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Title: Limbo and Other Essays - To which is now added Ariadne in Mantua
Author: Lee, Vernon, 1856-1935
Language: English
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at http://www.freeliterature.org (From images generously


LIMBO AND OTHER ESSAYS

TO WHICH IS NOW ADDED ARIADNE IN MANTUA

BY

VERNON LEE

LONDON--JOHN LANE--THE BODLEY HEAD
   NEW YORK--JOHN LANE COMPANY

MCMVIII



CONTENTS

   LIMBO
   IN PRAISE OF OLD HOUSES
   THE LIE OF THE LAND
   TUSCAN MIDSUMMER MAGIC
   ON MODERN TRAVELLING
   OLD ITALIAN GARDENS
   ABOUT LEISURE
   RAVENNA AND HER GHOSTS
   THE COOK-SHOP AND THE FOWLING-PLACE
   ACQUAINTANCE WITH BIRDS
   ARIADNE IN MANTUA



LIMBO

     Perocchè gente di molto valore
     Conobbi che in quel _Limbo_ eran sospesi.



I

It may seem curious to begin with Dante and pass on to the Children's
Rabbits' House; but I require both to explain what it is I mean by
Limbo; no such easy matter on trying. For this discourse is not about
the Pious Pagans whom the poet found in honourable confinement at the
Gate of Hell, nor of their neighbours the Unchristened Babies; but I am
glad of Dante's authority for the existence of a place holding such
creatures as have just missed a necessary rite, or come too soon for
thorough salvation. And I am glad, moreover, that the poet has insisted
on the importance--"gente di molto valore"--of the beings thus enclosed;
because it is just with the superior quality of the things in what I
mean by Limbo that we are peculiarly concerned.

And now for the other half of my preliminary illustration of the
subject, to wit, the Children's Rabbits' House. The little gardens which
the children played at cultivating have long since disappeared, taken
insensibly back into that corner of the formal but slackly kept garden
which looks towards the steep hill dotted with cows and sheep. But in
that corner, behind the shapeless Portugal laurels and the patches of
seeding grass, there still remains, beneath big trees, what the children
used to call the "Rabbits' Villa." 'Tis merely a wooden toy house, with
green moss-eaten roof, standing, like the lake dwellings of prehistoric
times, on wooden posts, with the tall foxgloves, crimson and white,
growing all round it. There is something ludicrous in this superannuated
toy, this Noah's ark on stilts among the grass and bushes; but when you
look into the thing, finding the empty plates and cups "for having tea
with the rabbits," and when you look into it spiritually also, it grows
oddly pathetic. We walked up and down between the high hornbeam
hedges, the sunlight lying low on the armies of tall daisies and
seeding grasses, and falling in narrow glints among the white boles and
hanging boughs of the beeches, where the wooden benches stand unused in
the deep grass, and the old swing hangs crazily crooked. Yes, the
Rabbits' Villa and the surrounding overgrown beds are quite pathetic. Is
it because they are, in a way, the graves of children long dead, as
dead--despite the grown-up folk who may come and say "It was I"--as the
rabbits and guinea-pigs with whom they once had tea? That is it; and
that explains my meaning: the Rabbits' Villa is, to the eye of the
initiate, one of many little branch establishments of Limbo surrounding
us on all sides. Another poet, more versed in similar matters than Dante
(one feels sure that Dante knew his own mind, and always had his own
way, even when exiled), Rossetti, in a sonnet, has given us the terrible
little speech which would issue from the small Limbos of this kind:

    Look in my face: My name is _Might-have-been_.


II

Of all the things that Limbo might contain, there is one about which
some persons, very notably Churchyard Gray, have led us into error. I do
not believe there is much genius to be found in Limbo. The world,
although it takes a lot of dunning, offers a fair price for this
article, which it requires as much as water-power and coal, nay even as
much as food and clothes (bread for its soul and raiment for its
thought); so that what genius there is will surely be brought into
market. But even were it wholly otherwise, genius, like murder, _would
out_; for genius is one of the liveliest forces of nature; not to be
quelled or quenched, adaptable, protean, expansive, nay explosive; of
all things in the world the most able to take care of itself; which
accounts for so much public expenditure to foster and encourage it:
foster the sun's chemistry, the force of gravitation, encourage atomic
affinity and natural selection, magnificent Mæcenas and judicious
Parliamentary Board, they are sure to do you credit!

Hence, to my mind, there are _no mute inglorious Miltons_, or none
worth taking into account. Our sentimental surmises about them grow from
the notion that human power is something like the wheels or cylinder of
a watch, a neat numbered scrap of mechanism, stamped at a blow by a
creative _fiat_, or hand-hammered by evolution, and fitting just exactly
into one little plan, serving exactly one little purpose, indispensable
for that particular machine, and otherwise fit for the dust-heap.
Happily for us, it is certainly not so. The very greatest men have
always been the most versatile: Lionardo, Goethe, Napoleon; the next
greatest can still be imagined under different circumstances as turning
their energy to very different tasks; and I am tempted to think that the
hobbies by which many of them have laid much store, while the world
merely laughed at the statesman's trashy verses or the musician's
third-rate sketches, may have been of the nature of rudimentary organs,
which, given a different environment, might have developed, become the
creature's chief _raison d'être_, leaving that which has actually
chanced to be his talent to become atrophied, perhaps invisible.

Be this last as it may--and I commend it to those who believe in genius
as a form of monomania--it is quite certain that genius has nothing in
common with machinery. It is the most organic and alive of living
organisms; the most adaptable therefore, and least easily killed; and
for this reason, and despite Gray's _Elegy_, there is no chance of much
of it in Limbo.

This is no excuse for the optimistic extermination of distinguished men.
It is indeed most difficult to kill genius, but there are a hundred ways
of killing its possessors; and with them as much of their work as they
have left undone. What pictures might Giorgione not have painted but for
the lady, the rival, or the plague, whichever it was that killed him!
Mozart could assuredly have given us a half-dozen more _Don Giovannis_
if he had had fewer lessons, fewer worries, better food; nay, by his
miserable death the world has lost, methinks, more even than that--a
commanding influence which would have kept music, for a score of years,
earnest and masterly but joyful: Rossini would not have run to seed, and
Beethoven's ninth symphony might have been a genuine "Hymn to Joy" if
only Mozart, the Apollo of musicians, had, for a few years more,
flooded men's souls with radiance. A similar thing is said of Rafael;
but his followers were mediocre, and he himself lacked personality, so
that many a better example might be brought.

These are not useless speculations; it is as well we realise that,
although genius be immortal, poor men of genius are not. Quite an
extraordinary small amount of draughts and microbes, of starvation
bodily and spiritual, of pin-pricks of various kinds, will do for them;
we can all have a hand in their killing; the killing also of their
peace, kindliness, and justice, sending these qualities to Limbo, which
is full of such. And now, dear reader, I perceive that we have at last
got Limbo well in sight and, in another minute, we may begin to discern
some of its real contents.


III

The Paladin Astolfo, as Ariosto relates, was sent on a winged horse up
to the moon; where, under the ciceroneship of John the Evangelist, he
saw most of the things which had been lost on earth, among others the
wits of many persons in bottles, his cousin Orlando's which he had come
on purpose to fetch, and, curiously enough, his own, which he had never
missed.

The moon does well as storehouse for such brilliant, romantic things.
The Limbo whose contents and branches I would speak of is far less
glorious, a trifle humdrum; sometimes such as makes one smile, like that
Villa of the Rabbits in the neglected garden. 'Twas for this reason,
indeed, that I preferred to clear away at once the question of the Mute
Inglorious Miltons, and of such solemn public loss as comes of the
untimely death of illustrious men. Do you remember, by the way, reader,
a certain hasty sketch by Cazin, which hangs in a corner of the
Luxembourg? The bedroom of Gambetta after his death: the white bed
neatly made, empty, with laurel garlands replacing him; the tricolor
flag, half-furled, leaned against the chair, and on the table vague
heaped-up papers; a thing quite modest and heroic, suitable to all
similar occasions--Mirabeau say, and Stevenson on his far-off
island--and with whose image we can fitly close our talk of genius
wasted by early death.

I have alluded to _happiness_ as filling up much space in Limbo; and I
think that the amount of it lying in that kingdom of Might-have-been is
probably out of all proportion with that which must do that duty in this
actual life. Browning's _Last Ride Together_--one has to be perpetually
referring to poets on this matter, for philosophers and moralists
consider happiness in its _causal connection_ or as a fine snare to
virtue--Browning's _Last Ride Together_ expresses, indeed, a view of the
subject commending itself to active and cheerful persons, which comes to
many just after their salad days; to wit, what a mercy that we don't
often get what we want most. The objects of our recent ardent longings
reveal themselves, most luridly sometimes, as dangers, deadlocks,
fetters, hopeless labyrinths, from which we have barely escaped. This is
the house I wanted to buy, the employment I fretted to obtain, the lady
I pined to marry, the friend with whom I projected to share lodgings.
With such sudden chill recognitions comes belief in a special
providence, some fine Greek-sounding goddess, thwarting one's dearest
wishes from tender solicitude that we shouldn't get what we want. In
such a crisis the nobler of us feel like the Riding Lover, and learn
ideal philosophy and manly acquiescence; the meaner snigger ungenerously
about those youthful escapes; and know not that they have gained safety
at the price, very often, of the little good--ideality, faith and
dash--there ever was about them: safe, smug individuals, whose safety is
mere loss to the cosmos. But later on, when our characters have settled,
when repeated changes have taught us which is our unchangeable ego, we
begin to let go that optimist creed, and to suspect (suspicion turning
to certainty) that, as all things which _have_ happened to us have not
been always advantageous, so likewise things longed for in vain need not
necessarily have been curses. As we grow less attached to theories, and
more to our neighbours, we recognise every day that loss, refusal of the
desired, has not by any means always braced or chastened the lives we
look into; we admit that the Powers That Be showed considerable judgment
in disregarding the teachings of asceticism, and inspiring mankind with
innate repugnance to having a bad time. And, to return to the question
of Limbo, as we watch the best powers, the whole usefulness and
sweetness starved out of certain lives for lack of the love, the
liberty, or the special activities they prayed for; as regards the
question of Limbo, I repeat, we grow (or try to grow) a little more
cautious about sending so much more happiness--ours and other folk's--to
the place of Might-have-been.

Some of it certainly does seem beyond our control, a fatal matter of
constitution. I am not speaking of the results of vice or stupidity;
this talk of Limbo is exclusively addressed to the very nicest people.

A deal of the world's sound happiness is lost through Shyness. We have
all of us seen instances. They often occur between members of the same
family, the very similarity of nature, which might make mothers and
daughters, brothers and sisters, into closest companions, merely
doubling the dose of that terrible reserve, timidity, horror of human
contact, paralysis of speech, which keeps the most loving hearts
asunder. It is useless to console ourselves by saying that each has its
own love of the other. And thus they walk, sometimes side by side,
never looking in one another's eyes, never saying the word, till death
steps in, death sometimes unable to loosen the tongue of the mourner.
Such things are common among our reserved northern races, making us so
much less happy and less helpful in everyday life than our Latin and
Teuton neighbours; and, I imagine, are commonest among persons of the
same blood. But the same will happen between lovers, or those who should
have been such; doubt of one's own feeling, fear of the other's charity,
apprehension of its all being a mistake, has silently prevented many a
marriage. The two, then, could not have been much in love? Not _in
love_, since neither ever allowed that to happen, more's the pity; but
loving one another with the whole affinity of their natures, and, after
all, _being in love_ is but the crisis, or the beginning of that, if
it's worth anything.

Thus shyness sends much happiness to Limbo. But actual shyness is not
the worst. Some persons, sometimes of the very finest kind, endowed for
loving-kindness, passion, highest devotion, nay requiring it as much as
air or warmth, have received, from some baleful fairy, a sterilising
gift of fear. Fear of what they could not tell; something which makes
all community of soul a terror, and every friend a threat. Something
terrible, in whose presence we must bow our heads and pray impunity
therefrom for ourselves and ours.

But the bulk of happiness stacked up in Limbo appears, on careful
looking, to be an agglomeration of other lost things; justice, charm,
appreciation, and faith in one another, all recklessly packed off as so
much lumber, sometimes to make room for fine new qualities instead!
Justice, I am inclined to think, is usually sent to Limbo through the
agency of others. A work in many folios might be written by condensing
what famous men have had said against them in their days of struggle,
and what they have answered about others in their days of prosperity.

The loss of _charm_ is due to many more circumstances; the stress of
life indeed seems calculated to send it to Limbo. Certain it is that few
women, and fewer men, of forty, preserve a particle of it. I am not
speaking of youth or beauty, though it does seem a pity that mature
human beings should mostly be too fat or too thin, and lacking either
sympathy or intellectual keenness. _Charm_ must comprise all that, but
much besides. It is the undefinable quality of nearly every child, and
of all nice lads and girls; the quality which (though it _can_ reach
perfection in exceptional old people) usually vanishes, no one knows
when exactly, into the Limbo marked by the Rabbits' Villa, with its
plates and tea-cups, mouldering on its wooden posts in the unweeded
garden.

More useful qualities replace all these: hardness, readiness to snatch
opportunity, mistrust of all ideals, inflexible self-righteousness;
useful, nay necessary; but, let us admit it, in a life which, judged by
the amount of dignity and sweetness it contains, is perhaps scarce
necessary itself, and certainly not useful. The case might be summed up,
for our guidance, by saying that the loss of many of our finer qualities
is due to the complacent, and sometimes dutiful, cultivation of our
worse ones!

For, even in the list of virtues, there are finer and less fine, nay
virtues one might almost call atrocious, and virtues with a taint of
ignominy. I have said that we lose some of our finer qualities this way;
what's worse is, that we often fail to appreciate the finest qualities
of others.


IV

And here, coming to the vague rubric _appreciation of others_, I feel we
have got to a district of Limbo about which few of us should have the
audacity to speak, and few, as a fact, have the courage honestly to
think. _What do we make of our idea of others_ in our constant attempt
to justify ourselves? No Japanese bogie-monger ever produced the equal
of certain wooden monster-puppets which we carve, paint, rig out, and
christen by the names of real folk--alas, alas, dear names sometimes of
friends!--and stick up to gibber in our memory; while the real image,
the creature we have really known, is carted off to Limbo! But this is
too bad to speak of.

Let us rather think gently of things, sad, but sad without ignominy, of
friendships still-born or untimely cut off, hurried by death into a
place like that which holds the souls of the unchristened babies;
often, like them, let us hope, removed to a sphere where such things
grow finer and more fruitful, the sphere of the love of those we have
not loved enough in life.

But that at best is but a place of ghosts; so let us never forget, dear
friends, how close all round lies Limbo, the Kingdom of
Might-have-been.



IN PRAISE OF OLD HOUSES



I

My Yorkshire friend was saying that she hated being in an old house.
_There seemed to be other_ people in it besides the living....

These words, expressing the very reverse of what I feel, have set me
musing on my foolish passion for the Past. The Past, but the real one;
not the Past considered as a possible Present. For though I should like
to have seen ancient Athens, or Carthage according to Salambô, and
though I have pined to hear the singers of last century, I know that any
other period than this of the world's history would be detestable to
live in. For one thing--one among other instances of brutish
dulness--our ancestors knew nothing of the emotion of the past, the
rapture of old towns and houses.

This emotion, at times this rapture, depends upon a number of mingled
causes; its origin is complex and subtle, like that of all things
exquisite; the flavour of certain dishes, the feel of sea or mountain
air, in which chemical peculiarities and circumstances of temperature
join with a hundred trifles, seaweed, herbs, tar, heather and so forth;
and like, more particularly, music and poetry, whose essence is so
difficult of ascertaining. And in this case, the causes that first occur
to our mind merely suggest a number more. Of these there is a principal
one, only just less important than that suggested by my Yorkshire
friend, which might be summed up thus: _That the action of time makes
man's works into natural objects._

Now, with no disrespect to man, 'tis certain Nature can do more than he.
Not that she is the more intelligent of the two; on the contrary, she
often makes the grossest artistic blunders, and has, for instance, a
woeful lack of design in England, and a perfect mania for obvious
composition and deliberate picturesqueness in Italy and Argyllshire. But
Nature is greater than man because she is bigger, and can do more things
at a time. Man seems unable to attend to one point without neglecting
some other; where he has a fine fancy in melody, his harmony is apt to
be threadbare; if he succeeds with colour, he cannot manage line, and if
light and shade, then neither; and it is a circumstance worthy of remark
that whenever and wherever man has built beautiful temples, churches,
and palaces, he has been impelled to bedizen them with primary colours,
of which, in Venice and the Alhambra, time at last made something
agreeable, and time also, in Greece, has judged best to obliterate every
odious trace. Hence, in the works of man there is always a tendency to
simplify, to suppress detail, to make things clear and explain patterns
and points of view; to save trouble, thought, and material; to be
symmetrical, which means, after all, to repeat the same thing twice
over; he knows it is wrong to carve one frieze on the top of the other,
and to paint in more than one layer of paint. Of all such restrictions
Nature is superbly unconscious. She smears weather-stain on
weather-stain and lichen on lichen, never stopping to match them. She
jags off corners and edges, and of one meagre line makes fifty curves
and facets. She weaves pattern over pattern, regardless of confusion,
so that the mangiest hedgerow is richer, more subtle than all the
carpets and papers ever designed by Mr. Morris. Her one notion is _More,
always more_; whereas that of man, less likely to exceed, is a timid
_Enough_. No wonder, for has she not the chemistry of soil and sun and
moisture and wind and frost, all at her beck and call?

Be it as it may, Nature does more for us than man, in the way of
pleasure and interest. And to say, therefore, that time turns the works
of man into natural objects is, therefore, saying that time gives them
infinitely more variety and charm. In making them natural objects also
time gives to man's lifeless productions the chief quality of everything
belonging to Nature--life. Compare a freshly plastered wall with one
that has been exposed to sun and rain, or a newly slated roof to one all
covered with crumbling, grey, feathery stuff, like those of the Genoese
villages, which look as if they had been thatched with olive-leaves from
off their hills. 'Tis the comparison between life and death; or, rather,
since death includes change, between something and nothing. Imagine a
tree as regular as a column, or an apple as round as a door-knob!


II

So much for the material improvements which time effects in our
surroundings. We now come to the spiritual advantages of dealing with
the past instead of the present.

These begin in our earliest boy- or girl-hood. What right-minded child
of ten or twelve cares, beyond its tribute of apples, and jam, and
cricket, and guinea-pigs, for so dull a thing as the present? Why, the
present is like this schoolroom or playground, compared with Polar Seas,
Rocky Mountains, or Pacific Islands; a place for the body, not for the
soul. It all came back to me, a little while ago, when doing up for my
young friend, L.V., sundry Roman coins long mislaid in a trunk, and
which had formed my happiness at his age. Delightful things!--smooth and
bright green like certain cabbage-leaves, or of a sorry brown, rough
with rust and verdigris; but all leaving alike a perceptible portion of
themselves in the paper bag, a delectable smell of copper on one's
hands. How often had I turned you round and round betwixt finger and
thumb, trying to catch the slant of an inscription, or to get, in some
special light, the film of effaced effigy--the chin of Nero, or the
undulating, benevolent nose of Marcus Aurelius? How often have my hands
not anointed you with every conceivable mixture of oil, varnish, and
gum, rubbing you gently with silk and wool, and kid gloves, in hopes
that something ineffable might rise up on your surface! I quite
sympathised with my young friend when, having waggled and chortled over
each of them several times, he thought it necessary to overcome the
natural manly horror for kissing, and shook my hand twice, thrice, and
then once more, returning from the door.... For had they not
concentrated in their interesting verdigrised, brass-smelling smallness
something, to me, of the glory and wonder of Rome? Cæcilia Metella, the
Grotto of Egeria--a vague vision, through some twenty years' fog, of a
drive between budding hedges and dry reeds; a walk across short
anemone-starred turf; but turning into distinct remembrance of the
buying of two old pennies, one of Augustus, the other even more
interesting, owing to entire obliteration of both reverse and obverse; a
valuable coin, undoubtedly. And the Baths of Caracalla, which I can
recollect with the thick brushwood, oak scrub, ivy and lentisk, and even
baby ilexes, covering the masonry and overhanging the arches, and with
rose hedges just cut away to dig out some huge porphyry pillar--were not
their charms all concentrated in dim, delicious hopes of finding, just
where the green turf ended and the undulating expanse of purple, green
and white tessellated pavement began, some other brazen penny? And then,
in Switzerland, soon after, did I not suffer acutely, as I cleaned my
coins, from the knowledge that in this barbarous Northern place, which
the Romans had, perhaps, never come near, it was quite useless to keep
one's eyes on the ruts of roads and the gravel of paths, and
consequently almost useless to go out, or to exist; until one day I
learnt that a certain old lawyer, in a certain field, had actually dug
up Roman antiquities.... I don't know whether I ever saw them with
corporeal eyes, but certainly with those of the spirit; and I was lent
a drawing of one of them, a gold armlet, of which I insisted on having
a copy made, and sticking it up in my room....

It does but little honour to our greatest living philosopher that he,
whom children will bless for free permission to bruise, burn, and cut
their bodies, and empty the sugar-bowl and jam-pot, should wish to
deprive the coming generation of all historical knowledge, of so much
joy therefore, and, let me add, of so much education. For do not tell me
that it is not education, and of the best, to enable a child to feel the
passion and poetry of life; to live, while it trudges along the dull
familiar streets, in company with dull, familiar, and often stolidly
incurious grown-up folk, in that terrible, magnificent past, in dungeons
and palaces, loving and worshipping Joan of Arc, execrating Bloody Mary,
dreaming strange impossible possibilities of what we would have said and
done for Marie Antoinette--said to her, _her_ actually coming towards
us, by some stroke of magic, in that advancing carriage! There is enough
in afterlife, God knows, to teach us _not to be heroic_; 'tis just as
well that, as children, we learn a lingering liking for the quality;
'tis as important, perhaps, as learning that our tissues consume
carbon, if they do so. I can speak very fervently of the enormous value
for happiness of such an historical habit of mind.

Such a habit transcends altogether, in its power of filling one's life,
the merely artistic and literary habit. For, after all, painting,
architecture, music, poetry, are things which touch us in a very
intermittent way. I would compare this historic habit rather to the
capacity of deriving pleasure from nature, not merely through the eye,
but through all the senses; and largely, doubtless, through those
obscure perceptions which make certain kinds of weather, air, &c., an
actual tonic, nay food, for the body. To this alone would I place my
_historical habit_ in the second rank. For, as the sensitiveness to
nature means supplementing our physical life by the life of the air and
the sun, the clouds and waters, so does this historic habit mean
supplementing our present life by a life in the past; a life larger,
richer than our own, multiplying our emotions by those of the dead....

I am no longer speaking of our passions for Joan of Arc and Marie
Antoinette, which disappear with our childhood; I am speaking of a
peculiar sense, ineffable, indescribable, but which every one knows
again who has once had it, and which to many of us has grown into a
cherished habit--the sense of being companioned by the past, of being in
a place warmed for our living by the lives of others. To me, as I
started with saying, the reverse of this is almost painful; and I know
few things more odious than the chilly, draughty emptiness of a place
without a history. For this reason America, save what may remain of
Hawthorne's New England and Irving's New York, never tempts my vagabond
fancy. Nature can scarcely afford beauty wherewith to compensate for
living in block-tin shanties or brand new palaces. How different if we
find ourselves in some city, nay village, rendered habitable for our
soul by the previous dwelling therein of others, of souls! Here the
streets are never empty; and, surrounded by that faceless crowd of
ghosts, one feels a right to walk about, being invited by them, instead
of rushing along on one's errands among a throng of other wretched
living creatures who are blocked by us and block us in their turn.

How convey this sense? I do not mean that if I walk through old Paris or
through Rome my thoughts revolve on Louis XI. or Julius Cæsar. Nothing
could be further from the fact. Indeed the charm of the thing is that
one feels oneself accompanied not by this or that magnifico of the past
(whom of course one would never have been introduced to), but by a crowd
of nameless creatures; the daily life, common joy, suffering, heroism of
the past. Nay, there is something more subtle than this: the whole place
(how shall I explain it?) becomes a sort of living something. Thus, when
I hurry (for one must needs hurry through Venetian narrowness) between
the pink and lilac houses, with faded shutters and here and there a
shred of tracery; now turning a sharp corner before the locksmith's or
the chestnut-roaster's; now hearing my steps lonely between high walls
broken by a Gothic doorway; now crossing some smooth-paved little square
with its sculptured well and balconied palaces, I feel, I say, walking
day after day through these streets, that I am in contact with a whole
living, breathing thing, full of habits of life, of suppressed words; a
sort of odd, mysterious, mythical, but very real creature; as if, in
the dark, I stretched out my hand and met something (but without any
fear), something absolutely indefinable in shape and kind, but warm,
alive. This changes solitude in unknown places into the reverse of
solitude and strangeness. I remember walking thus along the bastions
under the bishop's palace at Laon, the great stone cows peering down
from the belfry above, with a sense of inexpressible familiarity and
peace. And, strange to say, this historic habit makes us familiar also
with places where we have never been. How well, for instance, do I not
know Dinant and Bouvines, rival cities on the Meuse (topography and
detail equally fantastic); and how I sometimes long, as with
homesickness, for a scramble among the stones and grass and
chandelier-like asphodels of Agrigentum, Veii, Collatium! Why, to one
minded like myself, a map, and even the names of stations in a
time-table, are full of possible delight.

And sometimes it rises to rapture. This time, eight years ago, I was
fretting my soul away, ill, exiled away from home, forbidden all work,
in the south of Spain. At Granada for three dreary weeks it rained
without ceasing, till the hill of the Alhambra became filled with the
babbling of streams, and the town was almost cut off by a sea of mud.
Between the showers one rushed up into the damp gardens of the
Generalife, or into the Alhambra, to be imprisoned for hours in its
desolate halls, while the rain splashed down into the courts. My
sitting-room had five doors, four of glass; and the snow lay thick on
the mountains. My few books had been read long ago; there remained to
spell through a Spanish tome on the rebellion of the Alpujarras, whose
Moorish leader, having committed every crime, finally went to heaven for
spitting on the Koran on his death-bed. Letters from home were
perpetually lost, or took a week to come. It seemed as if the world had
quite unlearned every single trick that had ever given me pleasure. Yet,
in these dreary weeks, there was one happy morning.

It was the anniversary, worse luck to it, of the Conquest of Granada
from the Moors. We got seats in the chapel of the Catholic kings, and
watched a gentleman in a high hat (which he kept on in church) and
swallow tails, carry the banner of Castile and Aragon, in the presence
of the archbishop and chapter, some mediæval pages, two trumpeters with
pigtails, and an array of soldiers. A paltry ceremony enough. But before
it began, and while mass was still going on, there came to me for a few
brief moments that happiness unknown for so many, many months, that
beloved historic emotion.

My eyes were wandering round the chapel, up the sheaves of the pilasters
to the gilded spandrils, round the altars covered with gibbering
sculpture, and down again among the crowd kneeling on the matted
floor--women in veils, men with scarlet cloak-lining over the shoulder,
here and there the shaven head and pigtail of the bull-ring. In the
middle of it all, on their marble beds, lay the effigies of Ferdinand
and Isabella, with folded hands and rigid feet, four crimson banners of
the Moors overhead. The crowd was pouring in from the cathedral, and
bevies of priests, and scarlet choir-boys led by their fiddler. The
organ, above the chants, was running through vague mazes. I felt it
approaching and stealing over me, that curious emotion felt before in
such different places: walking up and down, one day, in the church of
Lamballe in Brittany; seated, another time, in the porch at Ely. And
then it possessed me completely, raising one into a sort of beatitude.
This kind of rapture is not easy to describe. No rare feeling is. But I
would warn you from thinking that in such solemn moments there sweeps
across the brain a paltry pageant, a Lord Mayor's Show of bygone things,
like the cavalcades of future heroes who descend from frescoed or
sculptured wall at the bidding of Ariosto's wizards and Spenser's
fairies. This is something infinitely more potent and subtle; and like
all strong intellectual emotions, it is compounded of many and various
elements, and has its origin far down in mysterious depths of our
nature; and it arises overwhelmingly from many springs, filling us with
the throb of vague passions welling from our most vital parts. There is
in it no possession of any definite portion of bygone times; but a
yearning expectancy, a sense of the near presence, as it were, of the
past; or, rather, of a sudden capacity in ourselves of apprehending the
past which looms all round.

For a few moments thus, in that chapel before the tombs of the Catholic
kings; in the churches of Bruges and Innsbruck at the same time (for
such emotion gives strange possibilities of simultaneous presence in
various places); with the gold pomegranate flower of the badges, and the
crimson tassels of the Moorish standards before my eyes; also the iron
knights who watch round Maximilian's grave--for a moment while the
priests were chanting and the organs quavering, the life of to-day
seemed to reel and vanish, and my mind to be swept along the dark and
gleaming whirlpools of the past....


III

Catholic kings, Moorish banners, wrought-iron statues of paladins; these
are great things, and not at all what I had intended to speak of when I
set out to explain why old houses, which give my Yorkshire friend the
creeps, seem to my feelings so far more peaceful and familiar.

Yes, it is just because the past is somehow more companionable, warmer,
more full of flavour, than the present, that I love all old houses; but
best of all such as are solitary in the country, isolated both from new
surroundings, and from such alterations as contact with the world's
hurry almost always brings. It certainly is no question of beauty. The
houses along Chelsea embankment are more beautiful, and some of them a
great deal more picturesque than that Worcestershire rectory to which I
always long to return: the long brick house on its terraced river-bank,
the overladen plum-trees on one side, and the funereally prosperous
churchyard yews on the other; and with corridors and staircases hung
with stained, frameless Bolognese nakedness, Judgments of Paris,
Venuses, Carità Romanas, shipped over cheap by some bear-leading
parson-tutor of the eighteenth century. Nor are they architectural,
those brick and timber cottages all round, sinking (one might think)
into the rich, damp soil. But they have a mellowness corresponding to
that of the warm, wet, fruitful land, and due to the untroubled, warm
brooding over by the past. And what is architecture to that? As to these
Italian ones, which my soul loveth most, they have even less of what you
would call beauty; at most such grace of projecting window-grating or
buttressed side as the South gives its buildings; and such colour, or
rather discolouring, as a comparatively small number of years will
bring.

