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Title: The Renaissance: studies in art and poetry
Author: Pater, Walter
Language: English
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THE RENAISSANCE: STUDIES IN ART AND POETRY
WALTER HORATIO PATER

London: 1910. (The Library Edition.)


NOTES BY THE E-TEXT EDITOR:

Notes: The 1910 Library Edition employs footnotes, a
style inconvenient in an electronic edition.  I have therefore
placed an asterisk immediately after each of Pater's footnotes
and a + sign after my own notes, and have listed each chapter's
notes at that chapter's end.

Pagination and Paragraphing: To avoid an unwieldy electronic copy,
I have transferred original pagination to brackets.  A bracketed
numeral such as [22] indicates that the material immediately
following the number marks the beginning of the relevant page.  I
have preserved paragraph structure except for first-line indentation.

Hyphenation: I have not preserved original hyphenation since an
e-text does not require line-end or page-end hyphenation.

Greek typeface: For this full-text edition, I have transliterated
Pater's Greek quotations.  If there is a need for the original Greek, it
can be viewed at my site, http://www.ajdrake.com/etexts, a Victorianist
archive that contains the complete works of Walter Pater and many other
nineteenth-century texts, mostly in first editions.



THE RENAISSANCE: STUDIES IN ART AND POETRY
WALTER HORATIO PATER



CONTENTS


Preface: vii-xv

Two Early French Stories: 1 -29

Pico della Mirandola: 30-49

Sandro Botticelli: 50-62

Luca della Robbia: 63-72

The Poetry of Michelangelo: 73-97

Leonardo da Vinci: 98-129

The School of Giorgione: 130-154

Joachim du Bellay: 155-176

Winckelmann: 177-232

Conclusion: 233-end



DEDICATION

To C.L.S
February 1873



PREFACE

[vii] Many attempts have been made by writers on art and poetry to
define beauty in the abstract, to express it in the most general
terms, to find some universal formula for it.  The value of these
attempts has most often been in the suggestive and penetrating
things said by the way.  Such discussions help us very little to
enjoy what has been well done in art or poetry, to discriminate
between what is more and what is less excellent in them, or to use
words like beauty, excellence, art, poetry, with a more precise
meaning than they would otherwise have.  Beauty, like all other
qualities presented to human experience, is relative; and the
definition of it becomes unmeaning and useless in proportion to
its abstractness.  To define beauty, not in the most abstract but in
the most concrete terms possible, to find not its universal
formula, but the formula which expresses most adequately this or
that [viii] special manifestation of it, is the aim of the true student
of aesthetics.

"To see the object as in itself it really is," has been justly said to
be the aim of all true criticism whatever, and in aesthetic
criticism the first step towards seeing one's object as it really is,
is to know one's own impression as it really is, to discriminate it,
to realise it distinctly.  The objects with which aesthetic criticism
deals--music, poetry, artistic and accomplished forms of human
life--are indeed receptacles of so many powers or forces: they
possess, like the products of nature, so many virtues or qualities.
What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented
in life or in a book, to me?  What effect does it really produce on
me?  Does it give me pleasure?  and if so, what sort or degree of
pleasure?  How is my nature modified by its presence, and under
its influence?  The answers to these questions are the original
facts with which the aesthetic critic has to do; and, as in the study
of light, of morals, of number, one must realise such primary data
for one's self, or not at all.  And he who experiences these
impressions strongly, and drives directly at the discrimination
and analysis of them, has no need to trouble himself with the
abstract question what beauty is in itself, or what its exact
relation to truth or [ix] experience--metaphysical questions, as
unprofitable as metaphysical questions elsewhere.  He may pass
them all by as being, answerable or not, of no interest to him.

The aesthetic critic, then, regards all the objects with which he
has to do, all works of art, and the fairer forms of nature and
human life, as powers or forces producing pleasurable sensations,
each of a more or less peculiar or unique kind.  This influence he
feels, and wishes to explain, by analysing and reducing it to its
elements.  To him, the picture, the landscape, the engaging
personality in life or in a book, La Gioconda, the hills of Carrara,
Pico of Mirandola, are valuable for their virtues, as we say, in
speaking of a herb, a wine, a gem; for the property each has of
affecting one with a special, a unique, impression of pleasure.
Our education becomes complete in proportion as our
susceptibility to these impressions increases in depth and variety.
And the function of the aesthetic critic is to distinguish, to
analyse, and separate from its adjuncts, the virtue by which a
picture, a landscape, a fair personality in life or in a book,
produces this special impression of beauty or pleasure, to indicate
what the source of that impression is, and under what conditions
it is experienced.  His end is reached when he has disengaged that
[x] virtue, and noted it, as a chemist notes some natural element,
for himself and others; and the rule for those who would reach
this end is stated with great exactness in the words of a recent
critic of Sainte-Beuve:--De se borner à connaître de près les
belles choses, et à s'en nourrir en exquis amateurs, en
humanistes accomplis.

What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a
correct abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain
kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the
presence of beautiful objects.  He will remember always that
beauty exists in many forms.  To him all periods, types, schools
of taste, are in themselves equal.  In all ages there have been
some excellent workmen, and some excellent work done.  The
question he asks is always:--In whom did the stir, the genius, the
sentiment of the period find itself?  where was the receptacle of
its refinement, its elevation, its taste?  "The ages are all equal,"
says William Blake, "but genius is always above its age."

Often it will require great nicety to disengage this virtue from the
commoner elements with which it may be found in combination.
Few artists, not Goethe or Byron even, work quite cleanly,
casting off all débris, and leaving us only what the heat of their
imagination has wholly [xi] fused and transformed.  Take, for
instance, the writings of Wordsworth.  The heat of his genius,
entering into the substance of his work, has crystallised a part,
but only a part, of it; and in that great mass of verse there is much
which might well be forgotten.  But scattered up and down it,
sometimes fusing and transforming entire compositions, like the
Stanzas on Resolution and Independence, or the Ode on the
Recollections of Childhood, sometimes, as if at random,
depositing a fine crystal here or there, in a matter it does not
wholly search through and transmute, we trace the action of his
unique, incommunicable faculty, that strange, mystical sense of a
life in natural things, and of man's life as a part of nature,
drawing strength and colour and character from local influences,
from the hills and streams, and from natural sights and sounds.
Well!  that is the virtue, the active principle in Wordsworth's
poetry; and then the function of the critic of Wordsworth is to
follow up that active principle, to disengage it, to mark the degree
in which it penetrates his verse.

The subjects of the following studies are taken from the history
of the Renaissance, and touch what I think the chief points in that
complex, many-sided movement.  I have explained in the first of
them what I understand by the word, [xii] giving it a much wider
scope than was intended by those who originally used it to denote
that revival of classical antiquity in the fifteenth century which
was only one of many results of a general excitement and
enlightening of the human mind, but of which the great aim and
achievements of what, as Christian art, is often falsely opposed to
the Renaissance, were another result.  This outbreak of the human
spirit may be traced far into the middle age itself, with its motives
already clearly pronounced, the care for physical beauty, the
worship of the body, the breaking down of those limits which the
religious system of the middle age imposed on the heart and the
imagination.  I have taken as an example of this movement, this
earlier Renaissance within the middle age itself, and as an
expression of its qualities, two little compositions in early
French; not because they constitute the best possible expression
of them, but because they help the unity of my series, inasmuch
as the Renaissance ends also in France, in French poetry, in a
phase of which the writings of Joachim du Bellay are in many
ways the most perfect illustration.  The Renaissance, in truth, put
forth in France an aftermath, a wonderful later growth, the
products of which have to the full that subtle and delicate
sweetness which belongs to a refined and comely [xiii]
decadence, just as its earliest phases have the freshness which
belongs to all periods of growth in art, the charm of ascêsis, of
the austere and serious girding of the loins in youth.

But it is in Italy, in the fifteenth century, that the interest of the
Renaissance mainly lies,--in that solemn fifteenth century which
can hardly be studied too much, not merely for its positive results
in the things of the intellect and the imagination, its concrete
works of art, its special and prominent personalities, with their
profound aesthetic charm, but for its general spirit and character,
for the ethical qualities of which it is a consummate type.

The various forms of intellectual activity which together make
up the culture of an age, move for the most part from different
starting-points, and by unconnected roads.  As products of the
same generation they partake indeed of a common character, and
unconsciously illustrate each other; but of the producers
themselves, each group is solitary, gaining what advantage or
disadvantage there may be in intellectual isolation.  Art and
poetry, philosophy and the religious life, and that other life of
refined pleasure and action in the conspicuous places of the
world, are each of them confined to its own circle of ideas, and
those who prosecute either of them are generally little [xiv]
curious of the thoughts of others.  There come, however, from
time to time, eras of more favourable conditions, in which the
thoughts of men draw nearer together than is their wont, and the
many interests of the intellectual world combine in one complete
type of general culture.  The fifteenth century in Italy is one of
these happier eras, and what is sometimes said of the age of
Pericles is true of that of Lorenzo:--it is an age productive in
personalities, many-sided, centralised, complete.  Here, artists
and philosophers and those whom the action of the world has
elevated and made keen, do not live in isolation, but breathe a
common air, and catch light and heat from each other's thoughts.
There is a spirit of general elevation and enlightenment in which
all alike communicate.  The unity of this spirit gives unity to all
the various products of the Renaissance; and it is to this intimate
alliance with the mind, this participation in the best thoughts
which that age produced, that the art of Italy in the fifteenth
century owes much of its grave dignity and influence.

I have added an essay on Winckelmann, as not incongruous with
the studies which precede it, because Winckelmann, coming in
the eighteenth century, really belongs in spirit to an earlier age.
By his enthusiasm for the things of the intellect [xv] and the
imagination for their own sake, by his Hellenism, his life-long
struggle to attain the Greek spirit, he is in sympathy with the
humanists of a previous century.  He is the last fruit of the
Renaissance, and explains in a striking way its motive and
tendencies.

1873.



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES

Yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove.

[1] THE history of the Renaissance ends in France, and carries us
away from Italy to the beautiful cities of the country of the Loire.
But it was in France also, in a very important sense, that the
Renaissance had begun.  French writers, who are fond of
connecting the creations of Italian genius with a French origin,
who tell us how Saint Francis of Assisi took not his name only,
but all those notions of chivalry and romantic love which so
deeply penetrated his thoughts, from a French source, how
Boccaccio borrowed the outlines of his stories from the old
French fabliaux, and how Dante himself expressly connects the
origin of the art of miniature-painting with the city of Paris, have
often dwelt on this notion of a Renaissance in the end of the
twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, a Renaissance
within the limits of the middle age itself--a brilliant, but in part
abortive effort to do for human life and the human mind what
was afterwards done in the fifteenth.  The word Renaissance,
indeed, is now generally used to denote not [2] merely the revival
of classical antiquity which took place in the fifteenth century,
and to which the word was first applied, but a whole complex
movement, of which that revival of classical antiquity was but
one element or symptom.  For us the Renaissance is the name of
a many-sided but yet united movement, in which the love of the
things of the intellect and the imagination for their own sake, the
desire for a more liberal and comely way of conceiving life, make
themselves felt, urging those who experience this desire to search
out first one and then another means of intellectual or imaginative
enjoyment, and directing them not only to the discovery of old
and forgotten sources of this enjoyment, but to the divination of
fresh sources thereof--new experiences, new subjects of poetry,
new forms of art.  Of such feeling there was a great outbreak in
the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the following century.
Here and there, under rare and happy conditions, in Pointed
architecture, in the doctrines of romantic love, in the poetry of
Provence, the rude strength of the middle age turns to sweetness;
and the taste for sweetness generated there becomes the seed of
the classical revival in it, prompting it constantly to seek after the
springs of perfect sweetness in the Hellenic world.  And coming
after a long period in which this instinct had been crushed, that
true "dark age," in which so many sources of  intellectual and
imaginative enjoyment had [3] actually disappeared, this
outbreak is rightly called a Renaissance, a revival.

Theories which bring into connexion with each other modes of
thought and feeling, periods of taste, forms of art and poetry,
which the narrowness of men's minds constantly tends to oppose
to each other, have a great stimulus for the intellect, and are
almost always worth understanding.  It is so with this theory of a
Renaissance within the middle age, which seeks to establish a
continuity between the most characteristic work of that period,
the sculpture of Chartres, the windows of Le Mans, and the work
of the later Renaissance, the work of Jean Cousin and Germain
Pilon, thus healing that rupture between the middle age and the
Renaissance which has so often been exaggerated.  But it is not
so much the ecclesiastical art of the middle age, its sculpture and
painting--work certainly done in a great measure for pleasure's
sake, in which even a secular, a rebellious spirit often betrays
itself--but rather its profane poetry, the poetry of Provence, and
the magnificent after-growth of that poetry in Italy and France,
which those French writers have in view when they speak of this
medieval Renaissance.  In that poetry, earthly passion, with its
intimacy, its freedom, its variety--the liberty of the heart--makes
itself felt; and the name of Abelard, the great scholar and the
great lover, connects the expression of this liberty of heart with
the free [4] play of human intelligence around all subjects
presented to it, with the liberty of the intellect, as that age
understood it.

Every one knows the legend of Abelard, a legend hardly less
passionate, certainly not less characteristic of the middle age,
than the legend of Tannhäuser; how the famous and comely
clerk, in whom Wisdom herself, self-possessed, pleasant, and
discreet, seemed to sit enthroned, came to live in the house of a
canon of the church of Notre-Dame, where dwelt a girl, Heloïse,
believed to be the old priest's orphan niece; how the old priest
had testified his love for her by giving her an education then
unrivalled, so that rumour asserted that, through the knowledge
of languages, enabling her to penetrate into the mysteries of the
older world, she had become a sorceress, like the Celtic
druidesses; and how as Abelard and Heloïse sat together at home
there, to refine a little further on the nature of abstract ideas,
"Love made himself of the party with them."  You conceive the
temptations of the scholar, who, in such dreamy tranquillity, amid
the bright and busy spectacle of the "Island," lived in a world of
something like shadows; and that for one who knew so well how
to assign its exact value to every abstract thought, those restraints
which lie on the consciences of other men had been relaxed.  It
appears that he composed many verses in the vulgar tongue:
already the young men sang them on the quay below the house.
Those songs, says M. de Rémusat, [5] were probably in the taste
of the Trouvères, "of whom he was one of the first in date, or, so
to speak, the predecessor."  It is the same spirit which has
moulded the famous "letters," written in the quaint Latin of the
middle age.

At the foot of that early Gothic tower, which the next generation
raised to grace the precincts of Abelard's school, on the
"Mountain of Saint Geneviève," the historian Michelet sees in
thought "a terrible assembly; not the hearers of Abelard alone,
fifty bishops, twenty cardinals, two popes, the whole body of
scholastic philosophy; not only the learned Heloïse, the teaching
of languages, and the Renaissance; but Arnold of Brescia--that is
to say, the revolution."  And so from the rooms of this shadowy
house by the Seine side we see that spirit going abroad, with its
qualities already well defined, its intimacy, its languid sweetness,
its rebellion, its subtle skill in dividing the elements of human
passion, its care for physical beauty, its worship of the body,
which penetrated the early literature of Italy, and finds an echo
even in Dante.

That Abelard is not mentioned in the Divine Comedy may appear
a singular omission to the reader of Dante, who seems to have
inwoven into the texture of his work whatever had impressed him
as either effective in colour or spiritually significant among the
recorded incidents of actual life.  Nowhere in his great poem do
we find the name, nor so much as an allusion to the story of [6]
one who had left so deep a mark on the philosophy of which
Dante was an eager student, of whom in the Latin Quarter, and
from the lips of scholar or teacher in the University of Paris,
during his sojourn among them, he can hardly have failed to hear.
We can only suppose that he had indeed considered the story and
the man, and abstained from passing judgment as to his place in
the scheme of "eternal justice."

In the famous legend of Tannhäuser, the erring knight makes his
way to Rome, to seek absolution at the centre of Christian
religion.  "So soon," thought and said the Pope, "as the staff in
his hand should bud and blossom, so soon might the soul of
Tannhäuser be saved, and no sooner"; and it came to pass not
long after that the dry wood of a staff which the Pope had carried
in his hand was covered with leaves and flowers.  So, in the
cloister of Godstow, a petrified tree was shown of which the nuns
told that the fair Rosamond, who had died among them, had
declared that, the tree being then alive and green, it would be
changed into stone at the hour of her salvation.  When Abelard
died, like Tannhäuser, he was on his way to Rome.  What might
have happened had he reached his journey's end is uncertain; and
it is in this uncertain twilight that his relation to the general
beliefs of his age has always remained.  In this, as in other things,
he prefigures the character of the Renaissance, that movement in
[7] which, in various ways, the human mind wins for itself a new
kingdom of feeling and sensation and thought, not opposed to but
only beyond and independent of the spiritual system then actually
realised.  The opposition into which Abelard is thrown, which
gives its colour to his career, which breaks his soul to pieces, is a
no less subtle opposition than that between the merely
professional, official, hireling ministers of that system, with their
ignorant worship of system for its own sake, and the true child of
light, the humanist, with reason and heart and senses quick, while
theirs were almost dead.  He reaches out towards, he attains,
modes of ideal living, beyond the prescribed limits of that
system, though in essential germ, it may be, contained within it.
As always happens, the adherents of the poorer and narrower
culture had no sympathy with, because no understanding of, a
culture richer and more ample than their own.  After the
discovery of wheat they would still live upon acorns--après
l'invention du blé ils voulaient encore vivre du gland; and would
hear of no service to the higher needs of humanity with
instruments not of their forging.

But the human spirit, bold through those needs, was too strong
for them.  Abelard and Heloïse write their letters--letters with a
wonderful outpouring of soul--in medieval Latin; and Abelard,
though he composes songs in the vulgar tongue, writes also in
Latin those [8] treatises in which he tries to find a ground of
reality below the abstractions of philosophy, as one bent on
trying all things by their congruity with human experience, who
had felt the hand of Heloïse, and looked into her eyes, and tested
the resources of humanity in her great and energetic nature.  Yet
it is only a little later, early in the thirteenth century, that French
prose romance begins; and in one of the pretty volumes of the
Bibliothèque Elzevirienne some of the most striking fragments of
it may be found, edited with much intelligence.  In one of these
thirteenth-century stories, Li Amitiez de Ami et Amile, that free
play of human affection, of the claims of which Abelard's story is
an assertion, makes itself felt in the incidents of a great
friendship, a friendship pure and generous, pushed to a sort of
passionate exaltation, and more than faithful unto death.  Such
comradeship, though instances of it are to be found everywhere,
is still especially a classical motive; Chaucer expressing the
sentiment of it so strongly in an antique tale, that one knows not
whether the love of both Palamon and Arcite for Emelya, or of
those two for each other, is the chiefer subject of the Knight's
Tale--

     He cast his eyen upon Emelya,
     And therewithal he bleynte and cried, ah!
     As that he stongen were unto the herte.

What reader does not refer something of the [9] bitterness of that
cry to the spoiling, already foreseen, of the fair friendship, which
had made the prison of the two lads sweet hitherto with its daily
offices?

The friendship of Amis and Amile is deepened by the romantic
circumstance of an entire personal resemblance between the two
heroes, through which they pass for each other again and again,
and thereby into many strange adventures; that curious interest of
the Doppelgänger, which begins among the stars with the
Dioscuri, being entwined in and out through all the incidents of
the story, like an outward token of the inward similitude of their
souls.  With this, again, is connected, like a second reflection of
that inward similitude, the conceit of two marvellously beautiful
cups, also exactly like each other--children's cups, of wood, but
adorned with gold and precious stones.  These two cups, which
by their resemblance help to bring the friends together at critical
moments, were given to them by the Pope, when he baptized
them at Rome, whither the parents had taken them for that
purpose, in gratitude for their birth.  They cross and recross very
strangely in the narrative, serving the two heroes almost like
living things, and with that well-known effect of a beautiful
object, kept constantly before the eye in a story or poem, of
keeping sensation well awake, and giving a certain air of
refinement to all the scenes into which it enters.  That sense of
fate, which [10] hangs so much of the shaping of human life on
trivial objects, like Othello's strawberry handkerchief, is thereby
heightened, while witness is borne to the enjoyment of beautiful
handiwork by primitive people, their simple wonder at it, so that
they give it an oddly significant place among the factors of a
human history.

Amis and Amile, then, are true to their comradeship through all
trials; and in the end it comes to pass that at a moment of great
need Amis takes the place of Amile in a tournament for life or
death.  "After this it happened that a leprosy fell upon Amis, so
that his wife would not approach him, and wrought to strangle
him.  He departed therefore from his home, and at last prayed his
servants to carry him to the house of Amile"; and it is in what
follows that the curious strength of the piece shows itself:--

"His servants, willing to do as he commanded, carried him to the
place where Amile was; and they began to sound their rattles
before the court of Amile's house, as lepers are accustomed to
do.  And when Amile heard the noise he commanded one of his
servants to carry meat and bread to the sick man, and the cup
which was given to him at Rome filled with good wine.  And
when the servant had done as he was commanded, he returned
and said, Sir, if I had not thy cup in my hand, I should believe
that the cup which the sick man has was thine, for they are alike,
the [11] one to the other, in height and fashion.  And Amile said,
Go quickly and bring him to me.  And when Amis stood before
his comrade Amile demanded of him who he was, and how he
had gotten that cup.  I am of Briquain le Chastel, answered Amis,
and the cup was given to me by the Bishop of Rome, who
baptized me.  And when Amile heard that, he knew that it was his
comrade Amis, who had delivered him from death, and won for
him the daughter of the King of France to be his wife.  And
straightway he fell upon him, and began weeping greatly, and
kissed him.  And when his wife heard that, she ran out with her
hair in disarray, weeping and distressed exceedingly, for she
remembered that it was he who had slain the false Ardres.  And
thereupon they placed him in a fair bed, and said to him, Abide
with us until God's will be accomplished in thee, for all we have
is at thy service.  So he and the two servants abode with them.

"And it came to pass one night, when Amis and Amile lay in one
chamber without other companions, that God sent His angel
Raphael to Amis, who said to him, Amis, art thou asleep?  And
he, supposing that Amile had called him, answered and said, I am
not asleep, fair comrade!  And the angel said to him, Thou hast
answered well, for thou art the comrade of the heavenly citizens.-
-I am Raphael, the angel of our Lord, and am come to tell thee
how thou mayest be [12] healed; for thy prayers are heard.  Thou
shalt bid Amile, thy comrade, that he slay his two children and
wash thee in their blood, and so thy body shall be made whole.
And Amis said to him, Let not this thing be, that my comrade
should become a murderer for my sake.  But the angel said, It is
convenient that he do this.  And thereupon the angel departed.

"And Amile also, as if in sleep, heard those words; and he awoke
and said, Who is it, my comrade, that hath spoken with thee?
And Amis answered, No man; only I have prayed to our Lord, as
I am accustomed.  And Amile said, Not so!  but some one hath
spoken with thee.  Then he arose and went to the door of the
chamber; and finding it shut he said, Tell me, my brother, who it
was said those words to thee to-night.  And Amis began to weep
greatly, and told him that it was Raphael, the angel of the Lord,
who had said to him, Amis, our Lord commands thee that thou
bid Amile slay his two children, and wash thee in their blood, and
so thou shalt be healed of thy leprosy.  And Amile was greatly
disturbed at those words, and said, I would have given to thee my
man-servants and my maid-servants and all my goods, and thou
feignest that an angel hath spoken to thee that I should slay my
two children.  And immediately Amis began to weep, and said, I
know that I have spoken to thee a terrible thing, but constrained
thereto; I pray thee cast me not away [13] from the shelter of thy
house.  And Amile answered that what he had covenanted with
him, that he would perform, unto the hour of his death: But I
conjure thee, said he, by the faith which there is between me and
thee, and by our comradeship, and by the baptism we received
together at Rome, that thou tell me whether it was man or angel
said that to thee.  And Amis answered again, So truly as an angel
hath spoken to me this night, so may God deliver me from my
infirmity!

"Then Amile began to weep in secret, and thought within
himself: If this man was ready to die before the king for me, shall
I not for him slay my children?  Shall I not keep faith with him
who was faithful to me even unto death?  And Amile tarried no
longer, but departed to the chamber of his wife, and bade her go
hear the Sacred Office.  And he took a sword, and went to the bed
where the children were lying, and found them asleep.  And he
lay down over them and began to weep bitterly and said, Hath
any man yet heard of a father who of his own will slew his
children?  Alas, my children!  I am no longer your father, but
your cruel murderer.

"And the children awoke at the tears of their father, which fell
upon them; and they looked up into his face and began to laugh.
And as they were of the age of about three years, he said, Your
laughing will be turned into tears, for your innocent blood must
now be shed, [14] and therewith he cut off their heads.  Then he
laid them back in the bed, and put the heads upon the bodies, and
covered them as though they slept: and with the blood which he
had taken he washed his comrade, and said, Lord Jesus Christ!
who hast commanded men to keep faith on earth, and didst heal
the leper by Thy word!  cleanse now my comrade, for whose love
I have shed the blood of my children.

"Then Amis was cleansed of his leprosy.  And Amile clothed his
companion in his best robes; and as they went to the church to
give thanks, the bells, by the will of God, rang of their own
accord.  And when the people of the city heard that, they ran
together to see the marvel.  And the wife of Amile, when she saw
Amis and Amile coming, asked which of the twain was her
husband, and said, I know well the vesture of them both, but I
know not which of them is Amile.  And Amile said to her, I am
Amile, and my companion is Amis, who is healed of his sickness.
And she was full of wonder, and desired to know in what manner
he was healed.  Give thanks to our Lord, answered Amile, but
trouble not thyself as to the manner of the healing.

"Now neither the father nor the mother had yet entered where the
children were; but the father sighed heavily, because they were
dead, and the mother asked for them, that they might rejoice
together; but Amile said, Dame!  let [15] the children sleep.  And
it was already the hour of Tierce.  And going in alone to the
children to weep over them, he found them at play in the bed;
only, in the place of the sword-cuts about their throats was as it
were a thread of crimson.  And he took them in his arms and
carried them to his wife and said, Rejoice greatly, for thy children
whom I had slain by the commandment of the angel are alive,
and by their blood is Amis healed."

There, as I said, is the strength of the old French story.  For the
Renaissance has not only the sweetness which it derives from the
classical world, but also that curious strength of which there are
great resources in the true middle age.  And as I have illustrated
the early strength of the Renaissance by the story of Amis and
Amile, a story which comes from the North, in which a certain
racy Teutonic flavour is perceptible, so I shall illustrate that other
element, its early sweetness, a languid excess of sweetness even,
by another story printed in the same volume of the Bibliothèque
Elzevirienne, and of about the same date, a story which comes,
characteristically, from the South, and connects itself with the
literature of Provence.

The central love-poetry of Provence, the poetry of the Tenson and
the Aubade, of Bernard de Ventadour and Pierre Vidal, is poetry
for the few, for the elect and peculiar people of the [16] kingdom
of sentiment.  But below this intenser poetry there was probably a
wide range of literature, less serious and elevated, reaching, by
lightness of form and comparative homeliness of interest, an
audience which the concentrated passion of those higher lyrics
left untouched.  This literature has long since perished, or lives
only in later French or Italian versions.  One such version, the
only representative of its species, M. Fauriel thought he detected
in the story of Aucassin and Nicolette, written in the French of
the latter half of the thirteenth century, and preserved in a unique
manuscript, in the national library of Paris; and there were
reasons which made him divine for it a still more ancient
ancestry, traces in it of an Arabian origin, as in a leaf lost out of
some early Arabian Nights.*  The little book loses none of its
interest through the criticism which finds in it only a traditional
subject, handed on by one people to another; for after passing
thus from hand to hand, its outline is still clear, its surface
untarnished; and, like many other stories, books, literary and
artistic conceptions of the middle age, it has come to [17] have in
this way a sort of personal history, almost as full of risk and
adventure as that of its own heroes.  The writer himself calls the
piece a cantefable, a tale told in prose, but with its incidents and
sentiment helped forward by songs, inserted at irregular intervals.
In the junctions of the story itself there are signs of roughness and
want of skill, which make one suspect that the prose was only put
together to connect a series of songs--a series of songs so moving
and attractive that people wished to heighten and dignify their
effect by a regular framework or setting.  Yet the songs
themselves are of the simplest kind, not rhymed even, but only
imperfectly assonant, stanzas of twenty or thirty lines apiece, all
ending with a similar vowel sound.  And here, as elsewhere in
that early poetry, much of the interest lies in the spectacle of the
formation of a new artistic sense.  A novel art is arising, the
music of rhymed poetry, and in the songs of Aucassin and
Nicolette, which seem always on the point of passing into true
rhyme, but which halt somehow, and can never quite take flight,
you see people just growing aware of the elements of a new
music in their possession, and anticipating how pleasant such
music might become.

The piece was probably intended to be recited by a company of
trained performers, many of whom, at least for the lesser parts,
were probably children.  The songs are introduced by the rubric,
[18] Or se cante (ici on chante); and each division of prose by
the rubric, Or dient et content et fabloient (ici on conte).  The
musical notes of a portion of the songs have been preserved; and
some of the details are so descriptive that they suggested to M.
Fauriel the notion that the words had been accompanied
throughout by dramatic action.  That mixture of simplicity and
refinement which he was surprised to find in a composition of the
thirteenth century, is shown sometimes in the turn given to some
passing expression or remark; thus, "the Count de Garins was old
and frail, his time was over"--Li quens Garins de Beaucaire
estoit vix et frales; si avoit son tans trespassè.  And then, all is so
realised!  One sees the ancient forest, with its disused roads
grown deep with grass, and the place where seven roads meet--u
a forkeut set cemin qui s'en vont par le païs; we hear the light-
hearted country people calling each other by their rustic names,
and putting forward, as their spokesman, one among them who is
more eloquent and ready than the rest--li un qui plus fu enparlés
des autres; for the little book has its burlesque element also, so
that one hears the faint, far-off laughter still.  Rough as it is, the
piece certainly possesses this high quality of poetry, that it aims
at a purely artistic effect.  Its subject is a great sorrow, yet it
claims to be a thing of joy and refreshment, to be entertained not
for its matter only, but chiefly for its manner, it is cortois, it tells
us, et bien assis.

[19] For the student of manners, and of the old French language
and literature, it has much interest of a purely antiquarian order.
To say of an ancient literary composition that it has an
antiquarian interest, often means that it has no distinct aesthetic
interest for the reader of to-day.  Antiquarianism, by a purely
historical effort, by putting its object in perspective, and setting
the reader in a certain point of view, from which what gave
pleasure to the past is pleasurable for him also, may often add
greatly to the charm we receive from ancient literature.  But the
first condition of such aid must be a real, direct, aesthetic charm
in the thing itself.  Unless it has that charm, unless some purely
artistic quality went to its original making, no merely antiquarian
effort can ever give it an aesthetic value, or make it a proper
subject of aesthetic criticism.  This quality, wherever it exists, it
is always pleasant to define, and discriminate from the sort of
borrowed interest which an old play, or an old story, may very
likely acquire through a true antiquarianism.  The story of
Aucassin and Nicolette has something of this quality.  Aucassin,
the only son of Count Garins of Beaucaire, is passionately in love
with Nicolette, a beautiful girl of unknown parentage, bought of
the Saracens, whom his father will not permit him to marry.  The
story turns on the adventures of these two lovers, until at the end
of the piece their mutual fidelity is rewarded.  These [20]
adventures are of the simplest sort, adventures which seem to be
chosen for the happy occasion they afford of keeping the eye of
the fancy, perhaps the outward eye, fixed on pleasant objects, a
garden, a ruined tower, the little hut of flowers which Nicolette
constructs in the forest whither she escapes from her enemies, as
a token to Aucassin that she has passed that way.  All the charm
of the piece is in its details, in a turn of peculiar lightness and
grace given to the situations and traits of sentiment, especially in
its quaint fragments of early French prose.

All through it one feels the influence of that faint air of
overwrought delicacy, almost of wantonness, which was so
strong a characteristic of the poetry of the Troubadours.  The
Troubadours themselves were often men of great rank; they
wrote for an exclusive audience, people of much leisure and great
refinement, and they came to value a type of personal beauty
which has in it but little of the influence of the open air and
sunshine.  There is a languid Eastern deliciousness in the very
scenery of the story, the full-blown roses, the chamber painted in
some mysterious manner where Nicolette is imprisoned, the cool
brown marble, the almost nameless colours, the odour of plucked
grass and flowers.  Nicolette herself well becomes this scenery,
and is the best illustration of the quality I mean--the beautiful,
weird, foreign girl, whom the [21] shepherds take for a fay, who
has the knowledge of simples, the healing and beautifying
qualities of leaves and flowers, whose skilful touch heals
Aucassin's sprained shoulder, so that he suddenly leaps from the
ground; the mere sight of whose white flesh, as she passed the
place where he lay, healed a pilgrim stricken with sore disease, so
that he rose up, and returned to his own country.  With this girl
Aucassin is so deeply in love that he forgets all knightly duties.
At last Nicolette is shut up to get her out of his way, and perhaps
the prettiest passage in the whole piece is the fragment of prose
which describes her escape:--

"Aucassin was put in prison, as you have heard, and Nicolette
remained shut up in her chamber.  It was summer-time, in the
month of May, when the days are warm and long and clear, and
the nights coy and serene.

"One night Nicolette, lying on her bed, saw the moon shine clear
through the little window, and heard the nightingale sing in the
garden, and then came the memory of Aucassin, whom she so
much loved.  She thought of the Count Garins of Beaucaire, who
mortally hated her, and, to be rid of her, might at any moment
cause her to be burned or drowned.  She perceived that the old
woman who kept her company was asleep; she rose and put on
the fairest gown she had; she took the bed-clothes [22] and the
towels, and knotted them together like a cord, as far as they
would go.  Then she tied the end to a pillar of the window, and let
herself slip down quite softly into the garden, and passed straight
across it, to reach the town.

"Her hair was yellow in small curls, her smiling eyes blue-green,
her face clear and feat, the little lips very red, the teeth small and
white; and the daisies which she crushed in passing, holding her
skirt high behind and before, looked dark against her feet; the girl
was so white!

"She came to the garden-gate and opened it, and walked through
the streets of Beaucaire, keeping on the dark side of the way to be
out of the light of the moon, which shone quietly in the sky.  She
walked as fast as she could, until she came to the tower where
Aucassin was.  The tower was set about with pillars, here and
there.  She pressed herself against one of the pillars, wrapped
herself closely in her mantle, and putting her face to a chink of
the tower, which was old and ruined, she heard Aucassin crying
bitterly within, and when she had listened awhile she began to
speak."

