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Title: Earthwork out of Tuscany: Being Impressions and Translations of Maurice Hewlett
Author: Hewlett, Maurice
Language: English
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EARTHWORK OUT OF TUSCANY

Being Impressions and Translations of Maurice Hewlett



"For as it is hurtful to drink wine or water alone; and as wine mingled
with water is pleasant and delighteth the taste: even so speech, finely
framed, delighteth the ears of them that read the story."--3 MACCABEES xv.
39.

                                    TO

                                 MY FATHER

                             THIS LITTLE BOOK

                   NOT AS BEING WORTHY BUT AS ALL I HAVE

                               IS DEDICATED

I cannot add one tendril to your bays,
Worn quietly where who love you sing your praise;
But I may stand
Among the household throng with lifted hand,
Upholding for sweet honour of the land
Your crown of days.



PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION

I cannot be for ever explaining what I intended when I wrote this book.
Upon this, its third appearance, even though it is to rank in that good
company which wears the crimson of Eversley, it must take its chance,
undefended by its conscious parent. He feels, indeed, with all the
anxieties, something of the pride of the hen, who conducts her brood of
ducklings to the water, sees them embark upon the flood, and must leave
them to their buoyant performances, dreadful, but aware also that they are
doing a finer thing than her own merits could have hoped to win them. So
it is here. I did not at the outset expect a third edition in any livery;
I may still fear a wreck for this cockboat of my early invention; but I
hope I am too respectful of myself to try throwing oil upon the waters.

I leave the former prefaces as they stand. I felt them when I made them,
and feel them still; but I shall make no more. If _Earthwork_ has the
confidence, at this time of day, to carry a red coat, it shall carry it
alone.

LONDON, 1901.


PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION

Mr. Critics--to whom, kind or unkind, I confess obligations--and the
Public between them have produced, it appears, some sort of demand for
this Second Edition. While I do not think it either polite or politic to
enquire too deeply into reasons, I am not the man to disoblige them. It is
sufficient for me that in a world indifferent well peopled five hundred
souls have bought or acquired my book, and that other hundreds have
signified their desire to do likewise. Nevertheless--the vanity of authors
being notoriously hard-rooted--I must own to my mortification in the
discovery that not more than two in every hundred who have read me have
known what I was at. I have been told it is a good average, but, with
deference, I don't think so. No man has any right to take beautiful and
simple things out of their places, wrap them up in a tissue of his own
conceits, and hand them about the universe for gods and men to wonder
upon. If he must convey simple things let him convey them simply. If I,
for instance, must steal a loaf of bread, would it not be better to walk
out of the shop with it under my coat than to call for it in a hansom and
hoodwink the baker with a forged cheque on Coutts's bank? Surely. If,
then, I go to Italy, and convey the hawthor-scent of Della Robbia, the
straining of Botticelli to express the ineffable, the mellow autumn tones
of the life of Florence; if I do this, and make a parade of my magnanimity
in permitting the household to divide the spoil, how on earth should I mar
all my bravery by giving people what they don't want, or turn double knave
by fobbing them off with an empty box?

I had hoped to have done better than this. I tried to express in the title
of my book what I thought I had done; more, I was bold enough to assume
that, having weathered the title, my readers would find a smooth channel
with leading-lights enough to bring them sound to port. _Mea culpa!_
I believe that I was wrong. The book has been read as a collection of
essays and stories and dialogues only pulled together by the binder's
tapes; as otherwise disjointed, fragmentary, _décousue_, a "piebald
monstrous book," a sort of _kous-kous_, made out of the odds and ends
of a scribbler's note-book. Some have liked some morsels, others other
morsels: it has been a matter of the luck of the fork. Very few, one only
to my knowledge, can have seen the thing as it presented itself to my
flattering eye--not as a pudding, not as a case of confectionery even, but
as a little sanctuary of images such as a pious heathen might make of his
earthenware gods. Let us be serious: listen. The thing is Criticism; but
some of it is criticism by trope and figure. I hope that is plain enough.

When the first man heard his first thunderstorm he said (or Human Nature
has bettered itself), "Certainly a God is angry." When after a night of
doubt and heaviness the sun rose out of the sea, the sea kindled, and all
its waves laughed innumerably, again he said, "God is stirring. Joy cometh
in the morning." Even in saying so much he was making images, poor man,
for one's soul is as dumb as a fish and can only talk by signs. But by
degrees, as his hand grew obedient to his heart, he set to work to make
more lasting images of these gods--Thunder Gods, Gods of the Sun and the
Morning. And as these gods were the sum of the best feelings he had, so
the images of them were the best things he made. And that goes on now
whenever a young man sees something new or strange or beautiful. He
wonders, he falls on his face, he would say his prayers; he rises up, he
would sing a pæan. But he is dumb, the wretch! He must make images. This
he does because Necessity drives him: this I have done. And part of the
world calls the result Criticism, and another part says, It may be Art.
But I know that it is the struggling of a dumb man to find an outlet, and
I call it Religion.

"God first made man, and straightway man made God;
No wonder if a tang of that same sod,
Whereout we issued at a breath, should cling
To all we fashion. We can only plod
Lit by a starveling candle; and we sing
Of what we can remember of the road."

The vague informed, the lovely indefinite defined: that is Art. As a sort
of _pâte sur pâte_ comes Criticism, to do for Art what Art does for
life. I have tried in this book to be the artist at second-hand, to make
pictures of pictures, images of images, poems of poems. You may call it
Criticism, you may call it Art: I call it Religion. It is making the best
thing I can out of the best things I feel.

LONDON, 1898.


ADVERTISEMENT TO THE FIRST EDITION

Polite reader, you who have travelled _Italy_, it will not be unknown
to you that the humbler sort in that country have ever believed certain
spots and recesses of their land--as wells, mountain-paths, farmsteads,
groves of ilex or olive, quiet pine-woods, creeks or bays of the sea, and
such like hidden ways--to be the chosen resort of familiar spirits,
baleful or beneficent, fate-ridden or amenable to prayer, half divine,
wholly out of rule or ordering; which rustic deities and _genii
locorum_, if it was not needful to propitiate, it was fascination to
observe. It is believed of them in the hill-country round about
_Perugia_ and in the quieter parts of _Tuscany_, that they are
still present, tolerated of God by reason of their origin (which is,
indeed, that of the very soil whose effluence they are), chastened,
circumscribed and, as it were, combed or pared of evil desire and import.
To them or their _avatars_ (it matters little which) the rude people
still bow down; they still humour them with gifts of flowers, songs, or
artless customs (as of Mayday, or the _Giorno de' Grilli_); you may
still see wayside shrines, votive tablets, humble offerings, set in a
farm-wall or country hedge, starry and fresh as a patch of yellow flowers
in a rye-field. If you say that they have made gods in their own image,
you do not convince them of Sin, for they do as their betters. If you say
their gods are earthy, they reply by asking, "What then are we?" For they
will admit, and you cannot deny, earthiness to have at least a part in all
of us. And you are forbidden to call this unhappy, since God made all. Out
of the drenched earth whence these worshippers arose, they made their
rough-cast gods; out of the same earth they still mould images to speak
the presentment of them which they have. Out of that earth, I, a northern
image-maker, have set up my conceits of their informing spirits, of the
spirits of themselves, their soil, and the fair works they have
accomplished. So I have called this book _Earthwork out of Tuscany. Qui
habet aures ad audiendum audiat._

LONDON, 1895.



CONTENTS


PROEM: APOLOGIA PRO LIBELLO

 1. EYE OF ITALY

 2. LITTLE FLOWERS

 3. A SACRIFICE AT PRATO

 4. OF POETS AND NEEDLEWORK

 5. OF BOILS AND THE IDEAL

 6. THE SOUL OF A FACT

 7. QUATTROCENTISTERIA

 8. THE BURDEN OF NEW TYRE

 9. ILARIA, MARIOTA, BETTINA

10. CATS

11. THE SOUL OF A CITY

12. WITH THE BROWN BEAR

13. DEAD CHURCHES AT FOLIGNO

ENVOY: TO ALL YOU LADIES



PROEM


APOLOGIA PRO LIBELLO: IN A LETTER TO A FRIEND

Although you know your Italy well, you ask me, who see her now for the
first time, to tell you how I find her; how she sinks into me; wherein she
fulfils, and wherein fails to fulfil, certain dreams and fancies of mine
(old amusements of yours) about her. Here, truly, you show yourself the
diligent collector of human documents your friends have always believed
you; for I think it can only be appetite for acquisition, to see how a man
recognisant of the claims of modernity in Art bears the first brunt of the
Old Masters' assault, that tempts you to risk a _rechauffée_ of Paul
Bourget and Walter Pater, with _ana_ lightly culled from Symonds,
and, perchance, the questionable support of ponderous references out of
Burckhardt. In spite of my waiver of the title, you relish the notion of a
Modern face to face with Botticelli and Mantegna and Perugino (to say
nothing of that Giotto who had so much to say!), artists in whom, you
think and I agree, certain impressions strangely positive of many vanished
aspects of life remain to be accounted for, and (it may be) reconciled
with modern visions of Art and Beauty. Well! I am flattered and touched by
such confidence in my powers of expression and your own of endurance. I
look upon you as a late-in-time Maecenas, generously resolved to defray
the uttermost charge of weariness that a young writer may be encouraged to
unfold himself and splash in the pellucid Tuscan air. I cannot assert that
you are performing an act of charity to mankind, but I can at least assure
you that you are doing more for me than if you had settled my accounts
with Messr. Cook and Sons, or Signora Vedova Paolini, my esteemed
landlady. A writer who is worth anything accumulates more than he gives
off, and never lives up to his income. His difficulty is the old one of
digestion, Italian Art being as crucial for the modern as Italian cookery.
Crucial indeed! for diverse are the ways of the Hyperboreans cheek by jowl
with _asciutta_ and Tuscan tablewine, as any _osteria_ will
convince you. To one man the oil is a delight: he will soak himself in it
till his thought swims viscid in his pate. To another it is abhorrent:
straightway he calls for his German vinegar and drowns the native flavour
in floods as bitter as polemics. Your wine too! Overweak for water, says
one, who consumes a stout _fiaschone_ and spends a stertorous
afternoon in headache and cursing at the generous home-grown.
_Frizzante!_ cries your next to all his gods; and flushes the poison
with infected water. Crucial enough. So with art. Goethe went to Assisi.
"I left on my left," says he, "the vast mass of churches, piled Babel-wise
one over another, in one of which rest the remains of the Holy Saint
Francis of Assisi--with aversion, for I thought to myself that the people
who assembled in them were mostly of the same stamp with my captain and
travelling companion."

Truly an odd ground of aversion to a painted church that there might be a
confessional-box in the nave! But he had no eyes for Gothic, being set on
the Temple of Minerva. The Right Honourable Joseph Addison's views of
Siena will be familiar to you; but an earlier still was our excellent Mr.
John Evelyn doing the grand tour; going to Pisa, but seeing no frescos in
the Campo Santo; going to Florence, but seeing neither Santa Croce nor
Santa Maria Novella; in his whole journey he would seem to have found no
earlier name than Perugino's affixed to a picture. Goethe was urbane to
Francia, "a very respectable artist"; he was astonished at Mantegna, "one
of the older painters," but accepted him as leading up to Titian: and so--
"thus was art developed after the barbarous period." But Goethe had the
sweeping sublimity of youth with him. "I have now seen but two Italian
cities, and for the first time; and I have spoken with but few persons;
and yet I know my Italians pretty well!" Seriously, where in criticism do
you learn of an earlier painter than Perugino, until you come to our day?
And where now do you get the raptures over the Carracci and Domenichino
and Guercino and the rest of them which the last century expended upon
their unthrifty soil? Ruskin found Botticelli; yes, and Giotto. Roscoe
never so much as mentions either. Why should he, honest man? They couldn't
draw! Cookery is very like Art, as Socrates told Gorgias. Unfortunately,
it is far easier to verify your impressions in the former case than in the
latter. Yet that is the first and obvious duty of the critic--that is, the
writer whomsoever. In my degree it has been mine. Wherefore, if I unfold
anything at all, it shall not be the _Cicerone_ nor the veiled
"Anonymous," nor the _Wiederbelebung_, nor (I hope) the _Mornings
in Florence_, but that thing in which you place such touching reliance
--myself and my poor sensations, _Ecco_! I have nothing else. You take
a boy out of school; you set him to book-reading, give him Shakespere and
a Bible, set him sailing in the air with the poets; drench him with
painter's dreams, _via_, Titian's carmine and orange, Veronese's
rippling brocades, Umbrian morning skies, and Tuscan hues wrought of
moonbeams and flowing water--anon you turn him adrift in Italy, a country
where all poets' souls seem to be caged in crystal and set in the sun, and
say--"Here, dreamer of dreams, what of the day?" _Madonna!_ You ask
and you shall obtain. I proceed to expand under your benevolent eye.

To me, Italy is not so much a place where pictures have been painted (some
of which remain to testify), as a place where pictures have been lived and
built; I fail to see how Perugia is not a picture by, say, Astorre
Baglione. Perhaps I should be nearer the mark if I said it was a frozen
epic. What I mean is, that in Italy it is still impossible to separate the
soul and body of the soil, to say, as you may say in London or Paris,--
here behind this sordid grey mask of warehouses and suburban villas lurks
the soul that once was Shakespere or once was Villon. You will not say
that of Florence; you will hardly say it (though the time is at hand) of
Milan and Rome. Do the gondoliers still sing snatches of Ariosto? I don't
know Venice. M. Bourget assures me his _vetturino_ quoted Dante to
him between Monte Pulciano and Siena; and I believe him. At any rate, in
Italy as I have found it, the inner secret of Italian life can be read,
not in painting alone, nor poem alone, but in the swift sun, in the
streets and shrouded lanes, in the golden pastures, in the plains and blue
mountains; in flowery cloisters and carved church porches--out of doors as
well as in. The story of Troy is immortal--why not because the Trojans
themselves live immortal in their fabled sons? That being so, I by no
means promise you my sensations to be of the ear-measuring, nose-rubbing
sort now so popular. I am bad at dates and soon tire of symbols. My
theology may be to seek; you may catch me as much for the world as for
Athanase. With world and doctor I shall, indeed, have little enough to do,
for wherever I go I shall be only on the look-out for the soul of this
bright-eyed people, whom, being no Goethe, I do not profess to understand
or approve. Must the lover do more than love his mistress, and weave his
sonnets about her white brows? I may see my mistress Italy embowered in a
belfry, a fresco, the scope of a Piazza, the lilt of a _Stornello_,
the fragrance of a legend. If I don't find a legend to hand I may, as lief
as not, invent one. It shall be a legend fitted close to the soul of a
fact, if I succeed: and if I fail, put me behind you and take down your
four volumes of Rio, or your four-and-twenty of Rosini. Go to Crowe and
Cavalcaselle and be wise. Parables!--I like the word--to go round about
the thing, whose heart I cannot hit with my small-arm, marking the goodly
masses and unobtrusive meek beauties of it, and longing for them in vain.
No amount of dissecting shall reveal the core of Sandro's Venus. For after
you have pared off the husk of the restorer, or bled in your alembic the
very juices the craftsman conjured withal, you come down to the seamy
wood, and Art is gone. Nay, but your Morelli, your Crowe, ciphering as
they went for want of thought, what did they do but screw Art into test-
tubes, and serve you up the fruit of their litmus-paper assay with
vivacity, may be,--but with what kinship to the picture? I maintain that
the peeling and gutting of fact must be done in the kitchen: the king's
guests are not to know how many times the cook's finger went from cate to
mouth before the seasoning was proper to the table. The king is the
artist, you are the guest, I am the abstractor of quintessences, the cook.
Remember, the cook had not the ordering of the feast: that was the king's
business--mine is to mingle the flavours to the liking of the guest that
the dish be worthy the conception and the king's honour.

Nor will I promise you that I shall not break into a more tripping stave
than our prose can afford, here and there. The pilgrim, if he is young and
his shoes or his belly pinch him not, sings as he goes, the very stones at
his heels (so music-steeped is this land) setting him the key. Jog the
foot-path way through Tuscany in my company, it's Lombard Street to my hat
I charm you out of your lassitude by my open humour. Things I say will
have been said before, and better; my tunes may be stale and my phrasing
rough: I may be irrelevant, irreverent, what you please. Eh, well! I am in
Italy,--the land of shrugs and laughing. Shrug me (or my book) away; but,
pray Heaven, laugh! And, as the young are always very wise when they find
their voice and have their confidence well put out to usury, laugh (but in
your cloak) when I am sententious or apt to tears. I have found _lacrimæ
rerum_ in Italy as elsewhere; and sometimes Life has seemed to me to
sail as near to tragedy as Art can do. I suppose I must be a very bad
Christian, for I remain sturdily an optimist, still convinced that it is
good for us to be here, while the sun is up. Men and pictures, poems,
cities, churches, comely deeds, grow like cabbages: they are of the soil,
spring from it to the sun, glow open-hearted while he is there; and when
he goes, they go. So grew Florence, and Shakespere, and Greek myth--the
three most lovely flowers of Nature's seeding I know of. And with the
flowers grow the weeds. My first weed shall sprout by Arno, in a cranny of
the Ponte Vecchio, or cling like a Dryad of the wood to some gnarly old
olive on the hill-side of Arcetri. If it bear no little gold-seeded
flower, or if its pert leaves don't blush under the sun's caress, it
shan't be my fault or the sun's.

Take, then, my watered wine in the name of the Second Maccabæan, for here,
as he says, "will I make an end. And if I have done well, and as is
fitting the story, it is that which I desired: but if slenderly and
meanly, it is that which I could attain unto."

I have killed you at the first cast. I feel it. Has any city, save,
perhaps, Cairo, been so written out as Florence? I hear you querulous; you
raise your eyebrows; you sigh as you watch the tottering ash of your
second cigar. Mrs. Brown comes to tell you it is late. I agree with you
quickly. Florence has often been sketched before--putting Browning aside
with his astounding fresco-music--by Ruskin and George Eliot and Mr. Henry
James, to name only masters. But that is no reason why I should not try my
prentice hand. Florence alters not at all. Men do. My picture, poor as you
like, shall be my own. It is not their Florence or yours--and, remember, I
would strike at Tuscany through Florence, and throughout Tuscany keep my
eye in her beam,--but my own mellow kingcup of a town, the glowing heart
of the whole Arno basin, whose suave and weather-warmed grace I shall try
to catch and distil. But Mrs. Brown is right; it Is late: the huntsmen are
up in America, as your good kinsman has it, and I would never have you act
your own Antipodes. Addio.



I


EYE OF ITALY

[Footnote: My thanks are due to the Editor of _Black and White_ for
permission to reprint the substance of this essay.]

I have been here a few days only--perhaps a week: if it's impressionism
you're after, the time is now or a year hence. For, in these things of
three stages, two may be tolerable, the first clouding of the water with
the wine's red fire, or the final resolution of the two into one humane
consistence: the intermediate course is, like all times of process,
brumous and hesitant. After a dinner in the white piazza, shrinking slowly
to blue under the keen young moon's eye, watched over jealously by the
frowning bulk of Brunelleschi's globe--after a dinner of _pasta con
brodo_, veal cutlets, olives, and a bottle of right _Barbèra_, let
me give you a pastel (this is the medium for such evanescences) of
Florence herself. At present I only feel. No one should think--few people
can--after dinner. Be patient therefore; suffer me thus far.

I would spare you, if I might, the horrors of my night-long journey from
Milan. There is little romance in a railway: the novelists have worked it
dry. That is, however, a part of my sum of perceptions which began, you
may put it, at the dawn which saw Florence and me face to face. So I must
in no wise omit it.

I find, then, that Italian railway-carriages are constructed for the
convenience of luggage, and that passengers are an afterthought, as dogs
or grooms are with us, to be suffered only if there be room and on
condition they look after the luggage. In my case we had our full
complement of the staple; nevertheless every passenger assumed the god,
keeping watch on his traps, and thinking to shake the spheres at every
fresh arrival. Thoughtless behaviour! for there were thus twelve people
packed into a rocky landscape of cardboard portmanteaus and umbrella-
peaks; twenty-four legs, and urgent need of stretching-room as the night
wore on. There was jostling, there was asperity from those who could sleep
and from those who would; there was more when two shock-head drovers--like
First and Second Murderers in a tragedy--insisted on taking off their
boots. It was not that there was little room for boots; indeed I think
they nursed them on their thin knees. It was at any rate too much even for
an Italian passenger; for--well, well! their way had been a hot and a
dusty one, poor fellows. So the guard was summoned, and came with all the
implicit powers of an uniform and, I believe, a sword. The boots were
strained on sufficiently to preserve the amenities of the way: they could
not, of course, be what they had been; the carriage was by this a forcing-
house. And through the long night we ached away an intolerable span of
time with, for under-current, for sinister accompaniment to the pitiful
strain, the muffled interminable plodding of the engine, and the rack of
the wheels pulsing through space to the rhythm of some music-hall jingle
heard in snatches at home. At intervals came shocks of contrast when we
were brought suddenly face to face with a gaunt and bleached world. Then
we stirred from our stupor, and sat looking at each other's stale faces.
We had shrieked and clanked our way into some great naked station,
shivering raw and cold under the electric lights, streaked with black
shadows on its whitewash and patched with coarse advertisements. The
porters' voices echoed in the void, shouting _"Piacensa," "Parma,"
"Reggio," "Modena," "Bologna,"_ with infinite relish for the varied
hues of a final _a_. One or two cowed travellers slippered up
responsive to the call, and we, the veterans who endured, set our teeth,
shuddered, and smoked feverish cigarettes on the platform among the
carriage-wheels and points; or, if we were new hands, watched awfully the
advent of another sleeping train, as dingy as our own--yet a hero of
romance! For it bore the hieratic and tremendous words "_Roma, Firenze,
Milano_" It was privileged then; it ministered in the sanctuary. We
glowed in our sordid skins, and could have kissed the foot-boards that
bore the dust of Rome. I will swear I shall never see those three words
printed on a carriage without a thrill, _Roma, Firenze, Milano_,--
Lord! what a traverse.

Or we held long purposeless rests at small wayside places where no station
could be known, and the shrouded land stretched away on either side, not
to be seen, but rather felt, in the cool airs that blew in, and the
rustling of secret trees near by. No further sound was, save the muttered
talking of the guards without and the simmering of the engine, on
somewhere in front. And then "_Partenza!_" rang out in the night, and
"_Pronti!_" came as a faint echo on before. We laboured on, and the
dreams began where they had broken off. For we dreamed in these times,
fitful and lurid, coloured dreams; flashes of horrible crises in one's
life; Interminable precipices; a river skiff engulfed in a swirl of green
sea-water; agonies of repentance; shameful failure, defeat, memories--and
then the steady pulsing of the engine, and thick, impermeable darkness
choking up the windows again. How I ached for the dawn!

I awoke from what I believe to have been a panic of snoring to hear the
train clattering over the sleepers and points, and to see--oh, human,
brotherly sight!--the broad level light of morning stream out of the east.
We were stealing into a city asleep. Tall flat houses rose in the chill
mist to our left and stared blankly down upon us with close-barred green
eyelids. Gas-lamps in swept streets flickered dirty yellow in the garish
light. A great purple dome lay ahead, flanked by the ruddy roofs and
gables of a long church. My heart leapt for Florence. Pistoja!

And then, at Prato, a nut-brown old woman with a placid face got into our
carriage with a basket of green figs and some bottles of milk for the
Florentine market. So we were nearing. And soon we ran in between lines of
white and pink villas edged with rows of planes drenched still with dews
and the night mists, among bullock-carts and queer shabby little
_vetture_, everything looking light and elfin in the brisk sunshine
and autumn bite--into the barrel-like station, and I into the arms, say
rather the arm-chair, of Signora Vedova Paolini, chattiest and most
motherly of landladies.

Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Florence, form the five elements of our planet
according to the testimony of Boniface VIII. of clamant and not very
Catholic memory. That is true if you take it this way. You cannot resolve
an element; but you cannot resolve Florence; therefore Florence is an
element. _Ecco!_ She is like nothing else In Nature, or (which is
much the same thing) Art. You can have olives elsewhere, and Gothic
elsewhere; you can have both at Aries, for instance. You can have
_Campanili_ printed white (but not rose-and white, not rose-and-gold-
and-white) on blue anywhere along the Mediterranean from Tripoli to
Tangier: you will find Giotto at Padua, and statues growing in the open
air at Naples. But for the silvery magic of olives and blue; for a Gothic
which has the supernatural and always restless eagerness of the North,
held in check, reduced to our level by the blessedly human sanity of
Romanesque; for sculpture which sprouts from the crumbling church-sides
like some frankly happy stone-crop, or wall-flower, just as wholesomely
coloured and tenderly shaped, you must come to Florence. Come for choice
in this golden afternoon of the year. Green figs are twelve-a-penny; you
can get peaches for the asking, and grapes and melons without it; brown
men are treading the wine-fat in every little white hill-town, and in
Florence itself you may stumble upon them, as I once did, plying their
mystery in a battered old church--sight only to be seen in Italy, where
religions have been many, but religionists substantially the same. That is
the Italian way; there was the practical evidence. Imagine the sight. A
gaunt and empty old basilica, the beams of the Rood still left, the dye of
fresco still round the walls and tribune--here the dim figure of Sebastian
roped to his tree, there the cloudy forms of Apostles or the Heavenly Host
shadowed in masses of crimson or green--and, down below, a slippery purple
sea, frothed sanguine at the edges, and wild, half-naked creatures
treading out the juice, dancing in the oozy stuff rhythmically, to the
music of some wailing air of their own. _Saturnia regna_ indeed, and
in the haunt of Sant' Ambrogio, or under the hungry eye of San Bernardino,
or other lean ascetic of the Middle Age. But that, after all, is Italian,
not necessarily Florentine or Tuscan. I must needs abstract the unique
quintessential humours of this my Eye of Italy. Stendhal, do you remember?
didn't like one of these. He said that in Florence people talked about
"huesta hasa" when they would say "questa casa," and thus turned Italian
into a mad Arabic. So they do, especially the women: why not? The poor
Stendhal loved Milan, wrote himself down "Arrigo Milanese"--and what can
you expect from a Milanese?

They tell me, who know Florence well, that she is growing unwieldy. Like a
bulky old _concierge_ they say, she sits in the passage of her Arno,
swollen, fat, and featureless, a kind of Chicago, a city of tame
conveniences ungraced by arts. That means that there are suburbs and
tramways; it means that the gates will not hold her in; it has a furtive
stab at the Railway Station and the omnibus in the Piazza del Duorno: it
is _Mornings in Florence_. The suggestion is that Art is some pale
remote virgin who must needs shiver and withdraw at the touch of actual
life: the art-lover must maunder over his mistress's wrongs instead of
manfully insisting upon her rights, her everlasting triumphant
justifications. Why this watery talk of an Art that was and may not be
again, because we go to bed by electricity and have our hair brushed by
machinery? Pray, has Nature ceased? or Life? Art will endure with these
fine things, which in Florence, let me say, are very fine indeed. But
there's a practical answer to the indictment. As a city she is a mere
cupful. You can walk from Cantagalli's, at the Roman Gate, to the Porta
San Gallo, at the end of the Via Cavour, in half the time it would take
you to go from Newgate to Kensington Gardens. Yet whereas in London such a
walk would lead you through a slice of a section, in Florence you would
cut through the whole city from hill to hill. You are never away from the
velvet flanks of the Tuscan hills. Every street-end smiles an enchanting
vista upon you. Houses frowning, machicolated and sombre, or gay and
golden-white with cool green jalousies and spreading eaves, stretch before
you through mellow air to a distance where they melt into hills, and hills
into sky; into sky so clear and rarely blue, so virgin pale at the
horizon, that the hills sleep brown upon it under the sun, and the
cypresses, nodding a-row, seem funeral weeds beside that radiant purity.
Some such adorable stretch of tilth and pasture, sky and cloud, hangs like
a god's crown beyond the city and her towers. In the long autumn twilight
Fiesole and the hills lie soft and purple below a pale green sky. There is
a pause at this time when the air seems washed for sleep-every shrub,
every feature of the landscape is cut clean as with a blade. The light
dies, the air deepens to wet violet, and the glimpses of the hill-town
gleam like snow. At such times Samminiato looms ghostly upon you and fades
slowly out. The flush in the East faints and fails and the evening star
shines like a gem. It is hot and still in the broad Piazza Santa Maria;
they are lighting the lamps; the swarm grows of the eager, shabby,
spendthrift crowd of young Italians, so light-hearted and fluent, and so
prodigal of this old Italy of theirs--and ours. All this I have been
watching as I might. Nature clings to the city, playing her rhythmic dance
at the end of every street.