It kept revolving in my mind, this question of old houses and their
charm, as I was sitting waiting for a tram one afternoon, in the
church-porch of Pieve a Ripoli, a hamlet about two miles outside the
south-east gate of Florence. That church porch is like the baldacchino
over certain Roman high altars, or, more humbly, like a very large
fourpost bedstead. On the one hand was a hillside of purple and brown
scrub and dark cypresses fringed against the moist, moving grey sky; on
the other, some old, bare, mulberry-trees, a hedge of russet sloe,
closing in wintry fields; and, more particularly, next the porch, an
insignificant house, with blistered green shutters at irregular
intervals in the stained whitewash, a big green door, and a little
coat-of-arms--the three Strozzi half-moons--clapped on to the sharp
corner. I sat there, among the tombstones of the porch, and wondered why
I loved this house: and why it would remain, as I knew it must, a
landmark in my memory. Yes, the charm must lie in the knowledge of the
many creatures who have lived in this house, the many things that have
been done and felt.

The creatures who have lived here, the things which have been felt and
done.... But those things felt and done, were they not mainly trivial,
base; at best nowise uncommon, and such as must be going on in every new
house all around? People worked and shirked their work, endured,
fretted, suffered somewhat, and amused themselves a little; were loving,
unkind, neglected and neglectful, and died, some too soon, some too
late. That is human life, and as such doubtless important. But all that
goes on to-day just the same; and there is no reason why that former
life should have been more interesting than that these people, Argenta
Cavallesi and Vincenzio Grazzini, buried at my feet, should have had
bigger or better made souls and bodies than I or my friends. Indeed, in
sundry ways, and owing to the narrowness of life and thought, the calmer
acceptance of coarse or cruel things, I incline to think that they were
less interesting, those men and women of the past, whose rustling
dresses fill old houses with fantastic sounds. They had, some few of
them, their great art, great aims, feelings, struggles; but the majority
were of the earth, and intolerably earthy. 'Tis their clothes' ghosts
that haunt us, not their own.

So why should the past be charming? Perhaps merely because of its being
the one free place for our imagination. For, as to the future, it is
either empty or filled only with the cast shadows of ourselves and our
various machineries. The past is the unreal and the yet visible; it has
the fascination of the distant hills, the valleys seen from above; the
unreal, but the unreal whose unreality, unlike that of the unreal things
with which we cram the present, can never be forced on us. _There is
more behind; there may be anything._ This sense which makes us in love
with all intricacies of things and feelings, roads which turn, views
behind views, trees behind trees, makes the past so rich in
possibilities.... An ordinary looking priest passes by, rings at the
door of the presbytery, and enters. Those who lived there, in that old
stained house with the Strozzi escutcheon, opposite the five bare
mulberry-trees, were doubtless as like as may be to this man who lives
there in the present. Quite true; and yet there creeps up the sense that
_they_ lived in the past.

For there is no end to the deceits of the past; we protest that we know
it is cozening us, and it continues to cozen us just as much. Reading
over Browning's _Galuppi_ lately, it struck me that this dead world of
vanity was no more charming or poetical than the one we live in, when it
also was alive; and that those ladies, Mrs. X., Countess Y., and Lady
Z., of whose _toilettes_ at last night's ball that old gossip P---- had
been giving us details throughout dinner, will in their turn, if any one
care, be just as charming, as dainty, and elegiac as those other women
who sat by while Galuppi "played toccatas stately at the clavichord."
Their dresses, should they hang for a century or so, will emit a perfume
as frail, and sad, and heady; their wardrobe filled with such dust as
makes tears come into one's eyes, from no mechanical reason.

"Was a lady _such_ a lady?" They will say that of ours also. And, in
recognising this, we recognise how trumpery, flat, stale and
unprofitable were those ladies of the past. It is not they who make the
past charming, but the past that makes them. Time has wonderful
cosmetics for its favoured ones; and if it brings white hairs and
wrinkles to the realities, how much does it not heighten the bloom,
brighten the eyes and hair of those who survive in our imagination!

And thus, somewhat irrelevantly, concludes my chapter in praise of old
houses.



THE LIE OF THE LAND

NOTES ABOUT LANDSCAPES



I

I want to talk about the something which makes the real, individual
landscape--the landscape one actually sees with the eyes of the body and
the eyes of the spirit--the _landscape you cannot describe_.

That is the drawback of my subject--that it just happens to elude all
literary treatment, and yet it must be treated. There is not even a
single word or phrase to label it, and I have had to call it, in sheer
despair, _the lie of the land_: it is an unnamed mystery into which
various things enter, and I feel as if I ought to explain myself by dumb
show. It will serve at any rate as an object-lesson in the extreme
one-sidedness of language and a protest against human silence about the
things it likes best.

Of outdoor things words can of course tell us some important points:
colour, for instance, and light, and somewhat of their gradations and
relations. And an adjective, a metaphor, may evoke an entire atmospheric
effect, paint us a sunset or a star-lit night. But the far subtler and
more individual relations of visible line defy expression: no poet or
prose writer can give you the tilt of a roof, the undulation of a field,
the bend of a road. Yet these are the things in landscape which
constitute its individuality and which reach home to our feelings.

For colour and light are variable--nay, more, they are relative. The
same tract will be green in connection with one sort of sky, blue with
another, and yellow with a third. We may be disappointed when the woods,
which we had seen as vague, moss-like blue before the sun had overtopped
the hills, become at midday a mere vast lettuce-bed. We should be much
more than disappointed, we should doubt of our senses if we found on
going to our window that it looked down upon outlines of hills, upon
precipices, ledges, knolls, or flat expanses, different from those we
had seen the previous day or the previous year. Thus the unvarying items
of a landscape happen to be those for which precise words cannot be
found. Briefly, we praise colour, but we actually _live_ in the
indescribable thing which I must call the _lie of the land_. The lie of
the land means walking or climbing, shelter or bleakness; it means the
corner where we dread a boring neighbour, the bend round which we have
watched some one depart, the stretch of road which seemed to lead us
away out of captivity. Yes, _lie of the land_ is what has mattered to us
since we were children, to our fathers and remotest ancestors; and its
perception, the instinctive preference for one kind rather than another,
is among the obscure things inherited with our blood, and making up the
stuff of our souls. For how else explain the strange powers which
different shapes of the earth's surface have over different individuals;
the sudden pleasure, as of the sight of an old friend, the pang of
pathos which we may all receive in a scene which is new, without
memories, and so unlike everything familiar as to be almost without
associations?

The _lie of the land_ has therefore an importance in art, or if it have
not, ought to have, quite independent of pleasantness of line or of
anything merely visual. An immense charm consists in the fact that the
mind can walk about in a landscape. The delight at the beauty which is
seen is heightened by the anticipation of further unseen beauty; by the
sense of exploring the unknown; and to our present pleasure before a
painted landscape is added the pleasure we have been storing up during
years of intercourse, if I may use this word, with so many real ones.


II

For there is such a thing as intercourse with fields and trees and
skies, with the windings of road and water and hedge, in our everyday,
ordinary life. And a terrible thing for us all if there were not; if our
lives were not full of such various commerce, of pleasure, curiosity,
and gratitude, of kindly introduction of friend by friend, quite apart
from the commerce with other human beings. Indeed, one reason why the
modern rectangular town (built at one go for the convenience of running
omnibuses and suppressing riots) fills our soul with bitterness and
dryness, is surely that this ill-conditioned convenient thing can give
us only its own poor, paltry presence, introducing our eye and fancy
neither to further details of itself, nor to other places and people,
past or distant.

Words can just barely indicate the charm of this _other place other
time_ enriching of the present impression. Words cannot in the least, I
think, render that other suggestion contained in _The Lie of the Land_,
the suggestion of the possibility of a delightful walk. What walks have
we not taken, leaving sacred personages and profane, not to speak of
allegoric ones, far behind in the backgrounds of the old Tuscans,
Umbrians, and Venetians! Up Benozzo's hillside woods of cypress and
pine, smelling of myrrh and sweet-briar, over Perugino's green rising
grounds, towards those slender, scant-leaved trees, straight-stemmed
acacias and elms, by the water in the cool, blue evening valley. Best of
all, have not Giorgione and Titian, Palma and Bonifazio, and the dear
imitative people labelled _Venetian school_, led us between the hedges
russet already with the ripening of the season and hour into those
fields where the sheep are nibbling, under the twilight of the big
brown trees, to where some pale blue alp closes in the slopes and the
valleys?


III

It is a pity that the landscape painters of our day--I mean those French
or French taught, whose methods are really new--tend to neglect _The Lie
of the Land_. Some of them, I fear, deliberately avoid it as
old-fashioned--what they call obvious--as interfering with their aim of
interesting by the mere power of vision and skill in laying on the
paint. Be this as it may, their innovations inevitably lead them away
from all research of what we may call _topographical_ charm, for what
they have added to art is the perfection of very changeable conditions
of light and atmosphere, of extremely fleeting accidents of colour. One
would indeed be glad to open one's window on the fairyland of iridescent
misty capes, of vibrating skies and sparkling seas of Monsieur Claude
Monet; still more to stand at the close of an autumn day watching the
light fogs rise along the fields, mingling with delicate pinkish mist of
the bare poplar rows against the green of the first sprouts of corn.
But I am not sure that the straight line of sea and shore would be
interesting at any other moment of the day; and the poplar rows and
cornfields would very likely be drearily dull until sunset. The moment,
like Faust's second of perfect bliss, is such as should be made
immortal, but the place one would rather not see again. Yet Monsieur
Monet is the one of his school who shows most care for the scene he is
painting. The others, even the great ones--men like Pissarro and Sisley,
who have shown us so many delightful things in the details of even the
dull French foliage, even the dull midday sky--the other _modern ones_
make one long to pull up their umbrella and easel and carry them on--not
very far surely--to some spot where the road made a bend, the embankment
had a gap, the water a swirl; for we would not be so old-fashioned as to
request that the country might have a few undulations.... Of course it
was very dull of our ancestors--particularly of Clive Newcome's
day--always to paint a panorama with whole ranges of hills, miles of
river, and as many cities as possible; and even our pleasure in Turner's
large landscapes is spoilt by their being the sort of thing people
would drive for miles or climb for hours to enjoy, what our grandfathers
in post-chaises called a _noble fine prospect_. All that had to be got
rid of, like the contemporaneous literary descriptions: "A smiling
valley proceeded from south-east to north-west; an amphitheatre of
cliffs bounding it on the right hand; while to the left a magnificent
waterfall leapt from a rock three hundred feet in height and expanded
into a noble natural basin of granite some fifty yards in diameter," &c.
&c. The British classics, thus busy with compass, measuring-rod and
level, thus anxious to enable the reader to reconstruct their landscape
on paste-board, had no time of course to notice trifling matters: how,
for instance,

     The woods are round us, heaped and dim;
     From slab to slab how it slips and springs
     The thread of water, single and slim,
     Through the ravage some torrent brings.

Nor could the panoramic painter of the earlier nineteenth century pay
much attention to mere alternations of light while absorbed in his great
"Distant View of Jerusalem and Madagascar"; indeed, he could afford to
move off only when it began to rain very hard.


IV

The impressionist painters represent the reaction against this dignified
and also more stolid school of landscape; they have seen, or are still
seeing, all the things which other men did not see. And here I may
remark that one of the most important items of this seeing is exactly
the fact that in many cases we can _see_ only very little. The
impressionists have been scoffed at for painting rocks which might be
chimney-stacks, and flowering hedges which might be foaming brooks;
plains also which might be hills, and _vice versâ_, and described as
wretches, disrespectful to natural objects, which, we are told, reveal
new beauties at every glance. But is it more respectful to natural
objects to put a drawing-screen behind a willow-bush and copy its
minutest detail of branch and trunk, than to paint that same willow, a
mere mist of glorious orange, as we see it flame against the hillside
confusion of mauve, and russet and pinkish sereness? I am glad to have
brought in that word _confusion_: the modern school of landscape has
done a great and pious thing in reinstating the complexity, the mystery,
the confusion of Nature's effects; Nature, which differs from the paltry
work of man just in this, that she does not thin out, make clear and
symmetrical for the easier appreciation of foolish persons, but packs
effect upon effect, in space even as in time, one close upon the other,
leaf upon leaf, branch upon branch, tree upon tree, colour upon colour,
a mystery of beauty wrapped in beauty, without the faintest concern
whether it would not be better to say "this is really a river," or,
"that is really a tree." "But," answer the critics with much
superiority, "art should not be the mere copying of Nature; surely there
is already enough of Nature herself; art should be the expression of
man's delight in Nature's shows." Well, Nature shows a great many things
which are not unchanging and not by any means unperplexing; she shows
them at least to those who will see, see what is really there to be
seen; and she will show them, thanks to our brave impressionists, to all
men henceforth who have eyes and a heart. And here comes our debt to
these great painters: what a number of effects, modest and exquisite, or
bizarre and magnificent, they will have taught us to look out for; what
beauty and poetry in humdrum scenery, what perfect loveliness even among
sordidness and squalor: tints as of dove's breasts in city mud, enamel
splendours in heaps of furnace refuse, mysterious magnificence, visions
of Venice at night, of Eblis palace, of I know not what, in wet gaslit
nights, in looming lit-up factories. Nay, leaving that alone, since 'tis
better, perhaps, that we should not enjoy anything connected with grime
and misery and ugliness--how much have not these men added to the
delight of our walks and rides; revealing to us, among other things, the
supreme beauty of winter colouring, the harmony of purple, blue, slate,
brown, pink, and russet, of tints and compounds of tints without a name,
of bare hedgerows and leafless trees, sere grass and mist-veiled waters;
compared with which spring is but raw, summer dull, and autumn
positively ostentatious in her gala suit of tawny and yellow.

Perhaps, indeed, these modern painters have done more for us by the
beauty they have taught us to see in Nature than by the beauty they have
actually put before us in their pictures; if I except some winter
landscapes of Monet's and the wonderful water-colours of Mr. Brabazon,
whose exquisite sense of form and knowledge of drawing have enabled him,
in rapidest sketches of rapidly passing effects, to indicate the
structure of hills and valleys, the shape of clouds, in the mere wash of
colour, even as Nature indicates them herself. With such exceptions as
these, and the beautiful mysteries of Mr. Whistler, there is
undoubtedly, in recent landscape, a preoccupation of technical methods
and an indifference to choice of subject, above all, a degree of
insistence on what is _actually seen_ which leads one to suspect that
the impressionists represent rather a necessary phase in the art, than a
definite achievement, in the same manner as the Renaissance painters who
gave themselves up to the study of perspective and anatomy. This
terrible over-importance of the act of vision is doubtless the
preparation for a new kind of landscape, which will employ these
arduously acquired facts of colour and light, this restlessly renovated
technique, in the service of a new kind of sentiment and imagination,
differing from that of previous ages even as the sentiment and
imagination of Browning differs from that of his great predecessors. But
it is probably necessary that the world at large, as well as the
artists, should be familiarised with the new facts, the new methods of
impressionism, before such facts and methods can find their significance
and achievement; even as in the Renaissance people had to recognise the
realities of perspective and anatomy before they could enjoy an art
which attained beauty through this means; it would have been no use
showing Sixtine chapels to the contemporaries of Giotto. There is at
present a certain lack of enjoyable quality, a lack of soul appealing to
soul, in the new school of landscape. But where there is a faithful,
reverent eye, a subtle hand, a soul cannot be far round the corner. And
we may hope that, if we be as sincere and willing as themselves, our
Pollaiolos and Mantegnas of the impressionist school, discoverers of new
subtleties of colour and light, will be duly succeeded by modern
Michelangelos and Titians, who will receive all the science ready for
use, and bid it fetch and carry and build new wonderful things for the
pleasure of their soul and of ours.


V

And mentioning Titian, brings to my memory a remark once made to me on
one of those washed away, rubbly hills, cypresses and pines holding the
earth together, which the old Tuscans drew so very often. The remark,
namely, that some of the charm of the old masters' landscapes is due to
the very reverse of what sometimes worries one in modern work, to the
notion which these backgrounds give at first--bits of valley, outlines
of hills, distant views of towered villages, of having been done without
trouble, almost from memory, till you discover that your Titian has
modelled his blue valley into delicate blue ridges; and your Piero della
Francesca indicated the precise structure of his pale, bony mountains.
Add to this, to the old men's credit, that, as I said, they knew _the
lie of the land_, they gave us landscapes in which our fancy, our
memories, could walk.

How large a share such fancy and such memories have in the life of art,
people can scarcely realise. Nay, such is the habit of thinking of the
picture, statue, or poem, as a complete and vital thing apart from the
mind which perceives it, that the expression _life of art_ is sure to be
interpreted as life of various schools of art: thus, the life of art
developed from the type of Phidias to that of Praxiteles, and so forth.
But in the broader, truer sense, the life of all art goes on in the mind
and heart, not merely of those who make the work, but of those who see
and read it. Nay, is not _the_ work, the real one, a certain particular
state of feeling, a pattern woven of new perceptions and impressions and
of old memories and feelings, which the picture, the statue or poem,
awakens, different in each different individual? 'Tis a thought perhaps
annoying to those who have slaved seven years over a particular outline
of muscles, a particular colour of grass, or the cadence of a particular
sentence. What! all this to be refused finality, to be disintegrated by
the feelings and fancies of the man who looks at the picture, or reads
the book, heaven knows how carelessly besides? Well, if not
disintegrated, would you prefer it to be unassimilated? Do you wish your
picture, statue or poem to remain whole as you made it? Place it
permanently in front of a mirror; consign it to the memory of a parrot;
or, if you are musician, sing your song, expression and all, down a
phonograph. You cannot get from the poor human soul, that living
microcosm of changing impressions, the thorough, wholesale appreciation
which you want.


VI

This same power of sentiment and fancy, that is to say, of association,
enables us to carry about, like a verse or a tune, whole mountain
ranges, valleys, rivers and lakes, things in appearance the least easy
to remove from their place. As some persons are never unattended by a
melody; so others, and among them your humble servant, have always for
their thoughts and feelings, an additional background besides the one
which happens to be visible behind their head and shoulders. By this
means I am usually in two places at a time, sometimes in several very
distant ones within a few seconds.

It is extraordinary how much of my soul seems to cling to certain
peculiarities of what I have called _lie of the land_, undulations,
bends of rivers, straightenings and snakings of road; how much of one's
past life, sensations, hopes, wishes, words, has got entangled in the
little familiar sprigs, grasses and moss. The order of time and space is
sometimes utterly subverted; thus, last autumn, in a corner of
Argyllshire, I seemed suddenly cut off from everything in the British
Isles, and reunited to the life I used to lead hundreds of miles away,
years ago in the high Apennines, merely because of the minute starry
moss under foot and the bubble of brooks in my ears.

Nay, the power of outdoor things, their mysterious affinities, can
change the values even of what has been and what has not been, can make
one live for a moment in places which have never existed save in the
fancy. Have I not found myself suddenly taken back to certain woods
which I loved in my childhood simply because I had halted before a great
isolated fir with hanging branches, a single fir shading a circle of
soft green turf, and watched the rabbits sitting, like round grey
stones suddenly flashing into white tails and movement? Woods where? I
have not the faintest notion. Perhaps only woods I imagined my father
must be shooting in when I was a baby, woods which I made up out of
Christmas trees, moss and dead rabbits, woods I had heard of in fairy
tales....

Such are some of the relations of landscape and sentiments, a correct
notion of which is necessary before it is possible to consider the best
manner of _representing landscape with words_; a subject to which none
of my readers, I think, nor myself, have at present the smallest desire
to pass on.



TUSCAN MIDSUMMER MAGIC



I

"Then," I said, "you decline to tell me about the Three Kings, when
their procession wound round and round these hillocks: all the little
wooden horses with golden bridles and velvet holsters, out of the toy
boxes; and the camelopard, and the monkeys and the lynx, and the little
doll pages blowing toy trumpets. And still, I know it happened here,
because I recognise the place from the pictures: the hillocks all washed
away into breasts like those of Diana of the Ephesians, and the rows of
cypresses and spruce pines--also out of the toy box. I know it happened
in this very place, because Benozzo Gozzoli painted it all at the time;
and you were already about the place, I presume?"

I knew that by her dress, but I did not like to allude to its being
old-fashioned. It was the sort of thing, muslin all embroidered with
little nosegays of myrtle and yellow broom, and tied into odd bunches at
the elbows and waist, which they wore in the days of Botticelli's
_Spring_; and on her head she had a garland of eglantine and palm-shaped
hellebore leaves which was quite unmistakable.

The nymph Terzollina (for of course she was the tutelary divinity of the
narrow valley behind the great Medicean Villa) merely shook her head and
shifted one of her bare feet, on which she was seated under a cypress
tree, and went on threading the yellow broom flowers.

"At all events, you might tell me something about the Magnificent
Lorenzo," I went on, impatient at her obstinacy. "You know quite well
that he used to come and court you here, and make verses most likely."

The exasperating goddess raised her thin, brown face, with the sharp
squirrel's teeth and the glittering goat's eyes. Very pretty I thought
her, though undoubtedly a little _passée_, like all the symbolical
ladies of her set. She plucked at a clump of dry peppermint, perfuming
the hot air as she crushed it, and then looked up, with a sly, shy
little peasant-girl's look, which was absurd in a lady so mature and so
elaborately adorned. Then, in a crooning voice, she began to recite some
stanzas in _ottava rima_, as follows:

"The house where the good old Knight Gualando hid away the little
Princess, was itself hidden in this hidden valley. It was small and
quite white, with great iron bars to the windows. In front was a long
piece of greensward, starred with white clover, and behind and in front,
to where the pines and cypresses began ran strips of cornfield. It was
remote from all the pomps of life; and when the cuckoo had become silent
and the nightingales had cracked their voices, the only sound was the
coo of the wood-pigeons, the babble of the stream, and the twitter of
the young larks.

"The old Knight Gualando had hidden his bright armour in an oaken chest;
and went to the distant town every day dressed in the blue smock of a
peasant, and driving a donkey before him. Thence he returned with
delicates for the little Princess and with news of the wicked usurper;
nor did any one suspect who he was, or dream of his hiding-place.

"During his absence the little Princess, whose name was Fiordispina,
used to string beads through the hot hours when the sun smote through
the trees, and the green corn ridges began to take a faint gilding in
their silveriness, as the Princess remembered it in a picture in the
Castle Chapel, where the sun was represented by a big embossed ball of
gold, projecting from the picture, which she was allowed to stroke on
holidays.

"In the evening, when the sky turned pearl white, and a breeze rustled
through the pines and cypresses which made a little black fringe on the
hill-top and a little patch of feathery velvet pile on the slopes, the
little Princess would come forth, and ramble about in her peasant's
frock, her fair face stained browner by the sun than by any walnut
juice. She would climb the hill, and sniff the scent of the sun-warmed
resin, and the sweetness of the yellow broom. It spread all over the
hills, and the king, her father, had not possessed so many ells of cloth
of gold.

"But one evening she wandered further than usual, and saw on a bank, at
the edge of a cornfield, five big white lilies blowing. She went back
home and fetched the golden scissors from her work-bag, and cut off one
of the lilies. On the next day she came again and cut another until she
had cut them all.

"But it happened that an old witch was staying in that neighbourhood,
gathering herbs among the hills. She had taken note of the five lilies,
because she disliked them on account of their being white; and she
remarked that one of them had been cut off; then another, then another.
She hated people who like lilies. When she found the fifth lily gone,
she wondered greatly, and climbed on the ridge, and looked at their
stalks where they were cut. She was a wise woman, who knew many things.
So she laid her finger upon the cut stalk, and said, 'This has not been
cut with iron shears'; and she laid her lip against the cut stalk, and
felt that it had been cut with gold shears, for gold cuts like nothing
else.

"'Oho!' said the old witch--'where there are gold scissors, there must
be gold work-bags; and where there are gold work-bags, there must be
little Princesses.'"

"Well, and then?" I asked.

"Oh then, nothing at all," answered the Nymph Terzollina beloved by the
Magnificent Lorenzo, who had seen the procession of the Three Kings.
"Good evening to you."

And where her white muslin dress, embroidered with nosegays of broom and
myrtle, had been spread on the dry grass and crushed mint, there was
only, beneath the toy cypresses, a bush of white-starred myrtle and a
tuft of belated yellow broom.


II

One must have leisure to converse with goddesses; and certainly, during
a summer in Tuscany, when folk are scattered in their country houses,
and are disinclined to move out of hammock or off shaded bench, there
are not many other persons to talk with.

On the other hand, during those weeks of cloudless summer, natural
objects vie with each other in giving one amateur representations.
Things look their most unexpected, masquerade as other things, get queer
unintelligible allegoric meanings, leaving you to guess what it all
means, a constant dumb crambo of trees, flowers, animals, houses, and
moonlight.

The moon, particularly, is continually _en scène_, as if to take the
place of the fireflies, which last only so long as the corn is in the
ear, gradually getting extinguished and trailing about, humble helpless
moths with a pale phosphorescence in their tail, in the grass and in the
curtains. The moon takes their place; the moon which, in an Italian
summer, seems to be full for three weeks out of the four.

One evening the performance was given by the moon and the corn-sheaves,
assisted by minor actors such as crickets, downy owls, and
vine-garlands. The oats, which had been of such exquisite delicacy of
green, had just been reaped in the field beyond our garden and were now
stacked up. Suspecting one of the usual performances, I went after
dinner to the upper garden-gate, and looked through the bars. There it
was, the familiar, elemental witchery. The moon was nearly full,
blurring the stars, steeping the sky and earth in pale blue mist, which
seemed somehow to be the visible falling dew. It left a certain
greenness to the broad grass path, a vague yellow to the unsickled
wheat; and threw upon the sheaves of oats the shadows of festooned vine
garlands. Those sheaves, or stooks--who can describe their metamorphose?
Palest yellow on the pale stubbly ground, they were frosted by the
moonbeams in their crisp fringe of ears, and in the shining straws
projecting here and there. Straws, ears? You would never have guessed
that they were made of anything so mundane. They sat there, propped
against the trees, between the pools of light and the shadows, while the
crickets trilled their cool, shrill song; sat solemnly with an air of
expectation, calling to me, frightening me. And one in particular, with
a great additional bunch on his head, cut by a shadow, was oddly
unaccountable and terrible. After a minute I had to slink away, back
into the garden, like an intruder.


III

There are performances also in broad daylight, and then human beings are
admitted as supernumeraries. Such was a certain cattle fair, up the
valley of the Mugnone.

The beasts were being sold on a piece of rough, freshly reaped ground,
lying between the high road and the river bed, empty of waters, but full
among its shingle of myrrh-scented yellow herbage. The oxen were mostly
of the white Tuscan breeds (those of Romagna are smaller but more
spirited, and of a delicate grey) only their thighs slightly browned;
the scarlet cloth neck-fringes set off, like a garland of geranium,
against the perfect milkiness of backs and necks. They looked, indeed,
these gigantic creatures, as if moulded out of whipped cream or cream
cheese; suggesting no strength, and even no resistance to the touch,
with their smooth surface here and there packed into minute wrinkles,
exactly like the little _stracchini_ cheeses. This impalpable whiteness
of the beasts suited their perfect tameness, passiveness, letting
themselves be led about with great noiseless strides over the stubbly
ridges and up the steep banks; and hustled together, flank against
flank, horns interlaced with horns, without even a sound or movement of
astonishment or disobedience. Never a low or a moo; never a glance round
of their big, long-lashed, blue-brown eyes. Their big jaws move like
millstones, their long tufted tails switch monotonously like pendulums.

Around them circle peasants, measuring them with the eye, prodding them
with the finger, pulling them by the horns. And every now and then one
of the red-faced men, butchers mainly, who act as go-betweens,
dramatically throws his arms round the neck of some recalcitrant dealer
or buyer, leads him aside, whispering with a gesture like Judas's kiss;
or he clasps together the red hands and arms of contracting parties,
silencing their objections, forcing them to do business. The contrast is
curious between these hot, excited, yelling, jostling human beings,
above whose screaming _Dio Canes!_ and _Dio Ladros!_ the cry of the
iced-water seller recurs monotonously and the silent, impassive
bullocks, white, unreal, inaudible; so still and huge, indeed, that,
seen from above, they look like an encampment, their white flanks like
so much spread canvas in the sunshine. And from a little distance,
against the hillside beyond the river, the already bought yokes of
bullocks look, tethered in a grove of cypresses, like some old mediæval
allegory--an allegory, as usual, nobody knows of what.


IV

Another performance was that of the woods of Lecceto, and the hermitage
of the same name. You will find them on the map of the district of
Siena; but I doubt very much whether you will find them on the surface
of the real globe, for I suspect them to be a piece of midsummer magic
and nothing more. They had been for years to me among the number (we all
have such) of things familiar but inaccessible; or rather things whose
inaccessibility--due to no conceivable cause--is an essential quality of
their existence. Every now and then from one of the hills you get a
glimpse of the square red tower, massive and battlemented, rising among
the grey of its ilexes, beckoning one across a ridge or two and a
valley; then disappearing again, engulfed in the oak woods, green in
summer, copper-coloured in winter; to reappear, but on the side you
least expected it, plume of ilexes, battlements of tower, as you
twisted along the high-lying vineyards and the clusters of umbrella
pines fringing the hill-tops; and then, another minute and they were
gone.

We determined to attain them, to be mocked no longer by Lecceto; and
went forth on one endless July afternoon. After much twisting from
hillside to hillside and valley to valley, we at last got into a country
which was strange enough to secrete even Lecceto. In a narrow valley we
were met by a scent, warm, delicious, familiar, which seemed to lead us
(as perfumes we cannot identify will usually do) to ideas very hazy, but
clear enough to be utterly inappropriate: English cottage-gardens, linen
presses of old houses, old-fashioned sitting-rooms full of pots of
_pot-pourri_; and then, behold, in front of us a hill covered every inch
of it with flowering lavender, growing as heather does on the hills
outside fairyland. And behind this lilac, sun-baked, scented hill, open
the woods of ilexes. The trees were mostly young and with their summer
upper garment of green, fresh leaves over the crackling old ones; trees
packed close like a hedge, their every gap filled with other verdure,
arbutus and hornbeam, fern and heather; the close-set greenery crammed,
as it were, with freshness and solitude.