But scattered up and down through this lighter matter, always
tinged with humour and often passing into burlesque, which
makes up the general substance of the piece, there are morsels of
a different quality, touches of some intenser sentiment, coming it
would seem from [23] the profound and energetic spirit of the
Provençal poetry itself, to which the inspiration of the book has
been referred.  Let me gather up these morsels of deeper colour,
these expressions of the ideal intensity of love, the motive which
really unites together the fragments of the little composition.
Dante, the perfect flower of ideal love, has recorded how the
tyranny of that "Lord of terrible aspect" became actually
physical, blinding his senses, and suspending his bodily forces.
In this, Dante is but the central expression and type of
experiences known well enough to the initiated, in that passionate
age.  Aucassin represents this ideal intensity of passion--

     Aucassin, le biax, li blons,
     Li gentix, li amorous;--

the slim, tall, debonair, dansellon, as the singers call him, with
his curled yellow hair, and eyes of vair, who faints with love, as
Dante fainted, who rides all day through the forest in search of
Nicolette, while the thorns tear his flesh, so that one might have
traced him by the blood upon the grass, and who weeps at
eventide because he has not found her, who has the malady of his
love, and neglects all knightly duties.  Once he is induced to put
himself at the head of his people, that they, seeing him before
them, might have more heart to defend themselves; then a song
relates how the sweet, grave figure goes forth to battle, in dainty,
tight-laced [24] armour.  It is the very image of the Provençal
love-god, no longer a child, but grown to pensive youth, as Pierre
Vidal met him, riding on a white horse, fair as the morning, his
vestment embroidered with flowers.  He rode on through the
gates into the open plain beyond.  But as he went, that great
malady of his love came upon him.  The bridle fell from his
hands; and like one who sleeps walking, he was carried on into
the midst of his enemies, and heard them talking together how
they might most conveniently kill him.

One of the strongest characteristics of that outbreak of the reason
and the imagination, of that assertion of the liberty of the heart, in
the middle age, which I have termed a medieval Renaissance,
was its antinomianism, its spirit of rebellion and revolt against
the moral and religious ideas of the time.  In their search after the
pleasures of the senses and the imagination, in their care for
beauty, in their worship of the body, people were impelled
beyond the bounds of the Christian ideal; and their love became
sometimes a strange idolatry, a strange rival religion.  It was the
return of that ancient Venus, not dead, but only hidden for a time
in the caves of the Venusberg, of those old pagan gods still going
to and fro on the earth, under all sorts of disguises.  And this
element in the middle age, for the most part ignored by those
writers who have treated it pre-eminently as the [25] "Age of
Faith"--this rebellious and antinomian element, the recognition of
which has made the delineation of the middle age by the writers
of the Romantic school in France, by Victor Hugo for instance in
Notre-Dame de Paris, so suggestive and exciting--is found alike
in the history of Abelard and the legend of Tannhäuser.  More
and more, as we come to mark changes and distinctions of temper
in what is often in one all-embracing confusion called the middle
age, that rebellion, that sinister claim for liberty of heart and
thought, comes to the surface.  The Albigensian movement,
connected so strangely with the history of Provençal poetry, is
deeply tinged with it.  A touch of it makes the Franciscan order,
with its poetry, its mysticism, its "illumination," from the point of
view of religious authority, justly suspect.  It influences the
thoughts of those obscure prophetical writers, like Joachim of
Flora, strange dreamers in a world of flowery rhetoric of that
third and final dispensation of a "spirit of freedom," in which law
shall have passed away.  Of this spirit Aucassin and Nicolette
contains perhaps the most famous expression: it is the answer
Aucassin gives when he is threatened with the pains of hell, if he
makes Nicolette his mistress.  A creature wholly of affection and
the senses, he sees on the way to paradise only a feeble and worn-
out company of aged priests, "clinging day and night to the
chapel altars," barefoot or [26] in patched sandals.  With or even
without Nicolette, "his sweet mistress whom he so much loves,"
he, for his part, is ready to start on the way to hell, along with
"the good scholars," as he says, and the actors, and the fine
horsemen dead in battle, and the men of fashion,* and "the fair
courteous ladies who had two or three chevaliers apiece beside
their own true lords," all gay with music, in their gold, and silver,
and beautiful furs--"the vair and the grey."

But in the House Beautiful the saints too have their place; and the
student of the Renaissance has this advantage over the student of
the emancipation of the human mind in the Reformation, or the
French Revolution, that in tracing the footsteps of humanity to
higher levels, he is not beset at every turn by the inflexibilities
and antagonisms of some well-recognised controversy, with
rigidly defined opposites, exhausting the intelligence and limiting
one's sympathies.  The opposition of the professional defenders
of a mere system to that more sincere and generous play of the
forces of human mind and character, which I have noted as the
secret of Abelard's struggle, is indeed always powerful.  But the
incompatibility with one another of souls really "fair" is not
essential; and within the enchanted region of the Renaissance,
one needs not be for ever on [27] one's guard.  Here there are no
fixed parties, no exclusions: all breathes of that unity of culture in
which whatsoever things are comely" are reconciled, for the
elevation and adorning of our spirits.  And just in proportion as
those who took part in the Renaissance become centrally
representative of it, just so much the more is this condition
realised in them.  The wicked popes, and the loveless tyrants,
who from time to time became its patrons, or mere speculators in
its fortunes, lend themselves easily to disputations, and, from this
side or that, the spirit of controversy lays just hold upon them.
But the painter of the Last Supper, with his kindred, lives in a
land where controversy has no breathing-place.  They refuse to
be classified.  In the story of Aucassin and Nicolette, in the
literature which it represents, the note of defiance, of the
opposition of one system to another, is sometimes harsh.  Let me
conclude then with a morsel from Amis and Amile, in which the
harmony of human interests is still entire.  For the story of the
great traditional friendship, in which, as I said, the liberty of the
heart makes itself felt, seems, as we have it, to have been written
by a monk--La vie des saints martyrs Amis et Amile.  It was not
till the end of the seventeenth century that their names were
finally excluded from the martyrology; and their story ends with
this monkish miracle of earthly comradeship, more than faithful
unto death:--

[28] "For, as God had united them in their lives in one accord, so
they were not divided in their death, falling together side by side,
with a host of other brave men, in battle for King Charles at
Mortara, so called from that great slaughter.  And the bishops
gave counsel to the king and queen that they should bury the
dead, and build a church in that place; and their counsel pleased
the king greatly.  And there were built two churches, the one by
commandment of the king in honour of Saint Oseige, and the
other by commandment of the queen in honour of Saint Peter.

"And the king caused the two chests of stone to be brought in the
which the bodies of Amis and Amile lay; and Amile was carried
to the church of Saint Peter, and Amis to the church of Saint
Oseige; and the other corpses were buried, some in one place and
some in the other.  But lo! next morning, the body of Amile in his
coffin was found lying in the church of Saint Oseige, beside the
coffin of Amis his comrade.  Behold then this wondrous amity,
which by death could not be dissevered!

"This miracle God did, who gave to His disciples power to
remove mountains.  And by reason of this miracle the king and
queen remained in that place for a space of thirty days, and
performed the offices of the dead who were slain, and honoured
the said churches with great [29] gifts.  And the bishop ordained
many clerks to serve in the church of Saint Oseige, and
commanded them that they should guard duly, with great
devotion, the bodies of the two companions, Amis and Amile."

1872.

NOTES

16. *Recently, Aucassin and Nicolette has been edited and
translated into English, with much graceful scholarship, by Mr. F.
W. Bourdillon.  Still more recently we have had a translation--a
poet's translation--from the ingenious and versatile pen of Mr.
Andrew Lang.  The reader should consult also the chapter on
"The Out-door Poetry," in Vernon Lee's most interesting
Euphorion; being Studies of the Antique and Mediaeval in the
Renaissance, a work abounding in knowledge and insight on the
subjects of which it treats.

26. *Parage, peerage:--which came to signify all that ambitious
youth affected most on the outside of life, in that old world of the
Troubadours, with whom this term is of frequent recurrence.
Return.


PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA

[30] NO account of the Renaissance can be complete without
some notice of the attempt made by certain Italian scholars of the
fifteenth century to reconcile Christianity with the religion of
ancient Greece.  To reconcile forms of sentiment which at first
sight seem incompatible, to adjust the various products of the
human mind to one another in one many-sided type of intellectual
culture, to give humanity, for heart and imagination to feed upon,
as much as it could possibly receive, belonged to the generous
instincts of that age.  An earlier and simpler generation had seen
in the gods of Greece so many malignant spirits, the defeated but
still living centres of the religion of darkness, struggling, not
always in vain, against the kingdom of light.  Little by little, as
the natural charm of pagan story reasserted itself over minds
emerging out of barbarism, the religious significance which had
once belonged to it was lost sight of, and it came to be regarded
as the subject of a purely artistic or poetical treatment.  But it was
inevitable that from time to time minds should [31] arise, deeply
enough impressed by its beauty and power to ask themselves
whether the religion of Greece was indeed a rival of the religion
of Christ; for the older gods had rehabilitated themselves, and
men's allegiance was divided.  And the fifteenth century was an
impassioned age, so ardent and serious in its pursuit of art that it
consecrated everything with which art had to do as a religious
object.  The restored Greek literature had made it familiar, at
least in Plato, with a style of expression concerning the earlier
gods, which had about it something of the warmth and unction of
a Christian hymn.  It was too familiar with such language to
regard mythology as a mere story; and it was too serious to play
with a religion.

"Let me briefly remind the reader"--says Heine, in the Gods in
Exile, an essay full of that strange blending of sentiment which is
characteristic of the traditions of the middle age concerning the
pagan religions--"how the gods of the older world, at the time of
the definite triumph of Christianity, that is, in the third century,
fell into painful embarrassments, which greatly resembled certain
tragical situations of their earlier life.  They now found
themselves beset by the same troublesome necessities to which
they had once before been exposed during the primitive ages, in
that revolutionary epoch when the Titans broke out of the custody
of Orcus, and, piling Pelion on Ossa, scaled [32] Olympus.
Unfortunate gods!  They had then to take flight ignominiously,
and hide themselves among us here on earth, under all sorts of
disguises.  The larger number betook themselves to Egypt, where
for greater security they assumed the forms of animals, as is
generally known.  Just in the same way, they had to take flight
again, and seek entertainment in remote hiding-places, when
those iconoclastic zealots, the black brood of monks, broke down
all the temples, and pursued the gods with fire and curses.  Many
of these unfortunate emigrants, now entirely deprived of shelter
and ambrosia, must needs take to vulgar handicrafts, as a means
of earning their bread.  Under these circumstances, many whose
sacred groves had been confiscated, let themselves out for hire as
wood-cutters in Germany, and were forced to drink beer instead
of nectar.  Apollo seems to have been content to take service
under graziers, and as he had once kept the cows of Admetus, so
he lived now as a shepherd in Lower Austria.  Here, however,
having become suspected on account of his beautiful singing, he
was recognised by a learned monk as one of the old pagan gods,
and handed over to the spiritual tribunal.  On the rack he
confessed that he was the god Apollo; and before his execution
he begged that he might be suffered to play once more upon the
lyre, and to sing a song.  And he played so touchingly, and sang
with such magic, and was withal so [33] beautiful in form and
feature, that all the women wept, and many of them were so
deeply impressed that they shortly afterwards fell sick.  Some
time afterwards the people wished to drag him from the grave
again, that a stake might be driven through his body, in the belief
that he had been a vampire, and that the sick women would by
this means recover.  But they found the grave empty."

The Renaissance of the fifteenth century was, in many things,
great rather by what it designed than by what it achieved.  Much
which it aspired to do, and did but imperfectly or mistakenly, was
accomplished in what is called the éclaircissement of the
eighteenth century, or in our own generation; and what really
belongs to the revival of the fifteenth century is but the leading
instinct, the curiosity, the initiatory idea.  It is so with this very
question of the reconciliation of the religion of antiquity with the
religion of Christ.  A modern scholar occupied by this problem
might observe that all religions may be regarded as natural
products, that, at least in their origin, their growth, and decay,
they have common laws, and are not to be isolated from the other
movements of the human mind in the periods in which they
respectively prevailed; that they arise spontaneously out of the
human mind, as expressions of the varying phases of its
sentiment concerning the unseen world; that every intellectual
product must be judged from the point of [34] view of the age
and the people in which it was produced.  He might go on to
observe that each has contributed something to the development
of the religious sense, and ranging them as so many stages in the
gradual education of the human mind, justify the existence of
each.  The basis of the reconciliation of the religions of the world
would thus be the inexhaustible activity and creativeness of the
human mind itself, in which all religions alike have their root,
and in which all alike are reconciled; just as the fancies of
childhood and the thoughts of old age meet and are laid to rest, in
the experience of the individual.

Far different was the method followed by the scholars of the
fifteenth century.  They lacked the very rudiments of the historic
sense, which, by an imaginative act, throws itself back into a
world unlike one's own, and estimates every intellectual creation
in its connexion with the age from which it proceeded.  They had
no idea of development, of the differences of ages, of the process
by which our race has been "educated."  In their attempts to
reconcile the religions of the world, they were thus thrown back
upon the quicksand of allegorical interpretation.  The religions of
the world were to be reconciled, not as successive stages in a
regular development of the religious sense, but as subsisting side
by side, and substantially in agreement with one another.  And
here the first necessity was to misrepresent the language, the
conceptions, the sentiments, it was [35] proposed to compare and
reconcile.  Plato and Homer must be made to speak agreeably to
Moses.  Set side by side, the mere surfaces could never unite in
any harmony of design.  Therefore one must go below the
surface, and bring up the supposed secondary, or still more
remote meaning,--that diviner signification held in reserve, in
recessu divinius aliquid, latent in some stray touch of Homer, or
figure of speech in the books of Moses.

And yet as a curiosity of the human mind, a "madhouse-cell," if
you will, into which we may peep for a moment, and see it at
work weaving strange fancies, the allegorical interpretation of the
fifteenth century has its interest.  With its strange web of
imagery, its quaint conceits, its unexpected combinations and
subtle moralising, it is an element in the local colour of a great
age.  It illustrates also the faith of that age in all oracles, its desire
to hear all voices, its generous belief that nothing which had ever
interested the human mind could wholly lose its vitality.  It is the
counterpart, though certainly the feebler counterpart, of that
practical truce and reconciliation of the gods of Greece with the
Christian religion, which is seen in the art of the time.  And it is
for his share in this work, and because his own story is a sort of
analogue or visible equivalent to the expression of this purpose in
his writings, that something of a general interest still belongs to
the name of Pico della Mirandola, [36] whose life, written by his
nephew Francis, seemed worthy, for some touch of sweetness in
it, to be translated out of the original Latin by Sir Thomas More,
that great lover of Italian culture, among whose works the life of
Pico, Earl of Mirandola, and a great lord of Italy, as he calls
him, may still be read, in its quaint, antiquated English.

Marsilio Ficino has told us how Pico came to Florence.  It was
the very day--some day probably in the year 1482--on which
Ficino had finished his famous translation of Plato into Latin, the
work to which he had been dedicated from childhood by Cosmo
de' Medici, in furtherance of his desire to resuscitate the
knowledge of Plato among his fellow-citizens.  Florence indeed,
as M. Renan has pointed out, had always had an affinity for the
mystic and dreamy philosophy of Plato, while the colder and
more practical philosophy of Aristotle had flourished in Padua,
and other cities of the north; and the Florentines, though they
knew perhaps very little about him, had had the name of  the
great idealist often on their lips.  To increase this knowledge,
Cosmo had founded the Platonic academy, with periodical
discussions at the Villa Careggi.  The fall of Constantinople in
1453, and the council in 1438 for the reconciliation of the Greek
and Latin Churches, had brought to Florence many a needy
Greek scholar.  And now the work was completed, the door of the
mystical temple lay open to all who could construe Latin, and the
[37] scholar rested from his labour; when there was introduced
into his study, where a lamp burned continually before the bust of
Plato, as other men burned lamps before their favourite saints, a
young man fresh from a journey, "of feature and shape seemly
and beauteous, of stature goodly and high, of flesh tender and
soft, his visage lovely and fair, his colour white, intermingled
with comely reds, his eyes grey, and quick of look, his teeth
white and even, his hair yellow and abundant," and trimmed with
more than the usual artifice of the time.

It is thus that Sir Thomas More translates the words of the
biographer of Pico, who, even in outward form and appearance,
seems an image of that inward harmony and completeness, of
which he is so perfect an example.  The word mystic has been
usually derived from a Greek word which signifies to shut, as if
one shut one's lips brooding on what cannot be uttered; but the
Platonists themselves derive it rather from the act of shutting the
eyes, that one may see the more, inwardly.  Perhaps the eyes of
the mystic Ficino, now long past the midway of life, had come to
be thus half-closed; but when a young man, not unlike the
archangel Raphael, as the Florentines of that age depicted him in
his wonderful walk with Tobit, or Mercury, as he might have
appeared in a painting by Sandro Botticelli or Piero di Cosimo,
entered his chamber, he seems to have thought there was
something not wholly earthly about [38] him; at least, he ever
afterwards believed that it was not without the co-operation of the
stars that the stranger had arrived on that day.  For it happened
that they fell into a conversation, deeper and more intimate than
men usually fall into at first sight.  During this conversation
Ficino formed the design of devoting his remaining years to the
translation of Plotinus, that new Plato, in whom the mystical
element in the Platonic philosophy had been worked out to the
utmost limit of vision and ecstasy; and it is in dedicating this
translation to Lorenzo de' Medici that Ficino has recorded these
incidents.

It was after many wanderings, wanderings of the intellect as well
as physical journeys, that Pico came to rest at Florence.  Born in
1463, he was then about twenty years old.  He was called
Giovanni at baptism, Pico, like all his ancestors, from Picus,
nephew of the Emperor Constantine, from whom they claimed to
be descended, and Mirandola from the place of his birth, a little
town afterwards part of the duchy of Modena, of which small
territory his family had long been the feudal lords.  Pico was the
youngest of the family, and his mother, delighting in his
wonderful memory, sent him at the age of fourteen to the famous
school of law at Bologna.  From the first, indeed, she seems to
have had some presentiment of his future fame, for, with a faith
in omens characteristic of her time, she believed [39] that a
strange circumstance had happened at the time of Pico's birth--
the appearance of a circular flame which suddenly vanished
away, on the wall of the chamber where she lay.  He remained
two years at Bologna; and then, with an inexhaustible, unrivalled
thirst for knowledge, the strange, confused, uncritical learning of
that age, passed through the principal schools of Italy and France,
penetrating, as he thought, into the secrets of all ancient
philosophies, and many Eastern languages.  And with this flood
of erudition came the generous hope, so often disabused, of
reconciling the philosophers with one another, and all alike with
the Church.  At last he came to Rome.  There, like some knight-
errant of philosophy, he offered to defend nine hundred bold
paradoxes, drawn from the most opposite sources, against all
comers.  But the pontifical court was led to suspect the orthodoxy
of some of these propositions, and even the reading of the book
which contained them was forbidden by the Pope.  It was not
until 1493 that Pico was finally absolved, by a brief of Alexander
the Sixth.  Ten years before that date he had arrived at Florence;
an early instance of those who, after following the vain hope of
an impossible reconciliation from system to system, have at last
fallen back unsatisfied on the simplicities of their childhood's
belief.

The oration which Pico composed for the opening of this
philosophical tournament still [40] remains; its subject is the
dignity of human nature, the greatness of man.  In common with
nearly all medieval speculation, much of Pico's writing has this
for its drift; and in common also with it, Pico's theory of that
dignity is founded on a misconception of the place in nature both
of the earth and of man.  For Pico the earth is the centre of the
universe: and around it, as a fixed and motionless point, the sun
and moon and stars revolve, like diligent servants or ministers.
And in the midst of all is placed man, nodus et vinculum mundi,
the bond or copula of the world, and the "interpreter of nature":
that famous expression of Bacon's really belongs to Pico.  Tritum
est in scholis, he says, esse hominem minorem mundum, in quo
mixtum ex elementis corpus et spiritus coelestis et plantarum
anima vegetalis et brutorum sensus et ratio et angelica mens et
Dei similitudo conspicitur:--"It is a commonplace of the schools
that man is a little world, in which we may discern a body
mingled of earthy elements, and ethereal breath, and the
vegetable life of plants, and the senses of the lower animals, and
reason, and the intelligence of angels, and a likeness to God."

A commonplace of the schools!  But perhaps it had some new
significance and authority, when men heard one like Pico
reiterate it; and, false as its basis was, the theory had its use.  For
this high dignity of man, thus bringing the dust under his feet into
sensible communion with the [41] thoughts and affections of the
angels, was supposed to belong to him, not as renewed by a
religious system, but by his own natural right.  The proclamation
of it was a counterpoise to the increasing tendency of medieval
religion to depreciate man's nature, to sacrifice this or that
element in it, to make it ashamed of itself, to keep the degrading
or painful accidents of it always in view.  It helped man onward
to that reassertion of himself, that rehabilitation of human nature,
the body, the senses, the heart, the intelligence, which the
Renaissance fulfils.  And yet to read a page of one of Pico's
forgotten books is like a glance into one of those ancient
sepulchres, upon which the wanderer in classical lands has
sometimes stumbled, with the old disused ornaments and
furniture of a world wholly unlike ours still fresh in them.  That
whole conception of nature is so different from our own.  For
Pico the world is a limited place, bounded by actual crystal walls,
and a material firmament; it is like a painted toy, like that map or
system of the world, held, as a great target or shield, in the hands
of the creative Logos, by whom the Father made all things, in one
of the earlier frescoes of the Campo Santo at Pisa.  How different
from this childish dream is our own conception of nature, with its
unlimited space, its innumerable suns, and the earth but a mote in
the beam; how different the strange new awe, or superstition,
with which it fills our minds!  "The silence of those infinite
spaces," [42] says Pascal, contemplating a starlight night, the
silence of those infinite spaces terrifies me":-- Le silence éternel de
ces espaces infinis m'effraie.

He was already almost wearied out when he came to Florence.
He had loved much and been beloved by women, "wandering
over the crooked hills of delicious pleasure"; but their reign over
him was over, and long before Savonarola's famous "bonfire of
vanities," he had destroyed those love-songs in the vulgar tongue,
which would have been so great a relief to us, after the scholastic
prolixity of his Latin writings.  It was in another spirit that he
composed a Platonic commentary, the only work of his in Italian
which has come down to us, on the "Song of Divine Love"--
secondo la mente ed opinione dei Platonici--"according to the
mind and opinion of the Platonists," by his friend Hieronymo
Beniveni, in which, with an ambitious array of every sort of
learning, and a profusion of imagery borrowed indifferently from
the astrologers, the Cabala, and Homer, and Scripture, and
Dionysius the Areopagite, he attempts to define the stages by
which the soul passes from the earthly to the unseen beauty.  A
change indeed had passed over him, as if the chilling touch of the
abstract and disembodied beauty Platonists profess to long for
were already upon him.  Some sense of this, perhaps, coupled
with that over-brightness which in the popular imagination
always betokens an early [43] death, made Camilla Rucellai, one
of those prophetic women whom the preaching of Savonarola had
raised up in Florence, declare, seeing him for the first time, that
he would depart in the time of lilies--prematurely, that is, like the
field-flowers which are withered by the scorching sun almost as
soon as they are sprung up.  He now wrote down those thoughts
on the religious life which Sir Thomas More turned into English,
and which another English translator thought worthy to be added
to the books of the Imitation.  "It is not hard to know God,
provided one will not force oneself to define Him":--has been
thought a great saying of Joubert's.  "Love God," Pico writes to
Angelo Politian, "we rather may, than either know Him, or by
speech utter Him.  And yet had men liefer by knowledge never
find that which they seek, than by love possess that thing, which
also without love were in vain found."

Yet he who had this fine touch for spiritual things did not--and in
this is the enduring interest of his story--even after his
conversion, forget the old gods.  He is one of the last who
seriously and sincerely entertained the claim on men's faith of the
pagan religions; he is anxious to ascertain the true significance of
the obscurest legend, the lightest tradition concerning them.
With many thoughts and many influences which led him in that
direction, [44] he did not become a monk; only he became
gentle and patient in disputation; retaining "somewhat of the old
plenty, in dainty viand and silver vessel," he gave over the
greater part of his property to his friend, the mystical poet
Beniveni, to be spent by him in works of charity, chiefly in the
sweet charity of providing marriage-dowries for the peasant girls
of Florence.  His end came in 1494, when, amid the prayers and
sacraments of Savonarola, he died of fever, on the very day on
which Charles the Eighth entered Florence, the seventeenth of
November, yet in the time of lilies--the lilies of the shield of
France, as the people now said, remembering Camilla's
prophecy.  He was buried in the conventual church of Saint
Mark, in the hood and white frock of the Dominican order.

It is because the life of Pico, thus lying down to rest in the
Dominican habit, yet amid thoughts of the older gods, himself
like one of those comely divinities, reconciled indeed to the new
religion, but still with a tenderness for the earlier life, and
desirous literally to "bind the ages each to each by natural piety"-
-it is because this life is so perfect a parallel to the attempt made
in his writings to reconcile Christianity with the ideas of
paganism, that Pico, in spite of the scholastic character of those
writings, is really interesting.  Thus, in the Heptaplus, or
Discourse on the Seven Days of the Creation, he endeavours to
reconcile the [45] accounts which pagan philosophy had given of
the origin of the world with the account given in the books of
Moses--the Timaeus of Plato with the book of Genesis.  The
Heptaplus is dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent, whose
interest, the preface tells us, in the secret wisdom of Moses is
well known.  If Moses seems in his writings simple and even
popular, rather than either a philosopher or a theologian, that is
because it was an institution with the ancient philosophers, either
not to speak of divine things at all, or to speak of them
dissemblingly: hence their doctrines were called mysteries.
Taught by them, Pythagoras became so great a "master of
silence," and wrote almost nothing, thus hiding the words of God
in his heart, and speaking wisdom only among the perfect.  In
explaining the harmony between Plato and Moses, Pico lays hold
on every sort of figure and analogy, on the double meanings of
words, the symbols of the Jewish ritual, the secondary meanings
of obscure stories in the later Greek mythologists.  Everywhere
there is an unbroken system of correspondences.  Every object in
the terrestrial world is an analogue, a symbol or counterpart, of
some higher reality in the starry heavens, and this again of some
law of the angelic life in the world beyond the stars.  There is the
element of fire in the material world; the sun is the fire of heaven;
and in the super-celestial world there is the fire of [46] the
seraphic intelligence.  "But behold how they differ!  The
elementary fire burns, the heavenly fire vivifies, the super-
celestial fire loves."  In this way, every natural object, every
combination of natural forces, every accident in the lives of men,
is filled with higher meanings.  Omens, prophecies, supernatural
coincidences, accompany Pico himself all through life.  There are
oracles in every tree and mountain-top, and a significance in
every accidental combination of the events of life.

This constant tendency to symbolism and imagery gives Pico's
work a figured style, by which it has some real resemblance to
Plato's, and he differs from other mystical writers of his time by
a genuine desire to know his authorities at first hand.  He reads
Plato in Greek, Moses in Hebrew, and by this his work really
belongs to the higher culture.  Above all, we have a constant
sense in reading him, that his thoughts, however little their
positive value may be, are connected with springs beneath them
of deep and passionate emotion; and when he explains the grades
or steps by which the soul passes from the love of a physical
object to the love of unseen beauty, and unfolds the analogies
between this process and other movements upward of human
thought, there is a glow and vehemence in his words which
remind one of the manner in which his own brief existence
flamed itself away.

I said that the Renaissance of the fifteenth [47] century was, in
many things, great rather by what it designed or aspired to do,
than by what it actually achieved.  It remained for a later age to
conceive the true method of effecting a scientific reconciliation
of Christian sentiment with the imagery, the	legends, the theories
about the world, of pagan poetry and philosophy.  For that age
the only possible reconciliation was an imaginative one, and
resulted from the efforts of artists, trained in Christian schools, to
handle pagan subjects; and of this artistic reconciliation work like
Pico's was but the feebler counterpart.  Whatever philosophers
had to say on one side or the other, whether they
were successful or not in their attempts to reconcile the old to the
new, and to justify the expenditure of so much care and thought
on the dreams of a dead faith, the imagery of the Greek	religion,
the direct charm of its story, were by artists valued and cultivated
for their own sake.  Hence a new sort of mythology, with a tone
and qualities of its own.  When the ship-load of sacred earth from
the soil of Jerusalem was mingled with the common clay in the
Campo Santo at Pisa, a new flower grew up from it, unlike any
flower men had seen before, the anemone with its concentric
rings of strangely blended colour, still to be found by those who
search long enough for it, in the long grass of the Maremma.  Just
such a strange flower was that mythology of the Italian
Renaissance, which grew up from the mixture of two traditions,
two [48] sentiments, the sacred and the profane.  Classical story
was regarded as so much imaginative material to be received and
assimilated.  It did not come into men's minds to ask curiously of
science, concerning the origin of such story, its primary form and
import, its meaning for those who projected it.  The thing sank
into their minds, to issue forth again with all the tangle about it of
medieval sentiment and ideas.  In the Doni Madonna in the
Tribune of the Uffizii, Michelangelo actually brings the pagan
religion, and with it the unveiled human form, the sleepy-looking
fauns of a Dionysiac revel, into the presence of the Madonna, as
simpler painters had introduced there other products of the earth,
birds or flowers, while he has given to that Madonna herself
much of the uncouth energy of the older and more primitive
"Mighty Mother."

This picturesque union of contrasts, belonging properly to the art
of the close of the fifteenth century, pervades, in Pico della
Mirandola, an actual person, and that is why the figure of Pico is
so attractive.  He will not let one go; he wins one on, in spite of
one's self, to turn again to the pages of his forgotten books,
although we know already that the actual solution proposed in
them will satisfy us as little as perhaps it satisfied him.  It is said
that in his eagerness for mysterious learning he once paid a great
sum for a collection of cabalistic manuscripts, which turned out
to be forgeries; and [49] the story might well stand as a parable of
all he ever seemed to gain in the way of actual knowledge.  He
had sought knowledge, and passed from system to system, and
hazarded much; but less for the sake of positive knowledge than
because he believed there was a spirit of order and beauty in
knowledge, which would come down and unite what men's
ignorance had divided, and renew what time had made dim.  And
so, while his actual work has passed away, yet his own qualities
are still active, and himself remains, as one alive in the grave,
caesiis et vigilibus oculis, as his biographer describes him, and
with that sanguine, clear skin, decenti rubore interspersa, as with
the light of morning upon it; and he has a true place in that group
of great Italians who fill the end of the fifteenth century with their
names, he is a true humanist.  For the essence of humanism is
that belief of which he seems never to have doubted, that nothing
which has ever interested living men and women can wholly lose
its vitality--no language they have spoken, nor oracle beside
which they have hushed their voices, no dream which has once
been entertained by actual human minds, nothing about which
they have ever been passionate, or expended time and zeal.

1871.


SANDRO BOTTICELLI

[50] IN Leonardo's treatise on painting only one contemporary is
mentioned by name--Sandro Botticelli.  This pre-eminence may
be due to chance only, but to some will rather appear a result of
deliberate judgment; for people have begun to find out the charm
of Botticelli's work, and his name, little known in the last
century, is quietly becoming important.  In the middle of the
fifteenth century he had already anticipated much of that
meditative subtlety, which is sometimes supposed peculiar to the
great imaginative workmen of its close.  Leaving the simple
religion which had occupied the followers of Giotto for a century,
and the simple naturalism which had grown out of it, a thing of
birds and flowers only, he sought inspiration in what to him were
works of the modern world, the writings of Dante and Boccaccio,
and in new readings of his own of classical stories: or, if he
painted religious incidents, painted them with an under-current of
original sentiment, which touches you as the real matter of the
picture through the veil of its ostensible subject.  What [51] is the
peculiar sensation, what is the peculiar quality of pleasure, which
his work has the property of exciting in us, and which we cannot
get elsewhere?  For this, especially when he has to speak of a
comparatively unknown artist, is always the chief question which
a critic has to answer.

In an age when the lives of artists were full of adventure, his life
is almost colourless.  Criticism indeed has cleared away much of
the gossip which Vasari accumulated, has touched the legend of
Lippo and Lucrezia, and rehabilitated the character of Andrea del
Castagno.  But in Botticelli's case there is no legend to dissipate.
He did not even go by his true name: Sandro is a nickname, and
his true name is Filipepi, Botticelli being only the name of the
goldsmith who first taught him art.  Only two things happened to
him, two things which he shared with other artists:--he was
invited to Rome to paint in the Sistine Chapel, and he fell in later
life under the influence of Savonarola, passing apparently almost
out of men's sight in a sort of religious melancholy, which lasted
till his death in 1515, according to the received date.  Vasari says
that he plunged into the study of Dante, and even wrote a
comment on the Divine Comedy.  But it seems strange that he
should have lived on inactive so long; and one almost wishes that
some document might come to light, which, fixing the date of his
death earlier, might relieve one, in thinking of him, of his
dejected old age.

[52] He is before all things a poetical painter, blending the charm
of story and sentiment, the medium of the art of poetry, with the
charm of line and colour, the medium of abstract painting.  So he
becomes the illustrator of Dante.  In a few rare examples of the
edition of 1481, the blank spaces, left at the beginning of every
canto for the hand of the illuminator, have been filled, as far as
the nineteenth canto of the Inferno, with impressions of engraved
plates, seemingly by way of experiment, for in the copy in the
Bodleian Library, one of the three impressions it contains has
been printed upside down, and much awry, in the midst of the
luxurious printed page.  Giotto, and the followers of Giotto, with
their almost childish religious aim, had not learned to put that
weight of meaning into outward things, light, colour, everyday
gesture, which the poetry of the Divine Comedy involves, and
before the fifteenth century Dante could hardly have found an
illustrator.  Botticelli's illustrations are crowded with incident,
blending, with a naïve carelessness of pictorial propriety, three
phases of the same scene into one plate.  The grotesques, so often
a stumbling-block to painters, who forget that the words of a
poet, which only feebly present an image to the mind, must be
lowered in key when translated into visible form, make one regret
that he has not rather chosen for illustration the more subdued
imagery of the Purgatorio.  Yet in the [53] scene of those who
"go down quick into hell," there is an inventive force about the
fire taking hold on the upturned soles of the feet, which proves
that the design is no mere translation of Dante's words, but a true
painter's vision; while the scene of the Centaurs wins one at
once, for, forgetful of the actual circumstances of their
appearance, Botticelli has gone off with delight on the thought of
the Centaurs themselves, bright, small creatures of the woodland,
with arch baby faces and mignon forms, drawing tiny bows.

Botticelli lived in a generation of naturalists, and he might have
been a mere naturalist among them.  There are traces enough in
his work of that alert sense of outward things, which, in the
pictures of that period, fills the lawns with delicate living
creatures, and the hillsides with pools of water, and the pools of
water with flowering reeds.  But this was not enough for him; he
is a visionary painter, and in his visionariness he resembles
Dante.  Giotto, the tried companion of Dante, Masaccio,
Ghirlandajo even, do but transcribe, with more or less refining,
the outward image; they are dramatic, not visionary painters; they
are almost impassive spectators of the action before them.  But
the genius of which Botticelli is the type usurps the data before it
as the exponent of ideas, moods, visions of its own; in this
interest it plays fast and loose with those data, rejecting some and
[54] isolating others, and always combining them anew.  To him,
as to Dante, the scene, the colour, the outward image or gesture,
comes with all its incisive and importunate reality; but awakes in
him, moreover, by some subtle law of his own structure, a mood
which it awakes in no one else, of which it is the double or
repetition, and which it clothes, that all may share it, with visible
circumstance.

