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Title: Italian Hours
Author: James, Henry
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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ITALIAN HOURS

By Henry James


Published November 1909



PREFACE

The chapters of which this volume is composed have with few exceptions
already been collected, and were then associated with others
commemorative of other impressions of (no very extensive) excursions and
wanderings. The notes on various visits to Italy are here for the first
time exclusively placed together, and as they largely refer to quite
other days than these--the date affixed to each paper sufficiently
indicating this--I have introduced a few passages that speak for a later
and in some cases a frequently repeated vision of the places and scenes
in question. I have not hesitated to amend my text, expressively,
wherever it seemed urgently to ask for this, though I have not pretended
to add the element of information or the weight of curious and critical
insistence to a brief record of light inquiries and conclusions.
The fond appeal of the observer concerned is all to aspects and
appearances--above all to the interesting face of things as it mainly
_used_ to be.

H. J.



CONTENTS

     VENICE
     THE GRAND CANAL
     VENICE: AN EARLY IMPRESSION
     TWO OLD HOUSES AND THREE YOUNG WOMEN
     CASA AL VISI
     FROM CHAMBÉRY TO MILAN
     THE OLD SAINT-GOTHARD
     ITALY REVISITED
     A ROMAN HOLIDAY
     ROMAN RIDES
     ROMAN NEIGHBOURHOODS
     THE AFTER-SEASON IN ROME
     FROM A ROMAN NOTE-BOOK
     A FEW OTHER ROMAN NEIGHBOURHOODS
     A CHAIN OF CITIES
     SIENA EARLY AND LATE
     THE AUTUMN IN FLORENCE
     FLORENTINE NOTES
     TUSCAN CITIES
     OTHER TUSCAN CITIES
     RAVENNA
     THE SAINT’S AFTERNOON AND OTHERS



     ILLUSTRATIONS

     THE HARBOUR, GENOA (Frontispiece)
     FLAGS AT ST. MARK’S, VENICE
     A NARROW CANAL, VENICE
     PALAZZO MOCENIGO, VENICE
     THE AMPHITHEATRE, VERONA
     CASA ALVISI, VENICE
     THE SIMPLON GATE, MILAN
     THE CLOCK TOWER, BERNE
     UNDER THE ARCADES, TURIN
     ROMAN GATEWAY, RIMINI
     SANTA MARIA NOVELLA, FLORENCE
     THE FAÇADE OF ST. JOHN LATERAN, ROME
     THE COLONNADE OF ST. PETER’S, ROME
     CASTEL GANDOLFO
     ENTRANCE TO THE VATICAN, ROME
     VILLA D’ ESTE, TIVOLI
     SUBIACO
     ASSISI
     PERUGIA
     ETRUSCAN GATEWAY, PERUGIA
     A STREET, CORTONA
     THE RED PALACE, SIENA
     SAN DOMENICO, SIENA
     ON THE ARNO, FLORENCE
     THE GREAT EAVES, FLORENCE
     BOBOLI GARDENS, FLORENCE
     THE HOSPITAL, PISTOIA
     THE LOGGIA, LUCCA
     TOWERS OF SAN GIMIGNANO
     SAN APOLLINARE NUOVO, RAVENNA
     RAVENNA PINETA
     TERRACINA



VENICE


It is a great pleasure to write the word; but I am not sure there is not
a certain impudence in pretending to add anything to it. Venice has been
painted and described many thousands of times, and of all the cities of
the world is the easiest to visit without going there. Open the
first book and you will find a rhapsody about it; step into the first
picture-dealer’s and you will find three or four high-coloured “views”
 of it. There is notoriously nothing more to be said on the subject.
Every one has been there, and every one has brought back a collection of
photographs. There is as little mystery about the Grand Canal as about
our local thoroughfare, and the name of St. Mark is as familiar as
the postman’s ring. It is not forbidden, however, to speak of familiar
things, and I hold that for the true Venice-lover Venice is always in
order. There is nothing new to be said about her certainly, but the
old is better than any novelty. It would be a sad day indeed when
there should be something new to say. I write these lines with the
full consciousness of having no information whatever to offer. I do not
pretend to enlighten the reader; I pretend only to give a fillip to his
memory; and I hold any writer sufficiently justified who is himself in
love with his theme.


I

Mr. Ruskin has given it up, that is very true; but only after extracting
half a lifetime of pleasure and an immeasurable quantity of fame from
it. We all may do the same, after it has served our turn, which it
probably will not cease to do for many a year to come. Meantime it is
Mr. Ruskin who beyond anyone helps us to enjoy. He has indeed lately
produced several aids to depression in the shape of certain little
humorous--ill-humorous--pamphlets (the series of _St. Mark’s Rest_)
which embody his latest reflections on the subject of our city and
describe the latest atrocities perpetrated there. These latter are
numerous and deeply to be deplored; but to admit that they have spoiled
Venice would be to admit that Venice may be spoiled--an admission
pregnant, as it seems to us, with disloyalty. Fortunately one reacts
against the Ruskinian contagion, and one hour of the lagoon is worth a
hundred pages of demoralised prose. This queer late-coming prose of
Mr. Ruskin (including the revised and condensed issue of the _Stones of
Venice_, only one little volume of which has been published, or perhaps
ever will be) is all to be read, though much of it appears addressed to
children of tender age. It is pitched in the nursery-key, and might
be supposed to emanate from an angry governess. It is, however,
all suggestive, and much of it is delightfully just. There is an
inconceivable want of form in it, though the author has spent his life
in laying down the principles of form and scolding people for departing
from them; but it throbs and flashes with the love of his subject--a
love disconcerted and abjured, but which has still much of the force of
inspiration. Among the many strange things that have befallen Venice,
she has had the good fortune to become the object of a passion to a man
of splendid genius, who has made her his own and in doing so has made
her the world’s. There is no better reading at Venice therefore, as I
say, than Ruskin, for every true Venice-lover can separate the wheat
from the chaff. The narrow theological spirit, the moralism _à tout
propos_, the queer provincialities and pruderies, are mere wild weeds in
a mountain of flowers. One may doubtless be very happy in Venice without
reading at all--without criticising or analysing or thinking a strenuous
thought. It is a city in which, I suspect, there is very little
strenuous thinking, and yet it is a city in which there must be almost
as much happiness as misery. The misery of Venice stands there for all
the world to see; it is part of the spectacle--a thoroughgoing devotee
of local colour might consistently say it is part of the pleasure. The
Venetian people have little to call their own--little more than the bare
privilege of leading their lives in the most beautiful of towns. Their
habitations are decayed; their taxes heavy; their pockets light; their
opportunities few. One receives an impression, however, that life
presents itself to them with attractions not accounted for in this
meagre train of advantages, and that they are on better terms with
it than many people who have made a better bargain. They lie in the
sunshine; they dabble in the sea; they wear bright rags; they fall into
attitudes and harmonies; they assist at an eternal _conversazione_. It
is not easy to say that one would have them other than they are, and it
certainly would make an immense difference should they be better fed.
The number of persons in Venice who evidently never have enough to eat
is painfully large; but it would be more painful if we did not equally
perceive that the rich Venetian temperament may bloom upon a dog’s
allowance. Nature has been kind to it, and sunshine and leisure
and conversation and beautiful views form the greater part of its
sustenance. It takes a great deal to make a successful American, but
to make a happy Venetian takes only a handful of quick sensibility.
The Italian people have at once the good and the evil fortune to be
conscious of few wants; so that if the civilisation of a society is
measured by the number of its needs, as seems to be the common opinion
to-day, it is to be feared that the children of the lagoon would make
but a poor figure in a set of comparative tables. Not their misery,
doubtless, but the way they elude their misery, is what pleases the
sentimental tourist, who is gratified by the sight of a beautiful race
that lives by the aid of its imagination. The way to enjoy Venice is
to follow the example of these people and make the most of simple
pleasures. Almost all the pleasures of the place are simple; this may be
maintained even under the imputation of ingenious paradox. There is no
simpler pleasure than looking at a fine Titian, unless it be looking at
a fine Tintoret or strolling into St. Mark’s,--abominable the way one
falls into the habit,--and resting one’s light-wearied eyes upon the
windowless gloom; or than floating in a gondola or than hanging over
a balcony or than taking one’s coffee at Florian’s. It is of such
superficial pastimes that a Venetian day is composed, and the pleasure
of the matter is in the emotions to which they minister. These are
fortunately of the finest--otherwise Venice would be insufferably dull.
Reading Ruskin is good; reading the old records is perhaps better; but
the best thing of all is simply staying on. The only way to care for
Venice as she deserves it is to give her a chance to touch you often--to
linger and remain and return.


II

The danger is that you will not linger enough--a danger of which the
author of these lines had known something. It is possible to dislike
Venice, and to entertain the sentiment in a responsible and intelligent
manner. There are travellers who think the place odious, and those who
are not of this opinion often find themselves wishing that the others
were only more numerous. The sentimental tourist’s sole quarrel with his
Venice is that he has too many competitors there. He likes to be
alone; to be original; to have (to himself, at least) the air of making
discoveries. The Venice of to-day is a vast museum where the little
wicket that admits you is perpetually turning and creaking, and you
march through the institution with a herd of fellow-gazers. There is
nothing left to discover or describe, and originality of attitude is
completely impossible. This is often very annoying; you can only turn
your back on your impertinent playfellow and curse his want of delicacy.
But this is not the fault of Venice; it is the fault of the rest of the
world. The fault of Venice is that, though she is easy to admire, she is
not so easy to live with as you count living in other places. After you
have stayed a week and the bloom of novelty has rubbed off you wonder if
you can accommodate yourself to the peculiar conditions. Your old habits
become impracticable and you find yourself obliged to form new ones of
an undesirable and unprofitable character. You are tired of your gondola
(or you think you are) and you have seen all the principal pictures
and heard the names of the palaces announced a dozen times by your
gondolier, who brings them out almost as impressively as if he were
an English butler bawling titles into a drawing-room. You have walked
several hundred times round the Piazza and bought several bushels of
photographs. You have visited the antiquity mongers whose horrible
sign-boards dishonour some of the grandest vistas in the Grand Canal;
you have tried the opera and found it very bad; you have bathed at
the Lido and found the water flat. You have begun to have a
shipboard-feeling--to regard the Piazza as an enormous saloon and
the Riva degli Schiavoni as a promenade-deck. You are obstructed and
encaged; your desire for space is unsatisfied; you miss your usual
exercise. You try to take a walk and you fail, and meantime, as I say,
you have come to regard your gondola as a sort of magnified baby’s
cradle. You have no desire to be rocked to sleep, though you are
sufficiently kept awake by the irritation produced, as you gaze across
the shallow lagoon, by the attitude of the perpetual gondolier, with his
turned-out toes, his protruded chin, his absurdly unscientific stroke.
The canals have a horrible smell, and the everlasting Piazza, where you
have looked repeatedly at every article in every shop-window and found
them all rubbish, where the young Venetians who sell bead bracelets and
“panoramas” are perpetually thrusting their wares at you, where the same
tightly-buttoned officers are for ever sucking the same black weeds, at
the same empty tables, in front of the same cafés--the Piazza, as I say,
has resolved itself into a magnificent tread-mill. This is the state
of mind of those shallow inquirers who find Venice all very well for
a week; and if in such a state of mind you take your departure you act
with fatal rashness. The loss is your own, moreover; it is not--with
all deference to your personal attractions--that of your companions who
remain behind; for though there are some disagreeable things in Venice
there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors. The conditions are
peculiar, but your intolerance of them evaporates before it has had time
to become a prejudice. When you have called for the bill to go, pay it
and remain, and you will find on the morrow that you are deeply attached
to Venice. It is by living there from day to day that you feel the
fulness of her charm; that you invite her exquisite influence to sink
into your spirit. The creature varies like a nervous woman, whom you
know only when you know all the aspects of her beauty. She has high
spirits or low, she is pale or red, grey or pink, cold or warm, fresh or
wan, according to the weather or the hour. She is always interesting
and almost always sad; but she has a thousand occasional graces and is
always liable to happy accidents. You become extraordinarily fond of
these things; you count upon them; they make part of your life. Tenderly
fond you become; there is something indefinable in those depths of
personal acquaintance that gradually establish themselves. The place
seems to personify itself, to become human and sentient and conscious of
your affection. You desire to embrace it, to caress it, to possess it;
and finally a soft sense of possession grows up and your visit becomes a
perpetual love-affair. It is very true that if you go, as the author
of these lines on a certain occasion went, about the middle of March, a
certain amount of disappointment is possible. He had paid no visit for
several years, and in the interval the beautiful and helpless city had
suffered an increase of injury. The barbarians are in full possession
and you tremble for what they may do. You are reminded from the moment
of your arrival that Venice scarcely exists any more as a city at all;
that she exists only as a battered peep-show and bazaar. There was a
horde of savage Germans encamped in the Piazza, and they filled
the Ducal Palace and the Academy with their uproar. The English and
Americans came a little later. They came in good time, with a great many
French, who were discreet enough to make very long repasts at the Caffè
Quadri, during which they were out of the way. The months of April and
May of the year 1881 were not, as a general thing, a favourable season
for visiting the Ducal Palace and the Academy. The _valet-de-place_
had marked them for his own and held triumphant possession of them. He
celebrates his triumphs in a terrible brassy voice, which resounds all
over the place, and has, whatever language he be speaking, the accent
of some other idiom. During all the spring months in Venice these gentry
abound in the great resorts, and they lead their helpless captives
through churches and galleries in dense irresponsible groups. They
infest the Piazza; they pursue you along the Riva; they hang about
the bridges and the doors of the cafés. In saying just now that I was
disappointed at first, I had chiefly in mind the impression that assails
me to-day in the whole precinct of St. Mark’s. The condition of
this ancient sanctuary is surely a great scandal. The pedlars and
commissioners ply their trade--often a very unclean one--at the very
door of the temple; they follow you across the threshold, into the
sacred dusk, and pull your sleeve, and hiss into your ear, scuffling
with each other for customers. There is a great deal of dishonour about
St. Mark’s altogether, and if Venice, as I say, has become a great
bazaar, this exquisite edifice is now the biggest booth.


III

It is treated as a booth in all ways, and if it had not somehow a great
spirit of solemnity within it the traveller would soon have little
warrant for regarding it as a religious affair. The restoration of the
outer walls, which has lately been so much attacked and defended, is
certainly a great shock. Of the necessity of the work only an expert
is, I suppose, in a position to judge; but there is no doubt that, if
a necessity it be, it is one that is deeply to be regretted. To no
more distressing necessity have people of taste lately had to resign
themselves. Wherever the hand of the restorer has been laid all
semblance of beauty has vanished; which is a sad fact, considering that
the external loveliness of St. Mark’s has been for ages less impressive
only than that of the still comparatively uninjured interior. I know not
what is the measure of necessity in such a case, and it appears indeed
to be a very delicate question. To-day, at any rate, that admirable
harmony of faded mosaic and marble which, to the eye of the traveller
emerging from the narrow streets that lead to the Piazza, filled all the
further end of it with a sort of dazzling silver presence--to-day this
lovely vision is in a way to be completely reformed and indeed well-nigh
abolished. The old softness and mellowness of colour--the work of the
quiet centuries and of the breath of the salt sea--is giving way to
large crude patches of new material which have the effect of a monstrous
malady rather than of a restoration to health. They look like blotches
of red and white paint and dishonourable smears of chalk on the cheeks
of a noble matron. The face toward the Piazzetta is in especial the
newest-looking thing conceivable--as new as a new pair of boots or
as the morning’s paper. We do not profess, however, to undertake a
scientific quarrel with these changes; we admit that our complaint is
a purely sentimental one. The march of industry in united Italy must
doubtless be looked at as a whole, and one must endeavour to believe
that it is through innumerable lapses of taste that this deeply
interesting country is groping her way to her place among the nations.
For the present, it is not to be denied, certain odd phases of the
process are more visible than the result, to arrive at which it seems
necessary that, as she was of old a passionate votary of the beautiful,
she should to-day burn everything that she has adored. It is doubtless
too soon to judge her, and there are moments when one is willing to
forgive her even the restoration of St. Mark’s. Inside as well there has
been a considerable attempt to make the place more tidy; but the general
effect, as yet, has not seriously suffered. What I chiefly remember is
the straightening out of that dark and rugged old pavement--those deep
undulations of primitive mosaic in which the fond spectator was thought
to perceive an intended resemblance to the waves of the ocean. Whether
intended or not the analogy was an image the more in a treasure-house
of images; but from a considerable portion of the church it has now
disappeared. Throughout the greater part indeed the pavement remains as
recent generations have known it--dark, rich, cracked, uneven, spotted
with porphyry and time-blackened malachite, polished by the knees of
innumerable worshippers; but in other large stretches the idea imitated
by the restorers is that of the ocean in a dead calm, and the model they
have taken the floor of a London club-house or of a New York hotel.
I think no Venetian and scarcely any Italian cares much for such
differences; and when, a year ago, people in England were writing to the
_Times_ about the whole business and holding meetings to protest against
it the dear children of the lagoon--so far as they heard or heeded the
rumour--thought them partly busy-bodies and partly asses. Busy-bodies
they doubtless were, but they took a good deal of disinterested trouble.
It never occurs to the Venetian mind of to-day that such trouble may be
worth taking; the Venetian mind vainly endeavours to conceive a state of
existence in which personal questions are so insipid that people have
to look for grievances in the wrongs of brick and marble. I must not,
however, speak of St. Mark’s as if I had the pretension of giving a
description of it or as if the reader desired one. The reader has been
too well served already. It is surely the best-described building in the
world. Open the _Stones of Venice_, open Théophile Gautier’s _Italia_,
and you will see. These writers take it very seriously, and it is only
because there is another way of taking it that I venture to speak of
it; the way that offers itself after you have been in Venice a couple of
months, and the light is hot in the great Square, and you pass in under
the pictured porticoes with a feeling of habit and friendliness and a
desire for something cool and dark. There are moments, after all, when
the church is comparatively quiet and empty, and when you may sit there
with an easy consciousness of its beauty. From the moment, of course,
that you go into any Italian church for any purpose but to say your
prayers or look at the ladies, you rank yourself among the trooping
barbarians I just spoke of; you treat the place as an orifice in the
peep-show. Still, it is almost a spiritual function--or, at the worst,
an amorous one--to feed one’s eyes on the molten colour that drops from
the hollow vaults and thickens the air with its richness. It is all so
quiet and sad and faded and yet all so brilliant and living. The strange
figures in the mosaic pictures, bending with the curve of niche and
vault, stare down through the glowing dimness; the burnished gold that
stands behind them catches the light on its little uneven cubes. St.
Mark’s owes nothing of its character to the beauty of proportion or
perspective; there is nothing grandly balanced or far-arching; there
are no long lines nor triumphs of the perpendicular. The church arches
indeed, but arches like a dusky cavern. Beauty of surface, of tone,
of detail, of things near enough to touch and kneel upon and lean
against--it is from this the effect proceeds. In this sort of beauty the
place is incredibly rich, and you may go there every day and find afresh
some lurking pictorial nook. It is a treasury of bits, as the painters
say; and there are usually three or four of the fraternity with their
easels set up in uncertain equilibrium on the undulating floor. It is
not easy to catch the real complexion of St. Mark’s, and these laudable
attempts at portraiture are apt to look either lurid or livid. But if
you cannot paint the old loose-looking marble slabs, the great panels
of basalt and jasper, the crucifixes of which the lonely anguish looks
deeper in the vertical light, the tabernacles whose open doors disclose
a dark Byzantine image spotted with dull, crooked gems--if you cannot
paint these things you can at least grow fond of them. You grow fond
even of the old benches of red marble, partly worn away by the breeches
of many generations and attached to the base of those wide pilasters of
which the precious plating, delightful in its faded brownness, with a
faint grey bloom upon it, bulges and yawns a little with honourable age.

{Illustration: FLAGS AT ST. MARK’S VENICE}


IV

Even at first, when the vexatious sense of the city of the Doges reduced
to earning its living as a curiosity-shop was in its keenness, there was
a great deal of entertainment to be got from lodging on Riva Schiavoni
and looking out at the far-shimmering lagoon. There was entertainment
indeed in simply getting into the place and observing the queer
incidents of a Venetian installation. A great many persons contribute
indirectly to this undertaking, and it is surprising how they spring
out at you during your novitiate to remind you that they are bound up
in some mysterious manner with the constitution of your little
establishment. It was an interesting problem for instance to trace the
subtle connection existing between the niece of the landlady and the
occupancy of the fourth floor. Superficially it was none too visible, as
the young lady in question was a dancer at the Fenice theatre--or when
that was closed at the Rossini--and might have been supposed absorbed by
her professional duties. It proved necessary, however, that she should
hover about the premises in a velvet jacket and a pair of black kid
gloves with one little white button; as also, that she should apply a
thick coating of powder to her face, which had a charming oval and a
sweet weak expression, like that of most of the Venetian maidens,
who, as a general thing--it was not a peculiarity of the land-lady’s
niece--are fond of besmearing themselves with flour. You soon recognise
that it is not only the many-twinkling lagoon you behold from a
habitation on the Riva; you see a little of everything Venetian.
Straight across, before my windows, rose the great pink mass of San
Giorgio Maggiore, which has for an ugly Palladian church a success
beyond all reason. It is a success of position, of colour, of the
immense detached Campanile, tipped with a tall gold angel. I know not
whether it is because San Giorgio is so grandly conspicuous, with a
great deal of worn, faded-looking brickwork; but for many persons the
whole place has a kind of suffusion of rosiness. Asked what may be the
leading colour in the Venetian concert, we should inveterately say Pink,
and yet without remembering after all that this elegant hue occurs
very often. It is a faint, shimmering, airy, watery pink; the bright
sea-light seems to flush with it and the pale whiteish-green of lagoon
and canal to drink it in. There is indeed a great deal of very evident
brickwork, which is never fresh or loud in colour, but always burnt out,
as it were, always exquisitely mild.

Certain little mental pictures rise before the collector of memories at
the simple mention, written or spoken, of the places he has loved. When
I hear, when I see, the magical name I have written above these pages,
it is not of the great Square that I think, with its strange basilica
and its high arcades, nor of the wide mouth of the Grand Canal, with the
stately steps and the well-poised dome of the Salute; it is not of
the low lagoon, nor the sweet Piazzetta, nor the dark chambers of St.
Mark’s. I simply see a narrow canal in the heart of the city--a patch
of green water and a surface of pink wall. The gondola moves slowly; it
gives a great smooth swerve, passes under a bridge, and the gondolier’s
cry, carried over the quiet water, makes a kind of splash in the
stillness. A girl crosses the little bridge, which has an arch like
a camel’s back, with an old shawl on her head, which makes her
characteristic and charming; you see her against the sky as you float
beneath. The pink of the old wall seems to fill the whole place; it
sinks even into the opaque water. Behind the wall is a garden, out
of which the long arm of a white June rose--the roses of Venice are
splendid--has flung itself by way of spontaneous ornament. On the other
side of this small water-way is a great shabby facade of Gothic windows
and balconies--balconies on which dirty clothes are hung and under
which a cavernous-looking doorway opens from a low flight of slimy
water-steps. It is very hot and still, the canal has a queer smell, and
the whole place is enchanting.

{Illustration: A NARROW CANAL, VENICE}

It is poor work, however, talking about the colour of things in Venice.
The fond spectator is perpetually looking at it from his window, when he
is not floating about with that delightful sense of being for the moment
a part of it, which any gentleman in a gondola is free to entertain.
Venetian windows and balconies are a dreadful lure, and while you rest
your elbows on these cushioned ledges the precious hours fly away. But
in truth Venice isn’t in fair weather a place for concentration of mind.
The effort required for sitting down to a writing-table is heroic,
and the brightest page of MS. looks dull beside the brilliancy of your
_milieu_. All nature beckons you forth and murmurs to you sophistically
that such hours should be devoted to collecting impressions. Afterwards,
in ugly places, at unprivileged times, you can convert your impressions
into prose. Fortunately for the present proser the weather wasn’t always
fine; the first month was wet and windy, and it was better to judge
of the matter from an open casement than to respond to the advances
of persuasive gondoliers. Even then however there was a constant
entertainment in the view. It was all cold colour, and the steel-grey
floor of the lagoon was stroked the wrong way by the wind. Then there
were charming cool intervals, when the churches, the houses, the
anchored fishing-boats, the whole gently-curving line of the Riva,
seemed to be washed with a pearly white. Later it all turned warm--warm
to the eye as well as to other senses. After the middle of May the whole
place was in a glow. The sea took on a thousand shades, but they were
only infinite variations of blue, and those rosy walls I just spoke of
began to flush in the thick sunshine. Every patch of colour, every yard
of weather-stained stucco, every glimpse of nestling garden or daub of
sky above a _calle_, began to shine and sparkle--began, as the painters
say, to “compose.” The lagoon was streaked with odd currents, which
played across it like huge smooth finger-marks. The gondolas multiplied
and spotted it allover; every gondola and gondolier looking, at a
distance, precisely like every other.

There is something strange and fascinating in this mysterious
impersonality of the gondola. It has an identity when you are in it,
but, thanks to their all being of the same size, shape and colour, and
of the same deportment and gait, it has none, or as little as possible,
as you see it pass before you. From my windows on the Riva there was
always the same silhouette--the long, black, slender skiff, lifting its
head and throwing it back a little, moving yet seeming not to move, with
the grotesquely-graceful figure on the poop. This figure inclines,
as may be, more to the graceful or to the grotesque--standing in the
“second position” of the dancing-master, but indulging from the waist
upward in a freedom of movement which that functionary would deprecate.
One may say as a general thing that there is something rather awkward in
the movement even of the most graceful gondolier, and something graceful
in the movement of the most awkward. In the graceful men of course the
grace predominates, and nothing can be finer than the large, firm way
in which, from their point of vantage, they throw themselves over
their tremendous oar. It has the boldness of a plunging bird and
the regularity of a pendulum. Sometimes, as you see this movement in
profile, in a gondola that passes you--see, as you recline on your own
low cushions, the arching body of the gondolier lifted up against the
sky--it has a kind of nobleness which suggests an image on a Greek
frieze. The gondolier at Venice is your very good friend--if you choose
him happily--and on the quality of the personage depends a good deal
that of your impressions. He is a part of your daily life, your double,
your shadow, your complement. Most people, I think, either like their
gondolier or hate him; and if they like him, like him very much. In this
case they take an interest in him after his departure; wish him to be
sure of employment, speak of him as the gem of gondoliers and tell their
friends to be certain to “secure” him. There is usually no difficulty in
securing him; there is nothing elusive or reluctant about a gondolier.
Nothing would induce me not to believe them for the most part excellent
fellows, and the sentimental tourist must always have a kindness for
them. More than the rest of the population, of course, they are the
children of Venice; they are associated with its idiosyncrasy, with its
essence, with its silence, with its melancholy.

When I say they are associated with its silence I should immediately add
that they are associated also with its sound. Among themselves they are
an extraordinarily talkative company. They chatter at the _traghetti_,
where they always have some sharp point under discussion; they bawl
across the canals; they bespeak your commands as you approach; they defy
each other from afar. If you happen to have a _traghetto_ under your
window, you are well aware that they are a vocal race. I should go even
further than I went just now, and say that the voice of the gondolier is
in fact for audibility the dominant or rather the only note of Venice.
There is scarcely another heard sound, and that indeed is part of the
interest of the place. There is no noise there save distinctly human
noise; no rumbling, no vague uproar, nor rattle of wheels and hoofs. It
is all articulate and vocal and personal. One may say indeed that Venice
is emphatically the city of conversation; people talk all over the place
because there is nothing to interfere with its being caught by the ear.
Among the populace it is a general family party. The still water carries
the voice, and good Venetians exchange confidences at a distance of half
a mile. It saves a world of trouble, and they don’t like trouble. Their
delightful garrulous language helps them to make Venetian life a
long _conversazione_. This language, with its soft elisions, its
odd transpositions, its kindly contempt for consonants and other
disagreeables, has in it something peculiarly human and accommodating.
If your gondolier had no other merit he would have the merit that he
speaks Venetian. This may rank as a merit even--some people perhaps
would say especially--when you don’t understand what he says. But he
adds to it other graces which make him an agreeable feature in your
life. The price he sets on his services is touchingly small, and he
has a happy art of being obsequious without being, or at least without
seeming, abject. For occasional liberalities he evinces an almost
lyrical gratitude. In short he has delightfully good manners, a merit
which he shares for the most part with the Venetians at large. One
grows very fond of these people, and the reason of one’s fondness is the
frankness and sweetness of their address. That of the Italian family
at large has much to recommend it; but in the Venetian manner there is
something peculiarly ingratiating. One feels that the race is old, that
it has a long and rich civilisation in its blood, and that if it hasn’t
been blessed by fortune it has at least been polished by time. It hasn’t
a genius for stiff morality, and indeed makes few pretensions in that
direction. It scruples but scantly to represent the false as the
true, and has been accused of cultivating the occasion to grasp and
to overreach, and of steering a crooked course--not to your and my
advantage--amid the sanctities of property. It has been accused further
of loving if not too well at least too often, of being in fine as little
austere as possible. I am not sure it is very brave, nor struck with its
being very industrious. But it has an unfailing sense of the amenities
of life; the poorest Venetian is a natural man of the world. He is
better company than persons of his class are apt to be among the nations
of industry and virtue--where people are also sometimes perceived to lie
and steal and otherwise misconduct themselves. He has a great desire to
please and to be pleased.


V

In that matter at least the cold-blooded stranger begins at last to
imitate him; begins to lead a life that shall be before all things easy;
unless indeed he allow himself, like Mr. Ruskin, to be put out of humour
by Titian and Tiepolo. The hours he spends among the pictures are his
best hours in Venice, and I am ashamed to have written so much of
common things when I might have been making festoons of the names of
the masters. Only, when we have covered our page with such festoons
what more is left to say? When one has said Carpaccio and Bellini, the
Tintoret and the Veronese, one has struck a note that must be left to
resound at will. Everything has been said about the mighty painters, and
it is of little importance that a pilgrim the more has found them to
his taste. “Went this morning to the Academy; was very much pleased with
Titian’s ‘Assumption.’” That honest phrase has doubtless been written
in many a traveller’s diary, and was not indiscreet on the part of
its author. But it appeals little to the general reader, and we must
moreover notoriously not expose our deepest feelings. Since I have
mentioned Titian’s “Assumption” I must say that there are some people
who have been less pleased with it than the observer we have just
imagined. It is one of the possible disappointments of Venice, and you
may if you like take advantage of your privilege of not caring for it.
It imparts a look of great richness to the side of the beautiful room of
the Academy on which it hangs; but the same room contains two or three
works less known to fame which are equally capable of inspiring a
passion. “The ‘Annunciation’ struck me as coarse and superficial”: that
note was once made in a simple-minded tourist’s book. At Venice, strange
to say, Titian is altogether a disappointment; the city of his adoption
is far from containing the best of him. Madrid, Paris, London, Florence,
Dresden, Munich--these are the homes of his greatness.

There are other painters who have but a single home, and the greatest of
these is the Tintoret. Close beside him sit Carpaccio and Bellini, who
make with him the dazzling Venetian trio. The Veronese may be seen and
measured in other places; he is most splendid in Venice, but he shines
in Paris and in Dresden. You may walk out of the noon-day dusk of
Trafalgar Square in November, and in one of the chambers of the National
Gallery see the family of Darius rustling and pleading and weeping
at the feet of Alexander. Alexander is a beautiful young Venetian in
crimson pantaloons, and the picture sends a glow into the cold London
twilight. You may sit before it for an hour and dream you are floating
to the water-gate of the Ducal Palace, where a certain old beggar who
has one of the handsomest heads in the world--he has sat to a hundred
painters for Doges and for personages more sacred--has a prescriptive
right to pretend to pull your gondola to the steps and to hold out a
greasy immemorial cap. But you must go to Venice in very fact to see
the other masters, who form part of your life while you are there, who
illuminate your view of the universe. It is difficult to express one’s
relation to them; the whole Venetian art-world is so near, so familiar,
so much an extension and adjunct of the spreading actual, that it seems
almost invidious to say one owes more to one of them than to the other.
Nowhere, not even in Holland, where the correspondence between the
real aspects and the little polished canvases is so constant and so
exquisite, do art and life seem so interfused and, as it were, so
consanguineous. All the splendour of light and colour, all the Venetian
air and the Venetian history are on the walls and ceilings of the
palaces; and all the genius of the masters, all the images and visions
they have left upon canvas, seem to tremble in the sunbeams and dance
upon the waves. That is the perpetual interest of the place--that you
live in a certain sort of knowledge as in a rosy cloud. You don’t go
into the churches and galleries by way of a change from the streets;
you go into them because they offer you an exquisite reproduction of
the things that surround you. All Venice was both model and painter,
and life was so pictorial that art couldn’t help becoming so. With
all diminutions life is pictorial still, and this fact gives an
extraordinary freshness to one’s perception of the great Venetian works.
You judge of them not as a connoisseur, but as a man of the world, and
you enjoy them because they are so social and so true. Perhaps of all
works of art that are equally great they demand least reflection on the
part of the spectator--they make least of a mystery of being enjoyed.
Reflection only confirms your admiration, yet is almost ashamed to show
its head. These things speak so frankly and benignantly to the sense
that even when they arrive at the highest style--as in the Tintoret’s
“Presentation of the little Virgin at the Temple”--they are still more
familiar.

But it is hard, as I say, to express all this, and it is painful as well
to attempt it--painful because in the memory of vanished hours so filled
with beauty the consciousness of present loss oppresses. Exquisite
hours, enveloped in light and silence, to have known them once is to
have always a terrible standard of enjoyment. Certain lovely mornings
of May and June come back with an ineffaceable fairness. Venice isn’t
smothered in flowers at this season, in the manner of Florence and Rome;
but the sea and sky themselves seem to blossom and rustle. The gondola
waits at the wave-washed steps, and if you are wise you will take your
place beside a discriminating companion. Such a companion in Venice
should of course be of the sex that discriminates most finely. An
intelligent woman who knows her Venice seems doubly intelligent, and it
makes no woman’s perceptions less keen to be aware that she can’t help
looking graceful as she is borne over the waves. The handsome Pasquale,
with uplifted oar, awaits your command, knowing, in a general way,
from observation of your habits, that your intention is to go to see
a picture or two. It perhaps doesn’t immensely matter what picture
you choose: the whole affair is so charming. It is charming to wander
through the light and shade of intricate canals, with perpetual
architecture above you and perpetual fluidity beneath. It is charming
to disembark at the polished steps of a little empty _campo_--a sunny
shabby square with an old well in the middle, an old church on one
side and tall Venetian windows looking down. Sometimes the windows are
tenantless; sometimes a lady in a faded dressing-gown leans vaguely on
the sill. There is always an old man holding out his hat for
coppers; there are always three or four small boys dodging possible
umbrella-pokes while they precede you, in the manner of custodians, to
the door of the church.


VI

The churches of Venice are rich in pictures, and many a masterpiece
lurks in the unaccommodating gloom of side-chapels and sacristies. Many
a noble work is perched behind the dusty candles and muslin roses of a
scantily-visited altar; some of them indeed, hidden behind the altar,
suffer in a darkness that can never be explored. The facilities offered
you for approaching the picture in such cases are a mockery of your
irritated wish. You stand at tip-toe on a three-legged stool, you climb
a rickety ladder, you almost mount upon the shoulders of the _custode_.
You do everything but see the picture. You see just enough to be sure
it’s beautiful. You catch a glimpse of a divine head, of a fig tree
against a mellow sky, but the rest is impenetrable mystery. You
renounce all hope, for instance, of approaching the magnificent Cima da
Conegliano in San Giovanni in Bragora; and bethinking yourself of the
immaculate purity that shines in the spirit of this master, you renounce
it with chagrin and pain. Behind the high altar in that church hangs
a Baptism of Christ by Cima which I believe has been more or less
repainted. You make the thing out in spots, you see it has a fullness
of perfection. But you turn away from it with a stiff neck and promise
yourself consolation in the Academy and at the Madonna dell’ Orto,
where two noble works by the same hand--pictures as clear as a summer
twilight--present themselves in better circumstances. It may be said
as a general thing that you never see the Tintoret. You admire him,
you adore him, you think him the greatest of painters, but in the great
majority of cases your eyes fail to deal with him. This is partly
his own fault; so many of his works have turned to blackness and are
positively rotting in their frames. At the Scuola di San Rocco, where
there are acres of him, there is scarcely anything at all adequately
visible save the immense “Crucifixion” in the upper story. It is true
that in looking at this huge composition you look at many pictures; it
has not only a multitude of figures but a wealth of episodes; and you
pass from one of these to the other as if you were “doing” a gallery.
Surely no single picture in the world contains more of human life; there
is everything in it, including the most exquisite beauty. It is one of
the greatest things of art; it is always interesting. There are works of
the artist which contain touches more exquisite, revelations of beauty
more radiant, but there is no other vision of so intense a reality, an
execution so splendid. The interest, the impressiveness, of that whole
corner of Venice, however melancholy the effect of its gorgeous and
ill-lighted chambers, gives a strange importance to a visit to the
Scuola. Nothing that all travellers go to see appears to suffer less
from the incursions of travellers. It is one of the loneliest booths
of the bazaar, and the author of these lines has always had the good
fortune, which he wishes to every other traveller, of having it to
himself. I think most visitors find the place rather alarming and
wicked-looking. They walk about a while among the fitful figures that
gleam here and there out of the great tapestry (as it were) with which
the painter has hung all the walls, and then, depressed and bewildered
by the portentous solemnity of these objects, by strange glimpses of
unnatural scenes, by the echo of their lonely footsteps on the vast
stone floors, they take a hasty departure, finding themselves again,
with a sense of release from danger, a sense that the _genius loci_ was
a sort of mad white-washer who worked with a bad mixture, in the bright
light of the _campo_, among the beggars, the orange-vendors and the
passing gondolas. Solemn indeed is the place, solemn and strangely
suggestive, for the simple reason that we shall scarcely find four walls
elsewhere that inclose within a like area an equal quantity of genius.
The air is thick with it and dense and difficult to breathe; for it was
genius that was not happy, inasmuch as it, lacked the art to fix itself
for ever. It is not immortality that we breathe at the Scuola di San
Rocco, but conscious, reluctant mortality.

Fortunately, however, we can turn to the Ducal Palace, where everything
is so brilliant and splendid that the poor dusky Tintoret is lifted in
spite of himself into the concert. This deeply original building is of
course the loveliest thing in Venice, and a morning’s stroll there is a
wonderful illumination. Cunningly select your hour--half the enjoyment
of Venice is a question of dodging--and enter at about one o’clock, when
the tourists have flocked off to lunch and the echoes of the charming
chambers have gone to sleep among the sunbeams. There is no brighter
place in Venice--by which I mean that on the whole there is none half so
bright. The reflected sunshine plays up through the great windows from
the glittering lagoon and shimmers and twinkles over gilded walls and
ceilings. All the history of Venice, all its splendid stately past,
glows around you in a strong sealight. Everyone here is magnificent, but
the great Veronese is the most magnificent of all. He swims before you
in a silver cloud; he thrones in an eternal morning. The deep blue sky
burns behind him, streaked across with milky bars; the white colonnades
sustain the richest canopies, under which the first gentlemen and ladies
in the world both render homage and receive it. Their glorious garments
rustle in the air of the sea and their sun-lighted faces are the very
complexion of Venice. The mixture of pride and piety, of politics and
religion, of art and patriotism, gives a splendid dignity to every
scene. Never was a painter more nobly joyous, never did an artist take a
greater delight in life, seeing it all as a kind of breezy festival and
feeling it through the medium of perpetual success. He revels in the
gold-framed ovals of the ceilings, multiplies himself there with the
fluttering movement of an embroidered banner that tosses itself into the
blue. He was the happiest of painters and produced the happiest picture
in the world. “The Rape of Europa” surely deserves this title; it is
impossible to look at it without aching with envy. Nowhere else in art
is such a temperament revealed; never did inclination and opportunity
combine to express such enjoyment. The mixture of flowers and gems and
brocade, of blooming flesh and shining sea and waving groves, of youth,
health, movement, desire--all this is the brightest vision that ever
descended upon the soul of a painter. Happy the artist who could
entertain such a vision; happy the artist who could paint it as the
masterpiece I here recall is painted.

The Tintoret’s visions were not so bright as that; but he had several
that were radiant enough. In the room that contains the work just cited
are several smaller canvases by the greatly more complex genius of the
Scuola di San Rocco, which are almost simple in their loveliness, almost
happy in their simplicity. They have kept their brightness through the
centuries, and they shine with their neighbours in those golden rooms.
There is a piece of painting in one of them which is one of the sweetest
things in Venice and which reminds one afresh of those wild flowers of
execution that bloom so profusely and so unheeded in the dark corners
of all of the Tintoret’s work. “Pallas chasing away Mars” is, I believe,
the name that is given to the picture; and it represents in fact a young
woman of noble appearance administering a gentle push to a fine young
man in armour, as if to tell him to keep his distance. It is of the
gentleness of this push that I speak, the charming way in which she puts
out her arm, with a single bracelet on it, and rests her young hand, its
rosy fingers parted, on his dark breastplate. She bends her enchanting
head with the effort--a head which has all the strange fairness that the
Tintoret always sees in women--and the soft, living, flesh-like glow
of all these members, over which the brush has scarcely paused in its
course, is as pretty an example of genius as all Venice can show.
But why speak of the Tintoret when I can say nothing of the great
“Paradise,” which unfolds its somewhat smoky splendour and the wonder of
its multitudinous circles in one of the other chambers? If it were not
one of the first pictures in the world it would be about the biggest,
and we must confess that the spectator gets from it at first chiefly
an impression of quantity. Then he sees that this quantity is really
wealth; that the dim confusion of faces is a magnificent composition,
and that some of the details of this composition are extremely
beautiful. It is impossible however in a retrospect of Venice to specify
one’s happiest hours, though as one looks backward certain ineffaceable
moments start here and there into vividness. How is it possible to
forget one’s visits to the sacristy of the Frari, however frequent
they may have been, and the great work of John Bellini which forms the
treasure of that apartment?


VII

Nothing in Venice is more perfect than this, and we know of no work of
art more complete. The picture is in three compartments; the Virgin sits
in the central division with her child; two venerable saints, standing
close together, occupy each of the others. It is impossible to imagine
anything more finished or more ripe. It is one of those things that sum
up the genius of a painter, the experience of a life, the teaching of
a school. It seems painted with molten gems, which have only been
clarified by time, and is as solemn as it is gorgeous and as simple as
it is deep. Giovanni Bellini is more or less everywhere in Venice, and,
wherever he is, almost certain to be first--first, I mean, in his own
line: paints little else than the Madonna and the saints; he has not
Carpaccio’s care for human life at large, nor the Tintoret’s nor the
of the Veronese. Some of his greater pictures, however, where several
figures are clustered together, have a richness of sanctity that is
almost profane. There is one of them on the dark side of the room at the
Academy that contains Titian’s “Assumption,” which if we could only see
it--its position is an inconceivable scandal--would evidently be one of
the mightiest of so-called sacred pictures. So too is the Madonna of San
Zaccaria, hung in a cold, dim, dreary place, ever so much too high, but
so mild and serene, and so grandly disposed and accompanied, that the
proper attitude for even the most critical amateur, as he looks at it,
strikes one as the bended knee. There is another noble John Bellini,
one of the very few in which there is no Virgin, at San Giovanni
Crisostomo--a St. Jerome, in a red dress, sitting aloft upon the rocks
and with a landscape of extraordinary purity behind him. The absence of
the peculiarly erect Madonna makes it an interesting surprise among the
works of the painter and gives it a somewhat less strenuous air. But it
has brilliant beauty and the St. Jerome is a delightful old personage.

The same church contains another great picture for which the haunter
of these places must find a shrine apart in his memory; one of the most
interesting things he will have seen, if not the most brilliant. Nothing
appeals more to him than three figures of Venetian ladies which occupy
the foreground of a smallish canvas of Sebastian del Piombo, placed
above the high altar of San Giovanni Crisostomo. Sebastian was a
Venetian by birth, but few of his productions are to be seen in his
native place; few indeed are to be seen anywhere. The picture represents
the patron-saint of the church, accompanied by other saints and by the
worldly votaries I have mentioned. These ladies stand together on the
left, holding in their hands little white caskets; two of them are in
profile, but the foremost turns her face to the spectator. This face and
figure are almost unique among the beautiful things of Venice, and they
leave the susceptible observer with the impression of having made,
or rather having missed, a strange, a dangerous, but a most valuable,
acquaintance. The lady, who is superbly handsome, is the typical
Venetian of the sixteenth century, and she remains for the mind the
perfect flower of that society. Never was there a greater air of
breeding, a deeper expression of tranquil superiority. She walks a
goddess--as if she trod without sinking the waves of the Adriatic. It
is impossible to conceive a more perfect expression of the aristocratic
spirit either in its pride or in its benignity. This magnificent
creature is so strong and secure that she is gentle, and so quiet that
in comparison all minor assumptions of calmness suggest only a vulgar
alarm. But for all this there are depths of possible disorder in her
light-coloured eye.

I had meant however to say nothing about her, for it’s not right to
speak of Sebastian when one hasn’t found room for Carpaccio. These
visions come to one, and one can neither hold them nor brush them aside.
Memories of Carpaccio, the magnificent, the delightful--it’s not for
want of such visitations, but only for want of space, that I haven’t
said of him what I would. There is little enough need of it for
Carpaccio’s sake, his fame being brighter to-day--thanks to the generous
lamp Mr. Ruskin has held up to it--than it has ever been. Yet there is
something ridiculous in talking of Venice without making him almost the
refrain. He and the Tintoret are the two great realists, and it is hard
to say which is the more human, the more various. The Tintoret had
the mightier temperament, but Carpaccio, who had the advantage of more
newness and more responsibility, sailed nearer to perfection. Here and
there he quite touches it, as in the enchanting picture, at the Academy,
of St. Ursula asleep in her little white bed, in her high clean room,
where the angel visits her at dawn; or in the noble St. Jerome in his
study at S. Giorgio Schiavoni. This latter work is a pearl of sentiment,
and I may add without being fantastic a ruby of colour. It unites the
most masterly finish with a kind of universal largeness of feeling, and
he who has it well in his memory will never hear the name of Carpaccio
without a throb of almost personal affection. Such indeed is the feeling
that descends upon you in that wonderful little chapel of St. George
of the Slaves, where this most personal and sociable of artists has
expressed all the sweetness of his imagination. The place is small
and incommodious, the pictures are out of sight and ill-lighted, the
custodian is rapacious, the visitors are mutually intolerable, but
the shabby little chapel is a palace of art. Mr. Ruskin has written a
pamphlet about it which is a real aid to enjoyment, though I can’t but
think the generous artist, with his keen senses and his just feeling,
would have suffered to hear his eulogist declare that one of his
other productions--in the Museo Civico of Palazzo Correr, a delightful
portrait of two Venetian ladies with pet animals--is the “finest picture
in the world.” It has no need of that to be thought admirable; and what
more can a painter desire?


VIII

May in Venice is better than April, but June is best of all. Then the
days are hot, but not too hot, and the nights are more beautiful than
the days. Then Venice is rosier than ever in the morning and more golden
than ever as the day descends. She seems to expand and evaporate, to
multiply all her reflections and iridescences. Then the life of her
people and the strangeness of her constitution become a perpetual
comedy, or at least a perpetual drama. Then the gondola is your sole
habitation, and you spend days between sea and sky. You go to the Lido,
though the Lido has been spoiled. When I first saw it, in 1869, it was
a very natural place, and there was but a rough lane across the little
island from the landing-place to the beach. There was a bathing-place in
those days, and a restaurant, which was very bad, but where in the warm
evenings your dinner didn’t much matter as you sat letting it cool on
the wooden terrace that stretched out into the sea. To-day the Lido is
a part of united Italy and has been made the victim of villainous
improvements. A little cockney village has sprung up on its rural bosom
and a third-rate boulevard leads from Santa Elisabetta to the Adriatic.
There are bitumen walks and gas-lamps, lodging-houses, shops and a
_teatro diurno_. The bathing-establishment is bigger than before,
and the restaurant as well; but it is a compensation perhaps that
the cuisine is no better. Such as it is, however, you won’t scorn
occasionally to partake of it on the breezy platform under which bathers
dart and splash, and which looks out to where the fishing-boats, with
sails of orange and crimson, wander along the darkening horizon. The
beach at the Lido is still lonely and beautiful, and you can easily walk
away from the cockney village. The return to Venice in the sunset is
classical and indispensable, and those who at that glowing hour have
floated toward the towers that rise out of the lagoon will not easily
part with the impression. But you indulge in larger excursions--you go
to Burano and Torcello, to Malamocco and Chioggia. Torcello, like the
Lido, has been improved; the deeply interesting little cathedral of the
eighth century, which stood there on the edge of the sea, as touching
in its ruin, with its grassy threshold and its primitive mosaics, as the
bleached bones of a human skeleton washed ashore by the tide, has now
been restored and made cheerful, and the charm of the place, its strange
and suggestive desolation, has well-nigh departed.

It will still serve you as a pretext, however, for a day on the lagoon,
especially as you will disembark at Burano and admire the wonderful
fisher-folk, whose good looks--and bad manners, I am sorry to say--can
scarcely be exaggerated. Burano is celebrated for the beauty of its
women and the rapacity of its children, and it is a fact that though
some of the ladies are rather bold about it every one of them shows
you a handsome face. The children assail you for coppers, and in their
desire to be satisfied pursue your gondola into the sea. Chioggia is
a larger Burano, and you carry away from either place a half-sad,
half-cynical, but altogether pictorial impression; the impression of
bright-coloured hovels, of bathing in stagnant canals, of young girls
with faces of a delicate shape and a susceptible expression, with
splendid heads of hair and complexions smeared with powder, faded yellow
shawls that hang like old Greek draperies, and little wooden shoes
that click as they go up and down the steps of the convex bridges; of
brown-cheeked matrons with lustrous tresses and high tempers, massive
throats encased with gold beads, and eyes that meet your own with a
certain traditional defiance. The men throughout the islands of
Venice are almost as handsome as the women; I have never seen so many
good-looking rascals. At Burano and Chioggia they sit mending their
nets, or lounge at the street corners, where conversation is always
high-pitched, or clamour to you to take a boat; and everywhere they
decorate the scene with their splendid colour--cheeks and throats as
richly brown as the sails of their fishing-smacks--their sea-faded
tatters which are always a “costume,” their soft Venetian jargon, and
the gallantry with which they wear their hats, an article that nowhere
sits so well as on a mass of dense Venetian curls. If you are happy you
will find yourself, after a June day in Venice (about ten o’clock), on
a balcony that overhangs the Grand Canal, with your elbows on the broad
ledge, a cigarette in your teeth and a little good company beside you.
The gondolas pass beneath, the watery surface gleams here and there from
their lamps, some of which are coloured lanterns that move mysteriously
in the darkness. There are some evenings in June when there are too many
gondolas, too many lanterns, too many serenades in front of the hotels.
The serenading in particular is overdone; but on such a balcony as I
speak of you needn’t suffer from it, for in the apartment behind
you--an accessible refuge--there is more good company, there are more
cigarettes. If you are wise you will step back there presently.

1882.



THE GRAND CANAL


The honour of representing the plan and the place at their best might
perhaps appear, in the City of St. Mark, properly to belong to the
splendid square which bears the patron’s name and which is the centre
of Venetian life so far (this is pretty well all the way indeed) as
Venetian life is a matter of strolling and chaffering, of gossiping and
gaping, of circulating without a purpose, and of staring--too often with
a foolish one--through the shop-windows of dealers whose hospitality
makes their doorsteps dramatic, at the very vulgarest rubbish in all the
modern market. If the Grand Canal, however, is not quite technically a
“street,” the perverted Piazza is perhaps even less normal; and I hasten
to add that I am glad not to find myself studying my subject under the
international arcades, or yet (I will go the length of saying) in the
solemn presence of the church. For indeed in that case I foresee I
should become still more confoundingly conscious of the stumbling-block
that inevitably, even with his first few words, crops up in the path
of the lover of Venice who rashly addresses himself to expression.
“Venetian life” is a mere literary convention, though it be an
indispensable figure. The words have played an effective part in the
literature of sensibility; they constituted thirty years ago the title
of Mr. Howells’s delightful volume of impressions; but in using
them to-day one owes some frank amends to one’s own lucidity. Let me
carefully premise therefore that so often as they shall again drop
from my pen, so often shall I beg to be regarded as systematically
superficial.

Venetian life, in the large old sense, has long since come to an end,
and the essential present character of the most melancholy of cities
resides simply in its being the most beautiful of tombs. Nowhere else
has the past been laid to rest with such tenderness, such a sadness of
resignation and remembrance. Nowhere else is the present so alien, so
discontinuous, so like a crowd in a cemetery without garlands for
the graves. It has no flowers in its hands, but, as a compensation
perhaps--and the thing is doubtless more to the point--it has money
and little red books. The everlasting shuffle of these irresponsible
visitors in the Piazza is contemporary Venetian life. Everything else is
only a reverberation of that. The vast mausoleum has a turnstile at the
door, and a functionary in a shabby uniform lets you in, as per tariff,
to see how dead it is. From this _constatation_, this cold curiosity,
proceed all the industry, the prosperity, the vitality of the place. The
shopkeepers and gondoliers, the beggars and the models, depend upon
it for a living; they are the custodians and the ushers of the great
museum--they are even themselves to a certain extent the objects of
exhibition. It is in the wide vestibule of the square that the polygot
pilgrims gather most densely; Piazza San Marco is the lobby of the opera
in the intervals of the performance. The present fortune of Venice, the
lamentable difference, is most easily measured there, and that is why,
in the effort to resist our pessimism, we must turn away both from the
purchasers and from the vendors of _ricordi_. The _ricordi_ that we
prefer are gathered best where the gondola glides--best of all on the
noble waterway that begins in its glory at the Salute and ends in
its abasement at the railway station. It is, however, the cockneyfied
Piazzetta (forgive me, shade of St. Theodore--has not a brand new café
begun to glare there, electrically, this very year?) that introduces us
most directly to the great picture by which the Grand Canal works its
first spell, and to which a thousand artists, not always with a talent
apiece, have paid their tribute. We pass into the Piazzetta to look down
the great throat, as it were, of Venice, and the vision must console us
for turning our back on St. Mark’s.

We have been treated to it again and again, of course, even if we have
never stirred from home; but that is only a reason the more for catching
at any freshness that may be left in the world of photography. It is in
Venice above all that we hear the small buzz of this vulgarising voice
of the familiar; yet perhaps it is in Venice too that the picturesque
fact has best mastered the pious secret of how to wait for us. Even
the classic Salute waits like some great lady on the threshold of her
saloon. She is more ample and serene, more seated at her door, than all
the copyists have told us, with her domes and scrolls, her scolloped
buttresses and statues forming a pompous crown, and her wide steps
disposed on the ground like the train of a robe. This fine air of the
woman of the world is carried out by the well-bred assurance with which
she looks in the direction of her old-fashioned Byzantine neighbour;
and the juxtaposition of two churches so distinguished and so different,
each splendid in its sort, is a sufficient mark of the scale and range
of Venice. However, we ourselves are looking away from St. Mark’s--we
must blind our eyes to that dazzle; without it indeed there are
brightnesses and fascinations enough. We see them in abundance even
while we look away from the shady steps of the Salute. These steps are
cool in the morning, yet I don’t know that I can justify my excessive
fondness for them any better than I can explain a hundred of the other
vague infatuations with which Venice sophisticates the spirit. Under
such an influence fortunately one need n’t explain--it keeps account
of nothing but perceptions and affections. It is from the Salute steps
perhaps, of a summer morning, that this view of the open mouth of
the city is most brilliantly amusing. The whole thing composes as if
composition were the chief end of human institutions. The charming
architectural promontory of the Dogana stretches out the most graceful
of arms, balancing in its hand the gilded globe on which revolves the
delightful satirical figure of a little weathercock of a woman. This
Fortune, this Navigation, or whatever she is called--she surely needs no
name--catches the wind in the bit of drapery of which she has divested
her rotary bronze loveliness. On the other side of the Canal twinkles
and glitters the long row of the happy palaces which are mainly
expensive hotels. There is a little of everything everywhere, in
the bright Venetian air, but to these houses belongs especially the
appearance of sitting, across the water, at the receipt of custom,
of watching in their hypocritical loveliness for the stranger and the
victim. I call them happy, because even their sordid uses and their
vulgar signs melt somehow, with their vague sea-stained pinks and drabs,
into that strange gaiety of light and colour which is made up of the
reflection of superannuated things. The atmosphere plays over them like
a laugh, they are of the essence of the sad old joke. They are almost
as charming from other places as they are from their own balconies,
and share fully in that universal privilege of Venetian objects which
consists of being both the picture and the point of view.

This double character, which is particularly strong in the Grand Canal,
adds a difficulty to any control of one’s notes. The Grand Canal may
be practically, as in impression, the cushioned balcony of a high and
well-loved palace--the memory of irresistible evenings, of the
sociable elbow, of endless lingering and looking; or it may evoke the
restlessness of a fresh curiosity, of methodical inquiry, in a gondola
piled with references. There are no references, I ought to mention, in
the present remarks, which sacrifice to accident, not to completeness.
A rhapsody of Venice is always in order, but I think the catalogues
are finished. I should not attempt to write here the names of all the
palaces, even if the number of those I find myself able to remember in
the immense array were less insignificant. There are many I delight in
that I don’t know, or at least don’t keep, apart. Then there are the bad
reasons for preference that are better than the good, and all the sweet
bribery of association and recollection. These things, as one stands on
the Salute steps, are so many delicate fingers to pick straight out
of the row a dear little featureless house which, with its pale green
shutters, looks straight across at the great door and through the
very keyhole, as it were, of the church, and which I needn’t call by
a name--a pleasant American name--that every one in Venice, these many
years, has had on grateful lips. It is the very friendliest house in all
the wide world, and it has, as it deserves to have, the most beautiful
position. It is a real _porto di mare_, as the gondoliers say--a port
within a port; it sees everything that comes and goes, and takes it all
in with practised eyes. Not a tint or a hint of the immense iridescence
is lost upon it, and there are days of exquisite colour on which it may
fancy itself the heart of the wonderful prism. We wave to it from the
Salute steps, which we must decidedly leave if we wish to get on, a
grateful hand across the water, and turn into the big white church of
Longhena--an empty shaft beneath a perfunctory dome--where an American
family and a German party, huddled in a corner upon a pair of benches,
are gazing, with a conscientiousness worthy of a better cause, at
nothing in particular.

For there is nothing particular in this cold and conventional temple to
gaze at save the great Tintoretto of the sacristy, to which we quickly
pay our respects, and which we are glad to have for ten minutes to
ourselves. The picture, though full of beauty, is not the finest of the
master’s; but it serves again as well as another to transport--there
is no other word--those of his lovers for whom, in far-away days when
Venice was an early rapture, this strange and mystifying painter was
almost the supreme revelation. The plastic arts may have less to say
to us than in the hungry years of youth, and the celebrated picture in
general be more of a blank; but more than the others any fine Tintoret
still carries us back, calling up not only the rich particular vision
but the freshness of the old wonder. Many things come and go, but this
great artist remains for us in Venice a part of the company of the mind.
The others are there in their obvious glory, but he is the only one for
whom the imagination, in our expressive modern phrase, sits up. “The
Marriage in Cana,” at the Salute, has all his characteristic and
fascinating unexpectedness--the sacrifice of the figure of our Lord,
who is reduced to the mere final point of a clever perspective, and the
free, joyous presentation of all the other elements of the feast.
Why, in spite of this queer one-sidedness, does the picture give us no
impression of a lack of what the critics call reverence? For no other
reason that I can think of than because it happens to be the work of its
author, in whose very mistakes there is a singular wisdom. Mr. Ruskin
has spoken with sufficient eloquence of the serious loveliness of the
row of heads of the women on the right, who talk to each other as they
sit at the foreshortened banquet. There could be no better example
of the roving independence of the painter’s vision, a real spirit of
adventure for which his subject was always a cluster of accidents; not
an obvious order, but a sort of peopled and agitated chapter of life,
in which the figures are submissive pictorial notes. These notes are all
there in their beauty and heterogeneity, and if the abundance is of a
kind to make the principle of selection seem in comparison timid,
yet the sense of “composition” in the spectator--if it happen to
exist--reaches out to the painter in peculiar sympathy. Dull must be the
spirit of the worker tormented in any field of art with that particular
question who is not moved to recognise in the eternal problem the high
fellowship of Tintoretto.

If the long reach from this point to the deplorable iron bridge which
discharges the pedestrian at the Academy--or, more comprehensively, to
the painted and gilded Gothic of the noble Palazzo Foscari--is too much
of a curve to be seen at any one point as a whole, it represents the
better the arched neck, as it were, of the undulating serpent of which
the Canalazzo has the likeness. We pass a dozen historic houses, we note
in our passage a hundred component “bits,” with the baffled sketcher’s
sense, and with what would doubtless be, save for our intensely Venetian
fatalism, the baffled sketcher’s temper. It is the early palaces, of
course, and also, to be fair, some of the late, if we could take them
one by one, that give the Canal the best of its grand air. The fairest
are often cheek-by-jowl with the foulest, and there are few, alas, so
fair as to have been completely protected by their beauty. The ages and
the generations have worked their will on them, and the wind and the
weather have had much to say; but disfigured and dishonoured as they
are, with the bruises of their marbles and the patience of their ruin,
there is nothing like them in the world, and the long succession of
their faded, conscious faces makes of the quiet waterway they overhang
a _promenade historique_ of which the lesson, however often we read it,
gives, in the depth of its interest, an incomparable dignity to Venice.
We read it in the Romanesque arches, crooked to-day in their very
curves, of the early middle-age, in the exquisite individual Gothic of
the splendid time, and in the cornices and columns of a decadence almost
as proud. These things at present are almost equally touching in their
good faith; they have each in their degree so effectually parted with
their pride. They have lived on as they could and lasted as they might,
and we hold them to no account of their infirmities, for even those of
them whose blank eyes to-day meet criticism with most submission are far
less vulgar than the uses we have mainly managed to put them to. We have
botched them and patched them and covered them with sordid signs; we
have restored and improved them with a merciless taste, and the best of
them we have made over to the pedlars. Some of the most striking objects
in the finest vistas at present are the huge advertisements of the
curiosity-shops.

The antiquity-mongers in Venice have all the courage of their opinion,
and it is easy to see how well they know they can confound you with an
unanswerable question. What is the whole place but a curiosity-shop, and
what are you here for yourself but to pick up odds and ends? “We pick
them up _for_ you,” say these honest Jews, whose prices are marked
in dollars, “and who shall blame us if, the flowers being pretty well
plucked, we add an artificial rose or two to the composition of the
bouquet?” They take care, in a word, that there be plenty of relics, and
their establishments are huge and active. They administer the antidote
to pedantry, and you can complain of them only if you never cross their
thresholds. If you take this step you are lost, for you have parted with
the correctness of your attitude. Venice becomes frankly from such a
moment the big depressing dazzling joke in which after all our sense
of her contradictions sinks to rest--the grimace of an over-strained
philosophy. It’s rather a comfort, for the curiosity-shops are amusing.
You have bad moments indeed as you stand in their halls of humbug and,
in the intervals of haggling, hear through the high windows the soft
splash of the sea on the old water-steps, for you think with anger of
the noble homes that are laid waste in such scenes, of the delicate
lives that must have been, that might still be, led there. You
reconstruct the admirable house according to your own needs; leaning on
a back balcony, you drop your eyes into one of the little green gardens
with which, for the most part, such establishments are exasperatingly
blessed, and end by feeling it a shame that you yourself are not in
possession. (I take for granted, of course, that as you go and come you
are, in imagination, perpetually lodging yourself and setting up your
gods; for if this innocent pastime, this borrowing of the mind, be not
your favourite sport there is a flaw in the appeal that Venice makes
to you.) There may be happy cases in which your envy is tempered, or
perhaps I should rather say intensified, by real participation. If you
have had the good fortune to enjoy the hospitality of an old Venetian
home and to lead your life a little in the painted chambers that still
echo with one of the historic names, you have entered by the shortest
step into the inner spirit of the place. If it did n’t savour of
treachery to private kindness I should like to speak frankly of one of
these delightful, even though alienated, structures, to refer to it as
a splendid example of the old palatial type. But I can only do so in
passing, with a hundred precautions, and, lifting the curtain at the
edge, drop a commemorative word on the success with which, in this
particularly happy instance, the cosmopolite habit, the modern sympathy,
the intelligent, flexible attitude, the latest fruit of time, adjust
themselves to the great gilded, relinquished shell and try to fill it
out. A Venetian palace that has not too grossly suffered and that is not
overwhelming by its mass makes almost any life graceful that may be
led in it. With cultivated and generous contemporary ways it reveals a
pre-established harmony. As you live in it day after day its beauty and
its interest sink more deeply into your spirit; it has its moods and
its hours and its mystic voices and its shifting expressions. If in
the absence of its masters you have happened to have it to yourself
for twenty-four hours you will never forget the charm of its haunted
stillness, late on the summer afternoon for instance, when the call of
playing children comes in behind from the campo, nor the way the old
ghosts seemed to pass on tip-toe on the marble floors. It gives you
practically the essence of the matter that we are considering, for
beneath the high balconies Venice comes and goes, and the particular
stretch you command contains all the characteristics. Everything has its
turn, from the heavy barges of merchandise, pushed by long poles and the
patient shoulder, to the floating pavilions of the great serenades, and
you may study at your leisure the admirable Venetian arts of managing a
boat and organising a spectacle. Of the beautiful free stroke with which
the gondola, especially when there are two oars, is impelled, you never,
in the Venetian scene, grow weary; it is always in the picture, and the
large profiled action that lets the standing rowers throw themselves
forward to a constant recovery has the double value of being, at the
fag-end of greatness, the only energetic note. The people from the
hotels are always afloat, and, at the hotel pace, the solitary gondolier
(like the solitary horseman of the old-fashioned novel) is, I confess,
a somewhat melancholy figure. Perched on his poop without a mate, he
re-enacts perpetually, in high relief, with his toes turned out, the
comedy of his odd and charming movement. He always has a little the
look of an absent-minded nursery-maid pushing her small charges in a
perambulator.

But why should I risk too free a comparison, where this picturesque and
amiable class are concerned? I delight in their sun-burnt complexions
and their childish dialect; I know them only by their merits, and I am
grossly prejudiced in their favour. They are interesting and touching,
and alike in their virtues and their defects human nature is simplified
as with a big effective brush. Affecting above all is their dependence
on the stranger, the whimsical stranger who swims out of their ken, yet
whom Providence sometimes restores. The best of them at any rate are
in their line great artists. On the swarming feast-days, on the strange
feast-night of the Redentore, their steering is a miracle of ease. The
master-hands, the celebrities and winners of prizes--you may see them
on the private gondolas in spotless white, with brilliant sashes and
ribbons, and often with very handsome persons--take the right of way
with a pardonable insolence. They penetrate the crush of boats with
an authority of their own. The crush of boats, the universal sociable
bumping and squeezing, is great when, on the summer nights, the ladies
shriek with alarm, the city pays the fiddlers, and the illuminated
barges, scattering music and song, lead a long train down the Canal. The
barges used to be rowed in rhythmic strokes, but now they are towed by
the steamer. The coloured lamps, the vocalists before the hotels, are
not to my sense the greatest seduction of Venice; but it would be
an uncandid sketch of the Canalazzo that shouldn’t touch them with
indulgence. Taking one nuisance with another, they are probably the
prettiest in the world, and if they have in general more magic for the
new arrival than for the old Venice-lover, they in any case, at their
best, keep up the immemorial tradition. The Venetians have had from the
beginning of time the pride of their processions and spectacles, and
it’s a wonder how with empty pockets they still make a clever show. The
Carnival is dead, but these are the scraps of its inheritance. Vauxhall
on the water is of course more Vauxhall than ever, with the good fortune
of home-made music and of a mirror that reduplicates and multiplies.
The feast of the Redeemer--the great popular feast of the year--is a
wonderful Venetian Vauxhall. All Venice on this occasion takes to the
boats for the night and loads them with lamps and provisions. Wedged
together in a mass it sups and sings; every boat is a floating arbour,
a private _café-concert_. Of all Christian commemorations it is the most
ingenuously and harmlessly pagan. Toward morning the passengers repair
to the Lido, where, as the sun rises, they plunge, still sociably, into
the sea. The night of the Redentore has been described, but it would be
interesting to have an account, from the domestic point of view, of its
usual morrow. It is mainly an affair of the Giudecca, however, which is
bridged over from the Zattere to the great church. The pontoons are laid
together during the day--it is all done with extraordinary celerity and
art--and the bridge is prolonged across the Canalazzo (to Santa Maria
Zobenigo), which is my only warrant for glancing at the occasion. We
glance at it from our palace windows; lengthening our necks a little, as
we look up toward the Salute, we see all Venice, on the July afternoon,
so serried as to move slowly, pour across the temporary footway. It is
a flock of very good children, and the bridged Canal is their toy. All
Venice on such occasions is gentle and friendly; not even all Venice
pushes anyone into the water.

But from the same high windows we catch without any stretching of the
neck a still more indispensable note in the picture, a famous pretender
eating the bread of bitterness. This repast is served in the open air,
on a neat little terrace, by attendants in livery, and there is no
indiscretion in our seeing that the pretender dines. Ever since the
table d’hôte in “Candide” Venice has been the refuge of monarchs in want
of thrones--she would n’t know herself without her _rois en exil._ The
exile is agreeable and soothing, the gondola lets them down gently. Its
movement is an anodyne, its silence a philtre, and little by little it
rocks all ambitions to sleep. The proscript has plenty of leisure to
write his proclamations and even his memoirs, and I believe he has
organs in which they are published; but the only noise he makes in the
world is the harmless splash of his oars. He comes and goes along the
Canalazzo, and he might be much worse employed. He is but one of the
interesting objects it presents, however, and I am by no means sure
that he is the most striking. He has a rival, if not in the iron
bridge, which, alas, is within our range, at least--to take an immediate
example--in the Montecuculi Palace. Far-descended and weary, but
beautiful in its crooked old age, with its lovely proportions, its
delicate round arches, its carvings and its disks of marble, is the
haunted Montecuculi. Those who have a kindness for Venetian gossip like
to remember that it was once for a few months the property of Robert
Browning, who, however, never lived in it, and who died in the splendid
Rezzonico, the residence of his son and a wonderful cosmopolite
“document,” which, as it presents itself, in an admirable position, but
a short way farther down the Canal, we can almost see, in spite of the
curve, from the window at which we stand. This great seventeenth century
pile, throwing itself upon the water with a peculiar florid assurance,
a certain upward toss of its cornice which gives it the air of a rearing
sea-horse, decorates immensely--and within, as well as without--the wide
angle that it commands.

There is a more formal greatness in the high square Gothic Foscari,
just below it, one of the noblest creations of the fifteenth century,
a masterpiece of symmetry and majesty. Dedicated to-day to official
uses--it is the property of the State--it looks conscious of the
consideration it enjoys, and is one of the few great houses within our
range whose old age strikes us as robust and painless. It is visibly
“kept up”; perhaps it is kept up too much; perhaps I am wrong in
thinking so well of it. These doubts and fears course rapidly through my
mind--I am easily their victim when it is a question of architecture--as
they are apt to do to-day, in Italy, almost anywhere, in the presence
of the beautiful, of the desecrated or the neglected. We feel at such
moments as if the eye of Mr. Ruskin were upon us; we grow nervous and
lose our confidence. This makes me inevitably, in talking of Venice,
seek a pusillanimous safety in the trivial and the obvious. I am on
firm ground in rejoicing in the little garden directly opposite our
windows--it is another proof that they really show us everything--and in
feeling that the gardens of Venice would deserve a page to themselves.
They are infinitely more numerous than the arriving stranger can
suppose; they nestle with a charm all their own in the complications of
most back-views. Some of them are exquisite, many are large, and even
the scrappiest have an artful understanding, in the interest of colour,
with the waterways that edge their foundations. On the small canals,
in the hunt for amusement, they are the prettiest surprises of all.
The tangle of plants and flowers crowds over the battered walls, the
greenness makes an arrangement with the rosy sordid brick. Of all the
reflected and liquefied things in Venice, and the number of these is
countless, I think the lapping water loves them most. They are numerous
on the Canalazzo, but wherever they occur they give a brush to the
picture and in particular, it is easy to guess, give a sweetness to the
house. Then the elements are complete--the trio of air and water and of
things that grow. Venice without them would be too much a matter of the
tides and the stones. Even the little trellises of the _traghetti_ count
charmingly as reminders, amid so much artifice, of the woodland nature
of man. The vine-leaves, trained on horizontal poles, make a roof
of chequered shade for the gondoliers and ferrymen, who doze there
according to opportunity, or chatter or hail the approaching “fare.”
 There is no “hum” in Venice, so that their voices travel far; they
enter your windows and mingle even with your dreams. I beg the reader
to believe that if I had time to go into everything, I would go into the
_traghetti_, which have their manners and their morals, and which
used to have their piety. This piety was always a _madonnina_, the
protectress of the passage--a quaint figure of the Virgin with the red
spark of a lamp at her feet. The lamps appear for the most part to have
gone out, and the images doubtless have been sold for _bric-a-brac_.
The ferrymen, for aught I know, are converted to Nihilism--a faith
consistent happily with a good stroke of business. One of the figures
has been left, however--the Madonnetta which gives its name to a
_traghetto_ near the Rialto. But this sweet survivor is a carven stone
inserted ages ago in the corner of an old palace and doubtless difficult
of removal. _Pazienza_, the day will come when so marketable a relic
will also be extracted from its socket and purchased by the devouring
American. I leave that expression, on second thought, standing; but I
repent of it when I remember that it is a devouring American--a lady
long resident in Venice and whose kindnesses all Venetians, as well as
her country-people, know, who has rekindled some of the extinguished
tapers, setting up especially the big brave Gothic shrine, of painted
and gilded wood, which, on the top of its stout _palo_, sheds its
influence on the place of passage opposite the Salute.