Nature clings. Yes; but she is within as well as without. What is that
sentimental platitude of somebody's (the worst kind of platitude, is it
not?) about the sun being to flowers what Art is to Life? It has the
further distinction of being untrue. In Florence you learn that what he is
to flowers, that he is to Art. For I soberly believe that under his rays
Florence has grown open like some rare white water-lily; that sun and sky
have set the conditions, struck, as it were, the chord. I have wandered
through and through her recessed ways the length of this bright and breezy
October week; and have marked where I walked the sun's great hand laid
upon palace and cloister and bell-tower. _He_ has summoned up these
flat-topped houses, these precipitous walls beneath which winds the
darkened causeway. One seems to be travelling in a mountain gorge with,
above, a thin ribbon of sky, fluid blue, flawless of cloud, like the sea.
_He_, that so masterful sun, has given Florence the apathetic, beaten
aspect of a southern town; he and the temperate sky have fixed the tone
for ever; and the nimble air--"nimbly and sweetly" recommending itself--
has given the quaintness and the freaksomeness of the North. This bursts
out, young and irresponsible, in pinnacle, crocket, and gable, in towers
like spears, and in the eager lancet windows which peer upwards out of
Orsammichele and the Dominican Church. This mixture is Florence and has
made her art. The blue of the sky gives the key to her palette, the breath
of the west wind, the salt wind from our own Atlantic, tingles in her
_campanili_; and the Italian sun washes over all with his lazy gold.
Habit and inclination both speak. She rejects no wise thing and accepts
every lovely thing. Nature and Art have worked hand in hand, as they will
when, we let them. For what is an art so inimitable, so innocent, so
intimate as this of Tuscany, after all, but a high effort of creative
Nature--_Natura naturans_, as Spinosa calls her? Here, on the
weather-fretted walls, a Delia Robbia blossoms out in natural colours--
blue and white and green. They are Spring's colours. You need not go into
the Bargello to understand Luca and Andrea at their happy task; as well go
to a botanical museum to read the secret of April. See them on the dusty
wall of Orsammichele. They have wrought the blossom of the stone--clusters
of bright-eyed flowers with the throats and eyes of angels, singing, you
might say, a children's hymn to Our Lady, throned and pure in the midst of
the bevy. See the Spedale degli Innocenti, where a score of little flowery
white children grow, open-armed, out of their sky-blue medallions. Really,
are they lilies, or children, or the embodied strophes of a psalter? you
ask. I mix my metaphors like an Irishman, but you will see my meaning. All
the arts blend in art: "rien ne fait mieux entendre combien un faux sonnet
est ridicule que de s'imaginer une femme ou une maison faite sur ce
modèle-là." Pascal knew; and so did Philip Sidney, "Nature never set forth
the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done"; and the nearer
truth seems to be that Art is Nature made articulate, Nature's soul
inflamed with love and voicing her secrets through one man to many. So
there may be no difference between me and a cabbage-rose but this, that I
can consider my own flower, how it grows, or rather, when it is grown.

It is very pleasant sometimes to think that wistful guess of Plato's true
in spite of everything--that the state is the man grown great, as the
universe is the state grown Infinite. It explains that Florence has a
soul, the broader image of her sons', and that this soul speaks in Art,
utters itself in flower of stone and starry stretches of fresco (like that
serene blue and grey band in the Sistine chapel which redeems so many of
Rome's waste places), sings colour-songs (there are such affairs) on
church and cloister walls. Seeing these good things, we should rather hear
the town's voice crying out her fancy to friendly hearts. Thus--let me run
the figure to death--if Luca's blue-eyed medallions are the crop of the
wall, they are also the soul of Florence, singing a blithe secular song
about gods whose abiding charm is the art that made them live. And if the
towers and domes are the statelier flowers of the garden, lily, hollyhock,
tulip of the red globe, so they are Florence again as she strains forward
and up, sternly defiant in the Palazzo Vecchio, bright and curious at
Santa Croce, pure, chaste as a seraph, when, thrilling with the touch of
Giotto, she gazes in the clarity of her golden and rosy marbles, tinted
like a pearl and shaped like an archangel, towards the blue vault whose
eye she is.

Wandering, therefore, through this high city; loitering on the bridge
whereunder turbid Arno glitters like brass; standing by the yellow
Baptistery; or seeing in Santa Croce cloister--where I write these lines--
seven centuries of enthusiasm mellowed down by sun and wind into a comely
dotage of grey and green, one is disposed to wonder whether we are only
just beginning to understand Art, or to misunderstand it? Has the world
slept for two thousand years? Is Degas the first artist? Was Aristotle the
first critic, and is Mr. George Moore the second? As a white pigeon cuts
the blue, and every opinion of him shines as burnished agate in the live
air, things shape themselves somewhat. I begin to see that Art _is_,
and that men have been, and shall be, but never _are_. Facts are an
integral part of life, but they are not life. I heard a metaphysician say
once that matter was the adjective of life, and thought it a mighty pretty
saying. In a true sense, it would seem, Art is that adjective. For so
surely as there are honest men to insist how true things are or how proper
to moralising, there will be Art to sing how lovely they are, and what
amiable dwellings for us. Thus fortified, I think I can understand
Magister Joctus Florentiæ. He lies behind these crumbling walls. Traces of
his crimson and blue still stain the cloister-walk. What was he telling us
in crimson and blue? How dumb Zacharias spelt out the name of his son John
in the roll of a book? Hardly that, I think.



II


LITTLE FLOWERS

The Via del Monte alle Croce is a leafy way cut between hedgerows, in the
morning time heavy with dew and the smell of wet flowers. Where it strays
out of the Giro al Monte there is a crumbly brick wall, a well, and a
little earthen shrine to Madonna--a daub, it is true, of glaring chromes
and blues, thick in glaze and tawdry devices of stout cupids and roses,
but somehow, on this suggestive Autumn morning, innocent and blue of eye
as the carolling throngs of Luca which it travesties. And a pious
inscription cut below testifieth how Saint Francis, "in friendly talk with
the Blessed Mariano di Lugo," paused here before it, and then vanished. It
is not necessary to believe in ghosts; but I'll go bail that story is
true. We are but two stones' throw from the gaunt hulk of a Franciscan
Church; a file of dusty cypresses marks the ruins of a painful Calvary cut
in the waste and shale of the hill-side. Below, as in a green pasture,
Florence shines like a dove's egg in her nest of hills; I can pick out
among the sheaf of spears which hedge her about the daintiest of them all,
the crocketed pinnacle of Santa Croce, grey on blue; and then the lean
ridge of a shrine the barest, simplest and most honest in all Tuscany.
Certainly Saint Francis, "familiarmente discorrendo," appeared in this
place. I need no reference to the Annals of the Seraphic Order--part, book
and page--to convince me. My stone gives them. "Ann. Ord. Min. Tom. cclii.
fasc. 3.," and so on. That is but a sorry concession to our short-
sightedness. For if we believe not the shrine which we have seen, how
shall we believe Giotto? What of Giotto? That is my point.

Something too much, it may be, of modern art-criticism, which is ashamed
of thinking, snuffeth at pictures which tell you things, at literature in
books or music or church ornament. Is literature not good anywhere? Have
we exhausted the _Arabian Nights_ or the _Acta Sanctorum_? At
any rate, if we must choose between Giotto and the prophet of the
_Yellow Book_, my heart is fixed. I am for the teller of tales.
Story-telling it is, glorification of one whom Mr. George Moore would call
(has, indeed, called) a "squint-eyed Italian Saint"--and whether he
objected to malformity, nationality or calling, I never could learn--this
too it may be; it may tend to edification and I know not what beside. I
will grant all that. And though it is hard to prophesy what might have
happened five hundred years ago; though there might have been a Giotto
without a Francis of whom to speak; yet I never knew a case where a
painter (call him poet if you will; he will be none the worse for that)
fell so directly into the gap awaiting him. The Gospel living and tangible
again! Spirits, apparitions, as of three mysterious sisters, met you in
the open country, and crying "Hail! Lady Poverty," straightly vanished. A
legend was a-making round about the strange life not fifty years closed, a
life which seems, extravagance apart, to have been a lyrical outburst, a
strophe in the hymn of praise which certain happy people were singing just
then. It was a _Gloria in Excelsis_ for a second time in Christian
Annals which did not end in a wail of "Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata,
miserere." Why should it? Should the children of the bride-chamber fast
when the bridegroom was with them? And of all the "wreath'd singers at the
marriage-door," blithest and sanest was Master Joctus of Florence. This
being so, I hope I shall not be accused of any mischief if I say that in
Giotto I see one of the select company of immortals whose work can never
be surpassed because it is entirely adequate to the facts and atmosphere
he selected. The standard of a work of art must always be--Is it well
done? rather than--Is it well intentioned? Wherefore, if Giotto or anybody
else choose to spend himself upon a sermon or an essay or an article of
the Creed, and do well thereby, I may not blame him, nor call him back to
study the play of light across a marsh or the flight of pigeons in the
westering sun. Ma, basta, basta cosi, you may say with the Cavaliere of
Goldoni.

Santa Croce church is of the barrack-room stamp, dim and enormous, grey
with years and seamed with work. Its impressiveness (for with Orvieto and
a fleet of churches at Ravenna it stands above all Italy in that) consists
mainly, I believe, in its being built of exactly the moral bones of the
religion it was intended to embody. An Italian religion, namely; perfectly
sane, at bottom practical, with a base of plain, everyday, ten-commandment
morality. That was the base of Saint Francis' good brown life: therefore
Santa Croce is admirably built, squared, mortised and compacted by skilled
workmen to whom brick-laying was a fine art. But, withal, this religion
had its lyric raptures, its "In fuoco Amor mi mise," or its sobbing at the
feet of the Crucified, its _Corotto_ and Seven Sorrowful Mysteries:
accordingly Santa Croce, like a pollarded lime, reserves its buds,
harbours and garners them, throws out no suckers or lateral adornments the
length of its trunk, but bursts into a flowery crown of them at the top--a
whole row of chapels along the cross-beam of the _tau_; and in the
place of honour a shallow apse pierced with red lancets and aglow like an
opal. Never a chapel of them but is worth study and a stiff neck. After
the Rule came the _Fioretti_; after Francis and Bonaventure came
Celano and Jacopone da Todi; after Arnolfo del Lapo and his attention to
business came the hours of ease when he planned the airy plume on which
the Church leaps skyward; and came also Giotto to weave the crown of Santa
Croce.

I take the Tuscan nature to be so constituted that it will play with any
given subject of speculation in much the same way. With one or two mighty
exceptions to be sure--Dante, of course, Buonarroti, of course, and, for
all his secularities. Boccace--it is not imagination you find in Tuscany.
Rather, it is a sweet and delicate, a wholesome, home-grown fancy,
wantoning with thought which may be unpleasant, unhealthy, grave,
frivolous--what you will; yet playing in such a way, and with such
intuitive taste and breeding that no harm ensues nor any nausea. They
realise for me a fairy country; I can think no evil of a Tuscan. So I can
read Boccace the infidel, Poggio the gross, where Voltaire makes me a
bigot and Catulle Mendes ashamed. The fresh breeze blowing through the
_Decameron_ keeps the air sweet. Even Lorenzo is a child for me, and
Macchiavel, "the man without a soul," I decline to take seriously.
Consider, then, all Tuscan art from this point of view, the weaving of
innocent fancies round some chance-caught theme, Christianity may have
been the _point d'appui_. No doubt it generally was. What then? Have
you never heard two children dreaming aloud of the ways of God, or the
troubles of Christ? How they humanise, how they realise the Mystery! Just
such a pretty babble I find in the Spanish Chapel, which to take in any
other spirit would work a madness in the brain. You remember the North
wall, apotheosis of Saint Thomas and what-not, for all the world like a
paradigm of the irregular verb "Aquinizo." What are we to suppose Lippo
Memmi (or whoever else it was) to have been about when he hung in mid-air
on his swinging bridge and stained the wet square red and green? To read
Ruskin you would think he was fulminating _urbi et orbi_ with the
_Summa_ or _Cur Deus homo_ at his fingers' ends. Depend upon it
he was doing quite other, or the artistic temper (phrase rendered
loathsome by the halfpenny newspapers) suffered a relapse between the days
of King David and the days of his brother Lippo Lippi. Are we to suppose
that a man who could live in intimate commerce with fourteen such gracious
ladies as he has set there, ranged on their carved sedilia--his Britomart
trim and debonnair; his willowy Carità; his wimpled matron in clean white
who masquerades as I know not what branch of theology; his pretty girlish
Geometry of coiled and braided hair and the yet unloosed girdle of demure
virginity; his maid Musica crowned with roses, and Logica, the bold-eyed
and open-throated wench, hand to hip--is this the man for sententiousness?
Out, out! Could any one save a humourist of high order have given Moses
such a pair of horns, or set, under Music, such a shagged Tubal to
belabour an anvil? The wall sings like an anthology,--a Gothic anthology
where "Bele Aliz matin leva" is versicle, and "In un boschetto trovai
pastorella" antiphon. You might as well talk of Christian Mathematics as
of Christian Art, or bind the sweet influences of Pleiades as the volant
sallies of a poet's wit.

Once we get it into our heads that the Tuscans were fanciful children,
always, and the discrepancy of critics, of Ruskin and Mr. George Moore, of
Rio and Mr. Addington Symonds, may vanish. For another thing, we shall
understand and allow for the standard of Santa Croce and the
_Fioretti_. From the latter nosegay! take this:

"It happened one day as Brother Peter was standing to his prayer, thinking
earnestly about the Passion of Christ, how the blessed Mother of him, and
John Evangelist his best-beloved, and Saint Francis too, were painted at
the foot of the Cross, crucified indeed with him through anguish of the
mind, that there came upon him the longing to know which of these three
had endured the bitterest pains of that anguish, the Mother who bore our
Lord, or the Disciple familiar to his bosom, or Saint Francis crucified
also even as he was. And as he stood thinking on these things, lo! there
appeared before him the Virgin Mary with Saint John Evangelist and Saint
Francis, robed in splendid apparel and of glory wonderful; but Saint
Francis' robe was more cunningly wrought than Saint John's. Now Peter
stood quite scared at the sight; but Saint John bade him take comfort,
saying, 'Be not afraid, dearest brother, for we are come hither to dispel
thy doubt. You are to knows then, that above all creatures the Mother of
Christ and I grieved over the Passion of our Lord. But since that day
Saint Francis has felt more anguish than any other. Therefore, as you see,
he is in glory now.' Then Brother Peter asked him, and said, 'Most holy
Apostle of Christ, wherefore cometh it that the vesture of Saint Francis
is more glorious than thine?' Answered him Saint John, 'The reason is
this, for that when he was in the world he wore a viler than ever I did.'
So then Saint John gave him a vestment which he carried on his arm, and
the holy company vanished."

This, be sure, is true; and I have its English parallel ready to hand. For
I once heard a father and his child talking of the goodness of God. "God,"
says the father, "gives thee the milk to thy porridge"; and the child
thought it a good saying, yet puzzled over it, doubting, as it afterwards
appeared, the part to be assigned to a friend of his, the daily milkman.
And so he solved it. "God makes the milk and the milkman brings it," he
said. The _Fioretti_, if you must needs break a butterfly on your
dissecting-board, was written, as I judge, by a bare-foot Minorite of
forty; compiled, that is, from the wonderings, the pretty adjustments and
naive disquisitions of any such weatherworn brown men as you may see to-
day toiling up the Calvary to their Convent. And in this same story-
telling Giotto is an adept. He loves to gather his fellows round him and
speak of Saints and Archangels, where our youngsters talk of fairy
godmothers and white rabbits. To say this is not Art, as the critics
profanely teach, is monstrous. Is not the _Fioretti_ literature, or
the Gospel according to Saint Luke literature? And is not Religion the
highest art of all, the large elementary poetry in the core of the heart
of man? Just so was the craft which disposed the rings of that wonderful
ornament round about the Bardi chapel, rings of clean arabesque wrought in
line upon pale blue and pink and brown, and which in so doing fitted the
Franciscan thaumaturgy with an exact garment tenderly adjusted to every
wave of its abandonment--even so was this a great art indeed. For you ask
of an art no more than this, that it shall be adequately representative:
there are no comparative degrees.

So when I learn from the works of Ruskin that he can "read a picture to
you as, if Mr. Spurgeon knew anything about art, Mr. Spurgeon would read
it,--that is to say, from the plain, common-sense Protestant side"; or
when I learn from the works of Mr. George Moore that Sir Frederick Burton
made of the National Gallery a Museum; or when one complains of a picture
that it is not didactic, and another that it holds a thought, I make haste
to laugh lest I should do wrong to Tuscany, that looked upon the world to
love it: for she saw that it was very good.



III


A SACRIFICE AT PRATO

_(An Old-fashioned Narrative)_

[Footnote: Perhaps I may be allowed to explain that this article was
written from the standpoint of a cultivated Pagan of the Empire, who
should have journeyed in Time as well as Space.]

The rim of the sun was burning the hill tops, and already the vanguard of
his strength stemming the morning mists, when I and my companion first
trod the dust of a small town which stood in our path. It still lay very
hard and white, however, and sharply edged to its girdle of olives and
mulberry trees drenched in dews, a compactly folded town, well fortified
by strong walls and many towers, with the mist upon it and softly over it
like a veil. For it lay well under the shade of the hills awaiting the
sun's coming. In the streets, though they were by no means asleep, but,
contrariwise, busy with the traffic of men and pack-mules, there was a
shrewd bite as of night air; looking up we could perceive how faint the
blue of the sky was, and the cloud-flaw how rosy yet with the flush of
Aurora's beauty-sleep. Therefore we were glad to get into the market-
place, filled with people and set round with goodly brick buildings, and
to feel the light and warmth steal about our limbs.

"It would seem fitting," said I, "seeing that day is at hand and already
we enjoy the first-fruits of his largess, that we should seek some
neighbouring shrine where we might praise the gods. For never yet was land
that had not, as its fairest work, gods: and in a land so fair as this
there must needs be gods yet fairer, and shrines to case them in." This I
said, having observed pious offerings laid upon the shrines of divers gods
by the road. At the which, looking curiously, it seemed to me that the
inhabitants of this country were favoured above the common with devout
thoughts and the objects of them--gods and goddesses. You might not pass a
farm without its tutelary altar to the genius of the place, some holy
shade, or--as she was figured as a matron--some great land-goddess,
perhaps Cybele, or the Bona Dea; and pleasant it was to me to see that the
tufts of common flowers set before her were for the most part smiling and
fresh with the dew that assured an early gathering. In the streets of the
city, moreover, I had seen many more such, slight affairs (it is true) of
painted earthenware, some gaudily adorned with green and yellow colour and
of workmanship as raw, some painted flat on the wall of a recess (in which
was more skill, though the device was often gross enough--to dwell upon
death and despair), and some again of choice beauty, both of form and
colour, and a most rare blitheness, as it might be the spirit of the
contrivers breaking through the hard stone. And all of these I knew to be
gods, but the devices upon them were hard to be read, or approved. There
was a naked youth pierced with arrows, wherein the texture of smooth flesh
accorded not well with the bitterness of his hurt; a young man also,
bearded, of spare and mournful habit and girt with a rope round his
middle; in his hands were wounds, as again of arrows, and there was a rent
in his garment where a javelin had torn a way into his side. Such
suffering of wounds and broken flesh stared sharply up against the young
flowers and grasses which spoke of healthy wind and rain and a sun-kissed
earth. Goddesses also I saw--a virgin of comely red and white visage;
yellow-haired she was, crowned like a king's daughter; at her side a
wheel, cruelly spiked on the outer edge and not easily to be related to so
heart-some a maid. But before them all (with one grim exception, to be
sure) I saw the Earth-Mother who had been upon the farm and homestead-
walls, of the same high perfection of form, and in raiment stately and
adorned, yet (it would seem) something sorrowful as she might mourn the
loss of lover or young child. Now the darkest sight I saw was that
exception before rehearsed; and it was this. A black cross stood In the
most joyful places of the city, and one suffered upon it to very death.
Whereat I marvelled greatly, saying, "Who Is the man thus tormented whom
the people worship as a god?" And my companion answered,

"A great god he is, if the country report lie not, and has many names,
which amount to this, that he has freed this nation from bondage and died
that he may live again, and they too. And of the truth of what they say I
cannot speak; but I think he is Bacchus the Redeemer, who, as you, Balbus,
know, was no wanton reveller in lasciviousness, but a very god of great
benevolence and of wisdom truly dark and awful. Who also took our mortal
nature upon him and suffered in the shades: rising whence (for he was god
and man) like the dawn from the night's bosom, or the flooding of spring
weather from the iron gates of winter, he sped over land and sea, touching
earth and the dwellers upon it. And to those he touched tongues were given
and soothsaying, and to many the transports of inspiration and divine
madness, as of poets and rhapsodists. And tragedy and choral odes are his,
and the furious splendour of dances. But of the worship of Dionysus you
know something, having been at Eleusis and beheld the holy mysteries.

"Now the god of this people has the same gift of tongues and madness of
possession. To him are also sacred priests of the oracle, and high
tragedies, and the wailing of music, and streaming processions of virgins
and young boys. He too agonised and arose stronger and more shining than
before, dying, indeed, and rising at the very vernal equinox we have
mentioned. He too is worshipped in certain Mysteries whereat the
confession of iniquity and the cleansing of hearts come first: and the
sacrifice is just that wheaten cake and fruit of the vine whereof, at
Eleusis, you have praised to me the simplicity and ethic beauty. And he
can inspire his devotees with frenzy. For I have heard that certain men of
the country, on a day, and urged by his dæmon, run naked from place to
place in honour of him, lashing their bare backs with ox-goads; and will
fast by the week together, they and the women alike; and that pious
virgins, under stress of these things, swoon and are floated betwixt earth
and heaven, and afterwards relate their blissful encounters and prophesy
strange matters; receiving also dolorous wounds (which nevertheless are
very sweet to them) like to the wounds which he himself received unto
death; and all these things they endure because they are mystically
fraught with the wisdom and efficacy of the god. Nay, I have been told
that in the parts over sea, towards the North and West, he is worshipped,
just as at Eleusis, with pipes and timbrels and brazen cymbals and all
excess of music; and there they dance in his service and suffer the
ecstasies of the Mænads and Corybants in the Dionysiac revel. But this I
find quaint to be believed."

Now when I had heard so much, I was the more desirous to find some temple
where I could observe the cult of this wounded gods and so sought counsel
of my friend versed in the people's learning. To my questioning he replied
that it would be easy. We were (said he) in the market-place among the
buyers and chafferers of fruit, vegetables, earthenware, milk, eggs, and
such country produce; which honest folk, it being the hour of the morning
sacrifice and the temple facing us, would soon abandon their brisk toil
for religion's sake; whereupon we too would go. So I looked across the
square and saw a very fair building, lofty and many windowed, all of clean
white marble, banded over with bars of a smooth black stone, curiously
carved, moreover, in sculptured work of gods and men and of flowers and
fruits--all cut in the pure marble. At one side was a noble rostrum, of
the like fine stone, whereon young boys and girls, as it were fauns and
dryads and other woodland creatures, capered as they list: and above the
midmost door a semicircle of pale blue enamel, whereon was the image of
the Great Goddess in gleaming white. She was of smiling debonnair
countenance and in the full pride of her blossom-time--being as a young
woman whose girdle is new loosed to the will of her lord--and in her arms
was a naked child, finely wrought to the size of life. On either side of
her a beautiful youth (in whom I must needs admire the smoothness of their
chins and the bravery of their vesture shining in the clear light) did
reverence to the Goddess and the child: and there were beings, winged like
birds, with the faces of strong boys, but no bodies at all that I could
see, who flew above them all. This was brave work, very wonderful to me in
a people who, thus excellently inspired and having such comely smiling
divinities and so clear a vision of them before their eyes, could yet be
curious after suffering heroes and stabbed virgins and gods with mangled
limbs. But we went into the temple with the good people of the country-
side to the sound of bells from a high tower hard by. And I was something
surprised that they brought no beasts with them for the sacrifice, nor any
of the fruits which were so abundant in the land; but my companion
reminded me again that the sacrifice was ready prepared within, and was,
as it were, emblematical of all fruits and every sort of meat, being that
wine and bread into which you may comprehend all bodily and (by a figure)
ghostly sustenance. By this we were within the temple, which I now
perceived was a pantheon, having altars to all the gods, some only of
whose shrines I had remarked on the way thither. Dark and lofty it was,
with piered arches that soared into the mist, and jewelled windows
painfully worked in histories and fables of old time:--all as far apart as
conceivably might be from the holy places of my own country; for whereas,
with us, the level gaze of the sun is never absent, and through the
colonnades you would see stretches of the far blue country, or, perchance,
the shimmer of the restless sea, here no light of day could penetrate, and
all the senses might apprehend must be of solemn darkness, longing
thoughts to cleave it, and, afar off and dim, some flutter of even light
as of blest abodes. A strange people! to despise the sure and fair, for
the taunting shadows of desire. But, growing more familiar in the middle
of newness and the awe that comes of it, I was again amazed at the number
of the gods, their nature and sort. I saw again the arrow-stricken youth,
whom we call Asclepius (but never knew thus tormented--as with his
father's arrows!) and again the Maid of the Wheel, Fortune as I suppose:
but with us the wheel is not so manifestly bitter. Then also the wounded
hero, cowled and corded, ragged exceedingly, the like of whom we have not,
unless it be some stripling loved by an immortal and wounded to death by
grudging Fate, as Atys or Adonis. And if, indeed, this were one of them,
the image-maker did surely err in making him of so vile a presence--a
thing against all likelihood that the gods, being themselves of super-
excellent shapeliness, should stoop to anything of less favour. Yet he was
of singular sweetness in his pains, and high fortitude: and he was much
loved of the people, as I afterwards learned. And one was a young knight,
winged and with a sword in his hand; at his feet a grievous worm of many
folds. This I must take for Perseus but that his radiancy did rather point
him for Phoebus, the lord of days and the red sun. But in the centre of
the whole temple was an altar, high and broad, fenced about with steps and
a rail, which I took to be made unto the god of gods or perhaps the king
of that country, until I saw the black cross and the Agonist hanging from
it as one dead. Then I knew that the chief god of this people was Dionysus
the Redeemer, if it were really he. But I had reason to alter my opinion
on that matter as you shall hear.

By this the temple was filled with the country folk who flocked In with
the very reek of their toil upon them and hardly so much as their
implements and marketable wares left behind. They were of all ages and
conditions, both youths and maids, arrowy, tall and open-eyed; and aged
ones there were, bowed by labour and seamed with the stress of weather or
the assaults of unstaying Fate: whereof, for the most part, the women sat
down against the wall and plied dextrously their fans; but the men stood
leaning against the pillars which held the timbers of the roof. And they
conversed easily together, and some were merry, and others, as I could
perceive, beset with affairs of government or business--for they talked
more vehemently of these matters than of others, as men will, even beneath
the very eyelids of the god. And so I could understand that this sacrifice
was not the yearly celebrating of high mysteries, but the common piety of
every day with which it is rather seemly than essential we should begin
our labouring. There were, indeed, signs in the apparelling of the temple
that more solemn festivals were sometimes held, as the delivery of
oracles, the calculation of auspices and such like: that, at least, I took
to be the intention of small recesses along the walls, that, through a
grating of fine brass, a priest of the sanctuary uttered the wisdom of the
god in sentences which the meaner sort should fit with what ease they
might to their circumstances. For, I suppose, it is still found good that
the dark saying of the Oracle shall be illumined by the subtlety of the
initiate and not by the necessities of the simple. And while I was thus
musing I found the ministrants in shining white about the great altar,
busied with the preparation for the rite, lighting the torches (very
inconsiderable for so large a building, but, mayhap, proportionate to the
condition of the people): and they placed a great book upon the altar, and
bowed themselves ere they left. And soon afterwards, to the ringing of a
bell, came the priest's boy carrying the offering of the altar, and the
priest himself in stiff garments of white and yellow.