These must be the woods of Lecceto, and in their depths the red
battlemented tower of the Hermitage. For I had forgotten to say that for
a thousand years that tower had been the abode of a succession of holy
personages, so holy and so like each other as to have almost grown into
one, an immortal hermit whom Popes and Emperors would come to consult
and be blessed by. Deeper and deeper therefore we made our way into the
green coolness and dampness, the ineffable deliciousness of young leaf
and uncurling fern; till it seemed as if the plantation were getting
impenetrable, and we began to think that, as usual, Lecceto had mocked
us, and would probably appear, if we retraced our steps, in the
diametrically opposite direction. When suddenly, over the tree-tops,
rose the square battlemented tower of red brick. Then, at a turn of the
rough narrow lane, there was the whole place, the tower, a church and
steeple, and some half-fortified buildings, in a wide clearing planted
with olive trees. We tied our pony to an ilex and went to explore the
Hermitage. But the building was enclosed round by walls and hedges, and
the only entrance was by a stout gate armed with a knocker, behind which
was apparently an outer yard and a high wall pierced only by a twisted
iron balcony. So we knocked.

But that knocker was made only for Popes and Emperors walking about with
their tiaras and crowns and sceptres, like the genuine Popes and
Emperors of Italian folk-tales and of Pinturicchio's frescoes; for no
knocking of ours, accompanied by loud yells, could elicit an answer. It
seemed simple enough to get in some other way; there must be peasants
about at work, even supposing the holy hermit to have ceased to exist.
But climbing walls and hurdles and squeezing between the close tight
ilexes, brought us only to more walls, above which, as above the
oak-woods from a distance, rose the inaccessible battlemented tower. And
a small shepherdess, in a flapping Leghorn hat, herding black and white
baby pigs in a neighbouring stubble-field under the olives, was no more
able than we to break the spell of the Hermitage. And all round, for
miles apparently, undulated the dense grey plumage of the ilex woods.

The low sun was turning the stubble orange, where the pigs were feeding;
and the distant hills of the Maremma were growing very blue behind the
olive trees. So, lest night should overtake us, we turned our pony's
head towards the city, and traversed the oak-woods and skirted the
lavender hill, rather disbelieving in the reality of the place we had
just been at, save when we saw its tower mock us, emerging again; an
inaccessible, improbable place. The air was scented by the warm lavender
of the hillsides; and by the pines forming a Japanese pattern, black
upon the golden lacquer of the sky. Soon the moon rose, big and yellow,
lighting very gradually the road in whose gloom you could vaguely see
the yokes of white cattle returning from work. By the time we reached
the city hill everything was steeped in a pale yellowish light, with
queer yellowish shadows; and the tall tanneries glared out with their
buttressed balconied top, exaggerated and alarming. Scrambling up the
moonlit steep of Fonte Branda, and passing under a black arch, we found
ourselves in the heart of the gaslit and crowded city, much as if we had
been shot out of a cannon into another planet, and feeling that the
Hermitage of Lecceto was absolutely apocryphal.


V

The reason of this midsummer magic--whose existence no legitimate
descendant of Goths and Vandals and other early lovers of Italy can
possibly deny--the reason is altogether beyond my philosophy. The only
word which expresses the phenomenon is the German word, untranslatable,
_Bescheerung_, a universal giving of gifts, lighting of candles, gilding
of apples, manifestation of marvels, realisation of the desirable and
improbable--to wit, a Christmas Tree. And Italy, which knows no
Christmas trees, makes its _Bescheerung_ in midsummer, gets rid of its
tourist vulgarities, hides away the characteristics of its trivial
nineteenth century, decks itself with magnolia blossoms and water-melons
with awnings and street booths, with mandolins and guitars; spangles
itself with church festivals and local pageants; and instead of
wax-tapers and Chinese lanterns, lights up the biggest golden sun by
day, the biggest silver moon by night, all for the benefit of a few
childish descendants of Goths and Vandals.

Nonsense apart, I am inclined to think that the specific charm of Italy
exists only during the hot months; the charm which gives one a little
stab now and then and makes one say--"This is Italy."

I felt that little stab, to which my heart had long become unused, at
the beginning of this very summer in Tuscany, to which belong the above
instances of Italian Midsummer Magic. I was spending the day at a small,
but very ancient, Benedictine Monastery (it was a century old when St.
Peter Igneus, according to the chronicle, went through his celebrated
Ordeal by Fire), now turned into a farm, and hidden, battlemented walls
and great gate towers, among the cornfields near the Arno. It came to me
as the revival of an impression long forgotten, that overpowering sense
that "This was Italy," it recurred and recurred in those same three
words, as I sat under the rose-hedge opposite the water-wheel shed,
garlanded with drying pea-straw; and as I rambled through the chill
vaults, redolent of old wine-vats, into the sudden sunshine and broad
shadows of the cloistered yards.

That smell was mysteriously connected with it; the smell of wine-vats
mingled, I fancy (though I could not say why), with the sweet faint
smell of decaying plaster and wood-work. One night, as we were driving
through Bologna to wile away the hours between two trains, in the blue
moon-mist and deep shadows of the black porticoed city, that same smell
came to my nostrils as in a dream, and with it a whiff of bygone years,
the years when first I had had this impression of Italian Magic. Oddly
enough, Rome, where I spent much of my childhood and which was the
object of my childish and tragic adoration, was always something apart,
never Italy for my feelings. The Apennines of Lucca and Pistoia, with
their sudden revelation of Italian fields and lanes, of flowers on wall
and along roadside, of bells ringing in the summer sky, of peasants
working in the fields and with the loom and distaff, meant Italy.

But how much more Italy--and hence longed for how much!--was Lucca, the
town in the plain, with cathedral and palaces. Nay, any of the mountain
hamlets where there was nothing modern, and where against the scarred
brick masonry and blackened stonework the cypresses rose black and
tapering, the trelisses crawled bright green up hill! One never feels,
once out of childhood, such joy as on the rare occasions when I was
taken to such places. A certain farmhouse, with cypresses at the terrace
corner and a great oleander over the wall, was also Italy before it
became my home for several years. Most of all, however, Italy was
represented by certain towns: Bologna, Padua and Vicenza, and Siena,
which I saw mainly in the summer.

It is curious how one's associations change: nowadays Italy means mainly
certain familiar effects of light and cloud, certain exquisitenesses of
sunset amber against ultramarine hills, of winter mists among misty
olives, of folds and folds of pale blue mountains; it is a country which
belongs to no time, which will always exist, superior to picturesqueness
and romance. But that is but a vague, half-indifferent habit of
enjoyment. And every now and then, when the Midsummer Magic is rife,
there comes to me that very different, old, childish meaning of the
word; as on that day among the roses of those Benedictine cloisters, the
cool shadow of the fig-trees in the yards, with the whiff of that queer
smell, heavy with romance, of wine-saturated oak and crumbling plaster;
and I know with a little stab of joy that this is Italy.



ON MODERN TRAVELLING



I

There is one charming impression peculiar to railway travelling, that of
the twilight hour in the train; but the charm is greater on a short
journey, when one is not tired and has not the sense of being uprooted,
than on a long one. The movement of the train seems, after sunset,
particularly in the South where night fall is rapid, to take a quality
of mystery. It glides through a landscape of which the smaller details
are effaced, as are likewise effaced the details of the railway itself.
And that rapid gliding brings home to one the instability of the hour,
of the changing light, the obliterating form. It makes one feel that
everything is, as it were, a mere vision; bends of poplared river with
sunset redness in their grey swirls; big towered houses of other days;
the spectral white fruit trees in the dark fields; the pine tops round,
separate, yet intangible, against the sky of unearthy blue; the darkness
not descending, as foolish people say it does, from the skies to the
earth, but rising slowly from the earth where it has gathered fold upon
fold, an emanation thereof, into the sky still pale and luminous,
turning its colour to white, its whiteness to grey, till the stars, mere
little white specks before, kindle one by one.

Dante, who had travelled so much, and so much against his will,
described this hour as turning backwards the longing of the traveller,
and making the heart grow soft of them who had that day said farewell to
their friends. It is an hour of bitterness, the crueller for mingled
sweetness, to the exile; and in those days when distances were difficult
to overcome, every traveller must in a sense have been somewhat of an
exile. But to us, who have not necessarily left our friends, who may be
returning to them; to us accustomed to coming and going, to us hurried
along in dreary swiftness, it is the hour also when the earth seems full
of peace and goodwill; and our pensiveness is only just sad enough to be
sweet, not sad enough to be bitter. For every hamlet we pass seems
somehow the place where we ought to tarry for all our days; every room
or kitchen, a red square of light in the dimness with dark figures
moving before the window, seems full of people who might be friends; and
the hills we have never beheld before, the bends of rivers, the screen
of trees, seem familiar as if we had lived among them in distant days
which we think of with longing.


II

This is the best that can be said, I think, for modern modes of travel.
But then, although I have been jolted about a good deal from country to
country, and slept in the train on my nurse's knees, and watched all my
possessions, from my cardboard donkey and my wax dolls to my manuscripts
and proof-sheets, overhauled on custom-house counters--but then, despite
all this, I have never made a great journey. I have never been to the
United States, nor to Egypt, nor to Russia; and it may well be that I
shall see the Eleusinian gods, Persephone and whoever else imparts
knowledge in ghostland, without ever having set foot in Greece. My
remarks are therefore meant for the less fortunate freight of railways
and steamers; though do I really envy those who see the wonderful places
of the earth before they have dreamed of them, the dream-land of other
men revealed to them for the first time in the solid reality of Cook and
Gaze?

I would not for the world be misunderstood; I have not the faintest
prejudice against Gaze or Cook. I fervently desire that these gentlemen
may ever quicken trains and cheapen hotels; I am ready to be jostled in
Alpine valleys and Venetian canals by any number of vociferous tourists,
for the sake of the one, schoolmistress, or clerk, or artisan, or
curate, who may by this means have reached at last the land east of the
sun and west of the moon, the St. Brandan's Isle of his or her longings.
What I object to are the well-mannered, well-dressed, often
well-informed persons who, having turned Scotland into a sort of
Hurlingham, are apparently making Egypt, the Holy Land, Japan, into
_succursales_ and _dépendances_ (I like the good Swiss names evoking
couriers and waiters) of their own particularly dull portion of London
and Paris and New York.

Less externally presentable certainly, but how much more really
venerable is the mysterious class of dwellers in obscure pensions:
curious beings who migrate without perceiving any change of landscape
and people, but only change of fare, from the cheap boarding-house in
Dresden to the cheap boarding-house in Florence, Prague, Seville, Rouen,
or Bruges. It is a class whom one of nature's ingenious provisions,
intended doubtless to maintain a balance of inhabited and uninhabited,
directs unconsciously, automatically to the great cities of the past
rather than to those of the present; so that they sit in what were once
palaces, castles, princely pleasure-houses, discussing over the stony
pears and apples the pleasures and drawbacks, the prices and fares, the
dark staircase against the Sunday ices, of other boarding-houses in
other parts of Europe. A quaint race it is, neither marrying nor giving
in marriage, and renewed by natural selection among the poor in purse
and poor in spirit; but among whom the sentimental traveller, did he
still exist, might pick up many droll and melancholy and perhaps
chivalrous stories.

My main contention then is merely that, before visiting countries and
towns in the body, we ought to have visited them in the spirit;
otherwise I fear we might as well sit still at home. I do not mean that
we should read about them; some persons I know affect to extract a kind
of pleasure from it; but to me it seems dull work. One wants to visit
unknown lands in company, not with other men's descriptions, but with
one's own wishes and fancies. And very curious such wishes and fancies
are, or rather the countries and cities they conjure up, having no
existence on any part of the earth's surface, but a very vivid one in
one's own mind. Surely most of us, arriving in any interesting place,
are already furnished with a tolerable picture or plan thereof; the
cathedral on a slant or a rising ground, the streets running uphill or
somewhat in a circle, the river here or there, the lie of the land,
colour of the houses, nay, the whole complexion of the town, so and so.
The reality, so far as my own experience goes, never once tallies with
the fancy; but the town of our building is so compact and clear that it
often remains in our memory alongside of the town of stone and brick,
only gradually dissolving, and then leaving sometimes airy splendours
of itself hanging to the solid structures of its prosaic rival.

Another curious thing to note is how certain real scenes will sometimes
get associated in our minds with places we have never beheld, to such a
point that the charm of the known is actually enhanced by that of the
unknown. I remember a little dell in the High Alps, which, with its huge
larches and mountain pines, its tufts of bee-haunted heather and thyme
among the mossy boulders, its overlooking peak and glimpses of far-down
lakes, became dear to me much less for its own sake than because it
always brought to my mind the word _Thrace_, and with it a vague
fleeting image of satyrs and mænads, a bar of the music of Orpheus. And
less explicable than this, a certain rolling table-land, not more remote
than the high road to Rome, used at one time to impress me with a
mysterious consciousness of the plains of Central Asia; a ruined byre, a
heap of whitewashed stones, among the thistles and stubbles of a Fife
hillside, had for me once a fascination due to the sense that it must be
like Algeria.

Has any painter ever fixed on canvas such visions, distinct and
haunting, of lands he had never seen, Claude or Turner, or the Flemish
people who painted the little towered and domed celestial Jerusalem? I
know not. The nearest thing of the kind was a wonderful erection of
brown paper and (apparently) ingeniously arranged shavings, built up in
rocklike fashion, covered with little green toy-box trees, and dotted
here and there with bits of mirror glass and cardboard houses, which
once puzzled me considerably in the parlour of a cottage. "Do tell me
what that is?" at last rose to my lips. "That," answered my hostess very
slowly, "that is a work of my late 'usband; a representation of the
Halps as close as 'e could imagine them, for 'e never was abroad." I
often think of that man "who never was abroad," and of his
representation of the Alps; of the hours of poetic vision, of actual
creation perhaps from sheer strength of longing, which resulted in that
quaint work of art.

As close as he could imagine them! He had read, then, about the Alps,
read perhaps in Byron or some Radcliffian novel on a stall; and he had
wondered till the vision had come, ready for pasteboard and toy trees
and glue and broken mirror to embody it! And meanwhile I, who am
obliged to cross those very Alps twice every year, I try to do so at
night, to rumble and rattle up and down their gorges in a sleeping-car!
There seems something wrong in this; something wrong in the world's
adjustments, not really in me, for I swear it is respect for the Alps
which makes me thus avoid their sight.


III

And here is the moment for stating my plea against our modern, rapid,
hurried travelling: there is to decent minds a certain element of
humiliation therein, as I suspect there is in every _royal road_. There
is something almost superhumanly selfish in this rushing across
countries without giving them a thought, indeed with no thoughts in us
save of our convenience, inconvenience, food, sleep, weariness. The
whole of Central Europe is thus reduced, for our feelings, to an
arrangement of buffets and custom-houses, its acres checked off on our
sensorium as so many jolts. For it is not often that respectable people
spend a couple of days, or even three, so utterly engrossed in
themselves, so without intellectual relation or responsibility to their
surroundings, living in a moral stratum not above ordinary life, but
below it. Perhaps it is this suspending of connection with all interests
which makes such travelling restful to very busy persons, and agreeable
to very foolish ones. But to decent, active, leisured folk it is, I
maintain, humiliating; humiliating to become so much by comparison in
one's own consciousness; and I suspect that the vague sense of
self-disgust attendant on days thus spent is a sample of the
self-disgust we feel very slightly (and ought to feel very strongly)
whenever our wretched little self is allowed to occupy the whole stage
of our perceptions.

There is in M. Zola's _Bête Humaine_ a curious picture of a train, one
train after another, full of eager modern life, being whirled from Paris
to Havre through the empty fields, before cottages and old-world houses
miles remote from any town. But in reality is not the train the empty
thing, and are not those solitary houses and pastures that which is
filled with life? The Roman express thus rushes to Naples, Egypt, India,
the far East, the great Austral islands, cutting in two the cypress
avenue of a country house of the Val d'Arno, Neptune with his conch, a
huge figure of the seventeenth century, looking on from an artificial
grotto. What to him is this miserable little swish past of to-day?

There is only one circumstance when this vacuity, this suspension of all
real life, is in its place; when one is hurrying to some dreadful goal,
a death-bed or perhaps a fresh-made grave. The soul is precipitated
forward to one object, one moment, and cannot exist meanwhile; _ruit_
not _hora_, but _anima_; emptiness suits passion and suffering, for they
empty out the world.


IV

Be this as it may, it will be a great pity if we lose a certain sense of
wonder at distance overcome, a certain emotion of change of place. This
emotion--paid for no doubt by much impatience and weariness where the
plains were wide, the mountains high, or the roads persistently
straight--must have been one of the great charms of the old mode of
travelling. You savoured the fact of each change in the lie of the
land, of each variation in climate and province, the difference between
the chestnut and the beech zones, for instance, in the south, of the fir
and the larch in the Alps; the various types of window, roof, chimney,
or well, nay, the different fold of the cap or kerchief of the market
women. One inn, one square, one town-hall or church, introduced you
gradually to its neighbours. We feel this in the talk of old people,
those who can remember buying their team at Calais, of elderly ones who
chartered their _vetturino_ at Marseilles or Nice; in certain scraps in
the novels even of Thackeray, giving the sense of this gradual
occupation of the continent by relays. One of Mr. Ruskin's drawings at
Oxford evokes it strongly in me. On what railway journey would he have
come across that little town of Rheinfelden (where is Rheinfelden?),
would he have wandered round those quaint towered walls, over that
bridge, along that grassy walk?

I can remember, in my childhood, the Alps before they had railways; the
enormous remoteness of Italy, the sense of its lying down there, far,
far away in its southern sea; the immense length of the straight road
from Bellinzona to the lake, the endlessness of the winding valleys.
Now, as I said in relation to that effigy of the Alps by the man who had
never been abroad, I get into my bunk at Milan, and waking up, see in
the early morning crispness, the glass-green Reuss tear past, and the
petticoated turrets of Lucerne.

Once also (and I hope not once and never again) I made an immense
journey through Italy in a pony-cart. We seemed to traverse all
countries and climates; lush, stifling valleys with ripening maize and
grapes; oak-woods where rows of cypress showed roads long gone, and
crosses told of murders; desolate heaths high on hill-tops, and stony
gorges full of myrtle; green irrigated meadows with plashing
water-wheels, and grey olive groves; so that in the evening we felt
homesick for that distant, distant morning: yet we had only covered as
much ground as from London to Dover! And how immensely far off from
Florence did we not feel when, four hours after leaving its walls, we
arrived in utter darkness at the friendly mountain farm, and sat down to
supper in the big bare room, where high-backed chairs and the plates
above the immense chimney-piece loomed and glimmered in the half-light;
feeling, as if in a dream, the cool night air still in our throats, the
jingle of cart-bells and chirp of wayside crickets still in our ears!
Where was Florence then? As a fact it was just sixteen miles off.

To travel in this way one should, however, as old John Evelyn advises,
"diet with the natives." Our ancestors (for one takes for granted, of
course, that one's ancestors were _milords_) were always plentifully
furnished, I observe, with letters of introduction. They were necessary
when persons of distinction carried their bedding on mules and rode in
coaches escorted by blunderbuses, like John Evelyn himself.

It is this dieting with the natives which brings one fully in contact
with a country's reality. At the tables of one's friends, while being
strolled through the gardens or driven across country, one learns all
about the life, thoughts, feelings of the people; the very gossip of the
neighbourhood becomes instructive, and you touch the past through
traditions of the family. Here the French put up the maypole in 1796;
there the beautiful abbess met her lover; that old bowed man was the one
who struck the Austrian colonel at Milan before 1859. 'Tis the mode of
travelling that constituted the delight and matured the genius of
Stendhal, king of cosmopolitans and grand master of the psychologic
novel. To my kind friends, wherever I have any, but most perhaps in
Northern Italy, is due among other kinds of gratitude, gratitude for
having travelled in this way.


V

But there is another way of travelling, more suitable methinks to the
poet. For what does the poet want with details of reality when he
possesses its universal essence, or with local manners and historic
tradition, seeing that his work is for all times and all men?

Mr. Browning, I was told last year by his dear friends at Asolo, first
came upon the kingdom of Kate the Queen by accident, perhaps not having
heard its name or not remembering it, in the course of a long walking
tour from Venice to the Alps. It was the first time he was in Italy,
nay, abroad, and he had come from London to Venice by sea. That village
of palaces on the hill-top, with the Lombard plain at its feet and the
great Alps at its back; with its legends of the Queen of Cyprus was,
therefore, one of the first impressions of mainland Italy which the poet
could have received. And one can understand _Pippa Passes_ resulting
therefrom, better than from his years of familiarity with Florence.
Pippa, Sebald, Ottima, Jules, his bride, the Bishop, the Spy, nay, even
Queen Kate and her Page, are all born of that sort of misinterpretation
of places, times, and stories which is so fruitful in poetry, because it
means the begetting of things in the image of the poet's own soul,
rather than the fashioning them to match something outside it.

Even without being a poet you may profit in an especial manner by
travelling in a country where you know no one, provided you have in you
that scrap of poetic fibre without which poets and poetry are caviare to
you. There is no doubt that wandering about in the haunts of the past
undisturbed by the knowledge of the present is marvellously favourable
to the historic, the poetical emotion. The American fresh from the
States thinks of Johnson and Dickens in Fleet Street; at Oxford or
Cambridge he has raptures (are any raptures like these?) into which,
like notes in a chord and overtones in a note, there enters the
deliciousness, the poignancy of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Turner.

The Oxford or Cambridge man, on the other hand, will have similar
raptures in some boarding-house at Venice or Florence; raptures
rapturous in proportion almost to his ignorance of the language and the
people. Do not let us smile, dear friends, who have lived in Rome till
you are Romans, dear friends, who are Romans yourselves, at the
foreigner with his Baedeker, turning his back to the Colosseum in his
anxiety to reach it, and ashamed as well as unable to ask his way. That
Goth or Vandal, very likely, is in the act of possessing Rome, of making
its wonder and glory his own, consubstantial to his soul; Rome is his
for the moment. It is ours? Alas!

Nature, Fate, I know not whether the mother or the daughter, they are so
like each other, looks with benignity upon these poor ignorant, solitary
tourists, and gives them what she denies to those who have more leisure
and opportunity. I cannot explain by any other reason a fact which is
beyond all possibility of doubt, and patent to the meanest observer,
namely, that it is always during our first sojourn in a place, during
its earlier part, and more particularly when we are living prosaically
at inns and boarding-houses, that something happens--a procession, a
serenade, a street-fight, a fair, or a pilgrimage--which shows the place
in a particularly characteristic light, and which never occurs again.
The very elements are desired to perform for the benefit of the
stranger. I remember a thunderstorm, the second night I was ever at
Venice, lighting up St. George's, the Salute, the whole lagoon as I have
never seen it since.

I can testify, also, to having seen the Alhambra under snow, a sparkling
whiteness lying soft on the myrtle hedges, and the reflection of arches
and domes waving, with the drip of melted snow from the roofs, in the
long-stagnant tanks. If I lived in Granada, or went back there, should I
ever see this wonder again? It was so ordered merely because I had just
come, and was lodging at an inn.

Yes, Fate is friendly to those who travel rarely, who go abroad to see
abroad, not to be warm or cold, or to meet the people they may meet
anywhere else. Honour the tourist; he walks in a halo of romance, The
cosmopolitan abroad desists from flannel shirts because he is always at
home; and he knows to a nicety hours and places which demand a high hat.
But does that compensate?


VI

There is yet another mystery connected with travelling, but 'tis too
subtle almost for words. All I can ask is, do you know what it is to
meet, say, in some college room, or on the staircase of an English
country house, or even close behind the front door in Bloomsbury, the
photograph of some Florentine relief or French cathedral, the black,
gaunt Piranesi print of some Roman ruin; and to feel suddenly Florence,
Rouen, Reims, or Rome, the whole of their presence distilled, as it
were, into one essence of emotion?

What does it mean? That in this solid world only delusion is worth
having? Nay; but that nothing can come into the presence of that
capricious despot, our fancy, which has not dwelt six months and six in
the purlieus of its palace, steeped, like the candidates for Ahasuerus's
favour, in sweet odours and myrrh.



OLD ITALIAN GARDENS



I

There are also modern gardens in Italy, and in such I have spent many
pleasant hours. But that has been part of my life of reality, which
concerns only my friends and myself. The gardens I would speak about are
those in which I have lived the life of the fancy, and into which I may
lead the idle thoughts of my readers.

It is pleasant to have flowers growing in a garden. I make this remark
because there have been very fine gardens without any flowers at all; in
fact, when the art of gardening reached its height, it took to despising
its original material, as, at one time, people came to sing so well that
it was considered vulgar to have any voice. There is a magnificent
garden near Pescia, in Tuscany, built in terraces against a hillside,
with wonderful waterworks, which give you shower-baths when you expect
them least; and in this garden, surrounded by the trimmest box hedges,
there bloom only imperishable blossoms of variegated pebbles and chalk.
That I have seen with my own eyes. A similar garden, near Genoa,
consisting of marble mosaics and coloured bits of glass, with a peach
tree on a wall, and an old harpsichord on the doorstep to serve instead
of bell or knocker, I am told of by a friend, who pretends to have spent
her youth in it. But I suspect her to be of supernatural origin, and
this garden to exist only in the world of Ariosto's enchantresses,
whence she originally hails. To return to my first remark, it is
pleasant, therefore, to have flowers in a garden, though not necessary.
We moderns have flowers, and no gardens. I must protest against such a
state of things. Still worse is it to suppose that you can get a garden
by running up a wall or planting a fence round a field, a wood or any
portion of what is vaguely called Nature. Gardens have nothing to do
with Nature, or not much. Save the garden of Eden, which was perhaps no
more a garden than certain London streets so called, gardens are always
primarily the work of man. I say primarily, for these outdoor
habitations, where man weaves himself carpets of grass and gravel, cuts
himself walls out of ilex or hornbeam, and fits on as roof so much of
blue day or of starspecked, moonsilvered night, are never perfect until
Time has furnished it all with his weather stains and mosses, and Fancy,
having given notice to the original occupants, has handed it into the
charge of gentle little owls and furgloved bats, and of other tenants,
human in shape, but as shy and solitary as they.

That is a thing of our days, or little short of them. I should be
curious to know something of early Italian gardens, long ago; long
before the magnificence of Roman Cæsars had reappeared, with their
rapacity and pride, in the cardinals and princes of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries. I imagine those beginnings to have been humble;
the garden of the early middle ages to have been a thing more for
utility than pleasure, and not at all for ostentation. For the garden of
the castle is necessarily small; and the plot of ground between the
inner and outer rows of walls, where corn and hay might be grown for the
horses, is not likely to be given up exclusively to her ladyship's
lilies and gillyflowers; salads and roots must grow there, and onions
and leeks, for it is not always convenient to get vegetables from the
villages below, particularly when there are enemies or disbanded
pillaging mercenaries about; hence, also, there will be fewer roses than
vines, pears, or apples, spaliered against the castle wall. On the other
hand the burgher of the towns begins by being a very small artisan or
shopkeeper, and even when he lends money to kings of England and
Emperors, and is part owner of Constantinople, he keeps his house with
business-like frugality. Whatever they lavished on churches, frescoes,
libraries, and pageants, the citizens, even of the fifteenth century,
whose wives and daughters still mended the linen and waited at table,
are not likely to have seen in their villa more than a kind of rural
place of business, whence to check factors and peasants, where to store
wine and oil; and from whose garden, barely enclosed from the fields, to
obtain the fruit and flowers for their table. I think that mediæval
poetry and tales have led me to this notion. There is little mention in
them of a garden as such: the Provençal lovers meet in orchards--"en un
vergier sor folha d'albespi"--where the May bushes grow among the almond
trees. Boccaccio and the Italians more usually employ the word _orto_,
which has lost its Latin signification, and is a place, as we learn from
the context, planted with fruit trees and with pot-herbs, the sage which
brought misfortune on poor Simona, and the sweet basil which Lisabetta
watered, as it grew out of Lorenzo's head, "only with rosewater, or that
of orange flowers, or with her own tears." A friend of mine has painted
a picture of another of Boccaccio's ladies, Madonna Dianora, visiting
the garden, which (to the confusion of her virtuous stratagem) the
enamoured Ansaldo has made to bloom in January by magic arts; a little
picture full of the quaint lovely details of Dello's wedding chests, the
charm of the roses and lilies, the plashing fountains and birds singing
against a background of wintry trees and snow-shrouded fields, the
dainty youths and damsels treading their way among the flowers, looking
like tulips and ranunculus themselves in their fur and brocade. But
although in this story Boccaccio employs the word _giardino_ instead of
_orto_, I think we must imagine that magic flower garden rather as a
corner--they still exist on every hillside--of orchard connected with
the fields of wheat and olives below by the long tunnels of vine
trellis, and dying away into them with the great tufts of lavender and
rosemary and fennel on the grassy bank under the cherry trees. This
piece of terraced ground along which the water--spurted from the
dolphin's mouth or the siren's breasts--runs through walled channels,
refreshing impartially violets and salads, lilies and tall flowering
onions, under the branches of the peach tree and the pomegranate, to
where, in the shade of the great pink oleander tufts, it pours out below
into the big tank, for the maids to rinse their linen in the evening,
and the peasants to fill their cans to water the bedded-out tomatoes,
and the potted clove-pinks in the shadow of the house.

The Blessed Virgin's garden is like that, where, as she prays in the
cool of the evening, the gracious Gabriel flutters on to one knee
(hushing the sound of his wings lest he startle her) through the pale
green sky, the deep blue-green valley; and you may still see in the
Tuscan fields clumps of cypresses clipped wheel-shape, which might mark
the very spot.