If I may not go into those of the palaces this devious discourse has
left behind, much less may I enter the great galleries of the Academy,
which rears its blank wall, surmounted by the lion of St. Mark, well
within sight of the windows at which we are still lingering. This
wondrous temple of Venetian art--for all it promises little from
without--overhangs, in a manner, the Grand Canal, but if we were so much
as to cross its threshold we should wander beyond recall. It contains,
in some of the most magnificent halls--where the ceilings have all
the glory with which the imagination of Venice alone could over-arch a
room--some of the noblest pictures in the world; and whether or not
we go back to them on any particular occasion for another look, it is
always a comfort to know that they are there, as the sense of them on
the spot is a part of the furniture of the mind--the sense of them close
at hand, behind every wall and under every cover, like the inevitable
reverse of a medal, of the side exposed to the air that reflects,
intensifies, completes the scene. In other words, as it was the
inevitable destiny of Venice to be painted, and painted with passion, so
the wide world of picture becomes, as we live there, and however much we
go about our affairs, the constant habitation of our thoughts. The truth
is, we are in it so uninterruptedly, at home and abroad, that there
is scarcely a pressure upon us to seek it in one place more than in
another. Choose your standpoint at random and trust the picture to come
to you. This is manifestly why I have not, I find myself conscious, said
more about the features of the Canalazzo which occupy the reach between
the Salute and the position we have so obstinately taken up. It is
still there before us, however, and the delightful little Palazzo Dario,
intimately familiar to English and American travellers, picks itself out
in the foreshortened brightness. The Dario is covered with the loveliest
little marble plates and sculptured circles; it is made up of exquisite
pieces--as if there had been only enough to make it small--so that it
looks, in its extreme antiquity, a good deal like a house of cards that
hold together by a tenure it would be fatal to touch. An old Venetian
house dies hard indeed, and I should add that this delicate thing,
with submission in every feature, continues to resist the contact of
generations of lodgers. It is let out in floors (it used to be let as
a whole) and in how many eager hands--for it is in great
requisition--under how many fleeting dispensations have we not known and
loved it? People are always writing in advance to secure it, as they
are to secure the Jenkins’s gondolier, and as the gondola passes we
see strange faces at the windows--though it’s ten to one we recognise
them--and the millionth artist coming forth with his traps at the
water-gate. The poor little patient Dario is one of the most flourishing
booths at the fair.

The faces in the window look out at the great Sansovino--the splendid
pile that is now occupied by the Prefect. I feel decidedly that I
don’t object as I ought to the palaces of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. Their pretensions impose upon me, and the imagination peoples
them more freely than it can people the interiors of the prime. Was not
moreover this masterpiece of Sansovino once occupied by the Venetian
post-office, and thereby intimately connected with an ineffaceable first
impression of the author of these remarks? He had arrived, wondering,
palpitating, twenty-three years ago, after nightfall, and, the first
thing on the morrow, had repaired to the post-office for his letters.
They had been waiting a long time and were full of delayed interest, and
he returned with them to the gondola and floated slowly down the Canal.
The mixture, the rapture, the wonderful temple of the _poste restante_,
the beautiful strangeness, all humanised by good news--the memory of
this abides with him still, so that there always proceeds from the
splendid waterfront I speak of a certain secret appeal, something that
seems to have been uttered first in the sonorous chambers of youth. Of
course this association falls to the ground--or rather splashes into the
water--if I am the victim of a confusion. _Was_ the edifice in question
twenty-three years ago the post-office, which has occupied since, for
many a day, very much humbler quarters? I am afraid to take the proper
steps for finding out, lest I should learn that during these years I
have misdirected my emotion. A better reason for the sentiment, at any
rate, is that such a great house has surely, in the high beauty of its
tiers, a refinement of its own. They make one think of colosseums and
aqueducts and bridges, and they constitute doubtless, in Venice, the
most pardonable specimen of the imitative. I have even a timid kindness
for the huge Pesaro, far down the Canal, whose main reproach, more even
than the coarseness of its forms, is its swaggering size, its want
of consideration for the general picture, which the early examples so
reverently respect. The Pesaro is as far out of the frame as a modern
hotel, and the Cornaro, close to it, oversteps almost equally the
modesty of art. One more thing they and their kindred do, I must add,
for which, unfortunately, we can patronise them less. They make even the
most elaborate material civilisation of the present day seem woefully
shrunken and _bourgeois_, for they simply--I allude to the biggest
palaces--can’t be lived in as they were intended to be. The modern
tenant may take in all the magazines, but he bends not the bow of
Achilles. He occupies the place, but he doesn’t fill it, and he has
guests from the neighbouring inns with ulsters and Baedekers. We are
far at the Pesaro, by the way, from our attaching window, and we take
advantage of it to go in rather a melancholy mood to the end. The long
straight vista from the Foscari to the Rialto, the great middle stretch
of the Canal, contains, as the phrase is, a hundred objects of interest,
but it contains most the bright oddity of its general Deluge air. In all
these centuries it has never got over its resemblance to a flooded city;
for some reason or other it is the only part of Venice in which the
houses look as if the waters had overtaken them. Everywhere else they
reckon with them--have chosen them; here alone the lapping seaway seems
to confess itself an accident.

{Illustration: PALAZZO MONCENIGO, VENICE}

There are persons who hold this long, gay, shabby, spotty perspective,
in which, with its immense field of confused reflection, the houses have
infinite variety, the dullest expanse in Venice. It was not dull, we
imagine, for Lord Byron, who lived in the midmost of the three Mocenigo
palaces, where the writing-table is still shown at which he gave the
rein to his passions. For other observers it is sufficiently enlivened
by so delightful a creation as the Palazzo Loredan, once a masterpiece
and at present the Municipio, not to speak of a variety of other
immemorial bits whose beauty still has a degree of freshness. Some of
the most touching relics of early Venice are here--for it was here she
precariously clustered--peeping out of a submersion more pitiless than
the sea. As we approach the Rialto indeed the picture falls off and a
comparative commonness suffuses it. There is a wide paved walk on either
side of the Canal, on which the waterman--and who in Venice is not a
waterman?--is prone to seek repose. I speak of the summer days--it is
the summer Venice that is the visible Venice. The big tarry barges are
drawn up at the _fondamenta_, and the bare-legged boatmen, in faded blue
cotton, lie asleep on the hot stones. If there were no colour anywhere
else there would be enough in their tanned personalities. Half the low
doorways open into the warm interior of waterside drinking-shops, and
here and there, on the quay, beneath the bush that overhangs the door,
there are rickety tables and chairs. Where in Venice is there not the
amusement of character and of detail? The tone in this part is very
vivid, and is largely that of the brown plebeian faces looking out of
the patchy miscellaneous houses--the faces of fat undressed women and of
other simple folk who are not aware that they enjoy, from balconies once
doubtless patrician, a view the knowing ones of the earth come thousands
of miles to envy them. The effect is enhanced by the tattered clothes
hung to dry in the windows, by the sun-faded rags that flutter from the
polished balustrades--these are ivory-smooth with time; and the whole
scene profits by the general law that renders decadence and ruin
in Venice more brilliant than any prosperity. Decay is in this
extraordinary place golden in tint and misery _couleur de rose_. The
gondolas of the correct people are unmitigated sable, but the poor
market-boats from the islands are kaleidoscopic.

The Bridge of the Rialto is a name to conjure with, but, honestly
speaking, it is scarcely the gem of the composition. There are of course
two ways of taking it--from the water or from the upper passage, where
its small shops and booths abound in Venetian character; but it mainly
counts as a feature of the Canal when seen from the gondola or even from
the awful _vaporetto_. The great curve of its single arch is much to
be commended, especially when, coming from the direction of the
railway-station, you see it frame with its sharp compass-line the
perfect picture, the reach of the Canal on the other side. But the backs
of the little shops make from the water a graceless collective hump, and
the inside view is the diverting one. The big arch of the bridge--like
the arches of all the bridges--is the waterman’s friend in wet weather.
The gondolas, when it rains, huddle beside the peopled barges, and
the young ladies from the hotels, vaguely fidgeting, complain of the
communication of insect life. Here indeed is a little of everything, and
the jewellers of this celebrated precinct--they have their immemorial
row--make almost as fine a show as the fruiterers. It is a universal
market, and a fine place to study Venetian types. The produce of
the islands is discharged there, and the fishmongers announce their
presence. All one’s senses indeed are vigorously attacked; the whole
place is violently hot and bright, all odorous and noisy. The churning
of the screw of the _vaporetto_ mingles with the other sounds--not
indeed that this offensive note is confined to one part of the Canal.
But Just here the little piers of the resented steamer are particularly
near together, and it seems somehow to be always kicking up the water.
As we go further down we see it stopping exactly beneath the glorious
windows of the Ca’d’Oro. It has chosen its position well, and who
shall gainsay it for having put itself under the protection of the
most romantic facade in Europe? The companionship of these objects is
a symbol; it expresses supremely the present and the future of Venice.
Perfect, in its prime, was the marble Ca’d’Oro, with the noble recesses
of its _loggie_, but even then it probably never “met a want,” like the
successful _vaporetto_. If, however, we are not to go into the Museo
Civico--the old Museo Correr, which rears a staring renovated front
far down on the left, near the station, so also we must keep out of the
great vexed question of steam on the Canalazzo, just as a while since we
prudently kept out of the Accademia. These are expensive and complicated
excursions. It is obvious that if the _vaporetti_ have contributed to
the ruin of the gondoliers, already hard pressed by fate, and to that of
the palaces, whose foundations their waves undermine, and that if
they have robbed the Grand Canal of the supreme distinction of its
tranquillity, so on the other hand they have placed “rapid transit,” in
the New York phrase, in everybody’s reach, and enabled everybody--save
indeed those who wouldn’t for the world--to rush about Venice as
furiously as people rush about New York. The suitability of this
consummation needn’t be pointed out.

Even we ourselves, in the irresistible contagion, are going so fast now
that we have only time to note in how clever and costly a fashion the
Museo Civico, the old Fondaco dei Turchi, has been reconstructed and
restored. It is a glare of white marble without, and a series of showy
majestic halls within, where a thousand curious mementos and relics of
old Venice are gathered and classified. Of its miscellaneous treasures
I fear I may perhaps frivolously prefer the series of its remarkable
living Longhis, an illustration of manners more copious than the
celebrated Carpaccio, the two ladies with their little animals and their
long sticks. Wonderful indeed today are the museums of Italy, where
the renovations and the _belle ordonnance_ speak of funds apparently
unlimited, in spite of the fact that the numerous custodians
frankly look starved. What is the pecuniary source of all this civic
magnificence--it is shown in a hundred other ways--and how do the
Italian cities manage to acquit themselves of expenses that would be
formidable to communities richer and doubtless less aesthetic? Who pays
the bills for the expressive statues alone, the general exuberance
of sculpture, with which every _piazzetta_ of almost every village
is patriotically decorated? Let us not seek an answer to the puzzling
question, but observe instead that we are passing the mouth of the
populous Canareggio, next widest of the waterways, where the race of
Shylock abides, and at the corner of which the big colourless church of
San Geremia stands gracefully enough on guard. The Canareggio, with its
wide lateral footways and humpbacked bridges, makes on the feast of St.
John an admirable noisy, tawdry theatre for one of the prettiest and the
most infantile of the Venetian processions.

The rest of the course is a reduced magnificence, in spite of
interesting bits, of the battered pomp of the Pesaro and the Cornaro,
of the recurrent memories of royalty in exile which cluster about the
Palazzo Vendramin Calergi, once the residence of the Comte de Chambord
and still that of his half-brother, in spite too of the big Papadopoli
gardens, opposite the station, the largest private grounds in Venice,
but of which Venice in general mainly gets the benefit in the usual form
of irrepressible greenery climbing over walls and nodding at water. The
rococo church of the Scalzi is here, all marble and malachite, all a
cold, hard glitter and a costly, curly ugliness, and here too, opposite,
on the top of its high steps, is San Simeone Profeta, I won’t say
immortalised, but unblushingly misrepresented, by the perfidious
Canaletto. I shall not stay to unravel the mystery of this prosaic
painter’s malpractices; he falsified without fancy, and as he apparently
transposed at will the objects he reproduced, one is never sure of the
particular view that may have constituted his subject. It would look
exactly like such and such a place if almost everything were not
different. San Simeone Profeta appears to hang there upon the wall; but
it is on the wrong side of the Canal and the other elements quite fail
to correspond. One’s confusion is the greater because one doesn’t
know that everything may not really have changed, even beyond all
probability--though it’s only in America that churches cross the street
or the river--and the mixture of the recognisable and the different
makes the ambiguity maddening, all the more that the painter is almost
as attaching as he is bad. Thanks at any rate to the white church, domed
and porticoed, on the top of its steps, the traveller emerging for
the first time upon the terrace of the railway-station seems to have a
Canaletto before him. He speedily discovers indeed even in the presence
of this scene of the final accents of the Canalazzo--there is a charm in
the old pink warehouses on the hot _fondamenta_--that he has something
much better. He looks up and down at the gathered gondolas; he has his
surprise after all, his little first Venetian thrill; and as the terrace
of the station ushers in these things we shall say no harm of it, though
it is not lovely. It is the beginning of his experience, but it is the
end of the Grand Canal.

1892.



VENICE: AN EARLY IMPRESSION


There would be much to say about that golden chain of historic cities
which stretches from Milan to Venice, in which the very names--Brescia,
Verona, Mantua, Padua--are an ornament to one’s phrase; but I should
have to draw upon recollections now three years old and to make my short
story a long one. Of Verona and Venice only have I recent impressions,
and even to these must I do hasty justice. I came into Venice, just as
I had done before, toward the end of a summer’s day, when the shadows
begin to lengthen and the light to glow, and found that the attendant
sensations bore repetition remarkably well. There was the same last
intolerable delay at Mestre, just before your first glimpse of the
lagoon confirms the already distinct sea-smell which has added speed to
the precursive flight of your imagination; then the liquid level,
edged afar off by its band of undiscriminated domes and spires, soon
distinguished and proclaimed, however, as excited and contentious heads
multiply at the windows of the train; then your long rumble on the
immense white railway-bridge, which, in spite of the invidious contrast
drawn, and very properly, by Mr. Ruskin between the old and the new
approach, does truly, in a manner, shine across the green lap of the
lagoon like a mighty causeway of marble; then the plunge into the
station, which would be exactly similar to every other plunge save for
one little fact--that the keynote of the great medley of voices borne
back from the exit is not “Cab, sir!” but “Barca, signore!”

I do not mean, however, to follow the traveller through every phase of
his initiation, at the risk of stamping poor Venice beyond repair as the
supreme bugbear of literature; though for my own part I hold that to
a fine healthy romantic appetite the subject can’t be too diffusely
treated. Meeting in the Piazza on the evening of my arrival a young
American painter who told me that he had been spending the summer just
where I found him, I could have assaulted him for very envy. He was
painting forsooth the interior of St. Mark’s. To be a young American
painter unperplexed by the mocking, elusive soul of things and satisfied
with their wholesome light-bathed surface and shape; keen of eye; fond
of colour, of sea and sky and anything that may chance between them; of
old lace and old brocade and old furniture (even when made to order); of
time-mellowed harmonies on nameless canvases and happy contours in cheap
old engravings; to spend one’s mornings in still, productive analysis
of the clustered shadows of the Basilica, one’s afternoons anywhere, in
church or campo, on canal or lagoon, and one’s evenings in star-light
gossip at Florian’s, feeling the sea-breeze throb languidly between the
two great pillars of the Piazzetta and over the low black domes of the
church--this, I consider, is to be as happy as is consistent with the
preservation of reason.

The mere use of one’s eyes in Venice is happiness enough, and generous
observers find it hard to keep an account of their profits in this line.
Everything the attention touches holds it, keeps playing with it--thanks
to some inscrutable flattery of the atmosphere. Your brown-skinned,
white-shirted gondolier, twisting himself in the light, seems to you,
as you lie at contemplation beneath your awning, a perpetual symbol of
Venetian “effect.” The light here is in fact a mighty magician and, with
all respect to Titian, Veronese and Tintoret, the greatest artist
of them all. You should see in places the material with which it
deals--slimy brick, marble battered and befouled, rags, dirt, decay.
Sea and sky seem to meet half-way, to blend their tones into a soft
iridescence, a lustrous compound of wave and cloud and a hundred
nameless local reflections, and then to fling the clear tissue against
every object of vision. You may see these elements at work everywhere,
but to see them in their intensity you should choose the finest day
in the month and have yourself rowed far away across the lagoon to
Torcello. Without making this excursion you can hardly pretend to
know Venice or to sympathise with that longing for pure radiance which
animated her great colourists. It is a perfect bath of light, and I
couldn’t get rid of a fancy that we were cleaving the upper atmosphere
on some hurrying cloud-skiff. At Torcello there is nothing but the light
to see--nothing at least but a sort of blooming sand-bar intersected
by a single narrow creek which does duty as a canal and occupied by a
meagre cluster of huts, the dwellings apparently of market-gardeners
and fishermen, and by a ruinous church of the eleventh century. It is
impossible to imagine a more penetrating case of unheeded collapse.
Torcello was the mother-city of Venice, and she lies there now, a mere
mouldering vestige, like a group of weather-bleached parental bones left
impiously unburied. I stopped my gondola at the mouth of the shallow
inlet and walked along the grass beside a hedge to the low-browed,
crumbling cathedral. The charm of certain vacant grassy spaces, in
Italy, overfrowned by masses of brickwork that are honeycombed by the
suns of centuries, is something that I hereby renounce once for all the
attempt to express; but you may be sure that whenever I mention such a
spot enchantment lurks in it.

A delicious stillness covered the little campo at Torcello; I remember
none so subtly audible save that of the Roman Campagna. There was
no life but the visible tremor of the brilliant air and the cries of
half-a-dozen young children who dogged our steps and clamoured for
coppers. These children, by the way, were the handsomest little brats in
the world, and, each was furnished with a pair of eyes that could only
have signified the protest of nature against the meanness of fortune.
They were very nearly as naked as savages, and their little bellies
protruded like those of infant cannibals in the illustrations of books
of travel; but as they scampered and sprawled in the soft, thick grass,
grinning like suddenly-translated cherubs and showing their hungry
little teeth, they suggested forcibly that the best assurance of
happiness in this world is to be found in the maximum of innocence and
the minimum of wealth. One small urchin--framed, if ever a child was, to
be the joy of an aristocratic mamma--was the most expressively beautiful
creature I had ever looked upon. He had a smile to make Correggio sigh
in his grave; and yet here he was running wild among the sea-stunted
bushes, on the lonely margin of a decaying world, in prelude to how
blank or to how dark a destiny? Verily nature is still at odds with
propriety; though indeed if they ever really pull together I fear nature
will quite lose her distinction. An infant citizen of our own republic,
straight-haired, pale-eyed and freckled, duly darned and catechised,
marching into a New England schoolhouse, is an object often seen and
soon forgotten; but I think I shall always remember with infinite tender
conjecture, as the years roll by, this little unlettered Eros of the
Adriatic strand. Yet all youthful things at Torcello were not cheerful,
for the poor lad who brought us the key of the cathedral was shaking
with an ague, and his melancholy presence seemed to point the moral of
forsaken nave and choir. The church, admirably primitive and curious,
reminded me of the two or three oldest churches of Rome--St. Clement
and St. Agnes. The interior is rich in grimly mystical mosaics of the
twelfth century and the patchwork of precious fragments in the pavement
not inferior to that of St. Mark’s. But the terribly distinct Apostles
are ranged against their dead gold backgrounds as stiffly as grenadiers
presenting arms--intensely personal sentinels of a personal Deity. Their
stony stare seems to wait for ever vainly for some visible revival
of primitive orthodoxy, and one may well wonder whether it finds much
beguilement in idly-gazing troops of Western heretics--passionless even
in their heresy.

I had been curious to see whether in the galleries and temples of Venice
I should be disposed to transpose my old estimates--to burn what I had
adored and adore what I had burned. It is a sad truth that one can stand
in the Ducal Palace for the first time but once, with the deliciously
ponderous sense of that particular half-hour’s being an era in one’s
mental history; but I had the satisfaction of finding at least--a great
comfort in a short stay--that none of my early memories were likely to
change places and that I could take up my admirations where I had left
them. I still found Carpaccio delightful, Veronese magnificent, Titian
supremely beautiful and Tintoret scarce to be appraised. I repaired
immediately to the little church of San Cassano, which contains the
smaller of Tintoret’s two great Crucifixions; and when I had looked
at it a while I drew a long breath and felt I could now face any other
picture in Venice with proper self-possession. It seemed to me I had
advanced to the uttermost limit of painting; that beyond this another
art--inspired poetry--begins, and that Bellini, Veronese, Giorgione, and
Titian, all joining hands and straining every muscle of their genius,
reach forward not so far but that they leave a visible space in which
Tintoret alone is master. I well remember the exaltations to which
he lifted me when first I learned to know him; but the glow of that
comparatively youthful amazement is dead, and with it, I fear,
that confident vivacity of phrase of which, in trying to utter my
impressions, I felt less the magniloquence than the impotence. In
his power there are many weak spots, mysterious lapses and fitful
intermissions; but when the list of his faults is complete he still
remains to me the most _interesting_ of painters. His reputation rests
chiefly on a more superficial sort of merit--his energy, his unsurpassed
productivity, his being, as Théophile Gautier says, _le roi des
fougueux_. These qualities are immense, but the great source of his
impressiveness is that his indefatigable hand never drew a line that was
not, as one may say, a moral line. No painter ever had such breadth and
such depth; and even Titian, beside him, scarce figures as more than a
great decorative artist. Mr. Ruskin, whose eloquence in dealing with the
great Venetians sometimes outruns his discretion, is fond of speaking
even of Veronese as a painter of deep spiritual intentions. This, it
seems to me, is pushing matters too far, and the author of “The Rape
of Europa” is, pictorially speaking, no greater casuist than any other
genius of supreme good taste. Titian was assuredly a mighty poet, but
Tintoret--well, Tintoret was almost a prophet. Before his greatest works
you are conscious of a sudden evaporation of old doubts and dilemmas,
and the eternal problem of the conflict between idealism and realism
dies the most natural of deaths. In his genius the problem is
practically solved; the alternatives are so harmoniously interfused that
I defy the keenest critic to say where one begins and the other ends.
The homeliest prose melts into the most ethereal poetry--the literal and
the imaginative fairly confound their identity.

This, however, is vague praise. Tintoret’s great merit, to my mind, was
his unequalled distinctness of vision. When once he had conceived the
germ of a scene it defined itself to his imagination with an intensity,
an amplitude, an individuality of expression, which makes one’s
observation of his pictures seem less an operation of the mind than
a kind of supplementary experience of life. Veronese and Titian are
content with a much looser specification, as their treatment of any
subject that the author of the Crucifixion at San Cassano has also
treated abundantly proves. There are few more suggestive contrasts than
that between the absence of a total character at all commensurate with
its scattered variety and brilliancy in Veronese’s “Marriage of Cana,”
 at the Louvre, and the poignant, almost startling, completeness of
Tintoret’s illustration of the theme at the Salute church. To compare
his “Presentation of the Virgin,” at the Madonna dell’ Orto, with
Titian’s at the Academy, or his “Annunciation” with Titian’s close at
hand, is to measure the essential difference between observation and
imagination. One has certainly not said all that there is to say for
Titian when one has called him an observer. _Il y mettait du sien_,
and I use the term to designate roughly the artist whose apprehension,
infinitely deep and strong when applied to the single figure or
to easily balanced groups, spends itself vainly on great dramatic
combinations--or rather leaves them ungauged. It was the whole scene
that Tintoret seemed to have beheld in a flash of inspiration intense
enough to stamp it ineffaceably on his perception; and it was the whole
scene, complete, peculiar, individual, unprecedented, that he committed
to canvas with all the vehemence of his talent. Compare his “Last
Supper,” at San Giorgio--its long, diagonally placed table, its dusky
spaciousness, its scattered lamp-light and halo-light, its startled,
gesticulating figures, its richly realistic foreground--with the
customary formal, almost mathematical rendering of the subject, in which
impressiveness seems to have been sought in elimination rather than
comprehension. You get from Tintoret’s work the impression that he
_felt_, pictorially, the great, beautiful, terrible spectacle of human
life very much as Shakespeare felt it poetically--with a heart that
never ceased to beat a passionate accompaniment to every stroke of
his brush. Thanks to this fact his works are signally grave, and their
almost universal and rapidly increasing decay doesn’t relieve their
gloom. Nothing indeed can well be sadder than the great collection of
Tintorets at San Rocco. Incurable blackness is settling fast upon all of
them, and they frown at you across the sombre splendour of their great
chambers like gaunt twilight phantoms of pictures. To our children’s
children Tintoret, as things are going, can be hardly more than a name;
and such of them as shall miss the tragic beauty, already so dimmed
and stained, of the great “Bearing of the Cross” in that temple of his
spirit will live and die without knowing the largest eloquence of art.
If you wish to add the last touch of solemnity to the place recall
as vividly as possible while you linger at San Rocco the painter’s
singularly interesting portrait of himself, at the Louvre. The old
man looks out of the canvas from beneath a brow as sad as a sunless
twilight, with just such a stoical hopelessness as you might fancy him
to wear if he stood at your side gazing at his rotting canvases. It
isn’t whimsical to read it as the face of a man who felt that he had
given the world more than the world was likely to repay. Indeed before
every picture of Tintoret you may remember this tremendous portrait with
profit. On one side the power, the passion, the illusion of his art; on
the other the mortal fatigue of his spirit. The world’s knowledge of
him is so small that the portrait throws a doubly precious light on his
personality; and when we wonder vainly what manner of man he was, and
what were his purpose, his faith and his method, we may find forcible
assurance there that they were at any rate his life--one of the most
intellectually passionate ever led.

Verona, which was my last Italian stopping-place, is in any conditions
a delightfully interesting city; but the kindness of my own memory of it
is deepened by a subsequent ten days’ experience of Germany. I rose one
morning at Verona, and went to bed at night at Botzen! The statement
needs no comment, and the two places, though but fifty miles apart, are
as painfully dissimilar as their names. I had prepared myself for your
delectation with a copious tirade on German manners, German scenery,
German art and the German stage--on the lights and shadows of Innsbrück,
Munich, Nüremberg and Heidelberg; but just as I was about to put pen
to paper I glanced into a little volume on these very topics lately
published by that famous novelist and moralist, M. Ernest Feydeau,
the fruit of a summer’s observation at Homburg. This work produced a
reaction; and if I chose to follow M. Feydeau’s own example when he
wishes to qualify his approbation I might call his treatise by any vile
name known to the speech of man. But I content myself with pronouncing
it superficial. I then reflect that my own opportunities for seeing and
judging were extremely limited, and I suppress my tirade, lest some more
enlightened critic should come and hang me with the same rope. Its sum
and substance was to have been that--superficially--Germany is ugly;
that Munich is a nightmare, Heidelberg a disappointment (in spite of its
charming castle) and even Nüremberg not a joy for ever. But comparisons
are odious, and if Munich is ugly Verona is beautiful enough. You may
laugh at my logic, but will probably assent to my meaning. I carried
away from Verona a precious mental picture upon which I cast an
introspective glance whenever between Botzen and Strassburg the
oppression of external circumstance became painful. It was a lovely
August afternoon in the Roman arena--a ruin in which repair and
restoration have been so watchfully and plausibly practised that it
seems all of one harmonious antiquity. The vast stony oval rose high
against the sky in a single clear, continuous line, broken here and
there only by strolling and reclining loungers. The massive tiers
inclined in solid monotony to the central circle, in which a small
open-air theatre was in active operation. A small quarter of the great
slope of masonry facing the stage was roped off into an auditorium, in
which the narrow level space between the foot-lights and the lowest
step figured as the pit. Foot-lights are a figure of speech, for the
performance was going on in the broad glow of the afternoon, with
a delightful and apparently by no means misplaced confidence in the
good-will of the spectators. What the piece was that was deemed so
superbly able to shift for itself I know not--very possibly the same
drama that I remember seeing advertised during my former visit to
Verona; nothing less than _La Tremenda Giustizia di Dio_. If titles
are worth anything this product of the melodramatist’s art might surely
stand upon its own legs. Along the tiers above the little group of
regular spectators was gathered a free-list of unauthorised observers,
who, although beyond ear-shot, must have been enabled by the generous
breadth of Italian gesture to follow the tangled thread of the piece.
It was all deliciously Italian--the mixture of old life and new, the
mountebank’s booth (it was hardly more) grafted on the antique circus,
the dominant presence of a mighty architecture, the loungers and idlers
beneath the kindly sky and upon the sun-warmed stones. I never felt more
keenly the difference between the background to life in very old and
very new civilisations. There are other things in Verona to make it
a liberal education to be born there, though that it is one for
the contemporary Veronese I don’t pretend to say. The Tombs of the
Scaligers, with their soaring pinnacles, their high-poised canopies,
their exquisite refinement and concentration of the Gothic idea, I can’t
profess, even after much worshipful gazing, to have fully comprehended
and enjoyed. They seemed to me full of deep architectural meanings, such
as must drop gently into the mind one by one, after infinite tranquil
contemplation. But even to the hurried and preoccupied traveller the
solemn little chapel-yard in the city’s heart, in which they stand
girdled by their great swaying curtain of linked and twisted iron, is
one of the most impressive spots in Italy. Nowhere else is such a wealth
of artistic achievement crowded into so narrow a space; nowhere else are
the daily comings and goings of men blessed by the presence of _manlier_
art. Verona is rich furthermore in beautiful churches--several with
beautiful names: San Fermo, Santa Anastasia, San Zenone. This last is a
structure of high antiquity and of the most impressive loveliness. The
nave terminates in a double choir, that is a sub-choir or crypt into
which you descend and where you wander among primitive columns whose
variously grotesque capitals rise hardly higher than your head, and an
upper choral plane reached by broad stairways of the bravest effect. I
shall never forget the impression of majestic chastity that I received
from the great nave of the building on my former visit. I then decided
to my satisfaction that every church is from the devotional point of
view a solecism that has not something of a similar absolute felicity
of proportion; for strictly formal beauty seems best to express our
conception of spiritual beauty. The nobly serious character of San
Zenone is deepened by its single picture--a masterpiece of the most
serious of painters, the severe and exquisite Mantegna.

{Illustration: THE AMPHITHEATRE, VERONA}

1872



TWO OLD HOUSES AND THREE YOUNG WOMEN


There are times and places that come back yet again, but that, when the
brooding tourist puts out his hand to them, meet it a little slowly, or
even seem to recede a step, as if in slight fear of some liberty he may
take. Surely they should know by this time that he is capable of taking
none. He has his own way--he makes it all right. It now becomes just
a part of the charming solicitation that it presents precisely a
problem--that of giving the particular thing as much as possible without
at the same time giving it, as we say, away. There are considerations,
proprieties, a necessary indirectness--he must use, in short, a little
art. No necessity, however, more than this, makes him warm to his work,
and thus it is that, after all, he hangs his three pictures.


I

The evening that was to give me the first of them was by no means the
first occasion of my asking myself if that inveterate “style” of which
we talk so much be absolutely conditioned--in dear old Venice and
elsewhere--on decrepitude. Is it the style that has brought about the
decrepitude, or the decrepitude that has, as it were, intensified
and consecrated the style? There is an ambiguity about it all that
constantly haunts and beguiles. Dear old Venice has lost her complexion,
her figure, her reputation, her self-respect; and yet, with it all, has
so puzzlingly not lost a shred of her distinction. Perhaps indeed the
case is simpler than it seems, for the poetry of misfortune is familiar
to us all, whereas, in spite of a stroke here and there of some happy
justice that charms, we scarce find ourselves anywhere arrested by the
poetry of a run of luck. The misfortune of Venice being, accordingly, at
every point, what we most touch, feel and see, we end by assuming it to
be of the essence of her dignity; a consequence, we become aware, by the
way, sufficiently discouraging to the general application or pretension
of style, and all the more that, to make the final felicity deep, the
original greatness must have been something tremendous. If it be the
ruins that are noble we have known plenty that were not, and moreover
there are degrees and varieties: certain monuments, solid survivals,
hold up their heads and decline to ask for a grain of your pity. Well,
one knows of course when to keep one’s pity to oneself; yet one clings,
even in the face of the colder stare, to one’s prized Venetian privilege
of making the sense of doom and decay a part of every impression.
Cheerful work, it may be said of course; and it is doubtless only in
Venice that you gain more by such a trick than you lose. What was most
beautiful is gone; what was next most beautiful is, thank goodness,
going--that, I think, is the monstrous description of the better part
of your thought. Is it really your fault if the place makes you want so
desperately to read history into everything?

You do that wherever you turn and wherever you look, and you do it,
I should say, most of all at night. It comes to you there with longer
knowledge, and with all deference to what flushes and shimmers, that the
night is the real time. It perhaps even wouldn’t take much to make you
award the palm to the nights of winter. This is certainly true for the
form of progression that is most characteristic, for every question
of departure and arrival by gondola. The little closed cabin of
this perfect vehicle, the movement, the darkness and the plash, the
indistinguishable swerves and twists, all the things you don’t see and
all the things you do feel--each dim recognition and obscure arrest is
a possible throb of your sense of being floated to your doom, even when
the truth is simply and sociably that you are going out to tea. Nowhere
else is anything as innocent so mysterious, nor anything as mysterious
so pleasantly deterrent to protest. These are the moments when you are
most daringly Venetian, most content to leave cheap trippers and other
aliens the high light of the mid-lagoon and the pursuit of pink and
gold. The splendid day is good enough for _them_; what is best for you
is to stop at last, as you are now stopping, among clustered _pali_ and
softly-shifting poops and prows, at a great flight of water-steps that
play their admirable part in the general effect of a great entrance.
The high doors stand open from them to the paved chamber of a basement
tremendously tall and not vulgarly lighted, from which, in turn, mounts
the slow stone staircase that draws you further on. The great point is,
that if you are worthy of this impression at all, there isn’t a single
item of it of which the association isn’t noble. Hold to it fast that
there is no other such dignity of arrival as arrival by water. Hold to
it that to float and slacken and gently bump, to creep out of the low,
dark _felze_ and make the few guided movements and find the strong
crooked and offered arm, and then, beneath lighted palace-windows, pass
up the few damp steps on the precautionary carpet--hold to it that these
things constitute a preparation of which the only defect is that it may
sometimes perhaps really prepare too much. It’s so stately that what
can come after?--it’s so good in itself that what, upstairs, as we
comparative vulgarians say, can be better? Hold to it, at any rate, that
if a lady, in especial, scrambles out of a carriage, tumbles out of a
cab, flops out of a tram-car, and hurtles, projectile-like, out of
a “lightning-elevator,” she alights from the Venetian conveyance as
Cleopatra may have stepped from her barge. Upstairs--whatever may be
yet in store for her--her entrance shall still advantageously enjoy
the support most opposed to the “momentum” acquired. The beauty of
the matter has been in the absence of all momentum--elsewhere so
scientifically applied to us, from behind, by the terrible life of our
day--and in the fact that, as the elements of slowness, the felicities
of deliberation, doubtless thus all hang together, the last of
calculable dangers is to enter a great Venetian room with a rush.

Not the least happy note, therefore, of the picture I am trying to frame
is that there was absolutely no rushing; not only in the sense of a
scramble over marble floors, but, by reason of something dissuasive and
distributive in the very air of the place, a suggestion, under the
fine old ceilings and among types of face and figure abounding in the
unexpected, that here were many things to consider. Perhaps the simplest
rendering of a scene into the depths of which there are good grounds of
discretion for not sinking would be just this emphasis on the value of
the unexpected for such occasions--with due qualification, naturally, of
its degree. Unexpectedness pure and simple, it is needless to say, may
easily endanger any social gathering, and I hasten to add moreover
that the figures and faces I speak of were probably not in the least
unexpected to each other. The stage they occupied was a stage of
variety--Venice has ever been a garden of strange social flowers. It
is only as reflected in the consciousness of the visitor from
afar--brooding tourist even call him, or sharp-eyed bird on the
branch--that I attempt to give you the little drama; beginning with the
felicity that most appealed to him, the visible, unmistakable fact that
he was the only representative of his class. The whole of the rest of
the business was but what he saw and felt and fancied--what he was
to remember and what he was to forget. Through it all, I may say
distinctly, he clung to his great Venetian clue--the explanation of
everything by the historic idea. It was a high historic house, with such
a quantity of recorded past twinkling in the multitudinous candles that
one grasped at the idea of something waning and displaced, and might
even fondly and secretly nurse the conceit that what one was having was
just the very last. Wasn’t it certainly, for instance, no mere illusion
that there is no appreciable future left for such manners--an urbanity
so comprehensive, a form so transmitted, as those of such a hostess and
such a host? The future is for a different conception of the graceful
altogether--so far as it’s for a conception of the graceful at all. Into
that computation I shall not attempt to enter; but these representative
products of an antique culture, at least, and one of which the secret
seems more likely than not to be lost, were not common, nor indeed
was any one else--in the circle to which the picture most insisted on
restricting itself.

Neither, on the other hand, was anyone either very beautiful or very
fresh: which was again, exactly, a precious “value” on an occasion
that was to shine most, to the imagination, by the complexity of its
references. Such old, old women with such old, old jewels; such ugly,
ugly ones with such handsome, becoming names; such battered, fatigued
gentlemen with such inscrutable decorations; such an absence of youth,
for the most part, in either sex--of the pink and white, the “bud” of
new worlds; such a general personal air, in fine, of being the worse for
a good deal of wear in various old ones. It was not a society--that was
clear--in which little girls and boys set the tune; and there was that
about it all that might well have cast a shadow on the path of even the
most successful little girl. Yet also--let me not be rudely inexact--it
was in honour of youth and freshness that we had all been convened. The
_fiançailles_ of the last--unless it were the last but one--unmarried
daughter of the house had just been brought to a proper climax; the
contract had been signed, the betrothal rounded off--I’m not sure that
the civil marriage hadn’t, that day, taken place. The occasion then had
in fact the most charming of heroines and the most ingenuous of heroes,
a young man, the latter, all happily suffused with a fair Austrian
blush. The young lady had had, besides other more or less shining recent
ancestors, a very famous paternal grandmother, who had played a great
part in the political history of her time and whose portrait, in the
taste and dress of 1830, was conspicuous in one of the rooms. The
grand-daughter of this celebrity, of royal race, was strikingly like her
and, by a fortunate stroke, had been habited, combed, curled in a
manner exactly to reproduce the portrait. These things were charming and
amusing, as indeed were several other things besides. The great Venetian
beauty of our period was there, and nature had equipped the great
Venetian beauty for her part with the properest sense of the suitable,
or in any case with a splendid generosity--since on the ideally suitable
_character_ of so brave a human symbol who shall have the last word?
This responsible agent was at all events the beauty in the world about
whom probably, most, the absence of question (an absence never wholly
propitious) would a little smugly and monotonously flourish: the one
thing wanting to the interest she inspired was thus the possibility
of ever discussing it. There were plenty of suggestive subjects round
about, on the other hand, as to which the exchange of ideas would by no
means necessarily have dropped. You profit to the full at such times by
all the old voices, echoes, images--by that element of the history of
Venice which represents all Europe as having at one time and another
revelled or rested, asked for pleasure or for patience there; which
gives you the place supremely as the refuge of endless strange secrets,
broken fortunes and wounded hearts.


II

There had been, on lines of further or different speculation, a
young Englishman to luncheon, and the young Englishman had proved
“sympathetic”; so that when it was a question afterwards of some of the
more hidden treasures, the browner depths of the old churches, the case
became one for mutual guidance and gratitude--for a small afternoon tour
and the wait of a pair of friends in the warm little _campi_, at locked
doors for which the nearest urchin had scurried off to fetch the keeper
of the key. There are few brown depths to-day into which the light of
the hotels doesn’t shine, and few hidden treasures about which
pages enough, doubtless, haven’t already been printed: my business,
accordingly, let me hasten to say, is not now with the fond renewal of
any discovery--at least in the order of impressions most usual.
Your discovery may be, for that matter, renewed every week; the only
essential is the good luck--which a fair amount of practice has taught
you to count upon-of not finding, for the particular occasion, other
discoverers in the field. Then, in the quiet corner, with the closed
door--then in the presence of the picture and of your companion’s
sensible emotion--not only the original happy moment, but everything
else, is renewed. Yet once again it can all come back. The old custode,
shuffling about in the dimness, jerks away, to make sure of his tip, the
old curtain that isn’t much more modern than the wonderful work itself.
He does his best to create light where light can never be; but you have
your practised groping gaze, and in guiding the young eyes of your less
confident associate, moreover, you feel you possess the treasure. These
are the refined pleasures that Venice has still to give, these odd happy
passages of communication and response.


But the point of my reminiscence is that there were other communications
that day, as there were certainly other responses. I have forgotten
exactly what it was we were looking for--without much success--when we
met the three Sisters. Nothing requires more care, as a long knowledge
of Venice works in, than not to lose the useful faculty of getting lost.
I had so successfully done my best to preserve it that I could at that
moment conscientiously profess an absence of any suspicion of where we
might be. It proved enough that, wherever we were, we were where the
three sisters found us. This was on a little bridge near a big campo,
and a part of the charm of the matter was the theory that it was very
much out of the way. They took us promptly in hand--they were
only walking over to San Marco to match some coloured wool for the
manufacture of such belated cushions as still bloom with purple and
green in the long leisures of old palaces; and that mild errand could
easily open a parenthesis. The obscure church we had feebly imagined
we were looking for proved, if I am not mistaken, that of the sisters’
parish; as to which I have but a confused recollection of a large grey
void and of admiring for the first time a fine work of art of which I
have now quite lost the identity. This was the effect of the charming
beneficence of the three sisters, who presently were to give our
adventure a turn in the emotion of which everything that had preceded
seemed as nothing. It actually strikes me even as a little dim to have
been told by them, as we all fared together, that a certain low, wide
house, in a small square as to which I found myself without particular
association, had been in the far-off time the residence of George Sand.
And yet this was a fact that, though I could then only feel it must
be for another day, would in a different connection have set me richly
reconstructing.

Madame Sand’s famous Venetian year has been of late immensely in the
air--a tub of soiled linen which the muse of history, rolling her
sleeves well up, has not even yet quite ceased energetically and
publicly to wash. The house in question must have been the house
to which the wonderful lady betook herself when, in 1834, after the
dramatic exit of Alfred de Musset, she enjoyed that remarkable period
of rest and refreshment with the so long silent, the but recently
rediscovered, reported, extinguished, Doctor Pagello. As an old
Sandist--not exactly indeed of the _première heure_, but of the fine
high noon and golden afternoon of the great career--I had been, though I
confess too inactively, curious as to a few points in the topography of
the eminent adventure to which I here allude; but had never got beyond
the little public fact, in itself always a bit of a thrill to the
Sandist, that the present Hotel Danieli had been the scene of its first
remarkable stages. I am not sure indeed that the curiosity I speak
of has not at last, in my breast, yielded to another form of
wonderment--truly to the rather rueful question of why we have so
continued to concern ourselves, and why the fond observer of the
footprints of genius is likely so to continue, with a body of
discussion, neither in itself and in its day, nor in its preserved and
attested records, at all positively edifying. The answer to such an
inquiry would doubtless reward patience, but I fear we can now glance at
its possibilities only long enough to say that interesting persons--so
they be of a sufficiently approved and established interest--render
in some degree interesting whatever happens to them, and give it an
importance even when very little else (as in the case I refer to) may
have operated to give it a dignity. Which is where I leave the issue of
further identifications.

For the three sisters, in the kindest way in the world, had asked us if
we already knew their sequestered home and whether, in case we didn’t,
we should be at all amused to see it. My own acquaintance with them,
though not of recent origin, had hitherto lacked this enhancement, at
which we both now grasped with the full instinct, indescribable enough,
of what it was likely to give. But how, for that matter, either, can I
find the right expression of what was to remain with us of this episode?
It is the fault of the sad-eyed old witch of Venice that she so easily
puts more into things that can pass under the common names that do for
them elsewhere. Too much for a rough sketch was to be seen and felt
in the home of the three sisters, and in the delightful and slightly
pathetic deviation of their doing us so simply and freely the honours
of it. What was most immediately marked was their resigned cosmopolite
state, the effacement of old conventional lines by foreign contact and
example; by the action, too, of causes full of a special interest,
but not to be emphasised perhaps--granted indeed they be named at
all--without a certain sadness of sympathy. If “style,” in Venice, sits
among ruins, let us always lighten our tread when we pay her a visit.

Our steps were in fact, I am happy to think, almost soft enough for a
death-chamber as we stood in the big, vague _sala_ of the three sisters,
spectators of their simplified state and their beautiful blighted rooms,
the memories, the portraits, the shrunken relics of nine Doges. If I
wanted a first chapter it was here made to my hand; the painter of life
and manners, as he glanced about, could only sigh--as he so frequently
has to--over the vision of so much more truth than he can use. What on
earth is the need to “invent,” in the midst of tragedy and comedy that
never cease? Why, with the subject itself, all round, so inimitable,
condemn the picture to the silliness of trying not to be aware of it?
The charming lonely girls, carrying so simply their great name and
fallen fortunes, the despoiled _decaduta_ house, the unfailing Italian
grace, the space so out of scale with actual needs, the absence of
books, the presence of ennui, the sense of the length of the hours and
the shortness of everything else--all this was a matter not only for a
second chapter and a third, but for a whole volume, a _dénoûment_ and a
sequel.

This time, unmistakably, it _was_ the last--Wordsworth’s stately
“shade of that which once was great”; and it was _almost_ as if our
distinguished young friends had consented to pass away slowly in order
to treat us to the vision. Ends are only ends in truth, for the painter
of pictures, when they are more or less conscious and prolonged. One
of the sisters had been to London, whence she had brought back the
impression of having seen at the British Museum a room exclusively
filled with books and documents devoted to the commemoration of her
family. She must also then have encountered at the National Gallery
the exquisite specimen of an early Venetian master in which one of her
ancestors, then head of the State, kneels with so sweet a dignity before
the Virgin and Child. She was perhaps old enough, none the less, to have
seen this precious work taken down from the wall of the room in which
we sat and--on terms so far too easy--carried away for ever; and not
too young, at all events, to have been present, now and then, when her
candid elders, enlightened too late as to what their sacrifice might
really have done for them, looked at each other with the pale hush of
the irreparable. We let ourselves note that these were matters to put a
great deal of old, old history into sweet young Venetian faces.


III

In Italy, if we come to that, this particular appearance is far from
being only in the streets, where we are apt most to observe it--in
countenances caught as we pass and in the objects marked by the
guide-books with their respective stellar allowances. It is behind
the walls of the houses that old, old history is thick and that the
multiplied stars of Baedeker might often best find their application.
The feast of St. John the Baptist is the feast of the year in Florence,
and it seemed to me on that night that I could have scattered about me a
handful of these signs. I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours
on a signal high terrace that overlooks the Arno, as well as in the
galleries that open out to it, where I met more than ever the pleasant
curious question of the disparity between the old conditions and the new
manners. Make our manners, we moderns, as good as we can, there is still
no getting over it that they are not good enough for many of the great
places. This was one of those scenes, and its greatness came out to the
full into the hot Florentine evening, in which the pink and golden
fires of the pyrotechnics arranged on Ponte Carraja--the occasion of our
assembly--lighted up the large issue. The “good people” beneath were a
huge, hot, gentle, happy family; the fireworks on the bridge, kindling
river as well as sky, were delicate and charming; the terrace connected
the two wings that give bravery to the front of the palace, and the
close-hung pictures in the rooms, open in a long series, offered to a
lover of quiet perambulation an alternative hard to resist.

Wherever he stood--on the broad loggia, in the cluster of company, among
bland ejaculations and liquefied ices, or in the presence of the mixed
masters that led him from wall to wall--such a seeker for the spirit of
each occasion could only turn it over that in the first place this was
an intenser, finer little Florence than ever, and that in the second
the testimony was again wonderful to former fashions and ideas. What
did they do, in the other time, the time of so much smaller a society,
smaller and fewer fortunes, more taste perhaps as to some particulars,
but fewer tastes, at any rate, and fewer habits and wants--what did they
do with chambers so multitudinous and so vast? Put their “state” at its
highest--and we know of many ways in which it must have broken down--how
did they live in them without the aid of variety? How did they, in
minor communities in which every one knew every one, and every one’s
impression and effect had been long, as we say, discounted, find
representation and emulation sufficiently amusing? Much of the charm of
thinking of it, however, is doubtless that we are not able to say.
This leaves us with the conviction that does them most honour: the old
generations built and arranged greatly for the simple reason that they
liked it, and they could bore themselves--to say nothing of each other,
when it came to that--better in noble conditions than in mean ones.

It was not, I must add, of the far-away Florentine age that I most
thought, but of periods more recent and of which the sound and beautiful
house more directly spoke. If one had always been homesick for the
Arno-side of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, here was a
chance, and a better one than ever, to taste again of the cup. Many of
the pictures--there was a charming quarter of an hour when I had them
to myself--were bad enough to have passed for good in those delightful
years. Shades of Grand-Dukes encompassed me--Dukes of the pleasant later
sort who weren’t really grand. There was still the sense of having come
too late--yet not too late, after all, for this glimpse and this dream.
My business was to people the place--its own business had never been to
save us the trouble of understanding it. And then the deepest spell of
all was perhaps that just here I was supremely out of the way of the so
terribly actual Florentine question. This, as all the world knows, is
a battle-ground, to-day, in many journals, with all Italy practically
pulling on one side and all England, America and Germany pulling on the
other: I speak of course of the more or less articulate opinion. The
“improvement,” the rectification of Florence is in the air, and the
problem of the particular ways in which, given such desperately delicate
cases, these matters should be understood. The little treasure-city is,
if there ever was one, a delicate case--more delicate perhaps than any
other in the world save that of our taking on ourselves to persuade
the Italians that they mayn’t do as they like with their own. They so
absolutely may that I profess I see no happy issue from the fight. It
will take more tact than our combined tactful genius may at all probably
muster to convince them that their own is, by an ingenious logic, much
rather _ours_. It will take more subtlety still to muster for them that
dazzling show of examples from which they may learn that what in general
is “ours” shall appear to them as a rule a sacrifice to beauty and a
triumph of taste. The situation, to the truly analytic mind, offers in
short, to perfection, all the elements of despair; and I am afraid that
if I hung back, at the Corsini palace, to woo illusions and invoke
the irrelevant, it was because I could think, in the conditions, of no
better way to meet the acute responsibility of the critic than just to
shirk it.

{1899.}



CASA ALVISI


Invited to “introduce” certain pages of cordial and faithful
reminiscence from another hand, {1}

{1} “Browning in Venice,” being Recollections of the late Katharine
De Kay Bronson, with a Prefatory Note by H. J. (_Cornhill Magazine_,
February, 1902).}

in which a frankly predominant presence seems to live again, I undertook
that office with an interest inevitably somewhat sad--so passed and gone
to-day is so much of the life suggested. Those who fortunately knew Mrs.
Bronson will read into her notes still more of it--more of her subject,
more of herself too, and of many things--than she gives, and some may
well even feel tempted to do for her what she has done here for
her distinguished friend. In Venice, during a long period, for many
pilgrims, Mrs. Arthur Bronson, originally of New York, was, so far as
society, hospitality, a charming personal welcome were concerned, almost
in sole possession; she had become there, with time, quite the prime
representative of those private amenities which the Anglo-Saxon abroad
is apt to miss just in proportion as the place visited is publicly
wonderful, and in which he therefore finds a value twice as great as at
home. Mrs. Bronson really earned in this way the gratitude of mingled
generations and races. She sat for twenty years at the wide mouth, as
it were, of the Grand Canal, holding out her hand, with endless
good-nature, patience, charity, to all decently accredited petitioners,
the incessant troop of those either bewilderedly making or fondly
renewing acquaintance with the dazzling city.

{Illustration: CASA ALVISI, VENICE}

Casa Alvisi is directly opposite the high, broad-based florid church
of S. Maria della Salute--so directly that from the balcony over the
water-entrance your eye, crossing the canal, seems to find the key-hole
of the great door right in a line with it; and there was something in
this position that for the time made all Venice-lovers think of the
genial _padrona_ as thus levying in the most convenient way the toll of
curiosity and sympathy. Every one passed, every one was seen to pass,
and few were those not seen to stop and to return. The most generous of
hostesses died a year ago at Florence; her house knows her no more--it
had ceased to do so for some time before her death; and the long,
pleased procession--the charmed arrivals, the happy sojourns at anchor,
the reluctant departures that made Ca’ Alvisi, as was currently said,
a social _porto di mare_--is, for remembrance and regret, already a
possession of ghosts; so that, on the spot, at present, the attention
ruefully averts itself from the dear little old faded but once
familiarly bright façade, overtaken at last by the comparatively vulgar
uses that are doing their best to “paint out” in Venice, right and
left, by staring signs and other vulgarities, the immemorial note of
distinction. The house, in a city of palaces, was small, but the tenant
clung to her perfect, her inclusive position--the one right place that
gave her a better command, as it were, than a better house obtained by
a harder compromise; not being fond, moreover, of spacious halls and
massive treasures, but of compact and familiar rooms, in which her
remarkable accumulation of minute and delicate Venetian objects could
show. She adored--in the way of the Venetian, to which all her taste
addressed itself--the small, the domestic and the exquisite; so that she
would have given a Tintoretto or two, I think, without difficulty, for
a cabinet of tiny gilded glasses or a dinner-service of the right old
silver.

The general receptacle of these multiplied treasures played at any rate,
through the years, the part of a friendly private-box at the constant
operatic show, a box at the best point of the best tier, with the
cushioned ledge of its front raking the whole scene and with its
withdrawing rooms behind for more detached conversation; for easy--when
not indeed slightly difficult--polyglot talk, artful _bibite_, artful
cigarettes too, straight from the hand of the hostess, who could do all
that belonged to a hostess, place people in relation and keep them so,
take up and put down the topic, cause delicate tobacco and little
gilded glasses to circulate, without ever leaving her sofa-cushions or
intermitting her good-nature. She exercised in these conditions, with
never a block, as we say in London, in the traffic, with never an
admission, an acceptance of the least social complication, her positive
genius for easy interest, easy sympathy, easy friendship. It was as if,
at last, she had taken the human race at large, quite irrespective of
geography, for her neighbours, with neighbourly relations as a matter
of course. These things, on her part, had at all events the greater
appearance of ease from their having found to their purpose--and as if
the very air of Venice produced them--a cluster of forms so light and
immediate, so pre-established by picturesque custom. The old bright
tradition, the wonderful Venetian legend had appealed to her from the
first, closing round her house and her well-plashed water-steps, where
the waiting gondolas were thick, quite as if, actually, the ghost of
the defunct Carnival--since I have spoken of ghosts--still played some
haunting part.

Let me add, at the same time, that Mrs. Bronson’s social facility, which
was really her great refuge from importunity, a defence with serious
thought and serious feeling quietly cherished behind it, had its
discriminations as well as its inveteracies, and that the most marked
of all these, perhaps, was her attachment to Robert Browning. Nothing in
all her beneficent life had probably made her happier than to have found
herself able to minister, each year, with the returning autumn, to his
pleasure and comfort. Attached to Ca’ Alvisi, on the land side, is a
somewhat melancholy old section of a Giustiniani palace, which she had
annexed to her own premises mainly for the purpose of placing it, in
comfortable guise, at the service of her friends. She liked, as she
professed, when they were the real thing, to have them under her hand;
and here succeeded each other, through the years, the company of the
privileged and the more closely domesticated, who liked, harmlessly, to
distinguish between themselves and outsiders. Among visitors partaking
of this pleasant provision Mr. Browning was of course easily first. But
I must leave her own pen to show him as her best years knew him.
The point was, meanwhile, that if her charity was great even for the
outsider, this was by reason of the inner essence of it--her perfect
tenderness for Venice, which she always recognised as a link. That was
the true principle of fusion, the key to communication. She communicated
in proportion--little or much, measuring it as she felt people more
responsive or less so; and she expressed herself, or in other words her
full affection for the place, only to those who had most of the same
sentiment. The rich and interesting form in which she found it in
Browning may well be imagined--together with the quite independent
quantity of the genial at large that she also found; but I am not sure
that his favour was not primarily based on his paid tribute of such
things as “Two in a Gondola” and “A Toccata of Galuppi.” He had more
ineffaceably than anyone recorded his initiation from of old.

She was thus, all round, supremely faithful; yet it was perhaps after
all with the very small folk, those to the manner born, that she made
the easiest terms. She loved, she had from the first enthusiastically
adopted, the engaging Venetian people, whose virtues she found touching
and their infirmities but such as appeal mainly to the sense of humour
and the love of anecdote; and she befriended and admired, she studied
and spoiled them. There must have been a multitude of whom it would
scarce be too much to say that her long residence among them was their
settled golden age. When I consider that they have lost her now I fairly
wonder to what shifts they have been put and how long they may not have
to wait for such another messenger of Providence. She cultivated their
dialect, she renewed their boats, she piously relighted--at the top of
the tide-washed _pali_ of traghetto or lagoon--the neglected lamp of the
tutelary Madonnetta; she took cognisance of the wives, the children, the
accidents, the troubles, as to which she became, perceptibly, the most
prompt, the established remedy. On lines where the amusement was happily
less one-sided she put together in dialect many short comedies, dramatic
proverbs, which, with one of her drawing-rooms permanently arranged as
a charming diminutive theatre, she caused to be performed by the
young persons of her circle--often, when the case lent itself, by the
wonderful small offspring of humbler friends, children of the Venetian
lower class, whose aptitude, teachability, drollery, were her constant
delight. It was certainly true that an impression of Venice as humanly
sweet might easily found itself on the frankness and quickness and
amiability of these little people. They were at least so much to
the good; for the philosophy of their patroness was as Venetian as
everything else; helping her to accept experience without bitterness
and to remain fresh, even in the fatigue which finally overtook her, for
pleasant surprises and proved sincerities. She was herself sincere to
the last for the place of her predilection; inasmuch as though she had
arranged herself, in the later time--and largely for the love of “Pippa
Passes”--an alternative refuge at Asolo, she absented herself from
Venice with continuity only under coercion of illness.

At Asolo, periodically, the link with Browning was more confirmed than
weakened, and there, in old Venetian territory, and with the invasion
of visitors comparatively checked, her preferentially small house became
again a setting for the pleasure of talk and the sense of Italy. It
contained again its own small treasures, all in the pleasant key of the
homelier Venetian spirit. The plain beneath it stretched away like a
purple sea from the lower cliffs of the hills, and the white _campanili_
of the villages, as one was perpetually saying, showed on the expanse
like scattered sails of ships. The rumbling carriage, the old-time,
rattling, red-velveted carriage of provincial, rural Italy, delightful
and quaint, did the office of the gondola; to Bassano, to Treviso,
to high-walled Castelfranco, all pink and gold, the home of the great
Giorgione. Here also memories cluster; but it is in Venice again that
her vanished presence is most felt, for there, in the real, or certainly
the finer, the more sifted Cosmopolis, it falls into its place among
the others evoked, those of the past seekers of poetry and dispensers
of romance. It is a fact that almost every one interesting, appealing,
melancholy, memorable, odd, seems at one time or another, after many
days and much life, to have gravitated to Venice by a happy instinct,
settling in it and treating it, cherishing it, as a sort of repository
of consolations; all of which to-day, for the conscious mind, is mixed
with its air and constitutes its unwritten history. The deposed, the
defeated, the disenchanted, the wounded, or even only the bored, have
seemed to find there something that no other place could give. But
such people came for themselves, as we seem to see them--only with
the egotism of their grievances and the vanity of their hopes. Mrs.
Bronson’s case was beautifully different--she had come altogether for
others.



FROM CHAMBÉRY TO MILAN


Your truly sentimental tourist will never take it from any occasion that
there is absolutely nothing for him, and it was at Chambéry--but four
hours from Geneva--that I accepted the situation and decided there
might be mysterious delights in entering Italy by a whizz through an
eight-mile tunnel, even as a bullet through the bore of a gun. I found
my reward in the Savoyard landscape, which greets you betimes with the
smile of anticipation. If it is not so Italian as Italy it is at least
more Italian than anything _but_ Italy--more Italian, too, I should
think, than can seem natural and proper to the swarming red-legged
soldiery who so publicly proclaim it of the empire of M. Thiers. The
light and the complexion of things had to my eyes not a little of that
mollified depth last loved by them rather further on. It was simply
perhaps that the weather was hot and the mountains drowsing in that
iridescent haze that I have seen nearer home than at Chambéry. But the
vegetation, assuredly, had an all but Transalpine twist and curl, and
the classic wayside tangle of corn and vines left nothing to be desired
in the line of careless grace. Chambéry as a town, however, constitutes
no foretaste of the monumental cities. There is shabbiness and
shabbiness, the fond critic of such things will tell you; and that of
the ancient capital of Savoy lacks style. I found a better pastime,
however, than strolling through the dark dull streets in quest of
effects that were not forthcoming. The first urchin you meet will
show you the way to Les Charmettes and the Maison Jean-Jacques. A
very pleasant way it becomes as soon as it leaves the town--a winding,
climbing by-road, bordered with such a tall and sturdy hedge as to
give it the air of an English lane--if you can fancy an English lane
introducing you to the haunts of a Madame de Warens.

The house that formerly sheltered this lady’s singular ménage stands on
a hillside above the road, which a rapid path connects with the little
grass-grown terrace before it. It is a small shabby, homely dwelling,
with a certain reputable solidity, however, and more of internal
spaciousness than of outside promise. The place is shown by an elderly
competent dame who points out the very few surviving objects which you
may touch with the reflection--complacent in whatsoever degree suits
you--that they have known the familiarity of Rousseau’s hand. It was
presumably a meagrely-appointed house, and I wondered that on such
scanty features so much expression should linger. But the structure has
an ancient ponderosity, and the dust of the eighteenth century seems
to lie on its worm-eaten floors, to cling to the faded old _papiers à
ramages_ on the walls and to lodge in the crevices of the brown wooden
ceilings. Madame de Warens’s bed remains, with the narrow couch of
Jean-Jacques as well, his little warped and cracked yellow spinet, and
a battered, turnip-shaped silver timepiece, engraved with its master’s
name--its primitive tick as extinct as his passionate heart-beats. It
cost me, I confess, a somewhat pitying acceleration of my own to see
this intimately personal relic of the _genius loci_--for it had dwelt;
in his waistcoat-pocket, than which there is hardly a material point
in space nearer to a man’s consciousness--tossed so the dog’s-eared
visitors’ record or _livre de cuisine_ recently denounced by Madame
George Sand. In fact the place generally, in so far as some faint
ghostly presence of its famous inmates seems to linger there, is by no
means exhilarating. Coppet and Ferney tell, if not of pure happiness, at
least of prosperity and, honour, wealth and success. But Les Charmettes
is haunted by ghosts unclean and forlorn. The place tells of poverty,
perversity, distress. A good deal of clever modern talent in France has
been employed in touching up the episode of which it was the scene and
tricking it out in idyllic love-knots. But as I stood on the charming
terrace I have mentioned--a little jewel of a terrace, with grassy flags
and a mossy parapet, and an admirable view of great swelling violet
hills--stood there reminded how much sweeter Nature is than man, the
story looked rather wan and unlovely beneath these literary decorations,
and I could pay it no livelier homage than is implied in perfect pity.
Hero and heroine have become too much creatures of history to take up
attitudes as part of any poetry. But, not to moralise too sternly for
a tourist between trains, I should add that, as an illustration, to be
inserted mentally in the text of the “Confessions,” a glimpse of Les
Charmettes is pleasant enough. It completes the rare charm of good
autobiography to behold with one’s eyes the faded and battered
background of the story; and Rousseau’s narrative is so incomparably
vivid and forcible that the sordid little house at Chambéry seems of
a hardly deeper shade of reality than so many other passages of his
projected truth.

If I spent an hour at Les Charmettes, fumbling thus helplessly with
the past, I recognised on the morrow how strongly the Mont Cenis Tunnel
smells of the time to come. As I passed along the Saint-Gothard highway
a couple of months since, I perceived, half up the Swiss ascent, a group
of navvies at work in a gorge beneath the road. They had laid bare a
broad surface of granite and had punched in the centre of it a round
black cavity, of about the dimensions, as it seemed to me, of a
soup-plate. This was to attain its perfect development some eight years
hence. The Mont Cenis may therefore be held to have set a fashion which
will be followed till the highest Himalaya is but the ornamental apex or
snow-capped gable-tip of some resounding fuliginous corridor. The tunnel
differs but in length from other tunnels; you spend half an hour in it.
But you whirl out into the blest peninsula, and as you look back seem to
see the mighty mass shrug its shoulders over the line, the mere turn
of a dreaming giant in his sleep. The tunnel is certainly not a poetic
object, out there is no perfection without its beauty; and as you
measure the long rugged outline of the pyramid of which it forms the
base you accept it as the perfection of a short cut. Twenty-four hours
from Paris to Turin is speed for the times--speed which may content us,
at any rate, until expansive Berlin has succeeded in placing itself at
thirty-six from Milan.

To enter Turin then of a lovely August afternoon was to find a city of
arcades, of pink and yellow stucco, of innumerable cafes, of blue-legged
officers, of ladies draped in the North-Italian mantilla. An old friend
of Italy coming back to her finds an easy waking for dormant memories.
Every object is a reminder and every reminder a thrill. Half an hour
after my arrival, as I stood at my window, which overhung the great
square, I found the scene, within and without, a rough epitome of every
pleasure and every impression I had formerly gathered from Italy: the
balcony and the Venetian-blind, the cool floor of speckled concrete, the
lavish delusions of frescoed wall and ceiling, the broad divan framed
for the noonday siesta, the massive medieval Castello in mid-piazza,
with its shabby rear and its pompous Palladian front, the brick
campaniles beyond, the milder, yellower light, the range of colour, the
suggestion of sound. Later, beneath the arcades, I found many an
old acquaintance: beautiful officers, resplendent, slow-strolling,
contemplative of female beauty; civil and peaceful dandies, hardly less
gorgeous, with that religious faith in moustache and shirt-front which
distinguishes the _belle jeunesse of Italy_; ladies with heads artfully
shawled in Spanish-looking lace, but with too little art--or too much
nature at least--in the region of the bodice; well-conditioned young
_abbati_ with neatly drawn stockings. These indeed are not objects of
first-rate interest, and with such Turin is rather meagrely furnished.
It has no architecture, no churches, no monuments, no romantic
street-scenery. It has the great votive temple of the Superga, which
stands on a high hilltop above the city, gazing across at Monte Rosa and
lifting its own fine dome against the sky with no contemptible art. But
when you have seen the Superga from the quay beside the Po, a skein of a
few yellow threads in August, despite its frequent habit of rising high
and running wild, and said to yourself that in architecture position
is half the battle, you have nothing left to visit but the Museum of
pictures. The Turin Gallery, which is large and well arranged, is the
fortunate owner of three or four masterpieces: a couple of magnificent
Vandycks and a couple of Paul Veroneses; the latter a Queen of Sheba
and a Feast of the House of Levi--the usual splendid combination of
brocades, grandees and marble colonnades dividing those skies _de
turquoise malade_ to which Théophile Gautier is fond of alluding. The
Veroneses are fine, but with Venice in prospect the traveller feels at
liberty to keep his best attention in reserve. If, however, he has the
proper relish for Vandyck, let him linger long and fondly here; for
that admiration will never be more potently stirred than by the adorable
group of the three little royal highnesses, sons and the daughter
of Charles I. All the purity of childhood is here, and all its soft
solidity of structure, rounded tenderly beneath the spangled satin and
contrasted charmingly with the pompous rigidity. Clad respectively in
crimson, white and blue, these small scions stand up in their ruffs and
fardingales in dimpled serenity, squaring their infantine stomachers at
the spectator with an innocence, a dignity, a delightful grotesqueness,
which make the picture a thing of close truth as well as of fine
decorum. You might kiss their hands, but you certainly would think twice
before pinching their cheeks--provocative as they are of this tribute of
admiration--and would altogether lack presumption to lift them off
the ground or the higher level or dais on which they stand so sturdily
planted by right of birth. There is something inimitable in the paternal
gallantry with which the painter has touched off the young lady. She was
a princess, yet she was a baby, and he has contrived, we let ourselves
fancy, to interweave an intimation that she was a creature whom, in her
teens, the lucklessly smitten--even as he was prematurely--must vainly
sigh for. Though the work is a masterpiece of execution its merits under
this head may be emulated, at a distance; the lovely modulations of
colour in the three contrasted and harmonised little satin petticoats,
the solidity of the little heads, in spite of all their prettiness, the
happy, unexaggerated squareness and maturity of _pose_, are, severally,
points to study, to imitate, and to reproduce with profit. But the taste
of such a consummate thing is its great secret as well as its great
merit--a taste which seems one of the lost instincts of mankind. Go and
enjoy this supreme expression of Vandyck’s fine sense, and admit that
never was a politer production.

Milan speaks to us of a burden of felt life of which Turin is innocent,
but in its general aspect still lingers a northern reserve which makes
the place rather perhaps the last of the prose capitals than the first
of the poetic. The long Austrian occupation perhaps did something
to Germanise its physiognomy; though indeed this is an indifferent
explanation when one remembers how well, temperamentally speaking, Italy
held her own in Venetia. Milan, at any rate, if not bristling with the
æsthetic impulse, opens to us frankly enough the thick volume of her
past. Of that volume the Cathedral is the fairest and fullest page--a
structure not supremely interesting, not logical, not even, to some
minds, commandingly beautiful, but grandly curious and superbly rich. I
hope, for my own part, never to grow too particular to admire it. If
it had no other distinction it would still have that of impressive,
immeasurable achievement. As I strolled beside its vast indented base
one evening, and felt it, above me, rear its grey mysteries into the
starlight while the restless human tide on which I floated rose no
higher than the first few layers of street-soiled marble, I was tempted
to believe that beauty in great architecture is almost a secondary
merit, and that the main point is mass--such mass as may make it a
supreme embodiment of vigorous effort. Viewed in this way a great
building is the greatest conceivable work of art. More than any other
it represents difficulties mastered, resources combined, labour, courage
and patience. And there are people who tell us that art has nothing to
do with morality! Little enough, doubtless, when it is concerned,
even ever so little, in painting the roof of Milan Cathedral within
to represent carved stone-work. Of this famous roof every one has
heard--how good it is, how bad, how perfect a delusion, how transparent
an artifice. It is the first thing your cicerone shows you on entering
the church. The occasionally accommodating art-lover may accept it
philosophically, I think; for the interior, though admirably effective
as a whole, has no great sublimity, nor even purity, of pitch. It
is splendidly vast and dim; the altarlamps twinkle afar through the
incense-thickened air like foglights at sea, and the great columns rise
straight to the roof, which hardly curves to meet them, with the girth
and altitude of oaks of a thousand years; but there is little refinement
of design--few of those felicities of proportion which the eye caresses,
when it finds them, very much as the memory retains and repeats some
happy lines of poetry or some haunting musical phrase. Consistently
brave, none the less, is the result produced, and nothing braver than a
certain exhibition that I privately enjoyed of the relics of St.
Charles Borromeus. This holy man lies at his eternal rest in a small but
gorgeous sepulchral chapel, beneath the boundless pavement and before
the high altar; and for the modest sum of five francs you may have his
shrivelled mortality unveiled and gaze at it with whatever reserves
occur to you. The Catholic Church never renounces a chance of the
sublime for fear of a chance of the ridiculous--especially when the
chance of the sublime may be the very excellent chance of five francs.
The performance in question, of which the good San Carlo paid in the
first instance the cost, was impressive certainly, but as a monstrous
matter or a grim comedy may still be. The little sacristan, having
secured his audience, whipped on a white tunic over his frock, lighted a
couple of extra candles and proceeded to remove from above the altar,
by means of a crank, a sort of sliding shutter, just as you may see
a shop-boy do of a morning at his master’s window. In this case too a
large sheet of plate-glass was uncovered, and to form an idea of the
_étalage_ you must imagine that a jeweller, for reasons of his own, has
struck an unnatural partnership with an undertaker. The black mummified
corpse of the saint is stretched out in a glass coffin, clad in his
mouldering canonicals, mitred, crosiered and gloved, glittering with
votive jewels. It is an extraordinary mixture of death and life; the
desiccated clay, the ashen rags, the hideous little black mask and
skull, and the living, glowing, twinkling splendour of diamonds,
emeralds and sapphires. The collection is really fine, and many great
historic names are attached to the different offerings. Whatever may be
the better opinion as to the future of the Church, I can’t help thinking
she will make a figure in the world so long as she retains this
great fund of precious “properties,” this prodigious capital
decoratively invested and scintillating throughout Christendom at
effectively-scattered points. You see I am forced to agree after all, in
spite of the sliding shutter and the profane swagger of the sacristan,
that a certain pastoral majesty saved the situation, or at least made
irony gape. Yet it was from a natural desire to breathe a sweeter air
that I immediately afterwards undertook the interminable climb to the
roof of the cathedral. This is another world of wonders, and one which
enjoys due renown, every square inch of wall on the winding stairways
being bescribbled with a traveller’s name. There is a great glare from
the far-stretching slopes of marble, a confusion (like the masts of a
navy or the spears of an army) of image-capped pinnacles, biting the
impalpable blue, and, better than either, the goodliest view of level
Lombardy sleeping in its rich transalpine light and resembling, with its
white-walled dwellings and the spires on its horizon, a vast green sea
spotted with ships. After two months of Switzerland the Lombard plain is
a rich rest to the eye, and the yellow, liquid, free-flowing light--as
if on favoured Italy the vessels of heaven were more widely opened--had
for mine a charm which made me think of a great opaque mountain as a
blasphemous invasion of the atmospheric spaces.