Now, for the sacrifice, I could not well understand it, save that it was
very shortly done and with a light heart accepted by the people, who (I
thought) held it as of the number of those services whose bare performance
is efficacious and wholesome--on account, partly of reverent antiquity and
long usage, and partly as having some hidden virtue best known to the god
in whose honour it is done. For in my own country, I know well there were
many such rites, whose commission edified the people more than their
omission would have dishonoured the god: wise men, therefore (as priests
and philosophers), who would live in peace, bow their bodies by rule,
knowing surely that their souls may be bolt upright notwithstanding. So
here were many solemn acts which, doubtless, once had some now
unfathomable design and purport, diligently rehearsed, while the
worshippers gazed about with dull unconcern, or being young, cast eyes of
longing upon the country wenches set laughing and rosy by the wall, or,
old, nursed their infirmities. And, on a sudden, a bell rang; and again
rang; and the packed body of men and women fell upon their faces, and so
remained in a horrific silence for a space where a man might count a
score. Thereafter another bell, as of release. So the assembly rose to
their feet and, as I saw, swept from their foreheads and breasts the dust
of the temple floor. But as soon as it was over, a very old priest came
through the press and offered the same sacrifice in a little guarded
shrine at the lower end, amid many lamps and wax torches and glittering
ornaments. Here was more devotion among the people, indeed a great
struggling and elbowing just so as to touch the altar, or the steps of it,
or the priest's hem, or even the rails which fenced the shrine. And with
some show of good reason was this hubbub, as I learned. For here was
indeed treasured the Girdle of Venus (this being her very sanctuary) and
as much desired as ever it was by women great with child or wanting to
conceive. And I looked very curiously upon it, but the Girdle I could
never see; only there was a painted image over the altar of the great
queen-mother, Venus Genetrix herself, depicted as a broad-browed, placid
matron giving of the fruits of her bounteous breasts to a male child. Then
I knew that this was that same Goddess who stood over the outer door of
the place, and was well pleased to find that the people, howsoever
ignorantly, adored the power that enwombs the world--Venus, the life-
bringer and quickener of things that breathe,--and could, in this matter,
touch hearts with the wise. So with this thought, that truly God was one
and men divers, I came out of the temple well pleased, into the level
light of the day's beam.

In the tavern doorway, under a bush of green ilex, we sat down in company
to eat bread and peaches sopped in the wine of the country, and talked
very briskly of all the things we had seen and heard. And soon into the
current of our discourse was drawn a dark-faced youth, who had been
observing us earnestly for some time from under his hanging brows, and
who, growing mighty curious (as I find the way of them is), must know who
and whence we were and of what belief and condition in the world. So when
I had satisfied him, "Turn for turn," said I, "my honest friend: being
strangers, as you have learned, we have seen many things which touch us
nearly, and some which are hard of reading. But this very reading is to us
of high concernment, for these matters relate to religion, and religion,
of what sort soever it may be, no man can venture to despise. For certain
I am, that, as a man hath never seen the gods, so he may never be sure
that he hath ever conceived them, even darkly, as in a mirror. For we are
dwellers in a cave, my friend, with our backs to the light, and may not
tell of a truth whether the shadows that flit and fade be indeed gods or
no. Tell me, therefore (for I am puzzled by it), is the goddess whose
presentment I yet see over your temple-porch, that Mother of gods and men,
yea, even Mother of life itself, to whom we also bend the knee?"

"She is, sir, as we believe, Mother of God; and therefore, God being
author of life. Mother of life and all things living."

"It is as I had believed," said I, "and you, young sir, and I, may bow
together in that temple of hers without offence. For the temple is to her
honour as I conceive?"

"Why, yes," he answered, "it is raised to her most holy name and to that
of our Lord."

"And your Lord, who is this? and which altar is his? For there were many."

"The great altar is His, and indeed He is to be worshipped in all," said
the young man.

"He is then the tortured god, whose semblance hangs upon the black cross?"

"He is."

Then I begged him to tell me why these mournful images were scattered over
his goodly earth, these maimed gods, this blood and weeping; but I may not
set down all that he told me, seeing that much of it was dark, and much,
as I thought, not pertinent to the issue. Much again was said with his
hands, which I cannot interpret here. Suffice it that I learned this
concerning the Agonist, that he was the son of the goddess and greater
than she, though in a sense less. Mortal he was, and immortal, abject to
look upon, being indeed accounted a malefactor and crucified like a thief;
and yet a king of men, speaking wisdom whereof the like hath hardly been
heard. For of two things he taught there would seem to be no bottom to
them, so profound and unsearchable they are. And one of them was this,--
"The kingdom is within you" (or some such words); and the other was, "Who
will lose his life shall save it." Whereof, methinks, the first
comprehends all the teaching of the Academy and the second that of the
Porch. So this man must needs have been a god, and whether the son or no
of the Soul of the World, greater than she. For what she did, as it were
by necessity and her blind inhering power, he knew. Therefore he must have
been Wisdom itself. And thus I knew that he could not be Dionysus the
Saviour, though he might have many of his attributes; nor simply that son
of Venus whom Ausonius alone of our poets saw fastened to a cross. So at
last, "I will tell you," said I, "who this god really is, as it seems to
me. Being of vile estate and yet greatest of all; being mortal and yet
immortal, god and man; being at once most wise and most simple, and (as
such his condition imports) intermediate between Earth and Heaven, he must
needs be the Divine Eros, concerning whom Plato's words are yet with us.
So I can understand why he is so wise, why he suffers always, and yet
cannot be driven by torment nor persuaded by sophisms to cease loving. For
the necessity of love is to crave ever; and he is Love himself. Wherefore
I am very sure he can lead men, if they will, from the fair things of the
world to those infinitely fairer things in themselves whereby what we now
have are so very fair to see. And he may well be son of this goddess and
nourished by her milk; for it behoves us that a god should stand between
Earth and Heaven and be compact of the elements of either, so that he
should condescend the wisdom of his head to instruct the clemency of his
heart. And we know, you and I, that the gods are but attributes of God,
whose intellect (as I say) may well be in Heaven, but His heart is in the
Earth, and is the core of it. For so we say of the poet that his heart is
ever in his fair work."

Thus we took our wine and were well content to sit in the sunshine.



IV


OF POETS AND NEEDLEWORK

The man of our time to class poetry as a thing very pleasant and useful
shall hardly be found. At most the saying will suffer reprint as a
quaintness, a freak, or a paradox; and so it has proved. From Prato, dusty
little city of mid-Tuscany, and with the impress of its Reale Orfanotrofio
(nourisher, it would thus appear, of more Humanities than one) comes an
_"Opera Nova, nella quale si contengono bellissime historie, contrasti,
lamenti et frottole, con alcune canzoni a ballo, strambotti, geloghe,
farse, capitoli e bazellette di più eccellenti autori. Aggiuntevi assai
tramutationi, villanelle alla napolitana, sonetti alla bergamasca et
mariazi alla povana, indovinelli, ritoboli e passerotti"_; _cosa_,
this legend goes on to say, _molto piacevole et utile_. This is, no
doubt, rococo, and at best a pitiful, catchfarthing bit of ancientry: yet
it looks back to a time when it was indeed the fact that no choice work
could be but useful, and when eyes and ears, as conduits to the soul, had
that full of consideration we reserve for mouth and nose, purveyors to the
belly.

Vasari, Giorgio, he too, _bourgeois_ though he were, and in so far
the best of testimony, knew it when he found Luca's blue and white to be
"molto utile per la state." We should say that of a white umbrella or suit
of flannels; why of earthenware or an adroit _strambotto_? That marks
the cleft, the incurable gulf of difference between a people like the
Tuscans with art in their marrow, and our present selves with our touching
reliance upon a most unseemly hunger after facts. I suppose I should be
stretching a point if I said that _Samson Agonistes_ was _cosa
molto piacevole ed utile_. And yet I name there a great poem and a
weighty, whence the general public suck, or claim to suck, no small
advantage. Is it more useful to them than Bradshaw? I doubt. But here, in
this Opera Nova so furthered, are sixty-three little snatches of Luigi
Pulci's, eight lines to the stave, about the idlest of make-believe love
affairs, full of such Petrarchisms as "Gl' occhi tuoi belli son li crudel
dardi," or

"Tu m' ai trafitto il cor! donde io moro,
 Se tu, iddea, non mi dai aiutoro."--


the merest commonplaces of gallantry: called on what account by their
contrivers _molto utile_?

I have urged in my Second Essay that the Tuscans were inveterate weavers
of fancy, choosing what came easiest to hand to weave withal. I dared to
see such airy spinning in that Spanish Chapel from which Mr. Ruskin has
nearly frightened the lovers of Art; I said that the _Summa_ was to
the painters there as good vantage ground as any novel of Sacchetti's. I
now say that Luigi Pulci and his kindred so treated the love-lore which
was solemn mystery to Guinicelli and Lapo and Fazio, or the young Dante
shuddering before his lord of terrible aspect. I would add Petrarch's name
to this honourable roll if I believed it fitting such a niche; but I find
him the greatest equivocator of them all, and owe him a grudge for making
a fifteenth-century Dante impossible. It is true, had there been such a
poet we should never have had our Milton; but that may not serve the Swan
of Vaucluse as justification for being miserable before a looking-glass,
that he starved his grandsons to serve ours. Take him then as a poser:
give him, for the argument's sake, Boccace to his company, Cino; give him
our Pulci, give him Ariosto, give him Lorenzo, Politian; give him Tasso
for aught I care; you have no one left but the sugar-cured Guarino. Dante
stands alone upon the skyey peaks of his great argument, steadied there
and holding his breath, as for the hush that precedes weighty endeavour;
and Bojardo (no Tuscan by birth) stands squarely to the plains, holding
out one hand to Rabelais over-Alps and another to Boccace grinning in his
grave. The fellow is such a sturdy pagan we must e'en forgive him some of
his quirks. Italian poesy, poor lady, stript to the smock, can still look
honestly out if she have but two such vestments whole and unclouted as the
_Commedia_ and the _Orlando_. Let us look at some of her spoiled
bravery. Take up my Opera Nova and pick over Pulci in his lightest mood. I
am minded to try my hand for your amusement.

"Let him rejoice who can; for me, I'd grieve.
Peace be with all; for me yet shall be war.
Let him that hugs delight, hug on, and leave
To me sweet pain, lest day my night shall mar.
I am struck hard; the world, you may believe,
Laughs out;--rejoice, my world! I'll pet my scar.
Rogue love, that puttest me to such a pass,
They cry thee, 'It is well!' I sing, 'Alas!'"

_Vers de société_? No; too rhetorical: your antithesis gives
headaches to fine ladies. Euphuist? Not in the applied sense: read
Shakespere's sonnets in that manner; or, if you object that Shakespere is
too high for such comparisons, read Drummond of Hawthornden. Poetry, which
has a soul, we cannot call it. Verse it assuredly is, and of the most
excellent. Just receive a quatrain of the pure spring, and judge for
yourself:

"Chi gode goda, che pur io stento;
Chi è in pace si sia, ch' io son in guerra;
Chi ha diletto l' habbi, ch' io ho tormento;
Chi vive lieto, in me dolor afferra."

Balance is there. Vocalisation, adjustment of sound, discriminate use of
long syllables and short, of subjunctive and indicative moods.[1]
Unpremeditated art it is not: indeed it is craft rather than art; for Art
demands a larger share of soul-expenditure than Pulci could afford. And of
such is the delicate ware which Tuscany, nothing doubting, took for
_lavoro molto utile_. For, believe it or not, of that kind were Delia
Robbia's enrichments, Ghirlandajo's frescos, Raphael's Madonnas, and
Alberti's broad marble churches: of that kind and of no other; on a level
with the painted lady smiling out of a painted window at Airolo, whose
frozen lips assure the traverser of the Saint Gothard that he has passed
the ridge and may soon smell the olives.

[Footnote 1: More than that: the piece is an excellent example of the
skilful use of redundant syllables. It is certain that a study of Italian
poetry would help our, too often, tame blank verse to be (however bad
otherwise) at least not dull. It might bring it nearer to Milton, as Dante
brought Keats. Witness his revision of _Hyperion_. If the Tuscans
overrated the craft in Poetry, we assuredly underrate it.]

Wherein, then, is the use? Why, it is in the art of it. I will convict you
out of Alberti's own mouth, or his biographer's, for he spake it truly.
"For he was wont to say," thus runs the passage, "that whatever might be
accomplished by the wit of man with a certain choiceness, that indeed was
next to the divine." To image the divine, you see, you must accomplish
somewhat, scrupulously weigh, select and refuse; in short adapt
exquisitely your means until they are adequate to your ends. And, keeping
the eye steadily on that, you might grow to discard solemn ends, or
momentous, altogether, until poetry and painting ceased to be arts at all,
and must be classed, at best, with needlework. So indeed it proved in the
case of poetry. After Politian (who really did catch some echo of other
times, and of manners more primal than his own, and did instil something
of it in his _Orfeo_) no poet of Italy had anything serious to say. I
doubt it even of Tasso, though Tasso, I know, has a vogue. I except, of
course, Michael Angelo, as I have already said; and I except Boccace and
Bojardo. Painting was drawn out of the pit laid privily for her by the
sheer necessity of an outlet; and painting, having much to say, became the
representative Italian art. Poetry, the most ancient of them all, as she
is the most majestic; the art which refuses to be taught, and alone of her
sisters must be acquired by self-spenditure (so that before you can learn
to string your words in music you must be shaken with a thought which, to
your torturing, you must spoil); poetry, at once music and soothsay,
knitted to us as touching her common speech, and to the spheres as
touching on the same immortal harmonies; poetry such as Dante's was, was
gone from Tuscany, and painting, to her own ruining, reigned instead,
drawing in sculpture and architecture to share her kingdom and attributes.
Which indeed they did, to their equal detriment and our discouragement
that read.

When I want to see Death in small-clothes bowing in the drawing-room I
turn to my Petrarch and open at Sonnet cclxxxii., where it is written
how:--

_"It lies with Death to take the beauty of Laura but not the gracious
memory of her";_

As thus:

"Now hast them touch'd thy stretch of power, O Death;
Thy brigandage hath beggar'd Love's demesne
And quench'd the lamp that lit it, and the queen
Of all the flowers snapped with thy ragged teeth.
Hollow and meagre stares our life beneath
The querulous moon, robb'd of its sovereign:
Yet the report of her, her deathless mien--
Not thine, O churl! Not thine, thou greedy Death!
They are with her in Heaven, the which her grace,
Like some brave light, gladdens exceedingly
And shoots chance beams to this our dwelling-place;
So art thou swallowed in her victory.
Yet on me, beauty-whelmed in very sooth,
On me that last-born angel shall have ruth."

Look in vain for the deep heart-cry that voiced Dante's passion in the
tremendous statements of this:--

"Beatrice is gone up into high Heaven,
The kingdom where the angels are at peace;
And lives with them: and to her friends is dead.
Not by the frost of winter was she driven
Away, like others; nor by summer heats;
But through a perfect gentleness instead.
For from the lamp of her meek lowlihead
Such an exceeding glory went up hence
That it woke wonder in the Eternal Sire,
Until a sweet desire
Entered Him for that lovely excellence,
So that He bade her to Himself aspire;
Counting this weary and most evil place
Unworthy of a thing so full of grace."

[Footnote: This translation is Rossetti's.]

Now and again it may happen that a poet, ridden by the images of his
thought, can "state the facts" and leave the rhyme to chance. The Greeks,
to whom facts were rarer and of more significance, one supposes, than they
are to us, did it habitually. That is what gives such irresistible import
to Homer and to Sophocles. They knew that the adjective is the natural
enemy of the verb. The naked act, the bare thought, a sequence of stately-
balanced rhythm and that ensuing harmony of sentences, gave their poetry
its distinction. They did not wilfully colour their verse, if they did, as
I suppose we must admit, their statues. "Now," says Sir Thomas, "there is
a musick wherever there is a harmony, order or proportion; and thus far we
may maintain the musick of the spheres; for those well-ordered motions,
and regular paces, though they give no sound unto the ear, yet to the
understanding they strike a note most full of harmony." After the Greeks,
Dante, who may have drawn _lo bello stile_ from Virgil, but hardly
his great notes, as of a bell, carried on the tradition of directness and
naked strength. But Petrarch, and after him all Tuscany, dallied with
light thinking, and beat all the images of Love's treasury into thin
conventions.

_Però_, what gentlemen they were, these "ingegni fiorentini," these
Tuscan wits! What innate breeding and reticence! What punctilious loyalty
to the little observances of literature, of wall-decoration, call it, in
the most licentiously minded of them! Lorenzo Magnifico was a rake and
could write lewdly enough, as we all know. Yet, when he chose, that is
when Art bade him, how unerringly he chose the right momentum. His too was
"la mente che non erra." I found this of his the other day, and must needs
close up my notes with it. The very notion of it was, in his time, a
convention; a series of sonnets bound together by an argument; a _Vita
nova_ without its overmastering occasion. Simonetta was dead; whereupon
"tutti i fiorentini ingegni, come si conviene in si pubblica jattura,
diversamente ed avversamente si dolsono, chi in versi, chi in prosa." The
poor dead lady was, in fact, a butt for these sharpshooters. Yet hear
Lorenzo.

"Died, as we have declared, in our city a certain lady, whereby all people
alike in Florence were moved to compassion. And this is no marvel, seeing
that with all earthly beauty and courtesy she was adorned as, before her
day, no other under heaven could have been. Among her other excellent
parts, she had a carriage so sweet and winsome that whosoever should have
any commerce or friendly dealing with her, straightway fell to believe
himself enamoured of her. Ladies also, and all youth of her degree, not
only suffered no harbourage to unkindly thought upon this her eminence
over all the rest, nor grudged it her at all, but stoutly upheld and took
pleasure in her loveliness and gracious bearing; and this so honestly that
you would have found it hard to be believed so many men without jealousy
could have loved her, or so many ladies without envy give her place. So,
the more her life by its comely ordering had endeared her to mankind, pity
also for her death, for the flower of her youth, and for a beauteousness
which in death, it may be, showed the more resplendently than in life, did
breed in the heart the smarting of great desire. Therefore she was carried
uncovered on the bier from her dwelling to the place of burial, and moved
all men, thronging there to see her, to abundant shedding of tears. And in
some, who before had not been aware of her, after pity grew great marvel
for that she, in death, had overcome that loveliness which had seemed
insuperable while she yet lived. Among which people, who before had not
known her, there grew a bitterness and, as it were, ground of reproach,
that they had not been acquainted with so fair a thing before that hour
when they must be shut off from it for ever; to know her thus and have
perpetual grief of her. But truly in her was made manifest that which our
Petrarch had spoken when he said,

'Death showed him lovely in her lovely face.'"

This is to write like a gentleman and an artist, with ear attuned to the
subtlest fall and cadence, with scrupulous weighing of words that their
true outline shall hold clear and sharp. It is _intarsiatura_,
skilful and clean at the edges. He goes on to play with his hammered
thought, always as delicately and precisely as before.

"Falling, therefore, such an one to death, all the wits of Florence, as is
seemly in so public a calamity, lamented severally and mutually, some in
rhyme, some in prose, the ruefulness of it; and bound themselves to exalt
her excellence each after the contriving of his mind: in which company I,
too, must needs be; I, too, mingle rhymes with tears. So I did in the
sonnets below rehearsed; whereof the first began thus:

'O limpid shining star that to thy beam.'

"Night had fallen: together we walked, a dear friend and I, together
talking of our common sorrow: and so speaking, the night being wondrous
clear, I lifted my eyes to a star of exceeding brilliancy, which appeared
in the West, of such assured splendour as not alone to excel other stars,
but so eagerly to shine that it threw in shadow all the lights of heaven
about it. Whereof having great marvel, I turned to my friend, saying--'We
ought not to wonder at this sight, seeing that the soul of that most
gentle lady is of a truth either re-informed in this, a new star, or
conjoined to shine with it. Wherefore there is no marvel in such exceeding
brightness; and we who took comfort in her living delights, may even now
be appeased by her appearance in a limpid star. And if our vision for such
a light is tender and fragile, we should beseech her shade, that is the
god in her, to make us bolder by withholding some part of her beam that we
may sometimes look upon her, nor sear our eyes. But, to say sooth, this is
no over-boldness in her, endowed as she was with all the power of her
beauty, that she should strive to shine more excellently than all the
other stars, or even yet more proudly with Phoebus himself, asking of him
his very chariot, that she, rather, may rule our day. Which thing, if you
allow it without presumption in our star, how vilely shows the
impertinence of Death to have laid hands upon such loveliness and
authority as hers.' And since these my reasonings seemed of the stuff
proper for a sonnet, I took leave of my friend and composed that one which
follows; speaking in it of the above-mentioned star."

The sonnet is in the right Petrarchian vein, adroit and shallow as you
please. With such a preface it could hardly be otherwise--the invocation
of the lady's shade, the twitting of Death (making his Mastership jig to
suit their occasions who had of late been in his presence) and the naive
acceptance of all gifts as "buona materia a an sonetto," In the end he
spins four to her memory; then finds another lady and doubles all his
superlatives for her. For the star, he remembers, may have been Lucifer;
and Lucifer is but herald of the day. To it then! with all the _buona
materia a un sonetto_ the dawn can give you. Thus flourished poetry in
the Tuscan _quattrocento_; for Politian was but little more poet than
Lorenzo, while he was no less dextrous as a rhymer and fashioner of
conceits. Not serious, but _piacevole_, with an _elegantia quædam
prope divinum_; therefore _molto utile_. Pen-work in fact, and kin
to needlework. Because Tuscany saw choicely-wrought things pleasing, and
pleasant things useful, we of to-day can see Florence as an open-air
Museum. But we wrap our own Poets in heavy bindings and let them lie on
drawing-room tables in company of Whitaker's Almanack and an album of
photographs. Well, well! We must teach them to say, _Philistia, be thou
glad of me_, I suppose.



V


OF BOILS AND THE IDEAL

[Footnote: This appeared in the _New Review_ for December 1896, and
is reproduced by leave of the Publisher.]

_(A Colloquy with Perugino)_

"There," said my Roman escort, as we forded the Tiber near Torglano, "the
haze is lifting: behold august Perugia," I looked out over the misty
plain, and saw the spiked ridge of a hill, serried with towers and
belfries as a port with ships' masts; then the grey stone walls and
escarpments warm in the sun; finally a mouth to the city, which seemed to
engulph both the white road and the citizens walking to and fro upon it
like flies. But it was some time yet before I could decipher the image on
the gonfalon streaming in the breeze above the Signiory. It was actually,
on a field vert, a griffin rampant sable, langued gules. "So ho!" said the
guide when! had described it, "So ho! the Mountain Cat is at home
again.... And here comes scouring one of the whelps," he added in alarm. A
young man, black-avised, bare-headed, pressing a lathered horse, bore down
upon us. He seemed to gain exultation with every new pulse of his
strength: the Genius of Brute Force, handsome as he was evil. And yet not
evil, unless a wild beast is evil; which it probably is not. He soon
reached us, pulled up short with a clatter of hoofs, and hailed me in a
raw dialect, asking what I did, whence and who I was, whither I went, what
I would? As he spake--looking at me with fierce eyes in which pride,
suspicion, and the shyness of youth struggled and rent each other--he
fooled with a straight sword, and seemed to put his demands rather to
provoke a quarrel than to get an answer. I wished no quarrel with a boy,
so, as my custom is, I answered deliberately that I travelled, and from
Rome; that my name was Hewlett, at his service; that I was going to
Perugia; that I would be rid of him. I saw him grow loutish before my
adroit impassivity; his fencing was not with such tools. He sulked, and
must know next what I wanted at Perugia. I told him I had business with
Pietro Vannucci, called Il Perugino by those who admired him from a
distance; and he seemed relieved, withal a something of contempt for my
person fluttered on his pretty lip. At any rate, he left fingering his
steel toy. "Peter the Pious!" he scoffed, "Are you of his litter? Pots and
Pans? Off with you; you'll find him hoarding his money or his wife. To the
wife you may send these from Semonetto." Whereat my young gentleman fell
to kissing his hand in the air. I rose in my stirrups and bowed
elaborately, and, taking off my hat in the act, put him to some shame, for
he was without that equipment. He pulled a wry face at me, like any
schoolboy, and cantered off on his spent horse, arms akimbo, and his irons
rattling about him. My guide marked a furtive cross on his breast and
vowed, I am pretty sure, a score candles to Santa Maria in Cosmedin if
ever he reached home. "God is good," he said, "God is very good. That was
Simon Baglione."

"He seemed a very unlicked cub," was all my reply. So we climbed the dusty
steep, winding twice or thrice round about the hill in a brown plain set
with stubbed trees, and entered the armed city by the Porta Eburnea.
Inside the walls, threading our way up a spiral lane among bullock-carts,
cloaked cavaliers, monks, fair-haired girls carrying pitchers and baskets,
bullies, bravoes, and well-to-do burgesses, we passed from one ambush to
another, by dark gullies, stinking traps, and twisted stairways, to the
Via Deliziosa, without ever a hint of the broad sunshine or whiff of the
balmy air which we had left outside on the plain. In a little mildewed
court, where one patch of light did indeed slope upon a lemon-tree loaded
with fruit and flowers, I found my man in a droll pass with his young
wife. He was, in fact, tiring her hair in the open: nothing more;
nevertheless there was that air of mystery in the performance which made
me at once squeamish of going further, and afraid to withdraw. I stood,
therefore, in confusion while the sport went on. It was of his seeking I
could see, for the poor girl looked shamefaced and weary enough. She was a
winsome child (no more), broad in the brows, full in the eye, yellow-
haired, like most of the women in this place, with a fine-shaped mouth,
rather voluptuously underlipped, and, as I then saw her, sitting in a
carven chair with her hands at a listless droop over the arms of it. Her
hair, which was loose about her and of great length and softness, lay at
the mercy of her master. He, a short, pursy man, well over middle age--
"past the Grand Climacteric," as Bulwer Lytton used to say--red and
anxiously lined, stood behind her, barber fashion, and ran her hair
through his fingers, all the while talking to himself very fast. His eyes
were half-shut: he seemed ravished by the sight of so much gold (if common
reports belie him not) or the feel of so much silk (the likelier opinion),
I know not which. Assuredly so odd a beginning to my adventure, a hardier
man would have stumbled!

The sport went on. The girl, as I considered her, was of slight, almost
mean figure; her good looks, which as yet lay rather in promise, resolved
themselves into a small compass, for they ended at her shoulders. Below
them she was slender to stooping, and with no shape to speak of. Allow her
a fine little head, the timid freshness natural to her age, a blush-rose
skin, slim neck, and that glorious weight of hair: there is Perugino's
wife! Add that she was vested in a milky green robe which was cut square
and low at the neck and fitted her close, and I have no more to say on her
score than she had on any. As for the Maestro himself, I got to know him
better. On mere sight I could guess something of him. A master evidently,
unhappy when not ordering something; fidgety by the same token; yet a
fellow of humours, and fertile of inventions whereon to feed them. The
more I considered him the more subtle ministry to his pleasures did I find
this morning's work to be. A man, finally, happiest in dreams. I looked at
him now in that vein. In and out, elbow-deep sometimes, went his hands and
arms, plunging, swimming in that luxurious mesh of hair. He sprayed it out
in a shower for Danaë; he clutched it hard and drew it into thick
burnished ropes of fine gold. Anon, as the whim caught him, he would pile
it up and hedge it with great silver pins, fan-shape, such as country
girls use, till it took the semblance, now of a tower, now of a wheel, now
of some winged beast--sphinx or basilisk--couching on the girl's head.
Then, stepping back a little, he would clasp his hands over his eyes, and
with head in air sing some snatch of triumph, or laugh aloud for the very
wildness of his power; and so the game went on, that seemed a feast of
delight to the man--a feast? an orgy of sense. But the woman might have
been cut in stone. Had she not breathed, or had not her fingers faintly
stirred now and again, you would have sworn her a wax doll.

I know not how long the two might have stayed at their affairs, for here I
grew wearied and, coughing discreetly, slid my foot on the flags. The man
looked up, stopped his play at once; the spell was broken. The girl, I
noticed, stirred not at all, but sat on as she was with her hair about her
clasping her shoulders and flooding her with gold. But Master Peter was a
little disconcerted, I am pretty sure; certainly he was redder than usual
about the gills and gullet. He cleared his throat once or twice with an
attempt at pomposity which he vainly tried to sustain as he came out to
meet me. When I handed him the Prothonotary's letter, and he saw the broad
seal, he bowed quite low; the letter read, he took me by the hand and led
me to the loggia of his house. We had to pass Madam on the way thither;
but by this Master Peter carried off the affair as coolly as you choose.
"Imola, child," he said as we passed, "I have company. Put up thy hair and
fetch me out a fiaschone of Orvieto--that of the year before last. Be sure
thou makest no mistake; and break no bottles, girl, for the wine is good.
And hard enough to come by," he added with a sigh. The girl obeyed.
Without raising her eyes she rose; without raising them she put her hands
to her head and deftly braided and coiled her hair into a single twist;
still looking down to earth she passed into the house.

