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Title: Sketches and Studies in Italy and Greece, Complete - Series I, II, and III
Author: Symonds, John Addington
Language: English
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[Illustration]



Sketches and Studies in Italy and Greece

by John Addington Symonds


Contents

 VOLUME I.
 THE LOVE OF THE ALPS
 WINTER NIGHTS AT DAVOS
 BACCHUS IN GRAUBÜNDEN
 OLD TOWNS OF PROVENCE
 THE CORNICE
 AJACCIO
 MONTE GENEROSO
 LOMBARD VIGNETTES
 COMO AND IL MEDEGHINO
 BERGAMO AND BARTOLOMMEO COLLEONI
 CREMA AND THE CRUCIFIX
 CHERUBINO AT THE SCALA THEATRE
 A VENETIAN MEDLEY
 THE GONDOLIER'S WEDDING
 A CINQUE CENTO BRUTUS
 TWO DRAMATISTS OF THE LAST CENTURY

 VOLUME II.
 RAVENNA
 RIMINI
 MAY IN UMBRIA
 THE PALACE OF URBINO
 VITTORIA ACCORAMBONI
 AUTUMN WANDERINGS
 PARMA
 CANOSSA
 FORNOVO
 FLORENCE AND THE MEDICI
 THE DEBT OF ENGLISH TO ITALIAN LITERATURE
 POPULAR SONGS OF TUSCANY
 POPULAR ITALIAN POETRY OF THE RENAISSANCE
 THE ‘ORFEO’ OF POLIZIANO
 EIGHT SONNETS OF PETRARCH

 VOLUME III.
 FOLGORE DA SAN GEMIGNANO
 THOUGHTS IN ITALY ABOUT CHRISTMAS
 SIENA
 MONTE OLIVETO
 MONTEPULCIANO
 PERUGIA
 ORVIETO
 LUCRETIUS
 ANTINOUS
 SPRING WANDERINGS
 AMALFI, PÆSTUM, CAPRI
 ETNA
 PALERMO
 SYRACUSE AND GIRGENTI
 ATHENS
 INDEX FOR ALL THREE VOLUMES



PREFATORY NOTE


In preparing this new edition of the late J.A. Symonds's three volumes
of travels, 'Sketches in Italy and Greece,' 'Sketches and Studies in
Italy,' and 'Italian Byways,' nothing has been changed except the order
of the Essays. For the convenience of travellers a topographical
arrangement has been adopted. This implied a new title to cover the
contents of all three volumes, and 'Sketches and Studies in Italy and
Greece' has been chosen as departing least from the author's own
phraseology.

HORATIO F. BROWN.

Venice: _June_ 1898.



SKETCHES AND STUDIES
IN
ITALY AND GREECE



VOLUME I.



THE LOVE OF THE ALPS[1]


Of all the joys in life, none is greater than the joy of arriving on
the outskirts of Switzerland at the end of a long dusty day's journey
from Paris. The true epicure in refined pleasures will never travel to
Basle by night. He courts the heat of the sun and the monotony of
French plains,—their sluggish streams and never-ending poplar trees—for
the sake of the evening coolness and the gradual approach to the great
Alps, which await him at the close of the day. It is about Mulhausen
that he begins to feel a change in the landscape. The fields broaden
into rolling downs, watered by clear and running streams; the green
Swiss thistle grows by riverside and cowshed; pines begin to tuft the
slopes of gently rising hills; and now the sun has set, the stars come
2out, first Hesper, then the troop of lesser lights; and he feels—yes,
indeed, there is now no mistake—the well-known, well-loved magical
fresh air, that never fails to blow from snowy mountains and meadows
watered by perennial streams. The last hour is one of exquisite
enjoyment, and when he reaches Basle, he scarcely sleeps all night for
hearing the swift Rhine beneath the balconies, and knowing that the
moon is shining on its waters, through the town, beneath the bridges,
between pasture-lands and copses, up the still mountain-girdled valleys
to the ice-caves where the water springs. There is nothing in all
experience of travelling like this. We may greet the Mediterranean at
Marseilles with enthusiasm; on entering Rome by the Porta del Popolo,
we may reflect with pride that we have reached the goal of our
pilgrimage, and are at last among world-shaking memories. But neither
Rome nor the Riviera wins our hearts like Switzerland. We do not lie
awake in London thinking of them; we do not long so intensely, as the
year comes round, to revisit them. Our affection is less a passion than
that which we cherish for Switzerland.

 [1] This Essay was written in 1866, and published in 1867. Reprinting
 it in 1879, after eighteen months spent continuously in one high
 valley of the Grisons, I feel how slight it is. For some amends, I
 take this opportunity of printing at the end of it a description of
 Davos in winter.

Why, then, is this? What, after all, is the love of the Alps, and when
and where did it begin? It is easier to ask these questions than to
answer them. The classic nations hated mountains. Greek and Roman poets
talk of them with disgust and dread. Nothing could have been more
depressing to a courtier of Augustus than residence at Aosta, even
though he found his theatres and triumphal arches there. Wherever
classical feeling has predominated, this has been the case. Cellini's
Memoirs, written in the height of pagan Renaissance, well express the
aversion which a Florentine or Roman felt for the inhospitable
wildernesses of Switzerland.[2] Dryden, in his dedication to 'The
Indian 3Emperor,' says, 'High objects, it is true, attract the sight;
but it looks up with pain on craggy rocks and barren mountains, and
continues not intent on any object which is wanting in shades and green
to entertain it.' Addison and Gray had no better epithets than
'rugged,' 'horrid,' and the like for Alpine landscape. The classic
spirit was adverse to enthusiasm for mere nature. Humanity was too
prominent, and city life absorbed all interests,—not to speak of what
perhaps is the weightiest reason—that solitude, indifferent
accommodation, and imperfect means of travelling, rendered mountainous
countries peculiarly disagreeable. It is impossible to enjoy art or
nature while suffering from fatigue and cold, dreading the attacks of
robbers, and wondering whether you will find food and shelter at the
end of your day's journey. Nor was it different in the Middle Ages.
Then individuals had either no leisure from war or strife with the
elements, or else they devoted themselves to the salvation of their
souls. But when the ideas of the Middle Ages had decayed, when improved
arts of life had freed men from servile subjection to daily needs, when
the bondage of religious tyranny had been thrown off and political
liberty allowed the full development of tastes and instincts, when,
moreover, the classical traditions had lost their power, and courts and
coteries became too narrow for the activity of man,—then suddenly it
was discovered that Nature in herself possessed transcendent charms. It
may seem absurd to class them all together; yet there is no doubt that
the French Revolution, the criticism of the Bible, Pantheistic forms of
religious feeling, landscape-painting, Alpine travelling, and the
poetry of Nature, are all signs of the same movement—of a new
Renaissance. Limitations of every sort have been shaken off during the
last century; all forms have been destroyed, all questions asked. The
classical spirit loved to 4arrange, model, preserve traditions, obey
laws. We are intolerant of everything that is not simple, unbiassed by
prescription, liberal as the wind, and natural as the mountain crags.
We go to feed this spirit of freedom among the Alps. What the virgin
forests of America are to the Americans, the Alps are to us. What there
is in these huge blocks and walls of granite crowned with ice that
fascinates us, it is hard to analyse. Why, seeing that we find them so
attractive, they should have repelled our ancestors of the fourth
generation and all the world before them, is another mystery. We cannot
explain what rapport there is between our human souls and these
inequalities in the surface of the earth which we call Alps. Tennyson
speaks of

Some vague emotion of delight
In gazing up an Alpine height,


and its vagueness eludes definition. The interest which physical
science has created for natural objects has something to do with it.
Curiosity and the charm of novelty increase this interest. No towns, no
cultivated tracts of Europe however beautiful, form such a contrast to
our London life as Switzerland. Then there is the health and joy that
comes from exercise in open air; the senses freshened by good sleep;
the blood quickened by a lighter and rarer atmosphere. Our modes of
life, the breaking down of class privileges, the extension of
education, which contribute to make the individual greater and society
less, render the solitude of mountains refreshing. Facilities of
travelling and improved accommodation leave us free to enjoy the
natural beauty which we seek. Our minds, too, are prepared to
sympathise with the inanimate world; we have learned to look on the
universe as a whole, and ourselves as a part of it, related by close
ties of friendship to all its other members 5Shelley's, Wordsworth's,
Goethe's poetry has taught us this; we are all more or less Pantheists,
worshippers of 'God in Nature,' convinced of the omnipresence of the
informing mind.

 [2] See, however, what is said about Leo Battista Alberti in the
 sketch of Rimini in the second series.

Thus, when we admire the Alps, we are after all but children of the
century. We follow its inspiration blindly; and while we think
ourselves spontaneous in our ecstasy, perform the part for which we
have been trained from childhood by the atmosphere in which we live. It
is this very unconsciousness and universality of the impulse we obey
which makes it hard to analyse. Contemporary history is difficult to
write; to define the spirit of the age in which we live is still more
difficult; to account for 'impressions which owe all their force to
their identity with themselves' is most difficult of all. We must be
content to feel, and not to analyse.

Rousseau has the credit of having invented the love of Nature. Perhaps
he first expressed, in literature, the pleasures of open life among the
mountains, of walking tours, of the '_école buissonnière_,' away from
courts, and schools, and cities, which it is the fashion now to love.
His bourgeois birth and tastes, his peculiar religious and social
views, his intense self-engrossment,—all favoured the development of
Nature-worship. But Rousseau was not alone, nor yet creative, in this
instance. He was but one of the earliest to seize and express a new
idea of growing humanity. For those who seem to be the most original in
their inauguration of periods are only such as have been favourably
placed by birth and education to imbibe the floating creeds of the
whole race. They resemble the first cases of an epidemic, which become
the centres of infection and propagate disease. At the time of
Rousseau's greatness the French people were initiative. In politics, in
literature, in fashions, and in 6philosophy, they had for some time led
the taste of Europe. But the sentiment which first received a clear and
powerful expression in the works of Rousseau, soon declared itself in
the arts and literature of other nations. Goethe, Wordsworth, and the
earlier landscape-painters, proved that Germany and England were not
far behind the French. In England this love of Nature for its own sake
is indigenous, and has at all times been peculiarly characteristic of
our genius. Therefore it is not surprising that our life and literature
and art have been foremost in developing the sentiment of which we are
speaking. Our poets, painters, and prose writers gave the tone to
European thought in this respect. Our travellers in search of the
adventurous and picturesque, our Alpine Club, have made of Switzerland
an English playground.

The greatest period in our history was but a foreshadowing of this. To
return to Nature-worship was but to reassume the habits of the
Elizabethan age, altered indeed by all the changes of religion,
politics, society, and science which the last three centuries have
wrought, yet still, in its original love of free open life among the
fields and woods, and on the sea, the same. Now the French national
genius is classical. It reverts to the age of Louis XIV., and
Rousseauism in their literature is as true an innovation and
parenthesis as Pope-and-Drydenism was in ours. As in the age of the
Reformation, so in this, the German element of the modern character
predominates. During the two centuries from which we have emerged, the
Latin element had the upper hand. Our love of the Alps is a Gothic, a
Teutonic, instinct; sympathetic with all that is vague, infinite, and
insubordinate to rules, at war with all that is defined and systematic
in our genius. This we may perceive in individuals as well as in the
broader aspects of arts and literatures. The classically minded man,
the reader of Latin poets, the lover 7of brilliant conversation, the
frequenter of clubs and drawing-rooms, nice in his personal
requirements, scrupulous in his choice of words, averse to unnecessary
physical exertion, preferring town to country life, _cannot_ deeply
feel the charm of the Alps. Such a man will dislike German art, and
however much he may strive to be Catholic in his tastes, will find as
he grows older that his liking for Gothic architecture and modern
painting diminish almost to aversion before an increasing admiration
for Greek peristyles and the Medicean Venus. If in respect of
speculation all men are either Platonists or Aristotelians, in respect
of taste all men are either Greek or German.

At present the German, the indefinite, the natural, commands; the
Greek, the finite, the cultivated, is in abeyance. We who talk so much
about the feeling of the Alps, are creatures, not creators of our
_cultus_,—a strange reflection, proving how much greater man is than
men, the common reason of the age in which we live than our own
reasons, its constituents and subjects.

Perhaps it is our modern tendency to 'individualism' which makes the
Alps so much to us. Society is there reduced to a vanishing point—no
claims are made on human sympathies—there is no need to toil in
yoke-service with our fellows. We may be alone, dream our own dreams,
and sound the depths of personality without the reproach of
selfishness, without a restless wish to join in action or money-making
or the pursuit of fame. To habitual residents among the Alps this
absence of social duties and advantages may be barbarising, even
brutalising. But to men wearied with too much civilisation, and
deafened by the noise of great cities, it is beyond measure refreshing.
Then, again, among the mountains history finds no place. The Alps have
no past nor present nor future. The human beings who live upon their
sides are at odds 8with nature, clinging on for bare existence to the
soil, sheltering themselves beneath protecting rocks from avalanches,
damming up destructive streams, all but annihilated every spring. Man,
who is paramount in the plain, is nothing here. His arts and sciences,
and dynasties, and modes of life, and mighty works, and conquests and
decays, demand our whole attention in Italy or Egypt. But here the
mountains, immemorially the same, which were, which are, and which are
to be, present a theatre on which the soul breathes freely and feels
herself alone. Around her on all sides is God, and Nature, who is here
the face of God and not the slave of man. The spirit of the world hath
here not yet grown old. She is as young as on the first day; and the
Alps are a symbol of the self-creating, self-sufficing, self-enjoying
universe which lives for its own ends. For why do the slopes gleam with
flowers, and the hillsides deck themselves with grass, and the
inaccessible ledges of black rock bear their tufts of crimson primroses
and flaunting tiger-lilies? Why, morning after morning, does the red
dawn flush the pinnacles of Monte Rosa above cloud and mist unheeded?
Why does the torrent shout, the avalanche reply in thunder to the music
of the sun, the trees and rocks and meadows cry their 'Holy, Holy,
Holy'? Surely not for us. We are an accident here, and even the few men
whose eyes are fixed habitually upon these things are dead to them—the
peasants do not even know the names of their own flowers, and sigh with
envy when you tell them of the plains of Lincolnshire or Russian
steppes.

But indeed there is something awful in the Alpine elevation above human
things. We do not love Switzerland merely because we associate its
thought with recollections of holidays and joyfulness. Some of the most
solemn moments of life are spent high up above among the mountains, on
the barren tops of rocky passes, where the soul has seemed to hear in
solitude 9a low controlling voice. It is almost necessary for the
development of our deepest affections that some sad and sombre moments
should be interchanged with hours of merriment and elasticity. It is
this variety in the woof of daily life which endears our home to us;
and perhaps none have fully loved the Alps who have not spent some days
of meditation, or it may be of sorrow, among their solitudes. Splendid
scenery, like music, has the power to make 'of grief itself a fiery
chariot for mounting above the sources of grief,' to ennoble and refine
our passions, and to teach us that our lives are merely moments in the
years of the eternal Being. There are many, perhaps, who, within sight
of some great scene among the Alps, upon the height of the Stelvio or
the slopes of Mürren, or at night in the valley of Courmayeur, have
felt themselves raised above cares and doubts and miseries by the mere
recognition of unchangeable magnificence; have found a deep peace in
the sense of their own nothingness. It is not granted to us everyday to
stand upon these pinnacles of rest and faith above the world. But
having once stood there, how can we forget the station? How can we
fail, amid the tumult of our common cares, to feel at times the hush of
that far-off tranquillity? When our life is most commonplace, when we
are ill or weary in city streets, we can remember the clouds upon the
mountains we have seen, the sound of innumerable waterfalls, and the
scent of countless flowers. A photograph of Bisson's or of Braun's, the
name of some well-known valley, the picture of some Alpine plant,
rouses the sacred hunger in our souls, and stirs again the faith in
beauty and in rest beyond ourselves which no man can take from us. We
owe a deep debt of gratitude to everything which enables us to rise
above depressing and enslaving circumstances, which brings us nearer in
some way or other to what is eternal in the universe, and which makes
us know 10that, whether we live or die, suffer or enjoy, life and
gladness are still strong in the world. On this account, the proper
attitude of the soul among the Alps is one of silence. It is almost
impossible without a kind of impiety to frame in words the feelings
they inspire. Yet there are some sayings, hallowed by long usage, which
throng the mind through a whole summer's day, and seem in harmony with
its emotions—some portions of the Psalms or lines of greatest poets,
inarticulate hymns of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, waifs and strays not
always apposite, but linked by strong and subtle chains of feeling with
the grandeur of the mountains. This reverential feeling for the Alps is
connected with the Pantheistic form of our religious sentiments to
which I have before alluded. It is a trite remark, that even devout men
of the present generation prefer temples _not_ made with hands to
churches, and worship God in the fields more contentedly than in their
pews. What Mr. Ruskin calls 'the instinctive sense of the divine
presence not formed into distinct belief' lies at the root of our
profound veneration for the nobler aspects of mountain scenery. This
instinctive sense has been very variously expressed by Goethe in
Faust's celebrated confession of faith, by Shelley in the stanzas of
'Adonais,' which begin 'He is made one with nature,' by Wordsworth in
the lines on Tintern Abbey, and lately by Mr. Roden Noel in his noble
poems of Pantheism. It is more or less strongly felt by all who have
recognised the indubitable fact that religious belief is undergoing a
sure process of change from the dogmatic distinctness of the past to
some at present dimly descried creed of the future. Such periods of
transition are of necessity full of discomfort, doubt, and anxiety,
vague, variable, and unsatisfying. The men in whose spirits the
fermentation of the change is felt, who have abandoned their old
moorings, and have not yet 11reached the haven for which they are
steering, cannot but be indistinct and undecided in their faith. The
universe of which they form a part becomes important to them in its
infinite immensity. The principles of beauty, goodness, order and law,
no longer connected in their minds with definite articles of faith,
find symbols in the outer world. They are glad to fly at certain
moments from mankind and its oppressive problems, for which religion no
longer provides a satisfactory solution, to Nature, where they vaguely
localise the spirit that broods over us controlling all our being. To
such men Goethe's hymn is a form of faith, and born of such a mood are
the following far humbler verses:—

At Mürren let the morning lead thee out
    To walk upon the cold and cloven hills,
To hear the congregated mountains shout
    Their pæan of a thousand foaming rills.
Raimented with intolerable light
    The snow-peaks stand above thee, row on row
Arising, each a seraph in his might;
    An organ each of varied stop doth blow.
Heaven's azure dome trembles through all her spheres,
    Feeling that music vibrate; and the sun
Raises his tenor as he upward steers,
    And all the glory-coated mists that run
Below him in the valley, hear his voice,
And cry unto the dewy fields, Rejoice!


There is a profound sympathy between music and fine scenery: they both
affect us in the same way, stirring strong but undefined emotions,
which express themselves in 'idle tears,' or evoking thoughts 'which
lie,' as Wordsworth says, 'too deep for tears,' beyond the reach of any
words. How little we know what multitudes of mingling reminiscences,
held in solution by the mind, and colouring its fancy with the
iridescence of variable hues, go to make up the sentiments 12which
music or which mountains stir! It is the very vagueness, changefulness,
and dreamlike indistinctness of these feelings which cause their charm;
they harmonise with the haziness of our beliefs and seem to make our
very doubts melodious. For this reason it is obvious that unrestrained
indulgence in the pleasures of music or of scenery may tend to destroy
habits of clear thinking, sentimentalise the mind, and render it more
apt to entertain embryonic fancies than to bring ideas to definite
perfection.

If hours of thoughtfulness and seclusion are necessary to the
development of a true love for the Alps, it is no less essential to a
right understanding of their beauty that we should pass some wet and
gloomy days among the mountains. The unclouded sunsets and sunrises
which often follow one another in September in the Alps, have something
terrible. They produce a satiety of splendour, and oppress the mind
with a sense of perpetuity. I remember spending such a season in one of
the Oberland valleys, high up above the pine-trees, in a little châlet.
Morning after morning I awoke to see the sunbeams glittering on the
Eiger and the Jungfrau; noon after noon the snow-fields blazed beneath
a steady fire; evening after evening they shone like beacons in the red
light of the setting sun. Then peak by peak they lost the glow; the
soul passed from them, and they stood pale yet weirdly garish against
the darkened sky. The stars came out, the moon shone, but not a cloud
sailed over the untroubled heavens. Thus day after day for several
weeks there was no change, till I was seized with an overpowering
horror of unbroken calm. I left the valley for a time; and when I
returned to it in wind and rain, I found that the partial veiling of
the mountain heights restored the charm which I had lost and made me
feel once more at home. The landscape takes a graver tone beneath the
mist that hides the higher 13peaks, and comes drifting, creeping,
feeling, through the pines upon their slopes—white, silent, blinding
vapour-wreaths around the sable spires. Sometimes the cloud descends
and blots out everything. Again it lifts a little, showing cottages and
distant Alps beneath its skirts. Then it sweeps over the whole valley
like a veil, just broken here and there above a lonely châlet or a
thread of distant dangling torrent foam. Sounds, too, beneath the mist
are more strange. The torrent seems to have a hoarser voice and grinds
the stones more passionately against its boulders. The cry of shepherds
through the fog suggests the loneliness and danger of the hills. The
bleating of penned sheep or goats, and the tinkling of the cowbells,
are mysteriously distant and yet distinct in the dull dead air. Then,
again, how immeasurably high above our heads appear the domes and peaks
of snow revealed through chasms in the drifting cloud; how desolate the
glaciers and the avalanches in gleams of light that struggle through
the mist! There is a leaden glare peculiar to clouds, which makes the
snow and ice more lurid. Not far from the house where I am writing, the
avalanche that swept away the bridge last winter is lying now, dripping
away, dank and dirty, like a rotting whale. I can see it from my
window, green beech-boughs nodding over it, forlorn larches bending
their tattered branches by its side, splinters of broken pine
protruding from its muddy caves, the boulders on its flank, and the
hoarse hungry torrent tossing up its tongues to lick the ragged edge of
snow. Close by, the meadows, spangled with yellow flowers and red and
blue, look even more brilliant than if the sun were shining on them.
Every cup and blade of grass is drinking. But the scene changes; the
mist has turned into rain-clouds, and the steady rain drips down,
incessant, blotting out the view. Then, too, what a joy it is if the
clouds break towards evening with a north wind, and a rainbow in 14the
valley gives promise of a bright to-morrow! We look up to the cliffs
above our heads, and see that they have just been powdered with the
snow that is a sign of better weather.

Such rainy days ought to be spent in places like Seelisberg and Mürren,
at the edge of precipices, in front of mountains, or above a lake. The
cloud-masses crawl and tumble about the valleys like a brood of
dragons; now creeping along the ledges of the rock with sinuous
self-adjustment to its turns and twists; now launching out into the
deep, repelled by battling winds, or driven onward in a coil of twisted
and contorted serpent curls. In the midst of summer these wet seasons
often end in a heavy fall of snow. You wake some morning to see the
meadows which last night were gay with July flowers huddled up in snow
a foot in depth. But fair weather does not tarry long to reappear. You
put on your thickest boots and sally forth to find the great cups of
the gentians full of snow, and to watch the rising of the cloud-wreaths
under the hot sun. Bad dreams or sickly thoughts, dissipated by
returning daylight or a friend's face, do not fly away more rapidly and
pleasantly than those swift glory-coated mists that lose themselves we
know not where in the blue depths of the sky.

In contrast with these rainy days nothing can be more perfect than
clear moonlight nights. There is a terrace upon the roof of the inn at
Courmayeur where one may spend hours in the silent watches, when all
the world has gone to sleep beneath. The Mont Chétif and the Mont de la
Saxe form a gigantic portal not unworthy of the pile that lies beyond.
For Mont Blanc resembles a vast cathedral; its countless spires are
scattered over a mass like that of the Duomo at Milan, rising into one
tower at the end. By night the glaciers glitter in the steady moon;
domes, pinnacles, and buttresses stand 15clear of clouds. Needles of
every height and most fantastic shapes rise from the central ridge,
some solitary, like sharp arrows shot against the sky, some clustering
into sheaves. On every horn of snow and bank of grassy hill stars
sparkle, rising, setting, rolling round through the long silent night.
Moonlight simplifies and softens the landscape. Colours become scarcely
distinguishable, and forms, deprived of half their detail, gain in
majesty and size. The mountains seem greater far by night than
day—higher heights and deeper depths, more snowy pyramids, more
beetling crags, softer meadows, and darker pines. The whole valley is
hushed, but for the torrent and the chirping grasshopper and the
striking of the village clocks. The black tower and the houses of
Courmayeur in the foreground gleam beneath the moon until she reaches
the edge of the Cramont, and then sinks quietly away, once more to
reappear among the pines, then finally to leave the valley dark beneath
the shadow of the mountain's bulk. Meanwhile the heights of snow still
glitter in the steady light: they, too, will soon be dark, until the
dawn breaks, tinging them with rose.

But it is not fair to dwell exclusively upon the more sombre aspect of
Swiss beauty when there are so many lively scenes of which to speak.
The sunlight and the freshness and the flowers of Alpine meadows form
more than half the charm of Switzerland. The other day we walked to a
pasture called the Col de Checruit, high up the valley of Courmayeur,
where the spring was still in its first freshness. Gradually we
climbed, by dusty roads and through hot fields where the grass had just
been mown, beneath the fierce light of the morning sun. Not a breath of
air was stirring, and the heavy pines hung overhead upon their crags,
as if to fence the gorge from every wandering breeze. There is nothing
more oppressive than these scorching sides of narrow rifts, shut in by
woods 16and precipices. But suddenly the valley broadened, the pines
and larches disappeared, and we found ourselves upon a wide green
semicircle of the softest meadows. Little rills of water went rushing
through them, rippling over pebbles, rustling under dock leaves, and
eddying against their wooden barriers. Far and wide 'you scarce could
see the grass for flowers,' while on every side the tinkling of
cow-bells, and the voices of shepherds calling to one another from the
Alps, or singing at their work, were borne across the fields. As we
climbed we came into still fresher pastures, where the snow had
scarcely melted. There the goats and cattle were collected, and the
shepherds sat among them, fondling the kids and calling them by name.
When they called, the creatures came, expecting salt and bread. It was
pretty to see them lying near their masters, playing and butting at
them with their horns, or bleating for the sweet rye-bread. The women
knitted stockings, laughing among themselves, and singing all the
while. As soon as we reached them, they gathered round to talk. An old
herdsman, who was clearly the patriarch of this Arcadia, asked us many
questions in a slow deliberate voice. We told him who we were, and
tried to interest him in the cattle-plague, which he appeared to regard
as an evil very unreal and far away—like the murrain upon Pharaoh's
herds which one reads about in Exodus. But he was courteous and polite,
doing the honours of his pasture with simplicity and ease. He took us
to his châlet and gave us bowls of pure cold milk. It was a funny
little wooden house, clean and dark. The sky peeped through its tiles,
and if shepherds were not in the habit of sleeping soundly all night
long, they might count the setting and rising stars without lifting
their heads from the pillow. He told us how far pleasanter they found
the summer season than the long cold winter which they have to spend in
gloomy houses in Courmayeur. This, indeed, is 17the true pastoral life
which poets have described—a happy summer holiday among the flowers,
well occupied with simple cares, and harassed by 'no enemy but winter
and rough weather.'

Very much of the charm of Switzerland belongs to simple things—to
greetings from the herdsmen, the 'Guten Morgen,' and 'Guten Abend,'
that are invariably given and taken upon mountain paths; to the tame
creatures, with their large dark eyes, who raise their heads one moment
from the pasture while you pass; and to the plants that grow beneath
your feet. The latter end of May is the time when spring begins in the
high Alps. Wherever sunlight smiles away a patch of snow, the brown
turf soon becomes green velvet, and the velvet stars itself with red
and white and gold and blue. You almost see the grass and lilies grow.
First come pale crocuses and lilac soldanellas. These break the last
dissolving clods of snow, and stand upon an island, with the cold wall
they have thawed all round them. It is the fate of these poor flowers
to spring and flourish on the very skirts of retreating winter; they
soon wither—the frilled chalice of the soldanella shrivels up and the
crocus fades away before the grass has grown; the sun, which is
bringing all the other plants to life, scorches their tender petals.
Often when summer has fairly come, you still may see their pearly cups
and lilac bells by the side of avalanches, between the chill snow and
the fiery sun, blooming and fading hour by hour. They have as it were
but a Pisgah view of the promised land, of the spring which they are
foremost to proclaim. Next come the clumsy gentians and yellow
anemones, covered with soft down like fledgling birds. These are among
the earliest and hardiest blossoms that embroider the high meadows with
a diaper of blue and gold. About the same time primroses and auriculas
begin to tuft the dripping rocks, while frail white fleur-de-lis,
18like flakes of snow forgotten by the sun, and golden-balled
ranunculuses join with forget-me-nots and cranesbill in a never-ending
dance upon the grassy floor. Happy, too, is he who finds the
lilies-of-the-valley clustering about the chestnut boles upon the
Colma, or in the beechwood by the stream at Macugnaga, mixed with
garnet-coloured columbines and fragrant white narcissus, which the
people of the villages call 'Angiolini.' There, too, is Solomon's seal,
with waxen bells and leaves expanded like the wings of hovering
butterflies. But these lists of flowers are tiresome and cold; it would
be better to draw the portrait of one which is particularly
fascinating. I think that botanists have called it _Saxifraga
cotyledon_; yet, in spite of its long name, it is beautiful and poetic.
London-pride is the commonest of all the saxifrages; but the one of
which I speak is as different from London-pride as a Plantagenet upon
his throne from that last Plantagenet who died obscure and penniless
some years ago. It is a great majestic flower, which plumes the granite
rocks of Monte Rosa in the spring. At other times of the year you see a
little tuft of fleshy leaves set like a cushion on cold ledges and dark
places of dripping cliffs. You take it for a stonecrop—one of those
weeds doomed to obscurity, and safe from being picked because they are
so uninviting—and you pass it by incuriously. But about June it puts
forth its power, and from the cushion of pale leaves there springs a
strong pink stem, which rises upward for a while, and then curves down
and breaks into a shower of snow-white blossoms. Far away the splendour
gleams, hanging like a plume of ostrich-feathers from the roof of rock,
waving to the wind, or stooping down to touch the water of the mountain
stream that dashes it with dew. The snow at evening, glowing with a
sunset flush, is not more rosy-pure than this cascade of pendent
blossoms. It loves to be alone—inaccessible ledges, chasms where winds
combat, or 19moist caverns overarched near thundering falls, are the
places that it seeks. I will not compare it to a spirit of the
mountains or to a proud lonely soul, for such comparisons desecrate the
simplicity of nature, and no simile can add a glory to the flower. It
seems to have a conscious life of its own, so large and glorious it is,
so sensitive to every breath of air, so nobly placed upon its bending
stem, so royal in its solitude. I first saw it years ago on the
Simplon, feathering the drizzling crags above Isella. Then we found it
near Baveno, in a crack of sombre cliff beneath the mines. The other
day we cut an armful opposite Varallo, by the Sesia, and then felt like
murderers; it was so sad to hold in our hands the triumph of those many
patient months, the full expansive life of the flower, the splendour
visible from valleys and hillsides, the defenceless creature which had
done its best to make the gloomy places of the Alps most beautiful.

After passing many weeks among the high Alps it is a pleasure to
descend into the plains. The sunset, and sunrise, and the stars of
Lombardy, its level horizons and vague misty distances, are a source of
absolute relief after the narrow skies and embarrassed prospects of a
mountain valley. Nor are the Alps themselves ever more imposing than
when seen from Milan or the church-tower of Chivasso or the terrace of
Novara, with a foreground of Italian cornfields and old city towers and
rice-ground, golden-green beneath a Lombard sun. Half veiled by clouds,
the mountains rise like visionary fortress walls of a celestial
city—unapproachable, beyond the range of mortal feet. But those who
know by old experience what friendly châlets, and cool meadows, and
clear streams are hidden in their folds and valleys, send forth fond
thoughts and messages, like carrier-pigeons, from the marble parapets
of Milan, crying, 'Before another sun has set, I too shall rest beneath
the shadow of their pines!' It is in truth not more 20than a day's
journey from Milan to the brink of snow at Macugnaga. But very sad it
is to _leave_ the Alps, to stand upon the terraces of Berne and waft
ineffectual farewells. The unsympathising Aar rushes beneath; and the
snow-peaks, whom we love like friends, abide untroubled by the coming
and the going of the world. The clouds drift over them—the sunset warms
them with a fiery kiss. Night comes, and we are hurried far away to
wake beside the Seine, remembering, with a pang of jealous passion,
that the flowers on Alpine meadows are still blooming, and the rivulets
still flowing with a ceaseless song, while Paris shops are all we see,
and all we hear is the dull clatter of a Paris crowd.

THE ALPS IN WINTER

The gradual approach of winter is very lovely in the high Alps. The
valley of Davos, where I am writing, more than five thousand feet above
the sea, is not beautiful, as Alpine valleys go, though it has scenery
both picturesque and grand within easy reach. But when summer is
passing into autumn, even the bare slopes of the least romantic glen
are glorified. Golden lights and crimson are cast over the grey-green
world by the fading of innumerable plants. Then the larches begin to
put on sallow tints that deepen into orange, burning against the solid
blue sky like amber. The frosts are severe at night, and the meadow
grass turns dry and wan. The last lilac crocuses die upon the fields.
Icicles, hanging from watercourse or mill-wheel, glitter in the noonday
sunlight. The wind blows keenly from the north, and now the snow begins
to fall and thaw and freeze, and fall and thaw again. The seasons are
confused; wonderful days of flawless purity are 21intermingled with
storm and gloom. At last the time comes when a great snowfall has to be
expected. There is hard frost in the early morning, and at nine o'clock
the thermometer stands at 2°. The sky is clear, but it clouds rapidly
with films of cirrus and of stratus in the south and west. Soon it is
covered over with grey vapour in a level sheet, all the hill-tops
standing hard against the steely heavens. The cold wind from the west
freezes the moustache to one's pipe-stem. By noon the air is thick with
a coagulated mist; the temperature meanwhile has risen, and a little
snow falls at intervals. The valleys are filled with a curious opaque
blue, from which the peaks rise, phantom-like and pallid, into the grey
air, scarcely distinguishable from their background. The pine-forests
on the mountain-sides are of darkest indigo. There is an indescribable
stillness and a sense of incubation. The wind has fallen. Later on, the
snow-flakes flutter silently and sparely through the lifeless air. The
most distant landscape is quite blotted out. After sunset the clouds
have settled down upon the hills, and the snow comes in thick,
impenetrable fleeces. At night our hair crackles and sparkles when we
brush it. Next morning there is a foot and a half of finely powdered
snow, and still the snow is falling. Strangely loom the châlets through
the semi-solid whiteness. Yet the air is now dry and singularly
soothing. The pines are heavy with their wadded coverings; now and
again one shakes himself in silence, and his burden falls in a white
cloud, to leave a black-green patch upon the hillside, whitening again
as the imperturbable fall continues. The stakes by the roadside are
almost buried. No sound is audible. Nothing is seen but the
snow-plough, a long raft of planks with a heavy stone at its stem and a
sharp prow, drawn by four strong horses, and driven by a young man
erect upon the stem.