But he is far enough from accepting the conventional orthodoxy
of Dante which, referring all human action to the simple formula
of purgatory, heaven and hell, leaves an insoluble element of
prose in the depths of Dante's poetry.  One picture of his, with
the portrait of the donor, Matteo Palmieri, below, had the credit
or discredit of attracting some shadow of ecclesiastical censure.
This Matteo Palmieri, (two dim figures move under that name in
contemporary history,) was the reputed author of a poem, still
unedited, La Città Divina, which represented the human race as
an incarnation of those angels who, in the revolt of Lucifer, were
neither for Jehovah nor for His enemies, a fantasy of that earlier
Alexandrian philosophy about which the Florentine intellect in
that century was so curious.  Botticelli's picture may have been
only one of those familiar compositions in which religious
reverie has recorded its impressions of the various forms of
beatified existence--Glorias, as they were called, like that [55] in
which Giotto painted the portrait of Dante; but somehow it was
suspected of embodying in a picture the wayward dream of
Palmieri, and the chapel where it hung was closed.  Artists so
entire as Botticelli are usually careless about philosophical
theories, even when the philosopher is a Florentine of the
fifteenth century, and his work a poem in terza rima.  But
Botticelli, who wrote a commentary on Dante, and became the
disciple of Savonarola, may well have let such theories come and
go across him.  True or false, the story interprets much of the
peculiar sentiment with which he infuses his profane and sacred
persons, comely, and in a certain sense like angels, but with a
sense of displacement or loss about them--the wistfulness of
exiles, conscious of a passion and energy greater than any known
issue of them explains, which runs through all his varied work
with a sentiment of ineffable melancholy.

So just what Dante scorns as unworthy alike of heaven and hell,
Botticelli accepts, that middle world in which men take no side in
great conflicts, and decide no great causes, and make great
refusals.  He thus sets for himself the limits within which art,
undisturbed by any moral ambition, does its most sincere and
surest work.  His interest is neither in the untempered goodness
of Angelico's saints, nor the untempered evil of Orcagna's
Inferno; but with men and women, in their mixed and uncertain
condition, always [56] attractive, clothed sometimes by passion
with a character of loveliness and energy, but saddened
perpetually by the shadow upon them of the great things from
which they shrink.  His morality is all sympathy; and it is this
sympathy, conveying into his work somewhat more than is usual
of the true complexion of humanity, which makes him, visionary
as he is, so forcible a realist.

It is this which gives to his Madonnas their unique expression
and charm.  He has worked out in them a distinct and peculiar
type, definite enough in his own mind, for he has painted it over
and over again, sometimes one might think almost mechanically,
as a pastime during that dark period when his thoughts were so
heavy upon him.  Hardly any collection of note is without one of
these circular pictures, into which the attendant angels depress
their heads so naïvely.  Perhaps you have sometimes wondered
why those peevish-looking Madonnas, conformed to no
acknowledged or obvious type of beauty, attract you more and
more, and often come back to you when the Sistine Madonna and
the Virgins of Fra Angelico are forgotten.  At first, contrasting
them with those, you may have thought that there was something
in them mean or abject even, for the abstract lines of the face
have little nobleness, and the colour is wan.  For with Botticelli
she too, though she holds in her hands the "Desire of all nations,"
is one of those who [57] are neither for Jehovah nor for His
enemies; and her choice is on her face.  The white light on it is
cast up hard and cheerless from below, as when snow lies upon
the ground, and the children look up with surprise at the strange
whiteness of the ceiling.  Her trouble is in the very caress of the
mysterious child, whose gaze is always far from her, and who has
already that sweet look of devotion which men have never been
able altogether to love, and which still makes the born saint an
object almost of suspicion to his earthly brethren.  Once, indeed,
he guides her hand to transcribe in a book the words of her
exaltation, the Ave, and the Magnificat, and the Gaude Maria,
and the young angels, glad to rouse her for a moment from her
dejection, are eager to hold the inkhorn and to support the book.
But the pen almost drops from her hand, and the high cold words
have no meaning for her, and her true children are those others,
among whom, in her rude home, the intolerable honour came to
her, with that look of wistful inquiry on their irregular faces
which you see in startled animals--gipsy children, such as those
who, in Apennine villages, still hold out their long brown arms to
beg of you, but on Sundays become enfants du choeur, with their
thick black hair nicely combed, and fair white linen on their
sunburnt throats.

What is strangest is that he carries this sentiment into classical
subjects, its most complete [58] expression being a picture in the
Uffizii, of Venus rising from the sea, in which the grotesque
emblems of the middle age, and a landscape full of its peculiar
feeling, and even its strange draperies, powdered all	over in
the Gothic manner with a quaint conceit	of daisies, frame a figure
that reminds you of the faultless nude studies of Ingres.  At first,
perhaps, you are attracted only by a quaintness of design, which
seems to recall all at once whatever you have read of Florence in
the fifteenth century; afterwards you may think that this
quaintness must be incongruous with the subject, and that the
colour is cadaverous or at least cold.  And yet, the more you
come to understand what imaginative colouring really is, that all
colour is no mere delightful quality of natural things, but a spirit
upon them by which they become expressive to the spirit, the
better you will like this peculiar quality of colour; and you will
find that quaint design of Botticelli's a more direct inlet into the
Greek temper than the works of the Greeks themselves even of
the finest period.  Of the Greeks as they really were, of their
difference from ourselves, of the aspects of their outward life, we
know far more than Botticelli, or his most learned
contemporaries; but for us long familiarity has taken off the edge
of the lesson, and we are hardly conscious of what we owe to the
Hellenic spirit.  But in pictures like this of Botticelli's you have a
record of	the first impression made [59] by it on minds
turned back towards it, in almost painful aspiration, from a world
in which it had been ignored so long; and in the passion, the
energy, the industry of realisation, with which Botticelli carries
out his intention, is the exact measure of the legitimate influence
over the human mind of the imaginative system of which this is
perhaps the central myth.  The light is indeed cold--mere sunless
dawn; but a later painter would have cloyed you with sunshine;
and you can see the better for that quietness in the morning air
each long promontory, as it slopes down to the water's edge.
Men go forth to their labours until the evening; but she is awake
before them, and you might think that the sorrow in her face was
at the thought of the whole long day of love yet to come.  An
emblematical figure of the wind blows hard across the grey
water, moving forward the dainty-lipped shell on which she sails,
the sea "showing his teeth," as it moves, in thin lines of foam,
and sucking in, one by one, the falling roses, each severe in
outline, plucked off short at the stalk, but embrowned a little, as
Botticelli's flowers always are.  Botticelli meant all this imagery
to be altogether pleasurable; and it was partly an incompleteness
of resources, inseparable from the art of that time, that subdued
and chilled it.  But this predilection for minor tones counts also;
and what is unmistakable is the sadness with which he has
conceived the goddess [60] of pleasure, as the depositary of a
great power over the lives of men.

I have said that the peculiar character of Botticelli is the result of
a blending in him of a sympathy for humanity in its uncertain
condition, its attractiveness, its investiture at rarer moments in a
character of loveliness and energy, with his consciousness of the
shadow upon it of the great things from which it shrinks, and that
this conveys into his work somewhat more than painting usually
attains of the true complexion of humanity.  He paints the story
of the goddess of pleasure in other episodes besides that of her
birth from the sea, but never without some shadow of death in the
grey flesh and wan flowers.  He paints Madonnas, but they shrink
from the pressure of the divine child, and plead in unmistakable
undertones for a warmer, lower humanity.  The same figure--
tradition connects it with Simonetta, the Mistress of Giuliano de'
Medici--appears again as Judith, returning home across the hill
country, when the great deed is over, and the moment of
revulsion come, when the olive branch in her hand is becoming a
burthen; as Justice, sitting on a throne, but with a fixed look of
self-hatred which makes the sword in her hand seem that of a
suicide; and again as Veritas, in the allegorical picture of
Calumnia, where one may note in passing the suggestiveness of
an accident which identifies the image of Truth with the person
of Venus. [61] We might trace the same sentiment through his
engravings; but his share in them is doubtful, and the object of
this brief study has been attained, if I have defined aright the
temper in which he worked.

But, after all, it may be asked, is a painter like Botticelli--a
secondary painter, a proper subject for general criticism?  There
are a few great painters, like Michelangelo or Leonardo, whose
work has become a force in general culture, partly for this very
reason that they have absorbed into themselves all such workmen
as Sandro Botticelli; and, over and above mere technical or
antiquarian criticism, general criticism may be very well
employed in that sort of interpretation which adjusts the position
of these men to general culture, whereas smaller men can be the
proper subjects only of technical or antiquarian treatment.  But,
besides those great men, there is a certain number of artists who
have a distinct faculty of their own by which they convey to us a
peculiar quality of pleasure which we cannot get elsewhere; and
these too have their place in general culture, and must be
interpreted to it by those who have felt their charm strongly, and
are often the object of a special diligence and a consideration
wholly affectionate, just because there is not about them the
stress of a great name and authority.  Of this select number
Botticelli is one.  He has the freshness, the uncertain and diffident
promise, [62] which belong to the earlier Renaissance itself, and
make it perhaps the most interesting period in the history of the
mind.  In studying his work one begins to understand to how
great a place in human culture the art of Italy had been called.

1870.

NOTES

None.



LUCA DELLA ROBBIA

[63] THE Italian sculptors of the earlier half of the fifteenth
century are more than mere forerunners of the great masters of its
close, and often reach perfection, within the	narrow limits which
they chose to impose on their work.  Their sculpture shares with
the paintings of Botticelli and the churches of Brunelleschi that
profound expressiveness, that intimate impress of an indwelling
soul, which is the peculiar fascination of the art of Italy in that
century.  Their works have been much neglected, and often
almost hidden away amid the frippery of modern decoration, and
we come with some surprise on the places where their fire still
smoulders.  One longs to penetrate into the lives of the men who
have given expression to so much power and sweetness.  But it is
part of the reserve, the austere dignity and simplicity of their
existence, that their histories are for the most part lost, or told but
briefly.  From their lives, as from their work, all tumult of sound
and colour has passed away.  Mino, the Raphael of sculpture,
Maso del Rodario, whose works add a further grace to [64] the
church of Como, Donatello even,--one asks in vain for more than
a shadowy outline of their actual days.

Something more remains of Luca della Robbia; something more
of a history, of outward changes and fortunes, is expressed
through his work.  I suppose nothing brings the real air of a
Tuscan town so vividly to mind as those pieces of pale blue and
white earthenware, by which he is best known, like fragments of
the milky sky itself, fallen into the cool streets, and breaking into
the darkened churches.  And no work is less imitable: like Tuscan
wine, it loses its savour when moved from its birthplace, from the
crumbling walls where it was first placed.  Part of the charm of
this work, its grace and purity and finish of expression, is
common to all the Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century; for
Luca was first of all a worker in marble, and his works in terra
cotta only transfer to a different material the principles of his
sculpture.

These Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century worked for the
most part in low relief, giving even to their monumental effigies
something of its depression of surface, getting into them by this
means a pathetic suggestion of the wasting and etherealisation of
death.  They are haters of all heaviness and emphasis, of
strongly-opposed light and shade, and seek their means of
delineation among those last refinements of shadow, which are
almost invisible except in a strong [65] light, and which the finest
pencil can hardly follow.  The whole essence of their work is
expression, the passing of a smile over the face of a child, the
ripple of the air on a still day over the curtain of a window ajar.

What is the precise value of this system of sculpture, this low
relief?  Luca della Robbia, and the other sculptors of the school
to which he belongs, have before them the universal problem of
their art; and this system of low relief is the means by which they
meet and overcome the special limitation of sculpture.

That limitation results from the material and other necessary
conditions of all sculptured work, and consists in the tendency of
such work to a hard realism, a one-sided presentment of mere
form, that solid material frame which only motion can relieve, a
thing of heavy shadows, and an individuality of expression
pushed to caricature.  Against this tendency to the hard
presentment of mere form trying vainly to compete with the
reality of nature itself, all noble sculpture constantly struggles;
each great system of sculpture resisting it in its own way,
etherealising, spiritualising, relieving its stiffness, its heaviness,
and death.  The use of colour in sculpture is but an unskilful
contrivance to effect, by borrowing from another art, what the
nobler sculpture effects by strictly appropriate means.

To get not colour, but the equivalent of colour; to secure the
expression and the play of life; to [66] expand the too firmly
fixed individuality of pure, unrelieved, uncoloured form:--this is
the problem which the three great styles in sculpture have solved
in three different ways.

Allgemeinheit--breadth, generality, universality,--is the word
chosen by Winckelmann, and after him by Goethe and many
German critics, to express that law of the most excellent Greek
sculptors, of Pheidias and his pupils, which prompted them
constantly to seek the type in the individual, to abstract and
express only what is structural and permanent, to purge from the
individual all that belongs only to him, all the accidents, the
feelings and actions of the special moment, all that (because in its
own nature it endures but for a moment) is apt to look like a
frozen thing if one arrests it.

In this way their works came to be like some subtle extract or
essence, or almost like pure thoughts or ideas: and hence the
breadth of humanity in them, that detachment from the conditions
of a particular place or people, which has carried their influence
far beyond the age which produced them, and insured them
universal acceptance.

That was the Greek way of relieving the hardness and
unspirituality of pure form.  But it involved to a certain degree
the sacrifice of what we call expression; and a system of
abstraction which aimed always at the broad and general type, at
the purging away from the [67] individual of what belonged only
to him, and of the mere accidents of a particular time and place,
imposed upon the range of effects open to the Greek sculptor
limits somewhat narrowly defined.  When Michelangelo came,
therefore, with a genius spiritualised by the reverie of the middle
age, penetrated by its spirit of inwardness and introspection,
living not a mere outward life like the Greek, but a life full of
intimate experiences, sorrows, consolations, a system which
sacrificed so much of what was inward and unseen could not
satisfy him.  To him, lover and student of Greek sculpture as he
was, work which did not bring what was inward to the surface,
which was not concerned with individual expression, with
individual character and feeling, the special history of the special
soul, was not worth doing at all.

And so, in a way quite personal and peculiar to himself, which
often is, and always seems, the effect of accident, he secured for
his work individuality and intensity of expression, while he
avoided a too heavy realism, that tendency to harden into
caricature which the representation of feeling in sculpture is apt
to display.  What time and accident, its centuries of darkness
under the furrows of the "little Melian farm," have done with
singular felicity of touch for the Venus of Melos, fraying its
surface and softening its lines, so that some spirit in the thing
seems always on the point of breaking out, as though [68] in it
classical sculpture had advanced already one step into the
mystical Christian age, its expression being in the whole range of
ancient work most like that of Michelangelo's own:--this effect
Michelangelo gains by leaving nearly all his sculpture in a
puzzling sort of incompleteness, which suggests rather than
realises actual form.  Something of the wasting of that snow-
image which he moulded at the command of Piero de' Medici,
when the snow lay one night in the court of the Pitti palace,
almost always lurks about it, as if he had determined to make the
quality of a task, exacted from him half in derision, the pride of
all his work.  Many have wondered at that incompleteness,
suspecting, however, that Michelangelo himself loved and was
loath to change it, and feeling at the same time that they too
would lose something if the half-realised form ever quite
emerged from the stone, so rough-hewn here, so delicately
finished there; and they have wished to fathom the charm of this
incompleteness.  Well!  That incompleteness is Michelangelo's
equivalent for colour in sculpture; it is his way of etherealising
pure form, of relieving its stiff realism, and communicating to it
breath, pulsation, the effect of life.  It was a characteristic too
which fell in with his peculiar temper and mode of living, his
disappointments and hesitations.  And it was in reality perfect
finish.  In this way he combines the utmost amount of passion
and intensity with [69] the sense of a yielding and flexible life: he
gets not vitality merely, but a wonderful force of expression.

Midway between these two systems--the system of the Greek
sculptors and the system of Michelangelo--comes the system of
Luca della Robbia and the other Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth
century, partaking both of the Allgemeinheit of the Greeks, their
way of extracting certain select elements only of pure form and
sacrificing all the rest, and the studied incompleteness of
Michelangelo, relieving that sense of intensity, passion, energy,
which might otherwise have stiffened into caricature.  Like
Michelangelo, these sculptors fill their works with intense and
individualised expression.  Their noblest works are the careful
sepulchral portraits of particular persons--the monument of Conte
Ugo in the Badía of Florence, of the youthful Medea Colleoni,
with the wonderful, long throat, in the chapel on the cool north
side of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore at Bergamo--
monuments such as abound in the churches of Rome,
inexhaustible in suggestions of repose, of a subdued Sabbatic joy,
a kind of sacred grace and refinement.  And these elements of
tranquillity, of repose, they unite to an intense and individual
expression by a system of conventionalism as skilful and subtle
as that of the Greeks, repressing all such curves as indicate solid
form, and throwing the whole into low relief.

[70] The life of Luca, a life of labour and frugality, with no
adventure and no excitement except what belongs to the trial of
new artistic processes, the struggle with new artistic difficulties,
the solution of purely artistic problems, fills the first seventy
years of the fifteenth century.  After producing many works in
marble for the Duomo and the Campanile of Florence, which
place him among the foremost masters of the sculpture of his age,
he became desirous to realise the spirit and manner of that
sculpture, in a humbler material, to unite its science, its exquisite
and expressive system of low relief, to the homely art of pottery,
to introduce those high qualities into common things, to adorn
and cultivate daily household life.  In this he is profoundly
characteristic of the Florence of that century, of that in it which
lay below its superficial vanity and caprice, a certain old-world
modesty and seriousness and simplicity.  People had not yet
begun to think that what was good art for churches was not so
good, or less fitted, for their own houses.  Luca's new work was
in plain white earthenware at first, a mere rough
imitation of the costly, laboriously wrought marble, finished in a
few hours.  But on this humble path he found his way to a fresh
success, to another artistic grace.  The fame of the oriental
pottery, with its strange, bright colours--colours of art, colours
not to be attained in the natural stone--mingled with the tradition
of the old Roman [71] pottery of the neighbourhood.  The little
red, coral-like jars of Arezzo, dug up in that district from time to
time, are much prized.  These colours haunted Luca's fancy.  "He
still continued seeking something more," his biographer says of
him; "and instead of making his figures of baked earth simply
white, he added the further invention of giving them colour, to
the astonishment and delight of all who beheld them"--Cosa
singolare, e multo utile per la state!--a curious thing, and very
useful for summer-time, full of coolness and repose for hand and
eye.  Luca loved the form of various fruits, and wrought them
into all sorts of marvellous frames and garlands, giving them
their natural colours, only subdued a little, a little paler than
nature.

I said that the art of Luca della Robbia possessed in an unusual
measure that special characteristic which belongs to all the work-
men of his school, a characteristic which, even in the absence of
much positive information about their actual history, seems to
bring those work-men themselves very near to us.  They bear the
impress of a personal quality, a profound+ expressiveness, what
the French call intimité, by which is meant some subtler sense of
originality--the seal on a man's work of what is most inward and
peculiar in his moods, and manner of apprehension: it is what we
call expression, carried to its highest intensity of degree.  That
characteristic is rare in poetry, rarer still [72] in art, rarest of all in
the abstract art of sculpture; yet essentially, perhaps, it is the
quality which alone makes work in the imaginative order really
worth having at all.  It is because the works of the artists of the
fifteenth century possess this quality in an unmistakable way that
one is anxious to know all that can be known about them and
explain to one's self the secret of their charm.

1872.


NOTES

71. +The Macmillan edition's misprint "profund" is here
corrected to "profound," the spelling of the 1901 edition.



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO

[73] CRITICS of Michelangelo have sometimes spoken as if the
only characteristic of his genius were a wonderful strength,
verging, as in the things of the imagination great strength always
does, on what is singular or strange.  A certain strangeness,
something of the blossoming of the aloe, is indeed an element in
all true works of art: that they shall excite or surprise us is
indispensable.  But that they shall give pleasure and exert a
charm over us is indispensable too; and this strangeness must be
sweet also--a lovely strangeness.  And to the true admirers of
Michelangelo this is the true type of the Michelangelesque--
sweetness and strength, pleasure with surprise, an energy of
conception which seems at every moment about to break through
all the conditions of comely form, recovering, touch by touch, a
loveliness found usually only in the simplest natural things--ex
forti dulcedo.

In this way he sums up for them the whole character of medieval
art itself in that which distinguishes it most clearly from classical
work, the presence of a convulsive energy in it, becoming [74]
in lower hands merely monstrous or forbidding, and felt, even in
its most graceful products, as a subdued quaintness or grotesque.
Yet those who feel this grace or sweetness in Michelangelo might
at the first moment be puzzled if they were asked wherein
precisely such quality resided.  Men of inventive temperament--
Victor Hugo, for instance, in whom, as in Michelangelo, people
have for the most part been attracted or repelled by the strength,
while few have understood his sweetness--have sometimes
relieved conceptions of merely moral or spiritual greatness, but
with little aesthetic charm of their own, by lovely accidents or
accessories, like the butterfly which alights on the blood-stained
barricade in Les Misérables, or those sea-birds for whom the
monstrous Gilliatt comes to be as some wild natural thing, so that
they are no longer afraid of him, in Les Travailleurs de la Mer.
But the austere genius of Michelangelo will not depend for its
sweetness on any mere accessories like these.  The world of
natural things has almost no existence for him; "When one speaks
of him," says Grimm, "woods, clouds, seas, and mountains
disappear, and only what is formed by the spirit of man remains
behind"; and he quotes a few slight words from a letter of his to
Vasari as the single expression in all he has left of a feeling for
nature.  He has traced no flowers, like those with which Leonardo
stars [75] over his gloomiest rocks; nothing like the fret-work of
wings and flames in which Blake frames his most startling
conceptions.  No forest-scenery like Titian's fills his
backgrounds, but only blank ranges of rock, and dim vegetable
forms as blank as they, as in a world before the creation of the
first five days.

Of the whole story of the creation he has painted only the
creation of the first man and woman, and, for him at least, feebly,
the creation of light.  It belongs to the quality of his genius thus
to concern itself almost exclusively with the making of man.  For
him it is not, as in the story itself, the last and crowning act of a
series of developments, but the first and unique act, the creation
of life itself in its supreme form, off-hand and immediately, in the
cold and lifeless stone.  With him the beginning of life has all the
characteristics of resurrection; it is like the recovery of suspended
health or animation, with its gratitude, its effusion, and
eloquence.  Fair as the young men of the Elgin marbles, the
Adam of the Sistine Chapel is unlike them in a total absence of
that balance and completeness which express so well the
sentiment of a self-contained, independent life.  In that languid
figure there is something rude and satyr-like, something akin to
the rugged hillside on which it lies.  His whole form is gathered
into an expression of mere expectancy and reception; he has
hardly strength enough to lift his finger [76] to touch the finger of
the creator; yet a touch of the finger-tips will suffice.

This creation of life--life coming always as relief or recovery,
and always in strong contrast with the rough-hewn mass in which
it is kindled--is in various ways the motive of all his work,
whether its immediate subject be Pagan or Christian, legend or
allegory; and this, although at least one-half of his work was
designed for the adornment of tombs--the tomb of Julius, the
tombs of the Medici.  Not the Judgment but the Resurrection is
the real subject of his last work in the Sistine Chapel; and his
favourite Pagan subject is the legend of Leda, the delight of the
world breaking from the egg of a bird.  As I have already pointed
out, he secures that ideality of expression which in Greek
sculpture depends on a delicate system of abstraction, and in
early Italian sculpture on lowness of relief, by an incompleteness,
which is surely not always undesigned, and which, as I think, no
one regrets, and trusts to the spectator to complete the half-
emergent form.  And as his persons have something of the
unwrought stone about them, so, as if to realise the expression by
which the old Florentine records describe a sculptor--master of
live stone--with him the very rocks seem to have life.  They have
but to cast away the dust and scurf that they may rise and stand
on their feet.  He loved the very quarries of Carrara, those strange
grey peaks which even at mid-day [77] convey into any scene
from which they are visible something of the solemnity and
stillness of evening, sometimes wandering among them month
after month, till at last their pale ashen colours seem to have
passed into his painting; and on the crown of the head of the
David there still remains a morsel of uncut stone, as if by one
touch to maintain its connexion with the place from which it was
hewn.

And it is in this penetrative suggestion of life that the secret of
that sweetness of his is to be found.  He gives us indeed no lovely
natural objects like Leonardo or Titian, but only the coldest, most
elementary shadowing of rock or tree; no lovely draperies and
comely gestures of life, but only the austere truths of human
nature; "simple persons"--as he replied in his rough way to the
querulous criticism of Julius the Second, that there was no gold
on the figures of the Sistine Chapel--"simple persons, who wore
no gold on their garments"; but he penetrates us with a feeling of
that power which we associate with all the warmth and fulness of
the world, the sense of which brings into one's thoughts a swarm
of birds and flowers and insects.  The brooding spirit of life itself
is there; and the summer may burst out in a moment.

He was born in an interval of a rapid mid-night journey in March,
at a place in the neighbourhood of Arezzo, the thin, clear air of
which was then thought to be favourable to the [78] birth of
children of great parts.  He came of a race of grave and dignified
men, who, claiming kinship with the family of Canossa, and
some colour of imperial blood in their veins, had, generation after
generation, received honourable employment under the
government of Florence.  His mother, a girl of nineteen years, put
him out to nurse at a country house among the hills of Settignano,
where every other inhabitant is a worker in the marble quarries,
and the child early became familiar with that strange first stage in
the sculptor's art.  To this succeeded the influence of the sweetest
and most placid master Florence had yet seen, Domenico
Ghirlandajo.  At fifteen he was at work among the curiosities of
the garden of the Medici, copying and restoring antiques,
winning the condescending notice of the great Lorenzo.  He knew
too how to excite strong hatreds; and it was at this time that in a
quarrel with a fellow-student he received a blow on the face
which deprived him for ever of the comeliness of outward form.

It was through an accident that he came to study those works of
the early Italian sculptors which suggested much of his own
grandest work, and impressed it with so deep a sweetness.  He
believed in dreams and omens.  One of his friends dreamed twice
that Lorenzo, then lately dead, appeared to him in grey and dusty
apparel.  To Michelangelo this dream seemed to portend the
troubles which afterwards really came, and with [79] the
suddenness which was characteristic of all his movements, he left
Florence.  Having occasion to pass through Bologna, he
neglected to procure the little seal of red wax which the stranger
entering Bologna must carry on the thumb of his right hand.  He
had no money to pay the fine, and would have been thrown into
prison had not one of the magistrates interposed.  He remained in
this man's house a whole year, rewarding his hospitality by
readings from the Italian poets whom he loved.  Bologna, with its
endless colonnades and fantastic leaning towers, can never have
been one of the lovelier cities of Italy.  But about the portals of its
vast unfinished churches and its dark shrines, half hidden by
votive flowers and candles, lie some of the sweetest works of the
early Tuscan sculptors, Giovanni da Pisa and Jacopo della
Quercia, things as winsome as flowers; and the year which
Michelangelo spent in copying these works was not a lost year.
It was now, on returning to Florence, that he put forth that unique
presentment of Bacchus, which expresses, not the mirthfulness of
the god of wine, but his sleepy seriousness, his enthusiasm, his
capacity for profound dreaming.  No one ever expressed more
truly than Michelangelo the notion of inspired sleep, of faces
charged with dreams.  A vast fragment of marble had long lain
below the Loggia of Orcagna, and many a sculptor had had his
thoughts of a design which should just fill this famous block of
[80] stone, cutting the diamond, as it were, without loss.  Under
Michelangelo's hand it became the David which stood till lately
on the steps of the Palazzo Vecchio, when it was replaced below
the Loggia.  Michelangelo was now thirty years old, and his
reputation was established.  Three great works fill the remainder
of his life--three works often interrupted, carried on through a
thousand hesitations, a thousand disappointments, quarrels with
his patrons, quarrels with his family, quarrels perhaps most of all
with himself--the Sistine Chapel, the Mausoleum of Julius the
Second, and the Sacristy of San Lorenzo.

In the story of Michelangelo's life the strength, often turning to
bitterness, is not far to seek.  A discordant note sounds
throughout it which almost spoils the music.  He "treats the Pope
as the King of France himself would not dare to treat him": he
goes along the streets of Rome "like an executioner," Raphael
says of him.  Once he seems to have shut himself up with the
intention of starving himself to death.  As we come, in reading
his life, on its harsh, untempered incidents, the thought again and
again arises that he is one of those who incur the judgment of
Dante, as having "wilfully lived in sadness."  Even his tenderness
and pity are embittered by their strength.  What passionate
weeping in that mysterious figure which, in the Creation of
Adam, crouches below the image of the Almighty, as he comes
with the forms of things to be, woman [81] and her progeny, in
the fold of his garment!  What a sense of wrong in those two
captive youths, who feel the chains like scalding water on their
proud and delicate flesh!  The idealist who became a reformer
with Savonarola, and a republican superintending the fortification
of Florence--the nest where he was born, il nido ove naqqu'io, as
he calls it once, in a sudden throb of affection--in its last struggle
for liberty, yet believed always that he had imperial blood in his
veins and was of the kindred of the great Matilda, had within the
depths of his nature some secret spring of indignation or sorrow.
We know little of his youth, but all tends to make one believe in
the vehemence of its passions.  Beneath the Platonic calm of the
sonnets there is latent a deep delight in carnal form and colour.
There, and still more in the madrigals, he often falls into the
language of less tranquil affections; while some of them have the
colour of penitence, as from a wanderer returning home.  He who
spoke so decisively of the supremacy in the imaginative world of
the unveiled human form had not been always, we may think, a
mere Platonic lover.  Vague and wayward his loves may have
been; but they partook of the strength of his nature, and
sometimes, it may be, would by no means become music, so that
the comely order of his days was quite put out: par che amaro
ogni mio dolce io senta.

But his genius is in harmony with itself; and [82] just as in the
products of his art we find resources of sweetness within their
exceeding strength, so in his own story also, bitter as the ordinary
sense of it may be, there are select pages shut in among the rest--
pages one might easily turn over too lightly, but which yet
sweeten the whole volume.  The interest of Michelangelo's
poems is that they make us spectators of this struggle; the
struggle of a strong nature to adorn and attune itself; the struggle
of a desolating passion, which yearns to be resigned and sweet
and pensive, as Dante's was.  It is a consequence of the
occasional and informal character of his poetry, that it brings us
nearer to himself, his own mind and temper, than any work done
only to support a literary reputation could possibly do.  His letters
tell us little that is worth knowing about him--a few poor quarrels
about money and commissions.  But it is quite otherwise with
these songs and sonnets, written down at odd moments,
sometimes on the margins of his sketches, themselves often
unfinished sketches, arresting some salient feeling or
unpremeditated idea as it passed.  And it happens that a true
study of these has become within the last few years for the first
time possible.  A few of the sonnets circulated widely in
manuscript, and became almost within Michelangelo's own
lifetime a subject of academical discourses.  But they were first
collected in a volume in 1623 by the great-nephew of
Michelangelo, Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger.  He omitted
[83] much, re-wrote the sonnets in part, and sometimes
compressed two or more compositions into one, always losing
something of the force and incisiveness of the original.  So the
book remained, neglected even by Italians themselves in the last
century, through the influence of that French taste which despised
all compositions of the kind, as it despised and neglected Dante.
"His reputation will ever be on the increase, because he is so little
read," says Voltaire of Dante.--  But in 1858 the last of the
Buonarroti bequeathed to the municipality of Florence the
curiosities of his family.  Among them was a precious volume
containing the autograph of the sonnets.  A learned Italian, Signor
Cesare Guasti, undertook to collate this autograph with other
manuscripts at the Vatican and elsewhere, and in 1863 published
a true version of Michelangelo's poems, with dissertations and a
paraphrase.*

People have often spoken of these poems as if they were a
mere cry of distress, a lover's complaint over the obduracy of
Vittoria Colonna.  But those who speak thus forget that though it
is quite possible that Michelangelo had seen Vittoria, that
somewhat shadowy figure, as early as 1537, yet their closer
intimacy did not begin till about the year 1542, when
Michelangelo was nearly seventy years old.  Vittoria herself, an
ardent neo-catholic, vowed to perpetual widowhood since the
news [84] had reached her, seventeen years before, that her
husband, the youthful and princely Marquess of Pescara, lay dead
of the wounds he had received in the battle of Pavia, was then no
longer an object of great passion.  In a dialogue written by the
painter, Francesco d' Ollanda, we catch a glimpse of them
together in an empty church at Rome, one Sunday afternoon,
discussing indeed the characteristics of various schools of art, but
still more the writings of Saint Paul, already following the ways
and tasting the sunless pleasures of weary people, whose care for
external things is slackening.  In a letter still extant he regrets that
when he visited her after death he had kissed her hands only.  He
made, or set to work to make, a crucifix for her use, and two
drawings, perhaps in preparation for it, are now in Oxford.  From
allusions in the sonnets, we may divine that when they first
approached each other he had debated much with himself
whether this last passion would be the most unsoftening, the most
desolating of all--un dolce amaro, un sì e no mi muovi.  Is it
carnal affection, or, del suo prestino stato (of Plato's ante-natal
state) il raggio ardente?  The older, conventional criticism,
dealing with the text of 1623, had lightly assumed that all or
nearly all the sonnets were actually addressed to Vittoria herself;
but Signor Guasti finds only four, or at most five, which can be
so attributed on genuine authority.  Still, there are reasons which
make him assign the majority of them to [85] the period between
1542 and 1547, and we may regard the volume as a record of this
resting-place in Michelangelo's story.  We know how Goethe
escaped from the stress of sentiments too strong for him by
making a book about them; and for Michelangelo, to write down
his passionate thoughts at all, to express them in a sonnet, was
already in some measure to command, and have his way with
them--

     La vita del mia amor non è il cor mio,
     Ch' amor, di quel ch' io t' amo, è senza core.

It was just because Vittoria raised no great passion that the space
in his life where she reigns has such peculiar suavity; and the
spirit of the sonnets is lost if we once take them out of that
dreamy atmosphere in which men have things as they will,
because the hold of all outward things upon them is faint and
uncertain.  Their prevailing tone is a calm and meditative
sweetness.  The cry of distress is indeed there, but as a mere
residue, a trace of bracing chalybeate salt, just discernible in the
song which rises like a clear, sweet spring from a charmed space
in his life.

This charmed and temperate space in Michelangelo's life,
without which its excessive strength would have been so
imperfect, which saves him from the judgment of Dante on those
who "wilfully lived in sadness," is then a well-defined period
there, reaching from the year 1542 to the year 1547, the year of
Vittoria's death.  In [86] it the lifelong effort to tranquillise his
vehement emotions by withdrawing them into the region of ideal
sentiment, becomes successful; and the significance of Vittoria is,
that she realises for him a type of affection which even in
disappointment may charm and sweeten his spirit.