The transition from this orchard-garden, this _orto_, of the old Italian
novelists and painters to the architectural garden of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, is indicated in some of the descriptions and
illustrations of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a sort of handbook of
antiquities in the shape of a novel, written by Fra Francesco Colonna,
and printed at Venice about 1480. Here we find trees and hedges treated
as brick and stone work; walls, niches, colonnades, cut out of ilex and
laurel; statues, vases, peacocks, clipped in box and yew; moreover
antiquities, busts, inscriptions, broken altars and triumphal arches,
temples to the graces and Venus, stuck about the place very much as we
find them in the Roman Villas of the late sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. But I doubt whether the Hypnerotomachia can be taken as
evidence of the gardens of Colonna's own days. I think his descriptions
are rather of what his archæological lore made him long for, and what
came in time, when antiques were more plentiful than in the early
Renaissance, and the monuments of the ancients could be incorporated
freely into the gardens. For the classic Italian garden is essentially
Roman in origin; it could have arisen only on the top of ancient walls
and baths, its shape suggested by the ruins below, its ornaments dug up
in the planting of the trees; and until the time of Julius II. and Leo
X., Rome was still a mediæval city, feudal and turbulent, in whose
outskirts, for ever overrun by baronial squabbles, no sane man would
have built himself a garden; and in whose ancient monuments castles were
more to be expected than belvederes and orangeries. Indeed, by the side
of quaint arches and temples, and labyrinths which look like designs for
a box of toys, we find among the illustrations of Polifilo various
charming woodcuts showing bits of vine trellis, of tank and of fountain,
on the small scale, and in the domestic, quite unclassic style of the
Italian burgher's garden. I do not mean to say that the gardens of
Lorenzo dei Medici, of Catherine Cornaro near Asolo, of the Gonzagas
near Mantua, of the Estensi at Scandiano and Sassuolo, were kitchen
gardens like those of Isabella's basil pot. They had waterworks already,
and aviaries full of costly birds, and enclosures where camels and
giraffes were kept at vast expense, and parks with deer and fishponds;
they were the gardens of the castle, of the farm, magnified and made
magnificent, spread over a large extent of ground. But they were not,
any more than are the gardens of Boiardo's and Ariosto's enchantresses
(copied by Spenser) the typical Italian gardens of later days.

And here, having spoken of that rare and learned Hypnerotomachia
Poliphili (which, by the way, any one who wishes to be instructed,
sickened, and bored for many days together, may now read in Monsieur
Claudius Popelin's French translation), it is well I should state that
for the rest of this dissertation I have availed myself of neither the
_British Museum_, nor the _National Library of Paris_, nor the _Library
of South Kensington_ (the italics seem necessary to show my appreciation
of those haunts of learning), but merely of the light of my own poor
intellect. For I do not think I care to read about gardens among
foolscap and inkstains and printed forms; in fact I doubt whether I
care to read about them at all, save in Boccaccio and Ariosto, Spenser
and Tasso; though I hope that my readers will be more literary
characters than myself.


II

The climate of Italy (moving on in my discourse) renders it difficult
and almost impossible to have flowers growing in the ground all through
the summer. After the magnificent efflorescence of May and June the soil
cakes into the consistence of terra-cotta, and the sun, which has
expanded and withered the roses and lilies with such marvellous
rapidity, toasts everything like so much corn or maize. Very few
herbaceous flowers--the faithful, friendly, cheerful zinnias, for
instance--can continue blooming, and the oleander, become more
brilliantly rose-colour with every additional week's drought, triumph
over empty beds. Flowers in Italy are a crop like corn, hemp, or beans;
you must be satisfied with fallow soil when they are over. I say these
things, learned by some bitter experience of flowerless summers, to
explain why Italian flower-gardening mainly takes refuge in pots--from
the great ornamented lemon-jars down to the pots of carnations, double
geraniums, tuberoses, and jasmines on every wall, on every ledge or
window-sill; so much so, in fact, that even the famous sweet basil, and
with it young Lorenzo's head, had to be planted in a pot. Now this
poverty of flower-beds and richness of pots made it easy and natural for
the Italian garden to become, like the Moorish one, a place of mere
greenery and water, a palace whose fountains plashed in sunny yards
walled in with myrtle and bay, in mysterious chambers roofed over with
ilex and box.

And this it became. Moderately at first; a few hedges of box and
cypress--exhaling its resinous breath in the sunshine--leading up to the
long, flat Tuscan house, with its tower or pillared loggia under the
roof to take the air and dry linen; a few quaintly cut trees set here
and there, along with the twisted mulberry tree where the family drank
its wine and ate its fruit of an evening; a little grove of ilexes to
the back, in whose shade you could sleep while the cicalas buzzed at
noon; some cypresses gathered together into a screen, just to separate
the garden from the olive yard above; gradually perhaps a balustrade set
at the end of the bowling-green, that you might see, even from a
distance, the shimmery blue valley below, the pale blue distant hills;
and if you had it, some antique statue not good enough for the courtyard
of the town house, set on the balustrade or against the tree; also,
where water was plentiful, a little grotto, scooped out under that
semicircular screen of cypresses. A very modest place, but differing
essentially from the orchard and kitchen garden of the mediæval burgher;
and out of which came something immense and unique--the classic Roman
villa.

For your new garden, your real Italian garden, brings in a new
element--that of perspective, architecture, decoration; the trees used
as building material, the lie of the land as theatre arrangements, the
water as the most docile and multiform stage property. Now think what
would happen when such gardens begin to be made in Rome. The Popes and
Popes' nephews can enclose vast tracts of land, expropriated by some
fine sweeping fiscal injustice, or by the great expropriator, fever, in
the outskirts of the town; and there place their casino, at first a mere
summer-house, whither to roll of spring evenings in stately coaches and
breathe the air with a few friends; then gradually a huge house, with
its suits of guests' chambers, stables, chapel, orangery, collection of
statues and pictures, its subsidiary smaller houses, belvederes,
circuses, and what not! And around the house His Eminence or His Serene
Excellency may lay out his garden. Now go where you may in the outskirts
of Rome you are sure to find ruins--great aqueduct arches, temples
half-standing, gigantic terrace-works belonging to some baths or palace
hidden beneath the earth and vegetation. Here you have naturally an
element of architectural ground-plan and decoration which is easily
followed: the terraces of quincunxes, the symmetrical groves, the long
flights of steps, the triumphal arches, the big ponds, come, as it were,
of themselves, obeying the order of what is below. And from underground,
everywhere, issues a legion of statues, headless, armless, in all stages
of mutilation, who are charitably mended, and take their place, mute
sentinels, white and earth-stained, at every intersecting box hedge,
under every ilex grove, beneath the cypresses of each sweeping hillside
avenue, wherever a tree can make a niche or a bough a canopy. Also
vases, sarcophagi, baths, little altars, columns, reliefs by the score
and hundred, to be stuck about everywhere, let into every wall, clapped
on the top of every gable, every fountain stacked up, in every empty
space.

Among these inhabitants of the gardens of Cæsar, Lucullus, or Sallust,
who, after a thousand years' sleep, pierce through the earth into new
gardens, of crimson cardinals and purple princes, each fattened on his
predecessors' spoils--Medici, Farnesi, Peretti, Aldobrandini, Ludovisi,
Rospigliosi, Borghese, Pamphili--among this humble people of stone I
would say a word of garden Hermes and their vicissitudes. There they
stand, squeezing from out their triangular sheath the stout pectorals
veined with rust, scarred with corrosions, under the ilexes, whose drip,
drip, through all the rainy days and nights of those ancient times and
these modern ones has gradually eaten away an eye here, a cheek there,
making up for the loss by gilding the hair with lichens, and matting the
beard with green ooze; while patched chin, and restored nose, give them
an odd look of fierce German duellists. Have they been busts of Cæsars,
hastily ordered on the accession of some Tiberius or Nero, hastily sent
to alter into Caligula or Galba, or chucked into the Tiber on to the top
of the monster Emperor's body after that had been properly hauled
through the streets? Or are they philosophers, at your choice, Plato or
Aristotle or Zeno or Epicurus, once presiding over the rolls of poetry
and science in some noble's or some rhetor's library? Or is it possible
that this featureless block, smiling foolishly with its orbless
eye-sockets and worn-out mouth, may have had, once upon a time, a nose
from Phidias's hand, a pair of Cupid lips carved by Praxiteles?


III

A book of seventeenth-century prints--"The Gardens of Rome, with their
plans raised and seen in perspective, drawn and engraved by Giov:
Battista Falda, at the printing-house of Gio: Giacomo de' Rossi, at the
sign of Paris, near the church of Peace in Rome"--brings home to one,
with the names of the architects who laid them out, that these Roman
villas are really a kind of architecture cut out of living instead of
dead timber. To this new kind of architecture belongs a new kind of
sculpture. The antiques do well in their niches of box and laurel under
their canopy of hanging ilex boughs; they are, in their weather-stained,
mutilated condition, another sort of natural material fit for the
artist's use; but the old sculpture being thus in a way assimilated
through the operation of earth, wind, and rain, into tree-trunks and
mossy boulders, a new sculpture arises undertaking to make of marble
something which will continue the impression of the trees and waters,
wave its jagged outlines like the branches, twist its supple limbs like
the fountains. It is high time that some one should stop the laughing
and sniffing at this great sculpture, of Bernini and his Italian and
French followers, the last spontaneous outcome of the art of the
Renaissance, of the decorative sculpture which worked in union with
place and light and surroundings. Mistaken as indoor decoration, as free
statuary in the sense of the antique, this sculpture has after all
given us the only works which are thoroughly right in the open air,
among the waving trees, the mad vegetation which sprouts under the
moist, warm Roman sky, from every inch of masonry and travertine. They
are comic of course looked at in all the details, those angels who smirk
and gesticulate with the emblems of the passion, those popes and saints
who stick out colossal toes and print on the sky gigantic hands, on the
parapets of bridges and the gables of churches; but imagine them
replaced by fine classic sculpture--stiff mannikins struggling with the
overwhelming height, the crushing hugeness of all things Roman; little
tin soldiers lost in the sky instead of those gallant theatrical
creatures swaggering among the clouds, pieces of wind-torn cloud,
petrified for the occasion, themselves! Think of Bernini's Apollo and
Daphne, a group unfortunately kept in a palace room, with whose right
angles its every outline swears, but which, if placed in a garden, would
be the very summing up of all garden and park impressions in the waving,
circling lines; yet not without a niminy piminy restraint of the
draperies, the limbs, the hair turning to clustered leaves, the body
turning to smooth bark, of the flying nymph and the pursuing god.

The great creation of this Bernini school, which shows it as the
sculpture born of gardens, is the fountain. No one till the seventeenth
century had guessed what might be the relations of stone and water, each
equally obedient to the artist's hand. The mediæval Italian fountain is
a tank, a huge wash-tub fed from lions' mouths, as if by taps, and
ornamented, more or less, with architectural and sculptured devices. In
the Renaissance we get complicated works of art--Neptunes with tridents
throne above sirens squeezing their breasts, and cupids riding on
dolphins, like the beautiful fountain of Bologna; or boys poised on one
foot, holding up tortoises, like Rafael's Tartarughe of Piazza Mattei;
more elaborate devices still, like the one of the villa at Bagnaia, near
Viterbo. But these fountains do equally well when dry, equally well
translated into bronze or silver: they are wonderful saltcellars or
fruit-dishes; everything is delightful except the water, which spurts in
meagre threads as from a garden-hose. They are the fitting ornament of
Florence, where there is pure drinking water only on Sundays and
holidays, of Bologna, where there is never any at all.

The seventeenth century made a very different thing of its
fountains--something as cool, as watery, as the jets which gurgle and
splash in Moorish gardens and halls, and full of form and fancy withal,
the water never alone, but accompanied by its watery suggestion of power
and will and whim. They are so absolutely right, these Roman fountains
of the Bernini school, that we are apt to take them as a matter of
course, as if the horses had reared between the spurts from below and
the gushes and trickles above; as if the Triton had been draped with the
overflowing of his horn; as if the Moor with his turban, the Asiatic
with his veiled fall, the solemn Egyptian river god, had basked and
started back with the lion and the seahorse among the small cataracts
breaking into foam in the pond, the sheets of water dropping,
prefiguring icicles, lazily over the rocks, all stained black by the
north winds and yellow by the lichen, all always, always, in those Roman
gardens and squares, from the beginning of time, natural objects,
perfect and not more to be wondered at than the water-encircled rocks of
the mountains and seashores. Such art as this cannot be done justice to
with the pen; diagrams would be necessary, showing how in every case the
lines of the sculpture harmonise subtly, or clash to be more subtly
harmonised, with the movement, the immensely varied, absolutely
spontaneous movement of the water; the sculptor, become infinitely
modest, willing to sacrifice his own work, to make it uninteresting in
itself, as a result of the hours and days he must have spent watching
the magnificent manners and exquisite tricks of natural waterfalls--nay,
the mere bursting alongside of breakwaters, the jutting up between
stones, of every trout-stream and milldam. It is not till we perceive
its absence (in the fountains, for instance, of modern Paris) that we
appreciate this Roman art of water sculpture. Meanwhile we accept the
fountains as we accept the whole magnificent harmony of nature and
art--nature tutored by art, art fostered by nature--of the Roman villas,
undulating, with their fringe of pines and oaks, over the hillocks and
dells of the Campagna, or stacked up proudly, vineyards and woods all
round, on the steep sides of Alban and Sabine hills.


IV

This book of engravings of the villas of the Serene Princes
Aldobrandini, Pamphili, Borghese, and so forth, brings home to us
another fact, to wit, that the original owners and layers-out thereof
must have had but little enjoyment of them. There they go in their big
coaches, among the immense bows and curtsies of the ladies and gentlemen
and dapper ecclesiastics whom they meet; princes in feathers and laces,
and cardinals in silk and ermine. But the delightful gardens on which
they are being complimented are meanwhile mere dreadful little
plantations, like a nurseryman's squares of cabbages, you would think,
rather than groves of ilexes and cypresses, for, alas, the greatest
princes, the most magnificent cardinals, cannot bribe Time, or hustle
him to hurry up.

And thus the gardens were planted and grew. For whom? Certainly not for
the men of those days, who would doubtless have been merely shocked
could they have seen or foreseen.... For their ghosts perhaps? Scarcely.
A friend of mine, in whose information on such matters I have implicit
belief, assures me that it is not the _whole_ ghosts of the ladies and
cavaliers of long ago who haunt the gardens; not the ghost of their
everyday, humdrum likeness to ourselves, but the ghost of certain
moments of their existence, certain rustlings, and shimmerings of their
personality, their waywardness, momentary, transcendent graces and
graciousnesses, unaccountable wistfulness and sorrow, certain looks of
the face and certain tones of the voice (perhaps none of the steadiest),
things that seemed to die away into nothing on earth, but which have
permeated their old haunts, clung to the statues with the ivy, risen and
fallen with the plash of the fountains, and which now exhale in the
breath of the honeysuckle and murmur in the voice of the birds, in the
rustle of the leaves and the high, invading grasses. There are some
verses of Verlaine's, which come to me always, on the melancholy minuet
tune to which Monsieur Fauré has set them, as I walk in those Italian
gardens, Roman and Florentine, walk in the spirit as well as in the
flesh:

     Votre âme est un paysage choisi
     Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
     Jouant du luth et quasi
     Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.
     Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
     L'amour vainqueur et la vie opportune,
     Ils n'ont pas l'air de croire à leur bonheur;
     Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,
     Au calme clair de lune triste et beau
     Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
     Et sangloter d'extase les jets d'eau,
     Les grands jets d'eau sveltes parmi les marbres.


V

And this leads me to wonder what these gardens must be when the key has
turned in their rusty gates, and the doorkeeper gone to sleep under the
gun hanging from its nail. What must such places be, Mondragone, for
instance, near Frascati, and the deserted Villa Pucci near Signa, during
the great May nights, when my own small scrap of garden, not beyond
kitchen sounds and servants' lamps, is made wonderful and magical by the
scents which rise up, by the song of the nightingales, the dances of
the fireflies, copying in the darkness below the figures which are
footed by the nimble stars overhead. Into such rites as these, which the
poetry of the past practises with the poetry of summer nights, one durst
not penetrate, save after leaving one's vulgar flesh, one's habits,
one's realities outside the gate.

And since I have mentioned gates, I must not forget one other sort of
old Italian garden, perhaps the most poetical and pathetic--the garden
that has ceased to exist. You meet it along every Italian highroad or
country lane; a piece of field, tender green with the short wheat in
winter, brown and orange with the dried maize husks and seeding sorghum
in summer, the wide grass path still telling of coaches that once rolled
in; a big stone bench, with sweeping shell-like back under the rosemary
bushes; and, facing the road, between solemnly grouped cypresses or
stately marshalled poplars, a gate of charming hammered iron standing
open between its scroll-work masonry and empty vases, under its covered
escutcheon. The gate that leads to nowhere.



ABOUT LEISURE

     Sancte Hieronyme, ora pro nobis!
                           _Litany of the Saints._



I

Hung in my room, in such a manner as to catch my eye on waking, is an
excellent photograph of Bellini's _St. Jerome in his Study_. I am aware
that it is not at all by Bellini, but by an inferior painter called
Catena, and I am, therefore, careful not to like it very much. It
occupies that conspicuous place not as a work of art but as an _aid to
devotion_. For I have instituted in my mind, and quite apart from the
orthodox cultus, a special devotion to St. Jerome as the Patron of
Leisure.

And here let me forestall the cavillings of those who may object that
Hieronymus, whom we call Jerome (born in Dalmatia and died at Bethlehem
about 1500 years ago), was on the contrary a busy, even an overworked
Father of the Church; that he wrote three stout volumes of polemical
treatises, besides many others (including the dispute "concerning
seraphs"), translated the greater part of the Bible into Latin, edited
many obscure texts, and, on the top of it all, kept up an active
correspondence with seven or eight great ladies, a circumstance alone
sufficient to prove that he could not have had much time to spare. I
know. But all that either has nothing to do with it or serves to explain
why St. Jerome was afterwards rewarded by the gift of Leisure, and is,
therefore, to be invoked by all those who aspire at enjoying the same.
For the painters of all schools, faithful to the higher truth, have
agreed in telling us that: first, St. Jerome had a most delightful
study, looking out on the finest scenery; secondly, that he was never
writing, but always reading or looking over the edge of his book at the
charming tables and chairs and curiosities, or at the sea and mountains
through the window; and thirdly, _that he was never interrupted by
anybody_. I underline this item, because on it, above all the others, is
founded my certainty that St. Jerome is the only person who ever
enjoyed perfect leisure, and, therefore, the natural patron and
advocate of all the other persons to whom even imperfect leisure is
refused. In what manner this miracle was compassed is exactly what I
propose to discuss in this essay. An excellent _Roman Catholic_ friend
of mine, to whom I propounded the question, did indeed solve it by
reminding me that Heaven had made St. Jerome a present of a lion who
slept on his door-mat, after which, she thought, his leisure could take
care of itself. But although this answer seems decisive, it really only
begs the question; and we are obliged to inquire further into the _real
nature of St. Jerome's lion_. This formula has a fine theological ring,
calling to mind Hieronymus's own treatise, _Of the Nature of Seraphs_,
and I am pleased to have found anything so suitable to the arrangements
of a Father of the Church. Nevertheless, I propose to investigate into
the subject of Leisure with a method rather human and earthly than in
any way transcendental.


II

We must evidently begin by a little work of defining; and this will be
easiest done by considering first what Leisure is not. In the first
place, it is one of those things about which we erroneously suppose that
other people have plenty of it, and we ourselves have little or none,
owing to our thoroughly realising only that which lies nearest to our
eye--to wit, _ourself_. How often do we not go into another person's
room and say, "Ah! _this_ is a place where one can feel peaceful!" How
often do we not long to share the peacefulness of some old house, say in
a deserted suburb, with its red fruit wall and its cedar half hiding the
windows, or of some convent portico, with glimpses of spaliered orange
trees. Meanwhile, in that swept and garnished spacious room, in that
house or convent, is no peacefulness to share; barely, perhaps, enough
to make life's two ends meet. For we do not see what fills up, chokes
and frets the life of others, whereas we are uncomfortably aware of the
smallest encumbrance in our own; in these matters we feel quickly enough
the mote in our own eye, and do not perceive the beam in our
neighbour's.

And leisure, like its sister, peace, is among those things which are
internally felt rather than seen from the outside. (Having written this
part of my definition, it strikes me that I have very nearly given away
St. Jerome and St. Jerome's lion, since any one may say, that probably
that famous leisure of his was just one of the delusions in question.
But this is not the case. St. Jerome really had leisure, at least when
he was painted; I know it to be a fact; and, for the purposes of
literature, I require it to be one. So I close this parenthesis with the
understanding that so much is absolutely settled.)

Leisure requires the evidence of our own feelings, because it is not so
much a quality of time as a peculiar state of mind. We speak of _leisure
time_, but what we really mean thereby is _time in which we can feel at
leisure_. What being at leisure means is more easily felt than defined.
It has nothing to do with being idle, or having time on one's hands,
although it does involve a certain sense of free space about one, as we
shall see anon. There is time and to spare in a lawyer's waiting-room,
but there is no leisure, neither do we enjoy this blessing when we have
to wait two or three hours at a railway junction. On both these
occasions (for persons who can profit thereby to read the papers, to
learn a verb, or to refresh memories of foreign travel, are distinctly
abnormal) we do not feel in possession of ourselves. There is something
fuming and raging inside us, something which seems to be kicking at our
inner bulwarks as we kicked the cushions of a tardy four-wheeler in our
childhood. St. Jerome, patron of leisure, never behaved like that, and
his lion was always engrossed in pleasant contemplation of the
cardinal's hat on the peg. I have said that when we are bored we feel as
if possessed by something not quite ourselves (much as we feel possessed
by a stone in a shoe, or a cold in the head); and this brings me to a
main characteristic of leisure: it implies that we feel free to do what
we like, and that we have plenty of space to do it in. This is a very
important remark of mine, and if it seem trite, that is merely because
it is so wonderfully true. Besides, it is fraught with unexpected
consequences.


III

The worst enemy of leisure is boredom: it is one of the most active
pests existing, fruitful of vanity and vexation of spirit. I do not
speak merely of the wear and tear of so-called social amusements, though
that is bad enough. We kill time, and kill our better powers also, as
much in the work undertaken to keep off _ennui_ as in the play. Count
Tolstoi, with his terrible eye for shams, showed it all up in a famous
answer to M. Dumas _fils_. Many, many of us, work, he says, in order to
escape from ourselves. Now, we should not want to escape from ourselves;
we ought to carry ourselves, the more unconsciously the better, along
ever widening circles of interest and activity; we should bring
ourselves into ever closer contact with everything that is outside us;
we should be perpetually giving ourselves from sheer loving instinct;
but how can we give ourself if we have run away from it, or buried it at
home, or chained it up in a treadmill? Good work is born of the love of
the Power-to-do for the Job-to-be-done; nor can any sort of chemical
arrangements, like those by which Faust's pupil made _Homunculus_ in
his retort, produce genuinely living, and in its turn fruitful, work.
The fear of boredom, the fear of the moral going to bits which boredom
involves, encumbers the world with rubbish, and exhibitions of pictures,
publishers' announcements, lecture syllabuses, schemes of charitable
societies, are pattern-books of such litter. The world, for many people,
and unfortunately, for the finer and nobler (those most afraid of
_ennui_) is like a painter's garret, where some half-daubed canvas,
eleven feet by five, hides the Jaconda on the wall, the Venus in the
corner, and blocks the charming tree-tops, gables, and distant meadows
through the window.

Art, literature, and philanthropy are notoriously expressions no longer
of men's and women's thoughts and feelings, but of their dread of
finding themselves without thoughts to think or feelings to feel.
So-called practical persons know this, and despise such employments as
frivolous and effeminate. But are they not also, to a great extent,
frightened of themselves and running away from boredom? See your
well-to-do weighty man of forty-five or fifty, merchant, or soldier, or
civil servant; the same who thanks God _he_ is no idler. Does he really
require more money? Is he more really useful as a colonel than as a
major, in a wig or cocked hat than out of it? Is he not shuffling money
from one heap into another, making rules and regulations for others to
unmake, preparing for future restless idlers the only useful work which
restless idleness can do, the carting away of their predecessor's
litter?

Nor is this all the mischief. Work undertaken to kill time, at best to
safeguard one's dignity, is clearly not the work which one was born to,
since that would have required no such incentives. Now, trying to do
work one is not fit for, implies the more or less unfitting oneself to
do, or even to be, the something for which one had facilities. It means
competing with those who are utterly different, competing in things
which want a totally different kind of organism; it means, therefore,
offering one's arms and legs, and feelings and thoughts to those blind,
brutal forces of adaptation which, having to fit a human character into
a given place, lengthen and shorten it, mangling it unconcernedly in
the process.

Say one was naturally adventurous, a creature for open air and quick,
original resolves. Is he the better for a deliberative, sedentary
business, or it for him? There are people whose thought poises on
distant points, swirls and pounces, and gets the prey which can't be got
by stalking along the bushes; there are those who, like divers, require
to move head downwards, feet in the air, an absurd position for going up
hill. There are people who must not feel æsthetically, in order (so Dr.
Bain assures us) that they may be thorough-paced, scientific thinkers;
others who cannot get half a page or fifty dates by heart because they
assimilate and alter everything they take in.

And think of the persons born to contemplation or sympathy, who, in the
effort to be prompt and practical, in the struggle for a fortune or a
visiting-list lose, atrophy (alas, after so much cruel bruising!) their
inborn exquisite powers.

The world wants useful inhabitants. True. But the clouds building
bridges over the sea, the storms modelling the peaks and flanks of the
mountains, are a part of the world; and they want creatures to sit and
look at them and learn their life's secrets, and carry them away,
conveyed perhaps merely in altered tone of voice, or brightened colour
of eye, to revive the spiritual and physical hewers of wood and drawers
of water. For the poor sons and daughters of men require for sustenance,
as well as food and fuel, and intellect and morals, the special
mysterious commodity called _charm_....


IV

And here let me open a parenthesis of lamentation over the ruthless
manner in which our century and nation destroys this precious thing,
even in its root and seed. _Charm_ is, where it exists, an intrinsic and
ultimate quality; it makes our actions, persons, life, significant and
desirable, apart from anything they may lead to, or any use to which
they can be put. Now we are allowing ourselves to get into a state where
nothing is valued, otherwise than as a means; where to-day is
interesting only because it leads up to to-morrow; and the flower is
valued only on account of the fruit, and the fruit, in its turn, on
account of the seed.

It began, perhaps, with the loss of that sacramental view of life and
life's details which belonged to Judaism and the classic religions, and
of which even Catholicism has retained a share; making eating, drinking,
sleeping, cleaning house and person, let alone marriage, birth, and
death, into something grave and meaningful, not merely animal and
accidental; and mapping out the years into days, each with its symbolic
or commemorative meaning and emotion. All this went long ago, and
inevitably. But we are losing nowadays something analogous and more
important: the cultivation and sanctification not merely of acts and
occasions but of the individual character.

Life has been allowed to arrange itself, if such can be called
arrangement, into an unstable, jostling heap of interests, ours and
other folk's, serious and vacuous, trusted to settle themselves
according to the line of least resistance (that is, of most breakage!)
and the survival of the toughest, without our sympathy directing the
choice. As the days of the year have become confused, hurried, and
largely filled with worthless toil and unworthy trouble, so in a
measure, alas, our souls! We rarely envy people for being delightful; we
are always ashamed of mentioning that any of our friends are virtuous;
we state what they have done, or do, or are attempting; we state their
chances of success. Yet success may depend, and often does, on greater
hurrying and jostling, not on finer material and workmanship, in our
hurrying times. The quick method, the rapid worker, the cheap object
quickly replaced by a cheaper--these we honour; we want the last new
thing, and have no time to get to love our properties, bodily and
spiritual. 'Tis bad economy, we think, to weave such damask, linen, and
brocade as our fathers have left us; and perhaps this reason accounts
for our love of _bric-à-brac_; we wish to buy associations ready made,
like that wealthy man of taste who sought to buy a half-dozen old
statues, properly battered and lichened by the centuries, to put in his
brand new garden. With this is connected--I mean this indifference to
what folk _are_ as distinguished from what they _do_--the self-assertion
and aggressiveness of many worthy persons, men more than women, and
gifted, alas, more than giftless; the special powers proportionately
accompanied by special odiousness. Such persons cultivate themselves,
indeed, but as fruit and vegetables for the market, and, with good luck
and trouble, possibly _primeurs_: concentrate every means, chemical
manure and sunshine, and quick each still hard pear or greenish
cauliflower into the packing-case, the shavings and sawdust, for export.
It is with such well-endowed persons that originates the terrible mania
(caught by their neighbours) of tangible work, something which can be
put alongside of others' tangible work, if possible with some visible
social number attached to it. So long as this be placed on the stall
where it courts inspection, what matter how empty and exhausted the soul
which has grown it? For nobody looks at souls except those who use them
for this market-gardening.

Dropping metaphor; it is woeful to see so many fine qualities sacrificed
to _getting on_, independent of actual necessity; getting on, no matter
why, on to the road _to no matter what_. And on that road, what
bitterness and fury if another passes in front! Take up books of
science, of history and criticism, let alone newspapers; half the space
is taken up in explaining (or forestalling explanations), that the sage,
hero, poet, artist said, did, or made the particular thing before some
other sage, hero, poet, artist; and that what the other did, or said, or
made, was either a bungle, or a plagiarism, or worst of all--was
something _obvious_. Hence, like the bare-back riders at the Siena
races, illustrious persons, and would-be illustrious, may be watched
using their energies, not merely in pressing forward, but in hitting
competitors out of the way with inflated bladders--bladders filled with
the wind of conceit, not merely the breath of the lungs. People who
might have been modest and gentle, grow, merely from self-defence,
arrogant and aggressive; they become waspish, contradictory, unfair, who
were born to be wise and just, and well-mannered. And to return to the
question of _Charm_, they lose, soil, maim in this scuffle, much of this
most valuable possession; their intimate essential quality, their
natural manner of being towards nature and neighbours and ideas; their
individual shape, perfume, savour, and, in the sense of herbals, their
individual _virtue_. And when, sometimes, one comes across some of it
remaining, it is with the saddened feeling of finding a delicate plant
trampled by cattle or half eaten up by goats.