{Illustration: THE SIMPLON GATE, MILAN}

I have mentioned the cathedral first, but the prime treasure of Milan at
the present hour is the beautiful, tragical Leonardo. The cathedral is
good for another thousand years, but we ask whether our children will
find in the most majestic and most luckless of frescoes much more than
the shadow of a shadow. Its fame has been for a century or two that, as
one may say, of an illustrious invalid whom people visit to see how
he lasts, with leave-taking sighs and almost death-bed or tiptoe
precautions. The picture needs not another scar or stain, now, to be the
saddest work of art in the world; and battered, defaced, ruined as it
is, it remains one of the greatest. We may really compare its anguish
of decay to the slow conscious ebb of life in a human organism. The
production of the prodigy was a breath from the infinite, and the
painter’s conception not immeasurably less complex than the scheme, say,
of his own mortal constitution. There has been much talk lately of the
irony of fate, but I suspect fate was never more ironical than when she
led the most scientific, the most calculating of all painters to spend
fifteen long years in building his goodly house upon the sand. And yet,
after all, may not the playing of that trick represent but a deeper
wisdom, since if the thing enjoyed the immortal health and bloom of a
first-rate Titian we should have lost one of the most pertinent lessons
in the history of art? We know it as hearsay, but here is the plain
proof, that there is no limit to the amount of “stuff” an artist may put
into his work. Every painter ought once in his life to stand before the
Cenacolo and decipher its moral. Mix with your colours and mess on your
palette every particle of the very substance of your soul, and this lest
perchance your “prepared surface” shall play you a trick! Then, and then
only, it will fight to the last--it will resist even in death. Raphael
was a happier genius; you look at his lovely “Marriage of the Virgin” at
the Brera, beautiful as some first deep smile of conscious inspiration,
but to feel that he foresaw no complaint against fate, and that he knew
the world he wanted to know and charmed it into never giving him away.
But I have left no space to speak of the Brera, nor of that paradise
of book-worms with an eye for their background--if such creatures
exist--the Ambrosian Library; nor of that mighty basilica of St.
Ambrose, with its spacious atrium and its crudely solemn mosaics, in
which it is surely your own fault if you don’t forget Dr. Strauss and M.
Renan and worship as grimly as a Christian of the ninth century.

It is part of the sordid prose of the Mont Cenis road that, unlike those
fine old unimproved passes, the Simplon, the Splügen and--yet awhile
longer--the Saint-Gothard, it denies you a glimpse of that paradise
adorned by the four lakes even as that of uncommented Scripture by
the rivers of Eden. I made, however, an excursion to the Lake of Como,
which, though brief, lasted long enough to suggest to me that I too was
a hero of romance with leisure for a love-affair, and not a hurrying
tourist with a Bradshaw in his pocket. The Lake of Como has figured
largely in novels of “immoral” tendency--being commonly the spot to
which inflamed young gentlemen invite the wives of other gentlemen to
fly with them and ignore the restrictions of public opinion. But even
the Lake of Como has been revised and improved; the fondest prejudices
yield to time; it gives one somehow a sense of an aspiringly high tone.
I should pay a poor compliment at least to the swarming inmates of the
hotels which now alternate attractively by the water-side with villas
old and new were I to read the appearances more cynically. But if it is
lost to florid fiction it still presents its blue bosom to most other
refined uses, and the unsophisticated tourist, the American at least,
may do any amount of private romancing there. The pretty hotel at
Cadenabbia offers him, for instance, in the most elegant and assured
form, the so often precarious adventure of what he calls at home summer
board. It is all so unreal, so fictitious, so elegant and idle, so
framed to undermine a rigid sense of the chief end of man not being to
float for ever in an ornamental boat, beneath an awning tasselled like
a circus-horse, impelled by an affable Giovanni or Antonio from one
stately stretch of lake-laved villa steps to another, that departure
seems as harsh and unnatural as the dream-dispelling note of some
punctual voice at your bedside on a dusky winter morning. Yet I
wondered, for my own part, where I had seen it all before--the
pink-walled villas gleaming through their shrubberies of orange and
oleander, the mountains shimmering in the hazy light like so many
breasts of doves, the constant presence of the melodious Italian voice.
Where indeed but at the Opera when the manager has been more than
usually regardless of expense? Here in the foreground was the palace of
the nefarious barytone, with its banqueting-hall opening as freely on
the stage as a railway buffet on the platform; beyond, the delightful
back scene, with its operatic gamut of colouring; in the middle the
scarlet-sashed _barcaiuoli_, grouped like a chorus, hat in hand,
awaiting the conductor’s signal. It was better even than being in a
novel--this being, this fairly wallowing, in a libretto.



THE OLD SAINT-GOTHARD LEAVES FROM A NOTE-BOOK


Berne, _September_, 1873.--In Berne again, some eleven weeks after
having left it in July. I have never been in Switzerland so late, and
I came hither innocently supposing the last Cook’s tourist to have paid
out his last coupon and departed. But I was lucky, it seems, to discover
an empty cot in an attic and a very tight place at a table d’hôte.
People are all flocking out of Switzerland, as in July they were
flocking in, and the main channels of egress are terribly choked. I
have been here several days, watching them come and go; it is like
the march-past of an army. It gives one, for an occasional change
from darker thoughts, a lively impression of the numbers of people now
living, and above all now moving, at extreme ease in the world. Here
is little Switzerland disgorging its tens of thousands of honest folk,
chiefly English, and rarely, to judge by their faces and talk, children
of light in any eminent degree; for whom snow-peaks and glaciers
and passes and lakes and chalets and sunsets and a _café complet_,
“including honey,” as the coupon says, have become prime necessities
for six weeks every year. It’s not so long ago that lords and
nabobs monopolised these pleasures; but nowadays in a month’s tour in
Switzerland is no more a _jeu de prince_ than a Sunday excursion. To
watch this huge Anglo-Saxon wave ebbing through Berne suggests, no doubt
most fallaciously, that the common lot of mankind isn’t after all so
very hard and that the masses have reached a high standard of comfort.
The view of the Oberland chain, as you see it from the garden of the
hotel, really butters one’s bread most handsomely; and here are I don’t
know how many hundred Cook’s tourists a day looking at it through the
smoke of their pipes. Is it really the “masses,” however, that I see
every day at the table d’hôte? They have rather too few h’s to the
dozen, but their good-nature is great. Some people complain that they
“vulgarise” Switzerland; but as far as I am concerned I freely give
it up to them and offer them a personal welcome and take a peculiar
satisfaction in seeing them here. Switzerland is a “show country”--I am
more and more struck with the bearings of that truth; and its use in the
world is to reassure persons of a benevolent imagination when they
begin to wish for the drudging millions a greater supply of elevating
amusement. Here is amusement for a thousand years, and as elevating
certainly as mountains three miles high can make it. I expect to live
to see the summit of Monte Rosa heated by steam-tubes and adorned with a
hotel setting three tables d’hôte a day.

{Illustration: THE CLOCK TOWER, BERNE}

I have been walking about the arcades, which used to bestow a grateful
shade in July, but which seem rather dusky and chilly in these
shortening autumn days. I am struck with the way the English always
speak of them--with a shudder, as gloomy, as dirty, as evil-smelling,
as suffocating, as freezing, as anything and everything but admirably
picturesque. I take us Americans for the only people who, in travelling,
judge things on the first impulse--when we do judge them at all--not
from the standpoint of simple comfort. Most of us, strolling forth into
these bustling basements, are, I imagine, too much amused, too much
diverted from the sense of an alienable right to public ease, to be
conscious of heat or cold, of thick air, or even of the universal smell
of strong _charcuterie_. If the visible romantic were banished from the
face of the earth I am sure the idea of it would still survive in some
typical American heart....

_Lucerne, September_.--Berne, I find, has been filling with tourists at
the expense of Lucerne, which I have been having almost to myself. There
are six people at the table d’hôte; the excellent dinner denotes on the
part of the _chef_ the easy leisure in which true artists love to work.
The waiters have nothing to do but lounge about the hall and chink in
their pockets the fees of the past season. The day has been lovely
in itself, and pervaded, to my sense, by the gentle glow of a natural
satisfaction at my finding myself again on the threshold of Italy. I am
lodged _en prince_, in a room with a balcony hanging over the lake--a
balcony on which I spent a long time this morning at dawn, thanking the
mountain-tops, from the depths of a landscape-lover’s heart, for their
promise of superbly fair weather. There were a great many mountain-tops
to thank, for the crags and peaks and pinnacles tumbled away through the
morning mist in an endless confusion of grandeur. I have been all day
in better humour with Lucerne than ever before--a forecast reflection of
Italian moods. If Switzerland, as I wrote the other day, is so furiously
a show-place, Lucerne is certainly one of the biggest booths at the
fair. The little quay, under the trees, squeezed in between the decks
of the steamboats and the doors of the hotels, is a terrible medley
of Saxon dialects--a jumble of pilgrims in all the phases of devotion,
equipped with book and staff, alpenstock and Baedeker. There are so
many hotels and trinket-shops, so many omnibuses and steamers, so many
Saint-Gothard _vetturini_, so many ragged urchins poking photographs,
minerals and Lucernese English at you, that you feel as if lake and
mountains themselves, in all their loveliness, were but a part of the
“enterprise” of landlords and pedlars, and half expect to see the Righi
and Pilatus and the fine weather figure as items on your hotel-bill
between the _bougie_ and the _siphon_. Nature herself assists you
to this conceit; there is something so operatic and suggestive of
footlights and scene-shifters in the view on which Lucerne looks out.
You are one of five thousand--fifty thousand--“accommodated” spectators;
you have taken your season-ticket and there is a responsible impresario
somewhere behind the scenes. There is such a luxury of beauty in the
prospect--such a redundancy of composition and effect--so many more
peaks and pinnacles than are needed to make one heart happy or regale
the vision of one quiet observer, that you finally accept the little
Babel on the quay and the looming masses in the clouds as equal parts of
a perfect system, and feel as if the mountains had been waiting so many
ages for the hotels to come and balance the colossal group, that
they show a right, after all, to have them big and numerous.
The scene-shifters have been at work all day long, composing and
discomposing the beautiful background of the prospect--massing the
clouds and scattering the light, effacing and reviving, making play
with their wonderful machinery of mist and haze. The mountains rise, one
behind the other, in an enchanting gradation of distances and of melting
blues and greys; you think each successive tone the loveliest and
haziest possible till you see another loom dimly behind it. I couldn’t
enjoy even _The Swiss Times_, over my breakfast, till I had marched
forth to the office of the Saint-Gothard service of coaches and demanded
the banquette for to-morrow. The one place at the disposal of the office
was taken, but I might possibly _m’entendre_ with the conductor for his
own seat--the conductor being generally visible, in the intervals of
business, at the post-office. To the post-office, after breakfast, I
repaired, over the fine new bridge which now spans the green Reuss and
gives such a woeful air of country-cousinship to the crooked old wooden
structure which did sole service when I was here four years ago. The
old bridge is covered with a running hood of shingles and adorned with
a series of very quaint and vivid little paintings of the “Dance of
Death,” quite in the Holbein manner; the new sends up a painful glare
from its white limestone, and is ornamented with candelabra in a
meretricious imitation of platinum. As an almost professional cherisher
of the quaint I ought to have chosen to return at least by the dark and
narrow way; but mark how luxury unmans us. I was already demoralised.
I crossed the threshold of the timbered portal, took a few steps, and
retreated. It _smelt badly!_ So I marched back, counting the lamps in
their fine falsity. But the other, the crooked and covered way, smelt
very badly indeed; and no good American is without a fund of accumulated
sensibility to the odour of stale timber.

Meanwhile I had spent an hour in the great yard of the postoffice,
waiting for my conductor to turn up and seeing the yellow malles-postes
pushed to and fro. At last, being told my man was at my service, I was
brought to speech of a huge, jovial, bearded, delightful Italian, clad
in the blue coat and waistcoat, with close, round silver buttons, which
are a heritage of the old postilions. No, it was not he; it was a friend
of his; and finally the friend was produced, _en costume de ville_, but
equally jovial, and Italian enough--a brave Lucernese, who had spent half
of his life between Bellinzona and Camerlata. For ten francs this worthy
man’s perch behind the luggage was made mine as far as Bellinzona, and
we separated with reciprocal wishes for good weather on the morrow.
To-morrow is so manifestly determined to be as fine as any other 30th
of September since the weather became on this planet a topic of
conversation that I have had nothing to do but stroll about Lucerne,
staring, loafing and vaguely intent on regarding the fact that, whatever
happens, my place is paid to Milan. I loafed into the immense new Hotel
National and read the _New York Tribune_ on a blue satin divan; after
which I was rather surprised, on coming out, to find myself staring at
a green Swiss lake and not at the Broadway omnibuses. The Hotel
National is adorned with a perfectly appointed Broadway bar--one of the
“prohibited” ones seeking hospitality in foreign lands after the manner
of an old-fashioned French or Italian refugee.

_Milan, October_.--My journey hither was such a pleasant piece of
traveller’s luck that I feel a delicacy for taking it to pieces to see
what it was made of. Do what we will, however, there remains in all
deeply agreeable impressions a charming something we can’t analyse. I
found it agreeable even, given the rest of my case, to turn out of
bed, at Lucerne, by four o’clock, into the chilly autumn darkness. The
thick-starred sky was cloudless, and there was as yet no flush of dawn;
but the lake was wrapped in a ghostly white mist which crept halfway up
the mountains and made them look as if they too had been lying down
for the night and were casting away the vaporous tissues of their
bedclothes. Into this fantastic fog the little steamer went creaking
away, and I hung about the deck with the two or three travellers who
had known better than to believe it would save them francs or midnight
sighs--over those debts you “pay with your person”--to go and wait for
the diligence at the Poste at Fliielen, or yet at the Guillaume
Tell. The dawn came sailing up over the mountain-tops, flushed but
unperturbed, and blew out the little stars and then the big ones, as a
thrifty matron after a party blows out her candles and lamps; the mist
went melting and wandering away into the duskier hollows and recesses of
the mountains, and the summits defined their profiles against the cool
soft light.

At Flüelen, before the landing, the big yellow coaches were actively
making themselves bigger, and piling up boxes and bags on their roofs
in a way to turn nervous people’s thoughts to the sharp corners of the
downward twists of the great road. I climbed into my own banquette, and
stood eating peaches--half-a-dozen women were hawking them about under
the horses’ legs--with an air of security that might have been offensive
to the people scrambling and protesting below between coupé and
intérieur. They were all English and all had false alarms about the
claim of somebody else to their place, the place for which they produced
their ticket, with a declaration in three or four different tongues of
the inalienable right to it given them by the expenditure of British
gold. They were all serenely confuted by the stout, purple-faced,
many-buttoned conductors, patted on the backs, assured that their
bath-tubs had every advantage of position on the top, and stowed away
according to their dues. When once one has fairly started on a journey
and has but to go and go by the impetus received, it is surprising what
entertainment one finds in very small things. We surrender to the gaping
traveller’s mood, which surely isn’t the unwisest the heart knows. I
don’t envy people, at any rate, who have outlived or outworn the simple
sweetness of feeling settled to go somewhere with bag and umbrella. If
we are settled on the top of a coach, and the “somewhere” contains an
element of the new and strange, the case is at its best. In this matter
wise people are content to become children again. We don’t turn about on
our knees to look out of the omnibus-window, but we indulge in very much
the same round-eyed contemplation of accessible objects. Responsibility
is left at home or at the worst packed away in the valise, relegated
to quite another part of the diligence with the clean shirts and the
writing-case. I sucked in the gladness of gaping, for this occasion,
with the somewhat acrid juice of my indifferent peaches; it made me
think them very good. This was the first of a series of kindly services
it rendered me. It made me agree next, as we started, that the gentleman
at the booking-office at Lucerne had but played a harmless joke when he
told me the regular seat in the banquette was taken. No one appeared
to claim it; so the conductor and I reversed positions, and I found him
quite as conversible as the usual Anglo-Saxon.

He was trolling snatches of melody and showing his great yellow teeth in
a jovial grin all the way to Bellinzona--and this in face of the sombre
fact that the Saint-Gothard tunnel is scraping away into the
mountain, all the while, under his nose, and numbering the days of the
many-buttoned brotherhood. But he hopes, for long service’s sake, to be
taken into the employ of the railway; _he_ at least is no cherisher of
quaintness and has no romantic perversity. I found the railway coming
on, however, in a manner very shocking to mine. About an hour short of
Andermatt they have pierced a huge black cavity in the mountain, around
which has grown up a swarming, digging, hammering, smoke-compelling
colony. There are great barracks, with tall chimneys, down in the gorge
that bristled the other day but with natural graces, and a wonderful
increase of wine-shops in the little village of Göschenen above. Along
the breast of the mountain, beside the road, come wandering several
miles of very handsome iron pipes, of a stupendous girth--a conduit for
the water-power with which some of the machinery is worked. It lies at
its mighty length among the rocks like an immense black serpent,
and serves, as a mere detail, to give one the measure of the central
enterprise. When at the end of our long day’s journey, well down in warm
Italy, we came upon the other aperture of the tunnel, I could but uncap
with a grim reverence. Truly Nature is great, but she seems to me to
stand in very much the shoes of my poor friend the conductor. She is
being superseded at her strongest points, successively, and nothing
remains but for her to take humble service with her master. If she can
hear herself think amid that din of blasting and hammering she must be
reckoning up the years to elapse before the cleverest of Ober-Ingénieurs
decides that mountains are mere obstructive matter and has the Jungfrau
melted down and the residuum carried away in balloons and dumped upon
another planet.

The Devil’s Bridge, with the same failing apparently as the good Homer,
was decidedly nodding. The volume of water in the torrent was shrunken,
and I missed the thunderous uproar and far-leaping spray that have kept
up a miniature tempest in the neighbourhood on my other passages.
It suddenly occurs to me that the fault is not in the good Homer’s
inspiration, but simply in the big black pipes above-mentioned. They
dip into the rushing stream higher up, presumably, and pervert its
fine frenzy to their prosaic uses. There could hardly be a more vivid
reminder of the standing quarrel between use and beauty, and of the
hard time poor beauty is having. I looked wistfully, as we rattled into
dreary Andermatt, at the great white zigzags of the Oberalp road which
climbed away to the left. Even on one’s way to Italy one may spare a
throb of desire for the beautiful vision of the castled Grisons. Dear
to me the memory of my day’s drive last summer through that long blue
avenue of mountains, to queer little mouldering Ilanz, visited before
supper in the ghostly dusk. At Andermatt a sign over a little black
doorway flanked by two dung-hills seemed to me tolerably comical:
_Mineraux_, _Quadrupedes_, _Oiseaux_, _OEufs_, _Tableaux Antiques_. We
bundled in to dinner and the American gentleman in the banquette made
the acquaintance of the Irish lady in the coupé, who talked of the
weather as _foine_ and wore a Persian scarf twisted about her head. At
the other end of the table sat an Englishman, out of the intérieur, who
bore an extraordinary resemblance to the portraits of Edward VI’s and
Mary’s reigns. He walking, a convincing Holbein. The impression was
of value to a cherisher of quaintness, and he must have wondered--not
knowing me for such a character--why I stared at him. It wasn’t him I
was staring at, but some handsome Seymour or Dudley or Digby with a ruff
and a round cap and plume.

From Andermatt, through its high, cold, sunny valley, we passed into
rugged little Hospenthal, and then up the last stages of the ascent.
From here the road was all new to me. Among the summits of the various
Alpine passes there is little to choose. You wind and double slowly into
keener cold and deeper stillness; you put on your overcoat and turn up
the collar; you count the nestling snow-patches and then you cease to
count them; you pause, as you trudge before the lumbering coach, and
listen to the last-heard cow-bell tinkling away below you in kindlier
herbage. The sky was tremendously blue, and the little stunted bushes
on the snow-streaked slopes were all dyed with autumnal purples and
crimsons. It was a great display of colour. Purple and crimson too,
though not so fine, were the faces thrust out at us from the greasy
little double casements of a barrack beside the road, where the horses
paused before the last pull. There was one little girl in particular,
beginning to _lisser_ her hair, as civilisation approached, in a manner
not to be described, with her poor little blue-black hands. At the
summit are the two usual grim little stone taverns, the steel-blue tarn,
the snow-white peaks, the pause in the cold sunshine. Then we begin to
rattle down with two horses. In five minutes we are swinging along the
famous zigzags. Engineer, driver, horses--it’s very handsomely done by
all of them. The road curves and curls and twists and plunges like the
tail of a kite; sitting perched in the banquette, you see it making
below you and in mid-air certain bold gyrations which bring you as near
as possible, short of the actual experience, to the philosophy of that
immortal Irishman who wished that his fall from the house-top would only
last. But the zigzags last no more than Paddy’s fall, and in due time we
were all coming to our senses over _cafe au lait_ in the little inn
at Faido. After Faido the valley, plunging deeper, began to take thick
afternoon shadows from the hills, and at Airolo we were fairly in the
twilight. But the pink and yellow houses shimmered through the gentle
gloom, and Italy began in broken syllables to whisper that she was at
hand. For the rest of the way to Bellinzona her voice was muffled in the
grey of evening, and I was half vexed to lose the charming sight of the
changing vegetation. But only half vexed, for the moon was climbing all
the while nearer the edge of the crags that overshadowed us, and a thin
magical light came trickling down into the winding, murmuring gorges. It
was a most enchanting business. The chestnut-trees loomed up with double
their daylight stature; the vines began to swing their low festoons like
nets to trip up the fairies. At last the ruined towers of Bellinzona
stood gleaming in the moonshine, and we rattled into the great
post-yard. It was eleven o’clock and I had risen at four; moonshine
apart I wasn’t sorry.

All that was very well; but the drive next day from Bellinzona to Como
is to my mind what gives its supreme beauty to this great pass. One
can’t describe the beauty of the Italian lakes, nor would one try if
one could; the floweriest rhetoric can recall it only as a picture on
a fireboard recalls a Claude. But it lay spread before me for a whole
perfect day: in the long gleam of the Major, from whose head the
diligence swerves away and begins to climb the bosky hills that divide
it from Lugano; in the shimmering, melting azure of the southern slopes
and masses; in the luxurious tangle of nature and the familiar amenity
of man; in the lawn-like inclinations, where the great grouped chestnuts
make so cool a shadow in so warm a light; in the rusty vineyards, the
littered cornfields and the tawdry wayside shrines. But most of all it’s
the deep yellow light that enchants you and tells you where you are.
See it come filtering down through a vine-covered trellis on the red
handkerchief with which a ragged contadina has bound her hair, and all
the magic of Italy, to the eye, makes an aureole about the poor girl’s
head. Look at a brown-breasted reaper eating his chunk of black bread
under a spreading chestnut; nowhere is shadow so charming, nowhere is
colour so charged, nowhere has accident such grace. The whole drive
to Lugano was one long loveliness, and the town itself is admirably
Italian. There was a great unlading of the coach, during which I
wandered under certain brown old arcades and bought for six sous, from
a young woman in a gold necklace, a hatful of peaches and figs. When
I came back I found the young man holding open the door of the second
diligence, which had lately come up, and beckoning to me with a
despairing smile. The young man, I must note, was the most amiable of
Ticinese; though he wore no buttons he was attached to the diligence
in some amateurish capacity, and had an eye to the mail-bags and other
valuables in the boot. I grumbled at Berne over the want of soft curves
in the Swiss temperament; but the children of the tangled Tessin are
cast in the Italian mould. My friend had as many quips and cranks as a
Neapolitan; we walked together for an hour under the chestnuts, while
the coach was plodding up from Bellinzona, and he never stopped singing
till we reached a little wine-house where he got his mouth full of bread
and cheese. I looked into his open door, a la Sterne, and saw the young
woman sitting rigid and grim, staring over his head and with a great
pile of bread and butter in her lap. He had only informed her most
politely that she was to be transferred to another diligence and must do
him the favour to descend; but she evidently knew of but one way for
a respectable young insulary of her sex to receive the politeness of a
foreign adventurer guilty of an eye betraying latent pleasantry. Heaven
only knew what he was saying! I told her, and she gathered up her
parcels and emerged. A part of the day’s great pleasure perhaps was my
grave sense of being an instrument in the hands of the powers toward the
safe consignment of this young woman and her boxes. When once you have
really bent to the helpless you are caught; there is no such steel trap,
and it holds you fast. My rather grim Abigail was a neophyte in foreign
travel, though doubtless cunning enough at her trade, which I inferred
to be that of making up those prodigious chignons worn mainly by
English ladies. Her mistress had gone on a mule over the mountains to
Cadenabbia, and she herself was coming up with the wardrobe, two
big boxes and a bath-tub. I had played my part, under the powers,
at Bellinzona, and had interposed between the poor girl’s frightened
English and the dreadful Ticinese French of the functionaries in the
post-yard. At the custom-house on the Italian frontier I was of peculiar
service; there was a kind of fateful fascination in it. The wardrobe
was voluminous; I exchanged a paternal glance with my charge as
the _douanier_ plunged his brown fists into it. Who was the lady at
Cadenabbia? What was she to me or I to her? She wouldn’t know, when she
rustled down to dinner next day, that it was I who had guided the frail
skiff of her public basis of vanity to port. So unseen but not unfelt do
we cross each other’s orbits. The skiff however may have foundered that
evening in sight of land. I disengaged the young woman from among her
fellow-travellers and placed her boxes on a hand-cart in the picturesque
streets of Como, within a stone’s throw of that lovely striped and toned
cathedral which has the facade of cameo medallions. I could only make
the _facchino_ swear to take her to the steamboat. He too was a jovial
dog, but I hope he was polite with precautions.

1873.



ITALY REVISITED


I

I waited in Paris until after the elections for the new Chamber (they
took place on the 14th of October); as only after one had learned that
the famous attempt of Marshal MacMahon and his ministers to drive the
French nation to the polls like a flock of huddling sheep, each with the
white ticket of an official candidate round his neck, had not achieved
the success which the energy of the process might have promised--only
then it was possible to draw a long breath and deprive the republican
party of such support as might have been conveyed in one’s sympathetic
presence. Seriously speaking too, the weather had been enchanting--there
were Italian fancies to be gathered without leaving the banks of the
Seine. Day after day the air was filled with golden light, and even
those chalkish vistas of the Parisian _beaux quartiers_ assumed the
iridescent tints of autumn. Autumn weather in Europe is often such
a very sorry affair that a fair-minded American will have it on his
conscience to call attention to a rainless and radiant October.

The echoes of the electoral strife kept me company for a while after
starting upon that abbreviated journey to Turin which, as you leave
Paris at night, in a train unprovided with encouragements to slumber, is
a singular mixture of the odious and the charming. The charming indeed
I think prevails; for the dark half of the journey is the least
interesting. The morning light ushers you into the romantic gorges
of the Jura, and after a big bowl of _cafe au lait_ at Culoz you may
compose yourself comfortably for the climax of your spectacle. The day
before leaving Paris I met a French friend who had just returned from a
visit to a Tuscan country-seat where he had been watching the vintage.
“Italy,” he said, “is more lovely than words can tell, and France,
steeped in this electoral turmoil, seems no better than a bear-garden.”
 The part of the bear-garden through which you travel as you approach the
Mont Cenis seemed to me that day very beautiful. The autumn colouring,
thanks to the absence of rain, had been vivid and crisp, and the
vines that swung their low garlands between the mulberries round about
Chambery looked like long festoons of coral and amber. The frontier
station of Modane, on the further side of the Mont Cenis Tunnel, is
a very ill-regulated place; but even the most irritable of tourists,
meeting it on his way southward, will be disposed to consider it
good-naturedly. There is far too much bustling and scrambling, and the
facilities afforded you for the obligatory process of ripping open
your luggage before the officers of the Italian custom-house are
much scantier than should be; but for myself there is something that
deprecates irritation in the shabby green and grey uniforms of all the
Italian officials who stand loafing about and watching the northern
invaders scramble back into marching order. Wearing an administrative
uniform doesn’t necessarily spoil a man’s temper, as in France one is
sometimes led to believe; for these excellent under-paid Italians carry
theirs as lightly as possible, and their answers to your inquiries don’t
in the least bristle with rapiers, buttons and cockades. After leaving
Modane you slide straight downhill into the Italy of your desire; from
which point the road edges, after the grand manner, along those
It precipices that stand shoulder to shoulder, in a prodigious
perpendicular file, till they finally admit you to a distant glimpse he
ancient capital of Piedmont.

Turin is no city of a name to conjure with, and I pay an extravagant
tribute to subjective emotion in speaking of it as ancient, if the place
is less bravely peninsular than Florence and Rome, at least it is more
in the scenic tradition than New York Paris; and while I paced the great
arcades and looked at the fourth-rate shop windows I didn’t scruple to
cultivate a shameless optimism. Relatively speaking, Turin touches
a chord; but there is after all no reason in a large collection of
shabbily-stuccoed houses, disposed in a rigidly rectangular manner, for
passing a day of deep, still gaiety. The only reason, I am afraid, is
the old superstition of Italy--that property in the very look of the
written word, the evocation of a myriad images, that makes any lover of
the arts take Italian satisfactions on easier terms than any others. The
written word stands for something that eternally tricks us; we juggle
to our credulity even with such inferior apparatus as is offered to
our hand at Turin. I roamed all the morning under the tall porticoes,
thinking it sufficient joy to take note of the soft, warm air, of that
local colour of things that is at once so broken and so harmonious, and
of the comings and goings, the physiognomy and manners, of the excellent
Turinese. I had opened the old book again; the old charm was in the
style; I was in a more delightful world. I saw nothing surpassingly
beautiful or curious; but your true taster of the most seasoned of
dishes finds well-nigh the whole mixture in any mouthful. Above all on
the threshold of Italy he knows again the solid and perfectly definable
pleasure of finding himself among the traditions of the grand style in
architecture. It must be said that we have still to go there to
recover the sense of the domiciliary mass. In northern cities there are
beautiful houses, picturesque and curious houses; sculptured gables that
hang over the street, charming bay-windows, hooded doorways, elegant
proportions, a profusion of delicate ornament; but a good specimen of
an old Italian palazzo has a nobleness that is all its own. We laugh
at Italian “palaces,” at their peeling paint, their nudity, their
dreariness; but they have the great palatial quality--elevation and
extent. They make of smaller things the apparent abode of pigmies; they
round their great arches and interspace their huge windows with a proud
indifference to the cost of materials. These grand proportions--the
colossal basements, the doorways that seem meant for cathedrals, the far
away cornices--impart by contrast a humble and _bourgeois_ expression
to interiors founded on the sacrifice of the whole to the part, and
in which the air of grandeur depends largely on the help of the
upholsterer. At Turin my first feeling was really one of renewed shame
for our meaner architectural manners. If the Italians at bottom despise
the rest of mankind and regard them as barbarians, disinherited of the
tradition of form, the idea proceeds largely, no doubt, from our
living in comparative mole-hills. They alone were really to build their
civilisation.

{Illustration: UNDER THE ARCADES, TURIN.}

An impression which on coming back to Italy I find even stronger than
when it was first received is that of the contrast between the fecundity
of the great artistic period and the vulgarity there of the genius of
to-day. The first few hours spent on Italian soil are sufficient to
renew it, and the question I allude to is, historically speaking, one of
the oddest. That the people who but three hundred years ago had the best
taste in the world should now have the worst; that having produced the
noblest, loveliest, costliest works, they should now be given up to the
manufacture of objects at once ugly and paltry; that the race of which
Michael Angelo and Raphael, Leonardo and Titian were characteristic
should have no other title to distinction than third-rate _genre_
pictures and catchpenny statues--all this is a frequent perplexity to
the observer of actual Italian life. The flower of “great” art in these
latter years ceased to bloom very powerfully anywhere; but nowhere
does it seem so drooping and withered as in the shadow of the immortal
embodiments of the old Italian genius. You go into a church or a gallery
and feast your fancy upon a splendid picture or an exquisite piece of
sculpture, and on issuing from the door that has admitted you to the
beautiful past are confronted with something that has the effect of a
very bad joke. The aspect of your lodging--the carpets, the curtains,
the upholstery in general, with their crude and violent colouring and
their vulgar material--the trumpery things in the shops, the extreme
bad taste of the dress of the women, the cheapness and baseness of every
attempt at decoration in the cafes and railway-stations, the hopeless
frivolity of everything that pretends to be a work of art--all this
modern crudity runs riot over the relics of the great period.

We can do a thing for the first time but once; it is but once for all
that we can have a pleasure in its freshness. This is a law not on the
whole, I think, to be regretted, for we sometimes learn to know things
better by not enjoying them too much. It is certain, however, at the
same time, that a visitor who has worked off the immediate ferment for
this inexhaustibly interesting country has by no means entirely drained
the cup. After thinking of Italy as historical and artistic it will
do him no great harm to think of her for a while as panting both for
a future and for a balance at the bank; aspirations supposedly much
at variance with the Byronic, the Ruskinian, the artistic, poetic,
aesthetic manner of considering our eternally attaching peninsula.
He may grant--I don’t say it is absolutely necessary--that its actual
aspects and economics are ugly, prosaic, provokingly out of relation
to the diary and the album; it is nevertheless true that, at the point
things have come to, modern Italy in a manner imposes herself. I hadn’t
been many hours in the country before that truth assailed me; and I may
add that, the first irritation past, I found myself able to accept it.
For, if we think, nothing is more easy to understand than an honest ire
on the part of the young Italy of to-day at being looked at by all the
world as a kind of soluble pigment. Young Italy, preoccupied with its
economical and political future, must be heartily tired of being admired
for its eyelashes and its pose. In one of Thackeray’s novels occurs
a mention of a young artist who sent to the Royal Academy a picture
representing “A Contadino dancing with a Trasteverina at the door of a
Locanda, to the music of a Pifferaro.” It is in this attitude and with
these conventional accessories that the world has hitherto seen fit to
represent young Italy, and one doesn’t wonder that if the youth has
any spirit he should at last begin to resent our insufferable aesthetic
patronage. He has established a line of tram-cars in Rome, from
the Porta del Popolo to the Ponte Molle, and it is on one of these
democratic vehicles that I seem to see him taking his triumphant course
down the vista of the future. I won’t pretend to rejoice with him any
more than I really do; I won’t pretend, as the sentimental tourists say
about it all, as if it were the setting of an intaglio or the border of
a Roman scarf, to “like” it. Like it or not, as we may, it is evidently
destined to be; I see a new Italy in the future which in many important
respects will equal, if not surpass, the most enterprising sections of
our native land. Perhaps by that time Chicago and San Francisco will
have acquired a pose, and their sons and daughters will dance at the
doors of _locande_.

However this may be, the accomplished schism between the old order and
the new is the promptest moral of a fresh visit to this ever-suggestive
part of the world. The old has become more and more a museum, preserved
and perpetuated in the midst of the new, but without any further
relation to it--it must be admitted indeed that such a relation is
considerable--than that of the stock on his shelves to the shopkeeper,
or of the Siren of the South to the showman who stands before his booth.
More than once, as we move about nowadays in the Italian cities,
there seems to pass before our eyes a vision of the coming years. It
represents to our satisfaction an Italy united and prosperous,
but altogether scientific and commercial. The Italy indeed that we
sentimentalise and romance about was an ardently mercantile country;
though I suppose it loved not its ledgers less, but its frescoes
and altar-pieces more. Scattered through this paradise regained of
trade--this country of a thousand ports--we see a large number of
beautiful buildings in which an endless series of dusky pictures are
darkening, dampening, fading, failing, through the years. By the doors
of the beautiful buildings are little turnstiles at which there sit
a great many uniformed men to whom the visitor pays a tenpenny fee.
Inside, in the vaulted and frescoed chambers, the art of Italy lies
buried as in a thousand mausoleums. It is well taken care of; it is
constantly copied; sometimes it is “restored”--as in the case of that
beautiful boy-figure of Andrea del Sarto at Florence, which may be seen
at the gallery of the Uffizi with its honourable duskiness quite peeled
off and heaven knows what raw, bleeding cuticle laid bare. One evening
lately, near the same Florence, in the soft twilight, I took a stroll
among those encircling hills on which the massive villas are mingled
with the vaporous olives. Presently I arrived where three roads met at a
wayside shrine, in which, before some pious daub of an old-time Madonna,
a little votive lamp glimmered through the evening air. The hour,
the atmosphere, the place, the twinkling taper, the sentiment of the
observer, the thought that some one had been rescued here from an
assassin or from some other peril and had set up a little grateful altar
in consequence, against the yellow-plastered wall of a tangled _podere_;
all this led me to approach the shrine with a reverent, an emotional
step. I drew near it, but after a few steps I paused. I became aware of
an incongruous odour; it seemed to me that the evening air was charged
with a perfume which, although to a certain extent familiar, had not
hitherto associated itself with rustic frescoes and wayside altars. I
wondered, I gently sniffed, and the question so put left me no doubt.
The odour was that of petroleum; the votive taper was nourished with
the essence of Pennsylvania. I confess that I burst out laughing, and a
picturesque contadino, wending his homeward way in the dusk, stared at
me as if I were an iconoclast. He noticed the petroleum only, I imagine,
to snuff it fondly up; but to me the thing served as a symbol of the
Italy of the future. There is a horse-car from the Porta del Popolo to
the Ponte Molle, and the Tuscan shrines are fed with kerosene.


II

If it’s very well meanwhile to come to Turin first it’s better still to
go to Genoa afterwards. Genoa is the tightest topographic tangle in the
world, which even a second visit helps you little to straighten out. In
the wonderful crooked, twisting, climbing, soaring, burrowing Genoese
alleys the traveller is really up to his neck in the old Italian
sketchability. The pride of the place, I believe, is a port of great
capacity, and the bequest of the late Duke of Galliera, who left four
millions of dollars for the purpose of improving and enlarging it, will
doubtless do much toward converting it into one of the great commercial
stations of Europe. But as, after leaving my hotel the afternoon I
arrived, I wandered for a long time at hazard through the tortuous
by-ways of the city, I said to myself, not without an accent of private
triumph, that here at last was something it would be almost impossible
to modernise. I had found my hotel, in the first place, extremely
entertaining--the Croce di Malta, as it is called, established in a
gigantic palace on the edge of the swarming and not over-clean harbour.
It was the biggest house I had ever entered--the basement alone would
have contained a dozen American caravansaries. I met an American
gentleman in the vestibule who (as he had indeed a perfect right to be)
was annoyed by its troublesome dimensions--one was a quarter of an hour
ascending out of the basement--and desired to know if it were a “fair
sample” of the Genoese inns. It appeared an excellent specimen of
Genoese architecture generally; so far as I observed there were few
houses perceptibly smaller than this Titanic tavern. I lunched in a
dusky ballroom whose ceiling was vaulted, frescoed and gilded with the
fatal facility of a couple of centuries ago, and which looked out upon
another ancient housefront, equally huge and equally battered, separated
from it only by a little wedge of dusky space--one of the principal
streets, I believe, of Genoa--whence out of dim abysses the population
sent up to the windows (I had to crane out very far to see it) a
perpetual clattering, shuffling, chaffering sound. Issuing forth
presently into this crevice of a street I found myself up to my neck
in that element of the rich and strange--as to visible and reproducible
“effect,” I mean--for the love of which one revisits Italy. It offered
itself indeed in a variety of colours, some of which were not remarkable
for their freshness or purity. But their combined charm was not to be
resisted, and the picture glowed with the rankly human side of southern
lowlife.

Genoa, as I have hinted, is the crookedest and most incoherent of
cities; tossed about on the sides and crests of a dozen hills, it is
seamed with gullies and ravines that bristle with those innumerable
palaces for which we have heard from our earliest years that the place
is celebrated. These great structures, with their mottled and faded
complexions, lift their big ornamental cornices to a tremendous height
in the air, where, in a certain indescribably forlorn and desolate
fashion, overtopping each other, they seem to reflect the twinkle and
glitter of the warm Mediterranean. Down about the basements, in the
close crepuscular alleys, the people are for ever moving to and fro or
standing in their cavernous doorways and their dusky, crowded shops,
calling, chattering, laughing, lamenting, living their lives in the
conversational Italian fashion. I had for a long time had no such
vision of possible social pressure. I hadn’t for a long time seen people
elbowing each other so closely or swarming so thickly out of populous
hives. A traveller is often moved to ask himself whether it has been
worth while to leave his home--whatever his home may have been--only to
encounter new forms of human suffering, only to be reminded that toil
and privation, hunger and sorrow and sordid effort, are the portion of
the mass of mankind. To travel is, as it were, to go to the play, to
attend a spectacle; and there is something heartless in stepping forth
into foreign streets to feast on “character” when character consists
simply of the slightly different costume in which labour and want
present themselves. These reflections were forced upon me as I strolled
as through a twilight patched with colour and charged with stale smells;
but after a time they ceased to bear me company. The reason of this, I
think, is because--at least to foreign eyes--the sum of Italian misery
is, on the whole, less than the sum of the Italian knowledge of life.
That people should thank you, with a smile of striking sweetness, for
the gift of twopence, is a proof, certainly, of extreme and constant
destitution; but (keeping in mind the sweetness) it also attests an
enviable ability not to be depressed by circumstances. I know that this
may possibly be great nonsense; that half the time we are acclaiming
the fine quality of the Italian smile the creature so constituted for
physiognomic radiance may be in a sullen frenzy of impatience and pain.
Our observation in any foreign land is extremely superficial, and our
remarks are happily not addressed to the inhabitants themselves, who
would be sure to exclaim upon the impudence of the fancy-picture.

The other day I visited a very picturesque old city upon a mountain-top,
where, in the course of my wanderings, I arrived at an old disused gate
in the ancient town-wall. The gate hadn’t been absolutely forfeited;
but the recent completion of a modern road down the mountain led most
vehicles away to another egress. The grass-grown pavement, which wound
into the plain by a hundred graceful twists and plunges, was now given
up to ragged contadini and their donkeys, and to such wayfarers as were
not alarmed at the disrepair into which it had fallen. I stood in the
shadow of the tall old gateway admiring the scene, looking to right and
left at the wonderful walls of the little town, perched on the edge of
a shaggy precipice; at the circling mountains over against them; at the
road dipping downward among the chestnuts and olives. There was no one
within sight but a young man who slowly trudged upward with his coat
slung over his shoulder and his hat upon his ear in the manner of a
cavalier in an opera. Like an operatic performer too he sang as he came;
the spectacle, generally, was operatic, and as his vocal flourishes
reached my ear I said to myself that in Italy accident was always
romantic and that such a figure had been exactly what was wanted to set
off the landscape. It suggested in a high degree that knowledge of life
for which I just now commended the Italians. I was turning back under
the old gateway when the young man overtook me and, suspending his song,
asked me if I could favour him with a match to light the hoarded remnant
of a cigar. This request led, as I took my way again to the inn, to my
falling into talk with him. He was a native of the ancient city, and
answered freely all my inquiries as to its manners and customs and
its note of public opinion. But the point of my anecdote is that he
presently acknowledged himself a brooding young radical and communist,
filled with hatred of the present Italian government, raging with
discontent and crude political passion, professing a ridiculous hope
that Italy would soon have, as France had had, her “‘89,” and declaring
that he for his part would willingly lend a hand to chop off the
heads of the king and the royal family. He was an unhappy, underfed,
unemployed young man, who took a hard, grim view of everything and was
operatic only quite in spite of himself. This made it very absurd of me
to have looked at him simply as a graceful ornament to the prospect,
an harmonious little figure in the middle distance. “Damn the prospect,
damn the middle distance!” would have been all _his_ philosophy. Yet but
for the accident of my having gossipped with him I should have made him
do service, in memory, as an example of sensuous optimism!

I am bound to say however that I believe a great deal of the sensuous
optimism observable in the Genoese alleys and beneath the low, crowded
arcades along the port was very real. Here every one was magnificently
sunburnt, and there were plenty of those queer types, mahogany-coloured,
bare-chested mariners with earrings and crimson girdles, that seem to
people a southern seaport with the chorus of “Masaniello.” But it is not
fair to speak as if at Genoa there were nothing but low-life to be seen,
for the place is the residence of some of the grandest people in the
world. Nor are all the palaces ranged upon dusky alleys; the handsomest
and most impressive form a splendid series on each side of a couple
of very proper streets, in which there is plenty of room for a
coach-and-four to approach the big doorways. Many of these doorways
are open, revealing great marble staircases with couchant lions for
balustrades and ceremonious courts surrounded by walls of sun-softened
yellow. One of the great piles in the array is coloured a goodly red and
contains in particular the grand people I just now spoke of. They
live indeed on the third floor; but here they have suites of wonderful
painted and gilded chambers, in which foreshortened frescoes also cover
the vaulted ceilings and florid mouldings emboss the ample walls. These
distinguished tenants bear the name of Vandyck, though they are members
of the noble family of Brignole-Sale, one of whose children--the Duchess
of Galliera--has lately given proof of nobleness in presenting the
gallery of the red palace to the city of Genoa.


III

On leaving Genoa I repaired to Spezia, chiefly with a view of
accomplishing a sentimental pilgrimage, which I in fact achieved in the
most agreeable conditions. The Gulf of Spezia is now the headquarters
of the Italian fleet, and there were several big iron-plated frigates
riding at anchor in front of the town. The streets were filled with lads
in blue flannel, who were receiving instruction at a schoolship in the
harbour, and in the evening--there was a brilliant moon--the little
breakwater which stretched out into the Mediterranean offered a scene of
recreation to innumerable such persons. But this fact is from the point
of view of the cherisher of quaintness of little account, for since it
has become prosperous Spezia has grown ugly. The place is filled with
long, dull stretches of dead wall and great raw expanses of artificial
land. It wears that look of monstrous, of more than far-western newness
which distinguishes all the creations of the young Italian State. Nor
did I find any great compensation in an immense inn of recent birth,
an establishment seated on the edge of the sea in anticipation of a
_passeggiata_ which is to come that way some five years hence, the
region being in the meantime of the most primitive formation. The inn
was filled with grave English people who looked respectable and
bored, and there was of course a Church of England service in the
gaudily-frescoed parlour. Neither was it the drive to Porto Venere that
chiefly pleased me--a drive among vines and olives, over the hills
and beside the Mediterranean, to a queer little crumbling village on a
headland, as sweetly desolate and superannuated as the name it bears.
There is a ruined church near the village, which occupies the site
(according to tradition) of an ancient temple of Venus; and if Venus ever
revisits her desecrated shrines she must sometimes pause a moment in
that sunny stillness and listen to the murmur of the tideless sea at
the base of the narrow promontory. If Venus sometimes comes there Apollo
surely does as much; for close to the temple is a gateway surmounted by
an inscription in Italian and English, which admits you to a curious,
and it must be confessed rather cockneyfied, cave among the rocks. It
was here, says the inscription, that the great Byron, swimmer and poet,
“defied the waves of the Ligurian sea.” The fact is interesting, though
not supremely so; for Byron was always defying something, and if a slab
had been put up wherever this performance came off these commemorative
tablets would be in many parts of Europe as thick as milestones.

No; the great merit of Spezia, to my eye, is that I engaged a boat there
of a lovely October afternoon and had myself rowed across the gulf--it
took about an hour and a half--to the little bay of Lerici, which opens
out of it. This bay of Lerici is charming; the bosky grey-green hills
close it in, and on either side of the entrance, perched on a bold
headland, a wonderful old crumbling castle keeps ineffectual guard. The
place is classic to all English travellers, for in the middle of the
curving shore is the now desolate little villa in which Shelley spent
the last months of his short life. He was living at Lerici when he
started on that short southern cruise from which he never returned. The
house he occupied is strangely shabby and as sad as you may choose to
find it. It stands directly upon the beach, with scarred and battered
walls and a loggia of several arches opening to a little terrace with
a rugged parapet, which, when the wind blows, must be drenched with
the salt spray. The place is very lonely--all overwearied with sun and
breeze and brine--very close to nature, as it was Shelley’s passion
to be. I can fancy a great lyric poet sitting on the terrace of a warm
evening and feeling very far from England in the early years of the
century. In that place, and with his genius, he would as a matter of
course have heard in the voice of nature a sweetness which only the
lyric movement could translate. It is a place where an English-speaking
pilgrim himself may very honestly think thoughts and feel moved to lyric
utterance. But I must content myself with saying in halting prose that
I remember few episodes of Italian travel more sympathetic, as they have
it here, than that perfect autumn afternoon; the half-hour’s station on
the little battered terrace of the villa; the climb to the singularly
felicitous old castle that hangs above Lerici; the meditative lounge, in
the fading light, on the vine-decked platform that looked out toward the
sunset and the darkening mountains and, far below, upon the quiet sea,
beyond which the pale-faced tragic villa stared up at the brightening
moon.


IV

I had never known Florence more herself, or in other words more
attaching, than I found her for a week in that brilliant October.
She sat in the sunshine beside her yellow river like the little
treasure-city she has always seemed, without commerce, without other
industry than the manufacture of mosaic paper-weights and alabaster
Cupids, without actuality or energy or earnestness or any of those
rugged virtues which in most cases are deemed indispensable for civic
cohesion; with nothing but the little unaugmented stock of her mediaeval
memories, her tender-coloured mountains, her churches and palaces,
pictures and statues. There were very few strangers; one’s detested
fellow-pilgrim was infrequent; the native population itself seemed
scanty; the sound of wheels in the streets was but occasional; by eight
o’clock at night, apparently, every one had gone to bed, and the
musing wanderer, still wandering and still musing, had the place to
himself--had the thick shadow-masses of the great palaces, and the
shafts of moonlight striking the polygonal paving-stones, and the empty
bridges, and the silvered yellow of the Arno, and the stillness broken
only by a homeward step, a step accompanied by a snatch of song from a
warm Italian voice. My room at the inn looked out on the river and was
flooded all day with sunshine. There was an absurd orange-coloured
paper on the walls; the Arno, of a hue not altogether different, flowed
beneath; and on the other side of it rose a line of sallow houses, of
extreme antiquity, crumbling and mouldering, bulging and protruding over
the stream. (I seem to speak of their fronts; but what I saw was their
shabby backs, which were exposed to the cheerful flicker of the river,
while the fronts stood for ever in the deep damp shadow of a narrow
mediaeval street.) All this brightness and yellowness was a perpetual
delight; it was a part of that indefinably charming colour which
Florence always seems to wear as you look up and down at it from
the river, and from the bridges and quays. This is a kind of grave
radiance--a harmony of high tints--which I scarce know how to describe.
There are yellow walls and green blinds and red roofs, there are
intervals of brilliant brown and natural-looking blue; but the picture
is not spotty nor gaudy, thanks to the distribution of the colours in
large and comfortable masses, and to the washing-over of the scene by
some happy softness of sunshine. The river-front of Florence is in short
a delightful composition. Part of its charm comes of course from the
generous aspect of those high-based Tuscan palaces which a renewal of
acquaintance with them has again commended to me as the most dignified
dwellings in the world. Nothing can be finer than that look of giving
up the whole immense ground-floor to simple purposes of vestibule and
staircase, of court and high-arched entrance; as if this were all but
a massive pedestal for the real habitation and people weren’t properly
housed unless, to begin with, they should be lifted fifty feet above
the pavement. The great blocks of the basement; the great intervals,
horizontally and vertically, from window to window (telling of the
height and breadth of the rooms within); the armorial shield hung
forward at one of the angles; the wide-brimmed roof, overshadowing
the narrow street; the rich old browns and yellows of the walls: these
definite elements put themselves together with admirable art.

{Illustration: ROMAN GATEWAY, RIMINI.}

Take a Tuscan pile of this type out of its oblique situation in the
town; call it no longer a palace, but a villa; set it down by a terrace
on one of the hills that encircle Florence, place a row of high-waisted
cypresses beside it, give it a grassy court-yard and a view of the
Florentine towers and the valley of the Arno, and you will think it
perhaps even more worthy of your esteem. It was a Sunday noon, and
brilliantly warm, when I again arrived; and after I had looked from my
windows a while at that quietly-basking river-front I have spoken of
I took my way across one of the bridges and then out of one of the
gates--that immensely tall Roman Gate in which the space from the top of
the arch to the cornice (except that there is scarcely a cornice, it is
all a plain massive piece of wall) is as great, or seems to be, as that
from the ground to the former point. Then I climbed a steep and winding
way--much of it a little dull if one likes, being bounded by mottled,
mossy garden-walls--to a villa on a hill-top, where I found various
things that touched me with almost too fine a point. Seeing them again,
often, for a week, both by sunlight and moonshine, I never quite learned
not to covet them; not to feel that not being a part of them was somehow
to miss an exquisite chance. What a tranquil, contented life it seemed,
with romantic beauty as a part of its daily texture!--the sunny terrace,
with its tangled _podere_ beneath it; the bright grey olives against
the bright blue sky; the long, serene, horizontal lines of other villas,
flanked by their upward cypresses, disposed upon the neighbouring hills;
the richest little city in the world in a softly-scooped hollow at one’s
feet, and beyond it the most appealing of views, the most majestic,
yet the most familiar. Within the villa was a great love of art and
a painting-room full of felicitous work, so that if human life there
confessed to quietness, the quietness was mostly but that of the intent
act. A beautiful occupation in that beautiful position, what could
possibly be better? That is what I spoke just now of envying--a way
of life that doesn’t wince at such refinements of peace and ease. When
labour self-charmed presents itself in a dull or an ugly place we esteem
it, we admire it, but we scarce feel it to be the ideal of good fortune.
When, however, its votaries move as figures in an ancient, noble
landscape, and their walks and contemplations are like a turning of the
leaves of history, we seem to have before us an admirable case of virtue
made easy; meaning here by virtue contentment and concentration, a real
appreciation of the rare, the exquisite though composite, medium of
life. You needn’t want a rush or a crush when the scene itself, the mere
scene, shares with you such a wealth of consciousness.

It is true indeed that I might after a certain time grow weary of a
regular afternoon stroll among the Florentine lanes; of sitting on low
parapets, in intervals of flower-topped wall, and looking across at
Fiesole or down the rich-hued valley of the Arno; of pausing at the open
gates of villas and wondering at the height of cypresses and the depth
of loggias; of walking home in the fading light and noting on a dozen
westward-looking surfaces the glow of the opposite sunset. But for a
week or so all this was delightful. The villas are innumerable, and if
you’re an aching alien half the talk is about villas. This one has a
story; that one has another; they all look as if they had stories--none
in truth predominantly gay. Most of them are offered to rent (many of
them for sale) at prices unnaturally low; you may have a tower and a
garden, a chapel and an expanse of thirty windows, for five hundred
dollars a year. In imagination you hire three or four; you take
possession and settle and stay. Your sense of the fineness of the finest
is of something very grave and stately; your sense of the bravery of two
or three of the best something quite tragic and sinister. From what does
this latter impression come? You gather it as you stand there in the
early dusk, with your eyes on the long, pale-brown facade, the enormous
windows, the iron cages fastened to the lower ones. Part of the brooding
expression of these great houses comes, even when they have not fallen
into decay, from their look of having outlived their original use. Their
extraordinary largeness and massiveness are a satire on their present
fate. They weren’t built with such a thickness of wall and depth of
embrasure, such a solidity of staircase and superfluity of stone,
simply to afford an economical winter residence to English and American
families. I don’t know whether it was the appearance of these stony old
villas, which seemed so dumbly conscious of a change of manners, that
threw a tinge of melancholy over the general prospect; certain it is
that, having always found this note as of a myriad old sadnesses in
solution in the view of Florence, it seemed to me now particularly
strong. “Lovely, lovely, but it makes me ‘blue,’” the sensitive stranger
couldn’t but murmur to himself as, in the late afternoon, he looked
at the landscape from over one of the low parapets, and then, with his
hands in his pockets, turned away indoors to candles and dinner.


V

Below, in the city, through all frequentation of streets and churches
and museums, it was impossible not to have a good deal of the same
feeling; but here the impression was more easy to analyse. It came from
a sense of the perfect separateness of all the great productions of
the Renaissance from the present and the future of the place, from the
actual life and manners, the native ideal. I have already spoken of
the way in which the vast aggregation of beautiful works of art in the
Italian cities strikes the visitor nowadays--so far as present Italy
is concerned--as the mere stock-in-trade of an impecunious but thrifty
people. It is this spiritual solitude, this conscious disconnection of
the great works of architecture and sculpture that deposits a certain
weight upon the heart; when we see a great tradition broken we feel
something of the pain with which we hear a stifled cry. But regret
is one thing and resentment is another. Seeing one morning, in a
shop-window, the series of _Mornings in Florence_ published a few years
since by Mr. Ruskin, I made haste to enter and purchase these amusing
little books, some passages of which I remembered formerly to have
read. I couldn’t turn over many pages without observing that the
“separateness” of the new and old which I just mentioned had produced
in their author the liveliest irritation. With the more acute phases of
this condition it was difficult to sympathise, for the simple reason, it
seems to me, that it savours of arrogance to demand of any people, as
a right of one’s own, that they shall be artistic. “Be artistic
yourselves!” is the very natural reply that young Italy has at hand for
English critics and censors. When a people produces beautiful statues
and pictures it gives us something more than is set down in the bond,
and we must thank it for its generosity; and when it stops producing
them or caring for them we may cease thanking, but we hardly have a
right to begin and rail. The wreck of Florence, says Mr. Ruskin, “is now
too ghastly and heart-breaking to any human soul that remembers the days
of old”; and these desperate words are an allusion to the fact that the
little square in front of the cathedral, at the foot of Giotto’s Tower,
with the grand Baptistery on the other side, is now the resort of
a number of hackney-coaches and omnibuses. This fact is doubtless
lamentable, and it would be a hundred times more agreeable to see among
people who have been made the heirs of so priceless a work of art as the
sublime campanile some such feeling about it as would keep it free even
from the danger of defilement. A cab-stand is a very ugly and dirty
thing, and Giotto’s Tower should have nothing in common with such
conveniences. But there is more than one way of taking such things, and
the sensitive stranger who has been walking about for a week with his
mind full of the sweetness and suggestiveness of a hundred Florentine
places may feel at last in looking into Mr. Ruskin’s little tracts that,
discord for discord, there isn’t much to choose between the importunity
of the author’s personal ill-humour and the incongruity of horse-pails
and bundles of hay. And one may say this without being at all a partisan
of the doctrine of the inevitableness of new desecrations. For my own
part, I believe there are few things in this line that the new Italian
spirit isn’t capable of, and not many indeed that we aren’t destined to
see. Pictures and buildings won’t be completely destroyed, because in
that case the _forestieri_, scatterers of cash, would cease to arrive
and the turn-stiles at the doors of the old palaces and convents, with
the little patented slit for absorbing your half-franc, would grow quite
rusty, would stiffen with disuse. But it’s safe to say that the
new Italy growing into an old Italy again will continue to take her
elbow-room wherever she may find it.

{Illustration: SANTA MARIA NOVELLA, FLORENCE}

I am almost ashamed to say what I did with Mr. Ruskin’s little books. I
put them into my pocket and betook myself to Santa Maria Novella. There
I sat down and, after I had looked about for a while at the beautiful
church, drew them forth one by one and read the greater part of them.
Occupying one’s self with light literature in a great religious edifice
is perhaps as bad a piece of profanation as any of those rude dealings
which Mr. Ruskin justly deplores; but a traveller has to make the most
of odd moments, and I was waiting for a friend in whose company I was
to go and look at Giotto’s beautiful frescoes in the cloister of the
church. My friend was a long time coming, so that I had an hour with Mr.
Ruskin, whom I called just now a light _littérateur_ because in these
little Mornings in Florence he is for ever making his readers laugh.
I remembered of course where I was, and in spite of my latent hilarity
felt I had rarely got such a snubbing. I had really been enjoying the
good old city of Florence, but I now learned from Mr. Ruskin that this
was a scandalous waste of charity. I should have gone about with an
imprecation on my lips, I should have worn a face three yards long. I
had taken great pleasure in certain frescoes by Ghirlandaio in the choir
of that very church; but it appeared from one of the little books that
these frescoes were as naught. I had much admired Santa Croce and had
thought the Duomo a very noble affair; but I had now the most positive
assurance I knew nothing about them. After a while, if it was only
ill-humour that was needed for doing honour to the city of the Medici,
I felt that I had risen to a proper level; only now it was Mr. Ruskin
himself I had lost patience with, not the stupid Brunelleschi, not the
vulgar Ghirlandaio. Indeed I lost patience altogether, and asked myself
by what right this informal votary of form pretended to run riot through
a poor charmed _flaneur’s_ quiet contemplations, his attachment to the
noblest of pleasures, his enjoyment of the loveliest of cities. The
little books seemed invidious and insane, and it was only when I
remembered that I had been under no obligation to buy them that I
checked myself in repenting of having done so.

Then at last my friend arrived and we passed together out of the church,
and, through the first cloister beside it, into a smaller enclosure
where we stood a while to look at the tomb of the Marchesa
Strozzi-Ridolfi, upon which the great Giotto has painted four superb
little pictures. It was easy to see the pictures were superb; but I drew
forth one of my little books again, for I had observed that Mr. Ruskin
spoke of them. Hereupon I recovered my tolerance; for what could be
better in this case, I asked myself, than Mr. Ruskin’s remarks? They
are in fact excellent and charming--full of appreciation of the deep
and simple beauty of the great painter’s work. I read them aloud to my
companion; but my companion was rather, as the phrase is, “put off”
 by them. One of the frescoes--it is a picture of the birth of the
Virgin--contains a figure coming through a door. “Of ornament,” I quote,
“there is only the entirely simple outline of the vase which the servant
carries; of colour two or three masses of sober red and pure white,
with brown and grey. That is all,” Mr. Ruskin continues. “And if you are
pleased with this you can see Florence. But if not, by all means amuse
yourself there, if you find it amusing, as long as you like; you
can never see it.” _You can never see it._ This seemed to my friend
insufferable, and I had to shuffle away the book again, so that we might
look at the fresco with the unruffled geniality it deserves. We agreed
afterwards, when in a more convenient place I read aloud a good many
more passages from the precious tracts, that there are a great many
ways of seeing Florence, as there are of seeing most beautiful and
interesting things, and that it is very dry and pedantic to say that
the happy vision depends upon our squaring our toes with a certain
particular chalk-mark. We see Florence wherever and whenever we enjoy
it, and for enjoying it we find a great many more pretexts than Mr.
Ruskin seems inclined to allow. My friend and I convinced ourselves
also, however, that the little books were an excellent purchase, on
account of the great charm and felicity of much of their incidental
criticism; to say nothing, as I hinted just now, of their being
extremely amusing. Nothing in fact is more comical than the familiar
asperity of the author’s style and the pedagogic fashion in which he
pushes and pulls his unhappy pupils about, jerking their heads toward
this, rapping their knuckles for that, sending them to stand in
corners and giving them Scripture texts to copy. But it is neither the
felicities nor the aberrations of detail, in Mr. Ruskin’s writings, that
are the main affair for most readers; it is the general tone that, as
I have said, puts them off or draws them on. For many persons he will
never bear the test of being read in this rich old Italy, where art, so
long as it really lived at all, was spontaneous, joyous, irresponsible.
If the reader is in daily contact with those beautiful Florentine
works which do still, in away, force themselves into notice through the
vulgarity and cruelty of modern profanation, it will seem to him that
this commentator’s comment is pitched in the strangest falsetto key.
“One may read a hundred pages of this sort of thing,” said my friend,
“without ever dreaming that he is talking about _art_. You can say
nothing worse about him than that.” Which is perfectly true. Art is the
one corner of human life in which we may take our ease. To justify our
presence there the only thing demanded of us is that we shall have felt
the representational impulse. In other connections our impulses are
conditioned and embarrassed; we are allowed to have only so many as
are consistent with those of our neighbours; with their convenience
and well-being, with their convictions and prejudices, their rules and
regulations. Art means an escape from all this. Wherever her shining
standard floats the need for apology and compromise is over; there it
is enough simply that we please or are pleased. There the tree is judged
only by its fruits. If these are sweet the tree is justified--and not
less so the consumer.

One may read a great many pages of Mr. Ruskin without getting a hint of
this delightful truth; a hint of the not unimportant fact that art after
all is made for us and not we for art. This idea that the value of
a work is in the amount of illusion it yields is conspicuous by its
absence. And as for Mr. Ruskin’s world’s being a place--his world of
art--where we may take life easily, woe to the luckless mortal who
enters it with any such disposition. Instead of a garden of delight, he
finds a sort of assize court in perpetual session. Instead of a place
in which human responsibilities are lightened and suspended, he finds a
region governed by a kind of Draconic legislation. His responsibilities
indeed are tenfold increased; the gulf between truth and error is for
ever yawning at his feet; the pains and penalties of this same error are
advertised, in apocalyptic terminology, upon a thousand sign-posts; and
the rash intruder soon begins to look back with infinite longing to the
lost paradise of the artless. There can be no greater want of tact in
dealing with those things with which men attempt to ornament life than
to be perpetually talking about “error.” A truce to all rigidities is
the law of the place; the only thing absolute there is that some force
and some charm have worked. The grim old bearer of the scales excuses
herself; she feels this not to be her province. Differences here are not
iniquity and righteousness; they are simply variations of temperament,
kinds of curiosity. We are not under theological government.


VI

It was very charming, in the bright, warm days, to wander from one
corner of Florence to another, paying one’s respects again to remembered
masterpieces. It was pleasant also to find that memory had played no
tricks and that the rarest things of an earlier year were as rare as
ever. To enumerate these felicities would take a great deal of space;
for I never had been more struck with the mere quantity of brilliant
Florentine work. Even giving up the Duomo and Santa Croce to Mr. Ruskin
as very ill-arranged edifices, the list of the Florentine treasures is
almost inexhaustible. Those long outer galleries of the Uffizi had
never beguiled me more; sometimes there were not more than two or
three figures standing there, Baedeker in hand, to break the charming
perspective. One side of this upstairs portico, it will be remembered,
is entirely composed of glass; a continuity of old-fashioned windows,
draped with white curtains of rather primitive fashion, which hang there
till they acquire a perceptible tone. The light, passing through
them, is softly filtered and diffused; it rests mildly upon the
old marbles--chiefly antique Roman busts--which stand in the narrow
intervals of the casements. It is projected upon the numerous pictures
that cover the opposite wall and that are not by any means, as a general
thing, the gems of the great collection; it imparts a faded brightness
to the old ornamental arabesques upon the painted wooden ceiling, and it
makes a great soft shining upon the marble floor, in which, as you look
up and down, you see the strolling tourists and the motionless copyists
almost reflected. I don’t know why I should find all this very pleasant,
but in fact, I have seldom gone into the Uffizi without walking the
length of this third-story cloister, between the (for the most part)
third-rate canvases and panels and the faded cotton curtains. Why is
it that in Italy we see a charm in things in regard to which in other
countries we always take vulgarity for granted? If in the city of
New York a great museum of the arts were to be provided, by way of
decoration, with a species of verandah enclosed on one side by a series
of small-paned windows draped in dirty linen, and furnished on the other
with an array of pictorial feebleness, the place being surmounted by
a thinly-painted wooden roof, strongly suggestive of summer heat,
of winter cold, of frequent leakage, those amateurs who had had the
advantage of foreign travel would be at small pains to conceal their
contempt. Contemptible or respectable, to the judicial mind, this quaint
old loggia of the Uffizi admitted me into twenty chambers where I found
as great a number of ancient favourites. I don’t know that I had a
warmer greeting for any old friend than for Andrea del Sarto, that most
touching of painters who is not one of the first. But it was on the
other side of the Arno that I found him in force, in those dusky
drawing-rooms of the Pitti Palace to which you take your way along
the tortuous tunnel that wanders through the houses of Florence and is
supported by the little goldsmiths’ booths on the Ponte Vecchio. In the
rich insufficient light of these beautiful rooms, where, to look at the
pictures, you sit in damask chairs and rest your elbows on tables of
malachite, the elegant Andrea becomes deeply effective. Before long he
has drawn you close. But the great pleasure, after all, was to revisit
the earlier masters, in those specimens of them chiefly that bloom
so unfadingly on the big plain walls of the Academy. Fra Angelico and
Filippo Lippi, Botticelli and Lorenzo di Credi are the clearest,
the sweetest and best of all painters; as I sat for an hour in
their company, in the cold great hall of the institution I have
mentioned--there are shabby rafters above and an immense expanse of
brick tiles below, and many bad pictures as well as good--it seemed
to me more than ever that if one really had to choose one couldn’t do
better than choose here. You may rest at your ease at the Academy, in
this big first room--at the upper end especially, on the left--because
more than many other places it savours of old Florence. More for
instance, in reality, than the Bargello, though the Bargello makes great
pretensions. Beautiful and masterful though the Bargello is, it smells
too strongly of restoration, and, much of old Italy as still lurks in
its furbished and renovated chambers, it speaks even more distinctly
of the ill-mannered young kingdom that has--as “unavoidably” as you
please--lifted down a hundred delicate works of sculpture from the
convent-walls where their pious authors placed them. If the early Tuscan
painters are exquisite I can think of no praise pure enough for the
sculptors of the same period, Donatello and Luca della Robbia, Matteo
Civitale and Mina da Fiesole, who, as I refreshed my memory of them,
seemed to me to leave absolutely nothing to be desired in the way of
straightness of inspiration and grace of invention. The Bargello is full
of early Tuscan sculpture, most of the pieces of which have come from
suppressed religious houses; and even if the visitor be an ardent
liberal he is uncomfortably conscious of the rather brutal process by
which it has been collected. One can hardly envy young Italy the number
of odious things she has had to do.

The railway journey from Florence to Rome has been altered both for the
better and for the worse; for the better in that it has been shortened
by a couple of hours; for the worse inasmuch as when about half the
distance has been traversed the train deflects to the west and leaves
the beautiful old cities of Assisi, Perugia, Terni, Narni, unvisited.
Of old it was possible to call at these places, in a manner, from the
window of the train; even if you didn’t stop, as you probably couldn’t,
every time you passed, the immensely interesting way in which, like a
loosened belt on an aged and shrunken person, their ample walls held
them easily together was something well worth noting. Now, however,
for compensation, the express train to Rome stops at Orvieto, and in
consequence... In consequence what? What is the result of the stop of
an express train at Orvieto? As I glibly wrote that sentence I suddenly
paused, aware of the queer stuff I was uttering. That an express train
would graze the base of the horrid purple mountain from the apex of
which this dark old Catholic city uplifts the glittering front of
its cathedral--that might have been foretold by a keen observer of
contemporary manners. But that it would really have the grossness to
hang about is a fact over which, as he records it, an inveterate, a
perverse cherisher of the sense of the past order, the order still
largely prevailing at the time of his first visit to Italy, may well
make what is vulgarly called an ado. The train does stop at Orvieto,
not very long, it is true, but long enough to let you out. The same
phenomenon takes place on the following day, when, having visited the
city, you get in again. I availed myself without scruple of both of
these occasions, having formerly neglected to drive to the place in a
post-chaise. But frankly, the railway-station being in the plain and the
town on the summit of an extraordinary hill, you have time to forget
the puffing indiscretion while you wind upwards to the city-gate. The
position of Orvieto is superb--worthy of the “middle distance” of an
eighteenth-century landscape. But, as every one knows, the splendid
Cathedral is the proper attraction of the spot, which, indeed, save
for this fine monument and for its craggy and crumbling ramparts, is a
meanly arranged and, as Italian cities go, not particularly impressive
little town. I spent a beautiful Sunday there and took in the charming
church. I gave it my best attention, though on the whole I fear I found
it inferior to its fame. A high concert of colour, however, is the
densely carved front, richly covered with radiant mosaics. The old white
marble of the sculptured portions is as softly yellow as ancient ivory;
the large exceedingly bright pictures above them flashed and twinkled
in the glorious weather. Very striking and interesting the theological
frescoes of Luca Signorelli, though I have seen compositions of this
general order that appealed to me more. Characteristically fresh,
finally, the clear-faced saints and seraphs, in robes of pink and azure,
whom Fra Angelico has painted upon the ceiling of the great chapel,
along with a noble sitting figure--more expressive of movement than most
of the creations of this pictorial peace-maker--of Christ in judgment.
Yet the interest of the cathedral of Orvieto is mainly not the visible
result, but the historical process that lies behind it; those three
hundred years of the applied devotion of a people of which an American
scholar has written an admirable account.{1}

1877.

{1} Charles Eliot Norton, _Notes of Travel and Study in Italy_.