In this effort to tranquillise and sweeten life by idealising its
vehement sentiments, there were two great traditional types,
either of which an Italian of the sixteenth century might have
followed.  There was Dante, whose little book of the Vita Nuova
had early become a pattern of imaginative love, maintained
somewhat feebly by the later followers of Petrarch; and, since
Plato had become something more than a name in Italy by the
publication of the Latin translation of his works by Marsilio
Ficino, there was the Platonic tradition also.  Dante's belief in the
resurrection of the body, through which, even in heaven, Beatrice
loses for him no tinge of flesh-colour, or fold of raiment even;
and the Platonic dream of the passage of the soul through one
form of life after another, with its passionate haste to escape from
the burden of bodily form altogether; are, for all effects of art or
poetry, principles diametrically opposite.  Now it is the Platonic
tradition rather than Dante's that has moulded Michelangelo's
verse.  In many ways no sentiment could have been less like
Dante's love for Beatrice than Michelangelo's for Vittoria
Colonna.  Dante's comes in early youth: Beatrice [87] is a child,
with the wistful, ambiguous vision of a child, with a character
still unaccentuated by the influence of outward circumstances,
almost expressionless.  Vittoria, on the other hand, is a woman
already weary, in advanced age, of grave intellectual qualities.
Dante's story is a piece of figured work, inlaid with lovely
incidents.  In Michelangelo's poems, frost and fire are almost the
only images--the refining fire of the goldsmith; once or twice the
phoenix; ice melting at the fire; fire struck from the rock which it
afterwards consumes.  Except one doubtful allusion to a journey,
there are almost no incidents.  But there is much of the bright,
sharp, unerring skill, with which in boyhood he gave the look of
age to the head of a faun by chipping a tooth from its jaw with a
single stroke of the hammer.  For Dante, the amiable and devout
materialism of the middle age sanctifies all that is presented by
hand and eye; while Michelangelo is always pressing forward
from the outward beauty--il bel del fuor che agli occhi piace, to
apprehend the unseen beauty; trascenda nella forma universale--
that abstract form of beauty, about which the Platonists reason.
And this gives the impression in him of something flitting and
unfixed, of the houseless and complaining spirit, almost
clairvoyant through the frail and yielding flesh.  He accounts for
love at first sight by a previous state of existence--la dove io t'
amai prima.

And yet there are many points in which he [88] is really like
Dante, and comes very near to the original image, beyond those
later and feebler followers in the wake of Petrarch.  He learns
from Dante rather than from Plato, that for lovers, the surfeiting
of desire--ove gran desir gran copia affrena, is a state less happy
than poverty with abundance of hope--una miseria di speranza
piena.  He recalls him in the repetition of the words gentile and
cortesia, in the personification of Amor, in the tendency to dwell
minutely on the physical effects of the presence of a beloved
object on the pulses and the heart.  Above all, he resembles Dante
in the warmth and intensity of his political utterances, for the lady
of one of his noblest sonnets was from the first understood to be
the city of Florence; and he avers that all must be asleep in
heaven, if she, who was created "of angelic form," for a thousand
lovers, is appropriated by one alone, some Piero, or Alessandro
de' Medici.  Once and again he introduces Love and Death, who
dispute concerning him.  For, like Dante and all the nobler souls
of Italy, he is much occupied with thoughts of the grave, and his
true mistress is death,--death at first as the worst of all sorrows
and disgraces, with a clod of the field for its brain; afterwards,
death in its high distinction, its detachment from vulgar needs,
the angry stains of life and action escaping fast.

Some of those whom the gods love die young.  This man,
because the gods loved him, lingered [89] on to be of immense,
patriarchal age, till the sweetness it had taken so long to secrete
in him was found at last.  Out of the strong came forth sweetness,
ex forti dulcedo.  The world had changed around him.  The "new
catholicism" had taken the place of the Renaissance.  The spirit
of the Roman Church had changed: in the vast world's cathedral
which his skill had helped to raise for it, it looked stronger than
ever.  Some of the first members of the Oratory were among his
intimate associates.  They were of a spirit as unlike as possible
from that of Lorenzo, or Savonarola even.  The opposition of the
Reformation to art has been often enlarged upon; far greater was
that of the Catholic revival.  But in thus fixing itself in a frozen
orthodoxy, the Roman Church had passed beyond him, and he
was a stranger to it.  In earlier days, when its beliefs had been in a
fluid state, he too might have been drawn into the controversy.
He might have been for spiritualising the papal sovereignty, like
Savonarola; or for adjusting the dreams of Plato and Homer with
the words of Christ, like Pico of Mirandola.  But things had
moved onward, and such adjustments were no longer possible.
For himself, he had long since fallen back on that divine ideal,
which above the wear and tear of creeds has been forming itself
for ages as the possession of nobler souls.  And now he began to
feel the soothing influence which since that time the Roman [90]
Church has often exerted over spirits too independent to be its
subjects, yet brought within the neighbourhood of its action;
consoled and tranquillised, as a traveller might be, resting for one
evening in a strange city, by its stately aspect and the sentiment
of its many fortunes, just because with those fortunes he has
nothing to do.  So he lingers on; a revenant, as the French say, a
ghost out of another age, in a world too coarse to touch his faint
sensibilities very closely; dreaming, in a worn-out society,
theatrical in its life, theatrical in its art, theatrical even in its
devotion, on the morning of the world's history, on the primitive
form of man, on the images under which that primitive world had
conceived of spiritual forces.

I have dwelt on the thought of Michelangelo as thus lingering
beyond his time in a world not his own, because, if one is to
distinguish the peculiar savour of his work, he must be
approached, not through his followers, but through his
predecessors; not through the marbles of Saint Peter's, but
through the work of the sculptors of the fifteenth century over the
tombs and altars of Tuscany.  He is the last of the Florentines, of
those on whom the peculiar sentiment of the Florence of Dante
and Giotto descended: he is the consummate representative of the
form that sentiment took in the fifteenth century with men like
Luca Signorelli and Mino [91] da Fiesole.  Up to him the
tradition of sentiment is unbroken, the progress towards surer and
more mature methods of expressing that sentiment continuous.
But his professed disciples did not share this temper; they are in
love with his strength only, and seem not to feel his grave and
temperate sweetness.  Theatricality is their chief characteristic;
and that is a quality as little attributable to Michelangelo as to
Mino or Luca Signorelli.  With him, as with them, all is serious,
passionate, impulsive.

This discipleship of Michelangelo, this dependence of his on the
tradition of the Florentine schools, is nowhere seen more clearly
than in his treatment of the Creation.  The Creation of Man had
haunted the mind of the middle age like a dream; and weaving it
into a hundred carved ornaments of capital or doorway, the
Italian sculptors had early impressed upon it that pregnancy of
expression which seems to give it many veiled meanings.  As
with other artistic conceptions of the middle age, its treatment
became almost conventional, handed on from artist to artist, with
slight changes, till it came to have almost an independent and
abstract existence of its own.  It was characteristic of the
medieval mind thus to give an independent traditional existence
to a special pictorial conception, or to a legend, like that of
Tristram or Tannhäuser, or even to the very thoughts and
substance of a book, like the Imitation, so that no single workman
could [92] claim it as his own, and the book, the image, the
legend, had itself a legend, and its fortunes, and a personal
history; and it is a sign of the medievalism of Michelangelo, that
he thus receives from tradition his central conception, and does
but add the last touches, in transferring it to the frescoes of the
Sistine Chapel.

But there was another tradition of those earlier, more serious
Florentines, of which Michelangelo is the inheritor, to which he
gives the final expression, and which centres in the sacristy of
San Lorenzo, as the tradition of the Creation centres in the
Sistine Chapel.  It has been said that all the great Florentines
were preoccupied with death.  Outre-tombe!  Outre-tombe!--is
the burden of their thoughts, from Dante to Savonarola.  Even the
gay and licentious Boccaccio gives a keener edge to his stories by
putting them in the mouths of a party of people who had taken
refuge in a country-house from the danger of death by plague.  It
was to this inherited sentiment, this practical decision that to be
preoccupied with the thought of death was in itself dignifying,
and a note of high quality, that the seriousness of the great
Florentines of the fifteenth century was partly due; and it was
reinforced in them by the actual sorrows of their times.  How
often, and in what various ways, had they seen life stricken down,
in their streets and houses La bella Simonetta dies in early youth,
and is borne to the grave with uncovered face.  The [93] young
Cardinal Jacopo di Portogallo dies on a visit to Florence--insignis
forma fui et mirabili modestia--his epitaph dares to say.  Antonio
Rossellino carves his tomb in the church of San Miniato, with
care for the shapely hands and feet, and sacred attire; Luca della
Robbia puts his skyiest works there; and the tomb of the youthful
and princely prelate became the strangest and most beautiful
thing in that strange and beautiful place.  After the execution of
the Pazzi conspirators, Botticelli is employed to paint their
portraits.  This preoccupation with serious thoughts and sad
images might easily have resulted, as it did, for instance, in the
gloomy villages of the Rhine, or in the overcrowded parts of
medieval Paris, as it still does in many a village of the Alps, in
something merely morbid or grotesque, in the Danse Macabre of
many French and German painters, or the grim inventions of
Dürer.  From such a result the Florentine masters of the fifteenth
century were saved by the nobility of their Italian culture, and
still more by their tender pity for  the thing itself.  They must
often have leaned over the lifeless body, when all was at length
quiet and smoothed out.  After death, it is said, the traces of
slighter and more superficial dispositions disappear; the lines
become more simple and dignified; only the abstract lines
remain, in a great indifference.  They came thus to see death in its
distinction.  Then following it perhaps one [94] stage further,
dwelling for a moment on the point where all this transitory
dignity must break up, and discerning with no clearness a new
body, they paused just in time, and abstained, with a sentiment of
profound pity.

Of all this sentiment Michelangelo is the achievement; and, first
of all, of pity.  Pietà, pity, the pity of the Virgin Mother over the
dead body of Christ, expanded into the pity of all mothers over
all dead sons, the entombment, with its cruel "hard stones":--this
is the subject of his predilection.  He has left it in many forms,
sketches, half-finished designs, finished and unfinished groups of
sculpture; but always as a hopeless, rayless, almost heathen
sorrow--no divine sorrow, but mere pity and awe at the stiff limbs
and colourless lips.  There is a drawing of his at Oxford, in which
the dead body has sunk to the earth between the mother's feet,
with the arms extended over her knees.  The tombs in the sacristy
of San Lorenzo are memorials, not of any of the nobler and
greater Medici, but of Giuliano, and Lorenzo the younger,
noticeable chiefly for their somewhat early death.  It is mere
human nature therefore which has prompted the sentiment here.
The titles assigned traditionally to the four symbolical figures,
Night and Day, The Twilight and The Dawn, are far too definite
for them; for these figures come much nearer to the mind and
spirit of their author, and are a more direct expression [95] of his
thoughts, than any merely symbolical conceptions could possibly
have been.  They concentrate and express, less by way of definite
conceptions than by the touches, the promptings of a piece of
music, all those vague fancies, misgivings, presentiments, which
shift and mix and are defined and fade again, whenever the
thoughts try to fix themselves with sincerity on the conditions
and surroundings of the disembodied spirit.  I suppose no one
would come to the sacristy of San Lorenzo for consolation; for
seriousness, for solemnity, for dignity of impression, perhaps, but
not for consolation.  It is a place neither of consoling nor of
terrible thoughts, but of vague and wistful speculation.  Here,
again, Michelangelo is the disciple not so much of Dante as of
the Platonists.  Dante's belief in immortality is formal, precise
and firm, almost as much so as that of a child, who thinks the
dead will hear if you cry loud enough.  But in Michelangelo you
have maturity, the mind of the grown man, dealing cautiously and
dispassionately with serious things; and what hope he has is
based on the consciousness of ignorance--ignorance of man,
ignorance of the nature of the mind, its origin and capacities.
Michelangelo is so ignorant of the spiritual world, of the new
body and its laws, that he does not surely know whether the
consecrated Host may not be the body of Christ.  And of all that
range of sentiment he is the poet, a poet still alive, and in [96]
possession of our inmost thoughts--dumb inquiry over the relapse
after death into the formlessness which preceded life, the change,
the revolt from that change, then the correcting, hallowing,
consoling rush of pity; at last, far off, thin and vague, yet not
more vague than the most definite thoughts men have had
through three centuries on a matter that has been so near their
hearts, the new body--a passing light, a mere intangible, external
effect, over those too rigid, or too formless faces; a dream that
lingers a moment, retreating in the dawn, incomplete, aimless,
helpless; a thing with faint hearing, faint memory, faint power of
touch; a breath, a flame in the doorway, a feather in the wind.

The qualities of the great masters in art or literature, the
combination of those qualities, the laws by which they moderate,
support, relieve each other, are not peculiar to them; but most
often typical standards, or revealing instances of the laws by
which certain aesthetic effects are produced.  The old masters
indeed are simpler; their characteristics are written larger, and are
easier to read, than the analogues of them in all the mixed,
confused productions of the modern mind.  But when once we
have succeeded in defining for ourselves those characteristics,
and the law of their combination, we have acquired a standard or
measure which helps us to put in its right place many a vagrant
genius, many an unclassified talent, many precious though
imperfect [97] products of art.  It is so with the components of the
true character of Michelangelo.  That strange interfusion of
sweetness and strength is not to be found in those who claimed to
be his followers; but it is found in many of those who worked
before him, and in many others down to our own time, in William
Blake, for instance, and Victor Hugo, who, though not of his
school, and unaware, are his true sons, and help us to understand
him, as he in turn interprets and justifies them.  Perhaps this is the
chief use in studying old masters.

1871.



LEONARDO DA VINCI

HOMO MINISTER ET INTERPRES NATURAE

[98] IN Vasari's life of Leonardo da Vinci as we now read it there are
some variations from the first edition.  There, the painter who has
fixed the outward type of Christ for succeeding centuries was a
bold speculator, holding lightly by other men's beliefs, setting
philosophy above Christianity.  Words of his, trenchant enough
to justify this impression, are not recorded, and would have been
out of keeping with a genius of which one characteristic is the
tendency to lose itself in a refined and graceful mystery.  The
suspicion was but the time-honoured mode in which the world
stamps its appreciation of one who has thoughts for himself
alone, his high indifference, his intolerance of the common forms
of things; and in the second edition the image was changed into
something fainter and more conventional.  But it is still by a
certain mystery in his work, and something enigmatical beyond
the usual measure of great men, that he fascinates, or perhaps half
repels.  His life is one of sudden [99] revolts, with intervals in
which he works not at all, or apart from the main scope of his
work.  By a strange fortune the pictures on which his more
popular fame rested disappeared early from the world, like the
Battle of the Standard; or are mixed obscurely with the product
of meaner hands, like the Last Supper.  His type of beauty is so
exotic that it fascinates a larger number than it delights, and
seems more than that of any other artist to reflect ideas and views
and some scheme of the world within; so that he seemed to his
contemporaries to be the possessor of some unsanctified and
secret wisdom; as to Michelet and others to have anticipated
modern ideas.  He trifles with his genius, and crowds all his chief
work into a few tormented years of later life; yet he is so
possessed by his genius that he passes unmoved through the most
tragic events, overwhelming his country and friends, like one
who comes across them by chance on some secret errand.

His legend, as the French say, with the anecdotes which every
one remembers, is one of the most brilliant chapters of Vasari.
Later writers merely copied it, until, in 1804, Carlo Amoretti
applied to it a criticism which left hardly a date fixed, and not one
of those anecdotes untouched.  The various questions thus raised
have since that time become, one after another, subjects of
special study, and mere antiquarianism has in this direction little
more to do.  For others remain the editing of [100] the thirteen
books of his manuscripts, and the separation by technical
criticism of what in his reputed works is really his, from what is
only half his, or the work of his pupils.  But a lover of strange
souls may still analyse for himself the impression made on him
by those works, and try to reach through it a definition of the
chief elements of Leonardo's genius.  The legend, as corrected
and enlarged by its critics, may now and then intervene to support
the results of this analysis.

His life has three divisions--thirty years at Florence, nearly
twenty years at Milan, then nineteen years of wandering, till he
sinks to rest under the protection of Francis the First at the
Château de Clou.  The dishonour of illegitimacy hangs over his
birth.  Piero Antonio, his father, was of a noble Florentine house,
of Vinci in the Val d'Arno, and Leonardo, brought up delicately
among the true children of that house, was the love-child of his
youth, with the keen, puissant nature such children often have.
We see him in his boyhood fascinating all men by his beauty,
improvising music and songs, buying the caged birds and setting
them free, as he walked the streets of Florence, fond of odd bright
dresses and spirited horses.

From his earliest years he designed many objects, and
constructed models in relief, of which Vasari mentions some of
women smiling.  His father, pondering over this promise in the
[101] child, took him to the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio,
then the most famous artist in Florence.  Beautiful objects lay
about there--reliquaries, pyxes, silver images for the pope's
chapel at Rome, strange fancy-work of the middle age, keeping
odd company with fragments of antiquity, then but lately
discovered.  Another student Leonardo may have seen there--a
lad into whose soul the level light and aërial illusions of Italian
sunsets had passed, in after days famous as Perugino.  Verrocchio
was an artist of the earlier Florentine type, carver, painter, and
worker in metals, in one; designer, not of pictures only, but of all
things for sacred or household use, drinking-vessels, ambries,
instruments of music, making them all fair to look upon, filling
the common ways of life with the reflexion of some far-off
brightness; and years of patience had refined his hand till his
work was now sought after from distant places.

It happened that Verrocchio was employed by the brethren of
Vallombrosa to paint the Baptism of Christ, and Leonardo was
allowed to finish an angel in the left-hand corner.  It was one of
those moments in which the progress of a great thing--here, that
of the art of Italy--presses hard on the happiness of an individual,
through whose discouragement and decrease, humanity, in more
fortunate persons, comes a step nearer to its final success.

For beneath the cheerful exterior of the mere [102] well-paid
craftsman, chasing brooches for the copes of Santa Maria
Novella, or twisting metal screens for the tombs of the Medici,
lay the ambitious desire to expand the destiny of Italian art by a
larger knowledge and insight into things, a purpose in art not
unlike Leonardo's still unconscious purpose; and often, in the
modelling of drapery, or of a lifted arm, or of hair cast back from
the face, there came to him something of the freer manner and
richer humanity of a later age.  But in this Baptism the pupil had
surpassed the master; and Verrocchio turned away as one
stunned, and as if his sweet earlier work must thereafter be
distasteful to him, from the bright animated angel of Leonardo's
hand.

The angel may still be seen in Florence, a space of sunlight in the
cold, laboured old picture; but the legend is true only in
sentiment, for painting had always been the art by which
Verrocchio set least store.  And as in a sense he anticipates
Leonardo, so to the last Leonardo recalls the studio of
Verrocchio, in the love of beautiful toys, such as the vessel of
water for a mirror, and lovely needle-work about the implicated
hands in the Modesty and Vanity, and of reliefs, like those
cameos which in the Virgin of the Balances hang all round the
girdle of Saint Michael, and of bright variegated stones, such as
the agates in the Saint Anne, and in a hieratic preciseness and
grace, as of a sanctuary swept and [103] garnished.  Amid all the
cunning and intricacy of his Lombard manner this never left him.
Much of it there must have been in that lost picture of Paradise,
which he prepared as a cartoon for tapestry, to be woven in the
looms of Flanders.  It was the perfection of the older Florentine
style of miniature-painting, with patient putting of each leaf upon
the trees and each flower in the grass, where the first man and
woman were standing.

And because it was the perfection of that style, it awoke in
Leonardo some seed of discontent which lay in the secret places
of his nature.  For the way to perfection is through a series of
disgusts; and this picture--all that he had done so far in his life at
Florence--was after all in the old slight manner.  His art, if it was
to be something in the world, must be weighted with more of the
meaning of nature and purpose of humanity.  Nature was "the
true mistress of higher intelligences."  He plunged, then, into the
study of nature.  And in doing this he followed the manner of the
older students; he brooded over the hidden virtues of plants and
crystals, the lines traced by the stars as they moved in the sky,
over the correspondences which exist between the different
orders of living things, through which, to eyes opened, they
interpret each other; and for years he seemed to those about him
as one listening to a voice, silent for other men.

[104] He learned here the art of going deep, of tracking the
sources of expression to their subtlest retreats, the power of an
intimate presence in the things he handled.  He did not at once or
entirely desert his art; only he was no longer the cheerful,
objective painter, through whose soul, as through clear glass, the
bright figures of Florentine life, only made a little mellower and
more pensive by the transit, passed on to the white wall.  He
wasted many days in curious tricks of design, seeming to lose
himself in the spinning of intricate devices of line and colour.  He
was smitten with a love of the impossible--the perforation of
mountains, changing the course of rivers, raising great buildings,
such as the church of San Giovanni, in the air; all those feats for
the performance of which natural magic professed to have the
key.  Later writers, indeed, see in these efforts an anticipation of
modern mechanics; in him they were rather dreams, thrown off
by the overwrought and labouring brain.  Two ideas were
especially confirmed in him, as reflexes of things that had
touched his brain in childhood beyond the depth of other
impressions--the smiling of women and the motion of great
waters.

And in such studies some interfusion of the extremes of beauty
and terror shaped itself, as an image that might be seen and
touched, in the mind of this gracious youth, so fixed that for the
rest of his life it never left him.  As if catching [105] glimpses of
it in the strange eyes or hair of chance people, he would follow
such about the streets of Florence till the sun went down, of
whom many sketches of his remain.  Some of these are full of a
curious beauty, that remote beauty which may be apprehended
only by those who have sought it carefully; who, starting with
acknowledged types of beauty, have refined as far upon these, as
these refine upon the world of common forms.  But mingled
inextricably with this there is an element of mockery also; so that,
whether in sorrow or scorn, he caricatures Dante even.  Legions
of grotesques sweep under his hand; for has not nature too her
grotesques--the rent rock, the distorting lights of evening on
lonely roads, the unveiled structure of man in the embryo, or the
skeleton?

All these swarming fancies unite in the Medusa of the Uffizii.
Vasari's story of an earlier Medusa, painted on a wooden shield,
is perhaps an invention; and yet, properly told, has more of the air
of truth about it than anything else in the whole legend.  For its
real subject is not the serious work of a man, but the experiment
of a child.  The lizards and glow-worms and other strange small
creatures which haunt an Italian vineyard bring before one the
whole picture of a child's life in a Tuscan dwelling--half castle,
half farm--and are as true to nature as the pretended
astonishment [106] of the father for whom the boy has prepared
a surprise.  It was not in play that he painted that other Medusa,
the one great picture which he left behind him in Florence.  The
subject has been treated in various ways; Leonardo alone cuts to
its centre; he alone realises it as the head of a corpse, exercising
its powers through all the circumstances of death.  What may be
called the fascination of corruption penetrates in every touch its
exquisitely finished beauty.  About the dainty lines of the cheek
the bat flits unheeded.  The delicate snakes seem literally
strangling each other in terrified struggle to escape from the
Medusa brain.  The hue which violent death always brings with it
is in the features; features singularly massive and grand, as we
catch them inverted, in a dexterous foreshortening, crown
foremost, like a great calm stone against which the wave of
serpents breaks.

The science of that age was all divination, clairvoyance,
unsubjected to our exact modern formulas, seeking in an instant
of vision to concentrate a thousand experiences.  Later writers,
thinking only of the well-ordered treatise on painting which a
Frenchman, Raffaelle du Fresne, a hundred years afterwards,
compiled from Leonardo's bewildered manuscripts, written
strangely, as his manner was, from right to left, have imagined a
rigid order in his inquiries.  But this rigid order would have been
little in [107] accordance with the restlessness of his character;
and if we think of him as the mere reasoner who subjects design
to anatomy, and composition to mathematical rules, we shall
hardly have that impression which those around Leonardo
received from him.  Poring over his crucibles, making
experiments with colour, trying, by a strange variation of the
alchemist's dream, to discover the secret, not of an elixir to make
man's natural life immortal, but of giving immortality to the
subtlest and most delicate effects of painting, he seemed to them
rather the sorcerer or the magician, possessed of curious secrets
and a hidden knowledge, living in a world of which he alone
possessed the key.  What his philosophy seems to have been most
like is that of Paracelsus or Cardan; and much of the spirit of the
older alchemy still hangs about it, with its confidence in short
cuts and odd byways to knowledge.  To him philosophy was to
be something giving strange swiftness and double sight, divining
the sources of springs beneath the earth or of expression beneath
the human countenance, clairvoyant of occult gifts in common or
uncommon things, in the reed at the brook-side, or the star which
draws near to us but once in a century.  How, in this way, the
clear purpose was overclouded, the fine chaser's hand perplexed,
we but dimly see; the mystery which at no point quite lifts from
Leonardo's life is deepest here.  But it is [108] certain that at one
period of his life he had almost ceased to be an artist.

The year 1483--the year of the birth of Raphael and the thirty-
first of Leonardo's life--is fixed as the date of his visit to Milan
by the letter in which he recommends himself to Ludovico
Sforza, and offers to tell him, for a price, strange secrets in the art
of war.  It was that Sforza who murdered his young nephew by
slow poison, yet was so susceptible of religious impressions that
he blended mere earthly passion with a sort of religious
sentimentalism, and who took for his device the mulberry-tree--
symbol, in its long delay and sudden yielding of flowers and fruit
together, of a wisdom which economises all forces for an
opportunity of sudden and sure effect.  The fame of Leonardo had
gone before him, and he was to model a colossal statue of
Francesco, the first Duke of Milan.  As for Leonardo himself, he
came not as an artist at all, or careful of the fame of one; but as a
player on the harp, a strange harp of silver of his own
construction, shaped in some curious likeness to a horse's skull.
The capricious spirit of Ludovico was susceptible also to the
power of music, and Leonardo's nature had a kind of spell in it.
Fascination is always the word descriptive of him.  No portrait of
his youth remains; but all tends to make us believe that up to this
time some charm of voice and aspect, strong enough to balance
the disadvantage of his birth, had [109] played about him.  His
physical strength was great; it was said that he could bend a
horseshoe like a coil of lead.

The Duomo, work of artists from beyond the Alps, so fantastic to
the eye of a Florentine used to the mellow, unbroken surfaces of
Giotto and Arnolfo, was then in all its freshness; and below, in
the streets of Milan, moved a people as fantastic, changeful, and
dreamlike.  To Leonardo least of all men could there be anything
poisonous in the exotic flowers of sentiment which grew there.  It
was a life of brilliant sins and exquisite amusements: Leonardo
became a celebrated designer of pageants; and it suited the
quality of his genius, composed, in almost equal parts, of
curiosity and the desire of beauty, to take things as they came.

Curiosity and the desire of beauty--these are the two elementary
forces in Leonardo's genius; curiosity often in conflict with the
desire of beauty, but generating, in union with it, a type of subtle
and curious grace.

The movement of the fifteenth century was twofold; partly the
Renaissance, partly also the coming of what is called the
"modern spirit," with its realism, its appeal to experience.  It
comprehended a return to antiquity, and a return to nature.
Raphael represents the return to antiquity, and Leonardo the
return to nature.  In this return to nature, he was seeking to satisfy
a boundless curiosity by her perpetual surprises, [110] a
microscopic sense of finish by her finesse, or delicacy of
operation, that subtilitas naturae which Bacon notices.  So we
find him often in intimate relations with men of science,--with
Fra Luca Paccioli the mathematician, and the anatomist Marc
Antonio della Torre.  His observations and experiments fill
thirteen volumes of manuscript; and those who can judge
describe him as anticipating long before, by rapid intuition, the
later ideas of science.  He explained the obscure light of the
unilluminated part of the moon, knew that the sea had once
covered the mountains which contain shells, and of the gathering
of the equatorial waters above the polar.

He who thus penetrated into the most secret parts of nature
preferred always the more to the less remote, what, seeming
exceptional, was an instance of law more refined, the
construction about things of a peculiar atmosphere and mixed
lights.  He paints flowers with such curious felicity that different
writers have attributed to him a fondness for particular flowers,
as Clement the cyclamen, and Rio the jasmin; while, at Venice,
there is a stray leaf from his portfolio dotted all over with studies
of violets and the wild rose.  In him first appears the taste for
what is bizarre or recherché in landscape; hollow places full of
the green shadow of bituminous rocks, ridged reefs of trap-rock
which cut the water into quaint sheets of light,--their exact
antitype is in our own western seas; all the [111] solemn effects
of moving water.  You may follow it springing from its distant
source among the rocks on the heath of the Madonna of the
Balances, passing, as a little fall, into the treacherous calm of the
Madonna of the Lake, as a goodly river next, below the cliffs of
the Madonna of the Rocks, washing the white walls of its distant
villages, stealing out in a network of divided streams in La
Gioconda to the seashore of the Saint Anne--that delicate place,
where the wind passes like the hand of some fine etcher over the
surface, and the untorn shells are lying thick upon the sand, and
the tops of the rocks, to which the waves never rise, are green
with grass, grown fine as hair.  It is the landscape, not of dreams
or of fancy, but of places far withdrawn, and hours selected from
a thousand with a miracle of finesse.  Through Leonardo's
strange veil of sight things reach him so; in no ordinary night or
day, but as in faint light of eclipse, or in some brief interval of
falling rain at daybreak, or through deep water.

And not into nature only; but he plunged also into human
personality, and became above all a painter of portraits; faces of a
modelling more skilful than has been seen before or since,
embodied with a reality which almost amounts to illusion, on the
dark air.  To take a character as it was, and delicately sound its
stops, suited one so curious in observation, curious in invention.
He painted thus the portraits of Ludovico's [112] mistresses,
Lucretia Crivelli and Cecilia Galerani the poetess, of Ludovico
himself, and the Duchess Beatrice.  The portrait of Cecilia
Galerani is lost, but that of Lucretia Crivelli has been identified
with La Belle Feronière of the Louvre, and Ludovico's pale,
anxious face still remains in the Ambrosian library.  Opposite is
the portrait of Beatrice d'Este, in whom Leonardo seems to have
caught some presentiment of early death, painting her precise and
grave, full of the refinement of the dead, in sad earth-coloured
raiment, set with pale stones.

Sometimes this curiosity came in conflict with the desire of
beauty; it tended to make him go too far below that outside of
things in which art really begins and ends.  This struggle between
the reason and its ideas, and the senses, the desire of beauty, is
the key to Leonardo's life at Milan--his restlessness, his endless
re-touchings, his odd experiments with colour.  How much must
he leave unfinished, how much recommence!  His problem was
the transmutation of ideas into images.  What he had attained so
far had been the mastery of that earlier Florentine style, with its
naïve and limited sensuousness.  Now he was to entertain in this
narrow medium those divinations of a humanity too wide for it,
that larger vision of the opening world, which is only not too
much for the great, irregular art of Shakespeare; and everywhere
the effort is visible in the work of his hands.  This agitation, this
[113] perpetual delay, give him an air of weariness and ennui.  To
others he seems to be aiming at an impossible effect, to do
something that art, that painting, can never do.  Often the
expression of physical beauty at this or that point seems strained
and marred in the effort, as in those heavy German foreheads--
too heavy and German for perfect beauty.

For there was a touch of Germany in that genius which, as
Goethe said, had "thought itself weary"--müde sich gedacht.
What an anticipation of modern Germany, for instance, in that
debate on the question whether sculpture or painting is the nobler
art!*  But there is this difference between him and the German,
that, with all that curious science, the German would have
thought nothing more was needed.  The name of Goethe himself
reminds one how great for the artist may be the danger of
overmuch science; how Goethe, who, in the Elective Affinities
and the first part of Faust, does transmute ideas into images, who
wrought many such transmutations, did not invariably find the
spell-word, and in the second part of Faust presents us with a
mass of science which has almost no artistic character at all.  But
Leonardo will never work till the happy moment comes--that
moment of bien-être, which to imaginative men is a moment of
invention.  On this he waits with [114] a perfect patience; other
moments are but a preparation, or after-taste of it.  Few men
distinguish between them as jealously as he.  Hence so many
flaws even in the choicest work.  But for Leonardo the distinction
is absolute, and, in the moment of bien-être, the alchemy
complete: the idea is stricken into colour and imagery: a cloudy
mysticism is refined to a subdued and graceful mystery, and
painting pleases the eye while it satisfies the soul.

This curious beauty is seen above all in his drawings, and in these
chiefly in the abstract grace of the bounding lines.  Let us take
some of these drawings, and pause over them awhile; and, first,
one of those at Florence--the heads of a woman and a little child,
set side by side, but each in its own separate frame.  First of all,
there is much pathos in the reappearance, in the fuller curves of
the face of the child, of the sharper, more chastened lines of the
worn and older face, which leaves no doubt that the heads are
those of a little child and its mother.  A feeling for maternity is
indeed always characteristic of Leonardo; and this feeling is
further indicated here by the half-humorous pathos of the
diminutive, rounded shoulders of the child.  You may note a like
pathetic power in drawings of a young man, seated in a stooping
posture, his face in his hands, as in sorrow; of a slave sitting in an
uneasy inclined attitude, in some brief interval of rest; of a small
Madonna and Child, [115] peeping sideways in half-reassured
terror, as a mighty griffin with batlike wings, one of Leonardo's
finest inventions, descends suddenly from the air to snatch up a
great wild beast wandering near them.  But note in these, as that
which especially belongs to art, the contour of the young man's
hair, the poise of the slave's arm above his head, and the curves
of the head of the child, following the little skull within, thin and
fine as some sea-shell worn by the wind.

Take again another head, still more full of sentiment, but of a
different kind, a little drawing in red chalk which every one will
remember who has examined at all carefully the drawings by old
masters at the Louvre.  It is a face of doubtful sex, set in the
shadow of its own hair, the cheek-line in high light against it,
with something voluptuous and full in the eye-lids and the lips.
Another drawing might pass for the same face in childhood, with
parched and feverish lips, but much sweetness in the loose, short-
waisted childish dress, with necklace and bulla, and in the
daintily bound hair.  We might take the thread of suggestion
which these two drawings offer, when thus set side by side, and,
following it through the drawings at Florence, Venice, and Milan,
construct a sort of series, illustrating better than anything else
Leonardo's type of womanly beauty.  Daughters of Herodias,
with their fantastic head-dresses knotted and folded so strangely
to leave the [116] dainty oval of the face disengaged, they are not
of the Christian family, or of Raphael's.  They are the
clairvoyants, through whom, as through delicate instruments, one
becomes aware of the subtler forces of nature, and the modes of
their action, all that is magnetic in it, all those finer conditions
wherein material things rise to that subtlety of operation which
constitutes them spiritual, where only the final nerve and the
keener touch can follow.  It is as if in certain significant examples
we actually saw those forces at their work on human flesh.
Nervous, electric, faint always with some inexplicable faintness,
these people seem to be subject to exceptional conditions, to feel
powers at work in the common air unfelt by others, to become, as
it were, the receptacle of them, and pass them on to us in a chain
of secret influences.

But among the more youthful heads there is one at Florence
which Love chooses for its own--the head of a young man, which
may well be the likeness of Andrea Salaino, beloved of Leonardo
for his curled and waving hair--belli capelli ricci e inanellati--
and afterwards his favourite pupil and servant.  Of all the
interests in living men and women which may have filled his life
at Milan, this attachment alone is recorded.  And in return
Salaino identified himself so entirely with Leonardo, that the
picture of Saint Anne, in the Louvre, has been attributed to him.
It illustrates Leonardo's usual choice of pupils, men [117] of
some natural charm of person or intercourse like Salaino, or men
of birth and princely habits of life like Francesco Melzi--men
with just enough genius to be capable of initiation into his secret,
for the sake of which they were ready to efface their own
individuality.  Among them, retiring often to the villa of the
Melzi at Canonica al Vaprio, he worked at his fugitive
manuscripts and sketches, working for the present hour, and for a
few only, perhaps chiefly for himself.  Other artists have been as
careless of present or future applause, in self-forgetfulness, or
because they set moral or political ends above the ends of art; but
in him this solitary culture of beauty seems to have hung upon a
kind of self-love, and a carelessness in the work of art of all but
art itself.  Out of the secret places of a unique temperament he
brought strange blossoms and fruits hitherto unknown; and for
him, the novel impression conveyed, the exquisite effect woven,
counted as an end in itself--a perfect end.