Alas, alas, for charm! People are busy painting pictures, writing poems,
and making music all the world over, and busy making money for the
buying or hiring thereof. But as to that charm of character which is
worth all the music and poetry and pictures put together, how the good
common-sense generations do waste it.


V

Now I suspect that _Charm_ is closely related to _Leisure_. Charm is a
living harmony in the individual soul. It is organised internally, the
expression of mere inborn needs, the offspring of free choice; and as it
is the great giver of pleasure to others, sprung probably from pleasure
within ourselves; making life seem easier, more flexible, even as life
feels in so far easier and more flexible to those who have it. Now even
the best work means struggle, if not with the world and oneself, at
least with difficulties inanimate and animate, pressure and resistance
which make the individual soul stronger, but also harder and less
flower-like, and often a trifle warped by inevitable routine. Hence
Charm is not the nursling of our hours of work, but the delicate and
capricious foster-child of Leisure. For, as observed, Leisure suspends
the pull and push, the rough-and-ready reciprocity of man and
circumstance. 'Tis in leisure that the soul is free to grow by its own
laws, grow inwardly organised and harmonious; its fine individual
hierarchism to form feelings and thoughts, each taking rank and motion
under a conscious headship. 'Tis, I would show, in leisure, while
talking with the persons who are dear, while musing on the themes that
are dearer even than they, that voices learn their harmonious modes,
intonation, accent, pronunciation of single words; all somehow falling
into characteristic pattern, and the features of the face learn to move
with that centred meaning which oftentimes makes homeliness itself more
radiant than beauty. Nay more, may it not be in Leisure, during life's
pauses, that we learn to live, what for and how?


VI

_Life's Pauses._ We think of Leisure in those terms, comparing it with
the scramble, at best the bustle, of work. But this might be a delusion,
like that of the moving shore and the motionless boat. St. Jerome, our
dear patron of Leisure, is looking dreamily over the top of his desk,
listening to the larks outside the wide window, watching the white
sailing clouds. Is he less alive than if his eyes were glued to the
page, his thoughts focussed on one topic, his pen going scratch-scratch,
his soul oblivious of itself? He might be writing fine words, thinking
fine thoughts; but would he have had fine thoughts to think, fine words
to write, if he had always been busy thinking and writing, and had kept
company not with the larks and the clouds and the dear lion on the mat,
but only with the scratching pen?

For, when all is said and done, 'tis during work we spend, during
leisure we amass those qualities which we barter for ever with other
folk, and the act of barter is _life_. Anyhow, metaphysics apart, and to
return to St. Jerome. This much is clear, that if Leisure were not a
very good thing, this dear old saint would never have been made its
heavenly patron.

But your discourse, declares the stern reader or he of sicklier
conscience, might be a masked apology for idleness; and pray how many
people would work in this world if every one insisted on having Leisure?
The question, moralising friend, contains its own answer: if every one
insisted on a share of Leisure, every one also would do a share of work.
For as things stand, 'tis the superfluity of one man which makes the
poverty of the other. And who knows? The realisation that Leisure is a
good thing, a thing which every one must have, may, before very long,
set many an idle man digging his garden and grooming his horses, many an
idle woman cooking her dinner and rubbing her furniture. Not merely
because one half of the world (the larger) will have recognised that
work from morning to night is not in any sense living; but also because
the other half may have learned (perhaps through grumbling experience)
that doing nothing all day long, incidentally consuming or spoiling the
work of others, is not _living_ either. The recognition of the necessity
of Leisure, believe me, will imply the recognition of the necessity of
work, as its moral--I might say its _hygienic_, as much as its economic,
co-relative.

For Leisure (and the ignorance of this truth is at the bottom of much
_ennui_)--Leisure implies a superabundance not only of time but of the
energy needed to spend time pleasantly. And it takes the finest activity
to be truly at Leisure. Since Being at Leisure is but a name for being
active from an inner impulse instead of a necessity; moving like a
dancer or skater for the sake of one's inner rhythm instead of moving,
like a ploughman or an errand-boy, for the sake of the wages you get for
it. Indeed, for this reason, the type of all Leisure is _art_.

But this is an intricate question, and time, alas! presses. We must
break off this leisurely talk, and betake ourselves each to his
business--let us hope not to his treadmill! And, as we do so, the more
to enjoy our work if luckily useful, the less to detest it if, alas! as
so often in our days, useless; let us invoke the good old greybeard,
painted enjoying himself between his lion and his quail in the
wide-windowed study; and, wishing for leisure, invoke its patron. Give
us spare time, Holy Jerome, and joyful energy to use it. Sancte
Hieronyme, ora pro nobis!



RAVENNA AND HER GHOSTS


My oldest impression of Ravenna, before it became in my eyes the abode
of living friends as well as of outlandish ghosts, is of a melancholy
spring sunset at Classe.

Classe, which Dante and Boccaccio call in less Latin fashion Chiassi, is
the place where of old the fleet _(classis)_ of the Romans and
Ostrogoths rode at anchor in the Adriatic. And Boccaccio says that it is
(but I think he over-calculates) at three miles distance from Ravenna.
It is represented in the mosaic of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, dating from
the reign of Theodoric, by a fine city wall of gold _tesseræ_ (facing
the representation of Theodoric's town palace with the looped-up
embroidered curtains) and a strip of ultramarine sea, with two
rowing-boats and one white blown-out sail upon it. Ravenna, which is now
an inland town, was at that time built in a lagoon; and we must picture
Classe in much the same relation to it that Malamocco or the Port of
Lido is to Venice, the open sea-harbour, where big ships and flotillas
were stationed, while smaller craft wound through the channels and
sand-banks up to the city. But now the lagoon has dried up, the Adriatic
has receded, and there remains of Classis not a stone, save, in the
midst of stagnant canals, rice marsh and brown bogland, a gaunt and
desolate church, with a ruinous mildewed house and a crevassed round
tower by its side.

It seemed to me that first time, and has ever since seemed, no Christian
church, but the temple of the great Roman goddess Fever. The gates stood
open, as they do all day lest inner damp consume the building, and a
beam from the low sun slanted across the oozy brown nave and struck a
round spot of glittering green on the mosaic of the apse. There, in the
half dome, stood rows and rows of lambs, each with its little tree and
lilies, shining out white from the brilliant green grass of Paradise,
great streams of gold and blue circling around them, and widening
overhead into lakes of peacock splendour. The slanting sunbeam which
burnished that spot of green and gold and brown mosaic, fell also
across the altar steps, brown and green in their wet mildew like the
ceiling above. The floor of the church, sunk below the level of the
road, was as a piece of boggy ground leaving the feet damp, and
breathing a clammy horror on the air. Outside the sun was setting behind
a bank of solid grey clouds, faintly reddening their rifts and sending a
few rose-coloured streaks into the pure yellow evening sky. Against that
sky stood out the long russet line, the delicate cupolaed silhouette of
the sear pinewood recently blasted by frost. While, on the other side,
the marsh stretched out beyond sight, confused in the distance with grey
clouds its lines of bare spectral poplars picked out upon its green and
the greyness of the sky. All round the church lay brown grass, livid
pools, green rice-fields covered with clear water reflecting the red
sunset streaks; and overhead, driven by storm from the sea, the white
gulls, ghosts you might think, of the white-sailed galleys of Theodoric,
still haunting the harbour of Classis.

Since then, as I hinted, Ravenna has become the home of dear friends,
to which I periodically return, in autumn or winter or blazing summer,
without taking thought for any of the ghosts. And the impressions of
Ravenna are mainly those of life; the voices of children, the plans of
farmers, the squabbles of local politics. I am waked in the morning by
the noises of the market; and opening my shutters, look down upon green
umbrellas and awnings spread over baskets of fruit and vegetables, and
heaps of ironware and stalls of coloured stuffs and gaudy kerchiefs. The
streets are by no means empty. A steam tramcar puffs slowly along the
widest of them; and, in the narrower, you have perpetually to squeeze
against a house to make room for a clattering pony-cart, a jingling
carriole, or one of those splendid bullock-waggons, shaped like an
old-fashioned cannon-cart with spokeless wheels and metal studdings.
There are no mediæval churches in Ravenna, and very few mediæval houses.
The older palaces, though practically fortified, have a vague look of
Roman villas; and the whole town is painted a delicate rose and apricot
colour, which, particularly if you have come from the sad coloured
cities of Tuscany, gives it a Venetian, and (if I may say so)
chintz-petticoat flowered-kerchief cheerfulness. And the life of the
people, when you come in contact with it, also leaves an impression of
provincial, rustic bustle. The Romagnas are full of crude socialism. The
change from rice to wheat-growing has produced agricultural discontent;
and conspiracy has been in the blood of these people, ever since Dante
answered the Romagnolo Guido that his country would never have peace in
its heart. The ghosts of Byzantine emperors and exarchs, of Gothic kings
and mediæval tyrants must be laid, one would think, by socialist
meetings and electioneering squabbles; and perhaps by another movement,
as modern and as revolutionary, which also centres in this big
historical village, the reclaiming of marshland, which may bring about
changes in mode of living and thinking such as Socialism can never
effect; nay, for all one knows, changes in climate, in sea and wind and
clouds. _Bonification_, reclaiming, that is the great word in Ravenna;
and I had scarcely arrived last autumn, before I found myself whirled
off, among dog-carts and _chars-à-bancs_, to view reclaimed land in the
cloudless, pale blue, ice-cold weather. On we trotted, with a great
consulting of maps and discussing of expenses and production, through
the flat green fields and meadows marked with haystacks; and jolted
along a deep sandy track, all that remains of the Roméa, the pilgrims'
way from Venice to Rome, where marsh and pool begin to interrupt the
well-kept pastures, and the line of pine woods to come nearer and
nearer. Over the fields, the frequent canals, and hidden ponds, circled
gulls and wild fowl; and at every farm there was a little crowd of
pony-carts and of gaitered sportsmen returning from the marshes. A sense
of reality, of the present, of useful, bread-giving, fever-curing
activity came by sympathy, as I listened to the chatter of my friends,
and saw field after field, farm after farm, pointed out where, but a
while ago, only swamp grass and bushes grew, and cranes and wild duck
nested. In ten, twenty, fifty years, they went on calculating, Ravenna
will be able to diminish by so much the town-rates; the Romagnas will be
able to support so many more thousands of inhabitants; and that merely
by employing the rivers to deposit arable soil torn from the mountain
valleys; the rivers--Po and his followers, as Dante called them--which
have so long turned this country into marsh; the rivers which, in a
thousand years, cut off Ravenna from her sea.

We turned towards home, greedy for tea, and mightily in conceit with
progress. But before us, at a turn of the road, appeared Ravenna, its
towers and cupolas against a bank of clouds, a piled-up heap of sunset
fire; its canal, barred with flame, leading into its black vagueness, a
spectre city. And there, to the left, among the bare trees, loomed the
great round tomb of Theodoric. We jingled on, silent and overcome by the
deathly December chill.

That is the odd thing about Ravenna. It is, more than any of the Tuscan
towns, more than most of the Lombard ones, modern, and full of rough,
dull, modern life; and the past which haunts it comes from so far off,
from a world with which we have no contact. Those pillared basilicas,
which look like modern village churches from the street, affect one with
their almost Moorish arches, their enamelled splendour of ultramarine,
russet, sea-green and gold mosaics, their lily fields and peacock's
tails in mosque-like domes, as great stranded hulks, come floating
across Eastern seas and drifted ashore among the marsh and rice-field.
The grapes and ivy berries, the pouting pigeons, the palm-trees and
pecking peacocks, all this early symbolism with its association of
Bacchic, Eleusinian mysteries, seems, quite as much as the actual
fragments of Grecian capitals, the discs and gratings of porphyry and
alabaster, so much flotsam and jetsam cast up from the shipwreck of an
older Antiquity than Rome's; remnants of early Hellas, of Ionia, perhaps
of Tyre.

I used to feel this particularly in Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, or, as it is
usually called, _Classe dentro_, the long basilica built by Theodoric,
outrivalled later by Justinian's octagon church of Saint Vitalis. There
is something extremely Hellenic in feeling (however un-Grecian in form)
in the pearly fairness of the delicate silvery white columns and
capitals; in the gleam of white, on golden ground, and reticulated with
jewels and embroideries, of the long band of mosaic virgins and martyrs
running above them. The virgins, with their Byzantine names--Sancta
Anastasia, Sancta Anatolia, Sancta Eulalia, Sancta Euphemia--have big
kohled eyes and embroidered garments fantastically suggesting some
Eastern hieratic dancing-girl; but they follow each other, in single
file (each with her lily or rose-bush sprouting from the gauze, green
mosaic), with erect, slightly balanced gait like the maidens of the
Panathenaic procession, carrying, one would say, votive offerings to the
altar, rather than crowns of martyrdom; all stately, sedate, as if
drilled by some priestly ballet-master, all with the same wide eyes and
set smile as of early Greek sculpture. There is no attempt to
distinguish one from the other. There are no gaping wounds, tragic
attitudes, wheels, swords, pincers or other attributes of martyrdom. And
the male saints on the wall opposite are equally unlike mediæval
Sebastians and Laurences, going, one behind the other, in shining white
togas, to present their crowns to Christ on His throne. Christ also, in
this Byzantine art, is never the Saviour. He sits, an angel on each
side, on His golden seat, clad in purple and sandalled with gold,
serene, beardless, wide-eyed like some distant descendant of the
Olympic Jove with his mantle of purple and gold.

This church of Saint Apollinaris contains a chapel specially dedicated
to the saint, which sums up that curious impression of Hellenic
pre-Christian cheerfulness. It is encrusted with porphyry and _giallo
antico_, framed with delicate carved ivy wreaths along the sides, and
railed in with an exquisite piece of alabaster openwork of vines and
grapes, as on an antique altar. And in a corner of this little temple,
which seems to be waiting for some painter enamoured of Greece and
marble, stands the episcopal seat of the patron saint of the church, the
saint who took his name from Apollo; an alabaster seat, wide-curved and
delicate, in whose back you expect to find, so striking is the
resemblance, the relief of dancing satyrs of the chair of the Priest of
Dionysus.

As I was sitting one morning, as was my wont, in Sant' Apollinare Nuovo,
which (like all Ravenna churches) is always empty, a woman came in, with
a woollen shawl over her head, who, after hunting anxiously about, asked
me where she would find the parish priest. "It is," she said, "for the
Madonna's milk. My husband is a labourer out of work, he has been ill,
and the worry of it all has made me unable to nurse my little baby. I
want the priest, to ask him to get the Madonna to give me back my milk."
I thought, as I listened to the poor creature, that there was but little
hope of motherly sympathy from that Byzantine Madonna in purple and gold
mosaic magnificence, seated ceremoniously on her throne like an antique
Cybele.

Little by little one returns to one's first impression, and recognises
that this thriving little provincial town, with its socialism and its
_bonification_ is after all a nest of ghosts, and little better than the
churchyard of centuries.

Never, surely, did a town contain so many coffins, or at least thrust
coffins more upon one's notice. The coffins are stone, immense oblong
boxes, with massive sloping lids horned at each corner, or trough-like
things with delicate sea-wave patternings, figures of toga'd saints and
devices of palm-trees, peacocks, and doves, the carving made clearer by
a picking out of bright green damp. They stand about in all the
churches, not walled in, but quite free in the aisles, the chapels, and
even close to the door. Most of them are doubtless of the fifth or sixth
century, others perhaps barbarous or mediæval imitations; but they all
equally belong to the ages in general, including our own, not
curiosities or heirlooms, but serviceable furniture, into which
generations have been put, and out of which generations have been turned
to make room for later corners. It strikes one as curious at first to
see, for instance, the date 1826 on a sarcophagus probably made under
Theodoric or the Exarchs, but that merely means that a particular
gentleman of Ravenna began that year his lease of entombment. They have
passed from hand to hand (or, more properly speaking, from corpse to
corpse) not merely by being occasionally discovered in digging
foundations, but by inheritance, and frequently by sale. My friends
possess a stone coffin, and the receipt from its previous owner. The
transaction took place some fifty years ago; a name (they are cut very
lightly) changed, a slab or coat-of-arms placed with the sarcophagus in
a different church or chapel, a deed before the notary--that was all.
What became of the previous tenant? Once at least he surprised posterity
very much; perhaps it was in the case of that very purchase for which my
friends still keep the bill. I know not; but the stone-mason of the
house used to relate that, some forty years ago, he was called in to
open a stone coffin; when, the immense horned lid having been rolled
off, there was seen, lying in the sarcophagus, a man in complete armour,
his sword by his side and vizor up, who, as they cried out in
astonishment, instantly fell to dust. Was he an Ostrogothic knight, some
Gunther or Volker turned Roman senator, or perhaps a companion of Guido
da Polenta, a messmate of Dante, a playfellow of Francesca?

Coffins being thus plentiful, their occupants (like this unknown
warrior) have played considerable part in the gossip of Ravenna. It is
well known, for instance, that Galla Placidia, daughter of Theodosius,
sister of Arcadius and Honorius, and wife to a Visigothic king, sat for
centuries enthroned (after a few years of the strangest adventures)
erect, inside the alabaster coffin, formerly plated with gold, in the
wonderful little blue mosaic chapel which bears her name. You could see
her through a hole, quite plainly; until, three centuries ago, some
inquisitive boys thrust in a candle, and burned Theodosius's daughter to
ashes. Dante also is buried under a little cupola at the corner of a
certain street, and there was, for many years, a strange doubt about his
bones. Had they been mislaid, stolen, mixed up with those of ordinary
mortals? The whole thing was shrouded in mystery. That street corner
where Dante lies, a remote corner under the wing of a church, resembled,
until it was modernised and surrounded by gratings, and filled with
garlands and inscriptions to Mazzini, nothing so much as the corner of
Dis where Dante himself found Farinata and Cavalcante. It is crowded
with stone coffins; and, passing there in the twilight, one might expect
to see flames upheaving their lids, and the elbows and shoulders of
imprisoned followers of Epicurus.

Only once, so far as I know, have the inhabitants of Ravenna, Byzantine,
mediæval, or modern, wasted a coffin; but one is very glad of that once.
I am speaking of a Roman sarcophagus, on which you can still trace the
outlines of garlands, which stands turned into a cattle trough, behind
the solitary farm in the depth of the forest of St. Vitalis. Round it
the grass is covered in summer by the creeping tendrils of the white
clematis; and, in winter, the great thorn bushes and barberries and oaks
blaze out crimson and scarlet and golden. The big, long-horned, grey
cows pass to and fro to be milked; and the shaggy ponies who haunt the
pine wood come there to drink. It is better than housing no matter how
many generations, jurisconsults, knights, monks, tyrants and persons of
quality, among the damp and the stale incense of a church!

Enough of coffins! There are live things at Ravenna and near Ravenna;
amongst others, though few people realise its presence, there is the
sea.

It was on the day of the fish auction that I first went there. In the
tiny port by the pier (for Ravenna has now no harbour) they were making
an incredible din over the emptyings of the nets; pretty, mottled,
metallic fish, and slimy octopuses and sepias and flounders, looking
like pieces of sea-mud. The fishing-boats, mostly from the Venetian
lagoon, were moored along the pier, wide-bowed things, with eyes in the
prow like the ships of Ulysses; and bigger craft, with little castles
and weather-vanes and saints' images and penons on the masts like the
galleys of St. Ursula as painted by Carpaccio; but all with the splendid
orange sail, patched with suns, lions, and coloured stripes, of the
Northern Adriatic. The fishermen from Chioggia, their heads covered with
the high scarlet cap of the fifteenth century, were yelling at the
fishmongers from town; and all round lounged artillerymen in their white
undress and yellow straps, who are encamped for practice on the sands,
and whose carts and guns we had met rattling along the sandy road
through the marsh.

On the pier we were met by an old man, very shabby and unshaven, who had
been the priest for many years, with a salary of twelve pounds a year,
of Sta. Maria in Porto Fuori, a little Gothic church in the marsh, where
he had discovered and rubbed slowly into existence (it took him two
months and heaven knows how many pennyworths of bread!) some valuable
Giottesque frescoes. He was now chaplain of the harbour, and had turned
his mind to maritime inventions, designing lighthouses, and shooting
dolphins to make oil of their blubber. A kind old man, but with the odd
brightness of a creature who has lived for years amid solitude and
fever; a fit companion for the haggard saints whom he brought, one by
one, in robes of glory and golden halos, to life again in his forlorn
little church.

While we were looking out at the sea, where a little flotilla of yellow
and cinnamon sails sat on the blue of the view-line like parrots on a
rail, the sun had begun to set, a crimson ball, over the fringe of pine
woods. We turned to go. Over the town, the place whence presently will
emerge the slanting towers of Ravenna, the sky had become a brilliant,
melancholy slate-blue; and apparently out of its depths, in the early
twilight, flowed the wide canal between its dim banks fringed with
tamarisk. No tree, no rock, or house was reflected in the jade-coloured
water, only the uniform shadow of the bank made a dark, narrow band
alongside its glassiness. It flows on towards the invisible sea, whose
yellow sails overtop the grey marshland. In thick smooth strands of
curdled water it flows lilac, pale pink, opalescent according to the
sky above, reflecting nothing besides, save at long intervals the
spectral spars and spider-like tissue of some triangular fishing-net; a
wan and delicate Lethe, issuing, you would say, out of a far-gone past
into the sands and the almost tideless sea.

Other places become solemn, sad, or merely beautiful at sunset. But
Ravenna, it seems to me, grows actually ghostly; the Past takes it back
at that moment, and the ghosts return to the surface.

For it is, after all, a nest of ghosts. They hang about all those
silent, damp churches; invisible, or at most tantalising one with a
sudden gleam which may, after all, be only that of the mosaics, an
uncertain outline which, when you near it, is after all only a pale grey
column. But one feels their breathing all round. They are legion, but I
do not know who they are. I only know that they are white, luminous,
with gold embroideries to their robes, and wide, painted eyes, and that
they are silent. The good citizens of Ravenna, in the comfortable
eighteenth century, filled the churches with wooden pews, convenient,
genteel in line and colour, with their names and coats-of-arms in full
on the backs. But the ghosts took no notice of this measure; and there
they are, even among these pews themselves.

Bishops and Exarchs, and jewelled Empresses, and half Oriental
Autocrats, saints and bedizened court-ladies, and barbarian guards and
wicked chamberlains; I know not what they are. Only one of the ghosts
takes a shape I can distinguish, and a name I am certain of. It is not
Justinian or Theodora, who stare goggle-eyed from their mosaic in San
Vitale mere wretched historic realities; _they_ cannot haunt. The
spectre I speak of is Theodoric. His tomb is still standing, outside the
town in an orchard; a great round tower, with a circular roof made
(heaven knows how) of one huge slab of Istrian stone, horned at the
sides like the sarcophagi, or vaguely like a Viking's cap. The ashes of
the great king have long been dispersed, for he was an Arian heretic.
But the tomb remains, intact, a thing which neither time nor earthquake
can dismantle.

In the town they show a piece of masonry, the remains of a doorway, and
a delicate, pillared window, built on to a modern house, which is
identified (but wrongly I am told) as Theodoric's palace, by its
resemblance to the golden palace with the looped-up curtains on the
mosaic of the neighbouring church. Into the wall of this building is
built a great Roman porphyry bath, with rings carved on it, to which
time has adjusted a lid of brilliant green lichen. There is no more. But
Theodoric still haunts Ravenna. I have always, ever since I have known
the town, been anxious to know more about Theodoric, but the accounts
are jejune, prosaic, not at all answering to what that great king, who
took his place with Attila and Sigurd in the great Northern epic, must
have been. Historians represent him generally as a sort of superior
barbarian, trying to assimilate and save the civilisation he was bound
to destroy; an Ostrogothic king trying to be a Roman emperor; a military
organiser and bureaucrat, exchanging his birthright of Valhalla for
heaven knows what aulic red-tape miseries. But that is unsatisfactory.
The real man, the Berserker trying to tame himself into the Cæsar of a
fallen, shrunken Rome, seems to come out in the legend of his remorse
and visions, pursued by the ghosts of Boetius and Symmachus, the wise
men he had slain in his madness.

He haunts Ravenna, striding along the aisles of her basilicas, riding
under the high moon along the dykes of her marshes, surrounded by
white-stoled Romans, and Roman ensigns with eagles and crosses; but
clad, as the Gothic brass-worker of Innsbruck has shown him, in no Roman
lappets and breastplate, but in full mail, with beaked steel shoes and
steel gorget, his big sword drawn, his vizor down, mysterious, the
Dietrich of the Nibelungenlied, Theodoric King of the Goths.

These are the ghosts that haunt Ravenna, the true ghosts haunting only
for such as can know their presence. But Ravenna, almost alone among
Italian cities, possesses moreover a complete ghost-story of the most
perfect type and highest antiquity, which has gone round the world and
become known to all people. Boccaccio wrote it in prose; Dryden re-wrote
it in verse; Botticelli illustrated it; and Byron summed up its quality
in one of his most sympathetic passages. After this, to re-tell it were
useless, had I not chanced to obtain, in a manner I am not at liberty to
divulge, another version, arisen in Ravenna itself, and written, most
evidently, in fullest knowledge of the case. Its language is the
barbarous Romagnol dialect of the early fifteenth century, and it lacks
all the Tuscan graces of the Decameron. But it possesses a certain air
of truthfulness, suggesting that it was written by some one who had
heard the facts from those who believed in them, and who believed in
them himself; and I am therefore decided to give it, turned into
English.


THE LEGEND

About that time (when Messer Guido da Pollenta was lord of Ravenna) men
spoke not a little of what happened to Messer Nastasio de Honestis, son
of Messer Brunoro, in the forest of Classis. Now the forest of Classis
is exceeding vast, extending along the sea-shore between Ravenna and
Cervia for the space of some fifteen miles, and has its beginning near
the church of Saint Apollinaris, which is in the marsh; and you reach
it directly from the gate of the same name, but also, crossing the River
Ronco where it is easier to ford, by the gate called Sisa, beyond the
houses of the Rasponis. And this forest aforesaid is made of many kinds
of noble and useful trees, to wit, oaks, both free standing and in
bushes, ilexes, elms, poplars, bays, and many plants of smaller growth
but great dignity and pleasantness, as hawthorns, barberries,
blackthorn, blackberry, brier-rose, and the thorn called marrucca, which
bears pods resembling small hats or cymbals, and is excellent for
hedging. But principally does this noble forest consist of pine-trees,
exceeding lofty and perpetually green; whence indeed the arms of this
ancient city, formerly the seat of the Emperors of Rome, are none other
than a green pine-tree.

And the forest aforesaid is well stocked with animals, both such as run
and creep, and many birds. The animals are foxes, badgers, hares,
rabbits, ferrets, squirrels, and wild boars, the which issue forth and
eat the young crops and grub the fields with incredible damage to all
concerned. Of the birds it would be too long to speak, both of those
which are snared, shot with cross-bows, or hunted with the falcon; and
they feed off fish in the ponds and streams of the forest, and grasses
and berries, and the pods of the white vine (clematis) which covers the
grass on all sides. And the manner of Messer Nastasio being in the
forest was thus, he being at the time a youth of twenty years or
thereabouts, of illustrious birth, and comely person and learning and
prowess, and modest and discreet bearing. For it so happened that, being
enamoured of the daughter of Messer Hostasio de Traversariis, the
damsel, who was lovely, but exceeding coy and shrewish, would not
consent to marry him, despite the desire of her parents, who in
everything, as happens with only daughters of old men (for Messer
Hostasio was well stricken in years), sought only to please her.
Whereupon Messer Nastasio, fearing lest the damsel might despise his
fortunes, wasted his substance in presents and feastings, and joustings,
but all to no avail.

When it happened that having spent nearly all he possessed and ashamed
to show his poverty and his unlucky love before the eyes of his
townsmen, he betook him to the forest of Classis, it being autumn, on
the pretext of snaring birds, but intending to take privily the road to
Rimini and thence to Rome, and there seek his fortune. And Nastasio took
with him fowling-nets, and bird-lime, and tame owls, and two horses (one
of which was ridden by his servant), and food for some days; and they
alighted in the midst of the forest, and slept in one of the
fowling-huts of cut branches set up by the citizens of Ravenna for their
pleasure.

And it happened that on the afternoon of the second day (and it chanced
to be a Friday) of his stay in the forest, Messer Nastasio, being
exceeding sad in his heart, went forth towards the sea to muse upon the
unkindness of his beloved and the hardness of his fortune. Now you
should know that near the sea, where you can clearly hear its roaring
even on windless days there is in that forest a clear place, made as by
the hand of man, set round with tall pines even like a garden, but in
the shape of a horse-course, free from bushes and pools, and covered
with the finest greensward. Here, as Nastasio sate him on the trunk of a
pine--the hour was sunset, the weather being uncommon clear--he heard a
rushing sound in the distance, as of the sea; and there blew a
death-cold wind; and then came sounds of crashing branches, and neighing
of horses, and yelping of hounds, and halloes and horns. And Nastasio
wondered greatly, for that was not the hour for hunting; and he hid
behind a great pine trunk, fearing to be recognised. And the sounds came
nearer, even of horns, and hounds, and the shouts of huntsmen; and the
bushes rustled and crashed, and the hunt rushed into the clearing,
horsemen and foot, with many hounds. And behold, what they pursued was
not a wild boar, but something white that ran erect, and it seemed to
Messer Nastasio, as if it greatly resembled a naked woman; and it
screamed piteously.

Now when the hunt had swept past, Messer Nastasio rubbed his eyes and
wondered greatly. But even as he wondered, and stood in the middle of
the clearing, behold, part of the hunt swept back, and the thing which
they pursued ran in a circle on the greensward, shrieking piteously. And
behold, it was a young damsel, naked, her hair loose and full of
brambles, with only a tattered cloth round her middle. And as she came
near to where Messer Nastasio was standing (but no one of the hunt
seemed to heed him) the hounds were upon her, barking furiously, and a
hunter on a black horse, black even as night. And a cold wind blew and
caused Nastasio's hair to stand on end; and he tried to cry out, and to
rush forward, but his voice died in his throat and his limbs were heavy,
and covered with sweat, and refused to move.