So we live through two days and nights, and on the third 22a north wind
blows. The snow-clouds break and hang upon the hills in scattered
fleeces; glimpses of blue sky shine through, and sunlight glints along
the heavy masses. The blues of the shadows are everywhere intense. As
the clouds disperse, they form in moulded domes, tawny like sunburned
marble in the distant south lands. Every châlet is a miracle of
fantastic curves, built by the heavy hanging snow. Snow lies mounded on
the roads and fields, writhed into loveliest wreaths, or outspread in
the softest undulations. All the irregularities of the hills are
softened into swelling billows like the mouldings of Titanic statuary.

It happened once or twice last winter that such a clearing after
snowfall took place at full moon. Then the moon rose in a swirl of
fleecy vapour—clouds above, beneath, and all around. The sky was blue
as steel, and infinitely deep with mist-entangled stars. The horn above
which she first appears stood carved of solid black, and through the
valley's length from end to end yawned chasms and clefts of liquid
darkness. As the moon rose, the clouds were conquered, and massed into
rolling waves upon the ridges of the hills. The spaces of open sky grew
still more blue. At last the silver light came flooding over all, and
here and there the fresh snow glistened on the crags. There is
movement, palpitation, life of light through earth and sky. To walk out
on such a night, when the perturbation of storm is over and the heavens
are free, is one of the greatest pleasures offered by this winter life.
It is so light that you can read the smallest print with ease. The
upper sky looks quite black, shading by violet and sapphire into
turquoise upon the horizon. There is the colour of ivory upon the
nearest snow-fields, and the distant peaks sparkle like silver,
crystals glitter in all directions on the surface of the snow, white,
yellow, and pale blue. The stars are exceedingly keen, but only a few
can shine in the intensity of moonlight. 23The air is perfectly still,
and though icicles may be hanging from beard and moustache to the furs
beneath one's chin, there is no sensation of extreme cold.

During the earlier frosts of the season, after the first snows have
fallen, but when there is still plenty of moisture in the ground, the
loveliest fern-fronds of pure rime may be found in myriads on the
meadows. They are fashioned like perfect vegetable structures, opening
fan-shaped upon crystal stems, and catching the sunbeams with the
brilliancy of diamonds. Taken at certain angles, they decompose light
into iridescent colours, appearing now like emeralds, rubies, or
topazes, and now like Labrador spar, blending all hues in a wondrous
sheen. When the lake freezes for the first time, its surface is of
course quite black, and so transparent that it is easy to see the
fishes swimming in the deep beneath; but here and there, where rime has
fallen, there sparkle these fantastic flowers and ferns and mosses made
of purest frost. Nothing, indeed, can be more fascinating than the new
world revealed by frost. In shaded places of the valley you may walk
through larches and leafless alder thickets by silent farms, all
silvered over with hoar spangles—fairy forests, where the flowers and
foliage are rime. The streams are flowing half-frozen over rocks
sheeted with opaque green ice. Here it is strange to watch the swirl of
water freeing itself from these frost-shackles, and to see it eddying
beneath the overhanging eaves of frailest crystal-frosted snow. All is
so silent, still, and weird in this white world, that one marvels when
the spirit of winter will appear, or what shrill voices in the air will
make his unimaginable magic audible. Nothing happens, however, to
disturb the charm, save when a sunbeam cuts the chain of diamonds on an
alder bough, and down they drift in a thin cloud of dust. It may be
also that the air is full of floating crystals, like tiniest most
restless fire-flies 24rising and falling and passing crosswise in the
sun-illumined shade of tree or mountain-side.

It is not easy to describe these beauties of the winter-world; and yet
one word must be said about the sunsets. Let us walk out, therefore,
towards the lake at four o'clock in mid-December. The thermometer is
standing at 3°, and there is neither breath of wind nor cloud. Venus is
just visible in rose and sapphire, and the thin young moon is beside
her. To east and south the snowy ranges burn with yellow fire,
deepening to orange and crimson hues, which die away and leave a
greenish pallor. At last, the higher snows alone are livid with a last
faint tinge of light, and all beneath is quite white. But the tide of
glory turns. While the west grows momently more pale, the eastern
heavens flush with afterglow, suffuse their spaces with pink and
violet. Daffodil and tenderest emerald intermingle; and these colours
spread until the west again has rose and primrose and sapphire
wonderfully blent, and from the burning skies a light is cast upon the
valley—a phantom light, less real, more like the hues of molten gems,
than were the stationary flames of sunset. Venus and the moon meanwhile
are silvery clear. Then the whole illumination fades like magic.

All the charms of which I have been writing are combined in a
sledge-drive. With an arrowy gliding motion one passes through the
snow-world as through a dream. In the sunlight the snow surface
sparkles with its myriad stars of crystals. In the shadow it ceases to
glitter, and assumes a blueness scarcely less blue than the sky. So the
journey is like sailing through alternate tracts of light irradiate
heavens, and interstellar spaces of the clearest and most flawless
ether. The air is like the keen air of the highest glaciers. As we go,
the bells keep up a drowsy tinkling at the horse's head. The whole
landscape is transfigured—lifted high up out of commonplaceness. 25The
little hills are Monte Rosas and Mont Blancs. Scale is annihilated, and
nothing tells but form. There is hardly any colour except the blue of
sky and shadow. Everything is traced in vanishing tints, passing from
the almost amber of the distant sunlight through glowing white into
pale greys and brighter blues and deep ethereal azure. The pines stand
in black platoons upon the hillsides, with a tinge of red or orange on
their sable. Some carry masses of snow. Others have shaken their plumes
free. The châlets are like fairy houses or toys, waist-deep in stores
of winter fuel. With their mellow tones of madder and umber on the
weather-beaten woodwork relieved against the white, with fantastic
icicles and folds of snow depending from their eaves, or curled like
coverlids from roof and window-sill, they are far more picturesque than
in the summer. Colour, wherever it is found, whether in these cottages
or in a block of serpentine by the roadside, or in the golden bulrush
blades by the lake shore, takes more than double value. It is shed upon
the landscape like a spiritual and transparent veil. Most beautiful of
all are the sweeping lines of pure untroubled snow, fold over fold of
undulating softness, billowing along the skirts of the peaked hills.
There is no conveying the charm of immaterial, aë;rial, lucid beauty,
the feeling of purity and aloofness from sordid things, conveyed by the
fine touch on all our senses of light, colour, form, and air, and
motion, and rare tinkling sound. The magic is like a spirit mood of
Shelley's lyric verse. And, what is perhaps most wonderful, this
delicate delight may be enjoyed without fear in the coldest weather. It
does not matter how low the temperature may be, if the sun is shining,
the air dry, and the wind asleep.

Leaving the horse-sledges on the verge of some high hill-road, and
trusting oneself to the little hand-sledge which the 26people of the
Grisons use, and which the English have christened by the Canadian term
'toboggan,' the excitement becomes far greater. The hand-sledge is
about three feet long, fifteen inches wide, and half a foot above the
ground, on runners shod with iron. Seated firmly at the back, and
guiding with the feet in front, the rider skims down precipitous slopes
and round perilous corners with a rapidity that beats a horse's pace.
Winding through sombre pine-forests, where the torrent roars fitfully
among caverns of barbed ice, and the glistening mountains tower above
in their glory of sun-smitten snow, darting round the frozen ledges at
the turnings of the road, silently gliding at a speed that seems
incredible, it is so smooth, he traverses two or three miles without
fatigue, carried onward by the mere momentum of his weight. It is a
strange and great joy. The toboggan, under these conditions, might be
compared to an enchanted boat shooting the rapids of a river; and what
adds to its fascination is the entire loneliness in which the rider
passes through those weird and ever-shifting scenes of winter radiance.
Sometimes, when the snow is drifting up the pass, and the world is
blank behind, before, and all around, it seems like plunging into
chaos. The muffled pines loom fantastically through the drift as we
rush past them, and the wind, ever and anon, detaches great masses of
snow in clouds from their bent branches. Or again at night, when the
moon is shining, and the sky is full of flaming stars, and the snow,
frozen to the hardness of marble, sparkles with innumerable crystals, a
new sense of strangeness and of joy is given to the solitude, the
swiftness, and the silence of the exercise. No other circumstances
invest the poetry of rapid motion with more fascination. Shelley, who
so loved the fancy of a boat inspired with its own instinct of life,
would have delighted in the game, and would probably have pursued it
recklessly. At the same time, 27as practised on a humbler scale nearer
home, in company, and on a run selected for convenience rather than for
picturesqueness, tobogganing is a very Bohemian amusement. No one who
indulges in it can count on avoiding hard blows and violent upsets, nor
will his efforts to maintain his equilibrium at the dangerous corners
be invariably graceful.

Nothing, it might be imagined, could be more monotonous than an Alpine
valley covered up with snow. And yet to one who has passed many months
in that seclusion Nature herself presents no monotony; for the changes
constantly wrought by light and cloud and alternations of weather on
this landscape are infinitely various. The very simplicity of the
conditions seems to assist the supreme artist. One day is wonderful
because of its unsullied purity; not a cloud visible, and the pines
clothed in velvet of rich green beneath a faultless canopy of light.
The next presents a fretwork of fine film, wrought by the south wind
over the whole sky, iridescent with delicate rainbow tints within the
influences of the sun, and ever-changing shape. On another, when the
turbulent Föhn is blowing, streamers of snow may be seen flying from
the higher ridges against a pallid background of slaty cloud, while the
gaunt ribs of the hills glisten below with fitful gleams of lurid
light. At sunrise, one morning, stealthy and mysterious vapours clothe
the mountains from their basement to the waist, while the peaks are
glistening serenely in clear daylight. Another opens with silently
falling snow. A third is rosy through the length and breadth of the
dawn-smitten valley. It is, however, impossible to catalogue the
indescribable variety of those beauties, which those who love nature
may enjoy by simply waiting on the changes of the winter in a single
station of the Alps.

28



WINTER NIGHTS AT DAVOS


I

Light, marvellously soft yet penetrating, everywhere diffused,
everywhere reflected without radiance, poured from the moon high above
our heads in a sky tinted through all shades and modulations of blue,
from turquoise on the horizon to opaque sapphire at the zenith—_dolce
color_. (It is difficult to use the word _colour_ for this scene
without suggesting an exaggeration. The blue is almost indefinable, yet
felt. But if possible, the total effect of the night landscape should
be rendered by careful exclusion of tints from the word-palette. The
art of the etcher is more needed than that of the painter.) Heaven
overhead is set with stars, shooting intensely, smouldering with dull
red in Aldeboran, sparkling diamond-like in Sirius, changing from
orange to crimson and green in the swart fire of yonder double star. On
the snow this moonlight falls tenderly, not in hard white light and
strong black shadow, but in tones of cream and ivory, rounding the
curves of drift. The mountain peaks alone glisten as though they were
built of silver burnished by an agate. Far away they rise diminished in
stature by the all-pervading dimness of bright light, that erases the
distinctions of daytime. On the path before our feet lie crystals of
many hues, the splinters of a thousand gems. In the wood there are
caverns of darkness, alternating with spaces of star-twinkled sky, or
windows opened between russet stems and solid branches for the 29moony
sheen. The green of the pines is felt, although invisible, so soft in
substance that it seems less like velvet than some materialised depth
of dark green shadow.

II

Snow falling noiseless and unseen. One only knows that it is falling by
the blinking of our eyes as the flakes settle on their lids and melt.
The cottage windows shine red, and moving lanterns of belated wayfarers
define the void around them. Yet the night is far from dark. The
forests and the mountain-bulk beyond the valley loom softly large and
just distinguishable through a pearly haze. The path is purest
trackless whiteness, almost dazzling though it has no light. This was
what Dante felt when he reached the lunar sphere:

Parova a me, che nube ne coprisse
Lucida, spessa, solida e pulita.


Walking silent, with insensible footfall, slowly, for the snow is deep
above our ankles, we wonder what the world would be like if this were
all. Could the human race be acclimatised to this monotony (we say)
perhaps emotion would be rarer, yet more poignant, suspended brooding
on itself, and wakening by flashes to a quintessential mood. Then fancy
changes, and the thought occurs that even so must be a planet, not yet
wholly made, nor called to take her place among the sisterhood of light
and song.

III

Sunset was fading out upon the Rhætikon and still reflected from the
Seehorn on the lake, when we entered the gorge of the Fluela—dense
pines on either hand, a mounting drift of snow in front, and faint
peaks, paling from rose to saffron, far above, beyond. There was no
sound but a tinkling stream 30and the continual jingle of our
sledge-bells. We drove at a foot's pace, our horse finding his own
path. When we left the forest, the light had all gone except for some
almost imperceptible touches of primrose on the eastern horns. It was a
moonless night, but the sky was alive with stars, and now and then one
fell. The last house in the valley was soon passed, and we entered
those bleak gorges where the wind, fine, noiseless, penetrating like an
edge of steel, poured slantwise on us from the north. As we rose, the
stars to west seemed far beneath us, and the Great Bear sprawled upon
the ridges of the lower hills outspread. We kept slowly moving onward,
upward, into what seemed like a thin impalpable mist, but was
immeasurable tracts of snow. The last cembras were left behind,
immovable upon dark granite boulders on our right. We entered a
formless and unbillowed sea of greyness, from which there rose dim
mountain-flanks that lost themselves in air. Up, ever up, and still
below us westward sank the stars. We were now 7500 feet above
sea-level, and the December night was rigid with intensity of frost.
The cold, and movement, and solemnity of space, drowsed every sense.

IV

The memory of things seen and done in moonlight is like the memory of
dreams. It is as a dream that I recall the night of our tobogganing to
Klosters, though it was full enough of active energy. The moon was in
her second quarter, slightly filmed with very high thin clouds, that
disappeared as night advanced, leaving the sky and stars in all their
lustre. A sharp frost, sinking to three degrees above zero Fahrenheit,
with a fine pure wind, such wind as here they call 'the mountain
breath.' We drove to Wolfgang in a two-horse sledge, four of us inside,
and our two Christians on the box. Up 31there, where the Alps of Death
descend to join the Lakehorn Alps, above the Wolfswalk, there is a
world of whiteness—frozen ridges, engraved like cameos of aë;rial onyx
upon the dark, star-tremulous sky; sculptured buttresses of snow,
enclosing hollows filled with diaphanous shadow, and sweeping aloft
into the upland fields of pure clear drift. Then came the swift
descent, the plunge into the pines, moon-silvered on their frosted
tops. The battalions of spruce that climb those hills defined the
dazzling snow from which they sprang, like the black tufts upon an
ermine robe. At the proper moment we left our sledge, and the big
Christian took his reins in hand to follow us. Furs and greatcoats were
abandoned. Each stood forth tightly accoutred, with short coat, and
clinging cap, and gaitered legs for the toboggan. Off we started in
line, with but brief interval between, at first slowly, then glidingly,
and when the impetus was gained, with darting, bounding, almost savage
swiftness—sweeping round corners, cutting the hard snow-path with keen
runners, avoiding the deep ruts, trusting to chance, taking advantage
of smooth places, till the rush and swing and downward swoop became
mechanical. Space was devoured. Into the massy shadows of the forest,
where the pines joined overhead, we pierced without a sound, and felt
far more than saw the great rocks with their icicles; and out again,
emerging into moonlight, met the valley spread beneath our feet, the
mighty peaks of the Silvretta and the vast blue sky. On, on, hurrying,
delaying not, the woods and hills rushed by. Crystals upon the
snow-banks glittered to the stars. Our souls would fain have stayed to
drink these marvels of the moon-world, but our limbs refused. The magic
of movement was upon us, and eight minutes swallowed the varying
impressions of two musical miles. The village lights drew near and
nearer, then the sombre village huts, and soon the speed grew less, and
soon we glided to our rest into the sleeping village street.

32

V

It was just past midnight. The moon had fallen to the western horns.
Orion's belt lay bar-like on the opening of the pass, and Sirius shot
flame on the Seehorn. A more crystalline night, more full of fulgent
stars, was never seen, stars everywhere, but mostly scattered in large
sparkles on the snow. Big Christian went in front, tugging toboggans by
their strings, as Gulliver, in some old woodcut, drew the fleets of
Lilliput. Through the brown wood-châlets of Selfrangr, up to the
undulating meadows, where the snow slept pure and crisp, he led us.
There we sat awhile and drank the clear air, cooled to zero, but
innocent and mild as mother Nature's milk. Then in an instant, down,
down through the hamlet, with its châlets, stables, pumps, and logs,
the slumbrous hamlet, where one dog barked, and darkness dwelt upon the
path of ice, down with the tempest of a dreadful speed, that shot each
rider upward in the air, and made the frame of the toboggan
tremble—down over hillocks of hard frozen snow, dashing and bounding,
to the river and the bridge. No bones were broken, though the race was
thrice renewed, and men were spilt upon the roadside by some furious
plunge. This amusement has the charm of peril and the unforeseen. In no
wise else can colder, keener air be drunken at such furious speed. The
joy, too, of the engine-driver and the steeplechaser is upon us. Alas,
that it should be so short! If only roads were better made for the
purpose, there would be no end to it; for the toboggan cannot lose his
wind. But the good thing fails at last, and from the silence of the
moon we pass into the silence of the fields of sleep.

33

VI

The new stable is a huge wooden building, with raftered lofts to stow
the hay, and stalls for many cows and horses. It stands snugly in an
angle of the pine-wood, bordering upon the great horse-meadow. Here at
night the air is warm and tepid with the breath of kine. Returning from
my forest walk, I spy one window yellow in the moonlight with a lamp. I
lift the latch. The hound knows me, and does not bark. I enter the
stable, where six horses are munching their last meal. Upon the
corn-bin sits a knecht. We light our pipes and talk. He tells me of the
valley of Arosa (a hawk's flight westward over yonder hills), how deep
in grass its summer lawns, how crystal-clear its stream, how blue its
little lakes, how pure, without a taint of mist, 'too beautiful to
paint,' its sky in winter! This knecht is an Ardüser, and the valley of
Arosa lifts itself to heaven above his Langwies home. It is his duty
now to harness a sleigh for some night-work. We shake hands and part—I
to sleep, he for the snow.

VII

The lake has frozen late this year, and there are places in it where
the ice is not yet firm. Little snow has fallen since it froze—about
three inches at the deepest, driven by winds and wrinkled like the
ribbed sea-sand. Here and there the ice-floor is quite black and clear,
reflecting stars, and dark as heaven's own depths. Elsewhere it is of a
suspicious whiteness, blurred in surface, with jagged cracks and
chasms, treacherously mended by the hand of frost. Moving slowly, the
snow cries beneath our feet, and the big crystals tinkle. These are
shaped like fern-fronds, growing fan-wise from a point, and set at
various angles, so that the moonlight takes 34them with capricious
touch. They flash, and are quenched, and flash again, light darting to
light along the level surface, while the sailing planets and the stars
look down complacent at this mimicry of heaven. Everything above,
around, beneath, is very beautiful—the slumbrous woods, the snowy
fells, and the far distance painted in faint blue upon the tender
background of the sky. Everything is placid and beautiful; and yet the
place is terrible. For, as we walk, the lake groans, with throttled
sobs, and sudden cracklings of its joints, and sighs that shiver,
undulating from afar, and pass beneath our feet, and die away in
distance when they reach the shore. And now and then an upper crust of
ice gives way; and will the gulfs then drag us down? We are in the very
centre of the lake. There is no use in thinking or in taking heed.
Enjoy the moment, then, and march. Enjoy the contrast between this
circumambient serenity and sweetness, and the dreadful sense of
insecurity beneath. Is not, indeed, our whole life of this nature? A
passage over perilous deeps, roofed by infinity and sempiternal things,
surrounded too with evanescent forms, that like these crystals, trodden
underfoot, or melted by the Föhn-wind into dew, flash, in some lucky
moment, with a light that mimics stars! But to allegorise and sermonise
is out of place here. It is but the expedient of those who cannot etch
sensation by the burin of their art of words.

VIII

It is ten o'clock upon Sylvester Abend, or New Year's Eve. Herr Buol
sits with his wife at the head of his long table. His family and
serving folk are round him. There is his mother, with little Ursula,
his child, upon her knee. The old lady is the mother of four comely
daughters and nine 35stalwart sons, the eldest of whom is now a
grizzled man. Besides our host, four of the brothers are here to-night;
the handsome melancholy Georg, who is so gentle in his speech; Simeon,
with his diplomatic face; Florian, the student of medicine; and my
friend, colossal-breasted Christian. Palmy came a little later, worried
with many cares, but happy to his heart's core. No optimist was ever
more convinced of his 6philosophy than Palmy. After them, below the
salt, were ranged the knechts and porters, the marmiton from the
kitchen, and innumerable maids. The board was tesselated with plates of
birnen-brod and eier-brod, küchli and cheese and butter; and Georg
stirred grampampuli in a mighty metal bowl. For the uninitiated, it may
be needful to explain these Davos delicacies. Birnen-brod is what the
Scotch would call a 'bun,' or massive cake, composed of sliced pears,
almonds, spices, and a little flour. Eier-brod is a saffron-coloured
sweet bread, made with eggs; and küchli is a kind of pastry, crisp and
flimsy, fashioned into various devices of cross, star, and scroll.
Grampampuli is simply brandy burnt with sugar, the most unsophisticated
punch I ever drank from tumblers. The frugal people of Davos, who live
on bread and cheese and dried meat all the year, indulge themselves but
once with these unwonted dainties in the winter.

The occasion was cheerful, and yet a little solemn. The scene was
feudal. For these Buols are the scions of a warrior race:

A race illustrious for heroic deeds;
Humbled, but not degraded.

During the six centuries through which they have lived nobles in Davos,
they have sent forth scores of fighting men to foreign lands,
ambassadors to France and Venice and the Milanese, governors to
Chiavenna and Bregaglia and the much-contested Valtelline. Members of
their house are 36Counts of Buol-Schauenstein in Austria, Freiherrs of
Muhlingen and Berenberg in the now German Empire. They keep the patent
of nobility conferred on them by Henri IV. Their ancient coat—parted
per pale azure and argent, with a dame of the fourteenth century
bearing in her hand a rose, all counterchanged—is carved in wood and
monumental marble on the churches and old houses hereabouts. And from
immemorial antiquity the Buol of Davos has sat thus on Sylvester Abend
with family and folk around him, summoned from alp and snowy field to
drink grampampuli and break the birnen-brod.

These rites performed, the men and maids began to sing—brown arms
lounging on the table, and red hands folded in white aprons—serious at
first in hymn-like cadences, then breaking into wilder measures with a
jodel at the close. There is a measured solemnity in the performance,
which strikes the stranger as somewhat comic. But the singing was good;
the voices strong and clear in tone, no hesitation and no shirking of
the melody. It was clear that the singers enjoyed the music for its own
sake, with half-shut eyes, as they take dancing, solidly, with
deep-drawn breath, sustained and indefatigable. But eleven struck; and
the two Christians, my old friend, and Palmy, said we should be late
for church. They had promised to take me with them to see bell-ringing
in the tower. All the young men of the village meet, and draw lots in
the Stube of the Rathhaus. One party tolls the old year out; the other
rings the new year in. He who comes last is sconced three litres of
Veltliner for the company. This jovial fine was ours to pay to-night.

When we came into the air, we found a bitter frost; the whole sky
clouded over; a north wind whirling snow from alp and forest through
the murky gloom. The benches and 37broad walnut tables of the Bathhaus
were crowded with men, in shaggy homespun of brown and grey frieze. Its
low wooden roof and walls enclosed an atmosphere of smoke, denser than
the external snow-drift. But our welcome was hearty, and we found a
score of friends. Titanic Fopp, whose limbs are Michelangelesque in
length; spectacled Morosani; the little tailor Kramer, with a French
horn on his knees; the puckered forehead of the Baumeister; the
Troll-shaped postman; peasants and woodmen, known on far excursions
upon pass and upland valley. Not one but carried on his face the memory
of winter strife with avalanche and snow-drift, of horses struggling
through Fluela whirlwinds, and wine-casks tugged across Bernina, and
haystacks guided down precipitous gullies at thundering speed 'twixt
pine and pine, and larches felled in distant glens beside the frozen
watercourses. Here we were, all met together for one hour from our
several homes and occupations, to welcome in the year with clinked
glasses and cries of _Prosit Neujahr!_

The tolling bells above us stopped. Our turn had come. Out into the
snowy air we tumbled, beneath the row of wolves' heads that adorn the
pent-house roof. A few steps brought us to the still God's acre, where
the snow lay deep and cold upon high-mounded graves of many
generations. We crossed it silently, bent our heads to the low Gothic
arch, and stood within the tower. It was thick darkness there. But far
above, the bells began again to clash and jangle confusedly, with
volleys of demonic joy. Successive flights of ladders, each ending in a
giddy platform hung across the gloom, climb to the height of some
hundred and fifty feet; and all their rungs were crusted with frozen
snow, deposited by trampling boots. For up and down these stairs,
ascending and descending, moved other than angels—the friezejacketed
38Bürschen, Grisons bears, rejoicing in their exercise, exhilarated
with the tingling noise of beaten metal. We reached the first room
safely, guided by firm-footed Christian, whose one candle just defined
the rough walls and the slippery steps. There we found a band of boys,
pulling ropes that set the bells in motion. But our destination was not
reached. One more aë;rial ladder, perpendicular in darkness, brought us
swiftly to the home of sound. It is a small square chamber, where the
bells are hung, filled with the interlacement of enormous beams, and
pierced to north and south by open windows, from whose parapets I saw
the village and the valley spread beneath. The fierce wind hurried
through it, charged with snow, and its narrow space was thronged with
men. Men on the platform, men on the window-sills, men grappling the
bells with iron arms, men brushing by to reach the stairs, crossing,
recrossing, shouldering their mates, drinking red wine from gigantic
beakers, exploding crackers, firing squibs, shouting and yelling in
corybantic chorus. They yelled and shouted, one could see it by their
open mouths and glittering eyes; but not a sound from human lungs could
reach our ears. The overwhelming incessant thunder of the bells drowned
all. It thrilled the tympanum, ran through the marrow of the spine,
vibrated in the inmost entrails. Yet the brain was only steadied and
excited by this sea of brazen noise. After a few moments I knew the
place and felt at home in it. Then I enjoyed a spectacle which
sculptors might have envied. For they ring the bells in Davos after
this fashion:—The lads below set them going with ropes. The men above
climb in pairs on ladders to the beams from which they are suspended.
Two mighty pine-trees, roughly squared and built into the walls, extend
from side to side across the belfry. Another from which the bells hang,
connects these massive trunks at right 39angles. Just where the central
beam is wedged into the two parallel supports, the ladders reach them
from each side of the belfry, so that, bending from the higher rung of
the ladder, and leaning over, stayed upon the lateral beam, each pair
of men can keep one bell in movement with their hands. Each comrade
plants one leg upon the ladder, and sets the other knee firmly athwart
the horizontal pine. Then round each other's waist they twine left arm
and right. The two have thus become one man. Right arm and left are
free to grasp the bell's horns, sprouting at its crest beneath the
beam. With a grave rhythmic motion, bending sideward in a close
embrace, swaying and returning to their centre from the well-knit
loins, they drive the force of each strong muscle into the vexed bell.
The impact is earnest at first, but soon it becomes frantic. The men
take something from each other of exalted enthusiasm. This efflux of
their combined energies inspires them and exasperates the mighty
resonance of metal which they rule. They are lost in a trance of what
approximates to dervish passion—so thrilling is the surge of sound, so
potent are the rhythms they obey. Men come and tug them by the heels.
One grasps the starting thews upon their calves. Another is impatient
for their place. But they strain still, locked together, and forgetful
of the world. At length they have enough: then slowly, clingingly
unclasp, turn round with gazing eyes, and are resumed, sedately, into
the diurnal round of common life. Another pair is in their room upon
the beam.

The Englishman who saw these things stood looking up, enveloped in his
ulster with the grey cowl thrust upon his forehead, like a monk. One
candle cast a grotesque shadow of him on the plastered wall. And when
his chance came, though he was but a weakling, he too climbed and for
some moments hugged the beam, and felt the madness of the 40swinging
bell. Descending, he wondered long and strangely whether he ascribed
too much of feeling to the men he watched. But no, that was impossible.
There are emotions deeply seated in the joy of exercise, when the body
is brought into play, and masses move in concert, of which the subject
is but half conscious. Music and dance, and the delirium of battle or
the chase, act thus upon spontaneous natures. The mystery of rhythm and
associated energy and blood tingling in sympathy is here. It lies at
the root of man's most tyrannous instinctive impulses.

It was past one when we reached home, and now a meditative man might
well have gone to bed. But no one thinks of sleeping on Sylvester
Abend. So there followed bowls of punch in one friend's room, where
English, French, and Germans blent together in convivial Babel; and
flasks of old Montagner in another. Palmy, at this period, wore an
archdeacon's hat, and smoked a churchwarden's pipe; and neither were
his own, nor did he derive anything ecclesiastical or Anglican from the
association. Late in the morning we must sally forth, they said, and
roam the town. For it is the custom here on New Year's night to greet
acquaintances, and ask for hospitality, and no one may deny these
self-invited guests. We turned out again into the grey snow-swept
gloom, a curious Comus—not at all like Greeks, for we had neither
torches in our hands nor rose-wreaths to suspend upon a lady's
door-posts. And yet I could not refrain, at this supreme moment of
jollity, in the zero temperature, amid my Grisons friends, from humming
to myself verses from the Greek Anthology:—

The die is cast! Nay, light the torch!
    I'll take the road! Up, courage, ho!
Why linger pondering in the porch?
    Upon Love's revel we will go!

Shake off those fumes of wine! Hang care
    And caution! What has Love to do
With prudence? Let the torches flare!
    Quick, drown the doubts that hampered you!

Cast weary wisdom to the wind!
    One thing, but one alone, I know:
Love bent e'en Jove and made him blind
    Upon Love's revel we will go!

41

And then again:—

I've drunk sheer madness! Not with wine,
    But old fantastic tales, I'll arm
My heart in heedlessness divine,
    And dare the road, nor dream of harm!

I'll join Love's rout! Let thunder break,
    Let lightning blast me by the way!
Invulnerable Love shall shake
    His ægis o'er my head to-day.

This last epigram was not inappropriate to an invalid about to begin
the fifth act in a roystering night's adventure. And still once more:—

Cold blows the winter wind; 'tis Love,
    Whose sweet eyes swim with honeyed tears,
That bears me to thy doors, my love,
    Tossed by the storm of hopes and fears.

Cold blows the blast of aching Love;
    But be thou for my wandering sail,
Adrift upon these waves of love,
    Safe harbour from the whistling gale!


However, upon this occasion, though we had winter-wind enough, and cold
enough, there was not much love in the business. My arm was firmly
clenched in Christian Buol's, and Christian Palmy came behind, trolling
out songs in Italian dialect, with still recurring _canaille_ choruses,
of which the facile rhymes seemed mostly made on a prolonged
42_amu-u-u-r_. It is noticeable that Italian ditties are specially
designed for fellows shouting in the streets at night. They seem in
keeping there, and nowhere else that I could ever see. And these
Davosers took to them naturally when the time for Comus came. It was
between four and five in the morning, and nearly all the houses in the
place were dark. The tall church-tower and spire loomed up above us in
grey twilight. The tireless wind still swept thin snow from fell and
forest. But the frenzied bells had sunk into their twelvemonth's
slumber, which shall be broken only by decorous tollings at less
festive times. I wondered whether they were tingling still with the
heart-throbs and with the pressure of those many arms? Was their old
age warmed, as mine was, with that gust of life—the young men who had
clung to them like bees to lily-bells, and shaken all their locked-up
tone and shrillness into the wild winter air? Alas! how many
generations of the young have handled them; and they are still there,
frozen in their belfry; and the young grow middle-aged, and old, and
die at last; and the bells they grappled in their lust of manhood toll
them to their graves, on which the tireless wind will, winter after
winter, sprinkle snow from alps and forests which they knew.

