccini_ of his wayward art. No dramatist has
shown more consummate ability in heightening terrific effects, in
laying bare the innermost mysteries of crime, remorse, and pain,
combined to make men miserable. It has been said of Webster that,
feeling himself deficient in the first poetic qualities, he
concentrated his powers upon one point, and achieved success by sheer
force of self-cultivation. There is perhaps some truth in this. At any
rate, his genius was of a narrow and peculiar order, and he knew well
how to make the most of its limitations. Yet we must not forget that
he felt a natural bias toward the dreadful stuff with which he deals.
The mystery of iniquity had an irresistible attraction for his mind.
He was drawn to comprehend and reproduce abnormal elements of
spiritual anguish. The materials with which he builds his tragedies
are sought for in the ruined places of lost souls, in the agonies of
madness and despair, in the sarcasms of criminal and reckless atheism,
in slow tortures, griefs beyond endurance, the tempests of remorseful
death, the spasms of fratricidal bloodshed. He is often melodramatic
in the means employed to bring these psychological conditions home to
us. He makes too free use of poisoned engines, daggers, pistols,
disguised murderers, and so forth. Yet his firm grasp upon the
essential qualities of diseased and guilty human nature saves him,
even at his wildest, from the unrealities and extravagances into which
less potent artists of the _drame sanglant_--Marston, for
example--blundered.

With Webster, the tendency to brood on horrors was no result of
calculation. It belonged to his idiosyncrasy. He seems to have been
suckled from birth at the breast of that _Mater Tenebrarum_, our Lady
of Darkness, whom De Quincey in one of his 'Suspiria de Profundis'
describes among the Semnai Theai, the august goddesses, the mysterious
foster-nurses of suffering humanity. He cannot say the simplest thing
without giving it a ghastly or sinister turn. If one of his characters
draws a metaphor from pie-crust, he must needs use language of the
churchyard:

                         You speak as if a man
  Should know what fowl is coffined in a baked meat
  Afore you cut it open.

Hideous similes are heaped together in illustration of the commonest
circumstances:

     Places at court are but like beds in the hospital, where
     this man's head lies at that man's foot, and so lower and
     lower.

     When knaves come to preferment, they rise as gallowses are
     raised in the Low Countries, one upon another's shoulders.

     I would sooner eat a dead pigeon taken from the soles of the
     feet of one sick of the plague than kiss one of you fasting.

A soldier is twitted with serving his master:

  As witches do their serviceable spirits,
  Even with thy prodigal blood.

An adulterous couple get this curse:

  Like mistletoe on sear elms spent by weather,
  Let him cleave to her, and both rot together.

A bravo is asked:

  Dost thou imagine thou canst slide on blood,
  And not be tainted with a shameful fall?
  Or, like the black and melancholic yew-tree,
  Dost think to root thyself in dead men's graves,
  And yet to prosper?

It is dangerous to extract philosophy of life from any dramatist. Yet
Webster so often returns to dark and doleful meditations, that we may
fairly class him among constitutional pessimists. Men, according to
the grimness of his melancholy, are:

           Only like dead walls or vaulted graves,
  That, ruined, yield no echo.
                O this gloomy world!
  In what a shadow or deep pit of darkness
  Doth womanish and fearful mankind live!

         *       *       *       *       *

  We are merely the stars' tennis-balls, struck and banded
  Which way please them.

         *       *       *       *       *

  Pleasure of life! what is't? only the good hours of an ague.

A Duchess is 'brought to mortification,' before her strangling by the
executioner, in this high fantastical oration:

     Thou art a box of worm-seed, at best but a salvatory of
     green mummy. What's this flesh? A little crudded milk,
     fantastical puff-paste, &c. &c.

Man's life in its totality is summed up with monastic cynicism in
these lyric verses:

  Of what is't fools make such vain keeping?
  Sin their conception, their birth weeping,
  Their life a general mist of error,
  Their death a hideous storm of terror.

The greatness of the world passes by with all its glory:

  Vain the ambition of kings,
  Who seek by trophies and dead things
  To leave a living name behind,
  And weave but nets to catch the wind.

It would be easy to surfeit criticism with similar examples; where
Webster is writing in sarcastic, meditative, or deliberately
terror-stirring moods. The same dark dye of his imagination shows
itself even more significantly in circumstances where, in the work of
any other artist, it would inevitably mar the harmony of the picture.
A lady, to select one instance, encourages her lover to embrace her at
the moment of his happiness. She cries:

                         Sir, be confident!
  What is't distracts you? This is flesh and blood, sir;
  'Tis not the figure cut in alabaster,
  Kneels at my husband's tomb.

Yet so sustained is Webster's symphony of sombre tints, that we do not
feel this sepulchral language, this 'talk fit for a charnel' (to use
one of his own phrases), to be out of keeping. It sounds like a
presentiment of coming woes, which, as the drama grows to its
conclusion, gather and darken on the wretched victims of his bloody
plot.

It was with profound sagacity, or led by some deep-rooted instinct,
that Webster sought the fables of his two great tragedies, 'The White
Devil' and 'The Duchess of Malfi,' in Italian annals. Whether he had
visited Italy in his youth, we cannot say; for next to nothing is
known about Webster's life. But that he had gazed long and earnestly
into the mirror held up by that enchantress of the nations in his age,
is certain. Aghast and fascinated by the sins he saw there flaunting
in the light of day--sins on whose pernicious glamour Ascham, Greene,
and Howell have insisted with impressive vehemence--Webster discerned
in them the stuff he needed for philosophy and art. Withdrawing from
that contemplation, he was like a spirit 'loosed out of hell to speak
of horrors.' Deeper than any poet of the time, deeper than any even of
the Italians, he read the riddle of the sphinx of crime. He found
there something akin to his own imaginative mood, something which he
alone could fully comprehend and interpret. From the superficial
narratives of writers like Bandello he extracted a spiritual essence
which was, if not the literal, at least the ideal, truth involved in
them.

The enormous and unnatural vices, the domestic crimes of cruelty,
adultery, and bloodshed, the political scheming and the subtle arts of
vengeance, the ecclesiastical tyranny and craft, the cynical
scepticism and lustre of luxurious godlessness, which made Italy in
the midst of her refinement blaze like 'a bright and ominous star'
before the nations; these were the very elements in which the genius
of Webster--salamander-like in flame--could live and flourish. Only
the incidents of Italian history, or of French history in its
Italianated epoch, were capable of supplying him with the proper type
of plot. It was in Italy alone, or in an Italianated country, such as
England for a brief space in the reign of the first Stuart threatened
to become, that the well-nigh diabolical wickedness of his characters
might have been realised. An audience familiar with Italian novels
through Belleforest and Painter, inflamed by the long struggle of the
Reformation against the scarlet abominations of the Papal See,
outraged in their moral sense by the political paradoxes of
Machiavelli, horror-stricken at the still recent misdoings of Borgias
and Medici and Farnesi, alarmed by that Italian policy which had
conceived the massacre of S. Bartholomew in France, and infuriated by
that ecclesiastical hypocrisy which triumphed in the same; such an
audience were at the right point of sympathy with a poet who undertook
to lay the springs of Southern villany before them bare in a dramatic
action. But, as the old proverb puts it, 'Inglese Italianato è un
diavolo incarnato.' 'An Englishman assuming the Italian habit is a
devil in the flesh.' The Italians were depraved, but spiritually
feeble. The English playwright, when he brought them on the stage,
arrayed with intellectual power and gleaming with the lurid splendour
of a Northern fancy, made them tenfold darker and more terrible. To
the subtlety and vices of the South he added the melancholy,
meditation, and sinister insanity of his own climate. He deepened the
complexion of crime and intensified lawlessness by robbing the Italian
character of levity. Sin, in his conception of that character, was
complicated with the sense of sin, as it never had been in a
Florentine or a Neapolitan. He had not grasped the meaning of the
Machiavellian conscience, in its cold serenity and disengagement from
the dread of moral consequence. Not only are his villains stealthy,
frigid, quick to evil, merciless, and void of honour; but they brood
upon their crimes and analyse their motives. In the midst of their
audacity they are dogged by dread of coming retribution. At the crisis
of their destiny they look back upon their better days with
intellectual remorse. In the execution of their bloodiest schemes they
groan beneath the chains of guilt they wear, and quake before the
phantoms of their haunted brains.

Thus passion and reflection, superstition and profanity, deliberate
atrocity and fear of judgment, are united in the same nature; and to
make the complex still more strange, the play-wright has gifted these
tremendous personalities with his own wild humour and imaginative
irony. The result is almost monstrous, such an ideal of character as
makes earth hell. And yet it is not without justification. To the
Italian text has been added the Teutonic commentary, and both are
fused by a dramatic genius into one living whole.

One of these men is Flamineo, the brother of Vittoria Corombona, upon
whose part the action of the 'White Devil' depends. He has been bred
in arts and letters at the university of Padua; but being poor and of
luxurious appetites, he chooses the path of crime in courts for his
advancement. A duke adopts him for his minion, and Flamineo acts the
pander to this great man's lust. He contrives the death of his
brother-in-law, suborns a doctor to poison the Duke's wife, and
arranges secret meetings between his sister and the paramour who is to
make her fortune and his own. His mother appears like a warning Até to
prevent her daughter's crime. In his rage he cries:

  What fury raised _thee_ up? Away, away!

And when she pleads the honour of their house he answers:

                        Shall I,
  Having a path so open and so free
  To my preferment, still retain your milk
  In my pale forehead?

Later on, when it is necessary to remove another victim, he runs his
own brother through the body and drives his mother to madness. Yet, in
the midst of these crimes, we are unable to regard him as a simple
cut-throat. His irony and reckless courting of damnation open-eyed to
get his gust of life in this world, make him no common villain. He can
be brave as well as fierce. When the Duke insults him he bandies taunt
for taunt:

     _Brach_. No, you pander?

     _Flam_. What, me, my lord?
      Am I your dog?

     _B_. A bloodhound; do you brave, do you stand me?

     _F_. Stand you! let those that have diseases run;
     I need no plasters.

     _B_. Would you be kicked?

     _F_. Would you have your neck broke?
     I tell you, duke, I am not in Russia;
     My shins must be kept whole.

     _B_. Do you know me?

     _F_. Oh, my lord, methodically:
     As in this world there are degrees of evils,
     So in this world there are degrees of devils.
     You're a great duke, I your poor secretary.

When the Duke dies and his prey escapes him, the rage of
disappointment breaks into this fierce apostrophe:

     I cannot conjure; but if prayers or oaths. Will get the
     speech of him, though forty devils Wait on him in his livery
     of flames, I'll speak to him and shake him by the hand,
     Though I be blasted.

As crimes thicken round him, and he still despairs of the reward for
which he sold himself, conscience awakes:

                              I have lived
     Riotously ill, like some that live in court,
     And sometimes when my face was full of smiles Have felt the
     maze of conscience in my breast.

The scholar's scepticism, which lies at the root of his perversity,
finds utterance in this meditation upon death:

     Whither shall I go now? O Lucian, thy ridiculous purgatory!
     to find Alexander the Great cobbling shoes, Pompey tagging
     points, and Julius Cæsar making hair-buttons!

     Whether I resolve to fire, earth, water, air, or all the
     elements by scruples, I know not, nor greatly care.

At the last moment he yet can say:

     We cease to grieve, cease to be Fortune's slaves, Nay, cease
     to die, by dying.

And again, with the very yielding of his spirit:

     My life was a black charnel.

It will be seen that in no sense does Flamineo resemble Iago. He is
not a traitor working by craft and calculating ability to
well-considered ends. He is the desperado frantically clutching at an
uncertain and impossible satisfaction. Webster conceives him as a
self-abandoned atheist, who, maddened by poverty and tainted by
vicious living, takes a fury to his heart, and, because the goodness
of the world has been for ever lost to him, recklessly seeks the bad.

Bosola, in the 'Duchess of Malfi,' is of the same stamp. He too has
been a scholar. He is sent to the galleys 'for a notorious murder,'
and on his release he enters the service of two brothers, the Duke of
Calabria and the Cardinal of Aragon, who place him as their
intelligencer at the court of their sister.


     _Bos_. It seems you would create me
     One of your familiars.

     _Ferd_. Familiar! what's that?

     _Bos_. Why, a very quaint invisible devil in flesh,
     An intelligencer.

     _Ferd_. Such a kind of thriving thing
      I would wish thee; and ere long thou may'st arrive
      At a higher place by it.

Lured by hope of preferment, Bosola undertakes the office of spy,
tormentor, and at last of executioner. For:

    Discontent and want
  Is the best clay to mould a villain of.

But his true self, though subdued to be what he quaintly styles 'the
devil's quilted anvil,' on which 'all sins are fashioned and the blows
never heard,' continually rebels against this destiny. Compared with
Flamineo, he is less unnaturally criminal. His melancholy is more
fantastic, his despair more noble. Throughout the course of craft and
cruelty on which he is goaded by a relentless taskmaster, his nature,
hardened as it is, revolts.

At the end, when Bosola presents the body of the murdered Duchess to
her brother, Webster has wrought a scene of tragic savagery that
surpasses almost any other that the English stage can show. The
sight, of his dead sister maddens Ferdinand, who, feeling the eclipse
of reason gradually absorb his faculties, turns round with frenzied
hatred on the accomplice of his fratricide. Bosola demands the price
of guilt. Ferdinand spurns him with the concentrated eloquence of
despair and the extravagance of approaching insanity. The murderer
taunts his master coldly and laconically, like a man whose life is
wrecked, who has waded through blood to his reward, and who at the
last moment discovers the sacrifice of his conscience and masculine
freedom to be fruitless. Remorse, frustrated hopes, and thirst for
vengeance convert Bosola from this hour forward into an instrument of
retribution. The Duke and his brother the Cardinal are both brought to
bloody deaths by the hand which they had used to assassinate their
sister.

It is fitting that something should be said about Webster's conception
of the Italian despot. Brachiano and Ferdinand, the employers of
Flamineo and Bosola, are tyrants such as Savonarola described, and as
we read of in the chronicles of petty Southern cities. Nothing is
suffered to stand between their lust and its accomplishment. They
override the law by violence, or pervert its action to their own
advantage:

    The law to him
  Is like a foul black cobweb to a spider;
  He makes it his dwelling and a prison
  To entangle those shall feed him.

They are eaten up with parasites, accomplices, and all the creatures
of their crimes:

     He and his brother are like plum-trees that grow crooked
     over standing pools; they are rich and over-laden with
     fruit, but none but crows, pies, and caterpillars feed on
     them.

In their lives they are without a friend; for society in guilt brings
nought of comfort, and honours are but emptiness:

     Glories, like glow-worms, afar off shine bright;
     But looked to near, have neither heat nor light.

Their plots and counterplots drive repose far from them:

     There's but three furies found in spacious hell;
     But in a great man's breast three thousand dwell.

Fearful shapes afflict their fancy; shadows of ancestral crime or
ghosts of their own raising:

                      For these many years
  None of our family dies, but there is seen
  The shape of an old woman; which is given
  By tradition to us to have been murdered
  By her nephews for her riches.

Apparitions haunt them:

    How tedious is a guilty conscience!
  When I look into the fish-ponds in my garden,
  Methinks I see a thing armed with a rake
  That seems to strike at me.

Continually scheming against the objects of their avarice and hatred,
preparing poisons or suborning bravoes, they know that these same arts
will be employed against them. The wine-cup hides arsenic; the
headpiece is smeared with antimony; there is a dagger behind every
arras, and each shadow is a murderer's. When death comes, they meet it
trembling. What irony Webster has condensed in Brachiano's outcry:

  On pain of death, let no man name death to me;
  It is a word infinitely horrible.

And how solemn are the following reflections on the death of princes:

  O thou soft natural death, that art joint-twin
  To sweetest slumber! no rough-bearded comet
  Stares on thy mild departure; the dull owl
  Beats not against thy casement, the hoarse wolf
  Scents not thy carrion: pity winds thy corse,
  Whilst horror waits on princes.

After their death, this is their epitaph:

               These wretched eminent things
  Leave no more fame behind'em than should one
  Fall in a frost and leave his print in snow.

Of Webster's despots, the finest in conception and the firmest in
execution is Ferdinand of Aragon. Jealousy of his sister and avarice
take possession of him and torment him like furies. The flash of
repentance over her strangled body is also the first flash of
insanity. He survives to present the spectacle of a crazed lunatic,
and to be run through the body by his paid assassin. In the Cardinal
of Aragon, Webster paints a profligate Churchman, no less voluptuous,
blood-guilty, and the rest of it, than his brother the Duke of
Calabria. It seems to have been the poet's purpose in each of his
Italian tragedies to unmask Rome as the Papal city really was. In the
lawless desperado, the intemperate tyrant, and the godless
ecclesiastic, he portrayed the three curses from which Italian society
was actually suffering.

It has been needful to dwell upon the gloomy and fantastic side of
Webster's genius. But it must not be thought that he could touch no
finer chord. Indeed, it might be said that in the domain of pathos he
is even more powerful than in that of horror. His mastery in this
region is displayed in the creation of that dignified and beautiful
woman, the Duchess of Malfi, who, with nothing in her nature, had she
but lived prosperously, to divide her from the sisterhood of gentle
ladies, walks, shrined in love and purity and conscious rectitude,
amid the snares and pitfalls of her persecutors, to die at last the
victim of a brother's fevered avarice and a desperado's egotistical
ambition. The apparatus of infernal cruelty, the dead man's hand, the
semblances of murdered sons and husband, the masque of madmen, the
dirge and doleful emblems of the tomb with which she is environed in
her prison by the torturers who seek to goad her into lunacy, are
insufficient to disturb the tranquillity and tenderness of her nature.
When the rope is being fastened to her throat, she does not spend her
breath in recriminations, but turns to the waiting-woman and says:

                        Farewell, Cariola!
  I pray thee look thou givest my little boy
  Some syrup for his cold, and let the girl
  Say her prayers ere she sleep.

In the preceding scenes we have had enough, nay, over-much, of
madness, despair, and wrestling with doom. This is the calm that comes
when death is present, when the tortured soul lays down its burden of
the flesh with gladness. But Webster has not spared another touch of
thrilling pathos.

The death-struggle is over; the fratricide has rushed away, a maddened
man; the murderer is gazing with remorse upon the beautiful dead body
of his lady, wishing he had the world wherewith to buy her back to
life again; when suddenly she murmurs 'Mercy!' Our interest, already
overstrained, revives with momentary hope. But the guardians of the
grave will not be exorcised; and 'Mercy!' is the last groan of the
injured Duchess.

Webster showed great skill in his delineation of the Duchess. He had
to paint a woman in a hazardous situation: a sovereign stooping in her
widowhood to wed a servant; a lady living with the mystery of this
unequal marriage round her like a veil. He dowered her with no salient
qualities of intellect or heart or will; but he sustained our sympathy
with her, and made us comprehend her. To the last she is a Duchess;
and when she has divested state and bowed her head to enter the low
gate of heaven--too low for coronets--her poet shows us, in the lines
already quoted, that the woman still survives.

The same pathos surrounds the melancholy portrait of Isabella in
'Vittoria Corombona.' But Isabella, in that play, serves chiefly to
enhance the tyranny of her triumphant rival. The main difficulty under
which these scenes of rarest pathos would labour, were they brought
upon the stage, is their simplicity in contrast with the ghastly and
contorted horrors that envelop them. A dialogue abounding in the
passages I have already quoted--a dialogue which bandies 'O you
screech-owl!' and 'Thou foul black cloud!'--in which a sister's
admonition to her brother to think twice of suicide assumes a form so
weird as this:

                 I prithee, yet remember,
  Millions are now in graves, which at last day
  Like mandrakes shall rise shrieking.--

such a dialogue could not be rendered save by actors strung up to a
pitch of almost frenzied tension. To do full justice to what in
Webster's style would be spasmodic were it not so weighty, and at the
same time to maintain the purity of outline and melodious rhythm of
such characters as Isabella, demands no common histrionic power.

In attempting to define Webster's touch upon Italian tragic story, I
have been led perforce to concentrate attention on what is painful and
shocking to our sense of harmony in art. He was a vigorous and
profoundly imaginative playwright. But his most enthusiastic admirers
will hardly contend that good taste or moderation determined the
movement of his genius. Nor, though his insight into the essential
dreadfulness of Italian tragedy was so deep, is it possible to
maintain that his portraiture of Italian life was true to its more
superficial aspects. What place would there be for a Correggio or a
Raphael in such a world as Webster's? Yet we know that the art of
Raphael and Correggio is in exact harmony with the Italian temperament
of the same epoch which gave birth to Cesare Borgia and Bianca
Gapello. The comparatively slighter sketch of Iachimo in 'Cymbeline'
represents the Italian as he felt and lived, better than the laboured
portrait of Flamineo. Webster's Italian tragedies are consequently
true, not so much to the actual conditions of Italy, as to the moral
impression made by those conditions on a Northern imagination.

       *       *       *       *       *



_AUTUMN WANDERINGS_

I.--ITALIAM PETIMUS


_Italiam Petimus!_ We left our upland home before daybreak on a clear
October morning. There had been a hard frost, spangling the meadows
with rime-crystals, which twinkled where the sun's rays touched them.
Men and women were mowing the frozen grass with thin short Alpine
scythes; and as the swathes fell, they gave a crisp, an almost
tinkling sound. Down into the gorge, surnamed of Avalanche, our horses
plunged; and there we lost the sunshine till we reached the Bear's
Walk, opening upon the vales of Albula, and Julier, and Schyn. But up
above, shone morning light upon fresh snow, and steep torrent-cloven
slopes reddening with a hundred fading plants; now and then it caught
the grey-green icicles that hung from cliffs where summer streams had
dripped. There is no colour lovelier than the blue of an autumn sky in
the high Alps, defining ridges powdered with light snow, and melting
imperceptibly downward into the warm yellow of the larches and the
crimson of the bilberry. Wiesen was radiantly beautiful: those aërial
ranges of the hills that separate Albula from Julier soared
crystal-clear above their forests; and for a foreground, on the green
fields starred with lilac crocuses, careered a group of children on
their sledges. Then came the row of giant peaks--Pitz d'Aela,
Tinzenhorn, and Michelhorn, above the deep ravine of Albula--all seen
across wide undulating golden swards, close-shaven and awaiting
winter. Carnations hung from cottage windows in full bloom, casting
sharp angular black shadows on white walls.

_Italiam petimus!_ We have climbed the valley of the Julier, following
its green, transparent torrent. A night has come and gone at Mühlen.
The stream still leads us up, diminishing in volume as we rise, up
through the fleecy mists that roll asunder for the sun, disclosing
far-off snowy ridges and blocks of granite mountains. The lifeless,
soundless waste of rock, where only thin winds whistle out of silence
and fade suddenly into still air, is passed. Then comes the descent,
with its forests of larch and cembra, golden and dark green upon a
ground of grey, and in front the serried shafts of the Bernina, and
here and there a glimpse of emerald lake at turnings of the road.
Autumn is the season for this landscape. Through the fading of
innumerable leaflets, the yellowing of larches, and something
vaporous in the low sun, it gains a colour not unlike that of the
lands we seek. By the side of the lake at Silvaplana the light was
strong and warm, but mellow. Pearly clouds hung over the Maloja, and
floating overhead cast shadows on the opaque water, which may
literally be compared to chrysoprase. The breadth of golden, brown,
and russet tints upon the valley at this moment adds softness to its
lines of level strength. Devotees of the Engadine contend that it
possesses an austere charm beyond the common beauty of Swiss
landscape; but this charm is only perfected in autumn. The fresh snow
on the heights that guard it helps. And then there are the forests of
dark pines upon those many knolls and undulating mountain-flanks
beside the lakes. Sitting and dreaming there in noonday sun, I kept
repeating to myself _Italiam petimus!_

A hurricane blew upward from the pass as we left Silvaplana, ruffling
the lake with gusts of the Italian wind. By Silz Maria we came in
sight of a dozen Italian workmen, arm linked in arm in two rows,
tramping in rhythmic stride, and singing as they went. Two of them
were such nobly built young men, that for a moment the beauty of the
landscape faded from my sight, and I was saddened. They moved to their
singing, like some of Mason's or Frederick Walker's figures, with the
free grace of living statues, and laughed as we drove by. And yet,
with all their beauty, industry, sobriety, intelligence, these
Italians of the northern valleys serve the sterner people of the
Grisons like negroes, doing their roughest work at scanty wages.

So we came to the vast Alpine wall, and stood on a bare granite slab,
and looked over into Italy, as men might lean from the battlements of
a fortress. Behind lies the Alpine valley, grim, declining slowly
northward, with wind-lashed lakes and glaciers sprawling from
storm-broken pyramids of gneiss. Below spread the unfathomable depths
that lead to Lombardy, flooded with sunlight, filled with swirling
vapour, but never wholly hidden from our sight. For the blast kept
shifting the cloud-masses, and the sun streamed through in spears and
bands of sheeny rays. Over the parapet our horses dropped, down
through sable spruce and amber larch, down between tangles of rowan
and autumnal underwood. Ever as we sank, the mountains rose--those
sharp embattled precipices, toppling spires, impendent chasms blurred
with mist, that make the entrance into Italy sublime. Nowhere do the
Alps exhibit their full stature, their commanding puissance, with such
majesty as in the gates of Italy; and of all those gates I think there
is none to compare with Maloja, none certainly to rival it in
abruptness of initiation into the Italian secret. Below Vico Soprano
we pass already into the violets and blues of Titian's landscape. Then
come the purple boulders among chestnut trees; then the double
dolomite-like peak of Pitz Badin and Promontogno.

It is sad that words can do even less than painting could to bring
this window-scene at Promontogno before another eye. The casement just
frames it. In the foreground are meadow slopes, thinly, capriciously
planted with chestnut trees and walnuts, each standing with its shadow
cast upon the sward. A little farther falls the torrent, foaming down
between black jaws of rain-stained granite, with the wooden buildings
of a rustic mill set on a ledge of rock. Suddenly above this landscape
soars the valley, clothing its steep sides on either hand with pines;
and there are emerald isles of pasture on the wooded flanks; and then
cliffs, where the red-stemmed larches glow; and at the summit,
shooting into ether with a swathe of mist around their basement, soar
the double peaks, the one a pyramid, the other a bold broken crystal
not unlike the Finsteraarhorn seen from Furka. These are connected by
a snowy saddle, and snow is lying on their inaccessible crags in
powdery drifts. Sunlight pours between them into the ravine. The green
and golden forests now join from either side, and now recede,
according as the sinuous valley brings their lines together or
disparts them. There is a sound of cow-bells on the meadows; and the
roar of the stream is dulled or quickened as the gusts of this October
wind sweep by or slacken. _Italiam petimus!_

_Tangimus Italiam!_ Chiavenna is a worthy key to this great gate
Italian. We walked at night in the open galleries of the cathedral
cloister--white, smoothly curving, well-proportioned loggie, enclosing
a green space, whence soars the campanile to the stars. The moon had
sunk, but her light still silvered the mountains that stand at watch
round Chiavenna; and the castle rock was flat and black against that
dreamy background. Jupiter, who walked so lately for us on the long
ridge of the Jacobshorn above our pines, had now an ample space of sky
over Lombardy to light his lamp in. Why is it, we asked each other, as
we smoked our pipes and strolled, my friend and I;--why is it that
Italian beauty does not leave the spirit so untroubled as an Alpine
scene? Why do we here desire the flower of some emergent feeling to
grow from the air, or from the soil, or from humanity to greet us?
This sense of want evoked by Southern beauty is perhaps the antique
mythopœic yearning. But in our perplexed life it takes another form,
and seems the longing for emotion, ever fleeting, ever new,
unrealised, unreal, insatiable.


II.--OVER THE APENNINES



At Parma we slept in the Albergo della Croce Bianca, which is more a
bric-à-brac shop than an inn; and slept but badly, for the good folk
of Parma twanged guitars and exercised their hoarse male voices all
night in the street below. We were glad when Christian called us, at 5
A.M., for an early start across the Apennines. This was the day of a
right Roman journey. In thirteen and a half hours, leaving Parma at 6,
and arriving in Sarzana at 7.30, we flung ourselves across the spine
of Italy, from the plains of Eridanus to the seashore of Etruscan
Luna. I had secured a carriage and extra post-horses the night before;
therefore we found no obstacles upon the road, but eager drivers,
quick relays, obsequious postmasters, change, speed, perpetual
movement. The road itself is a noble one, and nobly entertained in all
things but accommodation for travellers. At Berceto, near the summit
of the pass, we stopped just half an hour, to lunch off a mouldy hen
and six eggs; but that was all the halt we made.

As we drove out of Parma, striking across the plain to the _ghiara_ of
the Taro, the sun rose over the austere autumnal landscape, with its
withered vines and crimson haws. Christian, the mountaineer, who at
home had never seen the sun rise from a flat horizon, stooped from the
box to call attention to this daily recurring miracle, which on the
plain of Lombardy is no less wonderful than on a rolling sea. From the
village of Fornovo, where the Italian League was camped awaiting
Charles VIII. upon that memorable July morn in 1495, the road strikes
suddenly aside, gains a spur of the descending Apennines, and keeps
this vantage till the pass of La Cisa is reached. Many windings are
occasioned by thus adhering to arêtes, but the total result is a
gradual ascent with free prospect over plain and mountain. The
Apennines, built up upon a smaller scale than the Alps, perplexed in
detail and entangled with cross sections and convergent systems, lend
themselves to this plan of carrying highroads along their ridges
instead of following the valley.

What is beautiful in the landscape of that northern watershed is the
subtlety, delicacy, variety, and intricacy of the mountain outlines.
There is drawing wherever the eye falls. Each section of the vast
expanse is a picture of tossed crests and complicated undulations. And
over the whole sea of stationary billows, light is shed like an
ethereal raiment, with spare colour--blue and grey, and parsimonious
green--in the near foreground. The detail is somewhat dry and
monotonous; for these so finely moulded hills are made up of washed
earth, the immemorial wrecks of earlier mountain ranges. Brown
villages, not unlike those of Midland England, low houses built of
stone and tiled with stone, and square-towered churches, occur at rare
intervals in cultivated hollows, where there are fields and fruit
trees. Water is nowhere visible except in the wasteful river-beds. As
we rise, we break into a wilder country, forested with oak, where oxen
and goats are browsing. The turf is starred with lilac gentian and
crocus bells, but sparely. Then comes the highest village, Berceto,
with keen Alpine air. After that, broad rolling downs of yellowing
grass and russet beech-scrub lead onward to the pass La Cisa. The
sense of breadth in composition is continually satisfied through this
ascent by the fine-drawn lines, faint tints, and immense air-spaces of
Italian landscape. Each little piece reminds one of England; but the
geographical scale is enormously more grandiose, and the effect of
majesty proportionately greater.

From La Cisa the road descends suddenly; for the southern escarpment
of the Apennine, as of the Alpine, barrier is pitched at a far steeper
angle than the northern. Yet there is no view of the sea. That is
excluded by the lower hills which hem the Magra. The upper valley is
beautiful, with verdant lawns and purple hillsides breaking down into
thick chestnut woods, through which we wound at a rapid pace for
nearly an hour. The leaves were still green, mellowing to golden; but
the fruit was ripe and heavy, ready at all points to fall. In the
still October air the husks above our heads would loosen, and the
brown nuts rustle through the foliage, and with a dull short thud,
like drops of thunder-rain, break down upon the sod. At the foot of
this rich forest, wedged in between huge buttresses, we found
Pontremoli, and changed our horses here for the last time. It was
Sunday, and the little town was alive with country-folk; tall stalwart
fellows wearing peacock's feathers in their black slouched hats, and
nut-brown maids.

From this point the valley of the Magra is exceeding rich with fruit
trees, vines, and olives. The tendrils of the vine are yellow now, and
in some places hued like generous wine; through their thick leaves the
sun shot crimson. In one cool garden, as the day grew dusk, I noticed
quince trees laden with pale fruit entangled with pomegranates--green
spheres and ruddy amid burnished leaves. By the roadside too were many
berries of bright hues; the glowing red of haws and hips, the amber of
the pyracanthus, the rose tints of the spindle-wood. These make autumn
even lovelier than spring. And then there was a wood of chestnuts
carpeted with pale pinkling, a place to dream of in the twilight. But
the main motive of this landscape was the indescribable Carrara range,
an island of pure form and shooting peaks, solid marble, crystalline
in shape and texture, faintly blue against the blue sky, from which
they were but scarce divided. These mountains close the valley to
south-east, and seem as though they belonged to another and more
celestial region.

Soon the sunlight was gone, and moonrise came to close the day, as we
rolled onward to Sarzana, through arundo donax and vine-girdled olive
trees and villages, where contadini lounged upon the bridges. There
was a stream of sound in our ears, and in my brain a rhythmic dance of
beauties caught through the long-drawn glorious golden autumn-day.


III.--FOSDINOVO


The hamlet and the castle of Fosdinovo stand upon a mountain-spur
above Sarzana, commanding the valley of the Magra and the plains of
Luni. This is an ancient fief of the Malaspina House, and is still in
the possession of the Marquis of that name.

The road to Fosdinovo strikes across the level through an avenue of
plane trees, shedding their discoloured leaves. It then takes to the
open fields, bordered with tall reeds waving from the foss on either
hand, where grapes are hanging to the vines. The country-folk allow
their vines to climb into the olives, and these golden festoons are a
great ornament to the grey branches. The berries on the trees are
still quite green, and it is a good olive season. Leaving the main
road, we pass a villa of the Malaspini, shrouded in immense thickets
of sweet bay and ilex, forming a grove for the Nymphs or Pan. Here may
you see just such clean stems and lucid foliage as Gian Bellini
painted, inch by inch, in his Peter Martyr picture. The place is
neglected now; the semicircular seats of white Carrara marble are
stained with green mosses, the altars chipped, the fountains choked
with bay leaves; and the rose trees, escaped from what were once trim
garden alleys, have gone wandering a-riot into country hedges. There
is no demarcation between the great man's villa and the neighbouring
farms. From this point the path rises, and the barren hillside is
a-bloom with late-flowering myrtles. Why did the Greeks consecrate
these myrtle-rods to Death as well as Love? Electra complained that
her father's tomb had not received the honour of the myrtle branch;
and the Athenians wreathed their swords with myrtle in memory of
Harmodius. Thinking of these matters, I cannot but remember lines of
Greek, which have themselves the rectitude and elasticity of myrtle
wands:

(Greek:)

  kai prospesôn eklaus' erêmias tuchôn
  spondas te lusas askon hon pherô xenois
  espeisa tumbô d'amphethêka mursinas.

As we approach Fosdinovo, the hills above us gain sublimity; the
prospect over plain and sea--the fields where Luna was, the widening
bay of Spezzia--grows ever grander. The castle is a ruin, still
capable of partial habitation, and now undergoing repair--the state in
which a ruin looks most sordid and forlorn. How strange it is, too,
that, to enforce this sense of desolation, sad dishevelled weeds cling
ever to such antique masonry! Here are the henbane, the sow-thistle,
the wild cucumber. At Avignon, at Orvieto, at Dolce Acqua, at Les
Baux, we never missed them. And they have the dusty courtyards, the
massive portals, where portcullises still threaten, of Fosdinovo to
themselves. Over the gate, and here and there on corbels, are carved
the arms of Malaspina--a barren thorn-tree, gnarled with the
geometrical precision of heraldic irony.

Leaning from the narrow windows of this castle, with the spacious view
to westward, I thought of Dante. For Dante in this castle was the
guest of Moroello Malaspina, what time he was yet finishing the
'Inferno.' There is a little old neglected garden, full to south,
enclosed upon a rampart which commands the Borgo, where we found frail
canker-roses and yellow amaryllis. Here, perhaps, he may have sat
with ladies--for this was the Marchesa's pleasaunce; or may have
watched through a short summer's night, until he saw that _tremolar
della marina_, portending dawn, which afterwards he painted in the
'Purgatory.'

From Fosdinovo one can trace the Magra work its way out seaward, not
into the plain where once the _candentia moenia Lunae_ flashed sunrise
from their battlements, but close beside the little hills which back
the southern arm of the Spezzian gulf. At the extreme end of that
promontory, called Del Corvo, stood the Benedictine convent of S.
Croce; and it was here in 1309, if we may trust to tradition, that
Dante, before his projected journey into France, appeared and left the
first part of his poem with the Prior. Fra Ilario, such was the good
father's name, received commission to transmit the 'Inferno' to
Uguccione della Faggiuola; and he subsequently recorded the fact of
Dante's visit in a letter which, though its genuineness has been
called in question, is far too interesting to be left without
allusion. The writer says that on occasion of a journey into lands
beyond the Riviera, Dante visited this convent, appearing silent and
unknown among the monks. To the Prior's question what he wanted, he
gazed upon the brotherhood, and only answered, 'Peace!' Afterwards, in
private conversation, he communicated his name and spoke about his
poem. A portion of the 'Divine Comedy' composed in the Italian tongue
aroused Ilario's wonder, and led him to inquire why his guest had not
followed the usual course of learned poets by committing his thoughts
to Latin. Dante replied that he had first intended to write in that
language, and that he had gone so far as to begin the poem in
Virgilian hexameters. Reflection upon the altered conditions of
society in that age led him, however, to reconsider the matter; and he
was resolved to tune another lyre, 'suited to the sense of modern
men.' 'For,' said he, 'it is idle to set solid food before the lips
of sucklings.'

If we can trust Fra Ilario's letter as a genuine record, which is
unhappily a matter of some doubt, we have in this narration not only a
picturesque, almost a melodramatically picturesque glimpse of the
poet's apparition to those quiet monks in their seagirt house of
peace, but also an interesting record of the destiny which presided
over the first great work of literary art in a distinctly modern
language.


IV.--LA SPEZZIA


While we were at Fosdinovo the sky filmed over, and there came a halo
round the sun. This portended change; and by evening, after we had
reached La Spezzia, earth, sea, and air were conscious of a coming
tempest. At night I went down to the shore, and paced the sea-wall
they have lately built along the Rada. The moon was up, but overdriven
with dry smoky clouds, now thickening to blackness over the whole bay,
now leaving intervals through which the light poured fitfully and
fretfully upon the wrinkled waves; and ever and anon they shuddered
with electric gleams which were not actual lightning. Heaven seemed to
be descending on the sea; one might have fancied that some powerful
charms were drawing down the moon with influence malign upon those
still resisting billows. For not as yet the gulf was troubled to its
depth, and not as yet the breakers dashed in foam against the
moonlight-smitten promontories. There was but an uneasy murmuring of
wave to wave; a whispering of wind, that stooped its wing and hissed
along the surface, and withdrew into the mystery of clouds again; a
momentary chafing of churned water round the harbour piers, subsiding
into silence petulant and sullen. I leaned against an iron stanchion
and longed for the sea's message. But nothing came to me, and the
drowned secret of Shelley's death those waves which were his grave
revealed not.

  Howler and scooper of storms! capricious and dainty sea!

Meanwhile the incantation swelled in shrillness, the electric shudders
deepened. Alone in this elemental overture to tempest I took no note
of time, but felt, through self-abandonment to the symphonic
influence, how sea and air, and clouds akin to both, were dealing with
each other complainingly, and in compliance to some maker of unrest
within them. A touch upon my shoulder broke this trance; I turned and
saw a boy beside me in a coastguard's uniform. Francesco was on patrol
that night; but my English accent soon assured him that I was no
_contrabbandiere_, and he too leaned against the stanchion and told me
his short story. He was in his nineteenth year, and came from
Florence, where his people live in the Borgo Ognissanti. He had all
the brightness of the Tuscan folk, a sort of innocent malice mixed
with _espieglerie_. It was diverting to see the airs he gave himself
on the strength of his new military dignity, his gun, and uniform, and
night duty on the shore. I could not help humming to myself _Non più
andrai_; for Francesco was a sort of Tuscan Cherubino. We talked about
picture galleries and libraries in Florence, and I had to hear his
favourite passages from the Italian poets. And then there came the
plots of Jules Verne's stories and marvellous narrations about _l'
uomo cavallo, l' uomo volante, l' uomo pesce_. The last of these
personages turned out to be Paolo Boÿnton (so pronounced), who had
swam the Arno in his diving dress, passing the several bridges, and
when he came to the great weir 'allora tutti stare con bocca aperta.'
Meanwhile the storm grew serious, and our conversation changed.
Francesco told me about the terrible sun-stricken sand shores of the
Riviera, burning in summer noon, over which the coast-guard has to
tramp, their perils from falling stones in storm, and the trains that
come rushing from those narrow tunnels on the midnight line of march.
It is a hard life; and the thirst for adventure which drove this
boy--'il più matto di tutta la famiglia'--to adopt it, seems well-nigh
quenched. And still, with a return to Giulio Verne, he talked
enthusiastically of deserting, of getting on board a merchant ship,
and working his way to southern islands where wonders are.

A furious blast swept the whole sky for a moment almost clear. The
moonlight fell, with racing cloud-shadows, upon sea and hills, the
lights of Lerici, the great _fanali_ at the entrance of the gulf, and
Francesco's upturned handsome face. Then all again was whirled in mist
and foam; one breaker smote the sea wall in a surge of froth, another
plunged upon its heels; with inconceivable swiftness came rain;
lightning deluged the expanse of surf, and showed the windy trees bent
landward by the squall. It was long past midnight now, and the storm
was on us for the space of three days.


V.--PORTO VENERE


For the next three days the wind went worrying on, and a line of surf
leapt on the sea-wall always to the same height. The hills all around
were inky black and weary.

At night the wild libeccio still rose, with floods of rain and
lightning poured upon the waste. I thought of the Florentine patrol.
Is he out in it, and where?

At last there came a lull. When we rose on the fourth morning, the
sky was sulky, spent and sleepy after storm--the air as soft and tepid
as boiled milk or steaming flannel. We drove along the shore to Porto
Venere, passing the arsenals and dockyards, which have changed the
face of Spezzia since Shelley knew it. This side of the gulf is not so
rich in vegetation as the other, probably because it lies open to the
winds from the Carrara mountains. The chestnuts come down to the shore
in many places, bringing with them the wild mountain-side. To make up
for this lack of luxuriance, the coast is furrowed with a succession
of tiny harbours, where the fishing-boats rest at anchor. There are
many villages upon the spurs of hills, and on the headlands naval
stations, hospitals, lazzaretti, and prisons. A prickly bindweed (the
_Smilax Sarsaparilla_) forms a feature in the near landscape, with its
creamy odoriferous blossoms, coral berries, and glossy thorned leaves.

A turn of the road brought Porto Venere in sight, and on its grey
walls flashed a gleam of watery sunlight. The village consists of one
long narrow street, the houses on the left side hanging sheer above
the sea. Their doors at the back open on to cliffs which drop about
fifty feet upon the water. A line of ancient walls, with mediaeval
battlements and shells of chambers suspended midway between earth and
sky, runs up the rock behind the town; and this wall is pierced with a
deep gateway above which the inn is piled. We had our lunch in a room
opening upon the town-gate, adorned with a deep-cut Pisan arch
enclosing images and frescoes--a curious episode in a place devoted to
the jollity of smugglers and seafaring folk. The whole house was such
as Tintoretto loved to paint--huge wooden rafters; open chimneys with
pent-house canopies of stone, where the cauldrons hung above logs of
chestnut; rude low tables spread with coarse linen embroidered at the
edges, and laden with plates of fishes, fruit, quaint glass,
big-bellied jugs of earthenware, and flasks of yellow wine. The people
of the place were lounging round in lazy attitudes. There were odd
nooks and corners everywhere; unexpected staircases with windows
slanting through the thickness of the town-wall; pictures of saints;
high-zoned serving women, on whose broad shoulders lay big coral
beads; smoke-blackened roofs, and balconies that opened on the sea.
The house was inexhaustible in motives for pictures.

We walked up the street, attended by a rabble rout of boys--_diavoli
scatenati_--clean, grinning, white-teethed, who kept incessantly
shouting, 'Soldo, soldo!' I do not know why these sea-urchins are so
far more irrepressible than their land brethren. But it is always thus
in Italy. They take an imperturbable delight in noise and mere
annoyance. I shall never forget the sea-roar of Porto Venere, with
that shrill obligate, 'Soldo, soldo, soldo!' rattling like a dropping
fire from lungs of brass.

At the end of Porto Venere is a withered and abandoned city, climbing
the cliffs of S. Pietro; and on the headland stands the ruined church,
built by Pisans with alternate rows of white and black marble, upon
the site of an old temple of Venus. This is a modest and pure piece of
Gothic architecture, fair in desolation, refined and dignified, and
not unworthy in its grace of the dead Cyprian goddess. Through its
broken lancets the sea-wind whistles and the vast reaches of the
Tyrrhene gulf are seen. Samphire sprouts between the blocks of marble,
and in sheltered nooks the caper hangs her beautiful purpureal snowy
bloom.

The headland is a bold block of white limestone stained with red. It
has the pitch of Exmoor stooping to the sea near Lynton. To north, as
one looks along the coast, the line is broken by Porto Fino's
amethystine promontory; and in the vaporous distance we could trace
the Riviera mountains, shadowy and blue. The sea came roaring, rolling
in with tawny breakers; but, far out, it sparkled in pure azure, and
the cloud-shadows over it were violet. Where Corsica should have been
seen, soared banks of fleecy, broad-domed alabaster clouds.

This point, once dedicated to Venus, now to Peter--both, be it
remembered, fishers of men--is one of the most singular in Europe. The
island of Palmaria, rich in veined marbles, shelters the port; so that
outside the sea rages, while underneath the town, reached by a narrow
strait, there is a windless calm. It was not without reason that our
Lady of Beauty took this fair gulf to herself; and now that she has
long been dispossessed, her memory lingers yet in names. For Porto
Venere remembers her, and Lerici is only Eryx. There is a grotto here,
where an inscription tells us that Byron once 'tempted the Ligurian
waves.' It is just such a natural sea-cave as might have inspired
Euripides when he described the refuge of Orestes in 'Iphigenia.'


VI.--LERICI


Libeccio at last had swept the sky clear. The gulf was ridged with
foam-fleeced breakers, and the water churned into green, tawny wastes.
But overhead there flew the softest clouds, all silvery, dispersed in
flocks. It is the day for pilgrimage to what was Shelley's home.

After following the shore a little way, the road to Lerici breaks into
the low hills which part La Spezzia from Sarzana. The soil is red, and
overgrown with arbutus and pinaster, like the country around Cannes.
Through the scattered trees it winds gently upwards, with frequent
views across the gulf, and then descends into a land rich with
olives--a genuine Riviera landscape, where the mountain-slopes are
hoary, and spikelets of innumerable light-flashing leaves twinkle
against a blue sea, misty-deep. The walls here are not unfrequently
adorned with basreliefs of Carrara marble--saints and madonnas very
delicately wrought, as though they were love-labours of sculptors who
had passed a summer on this shore. San Terenzio is soon discovered low
upon the sands to the right, nestling under little cliffs; and then
the high-built castle of Lerici comes in sight, looking across, the bay
to Porto Venere--one Aphrodite calling to the other, with the foam
between. The village is piled around its cove with tall and
picturesquely coloured houses; the molo and the fishing-boats lie just
beneath the castle. There is one point of the descending carriage road
where all this gracefulness is seen, framed by the boughs of olive
branches, swaying, wind-ruffled, laughing the many-twinkling smiles of
ocean back from their grey leaves. Here _Erycina ridens_ is at home.
And, as we stayed to dwell upon the beauty of the scene, came women
from the bay below--barefooted, straight as willow wands, with
burnished copper bowls upon their heads. These women have the port of
goddesses, deep-bosomed, with the length of thigh and springing ankles
that betoken strength no less than elasticity and grace. The hair of
some of them was golden, rippling in little curls around brown brows
and glowing eyes. Pale lilac blent with orange on their dress, and
coral beads hung from their ears.