A ROMAN HOLIDAY


It is certainly sweet to be merry at the right moment; but the right
moment hardly seems to me the ten days of the Roman Carnival. It was
my rather cynical suspicion perhaps that they wouldn’t keep to my
imagination the brilliant promise of legend; but I have been justified
by the event and have been decidedly less conscious of the festal
influences of the season than of the inalienable gravity of the place.
There was a time when the Carnival was a serious matter--that is a
heartily joyous one; but, thanks to the seven-league boots the kingdom
of Italy has lately donned for the march of progress in quite other
directions, the fashion of public revelry has fallen woefully out of
step. The state of mind and manners under which the Carnival was kept in
generous good faith I doubt if an American can exactly conceive: he can
only say to himself that for a month in the year there must have been
things--things considerably of humiliation--it was comfortable to
forget. But now that Italy is made the Carnival is unmade; and we are
not especially tempted to envy the attitude of a population who have
lost their relish for play and not yet acquired to any striking extent
an enthusiasm for work. The spectacle on the Corso has seemed to me, on
the whole, an illustration of that great breach with the past of which
Catholic Christendom felt the somewhat muffled shock in September, 1870.
A traveller acquainted with the fully papal Rome, coming back any time
during the past winter, must have immediately noticed that something
momentous had happened--something hostile to the elements of picture
and colour and “style.” My first warning was that ten minutes after
my arrival I found myself face to face with a newspaper stand. The
impossibility in the other days of having anything in the journalistic
line but the _Osservatore Romano_ and the _Voce della Verità_ used to
seem to me much connected with the extraordinary leisure of thought and
stillness of mind to which the place admitted you. But now the slender
piping of the Voice of Truth is stifled by the raucous note of eventide
vendors of the _Capitale_, the _Libertà_ and the _Fanfulla_; and Rome
reading unexpurgated news is another Rome indeed. For every subscriber
to the _Libertà_ there may well be an antique masker and reveller less.
As striking a sign of the new régime is the extraordinary increase of
population. The Corso was always a well-filled street, but now it’s
a perpetual crush. I never cease to wonder where the new-comers are
lodged, and how such spotless flowers of fashion as the gentlemen who
stare at the carriages can bloom in the atmosphere of those _camere
mobiliate_ of which I have had glimpses. This, however, is their own
question, and bravely enough they meet it. They proclaimed somehow, to
the first freshness of my wonder, as I say, that by force of numbers
Rome had been secularised. An Italian dandy is a figure visually
to reckon with, but these goodly throngs of them scarce offered
compensation for the absent monsignori, treading the streets in their
purple stockings and followed by the solemn servants who returned on
their behalf the bows of the meaner sort; for the mourning gear of the
cardinals’ coaches that formerly glittered with scarlet and swung with
the weight of the footmen clinging behind; for the certainty that you’ll
not, by the best of traveller’s luck, meet the Pope sitting deep in the
shadow of his great chariot with uplifted fingers like some inaccessible
idol in his shrine. You may meet the King indeed, who is as ugly, as
imposingly ugly, as some idols, though not so inaccessible. The other
day as I passed the Quirinal he drove up in a low carriage with a single
attendant; and a group of men and women who had been waiting near
the gate rushed at him with a number of folded papers. The carriage
slackened pace and he pocketed their offerings with a business-like
air--hat of a good-natured man accepting handbills at a street-corner.
Here was a monarch at his palace gate receiving petitions from his
subjects--being adjured to right their wrongs. The scene ought to have
thrilled me, but somehow it had no more intensity than a woodcut in an
illustrated newspaper. Homely I should call it at most; admirably so,
certainly, for there were lately few sovereigns standing, I believe,
with whom their people enjoyed these filial hand-to-hand relations. The
King this year, however, has had as little to do with the Carnival as
the Pope, and the innkeepers and Americans have marked it for their own.

It was advertised to begin at half-past two o’clock of a certain
Saturday, and punctually at the stroke of the hour, from my room across
a wide court, I heard a sudden multiplication of sounds and confusion
of tongues in the Corso. I was writing to a friend for whom I cared
more than for any mere romp; but as the minutes elapsed and the hubbub
deepened curiosity got the better of affection, and I remembered that I
was really within eye-shot of an affair the fame of which had ministered
to the daydreams of my infancy. I used to have a scrap-book with a
coloured print of the starting of the bedizened wild horses, and the use
of a library rich in keepsakes and annuals with a frontispiece commonly
of a masked lady in a balcony, the heroine of a delightful tale further
on. Agitated by these tender memories I descended into the street; but
I confess I looked in vain for a masked lady who might serve as a
frontispiece, in vain for any object whatever that might adorn a tale.
Masked and muffled ladies there were in abundance; but their masks were
of ugly wire, perfectly resembling the little covers placed upon strong
cheese in German hotels, and their drapery was a shabby water-proof
with the hood pulled over their chignons. They were armed with great tin
scoops or funnels, with which they solemnly shovelled lime and flour
out of bushel-baskets and down on the heads of the people in the street.
They were packed into balconies all the way along the straight vista of
the Corso, in which their calcareous shower maintained a dense, gritty,
unpalatable fog. The crowd was compact in the street, and the Americans
in it were tossing back confetti out of great satchels hung round their
necks. It was quite the “you’re another” sort of repartee, and less
seasoned than I had hoped with the airy mockery tradition hangs about
this festival. The scene was striking, in a word; but somehow not as
I had dreamed of its being. I stood regardful, I suppose, but with a
peculiarly tempting blankness of visage, for in a moment I received
half a bushel of flour on my too-philosophic head. Decidedly it was an
ignoble form of humour. I shook my ears like an emergent diver, and had
a sudden vision of how still and sunny and solemn, how peculiarly and
undisturbedly themselves, how secure from any intrusion less sympathetic
than one’s own, certain outlying parts of Rome must just then be. The
Carnival had received its deathblow in my imagination; and it has been
ever since but a thin and dusky ghost of pleasure that has flitted at
intervals in and out of my consciousness.

I turned my back accordingly on the Corso and wandered away to the
grass-grown quarters delightfully free even from the possibility of
a fellow-countryman. And so having set myself an example I have been
keeping Carnival by strolling perversely along the silent circumference
of Rome. I have doubtless lost a great deal. The Princess Margaret has
occupied a balcony opposite the open space which leads into Via Condotti
and, I believe, like the discreet princess she is, has dealt in no
missiles but bonbons, bouquets and white doves. I would have waited
half an hour any day to see the Princess Margaret hold a dove on her
forefinger; but I never chanced to notice any preparation for that
effect. And yet do what you will you can’t really elude the Carnival. As
the days elapse it filters down into the manners of the common people,
and before the week is over the very beggars at the church-doors seem to
have gone to the expense of a domino. When you meet these specimens of
dingy drollery capering about in dusky back-streets at all hours of
the day and night, meet them flitting out of black doorways between the
greasy groups that cluster about Roman thresholds, you feel that a love
of “pranks,” the more vivid the better, must from far back have
been implanted in the Roman temperament with a strong hand. An
unsophisticated American is wonderstruck at the number of persons, of
every age and various conditions, whom it costs nothing in the nature of
an ingenuous blush to walk up and down the streets in the costume of a
theatrical supernumerary. Fathers of families do it at the head of an
admiring progeniture; aunts and uncles and grandmothers do it; all
the family does it, with varying splendour but with the same good
conscience. “A pack of babies!” the doubtless too self-conscious alien
pronounces it for its pains, and tries to imagine himself strutting
along Broadway in a battered tin helmet and a pair of yellow tights. Our
vices are certainly different; it takes those of the innocent sort to be
so ridiculous. A self-consciousness lapsing so easily, in fine, strikes
me as so near a relation to amenity, urbanity and general gracefulness
that, for myself, I should be sorry to lay a tax on it, lest these other
commodities should also cease to come to market.

I was rewarded, when I had turned away with my ears full of flour, by
a glimpse of an intenser life than the dingy foolery of the Corso.
I walked down by the back streets to the steps mounting to the
Capitol--that long inclined plane, rather, broken at every two paces,
which is the unfailing disappointment, I believe, of tourists primed for
retrospective raptures. Certainly the Capitol seen from this side isn’t
commanding. The hill is so low, the ascent so narrow, Michael Angelo’s
architecture in the quadrangle at the top so meagre, the whole place
somehow so much more of a mole-hill than a mountain, that for the first
ten minutes of your standing there Roman history seems suddenly to have
sunk through a trap-door. It emerges however on the other side, in the
Forum; and here meanwhile, if you get no sense of the sublime, you get
gradually a sense of exquisite composition. Nowhere in Rome is more
colour, more charm, more sport for the eye. The mild incline, during
the winter months, is always covered with lounging sun-seekers, and
especially with those more constantly obvious members of the Roman
population--beggars, soldiers, monks and tourists. The beggars and
peasants lie kicking their heels along that grandest of loafing-places
the great steps of the Ara Coeli. The dwarfish look of the Capitol is
intensified, I think, by the neighbourhood of this huge blank staircase,
mouldering away in disuse, the weeds thick in its crevices, and climbing
to the rudely solemn facade of the church. The sunshine glares on this
great unfinished wall only to light up its featureless despair, its
expression of conscious, irremediable incompleteness. Sometimes, massing
its rusty screen against the deep blue sky, with the little cross and
the sculptured porch casting a clear-cut shadow on the bricks, it seems
to have even more than a Roman desolation, it confusedly suggests Spain
and Africa--lands with no latent _risorgimenti_, with absolutely
nothing but a fatal past. The legendary wolf of Rome has lately been
accommodated with a little artificial grotto, among the cacti and the
palms, in the fantastic triangular garden squeezed between the steps of
the church and the ascent to the Capitol, where she holds a perpetual
levee and “draws” apparently as powerfully as the Pope himself. Above,
in the piazzetta before the stuccoed palace which rises so jauntily on a
basement of thrice its magnitude, are more loungers and knitters in the
sun, seated round the massively inscribed base of the statue of Marcus
Aurelius. Hawthorne has perfectly expressed the attitude of this
admirable figure in saying that it extends its arm with “a command which
is in itself a benediction.” I doubt if any statue of king or captain
in the public places of the world has more to commend it to the general
heart. Irrecoverable simplicity--residing so in irrecoverable Style--has
no sturdier representative. Here is an impression that the sculptors of
the last three hundred years have been laboriously trying to reproduce;
but contrasted with this mild old monarch their prancing horsemen
suggest a succession of riding-masters taking out young ladies’
schools. The admirably human character of the figure survives the rusty
decomposition of the bronze and the slight “debasement” of the art; and
one may call it singular that in the capital of Christendom the portrait
most suggestive of a Christian conscience is that of a pagan emperor.

You recover in some degree your stifled hopes of sublimity as you
pass beyond the palace and take your choice of either curving slope to
descend into the Forum. Then you see that the little stuccoed edifice
is but a modern excrescence on the mighty cliff of a primitive
construction, whose great squares of porous tufa, as they underlie each
other, seem to resolve themselves back into the colossal cohesion of
unhewn rock. There are prodigious strangenesses in the union of
this airy and comparatively fresh-faced superstructure and these
deep-plunging, hoary foundations; and few things in Rome are more
entertaining to the eye than to measure the long plumb-line which drops
from the inhabited windows of the palace, with their little over-peeping
balconies, their muslin curtains and their bird-cages, down to the
rugged constructional work of the Republic. In the Forum proper the
sublime is eclipsed again, though the late extension of the excavations
gives a chance for it.

Nothing in Rome helps your fancy to a more vigorous backward flight than
to lounge on a sunny day over the railing which guards the great central
researches. It “says” more things to you than you can repeat to see the
past, the ancient world, as you stand there, bodily turned up with the
spade and transformed from an immaterial, inaccessible fact of time into
a matter of soils and surfaces. The pleasure is the same--in kind--as
what you enjoy of Pompeii, and the pain the same. It wasn’t here,
however, that I found my compensation for forfeiting the spectacle on
the Corso, but in a little church at the end of the narrow byway which
diverges up the Palatine from just beside the Arch of Titus. This byway
leads you between high walls, then takes a bend and introduces you to a
long row of rusty, dusty little pictures of the stations of the cross.
Beyond these stands a small church with a front so modest that you
hardly recognise it till you see the leather curtain. I never see a
leather curtain without lifting it; it is sure to cover a constituted
_scene_ of some sort--good, bad or indifferent. The scene this time was
meagre--whitewash and tarnished candlesticks and mouldy muslin flowers
being its principal features. I shouldn’t have remained if I hadn’t
been struck with the attitude of the single worshipper--a young priest
kneeling before one of the sidealtars, who, as I entered, lifted his
head and gave me a sidelong look so charged with the languor of devotion
that he immediately became an object of interest. He was visiting each
of the altars in turn and kissing the balustrade beneath them. He was
alone in the church, and indeed in the whole region. There were no
beggars even at the door; they were plying their trade on the skirts
of the Carnival. In the entirely deserted place he alone knelt for
religion, and as I sat respectfully by it seemed to me I could hear in
the perfect silence the far-away uproar of the maskers. It was my
late impression of these frivolous people, I suppose, joined with the
extraordinary gravity of the young priest’s face--his pious fatigue,
his droning prayer and his isolation--that gave me just then and there a
supreme vision of the religious passion, its privations and resignations
and exhaustions and its terribly small share of amusement. He was
young and strong and evidently of not too refined a fibre to enjoy the
Carnival; but, planted there with his face pale with fasting and his
knees stiff with praying, he seemed so stern a satire on it and on
the crazy thousands who were preferring it to _his_ way, that I half
expected to see some heavenly portent out of a monastic legend come down
and confirm his choice. Yet I confess that though I wasn’t enamoured of
the Carnival myself, his seemed a grim preference and this forswearing
of the world a terrible game--a gaining one only if your zeal never
falters; a hard fight when it does. In such an hour, to a stout young
fellow like the hero of my anecdote, the smell of incense must seem
horribly stale and the muslin flowers and gilt candlesticks to figure no
great bribe. And it wouldn’t have helped him much to think that not so
very far away, just beyond the Forum, in the Corso, there was sport for
the million, and for nothing. I doubt on the other hand whether my young
priest had thought of this. He had made himself a temple out of the very
elements of his innocence, and his prayers followed each other too
fast for the tempter to slip in a whisper. And so, as I say, I found a
solider fact of human nature than the love of _coriandoli_.

One of course never passes the Colosseum without paying it one’s
respects--without going in under one of the hundred portals and crossing
the long oval and sitting down a while, generally at the foot of the
cross in the centre. I always feel, as I do so, as if I were seated in
the depths of some Alpine valley. The upper portions of the side toward
the Esquiline look as remote and lonely as an Alpine ridge, and you
raise your eyes to their rugged sky-line, drinking in the sun and
silvered by the blue air, with much the same feeling with which you
would take in a grey cliff on which an eagle might lodge. This roughly
mountainous quality of the great ruin is its chief interest; beauty
of detail has pretty well vanished, especially since the high-growing
wild-flowers have been plucked away by the new government, whose
functionaries, surely, at certain points of their task, must have felt
as if they shared the dreadful trade of those who gather samphire.
Even if you are on your way to the Lateran you won’t grudge the twenty
minutes it will take you, on leaving the Colosseum, to turn away under
the Arch of Constantine, whose noble battered bas-reliefs, with the
chain of tragic statues--fettered, drooping barbarians--round its
summit, I assume you to have profoundly admired, toward the piazzetta of
the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, on the slope of Caelian. No spot in
Rome can show a cluster of more charming accidents. The ancient brick
apse of the church peeps down into the trees of the little wooded walk
before the neighbouring church of San Gregorio, intensely venerable
beneath its excessive modernisation; and a series of heavy brick
buttresses, flying across to an opposite wall, overarches the short,
steep, paved passage which leads into the small square. This is flanked
on one side by the long mediaeval portico of the church of the two
saints, sustained by eight time-blackened columns of granite and marble.
On another rise the great scarce-windowed walls of a Passionist convent,
and on the third the portals of a grand villa, whose tall porter,
with his cockade and silver-topped staff, standing sublime behind his
grating, seems a kind of mundane St. Peter, I suppose, to the beggars
who sit at the church door or lie in the sun along the farther slope
which leads to the gate of the convent. The place always seems to me the
perfection of an out-of-the-way corner--a place you would think twice
before telling people about, lest you should find them there the next
time you were to go. It is such a group of objects, singly and in their
happy combination, as one must come to Rome to find at one’s house
door; but what makes it peculiarly a picture is the beautiful dark
red campanile of the church, which stands embedded in the mass of
the convent. It begins, as so many things in Rome begin, with a stout
foundation of antique travertine, and rises high, in delicately quaint
mediaeval brickwork--little tiers and apertures sustained on miniature
columns and adorned with small cracked slabs of green and yellow marble,
inserted almost at random. When there are three or four brown-breasted
contadini sleeping in the sun before the convent doors, and a departing
monk leading his shadow down over them, I think you will not find
anything in Rome more _sketchable_.

If you stop, however, to observe everything worthy of your water-colours
you will never reach St. John Lateran. My business was much less with
the interior of that vast and empty, that cold clean temple, which I
have never found peculiarly interesting, than with certain charming
features of its surrounding precinct--the crooked old court beside it,
which admits you to the Baptistery and to a delightful rear-view of
the queer architectural odds and ends that may in Rome compose a florid
ecclesiastical façade. There are more of these, a stranger jumble
of chance detail, of lurking recesses and wanton projections and
inexplicable windows, than I have memory or phrase for; but the gem
of the collection is the oddly perched peaked turret, with its yellow
travertine welded upon the rusty brickwork, which was not meant to be
suspected, and the brickwork retreating beneath and leaving it in the
odd position of a tower _under_ which you may see the sky. As to the
great front of the church overlooking the Porta San Giovanni, you are
not admitted behind the scenes; the term is quite in keeping, for the
architecture has a vastly theatrical air. It is extremely imposing--that
of St. Peter’s alone is more so; and when from far off on the Campagna
you see the colossal images of the mitred saints along the top standing
distinct against the sky, you forget their coarse construction and their
inflated draperies. The view from the great space which stretches from
the church steps to the city wall is the very prince of views. Just
beside you, beyond the great alcove of mosaic, is the Scala Santa, the
marble staircase which (says the legend) Christ descended under the
weight of Pilate’s judgment, and which all Christians must for ever
ascend on their knees; before you is the city gate which opens upon the
Via Appia Nuova, the long gaunt file of arches of the Claudian aqueduct,
their jagged ridge stretching away like the vertebral column of some
monstrous mouldering skeleton, and upon the blooming brown and purple
flats and dells of the Campagna and the glowing blue of the Alban
Mountains, spotted with their white, high-nestling towns; while to your
left is the great grassy space, lined with dwarfish mulberry-trees,
which stretches across to the damp little sister-basilica of Santa Croce
in Gerusalemme. During a former visit to Rome I lost my heart to this
idle tract,{1}

{1} Utterly overbuilt and gone--1909.

and wasted much time in sitting on the steps of the church and watching
certain white-cowled friars who were sure to be passing there for the
delight of my eyes. There are fewer friars now, and there are a great
many of the king’s recruits, who inhabit the ex-conventual barracks
adjoining Santa Croce and are led forward to practise their goose-step
on the sunny turf. Here too the poor old cardinals who are no longer
to be seen on the Pincio descend from their mourning-coaches and
relax their venerable knees. These members alone still testify to the
traditional splendour of the princes of the Church; for as they advance
the lifted black petticoat reveals a flash of scarlet stockings and
makes you groan at the victory of civilisation over colour.

{Illustration: THE FAÇADE OF ST. JOHN LATERAN, ROME.}

If St. John Lateran disappoints you internally, you have an easy
compensation in pacing the long lane which connects it with Santa
Maria Maggiore and entering the singularly perfect nave of that most
delightful of churches. The first day of my stay in Rome under the
old dispensation I spent in wandering at random through the city,
with accident for my _valet-de-place_. It served me to perfection and
introduced me to the best things; among others to an immediate happy
relation with Santa Maria Maggiore. First impressions, memorable
impressions, are generally irrecoverable; they often leave one the
wiser, but they rarely return in the same form. I remember, of my coming
uninformed and unprepared into the place of worship and of curiosity
that I have named, only that I sat for half an hour on the edge of the
base of one of the marble columns of the beautiful nave and enjoyed a
perfect revel of--what shall I call it?--taste, intelligence, fancy,
perceptive emotion? The place proved so endlessly suggestive that
perception became a throbbing confusion of images, and I departed with
a sense of knowing a good deal that is not set down in Murray. I have
seated myself more than once again at the base of the same column;
but you live your life only once, the parts as well as the whole. The
obvious charm of the church is the elegant grandeur of the nave--its
perfect shapeliness and its rich simplicity, its long double row of
white marble columns and its high flat roof, embossed with intricate
gildings and mouldings. It opens into a choir of an extraordinary
splendour of effect, which I recommend you to look out for of a fine
afternoon. At such a time the glowing western light, entering the high
windows of the tribune, kindles the scattered masses of colour into
sombre bright-ness, scintillates on the great solemn mosaic of the
vault, touches the porphyry columns of the superb baldachino with ruby
lights, and buries its shining shafts in the deep-toned shadows that
hang about frescoes and sculptures and mouldings. The deeper charm even
than in such things, however, is the social or historic note or tone or
atmosphere of the church--I fumble, you see, for my right expression;
the sense it gives you, in common with most of the Roman churches, and
more than any of them, of having been prayed in for several centuries by
an endlessly curious and complex society. It takes no great attention to
let it come to you that the authority of Italian Catholicism has lapsed
not a little in these days; not less also perhaps than to feel that, as
they stand, these deserted temples were the fruit of a society leavened
through and through by ecclesiastical manners, and that they formed for
ages the constant background of the human drama. They are, as one
may say, the _churchiest_ churches in Europe--the fullest of gathered
memories, of the experience of their office. There’s not a figure one
has read of in old-world annals that isn’t to be imagined on proper
occasion kneeling before the lamp-decked Confession beneath the altar of
Santa Maria Maggiore. One sees after all, however, even among the
most palpable realities, very much what the play of one’s imagination
projects there; and I present my remarks simply as a reminder that one’s
constant excursions into these places are not the least interesting
episodes of one’s walks in Rome.

I had meant to give a simple illustration of the church-habit, so to
speak, but I have given it at such a length as leaves scant space to
touch on the innumerable topics brushed by the pen that begins to take
Roman notes. It is by the aimless _flânerie_ which leaves you free to
follow capriciously every hint of entertainment that you get to know
Rome. The greater part of the life about you goes on in the streets;
and for an observer fresh from a country in which town scenery is at the
least monotonous incident and character and picture seem to abound. I
become conscious with compunction, let me hasten to add, that I have
launched myself thus on the subject of Roman churches and Roman walks
without so much as a preliminary allusion to St. Peter’s. One is apt to
proceed thither on rainy days with intentions of exercise--to put the
case only at that--and to carry these out body and mind. Taken as a walk
not less than as a church, St. Peter’s of course reigns alone. Even
for the profane “constitutional” it serves where the Boulevards, where
Piccadilly and Broadway, fall short, and if it didn’t offer to our use
the grandest area in the world it would still offer the most diverting.
Few great works of art last longer to the curiosity, to the perpetually
transcended attention. You think you have taken the whole thing in, but
it expands, it rises sublime again, and leaves your measure itself poor.
You never let the ponderous leather curtain bang down behind you--your
weak lift of a scant edge of whose padded vastness resembles the
liberty taken in folding back the parchment corner of some mighty folio
page--without feeling all former visits to have been but missed attempts
at apprehension and the actual to achieve your first real possession.
The conventional question is ever as to whether one hasn’t been
“disappointed in the size,” but a few honest folk here and there, I
hope, will never cease to say no. The place struck me from the first as
the hugest thing conceivable--a real exaltation of one’s idea of space;
so that one’s entrance, even from the great empty square which either
glares beneath the deep blue sky or makes of the cool far-cast shadow of
the immense front something that resembles a big slate-coloured country
on a map, seems not so much a going in somewhere as a going out. The
mere man of pleasure in quest of new sensations might well not know
where to better his encounter there of the sublime shock that brings
him, within the threshold, to an immediate gasping pause. There are
days when the vast nave looks mysteriously vaster than on others and
the gorgeous baldachino a longer journey beyond the far-spreading
tessellated plain of the pavement, and when the light has yet a quality
which lets things loom their largest, while the scattered figures--I
mean the human, for there are plenty of others--mark happily the scale
of items and parts. Then you have only to stroll and stroll and gaze and
gaze; to watch the glorious altar-canopy lift its bronze architecture,
its colossal embroidered contortions, like a temple within a temple, and
feel yourself, at the bottom of the abysmal shaft of the dome, dwindle
to a crawling dot.

Much of the constituted beauty resides in the fact that it is all
general beauty, that you are appealed to by no specific details, or that
these at least, practically never importunate, are as taken for granted
as the lieutenants and captains are taken for granted in a great
standing army--among whom indeed individual aspects may figure here
the rather shifting range of decorative dignity in which details, when
observed, often prove poor (though never not massive and substantially
precious) and sometimes prove ridiculous. The sculptures, with the sole
exception of Michael Angelo’s ineffable “Pieta,” which lurks obscurely
in a side-chapel--this indeed to my sense the rarest artistic
_combination_ of the greatest things the hand of man has produced--are
either bad or indifferent; and the universal incrustation of marble,
though sumptuous enough, has a less brilliant effect than much later
work of the same sort, that for instance of St. Paul’s without the
Walls. The supreme beauty is the splendidly sustained simplicity of the
whole. The thing represents a prodigious imagination extraordinarily
strained, yet strained, at its happiest pitch, without breaking. Its
happiest pitch I say, because this is the only creation of its strenuous
author in presence of which you are in presence of serenity. You
may invoke the idea of ease at St. Peter’s without a sense of
sacrilege--which you can hardly do, if you are at all spiritually
nervous, in Westminster Abbey or Notre Dame. The vast enclosed clearness
has much to do with the idea. There are no shadows to speak of, no
marked effects of shade; only effects of light innumerably--points at
which this element seems to mass itself in airy density and scatter
itself in enchanting gradations and cadences. It performs the office of
gloom or of mystery in Gothic churches; hangs like a rolling mist along
the gilded vault of the nave, melts into bright interfusion the mosaic
scintillations of the dome, clings and clusters and lingers, animates
the whole huge and otherwise empty shell. A good Catholic, I suppose, is
the same Catholic anywhere, before the grandest as well as the humblest
altars; but to a visitor not formally enrolled St. Peter’s speaks less
of aspiration than of full and convenient assurance. The soul infinitely
expands there, if one will, but all on its quite human level. It marvels
at the reach of our dreams and the immensity of our resources. To be so
impressed and put in our place, we say, is to be sufficiently “saved”;
we can’t be more than the heaven itself; and what specifically celestial
beauty such a show or such a substitute may lack it makes up for in
certainty and tangibility. And yet if one’s hours on the scene are not
actually spent in praying, the spirit seeks it again as for the finer
comfort, for the blessing, exactly, of its example, its protection and
its exclusion. When you are weary of the swarming democracy of your
fellow-tourists, of the unremunerative aspects of human nature on Corso
and Pincio, of the oppressively frequent combination of coronets on
carriage panels and stupid faces in carriages, of addled brains and
lacquered boots, of ruin and dirt and decay, of priests and beggars and
takers of advantage, of the myriad tokens of a halting civilisation, the
image of the great temple depresses the balance of your doubts, seems to
rise above even the highest tide of vulgarity and make you still believe
in the heroic will and the heroic act. It’s a relief, in other words, to
feel that there’s nothing but a cab-fare between your pessimism and one
of the greatest of human achievements.

{Illustration: THE COLONNADE OF ST. PETER, ROME.}

This might serve as a Lenten peroration to these remarks of mine which
have strayed so woefully from their jovial text, save that I ought
fairly to confess that my last impression of the Carnival was altogether
Carnivalesque.. The merry-making of Shrove Tuesday had life and
felicity; the dead letter of tradition broke out into nature and grace.
I pocketed my scepticism and spent a long afternoon on the Corso. Almost
every one was a masker, but you had no need to conform; the pelting rain
of confetti effectually disguised you. I can’t say I found it all
very exhilarating; but here and there I noticed a brighter episode--a
capering clown inflamed with contagious jollity, some finer humourist
forming a circle every thirty yards to crow at his indefatigable
sallies. One clever performer so especially pleased me that I should
have been glad to catch a glimpse of the natural man. You imagined for
him that he was taking a prodigious intellectual holiday and that
his gaiety was in inverse ratio to his daily mood. Dressed as a needy
scholar, in an ancient evening-coat and with a rusty black hat and
gloves fantastically patched, he carried a little volume carefully
under his arm. His humours were in excellent taste, his whole manner the
perfection of genteel comedy. The crowd seemed to relish him vastly,
and he at once commanded a glee-fully attentive audience. Many of his
sallies I lost; those I caught were excellent. His trick was often
to begin by taking some one urbanely and caressingly by the chin and
complimenting him on the _intelligenza della sua fisionomia_. I kept
near him as long as I could; for he struck me as a real ironic artist,
cherishing a disinterested, and yet at the same time a motived and
a moral, passion for the grotesque. I should have liked, however--if
indeed I shouldn’t have feared--to see him the next morning, or when he
unmasked that night over his hard-earned supper in a smoky _trattoria_.
As the evening went on the crowd thickened and became a motley press of
shouting, pushing, scrambling, everything but squabbling, revellers. The
rain of missiles ceased at dusk, but the universal deposit of chalk and
flour was trampled into a cloud made lurid by flaring pyramids of the
gas-lamps that replaced for the occasion the stingy Roman luminaries.
Early in the evening came off the classic exhibition of the
_moccoletti_, which I but half saw, like a languid reporter resigned
beforehand to be cashiered for want of enterprise. From the mouth of
a side-street, over a thousand heads, I caught a huge slow-moving
illuminated car, from which blue-lights and rockets and Roman candles
were in course of discharge, meeting all in a dim fuliginous glare
far above the house-tops. It was like a glimpse of some public orgy in
ancient Babylon. In the small hours of the morning, walking homeward
from a private entertainment, I found Ash Wednesday still kept at bay.
The Corso, flaring with light, smelt like a circus. Every one was taking
friendly liberties with every one else and using up the dregs of his
festive energy in convulsive hootings and gymnastics. Here and there
certain indefatigable spirits, clad all in red after the manner of
devils and leaping furiously about with torches, were supposed to
affright you. But they shared the universal geniality and bequeathed
me no midnight fears as a pretext for keeping Lent, the _carnevale dei
preti_, as I read in that profanely radical sheet the _Capitale_. Of
this too I have been having glimpses. Going lately into Santa Francesca
Romana, the picturesque church near the Temple of Peace, I found a feast
for the eyes--a dim crimson-toned light through curtained windows,
a great festoon of tapers round the altar, a bulging girdle of lamps
before the sunken shrine beneath, and a dozen white-robed Dominicans
scattered in the happiest composition on the pavement. It was better
than the _moccoletti_.

1873.



ROMAN RIDES


I shall always remember the first I took: out of the Porta del Popolo,
to where the Ponte Molle, whose single arch sustains a weight of
historic tradition, compels the sallow Tiber to flow between its four
great-mannered ecclesiastical statues, over the crest of the hill and
along the old posting-road to Florence. It was mild midwinter, the
season peculiarly of colour on the Roman Campagna; and the light was
full of that mellow purple glow, that tempered intensity, which haunts
the after-visions of those who have known Rome like the memory of some
supremely irresponsible pleasure. An hour away I pulled up and at the
edge of a meadow gazed away for some time into remoter distances. Then
and there, it seemed to me, I measured the deep delight of knowing
the Campagna. But I saw more things in it than I can easily tell. The
country rolled away around me into slopes and dells of long-drawn
grace, chequered with purple and blue and blooming brown. The lights and
shadows were at play on the Sabine Mountains--an alternation of tones
so exquisite as to be conveyed only by some fantastic comparison to
sapphire and amber. In the foreground a contadino in his cloak and
peaked hat jogged solitary on his ass; and here and there in the
distance, among blue undulations, some white village, some grey tower,
helped deliciously to make the picture the typical “Italian landscape”
 of old-fashioned art. It was so bright and yet so sad, so still and yet
so charged, to the supersensuous ear, with the murmur of an extinguished
life, that you could only say it was intensely and adorably strange,
could only impute to the whole overarched scene an unsurpassed
secret for bringing tears of appreciation to no matter how
ignorant--archaeologically ignorant--eyes. To ride once, in these
conditions, is of course to ride again and to allot to the Campagna a
generous share of the time one spends in Rome.

It is a pleasure that doubles one’s horizon, and one can scarcely say
whether it enlarges or limits one’s impression of the city proper. It
certainly makes St. Peter’s seem a trifle smaller and blunts the edge of
one’s curiosity in the Forum. It must be the effect of the experience,
at all extended, that when you think of Rome afterwards you will think
still respectfully and regretfully enough of the Vatican and the Pincio,
the streets and the picture-making street life; but will even more
wonder, with an irrepressible contraction of the heart, when again you
shall feel yourself bounding over the flower-smothered turf, or pass
from one framed picture to another beside the open arches of the
crumbling aqueducts. You look back at the City so often from some grassy
hill-top--hugely compact within its walls, with St. Peter’s overtopping
all things and yet seeming small, and the vast girdle of marsh and
meadow receding on all sides to the mountains and the sea--that you come
to remember it at last as hardly more than a respectable parenthesis in
a great sweep of generalisation. Within the walls, on the other hand,
you think of your intended ride as the most romantic of all your
possibilities; of the Campagna generally as an illimitable experience.
One’s rides certainly give Rome an inordinate scope for the
reflective--by which I suppose I mean after all the aesthetic and the
“esoteric”--life. To dwell in a city which, much as you grumble at
it, is after all very fairly a modern city; with crowds and shops and
theatres and cafes and balls and receptions and dinner-parties, and all
the modern confusion of social pleasures and pains; to have at your
door the good and evil of it all; and yet to be able in half an hour to
gallop away and leave it a hundred miles, a hundred years, behind, and
to look at the tufted broom glowing on a lonely tower-top in the still
blue air, and the pale pink asphodels trembling none the less for the
stillness, and the shaggy-legged shepherds leaning on their sticks in
motionless brotherhood with the heaps of ruin, and the scrambling goats
and staggering little kids treading out wild desert smells from the
top of hollow-sounding mounds; and then to come back through one of the
great gates and a couple of hours later find yourself in the “world,”
 dressed, introduced, entertained, inquiring, talking about “Middlemarch”
 to a young English lady or listening to Neapolitan songs from a
gentleman in a very low-cut shirt--all this is to lead in a manner a
double life and to gather from the hurrying hours more impressions than
a mind of modest capacity quite knows how to dispose of.

I touched lately upon this theme with a friend who, I fancied, would
understand me, and who immediately assured me that he had just spent a
day that this mingled diversity of sensation made to the days one spends
elsewhere what an uncommonly good novel may be to the daily paper.
“There was an air of idleness about it, if you will,” he said, “and it
was certainly pleasant enough to have been wrong. Perhaps, being after
all unused to long stretches of dissipation, this was why I had a
half-feeling that I was reading an odd chapter in the history of a
person very much more of a _héros de roman_ than myself.” Then he
proceeded to relate how he had taken a long ride with a lady whom he
extremely admired. “We turned off from the Tor di Quinto Road to that
castellated farm-house you know of--once a Ghibelline fortress--whither
Claude Lorraine used to come to paint pictures of which the surrounding
landscape is still so artistically, so compositionally, suggestive. We
went into the inner court, a cloister almost, with the carven capitals
of its loggia columns, and looked at a handsome child swinging shyly
against the half-opened door of a room whose impenetrable shadow, behind
her, made her, as it were, a sketch in bituminous water-colours. We
talked with the farmer, a handsome, pale, fever-tainted fellow with a
well-to-do air that didn’t in the least deter his affability from a turn
compatible with the acceptance of small coin; and then we galloped away
and away over the meadows which stretch with hardly a break to Veii. The
day was strangely delicious, with a cool grey sky and just a touch of
moisture in the air stirred by our rapid motion. The Campagna, in the
colourless even light, was more solemn and romantic than ever; and a
ragged shepherd, driving a meagre straggling flock, whom we stopped to
ask our way of, was a perfect type of pastoral, weather-beaten misery.
He was precisely the shepherd for the foreground of a scratchy etching.
There were faint odours of spring in the air, and the grass here and
there was streaked with great patches of daisies; but it was spring
with a foreknowledge of autumn, a day to be enjoyed with a substrain of
sadness, the foreboding of regret, a day somehow to make one feel as if
one had seen and felt a great deal--quite, as I say, like a _heros
de roman_. Touching such characters, it was the illustrious Pelham,
I think, who, on being asked if he rode, replied that he left those
violent exercises to the ladies. But under such a sky, in such an
air, over acres of daisied turf, a long, long gallop is certainly
a supersubtle joy. The elastic bound of your horse is the poetry
of motion; and if you are so happy as to add to it not the prose of
companionship riding comes almost to affect you as a spiritual exercise.
My gallop, at any rate,” said my friend, “threw me into a mood which
gave an extraordinary zest to the rest of the day.” He was to go to a
dinner-party at a villa on the edge of Rome, and Madam X--, who was also
going, called for him in her carriage. “It was a long drive,” he went
on, “through the Forum, past the Colosseum. She told me a long story
about a most interesting person. Toward the end my eyes caught through
the carriage window a slab of rugged sculptures. We were passing under
the Arch of Constantine. In the hall pavement of the villa is a rare
antique mosaic--one of the largest and most perfect; the ladies on their
way to the drawing-room trail over it the flounces of Worth. We drove
home late, and there’s my day.”

On your exit from most of the gates of Rome you have generally
half-an-hour’s progress through winding lanes, many of which are hardly
less charming than the open meadows. On foot the walls and high hedges
would vex you and spoil your walk; but in the saddle you generally
overtop them, to an endless peopling of the minor vision. Yet a Roman
wall in the springtime is for that matter almost as interesting as
anything it conceals. Crumbling grain by grain, coloured and mottled
to a hundred tones by sun and storm, with its rugged structure of brick
extruding through its coarse complexion of peeling stucco, its creeping
lacework of wandering ivy starred with miniature violets, and its wild
fringe of stouter flowers against the sky--it is as little as possible a
blank partition; it is practically a luxury of landscape. At the moment
at which I write, in mid-April, all the ledges and cornices are wreathed
with flaming poppies, nodding there as if they knew so well what faded
greys and yellows are an offset to their scarlet. But the best point in
a dilapidated enclosing surface of vineyard or villa is of course the
gateway, lifting its great arch of cheap rococo scroll-work, its balls
and shields and mossy dish-covers--as they always perversely figure
to me--and flanked with its dusky cypresses. I never pass one without
taking out my mental sketch-book and jotting it down as a vignette in
the insubstantial record of my ride. They are as sad and dreary as if
they led to the moated grange where Mariana waited in desperation for
something to happen; and it’s easy to take the usual inscription over
the porch as a recommendation to those who enter to renounce all hope of
anything but a glass of more or less agreeably acrid _vino romano_. For
what you chiefly see over the walls and at the end of the straight short
avenue of rusty cypresses are the appurtenances of a _vigna_--a couple
of acres of little upright sticks blackening in the sun, and a vast
sallow-faced, scantily windowed mansion, whose expression denotes
little of the life of the mind beyond what goes to the driving of a hard
bargain over the tasted hogsheads. If Mariana is there she certainly has
no pile of old magazines to beguile her leisure. The life of the mind,
if the term be in any application here not ridiculous, appears to any
asker of curious questions, as he wanders about Rome, the very thinnest
deposit of the past. Within the rococo gateway, which itself has a
vaguely esthetic self-consciousness, at the end of the cypress walk,
you will probably see a mythological group in rusty marble--a Cupid and
Psyche, a Venus and Paris, an Apollo and Daphne--the relic of an age
when a Roman proprietor thought it fine to patronise the arts. But I
imagine you are safe in supposing it to constitute the only allusion
savouring of culture that has been made on the premises for three or
four generations.

There is a franker cheerfulness--though certainly a proper amount of
that forlornness which lurks about every object to which the Campagna
forms a background--in the primitive little taverns where, on the
homeward stretch, in the waning light, you are often glad to rein up and
demand a bottle of their best. Their best and their worst are indeed
the same, though with a shifting price, and plain _vino bianco_ or _vino
rosso_ (rarely both) is the sole article of refreshment in which they
deal. There is a ragged bush over the door, and within, under a dusky
vault, on crooked cobble-stones, sit half-a-dozen contadini in their
indigo jackets and goatskin breeches and with their elbows on the table.
There is generally a rabble of infantile beggars at the door, pretty
enough in their dusty rags, with their fine eyes and intense Italian
smile, to make you forget your private vow of doing your individual best
I to make these people, whom you like so much, unlearn their old vices.
Was Porta Pia bombarded three years ago that Peppino should still grow
up to whine for a copper? But the Italian shells had no direct message
for Peppino’s stomach--and you are going to a dinner-party at a villa.
So Peppino “points” an instant for the copper in the dust and grows up a
Roman beggar. The whole little place represents the most primitive form
of hostelry; but along any of the roads leading out of the city you may
find establishments of a higher type, with Garibaldi, superbly mounted
and foreshortened, painted on the wall, or a lady in a low-necked dress
opening a fictive lattice with irresistible hospitality, and a yard with
the classic vine-wreathed arbour casting thin shadows upon benches and
tables draped and cushioned with the white dust from which the highways
from the gates borrow most of their local colour. None the less, I
say, you avoid the highroads, and, if you are a person of taste, don’t
grumble at the occasional need of following the walls of the city. City
walls, to a properly constituted American, can never be an object of
indifference; and it is emphatically “no end of a sensation” to pace in
the shadow of this massive cincture of Rome. I have found myself, as I
skirted its base, talking of trivial things, but never without a sudden
reflection on the deplorable impermanence of first impressions. A
twelvemonth ago the raw plank fences of a Boston suburb, inscribed with
the virtues of healing drugs, bristled along my horizon: now I glance
with idle eyes at a compacted antiquity in which a more learned sense
may read portentous dates and signs--Servius, Aurelius, Honorius. But
even to idle eyes the prodigious, the continuous thing bristles with
eloquent passages. In some places, where the huge brickwork is black
with time and certain strange square towers look down at you with still
blue eyes, the Roman sky peering through lidless loopholes, and there is
nothing but white dust in the road and solitude in the air, I might take
myself for a wandering Tartar touching on the confines of the Celestial
Empire. The wall of China must have very much such a gaunt robustness.
The colour of the Roman ramparts is everywhere fine, and their rugged
patchwork has been subdued by time and weather into a mellow harmony
that the brush only asks to catch up. On the northern side of the city,
behind the Vatican, St. Peter’s and the Trastevere, I have seen them
glowing in the late afternoon with the tones of ancient bronze and rusty
gold. Here at various points they are embossed with the Papal insignia,
the tiara with its flying bands and crossed keys; to the high style
of which the grace that attaches to almost any lost cause--even if not
quite the “tender” grace of a day that is dead--considerably adds a
style. With the dome of St. Peter’s resting on their cornice and the
hugely clustered architecture of the Vatican rising from them as from a
terrace, they seem indeed the valid bulwark of an ecclesiastical city.
Vain bulwark, alas! sighs the sentimental tourist, fresh from the meagre
entertainment of this latter Holy Week. But he may find monumental
consolation in this neighbourhood at a source where, as I pass, I never
fail to apply for it. At half-an-hour’s walk beyond Porta San Pancrazio,
beneath the wall of the Villa Doria, is a delightfully pompous
ecclesiastical gateway of the seventeenth century, erected by Paul V to
commemorate his restoration of the aqueducts through which the stream
bearing his name flows towards the fine florid portico protecting its
clear-sheeted outgush on the crest of the Janiculan. It arches across
the road in the most ornamental manner of the period, and one can hardly
pause before it without seeming to assist at a ten minutes’ revival of
old Italy--without feeling as if one were in a cocked hat and sword and
were coming up to Rome, in another mood than Luther’s, with a letter of
recommendation to the mistress of a cardinal.

The Campagna differs greatly on the two sides of the Tiber; and it is
hard to say which, for the rider, has the greater charm. The half-dozen
rides you may take from Porta San Giovanni possess the perfection of
traditional Roman interest and lead you through a far-strewn wilderness
of ruins--a scattered maze of tombs and towers and nameless fragments of
antique masonry. The landscape here has two great features; close before
you on one side is the long, gentle swell of the Alban Hills, deeply,
fantastically blue in most weathers, and marbled with the vague white
masses of their scattered towns and villas. It would be difficult to
draw the hard figure to a softer curve than that with which the heights
sweep from Albano to the plain; this a perfect example of the classic
beauty of line in the Italian landscape--that beauty which, when it
fills the background of a picture, makes us look in the foreground for
a broken column couched upon flowers and a shepherd piping to dancing
nymphs. At your side, constantly, you have the broken line of the
Claudian Aqueduct, carrying its broad arches far away into the plain.
The meadows along which it lies are not the smoothest in the world for
a gallop, but there is no pleasure greater than to wander near it. It
stands knee-deep in the flower-strewn grass, and its rugged piers are
hung with ivy as the columns of a church are draped for a festa. Every
archway is a picture, massively framed, of the distance beyond--of the
snow-tipped Sabines and lonely Soracte. As the spring advances the whole
Campagna smiles and waves with flowers; but I think they are nowhere
more rank and lovely than in the shifting shadow of the aqueducts, where
they muffle the feet of the columns and smother the half-dozen brooks
which wander in and out like silver meshes between the legs of a file
of giants. They make a niche for themselves too in every crevice and
tremble on the vault of the empty conduits. The ivy hereabouts in the
springtime is peculiarly brilliant and delicate; and though it cloaks
and muffles these Roman fragments far less closely than the castles
and abbeys of England it hangs with the light elegance of all Italian
vegetation. It is partly doubtless because their mighty outlines are
still unsoftened that the aqueducts are so impressive. They seem
the very source of the solitude in which they stand; they look like
architectural spectres and loom through the light mists of their grassy
desert, as you recede along the line, with the same insubstantial
vastness as if they rose out of Egyptian sands. It is a great
neighbourhood of ruins, many of which, it must be confessed, you have
applauded in many an album. But station a peasant with sheepskin
coat and bandaged legs in the shadow of a tomb or tower best known to
drawing-room art, and scatter a dozen goats on the mound above him, and
the picture has a charm which has not yet been sketched away.

The other quarter of the Campagna has wider fields and smoother turf and
perhaps a greater number of delightful rides; the earth is sounder, and
there are fewer pitfalls and ditches. The land for the most part lies
higher and catches more wind, and the grass is here and there for great
stretches as smooth and level as a carpet. You have no Alban Mountains
before you, but you have in the distance the waving ridge of the nearer
Apennines, and west of them, along the course of the Tiber, the long
seaward level of deep-coloured fields, deepening as they recede to the
blue and purple of the sea itself. Beyond them, of a very clear day,
you may see the glitter of the Mediterranean. These are the occasions
perhaps to remember most fondly, for they lead you to enchanting nooks,
and the landscape has details of the highest refinement. Indeed when my
sense reverts to the lingering impressions of so blest a time, it seems
a fool’s errand to have attempted to express them, and a waste of words
to do more than recommend the reader to go citywards at twilight of the
end of March, making for Porta Cavalleggieri, and note what he sees. At
this hour the Campagna is to the last point its melancholy self, and
I remember roadside “effects” of a strange and intense suggestiveness.
Certain mean, mouldering villas behind grass-grown courts have an
indefinably sinister look; there was one in especial of which it was
impossible not to argue that a despairing creature must have once
committed suicide there, behind bolted door and barred window, and that
no one has since had the pluck to go in and see why he never came out.
Every wayside mark of manners, of history, every stamp of the past in
the country about Rome, touches my sense to a thrill, and I may thus
exaggerate the appeal of very common things. This is the more likely
because the appeal seems ever to rise out of heaven knows what depths
of ancient trouble. To delight in the aspects of _sentient_ ruin might
appear a heartless pastime, and the pleasure, I confess, shows the note
of perversity. The sombre and the hard are as common an influence from
southern things as the soft and the bright, I think; sadness rarely
fails to assault a northern observer when he misses what he takes for
comfort. Beauty is no compensation for the loss, only making it more
poignant. Enough beauty of climate hangs over these Roman cottages and
farm-houses--beauty of light, of atmosphere and of vegetation; but their
charm for the maker-out of the stories in things is the way the golden
air shows off their desolation. Man lives more with Nature in Italy than
in New or than in Old England; she does more work for him and gives
him more holidays than in our short-summered climes, and his home is
therefore much more bare of devices for helping him to do without her,
forget her and forgive her. These reflections are perhaps the source of
the character you find in a moss-coated stone stairway climbing outside
of a wall; in a queer inner court, befouled with rubbish and drearily
bare of convenience; in an ancient quaintly carven well, worked with
infinite labour from an overhanging window; in an arbour of time-twisted
vines under which you may sit with your feet in the dirt and remember
as a dim fable that there are races for which the type of domestic
allurement is the parlour hearth-rug. For reasons apparent or otherwise
these things amuse me beyond expression, and I am never weary of staring
into gateways, of lingering by dreary, shabby, half-barbaric farm-yards,
of feasting a foolish gaze on sun-cracked plaster and unctuous indoor
shadows. I mustn’t forget, however, that it’s not for wayside effects
that one rides away behind St. Peter’s, but for the strong sense
of wandering over boundless space, of seeing great classic lines of
landscape, of watching them dispose themselves into pictures so full of
“style” that you can think of no painter who deserves to have you admit
that they suggest him--hardly knowing whether it is better pleasure
to gallop far and drink deep of air and grassy distance and the whole
delicious opportunity, or to walk and pause and linger, and try and
grasp some ineffaceable memory of sky and colour and outline. Your
pace can hardly help falling into a contemplative measure at the time,
everywhere so wonderful, but in Rome so persuasively divine, when the
winter begins palpably to soften and quicken. Far out on the Campagna,
early in February, you feel the first vague earthly emanations, which
in a few weeks come wandering into the heart of the city and throbbing
through the close, dark streets. Springtime in Rome is an immensely
poetic affair; but you must stand often far out in the ancient waste,
between grass and sky, to measure its deep, full, steadily accelerated
rhythm. The winter has an incontestable beauty, and is pre-eminently the
time of colour--the time when it is no affectation, but homely verity,
to talk about the “purple” tone of the atmosphere. As February comes and
goes your purple is streaked with green and the rich, dark bloom of the
distance begins to lose its intensity. But your loss is made up by other
gains; none more precious than that inestimable gain to the ear--the
disembodied voice of the lark. It comes with the early flowers, the
white narcissus and the cyclamen, the half-buried violets and the pale
anemones, and makes the whole atmosphere ring like a vault of tinkling
glass. You never see the source of the sound, and are utterly unable to
localise his note, which seems to come from everywhere at once, to be
some hundred-throated voice of the air. Sometimes you fancy you just
catch him, a mere vague spot against the blue, an intenser throb in the
universal pulsation of light. As the weeks go on the flowers multiply
and the deep blues and purples of the hills, turning to azure and
violet, creep higher toward the narrowing snow-line of the Sabines. The
temperature rises, the first hour of your ride you feel the heat, but
you beguile it with brushing the hawthorn-blossoms as you pass along the
hedges, and catching at the wild rose and honeysuckle; and when you get
into the meadows there is stir enough in the air to lighten the dead
weight of the sun. The Roman air, however, is not a tonic medicine, and
it seldom suffers exercise to be all exhilarating. It has always
seemed to me indeed part of the charm of the latter that your keenest
consciousness is haunted with a vague languor. Occasionally when the
sirocco blows that sensation becomes strange and exquisite. Then, under
the grey sky, before the dim distances which the south-wind mostly
brings with it, you seem to ride forth into a world from which all
hope has departed and in which, in spite of the flowers that make your
horse’s footfalls soundless, nothing is left save some queer probability
that your imagination is unable to measure, but from which it hardly
shrinks. This quality in the Roman element may now and then “relax”
 you almost to ecstasy; but a season of sirocco would be an overdose of
morbid pleasure. You may at any rate best feel the peculiar beauty of
the Campagna on those mild days of winter when the mere quality and
temper of the sunshine suffice to move the landscape to joy, and you
pause on the brown grass in the sunny stillness and, by listening long
enough, almost fancy you hear the shrill of the midsummer cricket. It
is detail and ornament that vary from month to month, from week to
week even, and make your returns to the same places a constant feast
of unexpectedness; but the great essential features of the prospect
preserve throughout the year the same impressive serenity. Soracte, be
it January or May, rises from its blue horizon like an island from the
sea and with an elegance of contour which no mood of the year can deepen
or diminish. You know it well; you have seen it often in the mellow
backgrounds of Claude; and it has such an irresistibly classic, academic
air that while you look at it you begin to take your saddle for a
faded old arm-chair in a palace gallery. A month’s rides in different
directions will show you a dozen prime Claudes. After I had seen them
all I went piously to the Doria gallery to refresh my memory of its
two famous specimens and to enjoy to the utmost their delightful air of
reference to something that had become a part of my personal experience.
Delightful it certainly is to feel the common element in one’s own
sensibility and those of a genius whom that element has helped to do
great things. Claude must have haunted the very places of one’s personal
preference and adjusted their divine undulations to his splendid scheme
of romance, his view of the poetry of life. He was familiar with aspects
in which there wasn’t a single uncompromising line. I saw a few days ago
a small finished sketch from his hand, in the possession of an American
artist, which was almost startling in its clear reflection of forms
unaltered by the two centuries that have dimmed and cracked the paint
and canvas.

This unbroken continuity of the impressions I have tried to indicate is
an excellent example of the intellectual background of all enjoyment in
Rome. It effectually prevents pleasure from becoming vulgar, for your
sensation rarely begins and ends with itself; it reverberates--it
recalls, commemorates, resuscitates something else. At least half the
merit of everything you enjoy must be that it suits you absolutely; but
the larger half here is generally that it has suited some one else and
that you can never flatter yourself you have discovered it. It has been
addressed to some use a million miles out of your range, and has had
great adventures before ever condescending to please you. It was in
admission of this truth that my discriminating friend who showed me the
Claudes found it impossible to designate a certain delightful region
which you enter at the end of an hour’s riding from Porta Cavalleggieri
as anything but Arcadia. The exquisite correspondence of the term in
this case altogether revived its faded bloom; here veritably the oaten
pipe must have stirred the windless air and the satyrs have laughed
among the brookside reeds. Three or four long grassy dells stretch away
in a chain between low hills over which delicate trees are so discreetly
scattered that each one is a resting place for a shepherd. The elements
of the scene are simple enough, but the composition has extraordinary
refinement. By one of those happy chances which keep observation in
Italy always in her best humour a shepherd had thrown himself down under
one of the trees in the very attitude of Meliboeus. He had been washing
his feet, I suppose, in the neighbouring brook, and had found it
pleasant afterwards to roll his short breeches well up on his thighs.
Lying thus in the shade, on his elbow, with his naked legs stretched out
on the turf and his soft peaked hat over his long hair crushed back
like the veritable bonnet of Arcady, he was exactly the figure of the
background of this happy valley. The poor fellow, lying there in
rustic weariness and ignorance, little fancied that he was a symbol of
old-world meanings to new-world eyes.

Such eyes may find as great a store of picturesque meanings in the
cork-woods of Monte Mario, tenderly loved of all equestrians. These are
less severely pastoral than our Arcadia, and you might more properly
lodge there a damosel of Ariosto than a nymph of Theocritus. Among them
is strewn a lovely wilderness of flowers and shrubs, and the whole place
has such a charming woodland air, that, casting about me the other day
for a compliment, I declared that it reminded me of New Hampshire. My
compliment had a double edge, and I had no sooner uttered it than I
smiled--or sighed--to perceive in all the undiscriminated botany about
me the wealth of detail, the idle elegance and grace of Italy alone, the
natural stamp of the land which has the singular privilege of making one
love her unsanctified beauty all but as well as those features of one’s
own country toward which nature’s small allowance doubles that of one’s
own affection. For this effect of casting a spell no rides have more
value than those you take in Villa Doria or Villa Borghese; or don’t
take, possibly, if you prefer to reserve these particular regions--the
latter in especial--for your walking hours. People do ride, however,
in both villas, which deserve honourable mention in this regard. Villa
Doria, with its noble site, its splendid views, its great groups of
stone-pines, so clustered and yet so individual, its lawns and flowers
and fountains, its altogether princely disposition, is a place where one
may pace, well mounted, of a brilliant day, with an agreeable sense of
its being rather a more elegant pastime to balance in one’s stirrups
than to trudge on even the smoothest gravel. But at Villa Borghese
the walkers have the best of it; for they are free of those adorable
outlying corners and bosky byways which the rumble of barouches never
reaches. In March the place becomes a perfect epitome of the spring.
You cease to care much for the melancholy greenness of the disfeatured
statues which has been your chief winter’s intimation of verdure; and
before you are quite conscious of the tender streaks and patches in the
great quaint grassy arena round which the Propaganda students, in their
long skirts, wander slowly, like dusky seraphs revolving the gossip of
Paradise, you spy the brave little violets uncapping their azure brows
beneath the high-stemmed pines. One’s walks here would take us too far,
and one’s pauses detain us too long, when in the quiet parts under
the wall one comes across a group of charming small school-boys in
full-dress suits and white cravats, shouting over their play in clear
Italian, while a grave young priest, beneath a tree, watches them over
the top of his book. It sounds like nothing, but the force behind it and
the frame round it, the setting, the air, the chord struck, make it a
hundred wonderful things.

1873.



ROMAN NEIGHBOURHOODS


I made a note after my first stroll at Albano to the effect that I had
been talking of the “picturesque” all my life, but that now for a change
I beheld it. I had been looking all winter across the Campagna at the
free-flowing outline of the Alban Mount, with its half-dozen towns
shining on its purple side even as vague sun-spots in the shadow of
a cloud, and thinking it simply an agreeable incident in the varied
background of Rome. But now that during the last few days I have been
treating it as a foreground, have been suffering St. Peter’s to play
the part of a small mountain on the horizon, with the Campagna swimming
mistily through the ambiguous lights and shadows of the interval, I find
the interest as great as in the best of the by-play of Rome. The walk
I speak of was just out of the village, to the south, toward the
neighbouring town of L’Ariccia, neighbouring these twenty years, since
the Pope (the late Pope, I was on the point of calling him) threw his
superb viaduct across the deep ravine which divides it from Albano. At
the risk of seeming to fantasticate I confess that the Pope’s having
built the viaduct--in this very recent antiquity--made me linger there
in a pensive posture and marvel at the march of history and at Pius the
Ninth’s beginning already to profit by the sentimental allowances we
make to vanished powers. An ardent _nero_ then would have had his own
way with me and obtained a frank admission that the Pope was indeed a
father to his people. Far down into the charming valley which slopes out
of the ancestral woods of the Chigis into the level Campagna winds the
steep stone-paved road at the bottom of which, in the good old days,
tourists in no great hurry saw the mules and oxen tackled to their
carriage for the opposite ascent. And indeed even an impatient tourist
might have been content to lounge back in his jolting chaise and look
out at the mouldy foundations of the little city plunging into the
verdurous flank of the gorge. Questioned, as a cherisher of quaintness,
as to the best “bit” hereabouts, I should certainly name the way in
which the crumbling black houses of these ponderous villages plant their
weary feet on the flowery edges of all the steepest chasms. Before you
enter one of them you invariably find yourself lingering outside its
pretentious old gateway to see it clutched and stitched to the stony
hillside by this rank embroidery of the wildest and bravest things that
grow. Just at this moment nothing is prettier than the contrast between
their dusky ruggedness and the tender, the yellow and pink and violet
fringe of that mantle. All this you may observe from the viaduct at
the Ariccia; but you must wander below to feel the full force of the
eloquence of our imaginary _papalino_. The pillars and arches of
pale grey peperino arise in huge tiers with a magnificent spring and
solidity. The older Romans built no better; and the work has a deceptive
air of being one of their sturdy bequests which help one to drop
another sigh over the antecedents the Italians of to-day are so eager to
repudiate. Will those _they_ give their descendants be as good?

At the Ariccia, in any case, I found a little square with a couple of
mossy fountains, occupied on one side by a vast dusky-faced Palazzo
Chigi and on the other by a goodly church with an imposing dome.
The dome, within, covers the whole edifice and is adorned with some
extremely elegant stucco-work of the seventeenth century. It gave a
great value to this fine old decoration that preparations were going
forward for a local festival and that the village carpenter was hanging
certain mouldy strips of crimson damask against the piers of the vaults.
The damask might have been of the seventeenth century too, and a group
of peasant-women were seeing it unfurled with evident awe. I regarded
it myself with interest--it seemed so the tattered remnant of a fashion
that had gone out for ever. I thought again of the poor disinherited
Pope, wondering whether, when such venerable frippery will no longer
bear the carpenter’s nails, any more will be provided. It was hard to
fancy anything but shreds and patches in that musty tabernacle. Wherever
you go in Italy you receive some such intimation as this of the shrunken
proportions of Catholicism, and every church I have glanced into on my
walks hereabouts has given me an almost pitying sense of it. One finds
one’s self at last--without fatuity, I hope--feeling sorry for the
solitude of the remaining faithful. It’s as if the churches had been
made so for the world, in its social sense, and the world had so
irrevocably moved away. They are in size out of all modern proportion to
the local needs, and the only thing at all alive in the melancholy waste
they collectively form is the smell of stale incense. There are pictures
on all the altars by respectable third-rate painters; pictures which I
suppose once were ordered and paid for and criticised by worshippers who
united taste with piety. At Genzano, beyond the Ariccia, rises on the
grey village street a pompous Renaissance temple whose imposing nave
and aisles would contain the population of a capital. But where is the
_taste_ of the Ariccia and Genzano? Where are the choice spirits for
whom Antonio Raggi modelled the garlands of his dome and a hundred
clever craftsmen imitated Guido and Caravaggio? Here and there, from the
pavement, as you pass, a dusky crone interlards her devotions with more
profane importunities, or a grizzled peasant on rusty-jointed knees,
tilted forward with his elbows on a bench, reveals the dimensions of
the patch in his blue breeches. But where is the connecting link between
Guido and Caravaggio and those poor souls for whom an undoubted original
is only a something behind a row of candlesticks, of no very clear
meaning save that you must bow to it? You find a vague memory of it at
best in the useless grandeurs about you, and you seem to be looking at a
structure of which the stubborn earth-scented foundations alone remain,
with the carved and painted shell that bends above them, while the
central substance has utterly crumbled away.

I shall seem to have adopted a more meditative pace than befits a brisk
constitutional if I say that I also fell a-thinking before the shabby
façade of the old Chigi Palace. But it seemed somehow in its grey
forlornness to respond to the sadly superannuated expression of the
opposite church; and indeed in any condition what self-respecting
cherisher of quaintness can forbear to do a little romancing in the
shadow of a provincial palazzo? On the face of the matter, I know,
there is often no very salient peg to hang a romance on. A sort of dusky
blankness invests the establishment, which has often a rather imbecile
old age. But a hundred brooding secrets lurk in this inexpressive mask,
and the Chigi Palace did duty for me in the suggestive twilight as
the most haunted of houses. Its basement walls sloped outward like the
beginning of a pyramid, and its lower windows were covered with massive
iron cages. Within the doorway, across the court, I saw the pale glimmer
of flowers on a terrace, and I made much, for the effect of the roof, of
a great covered loggia or belvedere with a dozen window-panes missing
or mended with paper. Nothing gives one a stronger impression of old
manners than an ancestral palace towering in this haughty fashion over
a shabby little town; you hardly stretch a point when you call it an
impression of feudalism. The scene may pass for feudal to American eyes,
for which a hundred windows on a facade mean nothing more exclusive than
a hotel kept (at the most invidious) on the European plan. The mouldy
grey houses on the steep crooked street, with their black cavernous
archways pervaded by bad smells, by the braying of asses and by human
intonations hardly more musical, the haggard and tattered peasantry
staring at you with hungry-heavy eyes, the brutish-looking monks
(there are still enough to point a moral), the soldiers, the mounted
constables, the dirt, the dreariness, the misery, and the dark
over-grown palace frowning over it all from barred window and guarded
gateway--what more than all this do we dimly descry in a mental image of
the dark ages? For all his desire to keep the peace with the vivid image
of things if it be only vivid enough, the votary of this ideal may well
occasionally turn over such values with the wonder of what one takes
them as paying for. They pay sometimes for such sorry “facts of life.”
 At Genzano, out of the very midst of the village squalor, rises the
Palazzo Cesarini, separated from its gardens by a dirty lane. Between
peasant and prince, the contact is unbroken, and one would suppose
Italian good-nature sorely taxed by their mutual allowances; that the
prince in especial must cultivate a firm impervious shell. There are
no comfortable townsfolk about him to remind him of the blessings of a
happy mediocrity of fortune. When he looks out of his window he sees a
battered old peasant against a sunny wall sawing off his dinner from a
hunch of black bread.

I must confess, however, that “feudal” as it amused me to find the
little piazza of the Ariccia, it appeared to threaten in no manner an
exasperated rising. On the contrary, the afternoon being cool, many of
the villagers were contentedly muffled in those ancient cloaks, lined
with green baize, which, when tossed over the shoulder and surmounted
with a peaked hat, form one of the few lingering remnants of “costume”
 in Italy; others were tossing wooden balls light-heartedly enough on the
grass outside the town. The egress on this side is under a great stone
archway thrown out from the palace and surmounted with the family arms.
Nothing could better confirm your theory that the townsfolk are groaning
serfs. The road leads away through the woods, like many of the roads
hereabouts, among trees less remarkable for their size than for their
picturesque contortions and posturings. The woods, at the moment at
which I write, are full of the raw green light of early spring, a _jour_
vastly becoming to the various complexions of the wild flowers that
cover the waysides. I have never seen these untended parterres in such
lovely exuberance; the sturdiest pedestrian becomes a lingering idler if
he allows them to catch his eye. The pale purple cyclamen, with its hood
thrown back, stands up in masses as dense as tulip-beds; and here and
there in the duskier places great sheets of forget-me-not seem to exhale
a faint blue mist. These are the commonest plants; there are dozens
more I know no name for--a rich profusion in especial of a beautiful
five-petalled flower whose white texture is pencilled with hair-strokes
certain fair copyists I know of would have to hold their breath to
imitate. An Italian oak has neither the girth nor the height of its
English brothers, but it contrives in proportion to be perhaps even
more effective. It crooks its back and twists its arms and clinches its
hundred fists with the queerest extravagance, and wrinkles its bark
into strange rugosities from which its first scattered sprouts of yellow
green seem to break out like a morbid fungus. But the tree which has the
greatest charm to northern eyes is the cold grey-green ilex, whose clear
crepuscular shade drops against a Roman sun a veil impenetrable, yet not
oppressive. The ilex has even less colour than the cypress, but it is
much less funereal, and a landscape in which it is frequent may still
be said to smile faintly, though by no means to laugh. It abounds in
old Italian gardens, where the boughs are trimmed and interlocked into
vaulted corridors in which, from point to point, as in the niches of
some dimly frescoed hall, you see mildewed busts stare at you with a
solemnity which the even grey light makes strangely intense. A
humbler relative of the ilex, though it does better things than help
broken-nosed emperors to look dignified, is the olive, which covers many
of the neighbouring hillsides with its little smoky puffs of foliage. A
stroke of composition I never weary of is that long blue stretch of the
Campagna which makes a high horizon and rests on this vaporous base of
olive-tops. A reporter intent upon a simile might liken it to the ocean
seen above the smoke of watch-fires kindled on the strand.

To do perfect justice to the wood-walk away from the Ariccia I ought
to touch upon the birds that were singing vespers as I passed. But the
reader would find my rhapsody as poor entertainment as the programme of
a concert he had been unable to attend. I have no more learning about
bird-music than would help me to guess that a dull dissyllabic refrain
in the heart of the wood came from the cuckoo; and when at moments I
heard a twitter of fuller tone, with a more suggestive modulation,
I could only _hope_ it was the nightingale. I have listened for the
nightingale more than once in places so charming that his song would
have seemed but the articulate expression of their beauty, and have
never heard much beyond a provoking snatch or two--a prelude that came
to nothing. In spite of a natural grudge, however, I generously believe
him a great artist or at least a great genius--a creature who despises
any prompting short of absolute inspiration. For the rich, the
multitudinous melody around me seemed but the offering to my ear of the
prodigal spirit of tradition. The wood was ringing with sound because it
was twilight, spring and Italy. It was also because of these good things
and various others besides that I relished so keenly my visit to the
Capuchin convent upon which I emerged after half-an-hour in the wood.
It stands above the town on the slope of the Alban Mount, and its wild
garden climbs away behind it and extends its melancholy influence.
Before it is a small stiff avenue of trimmed live-oaks which conducts
you to a grotesque little shrine beneath the staircase ascending to the
church. Just here, if you are apt to grow timorous at twilight, you may
take a very pretty fright; for as you draw near you catch behind the
grating of the shrine the startling semblance of a gaunt and livid monk.
A sickly lamplight plays down upon his face, and he stares at you from
cavernous eyes with a dreadful air of death in life. Horror of horrors,
you murmur, is this a Capuchin penance? You discover of course in a
moment that it is only a Capuchin joke, that the monk is a pious dummy
and his spectral visage a matter of the paint-brush. You resent his
intrusion on the surrounding loveliness; and as you proceed to demand
entertainment at their convent you pronounce the Capuchins very foolish
fellows. This declaration, as I made it, was supported by the conduct of
the simple brother who opened the door of the cloister in obedience to
my knock and, on learning my errand, demurred about admitting me at
so late an hour. If I would return on the morrow morning he’d be most
happy. He broke into a blank grin when I assured him that this was the
very hour of my desire and that the garish morning light would do no
justice to the view. These were mysteries beyond his ken, and it was
only his good-nature (of which he had plenty) and not his imagination
that was moved. So that when, passing through the narrow cloister and
out upon the grassy terrace, I saw another cowled brother standing with
folded hands profiled against the sky, in admirable harmony with the
scene, I questioned his knowing the uses for which he is still most
precious. This, however, was surely too much to ask of him, and it was
cause enough for gratitude that, though he was there before me, he was
not a fellow-tourist with an opera-glass slung over his shoulder. There
was support to my idea of the convent in the expiring light, for the
scene was in its way unsurpassable. Directly below the terrace lay the
deep-set circle of the Alban Lake, shining softly through the light
mists of evening. This beautiful pool--it is hardly more--occupies the
crater of a prehistoric volcano, a perfect cup, shaped and smelted by
furnace-fires. The rim of the cup, rising high and densely wooded round
the placid stone-blue water, has a sort of natural artificiality. The
sweep and contour of the long circle are admirable; never was a lake so
charmingly lodged. It is said to be of extraordinary depth; and though
stone-blue water seems at first a very innocent substitute for boiling
lava, it has a sinister look which betrays its dangerous antecedents.
The winds never reach it and its surface is never ruffled; but its
deep-bosomed placidity seems to cover guilty secrets, and you fancy it
in communication with the capricious and treacherous forces of nature.
Its very colour is of a joyless beauty, a blue as cold and opaque as a
solidified sheet of lava. Streaked and wrinkled by a mysterious motion
of its own, it affects the very type of a legendary pool, and I could
easily have believed that I had only to sit long enough into the evening
to see the ghosts of classic nymphs and naiads cleave its sullen flood
and beckon me with irresistible arms. Is it because its shores are
haunted with these vague Pagan influences that two convents have risen
there to purge the atmosphere? From the Capuchin terrace you look
across at the grey Franciscan monastery of Palazzuola, which is not less
romantic certainly than the most obstinate myth it may have exorcised.
The Capuchin garden is a wild tangle of great trees and shrubs and
clinging, trembling vines which in these hard days are left to take care
of themselves; a weedy garden, if there ever was one, but none the less
charming for that, in the deepening dusk, with its steep grassy vistas
struggling away into impenetrable shadow. I braved the shadow for the
sake of climbing upon certain little flat-roofed crumbling pavilions
that rise from the corners of the further wall and give you a wider and
lovelier view of lake and hills and sky.

I have perhaps justified to the reader the mild proposition with which I
started--convinced him, that is, that Albano is worth a walk. It may be
a different walk each day, moreover, and not resemble its predecessors
save by its keeping in the shade. “Galleries” the roads are prettily
called, and with the justice that they are vaulted and draped overhead
and hung with an immense succession of pictures. As you follow the few
miles from Genzano to Frascati you have perpetual views of the Campagna
framed by clusters of trees; the vast iridescent expanse of which
completes the charm and comfort of your verdurous dusk. I compared it
just now to the sea, and with a good deal of truth, for it has the same
incalculable lights and shades, the same confusion of glitter and gloom.
But I have seen it at moments--chiefly in the misty twilight--when it
resembled less the waste of waters than something more portentous, the
land itself in fatal dissolution. I could believe the fields to be dimly
surging and tossing and melting away into quicksands, and that one’s
very last chance of an impression was taking place. A view, however,
which has the merit of being really as interesting as it seems, is that
of the Lake of Nemi; which the enterprising traveller hastens to compare
with its sister sheet of Albano. Comparison in this case is particularly
odious, for in order to prefer one lake to the other you have to
discover faults where there are none. Nemi is a smaller circle, but lies
in a deeper cup, and if with no grey Franciscan pile to guard its woody
shores, at least, in the same position, the little high-perched black
town to which it gives its name and which looks across at Genzano on the
opposite shore as Palazzuola regards Castel Gandolfo. The walk from the
Ariccia to Genzano is charming, most of all when it reaches a certain
grassy piazza from which three public avenues stretch away under a
double row of stunted and twisted elms. The Duke Cesarini has a villa at
Genzano--I mentioned it just now--whose gardens overhang the lake; but
he has also a porter in a faded rakish-looking livery who shakes his
head at your proffered franc unless you can reinforce it with a permit
countersigned at Rome. For this annoying complication of dignities he is
justly to be denounced; but I forgive him for the sake of that ancestor
who in the seventeenth century planted this shady walk. Never was a
prettier approach to a town than by these low-roofed light-chequered
corridors. Their only defect is that they prepare you for a town of
rather more rustic coquetry than Genzano exhibits. It has quite the
usual allowance, the common cynicism, of accepted decay, and looks
dismally as if its best families had all fallen into penury together and
lost the means of keeping anything better than donkeys in their great
dark, vaulted basements and mending their broken window-panes with
anything better than paper. It was on the occasion of this drear Genzano
that I had a difference of opinion with a friend who maintained that
there was nothing in the same line so pretty in Europe as a pretty New
England village. The proposition seemed to a cherisher of quaintness on
the face of it inacceptable; but calmly considered it has a measure of
truth. I am not fond of chalk-white painted planks, certainly; I vastly
prefer the dusky tones of ancient stucco and peperino; but I succumb
on occasion to the charms of a vine-shaded porch, of tulips and dahlias
glowing in the shade of high-arching elms, of heavy-scented lilacs
bending over a white paling to brush your cheek.