'There is a light,' cried Christian, 'up in Anna's window!' 'A light! a
light!' the Comus shouted. But how to get at the window, which is
pretty high above the ground, and out of reach of the most ardent
revellers? We search a neighbouring shed, extract a stable-ladder, and
in two seconds Palmy has climbed to the topmost rung, while Christian
and Georg hold it firm upon the snow beneath. Then begins a passage
from some comic opera of Mozart's or Cimarosa's—an escapade familiar to
Spanish or Italian students, which recalls the stage. It is an episode
from 'Don Giovanni,' translated to this dark-etched scene of snowy
hills, and 43Gothic tower, and mullioned windows deep embayed beneath
their eaves and icicles. _Deh vieni alla finestra!_ sings
Palmy-Leporello; the chorus answers: _Deh vieni! Perchè non vieni
ancora?_ pleads Leporello; the chorus shouts: _Perchè? Mio amu-u-u-r_,
sighs Leporello; and Echo cries, _amu-u-u-r!_ All the wooing, be it
noticed, is conducted in Italian. But the actors murmur to each other
in Davoser Deutsch, 'She won't come, Palmy! It is far too late; she is
gone to bed. Come down; you'll wake the village with your
caterwauling!' But Leporello waves his broad archdeacon's hat, and
resumes a flood of flexible Bregaglian. He has a shrewd suspicion that
the girl is peeping from behind the window curtain; and tells us,
bending down from the ladder, in a hoarse stage-whisper, that we must
have patience; 'these girls are kittle cattle, who take long to draw:
but if your lungs last out, they're sure to show.' And Leporello is
right. Faint heart ne'er won fair lady. From the summit of his ladder,
by his eloquent Italian tongue, he brings the shy bird down at last. We
hear the unbarring of the house door, and a comely maiden, in her
Sunday dress, welcomes us politely to her ground-floor sitting-room.
The Comus enters, in grave order, with set speeches, handshakes, and
inevitable _Prosits_! It is a large low chamber, with a huge stone
stove, wide benches fixed along the walls, and a great oval table. We
sit how and where we can. Red wine is produced, and eier-brod and
küchli. 44Fräulein Anna serves us sedately, holding her own with decent
self-respect against the inrush of the revellers. She is quite alone;
but are not her father and mother in bed above, and within earshot?
Besides, the Comus, even at this abnormal hour and after an abnormal
night, is well conducted. Things seem slipping into a decorous
wine-party, when Leporello readjusts the broad-brimmed hat upon his
head, and very cleverly acts a little love-scene for our benefit.
Fräulein Anna takes this as a delicate compliment, and the thing is so
prettily done in truth, that not the sternest taste could be offended.
Meanwhile another party of night-wanderers, attracted by our mirth,
break in. More _Prosits_ and clinked glasses follow; and with a fair
good-morning to our hostess, we retire.

It is too late to think of bed. 'The quincunx of heaven,' as Sir Thomas
Browne phrased it on a dissimilar occasion, 'runs low.... The huntsmen
are up in America; and not in America only, for the huntsmen, if there
are any this night in Graubünden, have long been out upon the snow, and
the stable-lads are dragging the sledges from their sheds to carry down
the mails to Landquart. We meet the porters from the various hotels,
bringing letter-bags and luggage to the post. It is time to turn in and
take a cup of black coffee against the rising sun.

IX

Some nights, even in Davos, are spent, even by an invalid, in bed. A
leaflet, therefore, of 'Sleep-chasings' may not inappropriately be
flung, as envoy to so many wanderings on foot and sledge upon the
winter snows.

The first is a confused medley of things familiar and things strange. I
have been dreaming of far-away old German towns, with gabled houses
deep in snow; dreaming of châlets in forgotten Alpine glens, where
wood-cutters come plunging into sleepy light from gloom, and sinking
down beside the stove to shake the drift from their rough shoulders;
dreaming of vast veils of icicles upon the gaunt black rocks in places
where no foot of man will pass, and where the snow is weaving eyebrows
over the ledges of grey whirlwind-beaten precipices; dreaming of
Venice, forlorn beneath the windy drip of rain, the gas lamps
flickering on the swimming piazzetta, the barche 45idle, the gondolier
wrapped in his thread-bare cloak, alone; dreaming of Apennines, with
world-old cities, brown, above the brown sea of dead chestnut boughs;
dreaming of stormy tides, and watchers aloft in lighthouses when day is
finished; dreaming of dead men and women and dead children in the
earth, far down beneath the snow-drifts, six feet deep. And then I lift
my face, awaking, from my pillow; the pallid moon is on the valley, and
the room is filled with spectral light.

I sleep, and change my dreaming. This is a hospice in an unfrequented
pass, between sad peaks, beside a little black lake, overdrifted with
soft snow. I pass into the house-room, gliding silently. An old man and
an old woman are nodding, bowed in deepest slumber, by the stove. A
young man plays the zither on a table. He lifts his head, still
modulating with his fingers on the strings. He looks right through me
with wide anxious eyes. He does not see me, but sees Italy, I know, and
some one wandering on a sandy shore.

I sleep, and change my dreaming. This is S. Stephen's Church in Wien.
Inside, the lamps are burning dimly in the choir. There is fog in the
aisles; but through the sleepy air and over the red candles flies a
wild soprano's voice, a boy's soul in its singing sent to heaven.

I sleep, and change my dreaming. From the mufflers in which his father,
the mountebank, has wrapped the child, to carry him across the heath, a
little tumbling-boy emerges in soiled tights. He is half asleep. His
father scrapes the fiddle. The boy shortens his red belt, kisses his
fingers to us, and ties himself into a knot among the glasses on the
table.

I sleep, and change my dreaming. I am on the parapet of a huge circular
tower, hollow like a well, and pierced with windows at irregular
intervals. The parapet is broad, and 46slabbed with red Verona marble.
Around me are athletic men, all naked, in the strangest attitudes of
studied rest, down-gazing, as I do, into the depths below. There comes
a confused murmur of voices, and the tower is threaded and rethreaded
with great cables. Up these there climb to us a crowd of young men,
clinging to the ropes and flinging their bodies sideways on aë;rial
trapezes. My heart trembles with keen joy and terror. For nowhere else
could plastic forms be seen more beautiful, and nowhere else is peril
more apparent. Leaning my chin upon the utmost verge, I wait. I watch
one youth, who smiles and soars to me; and when his face is almost
touching mine, he speaks, but what he says I know not.

I sleep, and change my dreaming. The whole world rocks to its
foundations. The mountain summits that I know are shaken. They bow
their bristling crests. They are falling, falling on us, and the earth
is riven. I wake in terror, shouting: INSOLITIS TREMUERUNT MOTIBUS
ALPES! An earthquake, slight but real, has stirred the ever-wakeful
Vesta of the brain to this Virgilian quotation.

I sleep, and change my dreaming. Once more at night I sledge alone upon
the Klosters road. It is the point where the woods close over it and
moonlight may not pierce the boughs. There come shrill cries of many
voices from behind, and rushings that pass by and vanish. Then on their
sledges I behold the phantoms of the dead who died in Davos, longing
for their homes; and each flies past me, shrieking in the still cold
air; and phosphorescent like long meteors, the pageant turns the
windings of the road below and disappears.

I sleep, and change my dreaming. This is the top of some high mountain,
where the crags are cruelly tortured and cast in enormous splinters on
the ledges of cliffs grey with old-world ice. A ravine, opening at my
feet, plunges 47down immeasurably to a dim and distant sea. Above me
soars a precipice embossed with a gigantic ice-bound shape. As I gaze
thereon, I find the lineaments and limbs of a Titanic man chained and
nailed to the rock. His beard has grown for centuries, and flowed this
way and that, adown his breast and over to the stone on either side;
and the whole of him is covered with a greenish ice, ancient beyond the
memory of man. 'This is Prometheus,' I whisper to myself, 'and I am
alone on Caucasus.'

48



BACCHUS IN GRAUBÜNDEN


I

Some years' residence in the Canton of the Grisons made me familiar
with all sorts of Valtelline wine; with masculine but rough _Inferno_,
generous _Forzato_, delicate _Sassella_, harsher _Montagner_, the
raspberry flavour of _Grumello_, the sharp invigorating twang of
_Villa_. The colour, ranging from garnet to almandine or ruby, told me
the age and quality of wine; and I could judge from the crust it forms
upon the bottle, whether it had been left long enough in wood to ripen.
I had furthermore arrived at the conclusion that the best Valtelline
can only be tasted in cellars of the Engadine or Davos, where this
vintage matures slowly in the mountain air, and takes a flavour unknown
at lower levels. In a word, it had amused my leisure to make or think
myself a connoisseur. My literary taste was tickled by the praise
bestowed in the Augustan age on Rhætic grapes by Virgil:

Et quo te carmine dicam,
Rhætica? nec cellis ideo contende Falernis.

I piqued myself on thinking that could the poet but have drank one
bottle at Samaden—where Stilicho, by the way, in his famous recruiting
expedition may perhaps have drank it—he would have been less chary in
his panegyric. For the point of inferiority on which he seems to
insist, namely, that Valtelline wine does not keep well in cellar, is
only proper to this vintage in Italian climate.

49Such meditations led my fancy on the path of history. Is there truth,
then, in the dim tradition that this mountain land was colonised by
Etruscans? Is _Ras_ the root of Rhætia? The Etruscans were accomplished
wine-growers, we know. It was their Montepulciano which drew the Gauls
to Rome, if Livy can be trusted. Perhaps they first planted the vine in
Valtelline. Perhaps its superior culture in that district may be due to
ancient use surviving in a secluded Alpine valley. One thing is
certain, that the peasants of Sondrio and Tirano understand viticulture
better than the Italians of Lombardy.

Then my thoughts ran on to the period of modern history, when the
Grisons seized the Valtelline in lieu of war-pay from the Dukes of
Milan. For some three centuries they held it as a subject province.
From the Rathhaus at Davos or Chur they sent their nobles—Von Salis and
Buol, Planta and Sprecher von Bernegg—across the hills as governors or
podestàs to Poschiavo, Sondrio, Tirano, and Morbegno. In those old days
the Valtelline wines came duly every winter over snow-deep passes to
fill the cellars of the Signori Grigioni. That quaint traveller Tom
Coryat, in his so-called 'Crudities,' notes the custom early in the
seventeenth century. And as that custom then obtained, it still
subsists with little alteration. The wine-carriers—Weinführer, as they
are called—first scaled the Bernina pass, halting then as now, perhaps
at Poschiavo and Pontresina. Afterwards, in order to reach Davos, the
pass of the Scaletta rose before them—a wilderness of untracked
snow-drifts. The country-folk still point to narrow, light
hand-sledges, on which the casks were charged before the last pitch of
the pass. Some wine came, no doubt, on pack-saddles. A meadow in front
of the Dischma-Thal, where the pass ends, still bears the name of the
Ross-Weid, or horse-pasture. It was here that the beasts 50of burden
used for this wine-service, rested after their long labours. In
favourable weather the whole journey from Tirano would have occupied at
least four days, with scanty halts at night.

The Valtelline slipped from the hands of the Grisons early in this
century. It is rumoured that one of the Von Salis family negotiated
matters with Napoleon more for his private benefit than for the
interests of the state. However this may have been, when the Graubünden
became a Swiss Canton, after four centuries of sovereign independence,
the whole Valtelline passed to Austria, and so eventually to Italy.
According to modern and just notions of nationality, this was right. In
their period of power, the Grisons masters had treated their Italian
dependencies with harshness. The Valtelline is an Italian valley,
connected with the rest of the peninsula by ties of race and language.
It is, moreover, geographically linked to Italy by the great stream of
the Adda, which takes its rise upon the Stelvio, and after passing
through the Lake of Como, swells the volume of the Po.

But, though politically severed from the Valtelline, the Engadiners and
Davosers have not dropped their old habit of importing its best
produce. What they formerly levied as masters, they now acquire by
purchase. The Italian revenue derives a large profit from the frontier
dues paid at the gate between Tirano and Poschiavo on the Bernina road.
Much of the same wine enters Switzerland by another route, travelling
from Sondrio to Chiavenna and across the Splügen. But until quite
recently, the wine itself could scarcely be found outside the Canton.
It was indeed quoted upon Lombard wine-lists. Yet no one drank it; and
when I tasted it at Milan, I found it quite unrecognisable. The fact
seems to be that the Graubündeners alone know how to 51deal with it;
and, as I have hinted, the wine requires a mountain climate for its
full development.

II

The district where the wine of Valtellina is grown extends, roughly
speaking, from Tirano to Morbegno, a distance of some fifty-four miles.
The best sorts come from the middle of this region. High up in the
valley, soil and climate are alike less favourable. Low down a coarser,
earthier quality springs from fat land where the valley broadens. The
northern hillsides to a very considerable height above the river are
covered with vineyards. The southern slopes on the left bank of the
Adda, lying more in shade, yield but little. Inferno, Grumello, and
Perla di Sassella are the names of famous vineyards. Sassella is the
general name for a large tract. Buying an Inferno, Grumello, or Perla
di Sassella wine, it would be absurd to suppose that one obtained it
precisely from the eponymous estate. But as each of these vineyards
yields a marked quality of wine, which is taken as standard-giving, the
produce of the whole district may be broadly classified as approaching
more or less nearly to one of these accepted types. The Inferno,
Grumello, and Perla di Sassella of commerce are therefore three sorts
of good Valtelline, ticketed with famous names to indicate certain
differences of quality. Montagner, as the name implies, is a somewhat
lighter wine, grown higher up in the hill-vineyards. And of this class
there are many species, some approximating to Sassella in delicacy of
flavour, others approaching the tart lightness of the Villa vintage.
This last takes its title from a village in the neighbourhood of
Tirano, where a table-wine is chiefly grown.

Forzato is the strongest, dearest, longest-lived of this 52whole family
of wines. It is manufactured chiefly at Tirano; and, as will be
understood from its name, does not profess to belong to any one of the
famous localities. Forzato or Sforzato, forced or enforced, is in fact
a wine which has undergone a more artificial process. In German the
people call it Strohwein, which also points to the method of its
preparation. The finest grapes are selected and dried in the sun (hence
the _Stroh_) for a period of eight or nine weeks. When they have almost
become raisins, they are pressed. The must is heavily charged with
sugar, and ferments powerfully. Wine thus made requires several years
to ripen. Sweet at first, it takes at last a very fine quality and
flavour, and is rough, almost acid, on the tongue. Its colour too turns
from a deep rich crimson to the tone of tawny port, which indeed it
much resembles.

Old Forzato, which has been long in cask, and then perhaps three years
in bottle, will fetch at least six francs, or may rise to even ten
francs a flask. The best Sassella rarely reaches more than five francs.
Good Montagner and Grumello can be had perhaps for four francs; and
Inferno of a special quality for six francs. Thus the average price of
old Valtelline wine may be taken as five francs a bottle. These, I
should observe, are hotel prices.

Valtelline wines bought in the wood vary, of course, according to their
age and year of vintage. I have found that from 2.50 fr. to 3.50 fr.
per litre is a fair price for sorts fit to bottle. The new wine of 1881
sold in the following winter at prices varying from 1.05 fr. to 1.80
fr. per litre.

It is customary for the Graubünden wine-merchants to buy up the whole
produce of a vineyard from the peasants at the end of the vintage. They
go in person or depute their agents to inspect the wine, make their
bargains, and seal the cellars where the wine is stored. Then, when the
snow has 53fallen, their own horses with sleighs and trusted servants
go across the passes to bring it home. Generally they have some local
man of confidence at Tirano, the starting-point for the homeward
journey, who takes the casks up to that place and sees them duly
charged. Merchants of old standing maintain relations with the same
peasants, taking their wine regularly; so that from Lorenz Gredig at
Pontresina or Andreas Gredig at Davos Dörfli, from Fanconi at Samaden,
or from Giacomi at Chiavenna, special qualities of wine, the produce of
certain vineyards, are to be obtained. Up to the present time this wine
trade has been conducted with simplicity and honesty by both the
dealers and the growers. One chief merit of Valtelline wine is that it
is pure. How long so desirable a state of things will survive the slow
but steady development of an export business may be questioned.

III

With so much practical and theoretical interest in the produce of the
Valtelline to stimulate my curiosity, I determined to visit the
district at the season when the wine was leaving it. It was the winter
of 1881-82, a winter of unparalleled beauty in the high Alps. Day
succeeded day without a cloud. Night followed night with steady stars,
gliding across clear mountain ranges and forests of dark pines
unstirred by wind. I could not hope for a more prosperous season; and
indeed I made such use of it, that between the months of January and
March I crossed six passes of the Alps in open sleighs—the Fluela
Bernina, Splügen, Julier, Maloja, and Albula—with less difficulty and
discomfort in mid-winter than the traveller may often find on them in
June.

At the end of January, my friend Christian and I left Davos long before
the sun was up, and ascended for four 54hours through the interminable
snow-drifts of the Fluela in a cold grey shadow. The sun's light seemed
to elude us. It ran along the ravine through which we toiled; dipped
down to touch the topmost pines above our heads; rested in golden calm
upon the Schiahorn at our back; capriciously played here and there
across the Weisshorn on our left, and made the precipices of the
Schwartzhorn glitter on our right. But athwart our path it never fell
until we reached the very summit of the pass. Then we passed quietly
into the full glory of the winter morning—a tranquil flood of sunbeams,
pouring through air of crystalline purity, frozen and motionless. White
peaks and dark brown rocks soared up, cutting a sky of almost purple
blueness. A stillness that might be felt brooded over the whole world;
but in that stillness there was nothing sad, no suggestion of suspended
vitality. It was the stillness rather of untroubled health, of strength
omnipotent but unexerted.

From the Hochspitz of the Fluela the track plunges at one bound into
the valley of the Inn, following a narrow cornice carved from the
smooth bank of snow, and hung, without break or barrier, a thousand
feet or more above the torrent. The summer road is lost in snow-drifts.
The galleries built as a protection from avalanches, which sweep in
rivers from those grim, bare fells above, are blocked with snow. Their
useless arches yawn, as we glide over or outside them, by paths which
instinct in our horse and driver traces. As a fly may creep along a
house-roof, slanting downwards we descend. One whisk from the swinged
tail of an avalanche would hurl us, like a fly, into the ruin of the
gaping gorge. But this season little snow has fallen on the higher
hills; and what still lies there, is hard frozen. Therefore we have no
fear, as we whirl fast and faster from the snow-fields into the black
forests of gnarled cembras and wind-wearied pines. Then 55Süss is
reached, where the Inn hurries its shallow waters clogged with
ice-floes through a sleepy hamlet. The stream is pure and green; for
the fountains of the glaciers are locked by winter frosts; and only
clear rills from perennial sources swell its tide. At Süss we lost the
sun, and toiled in garish gloom and silence, nipped by the
ever-deepening cold of evening, upwards for four hours to Samaden.

The next day was spent in visiting the winter colony at San Moritz,
where the Kulm Hotel, tenanted by some twenty guests, presented in its
vastness the appearance of a country-house. One of the prettiest spots
in the world is the ice-rink, fashioned by the skill of Herr Caspar
Badrutt on a high raised terrace, commanding the valley of the Inn and
the ponderous bulwarks of Bernina. The silhouettes of skaters, defined
against that landscape of pure white, passed to and fro beneath a
cloudless sky. Ladies sat and worked or read on seats upon the ice. Not
a breath of wind was astir, and warm beneficent sunlight flooded the
immeasurable air. Only, as the day declined, some iridescent films
overspread the west; and just above Maloja the apparition of a mock
sun—a well-defined circle of opaline light, broken at regular intervals
by four globes—seemed to portend a change of weather. This forecast
fortunately proved delusive. We drove back to Samaden across the silent
snow, enjoying those delicate tints of rose and violet and saffron
which shed enchantment for one hour over the white monotony of Alpine
winter.

At half-past eight next morning, the sun was rising from behind Pitz
Languard, as we crossed the Inn and drove through Pontresina in the
glorious light, with all its huge hotels quite empty and none but a few
country-folk abroad. Those who only know the Engadine in summer have
little conception of its beauty. Winter softens the hard details of
bare rock, and rounds the melancholy grassless mountain 56flanks,
suspending icicles to every ledge and spangling the curved surfaces of
snow with crystals. The landscape gains in purity, and, what sounds
unbelievable, in tenderness. Nor does it lose in grandeur. Looking up
the valley of the Morteratsch that morning, the glaciers were
distinguishable in hues of green and sapphire through their veil of
snow; and the highest peaks soared in a transparency of amethystine
light beneath a blue sky traced with filaments of windy cloud. Some
storm must have disturbed the atmosphere in Italy, for fan-shaped mists
frothed out around the sun, and curled themselves above the mountains
in fine feathery wreaths, melting imperceptibly into air, until, when
we had risen above the cembras, the sky was one deep solid blue.

All that upland wilderness is lovelier now than in the summer; and on
the morning of which I write, the air itself was far more summery than
I have ever known it in the Engadine in August. We could scarcely bear
to place our hands upon the woodwork of the sleigh because of the
fierce sun's heat. And yet the atmosphere was crystalline with windless
frost. As though to increase the strangeness of these contrasts, the
pavement of beaten snow was stained with red drops spilt from
wine-casks which pass over it.

The chief feature of the Bernina—what makes it a dreary pass enough in
summer, but infinitely beautiful in winter—is its breadth; illimitable
undulations of snow-drifts; immensity of open sky; unbroken lines of
white, descending in smooth curves from glittering ice-peaks.

A glacier hangs in air above the frozen lakes, with all its green-blue
ice-cliffs glistening in intensest light. Pitz Palu shoots aloft like
sculptured marble, delicately veined with soft aë;rial shadows of
translucent blue. At the summit of the pass all Italy seems to burst
upon the eyes in those steep serried ranges, with their craggy crests,
violet-hued in noonday 57sunshine, as though a bloom of plum or grape
had been shed over them, enamelling their jagged precipices.

The top of the Bernina is not always thus in winter. It has a bad
reputation for the fury of invading storms, when falling snow hurtles
together with snow scooped from the drifts in eddies, and the weltering
white sea shifts at the will of whirlwinds. The Hospice then may be
tenanted for days together by weather-bound wayfarers; and a line drawn
close beneath its roof shows how two years ago the whole building was
buried in one snow-shroud. This morning we lounged about the door,
while our horses rested and postillions and carters pledged one another
in cups of new Veltliner.

The road takes an awful and sudden dive downwards, quite irrespective
of the carefully engineered post-track. At this season the path is
badly broken into ruts and chasms by the wine traffic. In some places
it was indubitably perilous: a narrow ledge of mere ice skirting thinly
clad hard-frozen banks of snow, which fell precipitately sideways for
hundreds of sheer feet. We did not slip over this parapet, though we
were often within an inch of doing so. Had our horse stumbled, it is
not probable that I should have been writing this.

When we came to the galleries which defend the road from avalanches, we
saw ahead of us a train of over forty sledges ascending, all charged
with Valtelline wine. Our postillions drew up at the inner side of the
gallery, between massive columns of the purest ice dependent from the
rough-hewn roof and walls of rock. A sort of open _loggia_ on the
farther side framed vignettes of the Valtelline mountains in their hard
cerulean shadows and keen sunlight. Between us and the view defiled the
wine-sledges; and as each went by, the men made us drink out of their
_trinketti_. These are oblong, hexagonal wooden kegs, holding about
fourteen litres, 58which the carter fills with wine before he leaves
the Valtelline, to cheer him on the homeward journey. You raise it in
both hands, and when the bung has been removed, allow the liquor to
flow stream-wise down your throat. It was a most extraordinary Bacchic
procession—a pomp which, though undreamed of on the banks of the
Ilissus, proclaimed the deity of Dionysos in authentic fashion.
Struggling horses, grappling at the ice-bound floor with sharp-spiked
shoes; huge, hoarse drivers, some clad in sheepskins from Italian
valleys, some brown as bears in rough Graubünden homespun; casks,
dropping their spilth of red wine on the snow; greetings, embracings;
patois of Bergamo, Romansch, and German roaring around the low-browed
vaults and tingling ice pillars; pourings forth of libations of the new
strong Valtelline on breasts and beards;—the whole made up a scene of
stalwart jollity and manful labour such as I have nowhere else in such
wild circumstances witnessed. Many Davosers were there, the men of
Andreas Gredig, Valär, and so forth; and all of these, on greeting
Christian, forced us to drain a _Schluck_ from their unmanageable
cruses. Then on they went, crying, creaking, struggling, straining
through the corridor, which echoed deafeningly, the gleaming crystals
of those hard Italian mountains in their winter raiment building a
background of still beauty to the savage Bacchanalian riot of the team.

How little the visitors who drink Valtelline wine at S. Moritz or Davos
reflect by what strange ways it reaches them. A sledge can scarcely be
laden with more than one cask of 300 litres on the ascent; and this
cask, according to the state of the road, has many times to be shifted
from wheels to runners and back again before the journey is
accomplished. One carter will take charge of two horses, and
consequently of two sledges and two casks, driving them both by voice
and gesture rather than by rein. When they leave the Valtelline, 59the
carters endeavour, as far as possible, to take the pass in gangs, lest
bad weather or an accident upon the road should overtake them singly.
At night they hardly rest three hours, and rarely think of sleeping,
but spend the time in drinking and conversation. The horses are fed and
littered; but for them too the night-halt is little better than a
baiting-time. In fair weather the passage of the mountain is not
difficult, though tiring. But woe to men and beasts alike if they
encounter storms! Not a few perish in the passes; and it frequently
happens that their only chance is to unyoke the horses and leave the
sledges in a snow-wreath, seeking for themselves such shelter as may
possibly be gained, frost-bitten, after hours of battling with
impermeable drifts. The wine is frozen into one solid mass of rosy ice
before it reaches Pontresina. This does not hurt the young vintage, but
it is highly injurious to wine of some years' standing. The perils of
the journey are aggravated by the savage temper of the drivers.
Jealousies between the natives of rival districts spring up; and there
are men alive who have fought the whole way down from Fluela Hospice to
Davos Platz with knives and stones, hammers and hatchets, wooden staves
and splintered cart-wheels, staining the snow with blood, and bringing
broken pates, bruised limbs, and senseless comrades home to their women
to be tended.

Bacchus Alpinus shepherded his train away from us to northward, and we
passed forth into noonday from the gallery. It then seemed clear that
both conductor and postillion were sufficiently merry. The plunge they
took us down those frozen parapets, with shriek and _jauchzen_ and
cracked whips, was more than ever dangerous. Yet we reached La Rosa
safely. This is a lovely solitary spot, beside a rushing stream, among
grey granite boulders grown with spruce and rhododendron: a veritable
rose of Sharon 60blooming in the desert. The wastes of the Bernina
stretch above, and round about are leaguered some of the most
forbidding sharp-toothed peaks I ever saw. Onwards, across the silent
snow, we glided in immitigable sunshine, through opening valleys and
pine-woods, past the robber-huts of Pisciadella, until at evenfall we
rested in the roadside inn at Poschiavo.

IV

The snow-path ended at Poschiavo; and when, as usual, we started on our
journey next day at sunrise, it was in a carriage upon wheels. Yet even
here we were in full midwinter. Beyond Le Prese the lake presented one
sheet of smooth black ice, reflecting every peak and chasm of the
mountains, and showing the rocks and water-weeds in the clear green
depths below. The glittering floor stretched away for acres of
untenanted expanse, with not a skater to explore those dark mysterious
coves, or strike across the slanting sunlight poured from clefts in the
impendent hills. Inshore the substance of the ice sparkled here and
there with iridescence like the plumelets of a butterfly's wing under
the microscope, wherever light happened to catch the jagged or oblique
flaws that veined its solid crystal.

From the lake the road descends suddenly for a considerable distance
through a narrow gorge, following a torrent which rushes among granite
boulders. Chestnut trees begin to replace the pines. The sunnier
terraces are planted with tobacco, and at a lower level vines appear at
intervals in patches. One comes at length to a great red gate across
the road, which separates Switzerland from Italy, and where the export
dues on wine are paid. The Italian custom-house is romantically perched
above the torrent. Two courteous and elegant _finanzieri_, mere boys,
were sitting wrapped in 61their military cloaks and reading novels in
the sun as we drove up. Though they made some pretence of examining the
luggage, they excused themselves with sweet smiles and apologetic
eyes—it was a disagreeable duty!

A short time brought us to the first village in the Valtelline, where
the road bifurcates northward to Bormio and the Stelvio pass, southward
to Sondrio and Lombardy. It is a little hamlet, known by the name of La
Madonna di Tirano, having grown up round a pilgrimage church of great
beauty, with tall Lombard bell-tower, pierced with many tiers of
pilastered windows, ending in a whimsical spire, and dominating a
fantastic cupola building of the earlier Renaissance. Taken altogether,
this is a charming bit of architecture, picturesquely set beneath the
granite snow-peaks of the Valtelline. The church, they say, was raised
at Madonna's own command to stay the tide of heresy descending from the
Engadine; and in the year 1620, the bronze statue of S. Michael, which
still spreads wide its wings above the cupola, looked down upon the
massacre of six hundred Protestants and foreigners, commanded by the
patriot Jacopo Robustelli.

From Madonna the road leads up the valley through a narrow avenue of
poplar-trees to the town of Tirano. We were now in the district where
Forzato is made, and every vineyard had a name and history. In Tirano
we betook ourself to the house of an old acquaintance of the Buol
family, Bernardo da Campo, or, as the Graubündeners call him, Bernard
Campbèll. We found him at dinner with his son and grandchildren in a
vast, dark, bare Italian chamber. It would be difficult to find a more
typical old Scotchman of the Lowlands than he looked, with his clean
close-shaven face, bright brown eyes, and snow-white hair escaping from
a broad-brimmed hat. He might have sat to a painter for 62some
Covenanter's portrait, except that there was nothing dour about him, or
for an illustration to Burns's 'Cotter's Saturday Night.' The air of
probity and canniness combined with a twinkle of dry humour was
completely Scotch; and when he tapped his snuff-box, telling stories of
old days, I could not refrain from asking him about his pedigree. It
should be said that there is a considerable family of Campèlls or
Campbèlls in the Graubünden, who are fabled to deduce their stock from
a Scotch Protestant of Zwingli's time; and this made it irresistible to
imagine that in our friend Bernardo I had chanced upon a notable
specimen of atavism. All he knew, however, was, that his first ancestor
had been a foreigner, who came across the mountains to Tirano two
centuries ago.[3]

 [3] The Grisons surname Campèll may derive from the Romansch Campo
 Bello. The founder of the house was one Kaspar Campèll, who in the
 first half of the sixteenth century preached the Reformed religion in
 the Engadine.

This old gentleman is a considerable wine-dealer. He sent us with his
son, Giacomo, on a long journey underground through his cellars, where
we tasted several sorts of Valtelline, especially the new Forzato, made
a few weeks since, which singularly combines sweetness with strength,
and both with a slight effervescence. It is certainly the sort of wine
wherewith to tempt a Polyphemus, and not unapt to turn a giant's head.

Leaving Tirano, and once more passing through the poplars by Madonna,
we descended the valley all along the vineyards of Villa and the vast
district of Sassella. Here and there, at wayside inns, we stopped to
drink a glass of some particular vintage; and everywhere it seemed as
though god Bacchus were at home. The whole valley on the right side of
the Adda is one gigantic vineyard, climbing the hills in tiers 63and
terraces, which justify its Italian epithet of _Teatro di Bacco_. The
rock is a greyish granite, assuming sullen brown and orange tints where
exposed to sun and weather. The vines are grown on stakes, not
trellised over trees or carried across boulders, as is the fashion at
Chiavenna or Terlan. Yet every advantage of the mountain is adroitly
used; nooks and crannies being specially preferred, where the sun's
rays are deflected from hanging cliffs. The soil seems deep, and is of
a dull yellow tone. When the vines end, brushwood takes up the growth,
which expires at last in crag and snow. Some alps and chalets, dimly
traced against the sky, are evidences that a pastoral life prevails
above the vineyards. Pan there stretches the pine-thyrsus down to
vine-garlanded Dionysos.

The Adda flows majestically among willows in the midst, and the valley
is nearly straight. The prettiest spot, perhaps, is at Tresenda or S.
Giacomo, where a pass from Edolo and Brescia descends from the southern
hills. But the Valtelline has no great claim to beauty of scenery. Its
chief town, Sondrio, where we supped and drank some special wine called
_il vino de' Signori Grigioni_, has been modernised in dull Italian
fashion.

V

The hotel at Sondrio, La Maddalena, was in carnival uproar of masquers,
topers, and musicians all night through. It was as much as we could do
to rouse the sleepy servants and get a cup of coffee ere we started in
the frozen dawn. 'Verfluchte Maddalena!' grumbled Christian as he
shouldered our portmanteaus and bore them in hot haste to the post.
Long experience only confirms the first impression, that, of all cold,
the cold of an Italian winter is most penetrating. As we lumbered out
of Sondrio in a heavy diligence, I could 64have fancied myself back
once again at Radicofani or among the Ciminian hills. The frost was
penetrating. Fur-coats would not keep it out; and we longed to be once
more in open sledges on Bernina rather than enclosed in that cold
coupé. Now we passed Grumello, the second largest of the renowned vine
districts; and always keeping the white mass of Monte di Disgrazia in
sight, rolled at last into Morbegno. Here the Valtelline vintage
properly ends, though much of the ordinary wine is probably supplied
from the inferior produce of these fields. It was past noon when we
reached Colico, and saw the Lake of Como glittering in sunlight,
dazzling cloaks of snow on all the mountains, which look as dry and
brown as dead beech-leaves at this season. Our Bacchic journey had
reached its close; and it boots not here to tell in detail how we made
our way across the Splügen, piercing its avalanches by low-arched
galleries scooped from the solid snow, and careering in our sledges
down perpendicular snow-fields, which no one who has crossed that pass
from the Italian side in winter will forget. We left the refuge station
at the top together with a train of wine-sledges, and passed them in
the midst of the wild descent. Looking back, I saw two of their horses
stumble in the plunge and roll headlong over. Unluckily in one of these
somersaults a man was injured. Flung ahead into the snow by the first
lurch, the sledge and wine-cask crossed him like a garden-roller. Had
his bed not been of snow, he must have been crushed to death; and as it
was, he presented a woeful appearance when he afterwards arrived at
Splügen.

VI

Though not strictly connected with the subject of this paper, I shall
conclude these notes of winter wanderings in 65the high Alps with an
episode which illustrates their curious vicissitudes.

It was late in the month of March, and nearly all the mountain roads
were open for wheeled vehicles. A carriage and four horses came to meet
us at the termination of a railway journey in Bagalz. We spent one day
in visiting old houses of the Grisons aristocracy at Mayenfeld and
Zizers, rejoicing in the early sunshine, which had spread the fields
with spring flowers—primroses and oxlips, violets, anemones, and bright
blue squills. At Chur we slept, and early next morning started for our
homeward drive to Davos. Bad weather had declared itself in the night.
It blew violently, and the rain soon changed to snow, frozen by a
bitter north blast. Crossing the dreary heath of Lenz was both
magnificent and dreadful. By the time we reached Wiesen, all the
forests were laden with snow, the roads deep in snow-drifts, the whole
scene wintrier than it had been the winter through.