At Lerici we took a boat and pushed into the rolling breakers.
Christian now felt the movement of the sea for the first time. This
was rather a rude trial, for the grey-maned monsters played, as it
seemed, at will with our cockle-shell, tumbling in dolphin curves to
reach the shore. Our boatmen knew all about Shelley and the Casa
Magni. It is not at Lerici, but close to San Terenzio, upon the south
side of the village. Looking across the bay from the molo, one could
clearly see its square white mass, tiled roof, and terrace built on
rude arcades with a broad orange awning. Trelawny's description hardly
prepares one for so considerable a place. I think the English exiles
of that period must have been exacting if the Casa Magni seemed to
them no better than a bathing-house.

We left our boat at the jetty, and walked through some gardens to the
villa. There we were kindly entertained by the present occupiers,
who, when I asked them whether such visits as ours were not a great
annoyance, gently but feelingly replied: 'It is not so bad now as it
used to be.' The English gentleman who rents the Casa Magni has known
it uninterruptedly since Shelley's death, and has used it for
_villeggiatura_ during the last thirty years. We found him in the
central sitting-room, which readers of Trelawny's 'Recollections' have
so often pictured to themselves. The large oval table, the settees
round the walls, and some of the pictures are still unchanged. As we
sat talking, I laughed to think of that luncheon party, when Shelley
lost his clothes, and came naked, dripping with sea-water, into the
room, protected by the skirts of the sympathising waiting-maid. And
then I wondered where they found him on the night when he stood
screaming in his sleep, after the vision of his veiled self, with its
question, '_Siete soddisfatto_?'

There were great ilexes behind the house in Shelley's time, which have
been cut down, and near these he is said to have sat and written the
'Triumph of Life.' Some new houses, too, have been built between the
villa and the town; otherwise the place is unaltered. Only an awning
has been added to protect the terrace from the sun. I walked out on
this terrace, where Shelley used to listen to Jane's singing. The sea
was fretting at its base, just as Mrs. Shelley says it did when the
Don Juan disappeared.

From San Terenzio we walked back to Lerici through olive woods,
attended by a memory which toned the almost overpowering beauty of the
place to sadness.


VII.--VIAREGGIO


The same memory drew us, a few days later, to the spot where
Shelley's body was burned. Viareggio is fast becoming a fashionable
watering-place for the people of Florence and Lucca, who seek fresher
air and simpler living than Livorno offers. It has the usual new inns
and improvised lodging-houses of such places, built on the outskirts
of a little fishing village, with a boundless stretch of noble sands.
There is a wooden pier on which we walked, watching the long roll of
waves, foam-flaked, and quivering with moonlight. The Apennines faded
into the grey sky beyond, and the sea-wind was good to breathe. There
is a feeling of 'immensity, liberty, action' here, which is not common
in Italy. It reminds us of England; and to-night the Mediterranean had
the rough force of a tidal sea.

Morning revealed beauty enough in Viareggio to surprise even one who
expects from Italy all forms of loveliness. The sand-dunes stretch for
miles between the sea and a low wood of stone pines, with the Carrara
hills descending from their glittering pinnacles by long lines to the
headlands of the Spezzian Gulf. The immeasurable distance was all
painted in sky-blue and amethyst; then came the golden green of the
dwarf firs; and then dry yellow in the grasses of the dunes; and then
the many-tinted sea, with surf tossed up against the furthest cliffs.
It is a wonderful and tragic view, to which no painter but the Roman
Costa has done justice; and he, it may be said, has made this
landscape of the Carrarese his own. The space between sand and
pine-wood was covered with faint, yellow, evening primroses. They
flickered like little harmless flames in sun and shadow, and the
spires of the Carrara range were giant flames transformed to marble.
The memory of that day described by Trelawny in a passage of immortal
English prose, when he and Byron and Leigh Hunt stood beside the
funeral pyre, and libations were poured, and the 'Cor Cordium' was
found inviolate among the ashes, turned all my thoughts to flame
beneath the gentle autumn sky.

Still haunted by these memories, we took the carriage road to Pisa,
over which Shelley's friends had hurried to and fro through those last
days. It passes an immense forest of stone-pines--aisles and avenues;
undergrowth of ilex, laurustinus, gorse, and myrtle; the crowded
cyclamens, the solemn silence of the trees; the winds hushed in their
velvet roof and stationary domes of verdure.

       *       *       *       *       *



_PARMA_


Parma is perhaps the brightest _Residenzstadt_ of the second class in
Italy. Built on a sunny and fertile tract of the Lombard plain, within
view of the Alps, and close beneath the shelter of the Apennines, it
shines like a well-set gem with stately towers and cheerful squares in
the midst of verdure. The cities of Lombardy are all like large
country houses: walking out of their gates, you seem to be stepping
from a door or window that opens on a trim and beautiful garden, where
mulberry-tree is married to mulberry by festoons of vines, and where
the maize and sunflower stand together in rows between patches of flax
and hemp. But it is not in order to survey the union of well-ordered
husbandry with the civilities of ancient city-life that we break the
journey at Parma between Milan and Bologna. We are attracted rather by
the fame of one great painter, whose work, though it may be studied
piecemeal in many galleries of Europe, in Parma has a fulness,
largeness, and mastery that can nowhere else be found. In Parma alone
Correggio challenges comparison with Raphael, with Tintoret, with all
the supreme decorative painters who have deigned to make their art the
handmaid of architecture. Yet even in the cathedral and the church of
S. Giovanni, where Correggio's frescoes cover cupola and chapel wall,
we could scarcely comprehend his greatness now--so cruelly have time
and neglect dealt with those delicate dream-shadows of celestial
fairyland--were it not for an interpreter, who consecrated a lifetime
to the task of translating his master's poetry of fresco into the
prose of engraving. That man was Paolo Toschi--a name to be ever
venerated by all lovers of the arts; since without his guidance we
should hardly know what to seek for in the ruined splendours of the
domes of Parma, or even seeking, how to find the object of our search.
Toschi's labour was more effectual than that of a restorer however
skilful, more loving than that of a follower however faithful. He
respected Correggio's handiwork with religious scrupulousness, adding
not a line or tone or touch of colour to the fading frescoes; but he
lived among them, aloft on scaffoldings, and face to face with the
originals which he designed to reproduce. By long and close
familiarity, by obstinate and patient interrogation, he divined
Correggio's secret, and was able at last to see clearly through the
mist of cobweb and mildew and altar smoke, and through the still more
cruel travesty of so-called restoration. What he discovered, he
faithfully committed first to paper in water colours, and then to
copperplate with the burin, so that we enjoy the privilege of seeing
Correggio's masterpieces as Toschi saw them, with the eyes of genius
and of love and of long scientific study. It is not too much to say
that some of Correggio's most charming compositions--for example, the
dispute of S. Augustine and S. John--have been resuscitated from the
grave by Toschi's skill. The original offers nothing but a mouldering
surface from which the painter's work has dropped in scales. The
engraving presents a design which we doubt not was Correggio's, for it
corresponds in all particulars to the style and spirit of the master.
To be critical in dealing with so successful an achievement of
restoration and translation is difficult. Yet it may be admitted once
and for all that Toschi has not unfrequently enfeebled his original.
Under his touch Correggio loses somewhat of his sensuous audacity, his
dithyrambic ecstasy, and approaches the ordinary standard of
prettiness and graceful beauty. The Diana of the Camera di S. Paolo,
for instance, has the strong calm splendour of a goddess: the same
Diana in Toschi's engraving seems about to smile with girlish joy. In
a word, the engraver was a man of a more common stamp--more timid and
more conventional than the painter. But this is after all a trifling
deduction from the value of his work.

Our debt to Paolo Toschi is such that it would be ungrateful not to
seek some details of his life. The few that can be gathered even at
Parma are brief and bald enough. The newspaper articles and funeral
panegyrics which refer to him are as barren as all such occasional
notices in Italy have always been; the panegyrist seeming more anxious
about his own style than eager to communicate information. Yet a bare
outline of Toschi's biography may be supplied. He was born at Parma in
1788. His father was cashier of the post-office, and his mother's name
was Anna Maria Brest. Early in his youth he studied painting at Parma
under Biagio Martini; and in 1809 he went to Paris, where he learned
the art of engraving from Bervic and of etching from Oortman. In Paris
he contracted an intimate friendship with the painter Gérard. But
after ten years he returned to Parma, where he established a company
and school of engravers in concert with his friend Antonio Isac. Maria
Louisa, the then Duchess, under whose patronage the arts flourished at
Parma (witness Bodoni's exquisite typography), soon recognised his
merit, and appointed him Director of the Ducal Academy. He then formed
the project of engraving a series of the whole of Correggio's
frescoes. The undertaking was a vast one. Both the cupolas of S. John
and the cathedral, together with the vault of the apse of S.
Giovanni[10] and various portions of the side aisles, and the
so-called Camera di S. Paolo, are covered by frescoes of Correggio and
his pupil Parmegiano. These frescoes have suffered so much from
neglect and time, and from unintelligent restoration, that it is
difficult in many cases to determine their true character. Yet Toschi
did not content himself with selections, or shrink from the task of
deciphering and engraving the whole. He formed a school of disciples,
among whom were Carlo Raimondi of Milan, Antonio Costa of Venice,
Edward Eichens of Berlin, Aloisio Juvara of Naples, Antonio Dalcò,
Giuseppe Magnani, and Lodovico Bisola of Parma, and employed them as
assistants in his work. Death overtook him in 1854, before it was
finished, and now the water-colour drawings which are exhibited in the
Gallery of Parma prove to what extent the achievement fell short of
his design. Enough, however, was accomplished to place the chief
masterpieces of Correggio beyond the possibility of utter oblivion.

To the piety of his pupil Carlo Raimondi, the bearer of a name
illustrious in the annals of engraving, we owe a striking portrait of
Toschi. The master is represented on his seat upon the scaffold in the
dizzy half-light of the dome. The shadowy forms of saints and angels
are around him. He has raised his eyes from his cartoon to study one
of these. In his right hand is the opera-glass with which he
scrutinises the details of distant groups. The upturned face, with its
expression of contemplative intelligence, is like that of an
astronomer accustomed to commerce with things above the sphere of
common life, and ready to give account of all that he has gathered
from his observation of a world not ours. In truth the world created
by Correggio and interpreted by Toschi is very far removed from that
of actual existence. No painter has infused a more distinct
individuality into his work, realising by imaginative force and
powerful projection an order of beauty peculiar to himself, before
which it is impossible to remain quite indifferent. We must either
admire the manner of Correggio, or else shrink from it with the
distaste which sensual art is apt to stir in natures of a severe or
simple type.

What, then, is the Correggiosity of Correggio? In other words, what is
the characteristic which, proceeding from the personality of the
artist, is impressed on all his work? The answer to this question,
though by no means simple, may perhaps be won by a process of gradual
analysis. The first thing that strikes us in the art of Correggio is,
that he has aimed at the realistic representation of pure unrealities.
His saints and angels are beings the like of whom we have hardly seen
upon the earth. Yet they are displayed before us with all the movement
and the vivid truth of nature. Next we feel that what constitutes the
superhuman, visionary quality of these creatures, is their uniform
beauty of a merely sensuous type. They are all created for pleasure,
not for thought or passion or activity or heroism. The uses of their
brains, their limbs, their every feature, end in enjoyment; innocent
and radiant wantonness is the condition of their whole existence.
Correggio conceived the universe under the one mood of sensuous joy:
his world was bathed in luxurious light; its inhabitants were capable
of little beyond a soft voluptuousness. Over the domain of tragedy he
had no sway, and very rarely did he attempt to enter on it: nothing,
for example, can be feebler than his endeavour to express anguish in
the distorted features of Madonna, S. John, and the Magdalen, who are
bending over the dead body of a Christ extended in the attitude of
languid repose. In like manner he could not deal with subjects which
demand a pregnancy of intellectual meaning. He paints the three Fates
like young and joyous Bacchantes, places rose-garlands and
thyrsi in their hands instead of the distaff and the thread of human
destinies, and they might figure appropriately upon the panels of a
banquet-chamber in Pompeii. In this respect Correggio might be termed
the Rossini of painting. The melodies of the 'Stabat Mater'--_Fac ut
portem_ or _Quis est homo_--are the exact analogues in music of
Correggio's voluptuous renderings of grave or mysterious motives. Nor,
again, did he possess that severe and lofty art of composition which
subordinates the fancy to the reason, and which seeks for the highest
intellectual beauty in a kind of architectural harmony supreme above
the melodies of gracefulness in detail. The Florentines and those who
shared their spirit--Michelangelo and Lionardo and Raphael--deriving
this principle of design from the geometrical art of the Middle Ages,
converted it to the noblest uses in their vast well-ordered
compositions. But Correggio ignored the laws of scientific
construction. It was enough for him to produce a splendid and
brilliant effect by the life and movement of his figures, and by the
intoxicating beauty of his forms. His type of beauty, too, is by no
means elevated. Lionardo painted souls whereof the features and the
limbs are but an index. The charm of Michelangelo's ideal is like a
flower upon a tree of rugged strength. Raphael aims at the loveliness
which cannot be disjoined from goodness. But Correggio is contented
with bodies 'delicate and desirable.' His angels are genii
disimprisoned from the perfumed chalices of flowers, houris of an
erotic paradise, elemental spirits of nature wantoning in Eden in her
prime. To accuse the painter of conscious immorality or of what is
stigmatised as sensuality, would be as ridiculous as to class his
seraphic beings among the products of the Christian imagination. They
belong to the generation of the fauns; like fauns, they combine a
certain savage wildness, a dithyrambic ecstasy of inspiration, a
delight in rapid movement as they revel amid clouds or flowers, with
the permanent and all-pervading sweetness of the master's style. When
infantine or childlike, these celestial sylphs are scarcely to be
distinguished for any noble quality of beauty from Murillo's cherubs,
and are far less divine than the choir of children who attend Madonna
in Titian's 'Assumption.' But in their boyhood and their prime of
youth, they acquire a fulness of sensuous vitality and a radiance that
are peculiar to Correggio. The lily-bearer who helps to support S.
Thomas beneath the dome of the cathedral at Parma, the groups of
seraphs who crowd behind the Incoronata of S. Giovanni, and the two
wild-eyed open-mouthed S. Johns stationed at each side of the
celestial throne, are among the most splendid instances of the
adolescent loveliness conceived by Correggio. Where the painter found
their models may be questioned but not answered; for he has made them
of a different fashion from the race of mortals: no court of Roman
emperor or Turkish sultan, though stocked with the flowers of
Bithynian and Circassian youth, have seen their like. Mozart's
Cherubino seems to have sat for all of them. At any rate they
incarnate the very spirit of the songs he sings.

As a consequence of this predilection for sensuous and voluptuous
forms, Correggio had no power of imagining grandly or severely.
Satisfied with material realism in his treatment even of sublime
mysteries, he converts the hosts of heaven into a 'fricassee of
frogs,' according to the old epigram. His apostles, gazing after the
Virgin who has left the earth, are thrown into attitudes so violent
and so dramatically foreshortened, that seen from below upon the
pavement of the cathedral, little of their form is distinguishable
except legs and arms in vehement commotion. Very different is Titian's
conception of this scene. To express the spiritual meaning, the
emotion of Madonna's transit, with all the pomp which colour and
splendid composition can convey, is Titian's sole care; whereas
Correggio appears to have been satisfied with realising the tumult of
heaven rushing to meet earth, and earth straining upwards to ascend to
heaven in violent commotion--a very orgasm of frenetic rapture. The
essence of the event is forgotten: its external manifestation alone is
presented to the eye; and only the accessories of beardless angels and
cloud-encumbered cherubs are really beautiful amid a surge of limbs in
restless movement. More dignified, because designed with more repose,
is the Apocalypse of S. John painted upon the cupola of S. Giovanni.
The apostles throned on clouds, with which the dome is filled, gaze
upward to one point. Their attitudes are noble; their form is heroic;
in their eyes there is the strange ecstatic look by which Correggio
interpreted his sense of supernatural vision: it is a gaze not of
contemplation or deep thought, but of wild half-savage joy, as if
these saints also had become the elemental genii of cloud and air,
spirits emergent from ether, the salamanders of an empyrean
intolerable to mortal sense. The point on which their eyes converge,
the culmination of their vision, is the figure of Christ. Here all the
weakness of Correggio's method is revealed. He had undertaken to
realise by no ideal allegorical suggestion, by no symbolism of
architectural grouping, but by actual prosaic measurement, by
corporeal form in subjection to the laws of perspective and
foreshortening, things which in their very essence admit of only a
figurative revelation. Therefore his Christ, the centre of all those
earnest eyes, is contracted to a shape in which humanity itself is
mean, a sprawling figure which irresistibly reminds one of a frog. The
clouds on which the saints repose are opaque and solid; cherubs in
countless multitudes, a swarm of merry children, crawl about upon
these feather-beds of vapour, creep between the legs of the apostles,
and play at bopeep behind their shoulders. There is no propriety in
their appearance there. They take no interest in the beatific vision.
They play no part in the celestial symphony; nor are they capable of
more than merely infantine enjoyment. Correggio has sprinkled them
lavishly like living flowers about his cloudland, because he could not
sustain a grave and solemn strain of music, but was forced by his
temperament to overlay the melody with roulades. Gazing at these
frescoes, the thought came to me that Correggio was like a man
listening to sweetest flute-playing, and translating phrase after
phrase as they passed through his fancy into laughing faces, breezy
tresses, and rolling mists. Sometimes a grander cadence reached his
ear; and then S. Peter with the keys, or S. Augustine of the mighty
brow, or the inspired eyes of S. John, took form beneath his pencil.
But the light airs returned, and rose and lily faces bloomed again for
him among the clouds. It is not therefore in dignity or sublimity that
Correggio excels, but in artless grace and melodious tenderness. The
Madonna della Scala clasping her baby with a caress which the little
child returns, S. Catherine leaning in a rapture of ecstatic love to
wed the infant Christ, S. Sebastian in the bloom of almost boyish
beauty, are the so-called sacred subjects to which the painter was
adequate, and which he has treated with the voluptuous tenderness we
find in his pictures of Leda and Danae and Io. Could these saints and
martyrs descend from Correggio's canvas, and take flesh, and breathe,
and begin to live; of what high action, of what grave passion, of what
exemplary conduct in any walk of life would they be capable? That is
the question which they irresistibly suggest; and we are forced to
answer, None! The moral and religious world did not exist for
Correggio. His art was but a way of seeing carnal beauty in a dream
that had no true relation to reality.

Correggio's sensibility to light and colour was exactly on a par with
his feeling for form. He belongs to the poets of chiaroscuro and the
poets of colouring; but in both regions he maintains the individuality
so strongly expressed in his choice of purely sensuous beauty.
Tintoretto makes use of light and shade for investing his great
compositions with dramatic intensity. Rembrandt interprets sombre and
fantastic moods of the mind by golden gloom and silvery irradiation,
translating thought into the language of penumbral mystery. Lionardo
studies the laws of light scientifically, so that the proper roundness
and effect of distance should be accurately rendered, and all the
subtleties of nature's smiles be mimicked. Correggio is content with
fixing on his canvas the [Greek: anêrithmon gelasma], the
many-twinkling laughter of light in motion, rained down through fleecy
clouds or trembling foliage, melting into half-shadows, bathing and
illuminating every object with a soft caress. There are no tragic
contrasts of splendour sharply defined on blackness, no mysteries of
half-felt and pervasive twilight, no studied accuracies of noonday
clearness in his work. Light and shadow are woven together on his
figures like an impalpable Coan gauze, aërial and transparent,
enhancing the palpitations of voluptuous movement which he loved. His
colouring, in like manner, has none of the superb and mundane pomp
which the Venetians affected; it does not glow or burn or beat the
fire of gems into our brain; joyous and wanton, it seems to be exactly
such a beauty-bloom as sense requires for its satiety. There is
nothing in his hues to provoke deep passion or to stimulate the
yearnings of the soul: the pure blushes of the dawn and the crimson
pyres of sunset are nowhere in the world that he has painted. But that
chord of jocund colour which may fitly be married to the smiles of
light, the blues which are found in laughing eyes, the pinks that
tinge the cheeks of early youth, and the warm yet silvery tones of
healthy flesh, mingle as in a marvellous pearl-shell on his pictures.
Both chiaroscuro and colouring have this supreme purpose in art, to
effect the sense like music, and like music to create a mood in the
soul of the spectator. Now the mood which Correggio stimulates is one
of natural and thoughtless pleasure. To feel his influence, and at the
same moment to be the subject of strong passion, or fierce lust, or
heroic resolve, or profound contemplation, or pensive melancholy, is
impossible. Wantonness, innocent because unconscious of sin, immoral
because incapable of any serious purpose, is the quality which
prevails in all that he has painted. The pantomimes of a Mohammedan
paradise might be put upon the stage after patterns supplied by this
least spiritual of painters.

It follows from this analysis that the Correggiosity of Correggio,
that which sharply distinguished him from all previous artists, was
the faculty of painting a purely voluptuous dream of beautiful beings
in perpetual movement, beneath the laughter of morning light, in a
world of never-failing April hues. When he attempts to depart from the
fairyland of which he was the Prospero, and to match himself with the
masters of sublime thought or earnest passion, he proves his weakness.
But within his own magic circle he reigns supreme, no other artist
having blended the witcheries of colouring, chiaroscuro,and faunlike
loveliness of form into a harmony so perfect in its sensuous charm.
Bewitched by the strains of the siren, we pardon affectations of
expression, emptiness of meaning, feebleness of composition,
exaggerated and melodramatic attitudes. There is what Goethe called a
demonic influence in the art of Correggio: 'In poetry,' said Goethe to
Eckermann, 'especially in that which is unconscious, before which
reason and understanding fall short, and which therefore produces
effects so far surpassing all conception, there is always something
demonic.' It is not to be wondered that Correggio, possessed of this
demonic power in the highest degree, and working to a purely sensuous
end, should have exercised a fatal influence over art. His successors,
attracted by an intoxicating loveliness which they could not analyse,
which had nothing in common with the reason or the understanding, but
was like a glamour cast upon the soul in its most secret
sensibilities, threw themselves blindly into the imitation of
Correggio's faults. His affectation, his want of earnest thought, his
neglect of composition, his sensuous realism, his all-pervading
sweetness, his infantine prettiness, his substitution of
thaumaturgical effects for conscientious labour, admitted only too
easy imitation, and were but too congenial with the spirit of the late
Renaissance. Cupolas through the length and breadth of Italy began to
be covered with clouds and simpering cherubs in the convulsions of
artificial ecstasy. The attenuated elegance of Parmigiano, the
attitudinising of Anselmi's saints and angels, and a general sacrifice
of what is solid and enduring to sentimental gewgaws on the part of
all painters who had submitted to the magic of Correggio, proved how
easy it was to go astray with the great master. Meanwhile no one could
approach him in that which was truly his own--the delineation of a
transient moment in the life of sensuous beauty, the painting of a
smile on Nature's face, when light and colour tremble in harmony with
the movement of joyous living creatures. Another demonic nature of a
far more powerful type contributed his share to the ruin of art in
Italy. Michelangelo's constrained attitudes and muscular anatomy were
imitated by painters and sculptors, who thought that the grand style
lay in the presentation of theatrical athletes, but who could not
seize the secret whereby the great master made even the bodies of men
and women--colossal trunks and writhen limbs--interpret the meanings
of his deep and melancholy soul.

It is a sad law of progress in art, that when the æsthetic impulse is
on the wane, artists should perforce select to follow the weakness
rather than the vigour, of their predecessors. While painting was in
the ascendant, Raphael could take the best of Perugino and discard the
worst; in its decadence Parmigiano reproduces the affectations of
Correggio, and Bernini carries the exaggerations of Michelangelo to
absurdity. All arts describe a parabola. The force which produces
them causes them to rise throughout their growth up to a certain
point, and then to descend more gradually in a long and slanting line
of regular declension. There is no real break of continuity. The end
is the result of simple exhaustion. Thus the last of our Elizabethan
dramatists, Shirley and Crowne and Killigrew, pushed to its ultimate
conclusion the principle inherent in Marlowe, not attempting to break
new ground, nor imitating the excellences so much as the defects of
their forerunners. Thus too the Pointed style of architecture in
England gave birth first to what is called the Decorated, next to the
Perpendicular, and finally expired in the Tudor. Each step was a step
of progress--at first for the better--at last for the worse--but
logical, continuous, necessitated.[11]

It is difficult to leave Correggio without at least posing the
question of the difference between moralised and merely sensual art.
Is all art excellent in itself and good in its effect that is
beautiful and earnest? There is no doubt that Correggio's work is in a
way most beautiful; and it bears unmistakable signs of the master
having given himself with single-hearted devotion to the expression of
that phase of loveliness which he could apprehend. In so far we must
admit that his art is both excellent and solid. Yet we are unable to
conceive that any human being could be made better--stronger for
endurance, more fitted for the uses of the world, more sensitive to
what is noble in nature--by its contemplation. At the best Correggio
does but please us in our lighter moments, and we are apt to feel that
the pleasure he has given is of an enervating kind. To expect obvious
morality of any artist is confessedly absurd. It is not the artist's
province to preach, or even to teach, except by remote suggestion. Yet
the mind of the artist may be highly moralised, and then he takes rank
not merely with the ministers to refined pleasure, but also with the
educators of the world. He may, for example, be penetrated with a just
sense of humanity like Shakspere, or with a sublime temperance like
Sophocles, instinct with prophetic intuition like Michelangelo, or
with passionate experience like Beethoven. The mere sight of the work
of Pheidias is like breathing pure health-giving air. Milton and Dante
were steeped in religious patriotism; Goethe was pervaded with
philosophy, and Balzac with scientific curiosity. Ariosto, Cervantes,
and even Boccaccio are masters in the mysteries of common life. In all
these cases the tone of the artist's mind is felt throughout his work:
what he paints, or sings, or writes, conveys a lesson while it
pleases. On the other hand, depravity in an artist or a poet
percolates through work which has in it nothing positive of evil, and
a very miasma of poisonous influence may rise from the apparently
innocuous creations of a tainted soul. Now Correggio is moralised in
neither way--neither as a good nor as a bad man, neither as an acute
thinker nor as a deliberate voluptuary. He is simply sensuous. On his
own ground he is even very fresh and healthy: his delineation of
youthful maternity, for example, is as true as it is beautiful; and
his sympathy with the gleefulness of children is devoid of
affectation. We have then only to ask ourselves whether the defect in
him of all thought and feeling which is not at once capable of
graceful fleshly incarnation, be sufficient to lower him in the scale
of artists. This question must of course be answered according to our
definition of the purposes of art. There is no doubt that the most
highly organised art--that which absorbs the most numerous human
qualities and effects a harmony between the most complex elements--is
the noblest. Therefore the artist who combines moral elevation and
power of thought with a due appreciation of sensual beauty, is more
elevated and more beneficial than one whose domain is simply that of
carnal loveliness. Correggio, if this be so, must take a comparatively
low rank. Just as we welcome the beautiful athlete for the radiant
life that is in him, but bow before the personality of Sophocles,
whose perfect form enshrined a noble and highly educated soul, so we
gratefully accept Correggio for his grace, while we approach the
consummate art of Michelangelo with reverent awe. It is necessary in
æsthetics as elsewhere to recognise a hierarchy of excellence, the
grades of which are determined by the greater or less
comprehensiveness of the artist's nature expressed in his work. At the
same time, the calibre of the artist's genius must be estimated; for
eminent greatness even of a narrow kind will always command our
admiration: and the amount of his originality has also to be taken
into account. What is unique has, for that reason alone, a claim on
our consideration. Judged in this way, Correggio deserves a place,
say, in the sweet planet Venus, above the moon and above Mercury,
among the artists who have not advanced beyond the contemplations
which find their proper outcome in love. Yet, even thus, he aids the
culture of humanity. 'We should take care,' said Goethe, apropos of
Byron, to Eckermann, 'not to be always looking for culture in the
decidedly pure and moral. Everything that is great promotes
cultivation as soon as we are aware of it.'

       *       *       *       *       *



_CANOSSA_


Italy is less the land of what is venerable in antiquity, than of
beauty, by divine right young eternally in spite of age. This is due
partly to her history and art and literature, partly to the temper of
the races who have made her what she is, and partly to her natural
advantages. Her oldest architectural remains, the temples of Paestum
and Girgenti, or the gates of Perugia and Volterra, are so adapted to
Italian landscape and so graceful in their massive strength, that we
forget the centuries which have passed over them. We leap as by a
single bound from the times of Roman greatness to the new birth of
humanity in the fourteenth century, forgetting the many years during
which Italy, like the rest of Europe, was buried in what our ancestors
called Gothic barbarism. The illumination cast upon the classic period
by the literature of Rome and by the memory of her great men is so
vivid, that we feel the days of the Republic and the Empire to be near
us; while the Italian Renaissance is so truly a revival of that former
splendour, a resumption of the music interrupted for a season, that it
is extremely difficult to form any conception of the five long
centuries which elapsed between the Lombard invasion in 568 and the
accession of Hildebrand to the Pontificate in 1073. So true is it that
nothing lives and has reality for us but what is spiritual,
intellectual, self-possessed in personality and consciousness. When
the Egyptian priest said to Solon, 'You Greeks are always children,'
he intended a gentle sarcasm, but he implied a compliment; for the
quality of imperishable youth belonged to the Hellenic spirit, and has
become the heritage of every race which partook of it. And this spirit
in no common degree has been shared by the Italians of the earlier and
the later classic epoch. The land is full of monuments pertaining to
those two brilliant periods; and whenever the voice of poet has spoken
or the hand of artist has been at work, that spirit, as distinguished
from the spirit of mediaevalism, has found expression.

Yet it must be remembered that during the five centuries above
mentioned Italy was given over to Lombards, Franks, and Germans.
Feudal institutions, alien to the social and political ideals of the
classic world, took a tolerably firm hold on the country. The Latin
element remained silent, passive, in abeyance, undergoing an important
transformation. It was in the course of those five hundred years that
the Italians as a modern people, separable from their Roman ancestors,
were formed. At the close of this obscure passage in Italian history,
their communes, the foundation of Italy's future independence, and the
source of her peculiar national development, appeared in all the
vigour and audacity of youth. At its close the Italian genius
presented Europe with its greatest triumph of constructive ability,
the Papacy. At its close again the series of supreme artistic
achievements, starting with the architecture of churches and public
palaces, passing on to sculpture and painting, and culminating in
music, which only ended with the temporary extinction of national
vitality in the seventeenth century, was simultaneously begun in all
the provinces of the peninsula.

So important were these five centuries of incubation for Italy, and so
little is there left of them to arrest the attention of the student,
dazzled as he is by the ever-living glories of Greece, Rome, and the
Renaissance, that a visit to the ruins of Canossa is almost a duty.
There, in spite of himself, by the very isolation and forlorn
abandonment of what was once so formidable a seat of feudal despotism
and ecclesiastical tyranny, he is forced to confront the obscure but
mighty spirit of the middle ages. There, if anywhere, the men of those
iron-hearted times anterior to the Crusades will acquire distinctness
for his imagination, when he recalls the three main actors in the
drama enacted on the summit of Canossa's rock in the bitter winter of
1077.

Canossa lies almost due south of Reggio d'Emilia, upon the slopes of
the Apennines. Starting from Reggio, the carriage-road keeps to the
plain for some while in a westerly direction, and then bends away
towards the mountains. As we approach their spurs, the ground begins
to rise. The rich Lombard tilth of maize and vine gives place to
English-looking hedgerows, lined with oaks, and studded with handsome
dark tufts of green hellebore. The hills descend in melancholy
earth-heaps on the plain, crowned here and there with ruined castles.
Four of these mediaeval strongholds, called Bianello, Montevetro,
Monteluzzo, and Montezano, give the name of Quattro Castelli to the
commune. The most important of them, Bianello, which, next to Canossa,
was the strongest fortress possessed by the Countess Matilda and her
ancestors, still presents a considerable mass of masonry, roofed and
habitable. The group formed a kind of advance-guard for Canossa
against attack from Lombardy. After passing Quattro Castelli we enter
the hills, climbing gently upwards between barren slopes of ashy grey
earth--the _débris_ of most ancient Apennines--crested at favourable
points with lonely towers. In truth the whole country bristles with
ruined forts, making it clear that during the middle ages Canossa was
but the centre of a great military system, the core and kernel of a
fortified position which covered an area to be measured by scores of
square miles, reaching far into the mountains, and buttressed on the
plain. As yet, however, after nearly two hours' driving, Canossa has
not come in sight. At last a turn in the road discloses an opening in
the valley of the Enza to the left: up this lateral gorge we see first
the Castle of Rossena on its knoll of solid red rock, flaming in the
sunlight; and then, further withdrawn, detached from all surrounding
objects, and reared aloft as though to sweep the sea of waved and
broken hills around it, a sharp horn of hard white stone. That is
Canossa--the _alba Canossa_, the _candida petra_ of its rhyming
chronicler. There is no mistaking the commanding value of its
situation. At the same time the brilliant whiteness of Canossa's
rocky hill, contrasted with the red gleam of Rossena, and outlined
against the prevailing dulness of these earthy Apennines, secures a
picturesque individuality concordant with its unique history and
unrivalled strength.

There is still a journey of two hours before the castle can be
reached: and this may be performed on foot or horseback. The path
winds upward over broken ground; following the _arête_ of curiously
jumbled and thwarted hill-slopes; passing beneath the battlements of
Rossena, whence the unfortunate Everelina threw herself in order to
escape the savage love of her lord and jailor; and then skirting those
horrid earthen _balze_ which are so common and so unattractive a
feature of Apennine scenery. The most hideous _balze_ to be found in
the length and breadth of Italy are probably those of Volterra, from
which the citizens themselves recoil with a kind of terror, and which
lure melancholy men by intolerable fascination on to suicide. For ever
crumbling, altering with frost and rain, discharging gloomy glaciers
of slow-crawling mud, and scarring the hillside with tracts of
barrenness, these earth-precipices are among the most ruinous and
discomfortable failures of nature. They have not even so much of
wildness or grandeur as forms, the saving merit of nearly all wasteful
things in the world, and can only be classed with the desolate
_ghiare_ of Italian river-beds.

Such as they are, these _balze_ form an appropriate preface to the
gloomy and repellent isolation of Canossa. The rock towers from a
narrow platform to the height of rather more than 160 feet from its
base. The top is fairly level, forming an irregular triangle, of which
the greatest length is about 260 feet, and the width about 100 feet.
Scarcely a vestige of any building can be traced either upon the
platform or the summit, with the exception of a broken wall and
windows supposed to belong to the end of the sixteenth century. The
ancient castle, with its triple circuit of walls, enclosing barracks
for the garrison, lodgings for the lord and his retainers, a stately
church, a sumptuous monastery, storehouses, stables, workshops, and
all the various buildings of a fortified stronghold, have utterly
disappeared. The very passage of approach cannot be ascertained; for
it is doubtful whether the present irregular path that scales the
western face of the rock be really the remains of some old staircase,
corresponding to that by which Mont S. Michel in Normandy is ascended.
One thing is tolerably certain--that the three walls of which we hear
so much from the chroniclers, and which played so picturesque a part
in the drama of Henry IV.'s penance, surrounded the cliff at its base,
and embraced a large acreage of ground. The citadel itself must have
been but the acropolis or keep of an extensive fortress.

There has been plenty of time since the year 1255, when the people of
Reggio sacked and destroyed Canossa, for Nature to resume her
undisputed sway by obliterating the handiwork of men; and at present
Nature forms the chief charm of Canossa. Lying one afternoon of May on
the crisp short grass at the edge of a precipice purple with iris in
full blossom, I surveyed, from what were once the battlements of
Matilda's castle, a prospect than which there is none more
spirit-stirring by reason of its beauty and its manifold associations
in Europe. The lower castle-crowded hills have sunk. Reggio lies at
our feet, shut in between the crests of Monte Carboniano and Monte
delle Celle. Beyond Reggio stretches Lombardy--the fairest and most
memorable battlefield of nations, the richest and most highly
cultivated garden of civilised industry. Nearly all the Lombard cities
may be seen, some of them faint like bluish films of vapour, some
clear with dome and spire. There is Modena and her Ghirlandina. Carpi,
Parma, Mirandola, Verona, Mantua, lie well defined and russet on the
flat green map; and there flashes a bend of lordly Po; and there the
Euganeans rise like islands, telling us where Padua and Ferrara nestle
in the amethystine haze Beyond and above all to the northward sweep
the Alps, tossing their silvery crests up into the cloudless sky from
the violet mist that girds their flanks and drowns their basements.
Monte Adamello and the Ortler, the cleft of the Brenner, and the sharp
peaks of the Venetian Alps are all distinctly visible. An eagle flying
straight from our eyrie might traverse Lombardy and light among the
snow-fields of the Valtelline between sunrise and sundown. Nor is the
prospect tame to southward. Here the Apennines roll, billow above
billow, in majestic desolation, soaring to snow summits in the
Pellegrino region. As our eye attempts to thread that labyrinth of
hill and vale, we tell ourselves that those roads wind to Tuscany, and
yonder stretches Garfagnana, where Ariosto lived and mused in
honourable exile from the world he loved.

It was by one of the mountain passes that lead from Lucca northward
that the first founder of Canossa is said to have travelled early in
the tenth century. Sigifredo, if the tradition may be trusted, was
very wealthy; and with his money he bought lands and signorial rights
at Reggio, bequeathing to his children, when he died about 945, a
patrimony which they developed into a petty kingdom. Azzo, his second
son, fortified Canossa, and made it his principal place of residence.
When Lothair, King of Italy, died in 950, leaving his beautiful widow
to the ill-treatment of his successor, Berenger, Adelaide found a
protector in this Azzo. She had been imprisoned on the Lake of Garda;
but managing to escape in man's clothes to Mantua, she thence sent
news of her misfortunes to Canossa. Azzo lost no time in riding with
his knights to her relief, and brought her back in safety to his
mountain fastness. It is related that Azzo was afterwards instrumental
in calling Otho into Italy and procuring his marriage with Adelaide,
in consequence of which events Italy became a fief of the Empire.
Owing to the part he played at this time, the Lord of Canossa was
recognised as one of the most powerful vassals of the German Emperor
in Lombardy. Honours were heaped upon him; and he grew so rich and
formidable that Berenger, the titular King of Italy, laid siege to his
fortress of Canossa. The memory of this siege, which lasted for three
years and a half, is said still to linger in the popular traditions of
the place. When Azzo died at the end of the tenth century, he left to
his son Tedaldo the title of Count of Reggio and Modena; and this
title was soon after raised to that of Marquis. The Marches governed
as Vicar of the Empire by Tedaldo included Reggio, Modena, Ferrara,
Brescia, and probably Mantua. They stretched, in fact, across the
north of Italy, forming a quadrilateral between the Alps and
Apennines. Like his father, Tedaldo adhered consistently to the
Imperial party; and when he died and was buried at Canossa, he in his
turn bequeathed to his son Bonifazio a power and jurisdiction
increased by his own abilities. Bonifazio held the state of a
sovereign at Canossa, adding the duchy of Tuscany to his father's
fiefs, and meeting the allied forces of the Lombard barons in the
field of Coviolo like an independent potentate. His power and
splendour were great enough to rouse the jealousy of the Emperor; but
Henry III. seems to have thought it more prudent to propitiate this
proud vassal, and to secure his kindness, than to attempt his
humiliation. Bonifazio married Beatrice, daughter of Frederick, Duke
of Lorraine--her whose marble sarcophagus in the Campo Santo at Pisa
is said to have inspired Niccola Pisano with his new style of
sculpture. Their only child, Matilda, was born, probably at Lucca, in
1046; and six years after her birth, Bonifazio, who had swayed his
subjects like an iron-handed tyrant, was murdered. To the great House
of Canossa, the rulers of one-third of Italy, there now remained only
two women, Bonifazio's widow Beatrice, and his daughter Matilda.
Beatrice married Godfrey, Duke of Lorraine, who was recognised by
Henry IV. as her husband and as feudatory of the Empire in the full
place of Boniface. He died about 1070; and in this year Matilda was
married by proxy to his son, Godfrey the Hunchback, whom, however,
she did not see till the year 1072. The marriage was not a happy one;
and the question has even been disputed among Matilda's biographers
whether it was ever consummated. At any rate it did not last long; for
Godfrey was killed at Antwerp in 1076. In this year Matilda also lost
her mother, Beatrice, who died at Pisa, and was buried in the
cathedral.

By this rapid enumeration of events it will be seen how the power and
honours of the House of Canossa, including Tuscany, Spoleto, and the
fairest portions of Lombardy, had devolved upon a single woman of the
age of thirty at the moment when the fierce quarrel between Pope and
Emperor began in the year 1076. Matilda was destined to play a great,
a striking, and a tragic part in the opening drama of Italian history.
Her decided character and uncompromising course of action have won for
her the name of 'la gran donna d'Italia,' and have caused her memory
to be blessed or execrated, according as the temporal pretensions and
spiritual tyranny of the Papacy may have found supporters or opponents
in posterity. She was reared from childhood in habits of austerity and
unquestioning piety. Submission to the Church became for her not
merely a rule of conduct, but a passionate enthusiasm. She identified
herself with the cause of four successive Popes, protected her idol,
the terrible and iron-hearted Hildebrand, in the time of his
adversity; remained faithful to his principles after his death; and
having served the Holy See with all her force and all that she
possessed through all her lifetime, she bequeathed her vast dominions
to it on her deathbed. Like some of the greatest mediaeval
characters--like Hildebrand himself--Matilda was so thoroughly of one
piece, that she towers above the mists of ages with the massive
grandeur of an incarnated idea. She is for us the living statue of a
single thought, an undivided impulse, the more than woman born to
represent her age. Nor was it without reason that Dante symbolised in
her the love of Holy Church; though students of the 'Purgatory' will
hardly recognise the lovely maiden, singing and plucking flowers
beside the stream of Lethe, in the stern and warlike chatelaine of
Canossa. Unfortunately we know but little of Matilda's personal
appearance. Her health was not strong; and it is said to have been
weakened, especially in her last illness, by ascetic observances. Yet
she headed her own troops, armed with sword and cuirass, avoiding
neither peril nor fatigue in the quarrels of her master Gregory. Up to
the year 1622 two strong suits of mail were preserved at Quattro
Castelli, which were said to have been worn by her in battle, and
which were afterwards sold on the market-place at Reggio. This habit
of donning armour does not, however, prove that Matilda was
exceptionally vigorous; for in those savage times she could hardly
have played the part of heroine without participating personally in
the dangers of warfare.

No less monumental in the plastic unity of his character was the monk
Hildebrand, who for twenty years before his elevation to the Papacy
had been the maker of Popes and the creator of the policy of Rome.
When he was himself elected in the year 1073, and had assumed the name
of Gregory VII., he immediately began to put in practice the plans for
Church aggrandisement he had slowly matured during the previous
quarter of a century. To free the Church from its subservience to the
Empire, to assert the Pope's right to ratify the election of the
Emperor and to exercise the right of jurisdiction over him, to place
ecclesiastical appointments in the sole power of the Roman See, and to
render the celibacy of the clergy obligatory, were the points he had
resolved to carry. Taken singly and together, these chief aims of
Hildebrand's policy had but one object--the magnification of the
Church at the expense both of the people and of secular authorities,
and the further separation of the Church from the ties and sympathies
of common life that bound it to humanity. To accuse Hildebrand of
personal ambition would be but shallow criticism, though it is clear
that his inflexible and puissant nature found a savage selfish
pleasure in trampling upon power and humbling pride at warfare with
his own. Yet his was in no sense an egotistic purpose like that which
moved the Popes of the Renaissance to dismember Italy for their
bastards. Hildebrand, like Matilda, was himself the creature of a
great idea. These two potent personalities completely understood each
other, and worked towards a single end. Tho mythopoeic fancy might
conceive of them as the male and female manifestations of one dominant
faculty, the spirit of ecclesiastical dominion incarnate in a man and
woman of almost super-human mould.

Opposed to them, as the third actor in the drama of Canossa, was a man
of feebler mould. Henry IV., King of Italy, but not yet crowned
Emperor, had none of his opponents' unity of purpose or monumental
dignity of character. At war with his German feudatories, browbeaten
by rebellious sons, unfaithful and cruel to his wife, vacillating in
the measures he adopted to meet his divers difficulties, at one time
tormented by his conscience into cowardly submission, and at another
treasonably neglectful of the most solemn obligations, Henry was no
match for the stern wills against which he was destined to break in
unavailing passion. Early disagreements with Gregory had culminated in
his excommunication. The German nobles abandoned his cause; and Henry
found it expedient to summon a council in Augsburg for the settlement
of matters in dispute between the Empire and the Papacy. Gregory
expressed his willingness to attend this council, and set forth from
Rome accompanied by the Countess Matilda in December 1076. He did not,
however, travel further than Vercelli, for news here reached him that
Henry was about to enter Italy at the head of a powerful army. Matilda
hereupon persuaded the Holy Father to place himself in safety among
her strongholds of Canossa. Thither accordingly Gregory retired before
the ending of that year; and bitter were the sarcasms uttered by the
imperial partisans in Italy upon this protection offered by a fair
countess to the monk who had been made a Pope. The foul calumnies of
that bygone age would be unworthy of even so much as this notice, if
we did not trace in them the ineradicable Italian tendency to cynical
insinuation--a tendency which has involved the history of the
Renaissance Popes in an almost impenetrable mist of lies and
exaggerations. Henry was in truth upon his road to Italy, but with a
very different attendance from that which Gregory expected.
Accompanied by Bertha, his wife, and his boy son Conrad, the Emperor
elect left Spires in the condition of a fugitive, crossed Burgundy,
spent Christmas at Besançon, and journeyed to the foot of Mont Cenis.
It is said that he was followed by a single male servant of mean
birth; and if the tale of his adventures during the passage of the
Alps can be credited, history presents fewer spectacles more
picturesque than the straits to which this representative of the
Cæsars, this supreme chief of feudal civility, this ruler destined
still to be the leader of mighty armies and the father of a line of
monarchs, was exposed. Concealing his real name and state, he induced
some shepherds to lead him and his escort through the thick snows to
the summit of Mont Cenis; and by the help of these men the imperial
party were afterwards let down the snow-slopes on the further side by
means of ropes. Bertha and her women were sewn up in hides and dragged
across the frozen surface of the winter drifts. It was a year
memorable for its severity. Heavy snow had fallen in October, which
continued ice-bound and unyielding till the following April.

No sooner had Henry reached Turin, than he set forward again in the
direction of Canossa. The fame of his arrival had preceded him, and
he found that his party was far stronger in Italy than he had ventured
to expect. Proximity to the Church of Rome divests its fulminations of
half their terrors. The Italian bishops and barons, less superstitious
than the Germans, and with greater reason to resent the domineering
graspingness of Gregory, were ready to espouse the Emperor's cause.
Henry gathered a formidable force as he marched onward across
Lombardy; and some of the most illustrious prelates and nobles of the
South were in his suite. A more determined leader than Henry proved
himself to be, might possibly have forced Gregory to some
accommodation, in spite of the strength of Canossa and the Pope's
invincible obstinacy, by proper use of these supporters. Meanwhile the
adherents of the Church were mustered in Matilda's fortress; among
whom may be mentioned Azzo, the progenitor of Este and Brunswick;
Hugh, Abbot of Clugny; and the princely family of Piedmont. 'I am
become a second Rome,' exclaims Canossa, in the language of Matilda's
rhyming chronicler; 'all honours are mine; I hold at once both Pope
and King, the princes of Italy and those of Gaul, those of Rome, and
those from far beyond the Alps.' The stage was ready; the audience had
assembled; and now the three great actors were about to meet.
Immediately upon his arrival at Canossa, Henry sent for his cousin,
the Countess Matilda, and besought her to intercede for him with
Gregory. He was prepared to make any concessions or to undergo any
humiliations, if only the ban of excommunication might be removed;
nor, cowed as he was by his own superstitious conscience, and by the
memory of the opposition he had met with from his German vassals, does
he seem to have once thought of meeting force with force, and of
returning to his northern kingdom triumphant in the overthrow of
Gregory's pride. Matilda undertook to plead his cause before the
Pontiff. But Gregory was not to be moved so soon to mercy. 'If Henry
has in truth repented,' he replied, 'let him lay down crown and
sceptre, and declare himself unworthy of the name of king.' The only
point conceded to the suppliant was that he should be admitted in the
garb of a penitent within the precincts of the castle. Leaving his
retinue outside the walls, Henry entered the first series of outworks,
and was thence conducted to the second, so that between him and the
citadel itself there still remained the third of the surrounding
bastions. Here he was bidden to wait the Pope's pleasure; and here, in
the midst of that bitter winter weather, while the fierce winds of the
Apennines were sweeping sleet upon him in their passage from Monte
Pellegrino to the plain, he knelt barefoot, clothed in sackcloth,
fasting from dawn till eve, for three whole days. On the morning of
the fourth day, judging that Gregory was inexorable, and that his suit
would not be granted, Henry retired to the Chapel of S. Nicholas,
which stood within this second precinct. There he called to his aid
the Abbot of Clugny and the Countess, both of whom were his relations,
and who, much as they might sympathise with Gregory, could hardly be
supposed to look with satisfaction on their royal kinsman's outrage.
The Abbot told Henry that nothing in the world could move the Pope;
but Matilda, when in turn he fell before her knees and wept, engaged
to do for him the utmost. She probably knew that the moment for
unbending had arrived, and that her imperious guest could not with
either decency or prudence prolong the outrage offered to the civil
chief of Christendom. It was the 25th of January when the Emperor
elect was brought, half dead with cold and misery, into the Pope's
presence. There he prostrated himself in the dust, crying aloud for
pardon. It is said that Gregory first placed his foot upon Henry's
neck, uttering these words of Scripture: 'Super aspidem et basiliscum
ambulabis, et conculcabis leonem et draconem,' and that then he raised
him from the earth and formally pronounced his pardon. The prelates
and nobles who took part in this scene were compelled to guarantee
with their own oaths the vows of obedience pronounced by Henry; so
that in the very act of reconciliation a new insult was offered to
him. After this Gregory said mass, and permitted Henry to communicate;
and at the close of the day a banquet was served, at which the King
sat down to meat with the Pope and the Countess.