Pietro began to talk briskly enough so soon as we were set. The air was
mild for mid-March; between the ridged tiles of the cortile, which ran up
to a great height, I could see a square of pale blue sky; gnats were busy
in the beam of dusty light which slanted across the shade; I heard the
bees about the lemon-bush droning of a quiet and opulent summer hovering
near-by. It was a very peaceful and well-disposed world just then. Pietro,
much at his ease, was apt to take life as he found it--nor do I wonder.
"Yes," he said, "the work goes; the work goes. I have much to do; you may
call me just now quite a man of affairs. This very morning, now, I
received a little deputation from Città di Castello--quite a company! The
Prior, the Sub-Prior, two Vicars-Choral, two Wardens of Guilds, and other
gentlemen, craving a piece by my own hand for the altar of Saint Roch. I
thank our Lord I can pick and choose in these days. I told them I would
think of it, whereat they seemed to know relief, but I added, How did they
wish the boil treated, on the Saint's left thigh? For I told them, and I
was very firm, that though Holy Church might aver the boil to have been a
grievous boil, a boil indeed, yet my art could have little to say to
boils, as boils. The boil must be a great boil, and a red, said they; for
the populace love best what they know best, and cannot worship, as you
might say, with maimed rites. Moreover, Poggibonsi had a Saint Roch done
by that luxurious Sienese Bazzi (a man of scandalous living, as I daresay
you know), where the boil was fiery to behold and as big as a man's ankle-
bone. This was a cause of new great devotion among the impious by reason
of its plain relationship to our frail flesh. Città was a poor city; in
fine, there must be a handsome boil, I said. Let me refine upon the boil,
and Saint Roch is yours, with Madonna, in addition, caught up in clouds of
pure light, and two fiddling angels, one at either hand. Finally, with the
petition that Madonna should be rarely adorned with pearls Flemish-
fashion, they let me have my way upon the boil. So the work goes on!"

"But, good Master Peter," I exclaimed here, "I could find some discrepancy
in this. On the one hand you boggle at boils, on the other you suffer
pearls to be thrust upon you. Why, if you cleave to the one, should you
despise the other? For, for aught I see, your thesis should exclude
either."

"And so it does," he said, smiling, "But for one man in Città that knows a
pearl there will be a hundred who can judge of a boil. My Madonna will be
a pearl-faced Umbrian maid, and her other pearls just as Flemish as I
choose. But I hear our glasses clinking."

I, too, heard Imola's footfall on the flags, and ventured to say, "And I
know where your Madonna is, Master Peter," But he affected not to hear.

She served us our amber cup with the same persistent, almost sullen, self-
continence. But, I thought, I must see your eyes, Mistress, for once; so
called to mind my encounter with the wild young Baglione of the morning.
Smiling as easily as I could, I accosted her with "Madonna, I am the
bearer of compliments to you, if you choose to hear them." Then she looked
me full for a second of time. I saw by her dilating eyes, wide as a hare's
(though of a sea-grey colour), that she was not always queen of herself,
and pitied her. For it is ill to think of broken-in hearts, or souls set
in bars, and I could fancy Master Peter's hand not so light upon her as
upon church-walls. But I went on, "Yes, Madonna, even as I rode up hither,
I met a young knight-at-arms who wished you as well as you were fair, and
kissed your hands as best he might, considering the distance, before he
rode off." Imola blushed, but said nothing.

"Who was this youth, sir?" asked Master Peter, in a hurry.

"It was plainly some young noble of your State," said I, "but for his name
I know nothing, for he told me nothing." I added this quickly, because I
could see our friend was keen enough for all his coat of unconcern, and I
feared the whip by-and-bye for Imola's thin shoulders. But I knew quite
well who the boy was. Imola went lightly away without any sign of twitter.
I turned to Master Peter again.

"In this matter of boils and pearls," I began, "I would not deny but you
are in the right, and yet there is this to be said. The Greeks of whose
painting, truly, we have next to nothing. In all the work of theirs known
to us did what lay before them as well as ever they could. They stayed not
to theorise over this axiom and that, that formula and this. They said
rather, 'You wish for the presentment of a man with a boil on his leg?
Well.' And they produced both man and boil."

"Why yes, yes," broke in my friend, "that is plain enough. But apart from
this, that you are talking of sculpture to me who do but paint, you should
know very well that your Greek copied no single boil, no, nor no probable
boil, but, as it were, the summary and perfect conclusion of ail possible
boils."

"_To Pithanon?_ Yes; I admit it. For Aristotle says as much."

"Right so do I, in my degree and by my art," said Perugino; "and without
knowing anything of Aristotle save that he was wise."

"Your pardon, my brave Vannucci," I said, "but you have admitted the
opposite of this. Did you not hint to the deputation that you would give
Saint Roch no boils? And have you ever let creep into your pieces the
semblance of so much as a pimple? Remember, I know your _Sebastian_;
and know also Il Sodoma's, which he made as a banner for the Confraternity
of that famous Saint In Camollia."

"I seek the essence of fact," he replied; "which, believe me, never lay in
the displacement of an arrow-point; no, nor in the head of a boil. Bazzi
is a sensualist: as his palate grows stale he whets it by stronger meat;
thinks to provoke appetite by disgust; would draw you on by a nasty
inference, as a dog by his hankering after fæcal odours. What nearness to
Art in his plumpy boy stuck with arrows like a skewered capon? Causes nuns
to weep, hey? and to dream dreams, hey? Nature would do that cleanlier;
and waxwork more powerfully! Form, my good sir, Form is your safeguard.
Lay hold on Form; you are as near to Essence as may be here below. Art
works for the rational enlargement of the fancy, not the titillation of
sense. And Invention is the more sacred the closer it apes the scope of
the divine plan. And this much, at least, of the Grecian work I have
learned, that it will never lick vulgar shoes, nor fawn to beastly eyes.
It is a stately order, a high pageant, a solemn gradual, wherein the
beholder will behold just so much as he is prepared, by litany and fasting
and long vigil, to receive. No more and no less."

"Aristotle again," said I, "with his 'continual slight novelty.' No fits
and starts."

"I have told you before I know nothing of the man," said Perugino, vexed,
it appeared, at such wounding of his vanity to be new; "let me tell you
this. There are fellows abroad who dub me dunce and dull-head. The young
Buonarroti, forsooth, who mistakes the large for the great, quantity for
quality; who in the indetermined pretends to see the mysterious. Mystery,
quotha! Mystery may be in an astrologer's horoscope, in a diagram. Mystery
needs no puckered virago, nor bully in the sulks. There is mystery in the
morning calms, mystery in a girl's melting mood, mystery in the
irresolution of a growing boy full of dreams. But behold! it is there, not
here. If you see it not, the fault is your own. It may be broad as day,
cut clean as with a knife, displayed at large before a brawling world too
busy lapping or grudging to heed it. The many shall pass it by as they run
huddling to the dark. Yet the few shall adore therein the excellency of
the mystery, even as the few (the very few) may discern in the flake of
wafer-bread the shining wholeness of the Divine Nature----"

"'The few remain, the many change and pass,'" I interpolated in a murmur.
But Perugino never heeded me. He went on.

"The Greek, young sir, took the fact and let it alone to breed. His act
lay in the taking and setting. Just so much import as it had borne it bore
still; just so much weight as separation from its fellows lent it was to
his credit who first cut it free. But nowadays glamour suits only with
serried muscles, frowns, and writhen lips; where darkness is we shudder,
saying, Behold a great mystery! Let a painter declare his incompetence to
utter, it shall be enough to assure you he has walked with God; for if he
stammers, look you, that testifies he is overwhelmed. Amen, I would
answer. Let his head swim and be welcome; but let him not set to painting
till he can stand straight again. For in one thing I am no Greek, in that
I cannot hold drunkenness divine." Here the good man stopped for want of
breath and I whipped in.

"Your great _Crucifixion_ in Santa Maria Maddalena," I began.

"Look you, sir," he took me up, "I know what you would be at. Take that
piece (which is of my very best) or another equally good, I mean the
_Charge to Peter_ in Pope Sixtus his new Chapel, and listen to me.
The first thing your painter must seek to do is to fill his wall. Let
there be no mistake about this. He is at first no prophet or man of God;
he is no juggler nor mountebank who shall be rewarded according to the
enormity of his grins; his calling, maybe, is humbler, for all he stands
for is to wash a wall so that no eye be set smarting because of it. Now
that seems a very simple matter; it is just as simple as the eye itself--
so you may judge the validity of the arguments against me, that a
wholesome green or goodly red wash would suffice. It would suffice
indifferent well for a kennel of dogs. But mark this. Although your
painter may drop hints for the soul, let him not strain above his pitch
lest he crack his larynx. To his colour he may add form in the flat; but
he cannot escape the flat, however he may wriggle, any more than the
sculptor can escape the round, scrape he never so wisely. Buonarroti will
scrape and shift; the Fleming has scraped and shifted all his days to as
little purpose. His seed-pearls invite your touch. Touch them, my friend,
you will smear your fingers. _Ne sutor ultra crepidam._ Leave
miracles, O painter, to the Saint, and stick to your brush-work. Colour
and form in the flat; there is his armour to win the citadel of a man's
soul."

"They call you mawkish," I dared to say.

"I am in good company," said the little man with much pomposity.

"You say boldly, then, if I catch the chain of your argument"--thus I
pursued him--"that you present (as by some formula which you have
elaborated) the facts of religion in colour and design? For I suppose you
will allow that your Art is concerned at least as much with religion as
with the washing of walls?"

"Religion! Religion!" cried he. "What are you at? Concerned with religion!
Man alive, it is concerned with itself; it _is_ religion. I see you
are very far indeed from the truth, and as you have spoken of my
_Crucifixion_ in Florence, now you shall suffer me to speak of it. I
testify what I know, not that which I have not seen. And as mine eyes have
never filled with blood from Golgotha, so I do not conjure with tools I
have not learned to handle. But I will tell you what I have seen. The
Mass: whereof my piece is, as it were, the transfiguration or a parable.
For it grew out of a Mass I once heard, stately-ordered, solemnly and
punctiliously served in a great church. Mayhap, I dreamed of it; we shall
not quarrel over terms. It was a strange Mass, shorn of much ornament and
circumstance; I thought, as I knelt and wondered: Here are no
lamentations, no bruised breasts, no outpoured hearts, nor souls on
flames. The day for tears is past, the fires are red, not flaming; this is
a day for steadfast regard, for service, patience, and good hope; this is
a day for Art to chant what the soul hath endured. For Art is a fruit sown
in action and watered to utterance by tears. Two priests only, clothed in
fine linen, served the Mass: ornaments of candles, incense, prostration,
genuflection, there were none. Yet, step by step, and with every step
pondered reverently ere another was laid to Its fellow's foundation; with
full knowledge of the end ere yet was the beginning accomplished; In every
gesture, every pause, intonation, invocation, stave of song, phrase of
prayer; by painful degrees wrought in the soul's sweat and tears,
unadorned, cold as fine stone, yet glittering none the less like fair
marble set in the sun--was that solemn Mass sung through in the bare
Church to the glory of God and His angels, who must ever rejoice in a work
done so that the master-mind is straining and on watch over heart and
voice. And I said, Calvary is done and the woe of it turned to triumph.
Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Henceforth, for me Law shall be the
fulfilment of my Love.

"Therefore I paint no terrors of death, no flesh torn by iron, no passion
of an anguish greater than we can ever conceive, no bittersweet ecstasy of
Self abandoned or Love inflaming; but instead, serenity, a morning sky, a
meek victim, Love fulfilling Law. Shorn of accidents, for the essence is
enough; not passionate, for that were as gross an affront in face of such
awful death as to be trivial. Nothing too much; Law fulfilling Love;
reasonable service.

"And because we are of the earth earthy, and because what I work you must
behold with bodily eyes, I limn you angels and gods in your own image; not
of greater stature nor of more excellent beauty than many among you; not
of finer essence, maybe, than yourselves. But as the priests about that
naked altar, so stand they, that the love which transfigures them be
absorbed in the fulfilling of law; and the law they exquisitely follow be
at once the pattern and glass of their love."

Master Peter drained a beaker of his Orvieto. I admired; for indeed the
little man spoke well.

"Now the Lord be good to you, Master Peter," I said; "men do you a great
wrong. For there are some who aver that you doubt."

"Who does not doubt?" replied my host. "We doubt whenever we cannot see."

"I believe you are right," said I. "Your great Saint is, after all, your
great Seer. For you, then, to question the soul's immortality is but to
admit that you do not yet see your own life to come."

"Leave it so," said Perugino. "Let us talk reasonably."

"Did all men love the law as you do," I resumed after a painful pause--for
I felt the force of the Master's rebuke to my impertinence (and could hope
others will feel it also)--"did all love the law as you do, the world
would be a cooler place and passion at a discount. But I cannot conceive
Art without passion."

"Nor I," said the painter, "and for the excellent reason that there is no
such thing. But remember this: passion is like the Alpheus. Hedge it about
with dams, you drive it deeper. Out of sight is not out of being. And the
issue must needs be the fairer."

"Happy the passion," I said, "which hath an issue. There is passion of the
vexed sort, where the tears are frozen to ice as they start. Of the
tortured thus, remember--

"Lo pianto stesso li planger non lascia,
E il duol, che trova in su gli occhi rintoppo,
Si volve in entro a far crescer l' ambascia."

"You know our Dante?" said Master Peter blandly (though I swear he knew
what I was at). "There may be such people; doubtless there are such
people. For me, I find a perpetual outlet in my art." I could not
forbear----

"Master Peter, Master Peter," I cried out, "how can I believe you when I
know that your Madonna's eyes are brimming; when I know why she turns them
to a misty heaven or an earth seen blotted by reason of tears? Do these
tears ever fall, Master Peter? or who freezes them as they start?"

For I wondered where his patient Imola found her outlet, and whether young
Simone has shown her a way. Master Peter drummed on the table and nursed
one fat leg.

Before I took leave of the urbane little painter, in fact while I stood in
the act of handshaking, I saw her white face at an upper window, looming
behind rigid bars. On a sudden impulse I concluded my farewells rapidly
and made to go. Vannucci turned back into the house and closed the door;
but I stayed in the cortile pretending a trouble with my spurs. Sure
enough, in a short time I heard a light footfall. Imola stood beside me.

"Wish me a safe journey," I said smiling, "and no more bare-headed
cavaliers on the road." Her lips hardly moved, so still her voice was.
"Was he bare-headed?" she asked, as if in awe.

"Love-locks floating free," I answered her gaily enough. "Shall I thank
him for his courtesies to you, Madonna, if we meet?"

"You will not meet: he is gone to Spello," she began, and then stopped,
blushing painfully.

"But I may stay in Spello this night and could seek him out."

She was mistress of her lips, and could now look steadily at me. "I wish
him very well," said Imola.



VI


THE SOUL OF A FACT

In the days when it was verging on a question whether a man could be at
the same time a good Christian and an artist, the chosen subjects of
painting were significant of the approaching crisis--those glaring moral
contrasts in history which, for want of a happier term, we call dramatic.
Why this was so, whether Art took a hint from Politics, or had withdrawn
her more intimate manifestations to await likelier times, is a question it
were long to answer. The subjects, at any rate, were such as the Greeks,
with their surer instincts and saving grace of sanity in matters of this
kind, either forbore to meddle with or treated as decoratively as they
treated acanthus-wreaths. Today we call them "effective" subjects; we find
they produce shocks and tremors; we think it braces us to shudder, and we
think that Art is a kind of emotional pill; we measure it quantitatively,
and say that we "know what we like." And doubtless there is something
piquant in the quivering produced, for example, by the sight of white
innocence fluttering helpless in a grey shadow of lust. So long as the
Bible remained a god that piquancy was found in a _Massacre of the
Innocents_; in our own time we find it in a _Faust and Gretchen_,
in the Doré Gallery, or in the Royal Academy. It was a like appreciation
of the certain effect of vivid contrasts as powerful didactic agents
(coupled with, or drowning, a something purer and more devout) which had
inspired those most beautiful and distinctive of all the symbols of
Catholicism, the _Adoration of the Kings_, the Christ-child cycle,
and which raised the Holy Child and Maid-Mother to their place above the
mystic tapers and the Cross. Naturally the Old Testament, that garner of
grim tales, proved a rich mine: _David and Golias, Susanna and the
Elders_, the _Sacrifice of Isaac, Jethro's daughter_. But the
story of Judith did not come to be painted in Tuscan sanctuaries until
Donatello of Florence had first cast her in bronze at the prayer of Cosimo
_pater patria_. Her entry was dramatic enough at least: Dame Fortune
may well have sniggered as she spun round the city on her ball. Cosimo the
patriot and his splendid grandson were no sooner dead and their brood sent
flying, than Donatello's _Judith_ was set up in the Piazza as a fit
emblem of rescue from tyranny, with the vigorous motto, to make assurance
double, "EXEMPLVM SALVTIS PVBLICÆ CIVES POSVERE." Savonarola, who knew his
Bible, saw here a keener application of Judith's pious sin. A few years
later that same _Judith_ saw him burn. Thus, as an incarnate
cynicism, she will pass; as a work of art she is admittedly one of her
great creator's failures. Her neighbour _Perseus_ of the Loggia makes
this only too plain! For Cellini has seized the right moment in a deed of
horror, and Donatello, with all his downrightness and grip of the fact,
has hit upon the wrong. It is fatal to freeze a moment of time into an
eternity of waiting. His _Judith_ will never strike: her arm is
palsied where it swings. The Damoclean sword is a fine incident for
poetry; but Holofernes was no Damocles, and, if he had been, it were
intolerable to cast his experience in bronze. Donatello has essayed that
thing impossible for sculpture, to arrest a moment instead of denote a
permanent attribute. Art is adjectival, is it not, O Donatello? Her
business is to qualify facts, to say what things are, not to state them,
to affirm that they are. A sculptured _Judith_ was done not long
afterwards, carved, as we shall see, with a burin on a plate; and the man
who so carved her was a painter.

Meantime, _pari passu_, almost, a painter who was a poet was trying
his hand; a man who knew his Bible and his mythology and was equally at
home with either. Perhaps it is not extravagant to say that you cannot be
an artist unless you are at home with mythology, unless mythology is the
swiftest and most direct expression of your being, so that you can be
measured by it as a man is known by his books, or a woman by her clothes,
her way of bowing, her amusements, or her charities. For mythopoeia is
just this, the incarnating the spirit of natural fact; and the generic
name of that power is Art. A kind of creation, a clothing of essence in
matter, an hypostatising (if you will have it) of an object of intuition
within the folds of an object of sense. Lessing did not dig so deep as his
Greek Voltaire (whose "dazzling antithesis," after all, touches the root
of the matter) for he did not see that rhythmic extension in time or
space, as the case may be, with all that that implies--colour, value,
proportion, all the convincing incidents of form--is simply the mode of
all arts, the thing with which Art's substance must be interpenetrated,
until the two form a whole, lovely, golden, irresistible, and inevitable
as Nature's pieces are. This substance, I have said, is the spirit of
natural fact. And so mythology is Art at its simplest and barest (where
the bodily medium is neither word, nor texture of stone, nor dye), the
parent art from which all the others were, so to speak, begotten by man's
need. Thus much of explanation, I am sorry to say, is necessary, before we
turn to our mytho-poet of Florence, to see what he made out of the story
of Judith.

First of all, though, what has the story of Judith to do with mythology?
It is a legend, one of the finest of Semitic legends; and between legend
and myth there is as great a gulf as between Jew and Greek. I believe
there are no myths proper to Israel--I do not see how such magnificent
egoists could contract to the necessary state of awe--and I do not know
that there are any legends proper to Greece which are divorced from real
myths. For where a myth is the incarnation of the spirit of natural fact,
a legend is the embellishment of an historical event: a very different
thing. A natural fact is permanent and elemental, an historical event is
transient and superficial. Take one instance out of a score. The rainbow
links heaven and earth. Iris then, to the myth-making Greek, was Jove's
messenger, intermediary between God and Man. That is to incarnate a
constant, natural fact. Plato afterwards, making her daughter of Thaumas,
incarnated a fact, psychological, but none the less constant, none the
less natural. But to say, as the legend-loving Jew said, that Noah floated
his ark over a drowning world and secured for his posterity a standing
covenant with God, Who then and once for all set His bow in the heavens;
that is to indicate, somewhere, in the dim backward and abysm of time, an
historical event. The rainbow is suffered as the skirt of the robe of
Noah, who was an ancestor of Israel. So the Judith poem may be a decorated
event, or it may be the barest history in a splendid epical setting: the
point to remember is that it cannot be, as legend, a subject for creative
art. The artist, in the language of Neo-Platonism, is a demiurge; he only
of men can convert dead things into life. And now we will go into the
Uffizi.

Mr. Ruskin, in his petulant-playful way, has touched upon the feeling of
amaze most people have who look for the first time at Botticelli's
_Judith_ tripping smoothly and lightly over the hill-country, her
steadfast maid dogging with intent patient eyes every step she takes. You
say it is flippant, affected, pedantic. For answer, I refer you to the
sage himself, who, from his point of view--that painting may fairly deal
with a chapter of history--is perfectly right. The prevailing strain of
the story is the strength of weakness--_ex dulci fortitude_, to
invert the old enigma. "O God, O my God, hear me also, a widow. Break down
their stateliness by the hand of a woman!" It is the refrain that runs
through the whole history of Israel, that reasonable complacency of a
little people in their God-fraught destiny. And, withal, a streak of
savage spite: that the audacious oppressor shall be done scornfully to
death. There is the motive of Jael and Sisera too. So "she smote twice
upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him, and
tumbled his body down from the bed." Ho! what a fate for the emissary of
the Great King. Wherefore, once more, the jubilant paradox, "The Lord hath
smitten him by the hand of a woman!" That is it: the amazing, thrilling
antithesis insisted on over and over again by the old Hebrew bard. "Her
sandals ravished his eyes, her beauty took his mind prisoner, and the
fauchion passed through his neck." That is the _leit-motif_: Sandro
the poet knew it perfectly well and taught it, to the no small comfort of
Mr. Ruskin and his men. Giuditta, dainty, blue-eyed, a girl still and
three years a widow, flits homeward through a spring landscape of grey and
green and the smile of a milky sky, being herself the dominant of the
chord, with her bough of slipt olive and her jagged scimitar, with her
pretty blue fal-lals smocked and puffed, and her yellow curls floating
over her shoulders. On her slim feet are the sandals that ravished his
eyes; all her maiden bravery is dancing and fluttering like harebells in
the wind. Behind her plods the slave-girl folded in an orange scarf,
bearing that shapeless, nameless burden of hers, the head of the grim Lord
Holofernes. Oh, for that, it is the legend itself! For look at the girl's
eyes. What does their dreamy solemnity mean if not, "the Lord hath smitten
him by the hand of a woman"? One other delicate bit of symbolising he has
allowed himself, which I may not omit. You are to see by whom this deed
was done: by a woman who has unsexed herself. Judith is absorbed in her
awful service; her robe trails on the ground and clings about her knees;
she is unconscious of the hindrance. The gates of Bethulia are in sight,
the Chaldean horsemen are abroad, but she has no anxiety to escape. She is
swift because her life just now courses swiftly; but there is no haste.
The maid, you shall mark, picks up her skirts with careful hand, and steps
out the more lustily for it.

So far Botticelli the poet, and so far also Mr. Ruskin, reader of
pictures. What says Botticelli the painter? Had he no instincts to tell
him that his art could have little to say to a legend? Or that a legend
might be the subject of an epic (here, indeed, was an epic ready made),
might, under conditions, be the subject of a drama; but could not, under
any conditions, be alone the subject of a picture? I don't for a moment
suggest that he had, or that any artist ever goes to work in this double-
entry, methodical way; but are we entitled to say that he was not
influenced by his predilections, his determinations as a draughtsman, when
he squared himself to illustrate the Bible? We say that the subject of a
picture is the spirit of natural fact. If Botticelli was a painter,
_that_ is what he must have looked for, and must have found, in every
picture he painted. Where, then, was he to get his natural facts in the
story of Judith? What is, in that story, the natural, essential (as
opposed to the historical, fleeting) fact? It is murder. Judith's deed was
what the old Scots law incisively calls _slauchter_. It may be
glossed over as assassination or even execution--in fact, in Florence,
where Giuliano was soon to be taken off, it did not fail to be so called:
it remains, however, just murder. Botticelli, not shirking the position at
all, judged murder to be a natural fact, and its spirit or essence
swiftness and stealth. Chaucer, let us note, had been of the same mind:

"The smyler with the kayf under his cloke,"

and so on, in lines not to be matched for hasty and dreadful suggestion.
Swiftness and stealth, the ambush, the averted face and the sudden stab,
are the standing elements of murder: pare off all the rest, you come down
to that. Your staring looks, your blood, your "chirking," are accidentals.
They may be there (for each of us carries a carcase), but the horror of
sudden death is above them: a man may strangle with his thoughts cleaner
than with his pair of hands. And as "matter" is but the stuff wherewith
Nature works, and she is only insulted, not defied, when we flout or
mangle it, so it is against the high dignity of Art to insist upon the
carrion she must use. She will press, here the terror, there the radiance,
of essential fact; she will leave to us, seeing it in her face, to add
mentally the poor stage properties we have grown to trust. No blood, if
you please. Therefore, in Botticelli's _Judith_, nothing but the
essentials are insisted on; the rest we instantly imagine, but it is not
there to be sensed. The panel is in a tremor. So swift and secret is
Judith, so furtive the maid, we need no hurrying horsemen to remind us of
her oath,--"Hear me, and I will do a thing which shall go throughout all
generations to the children of our nation." Sudden death is in the air;
nature has been outraged. But there is no drop of blood--the thin scarlet
line along the sword-edge is a symbol if you will--the pale head in the
cloth is a mere "thing": yet we all know what has been done. Mr. Ruskin is
wrong to dwell here upon the heroism of the heroine, the beneficence of
the crime, the exhilaration of the patriot; he is traducing the painter by
so praising the poet All those things may be there; and why should they
not? But it is a pity to insist upon them until you have no space for the
pictorial something which is there too, and makes the picture.

Other _Judiths_ there are; two here, one next door in the Pitti, any
number scattered over the galleries of Europe. There are Jacopo Palma of
Venice and Allori of Florence who used the old story, the one to
perpetuate a fat blonde, the other a handsome actress in a "strong"
situation; there is Sodoma; there are Horace Vernet and the moderns, the
Wests and Haydons of our grandfathers. It is a pet subject of the Salon.
These men have vulgarised an epic, and smirched poetry and painting alike
for the sake of a tawdry sensation. But enough: let us look at one more.
Mantegna's is worth looking at. It is a pen drawing, often repeated, best
known by the fine engraving he finally made of it. I think it Is the best
murder picture in the world. To begin with, the literary interest of the
story is practically gone. This wild, terrible, beautiful woman may be
Judith if you choose: she might be Medea or Agave, or Salome, or the
Lucrezia Borgia of popular fancy and Donizetti. The fact is she is part of
a scheme whose object is the æsthetic aspect of murder--murder considered
by one of the fine arts. Andrea was able, and I know not that anybody else
of his day could have been able, to contemplate murder purely objectively,
with no thought of its ethical relations. Botticelli had been fired by the
heroism and the moral grandeur of the special circumstances of a given
case: down they went into his picture with what rightly belonged to it.
There is none of that here. And Mantegna makes other distinctions in the
field common to both of them. Murder, for him, did not essentially subsist
in its shocking suddenness; it held something more specific, a witchery of
its own, a _macabre_ fascination, a mystery. Lionardo felt it when he
drew his _Medusa_; Shelley wrote it down "the tempestuous loveliness
of terror." Thus it had, for Mantegna, an unique emotional habit which set
it off from other vice and gave it a positive, appreciable, æsthetic value
of its own. With even more unerrancy than Botticelli, he gripped the
adjectival and qualifying function of his art. He saw that crime, too, had
its pictorial side. When Keats, writing of the Lamia sloughing her snake-
folds, tells us how--

"She writhed about, convulsed--with scarlet pain";

or when, of organ music, he says--

"Up aloft
The silver, snarling trumpets 'gan to chide,"

he is simply, in his own art and with his proper methods, getting
precisely the same kind of effect; he is incarnating the soul of a fact.
And so Mantegna, with his Roman kindness for whatever had breath and
vigour and boldness of design, carved his _Judith_ on the lines of a
Vestal Virgin, and gave her the rapt, dæmonic features of the Tragic Muse.
And, with his full share of that unhealthy craving for the mere nastiness
of crime, that Aminatrait which distinguished the later Empire and its
correlate the Renaissance, he drew together the elements of his picture to
express an eminently characteristic conception of curious murder. What
amplitude of outline; what severe grace of drapery! And what mad
affectation of attention to the ghastly baggage she is preparing for her
flight! I can only instance for a parallel the pitiful case of the young
Ophelia, decked with flowers and weeds, and faltering in her pretty treble
songs about lechery and dead bodies. It needs strong men to do these
things; men who have lived out all that the world can offer them of heaven
and hell, and, with the tolerance of maturity, are in the mind to see
something worth a thought in either. There is in murder something more
horrible than blood,--the spirit that breeds blood and plays with it. M.
Jan van Beers and his kindred of the dissecting-room and accidents'-ward
are passed by Mantegna, who gives no vulgar illusion of gaping wounds and
jetting blood; but, instead, holds up to us a beautiful woman daintily
fingering a corpse.