At Wiesen we should have stayed, for evening was fast setting in. But
in ordinary weather it is only a two hours drive from Wiesen to Davos.
Our coachman made no objections to resuming the journey, and our four
horses had but a light load to drag. So we telegraphed for supper to be
prepared, and started between five and six.

A deep gorge has to be traversed, where the torrent cleaves its way
between jaws of limestone precipices. The road is carried along ledges
and through tunnels in the rock. Avalanches, which sweep this passage
annually from the hills above, give it the name of Züge, or the
Snow-Paths. As we entered the gorge darkness fell, the horses dragged
more heavily, and it soon became evident that our Tyrolese driver was
hopelessly drunk. He nearly upset us twice by taking sharp turns in the
road, banged the carriage against telegraph 66posts and jutting rocks,
shaved the very verge of the torrent in places where there was no
parapet, and, what was worst of all, refused to leave his box without a
fight. The darkness by this time was all but total, and a blinding
snow-storm swept howling through the ravine. At length we got the
carriage to a dead-stop, and floundered out in deep wet snow toward
some wooden huts where miners in old days made their habitation. The
place, by a curious, perhaps unconscious irony, is called Hoffnungsau,
or the Meadow of Hope. Indeed, it is not ill named; for many wanderers,
escaping, as we did, from the dreadful gorge of Avalanches on a stormy
night, may have felt, as we now felt, their hope reviving when they
reached this shelter.

There was no light; nothing above, beneath, around, on any side, but
tearing tempest and snow whirled through the ravine. The horses were
taken out of the carriage; on their way to the stable, which
fortunately in these mountain regions will be always found beside the
poorest habitation, one of them fell back across a wall and nearly
broke his spine. Hoffnungsau is inhabited all through the year. In its
dismal dark kitchen we found a knot of workmen gathered together, and
heard there were two horses on the premises besides our own. It then
occurred to us that we might accomplish the rest of the journey with
such sledges as they bring the wood on from the hills in winter, if
coal-boxes or boxes of any sort could be provided. These should be
lashed to the sledges and filled with hay. We were only four persons;
my wife and a friend should go in one, myself and my little girl in the
other. No sooner thought of than put into practice. These original
conveyances were improvised, and after two hours' halt on the Meadow of
Hope, we all set forth again at half-past eight.

I have rarely felt anything more piercing than the grim 67cold of that
journey. We crawled at a foot's pace through changeful snow-drifts. The
road was obliterated, and it was my duty to keep a petroleum
stable-lamp swinging to illuminate the untracked wilderness. My little
girl was snugly nested in the hay, and sound asleep with a deep white
covering of snow above her. Meanwhile, the drift clave in frozen masses
to our faces, lashed by a wind so fierce and keen that it was difficult
to breathe it. My forehead-bone ached, as though with neuralgia, from
the mere mask of icy snow upon it, plastered on with frost. Nothing
could be seen but millions of white specks, whirled at us in eddying
concentric circles. Not far from the entrance to the village we met our
house-folk out with lanterns to look for us. It was past eleven at
night when at last we entered warm rooms and refreshed ourselves for
the tiring day with a jovial champagne supper. Horses, carriage, and
drunken driver reached home next morning.

68



OLD TOWNS OF PROVENCE


Travellers journeying southward from Paris first meet with olive-trees
near Montdragon or Monsélimart—little towns, with old historic names,
upon the road to Orange. It is here that we begin to feel ourselves
within the land of Provence, where the Romans found a second Italy, and
where the autumn of their antique civilisation was followed, almost
without an intermediate winter of barbarism, by the light and delicate
springtime of romance. Orange itself is full of Rome. Indeed, the ghost
of the dead empire seems there to be more real and living than the
actual flesh and blood of modern time, as represented by narrow dirty
streets and mean churches. It is the shell of the huge theatre,
hollowed from the solid hill, and fronted with a wall that seems made
rather to protect a city than to form a sounding-board for a stage,
which first tells us that we have reached the old Arausio. Of all
theatres this is the most impressive, stupendous, indestructible, the
Colosseum hardly excepted; for in Rome herself we are prepared for
something gigantic, while in the insignificant Arausio—a sort of
antique Tewkesbury—to find such magnificence, durability, and vastness,
impresses one with a nightmare sense that the old lioness of Empire can
scarcely yet be dead. Standing before the colossal, towering, amorphous
precipice which formed the background of the scena, we feel as if once
more the 'heart-shaking sound of Consul Romanus' might be heard; as if
Roman knights and deputies, arisen 69from the dead, with faces hard and
stern as those of the warriors carved on Trajan's frieze, might take
their seats beneath us in the orchestra, and, after proclamation made,
the mortmain of imperial Rome be laid upon the comforts, liberties, and
little gracefulnesses of our modern life. Nor is it unpleasant to be
startled from such reverie by the voice of the old guardian upon the
stage beneath, sonorously devolving the vacuous Alexandrines with which
he once welcomed his ephemeral French emperor from Algiers. The little
man is dim with distance, eclipsed and swallowed up by the shadows and
grotesque fragments of the ruin in the midst of which he stands. But
his voice—thanks to the inimitable constructive art of the ancient
architect, which, even in the desolation of at least thirteen
centuries, has not lost its cunning-emerges from the pigmy throat, and
fills the whole vast hollow with its clear, if tiny, sound. Thank
heaven, there is no danger of Roman resurrection here! The illusion is
completely broken, and we turn to gather the first violets of February,
and to wonder at the quaint postures of a praying mantis on the grass
grown tiers and porches fringed with fern.

The sense of Roman greatness which is so oppressive in Orange and in
many other parts of Provence, is not felt at Avignon. Here we exchange
the ghost of Imperial for the phantom of Ecclesiastical Rome. The fixed
epithet of Avignon is Papal; and as the express train rushes over its
bleak and wind-tormented plain, the heavy dungeon-walls and
battlemented towers of its palace fortress seem to warn us off, and bid
us quickly leave the Babylon of exiled impious Antichrist. Avignon
presents the bleakest, barest, greyest scene upon a February morning,
when the incessant mistral is blowing, and far and near, upon desolate
hillside and sandy plain, the scanty trees are bent sideways, the
crumbling castle turrets shivering like bleached skeletons in the dry
ungenial air. Yet 70inside the town, all is not so dreary. The Papal
palace, with its terrible Glacière, its chapel painted by Simone Memmi,
its endless corridors and staircases, its torture-chamber,
funnel-shaped to drown and suffocate—so runs tradition—the shrieks of
wretches on the rack, is now a barrack, filled with lively little
French soldiers, whose politeness, though sorely taxed, is never
ruffled by the introduction of inquisitive visitors into their
dormitories, eating-places, and drill-grounds. And strange, indeed, it
is to see the lines of neat narrow barrack beds, between which the
red-legged little men are shaving, polishing their guns, or mending
their trousers, in those vaulted halls of popes and cardinals, those
vast presence-chambers and audience-galleries, where Urban entertained
S. Catherine, where Rienzi came, a prisoner, to be stared at. Pass by
the Glacière with a shudder, for it has still the reek of blood about
it; and do not long delay in the cheerless dungeon of Rienzi. Time and
regimental whitewash have swept these lurking-places of old crime very
bare; but the parable of the seven devils is true in more senses than
one, and the ghosts that return to haunt a deodorised, disinfected,
garnished sepulchre are almost more ghastly than those which have never
been disturbed from their old habitations.

Little by little the eye becomes accustomed to the bareness and
greyness of this Provençal landscape; and then we find that the scenery
round Avignon is eminently picturesque. The view from Les Doms—which is
a hill above the Pope's palace, the Acropolis, as it were, of
Avignon—embraces a wide stretch of undulating champaign, bordered by
low hills, and intersected by the flashing waters of the majestic
Rhone. Across the stream stands Villeneuve, like a castle of romance,
with its round stone towers fronting the gates and battlemented walls
of the Papal city. A bridge used to connect the two towns, but it is
now broken. The remaining fragment is of 71solid build, resting on
great buttresses, one of which rises fantastically above the bridge
into a little chapel. Such, one might fancy, was the bridge which
Ariosto's Rodomonte kept on horse against the Paladins of Charlemagne,
when angered by the loss of his love. Nor is it difficult to imagine
Bradamante spurring up the slope against him with her magic lance in
rest, and tilting him into the tawny waves beneath.

On a clear October morning, when the vineyards are taking their last
tints of gold and crimson, and the yellow foliage of the poplars by the
river mingles with the sober greys of olive-trees and willows, every
square inch of this landscape, glittering as it does with light and
with colour, the more beautiful for its subtlety and rarity, would make
a picture. Out of many such vignettes let us choose one. We are on the
shore close by the ruined bridge, the rolling muddy Rhone in front;
beyond it, by the towing-path, a tall strong cypress-tree rises beside
a little house, and next to it a crucifix twelve feet or more in
height, the Christ visible afar, stretched upon His red cross; arundo
donax is waving all around, and willows near; behind, far off, soar the
peaked hills, blue and pearled with clouds; past the cypress, on the
Rhone, comes floating a long raft, swift through the stream, its rudder
guided by a score of men: one standing erect upon the prow bends
forward to salute the cross; on flies the raft, the tall reeds rustle,
and the cypress sleeps.

For those who have time to spare in going to or from the south it is
worth while to spend a day or two in the most comfortable and
characteristic of old French inns, the Hôtel de l'Europe, at Avignon.
Should it rain, the museum of the town is worth a visit. It contains
Horace Vernet's not uncelebrated picture of Mazeppa, and another, less
famous, but perhaps more interesting, by swollen-cheeked David, the
72'genius in convulsion,' as Carlyle has christened him. His canvas is
unfinished. Who knows what cry of the Convention made the painter fling
his palette down and leave the masterpiece he might have spoiled? For
in its way the picture is a masterpiece. There lies Jean Barrad,
drummer, aged fourteen, slain in La Vendée, a true patriot, who, while
his life-blood flowed away, pressed the tricolor cockade to his heart,
and murmured 'Liberty!' David has treated his subject classically. The
little drummer-boy, though French enough in feature and in feeling,
lies, Greek-like, naked on the sand—a very Hyacinth of the Republic, La
Vendée's Ilioneus. The tricolor cockade and the sentiment of upturned
patriotic eyes are the only indications of his being a hero in his
teens, a citizen who thought it sweet to die for France.

In fine weather a visit to Vaucluse should by no means be omitted, not
so much, perhaps, for Petrarch's sake as for the interest of the drive,
and for the marvel of the fountain of the Sorgues. For some time after
leaving Avignon you jog along the level country between avenues of
plane-trees; then comes a hilly ridge, on which the olives, mulberries,
and vineyards join their colours and melt subtly into distant purple.
After crossing this we reach L'Isle, an island village girdled by the
gliding Sorgues, overshadowed with gigantic plane-boughs, and echoing
to the plash of water dripped from mossy fern-tufted millwheels. Those
who expect Petrarch's Sorgues to be some trickling poet's rill emerging
from a damp grotto, may well be astounded at the rush and roar of this
azure river so close upon its fountain-head. It has a volume and an
arrow-like rapidity that communicate the feeling of exuberance and
life. In passing, let it not be forgotten that it was somewhere or
other in this 'chiaro fondo di Sorga,' as Carlyle describes, that
Jourdain, the hangman-hero of the Glacière, stuck fast upon his pony
when flying from his foes, 73and had his accursed life, by some
diabolical providence, spared for future butcheries. On we go across
the austere plain, between fields of madder, the red roots of the
'garance' lying in swathes along the furrows. In front rise ash-grey
hills of barren rock, here and there crimsoned with the leaves of the
dwarf sumach. A huge cliff stands up and seems to bar all passage. Yet
the river foams in torrents at our side. Whence can it issue? What pass
or cranny in that precipice is cloven for its escape? These questions
grow in interest as we enter the narrow defile of limestone rocks which
leads to the cliff-barrier, and find ourselves among the figs and
olives of Vaucluse. Here is the village, the little church, the ugly
column to Petrarch's memory, the inn, with its caricatures of Laura,
and its excellent trout, the bridge and the many-flashing, eddying
Sorgues, lashed by millwheels, broken by weirs, divided in its course,
channelled and dyked, yet flowing irresistibly and undefiled. Blue,
purple, greened by moss and water-weeds, silvered by snow-white
pebbles, on its pure smooth bed the river runs like elemental diamond,
so clear and fresh. The rocks on either side are grey or yellow,
terraced into oliveyards, with here and there a cypress, fig, or
mulberry tree. Soon the gardens cease, and lentisk, rosemary, box, and
ilex—shrubs of Provence—with here and there a sumach out of reach,
cling to the hard stone. And so at last we are brought face to face
with the sheer impassable precipice. At its basement sleeps a pool,
perfectly untroubled; a lakelet in which the sheltering rocks and
nestling wild figs are glassed as in a mirror—a mirror of blue-black
water, like amethyst or fluor-spar—so pure, so still, that where it
laps the pebbles you can scarcely say where air begins and water ends.
This, then, is Petrarch's 'grotto;' this is the fountain of Vaucluse.
Up from its deep reservoirs, from the mysterious basements of the
mountain, wells the silent stream; pauseless 74and motionless it fills
its urn, rises unruffled, glides until the brink is reached, then
overflows, and foams, and dashes noisily, a cataract, among the
boulders of the hills. Nothing at Vaucluse is more impressive than the
contrast between the tranquil silence of the fountain and the roar of
the released impetuous river. Here we can realise the calm clear eyes
of sculptured water-gods, their brimming urns, their gushing streams,
the magic of the mountain-born and darkness-cradled flood. Or again,
looking up at the sheer steep cliff, 800 feet in height, and arching
slightly roofwise, so that no rain falls upon the cavern of the pool,
we seem to see the stroke of Neptune's trident, the hoof of Pegasus,
the force of Moses' rod, which cleft rocks and made water gush forth in
the desert. There is a strange fascination in the spot. As our eyes
follow the white pebble which cleaves the surface and falls visibly,
until the veil of azure is too thick for sight to pierce, we feel as if
some glamour were drawing us, like Hylas, to the hidden caves. At
least, we long to yield a prized and precious offering to the spring,
to grace the nymph of Vaucluse with a pearl of price as token of our
reverence and love.

Meanwhile nothing has been said about Petrarch, who himself said much
about the spring, and complained against those very nymphs to whom we
have in wish, at least, been scattering jewels, that they broke his
banks and swallowed up his gardens every winter. At Vaucluse Petrarch
loved, and lived, and sang. He has made Vaucluse famous, and will never
be forgotten there. But for the present the fountain is even more
attractive than the memory of the poet.[4]

 [4] I have translated and printed at the end of the second volume some
 sonnets of Petrarch as a kind of palinode for this impertinence.

The change from Avignon to Nismes is very trying to the latter place;
for Nismes is not picturesquely or historically 75interesting. It is a
prosperous modern French town with two almost perfect Roman
monuments—Les Arènes and the Maison Carrée. The amphitheatre is a
complete oval, visible at one glance. Its smooth white stone, even
where it has not been restored, seems unimpaired by age; and Charles
Martel's conflagration, when he burned the Saracen hornet's nest inside
it, has only blackened the outer walls and arches venerably. Utility
and perfect adaptation of means to ends form the beauty of Roman
buildings. The science of construction and large intelligence displayed
in them, their strength, simplicity, solidity, and purpose, are their
glory. Perhaps there is only one modern edifice—Palladio's Palazzo
della Ragione at Vicenza—which approaches the dignity and loftiness of
Roman architecture; and this it does because of its absolute freedom
from ornament, the vastness of its design, and the durability of its
material. The temple, called the Maison Carrée, at Nismes, is also very
perfect, and comprehended at one glance. Light, graceful, airy, but
rather thin and narrow, it reminds one of the temple of Fortuna Virilis
at Rome.

But if Nismes itself is not picturesque, its environs contain the
wonderful Pont du Gard. A two or three hours' drive leads through a
desolate country to the valley of the Cardon, where suddenly, at a turn
of the road, one comes upon the aqueduct. It is not within the scope of
words to describe the impression produced by those vast arches, row
above row, cutting the deep blue sky. The domed summer clouds sailing
across them are comprehended in the gigantic span of their perfect
semicircles, which seem rather to have been described by Miltonic
compasses of Deity than by merely human mathematics. Yet, standing
beneath one of the vaults and looking upward, you may read Roman
numerals in order from I. to X., which prove their human origin well
enough. 76Next to their strength, regularity, and magnitude, the most
astonishing point about this triple tier of arches, piled one above the
other to a height of 180 feet above a brawling stream between two
barren hills, is their lightness. The arches are not thick; the
causeway on the top is only just broad enough for three men to walk
abreast. So smooth and perpendicular are the supporting walls that
scarcely a shrub or tuft of grass has grown upon the aqueduct in all
these years. And yet the huge fabric is strengthened by no buttress,
has needed no repair. This lightness of structure, combined with such
prodigious durability, produces the strongest sense of science and
self-reliant power in the men who designed it. None but Romans could
have built such a monument, and have set it in such a place—a
wilderness of rock and rolling hill, scantily covered with low
brushwood, and browsed over by a few sheep—for such a purpose, too, in
order to supply Nemausus with pure water. The modern town does pretty
well without its water; but here subsists the civilisation of eighteen
centuries past intact: the human labour yet remains, the measuring,
contriving mind of man, shrinking from no obstacles, spanning the air,
and in one edifice combining gigantic strength and perfect beauty. It
is impossible not to echo Rousseau's words in such a place, and to say
with him: 'Le retentissement de mes pas dans ces immenses voûtes me
faisait croire entendre la forte voix de ceux qui les avaient bâties.
Je me perdais comme un insecte dans cette immensité. Je sentais, tout
en me faisant petit, je ne sais quoi qui m'élevait l'âme; et je me
disais en soupirant, Que ne suis-je né Romain!'

There is nothing at Arles which produces the same deep and indelible
impression. Yet Arles is a far more interesting town than Nismes,
partly because of the Rhone delta which begins there, partly because of
its ruinous antiquity, and 77partly also because of the strong local
character of its population. The amphitheatre of Arles is vaster and
more sublime in its desolation than the tidy theatre at Nismes; the
crypts, and dens, and subterranean passages suggest all manner of
speculation as to the uses to which they may have been appropriated;
while the broken galleries outside, intricate and black and cavernous,
like Piranesi's etchings of the 'Carceri,' present the wildest pictures
of greatness in decay, fantastic dilapidation. The ruins of the smaller
theatre, again, with their picturesquely grouped fragments and their
standing columns, might be sketched for a frontispiece to some
dilettante work on classical antiquities. For the rest, perhaps the
Aliscamps, or ancient Roman burial-ground, is the most interesting
thing at Arles, not only because of Dante's celebrated lines in the
canto of 'Farinata:'—

Si come ad Arli ove 'l Rodano stagna,
Fanno i sepolcri tutto 'l loco varo;


but also because of the intrinsic picturesqueness of this avenue of
sepulchres beneath green trees upon a long soft grassy field.

But as at Avignon and Nismes, so also at Arles, one of the chief
attractions of the place lies at a distance, and requires a special
expedition. The road to Les Baux crosses a true Provençal desert where
one realises the phrase, 'Vieux comme les rochers de Provence,'—a
wilderness of grey stone, here and there worn into cart-tracks, and
tufted with rosemary, box, lavender, and lentisk. On the way it passes
the Abbaye de Mont Majeur, a ruin of gigantic size, embracing all
periods of architecture; where nothing seems to flourish now but
henbane and the wild cucumber, or to breathe but a mumble-toothed and
terrible old hag. The ruin stands above a desolate marsh, its vast
Italian buildings of Palladian splendour 78looking more forlorn in
their decay than the older and austerer mediæval towers, which rise up
proud and patient and defiantly erect beneath the curse of time. When
at length what used to be the castle town of Les Baux is reached, you
find a naked mountain of yellow sandstone, worn away by nature into
bastions and buttresses and coigns of vantage, sculptured by ancient
art into palaces and chapels, battlements and dungeons. Now art and
nature are confounded in one ruin. Blocks of masonry lie cheek by jowl
with masses of the rough-hewn rock; fallen cavern vaults are heaped
round fragments of fan-shaped spandrel and clustered column-shaft; the
doors and windows of old pleasure-rooms are hung with ivy and wild fig
for tapestry; winding staircases start midway upon the cliff, and lead
to vacancy. High overhead suspended in mid-air hang chambers—lady's
bower or poet's singing-room—now inaccessible, the haunt of hawks and
swallows. Within this rocky honeycomb—'cette ville en monolithe,' as it
has been aptly called, for it is literally scooped out of one mountain
block—live about two hundred poor people, foddering their wretched
goats at carved piscina and stately sideboards, erecting mud
beplastered hovels in the halls of feudal princes. Murray is wrong in
calling the place a mediæval town in its original state, for anything
more purely ruinous, more like a decayed old cheese, cannot possibly be
conceived. The living only inhabit the tombs of the dead. At the end of
the last century, when revolutionary effervescence was beginning to
ferment, the people of Arles swept all its feudality away, defacing the
very arms upon the town gate, and trampling the palace towers to dust.

The castle looks out across a vast extent of plain over Arles, the
stagnant Rhone, the Camargue, and the salt pools of the lingering sea.
In old days it was the eyrie of an eagle race called Seigneurs of Les
Baux; and whether they took their 79title from the rock, or whether, as
genealogists would have it, they gave the name of Oriental
Balthazar—their reputed ancestor, one of the Magi—to the rock itself,
remains a mystery not greatly worth the solving.

Anyhow, here they lived and flourished, these feudal princes, bearing
for their ensign a silver comet of sixteen rays upon a field of
gules—themselves a comet race, baleful to the neighbouring lowlands,
blazing with lurid splendour over wide tracts of country, a burning,
raging, fiery-souled, swift-handed tribe, in whom a flame unquenchable
glowed from son to sire through twice five hundred years until, in the
sixteenth century, they were burned out, and nothing remained but
cinders—these broken ruins of their eyrie, and some outworn and dusty
titles. Very strange are the fate and history of these same titles:
King of Arles, for instance, savouring of troubadour and high romance;
Prince of Tarentum, smacking of old plays and Italian novels; Prince of
Orange, which the Nassaus, through the Châlons, seized in all its
emptiness long after the real principality had passed away, and came
therewith to sit on England's throne.

The Les Baux in their heyday were patterns of feudal nobility. They
warred incessantly with Counts of Provence, archbishops and burghers of
Arles, Queens of Naples, Kings of Aragon. Crusading, pillaging,
betraying, spending their substance on the sword, and buying it again
by deeds of valour or imperial acts of favour, tuning troubadour harps,
presiding at courts of love,—they filled a large page in the history of
Southern France. The Les Baux were very superstitious. In the fulness
of their prosperity they restricted the number of their dependent
towns, or _places baussenques_, to seventy-nine, because these numbers
in combination were thought to be of good omen to their house. Beral
des Baux, Seigneur of Marseilles, was one day starting on a journey
80with his whole force to Avignon. He met an old woman herb-gathering
at daybreak, and said, 'Mother, hast thou seen a crow or other bird?'
'Yea,' answered the crone, 'on the trunk of a dead willow.' Beral
counted upon his fingers the day of the year, and turned bridle. With
troubadours of name and note they had dealings, but not always to their
own advantage, as the following story testifies. When the Baux and
Berengers were struggling for the countship of Provence, Raymond
Berenger, by his wife's counsel, went, attended by troubadours, to meet
the Emperor Frederick at Milan. There he sued for the investiture and
ratification of Provence. His troubadours sang and charmed Frederick;
and the Emperor, for the joy he had in them, wrote his celebrated lines
beginning—

Plas mi cavalier Francez.


And when Berenger made his request he met with no refusal. Hearing
thereof, the lords of Baux came down in wrath with a clangour of armed
men. But music had already gained the day; and where the Phoebus of
Provence had shone, the Æolus of storm-shaken Les Baux was powerless.
Again, when Blacas, a knight of Provence, died, the great Sordello
chanted one of his most fiery hymns, bidding the princes of Christendom
flock round and eat the heart of the dead lord. 'Let Rambaude des
Baux,' cries the bard, with a sarcasm that is clearly meant, but at
this distance almost unintelligible, 'take also a good piece, for she
is fair and good and truly virtuous; let her keep it well who knows so
well to husband her own weal.' But the poets were not always adverse to
the house of Baux. Fouquet, the beautiful and gentle melodist whom
Dante placed in paradise, served Adelaisie, wife of Berald, with long
service of unhappy love, and wrote upon her death 'The Complaint of
Berald des Baux for Adelaisie.' Guillaume de Cabestan loved Berangère
des Baux, and was 81so loved by her that she gave him a philtre to
drink, whereof he sickened and grew mad. Many more troubadours are
cited as having frequented the castle of Les Baux, and among the
members of the princely house were several poets.

Some of them were renowned for beauty. We hear of a Cécile, called
Passe Rose, because of her exceeding loveliness; also of an unhappy
François, who, after passing eighteen years in prison, yet won the
grace and love of Joan of Naples by his charms. But the real temper of
this fierce tribe was not shown among troubadours, or in the courts of
love and beauty. The stern and barren rock from which they sprang, and
the comet of their scutcheon, are the true symbols of their nature.
History records no end of their ravages and slaughters. It is a tedious
catalogue of blood—how one prince put to fire and sword the whole town
of Courthezon; how another was stabbed in prison by his wife; how a
third besieged the castle of his niece, and sought to undermine her
chamber, knowing her the while to be in childbed; how a fourth was
flayed alive outside the walls of Avignon. There is nothing terrible,
splendid, and savage, belonging to feudal history, of which an example
may not be found in the annals of Les Baux, as narrated by their
chronicler, Jules Canonge.

However abrupt may seem the transition from these memories of the
ancient nobles of Les Baux to mere matters of travel and
picturesqueness, it would be impossible to take leave of the old towns
of Provence without glancing at the cathedrals of S. Trophime at Arles,
and of S. Gilles—a village on the border of the dreary flamingo-haunted
Camargue. Both of these buildings have porches splendidly encrusted
with sculptures, half classical, half mediæval, marking the transition
from ancient to modern art. But that of S. Gilles is by far the richer
and more elaborate. The whole façade of 82this church is one mass of
intricate decoration; Norman arches and carved lions, like those of
Lombard architecture, mingling fantastically with Greek scrolls of
fruit and flowers, with elegant Corinthian columns jutting out upon the
church steps, and with the old conventional wave-border that is called
Etruscan in our modern jargon. From the midst of florid fret and
foliage lean mild faces of saints and Madonnas. Symbols of evangelists
with half-human, half-animal eyes and wings, are interwoven with the
leafy bowers of cupids. Grave apostles stand erect beneath acanthus
wreaths that ought to crisp the forehead of a laughing Faun or Bacchus.
And yet so full, exuberant, and deftly chosen are these various
elements, that there remains no sense of incongruity or discord. The
mediæval spirit had much trouble to disentangle itself from classic
reminiscences; and fortunately for the picturesqueness of S. Gilles, it
did not succeed. How strangely different is the result of this
transition in the south from those severe and rigid forms which we call
Romanesque in Germany and Normandy and England!

83



THE CORNICE


It was a dull afternoon in February when we left Nice, and drove across
the mountains to Mentone. Over hill and sea hung a thick mist. Turbia's
Roman tower stood up in cheerless solitude, wreathed round with driving
vapour, and the rocky nest of Esa seemed suspended in a chaos between
sea and sky. Sometimes the fog broke and showed us Villafranca, lying
green and flat in the deep blue below: sometimes a distant view of
higher peaks swam into sight from the shifting cloud. But the whole
scene was desolate. Was it for this that we had left our English home,
and travelled from London day and night? At length we reached the edge
of the cloud, and jingled down by Roccabruna and the olive-groves, till
one by one Mentone's villas came in sight, and at last we found
ourselves at the inn door. That night, and all next day and the next
night, we heard the hoarse sea beat and thunder on the beach. The rain
and wind kept driving from the south, but we consoled ourselves with
thinking that the orange-trees and every kind of flower were drinking
in the moisture and waiting to rejoice in sunlight which would come.

It was a Sunday morning when we woke and found that the rain had gone,
the sun was shining brightly on the sea, and a clear north wind was
blowing cloud and mist away. Out upon the hills we went, not caring
much what path we took; for everything was beautiful, and hill and vale
were 84full of garden walks. Through lemon-groves,—pale, golden-tender
trees,—and olives, stretching their grey boughs against the lonely
cottage tiles, we climbed, until we reached the pines and heath above.
Then I knew the meaning of Theocritus for the first time. We found a
well, broad, deep, and clear, with green herbs growing at the bottom, a
runlet flowing from it down the rocky steps, maidenhair, black
adiantum, and blue violets, hanging from the brink and mirrored in the
water. This was just the well in _Hylas_. Theocritus has been badly
treated. They call him a court poet, dead to Nature, artificial in his
pictures. Yet I recognised this fountain by his verse, just as if he
had showed me the very spot. Violets grow everywhere, of every shade,
from black to lilac. Their stalks are long, and the flowers 'nod' upon
them, so that I see how the Greeks could make them into chaplets—how
Lycidas wore his crown of white violets[5] lying by the fireside
elbow-deep in withered asphodel, watching the chestnuts in the embers,
and softly drinking deep healths to Ageanax far off upon the waves. It
is impossible to go wrong in these valleys. They are cultivated to the
height of about five hundred feet above the sea, in terraces
laboriously built up with walls, earthed and manured, and irrigated by
means of tanks and aqueducts. Above this level, where the virgin soil
has not been yet reclaimed, or where the winds of winter bring down
freezing currents from the mountains through a gap or gully of the
lower hills, a tangled growth of heaths and arbutus, and pines, and
rosemarys, and myrtles, continue the vegetation, till it finally ends
in bare grey rocks and peaks some thousand feet in height. Far above
all signs of cultivation 85on these arid peaks, you still may see
villages and ruined castles, built centuries ago for a protection from
the Moorish pirates. To these mountain fastnesses the people of the
coast retreated when they descried the sails of their foes on the
horizon. In Mentone, not very long ago, old men might be seen who in
their youth were said to have been taken captive by the Moors; and many
Arabic words have found their way into the patois of the people.

 [5] This begs the question whether λευκόϊον does not properly mean
 snowflake, or some such flower. Violets in Greece, however, were often
 used for crowns: ΐοστέφανος  is the epithet of Homer for Aphrodite,
 and of Aristophanes for Athens.

There is something strangely fascinating in the sight of these ruins on
the burning rocks, with their black sentinel cypresses, immensely tall
and far away. Long years and rain and sunlight have made these
castellated eyries one with their native stone. It is hard to trace in
their foundations where Nature's workmanship ends and where man's
begins. What strange sights the mountain villagers must see! The vast
blue plain of the unfurrowed deep, the fairy range of Corsica hung
midway between the sea and sky at dawn or sunset, the stars so close
above their heads, the deep dew-sprinkled valleys, the green pines! On
penetrating into one of these hill-fortresses, you find that it is a
whole village, with a church and castle and piazza, some few feet
square, huddled together on a narrow platform. We met one day three
magnates of Gorbio taking a morning stroll backwards and forwards, up
and down their tiny square. Vehemently gesticulating, loudly
chattering, they talked as though they had not seen each other for ten
years, and were but just unloading their budgets of accumulated news.
Yet these three men probably had lived, eaten, drunk, and talked
together from the cradle to that hour: so true it is that use and
custom quicken all our powers, especially of 93gossiping and
scandal-mongering. S. Agnese is the highest and most notable of all
these villages. The cold and heat upon its absolutely barren rock must
be alike intolerable. In appearance 86it is not unlike the Etruscan
towns of Central Italy; but there is something, of course, far more
imposing in the immense antiquity and the historical associations of a
Narni, a Fiesole, a Chiusi, or an Orvieto. Sea-life and rusticity
strike a different note from that of those Apennine-girdled seats of
dead civilisation, in which nations, arts, and religions have gone by
and left but few traces,—some wrecks of giant walls, some excavated
tombs, some shrines, where monks still sing and pray above the relics
of the founders of once world-shaking, now almost forgotten, orders.
Here at Mentone there is none of this; the idyllic is the true note,
and Theocritus is still alive.

We do not often scale these altitudes, but keep along the terraced
glades by the side of olive-shaded streams. The violets, instead of
peeping shyly from hedgerows, fall in ripples and cascades over mossy
walls among maidenhair and spleen-worts. They are very sweet, and the
sound of trickling water seems to mingle with their fragrance in a most
delicious harmony. Sound, smell, and hue make up one chord, the sense
of which is pure and perfect peace. The country-people are kind,
letting us pass everywhere, so that we make our way along their
aqueducts and through their gardens, under laden lemon-boughs, the pale
fruit dangling at our ears, and swinging showers of scented dew upon us
as we pass. Far better, however, than lemon or orange trees, are the
olives. Some of these are immensely old, numbering, it is said, five
centuries, so that Petrarch may almost have rested beneath their shade
on his way to Avignon. These veterans are cavernous with age: gnarled,
split, and twisted trunks, throwing out arms that break into a hundred
branches; every branch distinct, and feathered with innumerable sparks
and spikelets of white, wavy, greenish light. These are the leaves, and
the stems are grey with lichens. The sky and sea—two blues, one full
87of sunlight and the other purple—set these fountains of perennial
brightness like gems in lapis-lazuli. At a distance the same olives
look hoary and soft—a veil of woven light or luminous haze. When the
wind blows their branches all one way, they ripple like a sea of
silver. But underneath their covert, in the shade, grey periwinkles
wind among the snowy drift of allium. The narcissus sends its arrowy
fragrance through the air, while, far and wide, red anemones burn like
fire, with interchange of blue and lilac buds, white arums, orchises,
and pink gladiolus. Wandering there, and seeing the pale flowers, stars
white and pink and odorous, we dream of Olivet, or the grave Garden of
the Agony, and the trees seem always whispering of sacred things. How
people can blaspheme against the olives, and call them imitations of
the willow, or complain that they are shabby shrubs, I do not know.[6]

 [6] Olive-trees must be studied at Mentone or San Remo, in Corfu, at
 Tivoli, on the coast between Syracuse and Catania, or on the lowlands
 of Apulia. The stunted but productive trees of the Rhone valley, for
 example, are no real measure of the beauty they can exhibit.