It is probable that, while Henry's penance was performed in the castle
courts beneath the rock, his reception by the Pope, and all that
subsequently happened, took place in the citadel itself. But of this
we have no positive information. Indeed the silence of the chronicles
as to the topography of Canossa is peculiarly unfortunate for lovers
of the picturesque in historic detail, now that there is no
possibility of tracing the outlines of the ancient building. Had the
author of the 'Vita Mathildis' (Muratori, vol. v.) foreseen that his
beloved Canossa would one day be nothing but a mass of native rock, he
would undoubtedly have been more explicit on these points; and much
that is vague about an event only paralleled by our Henry II.'s
penance before Becket's shrine at Canterbury, might now be clear.

Very little remains to be told about Canossa. During the same year,
1077, Matilda made the celebrated donation of her fiefs to Holy
Church. This was accepted by Gregory in the name of S. Peter, and it
was confirmed by a second deed during the pontificate of Urban IV. in
1102. Though Matilda subsequently married Guelfo d'Este, son of the
Duke of Bavaria, she was speedily divorced from him; nor was there any
heir to a marriage ridiculous by reason of disparity of age, the
bridegroom being but eighteen, while the bride was forty-three in the
year of her second nuptials. During one of Henry's descents into
Italy, he made an unsuccessful attack upon Canossa, assailing it at
the head of a considerable force one October morning in 1092.
Matilda's biographer informs us that the mists of autumn veiled his
beloved fortress from the eyes of the beleaguerers. They had not even
the satisfaction of beholding the unvanquished citadel; and, what was
more, the banner of the Emperor was seized and dedicated as a trophy
in the Church of S. Apollonio. In the following year the Countess
opened her gates of Canossa to an illustrious fugitive, Adelaide, the
wife of her old foeman, Henry, who had escaped with difficulty from
the insults and the cruelty of her husband. After Henry's death, his
son, the Emperor Henry V., paid Matilda a visit in her castle of
Bianello, addressed her by the name of mother, and conferred upon her
the vice-regency of Liguria. At the age of sixty-nine she died, in
1115, at Bondeno de' Roncori, and was buried, not among her kinsmen at
Canossa, but in an abbey of S. Benedict near Mantua. With her expired
the main line of the noble house she represented; though Canossa, now
made a fief of the Empire in spite of Matilda's donation, was given to
a family which claimed descent from Bonifazio's brother Conrad--a
young man killed in the battle of Coviolo. This family, in its turn,
was extinguished in the year 1570; but a junior branch still exists at
Verona. It will be remembered that Michelangelo Buonarroti claimed
kinship with the Count of Canossa; and a letter from the Count is
extant acknowledging the validity of his pretension.

As far back as 1255 the people of Reggio destroyed the castle; nor did
the nobles of Canossa distinguish themselves in subsequent history
among those families who based their despotisms on the _débris_ of the
Imperial power in Lombardy. It seemed destined that Canossa and all
belonging to it should remain as a mere name and memory of the
outgrown middle ages. Estensi, Carraresi, Visconti, Bentivogli, and
Gonzaghi belong to a later period of Lombard history, and mark the
dawn of the Renaissance.

As I lay and mused that afternoon of May upon the short grass, cropped
by two grey goats, whom a little boy was tending, it occurred to me to
ask the woman who had served me as guide, whether any legend remained
in the country concerning the Countess Matilda. She had often,
probably, been asked this question by other travellers. Therefore she
was more than usually ready with an answer, which, as far as I could
understand her dialect, was this. Matilda was a great and potent
witch, whose summons the devil was bound to obey. One day she aspired,
alone of all her sex, to say mass; but when the moment came for
sacring the elements, a thunderbolt fell from the clear sky, and
reduced her to ashes.[12] That the most single-hearted handmaid of the
Holy Church, whose life was one long devotion to its ordinances,
should survive in this grotesque myth, might serve to point a satire
upon the vanity of earthly fame. The legend in its very extravagance
is a fanciful distortion of the truth.

       *       *       *       *       *



_FORNOVO_


In the town of Parma there is one surpassingly strange relic of the
past. The palace of the Farnesi, like many a haunt of upstart tyranny
and beggared pride on these Italian plains, rises misshapen and
disconsolate above the stream that bears the city's name. The squalor
of this grey-brown edifice of formless brick, left naked like the
palace of the same Farnesi at Piacenza, has something even horrid in
it now that only vague memory survives of its former uses. The
princely _sprezzatura_ of its ancient occupants, careless of these
unfinished courts and unroofed galleries amid the splendour of their
purfled silks and the glitter of their torchlight pageantry, has
yielded to sullen cynicism--the cynicism of arrested ruin and
unreverend age. All that was satisfying to the senses and distracting
to the eyesight in their transitory pomp has passed away, leaving a
sinister and naked shell. Remembrance can but summon up the crimes,
the madness, the trivialities of those dead palace-builders. An
atmosphere of evil clings to the dilapidated walls, as though the
tainted spirit of the infamous Pier Luigi still possessed the spot, on
which his toadstool brood of princelings sprouted in the mud of their
misdeeds. Enclosed in this huge labyrinth of brickwork is the relic of
which I spoke. It is the once world-famous Teatro Farnese, raised in
the year 1618 by Ranunzio Farnese for the marriage of Odoardo Farnese
with Margaret of Austria. Giambattista Aleotti, a native of
pageant-loving Ferrara, traced the stately curves and noble orders of
the galleries, designed the columns that support the raftered roof,
marked out the orchestra, arranged the stage, and breathed into the
whole the spirit of Palladio's most heroic neo-Latin style. Vast,
built of wood, dishevelled, with broken statues and blurred coats of
arms, with its empty scene, its uncurling frescoes, its hangings all
in rags, its cobwebs of two centuries, its dust and mildew and
discoloured gold--this theatre, a sham in its best days, and now that
ugliest of things, a sham unmasked and naked to the light of day, is
yet sublime, because of its proportioned harmony, because of its grand
Roman manner. The sight and feeling of it fasten upon the mind and
abide in the memory like a nightmare,--like one of Piranesi's weirdest
and most passion-haunted etchings for the _Carceri_. Idling there at
noon in the twilight of the dust-bedarkened windows, we fill the tiers
of those high galleries with ladies, the space below with grooms and
pages; the stage is ablaze with torches, and an Italian Masque, such
as our Marlowe dreamed of, fills the scene. But it is impossible to
dower these fancies with even such life as in healthier, happier
ruins phantasy may lend to imagination's figments. This theatre is
like a maniac's skull, empty of all but unrealities and mockeries of
things that are. The ghosts we raise here could never have been living
men and women: _questi sciaurati non fur mai vivi._ So clinging is the
sense of instability that appertains to every fragment of that dry-rot
tyranny which seized by evil fortune in the sunset of her golden day
on Italy.

In this theatre I mused one morning after visiting Fornovo; and the
thoughts suggested by the battlefield found their proper atmosphere in
the dilapidated place. What, indeed, is the Teatro Farnese but a
symbol of those hollow principalities which the despot and the
stranger built in Italy after the fatal date of 1494, when national
enthusiasm and political energy were expiring in a blaze of art, and
when the Italians as a people had ceased to be; but when the phantom
of their former life, surviving in high works of beauty, was still
superb by reason of imperishable style! How much in Italy of the
Renaissance was, like this plank-built plastered theatre, a glorious
sham! The sham was seen through then; and now it stands unmasked: and
yet, strange to say, so perfect is its form that we respect the sham
and yield our spirits to the incantation of its music.

The battle of Fornovo, as modern battles go, was a paltry affair; and
even at the time it seemed sufficiently without result. Yet the
trumpets which rang on July 6, 1495, for the onset, sounded the
_réveil_ of the modern world; and in the inconclusive termination of
the struggle of that day, the Italians were already judged and
sentenced as a nation. The armies who met that morning represented
Italy and France,--Italy, the Sibyl of Renaissance; France, the Sibyl
of Revolution. At the fall of evening Europe was already looking
northward; and the last years of the fifteenth century were opening
an act which closed in blood at Paris on the ending of the eighteenth.

If it were not for thoughts like these, no one, I suppose, would take
the trouble to drive for two hours out of Parma to the little village
of Fornovo--a score of bare grey hovels on the margin of a pebbly
river-bed beneath the Apennines. The fields on either side, as far as
eye can see, are beautiful indeed in May sunlight, painted here with
flax, like shallow sheets of water reflecting a pale sky, and there
with clover red as blood. Scarce unfolded leaves sparkle like
flamelets of bright green upon the knotted vines, and the young corn
is bending all one way beneath a western breeze. But not less
beautiful than this is the whole broad plain of Lombardy; nor are the
nightingales louder here than in the acacia trees around Pavia. As we
drive, the fields become less fertile, and the hills encroach upon the
level, sending down their spurs upon that waveless plain like blunt
rocks jutting out into a tranquil sea. When we reach the bed of the
Taro, these hills begin to narrow on either hand, and the road rises.
Soon they open out again with gradual curving lines, forming a kind of
amphitheatre filled up from flank to flank with the _ghiara_ or pebbly
bottom of the Taro. The Taro is not less wasteful than any other of
the brotherhood of streams that pour from Alp or Apennine to swell the
Po. It wanders, an impatient rivulet, through a wilderness of
boulders, uncertain of its aim, shifting its course with the season of
the year, unless the jaws of some deep-cloven gully hold it tight and
show how insignificant it is. As we advance, the hills approach again;
between their skirts there is nothing but the river-bed; and now on
rising ground above the stream, at the point of juncture between the
Ceno and the Taro, we find Fornovo. Beyond the village the valley
broadens out once more, disclosing Apennines capped with winter snow.
To the right descends the Ceno. To the left foams the Taro, following
whose rocky channel we should come at last to Pontremoli and the
Tyrrhenian sea beside Sarzana. On a May-day of sunshine like the
present, the Taro is a gentle stream. A waggon drawn by two white oxen
has just entered its channel, guided by a contadino with goat-skin
leggings, wielding a long goad. The patient creatures stem the water,
which rises to the peasant's thighs and ripples round the creaking
wheels. Swaying to and fro, as the shingles shift upon the river-bed,
they make their way across; and now they have emerged upon the stones;
and now we lose them in a flood of sunlight.

It was by this pass that Charles VIII. in 1495 returned from Tuscany,
when the army of the League was drawn up waiting to intercept and
crush him in the mousetrap of Fornovo. No road remained for Charles
and his troops but the rocky bed of the Taro, running, as I have
described it, between the spurs of steep hills. It is true that the
valley of the Baganza leads, from a little higher up among the
mountains, into Lombardy. But this pass runs straight to Parma; and to
follow it would have brought the French upon the walls of a strong
city. Charles could not do otherwise than descend upon the village of
Fornovo, and cut his way thence in the teeth of the Italian army over
stream and boulder between the gorges of throttling mountain. The
failure of the Italians to achieve what here upon the ground appears
so simple, delivered Italy hand-bound to strangers. Had they but
succeeded in arresting Charles and destroying his forces at Fornovo,
it is just possible that then--even then, at the eleventh hour--Italy
might have gained the sense of national coherence, or at least have
proved herself capable of holding by her leagues the foreigner at bay.
As it was, the battle of Fornovo, in spite of Venetian bonfires and
Mantuan Madonnas of Victory, made her conscious of incompetence and
convicted her of cowardice. After Fornovo, her sons scarcely dared to
hold their heads up in the field against invaders; and the battles
fought upon her soil were duels among aliens for the prize of Italy.

In order to comprehend the battle of Fornovo in its bearings on
Italian history, we must go back to the year 1492, and understand the
conditions of the various States of Italy at that date. On April 8 in
that year, Lorenzo de' Medici, who had succeeded in maintaining a
political equilibrium in the peninsula, expired, and was succeeded by
his son Piero, a vain and foolhardy young man, from whom no guidance
could be expected. On July 25, Innocent VIII. died, and was succeeded
by the very worst Pope who has ever occupied S. Peter's chair,
Roderigo Borgia, Alexander VI. It was felt at once that the old order
of things had somehow ended, and that a new era, the destinies of
which as yet remained incalculable, was opening for Italy. The chief
Italian powers, hitherto kept in equipoise by the diplomacy of Lorenzo
de' Medici, were these--the Duchy of Milan, the Republic of Venice,
the Republic of Florence, the Papacy, and the kingdom of Naples.
Minor States, such as the Republics of Genoa and Siena, the Duchies of
Urbino and Ferrara, the Marquisate of Mantua, the petty tyrannies of
Romagna, and the wealthy city of Bologna, were sufficiently important
to affect the balance of power, and to produce new combinations. For
the present purpose it is, however, enough to consider the five great
Powers.

After the peace of Constance, which freed the Lombard Communes from
Imperial interference in the year 1183, Milan, by her geographical
position, rose rapidly to be the first city of North Italy. Without
narrating the changes by which she lost her freedom as a Commune, it
is enough to state that, earliest of all Italian cities, Milan passed
into the hands of a single family. The Visconti managed to convert
this flourishing commonwealth, with all its dependencies, into their
private property, ruling it exclusively for their own profit, using
its municipal institutions as the machinery of administration, and
employing the taxes which they raised upon its wealth for purely
selfish ends. When the line of the Visconti ended in the year 1447,
their tyranny was continued by Francesco Sforza, the son of a poor
soldier of adventure, who had raised himself by his military genius,
and had married Bianca, the illegitimate daughter of the last
Visconti. On the death of Francesco Sforza in 1466, he left two sons,
Galeazzo Maria and Lodovico, surnamed Il Moro, both of whom were
destined to play a prominent part in history. Galeazzo Maria,
dissolute, vicious, and cruel to the core, was murdered by his injured
subjects in the year 1476. His son, Giovanni Galeazzo, aged eight,
would in course of time have succeeded to the Duchy, had it not been
for the ambition of his uncle Lodovico. Lodovico contrived to name
himself as Regent for his nephew, whom he kept, long after he had come
of age, in a kind of honourable prison. Virtual master in Milan, but
without a legal title to the throne, unrecognised in his authority by
the Italian powers, and holding it from day to day by craft and fraud,
Lodovico at last found his situation untenable; and it was this
difficulty of an usurper to maintain himself in his despotism which,
as we shall see, brought the French into Italy.

Venice, the neighbour and constant foe of Milan, had become a close
oligarchy by a process of gradual constitutional development, which
threw her government into the hands of a few nobles. She was
practically ruled by the hereditary members of the Grand Council. Ever
since the year 1453, when Constantinople fell beneath the Turk, the
Venetians had been more and more straitened in their Oriental
commerce, and were thrown back upon the policy of territorial
aggrandisement in Italy, from which they had hitherto refrained as
alien to the temperament of the Republic. At the end of the fifteenth
century Venice therefore became an object of envy and terror to the
Italian States. They envied her because she alone was tranquil,
wealthy, powerful, and free. They feared her because they had good
reason to suspect her of encroachment; and it was foreseen that if she
got the upper hand in Italy, all Italy would be the property of the
families inscribed upon the Golden Book. It was thus alone that the
Italians comprehended government. The principle of representation
being utterly unknown, and the privileged burghers in each city being
regarded as absolute and lawful owners of the city and of everything
belonging to it, the conquest of a town by a republic implied the
political extinction of that town and the disfranchisement of its
inhabitants in favour of the conquerors.

Florence at this epoch still called itself a Republic; and of all
Italian commonwealths it was by far the most democratic. Its history,
unlike that of Venice, had been the history of continual and brusque
changes, resulting in the destruction of the old nobility, in the
equalisation of the burghers, and in the formation of a new
aristocracy of wealth. Prom this class of _bourgeois_ nobles sprang
the Medici, who, by careful manipulation of the State machinery, by
the creation of a powerful party devoted to their interests, by
flattery of the people, by corruption, by taxation, and by constant
scheming, raised themselves to the first place in the commonwealth,
and became its virtual masters. In the year 1492 Lorenzo de' Medici,
the most remarkable chief of this despotic family, died, bequeathing
his supremacy in the Republic to a son of marked incompetence.

Since the Pontificate of Nicholas V. the See of Rome had entered upon
a new period of existence. The Popes no longer dreaded to reside in
Rome, but were bent upon making the metropolis of Christendom both
splendid as a seat of art and learning, and also potent as the capital
of a secular kingdom. Though their fiefs in Romagna and the March were
still held but loosely, though their provinces swarmed with petty
despots who defied the Papal authority, and though the princely Roman
houses of Colonna and Orsini were still strong enough to terrorise the
Holy Father in the Vatican, it was now clear that the Papal See must
in the end get the better of its adversaries, and consolidate itself
into a first-rate Power. The internal spirit of the Papacy at this
time corresponded to its external policy. It was thoroughly
secularised by a series of worldly and vicious pontiffs, who had clean
forgotten what their title, Vicar of Christ, implied. They
consistently used their religious prestige to enforce their secular
authority, while by their temporal power they caused their religious
claims to be respected. Corrupt and shameless, they indulged
themselves in every vice, openly acknowledged their children, and
turned Italy upside down in order to establish favourites and bastards
in the principalities they seized as spoils of war.

The kingdom of Naples differed from any other state of Italy. Subject
continually to foreign rulers since the decay of the Greek Empire,
governed in succession by the Normans, the Hohenstauffens, and the
House of Anjou, it had never enjoyed the real independence, or the
free institutions, of the northern provinces; nor had it been
Italianised in the same sense as the rest of the peninsula. Despotism,
which assumed so many forms in Italy, was here neither the tyranny of
a noble house, nor the masked autocracy of a burgher, nor yet the
forceful sway of a condottiere. It had a dynastic character,
resembling the monarchy of one of the great European nations, but
modified by the peculiar conditions of Italian statecraft. Owing to
this dynastic and monarchical complexion of the Neapolitan kingdom,
semi-feudal customs flourished in the south far more than in the north
of Italy. The barons were more powerful; and the destinies of the
Regno often turned upon their feuds and quarrels with the Crown. At
the same time the Neapolitan despots shared the uneasy circumstances
of all Italian potentates, owing to the uncertainty of their tenure,
both as conquerors and aliens, and also as the nominal vassals of the
Holy See. The rights of suzerainty which the Normans had yielded to
the Papacy over their southern conquests, and which the Popes had
arbitrarily exercised in favour of the Angevine princes, proved a
constant source of peril to the rest of Italy by rendering the
succession to the crown of Naples doubtful. On the extinction of the
Angevine line, however, the throne was occupied by a prince who had no
valid title but that of the sword to its possession. Alfonso of Aragon
conquered Naples in 1442, and neglecting his hereditary dominion,
settled in his Italian capital. Possessed with the enthusiasm for
literature which was then the ruling passion of the Italians, and very
liberal to men of learning, Alfonso won for himself the surname of
Magnanimous. On his death, in 1458, he bequeathed his Spanish
kingdom, together with Sicily and Sardinia, to his brother, and left
the fruits of his Italian conquest to his bastard, Ferdinand. This
Ferdinand, whose birth was buried in profound obscurity, was the
reigning sovereign in the year 1492. Of a cruel and sombre
temperament, traitorous and tyrannical, Ferdinand was hated by his
subjects as much as Alfonso had been loved. He possessed, however, to
a remarkable degree, the qualities which at that epoch constituted a
consummate statesman; and though the history of his reign is the
history of plots and conspiracies, of judicial murders and forcible
assassinations, of famines produced by iniquitous taxation, and of
every kind of diabolical tyranny, Ferdinand contrived to hold his own,
in the teeth of a rebellious baronage or a maddened population. His
political sagacity amounted almost to a prophetic instinct in the last
years of his life, when he became aware that the old order was
breaking up in Italy, and had cause to dread that Charles VIII. of
France would prove his title to the kingdom of Naples by force of
arms.[13]

Such were the component parts of the Italian body politic, with the
addition of numerous petty principalities and powers, adhering more or
less consistently to one or other of the greater States. The whole
complex machine was bound together by no sense of common interest,
animated by no common purpose, amenable to no central authority. Even
such community of feeling as one spoken language gives, was lacking.
And yet Italy distinguished herself clearly from the rest of Europe,
not merely as a geographical fact, but also as a people intellectually
and spiritually one. The rapid rise of humanism had aided in producing
this national self-consciousness. Every State and every city was
absorbed in the recovery of culture and in the development of art and
literature. Far in advance of the other European nations, the Italians
regarded the rest of the world as barbarous, priding themselves the
while, in spite of mutual jealousies and hatreds, on their Italic
civilisation. They were enormously wealthy. The resources of the Papal
treasury, the private fortunes of the Florentine bankers, the riches
of the Venetian merchants might have purchased all that France or
Germany possessed of value. The single Duchy of Milan yielded to its
masters 700,000 golden florins of revenue, according to the
computation of De Comines. In default of a confederative system, the
several States were held in equilibrium by diplomacy. By far the most
important people, next to the despots and the captains of adventure,
were ambassadors and orators. War itself had become a matter of
arrangement, bargain, and diplomacy. The game of stratagem was played
by generals who had been friends yesterday and might be friends again
to-morrow, with troops who felt no loyalty whatever for the standards
under which they listed. To avoid slaughter and to achieve the ends of
warfare by parade and demonstration was the interest of every one
concerned. Looking back upon Italy of the fifteenth century, taking
account of her religious deadness and moral corruption, estimating the
absence of political vigour in the republics and the noxious tyranny
of the despots, analysing her lack of national spirit, and comparing
her splendid life of cultivated ease with the want of martial energy,
we can see but too plainly that contact with a simpler and stronger
people could not but produce a terrible catastrophe. The Italians
themselves, however, were far from comprehending this. Centuries of
undisturbed internal intrigue had accustomed them to play the game of
forfeits with each other, and nothing warned them that the time was
come at which diplomacy, finesse, and craft would stand them in ill
stead against rapacious conquerors.

The storm which began to gather over Italy in the year 1492 had its
first beginning in the North. Lodovico Sforza's position in the Duchy
of Milan was becoming every day more difficult, when a slight and to
all appearances insignificant incident converted his apprehension of
danger into panic. It was customary for the States of Italy to
congratulate a new Pope on his election by their ambassadors; and this
ceremony had now to be performed for Roderigo Borgia. Lodovico
proposed that his envoys should go to Rome together with those of
Venice, Naples, and Florence; but Piero de' Medici, whose vanity made
him wish to send an embassy in his own name, contrived that Lodovico's
proposal should be rejected both by Florence and the King of Naples.
So strained was the situation of Italian affairs that Lodovico saw in
this repulse a menace to his own usurped authority. Feeling himself
isolated among the princes of his country, rebuffed by the Medici, and
coldly treated by the King of Naples, he turned in his anxiety to
France, and advised the young king, Charles VIII., to make good his
claim upon the Regno. It was a bold move to bring the foreigner thus
into Italy; and even Lodovico, who prided himself upon his sagacity,
could not see how things would end. He thought his situation so
hazardous, however, that any change must be for the better. Moreover,
a French invasion of Naples would tie the hands of his natural foe,
King Ferdinand, whose granddaughter, Isabella of Aragon, had married
Giovanni Galeazzo Sforza, and was now the rightful Duchess of Milan.
When the Florentine ambassador at Milan asked him how he had the
courage to expose Italy to such peril, his reply betrayed the egotism
of his policy: 'You talk to me of Italy; but when have I looked Italy
in the face? No one ever gave a thought to my affairs. I have,
therefore, had to give them such security as I could.'

Charles VIII. was young, light-brained, romantic, and ruled by
_parvenus_, who had an interest in disturbing the old order of the
monarchy. He lent a willing ear to Lodovico's invitation, backed as
this was by the eloquence and passion of numerous Italian refugees and
exiles. Against the advice of his more prudent counsellors, he taxed
all the resources of his kingdom, and concluded treaties on
disadvantageous terms with England, Germany, and Spain, in order that
he might be able to concentrate all his attention upon the Italian
expedition. At the end of the year 1493, it was known that the
invasion was resolved upon. Gentile Becchi, the Florentine envoy at
the Court of France, wrote to Piero de' Medici: 'If the King succeeds,
it is all over with Italy--_tutta a bordello._' The extraordinary
selfishness of the several Italian States at this critical moment
deserves to be noticed. The Venetians, as Paolo Antonio Soderini
described them to Piero de' Medici, 'are of opinion that to keep
quiet, and to see other potentates of Italy spending and suffering,
cannot but be to their advantage. They trust no one, and feel sure
they have enough money to be able at any moment to raise sufficient
troops, and so to guide events according to their inclinations.' As
the invasion was directed against Naples, Ferdinand of Aragon
displayed the acutest sense of the situation. 'Frenchmen,' he
exclaimed, in what appears like a prophetic passion when contrasted
with the cold indifference of others no less really menaced, 'have
never come into Italy without inflicting ruin; and this invasion, if
rightly considered, cannot but bring universal ruin, although it seems
to menace us alone.' In his agony Ferdinand applied to Alexander VI.
But the Pope looked coldly upon him, because the King of Naples, with
rare perspicacity, had predicted that his elevation to the Papacy
would prove disastrous to Christendom. Alexander preferred to ally
himself with Venice and Milan. Upon this Ferdinand wrote as follows:
'It seems fated that the Popes should leave no peace in Italy. We are
compelled to fight; but the Duke of Bari (_i.e._ Lodovico Sforza)
should think what may ensue from the tumult he is stirring up. He who
raises this wind will not be able to lay the tempest when he likes.
Let him look to the past, and he will see how every time that our
internal quarrels have brought Powers from beyond the Alps into Italy,
these have oppressed and lorded over her.'

Terribly verified as these words were destined to be,--and they were
no less prophetic in their political sagacity than Savonarola's
prediction of the Sword and bloody Scourge,--it was now too late to
avert the coming ruin. On March 1, 1494, Charles was with his army at
Lyons. Early in September he had crossed the pass of Mont Genêvre and
taken up his quarters in the town of Asti. There is no need to
describe in detail the holiday march of the French troops through
Lombardy, Tuscany, and Rome, until, without having struck a blow of
consequence, the gates of Naples opened to receive the conqueror upon
February 22, 1495. Philippe de Comines, who parted from the King at
Asti and passed the winter as his envoy at Venice, has more than once
recorded his belief that nothing but the direct interposition of
Providence could have brought so mad an expedition to so successful a
conclusion. 'Dieu monstroit conduire l'entreprise,' No sooner,
however, was Charles installed in Naples than the States of Italy
began to combine against him. Lodovico Sforza had availed himself of
the general confusion consequent upon the first appearance of the
French, to poison his nephew. He was, therefore, now the titular, as
well as virtual, Lord of Milan. So far, he had achieved what he
desired, and had no further need of Charles. The overtures he now made
to the Venetians and the Pope terminated in a League between these
Powers for the expulsion of the French from Italy. Germany and Spain
entered into the same alliance; and De Comines, finding himself
treated with marked coldness by the Signory of Venice, despatched a
courier to warn Charles in Naples of the coming danger. After a stay
of only fifty days in his new capital, the French King hurried
northward. Moving quickly through the Papal States and Tuscany, he
engaged his troops in the passes of the Apennines near Pontremoli, and
on July 5, 1495, took up his quarters in the village of Fornovo. De
Comines reckons that his whole fighting force at this time did not
exceed 9,000 men, with fourteen pieces of artillery. Against him at
the opening of the valley was the army of the League, numbering some
35,000 men, of whom three-fourths were supplied by Venice, the rest by
Lodovico Sforza and the German Emperor. Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of
Mantua, was the general of the Venetian forces; and on him, therefore,
fell the real responsibility of the battle.

De Comines remarks on the imprudence of the allies, who allowed
Charles to advance as far as Fornovo, when it was their obvious policy
to have established themselves in the village and so have caught the
French troops in a trap. It was a Sunday when the French marched down
upon Fornovo. Before them spread the plain of Lombardy, and beyond it
the white crests of the Alps. 'We were,' says De Comines, 'in a valley
between two little mountain flanks, and in that valley ran a river
which could easily be forded on foot, except when it is swelled with
sudden rains. The whole valley was a bed of gravel and big stones,
very difficult for horses, about a quarter of a league in breadth, and
on the right bank lodged our enemies.' Any one who has visited Fornovo
can understand the situation of the two armies. Charles occupied the
village on the right bank of the Taro. On the same bank, extending
downward toward the plain, lay the host of the allies; and in order
that Charles should escape them, it was necessary that he should cross
the Taro, just below its junction with the Ceno, and reach Lombardy by
marching in a parallel line with his foes.

All through the night of Sunday it thundered and rained incessantly;
so that on the Monday morning the Taro was considerably swollen. At
seven o'clock the King sent for De Comines, who found him already
armed and mounted on the finest horse he had ever seen. The name of
this charger was _Savoy_. He was black, one-eyed, and of middling
height; and to his great courage, as we shall see, Charles owed life
upon that day. The French army, ready for the march, now took to the
gravelly bed of the Taro, passing the river at a distance of about a
quarter of a league from the allies. As the French left Fornovo, the
light cavalry of their enemies entered the village and began to attack
the baggage. At the same time the Marquis of Mantua, with the flower
of his men-at-arms, crossed the Taro and harassed the rear of the
French host; while raids from the right bank to the left were
constantly being made by sharpshooters and flying squadrons. 'At this
moment,' says De Comines, 'not a single man of us could have escaped
if our ranks had once been broken.' The French army was divided into
three main bodies. The vanguard consisted of some 350 men-at-arms,
3000 Switzers, 300 archers of the Guard, a few mounted crossbow-men,
and the artillery. Next came the Battle, and after this the rearguard.
At the time when the Marquis of Mantua made his attack, the French
rearguard had not yet crossed the river. Charles quitted the van, put
himself at the head of his chivalry, and charged the Italian horsemen,
driving them back, some to the village and others to their camp. De
Comines observes, that had the Italian knights been supported in this
passage of arms by the light cavalry of the Venetian force, called
Stradiots, the French must have been outnumbered, thrown into
confusion, and defeated. As it was, these Stradiots were engaged in
plundering the baggage of the French; and the Italians, accustomed to
bloodless encounters, did not venture, in spite of their immense
superiority of numbers, to renew the charge. In the pursuit of
Gonzaga's horsemen Charles outstripped his staff, and was left almost
alone to grapple with a little band of mounted foemen. It was here
that his noble horse, Savoy, saved his person by plunging and charging
till assistance came up from the French, and enabled the King to
regain his van.

It is incredible, considering the nature of the ground and the number
of the troops engaged, that the allies should not have returned to the
attack and have made the passage of the French into the plain
impossible. De Comines, however, assures us that the actual engagement
only lasted a quarter of an hour, and the pursuit of the Italians
three quarters of an hour. After they had once resolved to fly, they
threw away their lances and betook themselves to Reggio and Parma. So
complete was their discomfiture, that De Comines gravely blames the
want of military genius and adventure in the French host. If, instead
of advancing along the left bank of the Taro and there taking up his
quarters for the night, Charles had recrossed the stream and pursued
the army of the allies, he would have had the whole of Lombardy at his
discretion. As it was, the French army encamped not far from the scene
of the action in great discomfort and anxiety. De Comines had to
bivouac in a vineyard, without even a mantle to wrap round him, having
lent his cloak to the King in the morning; and as it had been pouring
all day, the ground could not have afforded very luxurious quarters.
The same extraordinary luck which had attended the French in their
whole expedition, now favoured their retreat; and the same
pusillanimity which the allies had shown at Fornovo, prevented them
from re-forming and engaging with the army of Charles upon the plain.
One hour before daybreak on Tuesday morning, the French broke up their
camp and succeeded in clearing the valley. That night they lodged at
Fiorenzuola, the next at Piacenza, and so on; till on the eighth day
they arrived at Asti without having been so much as incommoded by the
army of the allies in their rear.

Although the field of Fornovo was in reality so disgraceful to the
Italians, they reckoned it a victory upon the technical pretence that
the camp and baggage of the French had been seized. Illuminations and
rejoicings made the piazza of S. Mark in Venice gay, and Francesco da
Gonzaga had the glorious Madonna della Vittoria painted for him by
Mantegna, in commemoration of what ought only to have been remembered
with shame.

A fitting conclusion to this sketch, connecting its close with the
commencement, may be found in some remarks upon the manner of warfare
to which the Italians of the Renaissance had become accustomed, and
which proved so futile on the field of Fornovo. During the middle
ages, and in the days of the Communes, the whole male population of
Italy had fought light-armed on foot. Merchant and artisan left the
counting-house and the workshop, took shield and pike, and sallied
forth to attack the barons in their castles, or to meet the Emperor's
troops upon the field. It was with this national militia that the
citizens of Florence freed their _Contado_ of the nobles, and the
burghers of Lombardy gained the battle of Legnano. In course of time,
by a process of change which it is not very easy to trace, heavily
armed cavalry began to take the place of infantry in mediæval warfare.
Men-at-arms, as they were called, encased from head to foot in iron,
and mounted upon chargers no less solidly caparisoned, drove the
foot-soldiers before them at the points of their long lances. Nowhere
in Italy do they seem to have met with the fierce resistance which the
bears of the Swiss Oberland and the bulls of Uri offered to the
knights of Burgundy. No Tuscan Arnold von Winkelried clasped a dozen
lances to his bosom that the foeman's ranks might thus be broken at
the cost of his own life; nor did it occur to the Italian burghers to
meet the charge of the horsemen with squares protected by bristling
spears. They seem, on the contrary, to have abandoned military service
with the readiness of men whose energies were already absorbed in the
affairs of peace. To become a practised and efficient man-at-arms
required long training and a life's devotion. So much time the
burghers of the free towns could not spare to military service, while
the petty nobles were only too glad to devote themselves to so
honourable a calling. Thus it came to pass that a class of
professional fighting-men was gradually formed in Italy, whose
services the burghers and the princes bought, and by whom the wars of
the peninsula were regularly farmed by contract. Wealth and luxury in
the great cities continued to increase; and as the burghers grew more
comfortable, they were less inclined to take the field in their own
persons, and more disposed to vote large sums of money for the
purchase of necessary aid. At the same time this system suited the
despots, since it spared them the peril of arming their own subjects,
while they taxed them to pay the services of foreign captains. War
thus became a commerce. Romagna, the Marches of Ancona, and other
parts of the Papal dominions, supplied a number of petty nobles whose
whole business in life it was to form companies of trained horsemen,
and with these bands to hire themselves out to the republics and the
despots. Gain was the sole purpose of these captains. They sold their
service to the highest bidder, fighting irrespectively of principle or
patriotism, and passing with the coldest equanimity from the camp of
one master to that of his worst foe. It was impossible that true
military spirit should survive this prostitution of the art of war. A
species of mock warfare prevailed in Italy. Battles were fought with a
view to booty more than victory; prisoners were taken for the sake of
ransom; bloodshed was carefully avoided, for the men who fought on
either side in any pitched field had been comrades with their present
foemen in the last encounter, and who could tell how soon the general
of the one host might not need his rival's troops to recruit his own
ranks? Like every genuine institution of the Italian Renaissance,
warfare was thus a work of fine art, a masterpiece of intellectual
subtlety; and like the Renaissance itself, this peculiar form of
warfare was essentially transitional. The cannon and the musket were
already in use; and it only required one blast of gunpowder to turn
the sham-fight of courtly, traitorous, finessing captains of adventure
into something terribly more real. To men like the Marquis of Mantua
war had been a highly profitable game of skill; to men like the
Maréchal de Gié it was a murderous horseplay; and this difference the
Italians were not slow to perceive. When they cast away their lances
at Fornovo, and fled--in spite of their superior numbers--never to
return, one fair-seeming sham of the fifteenth century became a vision
of the past.

       *       *       *       *       *



_FLORENCE AND THE MEDICI_

     Di Firenze in prima si divisono intra loro i nobili, dipoi i
     nobili e il popolo, e in ultimo il popolo e la plebe; e
     molte volte occorse che una di queste parti rimasa
     superiore, si divise in due.--MACHIAVELLI.


I

Florence, like all Italian cities, owed her independence to the duel
of the Papacy and Empire. The transference of the imperial authority
beyond the Alps had enabled the burghs of Lombardy and Tuscany to
establish a form of self-government. This government was based upon
the old municipal organisation of duumvirs and decemvirs. It was, in
fact, nothing more or less than a survival from the ancient Roman
system. The proof of this was, that while vindicating their rights as
towns, the free cities never questioned the validity of the imperial
title. Even after the peace of Constance in 1183, when Frederick
Barbarossa acknowledged their autonomy, they received within their
walls a supreme magistrate, with power of life and death and ultimate
appeal in all decisive questions, whose title of Potestà indicated
that he represented the imperial power--Potestas. It was not by the
assertion of any right, so much as by the growth of custom, and by the
weakness of the Emperors, that in course of time each city became a
sovereign State. The theoretical supremacy of the Empire prevented any
other authority from taking the first place in Italy. On the other
hand, the practical inefficiency of the Emperors to play their part
encouraged the establishment of numerous minor powers amenable to no
controlling discipline.

The free cities derived their strength from industry, and had nothing
in common with the nobles of the surrounding country. Broadly
speaking, the population of the towns included what remained in Italy
of the old Roman people. This Roman stock was nowhere stronger than in
Florence and Venice--Florence defended from barbarian incursions by
her mountains and marshes, Venice by the isolation of her lagoons. The
nobles, on the contrary, were mostly of foreign origin--Germans,
Franks, and Lombards, who had established themselves as feudal lords
in castles apart from the cities. The force which the burghs acquired
as industrial communities was soon turned against these nobles. The
larger cities, like Milan and Florence, began to make war upon the
lords of castles, and to absorb into their own territory the small
towns and villages around them. Thus in the social economy of the
Italians there were two antagonistic elements ready to range
themselves beneath any banners that should give the form of legitimate
warfare to their mutual hostility. It was the policy of the Church in
the twelfth century to support the cause of the cities, using them as
a weapon against the Empire, and stimulating the growing ambition of
the burghers. In this way Italy came to be divided into the two
world-famous factions known as Guelf and Ghibelline. The struggle
between Guelf and Ghibelline was the struggle of the Papacy for the
depression of the Empire, the struggle of the great burghs face to
face with feudalism, the struggle of the old Italie stock enclosed in
cities with the foreign nobles established in fortresses. When the
Church had finally triumphed by the extirpation of the House of
Hohenstaufen, this conflict of Guelf and Ghibelline was really ended.
Until the reign of Charles V. no Emperor interfered to any purpose in
Italian affairs. At the same time the Popes ceased to wield a
formidable power. Having won the battle by calling in the French, they
suffered the consequences of this policy by losing their hold on Italy
during the long period of their exile at Avignon. The Italians, left
without either Pope or Emperor, were free to pursue their course of
internal development, and to prosecute their quarrels among
themselves. But though the names of Guelf and Ghibelline lost their
old significance after the year 1266 (the date of King Manfred's
death), these two factions had so divided Italy that they continued to
play a prominent part in her annals. Guelf still meant constitutional
autonomy, meant the burgher as against the noble, meant industry as
opposed to feudal lordship. Ghibelline meant the rule of the few over
the many, meant tyranny, meant the interest of the noble as against
the merchant and the citizen. These broad distinctions must be borne
in mind, if we seek to understand how it was that a city like Florence
continued to be governed by parties, the European force of which had
passed away.


II


Florence first rose into importance during the papacy of Innocent III.
Up to this date she had been a town of second-rate distinction even in
Tuscany. Pisa was more powerful by arms and commerce. Lucca was the
old seat of the dukes and marquises of Tuscany. But between the years
1200 and 1250 Florence assumed the place she was to hold
thenceforward, by heading the league of Tuscan cities formed to
support the Guelf party against the Ghibellines. Formally adopting the
Guelf cause, the Florentines made themselves the champions of
municipal liberty in Central Italy; and while they declared war
against the Ghibelline cities, they endeavoured to stamp out the very
name of noble in their State. It is not needful to describe the
varying fortunes of the Guelfs and Ghibellines, the burghers and the
nobles, during the thirteenth and the first half of the fourteenth
centuries. Suffice it to say that through all the vicissitudes of that
stormy period the name Guelf became more and more associated with
republican freedom in Florence. At last, after the final triumph of
that party in 1253, the Guelfs remained victors in the city.
Associating the glory of their independence with Guelf principles, the
citizens of Florence perpetuated within their State a faction that, in
its turn, was destined to prove perilous to liberty.

When it became clear that the republic was to rule itself henceforth
untrammelled by imperial interference, the people divided themselves
into six districts, and chose for each district two Ancients, who
administered the government in concert with the Potestà and the
Captain of the People. The Ancients were a relic of the old Roman
municipal organisation. The Potestà who was invariably a noble
foreigner selected by the people, represented the extinct imperial
right, and exercised the power of life and death within the city. The
Captain of the People, who was also a foreigner, headed the burghers
in their military capacity, for at that period the troops were levied
from the citizens themselves in twenty companies. The body of the
citizens, or the _popolo_, were ultimately sovereigns in the State.
Assembled under the banners of their several companies, they formed a
_parlamento_ for delegating their own power to each successive
government. Their representatives, again, arranged in two councils,
called the Council of the People and the Council of the Commune, under
the presidency of the Captain of the People and the Potestà, ratified
the measures which had previously been proposed and carried by the
executive authority or Signoria. Under this simple State system the
Florentines placed themselves at the head of the Tuscan League, fought
the battles of the Church, asserted their sovereignty by issuing the
golden florin of the republic, and flourished until 1266.


III


In that year an important change was effected in the Constitution.
The whole population of Florence consisted, on the one hand, of nobles
or Grandi, as they were called in Tuscany, and on the other hand of
working people. The latter, divided into traders and handicraftsmen,
were distributed in guilds called Arti; and at that time there were
seven Greater and five Lesser Arti, the most influential of all being
the Guild of the Wool Merchants. These guilds had their halls for
meeting, their colleges of chief officers, their heads, called Consoli
or Priors, and their flags. In 1266 it was decided that the
administration of the commonwealth should be placed simply and wholly
in the hands of the Arti, and the Priors of these industrial companies
became the lords or Signory of Florence. No inhabitant of the city who
had not enrolled himself as a craftsman in one of the guilds could
exercise any function of burghership. To be _scioperato_, or without
industry, was to be without power, without rank or place of honour in
the State. The revolution which placed the Arts at the head of the
republic had the practical effect of excluding the Grandi altogether
from the government. Violent efforts were made by these noble
families, potent through their territorial possessions and foreign
connections, and trained from boyhood in the use of arms, to recover
the place from which the new laws thrust them: but their menacing
attitude, instead of intimidating the burghers, roused their anger and
drove them to the passing of still more stringent laws. In 1293, after
the Ghibellines had been defeated in the great battle of Campaldino, a
series of severe enactments, called the Ordinances of Justice, were
decreed against the unruly Grandi. All civic rights were taken from
them; the severest penalties were attached to their slightest
infringement of municipal law; their titles to land were limited; the
privilege of living within the city walls was allowed them only under
galling restrictions; and, last not least, a supreme magistrate, named
the Gonfalonier of Justice, was created for the special purpose of
watching them and carrying out the penal code against them.
Henceforward Florence was governed exclusively by merchants and
artisans. The Grandi hastened to enrol themselves in the guilds,
exchanging their former titles and dignities for the solid privilege
of burghership. The exact parallel to this industrial constitution for
a commonwealth, carrying on wars with emperors and princes, holding
haughty captains in its pay, and dictating laws to subject cities,
cannot, I think, be elsewhere found in history. It is as unique as the
Florence of Dante and Giotto is unique. While the people was guarding
itself thus stringently against the Grandi, a separate body was
created for the special purpose of extirpating the Ghibellines. A
permanent committee of vigilance, called the College or the Captains
of the Guelf Party, was established. It was their function to
administer the forfeited possessions of Ghibelline rebels, to hunt out
suspected citizens, to prosecute them for Ghibellinism, to judge them,
and to punish them as traitors to the commonwealth. This body, like a
little State within the State, proved formidable to the republic
itself through the unlimited and undefined sway it exercised over
burghers whom it chose to tax with treason. In course of time it
became the oligarchical element within the Florentine democracy, and
threatened to change the free constitution of the city into a
government conducted by a few powerful families.

There is no need to dwell in detail on the internal difficulties of
Florence during the first half of the fourteenth century. Two main
circumstances, however, require to be briefly noticed. These are (i)
the contest of the Blacks and Whites, so famous through the part
played in it by Dante; and (ii) the tyranny of the Duke[1] of Athens,
Walter de Brienne. The feuds of the Blacks and Whites broke up the
city into factions, and produced such anarchy that at last it was
found necessary to place the republic under the protection of foreign
potentates. Charles of Valois was first chosen, and after him the Duke
of Athens, who took up his residence in the city. Entrusted with
dictatorial authority, he used his power to form a military despotism.
Though his reign of violence lasted rather less than a year, it bore
important fruits; for the tyrant, seeking to support himself upon the
favour of the common people, gave political power to the Lesser Arts
at the expense of the Greater, and confused the old State-system by
enlarging the democracy. The net result of these events for Florence
was, first, that the city became habituated to rancorous party-strife,
involving exiles and proscriptions; and, secondly, that it lost its
primitive social hierarchy of classes.