Then the hounds fastening on the damsel threw her down, and he on the
black horse turned swiftly, and transfixed her, shrieking dismally, with
a boar-spear. And those of the hunt galloped up, and wound their horns;
and he of the black horse, which was a stately youth habited in a coat
of black and gold, and black boots and black feathers on his hat, threw
his reins to a groom, and alighted and approached the damsel where she
lay, while the huntsmen were holding back the hounds and winding their
horns. Then he drew a knife, such as are used by huntsmen, and driving
its blade into the damsel's side, cut out her heart, and threw it, all
smoking, into the midst of the hounds. And a cold wind rustled through
the bushes, and all had disappeared, horses, and huntsmen, and hounds.
And the grass was untrodden as if no man's foot or horse's hoof had
passed there for months.

And Messer Nastasio shuddered, and his limbs loosened, and he knew that
the hunter on the black horse was Messer Guido Degli Anastagi, and the
damsel Monna Filomena, daughter of the Lord of Gambellara. Messer Guido
had loved the damsel greatly, and been flouted by her, and leaving his
home in despair, had been killed on the way by robbers, and Madonna
Filomena had died shortly after. The tale was still fresh in men's
memory, for it had happened in the city of Ravenna barely five years
before. And those whom Nastasio had seen, both the hunter and the lady,
and the huntsmen and horses and hounds, were the spirits of the dead.

When he had recovered his courage, Messer Nastasio sighed and said unto
himself: "How like is my fate to that of Messer Guido! Yet would I
never, even when a spectre, without weight or substance, made of wind
and delusion, and arisen from hell, act with such cruelty towards her I
love." And then he thought: "Would that the daughter of Messer Pavolo de
Traversariis might hear of this! For surely it would cause her to
relent!" But he knew that his words would be vain, and that none of the
citizens of Ravenna, and least of all the damsel of the Traversari,
would believe them, but rather esteem him a madman.

Now it came about that when Friday came round once more, Nastasio, by
some chance, was again walking in the forest-clearing by the great
pines, and he had forgotten; when the sea began to roar, and a cold wind
blew; and there came through the forest the sound of horses and hounds,
causing Messer Nastasio's hair to stand up and his limbs to grow weak as
water. And he on the black horse again pursued the naked damsel, and
struck here with his boar-spear, and cut out her heart and threw it to
the hounds; the which hunter and damsel were the ghosts of Messer Guido,
and of Madonna Filomena, daughter of the Lord of Gambellara, arisen out
of Hell. And in this fashion did it happen for three Fridays following,
the sea beginning to moan, the cold wind to blow and the spirits to
hunt the deceased damsel at twilight in the clearing among the
pine-trees.

Now when Messer Nastasio noticed this, he thanked Cupid, which is the
Lord of all Lovers, and devised in his mind a cunning plan. And he
mounted his horse and returned to Ravenna, and gave out to his friends
that he had found a treasure in Rome; and that he was minded to forget
the damsel of the Traversari and seek another wife. But in reality he
went to certain money-lenders, and gave himself into bondage, even to be
sold as a slave to the Dalmatian pirates if he could not repay his loan.
And he published that he desired to take to him a wife, and for that
reason would feast all his friends and the chief citizens of Ravenna,
and regale them with a pageant in the pine forest, where certain foreign
slaves of his should show wonderful feats for their delight. And he sent
forth invitations, and among them to Messer Pavolo de Traversariis and
his wife and daughter. And he bid them for a Friday, which was also the
eve of the Feast of the Dead.

Meanwhile he took to the pine forest carpenters and masons, and such as
paint and gild cunningly, and waggons of timber, and cut stone for
foundations, and furniture of all kinds; and the waggons were drawn by
four and twenty yoke of oxen, grey oxen of the Romagnol breed. And he
caused the artisans to work day and night, making great fires of dry
myrtle and pine branches, which lit up the forest all around. And he
caused them to make foundations, and build a pavilion of timber in the
clearing which is the shape of a horse-course, surrounded by pines. The
pavilion was oblong, raised by ten steps above the grass, open all round
and reposing on arches and pillars; and there was a projecting _abacus_
under the arches over the capitals, after the Roman fashion; and the
pillars were painted red, and the capitals red also picked out with gold
and blue, and a shield with the arms of the Honestis on each. The roof
was raftered, each rafter painted with white lilies on a red ground, and
heads of youths and damsels; and the roof outside was made of wooden
tiles, shaped like shells and gilded. And on the top of the roof was a
weather-vane; and the vane was a figure of Cupid, god of love,
cunningly carved of wood and painted like life, as he flies, poised in
air, and shoots his darts on mortals. He was winged and blindfolded, to
show that love is inconstant and no respecter of persons; and when the
wind blew, he turned about, and the end of his scarf, which was beaten
metal, swung in the wind. Now when the pavilion was ready, within six
days of its beginning, carpets were spread on the floor, and seats
placed, and garlands of bay and myrtle slung from pillar to pillar
between the arches. And tables were set, and sideboards covered with
gold and silver dishes and trenchers; and a raised place, covered with
arras, was made for the players of fifes and drums and lutes; and tents
were set behind for the servants, and fires prepared for cooking meat.
Whole oxen and sheep were brought from Ravenna in wains, and casks of
wine, and fruit and white bread, and many cooks, and serving-men, and
musicians, all habited gallantly in the colours of the Honestis, which
are vermilion and white, parti-coloured, with black stripes; and they
wore doublets laced with gold, and on their breast the arms of the
house of Honestis, which are a dove holding a leaf.

Now on Friday the eve of the Feast of the Dead, all was ready, and the
chief citizens of Ravenna set out for the forest of Classis, with their
wives and children and servants, some on horseback, and others in wains
drawn by oxen, for the tracks in that forest are deep. And when they
arrived, Messer Nastasio welcomed them and thanked them all, and
conducted them to their places in the pavilion. Then all wondered
greatly at its beauty and magnificence, and chiefly Messer Pavolo de
Traversariis; and he sighed, and thought within himself, "Would that my
daughter were less shrewish, that I might have so noble a son-in-law to
prop up my old age!" They were seated at the tables, each according to
their dignity, and they ate and drank and praised the excellence of the
cheer; and flowers were scattered on the tables, and young maidens sang
songs in praise of love, most sweetly. Now when they had eaten their
fill, and the tables been removed, and the sun was setting between the
pine-trees, Messer Nastasio caused them all to be seated facing the
clearing, and a herald came forward, in the livery of the Honestis,
sounding his trumpet and declaring in a loud voice that they should now
witness a pageant, the which was called the Mystery of Love and Death.
Then the musicians struck up, and began a concert of fifes and lutes,
exceeding sweet and mournful. And at that moment the sea began to moan,
and a cold wind to blow: a sound of horsemen and hounds and horns and
crashing branches came through the wood; and the damsel, the daughter of
the Lord of Gambellara, rushed naked, her hair streaming and her veil
torn, across the grass, pursued by the hounds, and by the ghost of
Messer Guido on the black horse, the nostrils of which were filled with
fire. Now when the ghost of Messer Guido struck that damsel with the
boar-spear, and cut out her heart, and threw it, while the others wound
their horns, to the hounds, and all vanished, Messer Nastasio de
Honestis, seizing the herald's trumpet, blew in it, and cried in a loud
voice, "The Pageant of Death and Love! The Pageant of Death and Love!
Such is the fate of cruel damsels!" and the gilt Cupid on the roof swung
round creaking dreadfully, and the daughter of Messer Pavolo uttered a
great shriek and fell on the ground in a swoon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here the Romagnol manuscript comes to a sudden end, the outer sheet
being torn through the middle. But we know from the Decameron that the
damsel of the Traversari was so impressed by the spectre-hunt she had
witnessed that she forthwith relented towards Nastagio degli Onesti, and
married him, and that they lived happily ever after. But whether or not
that part of the pine forest of Classis still witnesses this ghostly
hunt, we have no means of knowing.

On the whole, I incline to think that, when the great frost blasted the
pines (if not earlier) the ghosts shifted quarters from the forest of
Classis to the church of the same name, on that forest's brink.
Certainly there seems nothing to prevent them. Standing in the midst of
those uninhabited rice-fields and marshes, the church of Classis is yet
always open, from morning till night; the great portals gaping, no
curtain interposed. Open and empty; mass not even on Sundays; empty of
human beings, open to the things of without. The sunbeams enter through
the open side windows, cutting a slice away from that pale, greenish
twilight; making a wedge of light on the dark, damp bricks; bringing
into brief prominence some of the great sarcophagi, their peacocks and
palm-trees picked out in vivid green lichen. Snakes also enter, the
Sacristan tells me, and I believe it, for within the same minute, I saw
a dead and a living one among the arum leaves at the gate. Is that
little altar, a pagan-looking marble table, isolated in the midst of the
church, the place where they meet, pagan creatures claiming those
Grecian marbles? Or do they hunt one another round the aisles and into
the crypt, slithering and hissing, the souls of Guido degli Anastagi,
perhaps, and of his cruel lady love?

Such are Ravenna and Classis, and the Ghosts that haunt them.



THE COOK-SHOP AND THE FOWLING-PLACE


In the street of the Almond and appropriately close to the covered-over
canal (Rio Terra) of the Assassins, there is a cook-shop which has
attracted my attention these two last months in Venice. For in its
window is a row of tiny corpses--birds, raw, red, with agonised plucked
little throats, the throats through which the sweet notes came. And the
sight brings home to me more than the suggestion of a dish at supper,
savoury things of the size of a large plum, on a cushion of polenta....

I had often noticed the fowling-places which stand out against the sky
like mural crowns on the low hills of Northern Italy; Bresciana is the
name given to the thing, from the province, doubtless, of its origin.
Last summer, driving at the foot of the Alps of Friuli, such a place was
pointed out to me on a green knoll; it marked the site of a village of
Collalto, once the fief of the great family of that name, which had
died, disappeared, church and all, after the Black Death of the
fourteenth century.

The strangeness of the matter attracted me; and I set out, the next
morning, to find the fowling-place. I thought I must have lost my way,
and was delighting in the radiance of a perfectly fresh, clear, already
autumnal morning, walking along through the flowery grass fields in
sight of the great mountains, when, suddenly, there I was before the
uncanny thing, the Bresciana. Uncanny in its odd shape of walled and
moated city of clipped bushes, tight-closed on its hill-top, with its
Guelph battlements of hornbeam against the pale blue sky. And uncannier
for its mysterious delightfulness. Imagine it set in the loveliest mossy
grass, full of delicate half-Alpine flowers; beautiful butterflies
everywhere about; and the sort of ditch surrounding it overgrown with
blackberries, haws, sloes, ivy, all manner of berries; a sort of false
garden of paradise for the poor birds.

But when I craned over the locked wicket and climbed on to the ladder
alongside, what I saw was more uncanny yet. I looked down on to rows of
clipped, regular, hornbeam hedges, with grass paths between them,
maze-like. A kind of Versailles for the birds, you might think. Only, in
the circular grass plot from which those green hedges and paths all
radiated, something alarming: an empty cage hung to a tree. And going
the round of the place I discovered that between the cut hornbeam
battlements of the circular enclosure there was a wreath of thin wire
nooses, almost invisible, in which the poor little birds hang
themselves. It seems oddly appropriate that this sinister little place,
with its vague resemblance to that clipped garden in which Mantegna's
allegorical Vices are nesting, should be, in fact, a cemetery; that tiny
City of Dis of the Birds, on its green hillock in front of the great
blue Alps, being planted on those villagers dead of the Plague.

The fowling-place began to haunt me, and I was filled with a perhaps
morbid desire to know more of its evil rites. After some inquiry, I
introduced myself accordingly to the most famous fowler of the
neighbourhood, the owner of a wineshop at Martignacco. He received me
with civility, and expounded his trade with much satisfaction; an
amiable, intelligent old man, with sufficient of Italian in that
province of strange dialect.

In the passage at the foot of his staircase and under sundry dark arches
he showed me a quantity of tiny wooden cages and of larger cages divided
into tiny compartments. There were numbers of goldfinches, a blackbird,
some small thrushes, an ortolan, and two or three other kinds I could
not identify; nay, even a brace of unhappy quail in a bottle-shaped
basket. These are the decoys; the cages are hung in the circular walks
of the fowling-place, and the wretched little prisoners, many of them
blinded of one or both eyes, sing their hearts out and attract their
companions into the nooses. Then he showed me the nets--like thin, thin
fishing nets--for quail; and the little wands which are covered with
lime and which catch the wings of the creatures; but that seemed a
merciful proceeding compared with the gruesome snares of the Bresciana.
When he had shown me these things he produced a little Jew's-harp, on
which he fell to imitating the calls of various birds. But I noticed
that none of the little blinded prisoners hanging aloft made any
response. Only, quite spontaneously and all of a sudden, the poor
goldfinches set up a loud and lovely song; and the solitary blackbird
gave a whistle. Never have I heard anything more lugubrious than these
hedgerow and woodland notes issuing from the cages in that damp, black
corridor. And the old fowler, for all his venerable appearance and
gentleness of voice and manner, struck me as a wicked warlock, and own
sib of the witch who turned Jorinde and Jorinel into nightingales in her
little house hung round with cages.

A few days after my visit to the fowler, and one of the last evenings I
had in Friuli, I was walking once more beneath the Castle. After
threading the narrow green lanes, blocked by great hay-carts, I came of
a sudden on an open, high-lying field of mossy grass, freshly scythed,
with the haycocks still upon it, and a thin plantation of larches on one
side. And in front, at the end of that grey-green sweetness, the Alps of
Cadore, portals and battlements of dark leaden blue, with the last
flame-colour of sunset behind them, and the sunset's last rosy feathers
rising into the pale sky. The mowers were coming slowly along,
shouldering their scythes and talking in undertones, as folk do at that
hour. I also walked home in the quickly gathering twilight; the delicate
hemlock flowers of an unmowed field against the pearly luminous sky; the
wonderful blue of the thistles singing out in the dusk of the grass.
There rose the scent of cut grass, of ripening maize, and every
freshness of acacia and poplar leaf; and the crickets began to shrill.

As the light faded away I passed within sight of the fowling-place, the
little sinister formal garden of Versailles on the mound marking the
village which had died of the Black Death.

This is what returned to my mind every time, lately in Venice, that I
passed that cook-shop near the closed-up Canal of the Assassins, and saw
the row of tiny corpses ready for roasting. The little throats which
sang so sweetly had got caught, had writhed, twisted in the tiny wire
nooses between the hornbeam battlements. What ruffling of feathers and
starting of eyeballs in agony there had been, while the poor blind
decoy, finch or blackbird, sang, sang on in his cage on the central
grass-plot!

And we scrunch them under our knife and tooth, and remark how excellent
are little birds on a cushion of polenta, between a sage-leaf and a bit
of bacon! But fowling-places have come down from the remotest and most
venerable antiquity; and they exist of all kinds; and some of them,
moreover, are allegories.



ACQUAINTANCE WITH BIRDS


One of the things I should have liked, I said to myself to-day, as I
rode past one of the dreadful little fowling-places on the ridge of our
hills, would have been to become acquainted with birds....

The wish is simple, but quite without hope for a dweller in Tuscany,
where, what with poverty and lawlessness, peasants' nets and city
'prentices' guns, there are no birds whose acquaintance you can make.
You hear them singing and twittering, indeed, wherever a clump of garden
ilexes or a cypress hedge offers them protection; but they never let
themselves be seen, for they know that being seen is being shot: or at
least being caged. They cage them for singing, nightingales, thrushes,
and every kind of finch; and you can see them, poor isolated captives,
in rows and rows of cages in the markets. That is the way that people
like them: a certain devout lady of my neighbourhood, for instance,
whose little seventeenth-century house was hung round with endless tiny
cages, like the witches in the tale of Jorinde and Jorinel; a wicked
witch herself, no doubt, despite her illuminations in honour of the
Madonna, who should have taught her better. Another way of liking
singing-birds is on toast between a scrap of bacon and a leaf of sage, a
dainty dish much prized by persons of weak stomach. Persons with bad
digestions are apt, I fancy, to lose, and make others forego, much
pleasant companionship of soul.

For animals, at least, when not turned into pets, are excellent
companions for our souls. I say expressly "when not pets," because the
essence of this spiritual (for it _is_ spiritual) relation between us
and creatures is that they should not become our property, nor we
theirs; that we should be able to refresh ourselves by the thought and
contemplation of a life apart from our own, different from it; in some
ways more really natural, and, at all events, capable of seeming more
natural to our fancy. And birds, for many reasons, meet this
requirement to perfection. I have read, indeed, in various works that
they are not without vices, not a bit kinder than the other unkind
members of creation; and that their treatment of the unfit among
themselves is positively inhuman--or shall I say human? Perhaps this is
calumny, or superficial judgment of their sterner morality; but, be this
as it may, it is evident that they are in many respects very charming
people. It is very nice of them to be so æsthetic, to be amused and kept
quiet, like the hen birds, by music; and the tone of their conversation
is quite exquisitely affable.

My own opportunities of watching their proceedings have, alas! been very
limited; but, judging by the pigeons at Venice, they are wonderfully
forbearing and courteous to each other. I have often watched these
pigeons having their morning bath at the corner of St. Mark's, in a
little shallow trough in the pavement. They collect round by scores, and
wait for room to go in quite patiently; while the crowd inside ruffle,
dip, throw up water into their wings and shake it off; a mass of moving
grey and purple feathers, with never an angry push or a cry of
ill-temper among them. So I can readily believe a certain friend of mine
who passes hours in English brakes and hedgerows, watching birds through
special ten-guinea opera-glasses, that time and money could not be
better spent.

One reason, moreover, why all animals (one feels that so much in
Kipling's stories) are excellent company for our spirit is surely
because they are animals, not men; because the thought of them relieves
us therefore from that sense of overcrowding and jostling and general
wordiness and fuss from which we all suffer; and birds, more than any
other creatures, give us that sense of relief, of breathing-space and
margin, so very necessary to our spiritual welfare. For there is
freedom, air, light, in the very element in which birds exist, and in
their movements, the delightful sense of poising, of buoyancy, of being
delivered from our own body and made independent of gravitation, which,
as a friend of mine wisely remarks, Sir Isaac Newton most injudiciously
put into Nature's head. Indeed, there is a very special quality in the
mere thought of birds. St. Francis, had he preached to fishes, like his
follower of Padua, might have had as attentive an audience, but we
should not have cared to hear about it. _Aves mei fratres_--why, it is
the soul's kinship with air, light, liberty, what the soul loves best.
And similarly I suspect that the serene and lovely quality of Dante's
Francesca episode is due in great part to those similes of birds: the
starlings in the winter weather, the cranes "singing their dirge," and
those immortal doves swirling nestwards, _dal disio chiamate_, which
lift the lid of that cavern of hell and winnow its fumes into breathable
quality.

Perhaps (I say to myself, being ever disposed to make the best of a bad
bargain), perhaps the scantiness of my acquaintance with birds, the
difficulty about seeing them (for there is none about hearing them in
Tuscany, and I shall be kept awake by vociferous nightingales in a
month's time), gives to my feeling about them a pleasant, half-painful
eagerness. Certainly it raises the sight of birds, when I get out of
this country, into something of the nature of a performance. Even in
Rome, the larks, going up tiny brown rockets, into the pale blue sky
above the pale green endless undulations of grass, and the rooks and
magpies flocking round the ruins. And how much in Germany? Indeed, one
of Germany's charms is the condition, or, rather, the position, the
civic status, of birds and small creatures. One is constantly reminded
of the Minnesinger Walther's legacy to the birds of Wurzburg, and of
Luther's hiding the hare in the sleeve of his tunic. One of my first
impressions after crossing the Alps last year was of just such a hare,
only perfectly at his ease, running in front of my bicycle for ever so
long during a great thunderstorm which overtook us in the cornfields
between Donaustauff and Ratisbon. And as to birds! They are not merely
left in liberty, but assiduously courted by these kindly, and, in their
prosaic way, poetical Teutons. Already in the village shop on the top of
the Tyrolese pass there was a nest of swallows deep down in a passage.
And in the Lorenz Kirche at Nuremberg, while the electric trams go
clanking outside, the swallows whirr cheerfully along the aisles, among
the coats-of-arms, the wonderfully crested helmets suspended on high.
There was a swallow's nest in the big entrance room (where the peasants
sit and drink among the little dry birch-trees and fir garlands from the
Whitsuntide festivities) of the inn at Rothenburg; a nest above the rows
of pewter and stoneware, with baby swallows looking unconcernedly out at
the guests. But the great joy at Rothenburg was the family of storks
which still inhabit one of the high, pointed gatehouses. I used to go
and see them every morning: the great cartwheel on the funnel-shaped
roof, wisps of comfortable hay hanging over it; one of the parent storks
standing sentinel on one leg, the little ones raising themselves
occasionally into sight, the other stork hovering around on outspread
wings like tattered banners. To think that there were once storks also
in Italy, storks' homes, the old Lombard name _Cicognara_ meaning that;
and cranes also, whom the people in Boccaccio, and even Lorenzo di
Medici, went out to hunt! The last of them were certainly netted and
eaten, as they used to eat porcupines in Rome in my childish days.

Speaking of cranes reminds me of the pleasure I have had also in
watching herons, particularly among the ponds of my mother's old home.

"Would you like to see one near? I'll go and shoot it you at once," said
my very kind cousin.

How odd it is, when one thinks of it, that mere contemplation seems so
insufficient for us poor restless human beings! We cannot see a flower
without an impulse to pick it, a character without an impulse to, let us
say, analyse; a bird without an impulse to shoot. And in this way we
certainly lose most of the good which any of these things could be to
us: just to be looked at, thought about, enjoyed, and let alone.


       *       *       *       *       *


ARIADNE IN MANTUA


TO

ETHEL SMYTH

THANKING, AND BEGGING, HER FOR MUSIC



PREFACE


_"Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichniss"_


_It is in order to give others the pleasure of reading or
re-reading a small masterpiece, that I mention the likelihood
of the catastrophe of my_ Ariadne _having been suggested by
the late Mr. Shorthouse's_ Little Schoolmaster Mark; _but I
must ask forgiveness of my dear old friend, Madame Emile
Duclaux_ (Mary Robinson), _for unwarranted use of one of the
songs of her_ Italian Garden.

_Readers of my own little volume_ Genius Loci _may meanwhile
recognise that I have been guilty of plagiarism towards myself
also_.

_For a couple of years after writing those pages, the image of
the Palace of Mantua and the lakes it steeps in, haunted my
fancy with that peculiar insistency, as of the half-lapsed
recollection of a name or date, which tells us that we know
(if we could only remember!)_ what happened in a place. _I let
the matter rest. But, looking into my mind one day, I found
that a certain song of the early seventeenth century_--(not
_Monteverde's_ Lamento d'Arianna _but an air_, Amarilli, _by
Caccini, printed alongside in Parisotti's collection_)--_had
entered that Palace of Mantua, and was, in some manner not
easy to define, the musical shape of what must have happened
there. And that, translated back into human personages, was
the story I have set forth in the following little Drama_.

_So much for the origin of_ Ariadne in Mantua, _supposing any
friend to be curious about it. What seems more interesting is
my feeling, which grew upon me as I worked over and over the
piece and its French translation, that these personages had an
importance greater than that of their life and adventures, a
meaning, if I may say so, a little_ sub specie aeternitatis.
_For, besides the real figures, there appeared to me vague
shadows cast by them, as it were, on the vast spaces of life,
and magnified far beyond those little puppets that I twitched.
And I seem to feel here the struggle, eternal, necessary,
between mere impulse, unreasoning and violent, but absolutely
true to its aim; and all the moderating, the weighing and
restraining influences of civilisation, with their idealism,
their vacillation, but their final triumph over the mere
forces of nature. These well-born people of Mantua,
privileged beings wanting little because they have much, and
able therefore to spend themselves in quite harmonious effort,
must necessarily get the better of the poor gutter-born
creature without whom, after all, one of them would have been
dead and the others would have had no opening in life. Poor_
Diego _acts magnanimously, being cornered; but he (or she) has
not the delicacy, the dignity to melt into thin air with a
mere lyric Metastasian "Piangendo partè", and leave them to
their untroubled conscience. He must needs assert himself,
violently wrench at their heart-strings, give them a final
stab, hand them over to endless remorse; briefly, commit that
public and theatrical deed of suicide, splashing the murderous
waters into the eyes of well-behaved wedding guests_.

_Certainly neither the_ Duke, _nor the_ Duchess Dowager, _nor_
Hippolyta _would have done this. But, on the other hand, they
could calmly, coldly, kindly accept the self-sacrifice
culminating in that suicide: well-bred people, faithful to
their standards and forcing others, however unwilling, into
their own conformity. Of course without them the world would
be a den of thieves, a wilderness of wolves; for they are,--if
I may call them by their less personal names,--Tradition,
Discipline, Civilisation_.

_On the other hand, but for such as_ Diego _the world would
come to an end within twenty years: mere sense of duty and
fitness not being sufficient for the killing and cooking of
victuals, let alone the begetting and suckling of children.
The descendants of_ Ferdinand _and_ Hippolyta, _unless they
intermarried with some bastard of_ Diego's _family, would
dwindle, die out; who knows, perhaps supplement the impulses
they lacked by silly newfangled evil_.

_These are the contending forces of history and life: Impulse
and Discipline, creating and keeping; love such as_ Diego's,
_blind, selfish, magnanimous; and detachment, noble, a little
bloodless and cruel, like that of the_ Duke of Mantua.

_And it seems to me that the conflicts which I set forth on my
improbable little stage, are but the trifling realities
shadowing those great abstractions which we seek all through
the history of man, and everywhere in man's own heart_.


VERNON LEE.


Maiano, near Florence,

June, 1903.



ARIADNE IN MANTUA


  VIOLA.     _....I'll serve this Duke:
                       ....for I can sing
        And speak to him in many sorts of music._
                           TWELFTH NIGHT, 1, 2.



DRAMATIS PERSONAE

  FERDINAND, Duke of Mantua.
  THE CARDINAL, his Uncle.
  THE DUCHESS DOWAGER.
  HIPPOLYTA, Princess of Mirandola.
  MAGDALEN, known as DIEGO.
  THE MARCHIONESS OF GUASTALLA.
  THE BISHOP OF CREMONA.
  THE DOGE'S WIFE.
  THE VENETIAN AMBASSADOR.
  THE DUKE OF FERRARA'S POET.
  THE VICEROY OF NAPLES' JESTER.
  A TENOR as BACCHUS.
  The CARDINAL'S CHAPLAIN.
  THE DUCHESS'S GENTLEWOMAN.
  THE PRINCESS'S TUTOR.
  Singers as Maenads and Satyrs; Courtiers,
    Pages, Wedding Guests and Musicians.

       *       *       *       *       *

The action takes place in the Palace of Mantua through a
period of a year, during the reign of Prospero I, of Milan,
and shortly before the Venetian expedition to Cyprus under
Othello.



ARIADNE IN MANTUA



ACT I


_The_ CARDINAL'S _Study in the Palace at Mantua. The_ CARDINAL _is
seated at a table covered with Persian embroidery, rose-colour picked
out with blue, on which lies open a volume of Machiavelli's works, and
in it a manuscript of Catullus; alongside thereof are a bell and a
magnifying-glass. Under his feet a red cushion with long tassels, and an
oriental carpet of pale lavender and crimson_. _The_ CARDINAL _is
dressed in scarlet, a crimson fur-lined cape upon his shoulders. He is
old, but beautiful and majestic, his face furrowed like the marble bust
of Seneca among the books opposite_.

_Through the open Renaissance window, with candelabra and birds carved
on the copings, one sees the lake, pale blue, faintly rippled, with a
rose-coloured brick bridge and bridge-tower at its narrowest point_.
DIEGO (_in reality_ MAGDALEN) _has just been admitted into the_
CARDINAL'S _presence, and after kissing his ring, has remained standing,
awaiting his pleasure_.

DIEGO _is fantastically habited as a youth in russet and violet tunic
reaching below the knees in Moorish fashion, as we see it in the
frescoes of Pinturicchio; with silver buttons down the seams, and
plaited linen at the throat and in the unbuttoned purfles of the
sleeves. His hair, dark but red where it catches the light, is cut over
the forehead and touches his shoulders. He is not very tall in his boy's
clothes, and very sparely built. He is pale, almost sallow; the face,
dogged, sullen, rather expressive than beautiful, save for the
perfection of the brows and of the flower-like singer's mouth. He stands
ceremoniously before the_ CARDINAL, _one hand on his dagger, nervously,
while the other holds a large travelling hat, looped up, with a long
drooping plume_.

_The_ CARDINAL _raises his eyes, slightly bows his head, closes the
manuscript and the volume, and puts both aside deliberately. He is,
meanwhile, examining the appearance of_ DIEGO.

CARDINAL

We are glad to see you at Mantua, Signor Diego. And from what our worthy
Venetian friend informs us in the letter which he gave you for our
hands, we shall without a doubt be wholly satisfied with your singing,
which is said to be both sweet and learned. Prythee, Brother Matthias
(_turning to his_ Chaplain), bid them bring hither my virginal,--that
with the Judgment of Paris painted on the lid by Giulio Romano; its tone
is admirably suited to the human voice. And, Brother Matthias, hasten to
the Duke's own theorb player, and bid him come straightways. Nay, go
thyself, good Brother Matthias, and seek till thou hast found him. We
are impatient to judge of this good youth's skill.

_The_ Chaplain _bows and retires_. DIEGO (_in reality_ MAGDALEN)
_remains alone in the_ CARDINAL'S _presence. The_ CARDINAL _remains for
a second turning over a letter, and then reads through the
magnifying-glass out loud_.

CARDINAL

Ah, here is the sentence: "Diego, a Spaniard of Moorish descent, and a
most expert singer and player on the virginal, whom I commend to your
Eminence's favour as entirely fitted for such services as your revered
letter makes mention of----" Good, good.