VII


QUATTROCENTISTERIA

_(How Sandro Botticelli saw Simonetta in the Spring)_

Up at Fiesole, among the olives and chestnuts which cloud the steeps, the
magnificent Lorenzo was entertaining his guests on a morning in April. The
olives were just whitening to silver; they stretched in a trembling sea
down the slope. Beyond lay Florence, misty and golden; and round about
were the mossy hills, cut sharp and definite against a grey-blue sky,
printed with starry buildings and sober ranks of cypress. The sun catching
the mosaics of San Miniato and the brazen cross on the fagade, made them
shine like sword-blades in the quiver of the heat between. For the valley
was just a lake of hot air, hot and murky--"fever weather," said the
people in the streets--with a glaring summer sun let in between two long
spells of fog. 'Twas unnatural at that season, _via_; but the blessed
Saints sent the weather and one could only be careful what one was about
at sundown.

Up at the villa, with brisk morning airs rustling overhead, in the cool
shades of trees and lawns, it was pleasant to lie still, watching these
things, while a silky young exquisite sang to his lute a not too audacious
ballad about Selvaggia, or Becchina and the saucy Prior of Sant' Onofrio.
He sang well too, that dark-eyed boy; the girl at whose feet he was
crouched was laughing and blushing at once; and, being very fair, she
blushed hotly. She dared not raise her eyes to look into his, and he knew
it and was quietly measuring his strength--it was quite a comedy! At each
wanton _refrain_ he lowered his voice to a whisper and bent a little
forward. And the girl's laughter became hysterical; she was shaking with
the effort to control herself. At last she looked up with a sort of sob in
her breath and saw his mocking smile and the gleam of the wild beast in
his eyes. She grew white, rose hastily and turned away to join a group of
ladies sitting apart. A man with a heavy, rather sullen face and a bush of
yellow hair falling over his forehead in a wave, was standing aside
watching all this. He folded his arms and scowled under his big brows; and
when the girl moved away his eyes followed her.

The lad ended his song in a broad sarcasm amid bursts of laughter and
applause. The Magnificent, sitting in his carved chair, nursed his sallow
face and smiled approval, "My brother boasts his invulnerability," he
said, turning to his neighbour, "let him look to it, Messer Cupido will
have him yet. Already, we can see, he has been let into some of the
secrets of the bower," The man bowed and smiled deferentially, "Signer
Giuliano has all the qualities to win the love of ladies, and to retain
it. Doubtless he awaits his destiny. The Wise Man has said that Beauty..."
The young poet enlarged on his text with some fire in his thin
cheeks, while the company kept very silent. It was much to their liking;
even Giuliano was absorbed; he sat on the ground clasping one knee between
his hands, smiling upwards into vacancy, as a man does whose imagination
is touched. Lorenzo nursed his sallow face and beat time to the orator's
cadences with his foot; he, too, was abstracted and smiling. At the end he
spoke: "Our Marsilio himself had never said nobler words, my Agnolo. The
mantle of the Attic prophet has descended indeed upon this Florence. And
Beauty, as thon sayest, is from heaven. But where shall it be found here
below, and how discerned?" The man of the heavy jowl was standing with
folded arms, looking from under his brows at the group of girls. Lorenzo
saw everything; he noticed him. "Our Sandro will tell us it is yonder. The
Star of Genoa shines over Florence and our poor little constellations are
gone out. _Ecco_, my Sandro, gravest and hardiest of painters, go
summon Madonna Simonetta and her handmaidens to our Symposium. Agnolo will
speak further to us of this sovereignty of Beauty."

The painter bowed his head and moved away.

A green alley vaulted with thick ilex and myrtle formed a tapering vista
where the shadows lay misty blue and pale shafts of light pierced through
fitfully. At the far end it ran out into an open space and a splash of
sunshine. A marble Ganymede with lifted arms rose in the middle like a
white flame. The girls were there, intent upon some commerce of their own,
flashing hither and thither over the grass in a flutter of saffron and
green and crimson. Simonetta--Sandro could see--was a little apart, a very
tall, isolated figure, clear and cold in a recess of shade, standing
easily, resting on one hip with her hands behind her. A soft, straight
robe of white clipped her close from shoulder to heel; the lines of her
figure were thrust forward by her poise. His eye followed the swell of her
bosom, very gentle and girlish, and the long folds of her dress falling
thence to her knee. While she stood there, proud and remote, a chance beam
of the sun shone on her head so that it seemed to burn. "Heaven salutes
the Queen of Heaven,--Venus Urania!" With an odd impulse he stopped,
crossed himself, and then hurried on.

He told his errand to her, having no eyes for the others.

"Signorina--I am to acquaint her Serenity that the divine poet Messer
Agnolo is to speak of the sovereign power of beauty; of the Heavenly
Beauty whereof Plato taught, as it is believed."

Simonetta arched a slim neck and looked down at the obsequious speaker, or
at least he thought so. And he saw how fair she was, a creature how
delicate and gracious, with grey eyes frank and wide, and full red lips
where a smile (nervous and a little wistful, he judged, rather than
defiant) seemed always to hover. Such clear-cut, high beauty made him
ashamed; but her colouring (for he was a painter) made his heart beat. She
was no ice-bound shadow of deity then! but flesh and blood; a girl--a
child, of timid, soft contours, of warm roses and blue veins laced in a
pearly skin. And she was crowned with a heavy wealth of red-gold hair,
twisted in great coils, bound about with pearls, and smouldering like
molten metal where it fell rippling along her neck. She dazzled him, so
that he could not face her or look further. His eyes dropped. He stood
before her moody, disconcerted.

The girls, who had dissolved their company at his approach, listened to
what he had to say linked in knots of twos and threes. They needed no
excuses to return; some were philosophers in their way, philosophers and
poetesses; some had left their lovers in the ring round Lorenzo. So they
went down the green alley still locked by the arms, by the waist or
shoulders. They did not wait for Simonetta. She was a Genoese, and proud
as the snow. Why did Giuliano love her? _Did_ he love her, indeed? He
was bewitched then, for she was cold, and a brazen creature in spite of
it. How dare she bare her neck so! Oh! 'twas Genoese. "Uomini senza fede e
donne senza vergogna," they quoted as they ran.

And Simonetta walked alone down the way with her head high; but Sandro
stepped behind, at the edge of her trailing white robe....

... The poet was leaning against an ancient alabaster vase, soil-stained,
yellow with age and its long sojourn in the loam, but with traces of its
carved garlands clinging to it still. He fingered it lovingly as he
talked. His oration was concluding, and his voice rose high and tremulous;
there were sparks in his hollow eyes.... "And as this sovereign Beauty is
queen of herself, so she is subject to none other, owns to no constraining
custom, fears no reproach of man. What she wills, that has the force of a
law. Being Beauty, her deeds are lovely and worshipful. Therefore Phryne,
whom men, groping in darkness and the dull ways of earth, dubbed
courtesan, shone in a Court of Law before the assembled nobles of Athens,
naked and undismayed in the blaze of her fairness. And Athens discerned
the goddess and trembled. Yes, and more; even as Aphrodite, whose darling
she was, arose pure from the foam, so she too came up out of the sea in
the presence of a host, and the Athenians, seeing no shame, thought none,
but, rather, reverenced her the more. For what shame is it that the body
of one so radiant in clear perfections should be revealed? Is then the
garment of the soul, her very mould and image, so shameful? Shall we seek
to know her essence by the garment of a garment, or hope to behold that
which really is in the shadows we cast upon shadows? Shame is of the brute
dullard who thinks shame. The evil ever sees Evil glaring at him, Plato,
the golden-moutheds with the soul of pure fire, has said the truth of this
matter in his _De Republicâ_ the fifth book, where he speaks of young
maids sharing the exercise of the Palæstra, yea, and the Olympic contests
even! For he says, 'Let the wives of our wardens bare themselves, for
their virtue will be a robe; and let them share the toils of war and
defend their country. And for the man who laughs at naked women exercising
their bodies for high reasons, his laughter is a fruit of unripe wisdom,
and he himself knows not what he is about; for that is ever the best of
sayings that the useful is the noble and the hurtful the base'...."

There was a pause. The name of Plato had had a strange effect upon the
company. You would have said they had suddenly entered a church and had
felt all lighter interests sink under the weight of the dim, echoing nave.
After a few moments the poet spoke again in a quieter tone, but his voice
had lost none of the unction which had enriched it.... "Beauty is queen:
by the virtue of Deity, whose image she is, she reigns, lifts up, fires.
Let us beware how we tempt Deity lest we perish ourselves. Actseon died
when he gazed unbidden upon the pure body of Artemis; but Artemis herself
rayed her splendour upon Endymion, and Endymion is among the immortals. We
fall when we rashly confront Beauty, but that Beauty who comes unawares
may nerve our souls to wing to heaven." He ended on a resonant note, and
then, still looking out over the valley, sank into his seat. Lorenzo, with
a fine humility, got up and kissed his thin hand. Giuliano looked at
Simonetta, trying to recall her gaze, but she remained standing in her
place, seeing nothing of her companions. She was thinking of something,
frowning a little and biting her lip, her hands were before her; her slim
fingers twisted and locked themselves nervously, like a tangle of snakes.
Then she tossed her head, as a young horse might, and looked at Giuliano
suddenly, full in the eyes. He rose to meet her with a deprecating smile,
cap in hand--but she walked past him, almost brushing him with her gown,
but never flinching her full gaze, threaded her way through the group to
the back, behind the poet, where Sandro was. He had seen her coming,
indeed he had watched her furtively throughout the oration, but her near
presence disconcerted him again--and he looked down. She was strongly
excited with her quick resolution; her colour had risen and her voice
faltered when she began to speak. She spoke eagerly, running her words
together.

"_Ecco_, Messer Sandro," she whispered blushing. "You have heard
these sayings.... Who is there in Florence like me?"

"There is no one," said Sandro simply.

"I will be your Lady Venus," she went on breathlessly. "You shall paint
me, rising from the sea-foam.... The Genoese love the sea." She was still
eager and defiant; her bosom rose and fell unchecked.

"The Signorina is mocking me; it is impossible; the Signorina knows it."

"Eh, _Madonna!_ is it so shameful to be fair--Star of the Sea as your
poets sing at evening? Do you mean that I dare not do it? Listen then,
Signer Pittore; to-morrow morning at mass-time you will come to the Villa
Vespucci with your brushes and pans and you will ask for Monna Simonetta.
Then you will see. Leave it now; it is settled." And she walked away with
her head high and the same superb smile on her red lips. Mockery! She was
in dead earnest; all her child's feelings were in hot revolt. These women
who had whispered to each other, sniggered at her dress, her white neck
and her free carriage; Giuliano who had presumed so upon her candour--
these prying, censorious Florentines---she would strike them dumb with her
amazing loveliness. They sang her a goddess that she might be flattered
and suffer their company: she would show herself a goddess indeed--the
star of her shining Genoa, where men were brave and silent and maidens
frank like the sea. Yes, and then she would withdraw herself suddenly and
leave them forlorn and dismayed.

As for Sandro, he stood where she had left him, peering after her with a
mist in his eyes. He seemed to be looking over the hill-side, over the
city glowing afar off gold and purple in the hot air, to Mont' Oliveto and
the heights, where a line of black cypresses stood about a low white
building. At one angle of the building was a little turret with a
belvedere of round arches. The tallest cypress just topped the windows,
There his eyes seemed to rest.


II

At mass-time Sandro, folded in his shabby green cloak, stepped into the
sun on the Ponte Vecchio. The morning mists were rolling back under the
heat; you began to see the yellow line of houses stretching along the
turbid river on the far side, and frowning down upon it with blank, mud-
stained faces. Above, through streaming air, the sky showed faintly blue,
and a _campanile_ to the right loomed pale and uncertain like a
ghost. The sound of innumerable bells floated over the still city. Hardly
a soul was abroad; here and there a couple of dusty peasants were trudging
in with baskets of eggs and jars of milk and oil; a boat passed down to
the fishing, and the oar knocked sleepily in the rowlock as she cleared
the bridge. And above, on the heights of Mont' Oliveto, the tapering forms
of cypresses were faintly outlined--straight bars of shadow--and the level
ridge of a roof ran lightly back into the soft shroud.

Sandro could mark these things as he stepped resolutely on to the bridge,
crossed it, and went up a narrow street among the sleeping houses. The day
held golden promise; it was the day of his life! Meantime the mist clung
to him and nipped him; what had fate in store? What was to be the issue?
In the Piazza Santo Spirito, grey and hollow-sounding in the chilly
silences, his own footsteps echoed solemnly as he passed by the door of
the great ragged church. Through the heavy darkness within lights
flickered faintly and went; service was not begun. A drab crew of cripples
lounged on the steps yawning and shivering, and two country girls were
strolling to mass with brown arms round each other's waists. When Sandro's
footfall clattered on the stones they stopped by the door looking after
him and laughed to see his dull face and muffled figure. In the street
beyond he heard a bell jingling, hasty, incessant; soon a white-robed
procession swept by him, fluttering vestments, tapers, and the Host under
a canopy, silk and gold. Sandro snatched at his cap and dropped on his
knees in the road, crouching low and muttering under his breath as the
vision went past. He remained kneeling for a moment after it had gone,
then crossed himself--forehead, breast, lip--and hurried forward.... He
stepped under the archway into the Court. There was a youth with a cropped
head and swarthy neck lounging there teasing a spaniel. As the steps
sounded on the flags he looked up; the old green cloak and clumsy shoes of
the visitor did not interest him; he turned his back and went on with his
game. Sandro accosted him--Was the Signorina at the house? The boy went on
with his game. "Eh, Diavolo! I know nothing at all," he said.

Sandro raised his voice till it rang round the courtyard. "You will go at
once and inquire. You will say to the Signorina that Sandro di Mariano
Filipepi the Florentine painter is here by her orders; that he waits her
pleasure below."

The boy had got up; he and Sandro eyed each other for a little space.
Sandro was the taller and had the glance of a hawk. So the porter went....

... Presently with throbbing brows he stood on the threshold of
Simonetta's chamber. It was the turret room of the villa and its four
arched windows looked through a leafy tracery over towards Florence.
Sandro could see down below him in the haze the glitter of the Arno and
the dusky dome of Brunelleschi cleave the sward of the hills like a great
burnished bowl. In the room itself there was tapestry, the Clemency of
Scipio, with courtiers in golden cuirasses and tall plumes, and peacocks
and huge Flemish horses--a rich profusion of crimson and blue drapery and
stout-limbed soldiery. On a bracket, above a green silk curtain, was a
silver statuette of Madonna and the Bambino Gesu, with a red lamp
flickering feebly before. By the windows a low divan heaped with velvet
cushions and skins. But for a coffer and a prayer-desk and a curtained
recess which enshrined Simonetta's bed, the room looked wind-swept and
bare.

When he entered, Simonetta was standing by the window leaning her hand
against the ledge for support. She was draped from top to toe in a rose-
coloured mantle which shrouded her head like a nun's wimple and then fell
in heavy folds to the ground. She flushed as he came in, but saluted him
with a grave inclination. Neither spoke. The silent greeting, the full
consciousness in each of their parts, gave a curious religious solemnity
to the scene--like some familiar but stately Church mystery. Sandro busied
himself mechanically with his preparations-he was a lover and his pulse
chaotic, but he had come to paint--and when these were done, on tip-toe,
as it were, he looked timidly about him round the room, seeking where to
pose her. Then he motioned her with the same reverential, preoccupied air,
silent still, to a place under the silver Madonna....

... There was a momentary quiver of withdrawal. Simonetta blushed vividly
and drooped her eyes down to her little bare foot peeping out below the
lines of the rosy cloak. The cloak's warmth shone on her smooth skin and
rayed over her cheeks. In her flowery loveliness she looked diaphanous,
ethereal; and yet you could see what a child she was, with her bright
audacity, her ardour and her wilfulness flushing and paling about her like
the dawn. There she stood trembling on the brink....

Suddenly all her waywardness shot into her eyes; she lifted her arms and
the cloak fell back like the shard of a young flower; then, delicate and
palpitating as a silver reed, she stood up in the soft light of the
morning, and the sun, slanting in between the golden leaves and tendrils,
kissed her neck and shrinking shoulder.

Sandro stood facing her, moody and troubled, fingering his brushes and
bits of charcoal; his shaggy brows were knit, he seemed to be breathing
hard. He collected himself with an effort and looked up at her as she
stood before him shrinking, awe-struck, panting at the thing she had done.
Their eyes met, and the girl's distress increased; she raised her hand to
cover her bosom; her breath came in short gasps from parted lips, but her
wide eyes still looked fixedly into his, with such blank panic that a
sudden movement might really have killed her. He saw it all; she! there at
his mercy. Tears swam and he trembled. Ah! the gracious lady! what divine
condescension! what ineffable courtesy! But the artist in him was awakened
almost at the same moment; his looks wandered in spite of her piteous
candour and his own nothingness. Sandro the poet would have fallen on his
face with an "Exi a me, nam peccator sum." Sandro the painter was
different--no mercy there. He made a snatch at a carbon and raised his
other hand with a kind of command--"Holy Virgin! what a line! Stay as you
are, I implore you: swerve not one hair's breadth and I have you for
ever!" There was conquest in his voice.

So Simonetta stood very still, hiding her bosom with her hand, but never
took her watch off the enemy. As he ran blindly about doing a hundred
urgent indispensable things--noting the lights, the line she made, how her
arm cut across the folds of the curtain--she dogged him with staring,
fascinated eyes, just as a hare, crouching in her form, watches a terrier
hunting round her and waits for the end.

But the enemy was disarmed. Sandro the passionate, the lover, the brooding
devotee, was gone; so was _la bella Simonetta_ the beloved, the be-
hymned. Instead, here was a fretful painter, dashing lines and broad
smudges of shade on his paper, while before him rose an exquisite,
slender, swaying form, glistening carnation and silver, and, over all, the
maddening glow of red-gold hair. Could he but catch those velvet shadows,
those delicate, glossy, reflected-lights! Body of Bacchus! How could he
put them in! What a picture she was! Look at the sun on her shoulder! and
her hair--Christ! how it burned! It was a curious moment. The girl who had
never understood or cared to understand this humble lover, guessed now
that he was lost in the artist. She felt that she was simply an effect and
she resented it as a crowning insult. Her colour rose again, her red lips
gathered into a pout. If Sandro had but known, she was his at that
instant. He had but to drop the painter, throw down his brushes, set his
heart and hot eyes bare--to open his arms and she would have fled into
them and nestled there; so fierce was her instinct just then to be loved,
she, who had always been loved! But Sandro knew nothing and cared nothing.
He was absorbed in the gracious lines of her body, the lithe long neck,
the drooping shoulder, the tenderness of her youth; and then the grand
open curve of the hip and thigh on which she was poised. He drew them in
with a free hand in great sweeping lines, eagerly, almost angrily; once or
twice he broke his carbon and--body of a dog!--he snatched at another.

This lasted a few minutes only: even Simonetta, with all her maiden
tremors still feverishly acute, hardly noticed the flight of time; she was
so hot with the feeling of her wrongs, the slight upon her victorious
fairness. Did she not _know_ how fair she was? She was getting very
angry; she had been made a fool of. All Florence would come and gape at
the picture and mock her in the streets with bad names and coarse gestures
as she rode by. She looked at Sandro. Santa Maria! how hot he was! His
hair was drooping over his eyes! He tossed it back every second! And his
mouth was open, one could see his tongue working! Why had she not noticed
that great mouth before? 'Twas the biggest in all Florence. O! why had he
come? She was frightened, remorseful, a child again, with a trembling
pathetic mouth and shrinking limbs. And then her heart began to beat under
her slim fingers. She pressed them down into her flesh to stay those great
masterful throbs. A tear gathered in her eye; larger and larger it grew,
and then fell. A shining drop rested on the round of her cheek and rolled
slowly down her chin to her protecting hand, and lay there half hidden,
shining like a rain-drop between two curving petals of a rose.

It was just at that moment the painter looked up from his work and shook
his bush of hair back. Something in his sketch had displeased him; he
looked up frowning, with a brush between his teeth. When he saw the tear-
stained, distressful, beautiful face it had a strange effect upon him. He
dropped nerveless, like a wounded man, to his knees, and covered his eyes
with his hands. "Ah Madonna! for the pity of heaven forgive me! forgive
me! I have sinned, I have done thee fearful wrong; I, who still dare to
love thee." He uncovered his face and looked up radiant: his own words had
inspired him, "Yes," he went on, with a steadfast smile, "I, Sandro, the
painter, the poor devil of a painter, have seen thee and I dare to love!"
His triumph was short-lived. Simonetta had grown deadly white, her eyes
burned, she had forgotten herself. She was tall and slender as a lily, and
she rose, shaking, to her height.

"Thou presumest strangely," she said, in a slow still voice, "Go! Go in
peace!"

She was conqueror. In her calm scorn she was like a young immortal, some
cold victorious Cynthia whose chastity had been flouted. Sandro was pale
too: he said nothing and did not look at her again. She stood quivering
with excitement, watching him with the same intent alertness as he rolled
up his paper and crammed his brushes and pencils into the breast of his
jacket. She watched him still as he backed out of the room and disappeared
through the curtains of the archway. She listened to his footsteps along
the corridor, down the stair. She was alone in the silence of the sunny
room. Her first thought was for her cloak; she snatched it up and veiled
herself shivering as she looked fearfully round the walls. And then she
flung herself on the piled cushions before the window and sobbed
piteously, like an abandoned child.

The sun slanted in between the golden leaves and tendrils and played in
the tangle of her hair....


III

At ten o'clock on the morning of April the twenty-sixth, a great bell
began to toll: two beats heavy and slow, and then silence, while the air
echoed the reverberation, moaning. Sandro, in shirt and breeches, with
bare feet spread broad, was at work in his garret on the old bridge. He
stayed his hand as the strong tone struck, bent his head and said a
prayer: "Miserere ei, Domine; requiem eternam dona, Domine"; the words
came out of due order as if he was very conscious of their import. Then he
went on. And the great bell went on; two beats together, and then silence.
It seemed to gather solemnity and a heavier message as he painted. Through
the open window a keen draught of air blew in with dust and a scrap of
shaving from the Lung' Arno down below; it circled round his workshop,
fluttering the sketches and rags pinned to the walls. He looked out on a
bleak landscape--San Miniato in heavy shade, and the white houses by the
river staring like dead faces. A strong breeze was abroad; it whipped the
brown water and raised little curling billows, ragged and white at the
edges, and tossed about snaps of surf. It was cold. Sandro shivered as he
shut to his casement; and the stiffening gale rattled at it fitfully. Once
again it thrust it open, bringing wild work among the litter in the room.
He made fast with the rain driving In his face. And above the howling of
the squall he heard the sound of the great bell, steady and unmoved as if
too full of its message to be put aside. Yet it was coming to him athwart
the wind.

Sandro stood at his casement and looked at the weather-beating rain and
yeasty water. He counted, rather nervously, the pulses between each pair
of the bell's deep tones. He was impressionable to circumstances, and the
coincidence of storm and passing-bell awed him.... "Either the God of
Nature suffers or the fabric of the world is breaking";--he remembered a
scrap of talk wafted towards him (as he stood in attendance) from some
humanist at Lorenzo's table only yesterday, above the light laughter and
snatches of song. That breakfast party at the Camaldoli yesterday! What a
contrast--the even spring weather with the sun in a cloudless sky, and now
this icy dead morning with its battle of wind and bell, fighting, he
thought,--over the failing breath of some strong man. Man! God, more like.
"The God of Nature suffers," he murmured as he turned to his work....

Simonetta had not been there yesterday. He had not seen her, indeed, since
that nameless day when she had first transported him with the radiance of
her bare beauty and then struck him down with a level gaze from steel-cold
eyes. And he had deserved it, he had--she had said--"presumed strangely."
Three more words only had she uttered and he had slunk out from her
presence like a dog. What a Goddess! Venus Urania! So she, too, might have
ravished a worshipper as he prayed, and, after, slain him for a careless
word. Cruel? No, but a Goddess. Beauty had no laws; she was above them,
Agnolo himself had said it, from Plato.... Holy Michael! What a blast!
Black and desperate weather.... "Either the God of Nature suffers."... God
shield all Christian souls on such a day!....

One came and told him Simonetta Vespucci was dead. Some fever had torn at
her and raced through all her limbs, licking up her life as it passed. No
one had known of it--it was so swift! But there had just been time to
fetch a priest; Fra Matteo, they said, from the Carmine, had shrived her
(it was a bootless task, God knew, for the child had babbled so, her wits
wandered, look you), and then he had performed the last office. One had
fled to tell the Medici. Giuliano was wild with grief; 'twas as if
_he_ had killed her instead of the Spring-ague--but then, people said
he loved her well! And our Lorenzo had bid them swing the great bell of
the Duomo--Sandro had heard it perhaps?--and there was to be a public
procession, and a Requiem sung at Santa Croce before they took her back to
Genoa to lie with her fathers. Eh! Bacchus! She was fair and Giuliano had
loved her well. It was natural enough then. So the gossip ran out to tell
his news to more attentive ears, and Sandro stood in his place, intoning
softly "Te Deum Laudamus."

He understood it all. There had been a dark and awful strife--earth
shuddering as the black shadow of death swept by. Through tears now the
sun beamed broad over the gentle city where she lay lapped in her mossy
hills. "Lux eterna lucet ei," he said with a steady smile; "atque
lucebit," he added after a pause. He had been painting that day an
agonising Christ, red and languid, crowned with thorns. Some of his own
torment seems to have entered it, for, looking at it now, we see, first of
all, wild eyeballs staring with the mad earnestness, the purposeless
intensity of one seized or "possessed." He put the panel away and looked
about for something else, the sketch he had made of Simonetta on that last
day. When he had found it, he rolled it straight and set it on his easel.
It was not the first charcoal study he had made from life, but a brush
drawing on dark paper, done in sepia-wash and the lights in white lead. He
stood looking into it with his hands clasped. About half a braccia high,
faint and shadowy in the pale tint he had used, he saw her there victim
rather than Goddess. Standing timidly and wistfully, shrinking rather,
veiling herself, maiden-like, with her hands and hair, with lips trembling
and dewy eyes, she seemed to him now an immortal who must needs suffer for
some great end; live and suffer and die; live again, and suffer and die.
It was a doom perpetual like Demeter's, to bear, to nurture, to lose and
to find her Persephone. She had stood there immaculate and apprehensive, a
wistful victim. Three days before he had seen her thus; and now she was
dead. He would see her no more.

Ah, yes! Once more he would see her....

      *       *       *       *       *

They carried dead Simonetta through the streets of Florence with her pale
face uncovered and a crown of myrtle in her hair. People thronging there
held their breath, or wept to see such still loveliness; and her poor
parted lips wore a patient little smile, and her eyelids were pale violet
and lay heavy to her cheek. White, like a bride, with a nosegay of orange-
blossom and syringa at her throat, she lay there on her bed with lightly
folded hands and the strange aloofness and preoccupation all the dead
have. Only her hair burned about her like a molten copper; and the wreath
of myrtle leaves ran forward to her brows and leapt beyond them into a
tongue.

The great procession swept forward; black brothers of Misericordia,
shrouded and awful, bore the bed or stalked before it with torches that
guttered and flared sootily in the dancing light of day. They held the
pick of Florence, those scowling shrouds--Giuliano and Lorenzo, Pazzi,
Tornabuoni, Soderini or Pulci; and behind, old Cattaneo, battered with
storms, walked heavily, swinging his long arms and looking into the day's
face as if he would try another fall with Death yet. Priests and acolytes,
tapers, banners, vestments and a great silver Crucifix, they drifted by,
chanting the dirge for Simonetta; and she, as if for a sacrifice, lifted
up on her silken bed, lay couched like a white flower edged colour of
flame....