IV


After the Guelfs had conquered the Ghibellines, and the people had
absorbed the Grandi in their guilds, the next chapter in the troubled
history of Florence was the division of the Popolo against itself.
Civil strife now declared itself as a conflict between labour and
capital. The members of the Lesser Arts, craftsmen who plied trades
subordinate to those of the Greater Arts, rose up against their social
and political superiors, demanding a larger share in the government, a
more equal distribution of profits, higher wages, and privileges that
should place them on an absolute equality with the wealthy merchants.
It was in the year 1378 that the proletariate broke out into
rebellion. Previous events had prepared the way for this revolt. First
of all, the republic had been democratised through the destruction of
the Grandi and through the popular policy pursued to gain his own ends
by the Duke of Athens. Secondly, society had been shaken to its very
foundation by the great plague of 1348. Both Boccaccio and Matteo
Villani draw lively pictures of the relaxed morality and loss of order
consequent upon this terrible disaster; nor had thirty years sufficed
to restore their relative position to grades and ranks confounded by
an overwhelming calamity. We may therefore reckon the great plague of
1348 among the causes which produced the anarchy of 1378. Rising in a
mass to claim their privileges, the artisans ejected the Signory from
the Public Palace, and for awhile Florence was at the mercy of the
mob. It is worthy of notice that the Medici, whose name is scarcely
known before this epoch, now came for one moment to the front.
Salvestro de' Medici was Gonfalonier of Justice at the time when the
tumult first broke out. He followed the faction of the handicraftsmen,
and became the hero of the day. I cannot discover that he did more
than extend a sort of passive protection to their cause. Yet there is
no doubt that the attachment of the working classes to the House of
Medici dates from this period. The rebellion of 1378 is known in
Florentine history as the Tumult of the Ciompi. The name Ciompi
strictly means the Wool-Carders. One set of operatives in the city,
and that the largest, gave its title to the whole body of the
labourers. For some months these craftsmen governed the republic,
appointing their own Signory and passing laws in their own interest;
but, as is usual, the proletariate found itself incapable of sustained
government. The ambition and discontent of the Ciompi foamed
themselves away, and industrious working men began to see that trade
was languishing and credit on the wane. By their own act at last they
restored the government to the Priors of the Greater Arti. Still the
movement had not been without grave consequences. It completed the
levelling of classes, which had been steadily advancing from the first
in Florence. After the Ciompi riot there was no longer not only any
distinction between noble and burgher, but the distinction between
greater and lesser guilds was practically swept away. The classes,
parties, and degrees in the republic were so broken up, ground down,
and mingled, that thenceforth the true source of power in the State
was wealth combined with personal ability. In other words, the proper
political conditions had been formed for unscrupulous adventurers.
Florence had become a democracy without social organisation, which
might fall a prey to oligarchs or despots. What remained of deeply
rooted feuds or factions--animosities against the Grandi, hatred for
the Ghibellines, jealousy of labour and capital--offered so many
points of leverage for stirring the passions of the people and for
covering personal ambition with a cloak of public zeal. The time was
come for the Albizzi to attempt an oligarchy, and for the Medici to
begin the enslavement of the State.


V


The Constitution of Florence offered many points of weakness to the
attacks of such intriguers. In the first place it was in its origin
not a political but an industrial organisation--a simple group of
guilds invested with the sovereign authority. Its two most powerful
engines, the Gonfalonier of Justice and the Guelf College, had been
formed, not with a view to the preservation of the government, but
with the purpose of quelling the nobles and excluding a detested
faction. It had no permanent head, like the Doge of Venice; no fixed
senate like the Venetian Grand Council; its chief magistrates, the
Signory, were elected for short periods of two months, and their mode
of election was open to the gravest criticism. Supposed to be chosen
by lot, they were really selected from lists drawn up by the factions
in power from time to time. These factions contrived to exclude the
names of all but their adherents from the bags, or _borse_, in which
the burghers eligible for election had to be inscribed. Furthermore,
it was not possible for this shifting Signory to conduct affairs
requiring sustained effort and secret deliberation; therefore recourse
was being continually had to dictatorial Commissions. The people,
summoned in parliament upon the Great Square, were asked to confer
plenipotentiary authority upon a committee called _Balia_, who
proceeded to do what they chose in the State, and who retained power
after the emergency for which they were created passed away. The same
instability in the supreme magistracy led to the appointment of
special commissioners for war, and special councils, or _Pratiche_,
for the management of each department. Such supplementary commissions
not only proved the weakness of the central authority, but they were
always liable to be made the instruments of party warfare. The Guelf
College was another and a different source of danger to the State. Not
acting under the control of the Signory, but using its own initiative,
this powerful body could proscribe and punish burghers on the mere
suspicion of Ghibellinism. Though the Ghibelline faction had become an
empty name, the Guelf College excluded from the franchise all and
every whom they chose on any pretext to admonish. Under this mild
phrase, _to admonish_, was concealed a cruel exercise of tyranny--it
meant to warn a man that he was suspected of treason, and that he had
better relinquish the exercise of his burghership. By free use of this
engine of Admonition, the Guelf College rendered their enemies
voiceless in the State, and were able to pack the Signory and the
councils with their own creatures. Another important defect in the
Florentine Constitution was the method of imposing taxes. This was
done by no regular system. The party in power made what estimate it
chose of a man's capacity to bear taxation, and called upon him for
extraordinary loans. In this way citizens were frequently driven into
bankruptcy and exile; and since to be a debtor to the State deprived a
burgher of his civic rights, severe taxation was one of the best ways
of silencing and neutralising a dissentient.

I have enumerated these several causes of weakness in the Florentine
State-system, partly because they show how irregularly the
Constitution had been formed by the patching and extension of a simple
industrial machine to suit the needs of a great commonwealth; partly
because it was through these defects that the democracy merged
gradually into a despotism. The art of the Medici consisted in a
scientific comprehension of these very imperfections, a methodic use
of them for their own purposes, and a steady opposition to any
attempts made to substitute a stricter system. The Florentines had
determined to be an industrial community, governing themselves on the
co-operative principle, dividing profits, sharing losses, and exposing
their magistrates to rigid scrutiny. All this in theory was excellent.
Had they remained an unambitious and peaceful commonwealth, engaged in
the wool and silk trade, it might have answered. Modern Europe might
have admired the model of a communistic and commercial democracy. But
when they engaged in aggressive wars, and sought to enslave
sister-cities like Pisa and Lucca, it was soon found that their simple
trading constitution would not serve. They had to piece it out with
subordinate machinery, cumbrous, difficult to manage, ill-adapted to
the original structure. Each limb of this subordinate machinery,
moreover, was a _point d'appui_ for insidious and self-seeking party
leaders.

Florence, in the middle of the fourteenth century, was a vast beehive
of industry. Distinctions of rank among burghers, qualified to vote
and hold office, were theoretically unknown. Highly educated men, of
more than princely wealth, spent their time in shops and
counting-houses, and trained their sons to follow trades. Military
service at this period was abandoned by the citizens; they preferred
to pay mercenary troops for the conduct of their wars. Nor was there,
as in Venice, any outlet for their energies upon the seas. Florence
had no navy, no great port--she only kept a small fleet for the
protection of her commerce. Thus the vigour of the commonwealth was
concentrated on itself; while the influence of the citizens, through
their affiliated trading-houses, correspondents, and agents, extended
like a network over Europe. In a community of this kind it was natural
that wealth--rank and titles being absent--should alone confer
distinction. Accordingly we find that out of the very bosom of the
people a new plutocratic aristocracy begins to rise. The Grandi are
no more; but certain families achieve distinction by their riches,
their numbers, their high spirit, and their ancient place of honour in
the State. These nobles of the purse obtained the name of _Popolani
Nobili_; and it was they who now began to play at high stakes for the
supreme power. In all the subsequent vicissitudes of Florence every
change takes place by intrigue and by clever manipulation of the
political machine. Recourse is rarely had to violence of any kind, and
the leaders of revolutions are men of the yard-measure, never of the
sword. The despotism to which the republic eventually succumbed was no
less commercial than the democracy had been. Florence in the days of
her slavery remained a _Popolo_.


VI


The opening of the second half of the fourteenth century had been
signalised by the feuds of two great houses, both risen from the
people. These were the Albizzi and the Ricci. At this epoch there had
been a formal closing of the lists of burghers;--henceforth no new
families who might settle in the city could claim the franchise, vote
in the assemblies, or hold magistracies. The Guelf College used their
old engine of admonition to persecute _novi homines_, whom they
dreaded as opponents. At the head of this formidable organisation the
Albizzi placed themselves, and worked it with such skill that they
succeeded in driving the Ricci out of all participation in the
government. The tumult of the Ciompi formed but an episode in their
career toward oligarchy; indeed, that revolution only rendered the
political material of the Florentine republic more plastic in the
hands of intriguers, by removing the last vestiges of class
distinctions and by confusing the old parties of the State.

When the Florentines in 1387 engaged in their long duel with Gian
Galeazzo Visconti, the difficulty of conducting this war without some
permanent central authority still further confirmed the power of the
rising oligarchs. The Albizzi became daily more autocratic, until in
1393 their chief, Maso degli Albizzi, a man of strong will and prudent
policy, was chosen Gonfalonier of Justice. Assuming the sway of a
dictator he revised the list of burghers capable of holding office,
struck out the private opponents of his house, and excluded all names
but those of powerful families who were well affected towards an
aristocratic government. The great house of the Alberti were exiled in
a body, declared rebels, and deprived of their possessions, for no
reason except that they seemed dangerous to the Albizzi. It was in
vain that the people murmured against these arbitrary acts. The new
rulers were omnipotent in the Signory, which they packed with their
own men, in the great guilds, and in the Guelf College. All the
machinery invented by the industrial community for its self-management
and self-defence was controlled and manipulated by a close body of
aristocrats, with the Albizzi at their head. It seemed as though
Florence, without any visible alteration in her forms of government,
was rapidly becoming an oligarchy even less open than the Venetian
republic. Meanwhile the affairs of the State were most flourishing.
The strong-handed masters of the city not only held the Duke of Milan
in check, and prevented him from turning Italy into a kingdom; they
furthermore acquired the cities of Pisa, Livorno, Arezzo,
Montepulciano, and Cortona, for Florence, making her the mistress of
all Tuscany, with the exception of Siena, Lucca, and Volterra. Maso
degli Albizzi was the ruling spirit of the commonwealth, spending the
enormous sum of 11,500,000 golden florins on war, raising sumptuous
edifices, protecting the arts, and acting in general like a powerful
and irresponsible prince.

In spite of public prosperity there were signs, however, that this
rule of a few families could not last. Their government was only
maintained by continual revision of the lists of burghers, by
elimination of the disaffected, and by unremitting personal industry.
They introduced no new machinery into the Constitution whereby the
people might be deprived of its titular sovereignty, or their own
dictatorship might be continued with a semblance of legality. Again,
they neglected to win over the new nobles (_nobili popolani_) in a
body to their cause; and thus they were surrounded by rivals ready to
spring upon them when a false step should be made. The Albizzi
oligarchy was a masterpiece of art, without any force to sustain it
but the craft and energy of its constructors. It had not grown up,
like the Venetian oligarchy, by the gradual assimilation to itself of
all the vigour in the State. It was bound, sooner or later, to yield
to the renascent impulse of democracy inherent in Florentine
institutions.


VII


Maso degli Albizzi died in 1417. He was succeeded in the government by
his old friend, Niccolo da Uzzano, a man of great eloquence and
wisdom, whose single word swayed the councils of the people as he
listed. Together with him acted Maso's son, Rinaldo, a youth of even
more brilliant talents than his father, frank, noble, and
high-spirited, but far less cautious.

The oligarchy, which these two men undertook to manage, had
accumulated against itself the discontent of overtaxed, disfranchised,
jealous burghers. The times, too, were bad. Pursuing the policy of
Maso, the Albizzi engaged the city in a tedious and unsuccessful war
with Filippo Maria Visconti, which cost 350,000 golden florins, and
brought no credit. In order to meet extraordinary expenses they raised
new public loans, thereby depreciating the value of the old Florentine
funds. "What was worse, they imposed forced subsidies with grievous
inequality upon the burghers, passing over their friends and
adherents, and burdening their opponents with more than could be
borne. This imprudent financial policy began the ruin of the Albizzi.
It caused a clamour in the city for a new system of more just
taxation, which was too powerful to be resisted. The voice of the
people made itself loudly heard; and with the people on this occasion
sided Giovanni de' Medici. This was in 1427.

It is here that the Medici appear upon that memorable scene where in
the future they are to play the first part. Giovanni de' Medici did
not belong to the same branch of his family as the Salvestro who
favoured the people at the time of the Ciompi Tumult. But he adopted
the same popular policy. To his sons Cosimo and Lorenzo he bequeathed
on his deathbed the rule that they should invariably adhere to the
cause of the multitude, found their influence on that, and avoid the
arts of factious and ambitious leaders. In his own life he had pursued
this course of conduct, acquiring a reputation for civic moderation
and impartiality that endeared him to the people and stood his
children in good stead. Early in his youth Giovanni found himself
almost destitute by reason of the imposts charged upon him by the
oligarchs. He possessed, however, the genius for money-making to a
rare degree, and passed his manhood as a banker, amassing the largest
fortune of any private citizen in Italy. In his old age he devoted
himself to the organisation of his colossal trading business, and
abstained, as far as possible, from political intrigues. Men observed
that they rarely met him in the Public Palace or on the Great Square.

Cosimo de' Medici was thirty years old when his father Giovanni died,
in 1429. During his youth he had devoted all his time and energy to
business, mastering the complicated affairs of Giovanni's
banking-house, and travelling far and wide through Europe to extend
its connections. This education made him a consummate financier; and
those who knew him best were convinced that his ambition was set on
great things. However quietly he might begin, it was clear that he
intended to match himself, as a leader of the plebeians, against the
Albizzi. The foundations he prepared for future action were equally
characteristic of the man, of Florence, and of the age. Commanding the
enormous capital of the Medicean bank he contrived, at any sacrifice
of temporary convenience, to lend money to the State for war expenses,
engrossing in his own hands a large portion of the public debt of
Florence. At the same time his agencies in various European capitals
enabled him to keep his own wealth floating far beyond the reach of
foes within the city. A few years of this system ended in so complete
a confusion between Cosimo's trade and the finances of Florence that
the bankruptcy of the Medici, however caused, would have compromised
the credit of the State and the fortunes of the fund-holders. Cosimo,
in a word, made himself necessary to Florence by the wise use of his
riches. Furthermore, he kept his eye upon the list of burghers,
lending money to needy citizens, putting good things in the way of
struggling traders, building up the fortunes of men who were disposed
to favour his party in the State, ruining his opponents by the
legitimate process of commercial competition, and, when occasion
offered, introducing new voters into the Florentine Council by paying
off the debts of those who were disqualified by poverty from using the
franchise. While his capital was continually increasing he lived
frugally, and employed his wealth solely for the consolidation of his
political influence. By these arts Cosimo became formidable to the
oligarchs and beloved by the people. His supporters were numerous, and
held together by the bonds of immediate necessity or personal
cupidity. The plebeians and the merchants were all on his side. The
Grandi and the Ammoniti, excluded from the State by the practices of
the Albizzi, had more to hope from the Medicean party than from the
few families who still contrived to hold the reins of government. It
was clear that a conflict to the death must soon commence between the
oligarchy and this new faction.


VIII


At last, in 1433, war was declared. The first blow was struck by
Rinaldo degli Albizzi, who put himself in the wrong by attacking a
citizen indispensable to the people at large, and guilty of no
unconstitutional act. On September 7th of that year, a year decisive
for the future destinies of Florence, he summoned Cosimo to the Public
Palace, which he had previously occupied with troops at his command.
There he declared him a rebel to the State, and had him imprisoned in
a little square room in the central tower. The tocsin was sounded; the
people were assembled in parliament upon the piazza. The Albizzi held
the main streets with armed men, and forced the Florentines to place
plenipotentiary power for the administration of the commonwealth at
this crisis in the hands of a Balia, or committee selected by
themselves. It was always thus that acts of high tyranny were effected
in Florence. A show of legality was secured by gaining the compulsory
sanction of the people, driven by soldiery into the public square, and
hastily ordered to recognise the authority of their oppressors.

The bill of indictment against the Medici accused them of sedition in
the year 1378--that is, in the year of the Ciompi Tumult--and of
treasonable practice during the whole course of the Albizzi
administration. It also strove to fix upon them the odium of the
unsuccessful war against the town of Lucca. As soon as the Albizzi had
unmasked their batteries, Lorenzo de' Medici managed to escape from
the city, and took with him his brother Cosimo's children to Venice.
Cosimo remained shut up within the little room called Barberia in
Arnolfo's tower. From that high eagle's nest the sight can range
Valdarno far and wide. Florence with her towers and domes lies below;
and the blue peaks of Carrara close a prospect westward than
which, with its villa-jewelled slopes and fertile gardens, there is
nought more beautiful upon the face of earth. The prisoner can have
paid but little heed to this fair landscape. He heard the frequent
ringing of the great bell that called the Florentines to council, the
tramp of armed men on the piazza, the coming and going of the burghers
in the palace halls beneath. On all sides lurked anxiety and fear of
death. Each mouthful he tasted might be poisoned. For many days he
partook of only bread and water, till his gaoler restored his
confidence by sharing all his meals. In this peril he abode
twenty-four days. The Albizzi, in concert with the Balia they had
formed, were consulting what they might venture to do with him. Some
voted for his execution. Others feared the popular favour, and thought
that if they killed Cosimo this act would ruin their own power. The
nobler natures among them determined to proceed by constitutional
measures. At last, upon September 29th, it was settled that Cosimo
should be exiled to Padua for ten years. The Medici were declared
Grandi, by way of excluding them from political rights. But their
property remained untouched; and on October 3rd, Cosimo was released.

On the same day Cosimo took his departure. His journey northward
resembled a triumphant progress. He left Florence a simple burgher; he
entered Venice a powerful prince. Though the Albizzi seemed to have
gained the day, they had really cut away the ground beneath their
feet. They committed the fatal mistake of doing both too much and too
little--too much because they declared war against an innocent man,
and roused the sympathies of the whole people in his behalf; too
little, because they had not the nerve to complete their act by
killing him outright and extirpating his party. Machiavelli, in one of
his profoundest and most cynical critiques, remarks that few men know
how to be thoroughly bad with honour to themselves. Their will is
evil; but the grain of good in them--some fear of public opinion,
some repugnance to committing a signal crime--paralyses their arm at
the moment when it ought to have been raised to strike. He instances
Gian Paolo Baglioni's omission to murder Julius II., when that Pope
placed himself within his clutches at Perugia. He might also have
instanced Rinaldo degli Albizzi's refusal to push things to
extremities by murdering Cosimo. It was the combination of despotic
violence in the exile of Cosimo with constitutional moderation in the
preservation of his life, that betrayed the weakness of the oligarchs
and restored confidence to the Medicean party.


IX


In the course of the year 1434 this party began to hold up its head.
Powerful as the Albizzi were, they only retained the government by
artifice; and now they had done a deed which put at nought their
former arts and intrigues. A Signory favourable to the Medici came
into office, and on September 26th, 1434, Rinaldo in his turn was
summoned to the palace and declared a rebel. He strove to raise the
forces of his party, and entered the piazza at the head of eight
hundred men. The menacing attitude of the people, however, made
resistance perilous. Rinaldo disbanded his troops, and placed himself
under the protection of Pope Eugenius IV., who was then resident in
Florence. This act of submission proved that Rinaldo had not the
courage or the cruelty to try the chance of civil war. Whatever his
motives may have been, he lost his hold upon the State beyond
recovery. On September 29th, a new parliament was summoned; on October
2nd, Cosimo was recalled from exile and the Albizzi were banished. The
intercession of the Pope procured for them nothing but the liberty to
leave Florence unmolested. Einaldo turned his back upon the city he
had governed, never to set foot in it again. On October 6th, Cosimo,
having passed through Padua, Ferrara, and Modena like a conqueror,
reentered the town amid the plaudits of the people, and took up his
dwelling as an honoured guest in the Palace of the Republic. The
subsequent history of Florence is the history of his family. In after
years the Medici loved to remember this return of Cosimo. His
triumphal reception was painted in fresco on the walls of their villa
at Cajano under the transparent allegory of Cicero's entrance into
Rome.


X


By their brief exile the Medici had gained the credit of injured
innocence, the fame of martyrdom in the popular cause. Their foes had
struck the first blow, and in striking at them had seemed to aim
against the liberties of the republic. The mere failure of their
adversaries to hold the power they had acquired, handed over this
power to the Medici; and the reprisals which the Medici began to take
had the show of justice, not of personal hatred, or petty vengeance.
Cosimo was a true Florentine. He disliked violence, because he knew
that blood spilt cries for blood. His passions, too, were cool and
temperate. No gust of anger, no intoxication of success, destroyed his
balance. His one object, the consolidation of power for his family on
the basis of popular favour, was kept steadily in view; and he would
do nothing that might compromise that end. Yet he was neither generous
nor merciful. We therefore find that from the first moment of his
return to Florence he instituted a system of pitiless and unforgiving
persecution against his old opponents. The Albizzi were banished, root
and branch, with all their followers, consigned to lonely and often to
unwholesome stations through the length and breadth of Italy. If they
broke the bonds assigned them, they were forthwith declared traitors
and their property was confiscated. After a long series of years, by
merely keeping in force the first sentence pronounced upon them,
Cosimo had the cruel satisfaction of seeing the whole of that proud
oligarchy die out by slow degrees in the insufferable tedium of
solitude and exile. Even the high-souled Palla degli Strozzi, who had
striven to remain neutral, and whose wealth and talents were devoted
to the revival of classical studies, was proscribed because to Cosimo
he seemed too powerful. Separated from his children, he died in
banishment at Padua. In this way the return of the Medici involved the
loss to Florence of some noble citizens, who might perchance have
checked the Medicean tyranny if they had stayed to guide the State.
The plebeians, raised to wealth and influence by Cosimo before his
exile, now took the lead in the republic. He used these men as
catspaws, rarely putting himself forward or allowing his own name to
appear, but pulling the wires of government in privacy by means of
intermediate agents. The Medicean party was called at first _Puccini_
from a certain Puccio, whose name was better known in caucus or
committee than that of his real master.

To rule through these creatures of his own making taxed all the
ingenuity of Cosimo; but his profound and subtle intellect was suited
to the task, and he found unlimited pleasure in the exercise of his
consummate craft. We have already seen to what extent he used his
riches for the acquisition of political influence. Now that he had
come to power, he continued the same method, packing the Signory and
the Councils with men whom he could hold by debt between his thumb and
finger. His command of the public moneys enabled him to wink at
peculation in State offices; it was part of his system to bind
magistrates and secretaries to his interest by their consciousness of
guilt condoned but not forgotten. Not a few, moreover, owed their
living to the appointments he procured for them. While he thus
controlled the wheel-work of the commonwealth by means of organised
corruption, he borrowed the arts of his old enemies to oppress
dissentient citizens. If a man took an independent line in voting,
and refused allegiance to the Medicean party, he was marked out for
persecution. No violence was used; but he found himself hampered in
his commerce--money, plentiful for others, became scarce for him; his
competitors in trade were subsidised to undersell him. And while the
avenues of industry were closed, his fortune was taxed above its
value, until he had to sell at a loss in order to discharge his public
obligations. In the first twenty years of the Medicean rule, seventy
families had to pay 4,875,000 golden florins of extraordinary imposts,
fixed by arbitrary assessment.

The more patriotic members of his party looked with dread and loathing
on this system of corruption and exclusion. To their remonstrances
Cosimo replied in four memorable sayings: 'Better the State spoiled
than the State not ours.' 'Governments cannot be carried on with
paternosters.' 'An ell of scarlet makes a burgher.' 'I aim at finite
ends.' These maxims represent the whole man,--first, in his egotism,
eager to gain Florence for his family, at any risk of her ruin;
secondly, in his cynical acceptance of base means to selfish ends;
thirdly, in his bourgeois belief that money makes a man, and fine
clothes suffice for a citizen; fourthly, in his worldly ambition bent
on positive success. It was, in fact, his policy to reduce Florence to
the condition of a rotten borough: nor did this policy fail. One
notable sign of the influence he exercised was the change which now
came over the foreign relations of the republic. Up to the date of his
dictatorship Florence had uniformly fought the battle of freedom in
Italy. It was the chief merit of the Albizzi oligarchy that they
continued the traditions of the mediæval State, and by their vigorous
action checked the growth of the Visconti. Though they engrossed the
government they never forgot that they were first of all things
Florentines, and only in the second place men who owed their power and
influence to office. In a word, they acted like patriotic Tories, like
republican patricians. Therefore they would not ally themselves with
tyrants or countenance the enslavement of free cities by armed
despots. Their subjugation of the Tuscan burghs to Florence was itself
part of a grand republican policy. Cosimo changed all this. When the
Visconti dynasty ended by the death of Filippo Maria in 1447, there
was a chance of restoring the independence of Lombardy. Milan in
effect declared herself a republic, and by the aid of Florence she
might at this moment have maintained her liberty. Cosimo, however,
entered into treaty with Francesco Sforza, supplied him with money,
guaranteed him against Florentine interference, and saw with
satisfaction how he reduced the duchy to his military tyranny. The
Medici were conscious that they, selfishly, had most to gain by
supporting despots who in time of need might help them to confirm
their own authority. With the same end in view, when the legitimate
line of the Bentivogli was extinguished, Cosimo hunted out a bastard
pretender of that family, presented him to the chiefs of the
Bentivogli faction, and had him placed upon the seat of his supposed
ancestors at Bologna. This young man, a certain Santi da Cascese,
presumed to be the son of Ercole de' Bentivogli, was an artisan in a
wool factory when Cosimo set eyes upon him. At first Santi refused the
dangerous honour of governing a proud republic; but the intrigues of
Cosimo prevailed, and the obscure craftsman ended his days a powerful
prince.

By the arts I have attempted to describe, Cosimo in the course of his
long life absorbed the forces of the republic into himself. While he
shunned the external signs of despotic power he made himself the
master of the State. His complexion was of a pale olive; his stature
short; abstemious and simple in his habits, affable in conversation,
sparing of speech, he knew how to combine that burgher-like civility
for which the Romans praised Augustus, with the reality of a despotism
all the more difficult to combat because it seemed nowhere and was
everywhere. When he died, at the age of seventy-five, in 1464, the
people whom he had enslaved, but whom he had neither injured nor
insulted, honoured him with the title of _Pater Patriæ_. This was
inscribed upon his tomb in S. Lorenzo. He left to posterity the fame
of a great and generous patron,[14] the infamy of a cynical,
self-seeking, bourgeois tyrant. Such combinations of contradictory
qualities were common enough at the time of the Renaissance. Did not
Machiavelli spend his days in tavern-brawls and low amours, his nights
among the mighty spirits of the dead, with whom, when he had changed
his country suit of homespun for the habit of the Court, he found
himself an honoured equal?


XI


Cosimo had shown consummate skill by governing Florence through a
party created and raised to influence by himself. The jealousy of
these adherents formed the chief difficulty with which his son Piero
had to contend. Unless the Medici could manage to kick down the ladder
whereby they had risen, they ran the risk of losing all. As on a
former occasion, so now they profited by the mistakes of their
antagonists. Three chief men of their own party, Diotisalvi Neroni,
Agnolo Acciaiuoli, and Luca Pitti, determined to shake off the yoke of
their masters, and to repay the Medici for what they owed by leading
them to ruin. Niccolo Soderini, a patriot, indignant at the slow
enslavement of his country, joined them. At first they strove to
undermine the credit of the Medici with the Florentines by inducing
Piero to call in the moneys placed at interest by his father in the
hands of private citizens. This act was unpopular; but it did not
suffice to move a revolution. To proceed by constitutional measures
against the Medici was judged impolitic. Therefore the conspirators
decided to take, if possible, Piero's life. The plot failed, chiefly
owing to the coolness and the cunning of the young Lorenzo, Piero's
eldest son. Public sympathy was strongly excited against the
aggressors. Neroni, Acciaiuoli, and Soderini were exiled. Pitti was
allowed to stay, dishonoured, powerless, and penniless, in Florence.
Meanwhile, the failure of their foes had only served to strengthen the
position of the Medici. The ladder had saved them the trouble of
kicking it down.

The congratulations addressed on this occasion to Piero and Lorenzo by
the ruling powers of Italy show that the Medici were already regarded
as princes outside Florence. Lorenzo and Giuliano, the two sons of
Piero, travelled abroad to the Courts of Milan and Ferrara with the
style and state of more than simple citizens. At home they occupied
the first place on all occasions of public ceremony, receiving royal
visitors on terms of equality, and performing the hospitalities of the
republic like men who had been born to represent its dignities.
Lorenzo's marriage to Clarice Orsini, of the noble Roman house, was
another sign that the Medici were advancing on the way toward
despotism. Cosimo had avoided foreign alliances for his children. His
descendants now judged themselves firmly planted enough to risk the
odium of a princely match for the sake of the support outside the city
they might win.


XII



Piero de' Medici died in December 1469. His son Lorenzo was then
barely twenty-two years of age. The chiefs of the Medicean party,
all-powerful in the State, held a council, in which they resolved to
place him in the same position as his father and grandfather. This
resolve seems to have been formed after mature deliberation, on the
ground that the existing conditions of Italian politics rendered it
impossible to conduct the government without a presidential head.
Florence, though still a democracy, required a permanent chief to
treat on an equality with the princes of the leading cities. Here we
may note the prudence of Cosimo's foreign policy. When he helped to
establish despots in Milan and Bologna he was rendering the presidency
of his own family in Florence necessary.

Lorenzo, having received this invitation, called attention to his
youth and inexperience. Yet he did not refuse it; and, after a
graceful display of diffidence, he accepted the charge, entering thus
upon that famous political career, in the course of which he not only
established and maintained a balance of power in Italy, with Florence
for the central city, but also contrived to remodel the government of
the republic in the interest of his own family and to strengthen the
Medici by relations with the Papal See.

The extraordinary versatility of this man's intellectual and social
gifts, his participation in all the literary and philosophical
interests of his century, his large and liberal patronage of art, and
the gaiety with which he joined the people of Florence in their
pastimes--Mayday games and Carnival festivities--strengthened his hold
upon the city in an age devoted to culture and refined pleasure.
Whatever was most brilliant in the spirit of the Italian Benaissance
seemed to be incarnate in Lorenzo. Not merely as a patron and a
dilettante, but as a poet and a critic, a philosopher and scholar, he
proved himself adequate to the varied intellectual ambitions of his
country. Penetrated with the passion for erudition which distinguished
Florence in the fifteenth century, familiar with her painters and her
sculptors, deeply read in the works of her great poets, he conceived
the ideal of infusing the spirit of antique civility into modern life,
and of effecting for society what the artists were performing in their
own sphere. To preserve the native character of the Florentine genius,
while he added the grace of classic form, was the aim to which his
tastes and instincts led him. At the same time, while he made himself
the master of Florentine revels and the Augustus of Renaissance
literature, he took care that beneath his carnival masks and
ball-dress should be concealed the chains which he was forging for the
republic.

What he lacked, with so much mental brilliancy, was moral greatness.
The age he lived in was an age of selfish despots, treacherous
generals, godless priests. It was an age of intellectual vigour and
artistic creativeness; but it was also an age of mean ambition, sordid
policy, and vitiated principles. Lorenzo remained true in all respects
to the genius of this age: true to its enthusiasm for antique culture,
true to its passion for art, true to its refined love of pleasure; but
true also to its petty political intrigues, to its cynical
selfishness, to its lack of heroism. For Florence he looked no higher
and saw no further than Cosimo had done. If culture was his pastime,
the enslavement of the city by bribery and corruption was the hard
work of his manhood. As is the case with much Renaissance art, his
life was worth more for its decorative detail than for its
constructive design. In richness, versatility, variety, and
exquisiteness of execution, it left little to be desired; yet, viewed
at a distance, and as a whole, it does not inspire us with a sense of
architectonic majesty.


XIII


Lorenzo's chief difficulties arose from the necessity under which,
like Cosimo, he laboured of governing the city through its old
institutions by means of a party. To keep the members of this party in
good temper, and to gain their approval for the alterations he
effected in the State machinery of Florence, was the problem of his
life. The successful solution of this problem was easier now, after
two generations of the Medicean ascendency, than it had been at first.
Meanwhile the people were maintained in good humour by public shows,
ease, plenty, and a general laxity of discipline. The splendour of
Lorenzo's foreign alliances and the consideration he received from all
the Courts of Italy contributed in no small measure to his popularity
and security at home. By using his authority over Florence to inspire
respect abroad, and by using his foreign credit to impose upon the
burghers, Lorenzo displayed the tact of a true Italian diplomatist.
His genius for statecraft, as then understood, was indeed of a rare
order, equally adapted to the conduct of a complicated foreign policy
and to the control of a suspicious and variable Commonwealth. In one
point alone he was inferior to his grandfather. He neglected commerce,
and allowed his banking business to fall into disorder so hopeless
that in course of time he ceased to be solvent. Meanwhile his personal
expenses, both as a prince in his own palace, and as the
representative of majesty in Florence, continually increased. The
bankruptcy of the Medici, it had long been foreseen, would involve the
public finances in serious confusion. And now, in order to retrieve
his fortunes, Lorenzo was not only obliged to repudiate his debts to
the exchequer, but had also to gain complete disposal of the State
purse. It was this necessity that drove him to effect the
constitutional revolution of 1480, by which he substituted a Privy
Council of seventy members for the old Councils of the State,
absorbing the chief functions of the commonwealth into this single
body, whom he practically nominated at pleasure. The same want of
money led to the great scandal of his reign--the plundering of the
Monte delle Doti, or State Insurance Office Fund for securing dowers
to the children of its creditors.


XIV


While tracing the salient points of Lorenzo de' Medici's
administration I have omitted to mention the important events which
followed shortly after his accession to power in 1469. What happened
between that date and 1480 was not only decisive for the future
fortunes of the Casa Medici, but it was also eminently characteristic
of the perils and the difficulties which beset Italian despots. The
year 1471 was signalised by a visit by the Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza
of Milan, and his wife Bona of Savoy, to the Medici in Florence. They
came attended by their whole Court--body guards on horse and foot,
ushers, pages, falconers, grooms, kennel-varlets, and huntsmen.
Omitting the mere baggage service, their train counted two thousand
horses. To mention this incident would be superfluous, had not so
acute an observer as Machiavelli marked it out as a turning-point in
Florentine history. Now, for the first time, the democratic
commonwealth saw its streets filled with a mob of courtiers. Masques,
balls, and tournaments succeeded each other with magnificent variety;
and all the arts of Florence were pressed into the service of these
festivals. Machiavelli says that the burghers lost the last remnant of
their old austerity of manners, and became, like the degenerate
Romans, ready to obey the masters who provided them with brilliant
spectacles. They gazed with admiration on the pomp of Italian
princes, their dissolute and godless living, their luxury and prodigal
expenditure; and when the Medici affected similar habits in the next
generation, the people had no courage to resist the invasion of their
pleasant vices.

In the same year, 1471, Volterra was reconquered for the Florentines
by Frederick of Urbino. The honours of this victory, disgraced by a
brutal sack of the conquered city, in violation of its articles of
capitulation, were reserved for Lorenzo, who returned in triumph to
Florence. More than ever he assumed the prince, and in his person
undertook to represent the State.

In the same year, 1471, Francesco della Rovere was raised to the
Papacy with the memorable name of Sixtus IV. Sixtus was a man of
violent temper and fierce passions, restless and impatiently
ambitious, bent on the aggrandisement of the beautiful and wanton
youths, his nephews. Of these the most aspiring was Girolamo Riario,
for whom Sixtus bought the town of Imola from Taddeo Manfredi, in
order that he might possess the title of count and the nucleus of a
tyranny in the Romagna. This purchase thwarted the plans of Lorenzo,
who wished to secure the same advantages for Florence. Smarting with
the sense of disappointment, he forbade the Roman banker, Francesco
Pazzi, to guarantee the purchase-money. By this act Lorenzo made two
mortal foes--the Pope and Francesco Pazzi. Francesco was a thin, pale,
atrabilious fanatic, all nerve and passion, with a monomaniac
intensity of purpose, and a will inflamed and guided by imagination--a
man formed by nature for conspiracy, such a man, in fact, as Shakspere
drew in Cassius. Maddened by Lorenzo's prohibition, he conceived the
notion of overthrowing the Medici in Florence by a violent blow.
Girolamo Riario entered into his views. So did Francesco Salviati,
Archbishop of Pisa, who had private reasons for hostility. These men
found no difficulty in winning over Sixtus to their plot; nor is it
possible to purge the Pope of participation in what followed. I need
not describe by what means Francesco drew the other members of his
family into the scheme, and how he secured the assistance of armed
cut-throats. Suffice it to say that the chief conspirators, with the
exception of the Count Girolamo, betook themselves to Florence, and
there, after the failure of other attempts, decided to murder Lorenzo
and his brother Giuliano in the cathedral on Sunday, April 26th, 1478.
The moment when the priest at the high altar finished the mass, was
fixed for the assassination. Everything was ready. The conspirators,
by Judas kisses and embracements, had discovered that the young men
wore no protective armour under their silken doublets. Pacing the
aisle behind the choir, they feared no treason. And now the lives of
both might easily have been secured, if at the last moment the courage
of the hired assassins had not failed them. Murder, they said, was
well enough; but they could not bring themselves to stab men before
the newly consecrated body of Christ. In this extremity a priest was
found who, 'being accustomed to churches,' had no scruples. He and
another reprobate were told off to Lorenzo. Francesco de' Pazzi
himself undertook Giuliano. The moment for attack arrived. Francesco
plunged his dagger into the heart of Giuliano. Then, not satisfied
with this death-blow, he struck again, and in his heat of passion
wounded his own thigh. Lorenzo escaped with a flesh-wound from the
poniard of the priest, and rushed into the sacristy, where his friend
Poliziano shut and held the brazen door. The plot had failed; for
Giuliano, of the two brothers, was the one whom the conspirators would
the more willingly have spared. The whole church was in an uproar. The
city rose in tumult. Rage and horror took possession of the people.
They flew to the Palazzo Pubblico and to the houses of the Pazzi,
hunted the conspirators from place to place, hung the archbishop by
the neck from the palace windows, and, as they found fresh victims
for their fury, strung them one by one in a ghastly row at his side
above the Square. About one hundred in all were killed. None who had
joined in the plot escaped; for Lorenzo had long arms, and one man,
who fled to Constantinople, was delivered over to his agents by the
Sultan. Out of the whole Pazzi family only Guglielmo, the husband of
Bianca de' Medici, was spared. When the tumult was over, Andrea del
Castagno painted the portraits of the traitors head-downwards upon the
walls of the Bargello Palace, in order that all men might know what
fate awaited the foes of the Medici and of the State of Florence.[15]
Meanwhile a bastard son of Giuliano's was received into the Medicean
household, to perpetuate his lineage. This child, named Giulio, was
destined to be famous in the annals of Italy and Florence under the
title of Pope Clement VII.


XV


As is usual when such plots miss their mark, the passions excited
redounded to the profit of the injured party. The commonwealth felt
that the blow struck at Lorenzo had been aimed at their majesty.
Sixtus, on the other hand, could not contain his rage at the failure
of so ably planned a _coup de main_. Ignoring that he had sanctioned
the treason, that a priest had put his hand to the dagger, that the
impious deed had been attempted in a church before the very Sacrament
of Christ, whose vicar on earth he was, the Pope now excommunicated
the republic. The reason he alleged was, that the Florentines had
dared to hang an archbishop.

Thus began a war to the death between Sixtus and Florence. The Pope
inflamed the whole of Italy, and carried on a ruinous campaign in
Tuscany. It seemed as though the republic might lose her subject
cities, always ready to revolt when danger threatened the sovereign
State. Lorenzo's position became critical. Sixtus made no secret of
the hatred he bore him personally, declaring that he fought less with
Florence than with the Medici. To support the odium of this long war
and this heavy interdict alone, was more than he could do. His allies
forsook him. Naples was enlisted on the Pope's side. Milan and the
other States of Lombardy were occupied with their own affairs, and
held aloof. In this extremity he saw that nothing but a bold step
could save him. The league formed by Sixtus must be broken up at any
risk, and, if possible, by his own ability. On December 6th, 1479,
Lorenzo left Florence, unarmed and unattended, took ship at Leghorn,
and proceeded to the court of the enemy, King Ferdinand, at Naples.
Ferdinand was a cruel and treacherous sovereign, who had murdered his
guest, Jacopo Piccinino, at a banquet given in his honour. But
Ferdinand was the son of Alfonso, who, by address and eloquence, had
gained a kingdom from his foe and jailor, Filippo Maria Visconti.
Lorenzo calculated that he too, following Alfonso's policy, might
prove to Ferdinand how little there was to gain from an alliance with
Rome, how much Naples and Florence, firmly united together for offence
and defence, might effect in Italy.

Only a student of those perilous times can appreciate the courage and
the genius, the audacity combined with diplomatic penetration,
displayed by Lorenzo at this crisis. He calmly walked into the lion's
den, trusting he could tame the lion and teach it, and all in a few
days. Nor did his expectation fail. Though Lorenzo was rather ugly
than handsome, with a dark skin, heavy brows, powerful jaws, and nose
sharp in the bridge and broad at the nostrils, without grace of
carriage or melody of voice, he possessed what makes up for personal
defects--the winning charm of eloquence in conversation, a subtle wit,
profound knowledge of men, and tact allied to sympathy, which placed
him always at the centre of the situation. Ferdinand received him
kindly. The Neapolitan nobles admired his courage and were fascinated
by his social talents. On March 1st, 1480, he left Naples again,
having won over the King by his arguments. When he reached Florence he
was able to declare that he brought home a treaty of peace and
alliance signed by the most powerful foe of the republic. The success
of this bold enterprise endeared Lorenzo more than ever to his
countrymen. In the same year they concluded a treaty with Sixtus, who
was forced against his will to lay down arms by the capture of Otranto
and the extreme peril of Turkish invasion. After the year 1480 Lorenzo
remained sole master in Florence, the arbiter and peacemaker of the
rest of Italy.


XVI


The conjuration of the Pazzi was only one in a long series of similar
conspiracies. Italian despots gained their power by violence and
wielded it with craft. Violence and craft were therefore used against
them. When the study of the classics had penetrated the nation with
antique ideas of heroism, tyrannicide became a virtue. Princes were
murdered with frightful frequency. Thus Gian Maria Visconti was put to
death at Milan in 1412; Galeazzo Maria Sforza in 1484; the Chiarelli
of Fabriano were massacred in 1435; the Baglioni of Perugia in 1500;
Girolamo Gentile planned the assassination of Galeazzo Sforza at Genoa
in 1476; Niccolo d'Este conspired against his uncle Ercole in 1476;
Stefano Porcari attempted the life of Nicholas V. at Rome in 1453;
Lodovico Sforza narrowly escaped a violent death in 1453. I might
multiply these instances beyond satiety. As it is, I have selected
but a few examples falling, all but one, within the second half of the
fifteenth century. Nearly all these attempts upon the lives of princes
were made in church during the celebration of sacred offices. There
was no superfluity of naughtiness, no wilful sacrilege, in this choice
of an occasion. It only testified to the continual suspicion and
guarded watchfulness maintained by tyrants. To strike at them except
in church was almost impossible. Meanwhile the fate of the
tyrannicides was uniform. Successful or not, they perished. Yet so
grievous was the pressure of Italian despotism, so glorious was the
ideal of Greek and Roman heroism, so passionate the temper of the
people, that to kill a prince at any cost to self appeared the crown
of manliness. This bloodshed exercised a delirious fascination: pure
and base, personal and patriotic motives combined to add intensity of
fixed and fiery purpose to the murderous impulse. Those then who, like
the Medici, aspired to tyranny and sought to found a dynasty of
princes, entered the arena against a host of unknown and unseen
gladiators.


XVII


On his deathbed, in 1492, Lorenzo lay between two men--Angelo
Poliziano and Girolamo Savonarola. Poliziano incarnated the genial,
radiant, godless spirit of fifteenth-century humanism. Savonarola
represented the conscience of Italy, self-convicted, amid all her
greatness, of crimes that called for punishment. It is said that when
Lorenzo asked the monk for absolution, Savonarola bade him first
restore freedom to Florence. Lorenzo, turned his face to the wall and
was silent. How indeed could he make this city in a moment free, after
sixty years of slow and systematic corruption? Savonarola left him,
and he died unshriven. This legend is doubtful, though it rests on
excellent if somewhat partial authority. It has, at any rate, the
value of a mythus, since it epitomises the attitude assumed by the
great preacher to the prince. Florence enslaved, the soul of Lorenzo
cannot lay its burden down, but must go with all its sins upon it to
the throne of God.

The year 1492 was a memorable year for Italy. In this year Lorenzo's
death removed the keystone of the arch that had sustained the fabric
of Italian federation. In this year Roderigo Borgia was elected Pope.
In this year Columbus discovered America; Vasco de Gama soon after
opened a new way to the Indies, and thus the commerce of the world
passed from Italy to other nations. In this year the conquest of
Granada gave unity to the Spanish nation. In this year France, through
the lifelong craft of Louis XI., was for the first time united under a
young hot-headed sovereign. On every side of the political horizon
storms threatened. It was clear that a new chapter of European history
had been opened. Then Savonarola raised his voice, and cried that the
crimes of Italy, the abominations of the Church, would speedily be
punished. Events led rapidly to the fulfilment of this prophecy.
Lorenzo's successor, Piero de' Medici, was a vain, irresolute, and
hasty princeling, fond of display, proud of his skill in fencing and
football-playing, with too much of the Orsini blood in his hot veins,
with too little of the Medicean craft in his weak head. The Italian
despots felt they could not trust Piero, and this want of confidence
was probably the first motive that impelled Lodovico Sforza to call
Charles VIII. into Italy in 1494.

It will not be necessary to dwell upon this invasion of the French,
except in so far as it affected Florence. Charles passed rapidly
through Lombardy, engaged his army in the passes of the Apennines, and
debouched upon the coast where the Magra divided Tuscany from Liguria.
Here the fortresses of Sarzana and Pietra Santa, between the marble
bulwark of Carrara and the Tuscan sea, stopped his further progress.
The keys were held by the Florentines. To force these strong positions
and to pass beyond them seemed impossible. It might have been
impossible if Piero de' Medici had possessed a firmer will. As it was,
he rode off to the French camp, delivered up the forts to Charles,
bound the King by no engagements, and returned not otherwise than
proud of his folly to Florence. A terrible reception awaited him. The
Florentines, in their fury, had risen and sacked the Medicean palace.
It was as much as Piero, with his brothers, could do to escape beyond
the hills to Venice. The despotism of the Medici, so carefully built
up, so artfully sustained and strengthened, was overthrown in a single
day.


XVIII


Before considering what happened in Florence after the expulsion of
the Medici, it will be well to pause a moment and review the state in
which Lorenzo had left his family. Piero, his eldest son, recognised
as chief of the republic after his father's death, was married to
Alfonsina Orsini, and was in his twenty-second year. Giovanni, his
second son, a youth of seventeen, had just been made cardinal. This
honour, of vast importance for the Casa Medici in the future, he owed
to his sister Maddalena's marriage to Franceschetto Cybo, son of
Innocent VIII. The third of Lorenzo's sons, named Giuliano, was a boy
of thirteen. Giulio, the bastard son of the elder Giuliano, was
fourteen. These four princes formed the efficient strength of the
Medici, the hope of the house; and for each of them, with the
exception of Piero, who died in exile, and of whom no more notice need
be taken, a brilliant destiny was still in store. In the year 1495,
however, they now wandered, homeless and helpless, through the cities
of Italy, each of which was shaken to its foundations by the French
invasion.


XIX


Florence, left without the Medici, deprived of Pisa and other subject
cities by the passage of the French army, with no leader but the monk
Savonarola, now sought to reconstitute her liberties. During the
domination of the Albizzi and the Medici the old order of the
commonwealth had been completely broken up. The Arti had lost their
primitive importance. The distinctions between the Grandi and the
Popolani had practically passed away. In a democracy that has
submitted to a lengthened course of tyranny, such extinction of its
old life is inevitable. Yet the passion for liberty was still
powerful; and the busy brains of the Florentines were stored with
experience gained from their previous vicissitudes, from \ the study
of antique history, and from the observation of existing constitutions
in the towns of Italy. They now determined to reorganise the State
upon the model of the Venetian republic. The Signory was to remain,
with its old institution of Priors, Gonfalonier, and College, elected
for brief periods. These magistrates were to take the initiative in
debate, to propose measures, and to consider plans of action. The real
power of the State, for voting supplies and ratifying the measures of
the Signory, was vested in a senate of one thousand members, called
the Grand Council, from whom a smaller body of forty, acting as
intermediates between the Council and the Signory, were elected. It is
said that the plan of this constitution originated with Savonarola;
nor is there any doubt that he used all his influence in the pulpit of
the Duomo to render it acceptable to the people. Whoever may have been
responsible for its formation, the new government was carried in
1495, and a large hall for the assembly of the Grand Council was
opened in the Public Palace.