This shore would stand for Shelley's Island of Epipsychidion, or the
golden age which Empedocles describes, when the mild nations worshipped
Aphrodite with incense and the images of beasts and yellow honey, and
no blood was spilt upon her altars—when 'the trees flourished with
perennial leaves and fruit, and ample crops adorned their boughs
through all the year.' This even now is literally true of the
lemon-groves, which do not cease to flower and ripen. Everything fits
in to complete the reproduction of Greek pastoral life. The goats eat
cytisus and myrtle on the shore; a whole flock gathered round me as I
sat beneath a tuft of golden green euphorbia the other day, and nibbled
bread from my hands. The frog still croaks by tank and 88fountain,
'whom the Muses have ordained to sing for aye,' in spite of Bion's
death. The narcissus, anemone, and hyacinth still tell their tales of
love and death. Hesper still gazes on the shepherd from the
mountain-head. The slender cypresses still vibrate, the pines murmur.
Pan sleeps in noontide heat, and goat-herds and wayfaring men lie down
to slumber by the roadside, under olive-boughs in which cicadas sing.
The little villages high up are just as white, the mountains just as
grey and shadowy when evening falls. Nothing is changed—except
ourselves. I expect to find a statue of Priapus or pastoral Pan, hung
with wreaths of flowers—the meal cake, honey, and spilt wine upon his
altar, and young boys and maidens dancing round. Surely, in some
far-off glade, by the side of lemon-grove or garden, near the village,
there must be still a pagan remnant of glad Nature-worship. Surely I
shall chance upon some Thyrsis piping in the pine-tree shade, or Daphne
flying from the arms of Phoebus. So I dream until I come upon the
Calvary set on a solitary hillock, with its prayer-steps lending a wide
prospect across the olives and the orange-trees, and the broad valleys,
to immeasurable skies and purple seas. There is the iron cross, the
wounded heart, the spear, the reed, the nails, the crown of thorns, the
cup of sacrificial blood, the title, with its superscription royal and
divine. The other day we crossed a brook and entered a lemon-field,
rich with blossoms and carpeted with red anemones. Everything basked in
sunlight and glittered with exceeding brilliancy of hue. A tiny white
chapel stood in a corner of the enclosure. Two iron-grated windows let
me see inside: it was a bare place, containing nothing but a wooden
praying-desk, black and worm-eaten, an altar with its candles and no
flowers, and above the altar a square picture brown with age. On the
floor were scattered several pence, and in a vase above the holy-water
vessel stood 89some withered hyacinths. As my sight became accustomed
to the gloom, I could see from the darkness of the picture a pale
Christ nailed to the cross with agonising upward eyes and ashy aureole
above the bleeding thorns. Thus I stepped suddenly away from the
outward pomp and bravery of nature to the inward aspirations, agonies,
and martyrdoms of man—from Greek legends of the past to the real
Christian present—and I remembered that an illimitable prospect has
been opened to the world, that in spite of ourselves we must turn our
eyes heavenward, inward, to the infinite unseen beyond us and within
our souls. Nothing can take us back to Phoebus or to Pan. Nothing can
again identify us with the simple natural earth. '_Une immense
espérance a traversé la terre_,' and these chapels, with their deep
significances, lurk in the fair landscape like the cares of real life
among our dreams of art, or like a fear of death and the hereafter in
the midst of opera music. It is a strange contrast. The worship of men
in those old times was symbolised by dances in the evening, banquets,
libations, and mirth-making. 'Euphrosyne' was alike the goddess of the
righteous mind and of the merry heart. Old withered women telling their
rosaries at dusk; belated shepherds crossing themselves beneath the
stars when they pass the chapel; maidens weighed down with Margaret's
anguish of unhappy love; youths vowing their life to contemplation in
secluded cloisters,—these are the human forms which gather round such
chapels; and the motto of the worshippers consists in this, 'Do often
violence to thy desire.' In the Tyrol we have seen whole villages
praying together at daybreak before their day's work, singing their
_Miserere_ and their _Gloria_ and their _Dies Iræ_, to the sound of
crashing organs and jangling bells; appealing in the midst of Nature's
splendour to the Spirit which is above Nature, which dwells in darkness
rather than light, 90and loves the yearnings and contentions of our
soul more than its summer gladness and peace. Even the olives here tell
more to us of Olivet and the Garden than of the oil-press and the
wrestling-ground. The lilies carry us to the Sermon on the Mount, and
teach humility, instead of summoning up some legend of a god's love for
a mortal. The hillside tanks and running streams, and water-brooks
swollen by sudden rain, speak of Palestine. We call the white flowers
stars of Bethlehem. The large sceptre-reed; the fig-tree, lingering in
barrenness when other trees are full of fruit; the locust-beans of the
Caruba:—for one suggestion of Greek idylls there is yet another, of far
deeper, dearer power.

But who can resist the influence of Greek ideas at the Cap S. Martin?
Down to the verge of the sea stretch the tall, twisted stems of Levant
pines, and on the caverned limestone breaks the deep blue water.
Dazzling as marble are these rocks, pointed and honeycombed with
constant dashing of the restless sea, tufted with corallines and grey
and purple seaweeds in the little pools, but hard and dry and rough
above tide level. Nor does the sea always lap them quietly; for the
last few days it has come tumbling in, roaring and raging on the beach
with huge waves crystalline in their transparency, and maned with
fleecy spray. Such were the rocks and such the swell of breakers when
Ulysses grasped the shore after his long swim. Samphire, very salt and
fragrant, grows in the rocky honeycomb; then lentisk and beach-loving
myrtle, both exceeding green and bushy; then rosemary and euphorbia
above the reach of spray. Fishermen, with their long reeds, sit lazily
perched upon black rocks above blue waves, sunning themselves as much
as seeking sport. One distant tip of snow, seen far away behind the
hills, reminds us of an alien, unremembered winter. While dreaming
there, this fancy came into my 91head: Polyphemus was born yonder in
the Gorbio Valley. There he fed his sheep and goats, and on the hills
found scanty pasture for his kine. He and his mother lived in the white
house by the cypress near the stream where tulips grow. Young Galatea,
nursed in the caverns of these rocks, white as the foam, and shy as the
sea fishes, came one morning up the valley to pick mountain hyacinths,
and little Polyphemus led the way. He knew where violets and sweet
narcissus grew, as well as Galatea where pink coralline and spreading
sea-flowers with their waving arms. But Galatea, having filled her lap
with bluebells, quite forgot the leaping kids, and piping Cyclops, and
cool summer caves, and yellow honey, and black ivy, and sweet vine, and
water cold as Alpine snow. Down the swift streamlet she danced
laughingly, and made herself once more bitter with the sea. But
Polyphemus remained,—hungry, sad, gazing on the barren sea, and piping
to the mockery of its waves.

Filled with these Greek fancies, it is strange to come upon a little
sandstone dell furrowed by trickling streams and overgrown with English
primroses; or to enter the village of Roccabruna, with its mediæval
castle and the motto on its walls, _Tempora labuntur tacitisque
senescimus annis_. A true motto for the town, where the butcher comes
but once a week, and where men and boys, and dogs, and palms, and
lemon-trees grow up and flourish and decay in the same hollow of the
sunny mountain-side. Into the hard conglomerate of the hill the town is
built; house walls and precipices mortised into one another, dovetailed
by the art of years gone by, and riveted by age. The same plants grow
from both alike—spurge, cistus, rue, and henbane, constant to the
desolation of abandoned dwellings. From the castle you look down on
roofs, brown tiles and chimney-pots, set one above the other like a big
card-castle. Each house has 92its foot on a neighbour's neck, and its
shoulder set against the native stone. The streets meander in and out,
and up and down, overarched and balconied, but very clean. They swarm
with children, healthy, happy, little monkeys, who grow fat on salt
fish and yellow polenta, with oil and sun _ad libitum_.

At night from Roccabruna you may see the flaring gas-lamps of the
gaming-house at Monaco, that Armida's garden of the nineteenth century.
It is the sunniest and most sheltered spot of all the coast. Long ago
Lucan said of Monaco, '_Non Corus in illum jus habet aut Zephyrus_;'
winter never comes to nip its tangled cactuses, and aloes, and
geraniums. The air swoons with the scent of lemon-groves; tall
palm-trees wave their graceful branches by the shore; music of the
softest and the loudest swells from the palace; cool corridors and
sunny seats stand ready for the noontide heat or evening calm; without,
are olive-gardens, green and fresh and full of flowers. But the witch
herself holds her high court and never-ending festival of sin in the
painted banquet-halls and among the green tables.

Let us leave this scene and turn with the country-folk of Roccabruna to
S. Michael's Church at Mentone. High above the sea it stands, and from
its open doors you look across the mountains with their olive-trees.
Inside the church is a seething mass of country-folk and townspeople,
mostly women, and these almost all old, but picturesque beyond
description; kerchiefs of every colour, wrinkles of every shape and
depth, skins of every tone of brown and yellow, voices of every
gruffness, shrillness, strength, and weakness. Wherever an empty corner
can be found, it is soon filled by tottering babies and mischievous
children. The country-women come with their large dangling earrings of
thin gold, wearing pink tulips or lemon-buds in their black hair. A low
buzz of gossiping and mutual recognition keeps the air alive. The whole
service seems a holiday—a general enjoyment of gala dresses and
friendly greetings, very different from the silence, immobility, and
_noli me tangere_ aspect of an English congregation. Over all drones,
rattles, snores, and shrieks the organ; wailing, querulous, asthmatic,
incomplete, its everlasting nasal chant—always beginning, never ending,
through a range of two or three notes ground into one monotony. The
voices of the congregation rise and sink above it. These southern
people, like the Arabs, the Apulians, and the Spaniards, seem to find
their music in a hurdy-gurdy swell of sound. The other day we met a
little girl, walking and spinning, and singing all the while, whose
song was just another version of this chant. It has a discontented
plaintive wail, as if it came from some vast age, and were a cousin of
primeval winds.

At first sight, by the side of Mentone, San Remo is sadly prosaic. The
valleys seem to sprawl, and the universal olives are monotonously grey
upon their thick clay soil. Yet the wealth of flowers in the fat earth
is wonderful. One might fancy oneself in a weedy farm flower-bed
invaded by stray oats and beans and cabbages and garlic from the
kitchen-garden. The country does not suggest a single Greek idea. It
has no form or outline—no barren peaks, no spare and difficult
vegetation. The beauty is rich but tame—valleys green with oats and
corn, blossoming cherry-trees, and sweet bean-fields, figs coming into
leaf, and arrowy bay-trees by the side of sparkling streams: here and
there a broken aqueduct or rainbow bridge hung with maidenhair and
briar and clematis and sarsaparilla.

In the cathedral church of San Siro on Good Friday they hang the
columns and the windows with black; they cover the pictures and deface
the altar; above the high altar they 94raise a crucifix, and below they
place a catafalque with the effigy of the dead Christ. To this sad
symbol they address their prayers and incense, chant their 'litanies
and lurries,' and clash the rattles, which commemorate their rage
against the traitor Judas. So far have we already passed away from the
Greek feeling of Mentone. As I listened to the hideous din, I could not
but remember the Theocritean burial of Adonis. Two funeral beds
prepared: two feasts recurring in the springtime of the year. What a
difference beneath this superficial similarity—καλος νέκυς οι΅α
καθεύδων—_attritus ægrâ macie_. But the fast of Good Friday is followed
by the festival of Easter. That, after all, is the chief difference.

After leaving the cathedral we saw a pretty picture in a dull old
street of San Remo—three children leaning from a window, blowing
bubbles. The bubbles floated down the street, of every colour, round
and trembling, like the dreams of life which children dream. The town
is certainly most picturesque. It resembles a huge glacier of houses
poured over a wedge of rock, running down the sides and along the
ridge, and spreading itself into a fan between two torrents on the
shore below. House over house, with balcony and staircase, convent
turret and church tower, palm-trees and olives, roof gardens and
clinging creepers—this white cataract of buildings streams downward
from the lazar-house, and sanctuary, and sandstone quarries on the
hill. It is a mass of streets placed close above each other, and linked
together with arms and arches of solid masonry, as a protection from
the earthquakes, which are frequent at San Remo. The walls are tall,
and form a labyrinth of gloomy passages and treacherous blind alleys,
where the Moors of old might meet with a ferocious welcome. Indeed, San
Remo is a fortress as well as a dwelling-place. Over its gateways may
still be traced the pipes for molten lead, and on its walls the
eyeloops for 95arrows, with brackets for the feet of archers. Masses of
building have been shaken down by earthquakes. The ruins of what once
were houses gape with blackened chimneys and dark forlorn cellars;
mazes of fungus and unhealthy weeds among the still secure habitations.
Hardly a ray of light penetrates the streets; one learns the meaning of
the Italian word _uggia_ from their cold and gloom. During the day they
are deserted by every one but babies and witchlike old women—some
gossiping, some sitting vacant at the house door, some spinning or
weaving, or minding little children—ugly and ancient as are their own
homes, yet clean as are the streets. The younger population goes
afield; the men on mules laden for the hills, the women burdened like
mules with heavy and disgusting loads. It is an exceptionally
good-looking race; tall, well-grown, and strong.—But to the streets
again. The shops in the upper town are few, chiefly wine-booths and
stalls for the sale of salt fish, eggs, and bread, or cobblers' and
tinkers' ware. Notwithstanding the darkness of their dwellings, the
people have a love of flowers; azaleas lean from their windows, and
vines, carefully protected by a sheath of brickwork, climb the six
stories, to blossom out into a pergola upon the roof. Look at that mass
of greenery and colours, dimly seen from beneath, with a yellow cat
sunning herself upon the parapet! To reach such a garden and such
sunlight who would not mount six stories and thread a labyrinth of
passages? I should prefer a room upon the east side of the town,
looking southward to the Molo and the sea, with a sound of water
beneath, and a palm soaring up to fan my window with his feathery
leaves.

The shrines are little spots of brightness in the gloomy streets.
Madonna with a sword; Christ holding His pierced and bleeding heart;
l'Eterno Padre pointing to the dead Son stretched upon His knee; some
souls in torment; S. Roch 96reminding us of old plagues by the spot
upon his thigh;—these are the symbols of the shrines. Before them stand
rows of pots filled with gillyflowers, placed there by pious, simple,
praying hands—by maidens come to tell their sorrows to our Lady rich in
sorrow, by old women bent and shrivelled, in hopes of paradise or
gratitude for happy days, when Madonna kept Cecchino faithful to his
home, or saved the baby from the fever.

Lower down, between the sea and the hill, is the municipal,
aristocratic, ecclesiastical quarter of San Remo. There stands the
Palace Borea—a truly princely pile, built in the last Renaissance style
of splendour, with sea-nymphs and dolphins, and satyric heads, half
lips, half leafage, round about its doors and windows. Once it formed
the dwelling of a feudal family, but now it is a roomy anthill of a
hundred houses, shops, and offices, the Boreas of to-day retaining but
a portion of one flat, and making profit of the rest. There, too, are
the barracks and the syndic's hall; the Jesuits' school, crowded with
boys and girls; the shops for clothes, confectionery, and trinkets; the
piazza, with its fountain and tasselled planes, and flowery
chestnut-trees, a mass of greenery. Under these trees the idlers
lounge, boys play at leap-frog, men at bowls. Women in San Remo work
all day, but men and boys play for the most part at bowls or toss-penny
or leap-frog or morra. San Siro, the cathedral, stands at one end of
the square. Do not go inside; it has a sickly smell of immemorial
incense and garlic, undefinable and horrible. Far better looks San Siro
from the parapet above the torrent. There you see its irregular
half-Gothic outline across a tangle of lemon-trees and olives. The
stream rushes by through high walls, covered with creepers, spanned by
ferny bridges, feathered by one or two old tufty palms. And over all
rises the ancient turret of San Siro, like a Spanish giralda, a minaret
of pinnacles and 97pyramids and dome bubbles, with windows showing
heavy bells, old clocks, and sundials painted on the walls, and a
cupola of green and yellow tiles like serpent-scales, to crown the
whole. The sea lies beyond, and the house-roofs break it with grey
horizontal lines. Then there are convents, legions of them, large white
edifices, Jesuitical apparently for the most part, clanging importunate
bells, leaning rose-blossoms and cypress-boughs over their jealous
walls.

Lastly, there is the port—the mole running out into the sea, the quay
planted with plane-trees, and the fishing-boats—by which San Remo is
connected with the naval glory of the past—with the Riviera that gave
birth to Columbus—with the Liguria that the Dorias ruled—with the great
name of Genoa. The port is empty enough now; but from the pier you look
back on San Remo and its circling hills, a jewelled town set in
illimitable olive greyness. The quay seems also to be the
cattle-market. There the small buff cows of North Italy repose after
their long voyage or march, kneeling on the sandy ground or rubbing
their sides against the wooden cross awry with age and shorn of all its
symbols. Lambs frisk among the boats; impudent kids nibble the drooping
ears of patient mules. Hinds in white jackets and knee-breeches made of
skins, lead shaggy rams and fiercely bearded goats, ready to butt at
every barking dog, and always seeking opportunities of flight. Farmers
and parish priests in black petticoats feel the cattle and dispute
about the price, or whet their bargains with a draught of wine.
Meanwhile the nets are brought on shore glittering with the fry of
sardines, which are cooked like whitebait, with cuttlefish—amorphous
objects stretching shiny feelers on the hot dry sand—and prickly purple
eggs of the sea-urchin. Women go about their labour through the throng,
some carrying stones upon their heads, or unloading boats and bearing
planks of wood in single file, two marching 98side by side beneath one
load of lime, others scarcely visible under a stack of oats, another
with her baby in its cradle fast asleep.

San Remo has an elder brother among the hills, which is called San
Romolo, after one of the old bishops of Genoa. Who San Remo was is
buried in remote antiquity; but his town has prospered, while of San
Romolo nothing remains but a ruined hill-convent among pine-trees. The
old convent is worth visiting. Its road carries you into the heart of
the sierra which surrounds San Remo, a hill-country something like the
Jura, undulating and green to the very top with maritime pines and
pinasters. Riding up, you hear all manner of Alpine sounds; brawling
streams, tinkling cowbells, and herdsmen calling to each other on the
slopes. Beneath you lies San Remo, scarcely visible; and over it the
great sea rises ever so far into the sky, until the white sails hang in
air, and cloud and sea-line melt into each other indistinguishably.
Spanish chestnuts surround the monastery with bright blue gentians,
hepaticas, forget-me-nots, and primroses about their roots. The house
itself is perched on a knoll with ample prospect to the sea and to the
mountains, very near to heaven, within a theatre of noble
contemplations and soul-stirring thoughts. If Mentone spoke to me of
the poetry of Greek pastoral life, this convent speaks of mediæval
monasticism—of solitude with God, above, beneath, and all around, of
silence and repose from agitating cares, of continuity in prayer, and
changelessness of daily life. Some precepts of the _Imitatio_ came into
my mind: 'Be never wholly idle; read or write, pray or meditate, or
work with diligence for the common needs.' 'Praiseworthy is it for the
religious man to go abroad but seldom, and to seem to shun, and keep
his eyes from men.' 'Sweet is the cell when it is often sought, but if
we gad about, it wearies us by its 99seclusion.' Then I thought of the
monks so living in this solitude; their cell windows looking across the
valley to the sea, through summer and winter, under sun and stars. Then
would they read or write, what long melodious hours! or would they
pray, what stations on the pine-clad hills! or would they toil, what
terraces to build and plant with corn, what flowers to tend, what cows
to milk and pasture, what wood to cut, what fir-cones to gather for the
winter fire! or should they yearn for silence, silence from their
comrades of the solitude, what whispering galleries of God, where never
human voice breaks loudly, but winds and streams and lonely birds
disturb the awful stillness! In such a hermitage as this, only more
wild, lived S. Francis of Assisi, among the Apennines.[7] It was there
that he learned the tongues of beasts and birds, and preached them
sermons. Stretched for hours motionless on the bare rocks, coloured
like them and rough like them in his brown peasant's serge, he prayed
and meditated, saw the vision of Christ crucified, and planned his
order to regenerate a vicious age. So still he lay, so long, so like a
stone, so gentle were his eyes, so kind and low his voice, that the
mice nibbled breadcrumbs from his wallet, lizards ran over him, and
larks sang to him in the air. There, too, in those long, solitary
vigils, the Spirit of God came upon him, and the spirit of Nature was
even as God's Spirit, and he sang: 'Laudato sia Dio mio Signore, con
tutte le creature, specialmente messer lo frate sole; per suor luna, e
per le stelle; per frate vento e per l'aire, e nuvolo, e sereno e ogni
tempo.' Half the value of this hymn would be lost were we to forget how
it was written, in what solitudes and mountains far from men, or to
ticket it with some abstract word like Pantheism. Pantheism it is not;
but an acknowledgment of that brotherhood, beneath the love of God, by
which the sun 100and moon and stars, and wind and air and cloud, and
clearness and all weather, and all creatures, are bound together with
the soul of man.

 [7] Dante, Par. xi. 106.

Few, of course, were like S. Francis. Probably no monk of San Romolo
was inspired with his enthusiasm for humanity, or had his revelation of
the Divine Spirit inherent in the world. Still fewer can have felt the
æsthetic charm of Nature but most vaguely. It was as much as they could
boast, if they kept steadily to the rule of their order, and attended
to the concerns each of his own soul. A terrible selfishness, if
rightly considered; but one which accorded with the delusion that this
world is a cave of care, the other world a place of torture or undying
bliss, death the prime object of our meditation, and lifelong
abandonment of our fellow-men the highest mode of existence. Why, then,
should monks, so persuaded of the riddle of the earth, have placed
themselves in scenes so beautiful? Why rose the Camaldolis and
Chartreuses over Europe? white convents on the brows of lofty hills,
among the rustling boughs of Vallombrosas, in the grassy meadows of
Engelbergs,—always the eyries of Nature's lovers, men smitten with the
loveliness of earth? There is surely some meaning in these poetic
stations.

Here is a sentence of the _Imitatio_ which throws some light upon the
hymn of S. Francis and the sites of Benedictine monasteries, by
explaining the value of natural beauty for monks who spent their life
in studying death: 'If thy heart were right, then would every creature
be to thee a mirror of life, and a book of holy doctrine. There is no
creature so small and vile that does not show forth the goodness of
God.' With this sentence bound about their foreheads, walked Fra
Angelico and S. Francis. To men like them the mountain valleys and the
skies, and all that they contained, were full of deep significance.
Though they reasoned '_de conditione 101humanæ miseriæ_,' and '_de
contemptu mundi_,' yet the whole world was a pageant of God's glory, a
testimony to His goodness. Their chastened senses, pure hearts, and
simple wills were as wings by which they soared above the things of
earth, and sent the music of their souls aloft with every other
creature in the symphony of praise. To them, as to Blake, the sun was
no mere blazing disc or ball, but 'an innumerable company of the
heavenly host singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty."' To
them the winds were brothers, and the streams were sisters—brethren in
common dependence upon God their Father, brethren in common
consecration to His service, brethren by blood, brethren by vows of
holiness. Unquestioning faith rendered this world no puzzle; they
overlooked the things of sense because the spiritual things were ever
present, and as clear as day. Yet did they not forget that spiritual
things are symbolised by things of sense; and so the smallest herb of
grass was vital to their tranquil contemplations. We who have lost
sight of the invisible world, who set our affections more on things of
earth, fancy that because these monks despised the world, and did not
write about its landscapes, therefore they were dead to its beauty.
This is mere vanity: the mountains, stars, seas, fields, and living
things were only swallowed up in the one thought of God, and made
subordinate to the awfulness of human destinies. We to whom hills are
hills, and seas are seas, and stars are ponderable quantities, speak,
write, and reason of them as of objects interesting in themselves. The
monks were less ostensibly concerned about such things, because they
only found in them the vestibules and symbols of a hidden mystery.

The contrast between the Greek and mediæval modes of regarding Nature
is not a little remarkable. Both Greeks and monks, judged by
nineteenth-century standards, were 102unobservant of natural beauties.
They make but brief and general remarks upon landscapes and the like.
The ποντίων τε κυμάτων άνήριθμον γέλασμα is very rare. But the Greeks
stopped at the threshold of Nature; the forces they found there, the
gods, were inherent in Nature, and distinct. They did not, like the
monks, place one spiritual power, omnipotent and omnipresent, above
all, and see in Nature lessons of Divine government. We ourselves
having somewhat overstrained the latter point of view, are now apt to
return vaguely to Greek fancies. Perhaps, too, we talk so much about
scenery because it is scenery to us, and the life has gone out of it.

I cannot leave the Cornice without one word about a place which lies
between Mentone and San Remo. Bordighera has a beauty which is quite
distinct from both. Palms are its chief characteristics. They lean
against the garden walls, and feather the wells outside the town, where
women come with brazen pitchers to draw water. In some of the marshy
tangles of the plain, they spring from a thick undergrowth of spiky
leaves, and rear their tall aë;rial arms against the deep blue
background of the sea or darker purple of the distant hills. White
pigeons fly about among their branches, and the air is loud with
cooings and with rustlings, and the hoarser croaking of innumerable
frogs. Then, in the olive-groves that stretch along the level shore,
are labyrinths of rare and curious plants, painted tulips and white
periwinkles, flinging their light of blossoms and dark glossy leaves
down the swift channels of the brawling streams. On each side of the
rivulets they grow, like sister cataracts of flowers instead of spray.
At night fresh stars come out along the coast, beneath the stars of
heaven; for you can see the lamps of Ventimiglia and Mentone and
Monaco, and, far away, the lighthouses upon the promontories of Antibes
and the Estrelles. At dawn, a vision of Corsica grows from the sea. The
island lies eighty miles away, but 103one can trace the dark strip of
irregular peaks glowing amid the gold and purple of the rising sun. If
the air is clear and bright, the snows and overvaulting clouds which
crown its mountains shine all day, and glitter like an apparition in
the bright blue sky. 'Phantom fair,' half raised above the sea, it
stands, as unreal and transparent as the moon when seen in April
sunlight, yet not to be confounded with the shape of any cloud. If
Mentone speaks of Greek legends, and San Romolo restores the monastic
past, we feel ourselves at Bordighera transported to the East; and
lying under its tall palms can fancy ourselves at Tyre or Daphne, or in
the gardens of a Moslem prince.

Note.—Dec. 1873. My old impressions are renewed and confirmed by a
third visit, after seven years, to this coast. For purely idyllic
loveliness, the Cornice is surpassed by nothing in the South. A very
few spots in Sicily, the road between Castellammare and Amalfi, and the
island of Corfu, are its only rivals in this style of scenery. From
Cannes to Sestri is one continuous line of exquisitely modulated
landscape beauty, which can only be fully appreciated by travellers in
carriage or on foot.

104



AJACCIO


It generally happens that visitors to Ajaccio pass over from the
Cornice coast, leaving Nice at night, and waking about sunrise to find
themselves beneath the frowning mountains of Corsica. The difference
between the scenery of the island and the shores which they have left
is very striking. Instead of the rocky mountains of the Cornice,
intolerably dry and barren at their summits, but covered at their base
with villages and ancient towns and olive-fields, Corsica presents a
scene of solitary and peculiar grandeur. The highest mountain-tops are
covered with snow, and beneath the snow-level to the sea they are as
green as Irish or as English hills, but nearly uninhabited and
uncultivated. Valleys of almost Alpine verdure are succeeded by tracts
of chestnut wood and scattered pines, or deep and flowery brushwood—the
'maquis' of Corsica, which yields shelter to its traditional outlaws
and bandits. Yet upon these hillsides there are hardly any signs of
life; the whole country seems abandoned to primeval wildness and the
majesty of desolation. Nothing can possibly be more unlike the smiling
Riviera, every square mile of which is cultivated like a garden, and
every valley and bay dotted over with white villages. After steaming
for a few hours along this savage coast, the rocks which guard the
entrance to the bay of Ajaccio, murderous-looking teeth and needles
ominously christened Sanguinari, are passed, and we enter the splendid
land-locked harbour, on the northern shore of which 105Ajaccio is
built. About three centuries ago the town, which used to occupy the
extreme or eastern end of the bay, was removed to a more healthy point
upon the northern coast, so that Ajaccio is quite a modern city.
Visitors who expect to find in it the picturesqueness of Genoa or San
Remo, or even of Mentone, will be sadly disappointed. It is simply a
healthy, well-appointed town of recent date, the chief merits of which
are, that it has wide streets, and is free, externally at least, from
the filth and rubbish of most southern seaports.

But if Ajaccio itself is not picturesque, the scenery which it
commands, and in the heart of which it lies, is of the most
magnificent. The bay of Ajaccio resembles a vast Italian lake—a Lago
Maggiore, with greater space between the mountains and the shore. From
the snow-peaks of the interior, huge granite crystals clothed in white,
to the southern extremity of the bay, peak succeeds peak and ridge
rises behind ridge in a line of wonderful variety and beauty. The
atmospheric changes of light and shadow, cloud and colour, on this
upland country, are as subtle and as various as those which lend their
beauty to the scenery of the lakes, while the sea below is blue and
rarely troubled. One could never get tired with looking at this view.
Morning and evening add new charms to its sublimity and beauty. In the
early morning Monte d'Oro sparkles like a Monte Rosa with its fresh
snow, and the whole inferior range puts on the crystal blueness of dawn
among the Alps. In the evening, violet and purple tints and the golden
glow of Italian sunset lend a different lustre to the fairyland. In
fact, the beauties of Switzerland and Italy are curiously blended in
this landscape.

In soil and vegetation the country round Ajaccio differs much from the
Cornice. There are very few olive-trees, nor is the cultivated ground
backed up so immediately by stony mountains; but between the seashore
and the hills there is 106plenty of space for pasture-land, and
orchards of apricot and peach-trees, and orange gardens. This
undulating champaign, green with meadows and watered with clear
streams, is very refreshing to the eyes of Northern people, who may
have wearied of the bareness and greyness of Nice or Mentone. It is
traversed by excellent roads, recently constructed on a plan of the
French Government, which intersect the country in all directions, and
offer an infinite variety of rides or drives to visitors. The broken
granite of which these roads are made is very pleasant for riding over.
Most of the hills through which they strike, after starting from
Ajaccio, are clothed with a thick brushwood of box, ilex, lentisk,
arbutus, and laurustinus, which stretches down irregularly into
vineyards, olive-gardens, and meadows. It is, indeed, the native growth
of the island; for wherever a piece of ground is left untilled, the
macchi grow up, and the scent of their multitudinous aromatic blossoms
is so strong that it may be smelt miles out at sea. Napoleon, at S.
Helena, referred to this fragrance when he said that he should know
Corsica blindfold by the smell of its soil. Occasional woods of holm
oak make darker patches on the landscape, and a few pines fringe the
side of enclosure walls or towers. The prickly pear runs riot in and
out among the hedges and upon the walls, diversifying the colours of
the landscape with its strange grey-green masses and unwieldy fans. In
spring, when peach and almond trees are in blossom, and when the
roadside is starred with asphodels, this country is most beautiful in
its gladness. The macchi blaze with cistus flowers of red and silver.
Golden broom mixes with the dark purple of the great French lavender,
and over the whole mass of blossom wave plumes of Mediterranean heath
and sweet-scented yellow coronilla. Under the stems of the ilex peep
cyclamens, pink and sweet; the hedgerows are a tangle of vetches,
convolvuluses, 107lupines, orchises, and alliums, with here and there a
purple iris. It would be difficult to describe all the rare and lovely
plants which are found here in a profusion that surpasses even the
flower-gardens of the Cornice, and reminds one of the most favoured
Alpine valleys in their early spring.

Since the French occupied Corsica they have done much for the island by
improving its harbours and making good roads, and endeavouring to
mitigate the ferocity of the people. But they have many things to
contend against, and Corsica is still behind the other provinces of
France. The people are idle, haughty, umbrageous, fiery, quarrelsome,
fond of gipsy life, and retentive through generations of old feuds and
prejudices to an almost inconceivable extent. Then the nature of the
country itself offers serious obstacles to its proper colonisation and
cultivation. The savage state of the island and its internal feuds have
disposed the Corsicans to quit the seaboard for their mountain villages
and fortresses, so that the great plains at the foot of the hills are
unwholesome for want of tillage and drainage. Again, the mountains
themselves have in many parts been stripped of their forests, and
converted into mere wildernesses of macchi stretching up and down their
slopes for miles and miles of useless desolation. Another impediment to
proper cultivation is found in the old habit of what is called free
pasturage. The highland shepherds are allowed by the national custom to
drive down their flocks and herds to the lowlands during the winter, so
that fences are broken, young crops are browsed over and trampled down,
and agriculture becomes a mere impossibility. The last and chief
difficulty against which the French have had to contend, and up to this
time with apparent success, is brigandage. The Corsican system of
brigandage is so very different from that of the Italians, Sicilians,
and Greeks, that 108a word may be said about its peculiar character. In
the first place, it has nothing at all to do with robbery and thieving.
The Corsican bandit took to a free life among the macchi, not for the
sake of supporting himself by lawless depredation, but because he had
put himself under a legal and social ban by murdering some one in
obedience to the strict code of honour of his country. His victim may
have been the hereditary foe of his house for generations, or else the
newly made enemy of yesterday. But in either case, if he had killed him
fairly, after a due notification of his intention to do so, he was held
to have fulfilled a duty rather than to have committed a crime. He then
betook himself to the dense tangles of evergreens which I have
described, where he lived upon the charity of countryfolk and
shepherds. In the eyes of those simple people it was a sacred duty to
relieve the necessities of the outlaws, and to guard them from the
bloodhounds of justice. There was scarcely a respectable family in
Corsica who had not one or more of its members thus _alla campagna_, as
it was euphemistically styled. The Corsicans themselves have attributed
this miserable state of things to two principal causes. The first of
these was the ancient bad government of the island: under its Genoese
rulers no justice was administered, and private vengeance for homicide
or insult became a necessary consequence among the haughty and warlike
families of the mountain villages. Secondly, the Corsicans have been
from time immemorial accustomed to wear arms in everyday life. They
used to sit at their house doors and pace the streets with musket,
pistol, dagger, and cartouch-box on their persons; and on the most
trivial occasion of merriment or enthusiasm they would discharge their
firearms. This habit gave a bloody termination to many quarrels, which
might have ended more peaceably had the parties been unarmed; and so
the seeds of _vendetta_ were constantly being 109sown. Statistics
published by the French Government present a hideous picture of the
state of bloodshed in Corsica even during this century. In one period
of thirty years (between 1821 and 1850) there were 4319 murders in the
island. Almost every man was watching for his neighbour's life, or
seeking how to save his own; and agriculture and commerce were
neglected for this grisly game of hide-and-seek. In 1853 the French
began to take strong measures, and, under the Prefect Thuillier, they
hunted the bandits from the macchi, killing between 200 and 300 of
them. At the same time an edict was promulgated against bearing arms.
It is forbidden to sell the old Corsican stiletto in the shops, and no
one may carry a gun, even for sporting purposes, unless he obtains a
special licence. These licences, moreover, are only granted for short
and precisely measured periods.