... Santa Croce, the great church, stretched forward beyond her into the
distances of grey mist and cold spaces of light. Its bare vastness was
damp like a vault. And she lay in the midst listless, heavy-lidded, apart,
with the half-smile, as it seemed, of some secret mirth. Round her the
great candles smoked and flickered, and mass was sung at the High Altar
for her soul's repose. Sandro stood alone facing the shining altar but
looking fixedly at Simonetta on her couch. He was white and dry--parched
lips and eyes that ached and smarted. Was this the end? Was it possible,
my God! that the transparent, unearthly thing lying there so prone and
pale was dead? Had such loveliness aught to do with life or death? Ah!
sweet lady, dear heart, how tired she was, how deadly tired! From where he
stood he could see with intolerable anguish the sombre rings round her
eyes and the violet shadows on the lids, her folded hands and the
straight, meek line to her feet. And her poor wan face with its wistful,
pitiful little smile was turned half aside on the delicate throat, as if
in a last appeal:--"Leave me now, O Florentines, to my rest, I have given
you all I had: ask no more. I was a young girl, a child; too young for
your eager strivings. You have killed me with your play; let me be now,
let me sleep!" Poor child! Poor child! Sandro was on his knees with his
face pressed against the pulpit and tears running through his fingers as
he prayed....

As he had seen her, so he painted. As at the beginning of life in a cold
world, passively meeting the long trouble of it, he painted her a rapt
Presence floating evenly to our earth. A grey, translucent sea laps
silently upon a little creek, and in the hush of a still dawn the myrtles
and sedges on the water's brim are quiet. It is a dream in half tones that
he gives us, grey and green and steely blue; and just that, and some
homely magic of his own, hint the commerce of another world with man's
discarded domain. Men and women are asleep, and as in an early walk you
may startle the hares at their play, or see the creatures of the darkness--
owls and night hawks and heavy moths--flit with fantastic purpose over
the familiar scene, so here it comes upon you suddenly that you have
surprised Nature's self at her mysteries; you are let into the secret; you
have caught the spirit of the April woodland as she glides over the
pasture to the copse. And that, indeed, was Sandro's fortune. He caught
her in just such a propitious hour. He saw the sweet wild thing, pure and
undefiled by touch of earth; caught her in that pregnant pause of time ere
she had lighted. Another moment and a buxom nymph of the grove would fold
her in a rosy mantle, coloured as the earliest wood-anemones are. She
would vanish, we know, into the daffodils or a bank of violets. And you
might tell her presence there, or in the rustle of the myrtles, or coo of
doves mating in the pines; you might feel her genius in the scent of the
earth or the kiss of the West wind; but you could only see her in mid-
April, and you should look for her over the sea. She always comes with the
first warmth of the year.

But daily, before he painted, Sandro knelt in a dark chapel in Santa
Croce, while a blue-chinned priest said mass for the repose of Simonetta's
soul.



VIII


THE BURDEN OF NEW TYRE

For a short time in her motley history, an old-clothesman, one Domenico--
he and his "Compagnia del Bruco," his _Company of the Worm_[1]--
reigned over Siena and gave to her people a taste for blood. It was
bloodshed on easy terms they had; for surely no small nation (except that
tiger-cat Perugia) has achieved so much massacre with so little fighting.
Massacre considered as one of the Fine Arts? No indeed; but massacre as a
_viaticum_, as "title clear to mansions in the skies"; for, with more
complacency than discrimination, these sated citizens chose to dedicate
their most fantastic blood-orgies by a _Missa de Spiritu Sancto_ in
the Cathedral Church. The old-clothesman, who by some strange oversight
died in his bed, was floated up on the incense of this devout service to
show his hands, and--marvel!--Saint Catherine, the "amorosa sposa" of
Heaven, reigned in his stead. Certainly, for unction spiced with ferocity,
for a madness which alternately kissed the Crucifix and trampled on it,
for mandragora and _fleurs de lys_, saints and succubi, churches and
lupanars--commend me to Siena the red.

[Footnote 1: This was one of the _Contrade_ into which the City was
divided, and of which each had its totem-sign.]

You are not to suppose that she has not paid for all this, the red Siena.
None of it is absolved; it is there floating vaguely in the atmosphere. It
chokes the gully-trap streets in August when the air is like a hot bath;
it wails round the corners on stormy nights and you hear it battling among
the towers overhead, buffeting the stained walls of criminal old palaces
and churches grown hoary in iniquity--so many half-embodied centuries of
deadly sin gnawing their spleens or shrieking their infamous carouse over
again. So at least I found it. Without baring myself to the charge of any
sneaking kindness for bloodshedding, I may own to the fascination of the
precipitous fortress-town huddled red and grey on its three red crags, and
of its suggestion of all the old crimes of Italy from Ezzelino's to
Borgia's, of all unhappy deaths from Pia de' Tolomei's to Vittoria's, the
White Devil of Italy. Its air seemed "blood-boltered" (like the shade of
the hunted Banquho), its stones, curiously slippery for such dry weather,
cried "Haro!" or "Out! Havoc!" And above it all shone a marble church,
white as a bride; while now and again on a favourable waft of wind came
the fragrant memory of Saint Catherine. It is the peak of earth most
charged with wayward emotions--pity and terror blent together into a
poignant beauty, a sorcery. Imagine yourself one of those old Popes--Linus
or Anaclete or Damasius--whose heads spike the clerestory of the Duomo,
you would look down upon a sea of pictures (by the best pavement-artists
in the world)--the _Massacre of the Innocents_ like a patch of dry
blood by the altar-steps, a winking Madonna in the Capella del Voto
thronged with worshippers, Hermes Trismegistus, a freaksome wizard, by the
West door, and a gilded array of the great world smiling and debonnair in
the sacristy. Not far off is Sodoma's lovely Catherine fainting under the
sweet dolour of her spousals. Are you for the White or the Black Mass?
Cybelè or the Holy Ghost? Catherine or Hermes Trismegistus? Siena will
give you any and yet more cunning confections. It is very strange.

The approach to her three hills, if you are not flattened by the
intolerable pilgrimage from Florence, is fine. Hints of what is to come
greet you in the frittered shale of the grey country-side broken abruptly
by little threatening hill-towns. The scar juts out of the earth's crust,
rising sheer, and there on a fretted peak hovers a fortress-village, steep
red roofs, an ancient bell-tower or two with a lean barrel of a church
beyond; all the lines cut sharp to the clean sky; a bullock-cart creaking
up homewards; the shiver and dust of olives round the walls. You could
swear you caught the glint of a long gun over the machicolations; but it
is only a casement fired by the westering sun. Such are San Miniato,
Castel Fiorentino, Poggibonsi (where stayed Lorenzo's Nencia--his Nancy,
we should call her), San Gimignano and its Fina, a little girl-saint of
fifteen springs; such, too, is Siena when you get there, but redder, her
grey stones blushing for her sins. And the country blushes for her as you
draw near, for all the vineyards are dotted with burning willows in the
autumn--osier-bushes flaming at the heart. Let it be night when you
arrive--the dead vast and middle of a still night. Then suffer yourself to
be whirled through the inky streets, over the flags, from one hill to
another. It is deathly quiet: no soul stirs. The palaces rise on either
hand like the ghosts of old reproaches; a flickering lamp reveals a gully
as black as a grave, and shines on the edge of a lane which falls you know
not whither. You turn corners which should complicate a maze, you scrape
and clatter down steeps, you groan up mountain-sides. All in the dark,
mind. And the great white houses slide down upon you to the very flags you
are beating; you could near touch either wall with a hand. So you swerve
round a column, under a votive lamp, and have left the stars and their
violet bed. You are in a _cortile_: men say there is an inn here with
reasonable entertainment. If it is the _Aquila Nera_, it will serve.
There is no sound beyond the labouring of our horses' wind and of some
outland dog in the far distance baying for a moon. This is Siena at her
black magic.

I maintain that the impression you thus receive holds you. Next morning
there is a blare of sun. It will blind you at first, blister you. Rayed
out from plaster-walls which have been soaking in it for five centuries,
driven up in palpable waves of heat from the flags, lying like a lake of
white metal in the Piazza, however recklessly this truly royal sun may
beam, in Siena you will feel furtive and astare for sudden death.

There is nothing frank and open about Siena; none of your robust, red-
lunged, open-air Paganism. Théophile Gautier, Baudelaire, Poe--such
supersensitive plants should have known it, instead of the ingenuous M.
Bourget and the deliberate Mr. Henry James. M. Bourget looked at the
Sodomas and Mr. James admired the view: what a romance we should have had
from Gautier of illicit joys and their requital by a knife, what a strophe
from Baudelaire half-obscene, half-mournful, wholly melodious. But
Théophile Gautier tarried in Venice, and, as for M. Charles, the man of
pronounced tastes and keen nose, stuck in the main to Paris. Failing them
as guides, go you first to the Piazza del Campo where horses race in
August--all roads lead thither. Contraries again! A square? It is a cup. A
field? It is a Gabbatha: a place of burning pavements. Were red brick and
Gothic ever so superbly compounded before, to be so strong and yet so
lithe? That is the Palazzo Publico, the shrine of Aristotle's
_Politics_ and the _Miracles of the Virgin_. What is that long
spear which seems to shake as it glances skywards? It isn't a spear; it's
the Torre del Mangia--the loveliest tower in Tuscany, the _filia
pulchrior_ of a beautiful mother, the Torre della Vacca of Florence.
That tower rises from the bottom of the cup and shoots straight upwards,
nor stays till it has out-topped the proudest belfry on the hills about
it. But what a square this is! The backs of the houses (whose front doors
are high above on the hill-top) stand like bald cliffs on every side. You
cannot see any outlets: most of them are winding stairways cut between the
houses. The lounging, shabby men and girls seem handsomer and lazier than
you found them in Florence. They seem to have room to stretch their fine
limbs against these naked walls. Their maturity is almost tropical. The
girls wear flopping straw hats: wide, sorrowful eyes stare at you from the
shady recesses, and the rounding of their chins and beautiful proud necks
are marked by glossy lights. "Morbida e bianca," sang Lorenzo. I suppose
they think of little more than the market price of spring onions: but
then, why do their eyes speak like that? And what do they speak of? _Dio
mio_, I am an honest man! So was not Lorenzo; listen to him:--

"Two eyes hath she so roguish and demure
That, lit they on a rock, they'd make it feel;
How shall poor melting man meet such a lure?"

How indeed? Ah, Nenciozza mia!

"My little Nancy shows nor fleck nor pimple;
Pliant and firm, is she, a reed for grace:
In her smooth chin there's just one pretty dimple;
That rounds the perfect measure of her face:"

That dimple has been the destruction of many a heart:--

"So wise, withal, above us other simple
Plain folk--sure, Nature set her in this place
To bloom her tender whiteness all about us,
And break our hearts--and then bloom on without us."

Yes indeed, my Lorenzo. But enough! Let us take shelter in the Duomo.

Barred like a tiger, glistening snow and rose and gold, topped by a
flaunting angel, her door flanked by the lean Roman wolf; paved with
pictures, hemmed with the Popes from Peter to Pius, encrusted with marbles
and gemmy frescoes, it is a casket of delights this church, and the
quintessence of Siena--_molles Senæ_ as Beccadelli, himself of this
Tyre, dubbed his native town. Voluptuous as she was, tigerish Siena was
more consistent than you would think. True, Saints Catherine and
Bernardine consort oddly with the old-clothesman saying mass with wet
hands, and Beccadelli the soft singer of abominations, just as the
"Madones aux longs regards" of the Primitives--pious creatures of slim
idle fingers and desirous eyes, pining in brocade and jewels--seem in a
different sphere (as indeed they are) from Pinturricchio's well-found
Popes and Princesses, and Sodoma's languishing boys or half-ripe
Catherines dying of love. Have I not said this was once a city of
pleasure? And whether the pleasure was a blood-feast or an _Agapè_,
or a Platonic banquet where the flute-players and wine-cups and crowns
crushed out the high disquisition and philosophic undercurrent--it was all
one to soft Siena drowsing the days out on her hills. Her pleasures were
fierce, and beautiful as fierce. But the burden of Tyre is always the
same. And so the memories of a thousand ancient wrongs unpurged howl over
the red city, as once howled the ships of Tarshish.



IX


ILARIA, MARIOTA, BETTINA

(_Studies in Translation from Stone_)

Greatest of great ladies is Ilaria, _potens Luccæ_, sleeping easily,
with chin firmly rounded to the vault, where she has slept for five
hundred years, and still a power in Lucca of the silver planes. It was a
white-hot September day I went to pay my devotions to her shrine. Lucca
drowsed in a haze, her bleached arcades of trees lifeless in the glare of
high noon; all the valley was winking, the very bells had no strength to
chime: and then I saw Ilaria lie in the deep shade waiting for the
judgment. Ilaria was a tall Tuscan--the girls of Lucca are out of the
common tall, and straight as larches--of fine birth and a life of
minstrels and gardens. Pompous processions, trapped horses, emblazonings,
were hers, and all refinements of High Masses and Cardinals. So she lived
once a life as stately-ordered as old dance-music, in the airy corridors
of a great marble palace, swept hourly by the thin, clear air of the
Lucchesan plain; and her lord, went out to war with Pisa or Pescia, or
even further afield, following Emperor or Pope to that Monteaperti which
made Arbia run colour of wine, or shrill Benevento, or Altopasdo which
cost the Florentines so dear.[1] But Ilaria stayed at home to trifle with
lap-dogs and jongleurs under the orange trees: heard boys make stammering
love, and laughed lightly at their Decameron travesty, being too proud to
be ashamed or angered; and sometimes (for she was not too proud but that
love should be of the party), she pulled a ring from one lithe finger, and
looked down while the lad kissed it for a holy relic and put it in his
bosom reverently,--pretending not to see. But, Ilaria, you knew well what
gave colour to the faint and worn old words about _Fior di spin giallo,
or O Dea fatale_, or

"O Dio de' Dei!
La più bellina mi parete voi;
O quanto sete cara agli occhi miei!"

[Footnote 1: Historically he could have done none of these things, except,
perhaps, fight at Altopascio.]

And so the days passed in your square corner palace, until the plague came
down with the North wind, and you bowed your proud neck before it like a
mountain pine. Young to die, young to die and leave the pleasant ways of
Lucca, the green ramparts, the grassy walks in the pastures where the
hawks fly and the shadows fleet over the green and gold of early May.
Young enough, Ilaria. Scorner of love, now Death is at hand, with the
bats' wings and wet scythe they give him in the Piazza, when your lord
comes triumphing or God's Body takes the air: what of him, Madonna? Let
him come, says Ilaria, with raised eyebrows and a wintry smile. Yet she
fought: her thin hands held off the scythe at arms' length; she set her
teeth and battled with the winged beast. Whenas she knew it must be,
suddenly she relaxed her hold, and Death had his way with her.

Then her women came about her and robed her in a long robe, colour of
olive leaves, and soft to the touch. And they covered soberly her feet and
placed them on a crouching dog, which was Lucca. But her fine hands they
folded peace-wise below her bosom, to rest quietly there like the clasps
of a girdle. Her gentle hair (bright brown it was, like a yearling
chestnut) they crowned also, and closed down her ringed eyes. So they let
her lie till judgment come. And when I saw her the close robe still folded
her about and ran up her throat lovingly to her chin, till her head seemed
to thrust from it as a flower from its calyx. It would seem, too, as if
her bosom rose and fell, that her nostrils quivered when the wind blew in
and touched them; and the hem of her garment being near me, I was fain to
kiss it and say a prayer to the divinity haunting that place. So I left
the presence well disposed in my heart to glorify God for so fair a sight.

Whereafter I took the way to Florence among the vineyards and tangled
hill-sides; and, anon, in the broad plain I stayed at Prato to honour the
lady of the town. Madonna della Cintola she is called now, and one Luca, a
worker in clay, knew her mind most intimately and did all her will. Quiet
days she had lived at Prato, being wife to a decent metal-worker there and
keeper of his house and stuff. Mariota she was then called for all her
name, but as to her parentage none knew it, save that Marco's Vanna had
been both frail and fair, and when she had been in flower the great Lord
Ottoboni had flowered likewise--and often in her company. Giovanna I had
never known; she died before her lord married the lady Adhelidis of Verona
and the seven days' tilting were held in her honour in a field below the
city wall. But when Luca first knew Mariota and saw how her mother's pride
beaconed from her smooth brow, the girl was standing in the Piazza in a
tattered green kirtle and bodice that gaped at the hooks, played upon by
sun, and fallow wind, and longing looks driven at her eyes in vain. The
wench carried her head and light fardel of years like a Princess; would
laugh to show her fine teeth if your jest pleased her; and then she would
look straightly upon you and be glad of you. If you pleased her not, she
would look through you to the mountains or the church-tower. She had as
squarely a modelled chin as ever I saw, and her lips firmly set and redder
than strawberries in a wet May. None taught her anything; none, that Luca
could learn, gave her sup or bed. He was a boy then and would have given
her both. I think she knew he favoured her--what girl does not? Everybody
favoured Mariota, stayed as she passed, and followed her stealthily with
troubled eyes. But he was a moody boy then, at the mercy of dreams, and
stammered when he was near her, blushing. When he came back she was
seventeen years old, and the metal-worker's wife. It was then Luca saw
her, in the street called of the Eye, where climbing plants top the
convent wall and from the garden comes the scent of wall-flowers and sweet
marjoram.

At her man's door she was standing, barefooted, fray-kirtled as of old;
but riper, of more assured and triumphant beauty. In her arms a boy-child,
lusty and half-naked, struggled to be fed, seeking with both fat hands to
forage for himself. Turning her grey eyes, where pride slumbered and shame
had never been, she knew Luca again, made him welcome at the door, with,
superb assurance set wine and olives and bread before him; and so stood at
the table while he ate, gravely recovering one by one the features of his
face, smiling, preoccupied with her pleasure and unconscious of the cooing
child. For with matronly composure she had eased my gentleman as soon as
she had provided for her guest.

In comes the metal-worker, Sor Matteo, burly but watchful in a greasy
apron, eyes the lad up and down with much burdensome pondering of hand to
scrubby chin, as to say to Mariota "I'm no fool." With never a blush, nor
a quailing of the eyes' level beam, Mariota begs cousin Luca to become
conscious of her master.

There were the makings of a piece of right Boccacesque in all this, and
the _padrone_ showed manifest disinclination for his accustomed part:
but Luca's candid face disclaimed all dark-entry work. Mariota hurried to
her task. A modeller in clay, a statuary, _via_, an admirer of the
choicer contrivings of Mother Nature! What and if he should find his
cousin, his scarce-remembered gossip Mariota, worth an artist's half-
closed eye! And the _bambinaccio_ (with a side-look and face averted
as she spoke)--_ecco_!--many a Gesulino showed a leaner thigh and
cheeks less peachy than he. Had Papa seen the new dimple in Beppino's
chin? And more soft piping to the same tune. Master Matteo was appeased;
but Luca was far adrift with other matters. Love, for him, lay not in
flesh and blood alone; rather, in what flesh and blood signified in
another clay, not Messer Domeneddio's, but his own chosen task-stuff. He
had come hither to Prato on the commission of the Opera, to work a
_Madonna col Bambino_ for the great door of the Duomo. Well! he had
his Madonna to hand, it would seem:--Mariota at the door of the smith's
house, confident, lissom and fresh, and the lusty child groping for his
breakfast. The light had been upon her, gleamed upon her skin, her
brimming eyes, her glossy brown hair. What a bravery was hers! What a
glorified presentment of young life, new-budded, was here! The town gaped,
the husband admired; but Mariota, with her square chin and high carriage,
looked as straightly before her, when in pale blue and silver-white,
Madonna with the Babe and the holy deacons Stephen and Laurence stood,
four months afterwards, within the shadow of the great church, and shone
out to the day.

I pay silent respect to strapping Mariota and her baby-boy In the country
of Boccace. Then, when I am in Florence again, under the spell of the city
life, I lounge in the Borg' Ognissanti, or across Arno in the
_quartiere_ San Niccolo, or out by San Frediano where Botticelli in
his green old age pruned his vines, or in the pent streets between the Via
della Pergola and Santa Croce, and watch the townsfolk lead their lives of
patchwork and easy laughter, I fear I have a taste for such company. I am
fond of verdure; I like trees as well as men: every oak for me has its
hamadryad informing it, I like flowers better than men; and the most
beautiful flower I know is a girl, I have a sweetheart in the Bargello, as
you shall hear. I believe she is one of Donatello's sowing; but the
critics are divided, I cannot trace Verocchio's bluntened lineaments in
her, nor Mino's peaksomeness, nor anything of Desiderio. She's not very
pretty, but she's like a summer flower, say, a campanula; and that is why
I love to watch her and talk to her in this grandfatherly fashion.
Bettina, I say to her, are you, I wonder, twelve years old yet? You cannot
be much more I think, for you have let your bodice-strap slip off one of
your shoulders and betray you to the sun. You are but a round rose-bud now
and no one thinks any harm; but some day the sun will look at you in an
odd way, and then, suddenly, you will be ashamed, and draw your frock
right up to your neck.

And your hair strays where it likes at present. I know you have a golden
fillet of box-leaves round your brow: that is because you are only a
little girl still, not more than twelve. And you have tied the ends up in
a sort of knot. But you romp so much and laugh so--I know you have two
bright rows of little teeth--that you can never expect to keep tidy. Why,
even now, while I am scolding you, you are itching to laugh and run away.
I see a wavy lock trailing down your neck, _ragazza_, and those heavy
tresses on your temples, instead of being drawn meekly back, droop down
over your temples, and cover up your little ears. Don't you know that
Florentine, ladies are proud of their foreheads, and when they have pretty
ears, always show them? Some day, my dear, you will go out into the world;
and your hair will be twisted up into coils with gold braid; perhaps you
will have on it a flowery garland of Messer Domenico's making, and a
string of Venice beads round your throat. And when that time comes, you
won't let the sun play with your neck any more; he won't know his romp
when he sees her in stiff velvet of Genoa and a high collar edged with
seed-pearls.

And you won't look me in the eyes as you are doing now, saucy girl, with
your chin pushed forward and your mouth all in a pucker--who's to know
whether you are going to pout or giggle?--and your pert green eyes wide
open, as if to say "Who's this old thickhead staring at me so hard?" No,
Bettina, you will drop them instead; you will blush all over your neck and
cheeks, and hang your round head. You have chestnuts in your two fists
now, I know; there's some of the flour sticking to the corners of your
mouth, little slut. But then you will have a fan perhaps, or a spyglass,
or at least a mass-book in the mornings; and when I am looking at you,
your ringers will tie themselves in knots and be very interesting. In two
years' time, Bettina!

But though I shan't love you half as much as I do now, I shall always come
to see you, I think; and, as I shall be a very old man by that time,
perhaps you will still sit on a stool at my knee and give me a kiss now
and then--oh, a mere bird's peck, just for kindness.... The Via de' Bardi
is grey, and you are there in yellow. You are like a young daffodil
dancing in the winter grass. But soon you will have strained to your full
flower-time, and I see you in your summering, lithe and rather languid,
with heavy-lidded eyes, and a slow smile.

Then you will not dance; but, instead, you will stoop gravely like a tall
garden lily, and give your white hand to the lover kneeling below.

And all in two years, my little Bettina!



X


CATS

There was once a man in Italy--so the story runs--who said that animals
were sacred because God had made them. People didn't believe him for a
long time; they came, you see, of a race which had found it amusing to
kill such things, and killed a great many of them too, until it struck
them one fine day that killing men was better sport still, and watching
men kill each other the best sport of all because it was the least
trouble. Animals! said they, why, how can they be sacred; things that you
call beef and mutton when they have left off being oxen and sheep, and
sell for so much a pound? They scoffed at this mad neighbour, looked at
each other waggishly, and shrugged their shoulders as he passed along the
street. Well! then, all of a sudden, as you may say, one morning he walked
into the town--Gubbio it was--with a wolf pacing at his heels--a certain
wolf which had been the terror of the country-side and eaten I don't know
how many children and goats. He walked up the main street till he got to
the open Piazza in front of the great church. And the long grey wolf
padded beside him with a limp tongue lolling out between the ragged
palings which stood him for teeth. In the middle of the Piazza was a
fountain, and above the fountain a tall stone crucifix. Our friend mounted
the steps of the cross in the alert way he had (like a little bird, the
story says), and the wolf, after lapping apologetically in the basin,
followed him up three steps at a time. Then with one arm round the shaft
to steady himself, he made a fine sermon to the neighbours crowding in the
Square, and the wolf stood with his forepaws on the edge of the fountain
and helped him. The sermon was all about wolves (naturally) and the best
way of treating them. I fancy the people came to agree with it in time;
anyhow when the man died they made a saint of him and built three
churches, one over another, to contain his body. And I believe it is
entirely his fault that there are a hundred-and-three cats in the convent-
garden of San Lorenzo in Florence. For what are you to do? Animals are
sacred, says Saint Francis. Animals are sacred, but cats have kittens; and
so it comes about that the people who agree with Saint Francis have to
suffer for the people who don't.

The Canons of San Lorenzo agree with Saint Francis, and it seems to me
that they must suffer a good deal. The convent is large; it has a great
mildewed cloister with a covered-in walk all round it built on arches. In
the middle is a green garth with cypresses and yews dotted about; and when
you look up you see the blue sky cut square, and the hot tiles of a huge
dome staring up into it. Round the cloister walk are discreet brown doors,
and by the side of each door a brass plate tells you the name and titles
of the Canon who lives behind it. It is on the principle of Dean's Yard at
Westminster; only here there are more Canons--and more cats.

The Canons live under the cloister; the cats live on the green garth, and
sometimes die there, I did not see much of the Canons; but the cats seemed
to me very sad-depressed, nostalgic even, I might describe them, if there
had not been something more languid, something faded and spiritless about
their habit. It was not that they quarrelled. I heard none of those long-
drawn wails, gloomy yet mellow soliloquies, with which our cats usher in
the crescent moon or hymn her when she swims at the full: there lacked
even that comely resignation we may see on any sunny window-ledge at
home;--the rounded back and neatly ordered tail, the immaculate fore-paws
peering sedately below the snowy chest, the squeezed-up eyes which so
resolutely shut off a bleak and (so to say) unenlightened world. That is
pensiveness, sedate chastened melancholy; but it is soothing, it speaks a
philosophy, and a certain balancing of pleasures and pains. In San Lorenzo
cloister, when I looked in one hot noon seeking a refuge from the glare
and white dust of the city, I was conscious of a something sinister that
forbade such an even existence for the smoothest tempered cat. There were
too many of them for companionship, and perhaps too few for the humour of
the thing to strike them: in and out the chilly shades they stalked
gloomily, hither and thither like lank and unquiet ghosts of starved cats.
They were of all colours--gay orange-tawny, tortoiseshell with the
becoming white patch over one eye, delicate tints of grey and fawn and
lavender, brindle, glossy sable; and yet the gloom and dampness of the
place seemed to mildew them all so that their brightness was glaring and
their softest gradations took on a shade as of rusty mourning. No cat
could be expected to do herself justice.

To and fro they paced, balancing sometimes with hysterical precision on
the ledge of the parapet, passing each other at whisker's length, but
_cutting each other dead_! Not a cat had a look or a sniff for his
fellow; not a cat so much as guessed at another's existence. Among those
hundred-and-three restless spirits there was not a cat but did not affect
to believe that a hundred-and-two were away! It was horrible, the
_inhumanity_ of it. Here were these shreds and waifs, these
"unnecessary litters" of Florentine households, herded together in the
only asylum (short of the Arno) open to them, driven in like dead leaves
in November, flitting dismally round and round for a span, and watching
each other die without a mew or a lick! Saint Francis was not the wise man
I had thought him.