“I prefer Siena to Lowell,” said my friend; “but I prefer Farmington to
such a thing as this.” In fact an Italian village is simply a miniature
Italian city, and its various parts imply a town of fifty times the
size. At Genzano are neither dahlias nor lilacs, and no odours but
foul ones. Flowers and other graces are all confined to the high-walled
precincts of Duke Cesarini, to which you must obtain admission twenty
miles away. The houses on the other hand would generally lodge a New
England cottage, porch and garden and high-arching elms included, in
one of their cavernous basements. These vast grey dwellings are all of
a fashion denoting more generous social needs than any they serve
nowadays. They speak of better days and of a fabulous time when Italy
was either not shabby or could at least “carry off” her shabbiness. For
what follies are they doing penance? Through what melancholy stages have
their fortunes ebbed? You ask these questions as you choose the shady
side of the long blank street and watch the hot sun glare upon the
dust-coloured walls and pause before the fetid gloom of open doors.

I should like to spare a word for mouldy little Nemi, perched upon a
cliff high above the lake, at the opposite side; but after all, when I
had climbed up into it from the water-side, passing beneath a great arch
which I suppose once topped a gateway, and counted its twenty or thirty
apparent inhabitants peeping at me from black doorways, and looked at
the old round tower at whose base the village clusters, and declared
that it was all queer, queer, desperately queer, I had said all that is
worth saying about it. Nemi has a much better appreciation of its
lovely position than Genzano, where your only view of the lake is from a
dunghill behind one of the houses. At the foot of the round tower is
an overhanging terrace, from which you may feast your eyes on the only
freshness they find in these dusky human hives--the blooming seam, as
one may call it, of strong wild flowers which binds the crumbling walls
to the face of the cliff. Of Rocca di Papa I must say as little, It
consorted generally with the bravery of its name; but the only object
I made a note of as I passed through it on my way to Monte Cavo, which
rises directly above it, was a little black house with a tablet in its
face setting forth that Massimo d’ Azeglio had dwelt there. The story
of his sojourn is not the least attaching episode in his delightful
_Ricordi_. From the summit of Monte Cavo is a prodigious view, which you
may enjoy with whatever good-nature is left you by the reflection that
the modern Passionist convent occupying this admirable site was erected
by the Cardinal of York (grandson of James II) on the demolished ruins
of an immemorial temple of Jupiter: the last foolish act of a foolish
race. For me I confess this folly spoiled the convent, and the convent
all but spoiled the view; for I kept thinking how fine it would have
been to emerge upon the old pillars and sculptures from the lava
pavement of the Via Triumphalis, which wanders grass-grown and untrodden
through the woods. A convent, however, which nothing spoils is that of
Palazzuola, to which I paid my respects on this same occasion. It rises
on a lower spur of Monte Cavo, on the edge, as we have seen, of the
Alban Lake, and though it occupies a classic site, that of early Alba
Longa, it displaced nothing more precious than memories and legends so
dim that the antiquarians are still quarrelling about them. It has a
meagre little church and the usual sham Perugino with a couple of tinsel
crowns for the Madonna and the Infant inserted into the canvas; and it
has also a musty old room hung about with faded portraits and charts and
queer ecclesiastical knick-knacks, which borrowed a mysterious
interest from the sudden assurance of the simple Franciscan brother who
accompanied me that it was the room of the Son of the King of Portugal.
But my peculiar pleasure was the little thick-shaded garden which
adjoins the convent and commands from its massive artificial foundations
an enchanting view of the lake. Part of it is laid out in cabbages and
lettuce, over which a rubicund brother, with his frock tucked up, was
bending with a solicitude which he interrupted to remove his skullcap
and greet me with the unsophisticated sweet-humoured smile that every
now and then in Italy does so much to make you forget the ambiguities of
monachism. The rest is occupied by cypresses and other funereal
umbrage, making a dank circle round an old cracked fountain black with
water-moss. The parapet of the terrace is furnished with good stone
seats where you may lean on your elbows to gaze away a sunny half-hour
and, feeling the general charm of the scene, declare that the best
mission of such a country in the world has been simply to produce, in
the way of prospect and picture, these masterpieces of mildness. Mild
here as a dream the whole attained effect, mild as resignation, mild
as one’s thoughts of another life. Such a session wasn’t surely an
experience of the irritable flesh; it was the deep degustation, on a
summer’s day, of something immortally expressed by a man of genius.

{Illustration: CASTEL GANDOLFO.}

From Albano you may take your way through several ancient little cities
to Frascati, a rival centre of _villeggiatura_, the road following the
hillside for a long morning’s walk and passing through alternations
of denser and clearer shade--the dark vaulted alleys of ilex and the
brilliant corridors of fresh-sprouting oak. The Campagna is beneath you
continually, with the sea beyond Ostia receiving the silver arrows of
the sun upon its chased and burnished shield, and mighty Rome, to the
north, lying at no great length in the idle immensity around it.
The highway passes below Castel Gandolfo, which stands perched on an
eminence behind a couple of gateways surmounted with the Papal tiara and
twisted cordon; and I have more than once chosen the roundabout road for
the sake of passing beneath these pompous insignia. Castel Gandolfo is
indeed an ecclesiastical village and under the peculiar protection of
the Popes, whose huge summer-palace rises in the midst of it like a
rural Vatican. In speaking of the road to Frascati I necessarily revert
to my first impressions, gathered on the occasion of the feast of the
Annunziata, which falls on the 25th of March and is celebrated by
a peasants’ fair. As Murray strongly recommends you to visit this
spectacle, at which you are promised a brilliant exhibition of all
the costumes of modern Latium, I took an early train to Frascati and
measured, in company with a prodigious stream of humble pedestrians, the
half-hour’s interval to Grotta Ferrata, where the fair is held. The road
winds along the hillside, among the silver-sprinkled olives and through
a charming wood where the ivy seemed tacked upon the oaks by women’s
fingers and the birds were singing to the late anemones. It was
covered with a very jolly crowd of vulgar pleasure-takers, and the only
creatures not in a state of manifest hilarity were the pitiful
little overladen, overbeaten donkeys (who surely deserve a chapter to
themselves in any description of these neighbourhoods) and the horrible
beggars who were thrusting their sores and stumps at you from under
every tree. Every one was shouting, singing, scrambling, making light of
dust and distance and filling the air with that childlike jollity which
the blessed Italian temperament never goes roundabout to conceal. There
is no crowd surely at once so jovial and so gentle as an Italian crowd,
and I doubt if in any other country the tightly packed third-class
car in which I went out from Rome would have introduced me to so much
smiling and so little swearing. Grotta Ferrata is a very dirty little
village, with a number of raw new houses baking on the hot hillside and
nothing to charm the fond gazer but its situation and its old fortified
abbey. After pushing about among the shabby little booths and declining
a number of fabulous bargains in tinware, shoes and pork, I was glad
to retire to a comparatively uninvaded corner of the abbey and
divert myself with the view. This grey ecclesiastical stronghold is
a thoroughly scenic affair, hanging over the hillside on plunging
foundations which bury themselves among the dense olives. It has massive
round towers at the corners and a grass-grown moat, enclosing a church
and a monastery. The fore-court, within the abbatial gateway, now serves
as the public square of the village and in fair-time of course witnesses
the best of the fun. The best of the fun was to be found in certain
great vaults and cellars of the abbey, where wine was in free flow
from gigantic hogsheads. At the exit of these trickling grottos shady
trellises of bamboo and gathered twigs had been improvised, and under
them a grand guzzling proceeded. All of which was so in the fine old
style that I was roughly reminded of the wedding-feast of Gamacho. The
banquet was far less substantial of course, but it had a note as of
immemorial manners that couldn’t fail to suggest romantic analogies to a
pilgrim from the land of no cooks. There was a feast of reason close
at hand, however, and I was careful to visit the famous frescoes of
Domenichino in the adjoining church. It sounds rather brutal perhaps to
say that, when I came back into the clamorous little piazza, the sight
of the peasants swilling down their sour wine appealed to me more than
the masterpieces--Murray calls them so--of the famous Bolognese. It
amounts after all to saying that I prefer Teniers to Domenichino; which
I am willing to let pass for the truth. The scene under the rickety
trellises was the more suggestive of Teniers that there were no costumes
to make it too Italian. Murray’s attractive statement on this point was,
like many of his statements, much truer twenty years ago than to-day.
Costume is gone or fast going; I saw among the women not a single
crimson bodice and not a couple of classic head-cloths. The poorer sort,
dressed in vulgar rags of no fashion and colour, and the smarter ones
in calico gowns and printed shawls of the vilest modern fabric, had
honoured their dusky tresses but with rich applications of grease. The
men are still in jackets and breeches, and, with their slouched and
pointed hats and open-breasted shirts and rattling leather leggings,
may remind one sufficiently of the Italian peasant as he figured in the
woodcuts familiar to our infancy. After coming out of the church I found
a delightful nook--a queer little terrace before a more retired and
tranquil drinking-shop--where I called for a bottle of wine to help me
to guess why I “drew the line” at Domenichino.

This little terrace was a capricious excrescence at the end of
the piazza, itself simply a greater terrace; and one reached it,
picturesquely, by ascending a short inclined plane of grass-grown
cobble-stones and passing across a little dusky kitchen through whose
narrow windows the light of the mighty landscape beyond touched up old
earthen pots. The terrace was oblong and so narrow that it held but a
single small table, placed lengthwise; yet nothing could be pleasanter
than to place one’s bottle on the polished parapet. Here you seemed
by the time you had emptied it to be swinging forward into
immensity--hanging poised above the Campagna. A beautiful gorge with
a twinkling stream wandered down the hill far below you, beyond which
Marino and Castel Gandolfo peeped above the trees. In front you could
count the towers of Rome and the tombs of the Appian Way. I don’t know
that I came to any very distinct conclusion about Domenichino; but it
was perhaps because the view was perfection that he struck me as more
than ever mediocrity. And yet I don’t think it was one’s bottle of wine,
either, that made one after all maudlin about him; it was the sense of
the foolishly usurped in his tenure of fame, of the derisive in his ever
having been put forward. To say so indeed savours of flogging a dead
horse, but it is surely an unkind stroke of fate for him that Murray
assures ten thousand Britons every winter in the most emphatic manner
that his Communion of St. Jerome is the second finest picture in the
world. If this were so one would certainly here in Rome, where such
institutions are convenient, retire into the very nearest convent; with
such a world one would have a standing quarrel. And yet this sport
of destiny is an interesting case, in default of being an interesting
painter, and I would take a moderate walk, in most moods, to see one of
his pictures. He is so supremely good an example of effort detached from
inspiration and school-merit divorced from spontaneity, that one of his
fine frigid performances ought to hang in a conspicuous place in every
academy of design. Few things of the sort contain more urgent lessons
or point a more precious moral; and I would have the head-master in the
drawing-school take each ingenuous pupil by the hand and lead him up
to the Triumph of David or the Chase of Diana or the red-nosed Persian
Sibyl and make him some such little speech as the following: “This great
picture, my son, was hung here to show you how you must _never_ paint;
to give you a perfect specimen of what in its boundless generosity the
providence of nature created for our fuller knowledge--an artist whose
development was a negation. The great thing in art is charm, and the
great thing in charm is spontaneity. Domenichino, having talent, is here
and there an excellent model--he was devoted, conscientious, observant,
industrious; but now that we’ve seen pretty well what can simply be
learned do its best, these things help him little with us, because his
imagination was cold. It loved nothing, it lost itself in nothing, its
efforts never gave it the heartache. It went about trying this and
that, concocting cold pictures after cold receipts, dealing in the
second-hand, in the ready-made, and putting into its performances
a little of everything but itself. When you see so many things in a
composition you might suppose that among them all some charm might be
born; yet they’re really but the hundred mouths through which you may
hear the unhappy thing murmur ‘I’m dead!’ It’s by the simplest thing it
has that a picture lives--by its temper. Look at all the great talents,
Domenichino as well as at Titian; but think less of dogma than of plain
nature, and I can almost promise you that yours will remain true.” This
is very little to what the aesthetic sage I have imagined _might_ say;
and we are after all unwilling to let our last verdict be an unkind one
on any great bequest of human effort. The faded frescoes in the chapel
at Grotta Ferrata leave us a memory the more of man’s effort to dream
beautifully; and they thus mingle harmoniously enough with our multifold
impressions of Italy, where dreams and realities have both kept such
pace and so strangely diverged. It was absurd--that was the truth--to
be critical at all among the appealing old Italianisms round me and to
treat the poor exploded Bolognese more harshly than, when I walked
back to Frascati, I treated the charming old water-works of the Villa
Aldobrandini. I confound these various products of antiquated art in a
genial absolution, and should like especially to tell how fine it was to
watch this prodigious fountain come tumbling down its channel of mouldy
rock-work, through its magnificent vista of ilex, to the fantastic old
hemicycle where a dozen tritons and naiads sit posturing to receive it.
The sky above the ilexes was incredibly blue and the ilexes themselves
incredibly black; and to see the young white moon peeping above the
trees you could easily have fancied it was midnight. I should like
furthermore to expatiate on Villa Mondragone, the most grandly
impressive hereabouts, of all such domestic monuments. The Casino in the
midst is as big as the Vatican, which it strikingly resembles, and
it stands perched on a terrace as vast as the parvise of St. Peter’s,
looking straight away over black cypress-tops into the shining vastness
of the Campagna. Everything somehow seemed immense and solemn; there
was nothing small but certain little nestling blue shadows on the Sabine
Mountains, to which the terrace seems to carry you wonderfully near.
The place been for some time lost to private uses, since it figures
fantastically in a novel of George Sand--_La Daniella_--and now, in
quite another way, as a Jesuit college for boys. The afternoon was
perfect, and as it waned it filled the dark alleys with a wonderful
golden haze. Into this came leaping and shouting a herd of little
collegians with a couple of long-skirted Jesuits striding at their
heels. We all know--I make the point for my antithesis--the monstrous
practices of these people; yet as I watched the group I verily believe
I declared that if I had a little son he should go to Mondragone and
receive their crooked teachings for the sake of the other memories, the
avenues of cypress and ilex, the view of the Campagna, the atmosphere
of antiquity. But doubtless when a sense of “mere character,” shameless
incomparable character, has brought one to this it is time one should
pause.



THE AFTER-SEASON IN ROME


One may at the blest end of May say without injustice to anybody that
the state of mind of many a _forestiero_ in Rome is one of intense
impatience for the moment when all other _forestieri_ shall have
taken themselves off. One may confess to this state of mind and be no
misanthrope. The place has passed so completely for the winter months
into the hands of the barbarians that that estimable character the
passionate pilgrim finds it constantly harder to keep his passion clear.
He has a rueful sense of impressions perverted and adulterated; the
all-venerable visage disconcerts us by a vain eagerness to see itself
mirrored in English, American, German eyes. It isn’t simply that you are
never first or never alone at the classic or historic spots where
you have dreamt of persuading the shy _genius loci_ into confidential
utterance; it isn’t simply that St. Peter’s, the Vatican, the Palatine,
are for ever ringing with the false note of the languages without style:
it is the general oppressive feeling that the city of the soul
has become for the time a monstrous mixture of watering-place and
curiosity-shop and that its most ardent life is that of the tourists who
haggle over false intaglios and yawn through palaces and temples. But
you are told of a happy time when these abuses begin to pass away, when
Rome becomes Rome again and you may have her all to yourself. “You may
like her more or less now,” I was assured at the height of the season;
“but you must wait till the month of May, when she’ll give you _all_ she
has, to love her. Then the foreigners, or the excess of them, are gone;
the galleries and ruins are empty, and the place,” said my informant,
who was a happy Frenchman of the Académie de France, _“renait a
ellememe.”_ Indeed I was haunted all winter by an irresistible prevision
of what Rome _must_ be in declared spring. Certain charming places
seemed to murmur: “Ah, this is nothing! Come back at the right weeks and
see the sky above us almost black with its excess of blue, and the
new grass already deep, but still vivid, and the white roses tumble in
odorous spray and the warm radiant air distil gold for the smelting-pot
that the _genius loci_ then dips his brush into before making play with
it, in his inimitable way, for the general effect of complexion.”

A month ago I spent a week in the country, and on my return, the first
time I approached the Corso, became conscious of a change. Something
delightful had happened, to which at first I couldn’t give a name, but
which presently shone out as the fact that there were but half as
many people present and that these were chiefly the natural or the
naturalised. We had been docked of half our irrelevance, our motley
excess, and now physically, morally, æesthetically there was elbow-room.
In the afternoon I went to the Pincio, and the Pincio was almost dull.
The band was playing to a dozen ladies who lay in landaus poising their
lace-fringed parasols; but they had scarce more than a light-gloved
dandy apiece hanging over their carriage doors. By the parapet to the
great terrace that sweeps the city stood but three or four interlopers
looking at the sunset and with their Baedekers only just showing in
their pockets--the sunsets not being down among the tariffed articles
in these precious volumes. I went so far as to hope for them that,
like myself, they were, under every precaution, taking some amorous
intellectual liberty with the scene.

Practically I violate thus the instinct of monopoly, since it’s a
shame not to publish that Rome in May is indeed exquisitely worth your
patience. I have just been so gratified at finding myself in undisturbed
possession for a couple of hours of the Museum of the Lateran that I can
afford to be magnanimous. It’s almost as if the old all-papal paradise
had come back. The weather for a month has been perfect, the sky an
extravagance of blue, the air lively enough, the nights cool, nippingly
cool, and the whole ancient greyness lighted with an irresistible smile.
Rome, which in some moods, especially to new-comers, seems a place of
almost sinister gloom, has an occasional art, as one knows her better,
of brushing away care by the grand gesture with which some splendid
impatient mourning matron--just the Niobe of Nations, surviving,
emerging and looking about her again--might pull off and cast aside an
oppression of muffling crape. This admirable power still temperamentally
to react and take notice lurks in all her darkness and dirt and decay--a
something more careless and hopeless than our thrifty northern cheer,
and yet more genial and urbane than the Parisian spirit of _blague_.
The collective Roman nature is a healthy and hearty one, and you feel it
abroad in the streets even when the sirocco blows and the medium of life
seems to proceed more or less from the mouth of a furnace. But who shall
analyse even the simplest Roman impression? It is compounded of so
many things, it says so much, it involves so much, it so quickens the
intelligence and so flatters the heart, that before we fairly grasp
the case the imagination has marked it for her own and exposed us to a
perilous likelihood of talking nonsense about it.

The smile of Rome, as I have called it, and its insidious message to
those who incline to ramble irresponsibly and take things as they come,
is ushered in with the first breath of spring, and then grows and grows
with the advancing season till it wraps the whole place in its tenfold
charm. As the process develops you can do few better things than
go often to Villa Borghese and sit on the grass--on a stout bit of
drapery--and watch its exquisite stages. It has a frankness and a
sweetness beyond any relenting of _our_ clumsy climates even when ours
leave off their damnable faces and begin. Nature departs from every
reserve with a confidence that leaves one at a loss where, as it were,
to look--leaves one, as I say, nothing to do but to lay one’s head among
the anemones at the base of a high-stemmed pine and gaze up crestward
and sky-ward along its slanting silvery column. You may watch the whole
business from a dozen of these choice standpoints and have a different
villa for it every day in the week. The Doria, the Ludovisi, the Medici,
the Albani, the Wolkonski, the Chigi, the Mellini, the Massimo--there
are more of them, with all their sights and sounds and odours and
memories, than you have senses for. But I prefer none of them to the
Borghese, which is free to all the world at all times and yet never
crowded; for when the whirl of carriages is great in the middle regions
you may find a hundred untrodden spots and silent corners, tenanted at
the worst by a group of those long-skirted young Propagandists who
stalk about with solemn angularity, each with a book under his arm, like
silhouettes from a medieval missal, and “compose” so extremely well
with the still more processional cypresses and with stretches of
golden-russet wall overtopped by ultramarine. And yet if the Borghese is
good the Medici is strangely charming, and you may stand in the little
belvedere which rises with such surpassing oddity out of the dusky heart
of the Boschetto at the latter establishment--a miniature presentation
of the wood of the Sleeping Beauty--and look across at the Ludovisi
pines lifting their crooked parasols into a sky of what a painter would
call the most morbid blue, and declare that the place where _they_ grow
is the most delightful in the world. Villa Ludovisi has been all winter
the residence of the lady familiarly known in Roman society as “Rosina,”
 Victor Emmanuel’s morganatic wife, the only familiarity it would
seem, that she allows, for the grounds were rigidly closed, to the
inconsolable regret of old Roman sojourners. Just as the nightingales
began to sing, however, the quasi-august _padrona_ departed, and the
public, with certain restrictions, have been admitted to hear them.
The place takes, where it lies, a princely ease, and there could be no
better example of the expansive tendencies of ancient privilege than the
fact that its whole vast extent is contained by the city walls. It has
in this respect very much the same enviable air of having got up early
that marks the great intramural demesne of Magdalen College at Oxford.
The stern old ramparts of Rome form the outer enclosure of the villa,
and hence a series of “striking scenic effects” which it would be
unscrupulous flattery to say you can imagine. The grounds are laid out
in the formal last-century manner; but nowhere do the straight black
cypresses lead off the gaze into vistas of a melancholy more charged
with associations--poetic, romantic, historic; nowhere are there
grander, smoother walls of laurel and myrtle.

I recently spent an afternoon hour at the little Protestant cemetery
close to St. Paul’s Gate, where the ancient and the modern world are
insidiously contrasted. They make between them one of the solemn places
of Rome--although indeed when funereal things are so interfused it seems
ungrateful to call them sad. Here is a mixture of tears and smiles, of
stones and flowers, of mourning cypresses and radiant sky, which gives
us the impression of our looking back at death from the brighter side
of the grave. The cemetery nestles in an angle of the city wall, and the
older graves are sheltered by a mass of ancient brickwork, through whose
narrow loopholes you peep at the wide purple of the Campagna. Shelley’s
grave is here, buried in roses--a happy grave every way for the very
type and figure of the Poet. Nothing could be more impenetrably tranquil
than this little corner in the bend of the protecting rampart, where a
cluster of modern ashes is held tenderly in the rugged hand of the Past.
The past is tremendously embodied in the hoary pyramid of Caius Cestius,
which rises hard by, half within the wall and half without, cutting
solidly into the solid blue of the sky and casting its pagan shadow upon
the grass of English graves--that of Keats, among them--with an effect
of poetic justice. It is a wonderful confusion of mortality and a grim
enough admonition of our helpless promiscuity in the crucible of time.
But the most touching element of all is the appeal of the pious English
inscriptions among all these Roman memories; touching because of their
universal expression of that trouble within trouble, misfortune in
a foreign land. Something special stirs the heart through the fine
Scriptural language in which everything is recorded. The echoes of
massive Latinity with which the atmosphere is charged suggest nothing
more majestic and monumental. I may seem unduly to refine, but the
injunction to the reader in the monument to Miss Bathurst, drowned in
the Tiber in 1824, “If thou art young and lovely, build not thereon,
for she who lies beneath thy feet in death was the loveliest flower ever
cropt in its bloom,” affects us irresistibly as a case for tears on the
spot. The whole elaborate inscription indeed says something over and
beyond all it does say. The English have the reputation of being the
most reticent people in the world, and as there is no smoke without fire
I suppose they have done something to deserve it; yet who can say that
one doesn’t constantly meet the most startling examples of the insular
faculty to “gush”? In this instance the mother of the deceased takes
the public into her confidence with surprising frankness and omits
no detail, seizing the opportunity to mention by the way that she had
already lost her husband by a most mysterious visitation. The appeal
to one’s attention and the confidence in it are withal most moving. The
whole record has an old-fashioned gentility that makes its frankness
tragic. You seem to hear the garrulity of passionate grief.

To be choosing these positive commonplaces of the Roman tone for a theme
when there are matters of modern moment going on may seem none the
less to require an apology. But I make no claim to your special
correspondent’s faculty for getting an “inside” view of things, and I
have hardly more than a pictorial impression of the Pope’s illness and
of the discussion of the Law of the Convents. Indeed I am afraid
to speak of the Pope’s illness at all, lest I should say something
egregiously heartless about it, recalling too forcibly that unnatural
husband who was heard to wish that his wife would “either” get well--!
He had his reasons, and Roman tourists have theirs in the shape of a
vague longing for something spectacular at St. Peter’s. If it takes the
sacrifice of somebody to produce it let somebody then be sacrificed.
Meanwhile we have been having a glimpse of the spectacular side of the
Religious Corporations Bill. Hearing one morning a great hubbub in the
Corso I stepped forth upon my balcony. A couple of hundred men were
strolling slowly down the street with their hands in their pockets,
shouting in unison “Abbasso il ministero!” and huzzaing in chorus. Just
beneath my window they stopped and began to murmur “Al Quirinale, al
Quirinale!” The crowd surged a moment gently and then drifted to the
Quirinal, where it scuffled harmlessly with half-a-dozen of the king’s
soldiers. It ought to have been impressive, for what was it, strictly,
unless the seeds of revolution? But its carriage was too gentle and
its cries too musical to send the most timorous tourist to packing
his trunk. As I began with saying: in Rome, in May, everything has an
amiable side, even popular uprisings.



FROM A ROMAN NOTE-BOOK


December 28, 1872.--In Rome again for the last three days--that second
visit which, when the first isn’t followed by a fatal illness in
Florence, the story goes that one is doomed to pay. I didn’t drink of
the Fountain of Trevi on the eve of departure the other time; but I feel
as if I had drunk of the Tiber itself. Nevertheless as I drove from
the station in the evening I wondered what I should think of it at this
first glimpse hadn’t I already known it. All manner of evil perhaps.
Paris, as I passed along the Boulevards three evenings before to take
the train, was swarming and glittering as befits a great capital. Here,
in the black, narrow, crooked, empty streets, I saw nothing I would
fain regard as eternal. But there were new gas-lamps round the spouting
Triton in Piazza Barberini and a newspaper stall on the corner of the
Condotti and the Corso--salient signs of the emancipated state. An hour
later I walked up to Via Gregoriana by Piazza di Spagna. It was all
silent and deserted, and the great flight of steps looked surprisingly
small. Everything seemed meagre, dusky, provincial. Could Rome after all
really _be_ a world-city? That queer old rococo garden gateway at
the top of the Gregoriana stirred a dormant memory; it awoke into a
consciousness of the delicious mildness of the air, and very soon, in
a little crimson drawing-room, I was reconciled and re-initiated....
Everything is dear (in the way of lodgings), but it hardly matters, as
everything is taken and some one else paying for it. I must make up my
mind to a bare perch. But it seems poorly perverse here to aspire to
an “interior” or to be conscious of the economic side of life. The
æesthetic is so intense that you feel you should live on the taste
of it, should extract the nutritive essence of the atmosphere. For
positively it’s _such_ an atmosphere! The weather is perfect, the sky as
blue as the most exploded tradition fames it, the whole air glowing
and throbbing with lovely colour.... The glitter of Paris is now all
gaslight. And oh the monotonous miles of rain-washed asphalte!

_December 30th_.--I have had nothing to do with the “ceremonies.” In
fact I believe there have hardly been any--no midnight mass at the
Sistine chapel, no silver trumpets at St. Peter’s. Everything is
remorselessly clipped and curtailed--the Vatican in deepest mourning.
But I saw it in its superbest scarlet in ‘69.... I went yesterday with
L. to the Colonna gardens--an adventure that would have reconverted me
to Rome if the thing weren’t already done. It’s a rare old place--rising
in mouldy bosky terraces and mossy stairways and winding walks from the
back of the palace to the top of the Quirinal. It’s the grand style
of gardening, and resembles the present natural manner as a chapter of
Johnsonian rhetoric resembles a piece of clever contemporary journalism.
But it’s a better style in horticulture than in literature; I prefer
one of the long-drawn blue-green Colonna vistas, with a maimed and
mossy-coated garden goddess at the end, to the finest possible quotation
from a last-century classic. Perhaps the best thing there is the
old orangery with its trees in fantastic terra-cotta tubs. The late
afternoon light was gilding the monstrous jars and suspending golden
chequers among the golden-fruited leaves. Or perhaps the best thing is
the broad terrace with its mossy balustrade and its benches; also its
view of the great naked Torre di Nerone (I think), which might look
stupid if the rosy brickwork didn’t take such a colour in the blue
air. Delightful, at any rate, to stroll and talk there in the afternoon
sunshine.

_January 2nd,_ 1873.--Two or three drives with A.--one to St. Paul’s
without the Walls and back by a couple of old churches on the Aventine.
I was freshly struck with the rare distinction of the little Protestant
cemetery at the Gate, lying in the shadow of the black sepulchral
Pyramid and the thick-growing black cypresses. Bathed in the clear Roman
light the place is heartbreaking for what it asks you--in such a world
as _this_--to renounce. If it should “make one in love with death to lie
there,” that’s only if death should be conscious. As the case stands,
the weight of a tremendous past presses upon the flowery sod, and the
sleeper’s mortality feels the contact of all the mortality with which
the brilliant air is tainted.... The restored Basilica is incredibly
splendid. It seems a last pompous effort of formal Catholicism, and
there are few more striking emblems of later Rome--the Rome foredoomed
to see Victor Emmanuel in the Quirinal, the Rome of abortive councils
and unheeded anathemas. It rises there, gorgeous and useless, on its
miasmatic site, with an air of conscious bravado--a florid advertisement
of the superabundance of faith. Within it’s magnificent, and its
magnificence has no shabby spots--a rare thing in Rome. Marble and
mosaic, alabaster and malachite, lapis and porphyry, incrust it from
pavement to cornice and flash back their polished lights at each other
with such a splendour of effect that you seem to stand at the heart of
some immense prismatic crystal. One has to come to Italy to know marbles
and love them. I remember the fascination of the first great show of
them I met in Venice--at the Scalzi and Gesuiti. Colour has in no other
form so cool and unfading a purity and lustre. Softness of tone and
hardness of substance--isn’t that the sum of the artist’s desire? G.,
with his beautiful caressing, open-lipped Roman utterance, so easy to
understand and, to my ear, so finely suggestive of genuine Latin, not
our horrible Anglo-Saxon and Protestant kind, urged upon us the charms
of a return by the Aventine and the sight of a couple of old churches.
The best is Santa Sabina, a very fine old structure of the fifth
century, mouldering in its dusky solitude and consuming its own
antiquity. What a massive heritage Christianity and Catholicism are
leaving here! What a substantial fact, in all its decay, this memorial
Christian temple outliving its uses among the sunny gardens and
vineyards! It has a noble nave, filled with a stale smell which
(like that of the onion) brought tears to my eyes, and bordered with
twenty-four fluted marble columns of Pagan origin. The crudely primitive
little mosaics along the entablature are extremely curious. A Dominican
monk, still young, who showed us the church, seemed a creature generated
from its musty shadows I odours. His physiognomy was wonderfully _de
l’emploi_, and his voice, most agreeable, had the strangest jaded
humility. His lugubrious salute and sanctimonious impersonal
appropriation of my departing franc would have been a master-touch on
the stage. While we were still in the church a bell rang that he had to
go and answer, and as he came back and approached us along the nave he
made with his white gown and hood and his cadaverous face, against the
dark church background, one of those pictures which, thank the Muses,
have not yet been reformed out of Italy. It was the exact illustration,
for insertion in a text, of heaven knows how many old romantic and
conventional literary Italianisms--plays, poems, mysteries of Udolpho.
We got back into the carriage and talked of profane things and went home
to dinner--drifting recklessly, it seemed to me, from aesthetic luxury
to social.

On the 31st we went to the musical vesper-service at the Gesu--hitherto
done so splendidly before the Pope and the cardinals. The manner of it
was eloquent of change--no Pope, no cardinals, and indifferent music;
but a great _mise-en-scène_ nevertheless. The church is gorgeous; late
Renaissance, of great proportions, and full, like so many others, but in
a pre-eminent degree, of seventeenth and eighteenth century Romanism.
It doesn’t impress the imagination, but richly feeds the curiosity,
by which I mean one’s sense of the curious; suggests no legends, but
innumerable anecdotes à la Stendhal. There is a vast dome, filled with a
florid concave fresco of tumbling foreshortened angels, and all over
the ceilings and cornices a wonderful outlay of dusky gildings
and mouldings. There are various Bernini saints and seraphs in
stucco-sculpture, astride of the tablets and door-tops, backing against
their rusty machinery of coppery _nimbi_ and egg-shaped cloudlets.
Marble, damask and tapers in gorgeous profusion. The high altar a great
screen of twinkling chandeliers. The choir perched in a little loft high
up in the right transept, like a balcony in a side-scene at the opera,
and indulging in surprising roulades and flourishes.... Near me sat a
handsome, opulent-looking nun--possibly an abbess or prioress of noble
lineage. Can a holy woman of such a complexion listen to a fine operatic
barytone in a sumptuous temple and receive none but ascetic impressions?
What a cross-fire of influences does Catholicism provide!

_January 4th._--A drive with A. out of Porta San Giovanni and along Via
Appia Nuova. More and more beautiful as you get well away from the walls
and the great view opens out before you--the rolling green-brown dells
and flats of the Campagna, the long, disjointed arcade of the aqueducts,
the deep-shadowed blue of the Alban Hills, touched into pale lights by
their scattered towns. We stopped at the ruined basilica of San Stefano,
an affair of the fifth century, rather meaningless without a learned
companion. But the perfect little sepulchral chambers of the Pancratii,
disinterred beneath the church, tell their own tale--in their hardly
dimmed frescoes, their beautiful sculptured coffin and great sepulchral
slab. Better still the tomb of the Valerii adjoining it--a single
chamber with an arched roof, covered with stucco mouldings perfectly
intact, exquisite figures and arabesques as sharp and delicate as if the
plasterer’s scaffold had just been taken from under them. Strange enough
to think of these things--so many of them as there are--surviving their
immemorial eclipse in this perfect shape and coming up like long-lost
divers on the sea of time.

_January 16th._--A delightful walk last Sunday with F. to Monte Mario.
We drove to Porta Angelica, the little gate hidden behind the right wing
of Bernini’s colonnade, and strolled thence up the winding road to the
Villa Mellini, where one of the greasy peasants huddled under the wall
in the sun admits you for half franc into the finest old ilex-walk in
Italy. It is all vaulted grey-green shade with blue Campagna stretches
in the interstices. The day was perfect; the still sunshine, as we sat
at the twisted base of the old trees, seemed to have the drowsy hum of
mid-summer--with that charm of Italian vegetation that comes to us as
its confession of having scenically served, to weariness at last, for
some pastoral these many centuries a classic. In a certain cheapness
and thinness of substance--as compared with the English stoutness, never
left athirst--it reminds me of our own, and it is relatively dry enough
and pale enough to explain the contempt of many unimaginative Britons.
But it has an idle abundance and wantonness, a romantic shabbiness
and dishevelment. At the Villa Mellini is the famous lonely pine which
“tells” so in the landscape from other points, bought off from the axe
by (I believe) Sir George Beaumont, commemorated in a like connection in
Wordsworth’s great sonnet. He at least was not an unimaginative Briton.
As you stand under it, its far-away shallow dome, supported on a single
column almost white enough to be marble, seems to dwell in the dizziest
depths of the blue. Its pale grey-blue boughs and its silvery stem make
a wonderful harmony with the ambient air. The Villa Mellini is full
of the elder Italy of one’s imagination--the Italy of Boccaccio and
Ariosto. There are twenty places where the Florentine story-tellers
might have sat round on the grass. Outside the villa walls, beneath the
over-crowding orange-boughs, straggled old Italy as well--but not in
Boccaccio’s velvet: a row of ragged and livid contadini, some simply
stupid in their squalor, but some downright brigands of romance, or of
reality, with matted locks and terribly sullen eyes.

A couple of days later I walked for old acquaintance’ sake over to San
Onofrio on the Janiculan. The approach is one of the dirtiest adventures
in Rome, and though the view is fine from the little terrace, the church
and convent are of a meagre and musty pattern. Yet here--almost like
pearls in a dunghill--are hidden mementos of two of the most exquisite
of Italian minds. Torquato Tasso spent the last months of his life here,
and you may visit his room and various warped and faded relics. The most
interesting is a cast of his face taken after death--looking, like all
such casts, almost more than mortally gallant and distinguished. But
who should look all ideally so if not he? In a little shabby, chilly
corridor adjoining is a fresco of Leonardo, a Virgin and Child with
the _donatorio_. It is very small, simple and faded, but it has all the
artist’s magic, that mocking, illusive refinement and hint of a vague
_arriere-pensee_ which mark every stroke of Leonardo’s brush. Is it the
perfection of irony or the perfection of tenderness? What does he mean,
what does he affirm, what does he deny? Magic wouldn’t be magic, nor the
author of such things stand so absolutely alone, if we were ready with
an explanation. As I glanced from the picture to the poor stupid little
red-faced brother at my side I wondered if the thing mightn’t pass for
an elegant epigram on monasticism. Certainly, at any rate, there is more
intellect in it than under all the monkish tonsures it has seen coming
and going these three hundred years.

_January 21st._--The last three or four days I have regularly spent a
couple of hours from noon baking myself in the sun of the Pincio to get
rid of a cold. The weather perfect and the crowd (especially to-day)
amazing. Such a staring, lounging, dandified, amiable crowd! Who does
the vulgar stay-at-home work of Rome? All the grandees and half the
foreigners are there in their carriages, the _bourgeoisie_ on foot
staring at them and the beggars lining all the approaches. The great
difference between public places in America and Europe is in the number
of unoccupied people of every age and condition sitting about early and
late on benches and gazing at you, from your hat to your boots, as you
pass. Europe is certainly the continent of the practised stare. The
ladies on the Pincio have to run the gauntlet; but they seem to do so
complacently enough. The European woman is brought up to the sense
of having a definite part in the way of manners or manner to play in
public. To lie back in a barouche alone, balancing a parasol and seeming
to ignore the extremely immediate gaze of two serried ranks of male
creatures on each side of her path, save here and there to recognise
one of them with an imperceptible nod, is one of her daily duties.
The number of young men here who, like the coenobites of old, lead the
purely contemplative life is enormous. They muster in especial force
on the Pincio, but the Corso all day is thronged with them. They are
well-dressed, good-humoured, good-looking, polite; but they seem never
to do a harder stroke of work than to stroll from the Piazza Colonna to
the Hotel de Rome or _vice versa_. Some of them don’t even stroll, but
stand leaning by the hour against the doorways, sucking the knobs of
their canes, feeling their back hair and settling their shirt-cuffs. At
my cafe in the morning several stroll in already (at nine o’clock) in
light, in “evening” gloves. But they order nothing, turn on their heels,
glance at the mirrors and stroll out again. When it rains they herd
under the _portes-cochères_ and in the smaller cafes.... Yesterday
Prince Humbert’s little _primogenito_ was on the Pincio in an open
landau with his governess. He’s a sturdy blond little man and the image
of the King. They had stopped to listen to the music, and the crowd was
planted about the carriage-wheels, staring and criticising under the
child’s snub little nose. It appeared bold cynical curiosity, without
the slightest manifestation of “loyalty,” and it gave me a singular
sense of the vulgarisation of Rome under the new regime. When the Pope
drove abroad it was a solemn spectacle; even if you neither kneeled nor
uncovered you were irresistibly impressed. But the Pope never stopped to
listen to opera tunes, and he had no little popelings, under the charge
of superior nurse-maids, whom you might take liberties with. The family
at the Quirinal make something of a merit, I believe, of their
modest and inexpensive way of life. The merit is great; yet,
representationally, what a change for the worse from an order which
proclaimed stateliness a part of its essence! The divinity that doth
hedge a king must be pretty well on the wane. But how many more fine old
traditions will the extremely sentimental traveller miss in the Italians
over whom that little jostled prince in the landau will have come
into his kinghood? ... The Pincio continues to beguile; it’s a great
resource. I am for ever being reminded of the “aesthetic luxury,” as I
called it above, of living in Rome. To be able to choose of an afternoon
for a lounge (respectfully speaking) between St. Peter’s and the high
precinct you approach by the gate just beyond Villa Medici--counting
nothing else--is a proof that if in Rome you may suffer from ennui, at
least your ennui has a throbbing soul in it. It is something to say for
the Pincio that you don’t always choose St. Peter’s. Sometimes I lose
patience with its parade of eternal idleness, but at others this very
idleness is balm to one’s conscience. Life on just these terms seems so
easy, so monotonously sweet, that you feel it would be unwise, would be
really unsafe, to change. The Roman air is charged with an elixir, the
Roman cup seasoned with some insidious drop, of which the action is
fatally, yet none the less agreeably, “lowering.”

_January 26th._--With S. to the Villa Medici--perhaps on the whole
the most enchanting place in Rome. The part of the garden called the
Boschetto has an incredible, impossible charm; an upper terrace, behind
locked gates, covered with a little dusky forest of evergreen oaks.
Such a dim light as of a fabled, haunted place, such a soft suffusion
of tender grey-green tones, such a company of gnarled and twisted little
miniature trunks--dwarfs playing with each other at being giants--and
such a shower of golden sparkles drifting in from the vivid west! At
the end of the wood is a steep, circular mound, up which the short trees
scramble amain, with a long mossy staircase climbing up to a belvedere.
This staircase, rising suddenly out of the leafy dusk to you don’t see
where, is delightfully fantastic. You expect to see an old woman in a
crimson petticoat and with a distaff come hobbling down and turn into
a fairy and offer you three wishes. I should name for my own first wish
that one didn’t have to be a Frenchman to come and live and dream and
work at the Académie de France. Can there be for a while a happier
destiny than that of a young artist conscious of talent and of no errand
but to educate, polish and perfect it, transplanted to these sacred
shades? One has fancied Plato’s Academy--his gleaming colonnades, his
blooming gardens and Athenian sky; but was it as good as this one, where
Monsieur Hebert does the Platonic? The blessing in Rome is not that this
or that or the other isolated object is so very unsurpassable; but that
the general air so contributes to interest, to impressions that are not
as any other impressions anywhere in the world. And from this general
air the Villa Medici has distilled an essence of its own--walled it in
and made it delightfully private. The great façade on the gardens
is like an enormous rococo clock-face all incrusted with images and
arabesques and tablets. What mornings and afternoons one might
spend there, brush in hand, unpreoccupied, untormented, pensioned,
satisfied--either persuading one’s self that one would be “doing
something” in consequence or not caring if one shouldn’t be.

_At a later date--middle of March_.--A ride with S. W. out of the Porta
Pia to the meadows beyond the Ponte Nomentana--close to the site of
Phaon’s villa where Nero in hiding had himself stabbed. It all spoke as
things here only speak, touching more chords than one can _now_ really
know or say. For these are predestined memories and the stuff that
regrets are made of; the mild divine efflorescence of spring, the
wonderful landscape, the talk suspended for another gallop....
Returning, we dismounted at the gate of the Villa Medici and walked
through the twilight of the vaguely perfumed, bird-haunted alleys to
H.’s studio, hidden in the wood like a cottage in a fairy tale. I spent
there a charming half-hour in the fading light, looking at the pictures
while my companion discoursed of her errand. The studio is small and
more like a little salon; the painting refined, imaginative, somewhat
morbid, full of consummate French ability. A portrait, idealised and
etherealised, but a likeness of Mme. de---(from last year’s Salon)
in white satin, quantities of lace, a coronet, diamonds and pearls; a
striking combination of brilliant silvery tones. A “Femme Sauvage,”
 a naked dusky girl in a wood, with a wonderfully clever pair of shy,
passionate eyes. The author is different enough from any of the numerous
American artists. They may be producers, but he’s a product as well--a
product of influences of a sort of which we have as yet no
general command. One of them is his charmed lapse of life in that
unprofessional-looking little studio, with his enchanted wood on one
side and the plunging wall of Rome on the other.

_January 30th._--A drive the other day with a friend to Villa Madama,
on the side of Monte Mario; a place like a page out of one of Browning’s
richest evocations of this clime and civilisation. Wondrous in its
haunting melancholy, it might have inspired half “The Ring and the Book”
 at a stroke. What a grim commentary on history such a scene--what an
irony of the past! The road up to it through the outer enclosure is
almost impassable with mud and stones. At the end, on a terrace, rises
the once elegant Casino, with hardly a whole pane of glass in its
façade, reduced to its sallow stucco and degraded ornaments. The front
away from Rome has in the basement a great loggia, now walled in from
the weather, preceded by a grassy be littered platform with an immense
sweeping view of the Campagna; the sad-looking, more than sad-looking,
evil-looking, Tiber beneath (the colour of gold, the sentimentalists
say, the colour of mustard, the realists); a great vague stretch beyond,
of various complexions and uses; and on the horizon the ever-iridescent
mountains. The place has become the shabbiest farm-house, with muddy
water in the old _pièces d’eau_ and dunghills on the old parterres.
The “feature” is the contents of the loggia: a vaulted roof and walls
decorated by Giulio Romano; exquisite stucco-work and still brilliant
frescoes; arabesques and figurini, nymphs and fauns, animals and
flowers--gracefully lavish designs of every sort. Much of the
colour--especially the blues--still almost vivid, and all the work
wonderfully ingenious, elegant and charming. Apartments so decorated can
have been meant only for the recreation of people greater than any
we know, people for whom life was impudent ease and success. Margaret
Farnese was the lady of the house, but where she trailed her cloth of
gold the chickens now scamper between your legs over rotten straw. It is
all inexpressibly dreary. A stupid peasant scratching his head, a
couple of critical Americans picking their steps, the walls tattered and
befouled breast-high, dampness and decay striking in on your heart, and
the scene overbowed by these heavenly frescoes, moulering there in their
airy artistry! It’s poignant; it provokes tears; it tells so of the
waste of effort. Something human seems to pant beneath the grey pall
of time and to implore you to rescue it, to pity it, to stand by it
somehow. But you leave it to its lingering death without compunction,
almost with pleasure; for the place seems vaguely crime-haunted--paying
at least the penalty of some hard immorality. The end of a Renaissance
pleasure-house. Endless for the didactic observer the moral, abysmal for
the storyseeker the tale.

_February 12th_.--Yesterday to the Villa Albani. Over-formal and (as my
companion says) too much like a tea-garden; but with beautiful stairs
and splendid geometrical lines of immense box-hedge, intersected
with high pedestals supporting little antique busts. The light to-day
magnificent; the Alban Hills of an intenser broken purple than I had
yet seen them--their white towns blooming upon it like vague projected
lights. It was like a piece of very modern painting, and a good example
of how Nature has at times a sort of mannerism which ought to make
us careful how we condemn out of hand the more refined and affected
artists. The collection of marbles in the Casino (Winckelmann’s)
admirable and to be seen again. The famous Antinous crowned with lotus
a strangely beautiful and impressive thing. The “Greek manner,” on the
showing of something now and again encountered here, moves one to feel
that even for purely romantic and imaginative effects it surpasses any
since invented. If there be not imagination, even in our comparatively
modern sense of the word, in the baleful beauty of that perfect young
profile there is none in “Hamlet” or in “Lycidas.” There is five hundred
times as much as in “The Transfiguration.” With this at any rate to
point to it’s not for sculpture not professedly to produce any emotion
producible by painting. There are numbers of small and delicate
fragments of bas-reliefs of exquisite grace, and a huge piece (two
combatants--one, on horseback, beating down another--murder made eternal
and beautiful) attributed to the Parthenon and certainly as grandly
impressive as anything in the Elgin marbles. S. W. suggested again the
Roman villas as a “subject.” Excellent if one could find a feast of
facts à la Stendhal. A lot of vague ecstatic descriptions and anecdotes
wouldn’t at all pay. There have been too many already. Enough facts are
recorded, I suppose; one should discover them and soak in them for
a twelvemonth. And yet a Roman villa, in spite of statues, ideas and
atmosphere, affects me as of a scanter human and social _portee_, a
shorter, thinner reverberation, than an old English country-house,
round which experience seems piled so thick. But this perhaps is either
hair-splitting or “racial” prejudice.

{Illustration: ENTRANCE TO THE VATICAN, ROME}

_March 9th._--The Vatican is still deadly cold; a couple of hours there
yesterday with R. W. E. Yet he, illustrious and enviable man, fresh from
the East, had no overcoat and wanted none. Perfect bliss, I think, would
be to live in Rome without thinking of overcoats. The Vatican seems
very familiar, but strangely smaller than of old. I never lost the sense
before of confusing vastness. _Sancta simplicitas!_ All my old friends
however stand there in undimmed radiance, keeping most of them their
old pledges. I am perhaps more struck now with the enormous amount of
padding--the number of third-rate, fourth-rate things that weary the eye
desirous to approach freshly the twenty and thirty best. In spite of the
padding there are dozens of treasures that one passes regretfully; but
the impression of the whole place is the great thing--the feeling that
through these solemn vistas flows the source of an incalculable part of
our present conception of Beauty.

_April 10th._--Last night, in the rain, to the Teatro Valle to see a
comedy of Goldoni in Venetian dialect--“I Quattro Rustighi.” I could but
half follow it; enough, however, to be sure that, for all its humanity
of irony, it wasn’t so good as Molière. The acting was capital--broad,
free and natural; the play of talk easier even than life itself; but,
like all the Italian acting I have seen, it was wanting in _finesse_,
that shade of the shade by which, and by which alone, one really knows
art. I contrasted the affair with the evening in December last that I
walked over (also in the rain) to the Odeon and saw the “Plaideurs” and
the “Malade lmaginaire.” There, too, was hardly more than a handful of
spectators; but what rich, ripe, fully representational and above
all intellectual comedy, and what polished, educated playing! These
Venetians in particular, however, have a marvellous _entrain_ of their
own; they seem even less than the French to recite. In some of the
women--ugly, with red hands and shabby dresses--an extraordinary gift of
natural utterance, of seeming to invent joyously as they go.

_Later_.--Last evening in H.’s box at the Apollo to hear Ernesto Rossi
in “Othello.” He shares supremacy with Salvini in Italian tragedy.
Beautiful great theatre with boxes you can walk about in; brilliant
audience. The Princess Margaret was there--I have never been to
the theatre that she was not--and a number of other princesses in
neighbouring boxes. G. G. came in and instructed us that they were the
M., the L., the P., &c. Rossi is both very bad and very fine; bad where
anything like taste and discretion is required, but “all there,” and
more than there, in violent passion. The last act reduced too much,
however, to mere exhibitional sensibility. The interesting thing to me
was to observe the Italian conception of the part--to see how crude
it was, how little it expressed the hero’s moral side, his depth,
his dignity--anything more than his being a creature terrible in mere
tantrums. The great point was his seizing Iago’s head and whacking it
half-a-dozen times on the floor, and then flinging him twenty yards
away. It was wonderfully done, but in the doing of it and in the evident
relish for it in the house there was I scarce knew what force of easy
and thereby rather cheap expression.

_April 27th_.--A morning with L. B. at Villa Ludovisi, which we agreed
that we shouldn’t soon forget. The villa now belongs to the King, who
has lodged his morganatic wife there. There is nothing so blissfully
_right_ in Rome, nothing more consummately consecrated to style. The
grounds and gardens are immense, and the great rusty-red city wall
stretches away behind them and makes the burden of the seven hills
seem vast without making _them_ seem small. There is everything--dusky
avenues trimmed by the clippings of centuries, groves and dells and
glades and glowing pastures and reedy fountains and great flowering
meadows studded with enormous slanting pines. The day was delicious,
the trees all one melody, the whole place a revelation of what Italy
and hereditary pomp can do together. Nothing could be more in the
grand manner than this garden view of the city ramparts, lifting
their fantastic battlements above the trees and flowers. They are all
tapestried with vines and made to serve as sunny fruit-walls--grim old
defence as they once were; now giving nothing but a splendid buttressed
privacy. The sculptures in the little Casino are few, but there are two
great ones--the beautiful sitting Mars and the head of the great Juno,
the latter thrust into a corner behind a shutter. These things it’s
almost impossible to praise; we can only mark them well and keep them
clear, as we insist on silence to hear great music.... If I don’t praise
Guercino’s Aurora in the greater Casino, it’s for another reason; this
is certainly a very muddy masterpiece. It figures on the ceiling of
a small low hall; the painting is coarse and the ceiling too near.
Besides, it’s unfair to pass straight from the Greek mythology to the
Bolognese. We were left to roam at will through the house; the custode
shut us in and went to walk in the park. The apartments were all open,
and I had an opportunity to reconstruct, from its _milieu_ at least, the
character of a morganatic queen. I saw nothing to indicate that it
was not amiable; but I should have thought more highly of the lady’s
discrimination if she had had the Juno removed from behind her shutter.
In such a house, girdled about with such a park, me thinks I could be
amiable--and perhaps discriminating too. The Ludovisi Casino is small,
but the perfection of the life of ease might surely be led there. There
are English houses enough in wondrous parks, but they expose you to too
many small needs and observances--to say nothing of a red-faced butler
dropping his h’s. You are oppressed with the detail of accommodation.
Here the billiard-table is old-fashioned, perhaps a trifle crooked; but
you have Guercino above your head, and Guercino, after all, is almost
as good as Guido. The rooms, I noticed, all pleased by their shape, by
a lovely proportion, by a mass of delicate ornamentation on the high
concave ceilings. One might live over again in them some deliciously
benighted life of a forgotten type--with graceful old _sale_, and
immensely thick walls, and a winding stone staircase, and a view from
the loggia at the top; a view of twisted parasol-pines balanced, high
above a wooden horizon, against a sky of faded sapphire.

_May 17th._--It was wonderful yesterday at St. John Lateran. The spring
now has turned to perfect summer; there are cascades of verdure over
all the walls; the early flowers are a fading memory, and the new grass
knee-deep in the Villa Borghese. The winter aspect of the region about
the Lateran is one of the best things in Rome; the sunshine is nowhere
so golden and the lean shadows nowhere so purple as on the long grassy
walk to Santa Croce. But yesterday I seemed to see nothing but green
and blue. The expanse before Santa Croce was vivid green; the Campagna
rolled away in great green billows, which seemed to break high about the
gaunt aqueducts; and the Alban Hills, which in January and February
keep shifting and melting along the whole scale of azure, were almost
monotonously fresh, and had lost some of their finer modelling. But the
sky was ultramarine and everything radiant with light and warmth--warmth
which a soft steady breeze kept from excess. I strolled some time about
the church, which has a grand air enough, though I don’t seize the point
of view of Miss----, who told me the other day how vastly finer she
thought it than St. Peter’s. But on Miss----‘s lips this seemed a very
pretty paradox. The choir and transepts have a sombre splendour, and
I like the old vaulted passage with its slabs and monuments behind
the choir. The charm of charms at St. John Lateran is the admirable
twelfth-century cloister, which was never more charming than yesterday.
The shrubs and flowers about the ancient well were blooming away in the
intense light, and the twisted pillars and chiselled capitals of the
perfect little colonnade seemed to enclose them like the sculptured rim
of a precious vase. Standing out among the flowers you may look up and
see a section of the summit of the great façade of the church. The robed
and mitred apostles, bleached and rain-washed by the ages, rose into the
blue air like huge snow figures. I spent at the incorporated museum a
subsequent hour of fond vague attention, having it quite to myself.
It is rather scantily stocked, but the great cool halls open out
impressively one after the other, and the wide spaces between the
statues seem to suggest at first that each is a masterpiece. I was in
the loving mood of one’s last days in Rome, and when I had nothing else
to admire I admired the magnificent thickness of the embrasures of the
doors and windows. If there were no objects of interest at all in the
Lateran the palace would be worth walking through every now and then,
to keep up one’s idea of solid architecture. I went over to the
Scala Santa, where was no one but a very shabby priest sitting like a
ticket-taker at the door. But he let me pass, and I ascended one of the
profane lateral stairways and treated myself to a glimpse of the Sanctum
Sanctorum. Its threshold is crossed but once or twice a year, I believe,
by three or four of the most exalted divines, but you may look into it
freely enough through a couple of gilded lattices. It is very sombre
and splendid, and conveys the impression of a very holy place. And yet
somehow it suggested irreverent thoughts; it had to my fancy--perhaps on
account of the lattice--an Oriental, a Mahometan note. I expected every
moment to see a sultana appear in a silver veil and silken trousers and
sit down on the crimson carpet.

Farewell, packing, the sharp pang of going. One would like to be able
after five months in Rome to sum up for tribute and homage, one’s
experience, one’s gains, the whole adventure of one’s sensibility. But
one has really vibrated too much--the addition of so many items isn’t
easy. What is simply clear is the sense of an acquired passion for the
place and of an incalculable number of gathered impressions. Many
of these have been intense and momentous, but one has trodden on the
other--there are always the big fish that swallow up the little--and
one can hardly say what has become of them. They store themselves
noiselessly away, I suppose, in the dim but safe places of memory and
“taste,” and we live in a quiet faith that they will emerge into vivid
relief if life or art should demand them. As for the passion we needn’t
perhaps trouble ourselves about that. Fifty swallowed palmfuls of the
Fountain of Trevi couldn’t make us more ardently sure that we shall at
any cost come back.

1873.



A FEW OTHER ROMAN NEIGHBOURHOODS


If I find my old notes, in all these Roman connections, inevitably
bristle with the spirit of the postscript, so I give way to this
prompting to the extent of my scant space and with the sense of
other occasions awaiting me on which I shall have to do no less. The
impression of Rome was repeatedly to renew itself for the author of
these now rather antique and artless accents; was to overlay itself
again and again with almost heavy thicknesses of experience, the last of
which is, as I write, quite fresh to memory; and he has thus felt almost
ashamed to drop his subject (though it be one that tends so easily to
turn to the infinite) as if the law of change had in all the years had
nothing to say to his case. It’s of course but of his case alone that he
speaks--wondering little what he may make of it for the profit of others
by an attempt, however brief, to point the moral of the matter, or in
other words compare the musing _mature_ visitor’s “feeling about Rome”
 with that of the extremely agitated, even if though extremely inexpert,
consciousness reflected in the previous pages. The actual, the current
Rome affects him as a world governed by new conditions altogether and
ruefully pleading that sorry fact in the ear of the antique wanderer
wherever he may yet mournfully turn for some re-capture of what he
misses. The city of his first unpremeditated rapture shines to memory,
on the other hand, in the manner of a lost paradise the rustle of whose
gardens is still just audible enough in the air to make him wonder if
some sudden turn, some recovered vista, mayn’t lead him back to the
thing itself. My genial, my helpful tag, at this point, would doubtless
properly resolve itself, for the reader, into a clue toward some such
successful ingenuity of quest; a remark I make, I may add, even while
reflecting that the Paradise isn’t apparently at all “lost” to visitors
not of my generation. It is the seekers of _that_ remote and romantic
tradition who have seen it, from one period of ten, or even of five,
years to another, systematically and remorselessly built out from their
view. Their helpless plaint, their sense of the generally irrecoverable
and unspeakable, is not, however, what I desire here most to express;
I should like, on the contrary, with ampler opportunity, positively to
enumerate the cases, the cases of contact, impression, experience,
in which the cold ashes of a long-chilled passion may fairly feel
themselves made to glow again. No one who has ever loved Rome as Rome
could be loved in youth and before her poised basketful of the finer
appeals to fond fancy was actually upset, wants to stop loving her;
so that our bleeding and wounded, though perhaps not wholly moribund,
loyalty attends us as a hovering admonitory, anticipatory ghost, one
of those magnanimous life-companions who before complete extinction
designate to the other member of the union their approved successor. So
it is at any rate that I conceive the pilgrim old enough to have become
aware in all these later years of what he misses to be counselled and
pacified in the interest of recognitions that shall a little make up for
it.

It was this wisdom I was putting into practice, no doubt, for instance,
when I lately resigned myself to motoring of a splendid June day “out
to” Subiaco; as a substitute for a resignation that had anciently taken,
alas, but the form of my never getting there at all. Everything that
day, moreover, seemed right, surely; everything on certain other days
that were like it through their large indebtedness, at this, that and
the other point, to the last new thing, seemed so right that they come
back to me now, after a moderate interval, in the full light of
that unchallenged felicity. I couldn’t at all gloriously recall, for
instance, as I floated to Subiaco on vast brave wings, how on the
occasion of my first visit to Rome, thirty-eight years before, I had
devoted certain evenings, evenings of artless “preparation” in my room
at the inn, to the perusal of Alphonse Dantier’s admirable _Monastères
Bénédictins d’ltalie_, taking piously for granted that I should get
myself somehow conveyed to Monte Cassino and to Subiaco at least: such
an affront to the passion of curiosity, the generally infatuated
state then kindled, would any suspicion of my foredoomed, my all
but interminable, privation during visits to come have seemed to me.
Fortune, in the event, had never favoured my going, but I was to give
myself up at last to the sense of her quite taking me by the hand, and
that is how I now think of our splendid June day at Subiaco. The note
of the wondrous place itself is conventional “wild” Italy raised to the
highest intensity, the ideally, the sublimely conventional and wild,
complete and supreme in itself, without a disparity or a flaw; which
character of perfect picturesque orthodoxy seemed more particularly
to begin for me, I remember, as we passed, on our way, through that
indescribable and indestructible Tivoli, where the jumble of the
elements of the familiarly and exploitedly, the all too notoriously
fair and queer, was more violent and vociferous than ever--so the whole
spectacle there seemed at once to rejoice in cockneyfication and to
resist it. There at least I had old memories to renew--including that
in especial, from a few years back, of one of the longest, hottest,
dustiest return-drives to Rome that the Campagna on a sirocco day was
ever to have treated me to.

{Illustration: VILLA D’ESTE, TIVOLI}

That was to be more than made up on this later occasion by an hour of
early evening, snatched on the run back to Rome, that remains with me as
one of those felicities we are wise to leave for ever, just as they are,
just, that is, where they fell, never attempting to renew or improve
them. So happy a chance was it that ensured me at the afternoon’s end
a solitary stroll through the Villa d’ Este, where the day’s invasion,
whatever it might have been, had left no traces and where I met nobody
in the great rococo passages and chambers, and in the prodigious alleys
and on the repeated flights of tortuous steps, but the haunting Genius
of Style, into whose noble battered old face, as if it had come out
clearer in the golden twilight and on recognition of response so deeply
moved, I seemed to exhale my sympathy. This was truly, amid a conception
and order of things all mossed over from disuse, but still without
a form abandoned or a principle disowned, one of the hours that one
doesn’t forget. The ruined fountains seemed strangely to _wait_, in the
stillness and under cover of the approaching dusk, not to begin ever
again to play, also, but just only to be tenderly imagined to do so;
quite as everything held its breath, at the mystic moment, for the drop
of the cruel and garish exposure, for the Spirit of the place to steal
forth and go his round. The vistas of the innumerable mighty cypresses
ranged themselves, in their files and companies, like beaten heroes
for their captain’s, review; the great artificial “works” of every
description, cascades, hemicycles, all graded and grassed and
stone-seated as for floral games, mazes and bowers and alcoves and
grottos, brave indissoluble unions of the planted and the builded
symmetry, with the terraces and staircases that overhang and the arcades
and cloisters that underspread, made common cause together as for one’s
taking up a little, in kindly lingering wonder, the “feeling” out of
which they have sprung. One didn’t see it, under the actual influence,
one wouldn’t for the world have seen it, as that they longed to be
justified, during a few minutes in the twenty-four hours, of their
absurdity of pomp and circumstance--but only that they asked for
company, once in a way, as they were so splendidly formed to give it,
and that the best company, in a changed world, at the end of time,
what could they hope it to be but just the lone, the dawdling person of
taste, the visitor with a flicker of fancy, not to speak of a pang of
pity, to spare for them? It was in the flicker of fancy, no doubt, that
as I hung about the great top-most terrace in especial, and then again
took my way through the high gaunt corridors and the square and bare
alcoved and recessed saloons, all overscored with such a dim waste
of those painted, those delicate and capricious decorations which the
loggie of the Vatican promptly borrowed from the ruins of the Palatine,
or from whatever other revealed and inspiring ancientries, and which
make ghostly confession here of that descent, I gave the rein to my
sense of the sinister too, of that vague after-taste as of evil things
that lurks so often, for a suspicious sensibility, wherever the terrible
game of the life of the Renaissance was played as the Italians played
it; wherever the huge tessellated chessboard seems to stretch about us;
swept bare, almost always violently swept bare, of its chiselled and
shifting figures, of every value and degree, but with this echoing
desolation itself representing the long gasp, as it were, of
overstrained time, the great after-hush that follows on things too
wonderful or dreadful.

I am putting here, however, my cart before my horse, for the hour just
glanced at was but a final tag to a day of much brighter curiosity,
and which seemed to take its baptism, as we passed through prodigious
perched and huddled, adorably scattered and animated and even crowded
Tivoli, from the universal happy spray of the drumming Anio waterfalls,
all set in their permanent rainbows and Sibylline temples and classic
allusions and Byronic quotations; a wondrous romantic jumble of such
things and quite others--heterogeneous inns and clamorous _guingettes_
and factories grabbing at the torrent, to say nothing of innumerable
guides and donkeys and white-tied, swallow-tailed waiters dashing out
of grottos and from under cataracts, and of the air, on the part of
the whole population, of standing about, in the most characteristic
_contadino_ manner, to pounce on you and take you somewhere, snatch you
from somebody else, shout something at you, the aqueous and other uproar
permitting, and then charge you for it, your innocence aiding. I’m
afraid our run the rest of the way to Subiaco remains with me but as
an after-sense of that exhilaration, in spite of our rising admirably
higher, all the while, and plunging constantly deeper into splendid
solitary gravities, supreme romantic solemnities and sublimities, of
landscape. The Benedictine convent, which clings to certain more or less
vertiginous ledges and slopes of a vast precipitous gorge, constitutes,
with the whole perfection of its setting, the very ideal of the
tradition of that _extraordinary in the romantic_ handed down to us, as
the most attaching and inviting spell of Italy, by all the old academic
literature of travel and art of the Salvator Rosas and Claudes. This is
the main tribute I may pay in a few words to an impression of which a
sort of divine rightness of oddity, a pictorial felicity that was almost
not of this world, but of a higher degree of distinction altogether,
affected me as the leading note; yet about the whole exquisite
complexity of which I can’t pretend to be informing.

All the elements of the scene melted for me together; even from the
pause for luncheon on a grassy wayside knoll, over heaven knows what
admirable preparatory headlong slopes and ravines and iridescent
distances, under spreading chestnuts and in the high air that was cool
and sweet, to the final pedestrian climb of sinuous mountain-paths that
the shining limestone and the strong green of shrub and herbage made as
white as silver. There the miraculous home of St. Benedict awaited us
in the form of a builded and pictured-over maze of chapels and shrines,
cells and corridors, stupefying rock-chambers and caves, places all
at an extraordinary variety of different levels and with labyrinthine
intercommunications; there the spirit of the centuries sat like some
invisible icy presence that only permits you to stare and wonder. I
stared, I wondered, I went up and down and in and out and lost myself
in the fantastic fable of the innumerable hard facts themselves; and
whenever I could, above all, I peeped out of small windows and hung over
chance terraces for the love of the general outer picture, the splendid
fashion in which the fretted mountains of marble, as they might have
been, round about, seemed to inlay themselves, for the effect of the
“distinction” I speak of, with vegetations of dark emerald. There above
all--or at least in what such aspects did further for the prodigy of the
Convent, whatever that prodigy might for do _them_--was, to a life-long
victim of Italy, almost verily as never before, the operation of the
old love-philtre; there were the inexhaustible sources of interest and
charm.

{Illustration: SUBIACO}

These mystic fountains broke out for me elsewhere, again and again, I
rejoice to say--and perhaps more particularly, to be frank about it,
where the ground about them was pressed with due emphasis of appeal by
the firm wheels of the great winged car. I motored, under invitation
and protection, repeatedly back into the sense of the other years,
that sense of the “old” and comparatively idle Rome of my particular
infatuated prime which I was living to see superseded, and this even
when the fond vista bristled with innumerable “signs of the times,”
 unmistakable features of the new era, that, by I scarce know what
perverse law, succeeded in ministering to a happy effect. Some of these
false notes proceed simply from the immense growth of every sort of
facilitation--so that people are much more free than of old to come and
go and do, to inquire and explore, to pervade and generally “infest”;
with a consequent loss, for the fastidious individual, of his
blest earlier sense, not infrequent, of having the occasion and the
impression, as he used complacently to say, all to himself. We none of
us had anything quite all to ourselves during an afternoon at Ostia,
on a beautiful June Sunday; it was a different affair, rather, from the
long, the comparatively slow and quite unpeopled drive that I was to
remember having last taken early in the autumn thirty years before, and
which occupied the day--with the aid of a hamper from once supreme old
Spillman, the provider for picnics to a vanished world (since I suspect
the antique ideal of “a picnic in the Campagna,” the fondest conception
of a happy day, has lost generally much of its glamour). Our idyllic
afternoon, at any rate, left no chord of sensibility that could possibly
have been in question untouched--not even that of tea on the shore at
Fiumincino, after we had spent an hour among the ruins of Ostia and
seen our car ferried across the Tiber, almost saffron-coloured here and
swirling towards its mouth, on a boat that was little more than a big
rustic raft and that yet bravely resisted the prodigious weight. What
shall I say, in the way of the particular, of the general felicity
before me, for the sweetness of the hour to which the incident just
named, with its strange and amusing juxtapositions of the patriarchally
primitive and the insolently supersubtle, the earliest and the latest
efforts of restless science, were almost immediately to succeed?

We had but skirted the old gold-and-brown walls of Castel Fusano, where
the massive Chigi tower and the immemorial stone-pines and the afternoon
sky and the desolate sweetness and concentrated rarity of the picture
all kept their appointment, to fond memory, with that especial form of
Roman faith, the fine aesthetic conscience in things, that is never,
never broken. We had wound through tangled lanes and met handsome sallow
country-folk lounging at leisure, as became the Sunday, and ever so
pleasantly and garishly clothed, if not quite consistently costumed, as
just on purpose to feed our wanton optimism; and then we had addressed
ourselves with a soft superficiality to the open, the exquisite little
Ostian reliquary, an exhibition of stony vaguenesses half straightened
out. The ruins of the ancient port of Rome, the still recoverable
identity of streets and habitations and other forms of civil life, are
a not inconsiderable handful, though making of the place at best a very
small sister to Pompeii; but a soft superficiality is ever the refuge of
my shy sense before any ghost of informed reconstitution, and I plead my
surrender to it with the less shame that I believe I “enjoy” such scenes
even on such futile pretexts as much as it can be appointed them by the
invidious spirit of History to _be_ enjoyed. It may be said, of course,
that enjoyment, question-begging term at best, isn’t in these austere
connections designated--but rather some principle of appreciation that
can at least give a coherent account of itself. On that basis then--as
I could, I profess, _but_ revel in the looseness of my apprehension,
so wide it seemed to fling the gates of vision and divination--I won’t
pretend to dot, as it were, too many of the i’s of my incompetence.
I was competent only to have been abjectly interested. On reflection,
moreover, I see that no impression of over-much company invaded
the picture till the point was exactly reached for its contributing
thoroughly to character and amusement; across at Fiumincino, which the
age of the bicycle has made, in a small way, the handy Gravesend or
Coney Island of Rome, the cafés and _birrerie_ were at high pressure,
and the bustle all motley and friendly beside the melancholy river,
where the water-side life itself had twenty quaint and vivid notes and
where a few upstanding objects, ancient or modern, looked eminent and
interesting against the delicate Roman sky that dropped down and down
to the far-spreading marshes of malaria. Besides which “company” is ever
intensely gregarious, hanging heavily together and easily outwitted;
so that we had but to proceed a scant distance further and meet the
tideless Mediterranean, where it tumbled in a trifle breezily on the
sands, to be all to ourselves with our tea-basket, quite as in the good
old fashion--only in truth with the advantage that the contemporary
tea-basket is so much improved.

I jumble my memories as a tribute to the whole idyll--I give the golden
light in which they come back to me for what it is worth; worth, I mean,
as allowing that the possibilities of charm of the Witch of the Seven
Hills, as we used to call her in magazines, haven’t all been vulgarised
away. It was precisely there, on such an occasion and in such a place,
that this might seem signally to have happened; whereas in fact the mild
suburban riot, in which the so gay but so light potations before the
array of little houses of entertainment were what struck one as really
making most for mildness, was brushed over with a fabled grace, was
harmonious, felicitous, distinguished, quite after the fashion of some
thoroughly trained chorus or phalanx of opera or ballet. Bicycles were
stacked up by the hundred; the youth of Rome are ardent cyclists, with
a great taste for flashing about in more or less denuded or costumed
athletic and romantic bands and guilds, and on our return cityward,
toward evening, along the right bank of the river, the road swarmed with
the patient wheels and bent backs of these budding _cives Romani_ quite
to the effect of its finer interest. Such at least, I felt, could only
be one’s acceptance of almost any feature of a scene bathed in that
extraordinarily august air that the waning Roman day is so insidiously
capable of taking on when any other element of style happens at all to
contribute. Weren’t they present, these other elements, in the great
classic lines and folds, the fine academic or historic attitudes of
the darkening land itself as it hung about the old highway, varying
its vague accidents, but achieving always perfect “composition”? I
shamelessly add that cockneyfied impression, at all events, to what I
have called my jumble; Rome, to which we all swept on together in the
wondrous glowing medium, _saved_ everything, spreading afar her wide
wing and applying after all but her supposed grand gift of the secret
of salvation. We kept on and on into the great dim rather sordidly papal
streets that approach the quarter of St. Peter’s; to the accompaniment,
finally, of that markedly felt provocation of fond wonder which had
never failed to lie in wait for me under any question of a renewed
glimpse of the huge unvisited rear of the basilica. There was no renewed
glimpse just then, in the gloaming; but the region I speak of had been
for me, in fact, during the previous weeks, less unvisited than ever
before, so that I had come to count an occasional walk round and about
it as quite of the essence of the convenient small change with which the
heterogeneous City may still keep paying you. These frequentations in
the company of a sculptor friend had been incidental to our reaching
a small artistic foundry of fine metal, an odd and interesting little
establishment placed, as who should say in the case of such a mere
left-over scrap of a large loose margin, nowhere: it lurked so
unsuspectedly, that is, among the various queer things that Rome
comprehensively refers to as “behind St. Peter’s.”