In order to appreciate the stern and gloomy character of the Corsicans,
it is necessary to leave the smiling gardens of Ajaccio, and to visit
some of the more distant mountain villages—Vico, Cavro, Bastelica, or
Bocognano, any of which may easily be reached from the capital.
Immediately after quitting the seaboard, we enter a country austere in
its simplicity, solemn without relief, yet dignified by its majesty and
by the sense of freedom it inspires. As we approach the mountains, the
macchi become taller, feathering man-high above the road, and
stretching far away upon the hills. Gigantic masses of granite, shaped
like buttresses and bastions, seem to guard the approaches to these
hills; while, looking backward over the green plain, the sea lies
smiling in a haze of blue among the rocky horns and misty headlands of
the coast. There is a stateliness about the abrupt inclination of these
granite slopes, rising from their frowning portals by sharp _arêtes_ to
the snows piled on their summits, which contrasts in a strange way with
the softness and beauty 110of the mingling sea and plain beneath. In no
landscape are more various qualities combined; in none are they so
harmonised as to produce so strong a sense of majestic freedom and
severe power. Suppose that we are on the road to Corte, and have now
reached Bocognano, the first considerable village since we left
Ajaccio. Bocognano might be chosen as typical of Corsican
hill-villages, with its narrow street, and tall tower-like houses of
five or six stories high, faced with rough granite, and pierced with
the smallest windows and very narrow doorways. These buildings have a
mournful and desolate appearance. There is none of the grandeur of
antiquity about them; no sculptured arms or castellated turrets, or
balconies or spacious staircases, such as are common in the poorest
towns of Italy. The signs of warlike occupation which they offer, and
their sinister aspect of vigilance, are thoroughly prosaic. They seem
to suggest a state of society in which feud and violence were
systematised into routine. There is no relief to the savage austerity
of their forbidding aspect; no signs of wealth or household comfort; no
trace of art, no liveliness and gracefulness of architecture. Perched
upon their coigns of vantage, these villages seem always menacing, as
if Saracen pirates, or Genoese marauders, or bandits bent on vengeance,
were still for ever on the watch. Forests of immensely old
chestnut-trees surround Bocognano on every side, so that you step from
the village streets into the shade of woods that seem to have remained
untouched for centuries. The country-people support themselves almost
entirely upon the fruit of these chestnuts; and there is a large
department of Corsica called Castagniccia, from the prevalence of these
trees and the sustenance which the inhabitants derive from them. Close
by the village brawls a torrent, such as one may see in the Monte Rosa
valleys or the Apennines, but very rarely in Switzerland. It is of a
pure green colour, 111absolutely like Indian jade, foaming round the
granite boulders, and gliding over smooth slabs of polished stone, and
eddying into still, deep pools fringed with fern. Monte d'Oro, one of
the largest mountains of Corsica, soars above, and from his snows the
purest water, undefiled by glacier mud or the _débris_ of avalanches,
melts away. Following the stream, we rise through the macchi and the
chestnut woods, which grow more sparely by degrees, until we reach the
zone of beeches. Here the scene seems suddenly transferred to the
Pyrenees; for the road is carried along abrupt slopes, thickly set with
gigantic beech-trees, overgrown with pink and silver lichens. In the
early spring their last year's leaves are still crisp with hoar-frost;
one morning's journey has brought us from the summer of Ajaccio to
winter on these heights, where no flowers are visible but the pale
hellebore and tiny lilac crocuses. Snow-drifts stretch by the roadside,
and one by one the pioneers of the vast pine-woods of the interior
appear. A great portion of the pine-forest (_Pinus larix_, or Corsican
pine, not larch) between Bocognano and Corte had recently been burned
by accident when we passed by. Nothing could be more forlorn than the
black leafless stems and branches emerging from the snow. Some of these
trees were mast-high, and some mere saplings. Corte itself is built
among the mountain fastnesses of the interior. The snows and granite
cliffs of Monte Rotondo overhang it to the north-west, while two fair
valleys lead downward from its eyrie to the eastern coast. The rock on
which it stands rises to a sharp point, sloping southward, and
commanding the valleys of the Golo and the Tavignano. Remembering that
Corte was the old capital of Corsica, and the centre of General Paoli's
government, we are led to compare the town with Innsprück, Meran, or
Grenoble. In point of scenery and situation it is hardly second to any
of these mountain-girdled cities; but its 112poverty and bareness are
scarcely less striking than those of Bocognano.

The whole Corsican character, with its stern love of justice, its
furious revengefulness and wild passion for freedom, seems to be
illustrated by the peculiar elements of grandeur and desolation in this
landscape. When we traverse the forest of Vico or the rocky
pasture-lands of Niolo, the history of the Corsican national heroes,
Giudice della Rocca and Sampiero, becomes intelligible, nor do we fail
to understand some of the mysterious attraction which led the more
daring spirits of the island to prefer a free life among the macchi and
pine-woods to placid lawful occupations in farms and villages. The
lives of the two men whom I have mentioned are so prominent in Corsican
history, and are so often still upon the lips of the common people,
that it may be well to sketch their outlines in the foreground of the
Salvator Rosa landscape just described. Giudice was the governor of
Corsica, as lieutenant for the Pisans, at the end of the thirteenth
century. At that time the island belonged to the republic of Pisa, but
the Genoese were encroaching on them by land and sea, and the whole
life of their brave champion was spent in a desperate struggle with the
invaders, until at last he died, old, blind, and in prison, at the
command of his savage foes. Giudice was the title which the Pisans
usually conferred upon their governor, and Della Rocca deserved it by
right of his own inexorable love of justice. Indeed, justice seems to
have been with him a passion, swallowing up all other feelings of his
nature. All the stories which are told of him turn upon this point in
his character; and though they may not be strictly true, they
illustrate the stern virtues for which he was celebrated among the
Corsicans, and show what kind of men this harsh and gloomy nation loved
to celebrate as heroes. This is not the place either to criticise these
legends or to recount them at 113full length. The most famous and the
most characteristic may, however, be briefly told. On one occasion,
after a victory over the Genoese, he sent a message that the captives
in his hands should be released if their wives and sisters came to sue
for them. The Genoese ladies embarked, and arrived in Corsica, and to
Giudice's nephew was intrusted the duty of fulfilling his uncle's
promise. In the course of executing his commission, the youth was so
smitten with the beauty of one of the women that he dishonoured her.
Thereupon Giudice had him at once put to death. Another story shows the
Spartan justice of this hero in a less savage light. He was passing by
a cowherd's cottage, when he heard some young calves bleating. On
inquiring what distressed them, he was told that the calves had not
enough milk to drink after the farm people had been served. Then
Giudice made it a law that the calves throughout the land should take
their fill before the cows were milked.

Sampiero belongs to a later period of Corsican history. After a long
course of misgovernment the Genoese rule had become unbearable. There
was no pretence of administering justice, and private vengeance had
full sway in the island. The sufferings of the nation were so great
that the time had come for a new judge or saviour to rise among them.
Sampiero was the son of obscure parents who lived at Bastelica. But his
abilities very soon declared themselves, and made a way for him in the
world. He spent his youth in the armies of the Medici and of the French
Francis, gaining great renown as a brave soldier. Bayard became his
friend, and Francis made him captain of his Corsican bands. But
Sampiero did not forget the wrongs of his native land while thus on
foreign service. He resolved, if possible, to undermine the power of
Genoa, and spent the whole of his manhood and old age in one long
struggle with their great captain, Stephen Doria. Of 114his stern
patriotism and Roman severity of virtue the following story is a
terrible illustration. Sampiero, though a man of mean birth, had
married an heiress of the noble Corsican house of the Ornani. His wife,
Vannina, was a woman of timid and flexible nature, who, though devoted
to her husband, fell into the snares of his enemies. During his absence
on an embassy to Algiers the Genoese induced her to leave her home at
Marseilles and to seek refuge in their city, persuading her that this
step would secure the safety of her child. She was starting on her
journey when a friend of Sampiero arrested her, and brought her back to
Aix, in Provence. Sampiero, when he heard of these events, hurried to
France, and was received by a relative of his, who hinted that he had
known of Vannina's projected flight. 'E tu hai taciuto?' was Sampiero's
only answer, accompanied by a stroke of his poignard that killed the
lukewarm cousin. Sampiero now brought his wife from Aix to Marseilles,
preserving the most absolute silence on the way, and there, on entering
his house, he killed her with his own hand. It is said that he loved
Vannina passionately; and when she was dead, he caused her to be buried
with magnificence in the church of S. Francis. Like Giudice, Sampiero
fell at last a prey to treachery. The murder of Vannina had made the
Ornani his deadly foes. In order to avenge her blood, they played into
the hands of the Genoese, and laid a plot by which the noblest of the
Corsicans was brought to death. First, they gained over to their scheme
a monk of Bastelica, called Ambrogio, and Sampiero's own squire and
shield-bearer, Vittolo. By means of these men, in whom he trusted, he
was drawn defenceless and unattended into a deeply wooded ravine near
Cavro, not very far from his birthplace, where the Ornani and their
Genoese troops surrounded him. Sampiero fired his pistols in vain, for
Vittolo had loaded them with the shot downwards. Then he drew 115his
sword, and began to lay about him, when the same Vittolo, the Judas,
stabbed him from behind, and the old lion fell dead by his friend's
hand. Sampiero was sixty-nine when he died, in the year 1567. It is
satisfactory to know that the Corsicans have called traitors and foes
to their country Vittoli for ever. These two examples of Corsican
patriots are enough; we need not add to theirs the history of Paoli—a
milder and more humane, but scarcely less heroic leader. Paoli,
however, in the hour of Corsica's extremest peril, retired to England,
and died in philosophic exile. Neither Giudice nor Sampiero would have
acted thus. The more forlorn the hope, the more they struggled.

Among the old Corsican customs which are fast dying out, but which
still linger in the remote valleys of Niolo and Vico, is the _vócero_,
or funeral chant, improvised by women at funerals over the bodies of
the dead. Nothing illustrates the ferocious temper and savage passions
of the race better than these _vóceri_, many of which have been written
down and preserved. Most of them are songs of vengeance and
imprecation, mingled with hyperbolical laments and utterances of
extravagant grief, poured forth by wives and sisters at the side of
murdered husbands and brothers. The women who sing them seem to have
lost all milk of human kindness, and to have exchanged the virtues of
their sex for Spartan fortitude and the rage of furies. While we read
their turbid lines we are carried in imagination to one of the
cheerless houses of Bastelica or Bocognano, overshadowed by its
mournful chestnut-tree, on which the blood of the murdered man is yet
red. The _gridata_, or wake, is assembled in a dark room. On the wooden
board, called _tola_, the corpse lies stretched; and round it are
women, veiled in the blue-black mantle of Corsican costume, moaning and
rocking themselves upon their chairs. The _pasto_ or _conforto_, food
supplied for mourners, 116stands upon a side table, and round the room
are men with savage eyes and bristling beards, armed to the teeth, keen
for vengeance. The dead man's musket and pocket-pistol lie beside him,
and his bloody shirt is hung up at his head. Suddenly, the silence,
hitherto only disturbed by suppressed groans and muttered curses, is
broken by a sharp cry. A woman rises: it is the sister of the dead man;
she seizes his shirt, and holding it aloft with Mænad gestures and
frantic screams, gives rhythmic utterance to her grief and rage. 'I was
spinning, when I heard a great noise: it was a gunshot, which went into
my heart, and seemed a voice that cried, "Run, thy brother is dying." I
ran into the room above; I took the blow into my breast; I said, "Now
he is dead, there is nothing to give me comfort. Who will undertake thy
vengeance? When I show thy shirt, who will vow to let his beard grow
till the murderer is slain? Who is there left to do it? A mother near
her death? A sister? Of all our race there is only left a woman,
without kin, poor, orphan, and a girl. Yet, O my brother! never fear.
For thy vengeance thy sister is enough!

'"Ma per fà la to bindetta,
Sta siguru, basta anch ella!


Give me the pistol; I will shoulder the gun; I will away to the hills.
My brother, heart of thy sister, thou shalt be avenged!"' A _vócero_
declaimed upon the bier of Giammatteo and Pasquale, two cousins, by the
sister of the former, is still fiercer and more energetic in its
malediction. This Erinnys of revenge prays Christ and all the saints to
extirpate the murderer's whole race, to shrivel it up till it passes
from the earth. Then, with a sudden and vehement transition to the
pathos of her own sorrow, she exclaims:—

'Halla mai bista nissunu
Tumbà l'omi pe li canti?'


117

It appears from these words that Giammatteo's enemies had killed him
because they were jealous of his skill in singing. Shortly after, she
curses the curate of the village, a kinsman of the murderer, for
refusing to toll the funeral bells; and at last, all other threads of
rage and sorrow being twined and knotted into one, she gives loose to
her raging thirst for blood: 'If only I had a son, to train like a
sleuth-hound, that he might track the murderer! Oh, if I had a son! Oh,
if I had a lad!' Her words seem to choke her, and she swoons, and
remains for a short time insensible. When the Bacchante of revenge
awakes, it is with milder feelings in her heart: 'O brother mine,
Matteo! art thou sleeping? Here I will rest with thee and weep till
daybreak.' It is rare to find in literature so crude and intense an
expression of fiery hatred as these untranslatable _vóceri_ present.
The emotion is so simple and so strong that it becomes sublime by mere
force, and affects us with a strange pathos when contrasted with the
tender affection conveyed in such terms of endearment as 'my dove,' 'my
flower,' 'my pheasant,' 'my bright painted orange,' addressed to the
dead. In the _vóceri_ it often happens that there are several
interlocutors: one friend questions and another answers; or a kinswoman
of the murderer attempts to justify the deed, and is overwhelmed with
deadly imprecations. Passionate appeals are made to the corpse: 'Arise!
Do you not hear the women cry? Stand up. Show your wounds, and let the
fountains of your blood flow! Alas! he is dead; he sleeps; he cannot
hear!' Then they turn again to tears and curses, feeling that no help
or comfort can come from the clay-cold form. The intensity of grief
finds strange language for its utterance. A girl, mourning over her
father, cries:—

'Mi l'hannu crucifissatu
Cume Ghiesu Cristu in croce.'

118

Once only, in Viale's collection, does any friend of the dead remember
mercy. It is an old woman, who points to the crucifix above the bier.

But all the _vóceri_ are not so murderous. Several are composed for
girls who died unwedded and before their time, by their mothers or
companions. The language of these laments is far more tender and
ornate. They praise the gentle virtues and beauty of the girl, her
piety and helpful household ways. The most affecting of these dirges is
that which celebrates the death of Romana, daughter of Dariola Danesi.
Here is a pretty picture of the girl: 'Among the best and fairest
maidens you were like a rose among flowers, like the moon among stars;
so far more lovely were you than the loveliest. The youths in your
presence were like lighted torches, but full of reverence; you were
courteous to all, but with none familiar. In church they gazed at you,
but you looked at none of them; and after mass you said, "Mother, let
us go." Oh! who will console me for your loss? Why did the Lord so much
desire you? But now you rest in heaven, all joy and smiles; for the
world was not worthy of so fair a face. Oh, how far more beautiful will
Paradise be now!' Then follows a piteous picture of the old bereaved
mother, to whom a year will seem a thousand years, who will wander
among relatives without affection, neighbours without love; and who,
when sickness comes, will have no one to give her a drop of water, or
to wipe the sweat from her brow, or to hold her hand in death. Yet all
that is left for her is to wait and pray for the end, that she may join
again her darling.

But it is time to return to Ajaccio itself. At present the attractions
and ornaments of the town consist of a good public library, Cardinal
Fesch's large but indifferent collection of pictures, two monuments
erected to Napoleon, and Napoleon's house. It will always be the chief
pride of Ajaccio that she 119gave birth to the great emperor. Close to
the harbour, in a public square by the sea-beach, stands an equestrian
statue of the conqueror, surrounded by his four brothers on foot. They
are all attired in Roman fashion, and are turned seaward, to the west,
as if to symbolise the emigration of this family to subdue Europe.
There is something ludicrous and forlorn in the stiffness of the
group—something even pathetic, when we think how Napoleon gazed seaward
from another island, no longer on horseback, no longer laurel-crowned,
an unthroned, unseated conqueror, on S. Helena. His father's house
stands close by. An old Italian waiting-woman, who had been long in the
service of the Murats, keeps it and shows it. She has the manners of a
lady, and can tell many stories of the various members of the
Buonaparte family. Those who fancy that Napoleon was born in a mean
dwelling of poor parents will be surprised to find so much space and
elegance in these apartments. Of course his family was not rich by
comparison with the riches of French or English nobles. But for
Corsicans they were well-to-do, and their house has an air of antique
dignity. The chairs of the entrance-saloon have been literally stripped
of their coverings by enthusiastic visitors; the horse-hair stuffing
underneath protrudes itself with a sort of comic pride, as if
protesting that it came to be so tattered in an honourable service.
Some of the furniture seems new; but many old presses, inlaid with
marbles, agates, and lapis-lazuli, such as Italian families preserve
for generations, have an air of respectable antiquity about them. Nor
is there any doubt that the young Napoleon led his minuets beneath the
stiff girandoles of the formal dancing-room. There, too, in a dark back
chamber, is the bed in which he was born. At its foot is a photograph
of the Prince Imperial sent by the Empress Eugénie, who, when she
visited the room, wept much 120_pianse molto_ (to use the old lady's
phrase)—at seeing the place where such lofty destinies began. On the
wall of the same room is a portrait of Napoleon himself as the young
general of the republic—with the citizen's unkempt hair, the fierce
fire of the Revolution in his eyes, a frown upon his forehead, lips
compressed, and quivering nostrils; also one of his mother, the
pastille of a handsome woman, with Napoleonic eyes and brows and nose,
but with a vacant simpering mouth. Perhaps the provincial artist knew
not how to seize the expression of this feature, the most difficult to
draw. For we cannot fancy that Letizia had lips without the firmness or
the fulness of a majestic nature.

The whole first story of this house belonged to the Buonaparte family.
The windows look out partly on a little court and partly on narrow
streets. It was, no doubt, the memory of this home that made Napoleon,
when emperor, design schemes for the good of Corsica—schemes that might
have brought him more honour than many conquests, but which he had no
time or leisure to carry out. On S. Helena his mind often reverted to
them, and he would speak of the gummy odours of the macchi wafted from
the hillsides to the seashore.

121



MONTE GENEROSO


The long hot days of Italian summer were settling down on plain and
country when, in the last week of May, we travelled northward from
Florence and Bologna seeking coolness. That was very hard to find in
Lombardy. The days were long and sultry, the nights short, without a
respite from the heat. Milan seemed a furnace, though in the Duomo and
the narrow shady streets there was a twilight darkness which at least
looked cool. Long may it be before the northern spirit of improvement
has taught the Italians to despise the wisdom of their forefathers, who
built those sombre streets of palaces with overhanging eaves, that,
almost meeting, form a shelter from the fiercest sun. The lake country
was even worse than the towns; the sunlight lay all day asleep upon the
shining waters, and no breeze came to stir their surface or to lift the
tepid veil of haze, through which the stony mountains, with their yet
unmelted patches of winter snow, glared as if in mockery of coolness.

Then we heard of a new inn, which had just been built by an
enterprising Italian doctor below the very top of Monte Generoso. There
was a picture of it in the hotel at Cadenabbia, but this gave but
little idea of any particular beauty. A big square house, with many
windows, and the usual ladies on mules, and guides with alpenstocks,
advancing towards it, and some round bushes growing near, was all it
showed. Yet there hung the real Monte Generoso above our heads, and we
122thought it must be cooler on its height than by the lake-shore. To
find coolness was the great point with us just then. Moreover, some one
talked of the wonderful plants that grew among its rocks, and of its
grassy slopes enamelled with such flowers as make our cottage gardens
at home gay in summer, not to speak of others rarer and peculiar to the
region of the Southern Alps. Indeed, the Generoso has a name for
flowers, and it deserves it, as we presently found.

This mountain is fitted by its position for commanding one of the
finest views in the whole range of the Lombard Alps. A glance at the
map shows that. Standing out pre-eminent among the chain of lower hills
to which it belongs, the lakes of Lugano and Como with their long arms
enclose it on three sides, while on the fourth the plain of Lombardy
with its many cities, its rich pasture-lands and cornfields intersected
by winding river-courses and straight interminable roads, advances to
its very foot. No place could be better chosen for surveying that
contrasted scene of plain and mountain, which forms the great
attraction of the outlying buttresses of the central Alpine mass. The
superiority of the Monte Generoso to any of the similar eminences on
the northern outskirts of Switzerland is great. In richness of colour,
in picturesqueness of suggestion, in sublimity and breadth of prospect,
its advantages are incontestable. The reasons for this superiority are
obvious. On the Italian side the transition from mountain to plain is
far more abrupt; the atmosphere being clearer, a larger sweep of
distance is within our vision; again, the sunlight blazes all day long
upon the very front and forehead of the distant Alpine chain, instead
of merely slanting along it, as it does upon the northern side.

From Mendrisio, the village at the foot of the mountain, an easy
mule-path leads to the hotel, winding first through 123English-looking
hollow lanes with real hedges, which are rare in this country, and
English primroses beneath them. Then comes a forest region of luxuriant
chestnut-trees, giants with pink boles just bursting into late leafage,
yellow and tender, but too thin as yet for shade. A little higher up,
the chestnuts are displaced by wild laburnums bending under their
weight of flowers. The graceful branches meet above our heads, sweeping
their long tassels against our faces as we ride beneath them, while the
air for a good mile is full of fragrance. It is strange to be reminded
in this blooming labyrinth of the dusty suburb roads and villa gardens
of London. The laburnum is pleasant enough in S. John's Wood or the
Regent's Park in May—a tame domesticated thing of brightness amid smoke
and dust. But it is another joy to see it flourishing in its own home,
clothing acres of the mountain-side in a very splendour of
spring-colour, mingling its paler blossoms with the golden broom of our
own hills, and with the silver of the hawthorn and wild cherry. Deep
beds of lilies-of-the-valley grow everywhere beneath the trees; and in
the meadows purple columbines, white asphodels, the Alpine spiræa,
tall, with feathery leaves, blue scabious, golden hawkweeds, turkscap
lilies, and, better than all, the exquisite narcissus poeticus, with
its crimson-tipped cup, and the pure pale lilies of San Bruno, are
crowded in a maze of dazzling brightness. Higher up the laburnums
disappear, and flaunting crimson peonies gleam here and there upon the
rocks, until at length the gentians and white ranunculuses of the
higher Alps displace the less hardy flowers of Italy.

About an hour below the summit of the mountain we came upon the inn, a
large clean building, with scanty furniture and snowy wooden floors,
guiltless of carpets. It is big enough to hold about a hundred guests;
and Doctor Pasta, who built it, a native of Mendrisio, was gifted
either 124with much faith or with a real prophetic instinct.[8] Anyhow
he deserves commendation for his spirit of enterprise. As yet the house
is little known to English travellers: it is mostly frequented by
Italians from Milan, Novara, and other cities of the plain, who call it
the Italian Righi, and come to it, as cockneys go to Richmond, for
noisy picnic excursions, or at most for a few weeks' _villeggiatura_ in
the summer heats. When we were there in May the season had scarcely
begun, and the only inmates besides ourselves were a large party from
Milan, ladies and gentlemen in holiday guise, who came, stayed one
night, climbed the peak at sunrise, and departed amid jokes and
shouting and half-childish play, very unlike the doings of a similar
party in sober England. After that the stillness of nature descended on
the mountain, and the sun shone day after day upon that great view
which seemed created only for ourselves. And what a view it was! The
plain stretching up to the high horizon, where a misty range of pink
cirrus-clouds alone marked the line where earth ended and the sky
began, was islanded with cities and villages innumerable, basking in
the hazy shimmering heat. Milan, seen through the doctor's telescope,
displayed its Duomo perfect as a microscopic shell, with all its
exquisite fretwork, and Napoleon's arch of triumph surmounted by the
four tiny horses, as in a fairy's dream. Far off, long silver lines
marked the lazy course of Po and Ticino, while little lakes like Varese
and the lower end of Maggiore spread themselves out, connecting the
mountains with the plain.

 [8] It is but just to Doctor Pasta to remark that the above sentence
 was written more than ten years ago. Since then he has enlarged and
 improved his house in many ways, furnished it more luxuriously, made
 paths through the beechwoods round it, and brought excellent water at
 a great cost from a spring near the summit of the mountain. A more
 charming residence from early spring to late autumn can scarcely be
 discovered.

125Five minutes' walk from the hotel brought us to a ridge where the
precipice fell suddenly and almost sheer over one arm of Lugano Lake.
Sullenly outstretched asleep it lay beneath us, coloured with the tints
of fluor-spar, or with the changeful green and azure of a peacock's
breast. The depth appeared immeasurable. San Salvadore had receded into
insignificance: the houses and churches and villas of Lugano bordered
the lake-shore with an uneven line of whiteness. And over all there
rested a blue mist of twilight and of haze, contrasting with the
clearness of the peaks above. It was sunset when we first came here;
and, wave beyond wave, the purple Italian hills tossed their crested
summits to the foot of a range of stormy clouds that shrouded the high
Alps. Behind the clouds was sunset, clear and golden; but the mountains
had put on their mantle for the night, and the hem of their garment was
all we were to see. And yet—over the edge of the topmost ridge of
cloud, what was that long hard line of black, too solid and immovable
for cloud, rising into four sharp needles clear and well defined?
Surely it must be the familiar outline of Monte Rosa itself, the form
which every one who loves the Alps knows well by heart, which
picture-lovers know from Ruskin's woodcut in the 'Modern Painters.' For
a moment only the vision stayed: then clouds swept over it again, and
from the place where the empress of the Alps had been, a pillar of mist
shaped like an angel's wing, purple and tipped with gold, shot up
against the pale green sky. That cloud-world was a pageant in itself,
as grand and more gorgeous perhaps than the mountains would have been.
Deep down through the hollows of the Simplon a thunderstorm was
driving; and we saw forked flashes once and again, as in a distant
world, lighting up the valleys for a moment, and leaving the darkness
blacker behind them as the storm blurred out the landscape forty miles
away. 126Darkness was coming to us too, though our sky was clear and
the stars were shining brightly. At our feet the earth was folding
itself to sleep; the plain was wholly lost; little islands of white
mist had formed themselves, and settled down upon the lakes and on
their marshy estuaries; the birds were hushed; the gentian-cups were
filling to the brim with dew. Night had descended on the mountain and
the plain; the show was over.

The dawn was whitening in the east next morning, when we again
scrambled through the dwarf beechwood to the precipice above the lake.
Like an ink-blot it lay, unruffled, slumbering sadly. Broad sheets of
vapour brooded on the plain, telling of miasma and fever, of which we
on the mountain, in the pure cool air, knew nothing. The Alps were all
there now—cold, unreal, stretching like a phantom line of snowy peaks,
from the sharp pyramids of Monte Viso and the Grivola in the west to
the distant Bernina and the Ortler in the east. Supreme among them
towered Monte Rosa—queenly, triumphant, gazing down in proud
pre-eminence, as she does when seen from any point of the Italian
plain. There is no mountain like her. Mont Blanc himself is scarcely so
regal; and she seems to know it, for even the clouds sweep humbled
round her base, girdling her at most, but leaving her crown clear and
free. Now, however, there were no clouds to be seen in all the sky. The
mountains had a strange unshriven look, as if waiting to be blessed.
Above them, in the cold grey air, hung a low black arch of shadow, the
shadow of the bulk of the huge earth, which still concealed the sun.
Slowly, slowly this dark line sank lower, till, one by one, at last,
the peaks caught first a pale pink flush; then a sudden golden glory
flashed from one to the other, as they leapt joyfully into life. It is
a supreme moment this first burst of life and light over the sleeping
world, as one can 127only see it on rare days and in rare places like
the Monte Generoso. The earth—enough of it at least for us to picture
to ourselves the whole—lies at our feet; and we feel as the Saviour
might have felt, when from the top of that high mountain He beheld the
kingdoms of the world and all the glory of them. Strangely and solemnly
may we image to our fancy the lives that are being lived down in those
cities of the plain: how many are waking at this very moment to toil
and a painful weariness, to sorrow, or to 'that unrest which men
miscall delight;' while we upon our mountain buttress, suspended in
mid-heaven and for a while removed from daily cares, are drinking in
the beauty of the world that God has made so fair and wonderful. From
this same eyrie, only a few years ago, the hostile armies of France,
Italy, and Austria might have been watched moving in dim masses across
the plains, for the possession of which they were to clash in mortal
fight at Solferino and Magenta. All is peaceful now. It is hard to
picture the waving cornfields trodden down, the burning villages and
ransacked vineyards, all the horrors of real war to which that fertile
plain has been so often the prey. But now these memories of

Old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago,


do but add a calm and beauty to the radiant scene that lies before us.
And the thoughts which it suggests, the images with which it stores our
mind, are not without their noblest uses. The glory of the world sinks
deeper into our shallow souls than we well know; and the spirit of its
splendour is always ready to revisit us on dark and dreary days at home
with an unspeakable refreshment. Even as I write, I seem to see the
golden glow sweeping in broad waves over the purple hills nearer and
nearer, till the lake brightens at our 128feet, and the windows of
Lugano flash with sunlight, and little boats creep forth across the
water like spiders on a pond, leaving an arrowy track of light upon the
green behind them, while Monte Salvadore with its tiny chapel and a
patch of the further landscape are still kept in darkness by the shadow
of the Generoso itself. The birds wake into song as the sun's light
comes; cuckoo answers cuckoo from ridge to ridge; dogs bark; and even
the sounds of human life rise up to us: children's voices and the
murmurs of the market-place ascending faintly from the many villages
hidden among the chestnut-trees beneath our feet; while the creaking of
a cart we can but just see slowly crawling along the straight road by
the lake, is heard at intervals.

The full beauty of the sunrise is but brief. Already the low lakelike
mists we saw last night have risen and spread, and shaken themselves
out into masses of summer clouds, which, floating upward, threaten to
envelop us upon our vantage-ground. Meanwhile they form a changeful sea
below, blotting out the plain, surging up into the valleys with the
movement of a billowy tide, attacking the lower heights like the
advance-guard of a besieging army, but daring not as yet to invade the
cold and solemn solitudes of the snowy Alps. These, too, in time, when
the sun's heat has grown strongest, will be folded in their midday pall
of sheltering vapour.

The very summit of Monte Generoso must not be left without a word of
notice. The path to it is as easy as the Bheep-walks on an English
down, though cut along grass-slopes descending at a perilously sharp
angle. At the top the view is much the same, as far as the grand
features go, as that which is commanded from the cliff by the hotel.
But the rocks here are crowded with rare Alpine flowers—delicate golden
auriculas with powdery leaves and 129stems, pale yellow cowslips,
imperial purple saxifrages, soldanellas at the edge of lingering
patches of the winter snow, blue gentians, crocuses, and the frail,
rosy-tipped ranunculus, called glacialis. Their blooming time is brief.
When summer comes the mountain will be bare and burned, like all
Italian hills. The Generoso is a very dry mountain, silent and solemn
from its want of streams. There is no sound of falling waters on its
crags; no musical rivulets flow down its sides, led carefully along the
slopes, as in Switzerland, by the peasants, to keep their hay-crops
green and gladden the thirsty turf throughout the heat and drought of
summer. The soil is a Jurassic limestone: the rain penetrates the
porous rock, and sinks through cracks and fissures, to reappear above
the base of the mountain in a full-grown stream. This is a defect in
the Generoso, as much to be regretted as the want of shade upon its
higher pastures. Here, as elsewhere in Piedmont, the forests are cut
for charcoal; the beech-scrub, which covers large tracts of the hills,
never having the chance of growing into trees much higher than a man.
It is this which makes an Italian mountain at a distance look woolly,
like a sheep's back. Among the brushwood, however, lilies-of-the-valley
and Solomon's seals delight to grow; and the league-long beds of wild
strawberries prove that when the laburnums have faded, the mountain
will become a garden of feasting.