It was about two o'clock in the afternoon. I had watched these beasts at
their feverish exercises for nearly an hour before I perceived that they
were gradually hemming me in. They seemed to be forming up, in ranks, on
the garth. Only a ditch separated us--I was in the cloister-walk, a
hundred-and-three gaunt, expectant, desperate cats facing me. Their
famished pale eyes pierced me through and through; and two-hundred-and-two
hungry eyes (four cats supported life in one apiece) is more than I can
stand, though I am a married man with a family. These brutes thought I was
going to feed them! I was preparing weakly for flight when I heard steps
in the gateway; a woman came in with a black bag. She must be going to
deposit a cat on Jean-Jacques' ingenious plan of avoiding domestic
trouble; it was surely impossible she wanted to borrow one! Neither: she
came confidently in, beaming on our mad fellowship with a pleasant smile
of preparation. The cats knew her better than I did. Their suspense was
really shocking to witness. While she was rolling her sleeves up and tying
on her apron--she was poor, evidently, but very neat and wholesome in her
black dress and the decent cap which crowned her grey hair--while she
unpacked the contents of the bag--two newspaper parcels full of rather
distressing viands, scissors, and a pair of gloves which had done duty
more than once--while all these preparations were soberly fulfilling, the
agitation of the hundred-and-three was desperate indeed. The air grew
thick, it quivered with the lashing of tails; hoarse mews echoed along the
stone walls, paws were raised and let fall with the rhythmical patter of
raindrops. A furtive beast played the thief: he was one of the one-eyed
fraternity, red with mange. Somehow he slipped in between us; we
discovered him crouched by the newspaper raking over the contents. This
was no time for ceremony; he got a prompt cuff over the head and slunk
away shivering and shaking his ears. And then the distribution began. Now,
your cat, at the best of times, is squeamish about his food; he stands no
tricks. He is a slow eater, though he can secure his dinner with the best
of us. A vicious snatch, like a snake, and he has it. Then he spreads
himself out to dispose of the prey-feet tucked well in, head low, tail
laid close along, eyes shut fast. That is how a cat of breeding loves to
dine, Alas! many a day of intolerable prowling, many a black vigil, had
taken the polish off the hundred-and-three. As a matter of fact they
behaved abominably: they leaped at the scraps, they clawed at them in the
air, they bolted them whole with starting eyes and portentous gulpings,
they growled all the while with the smothered ferocity of thunder in the
hills. No waiting of turns, no licking of lips and moustaches to get the
lingering flavours, no dalliance. They were as restless and suspicious
here as everywhere; their feast was the horrid hasty orgy of ghouls in a
churchyard.

But an even distribution was made: I don't think any one got more than his
share. Of course there were underhand attempts in plenty, and, at least
once, open violence--a sudden rush from opposite sides, a growling and
spitting like sparks from a smithy; and then, with ears laid flat, two
ill-favoured beasts clawed blindly at each other, and a sly and tigerish
brindle made away with the morsel. My woman took the thing very coolly I
thought, served them all alike, and didn't resent (as I should have done)
the unfortunate want of delicacy there was about these vagrants. A cat
that takes your food and growls at you for the favour, a cat that would
eat _you_ if he dared, is a pretty revelation. _Ça donne
furieusement à penser_. It gives you a suspicion of just how far the
polish we most of us smirk over will go. My cats at San Lorenzo knew some
few moments of peace between two and three in the afternoon. That would
have been the time to get up a testimonial to the kind soul who fed them.
Try them at five and they would ignore you. But try them next morning!

My knowledge of the Italian tongue, in those days, was severely limited to
the necessaries of existence; to take me on a fancy subject, like cats,
was to strike me dumb. But at this stage of our intercourse (hitherto
confined to smiles and eye-service) it became so evident my companion had
something to say that I must perforce take my hat off and stand attentive.
She pointed to the middle of the garth, and there, under the boughs of a
shrub, I saw the hundred-and-fourth cat, sorriest of them all. It was a
new-comer, she told me, and shy. Shy it certainly was, poor wretch; it
glowered upon me from under the branches like a bad conscience. Shyness
could not hide hunger--I never saw hungrier eyes than hers--but it could
hold it in check: the silkiest speech could not tempt her out, and when we
threw pieces she only winced! What was to be done next was my work. Plain
duty called me to scale the ditch with some of those dripping, slippery,
nameless cates in my fingers and to approach the stranger where she lurked
bodeful under her tree. My passage towards her lay over the rank
vegetation of the garth, in whose coarse herbage here and there I stumbled
upon a limp white form stretched out--a waif the less in the world! I
don't say it was a happy passage for me: it was made to the visible
consternation of her I wish to befriend. Her piteous yellow eyes searched
mine for sympathy; she wanted to tell me something and wouldn't
understand! As I neared her she shivered and mewed twice. Then she limped
painfully off--poor soul, she had but three feet!--to another tree,
leaving behind her, unwillingly enough, a much-licked dead kitten. That
was what she wanted to tell me then. As I was there, I deposited the
garbage by the side of the little corpse, knowing she would resume her
watch, and retired. My friend who had put up her parcels was prepared to
go. She thanked me with a smile as she went out, looking carefully round
lest she had missed out some other night-birds. One of the Canons had come
out of his door and was leaning against the lintel, thoughtfully rubbing
his chin. He was a spare dry man who seemed to have measured life and
found it a childish business. He jerked his head towards the gateway as he
glanced at me. "That is a good woman," he said in French, "she lendeth
unto the Lord.... Yes," he went on, nodding his head slowly backwards and
forwards, "lends Him something every day." The cats were sitting in the
shady cloister-garth licking their whiskers: one was actually cleaning his
paw. I went out into the sun thinking of Saint Francis and his wolf.



XI


THE SOUL OF A CITY

He hated Marco first of all because one day he undersold him in the Campo,
put him to shame in open market. Figs were going cheap that October in
spite of the waning year; but there was no earthly reason why he should
give the English ladies more than four for two _soldi_. What were
_soldi_ to English people? The scratch of a flea! He would have given
them a handful, taken as they came, for their piece of _cinquanta_,
and reaped a tidy little profit for himself. Who would have been the
worse? God knew he needed it. Mariola crumpled with the ague like a dried
leaf, and that long girl of his growing up so fast, and still running wild
with goat-herds and marble quarrymen. How could he send her to the nuns
for a place unless he bought her some shoes and a rosary? And then that
pig Marco--thieving old miser--peered forward with his mock candour and
silver-rimmed goggles and offered _ten_ for two _soldi_--ten!
with the market price, _Dio mio_, at twelve! And _fichi totati_
too! Do you wonder that the ladies in striped blankets gave the cheek to
Maso Cecci and turned to Marco Zoppa?

That wasn't all, but it was an accentuation of a long series of spiteful
injuries wrought him by the wrinkled old villain. Maso endured, hating the
old man daily more and more; tried little tricks, little revenges, upon
him, upset his baskets, hid his pipe; but they generally failed or
recoiled with a nasty swiftness upon himself. He only got deeper and
deeper into the bad odour of the neighbours who traded in the Piazza with
fruit and indifferent photographs. Nothing went very well--thanks to that
unspeakable old Marco! His girl grew longer and lazier and handsomer, with
a shapelier bust and a pair of arms like that snaky Bacchante in the
_Opera_. Maso had to quail more than he liked to admit before the
proud stare of her eyes; and when she dropped the heavy lids upon them and
sauntered away, arms akimbo under her shawl, he could only swear. And he
always cursed Marco Zoppa who gave her chestnuts and sage counsel for
nothing. God only knew what devilry he might be whispering to her in the
shady corner where the sun never came and the grass sprouted between the
flags--she leaning against the wall, looking down at her toes, and he
peering keen-eyed into her face and muttering in his beard, sometimes
laying an old brown hand on her shoulder--Lord! he _did_ hate the
man.

Then came the August races.

Maso had brought his Isotta into the city to see the fun and she had
disappeared in the press just before the procession stayed by the Palazzo
and the trumpets sounded for the first race. Maso shrugged his shoulders
and cursed his luck, but didn't budge. The girl must look after herself.
He was on the upper rim of the great fountain craning his neck over the
pack of people: then he got a dig under the ribs enough to take the breath
of an ox. It was the spout of old Marco's green umbrella. "Hey! silly
fool," spluttered the old liar, "dost want that loose-legged slut of thine
in trouble? I tell thee she's playing in a corner with Carlo Formaggia.
Already he's pinched her cheek twice, and who knows what the end may be?
Mud-coloured ass, wilt thou let thy child slip to the devil while thou
standest gaping at a horse-race?" And this before all the neighbours! What
to say to such a man? Maso babbled with rage; but he had to go, for Carlo
Formaggia was well known. He had ruined more girls than enough; he was in
league with vile houses, gambling dens, thieves' hells; Captain of an
infamous secret society; the police were only waiting for a pretext to get
him shipped off to the hulks. He must go of course. No thanks to Marco
though: in fact he hated him worse than ever, partly because he had drawn
all eyes and a fair share of sniggering and tongues thrust in the cheek
upon his account; but most because he knew he had been trapped into losing
a good place. For, as he mounted the narrow stair cut between old houses
steep as rocks, he turned and saw Zoppa placidly smoking his pipe in the
very spot he had held, squatted on the fountain-rim with his green
umbrella between his knees. He was beaming through his spectacles, in a
fatherly, indulgent sort of way, upon the shouting people; following the
race too, like one who had paid for his box. Maso, when he heard the
shatter of hoofs and the wild roar from thousands of throats down below
him in the Campo, cursed old Zoppa with a grey face, and went muttering
round the blinding sides of the Duomo to find his daughter. And when he
did find her she was eating chestnuts at the open door of her aunt's shop
in the Via Ghibellina! Bacchus! she was sick of all those folk in their
_festa_ clothes, was all the explanation she would give him from
between fine white teeth all clogged with chestnut-meal. If he chose to
dress his daughter like a beggar's brat he had better not take her to the
races. Maso's feeling of relief at finding her alone and looking her usual
sulky impassive self, gave way very rapidly to a sort of righteous wrath
against his triumphant enemy. So, by foul slanders of honest God-fearing
people that old Jew had not scrupled to rob him of his place! His place
and his day's fun. By Heaven, he was tricked, duped by a scaly-eyed Jew
pedlar, a vile old dog tottering down to Hell with lies in his beard.
Well! he would put this morning's work down to his score; some day there
would be a choice little reckoning for Ser Marco.

Maso, green with impotent fury, poured out his flood of gutturals upon his
_insouciante_ child. General reproaches were always a failure in
cases of this sort. Some were sure to be wild guess-work and to drown the
real ones: you could never tell when you had hit the mark. Had she not--
she fourteen, too!--slid astride down the railing into the Campo and been
caught up in the arms of Carlo Formaggia waiting and laughing at the
bottom? Had she not lain a whole minute in his arms, panting? And then,
_Dio mio_, with the sweat still on her forehead, she had slipped off
to San Domenico and confessed to coughing at mass the Sunday before! Pest!
he would give her the strap over her shoulders when he got her home. The
long, brown girl leaned against the lintel kicking one heel idly against
the other. She was smiling at him, smiling with her lazy, languid eyes and
with her glistening teeth. Every now and then she inspected a chestnut
critically--like an amateur!--and slipped it between her jaws. They split
it like a banana. And then she squeezed the half skins and dropped the
flour down her throat. She had a long sinewy throat, glossy as velvet,
with its silvery lights and dusky brown shadows. Maso stood helpless
before her as she drank down her flour; he chattered like a little
passionate ape. At last he lifted up both hands in a sudden frenzy of
despair and went away.

Of course the races were over. The sober streets swarmed with people in
their holiday clothes. They all seemed laughing and smoking, and talking
fluently of something ridiculous. Maso, egoist, knew it must be about him--
or his daughter. Arms and heads went like mill-sails or tall trees in a
gale of wind. Then, with a rattle and the sudden sliding of four hoofs on
the flags, a cart would be in the thick of them, and the people scoured to
the curb, still laughing, or spitting between the spasms of the
interrupted jest. The boys tried to peep under the sagging hats of the
girls, and the girls turned pettish shoulders to them and, as they turned,
you caught the glint of fun in their great roes' eyes and saw the lips
part before the quick breath. The streets were mere gullies, clefts hewn
in zig-zag between grey houses that tottered up and up, and lay over them
like cliffs. An ancient church with bleached stone saints under flowery
canopies, a guttering candle before a tinsel shrine, and the hoarse babel
of the streets--whips that cracked and spluttered like squibs, a swarming
coloured stream of men and maids, once the twang of a chance mandoline.
Siena was feasting, and the waiters furtively swept their foreheads with
their coat-sleeves as they ran in and out of the _trattorie_.

In the _trattoria_ of the _Aquila Rossa_ old Marco Zoppa smoked
his pipe and talked, between the spurts of smoke, to his neighbours. Fate
brought him face to face with two enemies at once. Maso was battling his
way up the street, white and strained as a grave-cloth; and Carlo
Formaggia, the approved bravo--oiled and jaunty, with his brown felt
fantastically rolled and stuck over one ear, with a long cigar which he
alternately gnawed and sucked, Carlo the broad-chested, of the seared,
evil face, came down with the stream on the arms of two other gilded
youths. They met before the cafe, the man of intolerable wrongs and the
Pilia-Borsa of Siena. Maso scowled till his thick eyebrows cut his face
horizontally in two. He stood ostentatiously still, muttering with his
lips as the trio went lightly by. Then he made to go on. But old Marco
Zoppa stood up and made a speech. He had the wooden stem of his pipe
'twixt finger and thumb, and used it like a conductor's _bâton_ to
emphasise his points. As his voice shrilled and quavered, Carlo Formaggia
caught his own name and turned back to listen, prick-eared. He stood out
of sight resting one foot on a doorstep, and leaned forward on to his leg.
He might have been dreaming of some night of love, but he held every word
as it dropped.

"Maso," Marco went on, "thou art but a thin fool. I know what I know; but
thou must needs stick dirt in thine ears and pass me by. Well, let be, let
be; the end will come soon enough--this night even. And I have warned
thee."

"Spawn of a pig, wilt never have done irking me? See, I scratch thee off
me!" Maso drove home his gibe with a dramatic performance. The
_trattoria_ was agape. Every table held its three craning necks and
six piercing, twinkling eyes atop.

"I grow old, my Maso, I grow very old, and thy monkey's tricks are nought.
'Tis thy slip of a girl and thy poor twisted Mariola I would save in spite
of thee. Listen then once more, and for the last time. Ser Carlo intends
to snare thy pigeon. He has limed his twigs; the bird flutters free for
this noon, but by to-night she will be caged. For me, I have done my
possible--but I am old. Life tingles fiercer in the blood of a young man.
Therefore beware. Wilt thou see that brawny assassin toying with thy girl;
leaning over her where she crouches, poisoning her with fat words? That's
how the snake licks the turtle before he gulps her--'tis to make her
sleek, look you! Well, go thy way, dolt and blunderhead. For me--old as I
am--I will shoot a last bolt for Mariola. This very night after supper I
go to the Sbirro: and thy thanks will be a rounder oath and some more
knave's tricks with my baskets."

"No thanks are owing, Marco Zoppa"; Maso was ashy with shame and rage at
the old man's placid benevolence. "Marco Zoppa, thou hast been my enemy
ever, and I have borne it"--the Café roared with laughter; a fat old
Capuchin nearly had a fit. Maso looked round with fright in his eyes. He
went on, "Now thou hast gone too far--insulting me grossly before these
citizens. Thou hast brought thine end upon thyself." He ran away fighting
through the delighted crowd. Everybody who could get at him slapped him on
the back. A big carter stove his hat in.

Old Marco shrugged his patient shoulders and sat down to read the
_Secolo_. He balanced his silver-rimmed spectacles on his nose and
held the journal at arm's length with hand a thought more shaky, perhaps,
than usual. Presently he looked up: "Mother of God! what a white-faced
rogue it is! Eh, Giuseppe?" "By Mars, if looks could stab, thou hadst been
riddled by the knife before this," said his friend. Marco shrugged and
went on reading--he was an old man.

But when Carlo Formaggia had heard the debate, he turned a shade shinier,
and his eyes harder and brighter. As he motioned his friends off with a
look, he swallowed something hard in his throat. Then he turned down the
first side street, doubled round to the right, turned to the left down a
kind of black sewer-trap and let himself into a wine-shop, where he sat
down, breathing short. He drank brandy--but he drank like a machine. The
muscles of his jaw were working spasmodically as he sat rigid on a tub,
leaning against the counter. And he fingered something at his belt. His
eyes were in a cold stare: he saw nothing and didn't move. But he went on
drinking brandy till late in the afternoon, till the _Hail Mary_
bells began to sound a tinkling chorus through the still air.

And Maso Cecci, he too, rushed away white and chattering. Rage had past
definition with him, he saw things red, and they choked him. The air felt
thick to him, full of flies. He brushed his hands before his face, struck
out vaguely, and swore as the dazzling black things settled round him
again in a swarm. Irritated, maddened as he was, he still heard the
derisive yells of the crowd at the _birreria_ and saw Marco's calm
wise old face smiling urbanely behind silver spectacles. _Cristo
amore!_ how he loathed that old man. Siena could never hold the pair of
them: there must be an end--there _should_ be an end. His heart gave
a jerk under his vest as he thought of it. An end!--an end of his eternal
fretting jealousy in the Campo, his continued sense of being worsted, of
galling inferiority to that methodical old villain. An end of his worries
about Isotta; an end--ah! but there would be something rarer than that? To
a man like Maso, a small man, of immoderate self-esteem, and that self-
esteem always on the smart, there is another satisfaction--that of seeing
the better man totter and slip forward to his knees. This insufferable old
Marco who was always so right, with his slow methods and accursed
accuracy--to see him stumble and drop! That was what made Maso's heart
flutter and thud against his skin. And then, as he thought of it, it
seemed inevitable. It could be done in a minute, _via!_ The old man
was alone--it would be dusk--he would peer forward through the gloom to
open the door and--_Madre di Dio!_--and then! Maso was sweating; the
back of his palate itched intolerably; something hot and sticky clogged
his mouth and glued his tongue against the roof of it. His knees shook so
that he could scarcely walk. Some little boys stood to stare at him as he
lurched by, and laughed stealthily to see the hated Maso tipsy. But Maso
was unconscious of all this: he staggered on homewards with scorching
eyes....

Old Marco lived down beyond the Railway Station--a room in a crazy block
of buildings that had been run up for the needs of the factory hands. It
was like a great smooth cliff, this block, and was washed over a raw pink,
but it glowed in the setting sun that evening, like the city herself and
all the hills, the colour of bright blood. As Maso neared its blind face,
stepping warily with outstretched neck like some obscene bird, and with
one hand under his coat--the sun was going down into a purple bank of
cloud. He gilded the edges as he sank and shot broad rays of crimson light
up into the green sky. Here and there a star twinkled faint; the city lay
over him like a cloudy, silent company of rocks; the tower of the Palazzo
ran up into the pallor of the sky, a shaking spear.

There was but one glimmer of light in the whole ghostly wall of tenements
and that, Maso knew, was Marco Zoppa's. Every soul else was crowded in the
Campo waiting for the fireworks. And, as he thought, he heard a dull thud
behind him, and turned; and there, far up, a single shaft of flame shot
aloft, and stayed, and burst into a fan of lights; and a puff told him it
was the first rocket. "_Ecco! Madre di Dio_, a sign! a sign! So will
_I_ go up; and so shall my enemy come down." And Maso crept up the
stairway breathing thick and short....

With a hand still under his cloak he rapped his knuckles on the door. No
answer. An echo, only, fluttered and grew faint down the stone steps. He
hoisted his cloak from the shoulder and swung his right arm free. Then he
knocked again. Nothing. No sign. Heavy silence; only a distant murmur of
voices, muffled and infinitely far, from the Campo on the hill.

"The game has flown! Or the old dog sleeps." Maso sighed, for he wanted to
see him drop gurgling to his knees. Still, it made his affair easier. He
gave one fierce hoist to his cloak, twitched his right arm once or twice,
and gently turned the handle. Then he stepped lightly and daintily into
the room.

A candle guttered on a little table in the corner, and the Crucified
showed white upon the black cross above. Marco Zoppa lay on his bed with
his throat cut from ear to ear. The cut was so resolute that his head
stuck out at an angle from his body--almost a right angle; and in some
struggle he had got his nostril sliced. That gave him an odd,
_mesquin_ expression, lying there with his mouth open and his yawning
nostril, as if he wanted to sneeze. The room smelt stale and sour; the
thick air gathered in a misty halo round the candle, and a fat shroud of
tallow drooped over the edges of the candlestick.

Maso dropped his long, clean knife; dropped on to his knees and wailed
like a chained dog. He could not take his eyes from the horrible black pit
between the dead man's chin and trunk. Out of that pit a thin scarlet
stream was still slipping lazily, and crawling down the white coverlet to
the floor. Maso's wailing attracted a dog near by. He too set off howling
from behind his door: and then another, and another. There was a chorus of
howls, long-drawn, pitiful, desolate; and Maso, the only man in that
woeful company, howled like any dog of the pack.

Gradually his moaning sank and then stopped with a dry sob. He crawled on
his knees a little nearer to the bed and eyed fearfully a patch of blood
on the counterpane. Just God! what was that patch? A faint circle smeared
with the finger, and through the midst of it a ragged dart. Carlo
Formaggia had been there! He knew that mark! And then the whole truth
blazed before him like a sheet of fire. He fell forward on his face. The
thin thread of scarlet from Marco Zoppa's gaping throat crawled drop by
drop on to his shoulder.

Carlo Formaggia had limed his bird.



XII


WITH THE BROWN BEAR

The secret of happy travelling is contrast. Suffer, that you may drowse
thereafter: grill, that you may have a heat on you worth assuagement.
Wherefore, to the Italian wanderer, it will be worth while to endure the
fierceness of the Lombard plain, even the gilded modernisms of Milan
(blistering though they may be under the stroke of the naked sun) and the
dusty, painful traverse of the Apennines, to drop down at last into the
broad green peace of the Val D'Arno. Take, however, the first halting-
place you can. You will find yourself in a hollow of the hills, helping
the brown bear of Pistoja keep the Northern gates of Tuscany. It is not
unlikely that the Apennine may "walk abroad with the storm," or hide his
moss-brown slopes in great sheets of mist. This, while it means a fine
sight, means also rain for Pistoja. A quiet rain will accordingly fall
upon the little city, gently but persistently. Only in the gleams may you
guess that you have the Tuscan sky over you and the smiling Tuscan Art
round about. But the ways of the Pistolesi will confirm the feeble knees;
such at least was my case.

For the Pistolesi were there beside foul weather, and splashed about under
green umbrellas with prodigious jokes to cut at each other's expense, of a
sort we reserve for Spring or early June. For them, with a vintage none
too good to be garnered, it might have been the finest weather in the
world: but I am bound to add my belief that they would have laughed were
it the worst. With no money, no weather, and taxes intolerable, Pistoja
laughed and looked handsome. Was not Boccaccio a Pistolese? I was reminded
of his book at every turn of the road: life is a wanton story there, or,
say, a Masque of Green Things, enacted by a splendid fairy rout. They were
still the well-favoured race Dino Compagni described them far back in the
fourteenth century--"formati di bella statura oltre a' Toscani," he says.
The words hold good of their grandsons--the men leaner and longer, hardier
and keener than you find them in Lucca or Siena; and the women carry their
heads high, and when they smile at you (as they will) you think the sun
must be shining. They are mountaineers, a strong race. At _pallone_
one day, I saw muscles "all a-ripple down the back," arms and shoulders,
which would have intoxicated the great old "amatore del persona" himself.
For their vivacity, it is racial; I think all Tuscans, more or less,
retain the buoyant spirits, the alertness as of birds, which crowned Italy
with Florence instead of Rome or Milan. Tuscan Art is a proof of that, and
Tuscan Art can be studied at its roots in Pistoja: you see there the naked
thing itself with none of the wealth of Florence to make the head swim. If
Florence had stopped short at the death of Giuliano de' Medici, you might
say Pistoja was Florence seen through the diminishing-glass. Is not that
ribbed dome, with its purple mass domineering over the huddled roofs,
Brunelleschi's? It is a faithful copy of Vasari's hatching; but no matter.
So with the Baptistery, the towers, the grim old corniced palaces, the
_sdruccioli_ and gloomy clefts which serve for streets. But you would
be wrong. Pisa is the real parent of Pistoja, as indeed she is of
Florence-Dante's Florence. Pisa's magnificent building repeats to itself
here: Gothic with a touch of Latin sanity, a touch of the genuine Paganism
which loves the dædal earth and cannot bring itself to be out of touch
with it. San Giovanni _fuoricivitas_, what a rock-hewn church it is!
A rigid oblong, dark as the twilight, running with the street without
belfry or window or façade. Three tiers of shallow arcades on spiral
columns, never a window to be seen, and the whole of solemn black marble
narrowly striped with white. Is there such a beast as a black tiger--a
tiger where the tawny and black change places? San Giovanni is modelled
after that fashion. It is very old--twelfth century at latest--very shabby
and weather-beaten, dusty and deserted. But it will outlive Pistoja; and
that is probably what Pistoja desired.

This black and white, which is so reminiscent of early Florence, is
carried out with more fidelity to the model in the Piazza. The octagonal
Baptistery is, no doubt, a copy of Dante's beloved church; but it is much
better placed, does not "shun to be admired" like its beautiful yellowed
sister. The Duomo is of Pisa again, and has a tower, half belfry, half
fortress, which once the Podestà seized and held while the plucky little
town endured a siege. The Brown Bear stood out long against the Lily. But
Lorenzo showed his teeth: and the Wolf prevailed at last. Sculpture apart,
the resemblance to Florence stops here. None of her Cinque-cento bravery
and little of her earlier and finer Renaissance came this way. But one
thing came; one clean breath from "that solemn fifteenth century" did blow
to this verge of Tuscan soil, a breath from Luca della Robbia and his men.
They may flower more exuberantly in Florence, those broad, blue-eyed
platters of theirs; nowhere is their purpose more explicit, their charm
more exquisitely appreciable than here. There is a chance of considering
the art on its own merits; better, you can see it more truly as it was at
home, since Florence has caught some little of Haussmannism and is not as
Luca left it. So here, perhaps best of all, you may try to plumb the
depths of the Della Robbia soul,--through its purity and limpid candour,
through its shining, sweetly wholesome homeliness, down to the crystal
sincerity burning recessed in the shrine. It is the fashion to say of
Angelico da Fiesole that his was a naïveté which amounted to genius: a
thin phrase, which may nevertheless pass to qualify the inspired
miniaturist. The religiosity of the Della Robbia, while no less naïve, is
really far other. It is not Gothic at all, nor ascetic, nor mystic. It
would be Latin, were it not blithe enough to be Greek. It speaks of what
is and must be, and is well content; not of what should, or might be, if
one could but tear off this crust. It seems probable that it speaks as
pure a Paganism--just that very Paganism which Pisan building represents--
as has been seen since the workmen of Tanagra fashioned their little clay
familiars for the tombs, slim Greek girls in their reedy habit as they
lived, or chattering matrons like those you read of in Theocritus. Much
fine phrasing has been spent upon the effort to analyse the æsthetics of
Delia Robbia ware. Its inexhaustible charm is unquestionable; but just
where does it catch one's breath? Not altogether in the clean colouring,
like nothing so much as that of a cool, glazed dairy at home,--"milky-
blue," "cream-white," "butter-yellow," "parsley-green," all the dairy
names come pat to pen--; not necessarily in the sheer, April loveliness of
form and expression, though that would count for much; nor, I believe, as
Mr. Pater would have us acknowledge, in the evanescent delicacy of each
motive and sentiment,--the arresting of a single sigh, a single wave of
desire, a single stave of the Magnificat. All this is true, and true only
of Luca, and yet the whole charm is not there. Rather, I think, you will
find it in the fusing of humble material--the age-old clay of the potter
(of the Master-Potter, for that matter)--and fine art, whereby the wayside
shrine is linked to the high altar, and _contadino_ and Vicar-
Apostolic can hail a common ideal. Every lane, every cottage, has its
Madonna-shrine here; lumped in clay or daubed in raw colour, nothing can
obliterate the sweet sentiment of these poor weeds of art, these tawdry
little appeals to the better part of us. Madonna cries with a bared red
heart; she supports a white Christ; suave she stoops to enfold a legion of
children in her mantle. She is as Tuscan as the brownest of them; but a
Tuscan of the rarest mould, they would have you to see, of a cleanliness
quite unapproachable, of a benignity wholly divine. One learns the secret
of devotional art best of all in such ephemeral sanctuaries. And since
Fine Art is the flower of these shabby roots, Italy only, where
Cincinnatus worked in his garden, can furnish so wonderful a harmony of
opposites. Surely it is the most democratic country in Europe. I saw a
Colonel the other day, in Bologna, carrying a newspaper parcel. He was in
full uniform. It was the secret of Saint Francis that he knew how to
bridge the gulf on either side of which we, prisoners in feudal holds,
have cried to each other in vain. It was the secret of the Delia Robbia
too. The god shall sink that we may rise to meet him in the way. Why not?
Here in Pistoja are some precious pieces--a _Visitation_ in San
Giovanni, a pearly _Madonna Incoronata_ on the big door of San
Giacopo, concerning which it would be difficult to account to one's self
for the added zest given by the mantle of fine dust which has settled down
on the pale folds of the drapery and outlined the square blue panels of
the background. After all, is it not one more touch of the hedgerow, a
symbol of the hedgerow-faith not quite dead in the byeways of Italy?