And these pupils of his acquired his manner so thoroughly, that
though the number of Leonardo's authentic works is very small
indeed, there is a multitude of other men's pictures through
which we undoubtedly see him, and come very near to his genius.
Sometimes, as in the little picture of the Madonna of the
Balances, in which, from the bosom of His mother, Christ weighs
the pebbles of the brook against the sins of men, we have a hand,
rough enough by [118] contrast, working upon some fine hint or
sketch of his.  Sometimes, as in the subjects of the Daughter of
Herodias and the Head of John the Baptist, the lost originals have
been re-echoed and varied upon again and again by Luini and
others.  At other times the original remains, but has been a mere
theme or motive, a type of which the accessories might be
modified or changed; and these variations have but brought out
the more the purpose, or expression of the original.  It is so with
the so-called Saint John the Baptist of the Louvre--one of the few
naked figures Leonardo painted--whose delicate brown flesh and
woman's hair no one would go out into the wilderness to seek,
and whose treacherous smile would have us understand
something far beyond the outward gesture or circumstance.  But
the long, reedlike cross in the hand, which suggests Saint John
the Baptist, becomes faint in a copy at the Ambrosian Library,
and disappears altogether in another version, in the Palazzo
Rosso at Genoa.  Returning from the latter to the original, we are
no longer surprised by Saint John's strange likeness to the
Bacchus which hangs near it, and which set Théophile Gautier
thinking of Heine's notion of decayed gods, who, to maintain
themselves, after the fall of paganism, took employment in the
new religion.  We recognise one of those symbolical inventions
in which the ostensible subject is used, not as matter for definite
pictorial realisation, but as the starting-point of a [119] train of
sentiment, subtle and vague as a piece of music.  No one ever
ruled over the mere subject in hand more entirely than Leonardo,
or bent it more dexterously to purely artistic ends.  And so it
comes to pass that though he handles sacred subjects continually,
he is the most profane of painters; the given person or subject,
Saint John in the Desert, or the Virgin on the knees of Saint
Anne, is often merely the pretext for a kind of work which carries
one altogether beyond the range of its conventional associations.

About the Last Supper, its decay and restorations, a whole
literature has risen up, Goethe's pensive sketch of its sad fortunes
being perhaps the best.  The death in childbirth of the Duchess
Beatrice was followed in Ludovico by one of those paroxysms of
religious feeling which in him were constitutional.  The low,
gloomy Dominican church of Saint Mary of the Graces had been
the favourite oratory of Beatrice.  She had spent her last days
there, full of sinister presentiments; at last it had been almost
necessary to remove her from it by force; and now it was here
that mass was said a hundred times a day for her repose.  On the
damp wall of the refectory, oozing with mineral salts, Leonardo
painted the Last Supper.  Effective anecdotes were told about it,
his retouchings and delays.  They show him refusing to work
except at the moment of invention, scornful of any one who
supposed that art could be a work of mere industry and rule,
[120] often coming the whole length of Milan to give a single
touch.  He painted it, not in fresco, where all must be impromptu,
but in oils, the new method which he had been one of the first to
welcome, because it allowed of so many after-thoughts, so
refined a working out of perfection.  It turned out that on a
plastered wall no process could have been less durable.  Within
fifty years it had fallen into decay.  And now we have to turn
back to Leonardo's own studies, above all to one drawing of the
central head at the Brera, which, in a union of tenderness and
severity in the face-lines, reminds one of the monumental work
of Mino da Fiesole, to trace it as it was.

Here was another effort to lift a given subject out of the range of
its traditional associations.  Strange, after all the mystic
developments of the middle age, was the effort to see the
Eucharist, not as the pale Host of the altar, but as one taking
leave of his friends.  Five years afterwards the young Raphael, at
Florence, painted it with sweet and solemn effect in the refectory
of Saint Onofrio; but still with all the mystical unreality of the
school of Perugino.  Vasari pretends that the central head was
never finished.  But finished or unfinished, or owing part of its
effect to a mellowing decay, the head of Jesus does but
consummate the sentiment of the whole company--ghosts
through which you see the wall, faint as the shadows of the [121]
leaves upon the wall on autumn afternoons.  This figure is but the
faintest, the most spectral of them all.

The Last Supper was finished in 1497; in 1498 the French
entered Milan, and whether or not the Gascon bowmen used it as
a mark for their arrows, the model of Francesco Sforza certainly
did not survive.  What, in that age, such work was capable of
being--of what nobility, amid what racy truthfulness to fact--we
may judge from the bronze statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni on
horseback, modelled by Leonardo's master, Verrocchio (he died
of grief, it was said, because, the mould accidentally failing, he
was unable to complete it), still standing in the piazza of Saint
John and Saint Paul at Venice.  Some traces of the thing may
remain in certain of Leonardo's drawings, and perhaps also, by a
singular circumstance, in a far-off town of France.  For Ludovico
became a prisoner, and ended his days at Loches in Touraine.
After many years of captivity in the dungeons below, where all
seems sick with barbarous feudal memories, he was allowed at
last, it is said, to breathe fresher air for awhile in one of the rooms
of the great tower still shown, its walls covered with strange
painted arabesques, ascribed by tradition to his hand, amused a
little, in this way, through the tedious years.  In those vast
helmets and human faces and pieces of armour, among which, in
great letters, the [122] motto Infelix Sum is woven in and out, it is
perhaps not too fanciful to see the fruit of a wistful after-
dreaming over Leonardo's sundry experiments on the armed
figure of the great duke, which had occupied the two so much
during the days of their good fortune at Milan.

The remaining years of Leonardo's life are more or less years of
wandering.  From his brilliant life at court he had saved nothing,
and he returned to Florence a poor man.  Perhaps necessity kept
his spirit excited: the next four years are one prolonged rapture or
ecstasy of invention.  He painted now the pictures of the Louvre,
his most authentic works, which came there straight from the
cabinet of Francis the First, at Fontainebleau.  One picture of his,
the Saint Anne--not the Saint Anne of the Louvre, but a simple
cartoon, now in London--revived for a moment a sort of
appreciation more common in an earlier time, when good pictures
had still seemed miraculous.  For two days a crowd of people of
all qualities passed in naïve excitement through the chamber
where it hung, and gave Leonardo a taste of the "triumph" of
Cimabue.  But his work was less with the saints than with the
living women of Florence.  For he lived still in the polished
society that he loved, and in the houses of Florence, left perhaps a
little subject to light thoughts by the death of Savonarola--the
latest gossip (1869) is of an [123] undraped Monna Lisa, found in
some out-of-the-way corner of the late Orleans collection--he
saw Ginevra di Benci, and Lisa, the young third wife of
Francesco del Giocondo.  As we have seen him using incidents of
sacred story, not for their own sake, or as mere subjects for
pictorial realisation, but as a cryptic language for fancies all his
own, so now he found a vent for his thought in taking one of
these languid women, and raising her, as Leda or Pomona, as
Modesty or Vanity, to the seventh heaven of symbolical
expression.

La Gioconda is, in the truest sense, Leonardo's masterpiece, the
revealing instance of his mode of thought and work.  In
suggestiveness, only the Melancholia of Dürer is comparable to
it; and no crude symbolism disturbs the effect of its subdued and
graceful mystery.  We all know the face and hands of the figure,
set in its marble chair, in that circle of fantastic rocks, as in some
faint light under sea.  Perhaps of all ancient pictures time has
chilled it least.*  As often happens with works in which invention
seems to reach its limit, there is an element in it given to, not
invented by, the master.  In that inestimable folio of drawings,
once in the possession of Vasari, were certain designs by
Verrocchio, faces of such impressive beauty that Leonardo in his
boyhood copied them [124] many times.  It is hard not to connect
with these designs of the elder, by-past master, as with its
germinal principle, the unfathomable smile, always with a touch
of something sinister in it, which plays over all Leonardo's work.
Besides, the picture is a portrait.  From childhood we see this
image defining itself on the fabric of his dreams; and but for
express historical testimony, we might fancy that this was but his
ideal lady, embodied and beheld at last.  What was the
relationship of a living Florentine to this creature of his thought?
By what strange affinities had the dream and the person grown up
thus apart, and yet so closely together?  Present from the first
incorporeally in Leonardo's brain, dimly traced in the designs of
Verrocchio, she is found present at last in Il Giocondo's house.
That there is much of mere portraiture in the picture is attested by
the legend that by artificial means, the presence of mimes and
flute-players, that subtle expression was protracted on the face.
Again, was it in four years and by renewed labour never really
completed, or in four months and as by stroke of magic, that the
image was projected?

The presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters, is
expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come
to desire.  Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world
are come," and the eyelids are a little [125] weary.  It is a beauty
wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by
cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite
passions.  Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek
goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they
be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its
maladies has passed!  All the thoughts and experience of the
world have etched and moulded there, in that which they have of
power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the
animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the mysticism of the
middle age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the
return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias.  She is older
than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has
been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and
has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about
her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants;
and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint
Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the
sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with
which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the
eyelids and the hands.  The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping
together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern
philosophy has conceived the idea of humanity as wrought upon
by, and summing up in itself, all modes of thought and life.
Certainly [126] Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the
old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea.

During these years at Florence Leonardo's history is the history
of his art; for himself, he is lost in the bright cloud of it.  The
outward history begins again in 1502, with a wild journey
through central Italy, which he makes as the chief engineer of
Caesar Borgia.  The biographer, putting together the stray jottings
of his manuscripts, may follow him through every day of it, up
the strange tower of Siena, elastic like a bent bow, down to the
seashore at Piombino, each place appearing as fitfully as in a
fever dream.

One other great work was left for him to do, a work all trace of
which soon vanished, The Battle of the Standard, in which he had
Michelangelo for his rival.  The citizens of Florence, desiring to
decorate the walls of the great council-chamber, had offered the
work for competition, and any subject might be chosen from the
Florentine wars of the fifteenth century.  Michelangelo chose for
his cartoon an incident of the war with Pisa, in which the
Florentine soldiers, bathing in the Arno, are surprised by the
sound of trumpets, and run to arms.  His design has reached us
only in an old engraving, which helps us less perhaps than our
remembrance of the background of his Holy Family in the Uffizii
to imagine in what superhuman form, [127] such as might have
beguiled the heart of an earlier world, those figures ascended out
of the water.  Leonardo chose an incident from the battle of
Anghiari, in which two parties of soldiers fight for a standard.
Like Michelangelo's, his cartoon is lost, and has come to us only
in sketches, and in a fragment of Rubens.  Through the accounts
given we may discern some lust of terrible things in it, so that
even the horses tore each other with their teeth.  And yet one
fragment of it, in a drawing of his at Florence, is far different--a
waving field of lovely armour, the chased edgings running like
lines of sunlight from side to side.  Michelangelo was twenty-
seven years old; Leonardo more than fifty; and Raphael, then
nineteen years of age, visiting Florence for the first time, came
and watched them as they worked.

We catch a glimpse of Leonardo again, at Rome in 1514,
surrounded by his mirrors and vials and furnaces, making strange
toys that seemed alive of wax and quicksilver.  The hesitation
which had haunted him all through life, and made him like one
under a spell, was upon him now with double force.  No one had
ever carried political indifferentism farther; it had always been
his philosophy to "fly before the storm"; he is for the Sforzas, or
against them, as the tide of their fortune turns.  Yet now, in the
political society of Rome, he came [128] to be suspected of secret
French sympathies.  It paralysed him to find himself among
enemies; and he turned wholly to France, which had long courted
him.

France was about to become an Italy more Italian than Italy itself.
Francis the First, like Lewis the Twelfth before him, was
attracted by the finesse of Leonardo's work; La Gioconda was
already in his cabinet, and he offered Leonardo the little Château
de Clou, with its vineyards and meadows, in the pleasant valley
of the Masse, just outside the walls of the town of Amboise,
where, especially in the hunting season, the court then frequently
resided.  A Monsieur Lyonard, peinteur du Roy pour Amboyse--
so the letter of Francis the First is headed.  It opens a prospect,
one of the most interesting in the history of art, where, in a
peculiarly blent atmosphere, Italian art dies away as a French
exotic.

Two questions remain, after much busy antiquarianism,
concerning Leonardo's death--the question of the exact form of
his religion, and the question whether Francis the First was
present at the time.  They are of about equally little importance in
the estimate of Leonardo's genius.  The directions in his will
concerning the thirty masses and the great candles for the church
of Saint Florentin are things of course, their real purpose being
immediate and practical; and on no theory of religion could these
hurried offices be of much consequence.  We forget them in
speculating [129] how one who had been always so desirous of
beauty, but desired it always in such precise and definite forms,
as hands or flowers or hair, looked forward now into the vague
land, and experienced the last curiosity.

1869.


NOTES

113. *How princely, how characteristic of Leonardo, the answer,
Quanto più, un' arte porta seco fatica di corpo, tanto più è vile!
Return.

123. *Yet for Vasari there was some further magic of crimson in
the lips and cheeks, lost for us.

125. +"[.  .  .] with Eastern merchants:" is the punctuation used in
the 1901 Macmillan edition.  Macmillan's 1910 Library edition
erroneously uses a space followed only by a period.  The Norton
Anthology editors emend the text to contain a comma after
"merchants" rather than a colon, but I have chosen to follow the
unusual, but seemingly correct, 1901 punctuation.



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE

[130] IT is the mistake of much popular criticism to regard
poetry, music, and painting--all the various products of art--as but
translations into different languages of one and the same fixed
quantity of imaginative thought, supplemented by certain
technical qualities of colour, in painting; of sound, in music; of
rhythmical words, in poetry.  In this way, the sensuous element in
art, and with it almost everything in art that is essentially artistic,
is made a matter of indifference; and a clear apprehension of the
opposite principle--that the sensuous material of each art brings
with it a special phase or quality of beauty, untranslatable into the
forms of any other, an order of impressions distinct in kind--is the
beginning of all true aesthetic criticism.  For, as art addresses not
pure sense, still less the pure intellect, but the "imaginative
reason" through the senses, there are differences of kind in
aesthetic beauty, corresponding to the differences in kind of the
gifts of sense themselves. Each art, therefore, having its own
peculiar and untranslatable sensuous charm, has its own [131]
special mode of reaching the imagination, its own special
responsibilities to its material.  One of the functions of aesthetic
criticism is to define these limitations; to estimate the degree in
which a given work of art fulfils its responsibilities to its special
material; to note in a picture that true pictorial charm, which is
neither a mere poetical thought or sentiment, on the one hand, nor
a mere result of communicable technical skill in colour or design,
on the other; to define in a poem that true poetical quality, which
is neither descriptive nor meditative merely, but comes of an
inventive handling of rhythmical language, the element of song in
the singing; to note in music the musical charm, that essential
music, which presents no words, no matter of sentiment or
thought, separable from the special form in which it is conveyed
to us.

To such a philosophy of the variations of the beautiful, Lessing's
analysis of the spheres of sculpture and poetry, in the Laocoon,
was an important contribution.  But a true appreciation of these
things is possible only in the light of a whole system of such art-
casuistries.  Now painting is the art in the criticism of which this
truth most needs enforcing, for it is in popular judgments on
pictures that the false generalisation of all art into forms of poetry
is most prevalent.  To suppose that all is mere technical
acquirement in delineation or touch, working through [132] and
addressing itself to the intelligence, on the one side, or a merely
poetical, or what may be called literary interest, addressed also to
the pure intelligence, on the other:--this is the way of most
spectators, and of many critics, who have never caught sight all
the time of that true pictorial quality which lies between, unique
pledge, as it is, of the possession of the pictorial gift, that
inventive or creative handling of pure line and colour, which, as
almost always in Dutch painting, as often also in the works of
Titian or Veronese, is quite independent of anything definitely
poetical in the subject it accompanies.  It is the drawing--the
design projected from that peculiar pictorial temperament or
constitution, in which, while it may possibly be ignorant of true
anatomical proportions, all things whatever, all poetry, all ideas
however abstract or obscure, float up as visible scene or image: it
is the colouring--that weaving of light, as of just perceptible gold
threads, through the dress, the flesh, the atmosphere, in Titian's
Lace-girl, that staining of the whole fabric of the thing with a
new, delightful physical quality.  This drawing, then--the
arabesque traced in the air by Tintoret's flying figures, by
Titian's forest branches; this colouring--the magic conditions of
light and hue in the atmosphere of Titian's Lace-girl, or Rubens's
Descent from the Cross:--these essential pictorial qualities must
first of all delight the sense, delight it as [133] directly and
sensuously as a fragment of Venetian glass; and through this
delight alone become the vehicle of whatever poetry or science
may lie beyond them in the intention of the composer.  In its
primary aspect, a great picture has no more definite message for
us than an accidental play of sunlight and shadow for a few
moments on the wall or floor: is itself, in truth, a space of such
fallen light, caught as the colours are in an Eastern carpet, but
refined upon, and dealt with more subtly and exquisitely than by
nature itself.  And this primary and essential condition fulfilled,
we may trace the coming of poetry into painting, by fine
gradations upwards; from Japanese fan-painting, for instance,
where we get, first, only abstract colour; then, just a little
interfused sense of the poetry of flowers; then, sometimes,
perfect flower-painting; and so, onwards, until in Titian we have,
as his poetry in the Ariadne, so actually a touch of true childlike
humour in the diminutive, quaint figure with its silk gown, which
ascends the temple stairs, in his picture of the Presentation of the
Virgin, at Venice.

But although each art has thus its own specific order of
impressions, and an untranslatable charm, while a just
apprehension of the ultimate differences of the arts is the
beginning of aesthetic criticism; yet it is noticeable that, in its
special mode of handling its given material, each art may be
observed to pass into the [134] condition of some other art, by
what German critics term an Anders-streben--a partial alienation
from its own limitations, through which the arts are able, not
indeed to supply the place of each other, but reciprocally to lend
each other new forces.

Thus some of the most delightful music seems to be always
approaching to figure, to pictorial definition.  Architecture, again,
though it has its own laws--laws esoteric enough, as the true
architect knows only too well--yet sometimes aims at fulfilling
the conditions of a picture, as in the Arena chapel; or of
sculpture, as in the flawless unity of Giotto's tower at Florence;
and often finds a true poetry, as in those strangely twisted
staircases of the châteaux of the country of the Loire, as if it were
intended that among their odd turnings the actors in a theatrical
mode of life might pass each other unseen; there being a poetry
also of memory and of the mere effect of time, by which
architecture often profits greatly.  Thus, again, sculpture aspires
out of the hard limitation of pure form towards colour, or its
equivalent; poetry also, in many ways, finding guidance from the
other arts, the analogy between a Greek tragedy and a work of
Greek sculpture, between a sonnet and a relief, of French poetry
generally with the art of engraving, being more than mere figures
of speech; and all the arts in common aspiring towards the
principle of music; music being the typical, or ideally
consummate [135] art, the object of the great Anders-streben of
all art, of all that is artistic, or partakes of artistic qualities.

All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.  For
while in all other kinds of art it is possible to distinguish the
matter from the form, and the understanding can always make
this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it.
That the mere matter of a poem, for instance, its subject, namely,
its given incidents or situation--that the mere matter of a picture,
the actual circumstances of an event, the actual topography of a
landscape--should be nothing without the form, the spirit, of the
handling, that this form, this mode of handling, should become an
end in itself, should penetrate every part of the matter: this is
what all art constantly strives after, and achieves in different
degrees.

This abstract language becomes clear enough, if we think of
actual examples.  In an actual landscape we see a long white
road, lost suddenly on the hill-verge.  That is the matter of one of
the etchings of M. Alphonse Legros: only, in this etching, it is
informed by an indwelling solemnity of expression, seen upon it
or half-seen, within the limits of an exceptional moment, or
caught from his own mood perhaps, but which he maintains as
the very essence of the thing, throughout his work.  Sometimes a
momentary tint of stormy light may invest a homely or too
familiar scene with a character which might well have been [136]
drawn from the deep places of the imagination.

Then we might say that this particular effect of light, this sudden
inweaving of gold thread through the texture of the haystack, and
the poplars, and the grass, gives the scene artistic qualities, that it
is like a picture.  And such tricks of circumstance are commonest
in landscape which has little salient character of its own; because,
in such scenery, all the material details are so easily absorbed by
that informing expression of passing light, and elevated,
throughout their whole extent, to a new and delightful effect by
it.  And hence the superiority, for most conditions of the
picturesque, of a river-side in France to a Swiss valley, because,
on the French river-side, mere topography, the simple material,
counts for so little, and, all being very pure, untouched, and
tranquil in itself, mere light and shade have such easy work in
modulating it to one dominant tone.  The Venetian landscape, on
the other hand, has in its material conditions much which is hard,
or harshly definite; but the masters of the Venetian school have
shown themselves little burdened by them.  Of its Alpine
background they retain certain abstracted elements only, of cool
colour and tranquillising line; and they use its actual details, the
brown windy turrets, the straw-coloured fields, the forest
arabesques, but as the notes of a music which duly accompanies
the presence of their men and women, presenting us with the
[137] spirit or essence only of a certain sort of landscape--a
country of the pure reason or half-imaginative memory.

Poetry, again, works with words addressed in the first instance to
the pure intelligence; and it deals, most often, with a definite
subject or situation.  Sometimes it may find a noble and quite
legitimate function in the conveyance of moral or political
aspiration, as often in the poetry of Victor Hugo.  In such
instances it is easy enough for the understanding to distinguish
between the matter and the form, however much the matter, the
subject, the element which is addressed to the mere intelligence,
has been penetrated by the informing, artistic spirit.  But the ideal
types of poetry are those in which this distinction is reduced to its
minimum; so that lyrical poetry, precisely because in it we are
least able to detach the matter from the form, without a deduction
of something from that matter itself, is, at least artistically, the
highest and most complete form of poetry.  And the very
perfection of such poetry often appears to depend, in part, on a
certain suppression or vagueness of mere subject, so that the
meaning reaches us through ways not distinctly traceable by the
understanding, as in some of the most imaginative compositions
of William Blake, and often in Shakespeare's songs, as pre-
eminently in that song of Mariana's page in Measure for
Measure, in which the kindling force and poetry of the whole
[138] play seems to pass for a moment into an actual strain of
music.

And this principle holds good of all things that partake in any
degree of artistic qualities, of the furniture of our houses, and of
dress, for instance, of life itself, of gesture and speech, and the
details of daily intercourse; these also, for the wise, being
susceptible of a suavity and charm, caught from the way in which
they are done, which gives them a worth in themselves.  Herein,
again, lies what is valuable and justly attractive, in what is called
the fashion of a time, which elevates the trivialities of speech,
and manner, and dress, into "ends in themselves," and gives them
a mysterious grace and attractiveness in the doing of them.

Art, then, is thus always striving to be independent of the mere
intelligence, to become a matter of pure perception, to get rid of
its responsibilities to its subject or material; the ideal examples of
poetry and painting being those in which the constituent elements
of the composition are so welded together, that the material or
subject no longer strikes the intellect only; nor the form, the eye
or the ear only; but form and matter, in their union or identity,
present one single effect to the "imaginative reason," that
complex faculty for which every thought and feeling is twin-born
with its sensible analogue or symbol.

It is the art of music which most completely [139] realises this
artistic ideal, this perfect identification of matter and form.  In its
consummate moments, the end is not distinct from the means, the
form from the matter, the subject from the expression; they
inhere in and completely saturate each other; and to it, therefore,
to the condition of its perfect moments, all the arts may be
supposed constantly to tend and aspire.  In music, then, rather
than in poetry, is to be found the true type or measure of
perfected art.  Therefore, although each art has its
incommunicable element, its untranslatable order of impressions,
its unique mode of reaching the "imaginative reason," yet the arts
may be represented as continually struggling after the law or
principle of music, to a condition which music alone completely
realises; and one of the chief functions of aesthetic criticism,
dealing with the products of art, new or old, is to estimate the
degree in which each of those products approaches, in this sense,
to musical law.

By no school of painters have the necessary limitations of the art
of painting been so unerringly though instinctively apprehended,
and the essence of what is pictorial in a picture so justly
conceived, as by the school of Venice; and the train of thought
suggested in what has been now said is, perhaps, a not unfitting
introduction to a few pages about Giorgione, who, though much
has been taken by recent criticism from [140] what was reputed
to be his work, yet, more entirely than any other painter, sums up,
in what we know of himself and his art, the spirit of the Venetian
school.

The beginnings of Venetian painting link themselves to the last,
stiff, half-barbaric splendours of Byzantine decoration, and are
but the introduction into the crust of marble and gold on the walls
of the Duomo of Murano, or of Saint Mark's, of a little more of
human expression.  And throughout the course of its later
development, always subordinate to architectural effect, the work
of the Venetian school never escaped from the influence of its
beginnings.  Unassisted, and therefore unperplexed, by
naturalism, religious mysticism, philosophical theories, it had no
Giotto, no Angelico, no Botticelli.  Exempt from the stress of
thought and sentiment, which taxed so severely the resources of
the generations of Florentine artists, those earlier Venetian
painters, down to Carpaccio and the Bellini, seem never for a
moment to have been so much as tempted to lose sight of the
scope of their art in its strictness, or to forget that painting must
be before all things decorative, a thing for the eye, a space of
colour on the wall, only more dexterously blent than the marking
of its precious stone or the chance interchange of sun and shade
upon it:--this, to begin and end with; whatever higher matter of
thought, or poetry, or religious reverie might play its part therein,
[141] between.  At last, with final mastery of all the technical
secrets of his art, and with somewhat more than "a spark of the
divine fire" to his share, comes Giorgione.  He is the inventor of
genre, of those easily movable pictures which serve neither for
uses of devotion, nor of allegorical or historic teaching--little
groups of real men and women, amid congruous furniture or
landscape--morsels of actual life, conversation or music or play,
but refined upon or idealised, till they come to seem like glimpses
of life from afar.  Those spaces of more cunningly blent colour,
obediently filling their places, hitherto, in a mere architectural
scheme, Giorgione detaches from the wall.  He frames them by
the hands of some skilful carver, so that people may move them
readily and take with them where they go, as one might a poem in
manuscript, or a musical instrument, to be used, at will, as a
means of self-education, stimulus or solace, coming like an
animated presence, into one's cabinet, to enrich the air as with
some choice aroma, and, like persons, live with us, for a day or a
lifetime.  Of all art such as this, art which has played so large a
part in men's culture since that time, Giorgione is the initiator.
Yet in him too that old Venetian clearness or justice, in the
apprehension of the essential limitations of the pictorial art, is
still undisturbed.  While he interfuses his painted work with a
high-strung sort of poetry, caught directly from a singularly rich
and high-strung [142] sort of life, yet in his selection of subject,
or phase of subject, in the subordination of mere subject to
pictorial design, to the main purpose of a picture, he is typical of
that aspiration of all the arts towards music, which I have
endeavoured to explain,--towards the perfect identification of
matter and form.

Born so near to Titian, though a little before him, that these two
companion pupils of the aged Giovanni Bellini may almost be
called contemporaries, Giorgione stands to Titian in something
like the relationship of Sordello to Dante, in Browning's poem.
Titian, when he leaves Bellini, becomes, in turn, the pupil of
Giorgione.  He lives in constant labour more than sixty years
after Giorgione is in his grave; and with such fruit, that hardly
one of the greater towns of Europe is without some fragment of
his work.  But the slightly older man, with his so limited actual
product (what remains to us of it seeming, when narrowly
explained, to reduce itself to almost one picture, like Sordello's
one fragment of lovely verse), yet expresses, in elementary
motive and principle, that spirit--itself the final acquisition of all
the long endeavours of Venetian art--which Titian spreads over
his whole life's activity.

And, as we might expect, something fabulous and illusive has
always mingled itself in the brilliancy of Giorgione's fame.  The
exact relationship to him of many works--drawings, [143]
portraits, painted idylls--often fascinating enough, which in
various collections went by his name, was from the first
uncertain.  Still, six or eight famous pictures at Dresden, Florence
and the Louvre, were with no doubt attributed to him, and in
these, if anywhere, something of the splendour of the old
Venetian humanity seemed to have been preserved.  But of those
six or eight famous pictures it is now known that only one is
certainly from Giorgione's hand.  The accomplished science of
the subject has come at last, and, as in other instances, has not
made the past more real for us, but assured us only that we
possess less of it than we seemed to possess.  Much of the work
on which Giorgione's immediate fame depended, work done for
instantaneous effect, in all probability passed away almost within
his own age, like the frescoes on the façade of the fondaco dei
Tedeschi at Venice, some crimson traces of which, however, still
give a strange additional touch of splendour to the scene of the
Rialto.  And then there is a barrier or borderland, a period about
the middle of the sixteenth century, in passing through which the
tradition miscarries, and the true outlines of Giorgione's work
and person are obscured.  It became fashionable for wealthy
lovers of art, with no critical standard of authenticity, to collect
so-called works of Giorgione, and a multitude of imitations came
into circulation.  And now, in the "new [144] Vasari,"* the great
traditional reputation, woven with so profuse demand on men's
admiration, has been scrutinised thread by thread; and what
remains of the most vivid and stimulating of Venetian masters, a
live flame, as it seemed, in those old shadowy times, has been
reduced almost to a name by his most recent critics.

Yet enough remains to explain why the legend grew up above the
name, why the name attached itself, in many instances, to the
bravest work of other men.  The Concert in the Pitti Palace, in
which a monk, with cowl and tonsure, touches the keys of a
harpsichord, while a clerk, placed behind him, grasps the handle
of the viol, and a third, with cap and plume, seems to wait upon
the true interval for beginning to sing, is undoubtedly
Giorgione's.  The outline of the lifted finger, the trace of the
plume, the very threads of the fine linen, which fasten themselves
on the memory, in the moment before they are lost altogether in
that calm unearthly glow, the skill which has caught the waves of
wandering sound, and fixed them for ever on the lips and hands--
these are indeed the master's own; and the criticism which, while
dismissing so much hitherto believed to be Giorgione's, has
established the claims of this one picture, has left it among the
most precious things in the world of art.

It is noticeable that the "distinction" of this [145] Concert, its
sustained evenness of perfection, alike in design, in execution,
and in choice of personal type, becomes for the "new Vasari" the
standard of Giorgione's genuine work.  Finding here sufficient to
explain his influence, and the true seal of mastery, its authors
assign to Pellegrino da San Daniele the Holy Family in the
Louvre, in consideration of certain points where it comes short of
this standard.  Such shortcoming, however, will hardly diminish
the spectator's enjoyment of a singular charm of liquid air, with
which the whole picture seems instinct, filling the eyes and lips,
the very garments, of its sacred personages, with some wind-
searched brightness and energy; of which fine air the blue peak,
clearly defined in the distance, is, as it were, the visible pledge.
Similarly, another favourite picture in the Louvre, the subject of a
delightful sonnet by a poet* whose own painted work often comes
to mind as one ponders over these precious things--the Fête
Champêtre, is assigned to an imitator of Sebastian del Piombo;
and the Tempest, in the Academy at Venice, to Paris Bordone, or
perhaps to "some advanced craftsman of the sixteenth century."
From the gallery at Dresden, the Knight embracing a Lady, where
the knight's broken gauntlets seem to mark some well-known
pause in a story we would willingly hear the rest of, is conceded
to "a Brescian hand," and Jacob meeting Rachel to [146] a pupil
of Palma.  And then, whatever their charm, we are called on to
give up the Ordeal, and the Finding of Moses with its jewel-like
pools of water, perhaps to Bellini.

Nor has the criticism, which thus so freely diminishes the number
of his authentic works, added anything important to the well-
known outline of the life and personality of the man: only, it has
fixed one or two dates, one or two circumstances, a little more
exactly.  Giorgione was born before the year 1477, and spent his
childhood at Castelfranco, where the last crags of the Venetian
Alps break down romantically, with something of parklike grace,
to the plain.  A natural child of the family of the Barbarelli by a
peasant-girl of Vedelago, he finds his way early into the circle of
notable persons--people of courtesy.  He is initiated into those
differences of personal type, manner, and even of dress, which
are best understood there--that "distinction" of the Concert of the
Pitti Palace.  Not far from his home lives Catherine of Cornara,
formerly Queen of Cyprus; and, up in the towers which still
remain, Tuzio Costanzo, the famous condottiere--a picturesque
remnant of medieval manners, amid a civilisation rapidly
changing.  Giorgione paints their portraits; and when Tuzio's son,
Matteo, dies in early youth, adorns in his memory a chapel in the
church of Castelfranco, painting on this occasion, perhaps, the
altar-piece, foremost among his authentic [147] works, still to be
seen there, with the figure of the warrior-saint, Liberale, of which
the original little study in oil, with the delicately gleaming, silver-
grey armour, is one of the greater treasures of the National
Gallery.  In that figure, as in some other knightly personages
attributed to him, people have supposed the likeness of the
painter's own presumably gracious presence.  Thither, at last, he
is himself brought home from Venice, early dead, but celebrated.
It happened, about his thirty-fourth year, that in one of those
parties at which he entertained his friends with music, he met a
certain lady of whom he became greatly enamoured, and "they
rejoiced greatly," says Vasari, "the one and the other, in their
loves."  And two quite different legends concerning it agree in
this, that it was through this lady he came by his death; Ridolfi
relating that, being robbed of her by one of his pupils, he died of
grief at the double treason; Vasari, that she being secretly
stricken of the plague, and he making his visits to her as usual,
Giorgione took the sickness from her mortally, along with her
kisses, and so briefly departed.

But, although the number of Giorgione's extant works has been
thus limited by recent criticism, all is not done when the real and
the traditional elements in what concerns him have been
discriminated; for, in what is connected with a great name, much
that is not real is often very stimulating.  For the aesthetic
philosopher, [148] therefore, over and above the real Giorgione
and his authentic extant works, there remains the Giorgionesque
also--an influence, a spirit or type in art, active in men so
different as those to whom many of his supposed works are really
assignable.  A veritable school, in fact, grew together out of all
those fascinating works rightly or wrongly attributed to him; out
of many copies from, or variations on him, by unknown or
uncertain workmen, whose drawings and designs were, for
various reasons, prized as his; out of the immediate impression he
made upon his contemporaries, and with which he continued in
men's minds; out of many traditions of subject and treatment,
which really descend from him to our own time, and by retracing
which we fill out the original image.  Giorgione thus becomes a
sort of impersonation of Venice itself, its projected reflex or
ideal, all that was intense or desirable in it crystallising about the
memory of this wonderful young man.