We had passed then, on the occasion of our several pilgrimages, in
beneath the great flying, or at least straddling buttresses to the left
of the mighty façade, where you enter that great idle precinct of fine
dense pavement and averted and sacrificed grandeur, the reverse of the
monstrous medal of the front. Here the architectural monster rears its
back and shoulders on an equal scale and this whole unregarded world
of colossal consistent symmetry and hidden high finish gives you the
measure of the vast total treasure of items and features. The outward
face of all sorts of inward majesties of utility and ornament here
above all correspondingly reproduces itself; the expanses of golden
travertine--the freshness of tone, the cleanness of surface, in the
sunny air, being extraordinary--climb and soar and spread under the
crushing weight of a scheme carried out in every ponderous particular.
Never was such a show of _wasted_ art, of pomp for pomp’s sake, as
where all the chapels bulge and all the windows, each one a separate
constructional masterpiece, tower above almost grassgrown vacancy; with
the full and immediate effect, of course, of reading us a lesson on
the value of lawful pride. The pride is the pride of indifference as to
whether a greatness so founded be gaped at in all its features or not.
My friend and I were alone to gape at them most often while, for the
unfailing impression of them, on our way to watch the casting of our
figure, we extended our circuit of the place. To which I may add, as
another example of that tentative, that appealing twitch of the garment
of Roman association of which one kept renewing one’s consciousness, the
half-hour at the little foundry itself was all charming--with its quite
shabby and belittered and ramshackle recall of the old Roman “art-life”
 of one’s early dreams. Everything was somehow in the picture, the
rickety sheds, the loose paraphernalia, the sunny, grassy yard where a
goat was browsing; then the queer interior gloom of the pits, frilled
with little overlooking scaffoldings and bridges, for the sinking
fireward of the image that was to take on hardness; and all the
pleasantness and quickness, the beguiling refinement, of the three or
four light fine “hands” of whom the staff consisted and into whose type
and tone one liked to read, with whatever harmless extravagance, so many
signs that a lively sense of stiff processes, even in humble life, could
still leave untouched the traditional rare feeling for the artistic.
How delightful such an occupation in such a general setting--those of
my friend, I at such moments irrepressibly moralised; and how one might
after such a fashion endlessly go and come and ask nothing better; or if
better, only so to the extent of another impression I was to owe to him:
that of an evening meal spread, in the warm still darkness that made no
candle flicker, on the wide high space of an old loggia that overhung,
in one quarter, the great obelisked Square preceding one of the Gates,
and in the other the Tiber and the far Trastevere and more things than
I can say--above all, as it were, the whole backward past, the mild
confused romance of the Rome one had loved and of which one was exactly
taking leave under protection of the friendly lanterned and garlanded
feast and the commanding, all-embracing roof-garden. It was indeed a
reconciling, it was an altogether penetrating, last hour.

1909.



A CHAIN OF CITIES

One day in midwinter, some years since, during a journey from Rome
to Florence perforce too rapid to allow much wayside sacrifice to
curiosity, I waited for the train at Narni. There was time to stroll
far enough from the station to have a look at the famous old bridge
of Augustus, broken short off in mid-Tiber. While I stood admiring the
measure of impression was made to overflow by the gratuitous grace of a
white-cowled monk who came trudging up the road that wound to the gate
of the town. Narni stood, in its own presented felicity, on a hill a
good space away, boxed in behind its perfect grey wall, and the monk,
to oblige me, crept slowly along and disappeared within the aperture.
Everything was distinct in the clear air, and the view exactly as like
the bit of background by an Umbrian master as it ideally should have
been. The winter is bare and brown enough in southern Italy and the
earth reduced to more of a mere anatomy than among ourselves, for whom
the very _crânerie_ of its exposed state, naked and unashamed, gives it
much of the robust serenity, not of a fleshless skeleton, but of a fine
nude statue. In these regions at any rate, the tone of the air, for
the eye, during the brief desolation, has often an extraordinary charm:
nature still smiles as with the deputed and provisional charity of
colour and light, the duty of not ceasing to cheer man’s heart. Her
whole behaviour, at the time, cast such a spell on the broken bridge,
the little walled town and the trudging friar, that I turned away with
the impatient vow and the fond vision of how I would take the journey
again and pause to my heart’s content at Narni, at Spoleto, at Assisi,
at Perugia, at Cortona, at Arezzo. But we have generally to clip our
vows a little when we come to fulfil them; and so it befell that when my
blest springtime arrived I had to begin as resignedly as possible, yet
with comparative meagreness, at Assisi.

{Illustration: ASSISI.}

I suppose enjoyment would have a simple zest which it often lacks if
we always did things at the moment we want to, for it’s mostly when
we can’t that we’re thoroughly sure we _would_, and we can answer too
little for moods in the future conditional. Winter at least seemed to me
to have put something into these seats of antiquity that the May sun
had more or less melted away--a desirable strength of tone, a depth
upon depth of queerness and quaintness. Assisi had been in the January
twilight, after my mere snatch at Narni, a vignette out of some brown
old missal. But you’ll have to be a fearless explorer now to find of a
fine spring day any such cluster of curious objects as doesn’t seem made
to match before anything else Mr. Baedeker’s polyglot estimate of its
chief recommendations. This great man was at Assisi in force, and a
brand-new inn for his accommodation has just been opened cheek by
jowl with the church of St. Francis. I don’t know that even the dire
discomfort of this harbourage makes it seem less impertinent; but I
confess I sought its protection, and the great view seemed hardly less
beautiful from my window than from the gallery of the convent. This
view embraces the whole wide reach of Umbria, which becomes as twilight
deepens a purple counterfeit of the misty sea. The visitor’s first
errand is with the church; and it’s fair furthermore to admit that when
he has crossed that threshold the position and quality of his hotel
cease for the time to be matters of moment. This two-fold temple of St.
Francis is one of the very sacred places of Italy, and it would be
hard to breathe anywhere an air more heavy with holiness. Such seems
especially the case if you happen thus to have come from Rome, where
everything ecclesiastical is, in aspect, so very much of this world--so
florid, so elegant, so full of accommodations and excrescences. The mere
site here makes for authority, and they were brave builders who laid the
foundation-stones. The thing rises straight from a steep mountain-side
and plunges forward on its great substructure of arches even as a
crowned headland may frown over the main. Before it stretches a long,
grassy piazza, at the end of which you look up a small grey street, to
see it first climb a little way the rest of the hill and then pause
and leave a broad green slope, crested, high in the air, with a ruined
castle. When I say before it I mean before the upper church; for by
way of doing something supremely handsome and impressive the sturdy
architects of the thirteenth century piled temple upon temple and
bequeathed a double version of their idea. One may imagine them to have
intended perhaps an architectural image of the relation between heart
and head. Entering the lower church at the bottom of the great flight
of steps which leads from the upper door, you seem to push at least into
the very heart of Catholicism.

For the first minutes after leaving the clearer gloom you catch nothing
but a vista of low black columns closed by the great fantastic cage
surrounding the altar, which is thus placed, by your impression, in
a sort of gorgeous cavern. Gradually you distinguish details, become
accustomed to the penetrating chill, and even manage to make out a
few frescoes; but the general effect remains splendidly sombre and
subterranean. The vaulted roof is very low and the pillars dwarfish,
though immense in girth, as befits pillars supporting substantially a
cathedral. The tone of the place is a triumph of mystery, the richest
harmony of lurking shadows and dusky corners, all relieved by scattered
images and scintillations. There was little light but what came through
the windows of the choir over which the red curtains had been dropped
and were beginning to glow with the downward sun. The choir was guarded
by a screen behind which a dozen venerable voices droned vespers; but
over the top of the screen came the heavy radiance and played among the
ornaments of the high fence round the shrine, casting the shadow of the
whole elaborate mass forward into the obscured nave. The darkness of
vaults and side-chapels is overwrought with vague frescoes, most of them
by Giotto and his school, out of which confused richness the terribly
distinct little faces characteristic of these artists stare at you with
a solemn formalism. Some are faded and injured, and many so ill-lighted
and ill-placed that you can only glance at them with decent conjecture;
the great group, however--four paintings by Giotto on the ceiling above
the altar--may be examined with some success. Like everything of that
grim and beautiful master they deserve examination; but with the effect
ever of carrying one’s appreciation in and in, as it were, rather than
of carrying it out and out, off and off, as happens for us with those
artists who have been helped by the process of “evolution” to grow
wings. This one, “going in” for emphasis at any price, stamps hard, as
who should say, on the very spot of his idea--thanks to which fact
he has a concentration that has never been surpassed. He was in other
words, in proportion to his means, a genius supremely expressive; he
makes the very shade of an intended meaning or a represented attitude so
unmistakable that his figures affect us at moments as creatures all
too suddenly, too alarmingly, too menacingly met. Meagre, primitive,
undeveloped, he yet is immeasurably strong; he even suggests that if he
had lived the due span of years later Michael Angelo might have found
a rival. Not that he is given, however, to complicated postures or
superhuman flights. The something strange that troubles and haunts us in
his work springs rather from a kind of fierce familiarity.

It is part of the wealth of the lower church that it contains an
admirable primitive fresco by an artist of genius rarely encountered,
Pietro Cavallini, pupil of Giotto. This represents the Crucifixion; the
three crosses rising into a sky spotted with the winged heads of angels
while a dense crowd presses below. You will nowhere see anything more
direfully lugubrious, or more approaching for direct force, though not
of course for amplitude of style, Tintoretto’s great renderings of the
scene in Venice. The abject anguish of the crucified and the straddling
authority and brutality of the mounted guards in the foreground are
contrasted in a fashion worthy of a great dramatist. But the most
poignant touch is the tragic grimaces of the little angelic heads that
fall like hailstones through the dark air. It is genuine realistic
weeping, the act of irrepressible “crying,” that the painter has
depicted, and the effect is pitiful at the same time as grotesque. There
are many more frescoes besides; all the chapels on one side are
lined with them, but these are chiefly interesting in their general
impressiveness--as they people the dim recesses with startling
presences, with apparitions out of scale. Before leaving the place I
lingered long near the door, for I was sure I shouldn’t soon again enjoy
such a feast of scenic composition. The opposite end glowed with subdued
colour; the middle portion was vague and thick and brown, with two or
three scattered worshippers looming through the obscurity; while, all
the way down, the polished pavement, its uneven slabs glittering dimly
in the obstructed light, was of the very essence of expensive picture.
It is certainly desirable, if one takes the lower church of St. Francis
to represent the human heart, that one should find a few bright places
there. But if the general effect is of brightness terrorised and
smothered, is the symbol less valid? For the contracted, prejudiced,
passionate heart let it stand.

One thing at all events we can say, that we should rejoice to boast as
capacious, symmetrical and well-ordered a head as the upper sanctuary.
Thanks to these merits, in spite of a brave array of Giottesque work
which has the advantage of being easily seen, it lacks the great
character of its counterpart. The frescoes, which are admirable,
represent certain leading events in the life of St. Francis, and
suddenly remind you, by one of those anomalies that are half the secret
of the consummate _mise-en-scene_ of Catholicism, that the apostle of
beggary, the saint whose only tenement in life was the ragged robe which
barely covered him, is the hero of this massive structure. Church upon
church, nothing less will adequately shroud his consecrated clay. The
great reality of Giotto’s designs adds to the helpless wonderment with
which we feel the passionate pluck of the Hero, the sense of being
separated from it by an impassable gulf, the reflection on all that has
come and gone to make morality at that vertiginous pitch impossible.
There are no such high places of humility left to climb to. An observant
friend who has lived long in Italy lately declared to me, however, that
she detested the name of this moralist, deeming him chief propagator of
the Italian vice most trying to the would-be lover of the people, the
want of personal self-respect. There is a solidarity in the use of soap,
and every cringing beggar, idler, liar and pilferer flourished for her
under the shadow of the great Francisan indifference to it. She was
possibly right; at Rome, at Naples, I might have admitted she was right;
but at Assisi, face to face with Giotto’s vivid chronicle, we admire too
much in its main subject the exquisite play of that subject’s genius--we
don’t remit to him, and this for very envy, a single throb of his
consciousness. It took in, that human, that divine embrace, everything
_but_ soap.

I should find it hard to give an orderly account of my next adventures
or impressions at Assisi, which could n’t well be anything more than
mere romantic _flanerie_. One may easily plead as the final result of
a meditation at the shrine of St. Francis a great and even an amused
charity. This state of mind led me slowly up and down for a couple of
hours through the steep little streets, and at last stretched itself
on the grass with me in the shadow of the great ruined castle that
decorates so grandly the eminence above the town. I remember edging
along the sunless side of the small mouldy houses and pausing very often
to look at nothing in particular. It was all very hot, very hushed, very
resignedly but very persistently old. A wheeled vehicle in such a place
is an event, and the _forestiero’s_ interrogative tread in the blank
sonorous lanes has the privilege of bringing the inhabitants to their
doorways. Some of the better houses, however, achieve a sombre stillness
that protests against the least curiosity as to what may happen in any
such century as this. You wonder, as you pass, what lingering old-world
social types vegetate there, but you won’t find out; albeit that in one
very silent little street I had a glimpse of an open door which I have
not forgotten. A long-haired peddler who must have been a Jew, and who
yet carried without prejudice a burden of mass-books and rosaries, was
offering his wares to a stout old priest. The priest had opened the
door rather stingily and appeared half-heartedly to dismiss him. But
the peddler held up something I couldn’t see; the priest wavered with a
timorous concession to profane curiosity and then furtively pulled the
agent of sophistication, or whatever it might be, into the house. I
should have liked to enter with that worthy.

I saw later some gentlemen of Assisi who also seemed bored enough to
have found entertainment in his tray. They were at the door of the cafe
on the Piazza, and were so thankful to me for asking them the way to the
cathedral that, answering all in chorus, they lighted up with smiles as
sympathetic as if I had done them a favour. Of that type were my mild,
my delicate adventures. The Piazza has a fine old portico of an ancient
Temple of Minerva--six fluted columns and a pediment, of beautiful
proportions, but sadly battered and decayed. Goethe, I believe, found it
much more interesting than the mighty mediaeval church, and Goethe, as a
cicerone, doubtless could have persuaded one that it was so; but in the
humble society of Murray we shall most of us find a richer sense in the
later monument. I found quaint old meanings enough in the dark yellow
facade of the small cathedral as I sat on a stone bench by the oblong
green stretched before it. This is a pleasing piece of Italian Gothic
and, like several of its companions at Assisi, has an elegant wheel
window and a number of grotesque little carvings of creatures human
and bestial. If with Goethe I were to balance anything against the
attractions of the double church I should choose the ruined castle
on the hill above the town. I had been having glimpses of it all the
afternoon at the end of steep street-vistas, and promising myself
half-an-hour beside its grey walls at sunset. The sun was very late
setting, and my half-hour became a long lounge in the lee of an abutment
which arrested the gentle uproar of the wind. The castle is a splendid
piece of ruin, perched on the summit of the mountain to whose slope
Assisi clings and dropping a pair of stony arms to enclose the little
town in its embrace. The city wall, in other words, straggles up the
steep green hill and meets the crumbling skeleton of the fortress. On
the side off from the town the mountain plunges into a deep ravine, the
opposite face of which is formed by the powerful undraped shoulder of
Monte Subasio, a fierce reflector of the sun. Gorge and mountain are
wild enough, but their frown expires in the teeming softness of the
great vale of Umbria. To lie aloft there on the grass, with silver-grey
ramparts at one’s back and the warm rushing wind in one’s ears, and
watch the beautiful plain mellow into the tones of twilight, was as
exquisite a form of repose as ever fell to a tired tourist’s lot.

{Illustration: PERUGIA.}

Perugia too has an ancient stronghold, which one must speak of in
earnest as that unconscious humorist the classic American traveller
is supposed invariably to speak of the Colosseum: it will be a very
handsome building when it’s finished. Even Perugia is going the way of
all Italy--straightening out her streets, preparing her ruins, laying
her venerable ghosts. The castle is being completely _remis a neuf_--a
Massachusetts schoolhouse could n’t cultivate a “smarter” ideal. There
are shops in the basement and fresh putty on all the windows; so
that the only thing proper to a castle it has kept is its magnificent
position and range, which you may enjoy from the broad platform where
the Perugini assemble at eventide. Perugia is chiefly known to fame as
the city of Raphael’s master; but it has a still higher claim to renown
and ought to figure in the gazetteer of fond memory as the little City
of the infinite View. The small dusky, crooked place tries by a hundred
prompt pretensions, immediate contortions, rich mantling flushes and
other ingenuities, to waylay your attention and keep it at home; but
your consciousness, alert and uneasy from the first moment, is all
abroad even when your back is turned to the vast alternative or when
fifty house-walls conceal it, and you are for ever rushing up by-streets
and peeping round corners in the hope of another glimpse or reach of it.
As it stretches away before you in that eminent indifference to limits
which is at the same time at every step an eminent homage to style, it
is altogether too free and fair for compasses and terms. You can only
say, and rest upon it, that you prefer it to any other visible fruit of
position or claimed empire of the eye that you are anywhere likely to
enjoy.

For it is such a wondrous mixture of blooming plain and gleaming river
and wavily-multitudinous mountain vaguely dotted with pale grey cities,
that, placed as you are, roughly speaking, in the centre of Italy, you
all but span the divine peninsula from sea to sea. Up the long vista
of the Tiber you look--almost to Rome; past Assisi, Spello, Foligno,
Spoleto, all perched on their respective heights and shining through the
violet haze. To the north, to the east, to the west, you see a hundred
variations of the prospect, of which I have kept no record. Two
notes only I have made: one--though who hasn’t made it over and over
again?--on the exquisite elegance of mountain forms in this endless play
of the excrescence, it being exactly as if there were variation of sex
in the upheaved mass, with the effect here mainly of contour and curve
and complexion determined in the feminine sense. It further came home to
me that the command of such an outlook on the world goes far, surely, to
give authority and centrality and experience, those of the great seats
of dominion, even to so scant a cluster of attesting objects as here. It
must deepen the civic consciousness and take off the edge of ennui.
It performs this kindly office, at any rate, for the traveller who
may overstay his curiosity as to Perugino and the Etruscan relics. It
continually solicits his wonder and praise--it reinforces the historic
page. I spent a week in the place, and when it was gone I had had enough
of Perugino, but had n’t had enough of the View.

I should perhaps do the reader a service by telling him just how a week
at Perugia may be spent. His first care must be to ignore the very dream
of haste, walking everywhere very slowly and very much at random, and
to impute an esoteric sense to almost anything his eye may happen to
encounter. Almost everything in fact lends itself to the historic,
the romantic, the æsthetic fallacy--almost everything has an antique
queerness and richness that ekes out the reduced state; that of a grim
and battered old adventuress, the heroine of many shames and scandals,
surviving to an extraordinary age and a considerable penury, but with
ancient gifts of princes and other forms of the wages of sin to show,
and the most beautiful garden of all the world to sit and doze and count
her beads in and remember. He must hang a great deal about the huge
Palazzo Pubblico, which indeed is very well worth any acquaintance you
may scrape with it. It masses itself gloomily above the narrow street to
an immense elevation, and leads up the eye along a cliff-like surface
of rugged wall, mottled with old scars and new repairs, to the loggia
dizzily perched on its cornice. He must repeat his visit to the Etruscan
Gate, by whose immemorial composition he must indeed linger long to
resolve it back into the elements originally attending it. He must uncap
to the irrecoverable, the inimitable style of the statue of Pope Julius
III before the cathedral, remembering that Hawthorne fabled his Miriam,
in an air of romance from which we are well-nigh as far to-day as from
the building of Etruscan gates, to have given rendezvous to Kenyon at
its base. Its material is a vivid green bronze, and the mantle and tiara
are covered with a delicate embroidery worthy of a silver-smith.

Then our leisurely friend must bestow on Perugino’s frescoes in
the Exchange, and on his pictures in the University, all the placid
contemplation they deserve. He must go to the theatre every evening,
in an orchestra-chair at twenty-two soldi, and enjoy the curious
didacticism of “Amore senza Stima,” “Severita e Debolezza,” “La Societa
Equivoca,” and other popular specimens of contemporaneous Italian
comedy--unless indeed the last-named be not the edifying title applied,
for peninsular use, to “Le Demi-Monde” of the younger Dumas. I shall
be very much surprised if, at the end of a week of this varied
entertainment, he hasn’t learnt how to live, not exactly in, but with,
Perugia. His strolls will abound in small accidents and mercies of
vision, but of which a dozen pencil-strokes would be a better memento
than this poor word-sketching. From the hill on which the town is
planted radiate a dozen ravines, down whose sides the houses slide and
scramble with an alarming indifference to the cohesion of their little
rugged blocks of flinty red stone. You ramble really nowhither without
emerging on some small court or terrace that throws your view across a
gulf of tangled gardens or vineyards and over to a cluster of serried
black dwellings which have to hollow in their backs to keep their
balance on the opposite ledge. On archways and street-staircases and
dark alleys that bore through a density of massive basements, and curve
and climb and plunge as they go, all to the truest mediaeval tune,
you may feast your fill. These are the local, the architectural,
the compositional commonplaces.. Some of the little streets in
out-of-the-way corners are so rugged and brown and silent that you may
imagine them passages long since hewn by the pick-axe in a deserted
stone-quarry. The battered black houses, of the colour of buried
things--things buried, that is, in accumulations of time, closer packed,
even as such are, than spadefuls of earth--resemble exposed sections of
natural rock; none the less so when, beyond some narrow gap, you catch
the blue and silver of the sublime circle of landscape.

{Illustration: ETRUSCAN GATEWAY, PERUGIA.}

But I ought n’t to talk of mouldy alleys, or yet of azure distances,
as if they formed the main appeal to taste in this accomplished little
city. In the Sala del Cambio, where in ancient days the money-changers
rattled their embossed coin and figured up their profits, you may enjoy
one of the serenest aesthetic pleasures that the golden age of art
anywhere offers us. Bank parlours, I believe, are always handsomely
appointed, but are even those of Messrs. Rothschild such models of mural
bravery as this little counting-house of a bygone fashion? The bravery
is Perugino’s own; for, invited clearly to do his best, he left it as
a lesson to the ages, covering the four low walls and the vault with
scriptural and mythological figures of extraordinary beauty. They
are ranged in artless attitudes round the upper half of the
room--the sibyls, the prophets, the philosophers, the Greek and Roman
heroes--looking down with broad serene faces, with small mild eyes and
sweet mouths that commit them to nothing in particular unless to being
comfortably and charmingly alive, at the incongruous proceedings of a
Board of Brokers. Had finance a very high tone in those days, or were
genius and faith then simply as frequent as capital and enterprise are
among ourselves? The great distinction of the Sala del Cambio is that
it has a friendly Yes for both these questions. There was a rigid
transactional probity, it seems to say; there was also a high tide of
inspiration. About the artist himself many things come up for us--more
than I can attempt in their order; for he was not, I think, to an
attentive observer, the mere smooth and entire and devout spirit we at
first are inclined to take him for. He has that about him which leads
us to wonder if he may not, after all, play a proper part enough here
as the patron of the money-changers. He is the delight of a million of
young ladies; but who knows whether we should n’t find in his works,
might we “go into” them a little, a trifle more of manner than of
conviction, and of system than of deep sincerity?

This, I allow, would put no great affront on them, and one speculates
thus partly but because it’s a pleasure to hang about him on any
pretext, and partly because his immediate effect is to make us quite
inordinately embrace the pretext of his lovely soul. His portrait,
painted on the wall of the Sala (you may see it also in Rome
and Florence) might at any rate serve for the likeness of Mr.
Worldly-Wiseman in Bunyan’s allegory. He was fond of his glass, I
believe, and he made his art lucrative. This tradition is not refuted
by his preserved face, and after some experience--or rather after a good
deal, since you can’t have a _little_ of Perugino, who abounds wherever
old masters congregate, so that one has constantly the sense of being
“in” for all there is--you may find an echo of it in the uniform type of
his creatures, their monotonous grace, their prodigious invariability.
He may very well have wanted to produce figures of a substantial, yet at
the same time of an impeccable innocence; but we feel that he had taught
himself _how_ even beyond his own belief in them, and had arrived at
a process that acted at last mechanically. I confess at the same time
that, so interpreted, the painter affects me as hardly less interesting,
and one can’t but become conscious of one’s style when one’s style
has become, as it were, so conscious of one’s, or at least of its own,
fortune. If he was the inventor of a remarkably calculable _facture_, a
calculation that never fails is in its way a grace of the first order,
and there are things in this special appearance of perfection of
practice that make him the forerunner of a mighty and more modern race.
More than any of the early painters who strongly charm, you may take all
his measure from a single specimen. The other samples infallibly match,
reproduce unerringly the one type he had mastered, but which had the
good fortune to be adorably fair, to seem to have dawned on a vision
unsullied by the shadows of earth. Which truth, moreover, leaves
Perugino all delightful as composer and draughtsman; he has in each of
these characters a sort of spacious neatness which suggests that the
whole conception has been washed clean by some spiritual chemistry the
last thing before reaching the canvas; after which it has been applied
to that surface with a rare economy of time and means. Giotto and Fra
Angelico, beside him, are full of interesting waste and irrelevant
passion. In the sacristy of the charming church of San Pietro--a museum
of pictures and carvings--is a row of small heads of saints formerly
covering the frame of the artist’s Ascension, carried off by the French.
It is almost miniature work, and here at least Perugino triumphs in
sincerity, in apparent candour, as well as in touch. Two of the holy
men are reading their breviaries, but with an air of infantine innocence
quite consistent with their holding the book upside down.

Between Perugia and Cortona lies the large weedy water of Lake
Thrasymene, turned into a witching word for ever by Hannibal’s recorded
victory over Rome. Dim as such records have become to us and remote such
realities, he is yet a passionless pilgrim who does n’t, as he passes,
of a heavy summer’s day, feel the air and the light and the very
faintness of the breeze all charged and haunted with them, all
interfused as with the wasted ache of experience and with the vague
historic gaze. Processions of indistinguishable ghosts bore me company
to Cortona itself, most sturdily ancient of Italian towns. It must have
been a seat of ancient knowledge even when Hannibal and Flaminius came
to the shock of battle, and have looked down afar from its grey ramparts
on the contending swarm with something of the philosophic composure
suitable to a survivor of Pelasgic and Etruscan revolutions. These grey
ramparts are in great part still visible, and form the chief attraction
of Cortona. It is perched on the very pinnacle of a mountain, and I
wound and doubled interminably over the face of the great hill, while
the jumbled roofs and towers of the arrogant little city still seemed
nearer to the sky than to the railway-station. “Rather rough,” Murray
pronounces the local inn; and rough indeed it was; there was scarce a
square foot of it that you would have cared to stroke with your hand.
The landlord himself, however, was all smoothness and the best fellow in
the world; he took me up into a rickety old loggia on the tip-top of his
establishment and played showman as to half the kingdoms of the earth.
I was free to decide at the same time whether my loss or my gain was the
greater for my seeing Cortona through the medium of a festa. On the
one hand the museum was closed (and in a certain sense the smaller
and obscurer the town the more I like the museum); the churches--an
interesting note of manners and morals--were impenetrably crowded,
though, for that matter, so was the cafe, where I found neither an empty
stool nor the edge of a table. I missed a sight of the famous painted
Muse, the art-treasure of Cortona and supposedly the most precious, as
it falls little short of being the only, sample of the Greek painted
picture that has come down to us. On the other hand, I saw--but this is
what I saw.

{Illustration: A STREET, CORTONA.}

A part of the mountain-top is occupied by the church of St. Margaret,
and this was St. Margaret’s day. The houses pause roundabout it and
leave a grassy slope, planted here and there with lean black cypresses.
The contadini from near and far had congregated in force and were
crowding into the church or winding up the slope. When I arrived they
were all kneeling or uncovered; a bedizened procession, with banners
and censers, bearing abroad, I believe, the relics of the saint, was
re-entering the church. The scene made one of those pictures that
Italy still brushes in for you with an incomparable hand and from
an inexhaustible palette when you find her in the mood. The day was
superb--the sky blazed overhead like a vault of deepest sapphire. The
grave brown peasantry, with no great accent of costume, but with
sundry small ones--decked, that is, in cheap fineries of scarlet and
yellow--made a mass of motley colour in the high wind-stirred light.
The procession halted in the pious hush, and the lovely land around and
beneath us melted away, almost to either sea, in tones of azure scarcely
less intense than the sky. Behind the church was an empty crumbling
citadel, with half-a-dozen old women keeping the gate for coppers.
Here were views and breezes and sun and shade and grassy corners to the
heart’s content, together with one could n’t say what huge seated mystic
melancholy presence, the after-taste of everything the still open maw
of time had consumed. I chose a spot that fairly combined all these
advantages, a spot from which I seemed to look, as who should say,
straight down the throat of the monster, no dark passage now, but with
all the glorious day playing into it, and spent a good part of my stay
at Cortona lying there at my length and observing the situation over
the top of a volume that I must have brought in my pocket just for that
especial wanton luxury of the resource provided and slighted. In the
afternoon I came down and hustled a while through the crowded little
streets, and then strolled forth under the scorching sun and made the
outer circuit of the wall. There I found tremendous uncemented blocks;
they glared and twinkled in the powerful light, and I had to put on a
blue eye-glass in order to throw into its proper perspective the vague
Etruscan past, obtruded and magnified in such masses quite as with the
effect of inadequately-withdrawn hands and feet in photographs.

I spent the next day at Arezzo, but I confess in very much the same
uninvestigating fashion--taking in the “general impression,” I dare say,
at every pore, but rather systematically leaving the dust of the ages
unfingered on the stored records: I should doubtless, in the poor time
at my command, have fingered it to so little purpose. The seeker for
the story of things has moreover, if he be worth his salt, a hundred
insidious arts; and in that case indeed--by which I mean when his
sensibility has come duly to adjust itself--the story assaults him but
from too many sides. He even feels at moments that he must sneak along
on tiptoe in order not to have too much of it. Besides which the case
all depends on the kind of use, the range of application, his tangled
consciousness, or his intelligible genius, say, may come to recognize
for it. At Arezzo, however this might be, one was far from Rome, one
was well within genial Tuscany, and the historic, the romantic decoction
seemed to reach one’s lips in less stiff doses. There at once was the
“general impression”--the exquisite sense of the scarce expressible
Tuscan quality, which makes immediately, for the whole pitch of one’s
perception, a grateful, a not at all strenuous difference, attaches to
almost any coherent group of objects, to any happy aspect of the scene,
for a main note, some mild recall, through pleasant friendly colour,
through settled ample form, through something homely and economic too at
the very heart of “style,” of an identity of temperament and habit with
those of the divine little Florence that one originally knew. Adorable
Italy in which, for the constant renewal of interest, of attention, of
affection, these refinements of variety, these so harmoniously-grouped
and individually-seasoned fruits of the great garden of history, keep
presenting themselves! It seemed to fall in with the cheerful Tuscan
mildness for instance--sticking as I do to that ineffectual expression
of the Tuscan charm, of the yellow-brown Tuscan dignity at large--that
the ruined castle on the hill (with which agreeable feature Arezzo is no
less furnished than Assisi and Cortona) had been converted into a great
blooming, and I hope all profitable, podere or market-garden. I lounged
away the half-hours there under a spell as potent as the “wildest”
 forecast of propriety--propriety to all the particular conditions--could
have figured it. I had seen Santa Maria della Pieve and its campanile
of quaint colonnades, the stately, dusky cathedral--grass-plotted and
residenced about almost after the fashion of an English “close”--and
John of Pisa’s elaborate marble shrine; I had seen the museum and its
Etruscan vases and majolica platters. These were very well, but the old
pacified citadel somehow, through a day of soft saturation, placed me
most in relation. Beautiful hills surrounded it, cypresses cast straight
shadows at its corners, while in the middle grew a wondrous Italian
tangle of wheat and corn, vines and figs, peaches and cabbages, memories
and images, anything and everything.

1873.



SIENA EARLY AND LATE


I


Florence being oppressively hot and delivered over to the mosquitoes,
the occasion seemed to favour that visit to Siena which I had more than
once planned and missed. I arrived late in the evening, by the light
of a magnificent moon, and while a couple of benignantly-mumbling old
crones were making up my bed at the inn strolled forth in quest of a
first impression. Five minutes brought me to where I might gather it
unhindered as it bloomed in the white moonshine. The great Piazza of
Siena is famous, and though in this day of multiplied photographs and
blunted surprises and profaned revelations none of the world’s wonders
can pretend, like Wordsworth’s phantom of delight, really to “startle
and waylay,” yet as I stepped upon the waiting scene from under a dark
archway I was conscious of no loss of the edge of a precious presented
sensibility. The waiting scene, as I have called it, was in the shape of
a shallow horse-shoe--as the untravelled reader who has turned over his
travelled friends’ portfolios will respectfully remember; or, better, of
a bow in which the high wide face of the Palazzo Pubblico forms the
cord and everything else the arc. It was void of any human presence that
could figure to me the current year; so that, the moonshine assisting,
I had half-an-hour’s infinite vision of mediæval Italy. The Piazza being
built on the side of a hill--or rather, as I believe science affirms, in
the cup of a volcanic crater--the vast pavement converges downwards in
slanting radiations of stone, the spokes of a great wheel, to a point
directly before the Palazzo, which may mark the hub, though it is
nothing more ornamental than the mouth of a drain. The great monument
stands on the lower side and might seem, in spite of its goodly mass and
its embattled cornice, to be rather defiantly out-countenanced by vast
private constructions occupying the opposite eminence. This might be,
without the extraordinary dignity of the architectural gesture with
which the huge high-shouldered pile asserts itself.

On the firm edge of the palace, from bracketed base to grey-capped
summit against the sky, where grows a tall slim tower which soars and
soars till it has given notice of the city’s greatness over the blue
mountains that mark the horizon. It rises as slender and straight as a
pennoned lance planted on the steel-shod toe of a mounted knight, and
keeps all to itself in the blue air, far above the changing fashions of
the market, the proud consciousness or rare arrogance once built into
it. This beautiful tower, the finest thing in Siena and, in its rigid
fashion, as permanently fine thus as a really handsome nose on a face of
no matter what accumulated age, figures there still as a Declaration
of Independence beside which such an affair as ours, thrown off at
Philadelphia, appears to have scarce done more than helplessly give way
to time. Our Independence has become a dependence on a thousand such
dreadful things as the incorrupt declaration of Siena strikes us as
looking for ever straight over the level of. As it stood silvered by
the moonlight, while my greeting lasted, it seemed to speak, all as from
soul to soul, very much indeed as some ancient worthy of a lower order,
buttonholing one on the coveted chance and at the quiet hour, might
have done, of a state of things long and vulgarly superseded, but to the
pride and power, the once prodigious vitality, of which who could expect
any one effect to testify more incomparably, more indestructibly, quite,
as it were, more immortally? The gigantic houses enclosing the rest of
the Piazza took up the tale and mingled with it their burden. “We are
very old and a trifle weary, but we were built strong and piled high,
and we shall last for many an age. The present is cold and heedless, but
we keep ourselves in heart by brooding over our store of memories and
traditions. We are haunted houses in every creaking timber and aching
stone.” Such were the gossiping connections I established with Siena
before I went to bed.

Since that night I have had a week’s daylight knowledge of the surface
of the subject at least, and don’t know how I can better present it than
simply as another and a vivider page of the lesson that the ever-hungry
artist has only to _trust_ old Italy for her to feed him at every single
step from her hand--and if not with one sort of sweetly-stale grain from
that wondrous mill of history which during so many ages ground finer
than any other on earth, why then always with something else. Siena has
at any rate “preserved appearances”--kept the greatest number of them,
that is, unaltered for the eye--about as consistently as one can imagine
the thing done. Other places perhaps may treat you to as drowsy an odour
of antiquity, but few exhale it from so large an area. Lying massed
within her walls on a dozen clustered hill-tops, she shows you at every
turn in how much greater a way she once lived; and if so much of the
grand manner is extinct, the receptacle of the ashes still solidly
rounds itself. This heavy general stress of all her emphasis on the past
is what she constantly keeps in your eyes and your ears, and if you be
but a casual observer and admirer the generalised response is mainly
what you give her. The casual observer, however beguiled, is mostly
not very learned, not over-equipped in advance with data; he hasn’t
specialised, his notions are necessarily vague, the chords of his
imagination, for all his good-will, are inevitably muffled and weak. But
such as it is, his received, his welcome impression serves his turn so
far as the life of sensibility goes, and reminds him from time to time
that even the lore of German doctors is but the shadow of satisfied
curiosity. I have been living at the inn, walking about the streets,
sitting in the Piazza; these are the simple terms of my experience. But
streets and inns in Italy are the vehicles of half one’s knowledge;
if one has no fancy for their lessons one may burn one’s note-book.
In Siena everything is Sienese. The inn has an English sign over the
door--a little battered plate with a rusty representation of the lion
and the unicorn; but advance hopefully into the mouldy stone alley which
serves as vestibule and you will find local colour enough. The landlord,
I was told, had been servant in an English family, and I was curious to
see how he met the probable argument of the casual Anglo-Saxon after the
latter’s first twelve hours in his establishment. As he failed to appear
I asked the waiter if he, weren’t at home. “Oh,” said the latter, “he’s
a _piccolo grasso vecchiotto_ who doesn’t like to move.” I’m afraid this
little fat old man has simply a bad conscience. It’s no small burden for
one who likes the Italians--as who doesn’t, under this restriction?--to
have so much indifference even to rudimentary purifying processes to
dispose of. What is the real philosophy of dirty habits, and are foul
surfaces merely superficial? If unclean manners have in truth the
moral meaning which I suspect in them we must love Italy better than
consistency. This a number of us are prepared to do, but while we are
making the sacrifice it is as well we should be aware.

We may plead moreover for these impecunious heirs of the past that even
if it were easy to be clean in the midst of their mouldering heritage
it would be difficult to appear so. At the risk of seeming to flaunt the
silly superstition of restless renovation for the sake of renovation,
which is but the challenge of the infinitely precious principle of
duration, one is still moved to say that the prime result of one’s
contemplative strolls in the dusky alleys of such a place is an
ineffable sense of disrepair. Everything is cracking, peeling, fading,
crumbling, rotting. No young Sienese eyes rest upon anything youthful;
they open into a world battered and befouled with long use. Everything
has passed its meridian except the brilliant façade of the cathedral,
which is being diligently retouched and restored, and a few private
palaces whose broad fronts seem to have been lately furbished and
polished. Siena was long ago mellowed to the pictorial tone; the
operation of time is now to deposit shabbiness upon shabbiness. But
it’s for the most part a patient, sturdy, sympathetic shabbiness,
which soothes rather than irritates the nerves, and has in many cases
doubtless as long a career to run as most of our pert and shallow
freshnesses. It projects at all events a deeper shadow into the constant
twilight of the narrow streets--that vague historic dusk, as I may call
it, in which one walks and wonders. These streets are hardly more than
sinuous flagged alleys, into which the huge black houses, between their
almost meeting cornices, suffer a meagre light to filter down over
rough-hewn stone, past windows often of graceful Gothic form, and great
pendent iron rings and twisted sockets for torches. Scattered over
their many-headed hill, they suffer the roadway often to incline to the
perpendicular, becoming so impracticable for vehicles that the sound of
wheels is only a trifle less anomalous than it would be in Venice. But
all day long there comes up to my window an incessant shuffling of feet
and clangour of voices. The weather is very warm for the season, all the
world is out of doors, and the Tuscan tongue (which in Siena is reputed
to have a classic purity) wags in every imaginable key. It doesn’t
rest even at night, and I am often an uninvited guest at concerts
and _conversazioni_ at two o’clock in the morning. The concerts are
sometimes charming. I not only don’t curse my wakefulness, but go to my
window to listen. Three men come carolling by, trolling and quavering
with voices of delightful sweetness, or a lonely troubadour in his
shirt-sleeves draws such artful love-notes from his clear, fresh
tenor, that I seem for the moment to be behind the scenes at the opera,
watching some Rubini or Mario go “on” and waiting for the round of
applause. In the intervals a couple of friends or enemies stop--Italians
always make their points in conversation by pulling up, letting you walk
on a few paces, to turn and find them standing with finger on nose
and engaging your interrogative eye--they pause, by a happy instinct,
directly under my window, and dispute their point or tell their story
or make their confidence. One scarce is sure which it may be; everything
has such an explosive promptness, such a redundancy of inflection and
action. But everything for that matter takes on such dramatic life
as our lame colloquies never know--so that almost any uttered
communications here become an acted play, improvised, mimicked,
proportioned and rounded, carried bravely to its _dénoûment_. The
speaker seems actually to establish his stage and face his foot-lights,
to create by a gesture a little scenic circumscription about him; he
rushes to and fro and shouts and stamps and postures, he ranges through
every phase of his inspiration. I noted the other evening a striking
instance of the spontaneity of the Italian gesture, in the person of a
small Sienese of I hardly know what exact age--the age of inarticulate
sounds and the experimental use of a spoon. It was a Sunday evening, and
this little man had accompanied his parents to the café. The Caffè
Greco at Siena is a most delightful institution; you get a capital
_demi-tasse_ for three sous, and an excellent ice for eight, and while
you consume these easy luxuries you may buy from a little hunchback the
local weekly periodical, the _Vita Nuova_, for three centimes (the two
centimes left from your sou, if you are under the spell of this magical
frugality, will do to give the waiter). My young friend was sitting on
his father’s knee and helping himself to the half of a strawberry-ice
with which his mamma had presented him. He had so many misadventures
with his spoon that this lady at length confiscated it, there being
nothing left of the ice but a little crimson liquid which he might
dispose of by the common instinct of childhood. But he was no friend,
it appeared, to such freedoms; he was a perfect little gentleman and he
resented it being expected of him that he should drink down his remnant.
He protested therefore, and it was the manner of his protest that struck
me. He didn’t cry audibly, though he made a very wry face. It was no
stupid squall, and yet he was too young to speak. It was a penetrating
concord of inarticulately pleading, accusing sounds, accompanied by
gestures of the most exquisite propriety. These were perfectly mature;
he did everything that a man of forty would have done if he had been
pouring out a flood of sonorous eloquence. He shrugged his shoulders
and wrinkled his eyebrows, tossed out his hands and folded his arms,
obtruded his chin and bobbed about his head--and at last, I am happy to
say, recovered his spoon. If I had had a solid little silver one I would
have presented it to him as a testimonial to a perfect, though as yet
unconscious, artist.

My actual tribute to him, however, has diverted me from what I had in
mind--a much weightier matter--the great private palaces which are the
massive majestic syllables, sentences, periods, of the strange message
the place addresses to us. They are extraordinarily spacious and
numerous, and one wonders what part they can play in the meagre economy
of the actual city. The Siena of to-day is a mere shrunken semblance
of the rabid little republic which in the thirteenth century waged
triumphant war with Florence, cultivated the arts with splendour,
planned a cathedral (though it had ultimately to curtail the design) of
proportions almost unequalled, and contained a population of two hundred
thousand souls. Many of these dusky piles still bear the names of the
old mediaeval magnates the vague mild occupancy of whose descendants has
the effect of armour of proof worn over “pot” hats and tweed jackets and
trousers. Half-a-dozen of them are as high as the Strozzi and Riccardi
palaces in Florence; they couldn’t well be higher. The very essence of
the romantic and the scenic is in the way these colossal dwellings are
packed together in their steep streets, in the depths of their little
enclosed, agglomerated city. When we, in our day and country, raise a
structure of half the mass and dignity, we leave a great space about
it in the manner of a pause after a showy speech. But when a Sienese
countess, as things are here, is doing her hair near the window, she
is a wonderfully near neighbour to the cavalier opposite, who is being
shaved by his valet. Possibly the countess doesn’t object to a certain
chosen publicity at her toilet; what does an Italian gentleman assure
me but that the aristocracy make very free with each other? Some of the
palaces are shown, but only when the occupants are at home, and now they
are in _villeggiatura_. Their villeggiatura lasts eight months of the
year, the waiter at the inn informs me, and they spend little more than
the carnival in the city. The gossip of an inn-waiter ought perhaps to
be beneath the dignity of even such thin history as this; but I confess
that when, as a story-seeker always and ever, I have come in from my
strolls with an irritated sense of the dumbness of stones and mortar,
it has been to listen with avidity, over my dinner, to the proffered
confidences of the worthy man who stands by with a napkin. His talk is
really very fine, and he prides himself greatly on his cultivated tone,
to which he calls my attention. He has very little good to say about the
Sienese nobility. They are “proprio d’origine egoista”--whatever that
may be--and there are many who can’t write their names. This may be
calumny; but I doubt whether the most blameless of them all could have
spoken more delicately of a lady of peculiar personal appearance who had
been dining near me. “She’s too fat,” I grossly said on her leaving
the room. The waiter shook his head with a little sniff: “È troppo
materiale.” This lady and her companion were the party whom, thinking
I might relish a little company--I had been dining alone for a week--he
gleefully announced to me as newly arrived Americans. They were
Americans, I found, who wore, pinned to their heads in permanence, the
black lace veil or mantilla, conveyed their beans to their mouth with
a knife, and spoke a strange raucous Spanish. They were in fine
compatriots from Montevideo.

{Illustration: THE RED PALACE, SIENA.}

The genius of old Siena, however, would make little of any stress of
such distinctions; one representative of a far-off social platitude
being about as much in order as another as he stands before the great
loggia of the Casino di Nobili, the club of the best society. The
nobility, which is very numerous and very rich, is still, says the
apparently competent native I began by quoting, perfectly feudal and
uplifted and separate. Morally and intellectually, behind the walls of
its palaces, the fourteenth century, it’s thrilling to think, hasn’t
ceased to hang on. There is no bourgeoisie to speak of; immediately
after the aristocracy come the poor people, who are very poor indeed.
My friend’s account of these matters made me wish more than ever, as
a lover of the preserved social specimen, of type at almost any price,
that one weren’t, a helpless victim of the historic sense, reduced
simply to staring at black stones and peeping up stately staircases;
and that when one had examined the street-face of the palace, Murray in
hand, one might walk up to the great drawing-room, make one’s bow to the
master and mistress, the old abbe and the young count, and invite
them to favour one with a sketch of their social philosophy or a few
first-hand family anecdotes.

The dusky labyrinth of the streets, we must in default of such
initiations content ourselves with noting, is interrupted by two great
candid spaces: the fan-shaped piazza, of which I just now said a word,
and the smaller square in which the cathedral erects its walls of
many-coloured marble. Of course since paying the great piazza my
compliments by moonlight I have strolled through it often at sunnier and
shadier hours. The market is held there, and wherever Italians buy and
sell, wherever they count and chaffer--as indeed you hear them do right
and left, at almost any moment, as you take your way among them--the
pulse of life beats fast. It has been doing so on the spot just named, I
suppose, for the last five hundred years, and during that time the cost
of eggs and earthen pots has been gradually but inexorably increasing.
The buyers nevertheless wrestle over their purchases as lustily as so
many fourteenth-century burghers suddenly waking up in horror to current
prices. You have but to walk aside, however, into the Palazzo Pubblico
really to feel yourself a thrifty old medievalist. The state affairs of
the Republic were formerly transacted here, but it now gives shelter
to modern law-courts and other prosy business. I was marched through
a number of vaulted halls and chambers, which, in the intervals of the
administrative sessions held in them, are peopled only by the great
mouldering archaic frescoes--anything but inanimate these even in their
present ruin--that cover the walls and ceiling. The chief painters of
the Sienese school lent a hand in producing the works I name, and you
may complete there the connoisseurship in which, possibly, you will have
embarked at the Academy. I say “possibly” to be very judicial, my own
observation having led me no great length. I have rather than otherwise
cherished the thought that the Sienese school suffers one’s eagerness
peacefully to slumber--benignantly abstains in fact from whipping up
a languid curiosity and a tepid faith. “A formidable rival to the
Florentine,” says some book--I forget which--into which I recently
glanced. Not a bit of it thereupon boldly say I; the Florentines may
rest on their laurels and the lounger on his lounge. The early painters
of the two groups have indeed much in common; but the Florentines had
the good fortune to see their efforts gathered up and applied by a few
pre-eminent spirits, such as never came to the rescue of the groping
Sienese. Fra Angelico and Ghirlandaio said all their feebler _confrères_
dreamt of and a great deal more beside, but the inspiration of Simone
Memmi and Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Sano di Pietro has a painful air of
never efflorescing into a maximum. Sodoma and Beccafumi are to my taste
a rather abortive maximum. But one should speak of them all gently--and
I do, from my soul; for their labour, by their lights, has wrought a
precious heritage of still-living colour and rich figure-peopled shadow
for the echoing chambers of their old civic fortress. The faded frescoes
cover the walls like quaintly-storied tapestries; in one way or another
they cast their spell. If one owes a large debt of pleasure to pictorial
art one comes to think tenderly and easily of its whole evolution, as
of the conscious experience of a single mysterious, striving spirit, and
one shrinks from saying rude things about any particular phase of it,
just as one would from referring without precautions to some error or
lapse in the life of a person one esteemed. You don’t care to remind a
grizzled veteran of his defeats, and why should we linger in Siena to
talk about Beccafumi? I by no means go so far as to say, with an amateur
with whom I have just been discussing the matter, that “Sodoma is a
precious poor painter and Beccafumi no painter at all”; but, opportunity
being limited, I am willing to let the remark about Beccafumi pass for
true. With regard to Sodoma, I remember seeing four years ago in the
choir of the Cathedral of Pisa a certain small dusky specimen of the
painter--an Abraham and Isaac, if I am not mistaken--which was charged
with a gloomy grace. One rarely meets him in general collections, and I
had never done so till the other day. He was not prolific, apparently;
he had however his own elegance, and his rarity is a part of it.

Here in Siena are a couple of dozen scattered frescoes and three or four
canvases; his masterpiece, among others, an harmonious Descent from the
Cross. I wouldn’t give a fig for the equilibrium of the figures or
the ladders; but while it lasts the scene is all intensely solemn and
graceful and sweet--too sweet for so bitter a subject. Sodoma’s
women are strangely sweet; an imaginative sense of morbid appealing
attitude--as notably in the sentimental, the pathetic, but the none the
less pleasant, “Swooning of St. Catherine,” the great Sienese heroine,
at San Domenico--seems to me the author’s finest accomplishment. His
frescoes have all the same almost appealing evasion of difficulty, and a
kind of mild melancholy which I am inclined to think the sincerest
part of them, for it strikes me as practically the artist’s depressed
suspicion of his own want of force. Once he determined, however, that if
he couldn’t be strong he would make capital of his weakness, and painted
the Christ bound to the Column, of the Academy. Here he got much nearer
and I have no doubt mixed his colours with his tears; but the result
can’t be better described than by saying that it is, pictorially, the
first of the modern Christs. Unfortunately it hasn’t been the last.

{Illustration: SAN DOMINICO, SIENA}

The main strength of Sienese art went possibly into the erection of the
Cathedral, and yet even here the strength is not of the greatest strain.
If, however, there are more interesting temples in Italy, there are
few more richly and variously scenic and splendid, the comparative
meagreness of the architectural idea being overlaid by a marvellous
wealth of ingenious detail. Opposite the church--with the dull old
archbishop’s palace on one side and a dismantled residence of the late
Grand Duke of Tuscany on the other--is an ancient hospital with a big
stone bench running all along its front. Here I have sat a while every
morning for a week, like a philosophic convalescent, watching the florid
façade of the cathedral glitter against the deep blue sky. It has been
lavishly restored of late years, and the fresh white marble of the
densely clustered pinnacles and statues and beasts and flowers
flashes in the sunshine like a mosaic of jewels. There is more of this
goldsmith’s work in stone than I can remember or describe; it is piled
up over three great doors with immense margins of exquisite decorative
sculpture--still in the ancient cream-coloured marble--and beneath three
sharp pediments embossed with images relieved against red marble and
tipped with golden mosaics. It is in the highest degree fantastic and
luxuriant--it is on the whole very lovely. As a triumph of the many-hued
it prepares you for the interior, where the same parti-coloured
splendour is endlessly at play--a confident complication of harmonies
and contrasts and of the minor structural refinements and braveries.
The internal surface is mainly wrought in alternate courses of black and
white marble; but as the latter has been dimmed by the centuries to a
fine mild brown the place is all a concert of relieved and dispersed
glooms. Save for Pinturicchio’s brilliant frescoes in the Sacristy
there are no pictures to speak of; but the pavement is covered with many
elaborate designs in black and white mosaic after cartoons by Beccafumi.
The patient skill of these compositions makes them a rare piece of
decoration; yet even here the friend whom I lately quoted rejects this
over-ripe fruit of the Sienese school. The designs are nonsensical, he
declares, and all his admiration is for the cunning artisans who have
imitated the hatchings and shadings and hair-strokes of the pencil
by the finest curves of inserted black stone. But the true romance of
handiwork at Siena is to be seen in the wondrous stalls of the choir,
under the coloured light of the great wheel-window. Wood-carving has
ever been a cherished craft of the place, and the best masters of the
art during the fifteenth century lavished themselves on this prodigious
task. It is the frost-work on one’s window-panes interpreted in polished
oak. It would be hard to find, doubtless, a more moving illustration of
the peculiar patience, the sacred candour, of the great time. Into such
artistry as this the author seems to put more of his personal substance
than into any other; he has to wrestle not only with his subject,
but with his material. He is richly fortunate when his subject is
charming--when his devices, inventions and fantasies spring lightly to
his hand; for in the material itself, after age and use have ripened
and polished and darkened it to the richness of ebony and to a greater
warmth there is something surpassingly delectable and venerable. Wander
behind the altar at Siena when the chanting is over and the incense has
faded, and look well at the stalls of the Barili.

1873.


II


I leave the impression noted in the foregoing pages to tell its own
small story, but have it on my conscience to wonder, in this connection,
quite candidly and publicly and by way of due penance, at the scantness
of such first-fruits of my sensibility. I was to see Siena repeatedly
in the years to follow, I was to know her better, and I would say that
I was to do her an ampler justice didn’t that remark seem to reflect a
little on my earlier poor judgment. This judgment strikes me to-day as
having fallen short--true as it may be that I find ever a value, or
at least an interest, even in the moods and humours and lapses of any
brooding, musing or fantasticating observer to whom the finer sense
of things is _on the whole_ not closed. If he has on a given occasion
nodded or stumbled or strayed, this fact by itself speaks to me of
him--speaks to me, that is, of his faculty and his idiosyncrasies, and
I care nothing for the application of his faculty unless it be, first of
all, in itself interesting. Which may serve as my reply to any objection
here breaking out--on the ground that if a spectator’s languors are
evidence, of a sort, about that personage, they are scarce evident about
the case before him, at least if the case be important. I let my perhaps
rather weak expression of the sense of Siena stand, at any rate--for the
sake of what I myself read into it; but I should like to amplify it by
other memories, and would do so eagerly if I might here enjoy the space.
The difficulty for these rectifications is that if the early vision has
failed of competence or of full felicity, if initiation has thus been
slow, so, with renewals and extensions, so, with the larger experience,
one hindrance is exchanged for another. There is quite such a
possibility as having lived into a relation too much to be able to make
a statement of it.

I remember on one occasion arriving very late of a summer night, after
an almost unbroken run from London, and the note of that approach--I
was the only person alighting at the station below the great hill of
the little fortress city, under whose at once frowning and gaping gate I
must have passed, in the warm darkness and the absolute stillness,
very much after the felt fashion of a person of importance about to be
enormously incarcerated--gives me, for preservation thus belated, the
pitch, as I may call it, at various times, though always at one season,
of an almost systematised esthetic use of the place. It wasn’t to be
denied that the immensely better “accommodations” instituted by the
multiplying, though alas more bustling, years had to be recognised as
supplying a basis, comparatively prosaic if one would, to that luxury.
No sooner have I written which words, however, than I find myself adding
that one “wouldn’t,” that one doesn’t--doesn’t, that is, consent now to
regard the then “new” hotel (pretty old indeed by this time) as anything
but an aid to a free play of perception. The strong and rank old Arme
d’Inghilterra, in the darker street, has passed away; but its ancient
rival the Aquila Nera put forth claims to modernisation, and the Grand
Hotel, the still fresher flower of modernity near the gate by which you
enter from the station, takes on to my present remembrance a mellowness
as of all sorts of comfort, cleanliness and kindness. The particular
facts, those of the visit I began here by alluding to and those of still
others, at all events, inveterately made in June or early in July, enter
together in a fusion as of hot golden-brown objects seen through the
practicable crevices of shutters drawn upon high, cool, darkened rooms
where the scheme of the scene involved longish days of quiet work, with
late afternoon emergence and contemplation waiting on the better or the
worse conscience. I thus associate the compact world of the admirable
hill-top, the world of a predominant golden-brown, with a general
invocation of sensibility and fancy, and think of myself as going forth
into the lingering light of summer evenings all attuned to intensity of
the idea of compositional beauty, or in other words, freely speaking,
to the question of colour, to intensity of picture. To communicate with
Siena in this charming way was thus, I admit, to have no great margin
for the prosecution of inquiries, but I am not sure that it wasn’t,
little by little, to feel the whole combination of elements better than
by a more exemplary method, and this from beginning to end of the scale.

More of the elements indeed, for memory, hang about the days that were
ushered in by that straight flight from the north than about any other
series--if partly, doubtless, but because of my having then stayed
longest. I specify it at all events for fond reminiscence as the year,
the only year, at which I was present at the Palio, the earlier one,
the series of furious horse-races between elected representatives of
different quarters of the town taking place toward the end of June, as
the second and still more characteristic exhibition of the same sort
is appointed to the month of August; a spectacle that I am far from
speaking of as the finest flower of my old and perhaps even a little
faded cluster of impressions, but which smudges that special sojourn as
with the big thumb--mark of a slightly soiled and decidedly ensanguined
hand. For really, after all, the great loud gaudy romp or heated frolic,
simulating ferocity if not achieving it, that is the annual pride of the
town, was not intrinsically, to my-view, extraordinarily impressive--in
spite of its bristling with all due testimony to the passionate Italian
clutch of any pretext for costume and attitude and utterance, for
mumming and masquerading and raucously representing; the vast cheap
vividness rather somehow refines itself, and the swarm and hubbub of the
immense square melt, to the uplifted sense of a very high-placed balcony
of the overhanging Chigi palace, where everything was superseded but the
intenser passage, across the ages, of the great Renaissance tradition
of architecture and the infinite sweetness of the waning golden day.
The Palio, indubitably, was _criard_--and the more so for quite
monopolising, at Siena, the note of crudity; and much of it demanded
doubtless of one’s patience a due respect for the long local continuity
of such things; it drops into its humoured position, however, in any
retrospective command of the many brave aspects of the prodigious place.
Not that I am pretending here, even for rectification, to take these at
all in turn; I only go on a little with my rueful glance at the marked
gaps left in my original report of sympathies entertained.

I bow my head for instance to the mystery of my not having mentioned
that the coolest and freshest flower of the day was ever that of one’s
constant renewal of a charmed homage to Pinturicchio, coolest and
freshest and signally youngest and most matutinal (as distinguished from
merely primitive or crepuscular) of painters, in the library or
sacristy of the Cathedral. Did I _always_ find time before work to spend
half-an-hour of immersion, under that splendid roof, in the clearest
and tenderest, the very cleanest and “straightest,” as it masters
our envious credulity, of all storied fresco-worlds? This wondrous
apartment, a monument in itself to the ancient pride and power of
the Church, and which contains an unsurpassed treasure of gloriously
illuminated missals, psalters and other vast parchment folios, almost
each of whose successive leaves gives the impression of rubies,
sapphires and emeralds set in gold and practically embedded in the page,
offers thus to view, after a fashion splendidly sustained, a pictorial
record of the career of Pope Pius II, Aeneas Sylvius of the Siena
Piccolomini (who gave him for an immediate successor a second of
their name), most profanely literary of Pontiffs and last of would-be
Crusaders, whose adventures and achievements under Pinturicchio’s brush
smooth themselves out for us very much to the tune of the “stories” told
by some fine old man of the world, at the restful end of his life, to
the cluster of his grandchildren. The end of AEneas Sylvius was not
restful; he died at Ancona in troublous times, preaching war, and
attempting to make it, against the then terrific Turk; but over no great
worldly personal legend, among those of men of arduous affairs, arches a
fairer, lighter or more pacific memorial vault than the shining Libreria
of Siena. I seem to remember having it and its unfrequented enclosing
precinct so often all to myself that I must indeed mostly have resorted
to it for a prompt benediction on the day. Like no other strong
solicitation, among artistic appeals to which one may compare it up and
down the whole wonderful country, is the felt neighbouring presence of
the overwrought Cathedral in its little proud possessive town: you may
so often feel by the week at a time that it stands there really for your
own personal enjoyment, your romantic convenience, your small wanton
aesthetic use. In such a light shines for me, at all events, under such
an accumulation and complication of tone flushes and darkens and richly
recedes for me, across the years, the treasure-house of many-coloured
marbles in the untrodden, the drowsy, empty Sienese square. One
could positively do, in the free exercise of any responsible fancy or
luxurious taste, what one would with it.

But that proposition holds true, after all, for almost any mild pastime
of the incurable student of loose meanings and stray relics and odd
references and dim analogies in an Italian hill-city bronzed and
seasoned by the ages. I ought perhaps, for justification of the right to
talk, to have plunged into the Siena archives of which, on one occasion,
a kindly custodian gave me, in rather dusty and stuffy conditions,
as the incident vaguely comes back to me, a glimpse that was like a
moment’s stand at the mouth of a deep, dark mine. I didn’t descend into
the pit; I did, instead of this, a much idler and easier thing: I simply
went every afternoon, my stint of work over, I like to recall, for a
musing stroll upon the Lizza--the Lizza which had its own unpretentious
but quite insidious art of meeting the lover of old stories halfway. The
great and subtle thing, if you are not a strenuous specialist, in places
of a heavily charged historic consciousness, is to profit by the sense
of that consciousness--or in other words to cultivate a relation with
the oracle--after the fashion that suits yourself; so that if the
general after-taste of experience, experience at large, the fine
distilled essence of the matter, seems to breathe, in such a case, from
the very stones and to make a thick strong liquor of the very air, you
may thus gather as you pass what is most to your purpose; which is
more the indestructible mixture of lived things, with its concentrated
lingering odour, than any interminable list of numbered chapters and
verses. Chapters and verses, literally scanned, refuse coincidence,
mostly, with the divisional proprieties of your own pile of
manuscript--which is but another way of saying, in short, that if the
Lizza is a mere fortified promontory of the great Sienese hill, serving
at once as a stronghold for the present military garrison and as a
planted and benched and band-standed walk and recreation-ground for the
citizens, so I could never, toward close of day, either have enough of
it or yet feel the vaguest saunterings there to be vain. They were vague
with the qualification always of that finer massing, as one wandered
off, of the bronzed and seasoned element, the huge rock pedestal, the
bravery of walls and gates and towers and palaces and loudly asserted
dominion; and then of that pervaded or mildly infested air in which
one feels the experience of the ages, of which I just spoke, to be
exquisitely in solution; and lastly of the wide, strange, sad, beautiful
horizon, a rim of far mountains that always pictured, for the leaner
on old rubbed and smoothed parapets at the sunset hour, a country not
exactly blighted or deserted, but that had had its life, on an immense
scale, and had gone, with all its memories and relics, into rather
austere, in fact into almost grim and misanthropic, retirement. This was
a manner and a mood, at any rate, in all the land, that favoured in the
late afternoons the divinest landscape blues and purples--not to speak
of its favouring still more my practical contention that the whole
guarded headland in question, with the immense ramparts of golden brown
and red that dropped into vineyards and orchards and cornfields and all
the rustic elegance of the Tuscan _podere_, was knitting for me a
chain of unforgettable hours; to the justice of which claim let these
divagations testify.

It wasn’t, however, that one mightn’t without disloyalty to that scheme
of profit seek impressions further afield--though indeed I may best say
of such a matter as the long pilgrimage to the pictured convent of Monte
Oliveto that it but played on the same fine chords as the overhanging,
the far-gazing Lizza. What it came to was that one simply put to the
friendly test, as it were, the mood and manner of the country. This
remembrance is precious, but the demonstration of that sense as of
a great heaving region stilled by some final shock and returning
thoughtfully, in fact tragically, on itself, couldn’t have been more
pointed. The long-drawn rural road I refer to, stretching over hill and
dale and to which I devoted the whole of the longest day of the year--I
was in a small single-horse conveyance, of which I had already made
appreciative use, and with a driver as disposed as myself ever to
sacrifice speed to contemplation--is doubtless familiar now with the
rush of the motor-car; the thought of whose free dealings with the
solitude of Monte Oliveto makes me a little ruefully reconsider, I
confess, the spirit in which I have elsewhere in these pages, on behalf
of the lust, the landscape lust, of the eyes, acknowledged our general
increasing debt to that vehicle. For that we met nothing whatever, as
I seem at this distance of time to recall, while we gently trotted and
trotted through the splendid summer hours and a dry desolation that yet
somehow smiled and smiled, was part of the charm and the intimacy of
the whole impression--the impression that culminated at last, before
the great cloistered square, lonely, bleak and stricken, in the almost
aching vision, more frequent in the Italy of to-day than anywhere in the
world, of the uncalculated waste of a myriad forms of piety, forces of
labour, beautiful fruits of genius. However, one gaped above all things
for the impression, and what one mainly asked was that it should be
strong of its kind. That was the case, I think I couldn’t but feel, at
every moment of the couple of hours I spent in the vast, cold, empty
shell, out of which the Benedictine brotherhood sheltered there for ages
had lately been turned by the strong arm of a secular State. There was
but one good brother left, a very lean and tough survivor, a dusky,
elderly, friendly Abbate, of an indescribable type and a perfect manner,
of whom I think I felt immediately thereafter that I should have
liked to say much, but as to whom I must have yielded to the fact
that ingenious and vivid commemoration was even then in store for him.
Literary portraiture had marked him for its own, and in the short
story of _Un Saint_, one of the most finished of contemporary French
_nouvelles_, the art and the sympathy of Monsieur Paul Bourget preserve
his interesting image. He figures in the beautiful tale, the Abbate
of the desolate cloister and of those comparatively quiet years, as a
clean, clear type of sainthood; a circumstance this in itself to cause a
fond analyst of other than “Latin” race (model and painter in this
case having their Latinism so strongly in common) almost endlessly to
meditate. Oh, the unutterable differences in any scheme or estimate
of physiognomic values, in any range of sensibility to expressional
association, among observers of different, of inevitably more or
less opposed, traditional and “racial” points of view! One had heard
convinced Latins--or at least I had!--speak of situations of trust and
intimacy in which they couldn’t have endured near them a Protestant or,
as who should say for instance, an Anglo-Saxon; but I was to remember
my own private attempt to measure such a change of sensibility as
might have permitted the prolonged close approach of the dear dingy,
half-starved, very possibly all heroic, and quite ideally urbane Abbate.
The depth upon depth of things, the cloud upon cloud of associations, on
one side and the other, that would have had to change first!

To which I may add nevertheless that since one ever supremely invoked
intensity of impression and abundance of character, I feasted my fill
of it at Monte Oliveto, and that for that matter this would have
constituted my sole refreshment in the vast icy void of the blighted
refectory if I hadn’t bethought myself of bringing with me a scrap of
food, too scantly apportioned, I recollect--very scantly indeed, since
my _cocchiere_ was to share with me--by my purveyor at Siena. Our
tragic--even if so tenderly tragic--entertainer had nothing to give us;
but the immemorial cold of the enormous monastic interior in which we
smilingly fasted would doubtless not have had for me without that such
a wealth of reference. I was to have “liked” the whole adventure, so
I must somehow have liked that; by which remark I am recalled to the
special treasure of the desecrated temple, those extraordinarily
strong and brave frescoes of Luca Signorelli and Sodoma that adorn, in
admirable condition, several stretches of cloister wall. These creations
in a manner took care of themselves; aided by the blue of the sky above
the cloister-court they glowed, they insistently lived; I remember the
frigid prowl through all the rest of the bareness, including that of the
big dishonoured church and that even of the Abbate’s abysmally resigned
testimony to his mere human and personal situation; and then, with such
a force of contrast and effect of relief, the great sheltered sun-flares
and colour-patches of scenic composition and design where a couple of
hands centuries ago turned to dust had so wrought the defiant miracle
of life and beauty that the effect is of a garden blooming among ruins.
Discredited somehow, since they all would, the destroyers themselves,
the ancient piety, the general spirit and intention, but still bright
and assured and sublime--practically, enviably immortal--the other, the
still subtler, the all aesthetic good faith.

1909.



THE AUTUMN IN FLORENCE


Florence too has its “season,” not less than Rome, and I have been
rejoicing for the past six weeks in the fact that this comparatively
crowded parenthesis hasn’t yet been opened. Coming here in the first
days of October I found the summer still in almost unmenaced possession,
and ever since, till within a day or two, the weight of its hand has
been sensible. Properly enough, as the city of flowers, Florence mingles
the elements most artfully in the spring--during the divine crescendo of
March and April, the weeks when six months of steady shiver have still
not shaken New York and Boston free of the long Polar reach. But the
very quality of the decline of the year as we at present here feel it
suits peculiarly the mood in which an undiscourageable gatherer of the
sense of things, or taster at least of “charm,” moves through these
many-memoried streets and galleries and churches. Old things, old
places, old people, or at least old races, ever strike us as giving out
their secrets most freely in such moist, grey, melancholy days as have
formed the complexion of the past fortnight. With Christmas arrives the
opera, the only opera worth speaking of--which indeed often means in
Florence the only opera worth talking through; the gaiety, the gossip,
the reminders in fine of the cosmopolite and watering-place character to
which the city of the Medici long ago began to bend her antique temper.
Meanwhile it is pleasant enough for the tasters of charm, as I say, and
for the makers of invidious distinctions, that the Americans haven’t all
arrived, however many may be on their way, and that the weather has a
monotonous overcast softness in which, apparently, aimless contemplation
grows less and less ashamed. There is no crush along the Cascine, as
on the sunny days of winter, and the Arno, wandering away toward the
mountains in the haze, seems as shy of being looked at as a good picture
in a bad light. No light, to my eyes, nevertheless, could be better
than this, which reaches us, all strained and filtered and refined,
exquisitely coloured and even a bit conspicuously sophisticated, through
the heavy air of the past that hangs about the place for ever.

I first knew Florence early enough, I am happy to say, to have heard the
change for the worse, the taint of the modern order, bitterly lamented
by old haunters, admirers, lovers--those qualified to present a picture
of the conditions prevailing under the good old Grand-Dukes, the two
last of their line in especial, that, for its blest reflection of
sweetness and mildness and cheapness and ease, of every immediate boon
in life to be enjoyed quite for nothing, could but draw tears from
belated listeners. Some of these survivors from the golden age--just the
beauty of which indeed was in the gold, of sorts, that it poured into
your lap, and not in the least in its own importunity on that head--have
needfully lingered on, have seen the ancient walls pulled down and
the compact and belted mass of which the Piazza della Signoria was the
immemorial centre expand, under the treatment of enterprising syndics,
into an ungirdled organism of the type, as they viciously say, of
Chicago; one of those places of which, as their grace of a circumference
is nowhere, the dignity of a centre can no longer be predicated.
Florence loses itself to-day in dusty boulevards and smart _beaux
quartiers_, such as Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann were to set the
fashion of to a too mediæval Europe--with the effect of some precious
page of antique text swallowed up in a marginal commentary that smacks
of the style of the newspaper. So much for what has happened on this
side of that line of demarcation which, by an odd law, makes us, with
our preference for what we are pleased to call the picturesque, object
to such occurrences even _as_ occurrences. The real truth is that
objections are too vain, and that he would be too rude a critic here,
just now, who shouldn’t be in the humour to take the thick with the
thin and to try at least to read something of the old soul into the new
forms.

There is something to be said moreover for your liking a city (once it’s
a question of your actively circulating) to pretend to comfort you more
by its extent than by its limits; in addition to which Florence was
anciently, was in her palmy days peculiarly, a daughter of change and
movement and variety, of shifting moods, policies and régimes--just
as the Florentine character, as we have it to-day, is a character that
takes all things easily for having seen so many come and go. It saw the
national capital, a few years since, arrive and sit down by the Arno,
and took no further thought than sufficed for the day; then it saw, the
odd visitor depart and whistled her cheerfully on her way to Rome. The
new boulevards of the Sindaco Peruzzi come, it may be said, but they
don’t go; which, after all, it isn’t from the æsthetic point of view
strictly necessary they should. A part of the essential amiability of
Florence, of her genius for making you take to your favour on easy terms
everything that in any way belongs to her, is that she has already flung
an element of her grace over all their undried mortar and plaster. Such
modern arrangements as the Piazza d’ Azeglio and the _viale_ or Avenue
of the Princess Margaret please not a little, I think--for what they
are!--and do so even in a degree, by some fine local privilege just
because they are Florentine. The afternoon lights rest on them as if to
thank them for not being worse, and their vistas are liberal where
they look toward the hills. They carry you close to these admirable
elevations, which hang over Florence on all sides, and if in the
foreground your sense is a trifle perplexed by the white pavements
dotted here and there with a policeman or a nursemaid, you have only to
reach beyond and see Fiesole turn to violet, on its ample eminence, from
the effect of the opposite sunset.