Savonarola, meanwhile, had become the ruling spirit of Florence. He
gained his great power as a preacher: he used it like a monk. The
motive principle of his action was the passion for reform. To bring
the Church back to its pristine state of purity, without altering its
doctrine or suggesting any new form of creed; to purge Italy of
ungodly customs; to overthrow the tyrants who encouraged evil living,
and to place the power of the State in the hands of sober citizens:
these were his objects. Though he set himself in bold opposition to
the reigning Pope, he had no desire to destroy the spiritual supremacy
of S. Peter's see. Though he burned with an enthusiastic zeal for
liberty, and displayed rare genius for administration, he had no
ambition to rule Florence like a dictator. Savonarola was neither a
reformer in the northern sense of the word, nor yet a political
demagogue. His sole wish was to see purity of manners and freedom of
self-government re-established. With this end in view he bade the
Florentines elect Christ as their supreme chief; and they did so. For
the same end he abstained from appearing in the State Councils, and
left the Constitution to work by its own laws. His personal influence
he reserved for the pulpit; and here he was omnipotent. The people
believed in him as a prophet. They turned to him as the man who knew
what he wanted--as the voice of liberty, the soul of the new régime,
the genius who could breathe into the commonwealth a breath of fresh
vitality. When, therefore, Savonarola preached a reform of manners, he
was at once obeyed. Strict laws were passed enforcing sobriety,
condemning trades of pleasure, reducing the gay customs of Florence to
puritanical austerity.

Great stress has been laid upon this reaction of the monk-led populace
against the vices of the past. Yet the historian is bound to pronounce
that the reform effected by Savonarola was rather picturesque than
vital. Like all violent revivals of pietism, it produced a no less
violent reaction. The parties within the city who resented the
interference of a preaching friar, joined with the Pope in Rome, who
hated a contumacious schismatic in Savonarola. Assailed by these two
forces at the same moment, and driven upon perilous ground by his own
febrile enthusiasm, Savonarola succumbed. He was imprisoned, tortured,
and burned upon the public square in 1498.

What Savonarola really achieved for Florence was not a permanent
reform of morality, but a resuscitation of the spirit of freedom. His
followers, called in contempt _I Piagnoni_, or the Weepers, formed the
path of the commonwealth in future; and the memory of their martyr
served as a common bond of sympathy to unite them in times of trial.
It was a necessary consequence of the peculiar part he played that the
city was henceforth divided into factions representing mutually
antagonistic principles. These factions were not created by
Savonarola; but his extraordinary influence accentuated, as it were,
the humours that lay dormant in the State. Families favourable to the
Medici took the name of _Palleschi_. Men who chafed against
puritanical reform, and who were eager for any government that should
secure them their old licence, were known as _Compagnacci_. Meanwhile
the oligarchs, who disliked a democratic Constitution, and thought it
possible to found an aristocracy without the intervention of the
Medici, came to be known as _Gli Ottimati_. Florence held within
itself, from this epoch forward to the final extinction of liberty,
four great parties: the _Piagnoni_, passionate for political freedom
and austerity of life; the _Palleschi_, favourable to the Medicean
cause, and regretful of Lorenzo's pleasant rule; the _Compagnacci_,
intolerant of the reformed republic, neither hostile nor loyal to the
Medici, but desirous of personal licence; the _Ottimati_, astute and
selfish, watching their own advantage, ever-mindful to form a narrow
government of privileged families, disinclined to the Medici, except
when they thought the Medici might be employed as instruments in their
intrigues.


XX


During the short period of Savonarola's ascendency, Florence was in
form at least a Theocracy, without any titular head but Christ; and as
long as the enthusiasm inspired by the monk lasted, as long as his
personal influence endured, the Constitution of the Grand Council
worked well. After his death it was found that the machinery was too
cumbrous. While adopting the Venetian form of government, the
Florentines had omitted one essential element--the Doge. By referring
measures of immediate necessity to the Grand Council, the republic
lost precious time. Dangerous publicity, moreover, was incurred; and
so large a body often came to no firm resolution. There was no
permanent authority in the State; no security that what had been
deliberated would be carried out with energy; no titular chief, who
could transact affairs with foreign potentates and their ambassadors.
Accordingly, in 1502, it was decreed that the Gonfalonier should hold
office for life--should be in fact a Doge. To this important post of
permanent president Piero Soderini was appointed; and in his hands
were placed the chief affairs of the republic.

At this point Florence, after all her vicissitudes, had won her way to
something really similar to the Venetian Constitution. Yet the
similarity existed more in form than in fact. The government of
burghers in a Grand Council, with a Senate of forty, and a Gonfalonier
for life, had not grown up gradually and absorbed into itself the
vital forces of the commonwealth. It was a creation of inventive
intelligence, not of national development, in Florence. It had against
it the jealousy of the Ottimati, who felt themselves overshadowed by
the Gonfalonier; the hatred of the Palleschi, who yearned for the
Medici; the discontent of the working classes, who thought the
presence of a Court in Florence would improve trade; last, but not
least, the disaffection of the Compagnacci, who felt they could not
flourish to their heart's content in a free commonwealth. Moreover,
though the name of liberty was on every lip, though the Florentines
talked, wrote, and speculated more about constitutional independence
than they had ever done, the true energy of free institutions had
passed from the city. The corrupt government of Cosimo and Lorenzo
bore its natural fruit now. Egotistic ambition and avarice supplanted
patriotism and industry. It is necessary to comprehend these
circumstances, in order that the next revolution may be clearly
understood.


XXI


During the ten years which elapsed between 1502 and 1512, Piero
Soderini administered Florence with an outward show of great
prosperity. He regained Pisa, and maintained an honourable foreign
policy in the midst of the wars stirred up by the League of Cambray.
Meanwhile the young princes of the House of Medici had grown to
manhood in exile. The Cardinal Giovanni was thirty-seven in 1512. His
brother Giuliano was thirty-three. Both of these men were better
fitted than their brother Piero to fight the battles of the family.
Giovanni, in particular, had inherited no small portion of the
Medicean craft. During the troubled reign of Julius II. he kept very
quiet, cementing his connections with powerful men in Rome, but making
no effort to regain his hold on Florence. Now the moment for striking
a decisive blow had come. After the battle of Ravenna in 1512, the
French were driven out of Italy, and the Sforzas returned to Milan;
the Spanish troops, under the Viceroy Cardona, remained masters of the
country. Following the camp of these Spaniards, Giovanni de' Medici
entered Tuscany in August, and caused the restoration of the Medici
to be announced in Florence. The people, assembled by Soderini,
resolved to resist to the uttermost. No foreign army should force them
to receive the masters whom they had expelled. Yet their courage
failed on August 29th, when news reached them of the capture and the
sack of Prato. Prato is a sunny little city a few miles distant from
the walls of Florence, famous for the beauty of its women, the
richness of its gardens, and the grace of its buildings. Into this gem
of cities the savage soldiery of Spain marched in the bright autumnal
weather, and turned the paradise into a hell. It is even now
impossible to read of what they did in Prato without shuddering.[16]
Cruelty and lust, sordid greed for gold, and cold delight in
bloodshed, could go no further. Giovanni de' Medici, by nature mild
and voluptuous, averse to violence of all kinds, had to smile
approval, while the Spanish Viceroy knocked thus with mailed hand for
him at the door of Florence. The Florentines were paralysed with
terror. They deposed Soderini and received the Medici. Giovanni and
Giuliano entered their devastated palace in the Via Larga, abolished
the Grand Council, and dealt with the republic as they listed.


XXII


There was no longer any medium in Florence possible between either
tyranny or some such government as the Medici had now destroyed. The
State was too rotten to recover even the modified despotism of
Lorenzo's days. Each transformation had impaired some portion of its
framework, broken down some of its traditions, and sowed new seeds of
egotism in citizens who saw all things round them change but
self-advantage. Therefore Giovanni and Giuliano felt themselves secure
in flattering the popular vanity by an empty parade of the old
institutions. They restored the Signory and the Gonfalonier, elected
for intervals of two months by officers appointed for this purpose by
the Medici. Florence had the show of a free government. But the Medici
managed all things; and soldiers, commanded by their creature, Paolo
Vettori, held the Palace and the Public Square. The tyranny thus
established was less secure, inasmuch as it openly rested upon
violence, than Lorenzo's power had been; nor were there signs wanting
that the burghers could ill brook their servitude. The conspiracy of
Pietro Paolo Boscoli and Agostino Capponi proved that the Medicean
brothers ran daily risk of life. Indeed, it is not likely that they
would have succeeded in maintaining their authority--for they were
poor and ill-supported by friends outside the city--except for one
most lucky circumstance: that was the election of Giovanni de' Medici
to the Papacy in 1513.

The creation of Leo X. spread satisfaction throughout Italy.
Politicians trusted that he would display some portion of his father's
ability, and restore peace to the nation. Men of arts and letters
expected everything from a Medicean Pope, who had already acquired the
reputation of polite culture and open-handed generosity. They at any
rate were not deceived. Leo's first words on taking his place in the
Vatican were addressed to his brother Giuliano: 'Let us enjoy the
Papacy, now that God has given it to us;' and his notion of enjoyment
was to surround himself with court-poets, jesters, and musicians, to
adorn his Roman palaces with frescoes, to collect statues and
inscriptions, to listen to Latin speeches, and to pass judgment upon
scholarly compositions. Any one and every one who gave him sensual or
intellectual pleasure, found his purse always open. He lived in the
utmost magnificence, and made Rome the Paris of the Renaissance for
brilliance, immorality, and self-indulgent ease. The politicians had
less reason to be satisfied. Instead of uniting the Italians and
keeping the great Powers of Europe in check, Leo carried on a series
of disastrous petty wars, chiefly with the purpose of establishing the
Medici as princes. He squandered the revenues of the Church, and left
enormous debts behind him--an exchequer ruined and a foreign policy so
confused that peace for Italy could only be obtained by servitude.

Florence shared in the general rejoicing which greeted Leo's accession
to the Papacy. He was the first Florentine citizen who had received
the tiara, and the popular vanity was flattered by this honour to the
republic. Political theorists, meanwhile, began to speculate what
greatness Florence, in combination with Rome, might rise to. The Pope
was young; he ruled a large territory, reduced to order by his warlike
predecessors. It seemed as though the republic, swayed by him, might
make herself the first city in Italy, and restore the glories of her
Guelf ascendency upon the platform of Renaissance statecraft. There
was now no overt opposition to the Medici in Florence. How to govern
the city from Rome, and how to advance the fortunes of his brother
Giuliano and his nephew Lorenzo (Piero's son, a young man of
twenty-one), occupied the Pope's most serious attention. For Lorenzo
Leo obtained the Duchy of Urbino and the hand of a French princess.
Giuliano was named Gonfalonier of the Church. He also received the
French title of Duke of Nemours and the hand of Filiberta, Princess of
Savoy. Leo entertained a further project of acquiring the crown of
Southern Italy for his brother, and thus of uniting Rome, Florence,
and Naples under the headship of his house. Nor were the Medicean
interests neglected in the Church. Giulio, the Pope's bastard cousin,
was made cardinal. He remained in Rome, acting as vice-chancellor and
doing the hard work of the Papal Government for the pleasure-loving
pontiff.

To Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, the titular head of the family, was
committed the government of Florence. During their exile, wandering
from court to court in Italy, the Medici had forgotten what it was to
be burghers, and had acquired the manners of princes. Leo alone
retained enough of caution to warn his nephew that the Florentines
must still be treated as free people. He confirmed the constitution of
the Signory and the Privy Council of seventy established by his
father, bidding Lorenzo, while he ruled this sham republic, to avoid
the outer signs of tyranny. The young duke at first behaved with
moderation, but he could not cast aside his habits of a great lord.
Florence now for the first time saw a regular court established in her
midst, with a prince, who, though he bore a foreign title, was in fact
her master. The joyous days of Lorenzo the Magnificent returned.
Masquerades and triumphs filled the public squares. Two clubs of
pleasure, called the Diamond and the Branch--badges adopted by the
Medici to signify their firmness in disaster and their power of
self-recovery--were formed to lead the revels. The best sculptors and
painters devoted their genius to the invention of costumes and cars.
The city affected to believe that the age of gold had come again.


XXIII


Fortune had been very favourable to the Medici. They had returned as
princes to Florence. Giovanni was Pope. Giuliano was Gonfalonier of
the Church. Giulio was Cardinal and Archbishop of Florence. Lorenzo
ruled the city like a sovereign. But this prosperity was no less brief
than it was brilliant. A few years sufficed to sweep off all the
chiefs of the great house. Giuliano died in 1516, leaving only a
bastard son Ippolito. Lorenzo died in 1519, leaving a bastard son
Alessandro, and a daughter, six days old, who lived to be the Queen of
France. Leo died in 1521. There remained now no legitimate male
descendants from the stock of Cosimo. The honours and pretensions of
the Medici devolved upon three bastards--on the Cardinal Giulio, and
the two boys, Alessandro and Ippolito. Of these, Alessandro was a
mulatto, his mother having been a Moorish slave in the Palace of
Urbino; and whether his father was Giulio, or Giuliano, or a base
groom, was not known for certain. To such extremities were the Medici
reduced. In order to keep their house alive, they were obliged to
adopt this foundling. It is true that the younger branch of the
family, descended from Lorenzo, the brother of Cosimo, still
flourished. At this epoch it was represented by Giovanni, the great
general known as the Invincible, whose bust so strikingly resembles
that of Napoleon. But between this line of the Medici and the elder
branch there had never been true cordiality. The Cardinal mistrusted
Giovanni. It may, moreover, be added, that Giovanni was himself doomed
to death in the year 1526.

Giulio de' Medici was left in 1521 to administer the State of Florence
single-handed. He was archbishop, and he resided in the city, holding
it with the grasp of an absolute ruler. Yet he felt his position
insecure. The republic had no longer any forms of self-government; nor
was there a magistracy to whom the despot could delegate his power in
his absence. Giulio's ambition was fixed upon the Papal crown. The
bastards he was rearing were but children. Florence had therefore to
be furnished with some political machinery that should work of itself.
The Cardinal did not wish to give freedom to the city, but clockwork.
He was in the perilous situation of having to rule a commonwealth
without life, without elasticity, without capacity of self-movement,
yet full of such material as, left alone, might ferment, and breed a
revolution. In this perplexity, he had recourse to advisers. The most
experienced politicians, philosophical theorists, practical
diplomatists, and students of antique history were requested to
furnish him with plans for a new constitution, just as you ask an
architect to give you the plan of a new house. This was the field-day
of the doctrinaires. Now was seen how much political sagacity the
Florentines had gained while they were losing liberty. We possess
these several drafts of constitutions. Some recommend tyranny; some
incline to aristocracy, or what Italians called _Governo Stretto_;
some to democracy, or _Governo Largo_; some to an eclectic compound of
the other forms, or _Governo Misto_. More consummate masterpieces of
constructive ingenuity can hardly be imagined. What is omitted in all,
is just what no doctrinaire, no nostrum can communicate--the breath of
life, the principle of organic growth. Things had come, indeed, to a
melancholy pass for Florence when her tyrant, in order to confirm his
hold upon her, had to devise these springs and irons to support her
tottering limbs.


XXIV


While the archbishop and the doctors were debating, a plot was
hatching in the Rucellai Gardens. It was here that the Florentine
Academy now held their meetings. For this society Machiavelli wrote
his 'Treatise on the Art of War,' and his 'Discourses upon Livy.' The
former was an exposition of Machiavelli's scheme for creating a
national militia, as the only safeguard for Italy, exposed at this
period to the invasions of great foreign armies. The latter is one of
the three or four masterpieces produced by the Florentine school of
critical historians. Stimulated by the daring speculations of
Machiavelli, and fired to enthusiasm by their study of antiquity, the
younger academicians formed a conspiracy for murdering Giulio de'
Medici, and restoring the republic on a Roman model. An intercepted
letter betrayed their plans. Two of the conspirators were taken and
beheaded. Others escaped. But the discovery of this conjuration put a
stop to Giulio's scheme of reforming the State. Henceforth he ruled
Florence like a despot, mild in manners, cautious in the exercise of
arbitrary power, but firm in his autocracy. The Condottiere.
Alessandro Vitelli, with a company of soldiers, was taken into service
for the protection of his person and the intimidation of the citizens.

In 1523, the Pope, Adrian VI., expired after a short papacy, from
which he gained no honour and Italy no profit. Giulio hurried to Rome,
and, by the clever use of his large influence, caused himself to be
elected with the title of Clement VII. In Florence he left Silvio
Passerini, Cardinal of Cortona, as his vicegerent and the guardian of
the two boys Alessandro and Ippolito. The discipline of many years had
accustomed the Florentines to a government of priests. Still the
burghers, mindful of their ancient liberties, were galled by the yoke
of a Cortonese, sprung up from one of their subject cities; nor could
they bear the bastards who were being reared to rule them. Foreigners
threw it in their teeth that Florence, the city glorious of art and
freedom, was become a stable for mules--_stalla da muli_, in the
expressive language of popular sarcasm. Bastardy, it may be said in
passing, carried with it small dishonour among the Italians. The
Estensi were all illegitimate; the Aragonese house in Naples sprang
from Alfonso's natural son; and children of Popes ranked among the
princes. Yet the uncertainty of Alessandro's birth and the base
condition of his mother made the prospect of this tyrant peculiarly
odious; while the primacy of a foreign cardinal in the midst of
citizens whose spirit was still unbroken, embittered the cup of
humiliation. The Casa Medici held its authority by a slender thread,
and depended more upon the disunion of the burghers than on any power
of its own. It could always reckon on the favour of the lower
populace, who gained profit and amusement from the presence of a
court. The Ottimati again hoped more from a weak despotism than from a
commonwealth, where their privileges would have been merged in the
mass of the Grand Council. Thus the sympathies of the plebeians and
the selfishness of the rich patricians prevented the republic from
asserting itself. On this meagre basis of personal cupidity the Medici
sustained themselves. What made the situation still more delicate, and
at the same time protracted the feeble rule of Clement, was that
neither the Florentines nor the Medici had any army. Face to face with
a potentate so considerable as the Pope, a free State could not be
established without military force. On the other hand, the Medici,
supported by a mere handful of mercenaries, had no power to resist a
popular rising if any external event should inspire the middle classes
with a hope of liberty.


XXV


Clement assumed the tiara at a moment of great difficulty. Leo had
ruined the finance of Rome. France and Spain were still contending for
the possession of Italy. While acting as Vice-Chancellor, Giulio de'
Medici had seemed to hold the reins with a firm grasp, and men
expected that he would prove a powerful Pope; but in those days he had
Leo to help him; and Leo, though indolent, was an abler man than his
cousin. He planned, and Giulio executed. Obliged to act now for
himself, Clement revealed the weakness of his nature. That weakness
was irresolution, craft without wisdom, diplomacy without knowledge of
men. He raised the storm, and showed himself incapable of guiding it.
This is not the place to tell by what a series of crooked schemes and
cross purposes he brought upon himself the ruin of the Church and
Rome, to relate his disagreement with the Emperor, or to describe
again the sack of the Eternal City by the rabble of the Constable de
Bourbon's army. That wreck of Rome in 1527 was the closing scene of
the Italian Renaissance--the last of the Apocalyptic tragedies
foretold by Savonarola--the death of the old age.

When the Florentines knew what was happening in Rome, they rose and
forced the Cardinal Passerini to depart with the Medicean bastards
from the city. The youth demanded arms for the defence of the town,
and they received them. The whole male population was enrolled in a
militia. The Grand Council was reformed, and the republic was restored
upon the basis of 1495. Niccolo Capponi was elected Gonfalonier. The
name of Christ was again registered as chief of the commonwealth--to
such an extent did the memory of Savonarola still sway the popular
imagination. The new State hastened to form an alliance with France,
and Malatesta Baglioni was chosen as military Commander-in-Chief.
Meanwhile the city armed itself for siege--Michel Angelo Buonarroti
and Francesco da San Gallo undertaking the construction of new forts
and ramparts. These measures were adopted with sudden decision,
because it was soon known that Clement had made peace with the
Emperor, and that the army which had sacked Rome was going to be
marched on Florence.


XXVI


In the month of August 1529 the Prince of Orange assembled his forces
at Terni, and thence advanced by easy stages into Tuscany. As he
approached, the Florentines laid waste their suburbs, and threw down
their wreath of towers, in order that the enemy might have no
harbourage or points of vantage for attack. Their troops were
concentrated within the city, where a new Gonfalonier, Francesco
Carducci, furiously opposed to the Medici, and attached to the
Piagnoni party, now ruled. On September 4th the Prince of Orange
appeared before the walls, and opened the memorable siege. It lasted
eight months, at the end of which time, betrayed by their generals,
divided among themselves, and worn out with delays, the Florentines
capitulated. Florence was paid as compensation for the insult offered
to the pontiff in the sack of Rome.

The long yoke of the Medici had undermined the character of the
Florentines. This, their last glorious struggle for liberty, was but a
flash in the pan--a final flare-up of the dying lamp. The city was not
satisfied with slavery; but it had no capacity for united action. The
Ottimati were egotistic and jealous of the people. The Palleschi
desired to restore the Medici at any price--some of them frankly
wishing for a principality, others trusting that the old
quasi-republican government might still be reinstated. The Red
Republicans, styled Libertini and Arrabbiati, clung together in blind
hatred of the Medicean party; but they had no further policy to guide
them. The Piagnoni, or Frateschi, stuck to the memory of Savonarola,
and believed that angels would descend to guard the battlements when
human help had failed. These enthusiasts still formed the true nerve
of the nation--the class that might have saved the State, if salvation
had been possible. Even as it was, the energy of their fanaticism
prolonged the siege until resistance seemed no longer physically
possible. The hero developed by the crisis was Francesco Ferrucci, a
plebeian who had passed his youth in manual labour, and who now
displayed rare military genius. He fell fighting outside the walls of
Florence. Had he commanded the troops from the beginning, and remained
inside the city, it is just possible that the fate of the war might
have been less disastrous. As it was, Malatesta Baglioni, the
Commander-in-Chief, turned out an arrant scoundrel. He held secret
correspondence with Clement and the Prince of Orange. It was he who
finally sold Florence to her foes, 'putting on his head,' as the Doge
of Venice said before the Senate, 'the cap of the biggest traitor upon
record.'


XXVII


What remains of Florentine history may be briefly told. Clement, now
the undisputed arbiter of power and honour in the city, chose
Alessandro de' Medici to be prince. Alessandro was created Duke of
Cività di Penna, and married to a natural daughter of Charles V.
Ippolito was made a cardinal. Ippolito would have preferred a secular
to a priestly kingdom; nor did he conceal his jealousy for his cousin.
Therefore Alessandro had him poisoned. Alessandro in his turn was
murdered by his kinsman, Lorenzino de' Medici. Lorenzino paid the
usual penalty of tyrannicide some years later. When Alessandro was
killed in 1539, Clement had himself been dead five years. Thus the
whole posterity of Cosimo de' Medici, with the exception of Catherine,
Queen of France, was utterly extinguished. But the Medici had struck
root so firmly in the State, and had so remodelled it upon the type of
tyranny, that the Florentines were no longer able to do without them.
The chiefs of the Ottimati selected Cosimo, the representative of
Giovanni the Invincible, for their prince, and thus the line of the
elder Lorenzo came at last to power. This Cosimo was a boy of
eighteen, fond of field-sports, and unused to party intrigues. When
Francesco Guicciardini offered him a privy purse of one hundred and
twenty thousand ducats annually, together with the presidency of
Florence, this wily politician hoped that he would rule the State
through Cosimo, and realise at last that dream of the Ottimati, a
_Governo Stretto_ or _di Pochi_. He was notably mistaken in his
calculations. The first days of Cosimo's administration showed that
he possessed the craft of his family and the vigour of his immediate
progenitors, and that he meant to be sole master in Florence. He it
was who obtained the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany from the Pope--a
title confirmed by the Emperor, fortified by Austrian alliances, and
transmitted through his heirs to the present century.


XXVIII


In this sketch of Florentine history, I have purposely omitted all
details that did not bear upon the constitutional history of the
republic, or on the growth of the Medici as despots; because I wanted
to present a picture of the process whereby that family contrived to
fasten itself upon the freest and most cultivated State in Italy. This
success the Medici owed mainly to their own obstinacy, and to the
weakness of republican institutions in Florence. Their power was
founded upon wealth in the first instance, and upon the ingenuity with
which they turned the favour of the proletariate to use. It was
confirmed by the mistakes and failures of their enemies, by Rinaldo
degli Albizzi's attack on Cosimo, by the conspiracy of Neroni and
Pitti against Piero, and by Francesco de' Pazzi's attempt to
assassinate Lorenzo. It was still further strengthened by the Medicean
sympathy for arts and letters--a sympathy which placed both Cosimo and
Lorenzo at the head of the Renaissance movement, and made them worthy
to represent Florence, the city of genius, in the fifteenth century.
While thus founding and cementing their dynastic influence upon the
basis of a widespread popularity, the Medici employed persistent
cunning in the enfeeblement of the Republic. It was their policy not
to plant themselves by force or acts of overt tyranny, but to corrupt
ambitious citizens, to secure the patronage of public officers, and to
render the spontaneous working of the State machinery impossible. By
pursuing this policy over a long series of years they made the revival
of liberty in 1494, and again in 1527, ineffectual. While exiled from
Florence, they never lost the hope of returning as masters, so long as
the passions they had excited, and they alone could gratify, remained
in full activity. These passions were avarice and egotism, the greed
of the grasping Ottimati, the jealousy of the nobles, the
self-indulgence of the proletariate. Yet it is probable they might
have failed to recover Florence, on one or other of these two
occasions, but for the accident which placed Giovanni de' Medici on
the Papal chair, and enabled him to put Giulio in the way of the same
dignity. From the accession of Leo in 1513 to the year 1527 the Medici
ruled Florence from Rome, and brought the power of the Church into the
service of their despotism. After that date they were still further
aided by the imperial policy of Charles V., who chose to govern Italy
through subject princes, bound to himself by domestic alliances and
powerful interests. One of these was Cosimo, the first Grand Duke of
Tuscany.

       *       *       *       *       *



_THE DEBT OF ENGLISH TO ITALIAN LITERATURE_


To an Englishman one of the chief interests of the study of Italian
literature is derived from the fact that, between England and Italy,
an almost uninterrupted current of intellectual intercourse has been
maintained throughout the last five centuries. The English have never,
indeed, at any time been slavish imitators of the Italians; but Italy
has formed the dreamland of the English fancy, inspiring poets with
their most delightful thoughts, supplying them with subjects, and
implanting in their minds that sentiment of Southern beauty which,
engrafted on our more passionately imaginative Northern nature, has
borne rich fruit in the works of Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakspere,
Milton, and the poets of this century.

It is not strange that Italy should thus in matters of culture have
been the guide and mistress of England. Italy, of all the European
nations, was the first to produce high art and literature in the dawn
of modern civilisation. Italy was the first to display refinement in
domestic life, polish of manners, civilities of intercourse. In Italy
the commerce of courts first developed a society of men and women,
educated by the same traditions of humanistic culture. In Italy the
principles of government were first discussed and reduced to theory.
In Italy the zeal for the classics took its origin; and scholarship,
to which we owe our mental training, was at first the possession of
none almost but Italians. It therefore followed that during the age of
the Renaissance any man of taste or genius, who desired to share the
newly discovered privileges of learning, had to seek Italy. Every one
who wished to be initiated into the secrets of science or philosophy,
had to converse with Italians in person or through books. Every one
who was eager to polish his native language, and to render it the
proper vehicle of poetic thought, had to consult the masterpieces of
Italian literature. To Italians the courtier, the diplomatist, the
artist, the student of statecraft and of military tactics, the
political theorist, the merchant, the man of laws, the man of arms,
and the churchman turned for precedents and precepts. The nations of
the North, still torpid and somnolent in their semi-barbarism, needed
the magnetic touch of Italy before they could awake to intellectual
life. Nor was this all. Long before the thirst for culture possessed
the English mind, Italy had appropriated and assimilated all that
Latin literature contained of strong or splendid to arouse the thought
and fancy of the modern world; Greek, too, was rapidly becoming the
possession of the scholars of Florence and Rome; so that English men
of letters found the spirit of the ancients infused into a modern
literature; models of correct and elegant composition existed for them
in a language easy, harmonious, and not dissimilar in usage to their
own.

The importance of this service, rendered by Italians to the rest of
Europe, cannot be exaggerated. By exploring, digesting, and
reproducing the classics, Italy made the labour of scholarship
comparatively light for the Northern nations, and extended to us the
privilege of culture without the peril of losing originality in the
enthusiasm for erudition. Our great poets could handle lightly, and
yet profitably, those masterpieces of Greece and Rome, beneath the
weight of which, when first discovered, the genius of the Italians had
wavered. To the originality of Shakspere an accession of wealth
without weakness was brought by the perusal of Italian works, in which
the spirit of the antique was seen as in a modern mirror. Then, in
addition to this benefit of instruction, Italy gave to England a gift
of pure beauty, the influence of which, in refining our national
taste, harmonising the roughness of our manners and our language, and
stimulating our imagination, has been incalculable. It was a not
unfrequent custom for young men of ability to study at the Italian
universities, or at least to undertake a journey to the principal
Italian cities. From their sojourn in that land of loveliness and
intellectual life they returned with their Northern brains most
powerfully stimulated. To produce, by masterpieces of the imagination,
some work of style that should remain as a memento of that glorious
country, and should vie on English soil with the art of Italy, was
their generous ambition. Consequently the substance of the stories
versified by our poets, the forms of our metres, and the cadences of
our prose periods reveal a close attention to Italian originals.

This debt of England to Italy in the matter of our literature began
with Chaucer. Truly original and national as was the framework of the
'Canterbury Tales,' we can hardly doubt but that Chaucer was
determined in the form adopted for his poem by the example of
Boccaccio. The subject-matter, also, of many of his tales was taken
from Boccaccio's prose or verse. For example, the story of Patient
Grizzel is founded upon one of the legends of the 'Decameron,' while
the Knight's Tale is almost translated from the 'Teseide' of
Boccaccio, and Troilus and Creseide is derived from the 'Filostrato'
of the same author. The Franklin's Tale and the Reeve's Tale
are also based either on stories of Boccaccio or else on French
'Fabliaux,' to which Chaucer, as well as Boccaccio, had access. I do
not wish to lay too much stress upon Chaucer's direct obligations to
Boccaccio, because it is incontestable that the French 'Fabliaux,'
which supplied them both with subjects, were the common property of
the mediæval nations. But his indirect debt in all that concerns
elegant handling of material, and in the fusion of the romantic with
the classic spirit, which forms the chief charm of such tales as the
Palamon and Arcite, can hardly be exaggerated. Lastly, the seven-lined
stanza, called _rime royal_, which Chaucer used with so much effect in
narrative poetry, was probably borrowed from the earlier Florentine
'Ballata,' the last line rhyming with its predecessor being
substituted for the recurrent refrain. Indeed, the stanza itself, as
used by our earliest poets, may be found in Guido Cavalcanti's
'Ballatetta,' beginning, _Posso degli occhi miei_.

Between Chaucer and Surrey the Muse of England fell asleep; but when
in the latter half of the reign of Henry VIII. she awoke again, it was
as a conscious pupil of the Italian that she attempted new strains and
essayed fresh metres. 'In the latter end of Henry VIII.'s reign,' says
Puttenham, 'sprang up a new company of courtly makers, of whom Sir T.
Wyatt the elder, and Henry Earl of Surrey, were the two chieftains,
who, having travelled into Italy, and there tasted the sweet and
stately measures and style of the Italian poesy, as novices newly
crept out of the schools of Dante, Ariosto, and Petrarch, they greatly
polished our rude and homely manner of vulgar poesy, from that it had
been before, and for that cause may justly be said the first reformers
of our English metre and style.' The chief point in which Surrey
imitated his 'master, Francis Petrarcha,' was in the use of the
sonnet. He introduced this elaborate form of poetry into our
literature; and how it has thriven with us, the masterpieces of
Spenser, Shakspere, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, Rossetti attest. As
practised by Dante and Petrarch, the sonnet is a poem of fourteen
lines, divided into two quatrains and two triplets, so arranged that
the two quatrains repeat one pair of rhymes, while the two triplets
repeat another pair. Thus an Italian sonnet of the strictest form is
composed upon four rhymes, interlaced with great art. But much
divergence from this rigid scheme of rhyming was admitted even by
Petrarch, who not unfrequently divided the six final lines of the
sonnet into three couplets, interwoven in such a way that the two last
lines never rhymed.[17]

It has been necessary to say thus much about the structure of the
Italian sonnet, in order to make clear the task which lay before
Surrey and Wyatt, when they sought to transplant it into English.
Surrey did not adhere to the strict fashion of Petrarch: his sonnets
consist either of three regular quatrains concluded with a couplet,
or else of twelve lines rhyming alternately and concluded with a
couplet. Wyatt attempted to follow the order and interlacement of the
Italian rhymes more closely, but he too concluded his sonnet with a
couplet. This introduction of the final couplet was a violation of the
Italian rule, which may be fairly considered as prejudicial to the
harmony of the whole structure, and which has insensibly caused the
English sonnet to terminate in an epigram. The famous sonnet of Surrey
on his love, Geraldine, is an excellent example of the metrical
structure as adapted to the supposed necessities of English rhyming,
and as afterwards adhered to by Shakspere in his long series of
love-poems. Surrey, while adopting the form of the sonnet, kept quite
clear of the Petrarchist's mannerism. His language is simple and
direct: there is no subtilising upon far-fetched conceits, no
wire-drawing of exquisite sentimentalism, although he celebrates in
this, as in his other sonnets, a lady for whom he appears to have
entertained no more than a Platonic or imaginary passion. Surrey was a
great experimentalist in metre. Besides the sonnet, he introduced into
England blank verse, which he borrowed from the Italian _versi
sciolti_, fixing that decasyllable iambic rhythm for English
versification in which our greatest poetical triumphs have been
achieved.

Before quitting the subject of the sonnet it would, however, be well
to mention the changes which were wrought in its structure by early
poets desirous of emulating the Italians. Shakspere, as already
hinted, adhered to the simple form introduced by Surrey: his stanzas
invariably consist of three separate quatrains followed by a couplet.
But Sir Philip Sidney, whose familiarity with Italian literature was
intimate, and who had resided long in Italy, perceived that without a
greater complexity and interweaving of rhymes the beauty of the poem
was considerably impaired. He therefore combined the rhymes of the two
quatrains, as the Italians had done, leaving himself free to follow
the Italian fashion in the conclusion, or else to wind up after
English usage with a couplet. Spenser and Drummond follow the rule of
Sidney; Drayton and Daniel, that of Surrey and Shakspere. It was not
until Milton that an English poet preserved the form of the Italian
sonnet in its strictness; but, after Milton, the greatest
sonnet-writers--Wordsworth, Keats, and Rossetti--have aimed at
producing stanzas as regular as those of Petrarch.

The great age of our literature--the age of Elizabeth--was essentially
one of Italian influence. In Italy the Renaissance had reached its
height: England, feeling the new life which had been infused into arts
and letters, turned instinctively to Italy, and adopted her canons of
taste. 'Euphues' has a distinct connection with the Italian discourses
of polite culture. Sidney's 'Arcadia' is a copy of what Boccaccio had
attempted in his classical romances, and Sanazzaro in his
pastorals.[18] Spenser approached the subject of the 'Faery Queen'
with his head full of Ariosto and the romantic poets of Italy. His
sonnets are Italian; his odes embody the Platonic philosophy of the
Italians.[19] The extent of Spenser's deference to the Italians in
matters of poetic art may be gathered from this passage in the
dedication to Sir Walter Raleigh of the 'Faery Queen:'

     I have followed all the antique poets historical: first
     Homer, who in the persons of Agamemnon and Ulysses hath
     ensampled a good governor and a virtuous man, the one in his
     Ilias, the other in his Odysseis; then Virgil, whose like
     intention was to do in the person of Æneas; after him
     Ariosto comprised them both in his Orlando; and lately Tasso
     dissevered them again, and formed both parts in two persons,
     namely, that part which they in Philosophy call Ethice, or
     virtues of a private man, coloured in his Rinaldo, the other
     named Politico in his Goffredo.

From this it is clear that, to the mind of Spenser, both Ariosto and
Tasso were authorities of hardly less gravity than Homer and Virgil.
Raleigh, in the splendid sonnet with which he responds to this
dedication, enhances the fame of Spenser by affecting to believe that
the great Italian, Petrarch, will be jealous of him in the grave. To
such an extent were the thoughts of the English poets occupied with
their Italian masters in the art of song.

It was at this time, again, that English literature was enriched by
translations of Ariosto and Tasso--the one from the pen of Sir John
Harrington, the other from that of Fairfax. Both were produced in the
metre of the original--the octave stanza, which, however, did not at
that period take root in England. At the same period the works of many
of the Italian novelists, especially Bandello and Cinthio and
Boccaccio, were translated into English; Painter's 'Palace of
Pleasure' being a treasure-house of Italian works of fiction. Thomas
Hoby translated Castiglione's 'Courtier' in 1561. As a proof of the
extent to which Italian books were read in England at the end of the
sixteenth century, we may take a stray sentence from a letter of
Harvey, in which he disparages the works of Robert Greene:--'Even
Guicciardine's silver histories and Ariosto's golden cantos grow out
of request: and the Countess of Pembroke's "Arcadia" is not green
enough for queasy stomachs; but they must have seen Greene's
"Arcadia," and I believe most eagerly longed for Greene's "Faery
Queen."'

Still more may be gathered on the same topic from the indignant
protest uttered by Roger Ascham in his 'Schoolmaster' (pp. 78-91, date
1570) against the prevalence of Italian customs, the habit of Italian
travel, and the reading of Italian books translated into English.
Selections of Italian stories rendered into English were extremely
popular; and Greene's tales, which had such vogue that Nash says of
them, 'glad was that printer that might be so blest to pay him dear
for the very dregs of his wit,' were all modelled on the Italian. The
education of a young man of good family was not thought complete
unless he had spent some time in Italy, studied its literature,
admired its arts, and caught at least some tincture of its manners.
Our rude ancestors brought back with them from these journeys many
Southern vices, together with the culture they had gone to seek. The
contrast between the plain dealing of the North and the refined
Machiavellism of the South, between Protestant earnestness in religion
and Popish scepticism, between the homely virtues of England and the
courtly libertinism of Venice or Florence, blunted the moral sense,
while it stimulated the intellectual activity of the English
travellers, and too often communicated a fatal shock to their
principles. _Inglese Italianato è un diavolo incarnato_ passed into a
proverb: we find it on the lips of Parker, of Howell, of Sidney, of
Greene, and of Ascham; while Italy itself was styled by severe
moralists the court of Circe. In James Howell's 'Instructions for
forreine travell' we find this pregnant sentence: 'And being now in
Italy, that great limbique of working braines, he must be very
circumspect in his carriage, for she is able to turne a Saint into a
devill, and deprave the best natures, if one will abandon himselfe,
and become a prey to dissolut courses and wantonesse.' Italy, in
truth, had already become corrupt, and the fruit of her contact with
the nations of the North was seen in the lives of such scholars as
Robert Greene, who confessed that he returned from his travels
instructed 'in all the villanies under the sun.' Many of the scandals
of the Court of James might be ascribed to this aping of Southern
manners.

Yet, together with the evil of depraved morality, the advantage of
improved culture was imported from Italy into England; and the
constitution of the English genius was young and healthy enough to
purge off the mischief, while it assimilated what was beneficial. This
is very manifest in the history of our drama, which, taking it
altogether, is at the same time the purest and the most varied that
exists in literature; while it may be affirmed without exaggeration
that one of the main impulses to free dramatic composition in England
was communicated by the attraction everything Italian possessed for
the English fancy. It was in the drama that the English displayed the
richness and the splendour of the Renaissance, which had blazed so
gorgeously and at times so balefully below the Alps. The Italy of the
Renaissance fascinated our dramatists with a strange wild glamour--the
contrast of external pageant and internal tragedy, the alternations of
radiance and gloom, the terrible examples of bloodshed, treason, and
heroism emergent from ghastly crimes. Our drama began with a
translation of Ariosto's 'Suppositi' and ended with Davenant's 'Just
Italian.' In the very dawn of tragic composition Greene versified a
portion of the 'Orlando Furioso,' and Marlowe devoted one of his most
brilliant studies to the villanies of a Maltese Jew. Of Shakspere's
plays five are incontestably Italian: several of the rest are
furnished with Italian names to suit the popular taste. Ben Jonson
laid the scene of his most subtle comedy of manners, 'Volpone,' in
Venice, and sketched the first cast of 'Every Man in his Humour' for
Italian characters. Tourneur, Ford, and Webster were so dazzled by the
tragic lustre of the wickedness of Italy that their finest dramas,
without exception, are minute and carefully studied psychological
analyses of great Italian tales of crime. The same, in a less degree,
is true of Middleton and Dekker. Massinger makes a story of the Sforza
family the subject of one of his best plays. Beaumont and Fletcher
draw the subjects of comedies and tragedies alike from the Italian
novelists. Fletcher in his 'Faithful Shepherdess' transfers the
pastoral style of Tasso and Guarini to the North. So close is the
connection between our tragedy and Italian novels that Marston and
Ford think fit to introduce passages of Italian dialogue into the
plays of 'Giovanni and Annabella' and 'Antonio and Mellida.' But the
best proof of the extent to which Italian life and literature had
influenced our dramatists, may be easily obtained by taking down
Halliwell's 'Dictionary of Old Plays,' and noticing that about every
third drama has an Italian title. Meanwhile the poems composed by the
chief dramatists--Shakspere's 'Venus and Adonis,' Marlowe's 'Hero and
Leander,' Marston's 'Pygmalion,' and Beaumont's 'Hermaphrodite'--are
all of them conceived in the Italian style, by men who had either
studied Southern literature, or had submitted to its powerful æsthetic
influences. The Masques, moreover, of Jonson, of Lyly, of Fletcher,
and of Chapman are exact reproductions upon the English court theatres
of such festival pageants as were presented to the Medici at Florence
or to the Este family at Ferrara.[20] Throughout our drama the
influence of Italy, direct or indirect, either as supplying our
playwrights with subjects or as stimulating their imagination, may
thus be traced. Yet the Elizabethan drama is in the highest sense
original. As a work of art pregnant with deepest wisdom, and
splendidly illustrative of the age which gave it birth, it far
transcends anything that Italy produced in the same department. Our
poets have a more masculine judgment, more fiery fancy, nobler
sentiment, than the Italians of any age but that of Dante. What Italy
gave, was the impulse toward creation, not patterns to be
imitated--the excitement of the imagination by a spectacle of so much
grandeur, not rules and precepts for production--the keen sense of
tragic beauty, not any tradition of accomplished art.

The Elizabethan period of our literature was, in fact, the period
during which we derived most from the Italian nation.

The study of the Italian language went hand in hand with the study of
Greek and Latin, so that the three together contributed to form the
English taste. Between us and the ancient world stood the genius of
Italy as an interpreter. Nor was this connection broken until far on
into the reign of Charles II. What Milton owed to Italy is clear not
only from his Italian sonnets, but also from the frequent mention of
Dante and Petrarch in his prose works, from his allusions to Boiardo
and Ariosto in the 'Paradise Lost,' and from the hints which he
probably derived from Pulci, Tasso and Andreini. It would, indeed, be
easy throughout his works to trace a continuous vein of Italian
influence in detail. But, more than this, Milton's poetical taste in
general seems to have been formed and ripened by familiarity with the
harmonies of the Italian language. In his Tractate on Education
addressed to Mr. Hartlib, he recommends that boys should be instructed
in the Italian pronunciation of vowel sounds, in order to give
sonorousness and dignity to elocution. This slight indication supplies
us with a key to the method of melodious structure employed by Milton
in his blank verse. Those who have carefully studied the harmonies of
the 'Paradise Lost,' know how all-important are the assonances of the
vowel sounds of _o_ and _a_ in its most musical passages. It is just
this attention to the liquid and sonorous recurrences of open vowels
that we should expect from a poet who proposed to assimilate his
diction to that of the Italians.

After the age of Milton the connection between Italy and England is
interrupted. In the seventeenth century Italy herself had sunk into
comparative stupor, and her literature was trivial. France not only
swayed the political destinies of Europe, but also took the lead in
intellectual culture. Consequently, our poets turned from Italy to
France, and the French spirit pervaded English literature throughout
the period of the Restoration and the reigns of William and Queen Anne.
Yet during this prolonged reaction against the earlier movement of
English literature, as manifested in Elizabethanism, the influence of
Italy was not wholly extinct. Dryden's 'Tales from Boccaccio' are no
insignificant contribution to our poetry, and his 'Palamon and
Arcite,' through Chaucer, returns to the same source. But when, at the
beginning of this century, the Elizabethan tradition was revived, then
the Italian influence reappeared more vigorous than ever. The metre of
'Don Juan,' first practised by Frere and then adopted by Lord Byron,
is Pulci's octave stanza; the manner is that of Berni, Folengo, and
the Abbé Casti, fused and heightened by the brilliance of Byron's
genius into a new form. The subject of Shelley's strongest work of art
is Beatrice Cenci. Rogers's poem is styled 'Italy.' Byron's dramas are
chiefly Italian. Leigh Hunt repeats the tale of Francesca da Rimini.
Keats versifies Boccaccio's 'Isabella.' Passing to contemporary poets,
Rossetti has acclimatised in English the metres and the manner of the
earliest Italian lyrists. Swinburne dedicates his noblest song to the
spirit of liberty in Italy. Even George Eliot and Tennyson have each
of them turned stories of Boccaccio into verse. The best of Mrs.
Browning's poems, 'Casa Guidi Windows' and 'Aurora Leigh,' are steeped
in Italian thought and Italian imagery. Browning's longest poem is a
tale of Italian crime; his finest studies in the 'Men and Women' are
portraits of Italian character of the Renaissance period. But there is
more than any mere enumeration of poets and their work can set forth,
in the connection between Italy and England. That connection, so far
as the poetical imagination is concerned, is vital. As poets in the
truest sense of the word, we English live and breathe through sympathy
with the Italians. The magnetic touch which is required to inflame the
imagination of the North, is derived from Italy. The nightingales of
English song who make our oak and beech copses resonant in spring with
purest melody, are migratory birds, who have charged their souls in
the South with the spirit of beauty, and who return to warble native
wood-notes in a tongue which is their own.

What has hitherto been said about the debt of the English poets to
Italy, may seem to imply that our literature can be regarded as to
some extent a parasite on that of the Italians. Against such a
conclusion no protest too energetic could be uttered. What we have
derived directly from the Italian poets are, first, some
metres--especially the sonnet and the octave stanza, though the latter
has never taken firm root in England. 'Terza rima,' attempted by
Shelley, Byron, Morris, and Mrs. Browning, has not yet become
acclimatised. Blank verse, although originally remodelled by Surrey
upon the _versi sciolti_ of the Italians, has departed widely from
Italian precedent, first by its decasyllabic structure, whereas
Italian verse consists of hendecasyllables; and, secondly, by its
greater force, plasticity, and freedom. The Spenserian stanza, again,
is a new and original metre peculiar to our literature; though it is
possible that but for the complex structures of Italian lyric verse,
it might not have been fashioned for the 'Faery Queen.' Lastly, the
so-called heroic couplet is native to England; at any rate, it is in
no way related to Italian metre. Therefore the only true Italian
exotic adopted without modification into our literature is the sonnet.