_The_ CARDINAL _folds the letter and beckons_ Diego _to approach, then
speaks in a manner suddenly altered to abruptness, but with no enquiry
in his tone_.

Signor Diego, you are a woman----

DIEGO _starts, flushes and exclaims huskily_, "My Lord----." _But the_
CARDINAL _makes a deprecatory movement and continues his sentence_.

and, as my honoured Venetian correspondent assures me, a courtesan of
some experience and of more than usual tact. I trust this favourable
judgment may be justified. The situation is delicate; and the work for
which you have been selected is dangerous as well as difficult. Have you
been given any knowledge of this case?

DIEGO _has by this time recovered his composure, and answers with
respectful reserve_.

DIEGO

I asked no questions, your Eminence. But the Senator Gratiano vouchsafed
to tell me that my work at Mantua would be to soothe and cheer with
music your noble nephew Duke Ferdinand, who, as is rumoured, has been a
prey to a certain languor and moodiness ever since his return from many
years' captivity among the Infidels. Moreover (such were the Senator
Gratiano's words), that if the Fates proved favourable to my music, I
might gain access to His Highness's confidence, and thus enable your
Eminence to understand and compass his strange malady.

CARDINAL

Even so. You speak discreetly, Diego; and your manner gives hope of more
good sense than is usual in your sex and in your trade. But this matter
is of more difficulty than such as you can realise. Your being a woman
will be of use should our scheme prove practicable. In the outset it may
wreck us beyond recovery. For all his gloomy apathy, my nephew is quick
to suspicion, and extremely subtle. He will delight in flouting us,
should the thought cross his brain that we are practising some coarse
and foolish stratagem. And it so happens, that his strange moodiness is
marked by abhorrence of all womankind. For months he has refused the
visits of his virtuous mother. And the mere name of his young cousin and
affianced bride, Princess Hippolyta, has thrown him into paroxysms of
anger. Yet Duke Ferdinand possesses all his faculties. He is aware of
being the last of our house, and must know full well that, should he die
without an heir, this noble dukedom will become the battlefield of
rapacious alien claimants. He denies none of this, but nevertheless
looks on marriage with unseemly horror.

DIEGO

Is it so?----And----is there any reason His Highness's melancholy should
take this shape? I crave your Eminence's pardon if there is any
indiscretion in this question; but I feel it may be well that I should
know some more upon this point. Has Duke Ferdinand suffered some wrong
at the hands of women? Or is it the case of some passion, hopeless,
unfitting to his rank, perhaps?

CARDINAL

Your imagination, good Madam Magdalen, runs too easily along the tracks
familiar to your sex; and such inquisitiveness smacks too much of the
courtesan. And beware, my lad, of touching on such subjects with the
Duke: women and love, and so forth. For I fear, that while endeavouring
to elicit the Duke's secret, thy eyes, thy altered voice, might betray
thy own.

DIEGO

Betray me? My secret? What do you mean, my Lord? I fail to grasp your
meaning.

CARDINAL

Have you so soon forgotten that the Duke must not suspect your being a
woman? For if a woman may gradually melt his torpor, and bring him under
the control of reason and duty, this can only come about by her growing
familiar and necessary to him without alarming his moody virtue.

DIEGO

I crave your Eminence's indulgence for that one question, which I repeat
because, as a musician, it may affect my treatment of His Highness. Has
the Duke ever loved?

CARDINAL

Too little or too much,--which of the two it will be for you to find
out. My nephew was ever, since his boyhood, a pious and joyless youth;
and such are apt to love once, and, as the poets say, to die for love.
Be this as it may, keep to your part of singer; and even if you suspect
that he suspects you, let him not see your suspicion, and still less
justify his own. Be merely a singer: a sexless creature, having seen
passion but never felt it; yet capable, by the miracle of art, of
rousing and soothing it in others. Go warily, and mark my words: there
is, I notice, even in your speaking voice, a certain quality such as
folk say melts hearts; a trifle hoarseness, a something of a break,
which mars it as mere sound, but gives it more power than that of sound.
Employ that quality when the fit moment comes; but most times restrain
it. You have understood?

DIEGO

I think I have, my Lord.

CARDINAL

Then only one word more. Women, and women such as you, are often ill
advised and foolishly ambitious. Let not success, should you have any in
this enterprise, endanger it and you. Your safety lies in being my tool.
My spies are everywhere; but I require none; I seem to know the folly
which poor mortals think and feel. And see! this palace is surrounded on
three sides by lakes; a rare and beautiful circumstance, which has done
good service on occasion. Even close to this pavilion these blue waters
are less shallow than they seem.

DIEGO

I had noted it. Such an enterprise as mine requires courage, my Lord;
and your palace, built into the lake, as life,--saving all thought of
heresy,--is built out into death, your palace may give courage as well
as prudence.

CARDINAL

Your words, Diego, are irrelevant, but do not displease me.

DIEGO _bows. The_ Chaplain _enters with_ Pages _carrying a harpsichord,
which they place upon the table; also two_ Musicians _with theorb and
viol_.

Brother Matthias, thou hast been a skilful organist, and hast often
delighted me with thy fugues and canons.--Sit to the instrument, and
play a prelude, while this good youth collects his memory and his voice
preparatory to displaying his skill.

_The_ chaplain, _not unlike the monk in Titian's "Concert" begins to
play_, DIEGO _standing by him at the harpsichord. While the cunningly
interlaced themes, with wide, unclosed cadences, tinkle metallically
from the instrument, the_ CARDINAL _watches, very deliberately, the face
of_ DIEGO, _seeking to penetrate through its sullen sedateness. But_
DIEGO _remains with his eyes fixed on the view framed by the window: the
pale blue lake, of the colour of periwinkle, under a sky barely bluer
than itself, and the lines on the horizon--piled up clouds or perhaps
Alps. Only, as the_ Chaplain _is about to finish his prelude, the face
of_ DIEGO _undergoes a change: a sudden fervour and tenderness
transfigure the features; while the eyes, from very dark turn to the
colour of carnelian. This illumination dies out as quickly as it came,
and_ DIEGO _becomes very self-contained and very listless as before_.

DIEGO

Will it please your Eminence that I should sing the Lament of Ariadne on
Naxos?



ACT II


_A few months later. Another part of the Ducal Palace of Mantua. The_
DUCHESS'S _closet: a small irregular chamber; the vaulted ceiling
painted with Giottesque patterns in blue and russet, much blackened, and
among which there is visible only a coronation of the Virgin, white and
vision-like. Shelves with a few books and phials and jars of medicine; a
small movable organ in a corner; and, in front of the ogival window, a
praying-chair and large crucifix. The crucifix is black against the
landscape, against the grey and misty waters of the lake; and framed by
the nearly leafless branches of a willow growing below_.

_The_ DUCHESS DOWAGER _is tall and straight, but almost bodiless in her
black nun-like dress. Her face is so white, its lips and eyebrows so
colourless, and eyes so pale a blue, that one might at first think it
insignificant, and only gradually notice the strength and beauty of the
features. The_ DUCHESS _has laid aside her sewing on the entrance of_
DIEGO, _in reality_ MAGDALEN; _and, forgetful of all state, been on the
point of rising to meet him. But_ DIEGO _has ceremoniously let himself
down on one knee, expecting to kiss her hand_.

DUCHESS

Nay, Signor Diego, do not kneel. Such forms have long since left my
life, nor are they, as it seems to me, very fitting between God's
creatures. Let me grasp your hand, and look into the face of him whom
Heaven has chosen to work a miracle. You have cured my son!

DIEGO

It is indeed a miracle of Heaven, most gracious Madam; and one in which,
alas, my poor self has been as nothing. For sounds, subtly linked, take
wondrous powers from the soul of him who frames their patterns; and we,
who sing, are merely as the string or keys he presses, or as the reed
through which he blows. The virtue is not ours, though coming out of us.

DIEGO _has made this speech as if learned by rote, with listless
courtesy. The_ DUCHESS _has at first been frozen by his manner, but at
the end she answers very simply_.

DUCHESS

You speak too learnedly, good Signor Diego, and your words pass my poor
understanding. The virtue in any of us is but God's finger-touch or
breath; but those He chooses as His instruments are, methinks, angels or
saints; and whatsoever you be, I look upon you with loving awe. You
smile? You are a courtier, while I, although I have not left this palace
for twenty years, have long forgotten the words and ways of courts. I am
but a simpleton: a foolish old woman who has unlearned all ceremony
through many years of many sorts of sorrow; and now, dear youth,
unlearned it more than ever from sheer joy at what it has pleased God to
do through you. For, thanks to you, I have seen my son again, my dear,
wise, tender son again. I would fain thank you. If I had worldly goods
which you have not in plenty, or honours to give, they should be yours.
You shall have my prayers. For even you, so favoured of Heaven, will
some day want them.

DIEGO

Give them me now, most gracious Madam. I have no faith in prayers; but I
need them.

DUCHESS

Great joy has made me heartless as well as foolish. I have hurt you,
somehow. Forgive me, Signor Diego.

DIEGO

As you said, I am a courtier, Madam, and I know it is enough if we can
serve our princes. We have no business with troubles of our own; but
having them, we keep them to ourselves. His Highness awaits me at this
hour for the usual song which happily unclouds his spirit. Has your
Grace any message for him?

DUCHESS

Stay. My son will wait a little while. I require you, Diego, for I have
hurt you. Your words are terrible, but just. We princes are brought
up--but many of us, alas, are princes in this matter!--to think that
when we say "I thank you" we have done our duty; though our very
satisfaction, our joy, may merely bring out by comparison the emptiness
of heart, the secret soreness, of those we thank. We are not allowed to
see the burdens of others, and merely load them with our own.

DIEGO

Is this not wisdom? Princes should not see those burdens which they
cannot, which they must not, try to carry. And after all, princes or
slaves, can others ever help us, save with their purse, with advice,
with a concrete favour, or, say, with a song? Our troubles smart because
they are _our_ troubles; our burdens weigh because on _our_ shoulders;
they are part of us, and cannot be shifted. But God doubtless loves such
kind thoughts as you have, even if, with your Grace's indulgence, they
are useless.

DUCHESS

If it were so, God would be no better than an earthly prince. But
believe me, Diego, if He prefer what you call kindness--bare sense of
brotherhood in suffering--'tis for its usefulness. We cannot carry each
other's burden for a minute; true, and rightly so; but we can give each
other added strength to bear it.

DIEGO

By what means, please your Grace?

DUCHESS

By love, Diego.

DIEGO

Love! But that was surely never a source of strength, craving your
Grace's pardon?

DUCHESS

The love which I am speaking of--and it may surely bear the name, since
'tis the only sort of love that cannot turn to hatred. Love for who
requires it because it is required--say love of any woman who has been a
mother for any child left motherless. Nay, forgive my boldness: my
gratitude gives me rights on you, Diego. You are unhappy; you are still
a child; and I imagine that you have no mother.

DIEGO

I am told I had one, gracious Madam. She was, saving your Grace's
presence, only a light woman, and sold for a ducat to the Infidels. I
cannot say I ever missed her. Forgive me, Madam. Although a courtier,
the stock I come from is extremely base. I have no understanding of the
words of noble women and saints like you. My vileness thinks them
hollow; and my pretty manners are only, as your Grace has unluckily had
occasion to see, a very thin and bad veneer. I thank your Grace, and
once more crave permission to attend the Duke.

DUCHESS

Nay. That is not true. Your soul is nowise base-born. I owe you
everything, and, by some inadvertence, I have done nothing save stir up
pain in you. I want--the words may seem presumptuous, yet carry a
meaning which is humble--I want to be your friend; and to help you to a
greater, better Friend. I will pray for you, Diego.

DIEGO

No, no. You are a pious and virtuous woman, and your pity and prayers
must keep fit company.

DUCHESS

The only fitting company for pity and prayers, for love, dear lad, is
the company of those who need them. Am I over bold?

_The_ DUCHESS _has risen, and shyly laid her hand on_ DIEGO'S
_shoulder_. DIEGO _breaks loose and covers his face, exclaiming in a dry
and husky voice_.

DIEGO

Oh the cruelty of loneliness, Madam! Save for two years which taught me
by comparison its misery, I have lived in loneliness always in this
lonely world; though never, alas, alone. Would it had always continued!
But as the wayfarer from out of the snow and wind feels his limbs numb
and frozen in the hearth's warmth, so, having learned that one might
speak, be understood, be comforted, that one might love and be
beloved,--the misery of loneliness was revealed to me. And then to be
driven back into it once more, shut in to it for ever! Oh, Madam, when
one can no longer claim understanding and comfort; no longer say "I
suffer: help me!"--because the creature one would say it to is the very
same who hurts and spurns one!

DUCHESS

How can a child like you already know such things? We women may, indeed.
I was as young as you, years ago, when I too learned it. And since I
learned it, let my knowledge, my poor child, help you to bear it. I know
how silence galls and wearies. If silence hurts you, speak,--not for me
to answer, but understand and sorrow for you. I am old and simple and
unlearned; but, God willing, I shall understand.

DIEGO

If anything could help me, 'tis the sense of kindness such as yours. I
thank you for your gift; but acceptance of it would be theft; for it is
not meant for what I really am. And though a living lie in many things;
I am still, oddly enough, honest. Therefore, I pray you, Madam,
farewell.

DUCHESS

Do not believe it, Diego. Where it is needed, our poor loving kindness
can never be stolen.

DIEGO

Do not tempt me, Madam! Oh God, I do not want your pity, your loving
kindness! What are such things to me? And as to understanding my
sorrows, no one can, save the very one who is inflicting them. Besides,
you and I call different things by the same names. What you call _love_,
to me means nothing: nonsense taught to children, priest's metaphysics.
What _I_ mean, you do not know. (_A pause_, DIEGO _walks up and down in
agitation_.) But woe's me! You have awakened the power of breaking
through this silence,--this silence which is starvation and deathly
thirst and suffocation. And it so happens that if I speak to you all
will be wrecked. (_A pause_.) But there remains nothing to wreck!
Understand me, Madam, I care not who you are. I know that once I have
spoken, you _must_ become my enemy. But I am grateful to you; you have
shown me the way to speaking; and, no matter now to whom, I now _must_
speak.

DUCHESS

You shall speak to God, my friend, though you speak seemingly to me.

DIEGO

To God! To God! These are the icy generalities we strike upon under all
pious warmth. No, gracious Madam, I will not speak to God; for God knows
it already, and, knowing, looks on indifferent. I will speak to you. Not
because you are kind and pitiful; for you will cease to be so. Not
because you will understand; for you never will. I will speak to you
because, although you are a saint, you are _his_ mother, have kept
somewhat of his eyes and mien; because it will hurt you if I speak, as I
would it might hurt _him_. I am a woman, Madam; a harlot; and I was the
Duke your son's mistress while among the Infidels.

_A long silence. The_ DUCHESS _remains seated. She barely starts,
exclaiming_ "Ah!--" _and becomes suddenly absorbed in thought_. DIEGO
_stands looking listlessly through the window at the lake and the
willow_.

DIEGO

I await your Grace's orders. Will it please you that I call your
maid-of-honour, or summon the gentleman outside? If it so please you,
there need be no scandal. I shall give myself up to any one your Grace
prefers.

_The_ DUCHESS _pays no attention to_ DIEGO'S _last words, and remains
reflecting_.

DUCHESS

Then, it is he who, as you call it, spurns you? How so? For you are
admitted to his close familiarity; nay, you have worked the miracle of
curing him. I do not understand the situation. For, Diego,--I know not
by what other name to call you--I feel your sorrow is a deep one. You
are not the----woman who would despair and call God cruel for a mere
lover's quarrel. You love my son; you have cured him,--cured him, do I
guess rightly, through your love? But if it be so, what can my son have
done to break your heart?

DIEGO

(_after listening astonished at the_ DUCHESS'S _unaltered tone of
kindness_)

Your Grace will understand the matter as much as I can; and I cannot. He
does not recognise me, Madam.

DUCHESS

Not recognise you? What do you mean?

DIEGO

What the words signify: Not recognise.

DUCHESS

Then----he does not know----he still believes you to be----a stranger?

DIEGO

So it seems, Madam.

DUCHESS

And yet you have cured his melancholy by your presence. And in the
past----tell me: had you ever sung to him?

DIEGO (_weeping silently_)

Daily, Madam.

DUCHESS (_slowly_)

They say that Ferdinand is, thanks to you, once more in full possession
of his mind. It cannot be. Something still lacks; he is not fully cured.

DIEGO

Alas, he is. The Duke remembers everything, save me.

DUCHESS

There is some mystery in this. I do not understand such matters. But I
know that Ferdinand could never be base towards you knowingly. And you,
methinks, would never be base towards him. Diego, time will bring light
into this darkness. Let us pray God together that He may make our eyes
and souls able to bear it.

DIEGO

I cannot pray for light, most gracious Madam, because I fear it. Indeed
I cannot pray at all, there remains nought to pray for. But, among the
vain and worldly songs I have had to get by heart, there is, by chance,
a kind of little hymn, a childish little verse, but a sincere one. And
while you pray for me--for you promised to pray for me, Madam--I should
like to sing it, with your Grace's leave.

DIEGO _opens a little movable organ in a corner, and strikes a few
chords, remaining standing the while. The_ DUCHESS _kneels down before
the crucifix, turning her back upon him. While she is silently praying_,
DIEGO, _still on his feet, sings very low to a kind of lullaby tune_.

     Mother of God,
     We are thy weary children;
     Teach us, thou weeping Mother,
     To cry ourselves to sleep.



ACT III


_Three months later. Another part of the Palace of Mantua: the hanging
gardens in the_ DUKE'S _apartments. It is the first warm night of
Spring. The lemon trees have been brought out that day, and fill the air
with fragrance. Terraces and flights of steps; in the background the
dark mass of the palace, with its cupolas and fortified towers; here and
there a lit window picking out the dark; and from above the principal
yards, the flare of torches rising into the deep blue of the sky. In the
course of the scene, the moon gradually emerges from behind a group of
poplars on the opposite side of the lake into which the palace is built.
During the earlier part of the act, darkness. Great stillness, with,
only occasionally, the plash of a fisherman's oar, or a very distant
thrum of mandolines.--The_ DUKE _and_ DIEGO _are walking up and down the
terrace_.

DUKE

Thou askedst me once, dear Diego, the meaning of that labyrinth which I
have had carved, a shapeless pattern enough, but well suited, methinks,
to blue and gold, upon the ceiling of my new music room. And wouldst
have asked, I fancy, as many have done, the hidden meaning of the device
surrounding it.--I left thee in the dark, dear lad, and treated thy
curiosity in a peevish manner. Thou hast long forgiven and perhaps
forgotten, deeming my lack of courtesy but another ailment of thy poor
sick master; another of those odd ungracious moods with which, kindest
of healing creatures, thou hast had such wise and cheerful patience. I
have often wished to tell thee; but I could not. 'Tis only now, in some
mysterious fashion, I seem myself once more,--able to do my judgment's
bidding, and to dispose, in memory and words, of my own past. My strange
sickness, which thou hast cured, melting its mists away with thy
beneficent music even as the sun penetrates and sucks away the fogs of
dawn from our lakes--my sickness, Diego, the sufferings of my flight
from Barbary; the horror, perhaps, of that shipwreck which cast me (so
they say, for I remember nothing) senseless on the Illyrian
coast----these things, or Heaven's judgment on but a lukewarm
Crusader,--had somehow played strange havoc with my will and
recollections. I could not think; or thinking, not speak; or
recollecting, feel that he whom I thought of in the past was this same
man, myself.

_The_ DUKE _pauses, and leaning on the parapet, watches the long
reflections of the big stars in the water_.

But now, and thanks to thee, Diego, I am another; I am myself.

DIEGO'S _face, invisible in the darkness, has undergone dreadful
convulsions. His breast heaves, and he stops for breath before
answering; but when he does so, controls his voice into its usual rather
artificially cadenced tone_.

DIEGO

And now, dear Master, you can recollect----all?

DUKE

Recollect, sweet friend, and tell thee. For it is seemly that I should
break through this churlish silence with thee. Thou didst cure the
weltering distress of my poor darkened mind; I would have thee, now,
know somewhat of the past of thy grateful patient. The maze, Diego,
carved and gilded on that ceiling is but a symbol of my former life; and
the device which, being interpreted, means "I seek straight ways," the
expression of my wish and duty.

DIEGO

You loathed the maze, my Lord?

DUKE

Not so. I loved it then. And I still love it now. But I have issued from
it--issued to recognise that the maze was good. Though it is good I left
it. When I entered it, I was a raw youth, although in years a man; full
of easy theory, and thinking all practice simple; unconscious of
passion; ready to govern the world with a few learned notions; moreover
never having known either happiness or grief, never loved and wondered
at a creature different from myself; acquainted, not with the straight
roads which I now seek, but only with the rectangular walls of
schoolrooms. The maze, and all the maze implied, made me a man.

DIEGO

(_who has listened with conflicting feelings, and now unable to conceal
his joy_)

A man, dear Master; and the gentlest, most just of men. Then, that
maze----But idle stories, interpreting all spiritual meaning as prosy
fact, would have it, that this symbol was a reality. The legend of your
captivity, my Lord, has turned the pattern on that ceiling into a real
labyrinth, some cunningly built fortress or prison, where the Infidels
kept you, and whose clue----you found, and with the clue, freedom, after
five weary years.

DUKE

Whose clue, dear Diego, was given into my hands,--the clue meaning
freedom, but also eternal parting--by the most faithful, intrepid,
magnanimous, the most loving----and the most beloved of women!

_The_ Duke _has raised his arms from the parapet, and drawn himself
erect, folding them on his breast, and seeking for_ Diego's _face in the
darkness. But_ Diego, _unseen by the_ Duke, _has clutched the parapet
and sunk on to a bench_.

DUKE

(_walking up and down, slowly and meditatively, after a pause_)

The poets have fabled many things concerning virtuous women. The Roman
Arria, who stabbed herself to make honourable suicide easier for her
husband; Antigone, who buried her brother at the risk of death; and the
Thracian Alkestis, who descended into the kingdom of Death in place of
Admetus. But none, to my mind, comes up to _her_. For fancy is but thin
and simple, a web of few bright threads; whereas reality is closely
knitted out of the numberless fibres of life, of pain and joy. For note
it, Diego--those antique women whom we read of were daughters of kings,
or of Romans more than kings; bred of a race of heroes, and trained,
while still playing with dolls, to pride themselves on austere duty, and
look upon the wounds and maimings of their soul as their brothers and
husbands looked upon the mutilations of battle. Whereas here; here was a
creature infinitely humble; a waif, a poor spurned toy of brutal
mankind's pleasure; accustomed only to bear contumely, or to snatch,
unthinking, what scanty happiness lay along her difficult and despised
path,--a wild creature, who had never heard such words as duty or
virtue; and yet whose acts first taught me what they truly meant.

DIEGO

(_who has recovered himself, and is now leaning in his turn on the
parapet_)

Ah----a light woman, bought and sold many times over, my Lord; but who
loved, at last.

DUKE

That is the shallow and contemptuous way in which men think, Diego,--and
boys like thee pretend to; those to whom life is but a chess-board, a
neatly painted surface alternate black and white, most suitable for
skilful games, with a soul clean lost or gained at the end! I thought
like that. But I grew to understand life as a solid world: rock, fertile
earth, veins of pure metal, mere mud, all strangely mixed and overlaid;
and eternal fire at the core! I learned it, knowing Magdalen.

DIEGO

Her name was Magdalen?

DUKE

So she bade me call her.

DIEGO

And the name explained the trade?

DUKE (_after a pause_)

I cannot understand thee Diego,--cannot understand thy lack of
understanding----Well yes! Her trade. All in this universe is trade,
trade of prince, pope, philosopher or harlot; and once the badge put on,
the licence signed--the badge a crown or a hot iron's brand, as the case
may be,--why then we ply it according to prescription, and that's all!
Yes, Diego,--since thou obligest me to say it in its harshness, I do so,
and I glory for her in every contemptuous word I use!--The woman I speak
of was but a poor Venetian courtesan; some drab's child, sold to the
Infidels as to the Christians; and my cruel pirate master's--shall we
say?--mistress. There! For the first time, Diego, thou dost not
understand me; or is it----that I misjudged thee, thinking thee, dear
boy----(_breaks off hurriedly_).

DIEGO (_very slowly_)

Thinking me what, my Lord?

DUKE (_lightly, but with effort_)

Less of a little Sir Paragon of Virtue than a dear child, who is only a
child, must be.

DIEGO

It is better, perhaps, that your Highness should be certain of my
limitations----But I crave your Highness's pardon. I had meant to say
that being a waif myself, pure gutter-bred, I have known, though young,
more Magdalens than you, my Lord. They are, in a way, my sisters; and
had I been a woman, I should, likely enough, have been one myself.

DUKE

You mean, Diego?

DIEGO

I mean, that knowing them well, I also know that women such as your
Highness has described, occasionally learn to love most truly. Nay, let
me finish, my Lord; I was not going to repeat a mere sentimental
commonplace. Briefly then, that such women, being expert in love,
sometimes understand, quicker than virtuous dames brought up to heroism,
when love for them is cloyed. They can walk out of a man's house or life
with due alacrity, being trained to such flittings. Or, recognising the
first signs of weariness before 'tis known to him who feels it, they can
open the door for the other--hand him the clue of the labyrinth with a
fine theatric gesture!--But I crave your Highness's pardon for enlarging
on this theme.

DUKE

Thou speakest Diego, as if thou hadst a mind to wound thy Master. Is
this, my friend, the reward of my confiding in thee, even if tardily?

DIEGO

I stand rebuked, my Lord. But, in my own defence----how shall I say
it?----Your Highness has a manner to-night which disconcerts me by its
novelty; a saying things and then unsaying them; suggesting and then,
somehow, treading down the suggestion like a spark of your lightning.
Lovers, I have been told, use such a manner to revive their flagging
feeling by playing on the other one's. Even in so plain and solid a
thing as friendship, such ways--I say it subject to your Highness's
displeasure--are dangerous. But in love, I have known cases where,
carried to certain lengths, such ways of speaking undermined a woman's
faith and led her to desperate things. Women, despite their strength,
which often surprises us, are brittle creatures. Did you never, perhaps,
make trial of this----Magdalen, with----

DUKE

With what? Good God, Diego, 'tis I who ask thy pardon; and thou sheddest
a dreadful light upon the past. But it is not possible. I am not such a
cur that, after all she did, after all she was,--my life saved by her
audacity a hundred times, made rich and lovely by her love, her wit, her
power,--that I could ever have whimpered for my freedom, or made her
suspect I wanted it more than I wanted her? Is it possible, Diego?

DIEGO (_slowly_)

Why more than you wanted her? She may have thought the two compatible.

DUKE

Never. First, because my escape could not be compassed save by her
staying behind; and then because---she knew, in fact, what thing I was,
or must become, once set at liberty.

DIEGO (_after a pause_)

I see. You mean, my Lord, that you being Duke of Mantua, while she----If
she knew that; knew it not merely as a fact, but as one knows the full
savour of grief,--well, she was indeed the paragon you think; one might
indeed say, bating one point, a virtuous woman.

DUKE

Thou hast understood, dear Diego, and I thank thee for it.

DIEGO

But I fear, my Lord, she did not know these things. Such as she, as
yourself remarked, are not trained to conceive of duty, even in others.
Passion moves them; and they believe in passion. You loved her; good.
Why then, at Mantua as in Barbary. No, my dear Master, believe me; she
had seen your love was turning stale, and set you free, rather than
taste its staleness. Passion, like duty, has its pride; and even we
waifs, as gypsies, have our point of honour.

DUKE

Stale! My love grown stale! You make me laugh, boy, instead of angering.
Stale! You never knew her. She was not like a song--even your sweetest
song--which, heard too often, cloys, its phrases dropping to senseless
notes. She was like music,--the whole art: new modes, new melodies, new
rhythms, with every day and hour, passionate or sad, or gay, or very
quiet; more wondrous notes than in thy voice; and more strangely sweet,
even when they grated, than the tone of those newfangled fiddles, which
wound the ear and pour balm in, they make now at Cremona.

DIEGO

You loved her then, sincerely?

DUKE

Methinks it may be Diego now, tormenting his Master with needless
questions. Loved her, boy! I love her.

_A long pause_. Diego _has covered his face, with a gesture as if about
to speak. But the moon has suddenly risen from behind the poplars, and
put scales of silver light upon the ripples of the lake, and a pale
luminous mist around the palace. As the light invades the terrace, a
sort of chill has come upon both speakers; they walk up and down further
from one another_.

DIEGO

A marvellous story, dear Master. And I thank you from my heart for
having told it me. I always loved you, and I thought I knew you. I know
you better still, now. You are--a most magnanimous prince.

DUKE

Alas, dear lad, I am but a poor prisoner of my duties; a poorer
prisoner, and a sadder far, than there in Barbary----O Diego, how I have
longed for her! How deeply I still long, sometimes! But I open my eyes,
force myself to stare reality in the face, whenever her image comes
behind closed lids, driving her from me----And to end my confession. At
the beginning, Diego, there seemed in thy voice and manner something of
_her_; I saw her sometimes in thee, as children see the elves they fear
and hope for in stains on walls and flickers on the path. And all thy
wondrous power, thy miraculous cure--nay, forgive what seems
ingratitude--was due, Diego, to my sick fancy making me see glances of
her in thy eyes and hear her voice in thine. Not music but love, love's
delusion, was what worked my cure.

DIEGO

Do you speak truly, Master? Was it so? And now?

DUKE

Now, dear lad, I am cured--completely; I know bushes from ghosts; and I
know thee, dearest friend, to be Diego.

DIEGO

When these imaginations still held you, my Lord, did it ever happen that
you wondered: what if the bush had been a ghost; if Diego had turned
into--what was she called?----

DUKE

Magdalen. My fancy never went so far, good Diego. There was a grain of
reason left. But if it had----Well, I should have taken Magdalen's hand,
and said, "Welcome, dear sister. This is a world of spells; let us
repeat some. Become henceforth my brother; be the Duke of Mantua's best
and truest friend; turn into Diego, Magdalen."