It was on the crest of Monte Generoso, late one afternoon in May, that
we saw a sight of great beauty. The sun had yet about an hour before it
sank behind the peaks of Monte Rosa, and the sky was clear, except for
a few white clouds that floated across the plain of Lombardy. Then as
we sat upon the crags, tufted with soldanellas and auriculas, we could
see a fleecy vapour gliding upward from the hollows of the mountain,
very thin and pale, yet dense enough to blot the 130landscape to the
south and east from sight. It rose 314with an imperceptible motion, as
the Oceanides might have soared from the sea to comfort Prometheus in
the tragedy of Æschylus. Already the sun had touched its upper edge
with gold, and we were expecting to be enveloped in a mist; when
suddenly upon the outspread sheet before us there appeared two forms,
larger than life, yet not gigantic, surrounded with haloes of such
tempered iridescence as the moon half hidden by a summer cloud is wont
to make. They were the glorified figures of ourselves; and what we did,
the phantoms mocked, rising or bowing, or spreading wide their arms.
Some scarce-felt breeze prevented the vapour from passing across the
ridge to westward, though it still rose from beneath, and kept fading
away into thin air above our heads. Therefore the vision lasted as long
as the sun stayed yet above the Alps; and the images with their
aureoles shrank and dilated with the undulations of the mist. I could
not but think of that old formula for an anthropomorphic Deity—'the
Brocken-spectre of the human spirit projected on the mists of the
Non-ego.' Even like those cloud-phantoms are the gods made in the image
of man, who have been worshipped through successive ages of the world,
gods dowered with like passions to those of the races who have crouched
before them, gods cruel and malignant and lustful, jealous and noble
and just, radiant or gloomy, the counterparts of men upon a vast and
shadowy scale. But here another question rose. If the gods that men
have made and ignorantly worshipped be really but glorified copies of
their own souls, where is the sun in this parallel? Without the sun's
rays the mists of Monte Generoso could have shown, no shadowy forms.
Without some other power than the mind of man, could men have fashioned
for themselves 131those ideals that they named their gods? Unseen by
Greek, or Norseman, or Hindoo, the potent force by which alone they
could externalise their image, existed outside them, independent of
their thought. Nor does the trite epigram touch the surface of the real
mystery. The sun, the human beings on the mountain, and the mists are
all parts of one material universe: the transient phenomenon we
witnessed was but the effect of a chance combination. Is, then, the
anthropomorphic God as momentary and as accidental in the system of the
world as that vapoury spectre? The God in whom we live and move and
have our being must be far more all-pervasive, more incognisable by the
souls of men, who doubt not for one moment of His presence and His
power. Except for purposes of rhetoric the metaphor that seemed so
clever fails. Nor, when once such thoughts have been stirred in us by
such a sight, can we do better than repeat Goethe's sublime profession
of a philosophic mysticism. This translation I made one morning on the
Pasterze Gletscher beneath the spires of the Gross Glockner:—

To Him who from eternity, self-stirred,
Himself hath made by His creative word!
To Him, supreme, who causeth Faith to be,
Trust, Hope, Love, Power, and endless Energy!
To Him, who, seek to name Him as we will,
Unknown within Himself abideth still!

Strain ear and eye, till sight and sense be dim;
Thou'lt find but faint similitudes of Him:
Yea, and thy spirit in her flight of flame
Still strives to gauge the symbol and the name:
Charmed and compelled thou climb'st from height to height,
And round thy path the world shines wondrous bright;
Time, Space, and Size, and Distance cease to be,
And every step is fresh infinity.


132
What were the God who sat outside to scan
The spheres that 'neath His finger circling ran?
God dwells within, and moves the world and moulds,
Himself and Nature in one form enfolds:
Thus all that lives in Him and breathes and is,
Shall ne'er His puissance, ne'er His spirit miss.

The soul of man, too, is an universe:
Whence follows it that race with race concurs
In naming all it knows of good and true
God,—yea, its own God; and with homage due
Surrenders to His sway both earth and heaven;
Fears Him, and loves, where place for love is given.

133



LOMBARD VIGNETTES


ON THE SUPERGA

This is the chord of Lombard colouring in May. Lowest in the scale:
bright green of varied tints, the meadow-grasses mingling with willows
and acacias, harmonised by air and distance. Next, opaque blue—the blue
of something between amethyst and lapis-lazuli—that belongs alone to
the basements of Italian mountains. Higher, the roseate whiteness of
ridged snow on Alps or Apennines. Highest, the blue of the sky,
ascending from pale turquoise to transparent sapphire filled with
light. A mediæval mystic might have likened this chord to the spiritual
world. For the lowest region is that of natural life, of plant and bird
and beast, and unregenerate man; it is the place of faun and nymph and
satyr, the plain where wars are fought and cities built, and work is
done. Thence we climb to purified humanity, the mountains of purgation,
the solitude and simplicity of contemplative life not yet made perfect
by freedom from the flesh. Higher comes that thin white belt, where are
the resting places of angelic feet, the points whence purged souls take
their flight toward infinity. Above all is heaven, the hierarchies
ascending row on row to reach the light of God.

This fancy occurred to me as I climbed the slope of the Superga, gazing
over acacia hedges and poplars to the mountains bare in morning light.
The occasional occurrence of 134bars across this chord—poplars
shivering in sun and breeze, stationary cypresses as black as night,
and tall campanili with the hot red shafts of glowing brick—adds just
enough of composition to the landscape. Without too much straining of
the allegory, the mystic might have recognised in these aspiring bars
the upward effort of souls rooted in the common life of earth.

The panorama, unrolling as we ascend, is enough to overpower a lover of
beauty. There is nothing equal to it for space and breadth and majesty.
Monte Rosa, the masses of Mont Blanc blent with the Grand Paradis, the
airy pyramid of Monte Viso, these are the battlements of that vast
Alpine rampart, in which the vale of Susa opens like a gate. To west
and south sweep the Maritime Alps and the Apennines. Beneath, glides
the infant Po; and where he leads our eyes, the plain is only limited
by pearly mist.

A BRONZE BUST OF CALIGULA AT TURIN

The Albertina bronze is one of the most precious portraits of
antiquity, not merely because it confirms the testimony of the green
basalt bust in the Capitol, but also because it supplies an even more
emphatic and impressive illustration to the narrative of Suetonius.

Caligula is here represented as young and singularly beautiful. It is
indeed an ideal Roman head, with the powerful square modelling, the
crisp short hair, low forehead and regular firm features, proper to the
noblest Roman type. The head is thrown backward from the throat; and
there is a something of menace or defiance or suffering in the
suggestion of brusque movement given to the sinews of the neck. This
attitude, together with the tension of the forehead, and the fixed
expression of pain and strain communicated by the 135lines of the
mouth—strong muscles of the upper lip and abruptly chiselled under
lip—in relation to the small eyes, deep set beneath their cavernous and
level brows, renders the whole face a monument of spiritual anguish. I
remember that the green basalt bust of the Capitol has the same anxious
forehead, the same troubled and overburdened eyes; but the agony of
this fretful mouth, comparable to nothing but the mouth of Pandolfo
Sigismondo Malatesta, and, like that, on the verge of breaking into the
spasms of delirium, is quite peculiar to the Albertina bronze. It is
just this which tha portrait of the Capitol lacks for the completion of
Caligula. The man who could be so represented in art had nothing wholly
vulgar in him. The brutality of Caracalla, the overblown sensuality of
Nero, the effeminacy of Commodus or Heliogabalus, are all absent here.
This face idealises the torture of a morbid soul. It is withal so truly
beautiful that it might easily be made the poem of high suffering or
noble passion. If the bronze were plastic, I see how a great sculptor,
by but few strokes, could convert it into an agonising Stephen or
Sebastian. As it is, the unimaginable touch of disease, the unrest of
madness, made Caligula the genius of insatiable appetite; and his
martyrdom was the torment of lust and ennui and everlasting agitation.
The accident of empire tantalised him with vain hopes of satisfying the
Charybdis of his soul's sick cravings. From point to point he passed of
empty pleasure and unsatisfying cruelty, for ever hungry; until the
malady of his spirit, unrestrained by any limitations, and with the
right medium for its development, became unique—the tragic type of
pathological desire. What more than all things must have plagued a man
with that face was probably the unavoidable meanness of his career.
When we study the chapters of Suetonius, we are forced to feel that,
though the situation and the madness of Caligula 136were dramatically
impressive, his crimes were trivial and, small. In spite of the vast
scale on which he worked his devilish will, his life presents a total
picture of sordid vice, differing only from pot-house dissipation and
schoolboy cruelty in point of size. And this of a truth is the Nemesis
of evil. After a time, mere tyrannous caprice must become commonplace
and cloying, tedious to the tyrant, and uninteresting to the student of
humanity: nor can I believe that Caligula failed to perceive this to
his own infinite disgust.

Suetonius asserts that he was hideously ugly. How are we to square this
testimony with the witness of the bronze before us? What changed the
face, so beautiful and terrible in youth, to ugliness that shrank from
sight in manhood? Did the murderers find it blurred in its fine
lineaments, furrowed with lines of care, hollowed with the soul's
hunger? Unless a life of vice and madness had succeeded in making
Caligula's face what the faces of some maniacs are—the bloated ruin of
what was once a living witness to the soul within—I could fancy that
death may have sanctified it with even more beauty than this bust of
the self-tormented young man shows. Have we not all seen the anguish of
thought-fretted faces smoothed out by the hands of the Deliverer?

FERRARI AT VERCELLI

It is possible that many visitors to the Cathedral of Como have carried
away the memory of stately women with abundant yellow hair and
draperies of green and crimson, in a picture they connect thereafter
with Gaudenzio Ferrari. And when they come to Milan, they are probably
both impressed and disappointed by a Martyrdom of S. Catherine in the
Brera, bearing the same artist's name. If they wish to understand this
painter, they must seek him at Varallo, at 137Saronno, and at Vercelli.
In the Church of S. Cristoforo in Vercelli, Gaudenzio Ferrari at the
full height of his powers ghowed what he could do to justify Lomazzo's
title chosen for him of the Eagle. He has indeed the strong wing and
the swiftness of the king of birds. And yet the works of few really
great painters—and among the really great we place Ferrari—leave upon
the mind a more distressing sense of imperfection. Extraordinary
fertility of fancy, vehement dramatic passion, sincere study of nature,
and great command of technical resources are here (as elsewhere in
Ferrari's frescoes) neutralised by an incurable defect of the combining
and harmonising faculty, so essential to a masterpiece. There is stuff
enough of thought and vigour and imagination to make a dozen artists.
And yet we turn away disappointed from the crowded, dazzling,
stupefying wilderness of forma and faces on these mighty walls.

All that Ferrari derived from actual life—the heads of single figures,
the powerful movement of men and women in excited action, the
monumental pose of two praying nuns—is admirably rendered. His angels
too, in S. Cristoforo as elsewhere, are quite original; not only in
their type of beauty, which is terrestrial and peculiar to Ferrari,
without a touch of Correggio's sensuality; but also in the intensity of
their emotion, the realisation of their vitality. Those which hover
round the Cross in the fresco of the 'Crucifixion' are as passionate as
any angels of the Giottesque masters in Assisi. Those again which crowd
the Stable of Bethlehem in the 'Nativity' yield no point of idyllic
charm to Gozzoli's in the Riccardi Chapel.

The 'Crucifixion' and the 'Assumption of Madonna' are very tall and
narrow compositions, audacious in their attempt to fill almost
unmanageable space with a connected action. Of the two frescoes the
'Crucifixion,' which has points of 138strong similarity to the same
subject at Varallo, is by far the best. Ferrari never painted anything
at once truer to life and nobler in tragic style than the fainting
Virgin. Her face expresses the very acme of martyrdom—not exaggerated
nor spasmodic, but real and sublime—in the suffering of a stately
matron. In points like this Ferrari cannot be surpassed. Raphael could
scarcely have done better; besides, there is an air of sincerity, a
stamp of popular truth, in this episode, which lies beyond Raphael's
sphere. It reminds us rather of Tintoretto.

After the 'Crucifixion,' I place the 'Adoration of the Magi,' full of
fine mundane motives and gorgeous costumes; then the 'Sposalizio'
(whose marriage, I am not certain), the only grandly composed picture
of the series, and marked by noble heads; then the 'Adoration of the
Shepherds,' with two lovely angels holding the bambino. The 'Assumption
of the Magdalen'—for which fresco there is a valuable cartoon in the
Albertina Collection at Turin—must have been a fine picture; but it is
ruined now. An oil altar-piece in the choir of the same church struck
me less than the frescoes. It represents Madonna and a crowd of saints
under an orchard of apple-trees, with cherubs curiously flung about
almost at random in the air. The motive of the orchard is prettily
conceived and carried out with spirit.

What Ferrari possessed was rapidity of movement, fulness and richness
of reality, exuberance of invention, excellent portraiture, dramatic
vehemence, and an almost unrivalled sympathy with the swift and
passionate world of angels. What he lacked was power of composition,
simplicity of total effect, harmony in colouring, control over his own
luxuriance, the sense of tranquillity. He seems to have sought grandeur
in size and multitude, richness, éclat, contrast. Being the 139disciple
of Lionardo and Raphael, his defects are truly singular. As a composer,
the old leaven of Giovenone remained in him; but he felt the dramatic
tendencies of a later age, and in occasional episodes he realised them
with a force and _furia_ granted to very few of the Italian painters.

LANINI AT VERCELLI

The Casa Mariano is a palace which belonged to a family of that name.
Like many houses of the sort in Italy, it fell to vile uses; and its
hall of audience was turned into a lumber-room. The Operai of Vercelli,
I was told, bought the palace a few years ago, restored the noble hall,
and devoted a smaller room to a collection of pictures valuable for
students of the early Vercellese style of painting. Of these there is
no need to speak. The great hall is the gem of the Casa Mariano. It has
a coved roof, with a large flat oblong space in the centre of the
ceiling. The whole of this vault and the lunettes beneath were painted
by Lanini; so runs the tradition of the fresco-painter's name; and
though much injured by centuries of outrage, and somewhat marred by
recent restoration, these frescoes form a precious monument of Lombard
art. The object of the painter's design seems to have been the
glorification of Music. In the central compartment of the roof is an
assembly of the gods, obviously borrowed from Raphael's 'Marriage of
Cupid and Psyche' in the Farnesina at Rome. The fusion of Roman
composition with Lombard execution constitutes the chief charm of this
singular work, and makes it, so far as I am aware, unique. Single
figures of the goddesses, and the whole movement of the scene upon
Olympus, are transcribed without attempt at concealment. And yet the
fresco is not a barefaced copy. 140The manner of feeling and of
execution is quite different from that of Raphael's school. The poetry
and sentiment are genuinely Lombard. None of Raphael's pupils could
have carried out his design with a delicacy of emotion and a technical
skill in colouring so consummate. What, we think, as we gaze upward,
would the Master have given for such a craftsman? The hardness,
coarseness, and animal crudity of the Roman School are absent: so also
is their vigour. But where the grace of form and colour is so soft and
sweet, where the high-bred calm of good company is so sympathetically
rendered, where the atmosphere of amorous languor and of melody is so
artistically diffused, we cannot miss the powerful modelling and rather
vulgar _tours de force_ of Giulio Romano. The scale of tone is silvery
golden. There are no hard blues, no coarse red flesh-tints, no black
shadows. Mellow lights, the morning hues of primrose, or of palest
amber, pervade the whole society. It is a court of gentle and
harmonious souls; and though this style of beauty might cloy, at first
sight there is something ravishing in those yellow-haired white-limbed,
blooming deities. No movement of lascivious grace as in Correggio, no
perturbation of the senses as in some of the Venetians, disturbs the
rhythm of their music; nor is the pleasure of the flesh, though felt by
the painter and communicated to the spectator, an interruption to their
divine calm. The white, saffron-haired goddesses are grouped together
like stars seen in the topaz light of evening, like daffodils half
smothered in snowdrops, and among them, Diana, with the crescent on her
forehead, is the fairest. Her dream-like beauty need fear no comparison
with the Diana of the Camera di S. Paolo. Apollo and Bacchus are
scarcely less lovely in their bloom of earliest manhood; honey-pale, as
Greeks would say; like statues of living electron; realising Simaetha's
picture of her lover and his friend:—

141

Τοίς δ΄ ήν ξανθοτέρα μέν ελιχρύσοιο γενειάς
στήθεα δε στίλβοντα πολύ πλέον η΅ τυ Σελάνα.[9]


 [9] 'The down upon their cheeks and chin was yellower than
 helichrysus, and their breasts gleamed whiter far than thou, O Moon.'


It was thus that the almost childlike spirit of the Milanese painters
felt the antique: how differently from their Roman brethren! It was
thus that they interpreted the lines of their own poets:—

E i tuoi capei più volte ho somigliati
Di Cerere a le paglie secche o bionde
Dintorno crespi al tuo capo legati.[10]


 [10] 'Thy tresses have I oftentimes compared to Ceres' yellow autumn
 sheaves, wreathed in curled bands around thy head.'


Yet the painter of this hall—whether we are to call him Lanini or
another—was not a composer. Where he has not robbed the motives and the
distribution of the figures from Raphael, he has nothing left but grace
of detail. The intellectual feebleness of his style may be seen in many
figures of women playing upon instruments of music, ranged around the
walls. One girl at the organ is graceful; another with a tambourine has
a sort of Bassarid beauty. But the group of Apollo, Pegasus, and a Muse
upon Parnassus, is a failure in its meaningless frigidity, while few of
these subordinate compositions show power of conception or vigour of
design.

Lanini, like Sodoma, was a native of Vercelli; and though he was
Ferrari's pupil, there is more in him of Luini or of Sodoma than of his
master. He does not rise at any point to the height of these three
great masters, but he shares some of Luini's and Sodoma's fine
qualities, without having any of Ferrari's force. A visit to the
mangled remnants of his frescoes in S. Caterina will repay the student
of art. This was once, apparently, a double church, or a church with
the hall and chapel of a _confraternita_ appended to it. One 142portion
of the building was painted with the history of the Saint; and very
lovely must this work have been, to judge by the fragments which have
recently been rescued from whitewash, damp, and ruthless mutilation.
What wonderful Lombard faces, half obliterated on the broken wall and
mouldering plaster, smile upon us like drowned memories swimming up
from the depths of oblivion! Wherever three or four are grouped
together, we find an exquisite little picture—an old woman and two
young women in a doorway, for example, telling no story, but touching
us with simple harmony of form. Nothing further is needed to render
their grace intelligible. Indeed, knowing the faults of the school, we
may seek some consolation by telling ourselves that these incomplete
fragments yield Lanini's best. In the coved compartments of the roof,
above the windows, ran a row of dancing boys; and these are still most
beautifully modelled, though the pallor of recent whitewash is upon
them. All the boys have blonde hair. They are naked, with scrolls or
ribbons wreathed around them, adding to the airiness of their continual
dance. Some of the loveliest are in a room used to stow away the lumber
of the church—old boards and curtains, broken lanterns, candle-ends in
tin sconces, the musty apparatus of festival adornments, and in the
midst of all a battered, weather-beaten bier.

THE PIAZZA OF PIACENZA

The great feature of Piacenza is its famous piazza—romantically,
picturesquely perfect square, surpassing the most daring attempts of
the scene-painter, and realising a poet's dreams. The space is
considerable, and many streets converge upon it at irregular angles.
Its finest architectural feature is the antique Palace of the Commune:
Gothic 143arcades of stone below, surmounted by a brick building with
wonderfully delicate and varied terra-cotta work in the round-arched
windows. Before this façade, on the marble pavement, prance the bronze
equestrian statues of two Farnesi—insignificant men, exaggerated
horses, flying drapery—as _barocco_ as it is possible to be in style,
but so splendidly toned with verdigris, so superb in their _bravura_
attitude, and so happily placed in the line of two streets lending far
vistas from the square into the town beyond, that it is difficult to
criticise them seriously. They form, indeed, an important element in
the pictorial effect, and enhance the terra-cotta work of the façade by
the contrast of their colour.

The time to see this square is in evening twilight—that wonderful hour
after sunset—when the people are strolling on the pavement, polished to
a mirror by the pacing of successive centuries, and when the cavalry
soldiers group themselves at the angles under the lamp-posts or beneath
the dimly lighted Gothic arches of the Palace. This is the magical
mellow hour to be sought by lovers of the picturesque in all the towns
of Italy, the hour which, by its tender blendings of sallow western
lights with glimmering lamps, casts the veil of half shadow over any
crudeness and restores the injuries of Time; the hour when all the
tints of these old buildings are intensified, etherealised, and
harmonised by one pervasive glow. When I last saw Piacenza, it had been
raining all day; and ere sundown a clearing had come from the Alps,
followed by fresh threatenings of thunderstorms. The air was very
liquid. There was a tract of yellow sunset sky to westward, a faint new
moon half swathed in mist above, and over all the north a huge towered
thundercloud kept flashing distant lightnings. The pallid primrose of
the West, forced down and reflected back from that vast bank of
tempest, gave unearthly beauty to the hues of church and
144palace—tender half-tones of violet and russet paling into greys and
yellows on what in daylight seemed but dull red brick. Even the
uncompromising façade of S. Francesco helped; and the Dukes were like
statues of the 'Gran Commendatore,' waiting for Don Giovanni's
invitation.

MASOLINO AT CASTIGLIONE D'OLONA

Through the loveliest Arcadian scenery of woods and fields and rushing
waters the road leads downward from Varese to Castiglione. The
Collegiate Church stands on a leafy hill above the town, with fair
prospect over groves and waterfalls and distant mountains. Here in the
choir is a series of frescoes by Masolino da Panicale, the master of
Masaccio, who painted them about the year 1428. 'Masolinus de Florentia
pinxit' decides their authorship. The histories of the Virgin, S.
Stephen and S. Lawrence, are represented: but the injuries of time and
neglect have been so great that it is difficult to judge them fairly.
All we feel for certain is that Masolino had not yet escaped from the
traditional Giottesque mannerism. Only a group of Jews stoning Stephen,
and Lawrence before the tribunal, remind us by dramatic energy of the
Brancacci Chapel.

The Baptistery frescoes, dealing with the legend of S. John, show a
remarkable advance; and they are luckily in better preservation. A
soldier lifting his two-handed sword to strike off the Baptist's head
is a vigorous figure, full of Florentine realism. Also in the Baptism
in Jordan we are reminded of Masaccio by an excellent group of
bathers—one man taking off his hose, another putting them on again, a
third standing naked with his back turned, and a fourth shivering
half-dressed with a look of curious sadness on his face. The nude has
been carefully studied and well realised. 145The finest composition of
this series is a large panel representing a double action—Salome at
Herod's table begging for the Baptist's head, and then presenting it to
her mother Herodias. The costumes are quattrocento Florentine, exactly
rendered. Salome is a graceful slender creature; the two women who
regard her offering to Herodias with mingled curiosity and horror, are
well conceived. The background consists of a mountain landscape in
Masaccio's simple manner, a rich Renaissance villa, and an open loggia.
The architecture perspective is scientifically accurate, and a frieze
of boys with garlands on the villa is in the best manner of Florentine
sculpture. On the mountain side, diminished in scale, is a group of
elders, burying the body of S. John. These are massed together and
robed in the style of Masaccio, and have his virile dignity of form and
action. Indeed this interesting wall-painting furnishes an epitome of
Florentine art, in its intentions and achievements, during the first
half of the fifteenth century. The colour is strong and brilliant, and
the execution solid.

The margin of the Salome panel has been used for scratching the
Chronicle of Castiglione. I read one date, 1568, several of the next
century, the record of a duel between two gentlemen, and many
inscriptions to this effect, 'Erodiana Regina,' 'Omnia praetereunt,'
&c. A dirty one-eyed fellow keeps the place. In my presence he swept
the frescoes over with a scratchy broom, flaying their upper surface in
profound unconsciousness of mischief. The armour of the executioner has
had its steel colours almost rubbed off by this infernal process. Damp
and cobwebs are far kinder.

146

THE CERTOSA

The Certosa of Pavia leaves upon the mind an impression of bewildering
sumptuousness: nowhere else are costly materials so combined with a
lavish expenditure of the rarest art. Those who have only once been
driven round together with the crew of sightseers, can carry little
away but the memory of lapis-lazuli and bronze-work, inlaid agates and
labyrinthine sculpture, cloisters tenantless in silence, fair painted
faces smiling from dark corners on the senseless crowd, trim gardens
with rows of pink primroses in spring, and of begonia in autumn,
blooming beneath colonnades of glowing terra-cotta. The striking
contrast between the Gothic of the interior and the Renaissance façade,
each in its own kind perfect, will also be remembered; and thoughts of
the two great houses, Visconti and Sforza, to whose pride of power it
is a monument, may be blended with the recollection of art-treasures
alien to their spirit.

Two great artists, Ambrogio Borgognone and Antonio Amadeo, are the
presiding genii of the Certosa. To minute criticism, based upon the
accurate investigation of records and the comparison of styles, must be
left the task of separating their work from that of numerous
collaborators. But it is none the less certain that the keynote of the
whole music is struck by them, Amadeo, the master of the Colleoni
chapel at Bergamo, was both sculptor and architect. If the façade of
the Certosa be not absolutely his creation, he had a hand in the
distribution of its masses and the detail of its ornaments. The only
fault in this otherwise faultless product of the purest quattrocento
inspiration, is that the façade is a frontispiece, with hardly any
structural relation to the church it masks: and this, though serious
from the point of view of 147architecture, is no abatement of its
sculpturesque and picturesque refinement. At first sight it seems a
wilderness of loveliest reliefs and statues—of angel faces, fluttering
raiment, flowing hair, love-laden youths, and stationary figures of
grave saints, mid wayward tangles of acanthus and wild vine and
cupid-laden foliage; but the subordination of these decorative details
to the main design, clear, rhythmical, and lucid, like a chaunt of
Pergolese or Stradella, will enrapture one who has the sense for unity
evoked from divers elements, for thought subduing all caprices to the
harmony of beauty. It is not possible elsewhere in Italy to find the
instinct of the earlier Renaissance, so amorous in its expenditure of
rare material, so lavish in its bestowal of the costliest workmanship
on ornamental episodes, brought into truer keeping with a pure and
simple structural effect.

All the great sculptor-architects of Lombardy worked in succession on
this miracle of beauty; and this may account for the sustained
perfection of style, which nowhere suffers from the languor of
exhaustion in the artist or from repetition of motives. It remains the
triumph of North Italian genius, exhibiting qualities of tenderness and
self-abandonment to inspiration, which we lack in the severer
masterpieces of the Tuscan school.

To Borgognone is assigned the painting of the roof in nave and
choir—exceeding rich, varied, and withal in sympathy with stately
Gothic style. Borgognone again is said to have designed the saints and
martyrs worked in _tarsia_ for the choir-stalls. His frescoes are in
some parts well preserved, as in the lovely little Madonna at the end
of the south chapel, while the great fresco above the window in the
south transept has an historical value that renders it interesting in
spite of partial decay. Borgognone's oil pictures throughout the church
prove, if such proof were needed after 148inspection of the altar-piece
in our National Gallery, that he was one of the most powerful and
original painters of Italy, blending the repose of the earlier masters
and their consummate workmanship with a profound sensibility to the
finest shades of feeling and the rarest forms of natural beauty. He
selected an exquisite type of face for his young men and women; on his
old men he bestowed singular gravity and dignity. His saints are a
society of strong, pure, restful, earnest souls, in whom the passion of
deepest emotion is transfigured by habitual calm. The brown and golden
harmonies he loved, are gained without sacrifice of lustre: there is a
self-restraint in his colouring which corresponds to the reserve of his
emotion; and though a regret sometimes rises in our mind that he should
have modelled the light and shade upon his faces with a brusque,
unpleasing hardness, their pallor dwells within our memory as something
delicately sought if not consummately attained. In a word, Borgognone
was a true Lombard of the best time. The very imperfection of his
flesh-painting repeats in colour what the greatest Lombard sculptors
sought in stone—a sharpness of relief that passes over into angularity.
This brusqueness was the counterpoise to tenderness of feeling and
intensity of fancy in these northern artists. Of all Borgognone's
pictures in the Certosa I should select the altar-piece of S. Siro with
S. Lawrence and S. Stephen and two Fathers of the Church, for its
fusion of this master's qualities.

The Certosa is a wilderness of lovely workmanship. From Borgognone's
majesty we pass into the quiet region of Luini's Christian grace, or
mark the influence of Lionardo on that rare Assumption of Madonna by
his pupil, Andrea Solari. Like everything touched by the Lionardesque
spirit, this great picture was left unfinished: yet Northern Italy has
nothing finer to show than the landscape, outspread in its
149immeasurable purity of calm, behind the grouped Apostles and the
ascendant Mother of Heaven. The feeling of that happy region between
the Alps and Lombardy, where there are many waters—_et tacitos sine
labe laous sine murmure rivos_—and where the last spurs of the
mountains sink in undulations to the plain, has passed into this azure
vista, just as all Umbria is suggested in a twilight background of
young Raphael or Perugino.

The portraits of the Dukes of Milan and their families carry us into a
very different realm of feeling. Medallions above the doors of sacristy
and chancel, stately figures reared aloft beneath gigantic canopies,
men and women slumbering with folded hands upon their marble biers—we
read in all those sculptured forms a strange record of human
restlessness, resolved into the quiet of the tomb. The iniquities of
Gian Galeazzo Visconti, _il gran Biscione_, the blood-thirst of Gian
Maria, the dark designs of Filippo and his secret vices, Francesco
Sforza's treason, Galeazzo Maria's vanities and lusts; their tyrants'
dread of thunder and the knife; their awful deaths by pestilence and
the assassin's poignard; their selfishness, oppression, cruelty and
fraud; the murders of their kinsmen; their labyrinthine plots and acts
of broken faith;—all is tranquil now, and we can say to each what
Bosola found for the Duchess of Malfi ere her execution:—

Much you had of land and rent;
Your length in clay's now competent:
A long war disturbed your mind;
Here your perfect peace is signed!


Some of these faces are commonplace, with _bourgeois_ cunning written
on the heavy features; one is bluff, another stolid, a third bloated, a
fourth stately. The sculptors have dealt fairly with all, and not one
has the lineaments of utter baseness. To Cristoforo Solari's statues of
Lodovico Sforza and 150his wife, Beatrice d'Este, the palm of
excellence in art and of historical interest must be awarded. Sculpture
has rarely been more dignified and true to life than here. The woman
with her short clustering curls, the man with his strong face, are
resting after that long fever which brought woe to Italy, to Europe a
new age, and to the boasted minion of Fortune a slow death in the
prison palace of Loches. Attired in ducal robes, they lie in state; and
the sculptor has carved the lashes on their eyelids, heavy with death's
marmoreal sleep. He at least has passed no judgment on their crimes.
Let us too bow and leave their memories to the historian's pen, their
spirits to God's mercy.

After all wanderings in this Temple of Art, we return to Antonio
Amadeo, to his long-haired seraphs playing on the lutes of Paradise, to
his angels of the Passion with their fluttering robes and arms
outspread in agony, to his saints and satyrs mingled on pilasters of
the marble doorways, his delicate _Lavabo_ decorations, and his hymns
of piety expressed in noble forms of weeping women and dead Christs.
Wherever we may pass, this master-spirit of the Lombard style enthralls
attention. His curious treatment of drapery as though it ¦were made of
crumpled paper, and his trick of enhancing relief by sharp angles and
attenuated limbs, do not detract from his peculiar charm. That is his
way, very different from Donatello's, of attaining to the maximum of
life and lightness in the stubborn vehicle of stone. Nor do all the
riches of the choir—those multitudes of singing angels, those
Ascensions and Assumptions, and innumerable basreliefs of gleaming
marble moulded into softest wax by mastery of art—distract our eyes
from the single round medallion, not larger than a common plate,
inscribed by him upon the front of the high altar. Perhaps, if one who
loved Amadeo were bidden to point out his masterpiece, he would lead
the way at 151once to this. The space is small: yet it includes the
whole tragedy of the Passion. Christ is lying dead among the women on
his mother's lap, and there are pitying angels in the air above. One
woman lifts his arm, another makes her breast a pillow for his head.
Their agony is hushed, but felt in every limb and feature; and the
extremity of suffering is seen in each articulation of the worn and
wounded form just taken from the cross. It would be too painful, were
not the harmony of art so rare, the interlacing of those many figures
in a simple round so exquisite. The noblest tranquillity and the most
passionate emotion are here fused in a manner of adorable naturalness.

From the church it is delightful to escape into the cloisters, flooded
with sunlight, where the swallows skim, and the brown hawks circle, and
the mason bees are at work upon their cells among the carvings. The
arcades of the two cloisters are the final triumph of Lombard
terra-cotta. The memory fails before such infinite invention, such
facility and felicity of execution. Wreaths of cupids gliding round the
arches among grape-bunches and bird-haunted foliage of vine; rows of
angels, like rising and setting planets, some smiling and some grave,
ascending and descending by the Gothic curves; saints stationary on
their pedestals, and faces leaning from the rounds above; crowds of
cherubs, and courses of stars, and acanthus leaves in woven lines, and
ribands incessantly inscribed with Ave Maria! Then, over all, the rich
red light and purple shadows of the brick, than which no substance
sympathises more completely with the sky of solid blue above, the broad
plain space of waving summer grass beneath our feet.

It is now late afternoon, and when evening comes, the train will take
us back to Milan. There is yet a little while to rest tired eyes and
strained spirits among the willows and 152the poplars by the monastery
wall. Through that grey-green leafage, young with early spring, the
pinnacles of the Certosa leap like flames into the sky. The rice-fields
are under water, far and wide, shining like burnished gold beneath the
level light now near to sun-down. Frogs are croaking; those persistent
frogs, whom the Muses have ordained to sing for aye, in spite of Bion
and all tuneful poets dead. We sit and watch the water-snakes, the busy
rats, the hundred creatures swarming in the fat well-watered soil.
Nightingales here and there, new-comers, tune their timid April song:
but, strangest of all sounds in such a place, my comrade from the
Grisons jodels forth an Alpine cowherd's melody. _Auf den Alpen droben
ist ein herrliches Leben!_

Did the echoes of Gian Galeazzo's convent ever wake to such a tune as
this before?