In the next place, we owe to the Italians the subject-matter of many
of our most famous dramas and our most delightful tales in verse. But
the English treatment of these histories and fables has been uniformly
independent and original. Comparing Shakspere's 'Romeo and Juliet'
with Bandello's tale, Webster's 'Duchess of Malfy' with the version
given from the Italian in Painter's 'Palace of Pleasure,' and
Chaucer's Knight's Tale with the 'Teseide' of Boccaccio, we perceive
at once that the English poets have used their Italian models merely
as outlines to be filled in with freedom, as the canvas to be
embroidered with a tapestry of vivid groups. Nothing is more manifest
than the superiority of the English genius over the Italian in all
dramatic qualities of intense passion, profound analysis, and living
portrayal of character in action. The mere rough detail of Shakspere's
'Othello' is to be found in Cinthio's Collection of Novelle; but let
an unprejudiced reader peruse the original, and he will be no more
deeply affected by it than by any touching story of treachery,
jealousy, and hapless innocence. The wily subtleties of Iago, the
soldierly frankness of Cassio, the turbulent and volcanic passions of
Othello, the charm of Desdemona, and the whole tissue of vivid
incidents which make 'Othello' one of the most tremendous extant
tragedies of characters in combat, are Shakspere's, and only
Shakspere's. This instance, indeed, enables us exactly to indicate
what the English owed to Italy and what was essentially their own.
From that Southern land of Circe about which they dreamed, and which
now and then they visited, came to their imaginations a
spirit-stirring breath of inspiration. It was to them the country of
marvels, of mysterious crimes, of luxurious gardens and splendid
skies, where love was more passionate and life more picturesque, and
hate more bloody and treachery more black, than in our Northern
climes. Italy was a spacious grove of wizardry, which mighty poets, on
the quest of fanciful adventure, trod with fascinated senses and
quickened pulses. But the strong brain which converted what they heard
and read and saw of that charmed land into the stuff of golden romance
or sable tragedy, was their own.

English literature has been defined a literature of genius.

Our greatest work in art has been achieved not so much by inspiration,
subordinate to sentiments of exquisite good taste or guided by
observance of classical models, as by audacious sallies of pure
inventive power. This is true as a judgment of that constellation
which we call our drama, of the meteor Byron, of Milton and Dryden,
who are the Jupiter and Mars of our poetic system, and of the stars
which stud our literary firmament under the names of Shelley, Keats,
Wordsworth, Chatterton, Scott, Coleridge, Clough, Blake, Browning,
Swinburne, Tennyson. There are only a very few of the English poets,
Pope and Gray, for example, in whom the free instincts of genius are
kept systematically in check by the laws of the reflective
understanding. Now Italian literature is in this respect all unlike
our own. It began, indeed, with Dante, as a literature pre-eminently
of genius; but the spirit of scholarship assumed the sway as early as
the days of Petrarch and Boccaccio, and after them Italian has been
consistently a literature of taste. By this I mean that even the
greatest Italian poets have sought to render their style correct, have
endeavoured to subordinate their inspiration to what they considered
the rules of sound criticism, and have paid serious attention to their
manner as independent of the matter they wished to express. The
passion for antiquity, so early developed in Italy, delivered the
later Italian poets bound hand and foot into the hands of Horace.
Poliziano was content to reproduce the classic authors in a mosaic
work of exquisite translations. Tasso was essentially a man of talent,
producing work of chastened beauty by diligent attention to the rule
and method of his art. Even Ariosto submitted the liberty of his swift
spirit to canons of prescribed elegance. While our English poets have
conceived and executed without regard for the opinion of the learned
and without obedience to the usages of language--Shakspere, for
example, producing tragedies which set Aristotle at defiance, and
Milton engrafting Latinisms on the native idiom--the Italian poets
thought and wrote with the fear of Academies before their eyes, and
studied before all things to maintain the purity of the Tuscan tongue.
The consequence is that the Italian and English literatures are
eminent for very different excellences. All that is forcible in the
dramatic presentation of life and character and action, all that is
audacious in imagination and capricious in fancy, whatever strength
style can gain from the sallies of original and untrammelled
eloquence, whatever beauty is derived from spontaneity and native
grace, belong in abundant richness to the English. On the other hand,
the Italian poets present us with masterpieces of correct and studied
diction, with carefully elaborated machinery, and with a style
maintained at a uniform level of dignified correctness. The weakness
of the English proceeds from inequality and extravagance; it is the
weakness of self-confident vigour, intolerant of rule, rejoicing in
its own exuberant resources. The weakness of the Italian is due to
timidity and moderation; it is the weakness that springs not so much
from a lack of native strength as from the over-anxious expenditure of
strength upon the attainment of finish, polish, and correctness. Hence
the two nations have everything to learn from one another. Modern
Italian poets may seek by contact with Shakspere and Milton to gain a
freedom from the trammels imposed upon them by the slavish followers
of Petrarch; while the attentive perusal of Tasso should be
recommended to all English people who have no ready access to the
masterpieces of Greek and Latin literature.

Another point of view may be gained by noticing the pre-dominant tone
of the two literatures. Whenever English poetry is really great, it
approximates to the tragic and the stately; whereas the Italians are
peculiarly felicitous in the smooth and pleasant style, which combines
pathos with amusement, and which does not trespass beyond the region
of beauty into the domain of sublimity or terror. Italian poetry is
analogous to Italian painting and Italian music: it bathes the soul in
a plenitude of charms, investing even the most solemn subjects with
loveliness. Rembrandt and Albert Dürer depict the tragedies of the
Sacred History with a serious and awful reality: Italian painters,
with a few rare but illustrious exceptions, shrink from approaching
them from any point of view but that of harmonious melancholy. Even so
the English poets stir the soul to its very depths by their profound
and earnest delineations of the stern and bitter truths of the world:
Italian poets environ all things with the golden haze of an artistic
harmony; so that the soul is agitated by no pain at strife with the
persuasions of pure beauty.

       *       *       *       *       *



_POPULAR SONGS OF TUSCANY_


It is a noticeable fact about the popular songs of Tuscany that they
are almost exclusively devoted to love. The Italians in general have
no ballad literature resembling that of our Border or that of Spain.
The tragic histories of their noble families, the great deeds of their
national heroes, and the sufferings of their country during centuries
of warfare, have left but few traces in their rustic poetry. It is
true that some districts are less utterly barren than others in these
records of the past. The Sicilian people's poetry, for example,
preserves a memory of the famous Vespers; and one or two terrible
stories of domestic tragedy, like the tale of Rosmunda in 'La Donna
Lombarda,' the romance of the Baronessa di Carini, and the so-called
Caso di Sciacca, may still be heard upon the lips of the people. But
these exceptions are insignificant in comparison with the vast mass of
songs which deal with love; and I cannot find that Tuscany, where the
language of this minstrelsy is purest, and where the artistic
instincts of the race are strongest, has anything at all approaching
to our ballads.[21] Though the Tuscan contadini are always singing, it
rarely happens that

    The plaintive numbers flow
  For old, unhappy, far-off things,
    And battles long ago.

On the contrary, we may be sure, when we hear their voices ringing
through the olive-groves or macchi, that they are chanting

    Some more humble lay,
  Familiar matter of to-day,--
  Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
  That has been, and may be again;

or else, since their melodies are by no means uniformly sad, some
ditty of the joyousness of springtime or the ecstasy of love.

This defect of anything corresponding to our ballads of 'Chevy Chase,'
or 'Sir Patrick Spens,' or 'Gil Morrice,' in a poetry which is still
so vital with the life of past centuries, is all the more remarkable
because Italian history is distinguished above that of other nations
by tragic episodes peculiarly suited to poetic treatment. Many of
these received commemoration in the fourteenth century from Dante;
others were embodied in the _novelle_ of Boccaccio and Cinthio and
Bandello, whence they passed into the dramas of Shakspere, Webster,
Ford, and their contemporaries. But scarcely an echo can be traced
through all the volumes of the recently collected popular songs. We
must seek for an explanation of this fact partly in the conditions of
Italian life, and partly in the nature of the Italian imagination.
Nowhere in Italy do we observe that intimate connection between the
people at large and the great nobles which generates the sympathy of
clanship. Politics in most parts of the peninsula fell at a very
early period into the hands either of irresponsible princes, who ruled
like despots, or else of burghers, who administered the state within
the walls of their Palazzo Pubblico. The people remained passive
spectators of contemporary history. The loyalty of subjects to their
sovereign which animates the Spanish ballads, the loyalty of retainers
to their chief which gives life to the tragic ballads of the Border,
did not exist in Italy. Country-folk felt no interest in the doings of
Visconti or Medici or Malatesti sufficient to arouse the enthusiasm of
local bards or to call forth the celebration of their princely
tragedies in verse. Amid the miseries of foreign wars and home
oppression, it seemed better to demand from verse and song some
mitigation of the woes of life, some expression of personal emotion,
than to record the disasters which to us at a distance appear poetic
in their grandeur.

These conditions of popular life, although unfavourable to the
production of ballad poetry, would not, however, have been sufficient
by themselves to check its growth, if the Italians had been strongly
impelled to literature of this type by their nature. The real reason
why their _Volkslieder_ are amorous and personal is to be found in the
quality of their imagination. The Italian genius is not creatively
imaginative in the highest sense. The Italians have never, either in
the ancient or the modern age, produced a great drama or a national
epic, the 'Æneid' and the 'Divine Comedy' being obviously of different
species from the 'Iliad' or the 'Nibelungen Lied.' Modern Italians,
again, are distinguished from the French, the Germans, and the English
in being the conscious inheritors of an older, august, and strictly
classical civilisation. The great memories of Rome weigh down their
faculties of invention. It would also seem as though they shrank in
their poetry from the representation of what is tragic and
spirit-stirring. They incline to what is cheerful, brilliant, or
pathetic. The dramatic element in human life, external to the
personality of the poet, which exercised so strong a fascination over
our ballad-bards and playwrights, has but little attraction for the
Italian. When he sings, he seeks to express his own individual
emotions--his love, his joy, his jealousy, his anger, his despair. The
language which he uses is at the same time direct in its intensity,
and hyperbolical in its display of fancy; but it lacks those
imaginative touches which exalt the poetry of personal passion into a
sublimer region. Again, the Italians are deficient in a sense of the
supernatural. The wraiths that cannot rest because their love is still
unsatisfied, the voices which cry by night over field and fell, the
water-spirits and forest fairies, the second-sight of coming woes, the
presentiment of death, the warnings and the charms and spells, which
fill the popular poetry of all Northern nations, are absent in Italian
songs. In the whole of Tigri's collection I only remember one mention
of a ghost. It is not that the Italians are deficient in superstitions
of all kinds. Every one has heard of their belief in the evil eye, for
instance. But they do not connect this kind of fetichism with their
poetry; and even their greatest poets, with the exception of Dante,
have shown no capacity or no inclination for enhancing the imaginative
effect of their creations by an appeal to the instinct of mysterious
awe.

The truth is that the Italians as a race are distinguished as much by
a firm grasp upon the practical realities of existence as by powerful
emotions. They have but little of that dreamy _Schwärmerei_ with which
the people of the North are largely gifted. The true sphere of their
genius is painting. What appeals to the imagination through the eyes,
they have expressed far better than any other modern nation. But
their poetry, like their music, is deficient in tragic sublimity and
in the higher qualities of imaginative creation.

It may seem paradoxical to say this of the nation which produced
Dante. But we must remember not to judge races by single and
exceptional men of genius. Petrarch, the Troubadour of exquisite
emotions, Boccaccio, who touches all the keys of life so lightly,
Ariosto, with the smile of everlasting April on his lips, and Tasso,
excellent alone when he confines himself to pathos or the picturesque,
are no exceptions to what I have just said. Yet these poets pursued
their art with conscious purpose. The tragic splendour of Greece, the
majesty of Rome, were not unknown to them. Far more is it true that
popular poetry in Italy, proceeding from the hearts of uncultivated
peasants and expressing the national character in its simplicity,
displays none of the stuff from which the greatest works of art in
verse, epics and dramas, can be wrought. But within its own sphere of
personal emotion, this popular poetry is exquisitely melodious,
inexhaustibly rich, unique in modern literature for the direct
expression which it has given to every shade of passion.

Signor Tigri's collection,[22] to which I shall confine my attention
in this paper, consists of eleven hundred and eighty-five _rispetti_,
with the addition of four hundred and sixty-one _stornelli_. Rispetto,
it may be said in passing, is the name commonly given throughout Italy
to short poems, varying from six to twelve lines, constructed on the
principle of the octave stanza. That is to say, the first part of the
rispetto consists of four or six lines with alternate rhymes, while
one or more couplets, called the _ripresa_, complete the poem.[23]
The stornello, or ritournelle, never exceeds three lines, and owes
its name to the return which it makes at the end of the last line to
the rhyme given by the emphatic word of the first. Browning, in his
poem of 'Fra Lippo Lippi,' has accustomed English ears to one common
species of the stornello,[24] which sets out with the name of a
flower, and rhymes with it, as thus:

    Fior di narciso.
  Prigionero d'amore mi son reso,
  Nel rimirare il tuo leggiadro viso.

The divisions of those two sorts of songs, to which Tigri gives names
like The Beauty of Women, The Beauty of Men, Falling in Love,
Serenades, Happy Love, Unhappy Love, Parting, Absence, Letters, Return
to Home, Anger and Jealousy, Promises, Entreaties and Reproaches,
Indifference, Treachery and Abandonment, prove with what fulness the
various phases of the tender passion are treated. Through the whole
fifteen hundred the one theme of Love is never relinquished. Only two
persons, 'I' and 'thou,' appear upon the scene; yet so fresh and so
various are the moods of feeling, that one can read them from first to
last without too much satiety.

To seek for the authors of these ditties would be useless. Some of
them may be as old as the fourteenth century; others may have been
made yesterday. Some are the native product of the Tuscan mountain
villages, especially of the regions round Pistoja and Siena, where on
the spurs of the Apennines the purest Italian is vernacular. Some,
again, are importations from other provinces, especially from Sicily
and Naples, caught up by the peasants of Tuscany and adapted to their
taste and style; for nothing travels faster than a _Volkslied_. Born
some morning in a noisy street of Naples, or on the solitary slopes of
Radicofani, before the week is out, a hundred voices are repeating it.
Waggoners and pedlars carry it across the hills to distant towns. It
floats with the fishermen from bay to bay, and marches with the
conscript to his barrack in a far-off province. Who was the first to
give it shape and form? No one asks, and no one cares. A student well
acquainted with the habits of the people in these matters says, 'If
they knew the author of a ditty, they would not learn it, far less if
they discovered that it was a scholar's.' If the cadence takes their
ear, they consecrate the song at once by placing it upon the honoured
list of 'ancient lays.' Passing from lip to lip and from district to
district, it receives additions and alterations, and becomes the
property of a score of provinces. Meanwhile the poet from whose soul
it blossomed that first morning like a flower, remains contented with
obscurity. The wind has carried from his lips the thistledown of song,
and sown it on a hundred hills and meadows, far and wide. After such
wise is the birth of all truly popular compositions. Who knows, for
instance, the veritable author of many of those mighty German chorals
which sprang into being at the period of the Reformation? The first
inspiration was given, probably, to a single mind; but the melody, as
it has reached us, is the product of a thousand. This accounts for the
variations which in different dialects and districts the same song
presents. Meanwhile, it is sometimes possible to trace the authorship
of a ballad with marked local character to an improvisatore famous in
his village, or to one of those professional rhymesters whom the
country-folk employ in the composition of love-letters to their
sweethearts at a distance.[25] Tommaseo, in the preface to his 'Canti
Popolari,' mentions in particular a Beatrice di Pian degli Ontani,
whose poetry was famous through the mountains of Pistoja; and Tigri
records by name a little girl called Cherubina, who made rispetti by
the dozen as she watched her sheep upon the hills. One of the songs in
his collection (p. 181) contains a direct reference to the village
letter-writer:--

  Salutatemi, bella, lo scrivano;
  Non lo conosco e non so chi si sia.
  A me mi pare un poeta sovrano,
  Tanto gli è sperto nella poesia.[26]

While I am writing thus about the production and dissemination of
these love-songs, I cannot help remembering three days and nights
which I once spent at sea between Genoa and Palermo, in the company of
some conscripts who were going to join their regiment in Sicily. They
were lads from the Milanese and Liguria, and they spent a great
portion of their time in composing and singing poetry. One of them had
a fine baritone voice; and when the sun had set, his comrades gathered
round him and begged him to sing to them 'Con quella patetica tua
voce.' Then followed hours of singing, the low monotonous melodies of
his ditties harmonising wonderfully with the tranquillity of night, so
clear and calm that the sky and all its stars were mirrored on the
sea, through which we moved as if in a dream. Sometimes the songs
provoked conversation, which, as is usual in Italy, turned mostly upon
'le bellezze delle donne.' I remember that once an animated discussion
about the relative merits of blondes and brunettes nearly ended in a
quarrel, when the youngest of the whole band, a boy of about
seventeen, put a stop to the dispute by theatrically raising his eyes
and arms to heaven and crying, 'Tu sei innamorato d' una grande Diana
cacciatrice nera, ed io d' una bella Venere bionda.' Though they were
but village lads, they supported their several opinions with arguments
not unworthy of Firenzuola, and showed the greatest delicacy of
feeling in the treatment of a subject which could scarcely have failed
to reveal any latent coarseness.

The purity of all the Italian love-songs collected by Tigri is very
remarkable.[27] Although the passion expressed in them is Oriental in
its vehemence, not a word falls which could offend a virgin's ear. The
one desire of lovers is lifelong union in marriage. The _damo_--for so
a sweetheart is termed in Tuscany--trembles until he has gained the
approval of his future mother-in-law, and forbids the girl he is
courting to leave her house to talk to him at night:--

  Dice che tu tì affacci alia finestra;
  Ma non tì dice che tu vada fuora,
  Perchè, la notte, è cosa disonesta.

All the language of his love is respectful. _Signore_, or master of my
soul, _madonna, anima mia, dolce mio ben, nobil persona,_ are the
terms of adoration with which he approaches his mistress. The
elevation of feeling and perfect breeding which Manzoni has so well
delineated in the loves of Renzo and Lucia are traditional among
Italian country-folk. They are conscious that true gentleness is no
matter of birth or fortune:--

  E tu non mi lasciar per poverezza,
  Chè povertà non guasta gentilezza.[28]


This in itself constitutes an important element of culture, and
explains to some extent the high romantic qualities of their
impassioned poetry. The beauty of their land reveals still more. 'O
fortunatos nimium sua si bona norint!' Virgil's exclamation is as true
now as it was when he sang the labours of Italian country-folk some
nineteen centuries ago. To a traveller from the north there is a
pathos even in the contrast between the country in which these
children of a happier climate toil, and those bleak, winter-beaten
fields where our own peasants pass their lives. The cold nights and
warm days of Tuscan springtime are like a Swiss summer. They make rich
pasture and a hardy race of men. Tracts of corn and oats and rye
alternate with patches of flax in full flower, with meadows yellow
with buttercups or pink with ragged robin; the young vines, running
from bough to bough of elm and mulberry, are just coming into leaf.
The poplars are fresh with bright green foliage. On the verge of this
blooming plain stand ancient cities ringed with hills, some rising to
snowy Apennines, some covered with white convents and sparkling with
villas. Cypresses shoot, black and spirelike, amid grey clouds of
olive-boughs upon the slopes; and above, where vegetation borders on
the barren rock, are masses of ilex and arbutus interspersed with
chestnut-trees not yet in leaf. Men and women are everywhere at work,
ploughing with great white oxen, or tilling the soil with spades six
feet in length--Sabellian ligones. The songs of nightingales among
acacia-trees, and the sharp scream of swallows wheeling in air, mingle
with the monotonous chant that always rises from the country-people at
their toil. Here and there on points of vantage, where the hill-slopes
sink into the plain, cluster white villages with flower-like
campanili. It is there that the veglia, or evening rendezvous of
lovers, the serenades and balls and feste, of which one hears so much
in the popular minstrelsy, take place. Of course it would not be
difficult to paint the darker shades of this picture. Autumn comes,
when the contadini of Lucca and Siena and Pistoja go forth to work in
the unwholesome marshes of the Maremma, or of Corsica and Sardinia.
Dismal superstitions and hereditary hatreds cast their blight over a
life externally so fair. The bad government of centuries has perverted
in many ways the instincts of a people naturally mild and cheerful and
peace-loving. But as far as nature can make men happy, these
husbandmen are surely to be reckoned fortunate, and in their songs we
find little to remind us of what is otherwise than sunny in their lot.

A translator of these _Volkslieder_ has to contend with difficulties
of no ordinary kind. The freshness of their phrases, the spontaneity
of their sentiments, and the melody of their unstudied cadences, are
inimitable. So again is the peculiar effect of their frequent
transitions from the most fanciful imagery to the language of prose.
No mere student can hope to rival, far less to reproduce, in a foreign
tongue, the charm of verse which sprang untaught from the hearts of
simple folk, which lives unwritten on the lips of lovers, and which
should never be dissociated from singing.[29] There are, besides,
peculiarities in the very structure of the popular rispetto. The
constant repetition of the same phrase with slight variations,
especially in the closing lines of the _ripresa_ of the Tuscan
rispetto, gives an antique force and flavour to these ditties, like
that which we appreciate in our own ballads, but which may easily, in
the translation, degenerate into weakness and insipidity. The Tuscan
rhymester, again, allows himself the utmost licence. It is usual to
find mere assonances like _bene_ and _piacere, oro_ and _volo, ala_
and _alata_, in the place of rhymes; while such remote resemblances of
sound as _colli_ and _poggi_, _lascia_ and _piazza_, are far from
uncommon. To match these rhymes by joining 'home' and 'alone,' 'time'
and 'shine,' &c, would of course be a matter of no difficulty; but it
has seemed to me on the whole best to preserve, with some exceptions,
such accuracy as the English ear requires. I fear, however, that,
after all, these wild-flowers of song, transplanted to another climate
and placed in a hothouse, will appear but pale and hectic by the side
of their robuster brethren of the Tuscan hills.

In the following serenade many of the peculiarities which
I have just noticed occur. I have also adhered to the irregularity of
rhyme which may be usually observed about the middle of the poem (p.
103):--

  Sleeping or waking, thou sweet face,
  Lift up thy fair and tender brow:
  List to thy love in this still place;
  He calls thee to thy window now:
  But bids thee not the house to quit,
  Since in the night this were not meet.
  Come to thy window, stay within;
  I stand without, and sing and sing:
  Come to thy window, stay at home;
  I stand without, and make my moan.

Here is a serenade of a more impassioned character (p. 99):--

  I come to visit thee, my beauteous queen,
  Thee and the house where thou art harboured:
  All the long way upon my knees, my queen,
  I kiss the earth where'er thy footsteps tread.
  I kiss the earth, and gaze upon the wall,
  Whereby thou goest, maid imperial!
  I kiss the earth, and gaze upon the house,
  Whereby thou farest, queen most beauteous!

In the next the lover, who has passed the whole night beneath his
sweetheart's window, takes leave at the break of day. The feeling of
the half-hour before dawn, when the sound of bells rises to meet the
growing light, and both form a prelude to the glare and noise of day,
is expressed with much unconscious poetry (p. 105):--

  I see the dawn e'en now begin to peer:
  Therefore I take my leave, and cease to sing,
  See how the windows open far and near,
  And hear the bells of morning, how they ring!
  Through heaven and earth the sounds of ringing swell;
  Therefore, bright jasmine flower, sweet maid, farewell!
  Through heaven and Rome the sound of ringing goes;
  Farewell, bright jasmine flower, sweet maiden rose!
The next is more quaint (p. 99):--

  I come by night, I come, my soul aflame;
  I come in this fair hour of your sweet sleep;
  And should I wake you up, it were a shame.
  I cannot sleep, and lo! I break your sleep.
  To wake you were a shame from your deep rest;
  Love never sleeps, nor they whom Love hath blest.

A very great many rispetti are simple panegyrics of the beloved, to
find similitude for whose beauty heaven and earth are ransacked. The
compliment of the first line in the following song is perfect (p.
23):--

  Beauty was born with you, fair maid:
  The sun and moon inclined to you;
  On you the snow her whiteness laid
  The rose her rich and radiant hue:
  Saint Magdalen her hair unbound,
  And Cupid taught you how to wound--
  How to wound hearts Dan Cupid taught:
  Your beauty drives me love-distraught.

The lady in the next was December's child (p. 25):--

  O beauty, born in winter's night,
  Born in the month of spotless snow:
  Your face is like a rose so bright;
  Your mother may be proud of you!
  She may be proud, lady of love,
  Such sunlight shines her house above:
  She may be proud, lady of heaven,
  Such sunlight to her home is given.

The sea wind is the source of beauty to another (p. 16):--

  Nay, marvel not you are so fair;
  For you beside the sea were born:
  The sea-waves keep you fresh and fair,
  Like roses on their leafy thorn.
  If roses grow on the rose-bush,
  Your roses through midwinter blush;
  If roses bloom on the rose-bed,
  Your face can show both white and red.

The eyes of a fourth are compared, after quite a new and original
fashion, to stars (p. 210):--

  The moon hath risen her plaint to lay
  Before the face of Love Divine.
  Saying in heaven she will not stay,
  Since you have stolen what made her shine:
  Aloud she wails with sorrow wan,--
  She told her stars and two are gone:
  They are not there; you have them now;
  They are the eyes in your bright brow.

Nor are girls less ready to praise their lovers, but that they do not
dwell so much on physical perfection. Here is a pleasant greeting (p.
124):--

  O welcome, welcome, lily white,
  Thou fairest youth of all the valley!
  When I'm with you, my soul is light;
  I chase away dull melancholy.
  I chase all sadness from my heart:
  Then welcome, dearest that thou art!
  I chase all sadness from my side:
  Then welcome, O my love, my pride!
  I chase all sadness far away:
  Then welcome, welcome, love, to-day!

The image of a lily is very prettily treated in the next (p 79):--

  I planted a lily yestreen at my window;
  I set it yestreen, and to-day it sprang up:
  When I opened the latch and leaned out of my window,
  It shadowed my face with its beautiful cup.
  O lily, my lily, how tall you are grown!
  Remember how dearly I loved you, my own.
  O lily, my lily, you'll grow to the sky!
  Remember I love you for ever and aye.

The same thought of love growing like a flower receives another turn
(p. 69):--

  On yonder hill I saw a flower;
  And, could it thence be hither borne,
  I'd plant it here within my bower,
  And water it both eve and morn.
  Small water wants the stem so straight;
  'Tis a love-lily stout as fate.
  Small water wants the root so strong:
  'Tis a love-lily lasting long.
  Small water wants the flower so sheen:
  'Tis a love-lily ever green.

Envious tongues have told a girl that her complexion is not good. She
replies, with imagery like that of Virgil's 'Alba ligustra cadunt,
vaccinia nigra leguntur' (p. 31):--

  Think it no grief that I am brown,
  For all brunettes are born to reign:
  White is the snow, yet trodden down;
  Black pepper kings need not disdain:
  White snow lies mounded on the vales
  Black pepper's weighed in brazen scales.

Another song runs on the same subject (p. 38):--

  The whole world tells me that I'm brown,
  The brown earth gives us goodly corn:
  The clove-pink too, however brown,
  Yet proudly in the hand 'tis borne.
  They say my love is black, but he
  Shines like an angel-form to me:
  They say my love is dark as night;
  To me he seems a shape of light.

The freshness of the following spring song recalls the ballads of the
Val de Vire in Normandy (p. 85):--

  It was the morning of the first of May,
  Into the close I went to pluck a flower;
  And there I found a bird of woodland gay,
  Who whiled with songs of love the silent hour.
  O bird, who fliest from fair Florence, how
  Dear love begins, I prithee teach me now!--
  Love it begins with music and with song,
  And ends with sorrow and with sighs ere long.

Love at first sight is described (p. 79):--

  The very moment that we met,
  That moment love began to beat:
  One glance of love we gave, and swore
  Never to part for evermore;
  We swore together, sighing deep,
  Never to part till Death's long sleep.

Here too is a memory of the first days of love (p. 79):--

  If I remember, it was May
  When love began between us two:
  The roses in the close were gay,
  The cherries blackened on the bough.
  O cherries black and pears so green!
  Of maidens fair you are the queen.
  Fruit of black cherry and sweet pear!
  Of sweethearts you're the queen, I swear.

The troth is plighted with such promises as these (p. 230):--

  Or ere I leave you, love divine,
  Dead tongues shall stir and utter speech,
  And running rivers flow with wine,
  And fishes swim upon the beach;
  Or ere I leave or shun you, these
  Lemons shall grow on orange-trees.

The girl confesses her love after this fashion (p. 86):--

  Passing across the billowy sea,
  I let, alas, my poor heart fall;
  I bade the sailors bring it me;
  They said they had not seen it fall.
  I asked the sailors, one and two;
  They said that I had given it you.
  I asked the sailors, two and three;
  They said that I had given it thee.
It is not uncommon to speak of love as a sea. Here is a curious play
upon this image (p. 227):--

  Ho, Cupid! Sailor Cupid, ho!
  Lend me awhile that bark of thine;
  For on the billows I will go,
  To find my love who once was mine:
  And if I find her, she shall wear
  A chain around her neck so fair,
  Around her neck a glittering bond,
  Four stars, a lily, a diamond.

It is also possible that the same thought may occur in the second line
of the next ditty (p. 120):--

  Beneath the earth I'll make a way
  To pass the sea and come to you.
  People will think I'm gone away;
  But, dear, I shall be seeing you.
  People will say that I am dead;
  But we'll pluck roses white and red:
  People will think I'm lost for aye;
  But we'll pluck roses, you and I.

All the little daily incidents are beautified by love. Here is a
lover who thanks the mason for making his window so close upon the
road that he can see his sweetheart as she passes (p. 118):--

  Blest be the mason's hand who built
  This house of mine by the roadside,
  And made my window low and wide
  For me to watch my love go by.
  And if I knew when she went by,
  My window should be fairly gilt;
  And if I knew what time she went,
  My window should be flower-besprent.

Here is a conceit which reminds one of the pretty epistle of
Philostratus, in which the footsteps of the beloved are called
_[Greek: erêreismena philêmpta]_ (p. 117):--

  What time I see you passing by;
  I sit and count the steps you take:
  You take the steps; I sit and sigh:
  Step after step, my sighs awake.
  Tell me, dear love, which more abound,
  My sighs or your steps on the ground?
  Tell me, dear love, which are the most,
  Your light steps or the sighs they cost?

A girl complains that she cannot see her lover's house (p. 117):-

  I lean upon the lattice, and look forth
  To see the house where my lover dwells.
  There grows an envious tree that spoils my mirth:
  Cursed be the man who set it on these hills!
  But when those jealous boughs are all unclad,
  I then shall see the cottage of my lad:
  When once that tree is rooted from the hills,
  I'll see the house wherein my lover dwells.

In the same mood a girl who has just parted from her sweetheart is
angry with the hill beyond which he is travelling (p. 167):--

  I see and see, yet see not what I would:
  I see the leaves atremble on the tree:
  I saw my love where on the hill he stood,
  Yet see him not drop downward to the lea.
     O traitor hill, what will you do?
     I ask him, live or dead, from you.
     O traitor hill, what shall it be?
     I ask him, live or dead, from thee.

All the songs of love in absence are very quaint. Here is one which
calls our nursery rhymes to mind (p. 119):--

I would I were a bird so free,
That I had wings to fly away:
Unto that window I would flee,
Where stands my love and grinds all day.
Grind, miller, grind; the water's deep!
I cannot grind; love makes me weep.
Grind, miller, grind; the waters flow!
I cannot grind; love wastes me so.

The next begins after the same fashion, but breaks into a very shower
of benedictions (p. 118):--

  Would God I were a swallow free,
  That I had wings to fly away:
  Upon the miller's door I'd be,
  Where stands my love and grinds all day:
  Upon the door, upon the sill,
  Where stays my love;--God bless him still!
  God bless my love, and blessed be
  His house, and bless my house for me;
  Yea, blest be both, and ever blest
  My lover's house, and all the rest!

The girl alone at home in her garden sees a wood-dove flying by and
calls to it (p. 179):--

 O dove, who fliest far to yonder hill,
  Dear dove, who in the rock hast made thy nest,
  Let me a feather from thy pinion pull,
  For I will write to him who loves me best.
  And when I've written it and made it clear,
  I'll give thee back thy feather, dove so dear:
  And when I've written it and sealed it, then
  I'll give thee back thy feather love-laden.

A swallow is asked to lend the same kind service (p. 179):--

 O swallow, swallow, flying through the air,
  Turn, turn, I prithee, from thy flight above!
  Give me one feather from thy wing so fair,
  For I will write a letter to my love.
  When I have written it and made it clear,
  I'll give thee back thy feather, swallow dear;
  When I have written it on paper white,
  I'll make, I swear, thy missing feather right;
  When once 'tis written on fair leaves of gold,
  I'll give thee back thy wing and flight so bold.


Long before Tennyson's song in the 'Princess,' it would seem that
swallows were favourite messengers of love. In the next song which I
translate, the repetition of one thought with delicate variation is
full of character (p. 178):--

  O swallow, flying over hill and plain,
  If thou shouldst find my love, oh bid him come!
  And tell him, on these mountains I remain
  Even as a lamb who cannot find her home:
  And tell him, I am left all, all alone,
  Even as a tree whose flowers are overblown:
  And tell him, I am left without a mate
  Even as a tree whose boughs are desolate:
  And tell him, I am left uncomforted
  Even as the grass upon the meadows dead.

The following is spoken by a girl who has been watching the lads of
the village returning from their autumn service in the plain, and
whose damo comes the last of all (p. 240):--

  O dear my love, you come too late!
  What found you by the way to do?
  I saw your comrades pass the gate,
  But yet not you, dear heart, not you!
  If but a little more you'd stayed,
  With sighs you would have found me dead;
  If but a while you'd keep me crying,
  With sighs you would have found me dying.

The _amantium irae_ find a place too in these rustic ditties. A girl
explains to her sweetheart (p. 240):--

  'Twas told me and vouchsafed for true,
  Your kin are wroth as wroth can be;
  For loving me they swear at you,
  They swear at you because of me;
  Your father, mother, all your folk,
  Because you love me, chafe and choke!
  Then set your kith and kin at ease;
  Set them at ease and let me die:
  Set the whole clan of them at ease;
  Set them at ease and see me die!

Another suspects that her damo has paid his suit to a rival (p.
200):--

  On Sunday morning well I knew
  Where gaily dressed you turned your feet;
  And there were many saw it too,
  And came to tell me through the street:
  And when they spoke, I smiled, ah me!
  But in my room wept privately;
  And when they spoke, I sang for pride,
  But in my room alone I sighed.

Then come reconciliations (p. 223):--

  Let us make peace, my love, my bliss!
  For cruel strife can last no more.
  If you say nay, yet I say yes:
  'Twixt me and you there is no war.
  Princes and mighty lords make peace;
  And so may lovers twain, I wis:
  Princes and soldiers sign a truce;
  And so may two sweethearts like us:
  Princes and potentates agree;
  And so may friends like you and me.

There is much character about the following, which is spoken by the
damo (p. 223):--

  As yonder mountain height I trod,
  I chanced to think of your dear name;
  I knelt with clasped hands on the sod,
  And thought of my neglect with shame:
  I knelt upon the stone, and swore
  Our love should bloom as heretofore.

Sometimes the language of affection takes a more imaginative tone, as
in the following (p. 232):--

  Dearest, what time you mount to heaven above,
  I'll meet you holding in my hand my heart:
  You to your breast shall clasp me full of love,
  And I will lead you to our Lord apart.

  Our Lord, when he our love so true hath known,
  Shall make of our two hearts one heart alone;
  One heart shall make of our two hearts, to rest
  In heaven amid the splendours of the blest.

This was the woman's. Here is the man's (p. 113):--

  If I were master of all loveliness,
  I'd make thee still more lovely than thou art:
  If I were master of all wealthiness,
  Much gold and silver should be thine, sweetheart:
  If I were master of the house of hell,
  I'd bar the brazen gates in thy sweet face;
  Or ruled the place where purging spirits dwell,
  I'd free thee from that punishment apace.
  Were I in paradise and thou shouldst come,
  I'd stand aside, my love, to make thee room;
  Were I in paradise, well seated there,
  I'd quit my place to give it thee, my fair!

Sometimes, but very rarely, weird images are sought to clothe passion,
as in the following (p. 136):--

  Down into hell I went and thence returned:
  Ah me! alas! the people that were there!
  I found a room where many candles burned,
  And saw within my love that languished there.
  When as she saw me, she was glad of cheer,
  And at the last she said: Sweet soul of mine;
  Dost thou recall the time long past, so dear,
  When thou didst say to me, Sweet soul of mine?
  Now kiss me on the mouth, my dearest, here;
  Kiss me that I for once may cease to pine!
  So sweet, ah me, is thy dear mouth, so dear,
  That of thy mercy prithee sweeten mine!
  Now, love, that thou hast kissed me, now, I say,
  Look not to leave this place again for aye.

Or again in this (p. 232):--

  Methinks I hear, I hear a voice that cries:
  Beyond the hill it floats upon the air.
  It is my lover come to bid me rise,
  If I am fain forthwith toward heaven to fare.
  But I have answered him, and said him No!
  I've given my paradise, my heaven, for you:
  Till we together go to paradise,
  I'll stay on earth and love your beauteous eyes.

But it is not with such remote and eerie thoughts that the rustic muse
of Italy can deal successfully. Far better is the following
half-playful description of love-sadness (p. 71):--

  Ah me, alas! who know not how to sigh!
  Of sighs I now full well have learned the art:
  Sighing at table when to eat I try,
  Sighing within my little room apart,
  Sighing when jests and laughter round me fly,
  Sighing with her and her who know my heart:
  I sigh at first, and then I go on sighing;
  'Tis for your eyes that I am ever sighing:
  I sigh at first, and sigh the whole year through;
  And 'tis your eyes that keep me sighing so.

The next two rispetti, delicious in their naïveté, might seem to have
been extracted from the libretto of an opera, but that they lack the
sympathising chorus, who should have stood at hand, ready to chime in
with 'he,' 'she,' and 'they,' to the 'I,' 'you,' and 'we' of the
lovers (p. 123):--

  Ah, when will dawn that glorious day
  When you will softly mount my stair?
  My kin shall bring you on the way;
  I shall be first to greet you there.
  Ah, when will dawn that day of bliss
  When we before the priest say Yes?

  Ah, when will dawn that blissful day
  When I shall softly mount your stair,
  Your brothers meet me on the way,
  And one by one I greet them there?
  When comes the day, my staff, my strength,
  To call your mother mine at length?
  When will the day come, love of mine,
  I shall be yours and you be mine?

Hitherto the songs have told only of happy love, or of love returned.
Some of the best, however, are unhappy. Here is one, for instance,
steeped in gloom (p. 142):--

  They have this custom in fair Naples town;
  They never mourn a man when he is dead:
  The mother weeps when she has reared a son
  To be a serf and slave by love misled;
  The mother weeps when she a son hath born
  To be the serf and slave of galley scorn;
  The mother weeps when she a son gives suck
  To be the serf and slave of city luck.

The following contains a fine wild image, wrought out with strange
passion in detail (p. 300):--

  I'll spread a table brave for revelry,
  And to the feast will bid sad lovers all.
  For meat I'll give them my heart's misery;
  For drink I'll give these briny tears that fall.
  Sorrows and sighs shall be the varletry,
  To serve the lovers at this festival:
  The table shall be death, black death profound;
  Weep, stones, and utter sighs, ye walls around!
  The table shall be death, yea, sacred death;
  Weep, stones, and sigh as one that sorroweth!

Nor is the next a whit less in the vein of mad Jeronimo (p. 304):--

  High up, high up, a house I'll rear,
  High up, high up, on yonder height;
  At every window set a snare,
  With treason, to betray the night;
  With treason, to betray the stars,
  Since I'm betrayed by my false feres;
  With treason, to betray the day,
  Since Love betrayed me, well away!

The vengeance of an Italian reveals itself in the energetic song which
I quote next (p. 303):--

  I have a sword; 'twould cut a brazen bell,
  Tough steel 'twould cut, if there were any need:
  I've had it tempered in the streams of hell
  By masters mighty in the mystic rede:
  I've had it tempered by the light of stars;
  Then let him come whose skin is stout as Mars;
  I've had it tempered to a trenchant blade;
  Then let him come who stole from me my maid.

More mild, but brimful of the bitterness of a soul to whom the whole
world has become but ashes in the death of love, is the following
lament (p. 143):--

  Call me the lovely Golden Locks no more,
  But call me Sad Maid of the golden hair.
  If there be wretched women, sure I think
  I too may rank among the most forlorn.
  I fling a palm into the sea; 'twill sink:
  Others throw lead, and it is lightly borne.
  What have I done, dear Lord, the world to cross?
  Gold in my hand forthwith is turned to dross.
  How have I made, dear Lord, dame Fortune wroth?
  Gold in my hand forthwith is turned to froth.
  What have I done, dear Lord, to fret the folk?
  Gold in my hand forthwith is turned to smoke.

Here is pathos (p. 172):--

  The wood-dove who hath lost her mate,
  She lives a dolorous life, I ween;
  She seeks a stream and bathes in it,
  And drinks that water foul and green:
  With other birds she will not mate,
  Nor haunt, I wis, the flowery treen;
  She bathes her wings and strikes her breast;
  Her mate is lost: oh, sore unrest!

And here is fanciful despair (p. 168):--

  I'll build a house of sobs and sighs,
    With tears the lime I'll slack;
  And there I'll dwell with weeping eyes
    Until my love come back:
  And there I'll stay with eyes that burn
  Until I see my love return.

The house of love has been deserted, and the lover comes to moan
beneath its silent eaves (p. 171):--

  Dark house and window desolate!
  Where is the sun which shone so fair?
  'Twas here we danced and laughed at fate:
  Now the stones weep; I see them there.
  They weep, and feel a grievous chill:
  Dark house and widowed window-sill!

And what can be more piteous than this prayer? (p. 809):--

  Love, if you love me, delve a tomb,
  And lay me there the earth beneath;
  After a year, come see my bones,
  And make them dice to play therewith.
  But when you're tired of that game,
  Then throw those dice into the flame;
  But when you're tired of gaming free,
  Then throw those dice into the sea.

The simpler expression of sorrow to the death is, as usual, more
impressive. A girl speaks thus within sight of the grave (p. 808):--

  Yes, I shall die: what wilt thou gain?
  The cross before my bier will go;
  And thou wilt hear the bells complain,
  The _Misereres_ loud and low.
  Midmost the church thou'lt see me lie
  With folded hands and frozen eye;
  Then say at last, I do repent!--
  Nought else remains when fires are spent.

Here is a rustic Oenone (p. 307):--

  Fell death, that fliest fraught with woe!
  Thy gloomy snares the world ensphere:
  Where no man calls, thou lov'st to go;
  But when we call, thou wilt not hear.
  Fell death, false death of treachery,
  Thou makest all content but me.

Another is less reproachful, but scarcely less sad (p. 308):--

  Strew me with blossoms when I die,
  Nor lay me 'neath the earth below;
  Beyond those walls, there let me lie,
  Where oftentimes we used to go.
  There lay me to the wind and rain;
  Dying for you, I feel no pain:
  There lay me to the sun above;
  Dying for you, I die of love.

Yet another of these pitiful love-wailings displays much poetry of
expression (p. 271):--

  I dug the sea, and delved the barren sand:
  I wrote with dust and gave it to the wind:
  Of melting snow, false Love, was made thy band,
  Which suddenly the day's bright beams unbind.
  Now am I ware, and know my own mistake--
  How false are all the promises you make;
  Now am I ware, and know the fact, ah me!
  That who confides in you, deceived will be.

It would scarcely be well to pause upon these very doleful ditties.
Take, then, the following little serenade, in which the lover on his
way to visit his mistress has unconsciously fallen on the same thought
as Bion (p. 85):--

     Yestreen I went my love to greet,
     By yonder village path below:
     Night in a coppice found my feet;
     I called the moon her light to show--
  O moon, who needs no flame to fire thy face,
  Look forth and lend me light a little space!

Enough has been quoted to illustrate the character of the Tuscan
popular poetry. These village rispetti bear the same relation to the
canzoniere of Petrarch as the 'savage drupe' to the 'suave plum.' They
are, as it were, the wild stock of that highly artificial flower of
art. Herein lies, perhaps, their chief importance. As in our ballad
literature we may discern the stuff of the Elizabethan drama
undeveloped, so in the Tuscan people's songs we can trace the crude
form of that poetic instinct which produced the sonnets to Laura. It
is also very probable that some such rustic minstrelsy preceded the
Idylls of Theocritus and the Bucolics of Virgil; for coincidences of
thought and imagery, which can scarcely be referred to any conscious
study of the ancients, are not a few. Popular poetry has this great
value for the student of literature: it enables him to trace those
forms of fancy and of feeling which are native to the people, and
which must ultimately determine the character of national art, however
much that may be modified by culture.

       *       *       *       *       *



_POPULAR ITALIAN POETRY OF THE RENAISSANCE_


The semi-popular poetry of the Italians in the fifteenth century
formed an important branch of their national literature, and
flourished independently of the courtly and scholastic studies which
gave a special character to the golden age of the revival. While the
latter tended to separate the people from the cultivated classes, the
former established a new link of connection between them, different
indeed from that which existed when smiths and carters repeated the
Canzoni of Dante by heart in the fourteenth century, but still
sufficiently real to exercise a weighty influence over the national
development. Scholars like Angelo Poliziano, princes like Lorenzo de'
Medici, men of letters like Feo Belcari and Benivieni, borrowed from
the people forms of poetry, which they handled with refined taste, and
appropriated to the uses of polite literature. The most important of
these forms, native to the people but assimilated by the learned
classes, were the Miracle Play or 'Sacra Rappresentazione;' the
'Ballata' or lyric to be sung while dancing; the 'Canto
Carnascialesco' or Carnival Chorus; the 'Rispetto' or short
love-ditty; the 'Lauda' or hymn; the 'Maggio' or May-song; and the
'Madrigale' or little part-song.

At Florence, where even under the despotism of the Medici a show of
republican life still lingered, all classes joined in the amusements
of carnival and spring time; and this poetry of the dance, the
pageant, and the villa flourished side by side with the more serious
efforts of the humanistic muse. It is not my purpose in this place to
inquire into the origins of each lyrical type, to discuss the
alterations they may have undergone at the hands of educated
versifiers, or to define their several characteristics; but only to
offer translations of such as seem to me best suited to represent the
genius of the people and the age.

In the composition of the poetry in question, Angelo Poliziano was
indubitably the most successful. This giant of learning, who filled
the lecture-rooms of Florence with students of all nations, and whose
critical and rhetorical labours marked an epoch in the history of
scholarship, was by temperament a poet, and a poet of the people.
Nothing was easier for him than to throw aside his professor's mantle,
and to improvise 'Ballate' for the girls to sing as they danced their
'Carola' upon the Piazza di Santa Trinità in summer evenings. The
peculiarity of this lyric is that it starts with a couplet, which also
serves as refrain, supplying the rhyme to each successive stanza. The
stanza itself is identical with our rime royal, if we count the
couplet in the place of the seventh line. The form is in itself so
graceful and is so beautifully treated by Poliziano that I cannot
content myself with fewer than four of his _Ballate_.[30] The first is
written on the world-old theme of 'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.'


  I went a roaming, maidens, one bright day,
  In a green garden in mid month of May.

  Violets and lilies grew on every side
    Mid the green grass, and young flowers wonderful,
  Golden and white and red and azure-eyed;
    Toward which I stretched my hands, eager to pull
    Plenty to make my fair curls beautiful,
  To crown my rippling curls with garlands gay.

  I went a roaming, maidens, one bright day,
  In a green garden in mid month of May.

  But when my lap was full of flowers I spied
    Roses at last, roses of every hue;
  Therefore I ran to pluck their ruddy pride,
    Because their perfume was so sweet and true
    That all my soul went forth with pleasure new,
  With yearning and desire too soft to say.

  I went a roaming, maidens, one bright day,
  In a green garden in mid month of May.

  I gazed and gazed. Hard task it were to tell
    How lovely were the roses in that hour:
  One was but peeping from her verdant shell,
    And some were faded, some were scarce in flower:
    Then Love said: Go, pluck from the blooming bower
  Those that thou seest ripe upon the spray.

  I went a roaming, maidens, one bright day,
  In a green garden in mid month of May.

  For when the full rose quits her tender sheath,
    When she is sweetest and most fair to see,
  Then is the time to place her in thy wreath,
    Before her beauty and her freshness flee.
    Gather ye therefore roses with great glee,
  Sweet girls, or ere their perfume pass away.

  I went a roaming, maidens, one bright day,
  In a green garden in mid month of May.