_The_ DUKE _presses_ DIEGO'S _arm, and, letting it go, walks away into
the moonlight with an enigmatic air. A long pause_.

Hark, they are singing within; the idle pages making songs to their
ladies' eyebrows. Shall we go and listen?

(_They walk in the direction of the palace_.)

And (_with a little hesitation_) that makes me say, Diego, before we
close this past of mine, and bury it for ever in our silence, that there
is a little Moorish song, plaintive and quaint, she used to sing, which
some day I will write down, and thou shalt sing it to me--on my
deathbed.

DIEGO

Why not before? Speaking of songs, that mandolin, though out of tune,
and vilely played, has got hold of a ditty I like well enough. Hark, the
words are Tuscan, well known in the mountains. (_Sings_.)

I'd like to die, but die a little death only, I'd like to die, but look
down from the window; I'd like to die, but stand upon the doorstep; I'd
like to die, but follow the procession; I'd like to die, but see who
smiles and weepeth; I'd like to die, but die a little death only.

(_While_ DIEGO _sings very loud, the mandolin inside the palace thrums
faster and faster. As he ends, with a long defiant leap into a high
note, a burst of applause from the palace_.)

DIEGO (_clapping his hands_)

Well sung, Diego!



ACT IV


_A few weeks later. The new music room in the Palace of Mantua. Windows
on both sides admitting a view of the lake, so that the hall looks like
a galley surrounded by water. Outside, morning: the lake, the sky, and
the lines of poplars on the banks, are all made of various textures of
luminous blue. From the gardens below, bay trees raise their flowering
branches against the windows. In every window an antique statue: the
Mantuan Muse, the Mantuan Apollo, etc. In the walls between the windows
are framed panels representing allegorical triumphs: those nearest the
spectator are the triumphs of Chastity and of Fortitude. At the end of
the room, steps and a balustrade, with a harpsichord and double basses
on a dais. The roof of the room is blue and gold; a deep blue ground,
constellated with a gold labyrinth in relief. Round the cornice, blue
and gold also, the inscription_: "RECTAS PETO," _and the name_
Ferdinandus Mantuae Dux.

_The_ PRINCESS HIPPOLYTA _of Mirandola, cousin to the_ DUKE; _and_
DIEGO. HIPPOLYTA _is very young, but with the strength and grace, and
the candour, rather of a beautiful boy than of a woman. She is
dazzlingly fair; and her hair, arranged in waves like an antique
amazon's, is stiff and lustrous, as if made of threads of gold. The
brows are wide and straight, like a man's; the glance fearless, but
virginal and almost childlike_. HIPPOLYTA _is dressed in black and gold,
particoloured, like Mantegna's Duchess. An old man, in scholar's gown,
the_ Princess's Greek Tutor, _has just introduced_ DIEGO _and retired_.

DIEGO

The Duke your cousin's greeting and service, illustrious damsel. His
Highness bids me ask how you are rested after your journey hither.

PRINCESS

Tell my cousin, good Signor Diego, that I am touched at his concern for
me. And tell him, such is the virtuous air of his abode, that a whole
night's rest sufficed to right me from the fatigue of two hours' journey
in a litter; for I am new to that exercise, being accustomed to follow
my poor father's hounds and falcons only on horseback. You shall thank
the Duke my cousin for his civility. (PRINCESS _laughs_.)

DIEGO

(_bowing, and keeping his eyes on the_ PRINCESS _as he speaks_)

His Highness wished to make his fair cousin smile. He has told me often
how your illustrious father, the late Lord of Mirandola, brought his
only daughter up in such a wise as scarcely to lack a son, with manly
disciplines of mind and body; and that he named you fittingly after
Hippolyta, who was Queen of the Amazons, virgins unlike their vain and
weakly sex.

PRINCESS

She was; and wife of Theseus. But it seems that the poets care but
little for the like of her; they tell us nothing of her, compared with
her poor predecessor, Cretan Ariadne, she who had given Theseus the clue
of the labyrinth. Methinks that maze must have been mazier than this
blue and gold one overhead. What say you, Signor Diego?

DIEGO (_who has started slightly_)

Ariadne? Was she the predecessor of Hippolyta? I did not know it. I am
but a poor scholar, Madam; knowing the names and stories of gods and
heroes only from songs and masques. The Duke should have selected some
fitter messenger to hold converse with his fair learned cousin.

PRINCESS (_gravely_)

Speak not like that, Signor Diego. You may not be a scholar, as you say;
but surely you are a philosopher. Nay, conceive my meaning: the fame of
your virtuous equanimity has spread further than from this city to my
small dominions. Your precocious wisdom--for you seem younger than I,
and youths do not delight in being very wise--your moderation in the use
of sudden greatness, your magnanimous treatment of enemies and
detractors; and the manner in which, disdainful of all personal
advantage, you have surrounded the Duke my cousin with wisest
counsellors and men expert in office--such are the results men seek from
the study of philosophy.

DIEGO

(_at first astonished, then amused, a little sadly_)

You are mistaken, noble maiden. 'Tis not philosophy to refrain from
things that do not tempt one. Riches or power are useless to me. As for
the rest, you are mistaken also. The Duke is wise and valiant, and
chooses therefore wise and valiant counsellors.

PRINCESS (_impetuously_)

You are eloquent, Signor Diego, even as you are wise! But your words do
not deceive me. Ambition lurks in every one; and power intoxicates all
save those who have schooled themselves to use it as a means to virtue.

DIEGO

The thought had never struck me; but men have told me what you tell me
now.

PRINCESS

Even Antiquity, which surpasses us so vastly in all manner of wisdom and
heroism, can boast of very few like you. The noblest souls have grown
tyrannical and rapacious and foolhardy in sudden elevation. Remember
Alcibiades, the beloved pupil of the wisest of all mortals. Signor
Diego, you may have read but little; but you have meditated to much
profit, and must have wrestled like some great athlete with all that
baser self which the divine Plato has told us how to master.

DIEGO (_shaking his head_)

Alas, Madam, your words make me ashamed, and yet they make me smile,
being so far of the mark! I have wrestled with nothing; followed only my
soul's blind impulses.

PRINCESS (_gravely_)

It must be, then, dear Signor Diego, as the Pythagoreans held: the
discipline of music is virtuous for the soul. There is a power in
numbered and measured sound very akin to wisdom; mysterious and
excellent; as indeed the Ancients fabled in the tales of Orpheus and
Amphion, musicians and great sages and legislators of states. I have
long desired your conversation, admirable Diego.

DIEGO (_with secret contempt_)

Noble maiden, such words exceed my poor unscholarly appreciation. The
antique worthies whom you name are for me merely figures in tapestries
and frescoes, quaint greybeards in laurel wreaths and helmets; and I can
scarcely tell whether the Ladies Fortitude and Rhetoric with whom they
hold converse, are real daughters of kings, or mere Arts and Virtues.
But the Duke, a learned and judicious prince, will set due store by his
youthful cousin's learning. As for me, simpleton and ignoramus that I
am, all I see is that Princess Hippolyta is very beautiful and very
young.

PRINCESS

(_sighing a little, but with great simplicity_)

I know it. I am young, and perhaps crude; although I study hard to learn
the rules of wisdom. You, Diego, seem to know them without study.

DIEGO

I know somewhat of the world and of men, gracious Princess, but that can
scarce be called knowing wisdom. Say rather knowing blindness, envy,
cruelty, endless nameless folly in others and oneself. But why should
you seek to be wise? you who are fair, young, a princess, and betrothed
from your cradle to a great prince? Be beautiful, be young, be what you
are, a woman.

Diego _has said this last word with emphasis, but the_ Princess _has not
noticed the sarcasm in his voice_.

PRINCESS (_shaking her head_)

That is not my lot. I was destined, as you said, to be the wife of a
great prince; and my dear father trained me to fill that office.

DIEGO

Well, and to be beautiful, young, radiant; to be a woman; is not that
the office of a wife?

PRINCESS

I have not much experience. But my father told me, and I have gathered
from books, that in the wives of princes, such gifts are often thrown
away; that other women, supplying them, seem to supply them better. Look
at my cousin's mother. I can remember her still beautiful, young, and
most tenderly loving. Yet the Duke, my uncle, disdained her, and all she
got was loneliness and heartbreak. An honourable woman, a princess,
cannot compete with those who study to please and to please only. She
must either submit to being ousted from her husband's love, or soar
above it into other regions.

DIEGO (_interested_)

Other regions?

PRINCESS

Higher ones. She must be fit to be her husband's help, and to nurse his
sons to valour and wisdom.

DIEGO

I see. The Prince must know that besides all the knights that he summons
to battle, and all the wise men whom he hears in council, there is
another knight, in rather lighter armour and quicker tired, another
counsellor, less experienced and of less steady temper, ready for use.
Is this great gain?

PRINCESS

It is strange that being a man, you should conceive of women from----

DIEGO

From a man's standpoint?

PRINCESS

Nay; methinks a woman's. For I observe that women, when they wish to
help men, think first of all of some transparent masquerade, donning
men's clothes, at all events in metaphor, in order to be near their
lovers when not wanted.

DIEGO (_hastily_)

Donning men's clothes? A masquerade? I fail to follow your meaning,
gracious maiden.

PRINCESS (_simply_)

So I have learned at least from our poets. Angelica, and Bradamante and
Fiordispina, scouring the country after their lovers, who were busy
enough without them. I prefer Penelope, staying at home to save the
lands and goods of Ulysses, and bringing up his son to rescue and avenge
him.

DIEGO (_reassured and indifferent_)

Did Ulysses love Penelope any better for it, Madam? better than poor
besotted Menelaus, after all his injuries, loved Helen back in Sparta?

PRINCESS

That is not the question. A woman born to be a prince's wife and
prince's mother, does her work not for the sake of something greater
than love, whether much or little.

DIEGO

For what then?

PRINCESS

Does a well-bred horse or excellent falcon do its duty to please its
master? No; but because such is its nature. Similarly, methinks, a woman
bred to be a princess works with her husband, for her husband, not for
any reward, but because he and she are of the same breed, and obey the
same instincts.

DIEGO

Ah!----Then happiness, love,--all that a woman craves for?

PRINCESS

Are accidents. Are they not so in the life of a prince? Love he may
snatch; and she, being in woman's fashion not allowed to snatch, may
receive as a gift, or not. But received or snatched, it is not either's
business; not their nature's true fulfilment.

DIEGO

You think so, Lady?

PRINCESS

I am bound to think so. I was born to it and taught it. You know the
Duke, my cousin,--well, I am his bride, not being born his sister.

DIEGO

And you are satisfied? O beautiful Princess, you are of illustrious
lineage and mind, and learned. Your father brought you up on Plutarch
instead of Amadis; you know many things; but there is one, methinks, no
one can know the nature of it until he has it.

PRINCESS

What is that, pray?

DIEGO

A heart. Because you have not got one yet, you make your plans without
it,--a negligible item in your life.

Princess

I am not a child.

DIEGO

But not yet a woman.

PRINCESS (_meditatively_)

You think, then----

DIEGO

I do not _think_; I _know_. And _you_ will know, some day. And then----

PRINCESS

Then I shall suffer. Why, we must all suffer. Say that, having a heart,
a heart for husband or child, means certain grief,--well, does not
riding, walking down your stairs, mean the chance of broken bones? Does
not living mean old age, disease, possible blindness or paralysis, and
quite inevitable aches? If, as you say, I must needs grow a heart, and
if a heart must needs give agony, why, I shall live through heartbreak
as through pain in any other limb.

DIEGO

Yes,--were your heart a limb like all the rest,--but 'tis the very
centre and fountain of all life.

PRINCESS

You think so? 'Tis, methinks, pushing analogy too far, and metaphor.
This necessary organ, diffusing life throughout us, and, as physicians
say, removing with its vigorous floods all that has ceased to live,
replacing it with new and living tissue,--this great literal heart
cannot be the seat of only one small passion.

DIEGO

Yet I have known more women than one die of that small passion's
frustrating.

PRINCESS

But you have known also, I reckon, many a man in whom life, what he had
to live for, was stronger than all love. They say the Duke my cousin's
melancholy sickness was due to love which he had outlived.

DIEGO They say so, Madam.

PRINCESS (_thoughtfully_)

I think it possible, from what I know of him. He was much with my father
when a lad; and I, a child, would listen to their converse, not
understanding its items, but seeming to understand the general drift. My
father often said my cousin was romantic, favoured overmuch his tender
mother, and would suffer greatly, learning to live for valour and for
wisdom.

DIEGO

Think you he has, Madam?

PRINCESS

If 'tis true that occasion has already come.

DIEGO

And--if that occasion came, for the first time or for the second,
perhaps, after your marriage? What would you do, Madam?

PRINCESS

I cannot tell as yet. Help him, I trust, when help could come, by the
sympathy of a soul's strength and serenity. Stand aside, most likely,
waiting to be wanted. Or else----

DIEGO

Or else, illustrious maiden?

PRINCESS

Or else----I know not----perhaps, growing a heart, get some use from it.

DIEGO

Your Highness surely does not mean use it to love with?

PRINCESS

Why not? It might be one way of help. And if I saw him struggling with
grief, seeking to live the life and think the thought fit for his
station; why, methinks I could love him. He seems lovable. Only love
could have taught fidelity like yours.

DIEGO

You forget, gracious Princess, that you attributed great power of virtue
to a habit of conduct, which is like the nature of high-bred horses,
needing no spur. But in truth you are right. I am no high-bred creature.
Quite the contrary. Like curs, I love; love, and only love. For curs are
known to love their masters.

PRINCESS

Speak not thus, virtuous Diego. I have indeed talked in magnanimous
fashion, and believed, sincerely, that I felt high resolves. But you
have acted, lived, and done magnanimously. What you have been and are to
the Duke is better schooling for me than all the Lives of Plutarch.

DIEGO.

You could not learn from me, Lady.

PRINCESS

But I would try, Diego.

DIEGO

Be not grasping, Madam. The generous coursers whom your father taught
you to break and harness have their set of virtues. Those of curs are
different. Do not grudge them those. Your noble horses kick them enough,
without even seeing their presence. But I feel I am beyond my depth, not
being philosophical by nature or schooling. And I had forgotten to give
you part of his Highnesses message. Knowing your love of music, and the
attention you have given it, the Duke imagined it might divert you, till
he was at leisure to pay you homage, to make trial of my poor powers.
Will it please you to order the other musicians, Madam?

PRINCESS

Nay, good Diego, humour me in this. I have studied music, and would fain
make trial of accompanying your voice. Have you notes by you?

DIEGO

Here are some, Madam, left for the use of his Highness's band this
evening. Here is the pastoral of Phyllis by Ludovic of the Lute; a hymn
in four parts to the Virgin by Orlandus Lassus; a madrigal by the Pope's
Master, Signor Pierluigi of Praeneste. Ah! Here is a dramatic scene
between Medea and Creusa, rivals in love, by the Florentine Octavio.
Have you knowledge of it, Madam?

PRINCESS

I have sung it with my master for exercise. But, good Diego, find a song
for yourself.

DIEGO

You shall humour me, now, gracious Lady. Think I am your master. I
desire to hear your voice. And who knows? In this small matter I may
really teach you something.

_The_ PRINCESS _sits to the harpsichord_, DIEGO _standing beside her on
the dais. They sing, the_ PRINCESS _taking the treble_, DIEGO _the
contralto part. The_ PRINCESS _enters first--with a full-toned voice
clear and high, singing very carefully_. DIEGO _follows, singing in a
whisper. His voice is a little husky, and here and there broken, but
ineffably delicious and penetrating, and, as he sings, becomes, without
quitting the whisper, dominating and disquieting. The_ PRINCESS _plays a
wrong chord, and breaks off suddenly._

DIEGO

(_having finished a cadence, rudely_)

What is it, Madam?

PRINCESS

I know not. I have lost my place----I----I feel bewildered. When your
voice rose up against mine, Diego, I lost my head. And--I do not know
how to express it--when our voices met in that held dissonance, it
seemed as if you hurt me----horribly.

DIEGO

(_smiling, with hypocritical apology_)

Forgive me, Madam. I sang too loud, perhaps. We theatre singers are apt
to strain things. I trust some day to hear you sing alone. You have a
lovely voice: more like a boy's than like a maiden's still.

PRINCESS

And yours----'tis strange that at your age we should reverse the
parts,--yours, though deeper than mine, is like a woman's.

DIEGO (_laughing_)

I have grown a heart, Madam; 'tis an organ grows quicker where the breed
is mixed and lowly, no nobler limbs retarding its development by theirs.

PRINCESS

Speak not thus, excellent Diego. Why cause me pain by disrespectful
treatment of a person--your own admirable self--whom I respect? You have
experience, Diego, and shall teach me many things, for I desire
learning.

_The_ Princess _takes his hand in both hers, very kindly and simply_.
Diego, _disengaging his, bows very ceremoniously_.

DIEGO

Shall I teach you to sing as I do, gracious Madam?

PRINCESS (_after a moment_)

I think not, Diego.



ACT V


_Two months later. The wedding day of the_ DUKE. _Another part of the
Palace of Mantua. A long terrace still to be seen, with roof supported
by columns. It looks on one side on to the jousting ground, a green
meadow surrounded by clipped hedges and set all round with mulberry
trees. On the other side it overlooks the lake, against which, as a
fact, it acts as dyke. The Court of Mantua and Envoys of foreign
Princes, together with many Prelates, are assembled on the terrace,
surrounding the seats of the_ DUKE, _the young_ DUCHESS HIPPOLYTA, _the_
DUCHESS DOWAGER _and the_ CARDINAL. _Facing this gallery, and separated
from it by a line of sedge and willows, and a few yards of pure green
water, starred with white lilies, is a stage in the shape of a Grecian
temple, apparently rising out of the lake. Its pediment and columns are
slung with garlands of bay and cypress. In the gable, the_ DUKE'S
_device of a labyrinth in gold on a blue ground and the motto:_ "RECTAS
PETO." _On the stage, but this side of the curtain, which is down, are a
number of_ Musicians _with violins, viols, theorbs, a hautboy, a flute,
a bassoon, viola d'amore and bass viols, grouped round two men with
double basses and a man at a harpsichord, in dress like the musicians in
Veronese's paintings. They are preluding gently, playing elaborately
fugued variations on a dance tune in three-eighth time, rendered
singularly plaintive by the absence of perfect closes_.

CARDINAL

(_to_ VENETIAN AMBASSADOR)

What say you to our Diego's masque, my Lord? Does not his skill as a
composer vie almost with his sublety as a singer?

MARCHIONESS OF GUASTALLA

(_to the_ DUCHESS DOWAGER)

A most excellent masque, methinks, Madam. And of so new a kind. We have
had masques in palaces and also in gardens, and some, I own it,
beautiful; for our palace on the hill affords fine vistas of cypress
avenues and the distant plain. But, until the Duke your son, no one has
had a masque on the water, it would seem. 'Tis doubtless his invention?

DUCHESS

(_with evident preoccupation_)

I think not, Madam. 'Tis our foolish Diego's freak. And I confess I like
it not. It makes me anxious for the players.

BISHOP OF CREMONA (_to the_ CARDINAL)

A wondrous singer, your Signor Diego. They say the Spaniards have subtle
exercises for keeping the voice thus youthful. His Holiness has several
such who sing divinely under Pierluigi's guidance. But your Diego seems
really but a child, yet has a mode of singing like one who knows a world
of joys and sorrows.

CARDINAL

He has. Indeed, I sometimes think he pushes the pathetic quality too
far. I am all for the Olympic serenity of the wise Ancients.

YOUNG DUCHESS (_laughing_)

My uncle would, I almost think, exile our divine Diego, as Plato did the
poets, for moving us too much.

PRINCE OF MASSA (_whispering_)

He has moved your noble husband strangely. Or is it, gracious bride,
that too much happiness overwhelms our friend?

YOUNG DUCHESS

(_turning round and noticing the_ DUKE, _a few seats off_)

'Tis true. Ferdinand is very sensitive to music, and is greatly
concerned for our Diego's play. Still----I wonder----.

MARCHIONESS (_to the_ DUKE OF FERRARA'S POET, _who is standing near
her_)

I really never could have recognised Signor Diego in his disguise. He
looks for all the world exactly like a woman.

POET

A woman! Say a goddess, Madam! Upon my soul (_whispering_), the bride is
scarce as beautiful as he, although as fair as one of the noble swans
who sail on those clear waters.

JESTER

After the play we shall see admiring dames trooping behind the scenes to
learn the secret of the paints which can change a scrubby boy into a
beauteous nymph; a metamorphosis worth twenty of Sir Ovid's.

DOGE'S WIFE (_to the_ DUKE)

They all tell me--but 'tis a secret naturally--that the words of this
ingenious masque are from your Highness's own pen; and that you
helped--such are your varied gifts--your singing-page to set them to
music.

DUKE (_impatiently_)

It may be that your Serenity is rightly informed, or not.

KNIGHT OF MALTA (_to_ YOUNG DUCHESS)

One recognises, at least, the mark of Duke Ferdinand's genius in the
suiting of the play to the surroundings. Given these lakes, what fitter
argument than Ariadne abandoned on her little island? And the labyrinth
in the story is a pretty allusion to your lord's personal device and the
magnificent ceiling he lately designed for our admiration.

YOUNG DUCHESS

(_with her eyes fixed on the curtain, which begins to move_)

Nay, 'tis all Diego's thought. Hush, they begin to play. Oh, my heart
beats with curiosity to know how our dear Diego will carry his invention
through, and to hear the last song which he has never let me hear him
sing.

_The curtain is drawn aside, displaying the stage, set with orange and
myrtle trees in jars, and a big flowering oleander. There is no painted
background; but instead, the lake, with distant shore, and the sky with
the sun slowly descending into clouds, which light up purple and
crimson, and send rosy streamers into the high blue air. On the stage a
rout of_ Bacchanals, _dressed like Mantegna's Hours, but with
vine-garlands; also_ Satyrs _quaintly dressed in goatskins, but with
top-knots of ribbons, all singing a Latin ode in praise of_ BACCHUS _and
wine; while girls dressed as nymphs, with ribboned thyrsi in their
hands, dance a pavana before a throne of moss overhung by ribboned
garlands. On this throne are seated a_ TENOR _as_ BACCHUS, _dressed in
russet and leopard skins, a garland of vine leaves round his waist and
round his wide-brimmed hat; and_ DIEGO, _as_ ARIADNE. DIEGO, _no longer
habited as a man, but in woman's garments, like those of Guercino's
Sibyls: a floating robe and vest of orange and violet, open at the
throat; with particoloured scarves hanging, and a particoloured scarf
wound like a turban round the head, the locks of dark hair escaping from
beneath. She is extremely beautiful_.

MAGDALEN (_sometime known as_ DIEGO, _now representing_ ARIADNE) _rises
from the throne and speaks, turning to_ BACCHUS. _Her voice is a
contralto, but not deep, and with upper notes like a hautboy's. She
speaks in an irregular recitative, sustained by chords on the viols and
harpsichord_.

ARIADNE

Tempt me not, gentle Bacchus, sunburnt god of ruddy vines and rustic
revelry. The gifts you bring, the queenship of the world of
wine-inspired Fancies, cannot quell my grief at Theseus' loss.

BACCHUS (_tenor_)

Princess, I do beseech you, give me leave to try and soothe your
anguish. Daughter of Cretan Minos, stern Judge of the Departed, your
rearing has been too sad for youth and beauty, and the shade of Orcus
has ever lain across your path. But I am God of Gladness; I can take
your soul, suspend it in Mirth's sun, even as the grapes, translucent
amber or rosy, hang from the tendril in the ripening sun of the crisp
autumn day. I can unwind your soul, and string it in the serene sky of
evening, smiling in the deep blue like to the stars, encircled, I offer
you as crown. Listen, fair Nymph: 'tis a God woos you.

ARIADNE

Alas, radiant Divinity of a time of year gentler than Spring and
fruitfuller than Summer, there is no Autumn for hapless Ariadne. Only
Winter's nights and frosts wrap my soul. When Theseus went, my youth
went also. I pray you leave me to my poor tears and the thoughts of him.

BACCHUS

Lady, even a God, and even a lover, must respect your grief. Farewell.
Comrades, along; the pine trees on the hills, the ivy-wreaths upon the
rocks, await your company; and the red-stained vat, the heady-scented
oak-wood, demand your presence.

_The_ Bacchantes _and_ Satyrs _sing a Latin ode in praise of Wine, in
four parts, with accompaniment of bass viols and lutes, and exeunt with_
BACCHUS.

YOUNG DUCHESS

(_to_ DUKE OF FERRARA'S POET)

Now, now, Master Torquato, now we shall hear Poetry's own self sing with
our Diego's voice.

DIEGO, _as_ ARIADNE, _walks slowly up and down the stage, while the
viola plays a prelude in the minor. Then she speaks, recitative with
chords only by strings and harpsichord_.

ARIADNE

They are gone at last. Kind creatures, how their kindness fretted my
weary soul I To be alone with grief is almost pleasure, since grief
means thought of Theseus. Yet that thought is killing me. O Theseus, why
didst thou ever come into my life? Why did not the cruel Minotaur gore
and trample thee like all the others? Hapless Ariadne! The clue was in
my keeping, and I reached it to him. And now his ship has long since
neared his native shores, and he stands on the prow, watching for his
new love. But the Past belongs to me.

_A flute rises in the orchestra, with viols accompanying, pizzicati, and
plays three or four bars of intricate mazy passages, very sweet and
poignant, stopping on a high note, with imperfect close_.

ARIADNE (_continuing_)

And in the past he loved me, and he loves me still. Nothing can alter
that. Nay, Theseus, thou canst never never love another like me.

_Arioso. The declamation becomes more melodic, though still
unrhythmical, and is accompanied by a rapid and passionate tremolo of
violins and viols_.

And thy love for her will be but the thin ghost of the reality that
lived for me. But Theseus----Do not leave me yet. Another hour, another
minute. I have so much to tell thee, dearest, ere thou goest.

_Accompaniment more and more agitated. A hautboy echoes_ ARIADNE'S _last
phrase with poignant reedy tone_.

Thou knowest, I have not yet sung thee that little song thou lovest to
hear of evenings; the little song made by the Aeolian Poetess whom
Apollo loved when in her teens. And thou canst not go away till I have
sung it. See! my lute. But I must tune it. All is out of tune in my poor
jangled life.

_Lute solo in the orchestra. A Siciliana or slow dance, very delicate
and simple_. ARIADNE _sings_.

Song

     Let us forget we loved each other much;
       Let us forget we ever have to part;
     Let us forget that any look or touch
       Once let in either to the other's heart.

     Only we'll sit upon the daisied grass,
       And hear the larks and see the swallows pass;
     Only we live awhile, as children play,
       Without to-morrow, without yesterday.
_During the ritornello, between the two verses._

POET

(_to the_ Young Duchess, _whispering_)

Madam, methinks his Highness is unwell. Turn round, I pray you.

YOUNG DUCHESS (_without turning_).

He feels the play's charm. Hush.

DUCHESS DOWAGER (_whispering_)

Come Ferdinand, you are faint. Come with me.

DUKE (_whispering_)

Nay, mother. It will pass. Only a certain oppression at the heart, I was
once subject to. Let us be still.

Song (_repeats_)

     Only we'll live awhile, as children play,
       Without to-morrow, without yesterday.

_A few bars of ritornello after the song_.

DUCHESS DOWAGER (_whispering_)

Courage, my son, I know all.

ARIADNE

(_Recitative with accompaniment of violins, flute and harp_)

Theseus, I've sung my song. Alas, alas for our poor songs we sing to the
beloved, and vainly try to vary into newness!

_A few notes of the harp well up, slow and liquid_.

Now I can go to rest, and darkness lap my weary heart. Theseus, my love,
good night!

_Violins tremolo. The hautboy suddenly enters with a long wailing
phrase_. ARIADNE _quickly mounts on to the back of the stage, turns
round for one second, waving a kiss to an imaginary person, and then
flings herself down into the lake_.

_A great burst of applause. Enter immediately, and during the cries and
clapping, a chorus of_ Water-Nymphs _in transparent veils and garlands
of willows and lilies, which sings to a solemn counterpoint, the dirge
of_ ARIADNE. _But their singing is barely audible through the applause
of the whole Court, and the shouts of_ "DIEGO! DIEGO! ARIADNE! ARIADNE!"
_The young_ DUCHESS _rises excitedly, wiping her eyes_.

YOUNG DUCHESS

Dear friend! Diego! Diego! Our Orpheus, come forth!

CROWD

Diego! Diego!

POET (_to the_ POPE'S LEGATE)

He is a real artist, and scorns to spoil the play's impression by
truckling to this foolish habit of applause.

MARCHIONESS

Still, a mere singer, a page----when his betters call----. But see! the
Duke has left our midst.

CARDINAL

He has gone to bring back Diego in triumph, doubtless.

VENETIAN AMBASSADOR

And, I note, his venerable mother has also left us. I doubt whether this
play has not offended her strict widow's austerity.

YOUNG DUCHESS

But where is Diego, meanwhile?

_The Chorus and orchestra continue the dirge for_ ARIADNE. A
GENTLEMAN-IN-WAITING _elbows through the crowd to the_ CARDINAL.

GENTLEMAN (_whispering_)

Most Eminent, a word----

CARDINAL (_whispering_)

The Duke has had a return of his malady?

GENTLEMAN (_whispering_)

No, most Eminent. But Diego is nowhere to be found. And they have
brought up behind the stage the body of a woman in Ariadne's weeds.

CARDINAL (whispering)

Ah, is that all? Discretion, pray. I knew it. But 'tis a most
distressing accident. Discretion above all.

_The Chorus suddenly breaks off. For on to the stage comes the_ DUKE.
_He is dripping, and bears in his arms the dead body, drowned, of_
DIEGO, _in the garb of_ ARIADNE. _A shout from the crowd_.

YOUNG DUCHESS

(_with a cry, clutching the_ POET'S _arm_)

Diego!

DUKE

(_stooping over the body, which he has laid upon the stage, and speaking
very low_)

Magdalen!

(_The curtain is hastily closed_.)

THE END





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