Facing again then to Florence proper you have local colour enough and
to spare--which you enjoy the more, doubtless, from standing off to get
your light and your point of view. The elder streets abutting on all
this newness bore away into the heart of the city in narrow, dusky
perspectives that quite refine, in certain places, by an art of their
own, on the romantic appeal. There are temporal and other accidents
thanks to which, as you pause to look down them and to penetrate the
deepening shadows that accompany their retreat, they resemble little
corridors leading out from the past, mystical like the ladder in Jacob’s
dream; so that when you see a single figure advance and draw nearer
you are half afraid to wait till it arrives--it must be too much of the
nature of a ghost, a messenger from an underworld. However this may be,
a place paved with such great mosaics of slabs and lined with palaces of
so massive a tradition, structures which, in their large dependence
on pure proportion for interest and beauty, reproduce more than other
modern styles the simple nobleness of Greek architecture, must ever have
placed dignity first in the scale of invoked effect and laid up no great
treasure of that ragged picturesqueness--the picturesqueness of large
poverty--on which we feast our idle eyes at Rome and Naples. Except in
the unfinished fronts of the churches, which, however, unfortunately,
are mere ugly blankness, one finds less of the poetry of ancient
over-use, or in other words less romantic southern shabbiness, than
in most Italian cities. At two or three points, none the less, this
sinister grace exists in perfection--just such perfection as so often
proves that what is literally hideous may be constructively delightful
and what is intrinsically tragic play on the finest chords of
appreciation. On the north side of the Arno, between Ponte Vecchio and
Ponte Santa Trinita, is a row of immemorial houses that back on the
river, in whose yellow flood they bathe their sore old feet. Anything
more battered and befouled, more cracked and disjointed, dirtier,
drearier, poorer, it would be impossible to conceive. They look as if
fifty years ago the liquid mud had risen over their chimneys and then
subsided again and left them coated for ever with its unsightly slime.
And yet forsooth, because the river is yellow, and the light is yellow,
and here and there, elsewhere, some mellow mouldering surface, some hint
of colour, some accident of atmosphere, takes up the foolish tale and
repeats the note--because, in short, it is Florence, it is Italy, and
the fond appraiser, the infatuated alien, may have had in his eyes, at
birth and afterwards, the micaceous sparkle of brown-stone fronts no
more interesting than so much sand-paper, these miserable dwellings,
instead of suggesting mental invocations to an enterprising board of
health, simply create their own standard of felicity and shamelessly
live in it. Lately, during the misty autumn nights, the moon has
shone on them faintly and refined their shabbiness away into something
ineffably strange and spectral. The turbid stream sweeps along without
a sound, and the pale tenements hang above it like a vague miasmatic
exhalation. The dimmest back-scene at the opera, when the tenor is
singing his sweetest, seems hardly to belong to a world more detached
from responsibility.

{Illustration: ON THE ARNO, FLORENCE.}

What it is that infuses so rich an interest into the general charm is
difficult to say in a few words; yet as we wander hither and thither in
quest of sacred canvas and immortal bronze and stone we still feel the
genius of the place hang about. Two industrious English ladies, the
Misses Horner, have lately published a couple of volumes of “Walks” by
the Arno-side, and their work is a long enumeration of great artistic
deeds. These things remain for the most part in sound preservation, and,
as the weeks go by and you spend a constant portion of your days among
them the sense of one of the happiest periods of human Taste--to put it
only at that--settles upon your spirit. It was not long; it lasted, in
its splendour, for less than a century; but it has stored away in the
palaces and churches of Florence a heritage of beauty that these three
enjoying centuries since haven’t yet exhausted. This forms a clear
intellectual atmosphere into which you may turn aside from the modern
world and fill your lungs as with the breath of a forgotten creed. The
memorials of the past here address us moreover with a friendliness, win
us by we scarcely know what sociability, what equal amenity, that we
scarce find matched in other great esthetically endowed communities and
periods. Venice, with her old palaces cracking under the weight of their
treasures, is, in her influence, insupportably sad; Athens, with her
maimed marbles and dishonoured memories, transmutes the consciousness of
sensitive observers, I am told, into a chronic heartache; but in one’s
impression of old Florence the abiding felicity, the sense of saving
sanity, of something sound and human, predominates, offering you a
medium still conceivable for life. The reason of this is partly, no
doubt, the “sympathetic” nature, the temperate joy, of Florentine art
in general--putting the sole Dante, greatest of literary artists, aside;
partly the tenderness of time, in its lapse, which, save in a few cases,
has been as sparing of injury as if it knew that when it should have
dimmed and corroded these charming things it would have nothing so sweet
again for its tooth to feed on. If the beautiful Ghirlandaios and Lippis
are fading, this generation will never know it. The large Fra Angelico
in the Academy is as clear and keen as if the good old monk stood
there wiping his brushes; the colours seem to _sing_, as it were, like
new-fledged birds in June. Nothing is more characteristic of early
Tuscan art than the high-reliefs of Luca della Robbia; yet there isn’t
one of them that, except for the unique mixture of freshness with its
wisdom, of candour with its expertness, mightn’t have been modelled
yesterday.

But perhaps the best image of the absence of stale melancholy or wasted
splendour, of the positive presence of what I have called temperate joy,
in the Florentine impression and genius, is the bell-tower of Giotto,
which rises beside the cathedral. No beholder of it will have forgotten
how straight and slender it stands there, how strangely rich in the
common street, plated with coloured marble patterns, and yet so far from
simple or severe in design that we easily wonder how its author, the
painter of exclusively and portentously grave little pictures, should
have fashioned a building which in the way of elaborate elegance, of the
true play of taste, leaves a jealous modern criticism nothing to
miss. Nothing can be imagined at once more lightly and more pointedly
fanciful; it might have been handed over to the city, as it stands,
by some Oriental genie tired of too much detail. Yet for all that
suggestion it seems of no particular time--not grey and hoary like
a Gothic steeple, not cracked and despoiled like a Greek temple;
its marbles shining so little less freshly than when they were laid
together, and the sunset lighting up its cornice with such a friendly
radiance, that you come at last to regard it simply as the graceful,
indestructible soul of the place made visible. The Cathedral,
externally, for all its solemn hugeness, strikes the same note of
would-be reasoned elegance and cheer; it has conventional grandeur, of
course, but a grandeur so frank and ingenuous even in its _parti-pris_.
It has seen so much, and outlived so much, and served so many sad
purposes, and yet remains in aspect so full of the fine Tuscan
geniality, the feeling for life, one may almost say the feeling for
amusement, that inspired it. Its vast many-coloured marble walls become
at any rate, with this, the friendliest note of all Florence; there
is an unfailing charm in walking past them while they lift their great
acres of geometrical mosaic higher in the air than you have time or
other occasion to look. You greet them from the deep street as you greet
the side of a mountain when you move in the gorge--not twisting back
your head to keep looking at the top, but content with the minor
accidents, the nestling hollows and soft cloud-shadows, the general
protection of the valley.

Florence is richer in pictures than we really know till we have begun to
look for them in outlying corners. Then, here and there, one comes upon
lurking values and hidden gems that it quite seems one might as a good
New Yorker quietly “bag” for the so aspiring Museum of that city without
their being missed. The Pitti Palace is of course a collection of
masterpieces; they jostle each other in their splendour, they perhaps
even, in their merciless multitude, rather fatigue our admiration. The
Uffizi is almost as fine a show, and together with that long serpentine
artery which crosses the Arno and connects them, making you ask
yourself, whichever way you take it, what goal can be grand enough to
crown such a journey, they form the great central treasure-chamber
of the town. But I have been neglecting them of late for love of the
Academy, where there are fewer copyists and tourists, above all fewer
pictorial lions, those whose roar is heard from afar and who strike
us as expecting overmuch to have it their own way in the jungle. The
pictures at the Academy are all, rather, doves--the whole impression is
less pompously tropical. Selection still leaves one too much to say, but
I noted here, on my last occasion, an enchanting Botticelli so obscurely
hung, in one of the smaller rooms, that I scarce knew whether most to
enjoy or to resent its relegation. Placed, in a mean black frame, where
you wouldn’t have looked for a masterpiece, it yet gave out to a good
glass every characteristic of one. Representing as it does the walk of
Tobias with the angel, there are really parts of it that an angel might
have painted; but I doubt whether it is observed by half-a-dozen persons
a year. That was my excuse for my wanting to know, on the spot, though
doubtless all sophistically, what dishonour, could the transfer be
artfully accomplished, a strong American light and a brave gilded frame
would, comparatively speaking, do it. There and then it would, shine
with the intense authority that we claim for the fairest things--would
exhale its wondrous beauty as a sovereign example. What it comes to
is that this master is the most interesting of a great band--the only
Florentine save Leonardo and Michael in whom the impulse was original
and the invention rare. His imagination is of things strange, subtle and
complicated--things it at first strikes us that we moderns have reason
to know, and that it has taken us all the ages to learn; so that we
permit ourselves to wonder how a “primitive” could come by them. We soon
enough reflect, however, that we ourselves have come by them almost only
_through_ him, exquisite spirit that he was, and that when we enjoy, or
at least when we encounter, in our William Morrises, in our
Rossettis and Burne-Joneses, the note of the haunted or over-charged
consciousness, we are but treated, with other matters, to repeated doses
of diluted Botticelli. He practically set with his own hand almost all
the copies to almost all our so-called pre-Raphaelites, earlier and
later, near and remote.

Let us at the same time, none the less, never fail of response to
the great Florentine geniality at large. Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi,
Ghirlandaio, were not “subtly” imaginative, were not even riotously so;
but what other three were ever more gladly observant, more vividly and
richly true? If there should some time be a weeding out of the world’s
possessions the best works of the early Florentines will certainly
be counted among the flowers. With the ripest performances of the
Venetians--by which I don’t mean the over-ripe--we can but take them for
the most valuable things in the history of art. Heaven forbid we should
be narrowed down to a cruel choice; but if it came to a question of
keeping or losing between half-a-dozen Raphaels and half-a-dozen things
it would be a joy to pick out at the Academy, I fear that, for myself,
the memory of the Transfiguration, or indeed of the other Roman relics
of the painter, wouldn’t save the Raphaels. And yet this was so far from
the opinion of a patient artist whom I saw the other day copying the
finest of Ghirlandaios--a beautiful Adoration of the Kings at the
Hospital of the Innocenti. Here was another sample of the buried
art-wealth of Florence. It hangs in an obscure chapel, far aloft, behind
an altar, and though now and then a stray tourist wanders in and puzzles
a while over the vaguely-glowing forms, the picture is never really
seen and enjoyed. I found an aged Frenchman of modest mien perched on a
little platform beneath it, behind a great hedge of altar-candlesticks,
with an admirable copy all completed. The difficulties of his task had
been well-nigh insuperable, and his performance seemed to me a real feat
of magic. He could scarcely move or turn, and could find room for his
canvas but by rolling it together and painting a small piece at a time,
so that he never enjoyed a view of his _ensemble_. The original is
gorgeous with colour and bewildering with decorative detail, but not
a gleam of the painter’s crimson was wanting, not a curl in his gold
arabesques. It seemed to me that if I had copied a Ghirlandaio in such
conditions I would at least maintain for my own credit that he was the
first painter in the world. “Very good of its kind,” said the weary old
man with a shrug of reply for my raptures; “but oh, how far short of
Raphael!” However that may be, if the reader chances to observe this
consummate copy in the so commendable Museum devoted in Paris to such
works, let him stop before it with a due reverence; it is one of the
patient things of art. Seeing it wrought there, in its dusky nook, under
such scant convenience, I found no bar in the painter’s foreignness to
a thrilled sense that the old art-life of Florence isn’t yet extinct. It
still at least works spells and almost miracles.

1873.



FLORENTINE NOTES


I


Yesterday that languid organism known as the Florentine Carnival put on
a momentary semblance of vigour, and decreed a general _corso_ through
the town. The spectacle was not brilliant, but it suggested some natural
reflections. I encountered the line of carriages in the square before
Santa Croce, of which they were making the circuit. They rolled solemnly
by, with their inmates frowning forth at each other in apparent wrath
at not finding each other more worth while. There were no masks, no
costumes, no decorations, no throwing of flowers or sweetmeats. It was
as if each carriageful had privately and not very heroically resolved
not to be at costs, and was rather discomfited at finding that it was
getting no better entertainment than it gave. The middle of the piazza
was filled with little tables, with shouting mountebanks, mostly
disguised in battered bonnets and crinolines, offering chances in
raffles for plucked fowls and kerosene lamps. I have never thought the
huge marble statue of Dante, which overlooks the scene, a work of the
last refinement; but, as it stood there on its high pedestal, chin in
hand, frowning down on all this cheap foolery, it seemed to have a great
moral intention. The carriages followed a prescribed course--through Via
Ghibellina, Via del Proconsolo, past the Badia and the Bargello, beneath
the great tessellated cliffs of the Cathedral, through Via Tornabuoni
and out into ten minutes’ sunshine beside the Arno. Much of all this
is the gravest and stateliest part of Florence, a quarter of supreme
dignity, and there was an almost ludicrous incongruity in seeing
Pleasure leading her train through these dusky historic streets. It was
most uncomfortably cold, and in the absence of masks many a fair
nose was fantastically tipped with purple. But as the carriages crept
solemnly along they seemed to keep a funeral march--to follow an antique
custom, an exploded faith, to its tomb. The Carnival is dead, and these
good people who had come abroad to make merry were funeral mutes and
grave-diggers. Last winter in Rome it showed but a galvanised life, yet
compared with this humble exhibition it was operatic. At Rome indeed
it was too operatic. The knights on horseback there were a bevy of
circus-riders, and I’m sure half the mad revellers repaired every night
to the Capitol for their twelve sous a day.

I have just been reading over the Letters of the President de Brosses.
A hundred years ago, in Venice, the Carnival lasted six months; and at
Rome for many weeks each year one was free, under cover of a mask,
to perpetrate the most fantastic follies and cultivate the most
remunerative vices. It’s very well to read the President’s notes, which
have indeed a singular interest; but they make us ask ourselves why we
should expect the Italians to persist in manners and practices which
we ourselves, if we had responsibilities in the matter, should find
intolerable. The Florentines at any rate spend no more money nor faith
on the carnivalesque. And yet this truth has a qualification; for
what struck me in the whole spectacle yesterday, and prompted these
observations, was not at all the more or less of costume of the
occupants of the carriages, but the obstinate survival of the
merrymaking instinct in the people at large. There could be no better
example of it than that so dim a shadow of entertainment should keep all
Florence standing and strolling, densely packed for hours, in the cold
streets. There was nothing to see that mightn’t be seen on the Cascine
any fine day in the year--nothing but a name, a tradition, a pretext for
sweet staring idleness. The faculty of making much of common things
and converting small occasions into great pleasures is, to a son
of communities strenuous as ours are strenuous, the most salient
characteristic of the so-called Latin civilisations. It charms him and
vexes him, according to his mood; and for the most part it represents a
moral gulf between his own temperamental and indeed spiritual sense
of race, and that of Frenchmen and Italians, far wider than the watery
leagues that a steamer may annihilate. But I think his mood is wisest
when he accepts the “foreign” easy surrender to _all_ the senses as the
sign of an unconscious philosophy of life, instilled by the experience
of centuries--the philosophy of people who have lived long and much,
who have discovered no short cuts to happiness and no effective
circumvention of effort, and so have come to regard the average lot as a
ponderous fact that absolutely calls for a certain amount of sitting on
the lighter tray of the scales. Florence yesterday then took its holiday
in a natural, placid fashion that seemed to make its own temper an
affair quite independent of the splendour of the compensation decreed on
a higher line to the weariness of its legs. That the _corso_ was stupid
or lively was the shame or the glory of the powers “above”--the fates,
the gods, the _forestieri_, the town-councilmen, the rich or the stingy.
Common Florence, on the narrow footways, pressed against the houses,
obeyed a natural need in looking about complacently, patiently, gently,
and never pushing, nor trampling, nor swearing, nor staggering. This
liberal margin for festivals in Italy gives the masses a more than
man-of-the-world urbanity in taking their pleasure.

Meanwhile it occurs to me that by a remote New England fireside an
unsophisticated young person of either sex is reading in an old volume
of travels or an old romantic tale some account of these anniversaries
and appointed revels as old Catholic lands offer them to view. Across
the page swims a vision of sculptured palace-fronts draped in crimson
and gold and shining in a southern sun; of a motley train of maskers
sweeping on in voluptuous confusion and pelting each other with nosegays
and love-letters. Into the quiet room, quenching the rhythm of the
Connecticut clock, floats an uproar of delighted voices, a medley of
stirring foreign sounds, an echo of far-heard music of a strangely alien
cadence. But the dusk is falling, and the unsophisticated young person
closes the book wearily and wanders to the window. The dusk is falling
on the beaten snow. Down the road is a white wooden meeting-house,
looking grey among the drifts. The young person surveys the prospect
a while, and then wanders back and stares at the fire. The Carnival of
Venice, of Florence, of Rome; colour and costume, romance and rapture!
The young person gazes in the firelight at the flickering chiaroscuro
of the future, discerns at last the glowing phantasm of opportunity,
and determines with a wild heart-beat to go and see it all--twenty years
hence!


II


A couple of days since, driving to Fiesole, we came back by the castle
of Vincigliata. The afternoon was lovely; and, though there is as yet
(February 10th) no visible revival of vegetation, the air was full of a
vague vernal perfume, and the warm colours of the hills and the yellow
western sunlight flooding the plain seemed to contain the promise of
Nature’s return to grace. It’s true that above the distant pale blue
gorge of Vallombrosa the mountain-line was tipped with snow; but the
liberated soul of Spring was nevertheless at large. The view from
Fiesole seems vaster and richer with each visit. The hollow in which
Florence lies, and which from below seems deep and contracted, opens
out into an immense and generous valley and leads away the eye into
a hundred gradations of distance. The place itself showed, amid its
chequered fields and gardens, with as many towers and spires as a
chess-board half cleared. The domes and towers were washed over with
a faint blue mist. The scattered columns of smoke, interfused with the
sinking sunlight, hung over them like streamers and pennons of silver
gauze; and the Arno, twisting and curling and glittering here and there,
was a serpent cross-striped with silver.

Vincigliata is a product of the millions, the leisure and the
eccentricity, I suppose people say, of an English gentleman--Mr. Temple
Leader, whose name should be commemorated. You reach the castle from
Fiesole by a narrow road, returning toward Florence by a romantic twist
through the hills and passing nothing on its way save thin plantations
of cypress and cedar. Upward of twenty years ago, I believe, this
gentleman took a fancy to the crumbling shell of a mediæval fortress on
a breezy hill-top overlooking the Val d’ Arno and forthwith bought it
and began to “restore” it. I know nothing of what the original ruin may
have cost; but in the dusky courts and chambers of the present elaborate
structure this impassioned archæologist must have buried a fortune. He
has, however, the compensation of feeling that he has erected a monument
which, if it is never to stand a feudal siege, may encounter at least
some critical over-hauling. It is a disinterested work of art and really
a triumph of æsthetic culture. The author has reproduced with minute
accuracy a sturdy home-fortress of the fourteenth century, and has kept
throughout such rigid terms with his model that the result is literally
uninhabitable to degenerate moderns. It is simply a massive facsimile,
an elegant museum of archaic images, mainly but most amusingly
counterfeit, perched on a spur of the Apennines. The place is most
politely shown. There is a charming cloister, painted with extremely
clever “quaint” frescoes, celebrating the deeds of the founders of the
castle--a cloister that is everything delightful a cloister should
be except truly venerable and employable. There is a beautiful castle
court, with the embattled tower climbing into the blue far above it,
and a spacious loggia with rugged medallions and mild-hued Luca della
Robbias fastened unevenly into the walls. But the apartments are the
great success, and each of them as good a “reconstruction” as a tale
of Walter Scott; or, to speak frankly, a much better one. They are all
low-beamed and vaulted, stone-paved, decorated in grave colours
and lighted, from narrow, deeply recessed windows, through small
leaden-ringed plates of opaque glass.

The details are infinitely ingenious and elaborately grim, and the
indoor atmosphere of mediaevalism most forcibly revived. No compromising
fact of domiciliary darkness and cold is spared us, no producing
condition of mediaeval manners not glanced at. There are oaken benches
round the room, of about six inches in depth, and gaunt fauteuils of
wrought leather, illustrating the suppressed transitions which, as
George Eliot says, unite all contrasts--offering a visible link between
the modern conceptions of torture and of luxury. There are fireplaces
nowhere but in the kitchen, where a couple of sentry-boxes are inserted
on either side of the great hooded chimney-piece, into which people
might creep and take their turn at being toasted and smoked. One may
doubt whether this dearth of the hearthstone could have raged on such
a scale, but it’s a happy stroke in the representation of an Italian
dwelling of any period. It shows how the graceful fiction that Italy
is all “meridional” flourished for some time before being refuted
by grumbling tourists. And yet amid this cold comfort you feel the
incongruous presence of a constant intuitive regard for beauty. The
shapely spring of the vaulted ceilings; the richly figured walls, coarse
and hard in substance as they are; the charming shapes of the great
platters and flagons in the deep recesses of the quaintly carved black
dressers; the wandering hand of ornament, as it were, playing here and
there for its own diversion in unlighted corners--such things redress,
to our fond credulity, with all sorts of grace, the balance of the
picture.

And yet, somehow, with what dim, unillumined vision one fancies even
such inmates as those conscious of finer needs than the mere supply of
blows and beef and beer would meet passing their heavy eyes over
such slender household beguilements! These crepuscular chambers
at Vincigliata are a mystery and a challenge; they seem the mere
propounding of an answerless riddle. You long, as you wander through
them, turning up your coat-collar and wondering whether ghosts can catch
bronchitis, to answer it with some positive notion of what people so
encaged and situated “did,” how they looked and talked and carried
themselves, how they took their pains and pleasures, how they counted
off the hours. Deadly ennui seems to ooze out of the stones and hang in
clouds in the brown corners. No wonder men relished a fight and panted
for a fray. “Skull-smashers” were sweet, ears ringing with pain and
ribs cracking in a tussle were soothing music, compared with the cruel
quietude of the dim-windowed castle. When they came back they could only
have slept a good deal and eased their dislocated bones on those meagre
oaken ledges. Then they woke up and turned about to the table and ate
their portion of roasted sheep. They shouted at each other across the
board and flung the wooden plates at the servingmen. They jostled and
hustled and hooted and bragged; and then, after gorging and boozing
and easing their doublets, they squared their elbows one by one on the
greasy table and buried their scarred foreheads and dreamed of a good
gallop after flying foes. And the women? They must have been strangely
simple--simpler far than any moral archraeologist can show us in a
learned restoration. Of course, their simplicity had its graces and
devices; but one thinks with a sigh that, as the poor things turned away
with patient looks from the viewless windows to the same, same looming
figures on the dusky walls, they hadn’t even the consolation of knowing
that just this attitude and movement, set off by their peaked coifs,
their falling sleeves and heavily-twisted trains, would sow the seed of
yearning envy--of sorts--on the part of later generations.

There are moods in which one feels the impulse to enter a tacit protest
against too gross an appetite for pure aesthetics in this starving and
sinning world. One turns half away, musingly, from certain beautiful
useless things. But the healthier state of mind surely is to lay no tax
on any really intelligent manifestation of the curious, and exquisite.
Intelligence hangs together essentially, all along the line; it only
needs time to make, as we say, its connections. The massive _pastiche_
of Vincigliata has no superficial use; but, even if it were less
complete, less successful, less brilliant, I should feel a reflective
kindness for it. So disinterested and expensive a toy is its own
justification; it belongs to the heroics of dilettantism.


III


One grows to feel the collection of pictures at the Pitti Palace
splendid rather than interesting. After walking through it once or twice
you catch the key in which it is pitched--you know what you are
likely not to find on closer examination; none of the works of the
uncompromising period, nothing from the half-groping geniuses of the
early time, those whose colouring was sometimes harsh and their outlines
sometimes angular. Vague to me the principle on which the pictures
were originally gathered and of the aesthetic creed of the princes who
chiefly selected them. A princely creed I should roughly call it--the
creed of people who believed in things presenting a fine face to
society; who esteemed showy results rather than curious processes, and
would have hardly cared more to admit into their collection a work by
one of the laborious precursors of the full efflorescence than to see a
bucket and broom left standing in a state saloon. The gallery contains
in literal fact some eight or ten paintings of the early Tuscan
School--notably two admirable specimens of Filippo Lippi and one of the
frequent circular pictures of the great Botticelli--a Madonna, chilled
with tragic prescience, laying a pale cheek against that of a blighted
Infant. Such a melancholy mother as this of Botticelli would have
strangled her baby in its cradle to rescue it from the future. But of
Botticelli there is much to say. One of the Filippo Lippis is perhaps
his masterpiece--a Madonna in a small rose-garden (such a “flowery
close” as Mr. William Morris loves to haunt), leaning over an Infant who
kicks his little human heels on the grass while half-a-dozen curly-pated
angels gather about him, looking back over their shoulders with the
candour of children in _tableaux vivants_, and one of them drops an
armful of gathered roses one by one upon the baby. The delightful
earthly innocence of these winged youngsters is quite inexpressible.
Their heads are twisted about toward the spectator as if they were
playing at leap-frog and were expecting a companion to come and take
a jump. Never did “young” art, never did subjective freshness, attempt
with greater success to represent those phases. But these three fine
works are hung over the tops of doors in a dark back room--the bucket
and broom are thrust behind a curtain. It seems to me, nevertheless,
that a fine Filippo Lippi is good enough company for an Allori or a
Cigoli, and that that too deeply sentient Virgin of Botticelli might
happily balance the flower-like irresponsibility of Raphael’s “Madonna
of the Chair.”

Taking the Pitti collection, however, simply for what it pretends to
be, it gives us the very flower of the sumptuous, the courtly, the
grand-ducal. It is chiefly official art, as one may say, but it presents
the fine side of the type--the brilliancy, the facility, the amplitude,
the sovereignty of good taste. I agree on the whole with a nameless
companion and with what he lately remarked about his own humour on
these matters; that, having been on his first acquaintance with
pictures nothing if not critical, and held the lesson incomplete and
the opportunity slighted if he left a gallery without a headache, he
had come, as he grew older, to regard them more as the grandest of
all pleasantries and less as the most strenuous of all lessons, and to
remind himself that, after all, it is the privilege of art to make us
friendly to the human mind and not to make us suspicious of it. We do
in fact as we grow older unstring the critical bow a little and strike
a truce with invidious comparisons. We work off the juvenile impulse
to heated partisanship and discover that one spontaneous producer isn’t
different enough from another to keep the all-knowing Fates from smiling
over our loves and our aversions. We perceive a certain human solidarity
in all cultivated effort, and are conscious of a growing accommodation
of judgment--an easier disposition, the fruit of experience, to take
the joke for what it is worth as it passes. We have in short less of a
quarrel with the masters we don’t delight in, and less of an impulse
to pin all our faith on those in whom, in more zealous days, we fancied
that we made our peculiar meanings. The meanings no longer seem quite so
peculiar. Since then we have arrived at a few in the depths of our own
genius that are not sensibly less striking.

And yet it must be added that all this depends vastly on one’s mood--as
a traveller’s impressions do, generally, to a degree which those who
give them to the world would do well more explicitly to declare. We have
our hours of expansion and those of contraction, and yet while we follow
the traveller’s trade we go about gazing and judging with unadjusted
confidence. We can’t suspend judgment; we must take our notes, and the
notes are florid or crabbed, as the case may be. A short time ago I
spent a week in an ancient city on a hill-top, in the humour, for which
I was not to blame, which produces crabbed notes. I knew it at the
time, but couldn’t help it. I went through all the motions of liberal
appreciation; I uncapped in all the churches and on the massive ramparts
stared all the views fairly out of countenance; but my imagination,
which I suppose at bottom had very good reasons of its own and knew
perfectly what it was about, refused to project into the dark old town
and upon the yellow hills that sympathetic glow which forms half the
substance of our genial impressions. So it is that in museums and
palaces we are alternate radicals and conservatives. On some days we ask
but to be somewhat sensibly affected; on others, Ruskin-haunted, to be
spiritually steadied. After a long absence from the Pitti Palace I went
back there the other morning and transferred myself from chair to
chair in the great golden-roofed saloons--the chairs are all gilded and
covered with faded silk--in the humour to be diverted at any price. I
needn’t mention the things that diverted me; I yawn now when I think of
some of them. But an artist, for instance, to whom my kindlier judgment
has made permanent concessions is that charming Andrea del Sarto. When
I first knew him, in my cold youth, I used to say without mincing that
I didn’t like him. _Cet âge est sans pitié_. The fine sympathetic,
melancholy, pleasing painter! He has a dozen faults, and if you insist
pedantically on your rights the conclusive word you use about him will
be the word weak. But if you are a generous soul you will utter it
low--low as the mild grave tone of his own sought harmonies. He is
monotonous, narrow, incomplete; he has but a dozen different figures and
but two or three ways of distributing them; he seems able to utter but
half his thought, and his canvases lack apparently some final return on
the whole matter--some process which his impulse failed him before he
could bestow. And yet in spite of these limitations his genius is both
itself of the great pattern and lighted by the air of a great period.
Three gifts he had largely: an instinctive, unaffected, unerring grace;
a large and rich, and yet a sort of withdrawn and indifferent sobriety;
and best of all, as well as rarest of all, an indescribable property
of relatedness as to the moral world. Whether he was aware of the
connection or not, or in what measure, I cannot say; but he gives, so to
speak, the taste of it. Before his handsome vague-browed Madonnas; the
mild, robust young saints who kneel in his foregrounds and look round
at you with a conscious anxiety which seems to say that, though in the
picture, they are not of it, but of your own sentient life of commingled
love and weariness; the stately apostles, with comely heads and
harmonious draperies, who gaze up at the high-seated Virgin like early
astronomers at a newly seen star--there comes to you the brush of the
dark wing of an inward life. A shadow falls for the moment, and in it
you feel the chill of moral suffering. Did the Lippis suffer, father
or son? Did Raphael suffer? Did Titian? Did Rubens suffer? Perish
the thought--it wouldn’t be fair to _us_ that they should have had
everything. And I note in our poor second-rate Andrea an element of
interest lacking to a number of stronger talents.

Interspersed with him at the Pitti hang the stronger and the weaker
in splendid abundance. Raphael is there, strong in portraiture--easy,
various, bountiful genius that he was--and (strong here isn’t the word,
but) happy beyond the common dream in his beautiful “Madonna of the
Chair.” The general instinct of posterity seems to have been to
treat this lovely picture as a semi-sacred, an almost miraculous,
manifestation. People stand in a worshipful silence before it, as they
would before a taper-studded shrine. If we suspend in imagination on the
right of it the solid, realistic, unidealised portrait of Leo the Tenth
(which hangs in another room) and transport to the left the fresco of
the School of Athens from the Vatican, and then reflect that these were
three separate fancies of a single youthful, amiable genius we recognise
that such a producing consciousness must have been a “treat.” My
companion already quoted has a phrase that he “doesn’t care for
Raphael,” but confesses, when pressed, that he was a most remarkable
young man. Titian has a dozen portraits of unequal interest. I never
particularly noticed till lately--it is very ill hung--that portentous
image of the Emperor Charles the Fifth. He was a burlier, more imposing
personage than his usual legend figures, and in his great puffed sleeves
and gold chains and full-skirted over-dress he seems to tell of a
tread that might sometimes have been inconveniently resonant. But the
_purpose_ to have his way and work his will is there--the great stomach
for divine right, the old monarchical temperament. The great Titian, in
portraiture, however, remains that formidable young man in black, with
the small compact head, the delicate nose and the irascible blue eye.
Who was he? What was he? “_Ritratto virile_” is all the catalogue is
able to call the picture. “Virile!” Rather! you vulgarly exclaim. You
may weave what romance you please about it, but a romance your dream
must be. Handsome, clever, defiant, passionate, dangerous, it was not
his own fault if he hadn’t adventures and to spare. He was a gentleman
and a warrior, and his adventures balanced between camp and court.
I imagine him the young orphan of a noble house, about to come into
mortgaged estates. One wouldn’t have cared to be his guardian, bound to
paternal admonitions once a month over his precocious transactions with
the Jews or his scandalous abduction from her convent of such and such a
noble maiden.

The Pitti Gallery contains none of Titian’s golden-toned groups; but
it boasts a lovely composition by Paul Veronese, the dealer in silver
hues--a Baptism of Christ. W---- named it to me the other day as the
picture he most enjoyed, and surely painting seems here to have proposed
to itself to discredit and annihilate--and even on the occasion of such
a subject--everything but the loveliness of life. The picture bedims and
enfeebles its neighbours. We ask ourselves whether painting as such can
go further. It is simply that here at last the art stands complete.
The early Tuscans, as well as Leonardo, as Raphael, as Michael, saw the
great spectacle that surrounded them in beautiful sharp-edged elements
and parts. The great Venetians felt its indissoluble unity and
recognised that form and colour and earth and air were equal members
of every possible subject; and beneath their magical touch the hard
outlines melted together and the blank intervals bloomed with meaning.
In this beautiful Paul Veronese of the Pitti everything is part of
the charm--the atmosphere as well as the figures, the look of radiant
morning in the white-streaked sky as well as the living human limbs, the
cloth of Venetian purple about the loins of the Christ as well as the
noble humility of his attitude. The relation to Nature of the other
Italian schools differs from that of the Venetian as courtship--even
ardent courtship--differs from marriage.


IV


I went the other day to the secularised Convent of San Marco, paid my
franc at the profane little wicket which creaks away at the door--no
less than six custodians, apparently, are needed to turn it, as if it
may have a recusant conscience--passed along the bright, still cloister
and paid my respects to Fra Angelico’s Crucifixion, in that dusky
chamber in the basement. I looked long; one can hardly do otherwise. The
fresco deals with the pathetic on the grand scale, and after taking
in its beauty you feel as little at liberty to go away abruptly as
you would to leave church during the sermon. You may be as little of
a formal Christian as Fra Angelico was much of one; you yet feel
admonished by spiritual decency to let so yearning a view of the
Christian story work its utmost will on you. The three crosses rise high
against a strange completely crimson sky, which deepens mysteriously
the tragic expression of the scene, though I remain perforce vague as to
whether this lurid background be a fine intended piece of symbolism or
an effective accident of time. In the first case the extravagance quite
triumphs. Between the crosses, under no great rigour of composition,
are scattered the most exemplary saints--kneeling, praying, weeping,
pitying, worshipping. The swoon of the Madonna is depicted at the left,
and this gives the holy presences, in respect to the case, the strangest
historical or actual air. Everything is so real that you feel a vague
impatience and almost ask yourself how it was that amid the army of his
consecrated servants our Lord was permitted to suffer. On reflection you
see that the painter’s design, so far as coherent, has been simply to
offer an immense representation of Pity, and all with such concentrated
truth that his colours here seem dissolved in tears that drop and drop,
however softly, through all time. Of this single yearning consciousness
the figures are admirably expressive. No later painter learned to render
with deeper force than Fra Angelico the one state of the spirit he could
conceive--a passionate pious tenderness. Immured in his quiet convent,
he apparently never received an intelligible impression of evil; and his
conception of human life was a perpetual sense of sacredly loving
and being loved. But how, immured in his quiet convent, away from the
streets and the studios, did he become that genuine, finished, perfectly
professional painter? No one is less of a mere mawkish amateur. His
range was broad, from this really heroic fresco to the little trumpeting
seraphs, in their opaline robes, enamelled, as it were, on the gold
margins of his pictures.

I sat out the sermon and departed, I hope, with the gentle preacher’s
blessing. I went into the smaller refectory, near by, to refresh my
memory of the beautiful Last Supper of Domenico Ghirlandaio. It would be
putting things coarsely to say that I adjourned thus from a sernlon to
a comedy, though Ghirlandaio’s theme, as contrasted with the blessed
Angelico’s, was the dramatic spectacular side of human life. How keenly
he observed it and how richly he rendered it, the world about him of
colour and costume, of handsome heads and pictorial groupings! In his
admirable school there is no painter one enjoys--_pace_ Ruskin--more
sociably and irresponsibly. Lippo Lippi is simpler, quainter,
more frankly expressive; but we retain before him a remnant of the
sympathetic discomfort provoked by the masters whose conceptions were
still a trifle too large for their means. The pictorial vision in their
minds seems to stretch and strain their undeveloped skill almost to a
sense of pain. In Ghirlandaio the skill and the imagination are equal,
and he gives us a delightful impression of enjoying his own resources.
Of all the painters of his time he affects us least as positively not
of ours. He enjoyed a crimson mantle spreading and tumbling in curious
folds and embroidered with needlework of gold, just as he enjoyed a
handsome well-rounded head, with vigorous dusky locks, profiled in
courteous adoration. He enjoyed in short the various reality of things,
and had the good fortune to live in an age when reality flowered into a
thousand amusing graces--to speak only of those. He was not especially
addicted to giving spiritual hints; and yet how hard and meagre they
seem, the professed and finished realists of our own day, with the
spiritual _bonhomie_ or candour that makes half Ghirlandaio’s richness
left out! The Last Supper at San Marco is an excellent example of the
natural reverence of an artist of that time with whom reverence was
not, as one may say, a specialty. The main idea with him has been the
variety, the material bravery and positively social charm of the
scene, which finds expression, with irrepressible generosity, in the
accessories of the background. Instinctively he imagines an opulent
garden--imagines it with a good faith which quite tides him over the
reflection that Christ and his disciples were poor men and unused to sit
at meat in palaces. Great full-fruited orange-trees peep over the wall
before which the table is spread, strange birds fly through the air,
while a peacock perches on the edge of the partition and looks down
on the sacred repast. It is striking that, without any at all intense
religious purpose, the figures, in their varied naturalness, have a
dignity and sweetness of attitude that admits of numberless reverential
constructions. I should call all this the happy tact of a robust faith.

On the staircase leading up to the little painted cells of the Beato
Angelico, however, I suddenly faltered and paused. Somehow I had grown
averse to the intenser zeal of the Monk of Fiesole. I wanted no more of
him that day. I wanted no more macerated friars and spear-gashed sides.
Ghirlandaio’s elegant way of telling his story had put me in the humour
for something more largely intelligent, more profanely pleasing.
I departed, walked across the square, and found it in the Academy,
standing in a particular spot and looking up at a particular high-hung
picture. It is difficult to speak adequately, perhaps even intelligibly,
of Sandro Botticelli. An accomplished critic--Mr. Pater, in his _Studies
on the History of the Renaissance_--has lately paid him the tribute
of an exquisite, a supreme, curiosity. He was rarity and distinction
incarnate, and of all the multitudinous masters of his group
incomparably the most interesting, the one who detains and perplexes
and fascinates us most. Exquisitely fine his imagination--infinitely
audacious and adventurous his fancy. Alone among the painters of his
time he strikes us as having invention. The glow and thrill of expanding
observation--this was the feeling that sent his comrades to their
easels; but Botticelli’s moved him to reactions and emotions of which
they knew nothing, caused his faculty to sport and wander and explore
on its own account. These impulses have fruits often so ingenious and so
lovely that it would be easy to talk nonsense about them. I hope it is
not nonsense, however, to say that the picture to which I just alluded
(the “Coronation of the Virgin,” with a group of life-sized saints
below and a garland of miniature angels above) is one of the supremely
beautiful productions of the human mind. It is hung so high that
you need a good glass to see it; to say nothing of the unprecedented
delicacy of the work. The lower half is of moderate interest; but the
dance of hand-clasped angels round the heavenly couple above has a
beauty newly exhaled from the deepest sources of inspiration. Their
perfect little hands are locked with ineffable elegance; their blowing
robes are tossed into folds of which each line is a study; their
charming feet have the relief of the most delicate sculpture. But, as
I have already noted, of Botticelli there is much, too much to
say--besides which Mr. Pater has said all. Only add thus to his
inimitable grace of design that the exquisite pictorial force driving
him goes a-Maying not on wanton errands of its own, but on those of some
mystic superstition which trembles for ever in his heart.

{Illustration: THE GREAT EAVES, FLORENCE}


V


The more I look at the old Florentine domestic architecture the more I
like it--that of the great examples at least; and if I ever am able to
build myself a lordly pleasure-house I don’t see how in conscience I can
build it different from these. They are sombre and frowning, and look
a trifle more as if they were meant to keep people out than to let
them in; but what equally “important” type--if there be an equally
important--is more expressive of domiciliary dignity and security and
yet attests them with a finer æesthetic economy? They are impressively
“handsome,” and yet contrive to be so by the simplest means. I don’t say
at the smallest pecuniary cost--that’s another matter. There is money
buried in the thick walls and diffused through the echoing excess of
space. The merchant nobles of the fifteenth century had deep and full
pockets, I suppose, though the present bearers of their names are glad
to let out their palaces in suites of apartments which are occupied by
the commercial aristocracy of another republic. One is told of fine old
mouldering chambers of which possession is to be enjoyed for a sum not
worth mentioning. I am afraid that behind these so gravely harmonious
fronts there is a good deal of dusky discomfort, and I speak now simply
of the large serious faces themselves as you can see them from the
street; see them ranged cheek to cheek, in the grey historic light of
Via dei Bardi, Via Maggio, Via degli Albizzi. The force of character,
the familiar severity and majesty, depend on a few simple features: on
the great iron-caged windows of the rough-hewn basement; on the noble
stretch of space between the summit of one high, round-topped window
and the bottom of that above; on the high-hung sculptured shield at the
angle of the house; on the flat far-projecting roof; and, finally, on
the magnificent tallness of the whole building, which so dwarfs our
modern attempts at size. The finest of these Florentine palaces are, I
imagine, the tallest habitations in Europe that are frankly and
amply habitations--not mere shafts for machinery of the American
grain-elevator pattern. Some of the creations of M. Haussmann in Paris
may climb very nearly as high; but there is all the difference in the
world between the impressiveness of a building which takes breath, as
it were, some six or seven times, from storey to storey, and of one that
erects itself to an equal height in three long-drawn pulsations. When
a house is ten windows wide and the drawing-room floor is as high as a
chapel it can afford but three floors. The spaciousness of some of those
ancient drawing-rooms is that of a Russian steppe. The “family circle,”
 gathered anywhere within speaking distance, must resemble a group of
pilgrims encamped in the desert on a little oasis of carpet. Madame
Gryzanowska, living at the top of a house in that dusky, tortuous old
Borgo Pinti, initiated me the other evening most good-naturedly, lamp in
hand, into the far-spreading mysteries of her apartment. Such quarters
seem a translation into space of the old-fashioned idea of leisure.
Leisure and “room” have been passing out of our manners together, but
here and there, being of stouter structure, the latter lingers and
survives.

Here and there, indeed, in this blessed Italy, reluctantly modern in
spite alike of boasts and lamentations, it seems to have been preserved
for curiosity’s and fancy’s sake, with a vague, sweet odour of the
embalmer’s spices about it. I went the other morning to the Corsini
Palace. The proprietors obviously are great people. One of the ornaments
of Rome is their great white-faced palace in the dark Trastevere and
its voluminous gallery, none the less delectable for the poorness of
the pictures. Here they have a palace on the Arno, with another large,
handsome, respectable and mainly uninteresting collection. It contains
indeed three or four fine examples of early Florentines. It was not
especially for the pictures that I went, however; and certainly not for
the pictures that I stayed. I was under the same spell as the inveterate
companion with whom I walked the other day through the beautiful private
apartments of the Pitti Palace and who said: “I suppose I care for
nature, and I know there have been times when I have thought it the
greatest pleasure in life to lie under a tree and gaze away at blue
hills. But just now I had rather lie on that faded sea-green satin sofa
and gaze down through the open door at that retreating vista of gilded,
deserted, haunted chambers. In other words I prefer a good ‘interior’
to a good landscape. The impression has a greater intensity--the thing
itself a more complex animation. I like fine old rooms that have been
occupied in a fine old way. I like the musty upholstery, the antiquated
knick-knacks, the view out of the tall deep-embrasured windows at garden
cypresses rocking against a grey sky. If you don’t know why, I’m afraid
I can’t tell you.” It seemed to me at the Palazzo Corsini that I did
know why. In places that have been lived in so long and so much and in
such a fine old way, as my friend said--that is under social conditions
so multifold and to a comparatively starved and democratic sense so
curious--the past seems to have left a sensible deposit, an aroma, an
atmosphere. This ghostly presence tells you no secrets, but it prompts
you to try and guess a few. What has been done and said here through so
many years, what has been ventured or suffered, what has been dreamed or
despaired of? Guess the riddle if you can, or if you think it worth
your ingenuity. The rooms at Palazzo Corsini suggest indeed, and seem
to recall, but a monotony of peace and plenty. One of them imaged such
a noble perfection of a home-scene that I dawdled there until the old
custodian came shuffling back to see whether possibly I was trying
to conceal a Caravaggio about my person: a great crimson-draped
drawing-room of the amplest and yet most charming proportions; walls
hung with large dark pictures, a great concave ceiling frescoed and
moulded with dusky richness, and half-a-dozen south windows looking out
on the Arno, whose swift yellow tide sends up the light in a cheerful
flicker. I fear that in my appreciation of the particular effect so
achieved I uttered a monstrous folly--some momentary willingness to be
maimed or crippled all my days if I might pass them in such a place. In
fact half the pleasure of inhabiting this spacious saloon would be that
of using one’s legs, of strolling up and down past the windows, one by
one, and making desultory journeys from station to station and corner
to corner. Near by is a colossal ball-room, domed and pilastered like
a Renaissance cathedral, and super-abundantly decorated with marble
effigies, all yellow and grey with the years.


VI


In the Carthusian Monastery outside the Roman Gate, mutilated and
profaned though it is, one may still snuff up a strong if stale
redolence of old Catholicism and old Italy. The road to it is ugly,
being encumbered with vulgar waggons and fringed with tenements
suggestive of an Irish-American suburb. Your interest begins as you
come in sight of the convent perched on its little mountain and lifting
against the sky, around the bell-tower of its gorgeous chapel, a coronet
of clustered cells. You make your way into the lower gate, through a
clamouring press of deformed beggars who thrust at you their stumps
of limbs, and you climb the steep hillside through a shabby plantation
which it is proper to fancy was better tended in the monkish time. The
monks are not totally abolished, the government having the grace to
await the natural extinction of the half-dozen old brothers who remain,
and who shuffle doggedly about the cloisters, looking, with their white
robes and their pale blank old faces, quite anticipatory ghosts of their
future selves. A prosaic, profane old man in a coat and trousers serves
you, however, as custodian. The melancholy friars have not even the
privilege of doing you the honours of their dishonour. One must imagine
the pathetic effect of their former silent pointings to this and that
conventual treasure under stress of the feeling that such pointings were
narrowly numbered. The convent is vast and irregular--it bristles with
those picture-making arts and accidents which one notes as one lingers
and passes, but which in Italy the overburdened memory learns to resolve
into broadly general images. I rather deplore its position at the gates
of a bustling city--it ought rather to be lodged in some lonely fold of
the Apennines. And yet to look out from the shady porch of one of the
quiet cells upon the teeming vale of the Arno and the clustered towers
of Florence must have deepened the sense of monastic quietude.

The chapel, or rather the church, which is of great proportions and
designed by Andrea Orcagna, the primitive painter, refines upon the
consecrated type or even quite glorifies it. The massive cincture
of black sculptured stalls, the dusky Gothic roof, the high-hung,
deep-toned pictures and the superb pavement of verd-antique and dark red
marble, polished into glassy lights, must throw the white-robed figures
of the gathered friars into the highest romantic relief. All this luxury
of worship has nowhere such value as in the chapels of monasteries,
where we find it contrasted with the otherwise so ascetic economy of the
worshippers. The paintings and gildings of their church, the gem-bright
marbles and fantastic carvings, are really but the monastic tribute to
sensuous delight--an imperious need for which the fond imagination of
Rome has officiously opened the door. One smiles when one thinks how
largely a fine starved sense for the forbidden things of earth, if it
makes the most of its opportunities, may gratify this need under
cover of devotion. Nothing is too base, too hard, too sordid for real
humility, but nothing too elegant, too amiable, too caressing, caressed,
caressable, for the exaltation of faith. The meaner the convent cell the
richer the convent chapel. Out of poverty and solitude, inanition and
cold, your honest friar may rise at his will into a Mahomet’s Paradise
of luxurious analogies.

There are further various dusky subterranean oratories where a number
of bad pictures contend faintly with the friendly gloom. Two or three of
these funereal vaults, however, deserve mention. In one of them, side
by side, sculptured by Donatello in low relief, lie the white marble
effigies of the three members of the Accaiuoli family who founded the
convent in the thirteenth century. In another, on his back, on the
pavement, rests a grim old bishop of the same stout race by the same
honest craftsman. Terribly grim he is, and scowling as if in his stony
sleep he still dreamed of his hates and his hard ambitions. Last and
best, in another low chapel, with the trodden pavement for its bed,
shines dimly a grand image of a later bishop--Leonardo Buonafede, who,
dying in 1545, owes his monument to Francesco di San Gallo. I have seen
little from this artist’s hand, but it was clearly of the cunningest.
His model here was a very sturdy old prelate, though I should say a very
genial old man. The sculptor has respected his monumental ugliness,
but has suffused it with a singular homely charm--a look of confessed
physical comfort in the privilege of paradise. All these figures have
an inimitable reality, and their lifelike marble seems such an
incorruptible incarnation of the genius of the place that you begin to
think of it as even more reckless than cruel on the part of the present
public powers to have begun to pull the establishment down, morally
speaking, about their ears. They are lying quiet yet a while; but when
the last old friar dies and the convent formally lapses, won’t they rise
on their stiff old legs and hobble out to the gates and thunder forth
anathemas before which even a future and more enterprising régime may be
disposed to pause?

Out of the great central cloister open the snug little detached
dwellings of the absent fathers. When I said just now that the Certosa
in Val d’Ema gives you a glimpse of old Italy I was thinking of this
great pillared quadrangle, lying half in sun and half in shade, of its
tangled garden-growth in the centre, surrounding the ancient customary
well, and of the intense blue sky bending above it, to say nothing of
the indispensable old white-robed monk who pokes about among the lettuce
and parsley. We have seen such places before; we have visited them in
that divinatory glance which strays away into space for a moment over
the top of a suggestive book. I don’t quite know whether it’s more or
less as one’s fancy would have it that the monkish cells are no cells
at all, but very tidy little _appartements complets_, consisting of a
couple of chambers, a sitting-room and a spacious loggia, projecting out
into space from the cliff-like wall of the monastery and sweeping from
pole to pole the loveliest view in the world. It’s poor work, however,
taking notes on views, and I will let this one pass. The little chambers
are terribly cold and musty now. Their odour and atmosphere are such
as one used, as a child, to imagine those of the school-room during
Saturday and Sunday.


VII


In the Roman streets, wherever you turn, the facade of a church in more
or less degenerate flamboyance is the principal feature of the scene;
and if, in the absence of purer motives, you are weary of aesthetic
trudging over the corrugated surface of the Seven Hills, a system of
pavement in which small cobble-stones anomalously endowed with angles
and edges are alone employed, you may turn aside at your pleasure and
take a reviving sniff at the pungency of incense. In Florence, one soon
observes, the churches are relatively few and the dusky house-fronts
more rarely interrupted by specimens of that extraordinary architecture
which in Rome passes for sacred. In Florence, in other words,
ecclesiasticism is less cheap a commodity and not dispensed in the same
abundance at the street-corners. Heaven forbid, at the same time, that
I should undervalue the Roman churches, which are for the most
part treasure-houses of history, of curiosity, of promiscuous and
associational interest. It is a fact, nevertheless, that, after St.
Peter’s, I know but one really beautiful church by the Tiber, the
enchanting basilica of St. Mary Major. Many have structural character,
some a great _allure_, but as a rule they all lack the dignity of
the best of the Florentine temples. Here, the list being immeasurably
shorter and the seed less scattered, the principal churches are all
beautiful. And yet I went into the Annunziata the other day and sat
there for half-an-hour because, forsooth, the gildings and the marbles
and the frescoed dome and the great rococo shrine near the door, with
its little black jewelled fetish, reminded me so poignantly of Rome.
Such is the city properly styled eternal--since it is eternal, at least,
as regards the consciousness of the individual. One loves it in its
sophistications--though for that matter isn’t it all rich and precious
sophistication?--better than other places in their purity.

Coming out of the Annunziata you look past the bronze statue of the
Grand Duke Ferdinand I (whom Mr. Browning’s heroine used to watch
for--in the poem of “The Statue and the Bust”--from the red palace near
by), and down a street vista of enchanting picturesqueness. The street
is narrow and dusky and filled with misty shadows, and at its opposite
end rises the vast bright-coloured side of the Cathedral. It stands up
in very much the same mountainous fashion as the far-shining mass of the
bigger prodigy at Milan, of which your first glimpse as you leave your
hotel is generally through another such dark avenue; only that, if we
talk of mountains, the white walls of Milan must be likened to snow and
ice from their base, while those of the Duomo of Florence may be the
image of some mighty hillside enamelled with blooming flowers. The big
bleak interior here has a naked majesty which, though it may fail of
its effect at first, becomes after a while extraordinarily touching.
Originally disconcerting, it soon inspired me with a passion.
Externally, at any rate, it is one of the loveliest works of man’s
hands, and an overwhelming proof into the bargain that when elegance
belittles grandeur you have simply had a bungling artist.

Santa Croce within not only triumphs here, but would triumph anywhere.
“A trifle naked if you like,” said my irrepressible companion, “but
that’s what I call architecture, just as I don’t call bronze or marble
clothes (save under urgent stress of portraiture) statuary.” And indeed
we are far enough away from the clustering odds and ends borrowed from
every art and every province without which the ritually builded thing
doesn’t trust its spell to work in Rome. The vastness, the lightness,
the open spring of the arches at Santa Croce, the beautiful shape of the
high and narrow choir, the impression made as of mass without weight and
the gravity yet reigning without gloom--these are my frequent delight,
and the interest grows with acquaintance. The place is the great
Florentine Valhalla, the final home or memorial harbour of the native
illustrious dead, but that consideration of it would take me far. It
must be confessed moreover that, between his coarsely-imagined statue
out in front and his horrible monument in one of the aisles, the author
of _The Divine Comedy_, for instance, is just hereabouts rather an
extravagant figure. “Ungrateful Florence,” declaims Byron. Ungrateful
indeed--would she were more so! the susceptible spirit of the great
exile may be still aware enough to exclaim; in common, that is, with
most of the other immortals sacrificed on so very large a scale to
current Florentine “plastic” facility. In explanation of which remark,
however, I must confine myself to noting that, as almost all the old
monuments at Santa Croce are small, comparatively small, and interesting
and exquisite, so the modern, well nigh without exception, are
disproportionately vast and pompous, or in other words distressingly
vague and vain. The aptitude of hand, the compositional assurance, with
which such things are nevertheless turned out, constitutes an anomaly
replete with suggestion for an observer of the present state of the arts
on the soil and in the air that once befriended them, taking them all
together, as even the soil and the air of Greece scarce availed to do.
But on this head, I repeat, there would be too much to say; and I find
myself checked by the same warning at the threshold of the church in
Florence really interesting beyond Santa Croce, beyond all others. Such,
of course, easily, is Santa Maria Novella, where the chapels are lined
and plated with wonderful figured and peopled fresco-work even as most
of those in Rome with precious inanimate substances. These overscored
retreats of devotion, as dusky, some of them, as eremitic caves swarming
with importunate visions, have kept me divided all winter between the
love of Ghirlandaio and the fear of those seeds of catarrh to which
their mortal chill seems propitious till far on into the spring. So
I pause here just on the praise of that delightful painter--as to
the spirit of whose work the reflections I have already made are but
confirmed by these examples. In the choir at Santa Maria Novella, where
the incense swings and the great chants resound, between the gorgeous
coloured window and the florid grand altar, he still “goes in,” with
all his might, for the wicked, the amusing world, the world of faces and
forms and characters, of every sort of curious human and rare material
thing.

{Illustration: BOBOLI GARDEN, FLORENCE.}


VIII


I had always felt the Boboli Gardens charming enough for me to “haunt”
 them; and yet such is the interest of Florence in every quarter that it
took another _corso_ of the same cheap pattern as the last to cause me
yesterday to flee the crowded streets, passing under that archway of the
Pitti Palace which might almost be the gate of an Etruscan city, so that
I might spend the afternoon among the mouldy statues that compose with
their screens of cypress, looking down at our clustered towers and our
background of pale blue hills vaguely freckled with white villas. These
pleasure-grounds of the austere Pitti pile, with its inconsequent charm
of being so rough-hewn and yet somehow so elegantly balanced, plead with
a voice all their own the general cause of the ample enclosed, planted,
cultivated private preserve--preserve of tranquillity and beauty and
immunity--in the heart of a city; a cause, I allow, for that matter,
easy to plead anywhere, once the pretext is found, the large, quiet,
distributed town-garden, with the vague hum of big grudging boundaries
all about it, but with everything worse excluded, being of course the
most insolently-pleasant thing in the world. In addition to which, when
the garden is in the Italian manner, with flowers rather remarkably
omitted, as too flimsy and easy and cheap, and without lawns that
are too smart, paths that are too often swept and shrubs that are too
closely trimmed, though with a fanciful formalism giving style to its
shabbiness, and here and there a dusky ilex-walk, and here and there a
dried-up fountain, and everywhere a piece of mildewed sculpture staring
at you from a green alcove, and just in the right place, above all, a
grassy amphitheatre curtained behind with black cypresses and sloping
downward in mossy marble steps--when, I say, the place possesses these
attractions, and you lounge there of a soft Sunday afternoon, the racier
spectacle of the streets having made your fellow-loungers few and left
you to the deep stillness and the shady vistas that lead you wonder
where, left you to the insidious irresistible mixture of nature and art,
nothing too much of either, only a supreme happy resultant, a divine
_tertium quid_: under these conditions, it need scarce be said the
revelation invoked descends upon you.

The Boboli Gardens are not large--you wonder how compact little Florence
finds room for them within her walls. But they are scattered, to their
extreme, their all-romantic advantage and felicity, over a group
of steep undulations between the rugged and terraced palace and a
still-surviving stretch of city wall, where the unevenness of the ground
much adds to their apparent size. You may cultivate in them the fancy of
their solemn and haunted character, of something faint and dim and even,
if you like, tragic, in their prescribed, their functional smile; as if
they borrowed from the huge monument that overhangs them certain of its
ponderous memories and regrets. This course is open to you, I mention,
but it isn’t enjoined, and will doubtless indeed not come up for you
at all if it isn’t your habit, cherished beyond any other, to spin your
impressions to the last tenuity of fineness. Now that I bethink myself I
must always have happened to wander here on grey and melancholy days. It
remains none the less true that the place contains, thank goodness--or
at least thank the grave, the infinitely-distinguished traditional
_taste_ of Florence--no cheerful, trivial object, neither parterres, nor
pagodas, nor peacocks, nor swans. They have their famous amphitheatre
already referred to, with its degrees or stone benches of a thoroughly
aged and mottled complexion and its circular wall of evergreens behind,
in which small cracked images and vases, things that, according to
association, and with the law of the same quite indefinable, may make as
much on one occasion for exquisite dignity as they may make on another
for (to express it kindly) nothing at all. Something was once done in
this charmed and forsaken circle--done or meant to be done; what was it,
dumb statues, who saw it with your blank eyes? Opposite stands the
huge flat-roofed palace, putting forward two great rectangular arms and
looking, with its closed windows and its foundations of almost unreduced
rock, like some ghost of a sample of a ruder Babylon. In the wide
court-like space between the wings is a fine old white marble fountain
that never plays. Its dusty idleness completes the general air of
abandonment. Chancing on such a cluster of objects in Italy--glancing at
them in a certain light and a certain mood--I get (perhaps on too easy
terms, you may think) a sense of _history_ that takes away my breath.
Generations of Medici have stood at these closed windows, embroidered
and brocaded according to their period, and held _fetes champetres_ and
floral games on the greensward, beneath the mouldering hemicycle. And
the Medici were great people! But what remains of it all now is a mere
tone in the air, a faint sigh in the breeze, a vague expression in
things, a passive--or call it rather, perhaps, to be fair, a shyly,
pathetically responsive--accessibility to the yearning guess. Call
it much or call it little, the ineffaceability of this deep stain
of experience, it is the interest of old places and the bribe to the
brooding analyst. Time has devoured the doers and their doings, but
there still hangs about some effect of their passage. We can “layout”
 parks on virgin soil, and cause them to bristle with the most expensive
importations, but we unfortunately can’t scatter abroad again this seed
of the eventual human soul of a place--that comes but in its time and
takes too long to grow. There is nothing like it when it _has_ come.



TUSCAN CITIES


The cities I refer to are Leghorn, Pisa, Lucca and Pistoia, among which
I have been spending the last few days. The most striking fact as to
Leghorn, it must be conceded at the outset, is that, being in Tuscany,
it should be so scantily Tuscan. The traveller curious in local colour
must content himself with the deep blue expanse of the Mediterranean.
The streets, away from the docks, are modern, genteel and rectangular;
Liverpool might acknowledge them if it weren’t for their clean-coloured,
sun-bleached stucco. They are the offspring of the new industry which is
death to the old idleness. Of interesting architecture, fruit of the
old idleness or at least of the old leisure, Leghorn is singularly
destitute. It has neither a church worth one’s attention, nor a
municipal palace, nor a museum, and it may claim the distinction, unique
in Italy, of being the city of no pictures. In a shabby corner near
the docks stands a statue of one of the elder Grand Dukes of Tuscany,
appealing to posterity on grounds now vague--chiefly that of having
placed certain Moors under tribute. Four colossal negroes, in very bad
bronze, are chained to the base of the monument, which forms with their
assistance a sufficiently fantastic group; but to patronise the arts is
not the line of the Livornese, and for want of the slender annuity
which would keep its precinct sacred this curious memorial is buried
in dockyard rubbish. I must add that on the other hand there is a very
well-conditioned and, in attitude and gesture, extremely natural and
familiar statue of Cavour in one of the city squares, and in another a
couple of effigies of recent Grand Dukes, represented, that is dressed,
or rather undressed, in the character of heroes of Plutarch. Leghorn
is a city of magnificent spaces, and it was so long a journey from the
sidewalk to the pedestal of these images that I never took the time
to go and read the inscriptions. And in truth, vaguely, I bore the
originals a grudge, and wished to know as little about them as possible;
for it seemed to me that as _patres patrae_, in their degree, they might
have decreed that the great blank, ochre-faced piazza should be a trifle
less ugly. There is a distinct amenity, however, in any experience of
Italy almost anywhere, and I shall probably in the future not be above
sparing a light regret to several of the hours of which the one I speak
of was composed. I shall remember a large cool bourgeois villa in the
garden of a noiseless suburb--a middle-aged Villa Franco (I owe it as a
genial pleasant _pension_ the tribute of recognition), roomy and stony,
as an Italian villa should be. I shall remember that, as I sat in the
garden, and, looking up from my book, saw through a gap in the shrubbery
the red house-tiles against the deep blue sky and the grey underside of
the ilex-leaves turned up by the Mediterranean breeze, it was all still
quite Tuscany, if Tuscany in the minor key.

If you should naturally desire, in such conditions, a higher intensity,
you have but to proceed, by a very short journey, to Pisa--where, for
that matter, you will seem to yourself to have hung about a good deal
already, and from an early age. Few of us can have had a childhood
so unblessed by contact with the arts as that one of its occasional
diversions shan’t have been a puzzled scrutiny of some alabaster model
of the Leaning Tower under a glass cover in a back-parlour. Pisa and its
monuments have, in other words, been industriously vulgarised, but it
is astonishing how well they have survived the process. The charm of the
place is in fact of a high order and but partially foreshadowed by the
famous crookedness of its campanile. I felt it irresistibly and yet
almost inexpressibly the other afternoon, as I made my way to the
classic corner of the city through the warm drowsy air which nervous
people come to inhale as a sedative. I was with an invalid companion who
had had no sleep to speak of for a fortnight. “Ah! stop the carriage,”
 she sighed, or yawned, as I could feel, deliciously, “in the shadow of
this old slumbering palazzo, and let me sit here and close my eyes, and
taste for an hour of oblivion.” Once strolling over the grass, however,
out of which the quartette of marble monuments rises, we awaked
responsively enough to the present hour. Most people remember the happy
remark of tasteful, old-fashioned Forsyth (who touched a hundred other
points in his “Italy” scarce less happily) as to the fact that the
four famous objects are “fortunate alike in their society and their
solitude.” It must be admitted that they are more fortunate in their
society than we felt ourselves to be in ours; for the scene presented
the animated appearance for which, on any fine spring day, all the
choicest haunts of ancient quietude in Italy are becoming yearly more
remarkable. There were clamorous beggars at all the sculptured portals,
and bait for beggars, in abundance, trailing in and out of them under
convoy of loquacious ciceroni. I forget just how I apportioned the
responsibility, of intrusion, for it was not long before fellow-tourists
and fellow-countrymen became a vague, deadened, muffled presence, that
of the dentist’s last words when he is giving you ether. They suffered
mystic disintegration in the dense, bright, tranquil air, so charged
with its own messages. The Cathedral and its companions are fortunate
indeed in everything--fortunate in the spacious angle of the grey old
city-wall which folds about them in their sculptured elegance like a
strong protecting arm; fortunate in the broad greensward which stretches
from the marble base of Cathedral and cemetery to the rugged foot of the
rampart; fortunate in the little vagabonds who dot the grass, plucking
daisies and exchanging Italian cries; fortunate in the pale-gold tone to
which time and the soft sea-damp have mellowed and darkened their marble
plates; fortunate, above all, in an indescribable grace of grouping,
half hazard, half design, which insures them, in one’s memory of things
admired, very much the same isolated corner that they occupy in the
charming city.

Of the smaller cathedrals of Italy I know none I prefer to that of Pisa;
none that, on a moderate scale, produces more the impression of a great
church. It has without so modest a measurability, represents so clean
and compact a mass, that you are startled when you cross the threshold
at the apparent space it encloses. An architect of genius, for all that
he works with colossal blocks and cumbrous pillars, is certainly the
most cunning of conjurors. The front of the Duomo is a small pyramidal
screen, covered with delicate carvings and chasings, distributed over
a series of short columns upholding narrow arches. It might be a
sought imitation of goldsmith’s work in stone, and the area covered is
apparently so small that extreme fineness has been prescribed. How it is
therefore that on the inner side of this façade the wall should appear
to rise to a splendid height and to support one end of a ceiling as
remote in its gilded grandeur, one could almost fancy, as that of St.
Peter’s; how it is that the nave should stretch away in such solemn
vastness, the shallow transepts emphasise the grand impression and the
apse of the choir hollow itself out like a dusky cavern fretted
with golden stalactites, is all matter for exposition by a keener
architectural analyst than I. To sit somewhere against a pillar where
the vista is large and the incidents cluster richly, and vaguely revolve
these mysteries without answering them, is the best of one’s usual
enjoyment of a great church. It takes no deep sounding to conclude
indeed that a gigantic Byzantine Christ in mosaic, on the concave roof
of the choir, contributes largely to the particular impression here as
of very old and choice and original and individual things. It has even
more of stiff solemnity than is common to works of its school, and
prompts to more wonder than ever on the nature of the human mind at a
time when such unlovely shapes could satisfy its conception of holiness.
Truly pathetic is the fate of these huge mosaic idols, thanks to the
change that has overtaken our manner of acceptance of them. Strong the
contrast between the original sublimity of their pretensions and the way
in which they flatter that free sense of the grotesque which the modern
imagination has smuggled even into the appreciation of religious forms.
They were meant to yield scarcely to the Deity itself in grandeur, but
the only part they play now is to stare helplessly at our critical, our
aesthetic patronage of them. The spiritual refinement marking the hither
end of a progress had n’t, however, to wait for us to signalise it; it
found expression three centuries ago in the beautiful specimen of the
painter Sodoma on the wall of the choir. This latter, a small Sacrifice
of Isaac, is one of the best examples of its exquisite author, and
perhaps, as chance has it, the most perfect opposition that could
be found in the way of the range of taste to the effect of the great
mosaic. There are many painters more powerful than Sodoma--painters who,
like the author of the mosaic, attempted and compassed grandeur; but
none has a more persuasive grace, none more than he was to sift and
chasten a conception till it should affect one with the sweetness of a
perfectly distilled perfume.

Of the patient successive efforts of painting to arrive at the supreme
refinement of such a work as the Sodoma the Campo Santo hard by offers a
most interesting memorial. It presents a long, blank marble wall to the
relative profaneness of the Cathedral close, but within it is a perfect
treasure-house of art. This quadrangular defence surrounds an open court
where weeds and wild roses are tangled together and a sunny stillness
seems to rest consentingly, as if Nature had been won to consciousness
of the precious relics committed to her. Something in the quality of the
place recalls the collegiate cloisters of Oxford, but it must be added
that this is the handsomest compliment to that seat of learning. The
open arches of the quadrangles of Magdalen and Christ Church are not
of mellow Carrara marble, nor do they offer to sight columns, slim and
elegant, that seem to frame the unglazed windows of a cathedral. To be
buried in the Campo Santo of Pisa, I may however further qualify, you
need only be, or to have more or less anciently been, illustrious, and
there is a liberal allowance both as to the character and degree of
your fame. The most obtrusive object in one of the long vistas is a most
complicated monument to Madame Catalani, the singer, recently erected
by her possibly too-appreciative heirs. The wide pavement is a mosaic of
sepulchral slabs, and the walls, below the base of the paling frescoes,
are incrusted with inscriptions and encumbered with urns and antique
sarcophagi. The place is at once a cemetery and a museum, and its
especial charm is its strange mixture of the active and the passive,
of art and rest, of life and death. Originally its walls were one vast
continuity of closely pressed frescoes; but now the great capricious
scars and stains have come to outnumber the pictures, and the cemetery
has grown to be a burial-place of pulverised masterpieces as well as of
finished lives. The fragments of painting that remain are fortunately
the best; for one is safe in believing that a host of undimmed
neighbours would distract but little from the two great works of
Orcagna. Most people know the “Triumph of Death” and the “Last Judgment”
 from descriptions and engravings; but to measure the possible good faith
of imitative art one must stand there and see the painter’s howling
potentates dragged into hell in all the vividness of his bright hard
colouring; see his feudal courtiers, on their palfreys, hold their noses
at what they are so fast coming to; see his great Christ, in judgment,
refuse forgiveness with a gesture commanding enough, really inhuman
enough, to make virtue merciless for ever. The charge that Michael
Angelo borrowed his cursing Saviour from this great figure of Orcagna is
more valid than most accusations of plagiarism; but of the two figures
one at least could be spared. For direct, triumphant expressiveness
these two superb frescoes have probably never been surpassed. The
painter aims at no very delicate meanings, but he drives certain gross
ones home so effectively that for a parallel to his process one must
look to the art of the actor, the emphasising “point”--making mime.
Some of his female figures are superb--they represent creatures of a
formidable temperament.

There are charming women, however, on the other side of the cloister--in
the beautiful frescoes of Benozzo Gozzoli. If Orcagna’s work was
appointed to survive the ravage of time it is a happy chance that
it should be balanced by a group of performances of such a different
temper. The contrast is the more striking that in subject the
inspiration of both painters is strictly, even though superficially,
theological. But Benozzo cares, in his theology, for nothing but the
story, the scene and the drama--the chance to pile up palaces and spires
in his backgrounds against pale blue skies cross-barred with pearly,
fleecy clouds, and to scatter sculptured arches and shady trellises over
the front, with every incident of human life going forward lightly and
gracefully beneath them. Lightness and grace are the painter’s great
qualities, marking the hithermost limit of unconscious elegance, after
which “style” and science and the wisdom of the serpent set in.
His charm is natural fineness; a little more and we should have
refinement--which is a very different thing. Like all _les délicats_ of
this world, as M. Renan calls them, Benozzo has suffered greatly. The
space on the walls he originally covered with his Old Testament stories
is immense; but his exquisite handiwork has peeled off by the acre,
as one may almost say, and the latter compartments of the series are
swallowed up in huge white scars, out of which a helpless head or hand
peeps forth like those of creatures sinking into a quicksand. As
for Pisa at large, although it is not exactly what one would call
a mouldering city--for it has a certain well-aired cleanness and
brightness, even in its supreme tranquillity--it affects the imagination
very much in the same way as the Campo Santo. And, in truth, a city
so ancient and deeply historic as Pisa is at every step but the
burial-ground of a larger life than its present one. The wide empty
streets, the goodly Tuscan palaces--which look as if about all of them
there were a genteel private understanding, independent of placards,
that they are to be let extremely cheap--the delicious relaxing air,
the full-flowing yellow river, the lounging Pisani, smelling,
metaphorically, their poppy-flowers, seemed to me all so many
admonitions to resignation and oblivion. And this is what I mean by
saying that the charm of Pisa (apart from its cluster of monuments) is
a charm of a high order. The architecture has but a modest dignity; the
lions are few; there are no fixed points for stopping and gaping. And
yet the impression is profound; the charm is a moral charm. If I were
ever to be incurably disappointed in life, if I had lost my health,
my money, or my friends, if I were resigned forevermore to pitching my
expectations in a minor key, I should go and invoke the Pisan peace. Its
quietude would seem something more than a stillness--a hush. Pisa may be
a dull place to live in, but it’s an ideal place to wait for death.