The next Ballata is less simple, but is composed with the same
intention. It may here be parenthetically mentioned that the courtly
poet, when he applied himself to this species of composition, invented
a certain rusticity of incident, scarcely in keeping with the spirit
of his art. It was in fact a conventional feature of this species of
verse that the scene should be laid in the country, where the burgher,
on a visit to his villa, is supposed to meet with a rustic beauty who
captivates his eyes and heart. Guido Cavalcanti, in his celebrated
Ballata, 'In un boschetto trovai pastorella,' struck the keynote of
this music, which, it may be reasonably conjectured, was imported into
Italy through Provençal literature from the pastorals of Northern
France. The lady so quaintly imaged by a bird in the following Ballata
of Poliziano is supposed to have been Monna Ippolita Leoncina of
Prato, white-throated, golden-haired, and dressed in crimson silk.

  I found myself one day all, all alone,
  For pastime in a field with blossoms strewn.

  I do not think the world a field could show
    With herbs of perfume so surpassing rare;
  But when I passed beyond the green hedge-row,
    A thousand flowers around me flourished fair,
    White, pied and crimson, in the summer air;
  Among the which I heard a sweet bird's tone.

  I found myself one day all, all alone,
  For pastime in a field with blossoms strewn.

  Her song it was so tender and so clear
    That all the world listened with love; then I
  With stealthy feet a-tiptoe drawing near,
    Her golden head and golden wings could spy,
    Her plumes that flashed like rubies 'neath the sky,
  Her crystal beak and throat and bosom's zone.

  I found myself one day all, all alone,
  For pastime in a field with blossoms strewn.

  Fain would I snare her, smit with mighty love;
    But arrow-like she soared, and through the air
  Fled to her nest upon the boughs above;
    Wherefore to follow her is all my care,
    For haply I might lure her by some snare
  Forth from the woodland wild where she is flown.

  I found myself one day all, all alone,
  For pastime in a field with blossoms strewn.

  Yea, I might spread some net or woven wile;
    But since of singing she doth take such pleasure,
  Without or other art or other guile
    I seek to win her with a tuneful measure;
    Therefore in singing spend I all my leisure,
  To make by singing this sweet bird my own.

  I found myself one day all, all alone,
  For pastime in a field with blossoms strewn.

The same lady is more directly celebrated in the next Ballata, where
Poliziano calls her by her name, Ippolita. I have taken the liberty of
substituting Myrrha for this somewhat unmanageable word.

  He who knows not what thing is Paradise,
  Let him look fixedly on Myrrha's eyes.

  From Myrrha's eyes there flieth, girt with fire,
    An angel of our lord, a laughing boy,
  Who lights in frozen hearts a flaming pyre,
    And with such sweetness doth the soul destroy,
    That while it dies, it murmurs forth its joy;
  Oh blessed am I to dwell in Paradise!

  He who knows not what thing is Paradise,
  Let him look fixedly on Myrrha's eyes.

  From Myrrha's eyes a virtue still doth move,
    So swift and with so fierce and strong a flight,
  That it is like the lightning of high Jove,
    Riving of iron and adamant the might;
    Nathless the wound doth carry such delight
  That he who suffers dwells in Paradise.

  He who knows not what thing is Paradise,
  Let him look fixedly on Myrrha's eyes.

  From Myrrha's eyes a lovely messenger
    Of joy so grave, so virtuous, doth flee,
  That all proud souls are bound to bend to her;
    So sweet her countenance, it turns the key
    Of hard hearts locked in cold security:
  Forth flies the prisoned soul to Paradise.

  He who knows not what thing is Paradise,
  Let him look fixedly on Myrrha's eyes.

  In Myrrha's eyes beauty doth make her throne,
    And sweetly smile and sweetly speak her mind:
  Such grace in her fair eyes a man hath known
    As in the whole wide world he scarce may find:
    Yet if she slay him with a glance too kind,
  He lives again beneath her gazing eyes.

  He who knows not what thing is Paradise,
  Let him look fixedly on Myrrha's eyes.

The fourth Ballata sets forth the fifteenth-century Italian code of
love, the code of the Novelle, very different in its avowed laxity
from the high ideal of the trecentisti poets.

  I ask no pardon if I follow Love;
  Since every gentle heart is thrall thereof.

  From those who feel the fire I feel, what use
    Is there in asking pardon? These are so
  Gentle, kind-hearted, tender, piteous,
    That they will have compassion, well I know.
    From such as never felt that honeyed woe,
  I seek no pardon: nought they know of Love.

  I ask no pardon if I follow Love;
  Since every gentle heart is thrall thereof.

  Honour, pure love, and perfect gentleness,
    Weighed in the scales of equity refined,
  Are but one thing: beauty is nought or less,
    Placed in a dame of proud and scornful mind.
    Who can rebuke me then if I am kind
  So far as honesty comports and Love?

  I ask no pardon if I follow Love;
  Since every gentle heart is thrall thereof.

  Let him rebuke me whose hard heart of stone
    Ne'er felt of Love the summer in his vein!
  I pray to Love that who hath never known
    Love's power, may ne'er be blessed with Love's great gain;
    But he who serves our lord with might and main,
  May dwell for ever in the fire of Love!

  I ask no pardon if I follow Love;
  Since every gentle heart is thrall thereof.

  Let him rebuke me without cause who will;
    For if he be not gentle, I fear nought:
  My heart obedient to the same love still
    Hath little heed of light words envy-fraught:
    So long as life remains, it is my thought
  To keep the laws of this so gentle Love.

  I ask no pardon if I follow Love;
  Since every gentle heart is thrall thereof.

This Ballata is put into a woman's mouth. Another, ascribed to Lorenzo
de' Medici, expresses the sadness of a man who has lost the favour of
his lady. It illustrates the well-known use of the word _Signore_ for
mistress in Florentine poetry.

  How can I sing light-souled and fancy-free,
  When my loved lord no longer smiles on me?

  Dances and songs and merry wakes I leave
    To lovers fair, more fortunate and gay;
  Since to my heart so many sorrows cleave
    That only doleful tears are mine for aye:
    Who hath heart's ease, may carol, dance, and play
  While I am fain to weep continually.

  How can I sing light-souled and fancy-free,
  When my loved lord no longer smiles on me?

  I too had heart's ease once, for so Love willed,
    When my lord loved me with love strong and great:
  But envious fortune my life's music stilled,
    And turned to sadness all my gleeful state.
    Ah me! Death surely were less desolate
  Than thus to live and love-neglected be!

  How can I sing light-souled and fancy-free,
  When my loved lord no longer smiles on me?

  One only comfort soothes my heart's despair,
    And mid this sorrow lends my soul some cheer;
  Unto my lord I ever yielded fair
    Service of faith untainted pure and clear;
    If then I die thus guiltless, on my bier
  It may be she will shed one tear for me.

  How can I sing light-souled and fancy-free,
  When my loved lord no longer smiles on me?

The Florentine _Rispetto_ was written for the most part in octave
stanzas, detached or continuous. The octave stanza in Italian
literature was an emphatically popular form; and it is still largely
used in many parts of the peninsula for the lyrical expression of
emotion.[31] Poliziano did no more than treat it with his own
facility, sacrificing the unstudied raciness of his popular models to
literary elegance.

Here are a few of these detached stanzas or _Rispetti Spicciolati_:--

  Upon that day when first I saw thy face,
    I vowed with loyal love to worship thee.
  Move, and I move; stay, and I keep my place:
    Whate'er thou dost, will I do equally.

  In joy of thine I find most perfect grace,
    And in thy sadness dwells my misery:
  Laugh, and I laugh; weep, and I too will weep.
  Thus Love commands, whose laws I loving keep.

  Nay, be not over-proud of thy great grace,
    Lady! for brief time is thy thief and mine.
  White will he turn those golden curls, that lace
    Thy forehead and thy neck so marble-fine.
  Lo! while the flower still flourisheth apace,
    Pluck it: for beauty but awhile doth shine.
  Fair is the rose at dawn; but long ere night
    Her freshness fades, her pride hath vanished quite.

  Fire, fire! Ho, water! for my heart's afire!
    Ho, neighbours! help me, or by God I die!
  See, with his standard, that great lord, Desire!
    He sets my heart aflame: in vain I cry.
  Too late, alas! The flames mount high and higher.
    Alack, good friends! I faint, I fail, I die.
  Ho! water, neighbours mine! no more delay I
  My heart's a cinder if you do but stay.

  Lo, may I prove to Christ a renegade,
    And, dog-like, die in pagan Barbary;
  Nor may God's mercy on my soul be laid,
    If ere for aught I shall abandon thee:
  Before all-seeing God this prayer be made--
    When I desert thee, may death feed on me:
  Now if thy hard heart scorn these vows, be sure
  That without faith none may abide secure.

  I ask not, Love, for any other pain
    To make thy cruel foe and mine repent,
  Only that thou shouldst yield her to the strain
    Of these my arms, alone, for chastisement;
  Then would I clasp her so with might and main,
    That she should learn to pity and relent,
  And, in revenge for scorn and proud despite,
  A thousand times I'd kiss her forehead white.

  Not always do fierce tempests vex the sea,
    Nor always clinging clouds offend the sky;
  Cold snows before the sunbeams haste to flee,
    Disclosing flowers that 'neath their whiteness lie;
  The saints each one doth wait his day to see,
    And time makes all things change; so, therefore, I
  Ween that 'tis wise to wait my turn, and say,
  That who subdues himself, deserves to sway.

It will be observed that the tone of these poems is not passionate nor
elevated. Love, as understood in Florence of the fifteenth century,
was neither; nor was Poliziano the man to have revived Platonic
mysteries or chivalrous enthusiasms. When the octave stanzas, written
with this amorous intention, were strung together into a continuous
poem, this form of verse took the title of _Rispetto Gontinuato_. In
the collection of Poliziano's poems there are several examples of the
long Rispetto, carelessly enough composed, as may be gathered from the
recurrence of the same stanzas in several poems. All repeat the old
arguments, the old enticements to a less than lawful love. The one
which I have chosen for translation, styled _Serenata ovvero Lettera
in Istrambotti_, might be selected as an epitome of Florentine
convention in the matter of love-making.

  O thou of fairest fairs the first and queen,
    Most courteous, kind, and honourable dame,
  Thine ear unto thy servant's singing lean,
    Who loves thee more than health, or wealth, or fame;
  For thou his shining planet still hast been,
    And day and night he calls on thy fair name:
  First wishing thee all good the world can give,
  Next praying in thy gentle thoughts to live.

  He humbly prayeth that thou shouldst be kind
    To think upon his pure and perfect faith,
  And that such mercy in thy heart and mind
    Should reign, as so much beauty argueth:
  A thousand, thousand hints, or he were blind,
    Of thy great courtesy he reckoneth:
  Wherefore thy loyal subject now doth sue
  Such guerdon only as shall prove them true.

  He knows himself unmeet for love from thee,
    Unmeet for merely gazing on thine eyes;
  Seeing thy comely squires so plenteous be,
    That there is none but 'neath thy beauty sighs:
  Yet since thou seekest fame and bravery,
    Nor carest aught for gauds that others prize,
  And since he strives to honour thee alway,
  He still hath hope to gain thy heart one day.

  Virtue that dwells untold, unknown, unseen,
    Still findeth none to love or value it;
  Wherefore his faith, that hath so perfect been,
    Not being known, can profit him no whit:
  He would find pity in thine eyes, I ween,
    If thou shouldst deign to make some proof of it;
  The rest may flatter, gape, and stand agaze;
  Him only faith above the crowd doth raise.

  Suppose that he might meet thee once alone,
    Face unto face, without or jealousy,
  Or doubt or fear from false misgiving grown,
    And tell his tale of grievous pain to thee,
  Sure from thy breast he'd draw full many a moan.
    And make thy fair eyes weep right plenteously:
  Yea, if he had but skill his heart to show,
  He scarce could fail to win thee by its woe.

  Now art thou in thy beauty's blooming hour;
    Thy youth is yet in pure perfection's prime:
  Make it thy pride to yield thy fragile flower,
    Or look to find it paled by envious time:
  For none to stay the flight of years hath power,
    And who culls roses caught by frosty rime?
  Give therefore to thy lover, give, for they
  Too late repent who act not while they may.

  Time flies: and lo! thou let'st it idly fly:
    There is not in the world a thing more dear;
  And if thou wait to see sweet May pass by,
    Where find'st thou roses in the later year?
  He never can, who lets occasion die:
    Now that thou canst, stay not for doubt or fear;
  But by the forelock take the flying hour,
  Ere change begins, and clouds above thee lower.

  Too long 'twixt yea and nay he hath been wrung;
    Whether he sleep or wake he little knows,
  Or free or in the bands of bondage strung:
    Nay, lady, strike, and let thy lover loose!
  What joy hast thou to keep a captive hung?
    Kill him at once, or cut the cruel noose:
  No more, I prithee, stay; but take thy part:
  Either relax the bow, or speed the dart.

  Thou feedest him on words and windiness,
    On smiles, and signs, and bladders light as air;
  Saying, thou fain wouldst comfort his distress,
    But dar'st not, canst not: nay, dear lady fair,
  All things are possible beneath the stress
    Of will, that flames above the soul's despair!
  Dally no longer: up, set to thy hand;
  Or see his love unclothed and naked stand.

  For he hath sworn, and by this oath will bide,
    E'en though his life be lost in the endeavour,
  To leave no way, nor art, nor wile untried,
    Until he pluck the fruit he sighs for ever:
  And, though he still would spare thy honest pride,
    The knot that binds him he must loose or sever;
  Thou too, O lady, shouldst make sharp thy knife,
  If thou art fain to end this amorous strife.

  Lo! if thou lingerest still in dubious dread,
    Lest thou shouldst lose fair fame of honesty,
  Here hast thou need of wile and warihead,
    To test thy lover's strength in screening thee;
  Indulge him, if thou find him well bestead,
    Knowing that smothered love flames outwardly:
  Therefore, seek means, search out some privy way;
    Keep not the steed too long at idle play.

  Or if thou heedest what those friars teach,
    I cannot fail, lady, to call thee fool:
  Well may they blame our private sins and preach;
    But ill their acts match with their spoken rule;
  The same pitch clings to all men, one and each.
    There, I have spoken: set the world to school
  With this true proverb, too, be well acquainted
  The devil's ne'er so black as he is painted.

  Nor did our good Lord give such grace to thee
    That thou shouldst keep it buried in thy breast,
  But to reward thy servant's constancy,
    Whose love and loyal faith thou hast repressed:
  Think it no sin to be some trifle free,
    Because thou livest at a lord's behest;
  For if he take enough to feed his fill,
  To cast the rest away were surely ill.

  They find most favour in the sight of heaven
    Who to the poor and hungry are most kind;
  A hundred-fold shall thus to thee be given
    By God, who loves the free and generous mind;
  Thrice strike thy breast, with pure contrition riven,
    Crying: I sinned; my sin hath made me blind!--
  He wants not much: enough if he be able
  To pick up crumbs that fall beneath thy table.

  Wherefore, O lady, break the ice at length;
    Make thou, too, trial of love's fruits and flowers:
  When in thine arms thou feel'st thy lover's strength,
    Thou wilt repent of all these wasted hours;
  Husbands, they know not love, its breadth and length,
    Seeing their hearts are not on fire like ours:
  Things longed for give most pleasure; this I tell thee:
  If still thou doubtest let the proof compel thee.

  What I have spoken is pure gospel sooth;
   I have told all my mind, withholding nought:
  And well, I ween, thou canst unhusk the truth,
   And through the riddle read the hidden thought:
  Perchance if heaven still smile upon my youth,
   Some good effect for me may yet be wrought:
  Then fare thee well; too many words offend:
  She who is wise is quick to comprehend.

The levity of these love-declarations and the fluency of their vows
show them to be 'false as dicers' oaths,' mere verses of the moment,
made to please a facile mistress. One long poem, which cannot be
styled a Rispetto, but is rather a Canzone of the legitimate type,
stands out with distinctness from the rest of Poliziano's love-verses.
It was written by him for Giuliano de' Medici, in praise of the fair
Simonetta. The following version attempts to repeat its metrical
effects in some measure:--

  My task it is, since thus Love wills, who strains
    And forces all the world beneath his sway,
    In lowly verse to say
  The great delight that in my bosom reigns.
  For if perchance I took but little pains
    To tell some part of all the joy I find,
    I might be deem'd unkind
  By one who knew my heart's deep happiness.
  He feels but little bliss who hides his bliss;
    Small joy hath he whose joy is never sung;
    And he who curbs his tongue
  Through cowardice, knows but of love the name.
  Wherefore to succour and augment the fame
    Of that pure, virtuous, wise, and lovely may,
    Who like the star of day
  Shines mid the stars, or like the rising sun,
  Forth from my burning heart the words shall run.
    Far, far be envy, far be jealous fear,
    With discord dark and drear,
  And all the choir that is of love the foe.--
  The season had returned when soft winds blow,
    The season friendly to young lovers coy,
    Which bids them clothe their joy
  In divers garbs and many a masked disguise.
  Then I to track the game 'neath April skies
    Went forth in raiment strange apparellèd,
    And by kind fate was led
  Unto the spot where stayed my soul's desire.
  The beauteous nymph who feeds my soul with fire,
    I found in gentle, pure, and prudent mood,
    In graceful attitude,
  Loving and courteous, holy, wise, benign.
  So sweet, so tender was her face divine,
    So gladsome, that in those celestial eyes
    Shone perfect paradise,
  Yea, all the good that we poor mortals crave.
  Around her was a band so nobly brave
    Of beauteous dames, that as I gazed at these
    Methought heaven's goddesses
  That day for once had deigned to visit earth.
  But she who gives my soul sorrow and mirth,
    Seemed Pallas in her gait, and in her face
    Venus; for every grace
  And beauty of the world in her combined.
  Merely to think, far more to tell my mind
    Of that most wondrous sight, confoundeth me,
    For mid the maidens she
  Who most resembled her was found most rare.
  Call ye another first among the fair;
    Not first, but sole before my lady set:
    Lily and violet
  And all the flowers below the rose must bow.
  Down from her royal head and lustrous brow
    The golden curls fell sportively unpent,
    While through the choir she went
  With feet well lessoned to the rhythmic sound.
  Her eyes, though scarcely raised above the ground,
    Sent me by stealth a ray divinely fair;
    But still her jealous hair
  Broke the bright beam, and veiled her from my gaze.
  She, born and nursed in heaven for angels' praise,
    No sooner saw this wrong, than back she drew,
    With hand of purest hue,
  Her truant curls with kind and gentle mien.
  Then from her eyes a soul so fiery keen,
    So sweet a soul of love she cast on mine,
    That scarce can I divine
  How then I 'scaped from burning utterly.
  These are the first fair signs of love to be,
    That bound my heart with adamant, and these
    The matchless courtesies
  Which, dreamlike, still before mine eyes must hover.
  This is the honeyed food she gave her lover,
    To make him, so it pleased her, half-divine;
    Nectar is not so fine,
  Nor ambrosy, the fabled feast of Jove.
  Then, yielding proofs more clear and strong of love,
    As though to show the faith within her heart,
    She moved, with subtle art,
  Her feet accordant to the amorous air.
  But while I gaze and pray to God that ne'er
    Might cease that happy dance angelical,
    O harsh, unkind recall!
  Back to the banquet was she beckonèd.
  She, with her face at first with pallor spread,
    Then tinted with a blush of coral dye,
    'The ball is best!' did cry,
  Gentle in tone and smiling as she spake.
  But from her eyes celestial forth did break
    Favour at parting; and I well could see
    Young love confusedly
  Enclosed within the furtive fervent gaze,
  Heating his arrows at their beauteous rays,
    For war with Pallas and with Dian cold.
    Fairer than mortal mould,
  She moved majestic with celestial gait;
  And with her hand her robe in royal state
    Raised, as she went with pride ineffable.
    Of me I cannot tell,
  Whether alive or dead I there was left.
  Nay, dead, methinks! since I of thee was reft,
    Light of my life! and yet, perchance, alive--
    Such virtue to revive
  My lingering soul possessed thy beauteous face,
  But if that powerful charm of thy great grace
    Could then thy loyal lover so sustain,
    Why comes there not again
  More often or more soon the sweet delight?
  Twice hath the wandering moon with borrowed light
    Stored from her brother's rays her crescent horn,
    Nor yet hath fortune borne
  Me on the way to so much bliss again.
  Earth smiles anew; fair spring renews her reign:
    The grass and every shrub once more is green;
    The amorous birds begin,
  From winter loosed, to fill the field with song.
  See how in loving pairs the cattle throng;
    The bull, the ram, their amorous jousts enjoy:
    Thou maiden, I a boy,
  Shall we prove traitors to love's law for aye?
  Shall we these years that are so fair let fly?
    Wilt thou not put thy flower of youth to use?
    Or with thy beauty choose
  To make him blest who loves thee best of all?
  Haply I am some hind who guards the stall,
    Or of vile lineage, or with years outworn,
    Poor, or a cripple born,
  Or faint of spirit that you spurn me so?
  Nay, but my race is noble and doth grow
    With honour to our land, with pomp and power;
    My youth is yet in flower,
  And it may chance some maiden sighs for me.
  My lot it is to deal right royally
    With all the goods that fortune spreads around,
    For still they more abound,
  Shaken from her full lap, the more I waste.
  My strength is such as whoso tries shall taste;
    Circled with friends, with favours crowned am I:
    Yet though I rank so high
  Among the blest, as men may reckon bliss,
  Still without thee, my hope, my happiness,
    It seems a sad, and bitter thing to live!
    Then stint me not, but give
  That joy which holds all joys enclosed in one.
  Let me pluck fruits at last, not flowers alone!

With much that is frigid, artificial, and tedious in this
old-fashioned love-song, there is a curious monotony of sweetness
which commends it to our ears; and he who reads it may remember the
profile portrait of Simonetta from the hand of Piero della Francesca
in the Pitti Palace at Florence.

It is worth comparing Poliziano's treatment of popular or semi-popular
verse-forms with his imitations of Petrarch's manner. For this purpose
I have chosen a _Canzone_, clearly written in competition with the
celebrated 'Chiare, fresche e dolci acque,' of Laura's lover. While
closely modelled upon Petrarch's form and similar in motive, this
Canzone preserves Poliziano's special qualities of fluency and
emptiness of content.

  Hills, valleys, caves and fells,
    With flowers and leaves and herbage spread;
    Green meadows; shadowy groves where light is low;
    Lawns watered with the rills
    That cruel Love hath made me shed,
    Cast from these cloudy eyes so dark with woe;
    Thou stream that still dost know
    What fell pangs pierce my heart,
    So dost thou murmur back my moan;
    Lone bird that chauntest tone for tone,
    While in our descant drear Love sings his part:
    Nymphs, woodland wanderers, wind and air;
    List to the sound out-poured from my despair!
  Seven times and once more seven
    The roseate dawn her beauteous brow
    Enwreathed with orient jewels hath displayed;
    Cynthia once more in heaven
    Hath orbed her horns with silver now;
    While in sea waves her brother's light was laid;
    Since this high mountain glade
    Felt the white footsteps fall
    Of that proud lady, who to spring
    Converts whatever woodland thing
    She may o'ershadow, touch, or heed at all.
    Here bloom the flowers, the grasses spring
    From her bright eyes, and drink what mine must bring.
  Yea, nourished with my tears
    Is every little leaf I see,
    And the stream rolls therewith a prouder wave.
    Ah me! through what long years
    Will she withhold her face from me,
    Which stills the stormy skies howe'er they rave?
    Speak! or in grove or cave
    If one hath seen her stray,
    Plucking amid those grasses green
    Wreaths for her royal brows serene,
    Flowers white and blue and red and golden gay!
    Nay, prithee, speak, if pity dwell
    Among these woods, within this leafy dell!
  O Love! 'twas here we saw,
    Beneath the new-fledged leaves that spring
    From this old beech, her fair form lowly laid:--
    The thought renews my awe!
    How sweetly did her tresses fling
    Waves of wreathed gold unto the winds that strayed
    Fire, frost within me played,
    While I beheld the bloom
    Of laughing flowers--O day of bliss!--
    Around those tresses meet and kiss,
    And roses in her lap of Love the home!
    Her grace, her port divinely fair,
    Describe it, Love! myself I do not dare.
  In mute intent surprise
    I gazed, as when a hind is seen
    To dote upon its image in a rill;
    Drinking those love-lit eyes,
    Those hands, that face, those words serene,
    That song which with delight the heaven did fill,
    That smile which thralls me still,
    Which melteth stones unkind,
    Which in this woodland wilderness
    Tames every beast and stills the stress
    Of hurrying waters. Would that I could find
    Her footprints upon field or grove!
    I should not then be envious of Jove.
  Thou cool stream rippling by,
    Where oft it pleased her to dip
    Her naked foot, how blest art thou!
    Ye branching trees on high,
    That spread your gnarled roots on the lip
    Of yonder hanging rock to drink heaven's dew!
    She often leaned on you,
    She who is my life's bliss!
    Thou ancient beech with moss o'ergrown,
    How do I envy thee thy throne,
    Found worthy to receive such happiness!
    Ye winds, how blissful must ye be,
    Since ye have borne to heaven her harmony!
  The winds that music bore,
    And wafted it to God on high,
    That Paradise might have the joy thereof.
    Flowers here she plucked, and wore
    Wild roses from the thorn hard by:
    This air she lightened with her look of love:
    This running stream above,
    She bent her face!--Ah me!
    Where am I? What sweet makes me swoon?
    What calm is in the kiss of noon?
    Who brought me here? Who speaks? What melody?
    Whence came pure peace into my soul?
    What joy hath rapt me from my own control?

Poliziano's refrain is always: 'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. It is
spring-time now and youth. Winter and old age are coming!' A _Maggio_,
or May-day song, describing the games, dances, and jousting matches of
the Florentine lads upon the morning of the first of May, expresses
this facile philosophy of life with a quaintness that recalls Herrick.
It will be noticed that the Maggio is built, so far as rhymes go, on
the same system as Poliziano's Ballata. It has considerable historical
interest, for the opening couplet is said to be Guido Cavalcanti's,
while the whole poem is claimed by Roscoe for Lorenzo de' Medici, and
by Carducci with better reason for Poliziano.

    Welcome in the May
    And the woodland garland gay!

  Welcome in the jocund spring
    Which bids all men lovers be!
  Maidens, up with carolling,
    With your sweethearts stout and free,
    With roses and with blossoms ye
  Who deck yourselves this first of May!

  Up, and forth into the pure
    Meadows, mid the trees and flowers!
  Every beauty is secure
    With so many bachelors:
    Beasts and birds amid the bowers
  Burn with love this first of May.

  Maidens, who are young and fair,
    Be not harsh, I counsel you;
  For your youth cannot repair
    Her prime of spring, as meadows do:
    None be proud, but all be true
  To men who love, this first of May.

  Dance and carol every one
    Of our band so bright and gay!
  See your sweethearts how they run
    Through the jousts for you to-day!
    She who saith her lover nay,
  Will deflower the sweets of May,

  Lads in love take sword and shield
    To make pretty girls their prize:
  Yield ye, merry maidens, yield
    To your lovers' vows and sighs:
    Give his heart back ere it dies:
  Wage not war this first of May.

  He who steals another's heart,
    Let him give his own heart too:
  Who's the robber? 'Tis the smart
    Little cherub Cupid, who
    Homage comes to pay with you,
  Damsels, to the first of May.

  Love comes smiling; round his head
    Lilies white and roses meet:
  'Tis for you his flight is sped.
    Fair one, haste our king to greet:
    Who will fling him blossoms sweet
  Soonest on this first of May?

  Welcome, stranger! welcome, king!
    Love, what hast thou to command?
  That each girl with wreaths should ring
    Her lover's hair with loving hand,
    That girls small and great should band
  In Love's ranks this first of May.

The _Canto Carnascialesco_, for the final development if not for the
invention of which all credit must be given to Lorenzo de' Medici,
does not greatly differ from the Maggio in structure. It admitted,
however, of great varieties, and was generally more complex in its
interweaving of rhymes. Yet the essential principle of an exordium
which should also serve for a refrain, was rarely, if ever, departed
from. Two specimens of the Carnival Song will serve to bring into
close contrast two very different aspects of Florentine history. The
earlier was composed by Lorenzo de' Medici at the height of his power
and in the summer of Italian independence. It was sung by masquers
attired in classical costume, to represent Bacchus and his crew.

  Fair is youth and void of sorrow;
    But it hourly flies away.--
    Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
  Nought ye know about to-morrow.

  This is Bacchus and the bright
    Ariadne, lovers true!
  They, in flying time's despite,
    Each with each find pleasure new;
  These their Nymphs, and all their crew
    Keep perpetual holiday.--
    Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
  Nought ye know about to-morrow.

  These blithe Satyrs, wanton-eyed,
    Of the Nymphs are paramours:
  Through the caves and forests wide
    They have snared them mid the flowers;
  Warmed with Bacchus, in his bowers,
    Now they dance and leap alway.--
    Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
  Nought ye know about to-morrow.

  These fair Nymphs, they are not loth
    To entice their lovers' wiles.
  None but thankless folk and rough
    Can resist when Love beguiles.
  Now enlaced, with wreathèd smiles,
    All together dance and play.--
    Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
  Nought ye know about to-morrow.

  See this load behind them plodding
    On the ass! Silenus he,
  Old and drunken, merry, nodding,
    Full of years and jollity;
  Though he goes so swayingly,
    Yet he laughs and quaffs alway.--
    Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
  Nought ye know about to-morrow.

  Midas treads a wearier measure:
    All he touches turns to gold:
  If there be no taste of pleasure,
    What's the use of wealth untold?
  What's the joy his fingers hold,
    When he's forced to thirst for aye?--
    Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
  Nought ye know about to-morrow.

  Listen well to what we're saying;
    Of to-morrow have no care!
  Young and old together playing,
    Boys and girls, be blithe as air!
  Every sorry thought forswear!
    Keep perpetual holiday.---
    Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
  Nought ye know about to-morrow.

  Ladies and gay lovers young!
    Long live Bacchus, live Desire!
  Dance and play; let songs be sung;
    Let sweet love your bosoms fire;
  In the future come what may!---
  Youths and maids, enjoy to-day!
  Nought ye know about to-morrow.

  Fair is youth and void of sorrow;
    But it hourly flies away.

The next, composed by Antonio Alamanni, after Lorenzo's death and the
ominous passage of Charles VIII., was sung by masquers habited as
skeletons. The car they rode on, was a Car of Death designed by Piero
di Cosimo, and their music was purposely gloomy. If in the jovial days
of the Medici the streets of Florence had rung to the thoughtless
refrain, 'Nought ye know about to-morrow,' they now re-echoed with a
cry of 'Penitence;' for times had strangely altered, and the heedless
past had brought forth a doleful present. The last stanza of
Alamanni's chorus is a somewhat clumsy attempt to adapt the too real
moral of his subject to the customary mood of the Carnival.


  Sorrow, tears, and penitence
  Are our doom of pain for aye;
  This dead concourse riding by
  Hath no cry but penitence!

  E'en as you are, once were we:
  You shall be as now we are:
  We are dead men, as you see:
  We shall see you dead men, where
  Nought avails to take great care,
  After sins, of penitence.

  We too in the Carnival
  Sang our love-songs through the town;
  Thus from sin to sin we all
  Headlong, heedless, tumbled down:--
  Now we cry, the world around,
  Penitence! oh, Penitence!

  Senseless, blind, and stubborn fools!
  Time steals all things as he rides:
  Honours, glories, states, and schools,
  Pass away, and nought abides;
  Till the tomb our carcase hides,
  And compels this penitence.

  This sharp scythe you see us bear,
  Brings the world at length to woe:
  But from life to life we fare;
  And that life is joy or woe:
  All heaven's bliss on him doth flow
  Who on earth does penitence.

  Living here, we all must die;
  Dying, every soul shall live:
  For the King of kings on high
  This fixed ordinance doth give:
  Lo, you all are fugitive!
  Penitence! Cry Penitence!

  Torment great and grievous dole
  Hath the thankless heart mid you;
  But the man of piteous soul
  Finds much honour in our crew:
  Love for loving is the due
  That prevents this penitence.

  Sorrow, tears, and penitence
  Are our doom of pain for aye:
  This dead concourse riding by
  Hath no cry but Penitence!

One song for dancing, composed less upon the type of the Ballata than
on that of the Carnival Song, may here be introduced, not only in
illustration of the varied forms assumed by this style of poetry, but
also because it is highly characteristic of Tuscan town-life. This
poem in the vulgar style has been ascribed to Lorenzo de' Medici, but
probably without due reason. It describes the manners and customs of
female street gossips.

  Since you beg with such a grace,
      How can I refuse a song,
      Wholesome, honest, void of wrong,
      On the follies of the place?

  Courteously on you I call;
      Listen well to what I sing:
      For my roundelay to all
      May perchance instruction bring,
      And of life good lessoning.--
      When in company you meet,
      Or sit spinning, all the street
      Clamours like a market-place.

  Thirty of you there may be;
      Twenty-nine are sure to buzz,
      And the single silent she
      Racks her brains about her coz:--
      Mrs. Buzz and Mrs. Huzz,
      Mind your work, my ditty saith;
      Do not gossip till your breath
      Fails and leaves you black of face!

  Governments go out and in:--
      You the truth must needs discover.
      Is a girl about to win
      A brave husband in her lover?--
      Straight you set to talk him over:
      'Is he wealthy?' 'Does his coat
      Fit?' 'And has he got a vote?'
      'Who's his father?' 'What's his race?'

  Out of window one head pokes;
      Twenty others do the same:--
      Chatter, clatter!--creaks and croaks
      All the year the same old game!--
      'See my spinning!' cries one dame,
      'Five long ells of cloth, I trow!'
      Cries another, 'Mine must go,
      Drat it, to the bleaching base!'

  'Devil take the fowl!' says one:
      'Mine are all bewitched, I guess;
      Cocks and hens with vermin run,
      Mangy, filthy, featherless.'
      Says another: 'I confess
      Every hair I drop, I keep--
      Plague upon it, in a heap
      Falling off to my disgrace!'

  If you see a fellow walk
      Up or down the street and back,
      How you nod and wink and talk,
      Hurry-skurry, cluck and clack!--
      'What, I wonder, does he lack
      Here about?'--'There's something wrong!'
      Till the poor man's made a song
      For the female populace.

  It were well you gave no thought
      To such idle company;
      Shun these gossips, care for nought
      But the business that you ply.
      You who chatter, you who cry,
      Heed my words; be wise, I pray:
      Fewer, shorter stories say:
      Bide at home, and mind your place.

  Since you beg with such a grace,
      How can I refuse a song,
      Wholesome, honest, void of wrong,
      On the follies of the place?

The _Madrigale_, intended to be sung in parts, was another species of
popular poetry cultivated by the greatest of Italian writers. Without
seeking examples from such men as Petrarch, Michelangelo, or Tasso,
who used it as a purely literary form, I will content myself with a
few Madrigals by anonymous composers, more truly popular in style, and
more immediately intended for music.[32] The similarity both of manner
and matter, between these little poems and the Ballate, is obvious.
There is the same affectation of rusticity in both.

  _Cogliendo per un prato._

  Plucking white lilies in a field I saw
    Fair women, laden with young Love's delight:
    Some sang, some danced; but all were fresh and bright.
  Then by the margin of a fount they leaned,
    And of those flowers made garlands for their hair--
    Wreaths for their golden tresses quaint and rare.
  Forth from the field I passed, and gazed upon
  Their loveliness, and lost my heart to one.

  _Togliendo l' una all' altra._

  One from the other borrowing leaves and flowers,
    I saw fair maidens 'neath the summer trees,
    Weaving bright garlands with low love-ditties.
  Mid that sweet sisterhood the loveliest
    Turned her soft eyes to me, and whispered, 'Take!'
    Love-lost I stood, and not a word I spake.
  My heart she read, and her fair garland gave:
  Therefore I am her servant to the grave.

  _Appress' un fiume chiaro_.

  Hard by a crystal stream
    Girls and maids were dancing round
    A lilac with fair blossoms crowned.
  Mid these I spied out one
    So tender-sweet, so love-laden,
    She stole my heart with singing then:
  Love in her face so lovely-kind
  And eyes and hands my soul did bind.

  _Di riva in riva_.

  From lawn to lea Love led me down the valley,
    Seeking my hawk, where 'neath a pleasant hill
    I spied fair maidens bathing in a rill.
  Lina was there all loveliness excelling;
    The pleasure of her beauty made me sad,
    And yet at sight of her my soul was glad.
  Downward I cast mine eyes with modest seeming,
    And all a tremble from the fountain fled:
    For each was naked as her maidenhead.
  Thence singing fared I through a flowery plain,
  Where bye and bye I found my hawk again!

  _Nel chiaro fiume_.

  Down a fair streamlet crystal-clear and pleasant
    I went a fishing all alone one day,
    And spied three maidens bathing there at play.
  Of love they told each other honeyed stories,
    While with white hands they smote the stream, to wet
    Their sunbright hair in the pure rivulet.
  Gazing I crouched among thick flowering leafage,
    Till one who spied a rustling branch on high,
    Turned to her comrades with a sudden cry,
  And 'Go! Nay, prithee go!' she called to me:
    'To stay were surely but scant courtesy.'

  _Quel sole che nutrica._

  The sun which makes a lily bloom,
    Leans down at times on her to gaze--
    Fairer, he deems, than his fair rays:
  Then, having looked a little while,
    He turns and tells the saints in bliss
    How marvellous her beauty is.
  Thus up in heaven with flute and string
  Thy loveliness the angels sing.

  _Di novo è giunt'._

  Lo: here hath come an errant knight
    On a barbed charger clothed in mail:
  His archers scatter iron hail.
  At brow and breast his mace he aims;
    Who therefore hath not arms of proof,
    Let him live locked by door and roof;
  Until Dame Summer on a day
  That grisly knight return to slay.

Poliziano's treatment of the octave stanza for Rispetti was
comparatively popular. But in his poem of 'La Giostra,' written to
commemorate the victory of Giuliano de' Medici in a tournament and to
celebrate his mistress, he gave a new and richer form to the metre
which Boccaccio had already used for epic verse. The slight and
uninteresting framework of this poem, which opened a new sphere for
Italian literature, and prepared the way for Ariosto's golden cantos,
might be compared to one of those wire baskets which children steep in
alum water, and incrust with crystals, sparkling, artificial,
beautiful with colours not their own. The mind of Poliziano held, as
it were, in solution all the images and thoughts of antiquity, all the
riches of his native literature. In that vast reservoir of poems and
mythologies and phrases, so patiently accumulated, so tenaciously
preserved, so thoroughly assimilated, he plunged the trivial subject
he had chosen, and triumphantly presented to the world the _spolia
opima_ of scholarship and taste. What mattered it that the theme was
slight? The art was perfect, the result splendid. One canto of 125
stanzas describes the youth of Giuliano, who sought to pass his life
among the woods, a hunter dead to love, but who was doomed to be
ensnared by Cupid. The chase, the beauty of Simonetta, the palace of
Venus, these are the three subjects of a book as long as the first
Iliad. The second canto begins with dreams and prophecies of glory to
be won by Giuliano in the tournament. But it stops abruptly. The
tragic catastrophe of the Pazzi Conjuration cut short Poliziano's
panegyric by the murder of his hero. Meanwhile the poet had achieved
his purpose. His torso presented to Italy a model of style, a piece of
written art adequate to the great painting of the Renaissance period,
a double star of poetry which blent the splendours of the ancient and
the modern world. To render into worthy English the harmonies of
Poliziano is a difficult task. Yet this must be attempted if an
English reader is to gain any notion of the scope and substance of the
Italian poet's art. In the first part of the poem we are placed, as it
were, at the mid point between the 'Hippolytus' of Euripides and
Shakspere's 'Venus and Adonis.' The cold hunter Giuliano is to see
Simonetta, and seeing, is to love her. This is how he first discovers
the triumphant beauty:[33]

  White is the maid, and white the robe around her,
    With buds and roses and thin grasses pied;
  Enwreathèd folds of golden tresses crowned her,
  Shadowing her forehead fair with modest pride:

  The wild wood smiled; the thicket where he found her,
    To ease his anguish, bloomed on every side:
  Serene she sits, with gesture queenly mild,
  And with her brow tempers the tempests wild.

After three stanzas of this sort, in which the poet's style is more
apparent than the object he describes, occurs this charming picture:--

  Reclined he found her on the swarded grass
    In jocund mood; and garlands she had made
  Of every flower that in the meadow was,
    Or on her robe of many hues displayed;
  But when she saw the youth before her pass,
    Raising her timid head awhile she stayed;
  Then with her white hand gathered up her dress,
    And stood, lap-full of flowers, in loveliness.

  Then through the dewy field with footstep slow
    The lingering maid began to take her way,
  Leaving her lover in great fear and woe,
    For now he longs for nought but her alway:
  The wretch, who cannot bear that she should go,
    Strives with a whispered prayer her feet to stay;
  And thus at last, all trembling, all afire,
  In humble wise he breathes his soul's desire:

  'Whoe'er thou art, maid among maidens queen,
    Goddess, or nymph--nay, goddess seems most clear--
  If goddess, sure my Dian I have seen;
    If mortal, let thy proper self appear!
  Beyond terrestrial beauty is thy mien;
    I have no merit that I should be here!
  What grace of heaven, what lucky star benign
  Yields me the sight of beauty so divine?'

A conversation ensues, after which Giuliano departs utterly lovesick,
and Cupid takes wing exultingly for Cyprus, where his mother's palace
stands. In the following picture of the house of Venus, who shall say
how much of Ariosto's Alcina and Tasso's Armida is contained? Cupid
arrives, and the family of Love is filled with joy at Giuliano's
conquest. From the plan of the poem it is clear that its beauties are
chiefly those of detail. They are, however, very great. How perfect,
for example, is the richness combined with delicacy of the following
description of a country life:--

BOOK I. STANZAS 17-21.

  How far more safe it is, how far more fair,
    To chase the flying deer along the lea;
  Through ancient woods to track their hidden lair,
    Far from the town, with long-drawn subtlety:
  To scan the vales, the hills, the limpid air,
    The grass and flowers, clear ice, and streams so free;
  To hear the birds wake from their winter trance,
  The wind-stirred leaves and murmuring waters dance.

  How sweet it were to watch the young goats hung
    From toppling crags, cropping the tender shoot,
  While in thick pleachèd shade the shepherd sung
    His uncouth rural lay and woke his flute;
  To mark, mid dewy grass, red apples flung,
    And every bough thick set with ripening fruit,
  The butting rams, kine lowing o'er the lea,
  And cornfields waving like the windy sea.

  Lo! how the rugged master of the herd
    Before his flock unbars the wattled cote;
  Then with his rod and many a rustic word
    He rules their going: or 'tis sweet to note
  The delver, when his toothèd rake hath stirred
    The stubborn clod, his hoe the glebe hath smote;
  Barefoot the country girl, with loosened zone,
  Spins, while she keeps her geese 'neath yonder stone.

  After such happy wise, in ancient years,
    Dwelt the old nations in the age of gold;
  Nor had the fount been stirred of mothers' tears
    For sons in war's fell labour stark and cold;
  Nor trusted they to ships the wild wind steers,
    Nor yet had oxen groaning ploughed the wold;
  Their houses were huge oaks, whose trunks had store
  Of honey, and whose boughs thick acorns bore.

  Nor yet, in that glad time, the accursèd thirst
    Of cruel gold had fallen on this fair earth:
  Joyous in liberty they lived at first;
    Unploughed the fields sent forth their teeming birth;
  Till fortune, envious of such concord, burst
    The bond of law, and pity banned and worth;
  Within their breasts sprang luxury and that rage
  Which men call love in our degenerate age.

We need not be reminded that these stanzas are almost a cento from
Virgil, Hesiod, and Ovid. The merits of the translator, adapter, and
combiner, who knew so well how to cull their beauties and adorn them
with a perfect dress of modern diction, are so eminent that we cannot
deny him the title of a great poet. It is always in picture-painting
more than in dramatic presentation that Poliziano excels. Here is a
basrelief of Venus rising from the Ocean foam:--


STANZAS 99-107.

  In Thetis' lap, upon the vexed Egean,
    The seed deific from Olympus sown,
  Beneath dim stars and cycling empyrean
    Drifts like white foam across the salt waves blown;
  Thence, born at last by movements hymenean,
    Rises a maid more fair than man hath known;
  Upon her shell the wanton breezes waft her;
    She nears the shore, while heaven looks down with laughter

  Seeing the carved work you would cry that real
    Were shell and sea, and real the winds that blow;
  The lightning of the goddess' eyes you feel,
    The smiling heavens, the elemental glow:
  White-vested Hours across the smooth sands steal,
    With loosened curls that to the breezes flow;
  Like, yet unlike, are all their beauteous faces,
  E'en as befits a choir of sister Graces.

  Well might you swear that on those waves were riding
   The goddess with her right hand on her hair,
  And with the other the sweet apple hiding;
    And that beneath her feet, divinely fair,
  Fresh flowers sprang forth, the barren sands dividing;
    Then that, with glad smiles and enticements rare,
  The three nymphs round their queen, embosoming her,
  Threw the starred mantle soft as gossamer.

  The one, with hands above her head upraised,
    Upon her dewy tresses fits a wreath,
  With ruddy gold and orient gems emblazed;
    The second hangs pure pearls her ears beneath;
  The third round shoulders white and breast hath placed
    Such wealth of gleaming carcanets as sheathe
  Their own fair bosoms, when the Graces sing
  Among the gods with dance and carolling.

  Thence might you see them rising toward the spheres,
    Seated upon a cloud of silvery white;
  The trembling of the cloven air appears
    Wrought in the stone, and heaven serenely bright;
  The gods drink in with open eyes and ears
    Her beauty, and desire her bed's delight;
  Each seems to marvel with a mute amaze--
  Their brows and foreheads wrinkle as they gaze.

The next quotation shows Venus in the lap of Mars, and Visited by
Cupid:--

  STANZAS 122--124.

  Stretched on a couch, outside the coverlid,
    Love found her, scarce unloosed from Mars' embrace;
  He, lying back within her bosom, fed
    His eager eyes on nought but her fair face;

  Roses above them like a cloud were shed,
    To reinforce them in the amorous chace;
  While Venus, quick with longings unsuppressed,
    A thousand times his eyes and forehead kissed.

  Above, around, young Loves on every side
    Played naked, darting birdlike to and fro;
  And one, whose plumes a thousand colours dyed,
    Fanned the shed roses as they lay arow;
  One filled his quiver with fresh flowers, and hied
    To pour them on the couch that lay below;
  Another, poised upon his pinions, through
  The falling shower soared shaking rosy dew:

  For, as he quivered with his tremulous wing,
    The wandering roses in their drift were stayed;--
  Thus none was weary of glad gambolling;
    Till Cupid came, with dazzling plumes displayed,
  Breathless; and round his mother's neck did fling
    His languid arms, and with his winnowing made
  Her heart burn:--very glad and bright of face,
  But, with his flight, too tired to speak apace.

These pictures have in them the very glow of Italian painting.
Sometimes we seem to see a quaint design of Piero di Cosimo, with
bright tints and multitudinous small figures in a spacious landscape.
Sometimes it is the languid grace of Botticelli, whose soul became
possessed of classic inspiration as it were in dreams, and who has
painted the birth of Venus almost exactly as Poliziano imagined it.
Again, we seize the broader beauties of the Venetian masters, or the
vehemence of Giulio Romano's pencil. To the last class belong the two
next extracts:--

  STANZAS 104--107.


  In the last square the great artificer
    Had wrought himself crowned with Love's perfect palm;
  Black from his forge and rough, he runs to her,
    Leaving all labour for her bosom's calm:
  Lips joined to lips with deep love-longing stir,
    Fire in his heart, and in his spirit balm;
  Far fiercer flames through breast and marrow fly
    Than those which heat his forge in Sicily.

  Jove, on the other side, becomes a bull,
    Goodly and white, at Love's behest, and rears
  His neck beneath his rich freight beautiful:
    She turns toward the shore that disappears,
  With frightened gesture; and the wonderful
    Gold curls about her bosom and her ears
  Float in the wind; her veil waves, backward borne;
  This hand still clasps his back, and that his horn.