And now, finally, let me illustrate some of the characteristics of
this School of Giorgione, as we may call it, which, for most of us,
notwithstanding all that negative criticism of the "new Vasari,"
will still identify itself with those famous pictures at Florence, at
Dresden and Paris.  A certain artistic ideal is there defined for us-
-the conception of a peculiar aim and procedure in art, which we
may understand as the Giorgionesque, [149] wherever we find it,
whether in Venetian work generally, or in work of our own time.
Of this the Concert, that undoubted work of Giorgione in the Pitti
Palace, is the typical instance, and a pledge authenticating the
connexion of the school, and the spirit of the school, with the
master.

I have spoken of a certain interpenetration of the matter or
subject of a work of art with the form of it, a condition realised
absolutely only in music, as the condition to which every form of
art is perpetually aspiring.  In the art of painting, the attainment
of this ideal condition, this perfect interpenetration of the subject
with the elements of colour and design, depends, of course, in
great measure, on dexterous choice of that subject, or phase of
subject; and such choice is one of the secrets of Giorgione's
school.  It is the school of genre, and employs itself mainly with
"painted idylls," but, in the production of this pictorial poetry,
exercises a wonderful tact in the selecting of such matter as lends
itself most readily and entirely to pictorial form, to complete
expression by drawing and colour.  For although its productions
are painted poems, they belong to a sort of poetry which tells
itself without an articulated story.  The master is pre-eminent for
the resolution, the ease and quickness, with which he reproduces
instantaneous motion--the lacing-on of armour, with the head
bent back so stately--the fainting lady--the embrace, rapid as the
kiss, caught with death itself from dying [150] lips--some
momentary conjunction of mirrors and polished armour and still
water, by which all the sides of a solid image are exhibited at
once, solving that casuistical question whether painting can
present an object as completely as sculpture.  The sudden act, the
rapid transition of thought, the passing expression--this he arrests
with that vivacity which Vasari has attributed to him, il fuoco
Giorgionesco, as he terms it.  Now it is part of the ideality of the
highest sort of dramatic poetry, that it presents us with a kind of
profoundly significant and animated instants, a mere gesture, a
look, a smile, perhaps--some brief and wholly concrete moment--
into which, however, all the motives, all the interests and effects
of a long history, have condensed themselves, and which seem to
absorb past and future in an intense consciousness of the present.
Such ideal instants the school of Giorgione selects, with its
admirable tact, from that feverish, tumultuously coloured world
of the old citizens of Venice--exquisite pauses in time, in which,
arrested thus, we seem to be spectators of all the fulness of
existence, and which are like some consummate extract or
quintessence of life.

It is to the law or condition of music, as I said, that all art like this
is really aspiring; and, in the school of Giorgione, the perfect
moments of music itself, the making or hearing of music, song or
its accompaniment, are themselves prominent as subjects.  On
that background [151] of the silence of Venice, so impressive to
the modern visitor, the world of Italian music was then forming.
In choice of subject, as in all besides, the Concert of the Pitti
Palace is typical of everything that Giorgione, himself an
admirable musician, touched with his influence.  In sketch or
finished picture, in various collections, we may follow it through
many intricate variations--men fainting at music; music at the
pool-side while people fish, or mingled with the sound of the
pitcher in the well, or heard across running water, or among the
flocks; the tuning of instruments; people with intent faces, as if
listening, like those described by Plato in an ingenious passage of
the Republic, to detect the smallest interval of musical sound, the
smallest undulation in the air, or feeling for music in thought on a
stringless instrument, ear and finger refining themselves
infinitely, in the appetite for sweet sound; a momentary touch of
an instrument in the twilight, as one passes through some
unfamiliar room, in a chance company.

In these then, the favourite incidents of Giorgione's school,
music or the musical intervals in our existence, life itself is
conceived as a sort of listening--listening to music, to the reading
of Bandello's novels, to the sound of water, to time as it flies.
Often such moments are really our moments of play, and we are
surprised at the unexpected blessedness of what may seem our
[152] least important part of time; not merely because play is in
many instances that to which people really apply their own best
powers, but also because at such times, the stress of our servile,
everyday attentiveness being relaxed, the happier powers in
things without are permitted free passage, and have their way
with us.  And so, from music, the school of Giorgione passes
often to the play which is like music; to those masques in which
men avowedly do but play at real life, like children "dressing
up," disguised in the strange old Italian dresses, parti-coloured, or
fantastic with embroidery and furs, of which the master was so
curious a designer, and which, above all the spotless white linen
at wrist and throat, he painted so dexterously.

But when people are happy in this thirsty land water will not be
far off; and in the school of Giorgione, the presence of water--the
well, or marble-rimmed pool, the drawing or pouring of water, as
the woman pours it from a pitcher with her jewelled hand in the
Fête Champêtre, listening, perhaps, to the cool sound as it falls,
blent with the music of the pipes--is as characteristic, and almost
as suggestive, as that of music itself.  And the landscape feels,
and is glad of it also--a landscape full of clearness, of the effects
of water, of fresh rain newly passed through the air, and collected
into the grassy channels.  The air, moreover, in the school of
Giorgione, seems as vivid as the people who breathe [153] it, and
literally empyrean, all impurities being burnt out of it, and no
taint, no floating particle of anything but its own proper elements
allowed to subsist within it.

Its scenery is such as in England we call "park scenery," with
some elusive refinement felt about the rustic buildings, the choice
grass, the grouped trees, the undulations deftly economised for
graceful effect.  Only, in Italy all natural things are as it were
woven through and through with gold thread, even the cypress
revealing it among the folds of its blackness.  And it is with gold
dust, or gold thread, that these Venetian painters seem to work,
spinning its fine filaments, through the solemn human flesh,
away into the white plastered walls of the thatched huts.  The
harsher details of the mountains recede to a harmonious distance,
the one peak of rich blue above the horizon remaining but as the
sensible warrant of that due coolness which is all we need ask
here of the Alps, with their dark rains and streams.  Yet what real,
airy space, as the eye passes from level to level, through the long-
drawn valley in which Jacob embraces Rachel among the flocks!
Nowhere is there a truer instance of that balance, that modulated
unison of landscape and persons--of the human image and its
accessories--already noticed as characteristic of the Venetian
school, so that, in it, neither personage nor scenery is ever a mere
pretext for the other.

[154] Something like this seems to me to be the vraie vérité about
Giorgione, if I may adopt a serviceable expression, by which the
French recognise those more liberal and durable impressions
which, in respect of any really considerable person or subject,
anything that has at all intricately occupied men's attention, lie
beyond, and must supplement, the narrower range of the strictly
ascertained facts about it.  In this, Giorgione is but an illustration
of a valuable general caution we may abide by in all criticism.
As regards Giorgione himself, we have indeed to take note of all
those negations and exceptions, by which, at first sight, a "new
Vasari" seems merely to have confused our apprehension of a
delightful object, to have explained away in our inheritance from
past time what seemed of high value there.  Yet it is not with a
full understanding even of those exceptions that one can leave off
just at this point.  Properly qualified, such exceptions are but a
salt of genuineness in our knowledge; and beyond all those
strictly ascertained facts, we must take note of that indirect
influence by which one like Giorgione, for instance, enlarges his
permanent efficacy and really makes himself felt in our culture.
In a just impression of that, is the essential truth, the vraie vérité,
concerning him.

1877.


NOTES

144. *Crowe and Cavalcaselle; History of Painting in North Italy.

145. *Dante Gabriel Rossetti.



JOACHIM DU BELLAY

[155] IN the middle of the sixteenth century, when the spirit of
the Renaissance was everywhere, and people had begun to look
back with distaste on the works of the middle age, the old Gothic
manner had still one chance more, in borrowing something from
the rival which was about to supplant it.  In this way there was
produced, chiefly in France, a new and peculiar phase of taste
with qualities and a charm of its own, blending the somewhat
attenuated grace of Italian ornament with the general outlines of
Northern design.  It created the Château de Gaillon, as you may
still see it in the delicate engravings of Isräel Silvestre--a Gothic
donjon veiled faintly by a surface of dainty Italian traceries--
Chenonceaux, Blois, Chambord, and the church of Brou.  In
painting, there came from Italy workmen like Maître Roux and
the masters of the school of Fontainebleau, to have their later
Italian voluptuousness attempered by the naïve and silvery
qualities of the native style; and it was characteristic of these
painters that they were most successful in painting on glass, an
art so [156] essentially medieval.  Taking it up where the middle
age had left it, they found their whole work among the last
subtleties of colour and line; and keeping within the true limits of
their material, they got quite a new order of effects from it, and
felt their way to refinements on colour never dreamed of by those
older workmen, the glass-painters of Chartres or Le Mans.  What
is called the Renaissance in France is thus not so much the
introduction of a wholly new taste ready-made from Italy, but
rather the finest and subtlest phase of the middle age itself, its last
fleeting splendour and temperate Saint Martin's summer.  In
poetry, the Gothic spirit in France had produced a thousand
songs; so in the Renaissance, French poetry too did but borrow
something to blend with a native growth, and the poems of
Ronsard, with their ingenuity, their delicately figured surfaces,
their slightness, their fanciful combinations of rhyme, are the
correlative of the traceries of the house of Jacques Coeur at
Bourges, or the Maison de Justice at Rouen.

There was indeed	something in the native French taste naturally
akin to that Italian finesse.  The characteristic of French work had
always been a certain nicety, a remarkable daintiness of hand,
une netteté remarquable d'exécution.  In the paintings of
François Clouet, for example, or rather of the Clouets--for there
was a whole family of them--painters remarkable for [157] their
resistance to Italian influences, there is a silveriness of colour and
a clearness of expression which distinguish them very definitely
from their Flemish neighbours, Hemling or the Van Eycks.  And
this nicety is not less characteristic of old French poetry.  A light,
aërial delicacy, a simple elegance--une netteté remarquable
d'exécution: these are essential characteristics alike of Villon's
poetry, and of the Hours of Anne of Brittany.  They are
characteristic too of a hundred French Gothic carvings and
traceries.  Alike in the old Gothic cathedrals, and in their
counterpart, the old Gothic chansons de geste, the rough and
ponderous mass becomes, as if by passing for a moment into
happier conditions, or through a more gracious stratum of air,
graceful and refined, like the carved ferneries on the granite
church at Folgoat, or the lines which describe the fair priestly
hands of Archbishop Turpin, in the song of Roland; although
below both alike there is a fund of mere Gothic strength, or
heaviness.*

Now Villon's songs and Clouet's painting are like these.  It is the
higher touch making itself felt here and there, betraying itself,
like nobler blood in a lower stock, by a fine line or gesture or
expression, the turn of a wrist, the tapering of a finger.  In
Ronsard's time that rougher [158] element seemed likely to
predominate.  No one can turn over the pages of Rabelais without
feeling how much need there was of softening, of castigation.  To
effect this softening is the object of the revolution in poetry
which is connected with Ronsard's name.  Casting about for the
means of thus refining upon and saving the character of French
literature, he accepted that influx of Renaissance taste, which,
leaving the buildings, the language, the art, the poetry of France,
at bottom, what they were, old French Gothic still, gilds their
surfaces with a strange, delightful, foreign aspect passing over all
that Northern land, in itself neither deeper nor more permanent
than a chance effect of light.  He reinforces, he doubles the
French daintiness by Italian finesse.  Thereupon, nearly all the
force and all the seriousness of French work disappear; only the
elegance, the aërial touch, the perfect manner remain.  But this
elegance, this manner, this daintiness of execution are
consummate, and have an unmistakable aesthetic value.

So the old French chanson, which, like the old northern Gothic
ornament, though it sometimes refined itself into a sort of weird
elegance, was often, in its essence, something rude and formless,
became in the hands of Ronsard a Pindaric ode.  He gave it
structure, a sustained system, strophe and antistrophe, and taught
it a changefulness and variety of metre which keep the curiosity
always excited, so that the very aspect of it, as it [159] lies
written on the page, carries the eye lightly onwards, and of which
this is a good instance:--

     Avril, le grace, et le ris
        De Cypris,
     Le flair et la douce haleine;
     Avril, le parfum des dieux,
        Qui, des cieux,
     Sentent l’odeur de la plaine;

     C’est toy, courtois et gentil,
        Qui, d’exil
     Retire ces passagères,
     Ces arondelles qui vont,
        Et qui sont
     Du printemps les messagères.

That is not by Ronsard, but by Remy Belleau, for Ronsard soon
came to have a school.  Six other poets threw in their lot with him
in his literary revolution,--this Remy Belleau, Antoine de Baif,
Pontus de Tyard, Étienne Jodelle, Jean Daurat, and lastly Joachim
du Bellay; and with that strange love of emblems which is
characteristic of the time, which covered all the works of Francis
the First with the salamander, and all the works of Henry the
Second with the double crescent, and all the works of Anne of
Brittany with the knotted cord, they called themselves the Pleiad;
seven in all, although, as happens with the celestial Pleiad, if you
scrutinise this constellation of poets more carefully you may find
there a great number of minor stars.

The first note of this literary revolution was [160] struck by
Joachim du Bellay in a little tract written at the early age of
twenty-four, which coming to us through three centuries seems of
yesterday, so full is it of those delicate critical distinctions which
are sometimes supposed peculiar to modern writers.  The piece
has for its title La Deffense et Illustration de la langue
Françoyse; and its problem is how to illustrate or ennoble the
French language, to give it lustre.

We are accustomed to speak of the varied critical and creative
movement of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as the
Renaissance, and because we have a single name for it we may
sometimes fancy that there was more unity in the thing itself than
there really was.  Even the Reformation, that other great
movement of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, had far less
unity, far less of combined action, than is at first sight supposed;
and the Renaissance was infinitely less united, less conscious of
combined action, than the Reformation.  But if anywhere the
Renaissance became conscious, as a German philosopher might
say, if ever it was understood as a systematic movement by those
who took part in it, it is in this little book of Joachim du Bellay's,
which it is impossible to read without feeling the excitement, the
animation, of change, of discovery.  "It is a remarkable fact,"
says M. Sainte-Beuve, "and an inversion of what is true of other
languages, that, in French, prose has always had the precedence
over poetry."  Du Bellay's prose [161] is perfectly transparent,
flexible, and chaste.  In many ways it is a more characteristic
example of the culture of the Pleiad than any of its verse; and
those who love the whole movement of which the Pleiad is a
part, for a weird foreign grace in it, and may be looking about for
a true specimen of it, cannot have a better than Joachim du Bellay
and this little treatise of his.

Du Bellay's object is to adjust the existing French culture to the
rediscovered classical culture; and in discussing this problem,
and developing the theories of the Pleiad, he has lighted upon
many principles of permanent truth and applicability.  There were
some who despaired of the French language altogether, who
thought it naturally incapable of the fulness and elegance of
Greek and Latin--cette élégance et copie qui est en la langue
Greque et Romaine--that science could be adequately discussed,
and poetry nobly written, only in the dead languages.  "Those
who speak thus," says Du Bellay,  "make me think of the relics
which one may only see through a little pane of glass, and must
not touch with one's hands.  That is what these people do with all
branches of culture, which they keep shut up in Greek and Latin
books, not permitting one to see them otherwise, or transport
them out of dead words into those which are alive, and wing their
way daily through the mouths of men."  "Languages," he says
again, "are not born like plants and trees, some naturally feeble
and sickly, [162] others healthy and strong and apter to bear the
weight of men's conceptions, but all their virtue is generated in
the world of choice and men's freewill concerning them.
Therefore, I cannot blame too strongly the rashness of some of
our countrymen, who being anything rather than Greeks or
Latins, depreciate and reject with more than stoical disdain
everything written in French; nor can I express my surprise at the
odd opinion of some learned men who think that our vulgar
tongue is wholly incapable of erudition and good literature."

It was an age of translations.  Du Bellay himself translated two
books of the Aeneid, and other poetry, old and new, and there
were some who thought that the translation of the classical
literature was the true means of ennobling the French language:--
strangers are ever favourites with us--nous favorisons toujours les
étrangers.  Du Bellay moderates their expectations.  "I do not
believe that one can learn the right use of them"--he is speaking
of figures and ornament in language--"from translations, because
it is impossible to reproduce them with the same grace with
which the original author used them.  For each language has I
know not what peculiarity of its own; and if you force yourself to
express the naturalness (le naïf) of this in another language,
observing the law of translation,--not to expatiate beyond the
limits of the author himself, your words will be constrained,
[163] cold and ungraceful."  Then he fixes the test of all good
translation:--"To prove this, read me Demosthenes and Homer in
Latin, Cicero and Virgil in French, and see whether they produce
in you the same affections which you experience in reading those
authors in the original."

In this effort to ennoble the French language, to give it grace,
number, perfection, and as painters do to their pictures, that last,
so desirable, touch--cette dernière main que nous désirons-what
Du Bellay is really pleading for is his mother-tongue, the
language, that is, in which one will have the utmost degree of
what is moving and passionate.  He recognised of what force the
music and dignity of languages are, how they enter into the
inmost part of things; and in pleading for the cultivation of the
French language, he is pleading for no merely scholastic interest,
but for freedom, impulse, reality, not in literature only, but in
daily communion of speech.  After all, it was impossible to have
this impulse in Greek and Latin, dead languages shut up in books
as in reliquaries--péris et mises en reliquaires de livres.  By aid
of this starveling stock--pauvre plante et vergette--of the French
language, he must speak delicately, movingly, if he is ever to
speak so at all: that, or none, must be for him the medium of what
he calls, in one of his great phrases, le discours fatal des choses
mondaines--that discourse about affairs which decides men's
fates.  And it is his patriotism [164] not to despair of it; he sees it
already perfect in all elegance and beauty of words--parfait en
toute élégance et vénusté de paroles.

Du Bellay was born in the disastrous year 1525, the year of the
battle of Pavia, and the captivity of Francis the First.  His parents
died early, and to him, as the younger son, his mother's little
estate, ce petit Liré, the beloved place of his birth, descended.  He
was brought up by a brother only a little older than himself; and
left to themselves, the two boys passed their lives in day-dreams
of military glory.  Their education was neglected; "The time of
my youth," says Du Bellay, "was lost, like the flower which no
shower waters, and no hand cultivates."  He was just twenty
years old when the elder brother died, leaving Joachim to be the
guardian of his child.  It was with regret, with a shrinking sense
of incapacity, that he took upon him the burden of this
responsibility.  Hitherto he had looked forward to the profession
of a soldier, hereditary in his family.  But at this time a sickness
attacked him which brought him cruel sufferings, and seemed
likely to be mortal.  It was then for the first time that he read the
Greek and Latin poets.  These studies came too late to make him
what he so much desired to be, a trifler in Greek and Latin verse,
like so many others of his time now forgotten; instead, they made
him a lover of his own homely native tongue, that poor starveling
stock of the French [165] language.  It was through this fortunate
short-coming in his education that he became national and
modern; and he learned afterwards to look back on that wild
garden of his youth with only a half regret.  A certain Cardinal du
Bellay was the successful member of the family, a man often
employed in high official business.  To him the thoughts of
Joachim turned when it became necessary to choose a profession,
and in 1552 he accompanied the Cardinal to Rome.  He remained
there nearly five years, burdened with the weight of affairs, and
languishing with home-sickness.  Yet it was under these
circumstances that his genius yielded its best fruits.  From Rome,
so full of pleasurable sensation for men of an imaginative
temperament such as his, with all the curiosities of the
Renaissance still fresh in it, his thoughts went back painfully,
longingly, to the country of the Loire, with its wide expanse of
waving corn, its homely pointed roofs of grey slate, and its far-
off scent of the sea.  He reached home at last, but only to die
there, quite suddenly, one wintry day, at the early age of thirty-
five.

Much of Du Bellay's poetry illustrates rather the age and school
to which he belonged than his own temper and genius.  As with
the writings of Ronsard and the other poets of the Pleiad, its
interest depends not so much on the impress of individual genius
upon it, as on the [166] circumstance that it was once poetry à la
mode, that it is part of the manner of a time--a time which made
much of manner, and carried it to a high degree of perfection.  It
is one of the decorations of an age which threw a large part of its
energy into the work of decoration.  We feel a pensive pleasure in
gazing on these faded adornments, and observing how a group of
actual men and women pleased themselves long ago.  Ronsard's
poems are a kind of epitome of his age.  Of one side of that age, it
is true, of the strenuous, the progressive, the serious movement,
which was then going on, there is little; but of the catholic side,
the losing side, the forlorn hope, hardly a figure is absent.  The
Queen of Scots, at whose desire Ronsard published his odes,
reading him in her northern prison, felt that he was bringing back
to her the true flavour of her early days in the court of Catherine
at the Louvre, with its exotic Italian gaieties.  Those who disliked
that poetry, disliked it because they found that age itself
distasteful.  The poetry of Malherbe came, with its sustained style
and weighty sentiment, but with nothing that set people singing;
and the lovers of such poetry saw in the poetry of the Pleiad only
the latest trumpery of the middle age.  But the time arrived when
the school of Malherbe also had had its day; and the
Romanticists, who in their eagerness for excitement, for strange
music and imagery, went back to the works of the middle age,
accepted the Pleiad too [167] with the rest; and in that new
middle age which their genius has evoked, the poetry of the
Pleiad has found its place.  At first, with Malherbe, you may
think it, like the architecture, the whole mode of life, the very
dresses of that time, fantastic, faded, rococo.  But if you look
long enough to understand it, to conceive its sentiment, you will
find that those wanton lines have a spirit guiding their caprices.
For there is style there; one temper has shaped the whole; and
everything that has style, that has been done as no other man or
age could have done it, as it could never, for all our trying, be
done again, has its true value and interest.  Let us dwell upon it
for a moment, and try to gather from it that special flower, ce
fleur particulier, which Ronsard himself tells us every garden
has.

It is poetry not for the people, but for a confined circle, for
courtiers, great lords and erudite persons, people who desire to be
humoured, to gratify a certain refined voluptuousness they have
in them.  Ronsard loves, or dreams that he loves, a rare and
peculiar type of beauty, la petite pucelle Angevine, with golden
hair and dark eyes.  But he has the ambition not only of being a
courtier and a lover, but a great scholar also; he is anxious about
orthography, about the letter è Grecque, the true spelling of Latin
names in French writing, and the restoration of the letter i to its
primitive liberty--del' i voyelle en sa première liberté.  His poetry
is full of quaint, [168] remote learning.  He is just a little
pedantic, true always to his own express judgment, that to be
natural is not enough for one who in poetry desires to produce
work worthy of immortality.  And therewithal a certain number
of Greek words, which charmed Ronsard and his circle by their
gaiety and daintiness, and a certain air of foreign elegance about
them, crept into the French language; as there were other strange
words which the poets of the Pleiad forged for themselves, and
which had only an ephemeral existence.

With this was united the desire to taste a more exquisite and
various music than that of the older French verse, or of the
classical poets.  The music of the measured, scanned verse of
Latin and Greek poetry is one thing; the music of the rhymed,
unscanned verse of Villon and the old French poets, la poésie
chantée, is another.  To combine these two kinds of music in a
new school of French poetry, to make verse which should scan
and rhyme as well, to search out and harmonise the measure of
every syllable, and unite it to the swift, flitting, swallow-like
motion of rhyme, to penetrate their poetry with a double music--
this was the ambition of the Pleiad.  They are insatiable of music,
they cannot have enough of it; they desire a music of greater
compass perhaps than words can possibly yield, to drain out the
last drops of sweetness which a certain note or accent contains.

[169] It was Goudimel, the serious and protestant Goudimel, who
set Ronsard's songs to music; but except in this eagerness for
music the poets of the Pleiad seem never quite in earnest.  The
old Greek and Roman mythology, which the great Italians had
found a motive so weighty and severe, becomes with them a mere
toy.  That "Lord of terrible aspect," Amor, has become Love the
boy, or the babe.  They are full of fine railleries; they delight in
diminutives, ondelette, fontelette, doucelette, Cassandrette.
Their loves are only half real, a vain effort to prolong the
imaginative loves of the middle age beyond their natural lifetime.
They write love-poems for hire.  Like that party of people who
tell the tales in Boccaccio's Decameron, they form a circle which
in an age of great troubles, losses, anxieties, can amuse itself with
art, poetry, intrigue.  But they amuse themselves with wonderful
elegance.  And sometimes their gaiety becomes satiric, for, as
they play, real passions insinuate themselves, and at least the
reality of death.  Their dejection at the thought of leaving this fair
abode of our common daylight--le beau sejour du commun jour--
is expressed by them with almost wearisome reiteration.  But
with this sentiment too they are able to trifle.  The imagery of
death serves for delicate ornament, and they weave into the airy
nothingness of their verses their trite reflections on the vanity
[170] of life.  Just so the grotesque details of the charnel-house
nest themselves, together with birds and flowers and the fancies
of the pagan mythology, in the traceries of the architecture of that
time, which wantons in its graceful arabesques with the images of
old age and death.

Ronsard became deaf at sixteen; and it was this circumstance
which finally determined him to be a man of letters instead of a
diplomatist, significantly, one might fancy, of a certain premature
agedness, and of the tranquil, temperate sweetness appropriate to
that, in the school of poetry which he founded.  Its charm is that
of a thing not vigorous or original, but full of the grace which
comes of long study and reiterated refinements, and many steps
repeated, and many angles worn down, with an exquisite
faintness, une fadeur exquise, a certain tenuity and caducity, as
for those who can bear nothing vehement or strong; for princes
weary of love, like Francis the First, or of pleasure, like Henry
the Third, or of action, like Henry the Fourth.  Its merits are those
of the old,--grace and finish, perfect in minute detail.  For these
people are a little jaded, and have a constant desire for a subdued
and delicate excitement, to warm their creeping fancy a little.
They love a constant change of rhyme in poetry, and in their
houses that strange, fantastic interweaving of thin, reed-like lines,
which are a kind of rhetoric in architecture.

[171] But the poetry of the Pleiad is true not only to the
physiognomy of its age, but also to its country--ce pays du
Vendomois--the names and scenery of which so often recur in it:-
-the great Loire, with its long spaces of white sand; the little river
Loir; the heathy, upland country, with its scattered pools of water
and waste road-sides, and retired manors, with their crazy old
feudal defences half fallen into decay; La Beauce, where the vast
rolling fields seem to anticipate the great western sea itself.  It is
full of the traits of that country.  We see Du Bellay and Ronsard
gardening, or hunting with their dogs, or watch the pastimes of a
rainy day; and with all this is connected a domesticity, a
homeliness and simple goodness, by which the Northern country
gains upon the South.  They have the love of the aged for
warmth, and understand the poetry of winter; for they are not far
from the Atlantic, and the west wind which comes up from it,
turning the poplars white, spares not this new Italy in France.  So
the fireside often appears, with the pleasures of the frosty season,
about the vast emblazoned chimneys of the time, and with a
bonhomie as of little children, or old people.

It is in Du Bellay's Olive, a collection of sonnets in praise of a
half-imaginary lady, Sonnetz a la louange d'Olive, that these
characteristics are most abundant.  Here is a perfectly crystallised
example:--

[172]

       D'amour, de grace, et de haulte valeur
         Les feux divins estoient ceinctz et les cieulx
         S'estoient vestuz d'un manteau precieux
         A raiz ardens de diverse couleur:
       Tout estoit plein de beauté, de bonheur,
         La mer tranquille, et le vent gracieulx,
         Quand celle la nasquit en ces bas lieux
         Qui a pillé du monde tout l'honneur.
       Ell' prist son teint des beux lyz blanchissans,
         Son chef de l'or, ses deux levres des rozes,
     Et du soleil ses yeux resplandissans:
       Le ciel usant de libéralité,
         Mist en l'esprit ses semences encloses,
         Son nom des Dieux prist l'immortalité.

That he is thus a characteristic specimen of the poetical taste of
that age, is indeed Du Bellay's chief interest.  But if his work is
to have the highest sort of interest, if it is to do something more
than satisfy curiosity, if it is to have an aesthetic as distinct from
an historical value, it is not enough for a poet to have been the
true child of his age, to have conformed to its aesthetic
conditions, and by so conforming to have charmed and stimulated
that age; it is necessary that there should be perceptible in his
work something individual, inventive, unique, the impress there
of the writer's own temper and personality.  This impress M.
Sainte-Beuve thought he found in the Antiquités de Rome, and
the Regrets, which he ranks as what has been called poésie
intime, that intensely modern sort of poetry in which the writer
has for his aim the portraiture of his own most intimate moods,
and [173] to take the reader into his confidence.  That age had
other instances of this intimacy of sentiment: Montaigne's Essays
are full of it, the carvings of the church of Brou are full of it.  M.
Sainte-Beuve has perhaps exaggerated the influence of this
quality in Du Bellay's Regrets; but the very name of the book has
a touch of Rousseau about it, and reminds one of a whole
generation of self-pitying poets in modern times.  It was in the
atmosphere of Rome, to him so strange and mournful, that these
pale flowers grew up.  For that journey to Italy, which he
deplored as the greatest misfortune of his life, put him in full
possession of his talent, and brought out all its originality.  And
in effect you do find intimacy, intimité, here.  The trouble of his
life is analysed, and the sentiment of it conveyed directly to our
minds; not a great sorrow or passion, but only the sense of loss in
passing days, the ennui of a dreamer who must plunge into the
world's affairs, the opposition between actual life and the ideal, a
longing for rest, nostalgia, home-sickness--that pre-eminently
childish, but so suggestive sorrow, as significant of the final
regret of all human creatures for the familiar earth and limited
sky.

The feeling for landscape is often described as a modern one; still
more so is that for antiquity, the sentiment of ruins.  Du Bellay
has this sentiment.  The duration of the hard, sharp outlines of
things is a grief to him, and passing his wearisome [174] days
among the ruins of ancient Rome, he is consoled by the thought
that all must one day end, by the sentiment of the grandeur of
nothingness--la grandeur du rien.  With a strange touch of far-off
mysticism, he thinks that the great whole--le grand tout--into
which all other things pass and lose themselves, ought itself
sometimes to perish and pass away.  Nothing less can relieve his
weariness.  From the stately aspects of Rome his thoughts went
back continually to France, to the smoking chimneys of his little
village, the longer twilight of the North, the soft climate of
Anjou--La douceur Angevine; yet not so much to the real France,
we may be sure, with its dark streets and roofs of rough-hewn
slate, as to that other country, with slenderer towers, and more
winding rivers, and trees like flowers, and with softer sunshine on
more gracefully-proportioned fields and ways, which the fancy of
the exile, and the pilgrim, and of the schoolboy far from home,
and of those kept at home unwillingly, everywhere builds up
before or behind them.

He came home at last, through the Grisons, by slow journeys;
and there, in the cooler air of his own country, under its skies of
milkier blue, the sweetest flower of his genius sprang up.  There
have been poets whose whole fame has rested on one poem, as
Gray's on the Elegy in a Country Churchyard, or Ronsard's, as
many critics have thought, on the eighteen lines of [175] one
famous ode.  Du Bellay has almost been the poet of one poem;
and this one poem of his is an Italian product transplanted into
that green country of Anjou; out of the Latin verses of Andrea
Navagero, into French.  But it is a composition in which the
matter is almost nothing, and the form almost everything; and the
form of the poem as it stands, written in old French, is all Du
Bellay's own.  It is a song which the winnowers are supposed to
sing as they winnow the corn, and they invoke the winds to lie
lightly on the grain.

     D'UN VANNEUR DE BLE AUX VENTS.*

     A vous trouppe legère
        Qui d'aile passagères
        Par le monde volez,
        Et d'un sifflant murmure
        L'ombrageuse verdure
        Doulcement esbranlez.

     J'offre ces violettes,
        Ces lis & ces fleurettes,
        Et ces roses icy,
        Ces vermeillettes roses
        Sont freschement écloses,
        Et ces oelliets aussi.

     De vostre doulce haleine
        Eventez ceste plaine
        Eventez ce sejour;
        Ce pendant que j'ahanne
        A mon blè que je vanne
        A la chaleur du jour.

[176]

That has, in the highest degree, the qualities, the value, of the
whole Pleiad school of poetry, of the whole phase of taste from
which that school derives--a certain silvery grace of fancy, nearly
all the pleasure of which is in the surprise at the happy and
dexterous way in which a thing slight in itself is handled.  The
sweetness of it is by no means to be got at by crushing, as you
crush wild herbs to get at their perfume.  One seems to hear the
measured motion of the fans, with a child's pleasure on coming
across the incident for the first time, in one of those great barns of
Du Bellay's own country, La Beauce, the granary of France.  A
sudden light transfigures some trivial thing, a weather-vane, a
wind-mill, a winnowing fan, the dust in the barn door.  A
moment--and the thing has vanished, because it was pure effect;
but it leaves a relish behind it, a longing that the accident may
happen again.

1872.


NOTES

157. *The purely artistic aspects of this subject have been
interpreted, in a work of great taste and learning, by Mrs.  Mark
Pattison:--The Renaissance of Art in France.

175. *A graceful translation of this and some other poems of the
Pleiad may be found in Ballads and Lyrics of Old France, by Mr.
Andrew Lang.



WINCKELMANN

[177] ET EGO IN ARCADIA FUI

GOETHE'S fragments of art-criticism contain a few pages of
strange pregnancy on the character of Winckelmann.  He speaks
of the teacher who had made his career possible, but whom he
had never seen, as of an abstract type of culture, consummate,
tranquil, withdrawn already into the region of ideals, yet retaining
colour from the incidents of a passionate intellectual life.
He classes him with certain works of art, possessing an
inexhaustible gift of suggestion, to which criticism may return
again and again with renewed freshness.  Hegel, in his lectures on
the Philosophy of Art, estimating the work of his predecessors,
has also passed a remarkable judgment on Winckelmann's
writings:--"Winckelmann, by contemplation of the ideal works of
the ancients, received a sort of inspiration, through which he
opened a new sense for the study of art.  He is to be regarded as
one of those who, in the sphere of art, have known how to initiate
a new organ for the human spirit."  That it has [178] given a new
sense, that it has laid open a new organ, is the highest that can be
said of any critical effort.  It is interesting then to ask what kind
of man it was who thus laid open a new organ.  Under what
conditions was that effected?

Johann Joachim Winckelmann was born at Stendal, in
Brandenburg, in the year 1717.  The child of a poor tradesman,
he passed through many struggles in early youth, the memory of
which ever remained in him as a fitful cause of dejection.  In
1763, in the full emancipation of his spirit, looking over the
beautiful Roman prospect, he writes--"One gets spoiled here; but
God owed me this; in my youth I suffered too much."  Destined
to assert and interpret the charm of the Hellenic spirit, he served
first a painful apprenticeship in the tarnished intellectual world of
Germany in the earlier half of the eighteenth century.  Passing out
of that into the happy light of the antique, he had a sense of
exhilaration almost physical.  We find him as a child in the dusky
precincts of a German school, hungrily feeding on a few
colourless books.  The master of this school grows blind;
Winckelmann becomes his famulus.  The old man would have
had him study theology.  Winckelmann, free of the master's
library,	chooses rather to become familiar with the Greek
classics.  Herodotus and Homer win, with their "vowelled"
Greek, his warmest enthusiasm; whole nights of fever are
devoted to them; disturbing dreams of an [179] Odyssey of his
own come to him.  "He felt in himself," says Madame de Staël,
"an ardent attraction towards the south.  In German imaginations
even now traces are often to be found of that love of the sun, that
weariness of the North (cette fatigue du nord), which carried the
northern peoples away into the countries of the South.  A fine sky
brings to birth sentiments not unlike the love of one's
Fatherland."