Nothing could be more charming than the country between Pisa and
Lucca--unless possibly the country between Lucca and Pistoia. If Pisa is
dead Tuscany, Lucca is Tuscany still living and enjoying, desiring and
intending. The town is a charming mixture of antique “character” and
modern inconsequence; and! not only the town, but the country--the
blooming romantic country which you admire from the famous promenade
on the city-wall. The wall is of superbly solid and intensely “toned”
 brickwork and of extraordinary breadth, and its summit, planted with
goodly trees and swelling here and there into bastions and outworks and
little open gardens, surrounds the city with a circular lounging-place
of a splendid dignity. This well-kept, shady, ivy-grown rampart reminded
me of certain mossy corners of England; but it looks away to a prospect
of more than English loveliness--a broad green plain where the summer
yields a double crop of grain, and a circle of bright blue mountains
speckled with high-hung convents and profiled castles and nestling
villas, and traversed by valleys of a deeper and duskier blue. In one of
the deepest and shadiest of these recesses one of the most “sympathetic”
 of small watering-places is hidden away yet a while longer from
easy invasion--the Baths to which Lucca has lent its name. Lucca is
pre-eminently a city of churches; ecclesiastical architecture being
indeed the only one of the arts to which it seems to have given
attention. There are curious bits of domestic architecture, but no
great palaces, and no importunate frequency of pictures. The Cathedral,
however, sums up the merits of its companions and is a singularly noble
and interesting church. Its peculiar boast is a wonderful inlaid front,
on which horses and hounds and hunted beasts are lavishly figured in
black marble over a white ground. What I chiefly appreciated in the grey
solemnity of the nave and transepts was the superb effect of certain
second-storey Gothic arches--those which rest on the pavement being
Lombard. These arches are delicate and slender, like those of the
cloister at Pisa, and they play their part in the dusky upper air with
real sublimity.

At Pistoia there is of course a Cathedral, and there is nothing
unexpected in its being, externally at least, highly impressive; in its
having a grand campanile at its door, a gaudy baptistery, in alternate
layers of black and white marble, across the way, and a stately civic
palace on either side. But even had I the space to do otherwise I should
prefer to speak less of the particular objects of interest in the place
than of the pleasure I found it to lounge away in the empty streets the
quiet hours of a warm afternoon. To say where I lingered longest would
be to tell of a little square before the hospital, out of which you
look up at the beautiful frieze in coloured earthernware by the brothers
Della Robbia, which runs across the front of the building. It represents
the seven orthodox offices of charity and, with its brilliant blues and
yellows and its tender expressiveness, brightens up amazingly, to the
sense and soul, this little grey corner of the mediaeval city. Pi stoia
is still mediaeval. How grass-grown it seemed, how drowsy, how full of
idle vistas and melancholy nooks! If nothing was supremely wonderful,
everything was delicious.

{Illustration: THE HOSPITAL, PISTOIA.}

1874.



OTHER TUSCAN CITIES


I


I had scanted charming Pisa even as I had scanted great Siena in my
original small report of it, my scarce more than stammering notes of
years before; but even if there had been meagreness of mere gaping
vision--which there in fact hadn’t been--as well as insufficiency of
public tribute, the indignity would soon have ceased to weigh on my
conscience. For to this affection I was to return again still oftener
than to the strong call of Siena my eventual frequentations of Pisa, all
merely impressionistic and amateurish as they might be--and I pretended,
up and down the length of the land, to none other--leave me at the
hither end of time with little more than a confused consciousness of
exquisite _quality_ on the part of the small sweet scrap of a place of
ancient glory; a consciousness so pleadingly content to be general and
vague that I shrink from pulling it to pieces. The Republic of Pisa
fought with the Republic of Florence, through the ages so ferociously
and all but invincibly that what is so pale and languid in her to-day
may well be the aspect of any civil or, still more, military creature
bled and bled and bled at the “critical” time of its life. She has
verily a just languor and is touchingly anæmic; the past history, or
at any rate the present perfect acceptedness, of which condition hangs
about her with the last grace of weakness, making her state in this
particular the very secret of her irresistible appeal. I was to find the
appeal, again and again, one of the sweetest, tenderest, even if not
one of the fullest and richest impressions possible; and if I went back
whenever I could it was very much as one doesn’t indecently neglect a
gentle invalid friend. The couch of the invalid friend, beautifully,
appealingly resigned, has been wheeled, say, for the case, into the warm
still garden, and your visit but consists of your sitting beside it with
kind, discreet, testifying silences. Such is the figurative form under
which the once rugged enemy of Florence, stretched at her length by the
rarely troubled Arno, to-day presents herself; and I find my analogy
complete even to my sense of the mere mild _séance_, the inevitably
tacit communion or rather blank interchange, between motionless cripple
and hardly more incurable admirer.

The terms of my enjoyment of Pisa scarce departed from that ideal--slow
contemplative perambulations, rather late in the day and after work done
mostly in the particular decent inn-room that was repeatedly my portion;
where the sunny flicker of the river played up from below to the very
ceiling, which, by the same sign, anciently and curiously raftered and
hanging over my table at a great height, had been colour-pencilled into
ornament as fine (for all practical purposes) as the page of a missal.
I add to this, for remembrance, an inveteracy of evening idleness and of
reiterated ices in front of one of the quiet cafés--quiet as everything
at Pisa is quiet, or will certainly but in these latest days have ceased
to be; one in especial so beautifully, so mysteriously void of bustle
that almost always the neighbouring presence and admirable chatter of
some group of the local University students would fall upon my ear, by
the half-hour at a time, not less as a privilege, frankly, than as a
clear-cut image of the young Italian mind and life, by which I lost
nothing. I use such terms as “admirable” and “privilege,” in this last
most casual of connections--which was moreover no connection at all but
what my attention made it--simply as an acknowledgment of the interest
that might play there through some inevitable thoughts. These were, for
that matter, intensely in keeping with the ancient scene and air:
they dealt with the exquisite difference between that tone and type of
ingenuous adolescence--in the mere relation of charmed _audition_--and
other forms of juvenility of whose mental and material accent one had
elsewhere met the assault. Civilised, charmingly civilised, were my
loquacious neighbours--as how had n’t they to be, one asked one’s self,
through the use of a medium of speech that is in itself a sovereign
saturation? _There_ was the beautiful congruity of the happily-caught
impression; the fact of my young men’s general Tuscanism of tongue,
which related them so on the spot to the whole historic consensus
of things. It wasn’t dialect--as it of course easily might have been
elsewhere, at Milan, at Turin, at Bologna, at Naples; it was the clear
Italian in which all the rest of the surrounding story was told, all
the rest of the result of time recorded; and it made them delightful,
prattling, unconscious men of the particular little constituted and
bequeathed world which everything else that was charged with old
meanings and old beauty referred to--all the more that their talk was
never by any chance of romping games or deeds of violence, but kept
flowering, charmingly and incredibly, into eager ideas and literary
opinions and philosophic discussions and, upon my honour, vital
questions.

They have taken me too far, for so light a reminiscence; but I claim
for the loose web of my impressions at no point a heavier texture. Which
comes back to what I was a moment ago saying--that just in proportion
as you “feel” the morbid charm of Pisa you press on it gently, and this
somehow even under stress of whatever respectful attention. I found
this last impulse, at all events, so far as I was concerned, quite
contentedly spend itself in a renewed sense of the simple large pacified
felicity of such an afternoon aspect as that of the Lung’ Arno, taken up
or down its course; whether to within sight of small Santa Maria della
Spina, the tiny, the delicate, the exquisite Gothic chapel perched where
the quay drops straight, or, in the other direction, toward the melting
perspective of the narrow local pleasure-ground, the rather thin and
careless bosky grace of which recedes, beside the stream whose very
turbidity pleases, to a middle distance of hot and tangled and exuberant
rural industry and a proper blue horizon of Carrara mountains. The Pisan
Lung’ Arno is shorter and less featured and framed than the Florentine,
but it has the fine accent of a marked curve and is quite as bravely
Tuscan; witness the type of river-fronting palace which, in half-a-dozen
massive specimens, the last word of the anciently “handsome,” are of
the essence of the physiognomy of the place. In the glow of which
retrospective admission I ask myself how I came, under my first flush,
reflected in other pages, to fail of justice to so much proud domestic
architecture--in the very teeth moreover of the fact that I was for ever
paying my compliments, in a wistful, wondering way, to the fine Palazzo
Lanfranchi, occupied in 1822 by the migratory Byron, and whither Leigh
Hunt, as commemorated in the latter’s Autobiography, came out to join
him in an odd journalistic scheme.

Of course, however, I need scarcely add, the centre of my daily
revolution--quite thereby on the circumference--was the great Company of
Four in their sequestered corner; objects of regularly recurrent pious
pilgrimage, if for no other purpose than to see whether each would
each time again so inimitably carry itself as one of a group of
wonderfully-worked old ivories. Their charm of relation to each other
and to everything else that concerns them, that of the quartette of
monuments, is more or less inexpressible all round; but not the least of
it, ever, is in their beautiful secret for taking at different hours
and seasons, in different states of the light, the sky, the wind, the
weather--in different states, even, it used verily to seem to me, of
an admirer’s imagination or temper or nerves--different complexional
appearances, different shades and pallors, different glows and chills.
I have seen them look almost viciously black, and I have seen them as
clear and fair as pale gold. And these things, for the most part, off on
the large grassy carpet spread for them, and with the elbow of the old
city-wall, not elsewhere erect, respectfully but protectingly crooked
about, to the tune of a usual unanimity save perhaps in the case of
the Leaning Tower--so abnormal a member of any respectable family this
structure at best that I always somehow fancied its three companions,
the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Campo Santo, capable of quiet
common understandings, for the major or the minor effect, into which
their odd fellow, no hint thrown out to him, was left to enter as he
might. If one haunted the place, one ended by yielding to the conceit
that, beautifully though the others of the group may be said to behave
about him, one sometimes caught them in the act of tacitly combining to
ignore him--as if he had, after so long, begun to give on their nerves.
Or is that absurdity but my shamefaced form of admission that, for all
the wonder of him, he finally gave on mine? Frankly--I would put it at
such moments--he becomes at last an optical bore or _betise_.

{Illustration: THE LOGGIA, LUCCA.}


II


To Lucca I was not to return often--I was to return only once; when that
compact and admirable little city, the very model of a small _pays de
Cocagne_, overflowing with everything that makes for ease, for plenty,
for beauty, for interest and good example, renewed for me, in the
highest degree, its genial and robust appearance. The perfection of
this renewal must indeed have been, at bottom, the ground of my rather
hanging back from possible excess of acquaintance--with the instinct
that so right and rich and rounded a little impression had better be
left than endangered. I remember positively saying to myself the second
time that no brown-and-gold Tuscan city, even, could _be_ as happy as
Lucca looked--save always, exactly, Lucca; so that, on the chance of any
shade of human illusion in the case, I wouldn’t, as a brooding analyst,
go within fifty miles of it again. Just so, I fear I must confess, it
was this mere face-value of the place that, when I went back, formed my
sufficiency; I spent all my scant time--or the greater part, for I took
a day to drive over to the Bagni--just gaping at its visible attitude.
This may be described as that of simply sitting there, through the
centuries, at the receipt of perfect felicity; on its splendid solid
seat of russet masonry, that is--for its great republican ramparts of
long ago still lock it tight--with its wide garden-land, its ancient
appanage or hereditary domain, teeming and blooming with everything that
is good and pleasant for man, all about, and with a ring of graceful and
noble, yet comparatively unbeneficed uplands and mountains watching
it, for very envy, across the plain, as a circle of bigger boys, in
the playground, may watch a privileged or pampered smaller one munch a
particularly fine apple. Half smothered thus in oil and wine and
corn and all the fruits of the earth, Lucca seems fairly to laugh for
good-humour, and it’s as if one can’t say more for her than that, thanks
to her putting forward for you a temperament somehow still richer than
her heritage, you forgive her at every turn her fortune. She smiles up
at you her greeting as you dip into her wide lap, out of which you may
select almost any rare morsel whatever. Looking back at my own choice
indeed I see it must have suffered a certain embarrassment--that of the
sense of too many things; for I scarce remember choosing at all, any
more than I recall having had to go hungry. I turned into all the
churches--taking care, however, to pause before one of them, though
before which I now irrecoverably forget, for verification of Ruskin’s so
characteristically magnified rapture over the high and rather narrow
and obscure hunting-frieze on its front--and in the Cathedral paid my
respects at every turn to the greatest of Lucchesi, Matteo Civitale,
wisest, sanest, homeliest, kindest of _quattro-cento_ sculptors, to
whose works the Duomo serves almost as a museum. But my nearest approach
to anything so invidious as a discrimination or a preference, under the
spell of so felt an equilibrium, must have been the act of engaging a
carriage for the Baths.

That inconsequence once perpetrated, let me add, the impression was as
right as any other--the impression of the drive through the huge general
tangled and fruited _podere_ of the countryside; that of the pair of
jogging hours that bring the visitor to where the wideish gate of the
valley of the Serchio opens. The question after this became quite other;
the narrowing, though always more or less smiling gorge that draws you
on and on is a different, a distinct proposition altogether, with its
own individual grace of appeal and association. It is the association,
exactly, that would even now, on this page, beckon me forward, or
perhaps I should rather say backward--weren’t more than a glance at it
out of the question--to a view of that easier and not so inordinately
remote past when “people spent the summer” in these perhaps slightly
stuffy shades. I speak of that age, I think of it at least, as easier
than ours, in spite of the fact that even as I made my pilgrimage the
mark of modern change, the railway in construction, had begun to be
distinct, though the automobile was still pretty far in the future. The
relations and proportions of everything are of course now altered--I
indeed, I confess, wince at the vision of the cloud of motor-dust that
must in the fine season hang over the whole connection. That represents
greater promptness of approach to the bosky depths of Ponte-a-Serraglio
and the Bagni Caldi, but it throws back the other time, that of the
old jogging relation, of the Tuscan grand-ducal “season” and the small
cosmopolite sociability, into quite Arcadian air and the comparatively
primitive scale. The “easier” Italy of our infatuated precursors
there wears its glamour of facility not through any question of “the
development of communications,” but through the very absence of the
dream of that boon, thanks to which every one (among the infatuated)
lived on terms of so much closer intercourse with the general object of
their passion. After we had crossed the Serchio that beautiful day we
passed into the charming, the amiably tortuous, the thickly umbrageous,
valley of the Lima, and then it was that I seemed fairly to remount the
stream of time; figuring to myself wistfully, at the small scattered
centres of entertainment--modest inns, pensions and other places of
convenience clustered where the friendly torrent is bridged or the
forested slopes adjust themselves--what the summer days and the summer
rambles and the summer dreams must have been, in the blest place, when
“people” (by which I mean the contingent of beguiled barbarians) didn’t
know better, as we say, than to content themselves with such a mild
substitute, such a soft, sweet and essentially elegant apology, for
adventure. One wanted not simply to hang about a little, but really to
live back, as surely one might, have done by staying on, into the so
romantically strong, if mechanically weak, Italy of the associations of
one’s youth. It was a pang to have to revert to the present even in the
form of Lucca--which says everything.


III


If undeveloped communications were to become enough for me at those
retrospective moments, I might have felt myself supplied to my taste,
let me go on to say, at the hour of my making, with great resolution,
an attempt on high-seated and quite grandly out-of-the-way Volterra:
a reminiscence associated with quite a different year and, I should
perhaps sooner have bethought myself, with my fond experience of
Pisa--inasmuch as it was during a pause under that bland and motionless
wing that I seem to have had to organise in the darkness of a summer
dawn my approach to the old Etruscan stronghold. The railway then
existed, but I rose in the dim small hours to take my train; moreover,
so far as that might too much savour of an incongruous facility,
the fault was in due course quite adequately repaired by an apparent
repudiation of any awareness of such false notes on the part of the
town. I may not invite the reader to penetrate with me by so much as a
step the boundless backward reach of history to which the more massive
of the Etruscan gates of Volterra, the Porta all’ Arco, forms the
solidest of thresholds; since I perforce take no step myself, and am
even exceptionally condemned here to impressionism unashamed. My errand
was to spend a Sunday with an Italian friend, a native in fact of the
place, master of a house there in which he offered me hospitality; who,
also arriving from Florence the night before, had obligingly come on
with me from Pisa, and whose consciousness of a due urbanity, already
rather overstrained, and still well before noon, by the accumulation
of our matutinal vicissitudes and other grounds for patience, met
all ruefully at the station the supreme shock of an apparently great
desolate world of volcanic hills, of blank, though “engineered,”
 undulations, as the emergence of a road testified, unmitigated by the
smallest sign of a wheeled vehicle. The station, in other words, looked
out at that time (and I daresay the case hasn’t strikingly altered) on a
mere bare huge hill-country, by some remote mighty shoulder of which
the goal of our pilgrimage, so questionably “served” by the railway, was
hidden from view. Served as well by a belated omnibus, a four-in-hand of
lame and lamentable quality, the place, I hasten to add, eventually
put forth some show of being; after a complete practical recognition of
which, let me at once further mention, all the other, the positive and
sublime, connections of Volterra established themselves for me without
my lifting a finger.

The small shrunken, but still lordly prehistoric city is perched, when
once you have rather painfully zigzagged to within sight of it, very
much as an eagle’s eyrie, oversweeping the land and the sea; and to
that type of position, the ideal of the airy peak of vantage, with all
accessories and minor features a drop, a slide and a giddiness, its
individual items and elements strike you at first as instinctively
conforming. This impression was doubtless after a little modified for
me; there were levels, there were small stony practicable streets, there
were walks and strolls, outside the gates and roundabout the cyclopean
wall, to the far end of downward-tending protrusions and promontories,
natural buttresses and pleasant terrene headlands, friendly suburban
spots (one would call them if the word had less detestable references)
where games of bowls and overtrellised wine-tables could put in their
note; in spite of which however my friend’s little house of hospitality,
clean and charming and oh, so immemorially Tuscan, was as perpendicular
and ladder-like as so compact a residence could be; it kept up for me
beautifully--as regards posture and air, though humanly and socially
it rather cooed like a dovecote--the illusion of the vertiginously
“balanced” eagle’s nest. The air, in truth, all the rest of that
splendid day, must have been the key to the promptly-produced intensity
of one’s relation to every aspect of the charming episode; the light,
cool, keen air of those delightful high places, in Italy, that tonically
correct the ardours of July, and which at our actual altitude could but
affect me as the very breath of the grand local legend. I might have
“had” the little house, our particular eagle’s nest, for the summer,
and even on such touching terms; and I well remember the force of the
temptation to take it, if only other complications had permitted; to
spend the series of weeks with that admirable _interesting_ freshness
in my lungs: interesting, I especially note, as the strong appropriate
medium in which a continuity with the irrecoverable but still effective
past had been so robustly preserved. I couldn’t yield, alas, to the
conceived felicity, which had half-a-dozen appealing aspects; I could
only, while thus feeling how the atmospheric medium itself made for a
positively initiative exhilaration, enjoy my illusion till the morrow.
The exhilaration therefore supplies to memory the whole light in which,
for the too brief time, I went about “seeing” Volterra; so that my
glance at the seated splendour reduces itself, as I have said, to
the merest impressionism; nothing more was to be looked for, on the
stretched surface of consciousness, from one breezy wash of the brush.
I find there the clean strong image simplified to the three or four
unforgettable particulars of the vast rake of the view; with the
Maremma, of evil fame, more or less immediately below, but with those
islands of the sea, Corsica and Elba, the names of which are sharply
associational beyond any others, dressing the far horizon in the grand
manner, and the Ligurian coast-line melting northward into beauty and
history galore; with colossal uncemented blocks of Etruscan gates and
walls plunging you--and by their very interest--into a sweet surrender
of any privilege of appreciation more crushing than your general
synthetic stare; and with the rich and perfectly arranged museum, an
unsurpassed exhibition of monumental treasure from Etruscan tombs,
funereal urns mainly, reliquaries of an infinite power to move and charm
us still, contributing to this same so designed, but somehow at the same
time so inspired, collapse of the historic imagination under too heavy a
pressure, or abeyance of “private judgment” in too unequal a relation.


IV


I remember recovering private judgment indeed in the course of two or
three days following the excursion I have just noted; which must have
shaped themselves in some sort of consonance with the idea that as we
were hereabouts in the very middle of dim Etruria a common self-respect
prescribed our somehow profiting by the fact. This kindled in us the
spirit of exploration, but with results of which I here attempt to
record, so utterly does the whole impression swoon away, for present
memory, into vagueness, confusion and intolerable heat, Our self-respect
was of the common order, but the blaze of the July sun was, even for
Tuscany, of the uncommon; so that the project of a trudging quest for
Etruscan tombs in shadeless wastes yielded to its own temerity.
There comes back to me nevertheless at the same time, from the mild
misadventure, and quite as through this positive humility of failure,
the sense of a supremely intimate revelation of Italy in undress, so
to speak (the state, it seemed, in which one would most fondly, most
ideally, enjoy her); Italy no longer in winter starch and sobriety, with
winter manners and winter prices and winter excuses, all addressed to
the _forestieri_ and the philistines; but lolling at her length, with
her graces all relaxed, and thereby only the more natural; the brilliant
performer, in short, _en famille_, the curtain down and her salary
stopped for the season--thanks to which she is by so much more the easy
genius and the good creature as she is by so much less the advertised
_prima donna_. She received us nowhere more sympathetically, that is
with less ceremony or self-consciousness, I seem to recall, than at
Montepulciano, for instance--where it was indeed that the recovery of
private judgment I just referred to couldn’t help taking place. What we
were doing, or what we expected to do, at Montepulciano I keep no other
trace of than is bound up in a present quite tender consciousness that I
wouldn’t for the world not have been there. I think my reason must have
been largely just in the beauty of the name (for could any beauty be
greater?), reinforced no doubt by the fame of the local vintage and the
sense of how we should quaff it on the spot. Perhaps we quaffed it too
constantly; since the romantic picture reduces itself for me but to two
definite appearances; that of the more priggish discrimination so far
reasserting itself as to advise me that Montepulciano was dirty, even
remarkably dirty; and that of her being not much else besides but
perched and brown and queer and crooked, and noble withal (which is what
almost any Tuscan city more easily than not acquits herself of; all the
while she may on such occasions figure, when one looks off from her to
the end of dark street-vistas or catches glimpses through high arcades,
some big battered, blistered, overladen, overmasted ship, swimming in a
violet sea).

If I have lost the sense of what we were doing, that could at all suffer
commemoration, at Montepulciano, so I sit helpless before the memory
of small stewing Torrita, which we must somehow have expected to yield,
under our confidence, a view of shy charms, but which did n’t yield, to
my recollection, even anything that could fairly be called a breakfast
or a dinner. There may have been in the neighbourhood a rumour
of Etruscan tombs; the neighbourhood, however, was vast, and that
possibility not to be verified, in the conditions, save after due
refreshment. Then it was, doubtless, that the question of refreshment so
beckoned us, by a direct appeal, straight across country, from Perugia,
that, casting consistency, if not to the winds, since alas there were
none, but to the lifeless air, we made the sweltering best of our way
(and it took, for the distance, a terrible time) to the Grand Hotel of
that city. This course shines for me, in the retrospect, with a light
even more shameless than that in which my rueful conscience then saw it;
since we thus exchanged again, at a stroke, the tousled _bonne fille_ of
our vacational Tuscany for the formal and figged-out presence of Italy
on her good behaviour. We had never seen her conform more to all the
proprieties, we felt, than under this aspect of lavish hospitality to
that now apparently quite inveterate swarm of pampered _forestieri_,
English and Americans in especial, who, having had Roman palaces and
villas deliciously to linger in, break the northward journey, when once
they decide to take it, in the Umbrian paradise. They were, goodness
knows, within their rights, and we profited, as anyone may easily and
cannily profit at that time, by the sophistications paraded for them;
only I feel, as I pleasantly recover it all, that though we had arrived
perhaps at the most poetical of watering-places we had lost our finer
clue. (The difference from other days was immense, all the span of
evolution from the ancient malodorous inn which somehow did n’t matter,
to that new type of polyglot caravanserai which everywhere insists on
mattering--mattering, even in places where other interests abound, so
much more than anything else.) That clue, the finer as I say, I would
fain at any rate to-day pick up for its close attachment to another
Tuscan city or two--for a felt pull from strange little San Gimignano
delle belle Torre in especial; by which I mean from the memory of a
summer Sunday spent there during a stay at Siena. But I have already
superabounded, for mere love of my general present rubric--the real
thickness of experience having a good deal evaporated, so that the Tiny
Town of the Many Towers hangs before me, not to say, rather, far
behind me, after the manner of an object directly meeting the wrong or
diminishing lens of one’s telescope.

It did everything, on the occasion of that pilgrimage, that it was
expected to do, presenting itself more or less in the guise of some rare
silvery shell, washed up by the sea of time, cracked and battered and
dishonoured, with its mutilated marks of adjustment to the extinct
type of creature it once harboured figuring against the sky as maimed
gesticulating arms flourished in protest against fate. If the centuries,
however, had pretty well cleaned out, vulgarly speaking, this amazing
little fortress-town, it wasn’t that a mere aching void was bequeathed
us, I recognise as I consult a somewhat faded impression; the whole
scene and occasion come back to me as the exhibition, on the contrary,
of a stage rather crowded and agitated, of no small quantity of sound
and fury, of concussions, discussions, vociferations, hurryings to and
fro, that could scarce have reached a higher pitch in the old days of
the siege and the sortie. San Gimignano affected me, to a certainty,
as not dead, I mean, but as inspired with that strange and slightly
sinister new life that is now, in case after case, up and down the
peninsula, and even in presence of the dryest and most scattered bones,
producing the miracle of resurrection. The effect is often--and I find
it strikingly involved in this particular reminiscence--that of the
buried hero himself positively waking up to show you his bones for a
fee, and almost capering about in his appeal to your attention. What
has become of the soul of San Gimignano who shall say?--but, of a genial
modern Sunday, it is as if the heroic skeleton, risen from the dust,
were in high activity, officious for your entertainment and your
detention, clattering and changing plates at the informal friendly inn,
personally conducting you to a sight of the admirable Santa Fina of
Ghirlandaio, as I believe is supposed, in a dim chapel of the Collegiata
church; the poor young saint, on her low bed, in a state of ecstatic
vision (the angelic apparition is given), acconpanied by a few figures
and accessories of the most beautiful and touching truth. This image
is what has most vividly remained with me, of the day I thus so
ineffectually recover; the precious ill-set gem or domestic treasure of
Santa Fina, and then the wonderful drive, at eventide, back to Siena:
the progress through the darkening land that was like a dense fragrant
garden, all fireflies and warm emanations and dimly-seen motionless
festoons, extravagant vines and elegant branches intertwisted for miles,
with couples and companies of young countryfolk almost as fondly united
and raising their voices to the night as if superfluously to sing out at
you that they were happy, and above all were Tuscan. On reflection, and
to be just, I connect the slightly incongruous loudness that hung about
me under the Beautiful Towers with the really too coarse competition for
my favour among the young vetturini who lay in wait for my approach,
and with an eye to my subsequent departure, on my quitting, at some
unremembered spot, the morning train from Siena, from which point there
was then still a drive. That onset was of a fine mediaeval violence, but
the subsiding echoes of it alone must have afterwards borne me company;
mingled, at the worst, with certain reverberations of the animated
rather than concentrated presence of sundry young sketchers and copyists
of my own nationality, which element in the picture conveyed beyond
anything else how thoroughly it was all to sit again henceforth in the
eye of day. My final vision perhaps was of a sacred reliquary not so
much rudely as familiarly and “humorously” torn open. The note had, with
all its references, its own interest; but I never went again.

{Illustration: TOWERS OF SAN GIMIGNANO.}



RAVENNA


I write these lines on a cold Swiss mountain-top, shut in by an intense
white mist from any glimpse of the underworld of lovely Italy; but as
I jotted down the other day in the ancient capital of Honorius and
Theodoric the few notes of which they are composed, I let the original
date stand for local colour’s sake. Its mere look, as I transcribe it,
emits a grateful glow in the midst of the Alpine rawness, and gives a
depressed imagination something tangible to grasp while awaiting the
return of fine weather. For Ravenna was glowing, less than a week since,
as I edged along the narrow strip of shadow binding one side of the
empty, white streets. After a long, chill spring the summer this year
descended upon Italy with a sudden jump and an ominous hot breath. I
stole away from Florence in the night, and even on top of the Apennines,
under the dull starlight and in the rushing train, one could but sit and
pant perspiringly.

At Bologna I found a festa, or rather two festas, a civil and a
religious, going on in mutual mistrust and disparagement. The civil,
that of the Statuto, was the one fully national Italian holiday as by
law established--the day that signalises everywhere over the land at
once its achieved and hard-won unification; the religious was a jubilee
of certain local churches. The latter is observed by the Bolognese
parishes in couples, and comes round for each couple but once in ten
years--an arrangement by which the faithful at large insure themselves
a liberal recurrence of expensive processions. It was n’t my business
to distinguish the sheep from the goats, the pious from the profane, the
prayers from the scoffers; it was enough that, melting together under
the scorching sun, they filled the admirably solid city with a flood
of spectacular life. The combination at one point was really dramatic.
While a long procession of priests and young virgins in white veils,
bearing tapers, marshalled itself in one of the streets, a review of
the King’s troops went forward outside the town. On its return a large
detachment of cavalry passed across the space where the incense was
burning, the pictured banners swaying and the litany being droned, and
checked the advance of the little ecclesiastical troop. The long vista
of the street, between the porticoes, was festooned with garlands and
scarlet and tinsel; the robes and crosses and canopies of the priests,
the clouds of perfumed smoke and the white veils of the maidens, were
resolved by the hot bright air into a gorgeous medley of colour, across
which the mounted soldiers rattled and flashed as if it had been a
conquering army trampling on an embassy of propitiation. It was, to tell
the truth, the first time an’ Italian festa had really exhibited to my
eyes the genial glow and the romantic particulars promised by song and
story; and I confess that those eyes found more pleasure in it than they
were to find an hour later in the picturesque on canvas as one observes
it in the Pinacoteca. I found myself scowling most unmercifully at Guido
and Domenichino.

For Ravenna, however, I had nothing but smiles--grave, reflective,
philosophic smiles, I hasten to add, such as accord with the historic
dignity, not to say the mortal sunny sadness, of the place. I arrived
there in the evening, before, even at drowsy Ravenna, the festa of the
Statuto had altogether put itself to bed. I immediately strolled forth
from the inn, and found it sitting up a while longer on the piazza,
chiefly at the cafe door, listening to the band of the garrison by the
light of a dozen or so of feeble tapers, fastened along the front of
the palace of the Government. Before long, however, it had dispersed and
departed, and I was left alone with the grey illumination and with an
affable citizen whose testimony as to the manners and customs of
Ravenna I had aspired to obtain. I had, borrowing confidence from prompt
observation, suggested deferentially that it was n’t the liveliest place
in the world, and my friend admitted that it was in fact not a seat of
ardent life. But had I seen the Corso? Without seeing the Corso one did
n’t exhaust the possibilities. The Corso of Ravenna, of a hot summer
night, had an air of surprising seclusion and repose. Here and there in
an upper closed window glimmered a light; my companion’s footsteps
and my own were the only sounds; not a creature was within sight. The
suffocating air helped me to believe for a moment that I walked in the
Italy of Boccaccio, hand-in-hand with the plague, through a city which
had lost half its population by pestilence and the other half by flight.
I turned back into my inn profoundly satisfied. This at last was the
old-world dulness of a prime distillation; this at last was antiquity,
history, repose.

The impression was largely confirmed and enriched on the following day;
but it was obliged at an early stage of my visit to give precedence to
another--the lively perception, namely, of the thinness of my saturation
with Gibbon and the other sources of legend. At Ravenna the waiter at
the café and the coachman who drives you to the Pine-Forest allude to
Galla Placidia and Justinian as to any attractive topic of the hour;
wherever you turn you encounter some fond appeal to your historic
presence of mind. For myself I could only attune my spirit vaguely to
so ponderous a challenge, could only feel I was breathing an air of
prodigious records and relics. I conned my guide-book and looked up
at the great mosaics, and then fumbled at poor Murray again for some
intenser light on the court of Justinian; but I can imagine that to
a visitor more intimate with the originals of the various great
almond-eyed mosaic portraits in the vaults of the churches these
extremely curious works of art may have a really formidable interest. I
found in the place at large, by daylight, the look of a vast straggling
depopulated village. The streets with hardly an exception are
grass-grown, and though I walked about all day I failed to encounter a
single wheeled vehicle. I remember no shop but the little establishment
of an urbane photographer, whose views of the Pineta, the great
legendary pine-forest just without the town, gave me an irresistible
desire to seek that refuge. There was no architecture to speak of; and
though there are a great many large domiciles with aristocratic names
they stand cracking and baking in the sun in no very comfortable
fashion. The houses have for the most part an all but rustic rudeness;
they are low and featureless and shabby, as well as interspersed
with high garden walls over which the long arms of tangled vines
hang motionless into the stagnant streets. Here and there in all this
dreariness, in some particularly silent and grassy corner, rises an old
brick church with a front more or less spoiled, by cheap modernisation,
and a strange cylindrical campanile pierced with small arched windows
and extremely suggestive of the fifth century. These churches constitute
the palpable interest of Ravenna, and their own principal interest,
after thirteen centuries of well-intentioned spoliation, resides
in their unequalled collection of early Christian mosaics. It is an
interest simple, as who should say, almost to harshness, and leads one’s
attention along a straight and narrow way. There are older churches in
Rome, and churches which, looked at as museums, are more variously and
richly informing; but in Rome you stumble at every step on some curious
pagan memorial, often beautiful enough to make your thoughts wander far
from the strange stiff primitive Christian forms.

Ravenna, on the other hand, began with the Church, and all her monuments
and relics are harmoniously rigid. By the middle of the first century
she possessed an exemplary saint, Apollinaris, a disciple of Peter, to
whom her two finest places of worship are dedicated. It was to one of
these, jocosely entitled the “new,” that I first directed my steps.
I lingered outside a while and looked at the great red, barrel-shaped
bell-towers, so rusty, so crumbling, so archaic, and yet so resolute to
ring in another century or two, and then went in to the coolness, the
shining marble columns, the queer old sculptured slabs and sarcophagi
and the long mosaics that scintillated, under the roof, along the wall
of the nave. San Apollinare Nuovo, like most of its companions, is a
magazine of early Christian odds and ends; fragments of yellow marble
incrusted with quaint sculptured emblems of primitive dogma; great rough
troughs, containing the bones of old bishops; episcopal chairs with the
marble worn narrow by centuries of pressure from the solid episcopal
person; slabs from the fronts of old pulpits, covered with carven
hierogylphics of an almost Egyptian abstruseness--lambs and stags and
fishes and beasts of theological affinities even less apparent. Upon all
these strange things the strange figures in the great mosaic panorama
look down, with coloured cheeks and staring eyes, lifelike enough to
speak to you and answer your wonderment and tell you in bad Latin of
the decadence that it was in such and such a fashion they believed and
worshipped. First, on each side, near the door, are houses and ships and
various old landmarks of Ravenna; then begins a long procession, on
one side, of twenty-two white-robed virgins and three obsequious magi,
terminating in a throne bearing the Madonna and Child, surrounded
by four angels; on the other side, of an equal number of male saints
(twenty-five, that is) holding crowns in their hands and leading to a
Saviour enthroned between angels of singular expressiveness. What it
is these long slim seraphs express I cannot quite say, but they have an
odd, knowing, sidelong look out of the narrow ovals of their eyes which,
though not without sweetness, would certainly make me murmur a defensive
prayer or so were I to find myself alone in the church towards dusk.
All this work is of the latter part of the sixth century and brilliantly
preserved. The gold backgrounds twinkle as if they had been inserted
yesterday, and here and there a figure is executed almost too much in
the modern manner to be interesting; for the charm of mosaic work is,
to my sense, confined altogether to the infancy of the art. The great
Christ, in the series of which I speak, is quite an elaborate picture,
and yet he retains enough of the orthodox stiffness to make him
impressive in the simpler, elder sense. He is clad in a purple robe,
even as an emperor, his hair and beard are artfully curled, his eyebrows
arched, his complexion brilliant, his whole aspect such a one as the
popular mind may have attributed to Honorius or Valentinian. It is all
very Byzantine, and yet I found in it much of that interest which is
inseparable, to a facile imagination, from all early representations of
our Lord. Practically they are no more authentic than the more or less
plausible inventions of Ary Scheffer and Holman Hunt; in spite of which
they borrow a certain value, factitious perhaps but irresistible, from
the mere fact that they are twelve or thirteen centuries less distant
from the original. It is something that this was the way the people in
the sixth century imagined Jesus to have looked; the image has suffered
by so many the fewer accretions. The great purple-robed monarch on the
wall of Ravenna is at least a very potent and positive Christ, and the
only objection I have to make to him is that though in this character he
must have had a full apportionment of divine foreknowledge he betrays no
apprehension of Dr. Channing and M. Renan. If one’s preference lies, for
distinctness’ sake, between the old plainness and the modern fantasy,
one must admit that the plainness has here a very grand outline.

{Illustration: SANT APOLLINAR NUOVO, RAVENNA.}

I spent the rest of the morning in charmed transition between the hot
yellow streets and the cool grey interiors of the churches. The
greyness everywhere was lighted up by the scintillation, on vault and
entablature, of mosaics more or less archaic, but always brilliant and
elaborate, and everywhere too by the same deep amaze of the fact that,
while centuries had worn themselves away and empires risen and fallen,
these little cubes of coloured glass had stuck in their allotted places
and kept their freshness. I have no space for a list of the various
shrines so distinguished, and, to tell the truth, my memory of them has
already become a very generalised and undiscriminated record. The total
aspect of the place, its sepulchral stillness, its absorbing perfume
of evanescence and decay and mortality, confounds the distinctions
and blurs the details. The Cathedral, which is vast and high, has
been excessively modernised, and was being still more so by a lavish
application of tinsel and cotton-velvet in preparation for the centenary
feast of St. Apollinaris, which befalls next month. Things on this
occasion are to be done handsomely, and a fair Ravennese informed me
that a single family had contributed three thousand francs towards a
month’s vesper-music. It seemed to me hereupon that I should like in
the August twilight to wander into the quiet nave of San Apollinare,
and look up at the great mosaics through the resonance of some fine
chanting. I remember distinctly enough, however, the tall
basilica of San Vitale, of octagonal shape, like an exchange or
custom-house--modelled, I believe, upon St. Sophia at Constantinople.
It has a great span of height and a great solemnity, as well as a choir
densely pictured over on arch and apse with mosaics of the time of
Justinian. These are regular pictures, full of movement, gesture and
perspective, and just enough sobered in hue by time to bring home their
remoteness. In the middle of the church, under the great dome, sat an
artist whom I envied, making at an effective angle a study of the choir
and its broken lights, its decorated altar and its incrusted twinkling
walls. The picture, when finished, will hang, I suppose, on the library
wall of some person of taste; but even if it is much better than is
probable--I did n’t look at it--all his taste won’t tell the owner,
unless he has been there, in just what a soundless, mouldering,
out-of-the-way corner of old Italy it was painted. An even better place
for an artist fond of dusky architectural nooks, except that here the
dusk is excessive and he would hardly be able to tell his green from
his red, is the extraordinary little church of the Santi Nazaro e Celso,
otherwise known as the mausoleum of Galla Placidia. This is perhaps on
the whole the spot in Ravenna where the impression is of most sovereign
authority and most thrilling force. It consists of a narrow low-browed
cave, shaped like a Latin cross, every inch of which except the floor
is covered with dense symbolic mosaics. Before you and on each side,
through the thick brown light, loom three enormous barbaric sarcophagi,
containing the remains of potentates of the Lower Empire. It is as if
history had burrowed under ground to escape from research and you
had fairly run it to earth. On the right lie the ashes of the Emperor
Honorius, and in the middle those of his sister, Galla Placidia, a lady
who, I believe, had great adventures. On the other side rest the bones
of Constantius III. The place might be a small natural grotto lined with
glimmering mineral substances, and there is something quite tremendous
in being shut up so closely with these three imperial ghosts. The shadow
of the great Roman name broods upon the huge sepulchres and abides for
ever within the narrow walls.

But still other memories hang about than those of primitive bishops and
degenerate emperors. Byron lived here and Dante died here, and the tomb
of the one poet and the dwelling of the other are among the advertised
appeals. The grave of Dante, it must be said, is anything but Dantesque,
and the whole precinct is disposed with that odd vulgarity of taste
which distinguishes most modern Italian tributes to greatness. The
author of _The Divine Comedy_ commemorated in stucco, even in a
slumbering corner of Ravenna, is not “sympathetic.” Fortunately of all
poets he least needs a monument, as he was pre-eminently an architect in
diction and built himself his temple of fame in verses more solid
than Cyclopean blocks. If Dante’s tomb is not Dantesque, so neither is
Byron’s house Byronic, being a homely, shabby, two-storied dwelling,
directly on the street, with as little as possible of isolation and
mystery. In Byron’s time it was an inn, and it is rather a curious
reflection that “Cain” and the “Vision of Judgment” should have been
written at an hotel. The fact supplies a commanding precedent for
self-abstraction to tourists at once sentimental and literary. I must
declare indeed that my acquaintance with Ravenna considerably increased
my esteem for Byron and helped to renew my faith in the sincerity of
his inspiration. A man so much _de son temps_ as the author of the
above-named and other pieces can have spent two long years in this
stagnant city only by the help of taking a great deal of disinterested
pleasure in his own genius. He had indeed a notable pastime--the various
churches are adorned with monuments of ancestral Guicciolis--but it is
none the less obvious that Ravenna, fifty years ago, would have been an
intolerably dull residence to a foreigner of distinction unequipped with
intellectual resources. The hour one spends with Byron’s memory then
is almost compassionate. After all, one says to one’s self as one turns
away from the grandiloquent little slab in front of his house and looks
down the deadly provincial vista of the empty, sunny street, the author
of so many superb stanzas asked less from the world than he gave it. One
of his diversions was to ride in the Pineta, which, beginning a couple
of miles from the city, extends some twenty-five miles along the sands
of the Adriatic. I drove out to it for Byron’s sake, and Dante’s, and
Boccaccio’s, all of whom have interwoven it with their fictions, and for
that of a possible whiff of coolness from the sea. Between the city and
the forest, in the midst of malarious rice-swamps, stands the finest of
the Ravennese churches, the stately temple of San Apollinare in Classe.
The Emperor Augustus constructed hereabouts a harbour for fleets, which
the ages have choked up, and which survives only in the title of this
ancient church. Its extreme loneliness makes it doubly impressive. They
opened the great doors for me, and let a shaft of heated air go wander
up the beautiful nave between the twenty-four lustrous, pearly columns
of cipollino marble, and mount the wide staircase of the choir and spend
itself beneath the mosaics of the vault. I passed a memorable half-hour
sitting in this wave of tempered light, looking down the cool grey
avenue of the nave, out of the open door, at the vivid green swamps, and
listening to the melancholy stillness. I rambled for an hour in the Wood
of Associations, between the tall smooth, silvery stems of the pines,
and beside a creek which led me to the outer edge of the wood and a
view of white sails, gleaming and gliding behind the sand-hills. It
was infinitely, it was nobly “quaint,” but, as the trees stand at wide
intervals and bear far aloft in the blue air but a little parasol of
foliage, I suppose that, of a glaring summer day, the forest itself
was only the more characteristic of its clime and country for being
perfectly shadeless.

{Illustration: RAVENNA PINETA.}

1873.



THE SAINT’S AFTERNOON AND OTHERS


Before and above all was the sense that, with the narrow limits of past
adventure, I had never yet had such an impression of what the summer
could be in the south or the south in the summer; but I promptly found
it, for the occasion, a good fortune that my terms of comparison were
restricted. It was really something, at a time when the stride of the
traveller had become as long as it was easy, when the seven-league boots
positively hung, for frequent use, in the closet of the most sedentary,
to have kept one’s self so innocent of strange horizons that the Bay of
Naples in June might still seem quite final. That picture struck me--a
particular corner of it at least, and for many reasons--as the last
word; and it is this last word that comes back to me, after a short
interval, in a green, grey northern nook, and offers me again its warm,
bright golden meaning before it also inevitably catches the chill. Too
precious, surely, for us not to suffer it to help us as it may is the
faculty of putting together again in an order the sharp minutes and
hours that the wave of time has been as ready to pass over as the salt
sea to wipe out the letters and words your stick has traced in the sand.
Let me, at any rate, recover a sufficient number of such signs to make a
sort of sense.


I


Far aloft on the great rock was pitched, as the first note, and indeed
the highest, of the wondrous concert, the amazing creation of the friend
who had offered me hospitality, and whom, more almost than I had ever
envied anyone anything, I envied the privilege of being able to reward
a heated, artless pilgrim with a revelation of effects so incalculable.
There was none but the loosest prefigurement as the creaking and puffing
little boat, which had conveyed me only from Sorrento, drew closer
beneath the prodigious island--beautiful, horrible and haunted--that
does most, of all the happy elements and accidents, towards making
the Bay of Naples, for the study of composition, a lesson in the grand
style. There was only, above and below, through the blue of the air and
sea, a great confused shining of hot cliffs and crags and buttresses,
a loss, from nearness, of the splendid couchant outline and the more
comprehensive mass, and an opportunity--oh, not lost, I assure you--to
sit and meditate, even moralise, on the empty deck, while a happy
brotherhood of American and German tourists, including, of course, many
sisters, scrambled down into little waiting, rocking tubs and, after a
few strokes, popped systematically into the small orifice of the Blue
Grotto. There was an appreciable moment when they were all lost to view
in that receptacle, the daily “psychological” moment during which it
must so often befall the recalcitrant observer on the deserted deck to
find himself aware of how delightful it might be if none of them
should come out again. The charm, the fascination of the idea is not a
little--though also not wholly--in the fact that, as the wave rises
over the aperture, there is the most encouraging appearance that they
perfectly may not. There it is. There is no more of them. It is a case
to which nature has, by the neatest stroke and with the best taste in
the world, just quietly attended.

Beautiful, horrible, haunted: that is the essence of what, about itself,
Capri says to you--dip again into your Tacitus and see why; and yet,
while you roast a little under the awning and in the vaster shadow, it
is not because the trail of Tiberius is ineffaceable that you are most
uneasy. The trail of Germanicus in Italy to-day ramifies further and
bites perhaps even deeper; a proof of which is, precisely, that his
eclipse in the Blue Grotto is inexorably brief, that here he is popping
out again, bobbing enthusiastically back and scrambling triumphantly
back. The spirit, in truth, of his effective appropriation of Capri has
a broad-faced candour against which there is no standing up, supremely
expressive as it is of the well-known “love that kills,” of Germanicus’s
fatal susceptibility. If I were to let myself, however, incline to
_that_ aspect of the serious case of Capri I should embark on strange
depths. The straightness and simplicity, the classic, synthetic
directness of the German passion for Italy, make this passion probably
the sentiment in the world that is in the act of supplying enjoyment in
the largest, sweetest mouthfuls; and there is something unsurpassably
marked in the way that on this irresistible shore it has seated itself
to ruminate and digest. It keeps the record in its own loud accents; it
breaks out in the folds of the hills and on the crests of the crags into
every manner of symptom and warning. Huge advertisements and portents
stare across the bay; the acclivities bristle with breweries and
“restorations” and with great ugly Gothic names. I hasten, of course, to
add that some such general consciousness as this may well oppress, under
any sky, at the century’s end, the brooding tourist who makes himself a
prey by staying anywhere, when the gong sounds, “behind.” It is behind,
in the track and the reaction, that he least makes out the end of it
all, perceives that to visit anyone’s country for anyone’s sake is more
and more to find some one quite other in possession. No one, least of
all the brooder himself, is in his own.


II


I certainly, at any rate, felt the force of this truth when, on scaling
the general rock with the eye of apprehension, I made out at a point
much nearer its summit than its base the gleam of a dizzily-perched
white sea-gazing front which I knew for my particular landmark and which
promised so much that it would have been welcome to keep even no
more than half. Let me instantly say that it kept still more than it
promised, and by no means least in the way of leaving far below it the
worst of the outbreak of restorations and breweries. There is a road at
present to the upper village, with which till recently communication was
all by rude steps cut in the rock and diminutive donkeys scrambling on
the flints; one of those fine flights of construction which the
great road-making “Latin races” take, wherever they prevail, without
advertisement or bombast; and even while I followed along the face of
the cliff its climbing consolidated ledge, I asked myself how I could
think so well of it without consistently thinking better still of
the temples of beer so obviously destined to enrich its terminus. The
perfect answer to that was of course that the brooding tourist is never
bound to be consistent. What happier law for him than this very one,
precisely, when on at last alighting, high up in the blue air, to
stare and gasp and almost disbelieve, he embraced little by little the
beautiful truth particularly, on this occasion, reserved for himself,
and took in the stupendous picture? For here above all had the thought
and the hand come from far away--even from _ultima Thule_, and yet were
in possession triumphant and acclaimed. Well, all one could say was that
the way they had felt their opportunity, the divine conditions of the
place, spoke of the advantage of some such intellectual perspective as a
remote original standpoint alone perhaps can give. If what had finally,
with infinite patience, passion, labour, taste, got itself done there,
was like some supreme reward of an old dream of Italy, something perfect
after long delays, was it not verily in _ultima Thule_ that the vow
would have been piously enough made and the germ tenderly enough
nursed? For a certain art of asking of Italy all she can give, you must
doubtless either be a rare _raffine_ or a rare genius, a sophisticated
Norseman or just a Gabriele d’ Annunzio.

All she can give appeared to me, assuredly, for that day and the
following, gathered up and enrolled there: in the wondrous cluster and
dispersal of chambers, corners, courts, galleries, arbours, arcades,
long white ambulatories and vertiginous points of view. The greatest
charm of all perhaps was that, thanks to the particular conditions, she
seemed to abound, to overflow, in directions in which I had never yet
enjoyed the chance to find her so free. The indispensable thing was
therefore, in observation, in reflection, to press the opportunity hard,
to recognise that as the abundance was splendid, so, by the same stroke,
it was immensely suggestive. It dropped into one’s lap, naturally, at
the end of an hour or two, the little white flower of its formula: the
brooding tourist, in other words, could only continue to brood till he
had made out in a measure, as I may say, what was so wonderfully the
matter with him. He was simply then in the presence, more than ever yet,
of the possible poetry of the personal and social life of the south, and
the fun would depend much--as occasions are fleeting--on his arriving
in time, in the interest of that imagination which is his only field
of sport, at adequate new notations of it. The sense of all this, his
obscure and special fun in the general bravery, mixed, on the morrow,
with the long, human hum of the bright, hot day and filled up the golden
cup with questions and answers. The feast of St. Antony, the patron of
the upper town, was the one thing in the air, and of the private beauty
of the place, there on the narrow shelf, in the shining, shaded loggias
and above the blue gulfs, all comers were to be made free.


III


The church-feast of its saint is of course for Anacapri, as for any
self-respecting Italian town, the great day of the year, and the
smaller the small “country,” in native parlance, as well as the simpler,
accordingly, the life, the less the chance for leakage, on other
pretexts, of the stored wine of loyalty. This pure fluid, it was easy
to feel overnight, had not sensibly lowered its level; so that nothing
indeed, when the hour came, could well exceed the outpouring. All up and
down the Sorrentine promontory the early summer happens to be the time
of the saints, and I had just been witness there of a week on every day
of which one might have travelled, through kicked-up clouds and other
demonstrations, to a different hot holiday. There had been no bland
evening that, somewhere or other, in the hills or by the sea, the white
dust and the red glow didn’t rise to the dim stars. Dust, perspiration,
illumination, conversation--these were the regular elements. “They’re
very civilised,” a friend who knows them as well as they can be known
had said to me of the people in general; “plenty of fireworks and plenty
of talk--that’s all they ever want.” That they were “civilised”--on the
side on which they were most to show--was therefore to be the word of
the whole business, and nothing could have, in fact, had more interest
than the meaning that for the thirty-six hours I read into it.

Seen from below and diminished by distance, Anacapri makes scarce a
sign, and the road that leads to it is not traceable over the rock; but
it sits at its ease on its high, wide table, of which it covers--and
with picturesque southern culture as well--as much as it finds
convenient. As much of it as possible was squeezed all the morning, for
St. Antony, into the piazzetta before the church, and as much more into
that edifice as the robust odour mainly prevailing there allowed room
for. It was the odour that was in prime occupation, and one could only
wonder how so many men, women and children could cram themselves into so
much smell. It was surely the smell, thick and resisting, that was least
successfully to be elbowed. Meanwhile the good saint, before he could
move into the air, had, among the tapers and the tinsel, the opera-music
and the pulpit poundings, bravely to snuff it up. The shade outside was
hot, and the sun was hot; but we waited as densely for him to come out,
or rather to come “on,” as the pit at the opera waits for the great
tenor. There were people from below and people from the mainland and
people from Pomerania and a brass band from Naples. There were other
figures at the end of longer strings--strings that, some of them indeed,
had pretty well given way and were now but little snippets trailing in
the dust. Oh, the queer sense of the good old Capri of artistic legend,
of which the name itself was, in the more benighted years--years of the
contadina and the pifferaro--a bright evocation! Oh, the echo, on the
spot, of each romantic tale! Oh, the loafing painters, so bad and so
happy, the conscious models, the vague personalities! The “beautiful
Capri girl” was of course not missed, though not perhaps so beautiful
as in her ancient glamour, which none the less didn’t at all exclude
the probable presence--with _his_ legendary light quite undimmed--of
the English lord in disguise who will at no distant date marry her. The
whole thing was there; one held it in one’s hand.

The saint comes out at last, borne aloft in long procession and under a
high canopy: a rejoicing, staring, smiling saint, openly delighted
with the one happy hour in the year on which he may take his own walk.
Frocked and tonsured, but not at all macerated, he holds in his hand a
small wax puppet of an infant Jesus and shows him to all their friends,
to whom he nods and bows: to whom, in the dazzle of the sun he literally
seems to grin and wink, while his litter sways and his banners flap and
every one gaily greets him. The ribbons and draperies flutter, and the
white veils of the marching maidens, the music blares and the guns go
off and the chants resound, and it is all as holy and merry and noisy
as possible. The procession--down to the delightful little tinselled and
bare-bodied babies, miniature St. Antonys irrespective of sex, led or
carried by proud papas or brown grandsires--includes so much of the
population that you marvel there is such a muster to look on--like the
charades given in a family in which every one wants to act. But it
is all indeed in a manner one house, the little high-niched island
community, and nobody therefore, even in the presence of the head of it,
puts on an air of solemnity. Singular and suggestive before everything
else is the absence of any approach to our notion of the posture of
respect, and this among people whose manners in general struck one as so
good and, in particular, as so cultivated. The office of the saint--of
which the festa is but the annual reaffirmation--involves not the
faintest attribute of remoteness or mystery.

While, with my friend, I waited for him, we went for coolness into the
second church of the place, a considerable and bedizened structure,
with the rare curiosity of a wondrous pictured pavement of majolica,
the garden of Eden done in large coloured tiles or squares, with every
beast, bird and river, and a brave _diminuendo_, in especial, from
portal to altar, of perspective, so that the animals and objects of the
foreground are big and those of the successive distances differ with
much propriety. Here in the sacred shade the old women were knitting,
gossipping, yawning, shuffling about; here the children were romping and
“larking”; here, in a manner, were the open parlour, the nursery, the
kindergarten and the _conversazione_ of the poor. This is everywhere the
case by the southern sea. I remember near Sorrento a wayside chapel that
seemed the scene of every function of domestic life, including cookery
and others. The odd thing is that it all appears to interfere so little
with that special civilised note--the note of manners--which is so
constantly touched. It is barbarous to expectorate in the temple of your
faith, but that doubtless is an extreme case. Is civilisation really
measured by the number of things people do respect? There would seem to
be much evidence against it. The oldest societies, the societies
with most traditions, are naturally not the least ironic, the least
_blasees_, and the African tribes who take so many things into account
that they fear to quit their huts at night are not the fine flower.


IV


Where, on the other hand, it was impossible not to feel to the full
all the charming _riguardi_--to use their own good word--in which our
friends _could_ abound, was, that afternoon, in the extraordinary temple
of art and hospitality that had been benignantly opened to me. Hither,
from three o’clock to seven, all the world, from the small in particular
to the smaller and the smallest, might freely flock, and here, from the
first hour to the last, the huge straw-bellied flasks of purple wine
were tilted for all the thirsty. They were many, the thirsty, they were
three hundred, they were unending; but the draughts they drank were
neither countable nor counted. This boon was dispensed in a long,
pillared portico, where everything was white and light save the blue
of the great bay as it played up from far below or as you took it in,
between shining columns, with your elbows on the parapet. Sorrento and
Vesuvius were over against you; Naples furthest off, melted, in the
middle of the picture, into shimmering vagueness and innocence; and the
long arm of Posilippo and the presence of the other islands, Procida,
the stricken Ischia, made themselves felt to the left. The grand air of
it all was in one’s very nostrils and seemed to come from sources too
numerous and too complex to name. It was antiquity in solution, with
every brown, mild figure, every note of the old speech, every tilt of
the great flask, every shadow cast by every classic fragment, adding
its touch to the impression. What was the secret of the surprising
amenity?--to the essence of which one got no nearer than simply by
feeling afresh the old story of the deep interfusion of the present with
the past. You had felt that often before, and all that could, at the
most, help you now was that, more than ever yet, the present appeared
to become again really classic, to sigh with strange elusive sounds of
Virgil and Theocritus. Heaven only knows how little they would in truth
have had to say to it, but we yield to these visions as we must, and
when the imagination fairly turns in its pain almost any soft name is
good enough to soothe it.

It threw such difficulties but a step back to say that the secret of
the amenity was “style”; for what in the world was the secret of style,
which you might have followed up and down the abysmal old Italy for so
many a year only to be still vainly calling for it? Everything, at any
rate, that happy afternoon, in that place of poetry, was bathed and
blessed with it. The castle of Barbarossa had been on the height behind;
the villa of black Tiberius had overhung the immensity from the right;
the white arcades and the cool chambers offered to every step some sweet
old “piece” of the past, some rounded porphyry pillar supporting a bust,
some shaft of pale alabaster upholding a trellis, some mutilated marble
image, some bronze that had roughly resisted. Our host, if we came to
that, had the secret; but he could only express it in grand practical
ways. One of them was precisely this wonderful “afternoon tea,” in which
tea only--_that_, good as it is, has never the note of style--was not to
be found. The beauty and the poetry, at all events, were clear enough,
and the extraordinary uplifted distinction; but where, in all this,
it may be asked, was the element of “horror” that I have spoken of as
sensible?--what obsession that was not charming could find a place in
that splendid light, out of which the long summer squeezes every secret
and shadow? I’m afraid I’m driven to plead that these evils were exactly
in one’s imagination, a predestined victim always of the cruel, the
fatal historic sense. To make so much distinction, how much history had
been needed!--so that the whole air still throbbed and ached with it,
as with an accumulation of ghosts to whom the very climate was pitiless,
condemning them to blanch for ever in the general glare and grandeur,
offering them no dusky northern nook, no place at the friendly fireside,
no shelter of legend or song.


V


My friend had, among many original relics, in one of his white
galleries--and how he understood the effect and the “value” of
whiteness!--two or three reproductions of the finest bronzes of the
Naples museum, the work of a small band of brothers whom he had found
himself justified in trusting to deal with their problem honourably
and to bring forth something as different as possible from the usual
compromise of commerce. They had brought forth, in especial, for him, a
copy of the young resting, slightly-panting Mercury which it was a pure
delight to live with, and they had come over from Naples on St. Antony’s
eve, as they had done the year before, to report themselves to their
patron, to keep up good relations, to drink Capri wine and to join
in the tarantella. They arrived late, while we were at supper; they
received their welcome and their billet, and I am not sure it was not
the conversation and the beautiful manners of these obscure young men
that most fixed in my mind for the time the sense of the side of life
that, all around, was to come out strongest. It would be artless,
no doubt, to represent them as high types of innocence or even of
energy--at the same time that, weighing them against _some_ ruder folk
of our own race, we might perhaps have made bold to place their share
even of these qualities in the scale. It was an impression indeed never
infrequent in Italy, of which I might, in these days, first have felt
the force during a stay, just earlier, with a friend at Sorrento--a
friend who had good-naturedly “had in,” on his wondrous terrace, after
dinner, for the pleasure of the gaping alien, the usual local quartette,
violins, guitar and flute, the musical barber, the musical tailor,
sadler, joiner, humblest sons of the people and exponents of Neapolitan
song. Neapolitan song, as we know, has been blown well about the world,
and it is late in the day to arrive with a ravished ear for it. That,
however, was scarcely at all, for me, the question: the question, on the
Sorrento terrace, so high up in the cool Capri night, was of the present
outlook, in the world, for the races with whom it has been a tradition,
in intercourse, positively to please.

The personal civilisation, for intercourse, of the musical barber and
tailor, of the pleasant young craftsmen of my other friend’s company,
was something that could be trusted to make the brooding tourist brood
afresh--to say more to him in fact, all the rest of the second occasion,
than everything else put together. The happy address, the charming
expression, the indistinctive discretion, the complete eclipse, in
short, of vulgarity and brutality--these things easily became among
these people the supremely suggestive note, begetting a hundred hopes
and fears as to the place that, with the present general turn of affairs
about the globe, is being kept for them. They are perhaps what the races
politically feeble have still most to contribute--but what appears to
be the happy prospect for the races politically feeble? And so the
afternoon waned, among the mellow marbles and the pleasant folk---the
purple wine flowed, the golden light faded, song and dance grew free and
circulation slightly embarrassed. But the great impression remained and
finally was exquisite. It was all purple wine, all art and song, and
nobody a grain the worse. It was fireworks and conversation--the former,
in the piazzetta, were to come later; it was civilisation and amenity. I
took in the greater picture, but I lost nothing else; and I talked with
the contadini about antique sculpture. No, nobody was a grain the worse;
and I had plenty to think of. So it was I was quickened to remember
that we others, we of my own country, as a race politically _not_
weak, had--by what I had somewhere just heard--opened “three hundred
‘saloons’” at Manila.


VI


The “other” afternoons I here pass on to--and I may include in them,
for that matter, various mornings scarce less charmingly sacred to
memory--were occasions of another and a later year; a brief but all
felicitous impression of Naples itself, and of the approach to it from
Rome, as well as of the return to Rome by a different wonderful way,
which I feel I shall be wise never to attempt to “improve on.” Let
me muster assurance to confess that this comparatively recent and
superlatively rich reminiscence gives me for its first train of
ineffable images those of a motor-run that, beginning betimes of a
splendid June day, and seeing me, with my genial companions, blissfully
out of Porta San Paolo, hung over us thus its benediction till the
splendour had faded in the lamplit rest of the Chiaja. “We’ll go by the
mountains,” my friend, of the chariot of fire, had said, “and we’ll come
back, after three days, by the sea”; which handsome promise flowered
into such flawless performance that I could but feel it to have closed
and rounded for me, beyond any further rehandling, the long-drawn rather
indeed than thick-studded chaplet of my visitations of Naples--from the
first, seasoned with the highest sensibility of youth, forty years ago,
to this last the other day. I find myself noting with interest--and just
to be able to emphasise it is what inspires me with these remarks--that,
in spite of the milder and smoother and perhaps, pictorially speaking,
considerably emptier, Neapolitan face of things, things in general,
of our later time, I recognised in my final impression a grateful,
a beguiling serenity. The place is at the best wild and weird and
sinister, and yet seemed on this occasion to be seated more at her ease
in her immense natural dignity. My disposition to feel that, I hasten to
add, was doubtless my own secret; my three beautiful days, at any rate,
filled themselves with the splendid harmony, several of the minor notes
of which ask for a place, such as it may be, just here.

Wondrously, it was a clean and cool and, as who should say, quiet
and amply interspaced Naples--in tune with itself, no harsh jangle of
_forestieri_ vulgarising the concert. I seemed in fact, under the blaze
of summer, the only stranger--though the blaze of summer itself was,
for that matter, everywhere but a higher pitch of light and colour and
tradition, and a lower pitch of everything else; even, it struck me,
of sound and fury. The appeal in short was genial, and, faring out to
Pompeii of a Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed there, for the only time I
can recall, the sweet chance of a late hour or two, the hour of
the lengthening shadows, absolutely alone. The impression remains
ineffaceable--it was to supersede half-a-dozen other mixed memories, the
sense that had remained with me, from far back, of a pilgrimage always
here beset with traps and shocks and vulgar importunities, achieved
under fatal discouragements. Even Pompeii, in fine, haunt of _all_ the
cockneys of creation, burned itself, in the warm still eventide, as
clear as glass, or as the glow of a pale topaz, and the particular
cockney who roamed without a plan and at his ease, but with his feet on
Roman slabs, his hands on Roman stones, his eyes on the Roman void, his
consciousness really at last of some good to him, could open himself
as never before to the fond luxurious fallacy of a close communion, a
direct revelation. With which there were other moments for him not less
the fruit of the slow unfolding of time; the clearest of these again
being those enjoyed on the terrace of a small island-villa--the island
a rock and the villa a wondrous little rock-garden, unless a better term
would be perhaps rock-salon, just off the extreme point of Posilippo
and where, thanks to a friendliest hospitality, he was to hang ecstatic,
through another sublime afternoon, on the wave of a magical wand. Here,
as happened, were charming wise, original people even down to delightful
amphibious American children, enamelled by the sun of the Bay as for
figures of miniature Tritons and Nereids on a Renaissance plaque; and
above all, on the part of the general prospect, a demonstration of the
grand style of composition and effect that one was never to wish to see
bettered. The way in which the Italian scene on such occasions as
this seems to purify itself to the transcendent and perfect _idea_
alone--idea of beauty, of dignity, of comprehensive grace, with all
accidents merged, all defects disowned, all experience outlived, and
to gather itself up into the mere mute eloquence of what has just
incalculably _been_, remains for ever the secret and the lesson of the
subtlest daughter of History. All one could do, at the heart of
the overarching crystal, and in presence of the relegated City,
the far-trailing Mount, the grand Sorrentine headland, the islands
incomparably stationed and related, was to wonder what may well become
of the so many other elements of any poor human and social complexus,
what might become of any successfully working or only struggling and
floundering civilisation at all, when high Natural Elegance proceeds to
take such exclusive charge and recklessly assume, as it were, _all_ the
responsibilities.


VII


This indeed had been quite the thing I was asking myself all the
wondrous way down from Rome, and was to ask myself afresh, on the
return, largely within sight of the sea, as our earlier course had
kept to the ineffably romantic inland valleys, the great decorated blue
vistas in which the breasts of the mountains shine vaguely with strange
high-lying city and castle and church and convent, even as shoulders of
no diviner line might be hung about with dim old jewels. It was odd,
at the end of time, long after those initiations, of comparative youth,
that had then struck one as extending the very field itself of felt
charm, as exhausting the possibilities of fond surrender, it was odd
to have positively a new basis of enjoyment, a new gate of triumphant
passage, thrust into one’s consciousness and opening to one’s use; just
as I confess I have to brace myself a little to call by such fine names
our latest, our ugliest and most monstrous aid to motion. It is true of
the monster, as we have known him up to now, that one can neither quite
praise him nor quite blame him without a blush--he reflects so the
nature of the company he’s condemned to keep. His splendid easy power
addressed to noble aims makes him assuredly on occasion a purely
beneficent creature. I parenthesise at any rate that I know him in no
other light--counting out of course the acquaintance that consists of a
dismayed arrest in the road, with back flattened against wall or hedge,
for the dusty, smoky, stenchy shock of his passage. To no end is his
easy power more blest than to that of ministering to the ramifications,
as it were, of curiosity, or to that, in other words, of achieving for
us, among the kingdoms of the earth, the grander and more genial, the
comprehensive and _complete_ introduction. Much as was ever to be said
for our old forms of pilgrimage--and I am convinced that they are far
from wholly superseded--they left, they had to leave, dreadful gaps in
our yearning, dreadful lapses in our knowledge, dreadful failures in our
energy; there were always things off and beyond, goals of delight
and dreams of desire, that dropped as a matter of course into the
unattainable, and over to which our wonder-working agent now flings the
firm straight bridge. Curiosity has lost, under this amazing extension,
its salutary renouncements perhaps; contemplation has become one with
action and satisfaction one with desire--speaking always in the spirit
of the inordinate lover of an enlightened use of our eyes. That may
represent, for all I know, an insolence of advantage on which there will
be eventual heavy charges, as yet obscure and incalculable, to pay, and
I glance at the possibility only to avoid all thought of the lesson
of the long run, and to insist that I utter this dithyramb but in the
immediate flush and fever of the short. For such a beat of time as
our fine courteous and contemplative advance upon Naples, and for such
another as our retreat northward under the same fine law of observation
and homage, the bribed consciousness could only decline to question its
security. The sword of Damocles suspended over that presumption, the
skeleton at the banquet of extravagant ease, would have been that even
at our actual inordinate rate--leaving quite apart “improvements” to
come--such savings of trouble begin to use up the world; some hard
grain of difficulty being always a necessary part of the composition of
pleasure. The hard grain in our old comparatively pedestrian mixture,
before this business of our learning not so much even to fly (which
might indeed involve trouble) as to be mechanically and prodigiously
flown, quite another matter, was the element of uncertainty, effort
and patience; the handful of silver nails which, I admit, drove many an
impression home. The seated motorist misses the silver nails, I fully
acknowledge, save in so far as his aesthetic (let alone his moral)
conscience may supply him with some artful subjective substitute; in
which case the thing becomes a precious secret of his own.

However, I wander wild--by which I mean I look too far ahead; my
intention having been only to let my sense of the merciless June beauty
of Naples Bay at the sunset hour and on the island terrace associate
itself with the whole inexpressible taste of our two motor-days’ feast
of scenery. That queer question of the exquisite grand manner as the
most emphasised _all_ of things--of what it may, seated so predominant
in nature, insidiously, through the centuries, let generations and
populations “in for,” hadn’t in the least waited for the special
emphasis I speak of to hang about me. I must have found myself more or
less consciously entertaining it by the way--since how couldn’t it be of
the very essence of the truth, constantly and intensely before us, that
Italy is really so much the most beautiful country in the world, taking
all things together, that others must stand off and be hushed while she
speaks? Seen thus in great comprehensive iridescent stretches, it is
the incomparable wrought _fusion_, fusion of human history and mortal
passion with the elements of earth and air, of colour, composition and
form, that constitutes her appeal and gives it the supreme heroic grace.
The chariot of fire favours fusion rather than promotes analysis,
and leaves much of that first June picture for me, doubtless, a great
accepted blur of violet and silver. The various hours and successive
aspects, the different strong passages of our reverse process, on
the other hand, still figure for me even as some series of sublime
landscape-frescoes--if the great Claude, say, had ever used that
medium--in the immense gallery of a palace; the homeward run by Capua,
Terracina, Gaeta and its storied headland fortress, across the deep,
strong, indescribable Pontine Marshes, white-cattled, strangely
pastoral, sleeping in the afternoon glow, yet stirred by the near
sea-breath. Thick somehow to the imagination as some full-bodied
sweetness of syrup is thick to the palate the atmosphere of that
region--thick with the sense of history and the very taste of time; as
if the haunt and home (which indeed it is) of some great fair bovine
aristocracy attended and guarded by halberdiers in the form of the
mounted and long-lanced herdsmen, admirably congruous with the whole
picture at every point, and never more so than in their manner of gaily
taking up, as with bell-voices of golden bronze, the offered wayside
greeting.

{Illustration: TERRACINA}

There had been this morning among the impressions of our first hour an
unforgettable specimen of that general type--the image of one of those
human figures on which our perception of the romantic so often pounces
in Italy as on the genius of the scene personified; with this advantage,
that as the scene there has, at its best, an unsurpassable distinction,
so the physiognomic representative, standing for it all, and with
an animation, a complexion, an expression, a fineness and fulness of
humanity that appear to have gathered it in and to sum it up, becomes
beautiful by the same simple process, very much, that makes the heir to
a great capitalist rich. Our early start, our roundabout descent from
Posilippo by shining Baire for avoidance of the city, had been an hour
of enchantment beyond any notation I can here recover; all lustre and
azure, yet all composition and classicism, the prospect developed and
spread, till after extraordinary upper reaches of radiance and horizons
of pearl we came at the turn of a descent upon a stalwart young
gamekeeper, or perhaps substantial young farmer, who, well-appointed and
blooming, had unslung his gun and, resting on it beside a hedge, just
lived for us, in the rare felicity of his whole look, during that
moment and while, in recognition, or almost, as we felt, in homage, we
instinctively checked our speed. He pointed, as it were, the lesson,
giving the supreme right accent or final exquisite turn to the immense
magnificent phrase; which from those moments on, and on and on,
resembled doubtless nothing so much as a page written, by a consummate
verbal economist and master of style, in the noblest of all tongues. Our
splendid human plant by the wayside had flowered thus into style--and
there wasn’t to be, all day, a lapse of eloquence, a wasted word or a
cadence missed.

These things are personal memories, however, with the logic of certain
insistences of that sort often difficult to seize. Why should I have
kept so sacredly uneffaced, for instance, our small afternoon wait at
tea-time or, as we made it, coffee-time, in the little brown piazzetta
of Velletri, just short of the final push on through the flushed
Castelli Romani and the drop and home-stretch across the darkening
Campagna? We had been dropped into the very lap of the ancient civic
family, after the inveterate fashion of one’s sense of such stations in
small Italian towns. There was a narrow raised terrace, with steps,
in front of the best of the two or three local cafes, and in the soft
enclosed, the warm waning light of June various benign contemplative
worthies sat at disburdened tables and, while they smoked long black
weeds, enjoyed us under those probable workings of subtlety with
which we invest so many quite unimaginably blank (I dare say) Italian
simplicities. The charm was, as always in Italy, in the tone and the air
and the happy hazard of things, which made any positive pretension or
claimed importance a comparatively trifling question. We slid, in the
steep little place, more or less down hill; we wished, stomachically, we
had rather addressed ourselves to a tea-basket; we suffered importunity
from unchidden infants who swarmed about our chairs and romped about
our feet; we stayed no long time, and “went to see” nothing; yet we
communicated to intensity, we lay at our ease in the bosom of the past,
we practised intimacy, in short, an intimacy so much greater than
the mere accidental and ostensible: the difficulty for the right and
grateful expression of which makes the old, the familiar tax on the
luxury of loving Italy.


1900-1909.





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