  With naked feet close-tucked beneath her dress,
    She seems to fear the sea that dares not rise:
  So, imaged in a shape of drear distress,
    In vain unto her comrades sweet she cries;
  They left amid the meadow-flowers, no less
    For lost Europa wail with weeping eyes:
  Europa, sounds the shore, bring back our bliss
  But the bull swims and turns her feet to kiss.

  Here Jove is made a swan, a golden shower,
    Or seems a serpent, or a shepherd-swain,
  To work his amorous will in secret hour;
    Here, like an eagle, soars he o'er the plain,
  Love-led, and bears his Ganymede, the flower
    Of beauty, mid celestial peers to reign;
  The boy with cypress hath his fair locks crowned,
  Naked, with ivy wreathed his waist around.


  STANZAS 110--112.


  Lo! here again fair Ariadne lies,
    And to the deaf winds of false Theseus plains.
  And of the air and slumber's treacheries;
    Trembling with fear even as a reed that strain.
  And quivers by the mere 'neath breezy skies:
    Her very speechless attitude complains--
  No beast there is so cruel as thou art,
  No beast less loyal to my broken heart.

  Throned on a car, with ivy crowned and vine,
    Rides Bacchus, by two champing tigers driven:
  Around him on the sand deep-soaked with brine
    Satyrs and Bacchantes rush; the skies are riven
  With shouts and laughter; Fauns quaff bubbling wine
    From horns and cymbals; Nymphs, to madness driven,
  Trip, skip, and stumble; mixed in wild enlacements,
  Laughing they roll or meet for glad embracements.

  Upon his ass Silenus, never sated,
    With thick, black veins, wherethrough the must is soaking,
  Nods his dull forehead with deep sleep belated;
    His eyes are wine-inflamed, and red, and smoking:
  Bold Mænads goad the ass so sorely weighted,
    With stinging thyrsi; he sways feebly poking
  The mane with bloated fingers; Fauns behind him,
  E'en as he falls, upon the crupper bind him.

We almost seem to be looking at the frescoes in some Trasteverine
palace, or at the canvas of one of the sensual Genoese painters. The
description of the garden of Venus has the charm of somewhat
artificial elegance, the exotic grace of style, which attracts us in
the earlier Renaissance work:--

  The leafy tresses of that timeless garden
    Nor fragile brine nor fresh snow dares to whiten;
  Frore winter never comes the rills to harden,
    Nor winds the tender shrubs and herbs to frighten;
  Glad Spring is always here, a laughing warden;
    Nor do the seasons wane, but ever brighten;
  Here to the breeze young May, her curls unbinding,
  With thousand flowers her wreath is ever winding.

Indeed it may be said with truth that Poliziano's most eminent faculty
as a descriptive poet corresponded exactly to the genius of the
painters of his day. To produce pictures radiant with Renaissance
colouring, and vigorous with Renaissance passion, was the function of
his art, not to express profound thought or dramatic situations. This
remark might be extended with justice to Ariosto, and Tasso, and
Boiardo. The great narrative poets of the Renaissance in Italy were
not dramatists; nor were their poems epics: their forte lay in the
inexhaustible variety and beauty of their pictures.

Of Poliziano's plagiarism--if this be the right word to apply to the
process of assimilation and selection, by means of which the
poet-scholar of Florence taught the Italians how to use the riches of
the ancient languages and their own literature--here are some
specimens. In stanza 42 of the 'Giostra' he says of Simonetta:--

  E 'n lei discerne un non so che divino.


Dante has the line:--

  Vostri risplende un non so che divino.

In the 44th he speaks about the birds:--

  E canta ogni augelletto in suo latino.

This comes from Cavalcanti's:--

  E cantinne gli augelli.
  Ciascuno in suo latino.

Stanza 45 is taken bodily from Claudian, Dante, and Cavalcanti. It
would seem as though Poliziano wished to show that the classic and
medieval literature of Italy was all one, and that a poet of the
Renaissance could carry on the continuous tradition in his own style.
A, line in stanza 54 seems perfectly original:--

  E già dall'alte ville il fumo esala.

It comes straight from Virgil:--

  Et jam summa pocul villarum culmina fumant.

In the next stanza the line--

  Tal che 'l ciel tutto rasserenò d'intorno,

is Petrarch's. So in the 56th, is the phrase 'il dolce andar
celeste.' In stanza 57--

  Par che 'l cor del petto se gli schianti,

belongs to Boccaccio. In stanza 60 the first line:--

  La notte che le cose ci nasconde,

together with its rhyme, 'sotto le amate fronde,' is borrowed from the
23rd canto of the 'Paradiso.' In the second line, 'Stellato ammanto'
is Claudian's 'stellantes sinus' applied to the heaven. When we reach
the garden of Venus we find whole passages translated from Claudian's
'Marriage of Honorius,' and from the 'Metamorphoses' of Ovid.

Poliziano's second poem of importance, which indeed may historically
be said to take precedence of 'La Giostra,' was the so-called tragedy
of 'Orfeo.' The English version of this lyrical drama must be reserved
for a separate study: yet it belongs to the subject of this, inasmuch
as the 'Orfeo' is a classical legend treated in a form already
familiar to the Italian people. Nearly all the popular kinds of poetry
of which specimens have been translated in this chapter, will be found
combined in its six short scenes.

       *       *       *       *       *



_ORFEO_


The 'Orfeo' of Messer Angelo Poliziano ranks amongst the most
important poems of the fifteenth century. It was composed at Mantua in
the short space of two days, on the occasion of Cardinal Francesco
Gonzaga's visit to his native town in 1472. But, though so hastily put
together, the 'Orfeo' marks an epoch in the evolution of Italian
poetry. It is the earliest example of a secular drama, containing
within the compass of its brief scenes the germ of the opera, the
tragedy, and the pastoral play. In form it does not greatly differ
from the 'Sacre Rappresentazioni' of the fifteenth century, as those
miracle plays were handled by popular poets of the earlier
Renaissance. But while the traditional octave stanza is used for the
main movement of the piece, Poliziano has introduced episodes of
_terza rima_, madrigals, a carnival song, a _ballata_, and, above all,
choral passages which have in them the future melodrama of the musical
Italian stage. The lyrical treatment of the fable, its capacity for
brilliant and varied scenic effects, its combination of singing with
action, and the whole artistic keeping of the piece, which never
passes into genuine tragedy, but stays within the limits of romantic
pathos, distinguish the 'Orfeo' as a typical production of Italian
genius. Thus, though little better than an improvisation, it combines
the many forms of verse developed by the Tuscans at the close of the
Middle Ages, and fixes the limits beyond which their dramatic poets,
with a few exceptions, were not destined to advance. Nor was the
choice of the fable without significance. Quitting the Bible stories
and the Legends of Saints, which supplied the mediaeval playwright
with material, Poliziano selects a classic story: and this story might
pass for an allegory of Italy, whose intellectual development the
scholar-poet ruled. Orpheus is the power of poetry and art, softening
stubborn nature, civilising men, and prevailing over Hades for a
season. He is the right hero of humanism, the genius of the
Renaissance, the tutelary god of Italy, who thought she could resist
the laws of fate by verse and elegant accomplishments. To press this
kind of allegory is unwise; for at a certain moment it breaks in our
hands. And yet in Eurydice the fancy might discover Freedom, the true
spouse of poetry and art; Orfeo's last resolve too vividly depicts the
vice of the Renaissance; and the Mænads are those barbarous armies
destined to lay waste the plains of Italy, inebriate with wine and
blood, obeying a new lord of life on whom the poet's harp exerts no
charm. But a truce to this spinning of pedantic cobwebs. Let Mercury
appear, and let the play begin.


_THE FABLE OF ORPHEUS_

  MERCURY _announces the show_.

  Ho, silence! Listen! There was once a hind,
    Son of Apollo, Aristaeus hight,
    Who loved with so untamed and fierce a mind
    Eurydice, the wife of Orpheus wight,
    That chasing her one day with will unkind
    He wrought her cruel death in love's despite;
    For, as she fled toward the mere hard by,
    A serpent stung her, and she had to die.

  Now Orpheus, singing, brought her back from hell,
    But could not keep the law the fates ordain:
    Poor wretch, he backward turned and broke the spell;
    So that once more from him his love was ta'en.
    Therefore he would no more with women dwell,
    And in the end by women he was slain.

  _Enter_ A SHEPHERD, _who says_--

  Nay, listen, friends! Fair auspices are given,
  Since Mercury to earth hath come from heaven.



  SCENE I

  MOPSUS, _an old shepherd_.


  Say, hast thou seen a calf of mine, all white
    Save for a spot of black upon her front,
    Two feet, one flank, and one knee ruddy-bright?

  ARISTAEUS, _a young shepherd_.

  Friend Mopsus, to the margin of this fount
    No herds have come to drink since break of day;
  Yet may'st thou hear them low on yonder mount.
    Go, Thyrsis, search the upland lawn, I pray!
  Thou Mopsus shalt with me the while abide;
    For I would have thee listen to my lay.

                                  _[Exit_ THYRSIS.

  'Twas yester morn where trees yon cavern hide,
    I saw a nymph more fair than Dian, who
    Had a young lusty lover at her side:
  But when that more than woman met my view,
    The heart within my bosom leapt outright,
    And straight the madness of wild Love I knew.
  Since then, dear Mopsus, I have no delight;
    But weep and weep: of food and drink I tire,
    And without slumber pass the weary night.

  MOPSUS.

  Friend Aristaeus, if this amorous fire
      Thou dost not seek to quench as best may be,
      Thy peace of soul will vanish in desire.
  Thou know'st that love is no new thing to me:
      I've proved how love grown old brings bitter pain:
      Cure it at once, or hope no remedy;
  For if thou find thee in Love's cruel chain,
      Thy bees, thy blossoms will be out of mind,
      Thy fields, thy vines, thy flocks, thy cotes, thy grain

  ARISTAEUS.

  Mopsus, thou speakest to the deaf and blind:
      Waste not on me these wingèd words, I pray,
      Lest they be scattered to the inconstant wind,
  I love, and cannot wish to say love nay;
      Nor seek to cure so charming a disease:
      They praise Love best who most against him say.
  Yet if thou fain wouldst give my heart some ease,
      Forth from thy wallet take thy pipe, and we
      Will sing awhile beneath the leafy trees;
  For well my nymph is pleased with melody.

  THE SONG.

  Listen, ye wild woods, to my roundelay;
  Since the fair nymph will hear not, though I pray.

  The lovely nymph is deaf to my lament,
      Nor heeds the music of this rustic reed;
  Wherefore my flocks and herds are ill content,
      Nor bathe their hoof where grows the water weed,
      Nor touch the tender herbage on the mead;
  So sad, because their shepherd grieves, are they.

  Listen, ye wild woods, to my roundelay;
  Since the fair nymph will hear not, though I pray.

  The herds are sorry for their master's moan;
      The nymph heeds not her lover though he die,
  The lovely nymph, whose heart is made of stone--
    Nay steel, nay adamant! She still doth fly
    Far, far before me, when she sees me nigh,
  Even as a lamb flies fern the wolf away.

  Listen, ye wild woods, to my roundelay;
  Since the fair nymph will hear not, though I pray.

  Nay, tell her, pipe of mine, how swift doth flee
    Beauty together with our years amain;
  Tell her how time destroys all rarity,
    Nor youth once lost can be renewed again;
    Tell her to use the gifts that yet remain:
  Roses and violets blossom not alway.

  Listen, ye wild woods, to my roundelay;
  Since the fair nymph will hear not, though I pray.

  Carry, ye winds, these sweet words to her ears,
    Unto the ears of my loved nymph, and tell
  How many tears I shed, what bitter tears!
    Beg her to pity one who loves so well:
    Say that my life is frail and mutable,
  And melts like rime before the rising day.

  Listen, ye wild woods, to my roundelay;
  Since the fair nymph will hear not, though I pray.

  MOPSUS.

  Less sweet, methinks the voice of waters falling
    From cliffs that echo back their murmurous song;
    Less sweet the summer sound of breezes calling
    Through pine-tree tops sonorous all day long;
    Than are thy rhymes, the soul of grief enthralling,
    Thy rhymes o'er field and forest borne along:
  If she but hear them, at thy feet she'll fawn.--
  Lo, Thyrsis, hurrying homeward from the lawn!

  [_Re-enters_ THYRSIS.

  ARISTAEUS.

  What of the calf? Say, hast thou seen her now?

  THYRSIS, _the cowherd_.

  I have, and I'd as lief her throat were cut!
  She almost ripped my bowels up, I vow,
  Running amuck with horns well set to butt:
  Nathless I've locked her in the stall below:
  She's blown with grass, I tell you, saucy slut!

  ARISTAEUS.

  Now, prithee, let me hear what made you stay
  So long upon the upland lawns away?

  THYRSIS.

  Walking, I spied a gentle maiden there,
    Who plucked wild flowers upon the mountain side:
    I scarcely think that Venus is more fair,
    Of sweeter grace, most modest in her pride:
    She speaks, she sings, with voice so soft and rare,
    That listening streams would backward roll their tide:
    Her face is snow and roses; gold her head;
    All, all alone she goes, white-raimented,

  ARISTAEUS.

  Stay, Mopsus! I must follow: for 'tis she
    Of whom I lately spoke. So, friend, farewell!

  MOPSUS.

  Hold, Aristaeus, lest for her or thee
  Thy boldness be the cause of mischief fell!

  ARISTAEUS.

  Nay, death this day must be my destiny,
  Unless I try my fate and break the spell.
  Stay therefore, Mopsus, by the fountain stay!
  I'll follow her, meanwhile, yon mountain way.

  [_Exit_ ARISTAEUS.

  MOPSUS.

  Thyrsis, what thinkest thou of thy loved lord?
    See'st thou that all his senses are distraught?
    Couldst thou not speak some seasonable word,
    Tell him what shame this idle love hath wrought?

  THYRSIS.

  Free speech and servitude but ill accord,
  Friend Mopsus, and the hind is folly-fraught
  Who rates his lord! He's wiser far than I.
  To tend these kine is all my mastery.



  SCENE II

  ARISTAEUS, _in pursuit of_ EURYDICE.

  Flee not from me, maiden!
    Lo, I am thy friend!
    Dearer far than life I hold thee.
    List, thou beauty-laden,
    To these prayers attend:
    Flee not, let my arms enfold thee!
    Neither wolf nor bear will grasp thee:
    That I am thy friend I've told thee:
    Stay thy course then; let me clasp thee!--
    Since thou'rt deaf and wilt not heed me,
    Since thou'rt still before me flying,
    While I follow panting, dying,
    Lend me wings, Love, wings to speed me!

  [_Exit_ ARISTAEUS, _pursuing_ EURYDICE.



  SCENE III

  A DRYAD.

  Sad news of lamentation and of pain,
    Dear sisters, hath my voice to bear to you:
    I scarcely dare to raise the dolorous strain.
  Eurydice by yonder stream lies low;
    The flowers are fading round her stricken head,
    And the complaining waters weep their woe.
  The stranger soul from that fair house hath fled;
    And she, like privet pale, or white May-bloom
    Untimely plucked, lies on the meadow, dead.
  Hear then the cause of her disastrous doom!
    A snake stole forth and stung her suddenly.
    I am so burdened with this weight of gloom
  That, lo, I bid you all come weep with me!

  CHORUS OF DRYADS.

  Let the wide air with our complaint resound!
    For all heaven's light is spent.
    Let rivers break their bound,
    Swollen with tears outpoured from our lament!

  Fell death hath ta'en their splendour from the skies:
    The stars are sunk in gloom.
    Stern death hath plucked the bloom
    Of nymphs:--Eurydice down-trodden lies.
  Weep, Love! The woodland cries.
    Weep, groves and founts;
    Ye craggy mounts; you leafy dell,
    Beneath whose boughs she fell,
    Bend every branch in time with this sad sound.

  Let the wide air with our complaint resound!

  Ah, fortune pitiless! Ah, cruel snake!
    Ah, luckless doom of woes!
    Like a cropped summer rose,
    Or lily cut, she withers on the brake.
  Her face, which once did make
    Our age so bright
    With beauty's light, is faint and pale;
    And the clear lamp doth fail,
    Which shed pure splendour all the world around

  Let the wide air with our complaint resound!

  Who e'er will sing so sweetly, now she's gone?
      Her gentle voice to hear,
      The wild winds dared not stir;
      And now they breathe but sorrow, moan for moan:
  So many joys are flown,
      Such jocund days
      Doth Death erase with her sweet eyes!
      Bid earth's lament arise,
      And make our dirge through heaven and sea rebound!

  Let the wide air with our complaint resound!

  A DRYAD.

  'Tis surely Orpheus, who hath reached the hill,
      With harp in hand, glad-eyed and light of heart!
      He thinks that his dear love is living still.
  My news will stab him with a sudden smart:
      An unforeseen and unexpected blow
      Wounds worst and stings the bosom's tenderest part.
  Death hath disjoined the truest love, I know,
      That nature yet to this low world revealed,
      And quenched the flame in its most charming glow.
  Go, sisters, hasten ye to yonder field,
      Where on the sward lies slain Eurydice;
      Strew her with flowers and grasses! I must yield
  This man the measure of his misery.

  [_Exeunt_ DRYADS. _Enter_ ORPHEUS, _singing_.

  ORPHEUS.

  _Musa, triumphales titulos et gesta canamus
      Herculis, et forti monstra subacta manu;
  Ut timidae malri pressos ostenderit angues,
      Intrepidusque fero riserit ore puer._

  A DRYAD.

  Orpheus, I bring thee bitter news. Alas!
      Thy nymph who was so beautiful, is slain!
      flying from Aristaeus o'er the grass,
      What time she reached yon stream that threads the plain,

    A snake which lurked mid flowers where she did pass,
    Pierced her fair foot with his envenomed bane:
    So fierce, so potent was the sting, that she
    Died in mid course. Ah, woe that this should be!

  [ORPHEUS _turns to go in silence._

  MNESILLUS, _the satyr_.

  Mark ye how sunk in woe
    The poor wretch forth doth pass,
    And may not answer, for his grief, one word?
    On some lone shore, unheard,
    Far, far away, he'll go,
    And pour his heart forth to the winds, alas!
    I'll follow and observe if he
    Moves with his moan the hills to sympathy.

  [_Follows_ ORPHEUS.

  ORPHEUS.

  Let us lament, O lyre disconsolate!
    Our wonted music is in tune no more.
    Lament we while the heavens revolve, and let
    The nightingale be conquered on Love's shore!
    O heaven, O earth, O sea, O cruel fate!
    How shall I bear a pang so passing sore?
    Eurydice, my love! O life of mine!
    On earth I will no more without thee pine!
  I will go down unto the doors of Hell,
    And see if mercy may be found below:
    Perchance we shall reverse fate's spoken spell
    With tearful songs and words of honeyed woe:
    Perchance will Death be pitiful; for well
    With singing have we turned the streams that flow;
    Moved stones, together hind and tiger drawn,
    And made trees dance upon the forest lawn.

  [_Passes from sight on his way to Hades._

  MNESILLUS.

  The staff of Fate is strong
    And will not lightly bend,
    Nor yet the stubborn gates of steely Hell.
    Nay, I can see full well
    His life will not be long:
    Those downward feet no more will earthward wend.
    What marvel if they lose the light,
    Who make blind Love their guide by day and night!



  SCENE IV

  ORPHEUS, _at the gate of Hell._

  Pity, nay pity for a lover's moan!
    Ye Powers of Hell, let pity reign in you!
    To your dark regions led me Love alone:
    Downward upon his wings of light I flew.
    Hush, Cerberus! Howl not by Pluto's throne!
    For when you hear my tale of misery, you,
    Nor you alone, but all who here abide
    In this blind world, will weep by Lethe's tide.
  There is no need, ye Furies, thus to rage;
    To dart those snakes that in your tresses twine:
    Knew ye the cause of this my pilgrimage,
    Ye would lie down and join your moans with mine.
    Let this poor wretch but pass, who war doth wage
    With heaven, the elements, the powers divine!
    I beg for pity or for death. No more!
    But open, ope Hell's adamantine door!

  [ORPHEUS _enters Hell._

  PLUTO.

  What man is he who with his golden lyre
    Hath moved the gates that never move,
    While the dead folk repeat his dirge of love?
  The rolling stone no more doth tire
    Swart Sisyphus on yonder hill;
    And Tantalus with water slakes his fire;
  The groans of mangled Tityos are still;
    Ixion's wheel forgets to fly;
    The Danaids their urns can fill:
  I hear no more the tortured spirits cry;
  But all find rest in that sweet harmony.

  PROSERPINE.

  Dear consort, since, compelled by love of thee,
    I left the light of heaven serene,
    And came to reign in hell, a sombre queen;
  The charm of tenderest sympathy
    Hath never yet had power to turn
    My stubborn heart, or draw forth tears from me.
  Now with desire for yon sweet voice I yearn;
    Nor is there aught so dear
    As that delight. Nay, be not stern
  To this one prayer! Relax thy brows severe,
  And rest awhile with me that song to hear!

  [ORPHEUS _stands before the throne._

  ORPHEUS.

  Ye rulers of the people lost in gloom,
    Who see no more the jocund light of day!
    Ye who inherit all things that the womb
    Of Nature and the elements display!
    Hear ye the grief that draws me to the tomb!
    Love, cruel Love, hath led me on this way:
    Not to chain Cerberus I hither come,
    But to bring back my mistress to her home.
  A serpent hidden among flowers and leaves
    Stole my fair mistress--nay, my heart--from me:
    Wherefore my wounded life for ever grieves,
    Nor can I stand against this agony.
    Still, if some fragrance lingers yet and cleaves
    Of your famed love unto your memory,
    If of that ancient rape you think at all,
    Give back Eurydice!--On you I call.
  All things ere long unto this bourne descend:
    All mortal lives to you return at last:
    Whate'er the moon hath circled, in the end
    Must fade and perish in your empire vast:
    Some sooner and some later hither wend;
    Yet all upon this pathway shall have passed:
    This of our footsteps is the final goal;
    And then we dwell for aye in your control.
  Therefore the nymph I love is left for you
    When nature leads her deathward in due time:
    But now you've cropped the tendrils as they grew,
    The grapes unripe, while yet the sap did climb:
    Who reaps the young blades wet with April dew,
    Nor waits till summer hath o'erpassed her prime?
    Give back, give back my hope one little day!--
    Not for a gift, but for a loan I pray.
  I pray not to you by the waves forlorn
    Of marshy Styx or dismal Acheron,
    By Chaos where the mighty world was born,
    Or by the sounding flames of Phlegethon;
    But by the fruit which charmed thee on that morn
    When thou didst leave our world for this dread throne!
    O queen! if thou reject this pleading breath,
    I will no more return, but ask for death!

  PROSERPINE.

  Husband, I never guessed
    That in our realm oppressed
    Pity could find a home to dwell:
    But now I know that mercy teems in Hell.
    I see Death weep; her breast
    Is shaken by those tears that faultless fell.
    Let then thy laws severe for him be swayed
    By love, by song, by the just prayers he prayed!

  PLUTO.

  She's thine, but at this price:
    Bend not on her thine eyes,
    Till mid the souls that live she stay.
    See that thou turn not back upon the way!
    Check all fond thoughts that rise!
    Else will thy love be torn from thee away.
    I am well pleased that song so rare as thine
    The might of my dread sceptre should incline.



  SCENE V

  ORPHEUS, _sings._

  _Ite tritumphales circum mea tempora lauri.
    Vicimus Eurydicen: reddita vita mihi est,
  Haec mea praecipue victoria digna coronâ.
    Oredimus? an lateri juncta puella meo?_

  EURYDICE.

  All me! Thy love too great
    Hath lost not thee alone!
    I am torn from thee by strong Fate.
    No more I am thine own.
    In vain I stretch these arms. Back, back to Hell
    I'm drawn, I'm drawn. My Orpheus, fare thee well!

  [EURYDICE _disappears._

  ORPHEUS.

  Who hath laid laws on Love?
    Will pity not be given
    For one short look so full thereof?
    Since I am robbed of heaven,
    Since all my joy so great is turned to pain,
    I will go back and plead with Death again!

  [TISIPHONE _blocks his way._

  TISIPHONE.

  Nay, seek not back to turn!
    Vain is thy weeping, all thy words are vain.
    Eurydice may not complain
    Of aught but thee--albeit her grief is great.
    Vain are thy verses 'gainst the voice of Fate!
    How vain thy song! For Death is stern!
    Try not the backward path: thy feet refrain!
    The laws of the abyss are fixed and firm remain.



  SCENE VI

  ORPHEUS.

  What sorrow-laden song shall e'er be found
    To match the burden of my matchless woe?
    How shall I make the fount of tears abound,
    To weep apace with grief's unmeasured flow?
    Salt tears I'll waste upon the barren ground,
    So long as life delays me here below;
    And since my fate hath wrought me wrong so sore,
    I swear I'll never love a woman more!
  Henceforth I'll pluck the buds of opening spring,
    The bloom of youth when life is loveliest,
    Ere years have spoiled the beauty which they bring:
    This love, I swear, is sweetest, softest, best!
    Of female charms let no one speak or sing;
    Since she is slain who ruled within my breast.
    He who would seek my converse, let him see
    That ne'er he talk of woman's love to me!
  How pitiful is he who changes mind
    For woman! for her love laments or grieves!
    Who suffers her in chains his will to bind,
    Or trusts her words lighter than withered leaves,
    Her loving looks more treacherous than the wind!
    A thousand times she veers; to nothing cleaves:
    Follows who flies; from him who follows, flees;
    And comes and goes like waves on stormy seas!
  High Jove confirms the truth of what I said,
    Who, caught and bound in love's delightful snare,
    Enjoys in heaven his own bright Ganymed:
    Phoebus on earth had Hyacinth the fair:
    Hercules, conqueror of the world, was led
    Captive to Hylas by this love so rare.--
    Advice for husbands! Seek divorce, and fly
    Far, far away from female company!

  [_Enter a_ MAENAD _leading a train of_ BACCHANTES.

  A MAENAD.

  Ho! Sisters! Up! Alive!
    See him who doth our sex deride!
    Hunt him to death, the slave!
  Thou snatch the thyrsus! Thou this oak-tree rive!
    Cast down this doeskin and that hide!
    We'll wreak our fury on the knave!
  Yea, he shall feel our wrath, the knave!
    He shall yield up his hide
    Riven as woodmen fir-trees rive!
    No power his life can save;
    Since women he hath dared deride!
    Ho! To him, sisters! Ho! Alive!

  [ORPHEUS _is chased off the scene and slain: the_ MAENADS
  _then return._

  A MAENAD.

  Ho! Bacchus! Ho! I yield thee thanks for this!
    Through all the woodland we the wretch have borne:
    So that each root is slaked with blood of his:
    Yea, limb from limb his body have we torn
    Through the wild forest with a fearful bliss:
    His gore hath bathed the earth by ash and thorn!--
    Go then! thy blame on lawful wedlock fling!
    Ho! Bacchus! take the victim that we bring!

  CHORUS OF MAENADS.

    Bacchus! we all must follow thee!
    Bacchus! Bacchus! Ohé! Ohé!

  With ivy coronals, bunch and berry,
    Crown we our heads to worship thee!
  Thou hast bidden us to make merry
    Day and night with jollity!
  Drink then! Bacchus is here! Drink free,
  And hand ye the drinking-cup to me!
    Bacchus! we all must follow thee!
    Bacchus! Bacchus! Ohé! Ohé!

  See, I have emptied my horn already:
    Stretch hither your beaker to me, I pray:
  Are the hills and the lawns where we roam unsteady?
    Or is it my brain that reels away?
  Let every one run to and fro through the hay,
  As ye see me run! Ho! after me!
    Bacchus! we all must follow thee!
    Bacchus! Bacchus! Ohé! Ohé!

  Methinks I am dropping in swoon or slumber:
    Am I drunken or sober, yes or no?
  What are these weights my feet encumber?
    You too are tipsy, well I know!
  Let every one do as ye see me do,
  Let every one drink and quaff like me!
    Bacchus! we all must follow thee!
    Bacchus! Bacchus! Ohé! Ohé!

  Cry Bacchus! Cry Bacchus! Be blithe and merry,
    Tossing wine down your throats away!
  Let sleep then come and our gladness bury:
    Drink you, and you, and you, while ye may!
  Dancing is over for me to-day.
  Let every one cry aloud Evohé!
    Bacchus! we all must follow thee!
    Bacchus! Bacchus! Ohé! Ohé!

Though an English translation can do little toward rendering the
facile graces of Poliziano's style, that 'roseate fluency' for which
it has been praised by his Italian admirers, the main qualities of the
'Orfeo' as a composition may be traced in this rough copy. Of dramatic
power, of that mastery over the deeper springs of human nature which
distinguished the first effort of the English muse in Marlowe's
plays, there is but little. A certain adaptation of the language to
the characters, as in the rudeness of Thyrsis when contrasted with the
rustic elegance of Aristæus, a touch of simple feeling in Eurydice's
lyrical outcry of farewell, a discrimination between the tender
sympathy of Proserpine and Pluto's stern relenting, a spirited
presentation of the Bacchanalian _furore_ in the Mænads, an attempt to
model the Satyr Mnesillus as apart from human nature and yet
sympathetic to its anguish, these points constitute the chief dramatic
features of the melodrama. Orpheus himself is a purely lyrical
personage. Of character, he can scarcely be said to have anything
marked; and his part rises to its height precisely in that passage
where the lyrist has to be displayed. Before the gates of Hades and
the throne of Proserpine he sings, and his singing is the right
outpouring of a poet's soul; each octave resumes the theme of the last
stanza with a swell of utterance, a crescendo of intonation that
recalls the passionate and unpremeditated descant of a bird upon the
boughs alone. To this true quality of music is added the
persuasiveness of pleading. That the violin melody of his incomparable
song is lost, must be reckoned a great misfortune. We have good reason
to believe that the part of Orpheus was taken by Messer Baccio
Ugolini, singing to the viol. Here too it may be mentioned that a
_tondo_ in monochrome, painted by Signorelli among the arabesques at
Orvieto, shows Orpheus at the throne of Plato, habited as a poet with
the laurel crown and playing on a violin of antique form. It would be
interesting to know whether a rumour of the Mantuan pageant had
reached the ears of the Cortonese painter.

If the whole of the 'Orfeo' had been conceived and executed with the
same artistic feeling as the chief act, it would have been a really
fine poem independently of its historical interest. But we have only
to turn the page and read the lament uttered for the loss of Eurydice,
in order to perceive Poliziano's incapacity for dealing with his hero
in a situation of greater difficulty. The pathos which might have made
us sympathise with Orpheus in his misery, the passion, approaching to
madness, which might have justified his misogyny, are absent. It is
difficult not to feel that in this climax of his anguish he was a poor
creature, and that the Mænads served him right. Nothing illustrates
the defect of real dramatic imagination better than this failure to
dignify the catastrophe. Gifted with a fine lyrical inspiration,
Poliziano seems to have already felt the Bacchic chorus which forms so
brilliant a termination to his play, and to have forgotten his duty
to the unfortunate Orpheus, whose sorrow for Eurydice is stultified
and made unmeaning by the prosaic expression of a base resolve. It may
indeed be said in general that the 'Orfeo' is a good poem only where
the situation is not so much dramatic as lyrical, and that its finest
passage--the scene in Hades--was fortunately for its author one in
which the dramatic motive had to be lyrically expressed. In this
respect, as in many others, the 'Orfeo' combines the faults and merits
of the Italian attempts at melo-tragedy. To break a butterfly upon the
wheel is, however, no fit function of criticism: and probably no one
would have smiled more than the author of this improvisation, at the
thought of its being gravely dissected just four hundred years after
the occasion it was meant to serve had long been given over to
oblivion.

_NOTE_

Poliziano's 'Orfeo' was dedicated to Messer Carlo Canale, the husband
of that famous Vannozza who bore Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia to
Alexander VI. As first published in 1494, and as republished from time
to time up to the year 1776, it carried the title of 'La Favola di
Orfeo,' and was not divided into acts. Frequent stage-directions
sufficed, as in the case of Florentine 'Sacre Rappresentazioni,' for
the indication of the scenes. In this earliest redaction of the
'Orfeo' the chorus of the Dryads, the part of Mnesillus, the lyrical
speeches of Proserpine and Pluto, and the first lyric of the Mænads
are either omitted or represented by passages in _ottava rima_. In the
year 1776 the Padre Ireneo Affò printed at Venice a new version of
'Orfeo, Tragedia di Messer Angelo Poliziano,' collated by him from two
MSS. This play is divided into five acts, severally entitled
'Pastoricus,' 'Nymphas Habet,' 'Heroïcus,' 'Necromanticus,' and
'Bacchanalis.' The stage-directions are given partly in Latin, partly
in Italian; and instead of the 'Announcement of the Feast' by Mercury,
a prologue consisting of two octave stanzas is appended. A Latin
Sapphic ode in praise of the Cardinal Gonzaga, which was interpolated
in the first version, is omitted, and certain changes are made in the
last soliloquy of Orpheus. There is little doubt, I think, that the
second version, first given to the press by the Padre Affò, was
Poliziano's own recension of his earlier composition. I have therefore
followed it in the main, except that I have not thought it necessary
to observe the somewhat pedantic division into acts, and have
preferred to use the original 'Announcement of the Feast,' which
proves the integral connection between this ancient secular play and
the Florentine Mystery or 'Sacra Rappresentazione.' The last soliloquy
of Orpheus, again, has been freely translated by me from both versions
for reasons which will be obvious to students of the original. I have
yet to make a remark upon one detail of my translation. In line 390
(part of the first lyric of the Mænads) the Italian gives us:--

  Spezzata come il fabbro il cribro spezza.

This means literally: 'Riven as a blacksmith rives a sieve or
boulter.' Now sieves are made in Tuscany of a plate of iron, pierced
with holes; and the image would therefore be familiar to an Italian. I
have, however, preferred to translate thus:--

  Riven as woodmen fir-trees rive,

instead of giving:--

  Riven as blacksmiths boulters rive,

because I thought that the second and faithful version would be
unintelligible as well as unpoetical for English readers.

       *       *       *       *       *



_EIGHT SONNETS OF PETRARCH_


ON THE PAPAL COURT AT AVIGNON

  Fountain of woe! Harbour of endless ire!
    Thou school of errors, haunt of heresies!
    Once Rome, now Babylon, the world's disease,
    That maddenest men with fears and fell desire!
  O forge of fraud! O prison dark and dire,
    Where dies the good, where evil breeds increase!
    Thou living Hell! Wonders will never cease
    If Christ rise not to purge thy sins with fire.
  Founded in chaste and humble poverty,
    Against thy founders thou dost raise thy horn,
    Thou shameless harlot! And whence flows this pride?
  Even from foul and loathed adultery,
    The wage of lewdness. Constantine, return!
    Not so: the felon world its fate must bide.

       *       *       *       *       *


TO STEFANO COLONNA

WRITTEN FROM VAUCLUSE

  Glorius Colonna, thou on whose high head
    Rest all our hopes and the great Latin name,
    Whom from the narrow path of truth and fame
    The wrath of Jove turned not with stormful dread:
  Here are no palace-courts, no stage to tread;
    But pines and oaks the shadowy valleys fill
    Between the green fields and the neighbouring hill,
    Where musing oft I climb by fancy led.
  These lift from earth to heaven our soaring soul,
    While the sweet nightingale, that in thick bowers
    Through darkness pours her wail of tuneful woe,
  Doth bend our charmed breast to love's control;
    But thou alone hast marred this bliss of ours,
    Since from our side, dear lord, thou needs must go.



IN VITA DI MADONNA LAURA. XI

ON LEAVING AVIGNON


  Backward at every weary step and slow
    These limbs I turn which with great pain I bear;
    Then take I comfort from the fragrant air
    That breathes from thee, and sighing onward go.
  But when I think how joy is turned to woe,
    Remembering my short life and whence I fare,
    I stay my feet for anguish and despair,
    And cast my tearful eyes on earth below.
  At times amid the storm of misery
    This doubt assails me: how frail limbs and poor
    Can severed from their spirit hope to live.
  Then answers Love: Hast thou no memory
    How I to lovers this great guerdon give,
    Free from all human bondage to endure?

       *       *       *       *       *


IN VITA DI MADONNA LAURA. XII

THOUGHTS IN ABSENCE

  The wrinkled sire with hair like winter snow
    Leaves the beloved spot where he hath passed his years,
    Leaves wife and children, dumb with bitter tears,
    To see their father's tottering steps and slow.
  Dragging his aged limbs with weary woe,
    In these last days of life he nothing fears,
    But with stout heart his fainting spirit cheers,
    And spent and wayworn forward still doth go;
  Then comes to Rome, following his heart's desire,
    To gaze upon the portraiture of Him
    Whom yet he hopes in heaven above to see:
  Thus I, alas! my seeking spirit tire,
    Lady, to find in other features dim
    The longed for, loved, true lineaments of thee.


IN VITA DI MADONNA LAURA. LII

OH THAT I HAD WINGS LIKE A DOVE!

  I am so tired beneath the ancient load
    Of my misdeeds and custom's tyranny,
    That much I fear to fail upon the road
    And yield my soul unto mine enemy.
  'Tis true a friend from whom all splendour flowed,
    To save me came with matchless courtesy:
    Then flew far up from sight to heaven's abode,
    So that I strive in vain his face to see.
  Yet still his voice reverberates here below:
    Oh ye who labour, lo! the path is here;
    Come unto me if none your going stay!
  What grace, what love, what fate surpassing fear
    Shall give me wings like dove's wings soft as snow,
    That I may rest and raise me from the clay?

       *       *       *       *       *

IN MORTE DI MADONNA LAURA. XXIV


  The eyes whereof I sang my fervid song,
    The arms, the hands, the feet, the face benign,
    Which severed me from what was rightly mine,
    And made me sole and strange amid the throng,
  The crispèd curls of pure gold beautiful,
    And those angelic smiles which once did shine
    Imparadising earth with joy divine,
    Are now a little dust--dumb, deaf, and dull.
  And yet I live! wherefore I weep and wail,
    Left alone without the light I loved so long,
    Storm-tossed upon a bark that hath no sail.
  Then let me here give o'er my amorous song;
    The fountains of old inspiration fail,
    And nought but woe my dolorous chords prolong.


IN MORTE DI MADONNA LAURA. XXXIV


  In thought I raised me to the place where she
    Whom still on earth I seek and find not, shines;
    There 'mid the souls whom the third sphere confines,
    More fair I found her and less proud to me.
  She took my hand and said: Here shalt thou be
    With me ensphered, unless desires mislead;
    Lo! I am she who made thy bosom bleed,
    Whose day ere eve was ended utterly:
  My bliss no mortal heart can understand;
    Thee only do I lack, and that which thou
    So loved, now left on earth, my beauteous veil.
  Ah! wherefore did she cease and loose my hand?
    For at the sound of that celestial tale
    I all but stayed in paradise till now.

       *       *       *       *       *


IN MORTE DI MADONNA LAURA. LXXIV


  The flower of angels and the spirits blest,
    Burghers of heaven, on that first day when she
    Who is my lady died, around her pressed
    Fulfilled with wonder and with piety.
  What light is this? What beauty manifest?
    Marvelling they cried: for such supremacy
    Of splendour in this age to our high rest
    Hath never soared from earth's obscurity.
  She, glad to have exchanged her spirit's place,
    Consorts with those whose virtues most exceed;
    At times the while she backward turns her face
  To see me follow--seems to wait and plead:
    Therefore toward heaven my will and soul I raise,
    Because I hear her praying me to speed.

       *      *       *       *       *

     FOOTNOTES:


     [Footnote 1: We may compare with Venice what is known about
     the ancient Hellenic city of Sybaris. Sybaris and Ravenna
     were the Greek and Roman Venice of antiquity.]

     [Footnote 2: His first wife was a daughter of the great
     general of the Venetians against Francesco Sforza. Whether
     Sigismondo murdered her, as Sansovino seems to imply in his
     _Famiglie Illustri_, or whether he only repudiated her after
     her father's execution on the Piazza di San Marco, admits of
     doubt. About the question of Sigismondo's marriage with
     Isotta there is also some uncertainty. At any rate she had
     been some time his mistress before she became his wife.]

     [Footnote 3: For the place occupied in the evolution of
     Italian scholarship by this Greek sage, see my 'Revival of
     Learning,' _Renaissance in Italy_, part 2.]

     [Footnote 4: The account of this church given by Æneas
     Sylvius Piccolomini (Pii Secondi, Comment., ii. 92)
     deserves quotation: 'Ædificavit tamen nobile templum
     Arimini in honorem divi Francisci, verum ita gentilibus
     operibus implevit, ut non tam Christianorum quam infidelium
     dæmones adorantium templum esse videatur.']

     [Footnote 5: Almost all the facts of Alberti's life are to
     be found in the Latin biography included in Muratori. It has
     been conjectured, and not without plausibility, by the last
     editor of Alberti's complete works, Bonucci, that this Latin
     life was penned by Alberti himself.]

     [Footnote 6: There is in reality no doubt or problem about
     this Saint Clair. She was born in 1275, and joined the
     Augustinian Sisterhood, dying young, in 1308, as Abbess of
     her convent. Continual and impassioned meditation on the
     Passion of our Lord impressed her heart with the signs of
     His suffering which have been described above. I owe this
     note to the kindness of an anonymous correspondent, whom I
     here thank.]

     [Footnote 7: The balance of probability leans against
     Isabella in this affair. At the licentious court of the
     Medici she lived with unpardonable freedom. Troilo Orsini
     was himself assassinated in Paris by Bracciano's orders a
     few years afterwards.]

     [Footnote 8: I have amplified and corrected this chronicle
     by the light of Professor Gnoli's monograph, _Vittoria
     Accoramboni_, published by Le Monnier at Florence in 1870.]

     [Footnote 9: In dealing with Webster's tragedy, I have
     adhered to his use and spelling of names.]

     [Footnote 10: The fresco of the Coronation of the Virgin
     upon the semi-dome of S. Giovanni is the work of a copyist,
     Cesare Aretusi. But part of the original fresco, which was
     removed in 1684, exists in a good state of preservation at
     the end of the long gallery of the library.]

     [Footnote 11: See the chapter on Euripides in my _Studies of
     Greek Poets_, First Series, for a further development of
     this view of artistic evolution.]

     [Footnote 12: I find that this story is common in the
     country round Canossa. It is mentioned by Professor A.
     Ferretti in his monograph entitled _Canossa, Studi e
     Ricerche_, Reggio, 1876, a work to which I am indebted, and
     which will repay careful study.]

     [Footnote 13: Charles claimed under the will of René of
     Anjou, who in turn claimed under the will of Joan II.]

     [Footnote 14: For an estimate of Cosimo's services to art
     and literature, his collection of libraries, his great
     buildings, his generosity to scholars, and his promotion of
     Greek studies, I may refer to my _Renaissance in Italy_:
     'The Revival of Learning,' chap. iv.]

     [Footnote 15: Giottino had painted the Duke of Athens, in
     like manner, on the same walls.]

     [Footnote 16: See _Archivio Storico_.]

     [Footnote 17: The order of rhymes runs thus: _a, b, b, a, a,
     b, b, a, c, d, c, d, c, d_; or in the terzets, _c, d, e, c,
     d, e_, or _c, d, e, d, c, e_, and so forth.]

     [Footnote 18: It has extraordinary interest for the student
     of our literary development, inasmuch as it is full of
     experiments in metres, which have never thriven on English
     soil. Not to mention the attempt to write in asclepiads and
     other classical rhythms, we might point to Sidney's _terza
     rima_, poems with _sdrucciolo_ or treble rhymes. This
     peculiar and painful form he borrowed from Ariosto and
     Sanazzaro; but even in Italian it cannot be handled without
     sacrifice of variety, without impeding the metrical movement
     and marring the sense.]

     [Footnote 19: The stately structure of the _Prothalamion_
     and _Epithalamion_ is a rebuilding of the Italian Canzone.
     His Eclogues, with their allegories, repeat the manner of
     Petrarch's minor Latin poems.]

     [Footnote 20: Marlowe makes Gaveston talk of 'Italian
     masques.' At the same time, in the prologue to
     _Tamburlaine_, he shows that he was conscious of the new and
     nobler direction followed by the drama in England.]

     [Footnote 21: This sentence requires some qualification. In
     his _Poesia Popolare Italiana_, 1878, Professor d'Ancona
     prints a Pisan, a Venetian, and two Lombard versions of our
     Border ballad 'Where hae ye been, Lord Randal, my son,' so
     close in general type and minor details to the English,
     German, Swedish, and Finnish versions of this Volkslied as
     to suggest a very ancient community of origin. It remains as
     yet, however, an isolated fact in the history of Italian
     popular poetry.]

     [Footnote 22: _Canti Popolari Toscani_, raccolti e annotati
     da Giuseppe Tigri. Volume unico. Firenze: G. Barbèra, 1869.]

     [Footnote 23: This is a description of the Tuscan rispetto.
     In Sicily the stanza generally consists of eight lines
     rhyming alternately throughout, while in the North of Italy
     it is normally a simple quatrain. The same poetical material
     assumes in Northern, Central, and Southern Italy these
     diverge but associated forms.]

     [Footnote 24: This song, called Ciure (Sicilian for _fiore_)
     in Sicily, is said by Signor Pitré to be in disrepute there.
     He once asked an old dame of Palermo to repeat him some of
     these ditties. Her answer was, 'You must get them from light
     women; I do not know any. They sing them in bad houses and
     prisons, where, God be praised, I have never been.' In
     Tuscany there does not appear to be so marked a distinction
     between the flower song and the rispetto.]

     [Footnote 25: Much light has lately been thrown on the
     popular poetry of Italy; and it appears that contemporary
     improvisatori trust more to their richly stocked memories
     and to their power of recombination than to original or
     novel inspiration. It is in Sicily that the vein of truly
     creative lyric utterance is said to flow most freely and
     most copiously at the present time.]

     [Footnote 26: 'Remember me, fair one, to the scrivener. I do
     not know him or who he is, but he seems to me a sovereign
     poet, so cunning is he in his use of verse.']

     [Footnote 27: It must be remarked that Tigri draws a strong
     contrast in this respect between the songs of the mountain
     districts which he has printed and those of the towns, and
     that Pitrè, in his edition of Sicilian _Volkslieder_,
     expressly alludes to the coarseness of a whole class which
     he had omitted. The MSS. of Sicilian and Tuscan songs,
     dating from the fifteenth century and earlier, yield a fair
     proportion of decidedly obscene compositions. Yet the fact
     stated above is integrally correct. When acclimatised in the
     large towns, the rustic Muse not unfrequently assumes a garb
     of grossness. At home, among the fields and on the
     mountains, she remains chaste and romantic.]

     [Footnote 28: In a rispetto, of which I subjoin a
     translation, sung by a poor lad to a mistress of higher
     rank, love itself is pleaded as the sign of a gentle soul:--

  My state is poor: I am not meet
    To court so nobly born a love;
  For poverty hath tied my feet,
    Trying to climb too far above.
  Yet am I gentle, loving thee;
  Nor need thou shun my poverty.

     [Footnote 29: When the Cherubina, of whom mention has been
     made above, was asked by Signor Tigri to dictate some of her
     rispetti, she answered, 'O signore! ne dico tanti quando li
     canto! . . . ma ora . . . bisognerebbe averli tutti in
     visione; se no, proprio non vengono.']

     [Footnote 30: I need hardly guard myself against being
     supposed to mean that the form of _Ballata_ in question was
     the only one of its kind in Italy.]

     [Footnote 31: See my _Sketches in Italy and Greece_, p.
     114.]

     [Footnote 32: The originals will be found in Carducci's
     _Studi Letterari_, p. 273 _et seq._ I have preserved their
     rhyming structure.]

     [Footnote 33: Stanza XLIII. All references are made to
     Carducci's excellent edition, _Le Stanze, l'Orfeo e le Rime
     di Messer Angelo Ambrogini Poliziano._ Firenze: G. Barbéra.
     1863.]





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