To most of us, after all our steps towards it, the antique world, in
spite of its intense outlines, its own perfect self-expression, still
remains faint and remote.  To him, closely limited except on the
side of the ideal, building for his dark poverty "a house not made
with hands," it early came to seem more real than the present.  In
the fantastic plans of foreign travel continually passing through
his mind, to Egypt, for instance, and to France, there seems
always to be rather a wistful sense of something lost to be
regained, than the desire of discovering anything new.  Goethe
has told us how, in his eagerness actually to handle the antique,
he became interested in the insignificant vestiges of it which the
neighbourhood of Strasburg afforded.  So we hear of
Winckelmann's boyish antiquarian wanderings among the ugly
Brandenburg sandhills.  Such a conformity between himself and
Winckelmann, Goethe would have gladly noted.

At twenty-one he enters the University of Halle, to study
theology, as his friends desire; [180] instead, he becomes the
enthusiastic translator of Herodotus.  The condition of Greek
learning in German schools and universities had fallen, and there
were no professors at Halle who could satisfy his sharp,
intellectual craving.  Of his professional education he always
speaks with scorn, claiming to have been his own teacher from
first to last.  His appointed teachers did not perceive that a new
source of culture was within their hands.  Homo vagus et
inconstans!--one of them pedantically reports of the future
pilgrim to Rome, unaware on which side his irony was whetted.
When professional education confers nothing but irritation on a
Schiller, no one ought to be surprised; for Schiller, and such as
he, are primarily spiritual adventurers.  But that Winckelmann,
the votary of the gravest of intellectual traditions, should get
nothing but an attempt at suppression from the professional
guardians of learning, is what may well surprise us.

In 1743 he became master of a school at Seehausen.  This was the
most wearisome period of his life.  Notwithstanding a success in
dealing with children, which seems to testify to something simple
and primeval in his nature, he found the work of teaching very
depressing.  Engaged in this work, he writes that he still has
within him a longing desire to attain to the knowledge of beauty--
sehnlich wünschte zur Kenntniss des Schönen zu gelangen.  He
had to shorten his nights, [181] sleeping only four hours, to gain
time for reading.  And here Winckelmann made a step forward in
culture.  He multiplied his intellectual force by detaching from it
all flaccid interests.  He renounced mathematics and law, in
which his reading had been considerable,--all but the literature of
the arts.  Nothing was to enter into his life unpenetrated by its
central enthusiasm.  At this time he undergoes the charm of
Voltaire.  Voltaire belongs to that flimsier, more artificial,
classical tradition, which Winckelmann was one day to supplant,
by the clear ring, the eternal outline, of the genuine antique.  But
it proves the authority of such a gift as Voltaire's that it allures
and wins even those born to supplant it.  Voltaire's impression on
Winckelmann was never effaced; and it gave him a consideration
for French literature which contrasts with his contempt for the
literary products of Germany.  German literature transformed,
siderealised, as we see it in Goethe, reckons Winckelmann
among its initiators.  But Germany at that time presented nothing
in which he could have anticipated Iphigenie, and the formation
of an effective classical tradition in German literature.

Under this purely literary influence, Winckelmann protests
against Christian Wolff and the philosophers.  Goethe, in
speaking of this protest, alludes to his own obligations to
Emmanuel Kant.  Kant's influence over the [182] culture of
Goethe, which he tells us could not have been resisted by him
without loss, consisted in a severe limitation to the concrete.  But
he adds, that in born antiquaries, like Winckelmann, a constant
handling of the antique, with its eternal outline, maintains that
limitation as effectually as a critical philosophy.  Plato, however,
saved so often for his redeeming literary manner, is excepted
from Winckelmann's proscription of the philosophers.  The
modern student most often meets Plato on that side which seems
to pass beyond Plato into a world no longer pagan, based upon
the conception of a spiritual life.  But the element of affinity
which he presents to Winckelmann is that which is wholly Greek,
and alien from the Christian world, represented by that group of
brilliant youths in the Lysis, still uninfected by any spiritual
sickness, finding the end of all endeavour in the aspects of the
human form, the continual stir and motion of a comely human
life.

This new-found interest in Plato's dialogues could not fail to
increase his desire to visit the countries of the classical tradition.
"It is my misfortune," he writes, " that I was not born to great
place, wherein I might have had cultivation, and the opportunity
of following my instinct and forming myself."  A visit to Rome
probably was already designed, and he silently preparing for it.
Count Bünau, the author of a historical work then of note, had
collected at Nöthenitz a [183] valuable library, now part of the
library of Dresden.  In 1748 Winckelmann wrote to Bünau in
halting French:--He is emboldened, he says, by Bünau's
indulgence for needy men of letters.  He desires only to devote
himself to study, having never allowed himself to be dazzled by
favourable prospects in the Church.  He hints at his doubtful
position "in a metaphysical age, by which humane literature is
trampled under foot.  At present," he goes on, "little value is set
on Greek literature, to which I have devoted myself so far as I
could penetrate, when good books are so scarce and expensive."
Finally, he desires a place in some corner of Bünau's library.
"Perhaps, at some future time, I shall become more useful to the
public, if, drawn from obscurity in whatever way, I can find
means to maintain myself in the capital."

Soon afterwards we find Winckelmann in the library at
Nöthenitz.  Thence he made many visits to the collection of
antiquities at Dresden.  He became acquainted with many artists,
above all with Oeser, Goethe's future friend and master, who,
uniting a high culture with the practical knowledge of art, was
fitted to minister to Winckelmann's culture.  And now a new
channel of communion with the Greek life was opened for him.
Hitherto he had handled the words only of Greek poetry, stirred
indeed and roused by them, yet divining beyond the words some
unexpressed pulsation of sensuous life.  Suddenly [184] he is in
contact with that life, still fervent in the relics of plastic art.
Filled as our culture is with the classical spirit, we can hardly
imagine how deeply the human mind was moved, when, at the
Renaissance, in the midst of a frozen world, the buried fire of
ancient art rose up from under the soil.  Winckelmann here
reproduces for us the earlier sentiment of the Renaissance.  On a
sudden the imagination feels itself free.  How facile and direct, it
seems to say, is this life of the senses and the understanding,
when once we have apprehended it!  Here, surely, is that more
liberal mode of life we have been seeking so long, so near to us
all the while.  How mistaken and roundabout have been our
efforts to reach it by mystic passion, and monastic reverie; how
they have deflowered the flesh; how little have they really
emancipated us!  Hermione melts from her stony posture, and the
lost proportions of life right themselves.  Here, then, in vivid
realisation we see the native tendency of Winckelmann to escape
from abstract theory to intuition, to the exercise of sight and
touch.  Lessing, in the Laocoon, has theorised finely on the
relation of poetry to sculpture; and philosophy may give us
theoretical reasons why not poetry but sculpture should be the
most sincere and exact expression of the Greek ideal.  By a
happy, unperplexed dexterity, Winckelmann solves the question
in the concrete.  It is what Goethe calls his Gewahrwerden der
griechischen Kunst, his finding of Greek art.

[185] Through the tumultuous richness of Goethe's culture, the
influence of Winckelmann is always discernible, as the strong,
regulative under-current of a clear, antique motive.  "One learns
nothing from him," he says to Eckermann, "but one becomes
something."  If we ask what the secret of this influence was,
Goethe himself will tell us--wholeness, unity with one's self,
intellectual integrity.  And yet these expressions, because they fit
Goethe, with his universal culture, so well, seem hardly to
describe the narrow, exclusive interest of Winckelmann.
Doubtless Winckelmann's perfection is a narrow perfection: his
feverish nursing of the one motive of his life is a contrast to
Goethe's various energy.  But what affected Goethe, what
instructed him and ministered to his culture, was the integrity, the
truth to its type, of the given force.  The development of this
force was the single interest of Winckelmann, unembarrassed by
anything else in him.  Other interests, practical or intellectual,
those slighter talents and motives not supreme, which in most
men are the waste part of nature, and drain away their vitality, he
plucked out and cast from him.  The protracted longing of his
youth is not a vague, romantic longing: he knows what he longs
for, what he wills.  Within its severe limits his enthusiasm burns
like lava.  "You know," says Lavater, speaking of
Winckelmann's countenance, "that I consider ardour and
indifference by no means incompatible in the [186] same
character.  If ever there was a striking instance of that union, it is
in the countenance before us."  "A lowly childhood," says
Goethe, "insufficient instruction in youth, broken, distracted
studies in early manhood, the burden of school-keeping!  He was
thirty years old before he enjoyed a single favour of fortune: but
so soon as he had attained to an adequate condition of freedom,
he appears before us consummate and entire, complete in the
ancient sense."

But his hair is turning grey, and he has not yet reached the south.
The Saxon court had become Roman Catholic, and the way to
favour at Dresden was through Roman ecclesiastics.  Probably
the thought of a profession of the papal religion was not new to
Winckelmann.  At one time he had thought of begging his way to
Rome, from cloister to cloister, under the pretence of a
disposition to change his faith.  In 1751, the papal nuncio,
Archinto, was one of the visitors at Nöthenitz.  He suggested
Rome as the fitting stage for Winckelmann's accomplishments,
and held out the hope of a place in the Pope's library.  Cardinal
Passionei, charmed with Winckelmann's beautiful Greek writing,
was ready to play the part of Maecenas, if the indispensable
change were made.  Winckelmann accepted the bribe, and visited
the nuncio at Dresden.  Unquiet still at the word "profession," not
without a struggle, he joined the Roman Church, July the 11th,
1754.

[187] Goethe boldly pleads that Winckelmann was a pagan, that
the landmarks of Christendom meant nothing to him.  It is clear
that he intended to deceive no one by his disguise; fears of the
inquisition are sometimes visible during his life in Rome; he
entered Rome notoriously with the works of Voltaire in his
possession; the thought of what Count Bünau might be thinking
of him seems to have been his greatest difficulty.  On the other
hand, he may have had a sense of a certain antique and as it were
pagan grandeur in the Roman Catholic religion.  Turning from
the crabbed Protestantism, which had been the ennui of his youth,
he might reflect that while Rome had reconciled itself to the
Renaissance, the Protestant principle in art had cut off Germany
from the supreme tradition of beauty.  And yet to that transparent
nature, with its simplicity as of the earlier world, the loss of
absolute sincerity must have been a real loss.  Goethe
understands that Winckelmann had made this sacrifice.  Yet at
the bar of the highest criticism, perhaps, Winckelmann may be
absolved.  The insincerity of his religious profession was only
one incident of a culture in which the moral instinct, like the
religious or political, was merged in the artistic.  But then the
artistic interest was that, by desperate faithfulness to which
Winckelmann was saved from the mediocrity, which, breaking
through no bounds, moves ever in a bloodless routine, and misses
its one [188] chance in the life of the spirit and the intellect.
There have been instances of culture developed by every high
motive in turn, and yet intense at every point; and the aim of our
culture should be to attain not only as intense but as complete a
life as possible.  But often the higher life is only possible at all,
on condition of the selection of that in which one's motive is
native and strong; and this selection involves the renunciation of
a crown reserved for others.  Which is better?--to lay open a new
sense, to initiate a new organ for the human spirit, or to cultivate
many types of perfection up to a point which leaves us still
beyond the range of their transforming power?  Savonarola is one
type of success; Winckelmann is another; criticism can reject
neither, because each is true to itself.  Winckelmann himself
explains the motive of his life when he says, "It will be my
highest reward, if posterity acknowledges that I have written
worthily."

For a time he remained at Dresden.  There his first book
appeared, Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works of Art in
Painting and Sculpture.  Full of obscurities as it was, obscurities
which baffled but did not offend Goethe when he first turned to
art-criticism, its purpose was direct--an appeal from the artificial
classicism of the day to the study of the antique.  The book was
well received, and a pension supplied through the king's
confessor.  In September 1755 he started for Rome, in the
company of a young [189] Jesuit.  He was introduced to Raphael
Mengs, a painter then of note, and found a home near him, in the
artists' quarter, in a place where he could "overlook, far and
wide, the eternal city."  At first he was perplexed with the sense
of being a stranger on what was to him, spiritually, native soil.
"Unhappily," he cries in French, often selected by him as the
vehicle of strong feeling, "I am one of those whom the Greeks
call opsimatheis.+--I have come into the world and into Italy too
late."  More than thirty years afterwards, Goethe also, after many
aspirations and severe preparation of mind, visited Italy.  In early
manhood, just as he too was finding Greek art, the rumour of that
true artist's life of Winckelmann in Italy had strongly moved
him.  At Rome, spending a whole year drawing from the antique,
in preparation for Iphigenie, he finds the stimulus of
Winckelmann's memory ever active.  Winckelmann's Roman life
was simple, primeval, Greek.  His delicate constitution permitted
him the use only of bread and wine.  Condemned by many as a
renegade, he had no desire for places of honour, but only to see
his merits acknowledged, and existence assured to him.  He was
simple without being niggardly; he desired to be neither poor nor
rich.

Winckelmann's first years in Rome present all the elements of an
intellectual situation of the highest interest.  The beating of the
soul against its bars, the sombre aspect, the alien traditions,*
[190] the still barbarous literature of Germany, are afar off;
before him are adequate conditions of culture, the sacred soil
itself, the first tokens of the advent of the new German literature,
with its broad horizons, its boundless intellectual promise.
Dante, passing from the darkness of the Inferno, is filled with a
sharp and joyful sense of light, which makes him deal with it, in
the opening of the Purgatorio, in a wonderfully touching and
penetrative way.  Hellenism, which is the principle pre-eminently
of intellectual light (our modern culture may have more colour,
the medieval spirit greater heat and profundity, but Hellenism is
pre-eminent for light), has always been most effectively
conceived by those who have crept into it out of an intellectual
world in which the sombre elements predominate.  So it had been
in the ages of the Renaissance.  This repression, removed at last,
gave force and glow to Winckelmann's native affinity to the
Hellenic spirit.  "There had been known before him," says
Madame de Staël, "learned men who might be consulted like
books; but no one had, if I may say so, made himself a pagan for
the purpose of penetrating antiquity."  "One is always a poor
executant of conceptions not one's own."--On exécute mal ce
qu'on n'a pas conçu soi-même*--are true in their measure of
every genuine enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm,--that, in the broad
Platonic sense of the Phaedrus, was the secret of [191] his
divinatory Power over the Hellenic world.  This enthusiasm,
dependent as it is to a great degree on bodily temperament, has a
power of re-enforcing the purer emotions of the intellect with an
almost physical excitement.  That his affinity with Hellenism was
not merely intellectual, that the subtler threads of temperament
were inwoven in it, is proved by his romantic, fervent friendships
with young men.  He has known, he says, many young men more
beautiful than Guido's archangel.  These friendships, bringing
him into contact with the pride of human form, and staining the
thoughts with its bloom, perfected his reconciliation to the spirit
of Greek sculpture.  A letter on taste, addressed from Rome to a
young nobleman, Friedrich von Berg, is the record of such a
friendship.

"I shall excuse my delay," he begins, "in fulfilling my promise of an
essay on the taste for beauty in works of art, in the words of Pindar.
He says to Agesidamus, a youth of Locri--idea te kalon, hôra te
kekramenon--whom he had kept waiting for an intended ode, that a debt
paid with usury is the end of reproach.  This may win your good-nature
on behalf of my present essay, which has turned out far more detailed
and circumstantial than I had at first intended.  "It is from yourself
that the subject is taken.  Our intercourse has been short, too short
both for you and me; but the first time I saw you, the affinity of our
spirits was revealed to me: [192] your culture proved that my hope was
not groundless; and I found in a beautiful body a soul created for
nobleness, gifted with the sense of beauty.  My parting from you was
therefore one of the most painful in my life; and that this feeling
continues our common friend is witness, for your separation from me
leaves me no hope of seeing you again.  Let this essay be a memorial
of our friendship, which, on my side, is free from every selfish
motive, and ever remains subject and dedicate to yourself alone."

The following passage is characteristic--

"As it is confessedly the beauty of man which is to be conceived
under one general idea, so I have noticed that those who are
observant of beauty only in women, and are moved little or not at
all by the beauty of men, seldom have an impartial, vital, inborn
instinct for beauty in art.  To such persons the beauty of Greek art
will ever seem wanting, because its supreme beauty is rather
male than female.  But the beauty of art demands a higher
sensibility than the beauty of nature, because the beauty of art,
like tears shed at a play, gives no pain, is without life, and must
be awakened and repaired by culture.  Now, as the spirit of
culture is much more ardent in youth than in manhood, the
instinct of which I am speaking must be exercised and directed to
what is beautiful, before that age is reached, at which one would
be afraid to confess that one had no taste for it."

[193] Certainly, of that beauty of living form which regulated
Winckelmann's friendships, it could not be said that it gave no
pain.  One notable friendship, the fortune of which we may trace
through his letters, begins with an antique, chivalrous letter in
French, and ends noisily in a burst of angry fire.  Far from
reaching the quietism, the bland indifference of art, such
attachments are nevertheless more susceptible than any others of
equal strength of a purely intellectual culture.  Of passion, of
physical excitement, they contain only just so much as stimulates
the eye to the finest delicacies of colour and form.  These
friendships, often the caprices of a moment, make
Winckelmann's letters, with their troubled colouring, an
instructive but bizarre addition to the History of Art, that shrine of
grave and mellow light around the mute Olympian family.  The
impression which Winckelmann's literary life conveyed to those
about him was that of excitement, intuition, inspiration, rather
than the contemplative evolution of general principles.  The
quick, susceptible enthusiast, betraying his temperament even in
appearance, by his olive complexion, his deep-seated, piercing
eyes, his rapid movements, apprehended the subtlest principles of
the Hellenic manner, not through the understanding, but by
instinct or touch.  A German biographer of Winckelmann has
compared him to Columbus.  That is not the aptest of comparisons;
but it reminds one of  [194] a passage in which Edgar Quinet
describes the great discoverer's famous voyage.  His science was
often at fault; but he had a way of estimating at once the slightest
indication of land, in a floating weed or passing bird; he seemed
actually to come nearer to nature than other men.  And that world
in which others had moved with so much embarrassment, seems
to call out in Winckelmann new senses fitted to deal with it.  He
is in touch with it; it penetrates him, and becomes part of his
temperament.  He remodels his writings with constant renewal of
insight; he catches the thread of a whole sequence of laws in
some hollowing of the hand, or dividing of the hair; he seems to
realise that fancy of the reminiscence of a forgotten knowledge
hidden for a time in the mind itself; as if the mind of one, lover
and philosopher at once in some phase of pre-existence--philosophêsas
pote met' erôtos.+--fallen into a new cycle, were beginning its
intellectual career over again, yet with a certain power of
anticipating its results.  So comes the truth of Goethe's judgments
on his works; they are a life, a living thing, designed for those who
are alive--ein Lebendiges für die Lebendigen geschrieben, ein
Leben selbst.

In 1758 Cardinal Albani, who had formed in his Roman villa a
precious collection of antiquities, became Winckelmann's patron.
Pompeii had just opened its treasures; Winckelmann [195]
gathered its first-fruits.  But his plan of a visit to Greece remained
unfulfilled.  From his first arrival in Rome he had kept the
History of Ancient Art ever in view.  All his other writings were a
preparation for that.  It appeared, finally, in 1764; but even after
its publication Winckelmann was still employed in perfecting it.
It is since his time that many of the most significant examples of
Greek art have been submitted to criticism.  He had seen little or
nothing of what we ascribe to the age of Pheidias; and his
conception of Greek art tends, therefore, to put the mere elegance
of the imperial society of ancient Rome in place of the severe and
chastened grace of the palaestra.  For the most part he had to
penetrate to Greek art through copies, imitations, and later
Roman art itself; and it is not surprising that this turbid medium
has left in Winckelmann's actual results much that a more
privileged criticism can correct.

He had been twelve years in Rome.  Admiring Germany had
made many calls to him.  At last, in 1768, he set out to revisit the
country of his birth; and as he left Rome, a strange, inverted
home-sickness, a strange reluctance to leave it at all, came over
him.  He reached Vienna.  There he was loaded with honours and
presents: other cities were awaiting him.  Goethe, then nineteen
years old, studying art at Leipsic, was expecting his coming, with
that wistful eagerness which marked his youth, when the news
[196] of Winckelmann's murder arrived.  All his "weariness of
the North" had revived with double force.  He left Vienna,
intending to hasten back to Rome, and at Trieste a delay of a few
days occurred.  With characteristic openness, Winckelmann had
confided his plans to a fellow-traveller, a man named Arcangeli,
and had shown him the gold medals received at Vienna.
Arcangeli's avarice was aroused.  One morning he entered
Winckelmann's room, under pretence of taking leave.
Winckelmann was then writing "memoranda for the future editor
of the History of Art," still seeking the perfection of his great
work.  Arcangeli begged to see the medals once more.  As
Winckelmann stooped down to take them from the chest, a cord
was thrown round his neck.  Some time afterwards, a child with
whose companionship Winckelmann had beguiled his delay,
knocked at the door, and receiving no answer, gave the alarm.
Winckelmann was found dangerously wounded, and died a few
hours later, after receiving the last sacraments.  It seemed as if the
gods, in reward for his devotion to them, had given him a death
which, for its swiftness and its opportunity, he might well have
desired.  "He has," says Goethe, "the advantage of figuring in the
memory of posterity, as one eternally able and strong; for the
image in which one leaves the world is that in which one moves
among the shadows."  Yet, perhaps, it is not fanciful to regret that
his proposed [197] meeting with Goethe never took place.
Goethe, then in all the pregnancy of his wonderful youth, still
unruffled by the "press and storm" of his earlier manhood, was
awaiting Winckelmann with a curiosity of the worthiest kind.  As
it was, Winckelmann became to him something like what Virgil
was to Dante.  And Winckelmann, with his fiery friendships, had
reached that age and that period of culture at which emotions
hitherto fitful, sometimes concentrate themselves in a vital,
unchangeable relationship.  German literary history seems to
have lost the chance of one of those famous friendships, the very
tradition of which becomes a stimulus to culture, and exercises an
imperishable influence.

In one of the frescoes of the Vatican, Raphael has commemorated
the tradition of the Catholic religion.  Against a space of tranquil
sky, broken in upon by the beatific vision, are ranged the great
personages of Christian history, with the Sacrament in the midst.
Another fresco of Raphael in the same apartment presents a very
different company, Dante alone appearing in both.  Surrounded
by the muses of Greek mythology, under a thicket of laurel, sits
Apollo, with the sources of Castalia at his feet.  On either side are
grouped those on whom the spirit of Apollo descended, the
classical and Renaissance poets, to whom the waters of Castalia
[198] come down, a river making glad this other "city of God."
In this fresco it is the classical tradition, the orthodoxy of taste,
that Raphael commemorates.  Winckelmann's intellectual history
authenticates the claims of this tradition in human culture.  In the
countries where that tradition arose, where it still lurked about its
own artistic relics, and changes of language had not broken its
continuity, national pride might sometimes light up anew an
enthusiasm for it.  Aliens might imitate that enthusiasm, and
classicism become from time to time an intellectual fashion.  But
Winckelmann was not further removed by language, than by
local aspects and associations, from those vestiges of the classical
spirit; and he lived at a time when, in Germany, classical studies
were out of favour.  Yet, remote in time and place, he feels after
the Hellenic world, divines those channels of ancient art, in
which its life still circulates, and, like Scyles, the half-barbarous
yet Hellenising king, in the beautiful story of Herodotus, is
irresistibly attracted by it.  This testimony to the authority of the
Hellenic tradition, its fitness to satisfy some vital requirement of
the intellect, which Winckelmann contributes as a solitary man of
genius, is offered also by the general history of the mind.  The
spiritual forces of the past, which have prompted and informed
the culture of a succeeding age, live, indeed, within that culture,
but with an absorbed, underground life.  The Hellenic element
alone [199] has not been so absorbed, or content with this
underground life; from time to time it has started to the surface;
culture has been drawn back to its sources to be clarified and
corrected.  Hellenism is not merely an absorbed element in our
intellectual life; it is a conscious tradition in it.

Again, individual genius works ever under conditions of time and
place: its products are coloured by the varying aspects of nature,
and type of human form, and outward manners of life.  There is
thus an element of change in art; criticism must never for a
moment forget that "the artist is the child of his time."  But
besides these conditions of time and place, and independent of
them, there is also an element of permanence, a standard of taste,
which genius confesses.  This standard is maintained in a purely
intellectual tradition.  It acts upon the artist, not as one of the
influences of his own age, but through those artistic products of
the previous generation which first excited, while they directed
into a particular channel, his sense of beauty.  The supreme
artistic products of succeeding generations thus form a series of
elevated points, taking each from each the reflection of a strange
light, the source of which is not in the atmosphere around and
above them, but in a stage of society remote from ours.  The
standard of taste, then, was fixed in Greece, at a definite
historical period.  A tradition for all succeeding generations, it
originates in a spontaneous [200] growth out of the influences of
Greek society.  What were the conditions under which this ideal,
this standard of artistic orthodoxy, was generated?  How was
Greece enabled to force its thought upon Europe?

Greek art, when we first catch sight of it, is entangled with Greek
religion.  We are accustomed to think of Greek religion as the
religion of art and beauty, the religion of which the Olympian
Zeus and the Athena Polias are the idols, the poems of Homer the
sacred books.  Thus Cardinal Newman speaks of "the classical
polytheism which was gay and graceful, as was natural in a
civilised age."  Yet such a view is only a partial one.  In it the eye
is fixed on the sharp, bright edge of high Hellenic culture, but
loses sight of the sombre world across which it strikes.  Greek
religion, where we can observe it most distinctly, is at once a
magnificent ritualistic system, and a cycle of poetical
conceptions.  Religions, as they grow by natural laws out of
man's life, are modified by whatever modifies his life.  They
brighten under a bright sky, they become liberal as the social
range widens, they grow intense and shrill in the clefts of human
life, where the spirit is narrow and confined, and the stars are
visible at noonday; and a fine analysis of these differences is one
of the gravest functions of religious criticism.  Still, the broad
foundation, in mere human nature, of all religions as they exist
for the greatest number, [201] is a universal pagan sentiment, a
paganism which existed before the Greek religion, and has
lingered far onward into the Christian world, ineradicable, like
some persistent vegetable growth, because its seed is an element
of the very soil out of which it springs.

This pagan sentiment measures the sadness with which the
human mind is filled, whenever its thoughts wander far from
what is here, and now.  It is beset by notions of irresistible natural
powers, for the most part ranged against man, but the secret also
of his fortune, making the earth golden and the grape fiery for
him.  He makes gods in his own image, gods smiling and flower-
crowned, or bleeding by some sad fatality, to console him by
their wounds, never closed from generation to generation.  It is
with a rush of home-sickness that the thought of death presents
itself.  He would remain at home for ever on the earth if he could.
As it loses its colour and the senses fail, he clings ever closer to
it; but since the mouldering of bones and flesh must go on to the
end, he is careful for charms and talismans, which may chance to
have some friendly power in them, when the inevitable shipwreck
comes.  Such sentiment is a part of the eternal basis of all
religions, modified indeed by changes of time and place, but
indestructible, because its root is so deep in the earth of man's
nature.  The breath of religious initiators passes over them; a few
"rise up with wings as eagles," [202] but the broad level of
religious life is not permanently changed.  Religious progress,
like all purely spiritual progress, is confined to a few.  This
sentiment attaches itself in the earliest times to certain usages of
patriarchal life, the kindling of fire, the washing of the body, the
slaughter of the flock, the gathering of harvest, holidays and
dances.  Here are the beginnings of a ritual, at first as occasional
and unfixed as the sentiment which it expresses, but destined to
become the permanent element of religious life.  The usages of
patriarchal life change; but this germ of ritual remains, promoted
now with a consciously religious motive, losing its domestic
character, and therefore becoming more and more inexplicable
with each generation.  Such pagan worship, in spite of local
variations, essentially one, is an element in all religions.  It is the
anodyne which the religious principle, like one administering
opiates to the incurable, has added to the law which makes life
sombre for the vast majority of mankind.

More definite religious conceptions come from other sources, and
fix themselves upon this ritual in various ways, changing it, and
giving it new meanings.  In Greece they were derived from
mythology, itself not due to a religious source at all, but
developing in the course of time into a body of religious
conceptions, entirely human in form and character.  To the
unprogressive ritual element it brought these conceptions, itself-
hê pterou dynamis, the power of the wing--an element [203] of
refinement, of ascension, with the promise of an endless destiny.
While the ritual remains unchanged, the aesthetic element, only
accidentally connected with it, expands with the freedom and
mobility of the things of the intellect.  Always, the fixed element
is the religious observance; the fluid, unfixed element is the
myth, the religious conception.  This religion is itself pagan, and
has in any broad view of it the pagan sadness.  It does not at
once, and for the majority, become the higher Hellenic religion.
The country people, of course, cherish the unlovely idols of an
earlier time, such as those which Pausanias found still devoutly
preserved in Arcadia.  Athenaeus tells the story of one who,
coming to a temple of Latona, had expected to find some worthy
presentment of the mother of Apollo, and laughed on seeing only
a shapeless wooden figure.  The wilder people have wilder gods,
which, however, in Athens, or Corinth, or Lacedaemon, changing
ever with the worshippers in whom they live and move and have
their being, borrow something of the lordliness and distinction of
human nature there.  Greek religion too has its mendicants, its
purifications, its antinomian mysticism, its garments offered to
the gods, its statues worn with kissing, its exaggerated
superstitions for the vulgar only, its worship of sorrow, its
addolorata, its mournful mysteries.  Scarcely a wild or
melancholy note of the medieval church but was anticipated by
Greek polytheism!  What should [204] we have thought of the
vertiginous prophetess at the very centre of Greek religion?  The
supreme Hellenic culture is a sharp edge of light across this
gloom.  The fiery, stupefying wine becomes in a happier climate
clear and exhilarating.  The Dorian worship of Apollo, rational,
chastened, debonair, with his unbroken daylight, always opposed
to the sad Chthonian divinities, is the aspiring element, by force
and spring of which Greek religion sublimes itself.  Out of Greek
religion, under happy conditions, arises Greek art, to minister to
human culture.  It was the privilege of Greek religion to be able
to transform itself into an artistic ideal.

For the thoughts of the Greeks about themselves, and their
relation to the world generally, were ever in the happiest
readiness to be transformed into objects for the senses.  In this
lies the main distinction between Greek art and the mystical art of
the Christian middle age, which is always struggling to express
thoughts beyond itself.  Take, for instance, a characteristic work
of the middle age, Angelico's Coronation of the Virgin, in the
cloister of Saint Mark's at Florence.  In some strange halo of a
moon Jesus and the Virgin Mother are seated, clad in mystical
white raiment, half shroud, half priestly linen.  Jesus, with rosy
nimbus and the long pale hair--tanquam lana alba et tanquam
nix--of the figure in the Apocalypse, with slender finger-tips is
setting a crown of pearl on the head of Mary, who, [205] corpse-
like in her refinement, is bending forward to receive it, the light
lying like snow upon her forehead.  Certainly, it cannot be said of
Angelico's fresco that it throws into a sensible form our highest
thoughts about man and his relation to the world; but it did not do
this adequately even for Angelico.  For him, all that is outward or
sensible in his work--the hair like wool, the rosy nimbus, the
crown of pearl--is only the symbol or type of a really
inexpressible world, to which he wishes to direct the thoughts; he
would have shrunk from the notion that what the eye
apprehended was all.  Such forms of art, then, are inadequate to
the matter they clothe; they remain ever below its level.
Something of this kind is true also of oriental art.  As in the
middle age from an exaggerated inwardness, so in the East from a
vagueness, a want of definition, in thought, the matter presented
to art is unmanageable, and the forms of sense struggle vainly
with it.  The many-headed gods of the East, the orientalised,
many-breasted Diana of Ephesus, like Angelico's fresco, are at
best overcharged symbols, a means of hinting at an idea which art
cannot fitly or completely express, which still remains in the
world of shadows.

But take a work of Greek art,--the Venus of Melos.  That is in no
sense a symbol, a suggestion, of anything beyond its own
victorious fairness.  The mind begins and ends with the finite
image, yet loses no part of the spiritual motive. [206] That motive
is not lightly and loosely attached to the sensuous form, as its
meaning to an allegory, but saturates and is identical with it.  The
Greek mind had advanced to a particular stage of self-reflexion,
but was careful not to pass beyond it.  In oriental thought there is
a vague conception of life everywhere, but no true appreciation
of itself by the mind, no knowledge of the distinction of man's
nature: in its consciousness of itself, humanity is still confused
with the fantastic, indeterminate life of the animal and vegetable
world.  In Greek thought, on the other hand, the "lordship of the
soul" is recognised; that lordship gives authority and divinity to
human eyes and hands and feet; inanimate nature is thrown into
the background.  But just there Greek thought finds its happy
limit; it has not yet become too inward; the mind has not yet
learned to boast its independence of the flesh; the spirit has not
yet absorbed everything with its emotions, nor reflected its own
colour everywhere.  It has indeed committed itself to a train of
reflexion which must end in defiance of form, of all that is
outward, in an exaggerated idealism.  But that end is still distant:
it has not yet plunged into the depths of religious mysticism.

This ideal art, in which the thought does not outstrip or lie
beyond the proper range of its sensible embodiment, could not
have arisen out of a phase of life that was uncomely or poor.
That delicate pause in Greek reflexion was joined, by [207] some
supreme good luck, to the perfect animal nature of the Greeks.
Here are the two conditions of an artistic ideal.  The influences
which perfected the animal nature of the Greeks are part of the
process by which "the ideal" was evolved.  Those "Mothers"
who, in the second part of Faust, mould and remould the typical
forms that appear in human history, preside, at the beginning of
Greek culture, over such a concourse of happy physical
conditions as ever generates by natural laws some rare type of
intellectual or spiritual life.  That delicate air, "nimbly and
sweetly recommending itself" to the senses, the finer aspects of
nature, the finer lime and clay of the human form, and modelling
of the dainty framework of the human countenance:--these are
the good luck of the Greek when he enters upon life.  Beauty
becomes a distinction, like genius, or noble place.

"By no people," says Winckelmann, "has beauty been so highly
esteemed as by the Greeks.  The priests of a youthful Jupiter at
Aegae, of the Ismenian Apollo, and the priest who at Tanagra led
the procession of Mercury, bearing a lamb upon his shoulders,
were always youths to whom the prize of beauty had been
awarded.  The citizens of Egesta erected a monument to a certain
Philip, who was not their fellow-citizen, but of Croton, for his
distinguished beauty; and the people made offerings at it.  In an
ancient song, ascribed to Simonides or Epicharmus, [208] of
four wishes, the first was health, the second beauty.  And as
beauty was so longed for and prized by the Greeks, every
beautiful person sought to become known to the whole people by
this distinction, and above all to approve himself to the artists,
because they awarded the prize; and this was for the artists an
occasion for having supreme beauty ever before their eyes.
Beauty even gave a right to fame; and we find in Greek histories
the most beautiful people distinguished.  Some were famous for
the beauty of one single part of their form; as Demetrius
Phalereus, for his beautiful eyebrows, was called Charito-
blepharos.  It seems even to have been thought that the
procreation of beautiful children might be promoted by prizes.
This is shown by the existence of contests for beauty, which in
ancient times were established by Cypselus, King of Arcadia, by
the river Alpheus; and, at the feast of Apollo of Philae, a prize
was offered to the youths for the deftest kiss.  This was decided
by an umpire; as also at Megara, by the grave of Diocles.  At
Sparta, and at Lesbos, in the temple of Juno, and among the
Parrhasii, there were contests for beauty among women.  The
general esteem for beauty went so far, that the Spartan women set
up in their bedchambers a Nireus, a Narcissus, or a Hyacinth, that
they might bear beautiful children."