But I know I shall never convey the spontaneity with which Fra Paolino's
_Visitation_ strikes quick for the heart. The thing is so momentary,
a mere quiver of emotion passing from one woman to another. The pair of
them have looked in to the deeps. Then the older stumbles forward to her
knees, and the girl stoops down to raise her. One guesses the rest. They
will be sobbing together in a minute, the girl's face buried in the
other's shoulder. All you are to see is just the wistfulness,--"My dear!
my dear!" And then the Virgin, full of Grace, but a shy girl in her teens
for all that, hides her hot cheeks and cries her little wild heart to
quietness. Some of it is in Albertinelli's fine picture, but not all. All
of it--and here's the point--is to be seen in the street among these
clear-eyed Tuscan women, just as Fra Paolino (himself of Pistoja) saw it
before our time, and then fixed it for ever in blue and white.

And now cross the Piazza and come down the steep incline by the Palazzo
Commune, turn to the left, and behold the crown of Pistoja, the Spedale
del Ceppo. Everybody knows Luca's masterpiece at Florence, the Foundling
Hospital on whose front are some twenty _bambini_ in pure white on
blue: babies or flowers, one does not know which. In 1514 the Pistolesi
remodelled their own hospital, and called in the successors to Luca's
mystery to make it joyful. Andrea, Giovanni, Luca II. and Girolamo came
and conjured in turn, and their wallflowers sprouted from the limewashed
sides. I fancy myself out in the patched Piazzo del Ceppo as I write,
looking again on the pleasant quietness of it all. It is a grey day with
thunder smouldering somewhere in the hills, close and heavy. The blind
walls about me stare hard in the raw light, but the wards of the hospital
are open back and front to the air; it is a rest for the eye to look into
their cool depths within the loggia. It is a square, very plain, yellow
building, this hospital, unrelieved save for its loggia, its painted
frieze of earthenware, and a rickety cross to denote its pious uses.
Through the wards I can see to the wet sky again and a gable-end of vivid
red and yellow. A thin black Christ on his cross stands up against this
bright square of distance, pathetic silhouette enough for me; reminder
something sinister, you might think, for the sick folk inside. But not so;
this is a crucifix, not a _Crucifixion_. This poor wooden Rood,
bowing in the shade, speaks not of high tragedy, but of the simple annals
of the poor again; not of St. John, but of St. Luke, I shall be called
sentimental; but with the band of garden colours before me I can't get
away from the streets and alleys, I am not sure the craftsmen intended I
should.

The hospital itself is low and square; it is limewashed all over, and has
the blind and beaten aspect of all Italian houses:--red-purplish tiles
running into deep eaves, jalousied windows, and the loggia. It is on the
face of this that the workers in baked clay--"lavoro molto utile per la
state," so cool and fresh is it, so redolent of green pastures and the
winds of April--have moulded the Seven Acts of Pure Mercy in colours as
pure; blue of morning sky, grass-green, daffodil-yellow. Once more, no
heroics: here is what the workmen knew and we see. Black and white
_frati_, not idealised at all, but sleek and round in the jaw as a
monk will get on oil and _asciutta_, minister to sunburnt peasants,
and ruddy girls as massive in the waist and stout in the ankle as their
sisters of to-day. Then, of course, there is Allegory. Allegory of your
well-ordered, gravitated sort, which takes us no whit further from
wholesome earth and the men and women so plainly and happily made of it.
No soaring, no transcendentalism. Carità is a deep-breasted market-girl
nursing two brown babies, whom I have just seen sprawling over a gourd in
the Campo Marzio; Fortezza, Speranza, Fede, I know them all, bless their
sober, good eyes! in the fruit-market, or selling newspapers, or plaiting
straws in the Piazza. After this we slide into religion pure and direct,
the beautiful ridiculous Paganism which has never left the plain heathen-
folk. Wreathed medallions in the spandrils give us Mary warned, Mary
visited, Mary homing to her Son, Mary crowned; what would they do without
their Bona Dea in Tuscany? She is of them, and yet always a little beyond
their grasp. Not too far, however. That means Gothicism. The advantage of
the Italian religious ideal is obvious. Art may never leave for long
together the good brown earth; and it can serve religion well when it
plucks up a type to set, clean as God made it, just a little above our
reach, to show Whose is "the earth and the fulness thereof."

An example. I leave the white and crumbling Piazza, its old marble well,
its beggars, its sick, and its meadow-fresh border of Delia Robbia
planting, and stray up the Via del Ceppo towards the ramparts. High at a
barred window a brown mother with a brown dependent baby smiles down upon
my wayfaring. She has fine broad brows and a patient face; when she
smiles, out of mere kindness for my solitary goings, it is pleasant to
note the gleam of light on her teeth and lips. I take off my hat, as Luca
or Lippo would have done, to "ma cousine la Reine des cieux."

Thus goes life In Pistoja and the rest of the world.



XIII


DEAD CHURCHES AT FOLIGNO

From my roof-top, whither I am fled to snatch what cooler airs may drift
into this cup of earth, I can see above the straggling tiles of gable and
loggia the cupolas and belfries of many churches. I know they are all
dead; for I have wound a devious way through the close inhospitable
streets and met them or their ghosts at every corner. The ghost of a dead
church is the worst of all disembodied sighs: he wails and chatters at
you. Here I have seen churches whose towers were fallen and their tribunes
laid bare to the insults of the work-a-day world. There were churches with
ugly gashes in them, fresh and smarting still; some had sightless eyes, as
of skulls; and there were churches piecemeal and scattered like the
splinters of the True Cross. A great foliated arch of travertine would
frame a patch of plaster and soiled casement just broad enough for some
lolling pair of shoulders and shock-head atop; a sacred emblem, some
_Agnus_ indefinably venerable, some proud old cognisance of the See,
or frayed Byzantine symbol (plaited with infinite art by its former
contrivers), such and other consecrated fragments would stuff a hole to
keep the wind away from a donkey-stall or _Fabbrica di pasta_ in a
muddy lane. I met dismantled walls still blushing with the stains of
fresco--a saint's robe, the limp burden of the Addolorata;--I met texts
innumerable, shrines fly-ridden and, often as not, mocked with dead
flowers. And now, as I see these grey towers and the grand purple line of
the hills hemming in the Tiber Valley, I know I am come down to the sated
South, to the confines of Umbria, the country of dead churches, and of
Rome the metropolis of such deplorable broken toys. This appears to me the
disagreeable truth concerning the harbourage of Saint Francis and Saint
Bernardine, and of Roberto da Lecce, a man who, if everybody had his
rights, would be known as great in his way as either. You will remember
that Luther found it out before me. The religious enthusiasm we bring in
may serve our turn while we are here: it will be odd if any survive for
the return; impossible to go away as fervid as we come. Other enthusiasms
will fatten; but the wonderful Gothic adumbration of Christianity was born
in the North and has never been healthy anywhere else. Gothicism, driven
southward, runs speedily to seed; an amazing luxuriance, a riot, strange
flowers of heavy shapes and maddening savour; and then that worse
corruption to follow a perfection premature. So mediæval Christianity in
Umbria is a ruin, but not for Salvator Rosa; it has not been suffered a
dignified death. That is the sharpest cut of all, that the poor bleached
skull must be decked with paper roses.

All this is forced upon me by my last days in Tuscany where a lower mean
has secured a serener reign. I had hardly realised the comeliness of its
intellectual vigour without this abrupt contrast. Pistoja, with its
pleasant worship of the wholesome in common life; Lucca, girdled with the
grey and green of her immemorial planes, and adorned with the silvery
gloss of old marble and stone-cutter's work exquisitely curious; then
Prato, dusty little handful of old brick palaces and black and white
towers, where I heard a mass before the high altar but two Sundays ago.
All Prato was in church that showery morning, I think. The air was close,
even in the depths of the great nave: the fans all about me kept up a
continual flicker, like bats' wings, and the men had to use their hats, or
handkerchiefs where they had them. To hear the responses rolling about the
chapels and echoing round the timbers of the roof you would have said the
thunder had come. It was too dark to see Lippi's light-hearted
secularities in the choir; one saw them, however, best in the
congregation--the same appealing innocence in the grey-eyed women, and the
men with the same grave self-possession and the same respectful but
deliberate concern with their own affairs which gives you the idea that
they are lending themselves to divine service rather out of politeness
than from any more intimate motive. Lippi saw this in Prato four centuries
ago, and I, after him, saw it all again in a rustic sacrifice which I
should find it hard to distinguish from earlier sacrifices in the same
spot. And indeed it is informed with precisely the same spirit, an
inarticulate reverence for the Dynamic in Nature. How many religions can
be reduced to that! In Florence again, what a hardy slip of the old stock
still survives! You may see how the worship of Venus Genetrix and Maria
Deipara merged in the work of Botticelli and Ghirlandajo, Michael Angelo
and Andrea del Sarto; you may see how, if asceticism has never thriven
there, there was (and still is) an effort after selection of some sort and
a scrupulous respect for the _elegantia quædam_ which Alberti held to
be almost divine; you may see, at least, a religion which still binds, and
which, making no great professions, has grown orderly and surely to
respect. Thus from a Tuscany, pagan, kindly, exuberant and desponding by
turns, but always ready with that long slow smile you first meet in the
Lorenzetti of Siena and afterwards find so tenderly expressed in its
different manifestations in the Delia Robbia and Botticelli--a smile where
patience and wistfulness struggle together and finally kiss,--I came down
to Umbria and a people dying of what M. Huysmans grandiosely calls "our
immense fatigue." Here is a people that has loved asceticism not wisely.
This asceticism, pushed to the limit where it becomes a kind of
sensuality, has bitten into Umbria's heart; and Umbria, with a cloyed
palate, sees her frescos peel and lets her sanctuaries out to bats and
green lizards. Surely the worst form of moral jaundice is where the
sufferer watches his affections palsy, but makes no stir.

From the ramp of the citadel at Perugia you can guess what a hornet's nest
that grey stronghold of the Baglioni must have been. It commands the great
plain and bars the way to Rome. Westward, on a spur of rock, stands
Magione and a lonely tower: this was their outpost towards Siena. Eastward
there is a white patch on the distant hills--Spello, "mountain built with
quiet citadel," quiet enough now. There was always a Baglione at Spello
with his eyes set on chance comers from Foligno and Rome. Seen from
thence, _Augusta Perusia_ hangs like a storm cloud over her cliffs,
impregnable but by strategy, as wicked and beautiful as ever her former
masters, the Seven Deadly Sins, grandsons of Fortebraccio. The place is
like its history, of course, having, in fact, grown up with it: you might
say it was the incarnation of Perugia's spirit; it would only be to admit,
what is so obvious over here, that a town is the work of art of that
larger soul, the body politic. So to see the crazy streets cut in steps
and crevasses across and through the rocks, spanning a gorge with a stone
ladder or boring a twisted tunnel under the sheer of the Etruscan walls,
to note the churches innumerable and the foundations of the thirty
fortress-towers she once had--all this is to read the secret of Perugia's
two love affairs. Of her towers Julius II. left but two standing, blind
pillars of masonry; but there were thirty of them once, and the Baglioni
held them all, for a season. Now it was these wild Baglioni--"filling the
town with all manner of evil living," says Matarazzo, but nevertheless
intensely beloved for their bold bearing and beauty, as of young hawks;--
it was just these blood-stained striplings, this Semonetto who rode
shouting into the Piazza after an affray and swept his clogged hair clear
of his eyes that he might see to kill, this black Astorre, "of the few
words," who was murdered in his shirt on his marriage-eve by his cousin
and best friend; it was this very cousin Grifone, so beautiful that "he
seemed an angel of Paradise," who, in his turn, was cut down and laid out
with his dead allies below San Lorenzo that his widow might not fail of
finding him and his marred fairness--it was just this stormy crew that
fell weeping at Suor Brigida's meek feet, confessed their sins and
received the Communion (encompassers and encompassed together, and all in
a rapture) on the very eve of the great slaughter of 1500; it was they who
adorned the Oratory of San Bernardino and made it the miracle of rose-
colour and blue that it is; who reared the enormous San Domenico below the
Gate of Mars, and who, in this hot-bed of enormity, nurtured Perugino's
dreamy Madonnas. What it meant I know not at all. There are other riddles
as hard in Umbria. Renan saw the gentle cadence of the landscape--violet
hills, the silver gauze of water, oliveyards all of a green mist; read the
_Fioretti_ and the dolorous ecstasies of Perugino's Sebastian, and
straightway adapted the high-flown parallel worked out in detail by
Giotto. Umbria for him was the Galilee of Italy, and Francis son of
Bernard an _avatar_ of Christ. But Renan was apt to allow his
emotions to ride him. Another dazzling contrast, which has recently
exercised another dextrous Frenchman, is Siena with her Saint Catherine
and her Sodoma who betrayed her--Saint Catherine, as great a force
politically as she was spiritually, and Sodoma, who painted her like a
Danaë with love-glazed eyes fainting before the apparition of the
Crucified Seraph.

There is nothing like this in the history of Tuscany, whose palaces not
long were fortresses nor her monks at any time successful politicians.
Cosimo had pulled down the Florentine towers or ever the last Oddi had
loosed hold of Ridolfo's throat, I know that Siena is just within that
province geographically; in temperament, in art and manner, she has always
shown herself intensely Umbrian. Take, then, the case of Savonarola. The
Florentines received him gladly enough and heard him with honest
admiration, even enthusiasm. Still, there is reason to believe they took
him, in the main, spectacularly, as they also took that portentous old
monomaniac Gemisthos Pletho who made religions as we might make pills.
For, observe, Savonarola lost his head--and his life, good soul!--where
the Florentines did not. The cobbler went beyond his last when the
_Frate_ essayed politics. He suffered accordingly. But in Perugia, in
Siena, in Gubbio and Orvieto, the great revivalists Bernardine, Catherine,
Fra Roberto, held absolute rule over body and soul. For the moment
Baglione and Oddi kissed each other; all feuds were stayed; a man might
climb the black alleys of a night without any fear of a knife to yerk him
(the Ancient's word) under the ribs or noose round his neck to swing him
up to the archway withal. So Catherine brought back Boniface (and much
trouble) from Avignon, and Da Lecce wrote out a new constitution for some
rock-bound hive of the hills, whose crowd wailing in the market-place knew
the ecstasy of repentance, and ran riot in religious orgies very much
after the fashion of the Greater Dionysia or, say, the Salvation Army. And
how Niccolò Alunno would have painted the Salvation Army!

So it does seem that the two great passions of Umbria burnt themselves out
together. They were, indeed, the two ends of the candle. When the Baglioni
fell in the black work of two August nights, only one escaped. And with
them died the love of the old lawless life and the infinite relish there
was for some positive foretaste of the life of the world to come. Both
lives had been lived too fast: from that day Perugia fell into a torpor,
as Perugino, the glass of his time and place, also fell. Perugino, we
know, had his doubts concerning the immortality of the soul, but painted
on his beautiful cloister-dreams, and knocked down his saints to the
highest bidder.[1] Vasari assures me that the chief solace of the old
prodigal in his end of days was to dress his young wife's hair in
fantastic coils and braids. A prodigal he was--true Peruginese in that--
prodigal of the delicate meats his soul afforded. His end may have been
unedifying; it must at least have been very pitiful. Nowadays his name
stands upon the Corso Vannucci of the town he uttered, and in the court
wall of a little recessed and colonnaded house in the Via Deliziosa.
Meantime his frescos drop mildewed from chapel walls or are borne away to
a pauper funeral in the Palazzo Communale.

[Footnote 1: See, however, what he has to say for himself in Chapter V.
_ante._]

In his finely studied _Sensations_ M. Paul Bourget, it seems to me,
flogs the air and fails to climb it when he struggles to lay open the
causes of poor Vannucci's embittering. If ever painting took up the office
of literature it was in the fifteenth century. The _quattrocentisti_
stand to Italy for our Elizabethan dramatists. This may have produced bad
painting: Mr. George Moore will tell you that it did. I am not sure that
it very greatly matters, for, failing a literature which was really
dramatic, really poetical, really in any sense representative, it was as
well that there led an outlet somewhere. At any rate Lippi and Botticelli,
to those who know them, are expressive of the Florentine temper when Pulci
and Politian are distorted echoes of another; Perugino leads us into the
recesses of Perugia while Graziani keeps us fumbling at the lock. And
Perugino's languorous boys and maids are the figments of a riotous erotic,
of a sensuous fancy without imagination or intelligence or humour. His
Alcibiades, or Michael Archangel, seems green-sick with a love mainly
physical; his Socrates has the combed resignation of his Jeromes and
Romualds--smoothly ordered old men set in the milky light of Umbrian
mornings and dreaming out placid lives by the side of a moonfaced Umbrian
beauty, who is now Mary and now Luna as chance motions his hand. How
penetrating, how distinctive by the side of them seems Sandro's slim and
tearful Anima Mundi shivering in the chill dawn! With what a strange magic
does Filippino usher in the pale apparition of the Mater Dolorosa to his
Bernard, or flush her up again to a heaven of blue-green and a glory of
burning cherubim! This he does, you remember, with rocket-like effect, in
a chapel of the Minerva in Rome. But it is the unquenchable thirst of the
Umbrians for some spiritual nutriment, some outlet for their passion to be
found only in bloodshed or fainting below the Cross, some fierce and
untameable animal quality such as you see to-day in the torn gables, the
towers and bastions of Perugia, it is the spirit which informed and made
these things you get in Perugino's pictures--in the hot sensualism of
their colour-scheme, the ripeness and bloom of physical beauty encasing
the vague longing of a too-rapid adolescence. The desire could never be
fed and the bloom wore off. Look at Duccio's work on the facade of San
Bernardino, Duccio was a Florentine, but where in Florence would you see
his like? What a revel of disproportion in these long-legged nymphs, full-
lipped and narrow-eyed as any of Rossetti's curious imaginings. Take the
Povertà, a weedy girl with the shrinking paps of a child. Here again
(exquisite as she is in modelling and intensity of expression) you get the
enticement of a malformation which is absolutely un-Greek--unless you are
to count Phrygia within the magic ring-fence--and only to be equalled by
the luxury of Beccadelli. You get that in Sodoma too, the handy Lombard;
you have it in Perugino and all the Umbrians (in some form or other); but
never, I think, in the genuine Tuscan--not even in Botticelli--and never,
of course, in the Venetians, Duccio modelled these things while the Delia
Robbia were at their Hellenics; and a few years after he did them came the
end of the Baglioai and all such gear. The end of real Umbrian art was not
long. Perugino awoke to have his doubts of the soul's immortality. No
great wonder there, perhaps, given he acknowledged a merciful heaven....

I chanced to meet an old woman the other day in a country omnibus. We
journeyed together from Prato to Florence and became very friendly. Your
dry old woman, who hath had losses, who has become, in fact, world-worn
and very wise, or like one of Shakespeare's veterans--the Grave-digger, or
the Countryman in _Antony and Cleopatra_--has probed the ball and
found it hollow; such a battered and fortified soul in petticoats is
peculiar to Italy, and countries where the women work and the men,
pocketing their hands, keep sleek looks. We had just passed a pleasant
little procession. It was Sunday, the hour Benediction. A staid nun was
convoying a party of school-girls to church; whereupon I remarked to my
neighbour on their pretty bearing, a sort of artless piety and of
attention for unknown but not impossible blessings which they had about
them. But my old woman took small comfort from it. She knew those cattle,
she said: Capuchins, Jacobins, Black, White and Grey,--knew them all.
Well! Everybody had his way of making a living: hers was knitting
stockings. A hard life, _via_, but an honest. Here it became me to
urge that the religious life might have its compensations, without which
it would perhaps be harder than knitting stockings; that one needed
relaxation and would do well to be sure that it was at least innocent.
Relaxation of a kind, said she, a man must have. Snuff now! She was
inveterate at the sport. The view was very dry; but I think its reasoned
limitations also very Tuscan, and by no means exclusive of a tolerable
amount of piety and honest dealing. Foligno, by mere contrast reminds me
of it--busy Foligno huddled between the mighty knees of a chalk down, city
of fallen churches and handsome girls, just now parading the streets with
their fans a-flutter and a pretty turn to each veiled head of them.

As I write the light dies down, the wind drops, huge inky clouds hang over
the west; the sun, as he falls behind them, sets them kindling at the
edge. The worn old bleached domes, the bell-towers and turrets looming in
the blue dusk, seem to sigh that the century moves so slowly forward. How
many more must they endure of these?

It is the hour of Ave Maria. But only two cracked bells ring it in.



ENVOY: TO ALL YOU LADIES


Lovely and honourable ladies, it is, as I hold, no mean favour you have
accorded me, to sit still and smiling while I have sung to your very faces
a stave verging here and there on the familiar. You have sat thus enduring
me, because, being wrought for the most part out of stone or painter's
stuff, your necessities have indeed forbidden retirement. Yet my
obligations should not on that account be lighter. He would be a thin
spirit who should gain a lady's friendly regard, and then vilipend because
she knew no better, or could not choose. I hope indeed that I have done
you no wrong, _gentildonne_, I protest that I have meant none; but
have loved you all as a man may, who has, at most, but a bowing
acquaintance with your ladyships. As I recall your starry names, no blush
hinting unmannerliness suspect and unconfessed hits me on the cheek:--
Simonetta, Ilaria, Nenciozza, Bettina; you too, candid Mariota of Prato;
you, flinching little Imola; and you, snuff-taking, wool-carding ancient
lady of the omnibus--scorner of monks, I have kissed your hands, I have at
least given our whole commerce frankly to the world; and I know not how
any shall say we have been closer acquainted than we should. You, tall
Ligurian Simonetta, loved of Sandro, mourned by Giuliano and, for a
seasons by his twisted brother and lord, have done well to utter but one
side of your wild humour? The side a man would take, struck, as your
Sandro was, by a nympholepsy, or, as Lorenzo was, by the rhymer's appetite
for wherewithal to sonnetteer? If I understand you, it was never pique or
a young girl's petulance drove you to Phryne's one justifiable act of
self-assertion. It was honesty. Madonna, or I have read your grey eyes in
vain; it was enthusiasm--that flame of our fire so sacred that though it
play the incendiary there shall be no crime--or where would be now the
"Vas d'elezione"?--nor though it reveal a bystander's grin, any shame at
all. I shall live to tell that story of thine, Lady Simonetta, to thy
honour and my own respect; for, as a poet says,

"There is no holier flame
Than flatters torchwise in a stripling heart,
... a fire from Heaven
To ash the clay of us, and wing the God."

I have seen all memorials of you left behind to be pondered by him who
played Dante to your Beatrice, Sandro the painting poet,--the proud
clearness of you as at the marriage feast of Nastagio degli Onesti; the
melting of the sorrow that wells from you in a tide, where you hold the
book of your overmastering honour and read _Magnificat Anima Mea_
with a sob in your throat; your acquaintance, too, with that grief which
was your own hardening; your sojourn, wan and woebegone as would become
the wife of Moses (maker of jealous gods); all these guises of you, as
well as the presentments of your innocent youth, I have seen and adored.
But I have ever loved you most where you stand a wistful Venus Anadyomenè--
"Una donzella non con uman volto," as Politian confessed; for I know your
heart, Madonna, and see on the sharp edge of your threatened life, Ardour
look back to maiden Reclusion, and on (with a pang of foreboding) to
mockery and evil judgment. Never fear but I brave your story out to the
world ere many days. And if any, with profane leer and tongue in the
cheek, take your sorrow for reproach or your pitifulness for a shame, let
them receive the lash of the whip from one who will trouble to wield it:
_non ragioniam di lor_. For your honourable women I give you Ilaria,
the slim Lucchesan, and my little Bettincina, a child yet with none of the
vaguer surmises of adolescence when it flushes and dawns, but likely
enough, if all prosper, to be no shame to your company. As yet she is
aptest to Donatello's fancy: she will grow to be of a statelier bevy. I
see her in Ghirlandajo's garden, pacing, still-eyed, calm and cold, with
Ginevra de' Benci and Giovanna of the Albizzi, those quiet streets on a
visit to the mother of John Baptist.

Mariota, the hardy wife of the metal-smith, is not for one of your
quality, though the wench is well enough now with her baby on her arm and
the best of her seen by a poet and made enduring. He, like our Bernardo,
had motherhood in such esteem that he held it would ransom a sin. A sin? I
am no casuïst to discuss rewards and punishments; but if Socrates were
rightly informed and sin indeed ignorance, I have no whips for Mariota's
square shoulders. Her baby, I warrant, plucked her from the burning. I am
not so sure but you might find in that girl a responsive spirit, and--is
the saying too hard?--a teacher. Contentment with a few things was never
one of your virtues, madam.

There is a lady whose name has been whispered through my pages, a lady
with whom I must make peace if I can. Had I known her, as Dante did, in
the time of her nine-year excellence and followed her (with an interlude,
to be sure, for Gentucca) through the slippery ways of two lives with much
eating of salt bread, I might have grown into her favour. But I never did
know Monna Beatrice Portinari; and when I met her afterwards as my Lady
Theologia I thought her something imperious and case-hardened. Now here
and there some words of mine (for she has a high stomach) may have given
offence. I have hinted that her court is a slender one in Italy, the
service paid her lip-service; the lowered eyes and bated breath reserved
for her; but for Fede her sister, tears and long kisses and the clinging.
Well! the Casa Cattolica is a broad foundation: I find Francis of Umbria
at the same board with Sicilian Thomas. If I cleave to the one must I
despise the other? Lady Fede has my heart and Lady Dottrina must put aside
the birch if she would share that little kingdom. _Religio habet_,
said Pico; _theologia autem invenit_. Let her find. But she must be
speedy, for I promise her the mood grows on me as I become
_italianato_; and I cannot predict when the other term of the
proposition may be accomplished. For one thing, Lady Theologia, I praise
you not. Sympathy seems to me of the essence, the healing touch an
excellent thing in woman. But you told Virgil,

"Io son fatta da Dio, sua mercè, tale,
Che la vostra miseria non mi tange."

Sympathy, Madonna? And Virgil hopeless! On these terms I had rather gloom
with the good poet (whose fault in your eyes was that he knew in what he
had believed) than freeze with you and Aquinas on your peak of hyaline.
And as I have found you, Donna Beatrice, so in the main have they of whom
I pitch my pipe. Here and there a man of them got exercise for his fingers
in your web; here and there one, as Pico the young Doctor of yellow hair
and nine hundred heresies, touched upon the back of your ivory dais that
he might jump from thence to the poets out beyond you in the Sun. Your
great Dante, too, loved you through all. But, Madonna, he had loved you
before when you were--

Donna pietosa e di novella etade,

and, as became his lordly soul, might never depart from the faith he had
in you. For me, I protest I love Religion your warm-bosomed mate too well
to turn from her; yet I would not on that account grieve her (who treats
you well out of the cup of her abounding charity) by aspersing you. And if
I may not kiss your foot as you would desire, I may bow when I am in the
way with you; not thanking God I am not as you are, but, withal, wishing
you that degree of interest in a really excellent world with which He has
blessed me and my like, the humble fry.

Lastly, to the Spirits which are in the shrines of the cities of Tuscany,
I lift up my hands with the offering of my thin book. To Lucca dove-like
and demure, to Prato, the brown country-girl, to Pisa, winsome maid-of-
honour to the lady of the land, to Pistoja, the ruddy-haired and ample,
and to Siena, the lovely wretch, black-eyed and keen as a hawk; even to
Perugia, the termagant, with a scar on her throat; but chiefest to the
Lady Firenze, the pale Queen crowned with olive--to all of you, adored and
adorable sisters, I offer homage as becomes a postulant, the repentance of
him who has not earned his reward, thanksgiving, and the praise I have not
been able to utter. And I send you, Book, out to those ladies with the
supplication of good Master Cino, schoolman and poet, saying,

E se tu troverai donne gentile,
Ivi girai; chè là ti vo mandare;
E dono a lor d' audienza chiedi.

Poi di a costor: Gittatevi a lor piedi,
E dite, chi vi manda e per che fare,
Udite donne, esti valletti umili.





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