So, from a few stray antiquarianisms, a few [209] faces cast up
sharply from the waves, Winckelmann, as his manner was,
divines the temperament of the antique world, and that in which it
had delight.  It has passed away with that distant age, and we may
venture to dwell upon it.  What sharpness and reality it has is the
sharpness and reality of suddenly arrested life.  The Greek system
of gymnastics originated as part of a religious ritual.  The
worshipper was to recommend himself to the gods by becoming
fleet and fair, white and red, like them.  The beauty of the
palaestra, and the beauty of the artist's workshop, reacted on one
another.  The youth tried to rival his gods; and his increased
beauty passed back into them.--"I take the gods to witness, I had
rather have a fair body than a king's crown"--Omnymi pantas theous
mê helesthai an tên basileôs archên anti tou kalos einai+--that
is the form in which one age of the world chose the higher life.--
A perfect world, if the gods could have seemed for ever only fleet
and fair, white and red!  Let us not regret that this unperplexed
youth of humanity, satisfied with the vision of itself, passed, at
the due moment, into a mournful maturity; for already the deep joy
was in store for the spirit, of finding the ideal of that youth still
red with life in the grave.

It followed that the Greek ideal expressed itself pre-eminently in
sculpture.  All art has a sensuous element, colour, form, sound--in
poetry a dexterous recalling of these, together with the profound,
joyful sensuousness of motion, and each [210] of them may be a
medium for the ideal: it is partly accident which in any individual
case makes the born artist, poet, or painter rather than sculptor.
But as the mind itself has had an historical development, one
form of art, by the very limitations of its material, may be more
adequate than another for the expression of any one phase of that
development.  Different attitudes of the imagination have a native
affinity with different types of sensuous form, so that they
combine together, with completeness and ease.  The arts may
thus be ranged in a series, which corresponds to a series of
developments in the human mind itself.  Architecture, which
begins in a practical need, can only express by vague hint or
symbol the spirit or mind of the artist.  He closes his sadness over
him, or wanders in the perplexed intricacies of things, or projects
his purpose from him clean-cut and sincere, or bares himself to
the sunlight.  But these spiritualities, felt rather than seen, can but
lurk about architectural form as volatile effects, to be gathered
from it by reflexion.  Their expression is, indeed, not really
sensuous at all.  As human form is not the subject with which it
deals, architecture is the mode in which the artistic effort centres,
when the thoughts of man concerning himself are still indistinct,
when he is still little preoccupied with those harmonies, storms,
victories, of the unseen and intellectual world, which, wrought
out into the bodily form, give it an interest and significance
[211] communicable to it alone.  The art of Egypt, with its
supreme architectural effects, is, according to Hegel's beautiful
comparison, a Memnon waiting for the day, the day of the Greek
spirit, the humanistic spirit, with its power of speech.

Again, painting, music, and poetry, with their endless power of
complexity, are the special arts of the romantic and modern ages.
Into these, with the utmost attenuation of detail, may be
translated every delicacy of thought and feeling, incidental to a
consciousness brooding with delight over itself.  Through their
gradations of shade, their exquisite intervals, they project in an
external form that which is most inward in passion or sentiment.
Between architecture and those romantic arts of painting, music,
and poetry, comes sculpture, which, unlike architecture, deals
immediately with man, while it contrasts with the romantic arts,
because it is not self-analytical.  It has to do more exclusively
than any other art with the human form, itself one entire medium
of spiritual expression, trembling, blushing, melting into dew,
with inward excitement.  That spirituality which only lurks about
architecture as a volatile effect, in sculpture takes up the whole
given material, and penetrates it with an imaginative motive; and
at first sight sculpture, with its solidity of form, seems a thing
more real and full than the faint, abstract world of poetry or
painting.  Still the fact is the reverse.  Discourse and action show
man as he is, more directly than the play of [212] the muscles and
the moulding of the flesh; and over these poetry has command.
Painting, by the flushing of colour in the face and dilatation of
light in the eye--music, by its subtle range of tones--can refine
most delicately upon a single moment of passion, unravelling its
subtlest threads.

But why should sculpture thus limit itself to pure form?  Because,
by this limitation, it becomes a perfect medium of expression for
one peculiar motive of the imaginative intellect.  It therefore
renounces all those attributes of its material which do not forward
that motive.  It has had, indeed, from the beginning an unfixed
claim to colour; but this element of colour in it has always been
more or less conventional, with no melting or modulation of
tones, never permitting more than a very limited realism.  It was
maintained chiefly as a religious tradition.  In proportion as the
art of sculpture ceased to be merely decorative, and subordinate
to architecture, it threw itself upon pure form.  It renounces the
power of expression by lower or heightened tones.  In it, no
member of the human form is more significant than the rest; the
eye is wide, and without pupil; the lips and brow are hardly less
significant than hands, and breasts, and feet.  But the limitation of
its resources is part of its pride: it has no backgrounds, no sky or
atmosphere, to suggest and interpret a train of feeling; a little of
suggested motion, and much of pure light on its gleaming
surfaces, with pure form--only these.

[213] And it gains more than it loses by this limitation to its own
distinguishing motives; it unveils man in the repose of his
unchanging characteristics.  That white light, purged from the
angry, blood-like stains of action and passion, reveals, not what is
accidental in man, but the tranquil godship in him, as opposed to
the restless accidents of life.  The art of sculpture records the first
naïve, unperplexed recognition of man by himself; and it is a
proof of the high artistic capacity of the Greeks, that they
apprehended and remained true to these exquisite limitations, yet,
in spite of them, gave to their creations a mobile, a vital,
individuality.

Heiterkeit--blitheness or repose, and Allgemeinheit--generality or
breadth, are, then, the supreme characteristics of the Hellenic
ideal.  But that generality or breadth has nothing in common with
the lax observation, the unlearned thought, the flaccid execution,
which have sometimes claimed superiority in art, on the plea of
being "broad" or "general."  Hellenic breadth and generality
come of a culture minute, severe, constantly renewed, rectifying
and concentrating its impressions into certain pregnant types.

The basis of all artistic genius lies in the power of conceiving
humanity in a new and striking way, of putting a happy world of
its own creation in place of the meaner world of our common
days, generating around itself an atmosphere with a novel power
of refraction, selecting, transforming, recombining the images it
transmits, according to [214] the choice of the imaginative
intellect.  In exercising this power, painting and poetry have a
variety of subject almost unlimited.  The range of characters or
persons open to them is as various as life itself; no character,
however trivial, misshapen, or unlovely, can resist their magic.
That is because those arts can accomplish their function in the
choice and development of some special situation, which lifts or
glorifies a character, in itself not poetical.  To realise this
situation, to define, in a chill and empty atmosphere, the focus
where rays, in themselves pale and impotent, unite and begin to
burn, the artist may have, indeed, to employ the most cunning
detail, to complicate and refine upon thought and passion a
thousand-fold.  Let us take a brilliant example from the poems of
Robert Browning.  His poetry is pre-eminently the poetry of
situations.  The characters themselves are always of secondary
importance; often they are characters in themselves of little
interest; they seem to come to him by strange accidents from the
ends of the world.  His gift is shown by the way in which he
accepts such a character, throws it into some situation, or
apprehends it in some delicate pause of life, in which for a
moment it becomes ideal.  In the poem entitled Le Byron de nos
Jours, in his Dramatis Personae, we have a single moment of
passion thrown into relief after this exquisite fashion.  Those two
jaded Parisians are not intrinsically interesting: they begin to
interest us only [215] when thrown into a choice situation.  But to
discriminate that moment, to make it appreciable by us, that we
may "find" it, what a cobweb of allusions, what double and treble
reflexions of the mind upon itself, what an artificial light is
constructed and broken over the chosen situation; on how fine a
needle's point that little world of passion is balanced!  Yet, in
spite of this intricacy, the poem has the clear ring of a central
motive.  We receive from it the impression of one imaginative
tone, of a single creative act.

To produce such effects at all requires all the resources of
painting, with its power of indirect expression, of subordinate but
significant detail, its atmosphere, its foregrounds and
backgrounds. To produce them in a pre-eminent degree requires
all the resources of poetry, language in its most purged form, its
remote associations and suggestions, its double and treble lights.
These appliances sculpture cannot command.  In it, therefore, not
the special situation, but the type, the general character of the
subject to be delineated, is all-important.  In poetry and painting,
the situation predominates over the character; in sculpture, the
character over the situation.  Excluded by the proper limitation of
its material from the development of exquisite situations, it has to
choose from a select number of types intrinsically interesting--
interesting, that is, independently of any special situation into
which they may be thrown.  Sculpture [216] finds the secret of its
power in presenting these types, in their broad, central, incisive
lines.  This it effects not by accumulation of detail, but by
abstracting from it.  All that is accidental, all that distracts the
simple effect upon us of the supreme types of humanity, all traces
in them of the commonness of the world, it gradually purges
away.

Works of art produced under this law, and only these, are really
characterised by Hellenic generality or breadth.  In every
direction it is a law of restraint.  It keeps passion always below
that degree of intensity at which it must necessarily be transitory,
never winding up the features to one note of anger, or desire, or
surprise.  In some of the feebler allegorical designs of the middle
age, we find isolated qualities portrayed as by so many masks; its
religious art has familiarised us with faces fixed immovably into
blank types of placid reverie.  Men and women, again, in the
hurry of life, often wear the sharp impress of one absorbing
motive, from which it is said death sets their features free.  All
such instances may be ranged under the grotesque; and the
Hellenic ideal has nothing in common with the grotesque.  It
allows passion to play lightly over the surface of the individual
form, losing thereby nothing of its central impassivity, its depth
and repose.  To all but the highest culture, the reserved faces of
the gods will ever have something of insipidity.

[217] Again, in the best Greek sculpture, the archaic immobility
has been stirred, its forms are in motion; but it is a motion ever
kept in reserve, and very seldom committed to any definite
action.  Endless as are the attitudes of Greek sculpture, exquisite
as is the invention of the Greeks in this direction, the actions or
situations it permits are simple and few.  There is no Greek
Madonna; the goddesses are always childless.  The actions
selected are those which would be without significance, except in
a divine person--binding on a sandal or preparing for the bath.
When a more complex and significant action is permitted, it is
most often represented as just finished, so that eager expectancy
is excluded, as in the image of Apollo just after the slaughter of
the Python, or of Venus with the apple of Paris already in her
hand.  The Laocoon, with all that patient science through which it
has triumphed over an almost unmanageable subject, marks a
period in which sculpture has begun to aim at effects legitimate,
because delightful, only in painting.

The hair, so rich a source of expression in painting, because,
relatively to the eye or the lip, it is mere drapery, is withdrawn
from attention; its texture, as well as its colour, is lost, its
arrangement but faintly and severely indicated, with no broken or
enmeshed light.  The eyes are wide and directionless, not fixing
anything with their gaze, nor riveting the brain to any special
[218] external object, the brows without hair.  Again, Greek
sculpture deals almost exclusively with youth, where the
moulding of the bodily organs is still as if suspended between
growth and completion, indicated but not emphasised; where the
transition from curve to curve is so delicate and elusive, that
Winckelmann compares it to a quiet sea, which, although we
understand it to be in motion, we nevertheless regard as an image
of repose; where, therefore, the exact degree of development is so
hard to apprehend.  If a single product only of Hellenic art were
to be saved in the wreck of all beside, one might choose perhaps
from the "beautiful multitude" of the Panathenaic frieze, that line
of youths on horseback, with their level glances, their proud,
patient lips, their chastened reins, their whole bodies in exquisite
service.  This colourless, unclassified purity of life, with its
blending and interpenetration of intellectual, spiritual, and
physical elements, still folded together, pregnant with the
possibilities of a whole world closed within it, is the highest
expression of the indifference which lies beyond all that is
relative or partial.  Everywhere there is the effect of an awaking,
of a child's sleep just disturbed.  All these effects are united in a
single instance--the adorante of the museum of Berlin, a youth
who has gained the wrestler's prize, with hands lifted and open,
in praise for the victory.  Fresh, unperplexed, it is the image of a
man as he springs first from the sleep of nature, his white light
[219] taking no colour from any one-sided experience.  He is
characterless, so far as character involves subjection to the
accidental influences of life.

"This sense," says Hegel, "for the consummate modelling of
divine and human forms was pre-eminently at home in Greece.
In its poets and orators, its historians and philosophers, Greece
cannot be conceived from a central point, unless one brings, as a
key to the understanding of it, an insight into the ideal forms of
sculpture, and regards the images of statesmen and philosophers,
as well as epic and dramatic heroes, from the artistic point of
view.  For those who act, as well as those who create and think,
have, in those beautiful days of Greece, this plastic character.
They are great and free, and have grown up on the soil of their
own individuality, creating themselves out of themselves, and
moulding themselves to what they were, and willed to be.  The
age of Pericles was rich in such characters; Pericles himself,
Pheidias, Plato, above all Sophocles, Thucydides also, Xenophon
and Socrates, each in his own order, the perfection of one
remaining undiminished by that of the others.  They are ideal
artists of themselves, cast each in one flawless mould, works of
art, which stand before us as an immortal presentment of the
gods.  Of this modelling also are those bodily works of art, the
victors in the Olympic games; yes! and even Phryne, who, as the
most beautiful of women, [220] ascended naked out of the water,
in the presence of assembled Greece."

This key to the understanding of the Greek spirit, Winckelmann
possessed in his own nature, itself like a relic of classical
antiquity, laid open by accident to our alien, modern atmosphere.
To the criticism of that consummate Greek modelling he brought
not only his culture but his temperament.  We have seen how
definite was the leading motive of that culture; how, like some
central root-fibre, it maintained the well-rounded unity of his life
through a thousand distractions.  Interests not his, nor meant for
him, never disturbed him.  In morals, as in criticism, he followed
the clue of instinct, of an unerring instinct.  Penetrating into the
antique world by his passion, his temperament, he enunciated no
formal principles, always hard and one-sided.  Minute and
anxious as his culture was, he never became one-sidedly self-
analytical.  Occupied ever with himself, perfecting himself and
developing his genius, he was not content, as so often happens
with such natures, that the atmosphere between him and other
minds should be thick and clouded; he was ever jealously
refining his meaning into a form, express, clear, objective.  This
temperament he nurtured and invigorated by friendships which
kept him always in direct contact with the spirit of youth.  The
beauty of the Greek statues was a sexless beauty: the statues of
the gods had the least traces of sex. [221] Here there is a moral
sexlessness, a kind of ineffectual wholeness of nature, yet with a
true beauty and significance of its own.

One result of this temperament is a serenity--Heiterkeit--which
characterises Winckelmann's handling of the sensuous side of
Greek art.  This serenity is, perhaps, in great measure, a negative
quality: it is the absence of any sense of want, or corruption, or
shame.  With the sensuous element in Greek art he deals in the
pagan manner; and what is implied in that?  It has been
sometimes said that art is a means of escape from "the tyranny of
the senses."  It may be so for the spectator: he may find that the
spectacle of supreme works of art takes from the life of the senses
something of its turbid fever.  But this is possible for the
spectator only because the artist, in producing those works, has
gradually sunk his intellectual and spiritual ideas in sensuous
form.  He may live, as Keats lived, a pure life; but his soul, like
that of Plato's false astronomer, becomes more and more
immersed in sense, until nothing which lacks the appeal to sense
has interest for him.  How could such an one ever again endure
the greyness of the ideal or spiritual world?  The spiritualist is
satisfied as he watches the escape of the sensuous elements from
his conceptions; his interest grows, as the dyed garment bleaches
in the keener air.  But the artist steeps his thought again and again
into the fire of colour.  To the Greek this immersion in [222] the
sensuous was, religiously, at least, indifferent.  Greek
sensuousness, therefore, does not fever the conscience: it is
shameless and childlike.  Christian asceticism, on the other hand,
discrediting the slightest touch of sense, has from time to time
provoked into strong emphasis the contrast or antagonism to
itself, of the artistic life, with its inevitable sensuousness.--I did
but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine
hand, and lo! I must die.--It has sometimes seemed hard to
pursue that life without something of conscious disavowal of a
spiritual world; and this imparts to genuine artistic interests a
kind of intoxication.  From this intoxication Winckelmann is free:
he fingers those pagan marbles with unsinged hands, with no
sense of shame or loss.  That is to deal with the sensuous side of
art in the pagan manner.

The longer we contemplate that Hellenic ideal, in which man is at
unity with himself, with his physical nature, with the outward
world, the more we may be inclined to regret that he should ever
have passed beyond it, to contend for a perfection that makes the
blood turbid, and frets the flesh, and discredits the actual world
about us.  But if he was to be saved from the ennui which ever
attaches itself to realisation, even the realisation of the perfect
life, it was necessary that a conflict should come, that some
sharper note should grieve the existing harmony, and the spirit
chafed by it beat out at last only a larger and profounder music.
[223] In Greek tragedy this conflict has begun: man finds himself
face to face with rival claims.  Greek tragedy shows how such a
conflict may be treated with serenity, how the evolution of it may
be a spectacle of the dignity, not of the impotence, of the human
spirit.  But it is not only in tragedy that the Greek spirit showed
itself capable of thus bringing joy out of matter in itself full of
discouragements.  Theocritus too strikes often a note of romantic
sadness.  But what a blithe and steady poise, above these
discouragements, in a clear and sunny stratum of the air!

Into this stage of Greek achievement Winckelmann did not enter.
Supreme as he is where his true interest lay, his insight into the
typical unity and repose of the highest sort of sculpture seems to
have involved limitation in another direction.  His conception of
art excludes that bolder type of it which deals confidently and
serenely with life, conflict, evil.  Living in a world of exquisite
but abstract and colourless form, he could hardly have conceived
of the subtle and penetrative, yet somewhat grotesque art of the
modern world.  What would he have thought of Gilliatt, in Victor
Hugo's Travailleurs de la Mer, or of the bleeding mouth of
Fantine in the first part of Les Misérables, penetrated as those
books are with a sense of beauty, as lively and transparent as that
of a Greek?  Nay, a sort of preparation for the romantic temper is
noticeable even within the limits of the Greek ideal itself, [224]
which for his part Winckelmann failed to see.  For Greek religion
has not merely its mournful mysteries of Adonis, of Hyacinthus,
of Demeter, but it is conscious also of the fall of earlier divine
dynasties.  Hyperion gives way to Apollo, Oceanus to Poseidon.
Around the feet of that tranquil Olympian family still crowd the
weary shadows of an earlier, more formless, divine world.  The
placid minds even of Olympian gods are troubled with thoughts
of a limit to duration, of inevitable decay, of dispossession.
Again, the supreme and colourless abstraction of those divine
forms, which is the secret of their repose, is also a premonition of
the fleshless, consumptive refinements of the pale, medieval
artists.  That high indifference to the outward, that impassivity,
has already a touch of the corpse in it: we see already Angelico
and the Master of the Passion in the artistic future.  The
suppression of the sensuous, the shutting of the door upon it, the
ascetic interest, may be even now foreseen.  Those abstracted
gods, "ready to melt out their essence fine into the winds," who
can fold up their flesh as a garment, and still remain themselves,
seem already to feel that bleak air, in which like Helen of Troy,
they wander as the spectres of the middle age.

Gradually, as the world came into the church, an artistic interest,
native in the human soul, reasserted its claims.  But Christian art
was still dependent on pagan examples, building the [225] shafts
of pagan temples into its churches, perpetuating the form of the
basilica, in later times working the disused amphitheatres as
stone quarries.  The sensuous expression of ideas which
unreservedly discredit the world of sense, was the delicate
problem which Christian art had before it.  If we think of
medieval painting, as it ranges from the early German schools,
still with something of the air of the charnel-house about them, to
the clear loveliness of Perugino, we shall see how that problem
was solved.  In the very "worship of sorrow" the native blitheness
of art asserted itself.  The religious spirit, as Hegel says, "smiled
through its tears."  So perfectly did the young Raphael infuse that
Heiterkeit, that pagan blitheness, into religious works, that his
picture of Saint Agatha at Bologna became to Goethe a step in
the evolution of Iphigenie.*  But in proportion as the gift of
smiling was found once more, there came also an aspiration
towards that lost antique art, some relics of which Christian art
had buried in itself, ready to work wonders when their day came.

The history of art has suffered as much as any history by
trenchant and absolute divisions.  Pagan and Christian art are
sometimes harshly opposed, and the Renaissance is represented
as a fashion which set in at a definite period.  That is the
superficial view: the deeper view is that which preserves the
identity of European culture. [226] The two are really continuous;
and there is a sense in which it may be said that the Renaissance
was an uninterrupted effort of the middle age, that it was ever
taking place.  When the actual relics of the antique were restored
to the world, in the view of the Christian ascetic it was as if an
ancient plague-pit had been opened.  All the world took the
contagion of the life of nature and of the senses.  And now it was
seen that the medieval spirit too had done something for the new
fortunes of the antique.  By hastening the decline of art, by
withdrawing interest from it and yet keeping unbroken the thread
of its traditions, it had suffered the human mind to repose itself,
that when day came it might awake, with eyes refreshed, to those
ancient, ideal forms.

The aim of a right criticism is to place Winckelmann in an
intellectual perspective, of which Goethe is the foreground.  For,
after all, he is infinitely less than Goethe; and it is chiefly because
at certain points he comes in contact with Goethe, that criticism
entertains consideration of him.  His relation to modern culture is
a peculiar one.  He is not of the modern world; nor is he wholly
of the eighteenth century, although so much of his outer life is
characteristic of it.  But that note of revolt against the eighteenth
century, which we detect in Goethe, was struck by Winckelmann.
Goethe illustrates a union of the Romantic spirit, in its adventure,
its variety, its profound subjectivity of soul, with Hellenism,
[227] in its transparency, its rationality, its desire of beauty--that
marriage of Faust and Helena, of which the art of the nineteenth
century is the child, the beautiful lad Euphorion, as Goethe
conceives him, on the crags, in the "splendour of battle and in
harness as for victory," his brows bound with light.*  Goethe
illustrates, too, the preponderance in this marriage of the Hellenic
element; and that element, in its true essence, was made known to
him by Winckelmann.

Breadth, centrality, with blitheness and repose, are the marks of
Hellenic culture.  Is such culture a lost art?  The local, accidental
colouring of its own age has passed from it; and the greatness that
is dead looks greater when every link with what is slight and
vulgar has been severed.  We can only see it at all in the
reflected, refined light which a great education creates for us.
Can we bring down that ideal into the gaudy, perplexed light of
modern life?

Certainly, for us of the modern world, with its conflicting claims,
its entangled interests, distracted by so many sorrows, with many
preoccupations, so bewildering an experience, the problem of
unity with ourselves, in blitheness and repose, is far harder than it
was for the Greek within the simple terms of antique life.  Yet,
not less than ever, the intellect demands completeness, centrality.
It is this which Winckelmann imprints on the imagination of
[228] Goethe, at the beginning of life, in its original and simplest
form, as in a fragment of Greek art itself, stranded on that
littered, indeterminate shore of Germany in the eighteenth
century.  In Winckelmann, this type comes to him, not as in a
book or a theory, but more importunately, because in a passionate
life, in a personality.  For Goethe, possessing all modern
interests, ready to be lost in the perplexed currents of modern
thought, he defines, in clearest outline, the eternal problem of
culture--balance, unity with one's self, consummate Greek
modelling.

 It could no longer be solved, as in Phryne ascending naked out of
the water, by perfection of bodily form, or any joyful union with
the external world: the shadows had grown too long, the light too
solemn, for that.  It could hardly be solved, as in Pericles or
Pheidias, by the direct exercise of any single talent: amid the
manifold claims of our modern intellectual life, that could only
have ended in a thin, one-sided growth.  Goethe's Hellenism was
of another order, the Allgemeinheit and Heiterkeit, the
completeness and serenity, of a watchful, exigent intellectualism.
Im Ganzen, Guten, Wahren, resolut zu leben:--is Goethe's
description of his own higher life; and what is meant by life in
the whole--im Ganzen?  It means the life of one for whom, over
and over again, what was once precious has become indifferent.
Every one who aims at the life of culture is met by many forms of
it, arising out [229] of the intense, laborious, one-sided
development of some special talent.  They are the brightest
enthusiasms the world has to show: and it is not their part to
weigh the claims which this or that alien form of genius makes
upon them.  But the proper instinct of self-culture cares not so
much to reap all that those various forms of genius can give, as to
find in them its own strength.  The demand of the intellect is to
feel itself alive.  It must see into the laws, the operation, the
intellectual reward of every divided form of culture; but only that
it may measure the relation between itself and them.  It struggles
with those forms till its secret is won from each, and then lets
each fall back into its place, in the supreme, artistic view of life.
With a kind of passionate coldness, such natures rejoice to be
away from and past their former selves, and above all, they are
jealous of that abandonment to one special gift which really
limits their capabilities.  It would have been easy for Goethe,
with the gift of a sensuous nature, to let it overgrow him.  It
comes easily and naturally, perhaps, to certain "other-worldly"
natures to be even as the Schöne Seele, that ideal of gentle
pietism, in Wilhelm Meister: but to the large vision of Goethe,
this seemed to be a phase of life that a man might feel all round,
and leave behind him.  Again, it is easy to indulge the
commonplace metaphysical instinct.  But a taste for metaphysics
may be one of those things which we must renounce, if we [230]
mean to mould our lives to artistic perfection.  Philosophy serves
culture, not by the fancied gift of absolute or transcendental
knowledge, but by suggesting questions which help one to detect
the passion, and strangeness, and dramatic contrasts of life.

But Goethe's culture did not remain "behind the veil": it ever
emerged in the practical functions of art, in actual production.
For him the problem came to be:--Can the blitheness and
universality of the antique ideal be communicated to artistic
productions, which shall contain the fulness of the experience of
the modern world?  We have seen that the development of the
various forms of art has corresponded to the development of the
thoughts of man concerning humanity, to the growing revelation
of the mind to itself.  Sculpture corresponds to the unperplexed,
emphatic outlines of Hellenic humanism; painting to the mystic
depth and intricacy of the middle age; music and poetry have
their fortune in the modern world.

Let us understand by poetry all literary production which attains
the power of giving pleasure by its form, as distinct from its
matter.  Only in this varied literary form can art command that
width, variety, delicacy of resources, which will enable it to deal
with the conditions of modern life.  What modern art has to do in
the service of culture is so to rearrange the details of modern life,
so to reflect it, that it may satisfy the spirit. [231] And what does
the spirit need in the face of modern life?  The sense of freedom.
That naïve, rough sense of freedom, which supposes man's will
to be limited, if at all, only by a will stronger than his, he can
never have again.  The attempt to represent it in art would have
so little verisimilitude that it would be flat and uninteresting.  The
chief factor in the thoughts of the modern mind concerning itself
is the intricacy, the universality of natural law, even in the moral
order.  For us, necessity is not, as of old, a sort of mythological
personage without us, with whom we can do warfare.  It is rather
a magic web woven through and through us, like that magnetic
system of which modern science speaks, penetrating us with a
network, subtler than our subtlest nerves, yet bearing in it the
central forces of the world.  Can art represent men and women in
these bewildering toils so as to give the spirit at least an
equivalent for the sense of freedom?  Certainly, in Goethe's
romances, and even more in the romances of Victor Hugo, we
have high examples of modern art dealing thus with modern life,
regarding that life as the modern mind must regard it, yet
reflecting upon it blitheness and repose.  Natural laws we shall
never modify, embarrass us as they may; but there is still
something in the nobler or less noble attitude with which we
watch their fatal combinations.  In those romances of Goethe and
Victor Hugo, in some excellent work done after them, this [232]
entanglement, this network of law, becomes the tragic situation,
in which certain groups of noble men and women work out for
themselves a supreme Dénouement.  Who, if he saw through all,
would fret against the chain of circumstance which endows one at
the end with those great experiences?

1867.


NOTES

189. +Liddell and Scott definition: "late in learning, late to learn."

190. *Words of Charlotte Corday before the Convention.

191. +Pindar, Odes Book O., poem 10, line 99.  E-text editor's
translation: "beautiful in appearance, and blended with the fresh
spring of youth..."

194. + +Transliteration: philosophêsas pote met' erôtos.  Translation:
"Seeking knowledge alongside love."

209. +Symposium, Chapter 4, section 11, line 3.  E.C. Marchant,
Xenophontis opera omnia, vol. 2, 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1921 (repr. 1971).

225. *Italiänische Reise.  Bologna, 19 Oct.  1776.

227. *Faust, Th. ii. Act. 3.



CONCLUSION*

Legei pou Hêrakleitos hoti panta chorei kai ouden menei.+

[233] TO regard all things and principles of things as inconstant
modes or fashions has more and more become the tendency of modern
thought.  Let us begin with that which is without--our physical
life.  Fix upon it in one of its more exquisite intervals, the
moment, for instance, of delicious recoil from the flood of water
in summer heat.  What is the whole physical life in that moment
but a combination of natural elements to which science gives
their names?  But those elements, phosphorus and lime and
delicate fibres, are present not in the human body alone: we
detect them in places most remote from it.  Our physical life is a
perpetual motion of them--the passage of the blood, the waste
and repairing of the lenses of the eye, [234] the modification of
the tissues of the brain under every ray of light and sound--
processes which science reduces to simpler and more elementary
forces.  Like the elements of which we are composed, the action
of these forces extends beyond us: it rusts iron and ripens corn.
Far out on every side of us those elements are broadcast, driven
in many currents; and birth and gesture and death and the
springing of violets from the grave are but a few out of ten
thousand resultant combinations.  That clear, perpetual outline of
face and limb is but an image of ours, under which we group
them--a design in a web, the actual threads of which pass out
beyond it.  This at least of flamelike our life has, that it is but the
concurrence, renewed from moment to moment, of forces parting
sooner or later on their ways.

Or if we begin with the inward world of thought and feeling, the
whirlpool is still more rapid, the flame more eager and devouring.
There it is no longer the gradual darkening of the eye, the gradual
fading of colour from the wall--movements of the shore-side,
where the water flows down indeed, though in apparent rest--but
the race of the mid-stream, a drift of momentary acts of sight and
passion and thought.  At first sight experience seems to bury us
under a flood of external objects, pressing upon us with a sharp
and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves in a thousand
forms of action.  But when [235] reflexion begins to play upon
these objects they are dissipated under its influence; the cohesive
force seems suspended like some trick of magic; each object is
loosed into a group of impressions--colour, odour, texture--in the
mind of the observer.  And if we continue to dwell in thought on
this world, not of objects in the solidity with which language
invests them, but of impressions, unstable, flickering,
inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our
consciousness of them, it contracts still further: the whole scope
of observation is dwarfed into the narrow chamber of the
individual mind.  Experience, already reduced to a group of
impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall
of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its
way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be
without.  Every one of those impressions is the impression of the
individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a solitary
prisoner its own dream of a world.  Analysis goes a step farther
still, and assures us that those impressions of the individual mind
to which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in
perpetual flight; that each of them is limited by time, and that as
time is infinitely divisible, each of them is infinitely divisible
also; all that is actual in it being a single moment, gone while we
try to apprehend it, of which it may ever be more truly said that it
has ceased to be than that it is.  [236] To such a tremulous wisp
constantly re-forming itself on the stream, to a single sharp
impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, of
such moments gone by, what is real in our life fines itself down.
It is with this movement, with the passage and dissolution of
impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off--that
continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual weaving and
unweaving of ourselves.

Philosophiren, says Novalis, ist dephlegmatisiren, vivificiren.+
The service of philosophy, of speculative culture, towards the
human spirit, is to rouse, to startle it to a life of constant and
eager observation.  Every moment some form grows perfect in
hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the
rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is
irresistibly real and attractive to us,--for that moment only.  Not
the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end.  A
counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated,
dramatic life.  How may we see in them all that is to seen in them
by the finest senses?  How shall we pass most swiftly from point
to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest
number of vital forces unite in their purest energy?

To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this
ecstasy, is success in life.  In a sense it might even be said that
our failure is to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a
[237] stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the roughness of
the eye that makes any two persons, things, situations, seem
alike.  While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any
exquisite passion, or any contribution to knowledge that seems by
a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment, or any stirring
of the senses, strange dyes, strange colours, and curious odours,
or work of the artist's hands, or the face of one's friend.  Not to
discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those
about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic
dividing of forces on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and
sun, to sleep before evening.  With this sense of the splendour of
our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into
one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time
to make theories about the things we see and touch.  What we
have to do is to be for ever curiously testing new opinions and
courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile
orthodoxy of Comte, or of Hegel, or of our own.  Philosophical
theories or ideas, as points of view, instruments of criticism, may
help us to gather up what might otherwise pass unregarded by us.
"Philosophy is the microscope of thought."  The theory or idea or
system which requires of us the sacrifice of any part of this
experience, in consideration of some interest into which we
cannot enter, or some abstract theory we have not identified with
ourselves, [238] or of what is only conventional, has no real
claim upon us.

One of the most beautiful passages of Rousseau is that in the
sixth book of the Confessions, where he describes the awakening
in him of the literary sense.  An undefinable taint of death had
clung always about him, and now in early manhood he believed
himself smitten by mortal disease.  He asked himself how he
might make as much as possible of the interval that remained;
and he was not biassed by anything in his previous life when he
decided that it must be by intellectual excitement, which he found
just then in the clear, fresh writings of Voltaire.  Well!  we are all
condamnés, as Victor Hugo says: we are all under sentence of
death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve--les hommes sont tous
condamnés à mort avec des sursis indéfinis: we have an interval,
and then our place knows us no more.  Some spend this interval
in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among
"the children of this world," in art and song.  For our one chance
lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as
possible into the given time.  Great passions may give us this
quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various
forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which
come naturally to many of us.  Only be sure it is passion--that it
does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied
consciousness. [239] Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the
desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most.  For
art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the
highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for
those moments' sake.

1868.


NOTES

233. *This brief "Conclusion" was omitted in the second edition
of this book, as I conceived it might possibly mislead some of
those young men into whose hands it might fall.  On the whole, I
have thought it best to reprint it here, with some slight changes
which bring it closer to my original meaning.  I have dealt more
fully in Marius the Epicurean with the thoughts suggested by it.

233. +Pater's translation: "[Herakleitos says somewhere that] All things
give way; nothing remains."  Plato, Cratylus 402 A, as noted in
The Oxford Anthology of English Literature, eds. Lionel Trilling
and Harold Bloom.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 1973.

236. +Following William Buckler's emendation in Walter Pater:
Three Major Texts (New York: New York UP, 1986), I have
corrected dephlegmatisiren vivificiren to dephlegmatisiren,
vivificiren.

THE END





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