SAN MAURIZIO

The student of art in Italy, after mastering the characters of
different styles and epochs, finds a final satisfaction in the
contemplation of buildings designed and decorated by one master, or by
groups of artists interpreting the spirit of a single period. Such
supreme monuments of the national genius are not very common, and they
are therefore the more precious. Giotto's Chapel at Padua; the Villa
Farnesina at Rome, built by Peruzzi and painted in fresco by Raphael
and Sodoma; the Palazzo del Te at Mantua, Giulio Romano's masterpiece;
the Scuola di San Rocco, illustrating the Venetian Renaissance at its
climax, might be cited among the most splendid of these achievements.
In the church of the Monastero Maggiore at Milan, dedicated to S.
Maurizio, Lombard architecture and fresco-painting may be studied in
this rare combination. The monastery itself, one of the 153oldest in
Milan, formed a retreat for cloistered virgins following the rule of S.
Benedict. It may have been founded as early as the tenth century; but
its church was rebuilt in the first two decades of the sixteenth,
between 1503 and 1519, and was immediately afterwards decorated with
frescoes by Luini and his pupils. Gian Giacomo Dolcebono, architect and
sculptor, called by his fellow-craftsmen _magistro di taliare pietre_,
gave the design, at once simple and harmonious, which was carried out
with hardly any deviation from his plan. The church is a long
parallelogram, divided into two unequal portions, the first and smaller
for the public, the second for the nuns. The walls are pierced with
rounded and pilastered windows, ten on each side, four of which belong
to the outer and six to the inner section. The dividing wall or septum
rises to the point from which the groinings of the roof spring; and
round three sides of the whole building, north, east, and south, runs a
gallery for the use of the convent. The altars of the inner and outer
church are placed against the septum, back to back, with certain
differences of structure that need not be described. Simple and severe,
S. Maurizio owes its architectural beauty wholly and entirely to purity
of line and perfection of proportion. There is a prevailing spirit of
repose, a sense of space, fair, lightsome, and adapted to serene moods
of the meditative fancy in this building, which is singularly at
variance with the religious mysticism and imaginative grandeur of a
Gothic edifice. The principal beauty of the church, however, is its
tone of colour. Every square inch is covered with fresco or rich
woodwork, mellowed by time into that harmony of tints which blends the
work of greater and lesser artists in one golden hue of brown. Round
the arcades of the convent-loggia run delicate arabesques with faces of
fair female saints—Catherine, Agnes, Lucy, Agatha,—gem-like or
star-like, gazing from their gallery 154upon the church below. The
Luinesque smile is on their lips and in their eyes, quiet, refined, as
though the emblems of their martyrdom brought back no thought of pain
to break the Paradise of rest in which they dwell. There are twenty-six
in all, a sisterhood of stainless souls, the lilies of Love's garden
planted round Christ's throne. Soldier saints are mingled with them in
still smaller rounds above the windows, chosen to illustrate the
virtues of an order which renounced the world. To decide whose hand
produced these masterpieces of Lombard suavity and grace, or whether
more than one, would not be easy. Near the altar we can perhaps trace
the style of Bartolommeo Suardi in an Annunciation painted on the
spandrils—that heroic style, large and noble, known to us by the
chivalrous S. Martin and the glorified Madonna of the Brera frescoes.
It is not impossible that the male saints of the loggia may be also
his, though a tenderer touch, a something more nearly Lionardesque in
its quietude, must be discerned in Lucy and her sisters. The whole of
the altar in this inner church belongs to Luini. Were it not for
darkness and decay, we should pronounce this series of the Passion in
nine great compositions, with saints and martyrs and torch-bearing
genii, to be one of his most ambitious and successful efforts. As it
is, we can but judge in part; the adolescent beauty of Sebastian, the
grave compassion of S. Rocco, the classical perfection of the cupid
with lighted tapers, the gracious majesty of women smiling on us
sideways from their Lombard eyelids—these remain to haunt our memory,
emerging from the shadows of the vault above.

The inner church, as is fitting, excludes all worldly elements. We are
in the presence of Christ's agony, relieved and tempered by the
sunlight of those beauteous female faces. All is solemn here, still as
the convent, pure as the meditations 155of a novice. We pass the
septum, and find ourselves in the outer church appropriated to the
laity. Above the high altar the whole wall is covered with Luini's
loveliest work, in excellent light and far from ill preserved. The
space divides into eight compartments. A Pietà, an Assumption, Saints
and Founders of the church, group themselves under the influence of
Luini's harmonising colour into one symphonious whole. But the places
of distinction are reserved for two great benefactors of the convent,
Alessandro de' Bentivogli and his wife, Ippolita Sforza. When the
Bentivogli were expelled from Bologna by the Papal forces, Alessandro
settled at Milan, where he dwelt, honoured by the Sforzas and allied to
them by marriage, till his death in 1532. He was buried in the
monastery by the side of his sister Alessandra, a nun of the order.
Luini has painted the illustrious exile in his habit as he lived. He is
kneeling, as though in ever-during adoration of the altar mystery,
attired in a long black senatorial robe trimmed with furs. In his left
hand he holds a book; and above his pale, serenely noble face is a
little black berretta. Saints attend him, as though attesting to his
act of faith. Opposite kneels Ippolita, his wife, the brilliant queen
of fashion, the witty leader of society, to whom Bandello dedicated his
Novelle, and whom he praised as both incomparably beautiful and
singularly learned. Her queenly form is clothed from head to foot in
white brocade, slashed and trimmed with gold lace, and on her forehead
is a golden circlet. She has the proud port of a princess, the beauty
of a woman past her prime but stately, the indescribable dignity of
attitude which no one but Luini could have rendered so majestically
sweet. In her hand is a book; and she, like Alessandro, has her saintly
sponsors, Agnes and Catherine and S. Scolastica.

Few pictures bring the splendid Milanese Court so vividly 156before us
as these portraits of the Bentivogli: they are, moreover, very precious
for the light they throw on what Luini could achieve in the secular
style so rarely touched by him. Great, however, as are these frescoes,
they are far surpassed both in value and interest by his paintings in
the side chapel of S. Catherine. Here more than anywhere else, more
even than at Saronno or Lugano, do we feel the true distinction of
Luini—his unrivalled excellence as a colourist, his power over pathos,
the refinement of his feeling, and the peculiar beauty of his favourite
types. The chapel was decorated at the expense of a Milanese advocate,
Francesco Besozzi, who died in 1529. It is he who is kneeling,
grey-haired and bareheaded, under the protection of S. Catherine of
Alexandria, intently gazing at Christ unbound from the scourging
pillar. On the other side stand S. Lawrence and S. Stephen, pointing to
the Christ and looking at us, as though their lips were framed to say:
'Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto his sorrow.' Even the
soldiers who have done their cruel work, seem softened. They untie the
cords tenderly, and support the fainting form, too weak to stand alone.
What sadness in the lovely faces of S. Catherine and Lawrence! What
divine anguish in the loosened limbs and bending body of Christ; what
piety in the adoring old man! All the moods proper to this supreme
tragedy of the faith are touched as in some tenor song with low
accompaniment of viols; for it was Luini's special province to feel
profoundly and to express musically. The very depth of the Passion is
there; and yet there is no discord.

Just in proportion to this unique faculty for yielding a melodious
representation of the most intense moments of stationary emotion, was
his inability to deal with a dramatic subject. The first episode of S.
Catherine's execution, when the wheel was broken and the executioners
struck by lightning, 157is painted in this chapel without energy and
with a lack of composition that betrays the master's indifference to
his subject. Far different is the second episode when Catherine is
about to be beheaded. The executioner has raised his sword to strike.
She, robed in brocade of black and gold, so cut as to display the curve
of neck and back, while the bosom is covered, leans her head above her
praying hands, and waits the blow in sweetest resignation. Two soldiers
stand at some distance in a landscape of hill and meadow; and far up
are seen the angels carrying her body to its tomb upon Mount Sinai. I
cannot find words or summon courage to describe the beauty of this
picture; its atmosphere of holy peace, the dignity of its composition,
the golden richness of its colouring. The most tragic situation has
here again been alchemised by Luini's magic into a pure idyll, without
the loss of power, without the sacrifice of edification.

S. Catherine in this incomparable fresco is a portrait, the history of
which so strikingly illustrates the relation of the arts to religion on
the one hand, and to life on the other, in the age of the Renaissance,
that it cannot be omitted. At the end of his fourth Novella, having
related the life of the Contessa di Cellant, Bandello says: 'And so the
poor woman was beheaded; such was the end of her unbridled desires; and
he who would fain see her painted to the life, let him go to the Church
of the Monistero Maggiore, and there will he behold her portrait.' The
Contessa di Cellant was the only child of a rich usurer who lived at
Casal Monferrato. Her mother was a Greek; and she was a girl of such
exquisite beauty, that, in spite of her low origin, she became the wife
of the noble Ermes Visconti in her sixteenth year. He took her to live
with him at Milan, where she frequented the house of the Bentivogli,
but none other. Her husband told Bandello that he knew her temper
better than to let her visit 158with the freedom of the Milanese
ladies. Upon his death, while she was little more than twenty, she
retired to Casale and led a gay life among many lovers. One of these,
the Count of Cellant in the Val d'Aosta, became her second husband,
conquered by her extraordinary loveliness. They could not, however,
agree together. She left him, and established herself at Pavia. Rich
with her father's wealth and still of most seductive beauty, she now
abandoned herself to a life of profligacy. Three among her lovers must
be named: Ardizzino Valperga, Count of Masino; Roberto Sanseverino, of
the princely Naples family; and Don Pietro di Cardona, a Sicilian. With
each of the two first she quarrelled, and separately besought each to
murder the other. They were friends and frustrated her plans by
communicating them to one another. The third loved her with the insane
passion of a very young man. What she desired, he promised to do
blindly; and she bade him murder his two predecessors in her favour. At
this time she was living at Milan, where the Duke of Bourbon was acting
as viceroy for the Emperor. Don Pietro took twenty-five armed men of
his household, and waylaid the Count of Masino, as he was returning
with his brother and eight or nine servants, late one night from
supper. Both the brothers and the greater part of their suite were
killed: but Don Pietro was caught. He revealed the atrocity of his
mistress; and she was sent to prison. Incapable of proving her
innocence, and prevented from escaping, in spite of 15,000 golden
crowns with which she hoped to bribe her jailors, she was finally
beheaded. Thus did a vulgar and infamous Messalina, distinguished only
by rare beauty, furnish Luini with a S. Catherine for this masterpiece
of pious art! The thing seems scarcely credible. Yet Bandello lived in
Milan while the Church of S. Maurizio was being painted; nor does he
show the slightest sign of 159disgust at the discord between the
Contessa's life and her artistic presentation in the person of a royal
martyr.

A HUMANIST'S MONUMENT

In the Sculpture Gallery of the Brera is preserved a fair white marble
tomb, carved by that excellent Lombard sculptor, Agostino Busti. The
epitaph runs as follows:—

En Virtutem Mortis nesciam.
Vivet Lancinus Curtius
    Sæcula per omnia
Quascunque lustrans oras,
Tantum possunt Camoenæ.

'Look here on Virtue that knows nought of Death! Lancinus Curtius shall
live through all the centuries, and visit every shore of earth. Such
power have the Muses.' The timeworn poet reclines, as though sleeping
or resting, ready to be waked; his head is covered with flowing hair,
and crowned with laurel; it leans upon his left hand. On either side of
his couch stand cupids or genii with torches turned to earth. Above is
a group of the three Graces, flanked by winged Pegasi. Higher up are
throned two Victories with palms, and at the top a naked Fame. We need
not ask who was Lancinus Curtius. He is forgotten, and his virtue has
not saved him from oblivion; though he strove in his lifetime, _pro
virili parte_, for the palm that Busti carved upon his grave. Yet his
monument teaches in short compass a deep lesson; and his epitaph sums
up the dream which lured the men of Italy in the Renaissance to their
doom. We see before us sculptured in this marble the ideal of the
humanistic poet-scholar's life: Love, Grace, the Muse, and Nakedness,
and Glory. There is not a single intrusive thought derived from
Christianity. The end for which the man lived was 160Pagan. His hope
was earthly fame. Yet his name survives, if this indeed be a survival,
not in those winged verses which were to carry him abroad across the
earth, but in the marble of a cunning craftsman, scanned now and then
by a wandering scholar's eye in the half-darkness of a vault.

THE MONUMENT OF GASTON DE FOIX IN THE BRERA

The hero of Ravenna lies stretched upon his back in the hollow of a
bier covered with laced drapery; and his head rests on richly
ornamented cushions. These decorative accessories, together with the
minute work of his scabbard, wrought in the fanciful mannerism of the
_cinquecento_, serve to enhance the statuesque simplicity of the young
soldier's effigy. The contrast between so much of richness in the
merely subordinate details, and this sublime severity of treatment in
the person of the hero, is truly and touchingly dramatic. There is a
smile as of content in death, upon his face; and the features are
exceedingly beautiful—with the beauty of a boy, almost of a woman. The
heavy hair is cut straight above the forehead and straight over the
shoulders, falling in massive clusters. A delicately sculptured laurel
branch is woven into a victor's crown, and laid lightly on the tresses
it scarcely seems to clasp. So fragile is this wreath that it does not
break the pure outline of the boy-conqueror's head. The armour is quite
plain. So is the surcoat. Upon the swelling bust, that seems fit
harbour for a hero's heart, there lies the collar of an order composed
of cockle-shells; and this is all the ornament given to the figure. The
hands are clasped across a sword laid flat upon the breast, and placed
between the legs. Upon the chin is a little tuft of hair, parted, and
curling either way; for the victor of Ravenna, like the Hermes of
Homer, was πρωτον ϋπμνήτμς, 'a 161youth of princely blood, whose beard
hath just begun to grow, for whom the season of bloom is in its prime
of grace.' The whole statue is the idealisation of _virtù_—that quality
so highly prized by the Italians and the ancients, so well fitted for
commemoration in the arts. It is the apotheosis of human life resolved
into undying memory because of one great deed. It is the supreme
portrait in modern times of a young hero, chiselled by artists
belonging to a race no longer heroic, but capable of comprehending and
expressing the æsthetic charm of heroism. Standing before it, we may
say of Gaston what Arrian wrote to Hadrian of Achilles:—'That he was a
hero, if hero ever lived, I cannot doubt; for his birth and blood were
noble, and he was beautiful, and his spirit was mighty, and he passed
in youth's prime away from men.' Italian sculpture, under the condition
of the _cinquecento_, had indeed no more congenial theme than this of
bravery and beauty, youth and fame, immortal honour and untimely death;
nor could any sculptor of death have poetised the theme more thoroughly
than Agostino Busti, whose simple instinct, unlike that of
Michelangelo, led him to subordinate his own imagination to the pathos
of reality.

SARONNO

The church of Saronno is a pretty building with a Bramantesque cupola,
standing among meadows at some distance from the little town. It is the
object of a special cult, which draws pilgrims from the neighbouring
country-side; but the concourse is not large enough to load the
sanctuary with unnecessary wealth. Everything is very quiet in the holy
place, and the offerings of the pious seem to have been only just
enough to keep the building and its treasures of art in repair. The
church consists of a nave, a 162central cupola, a vestibule leading to
the choir, the choir itself, and a small tribune behind the choir. No
other single building in North Italy can boast so much that is
first-rate of the work of Luini and Gandenzio Ferrari.

The cupola is raised on a sort of drum composed of twelve pieces,
perforated with round windows and supported on four massive piers. On
the level of the eye are frescoes by Luini of S. Rocco, S. Sebastian,
S. Christopher, and S. Antony—by no means in his best style, and
inferior to all his other paintings in this church. The Sebastian, for
example, shows an effort to vary the traditional treatment of this
saint. He is tied in a sprawling attitude to a tree; and little of
Luini's special pathos or sense of beauty—the melody of idyllic grace
made spiritual—appears in him. These four saints are on the piers.
Above are frescoes from the early Bible history by Lanini, painted in
continuation of Ferrari's medallions from the story of Adam expelled
from Paradise, which fill the space beneath the cupola, leading the eye
upward to Ferrari's masterpiece.

The dome itself is crowded with a host of angels singing and playing
upon instruments of music. At each of the twelve angles of the drum
stands a coryphaeus of this celestial choir, full length, with waving
drapery. Higher up, the golden-haired, broad-winged, divine creatures
are massed together, filling every square inch of the vault with
colour. Yet there is no confusion. The simplicity of the selected
motive and the necessities of the place acted like a check on Ferrari,
who, in spite of his dramatic impulse, could not tell a story
coherently or fill a canvas with harmonised variety. There is no trace
of his violence here. Though the motion of music runs through the whole
multitude like a breeze, though the joy expressed is a real _tripudio
celeste_, not one of all these angels flings his arms abroad or makes a
movement 163that disturbs the rhythm. We feel that they are keeping
time and resting quietly, each in his appointed seat, as though the
sphere was circling with them round the throne of God, who is their
centre and their source of gladness. Unlike Correggio and his
imitators, Ferrari has introduced no clouds, and has in no case made
the legs of his angels prominent. It is a mass of noble faces and
voluminously robed figures, emerging each above the other like flowers
in a vase. Bach too has specific character, while all are robust and
full of life, intent upon the service set them. Their instruments of
music are all the lutes and viols, flutes, cymbals, drums, fifes,
citherns, organs, and harps that Ferrari's day could show. The scale of
colour, as usual with Ferrari, is a little heavy; nor are the tints
satisfactorily harmonised. But the vigour and invention of the whole
work would atone for minor defects of far greater consequence.

It is natural, beneath this dome, to turn aside and think one moment of
Correggio at Parma. Before the _macchinisti_ of the seventeenth century
had vulgarised the motive, Correggio's bold attempt to paint heaven in
flight from earth—earth left behind in the persons of the Apostles
standing round the empty tomb, heaven soaring upward with a spiral
vortex into the abyss of light above—had an originality which set at
nought all criticism. There is such ecstasy of jubilation, such
rapturous rapidity of flight, that we who strain our eyes from below,
feel we are in the darkness of the grave which Mary left. A kind of
controlling rhythm for the composition is gained by placing Gabriel,
Madonna, and Christ at three points in the swirl of angels.
Nevertheless, composition—the presiding all-controlling intellect—is
just what makes itself felt by absence; and Correggio's special
qualities of light and colour have now so far vanished from the cupola
of the Duomo that the, constructive poverty is not disguised. Here
164if anywhere in painting, we may apply Goethe's words—_Gefühl ist
Alles._

If then we return to Ferrari's angels at Saronno, we find that the
painter of Varallo chose a safer though a far more modest theme. Nor
did he expose himself to that most cruel of all degradations which the
ethereal genius of Correggio has suffered from incompetent imitators.
To daub a tawdry and superficial reproduction of those Parmese
frescoes, to fill the cupolas of Italy with veritable _guazzetti di
rane_, was comparatively easy; and between our intelligence and what
remains of that stupendous masterpiece of boldness, crowd a thousand
memories of such ineptitude. On the other hand, nothing but solid work
and conscientious inspiration could enable any workman, however able,
to follow Ferrari in the path struck out by him at Saronno. His cupola
has had no imitator; and its only rival is the noble pendant painted at
Varallo by his own hand, of angels in adoring anguish round the Cross.

In the ante-choir of the sanctuary are Luini's priceless frescoes of
the 'Marriage of the Virgin,' and the 'Dispute with the Doctors.'[11]
Their execution is flawless, and they are perfectly preserved. If
criticism before such admirable examples of so excellent a master be
permissible, it may be questioned whether the figures are not too
crowded, whether the groups are sufficiently varied and connected by
rhythmic lines. Yet the concords of yellow and orange with blue in the
'Sposalizio,' and the blendings of dull violet and red in the
'Disputa,' make up for much of stiffness. Here, as in the Chapel of S.
Catherine at Milan, we feel that Luini was the greatest colourist among
_frescanti._ In the 'Sposalizio' the female heads are singularly noble
and idyllically graceful. Some of the young men too have Luini's
special grace and abundance of golden hair. In 165the 'Disputa' the
gravity and dignity of old men are above all things striking.

 [11] Both these and the large frescoes in the choir have been
 chromolithographed by the Arundel Society.

Passing into the choir, we find on either hand the 'Adoration of the
Magi' and the 'Purification of the Virgin,' two of Luini's divinest
frescoes. Above them in lunettes are four Evangelists and four Latin
Fathers, with four Sibyls. Time and neglect have done no damage here:
and here, again, perforce we notice perfect mastery of colour in
fresco. The blues detach themselves too much, perhaps, from the rest of
the colouring; and that is all a devil's advocate could say. It is
possible that the absence of blue makes the S. Catherine frescoes in
the Monastero Maggiore at Milan surpass all other works of Luini. But
nowhere else has he shown more beauty and variety in detail than here.
The group of women led by Joseph, the shepherd carrying the lamb upon
his shoulder, the girl with a basket of white doves, the child with an
apple on the altar-steps, the lovely youth in the foreground heedless
of the scene; all these are idyllic incidents treated with the purest,
the serenest, the most spontaneous, the truest, most instinctive sense
of beauty. The landscape includes a view of Saronno, and an episodical
picture of the 'Flight into Egypt' where a white-robed angel leads the
way. All these lovely things are in the 'Purification,' which is dated
_Bernardinus Lovinus pinxit_, MDXXV.

The fresco of the 'Magi' is less notable in detail, and in general
effect is more spoiled by obtrusive blues. There is, however, one young
man of wholly Lionardesque loveliness, whose divine innocence of
adolescence, unalloyed by serious thought, unstirred by passions,
almost forces a comparison with Sodoma. The only painter who approaches
Luini in what may be called the Lombard, to distinguish it from the
Venetian idyll, is Sodoma; and the work of his which comes nearest to
Luini's masterpieces is the legend of S. Benedict, at 166Monte Oliveto,
near Siena. Yet Sodoma had not all Luini's innocence or _naïveté._ If
he added something slightly humorous which has an indefinite charm, he
lacked that freshness as of 'cool, meek-blooded flowers' and boyish
voices, which fascinates us in Luini. Sodoma was closer to the earth,
and feared not to impregnate what he saw of beauty with the fiercer
passions of his nature. If Luini had felt passion, who shall say? It
appears nowhere in his work, where life is toned to a religious
joyousness. When Shelley compared the poetry of the Theocritean
amourists to the perfume of the tuberose, and that of the earlier Greek
poets to 'a meadow-gale of June, which mingles the fragrance of all the
flowers of the field,' he supplied us with critical images which may
not unfairly be used to point the distinction between Sodoma at Monte
Oliveto and Luini at Saronno.

THE CASTELLO OF FERRARA

Is it possible that the patron saints of cities should mould the temper
of the people to their own likeness? S. George, the chivalrous, is
champion of Ferrara. His is the marble group above the Cathedral porch,
so feudal in its medieval pomp. He and S. Michael are painted in fresco
over the south portcullis of the Castle. His lustrous armour gleams
with Giorgionesque brilliancy from Dossi's masterpiece in the
Pinacoteca. That Ferrara, the only place in Italy where chivalry struck
any root, should have had S. George for patron, is at any rate
significant.

The best preserved relic of princely feudal life in Italy is this
Castello of the Este family, with its sombre moat, chained drawbridges,
doleful dungeons, and unnumbered tragedies, each one of which may be
compared with Parisina's history. I do not want to dwell on these
things now. It is enough to 167remember the Castello, built of ruddiest
brick, time-mellowed with how many centuries of sun and soft sea-air,
as it appeared upon the close of one tempestuous day. Just before
evening the rain-clouds parted and the sun flamed out across the misty
Lombard plain. The Castello burned like a hero's funeral pyre, and
round its high-built turrets swallows circled in the warm blue air. On
the moat slept shadows, mixed with flowers of sunset, tossed from
pinnacle and gable. Then the sky changed. A roof of thunder-cloud
spread overhead with the rapidity of tempest. The dying sun gathered
his last strength against it, fretting those steel-blue arches with
crimson; and all the fierce light, thrown from vault to vault of cloud,
was reflected back as from a shield, and cast in blots and patches on
the buildings. The Castle towered up rosy-red and shadowy sombre,
enshrined, embosomed in those purple clouds; and momently ran lightning
forks like rapiers through the growing mass. Everything around,
meanwhile, was quiet in the grass-grown streets. The only sound was a
high, clear boy's voice chanting an opera tune.

PETRARCH'S TOMB AT ARQUA

The drive from Este along the skirts of the Euganean Hills to Arqua
takes one through a country which is tenderly beautiful, because of its
contrast between little peaked mountains and the plain. It is not a
grand landscape. It lacks all that makes the skirts of Alps and
Apennines sublime. Its charm is a certain mystery and repose—an
undefined sense of the neighbouring Adriatic, a pervading consciousness
of Venice unseen, but felt from far away. From the terraces of Arqua
the eye ranges across olive-trees, laurels, and pomegranates on the
southern slopes, to the misty level land that melts into the sea, with
churches and tall campanili like 168gigantic galleys setting sail for
fairyland over 'the foam of perilous seas forlorn.' Let a blue-black
shadow from a thunder-cloud be cast upon this plain, and let one ray of
sunlight strike a solitary bell-tower;—it burns with palest flame of
rose against the steely dark, and in its slender shaft and shell-like
tint of pink all Venice is foreseen.

The village church of Arqua stands upon one of these terraces, with a
full stream of clearest water flowing by. On the little square before
the church-door, where the peasants congregate at mass-time—open to the
skies with all their stars and storms, girdled by the hills, and within
hearing of the vocal stream—is Petrarch's sepulchre. Fit resting-place
for what remains to earth of such a poet's clay! It is as though
archangels, flying, had carried the marble chest and set it down here
on the hillside, to be a sign and sanctuary for after-men. A simple
rectilinear coffin, of smooth Verona _mandorlato_, raised on four thick
columns, and closed by a heavy cippus-cover. Without emblems,
allegories, or lamenting genii, this tomb of the great poet, the great
awakener of Europe from mental lethargy, encircled by the hills,
beneath the canopy of heaven, is impressive beyond the power of words.
Bending here, we feel that Petrarch's own winged thoughts and fancies,
eternal and aë;rial, 'forms more real than living man, nurslings of
immortality,' have congregated to be the ever-ministering and
irremovable attendants on the shrine of one who, while he lived, was
purest spirit in a veil of flesh.

ON A MOUNTAIN

Milan is shining in sunset on those purple fields; and a score of
cities flash back the last red light, which shows each inequality and
undulation of Lombardy outspread four thousand feet beneath. Both
ranges, Alps and Apennines, 169are clear to view; and all the silvery
lakes are over-canopied and brought into one picture by flame-litten
mists. Monte Rosa lifts her crown of peaks above a belt of clouds into
light of living fire. The Mischabelhörner and the Dom rest stationary
angel-wings upon the rampart, which at this moment is the wall of
heaven. The pyramid of distant Monte Viso burns like solid amethyst
far, far away. Mont Cervin beckons to his brother, the gigantic
Finsteraarhorn, across tracts of liquid ether. Bells are rising from
the villages, now wrapped in gloom, between me and the glimmering lake.
A hush of evening silence falls upon the ridges, cliffs, and forests of
this billowy hill, ascending into wave-like crests, and toppling with
awful chasms over the dark waters of Lugano. It is good to be alone
here at this hour. Yet I must rise and go—passing through meadows,
where white lilies sleep in silvery drifts, and asphodel is pale with
spires of faintest rose, and narcissus dreams of his own beauty,
loading the air with fragrance sweet as some love-music of Mozart.
These fields want only the white figure of Persephone to make them
poems: and in this twilight one might fancy that the queen had left her
throne by Pluto's side, to mourn for her dead youth among the flowers
uplifted between earth and heaven. Nay, they are poems now, these
fields; with that unchanging background of history, romance, and human
life—the Lombard plain, against whose violet breadth the blossoms bend
their faint heads to the evening air. Downward we hurry, on pathways
where the beeches meet, by silent farms, by meadows honey-scented, deep
in dew. The columbine stands tall and still on those green slopes of
shadowy grass. The nightingale sings now, and now is hushed again.
Streams murmur through the darkness, where the growth of trees, heavy
with honeysuckle and wild rose, is thickest. Fireflies begin to flit
above the growing 170corn. At last the plain is reached, and all the
skies are tremulous with starlight. Alas, that we should vibrate so
obscurely to these harmonies of earth and heaven! The inner finer sense
of them seems somehow unattainable—that spiritual touch of soul evoking
soul from nature, which should transfigure our dull mood of self into
impersonal delight. Man needs to be a mytho-poet at some moments, or,
better still, to be a mystic steeped through half-unconsciousness in
the vast wonder of the world. Gold and untouched to poetry or piety by
scenes that ought to blend the spirit in ourselves with spirit in the
world without, we can but wonder how this phantom show of mystery and
beauty will pass away from us—how soon—and we be where, see what, use
all our sensibilities on aught or nought?

SIC GENIUS

In the picture-gallery at Modena there is a masterpiece of Dosso Dossi.
The frame is old and richly carved; and the painting, bordered by its
beautiful dull gold, shines with the lustre of an emerald. In his happy
moods Dosso set colour upon canvas, as no other painter out of Venice
ever did; and here he is at his happiest. The picture is the portrait
of a jester, dressed in courtly clothes and with a feathered cap upon
his head. He holds a lamb in his arms, and carries the legend, _Sic
Genius_. Behind him is a landscape of exquisite brilliancy and depth.
His face is young and handsome. Dosso has made it one most wonderful
laugh. Even so perhaps laughed Yorick. Nowhere else have I seen a laugh
thus painted: not violent, not loud, although the lips are opened to
show teeth of dazzling whiteness;—but fine and delicate, playing over
the whole face like a ripple sent up from the depths of the soul
within. Who was he? What 171does the lamb mean? How should the legend
be interpreted? We cannot answer these questions. He may have been the
court-fool of Ferrara; and his genius, the spiritual essence of the
man, may have inclined him to laugh at all things. That at least is the
value he now has for us. He is the portrait of perpetual irony, the
spirit of the golden Sixteenth Century which delicately laughed at the
whole world of thoughts and things, the quintessence of the poetry of
Ariosto, the wit of Berni, all condensed into one incarnation and
immortalised by truthfullest art. With the Gaul, the Spaniard, and the
German at her gates, and in her cities, and encamped upon her fields,
Italy still laughed; and when the voice of conscience sounding through
Savonarola asked her why, she only smiled—_Sic Genius_.

One evening in May we rowed from Venice to Torcello, and at sunset
broke bread and drank wine together among the rank grasses just outside
that ancient church. It was pleasant to sit in the so-called chair of
Attila and feel the placid stillness of the place. Then there came
lounging by a sturdy young fellow in brown country clothes, with a
marvellous old wide-awake upon his head, and across his shoulders a
bunch of massive church-keys. In strange contrast to his uncouth garb
he flirted a pink Japanese fan, gracefully disposing it to cool his
sunburned olive cheeks. This made us look at him. He was not ugly. Nay,
there was something of attractive in his face—the smooth-curved chin,
the shrewd yet sleepy eyes, and finely cut thin lips—a curious mixture
of audacity and meekness blent upon his features. Yet this impression
was but the prelude to his smile. When that first dawned, some breath
of humour seeming to stir in him unbidden, the true meaning was given
to his face. Each feature helped to make a smile that was the very
soul's life of the man expressed. I broadened, showing 172brilliant
teeth, and grew into a noiseless laugh; and then I saw before me
Dosso's jester, the type of Shakspere's fools, the life of that wild
irony, now rude, now fine, which once delighted Courts. The laughter of
the whole world and of all the centuries was silent in his face. What
he said need not be repeated. The charm was less in his words than in
his personality; for Momus-philosophy lay deep in every look and
gesture of the man. The place lent itself to irony: parties of
Americans and English parsons, the former agape for any rubbishy old
things, the latter learned in the lore of obsolete Church-furniture,
had thronged Torcello; and now they were all gone, and the sun had set
behind the Alps, while an irreverent stranger drank his wine in
Attila's chair, and nature's jester smiled—_Sic Genius_.

When I slept that night I dreamed of an altar-piece in the Temple of
Folly. The goddess sat enthroned beneath a canopy hung with bells and
corals. On her lap was a beautiful winged smiling genius, who
flourished two bright torches. On her left hand stood the man of Modena
with his white lamb, a new S. John. On her right stood the man of
Torcello with his keys, a new S. Peter. Both were laughing after their
all-absorbent, divine, noiseless fashion; and under both was written,
_Sic Genius_. Are not all things, even profanity, permissible in
dreams?

173



COMO AND IL MEDEGHINO


To which of the Italian lakes should the palm of beauty be accorded?
This question may not unfrequently have moved the idle minds of
travellers, wandering through that loveliest region from Orta to
Garda—from little Orta, with her gemlike island, rosy granite crags,
and chestnut-covered swards above the Colma; to Garda, bluest of all
waters, surveyed in majestic length from Desenzano or poetic Sirmione,
a silvery sleeping haze of hill and cloud and heaven and clear waves
bathed in modulated azure. And between these extreme points what varied
lovelinesses lie in broad Maggiore, winding Como, Varese with the
laughing face upturned to heaven, Lugano overshadowed by the crested
crags of Monte Generoso, and Iseo far withdrawn among the rocky Alps!
He who loves immense space, cloud shadows slowly sailing over purple
slopes, island gardens, distant glimpses of snow-capped mountains,
breadth, air, immensity, and flooding sunlight, will choose Maggiore.
But scarcely has he cast his vote for this, the Juno of the divine
rivals, when he remembers the triple lovelinesses of the Larian
Aphrodite, disclosed in all their placid grace from Villa
Serbelloni;—the green blue of the waters, clear as glass, opaque
through depth; the _millefleurs_ roses clambering into cypresses by
Cadenabbia; the laburnums hanging their yellow clusters from the clefts
of Sasso Eancio; the oleander arcades of Varenna; the wild white
limestone crags of San Martiuo, which he has climbed to feast his eyes
174with the perspective, magical, serene, Lionardesquely perfect, of
the distant gates of Adda. Then while this modern Paris is yet
doubting, perhaps a thought may cross his mind of sterner, solitary
Lake Iseo—the Pallas of the three. She offers her own attractions. The
sublimity of Monte Adamello, dominating Lovere and all the lowland like
Hesiod's hill of Virtue reared aloft above the plain of common life,
has charms to tempt heroic lovers. Nor can Varese be neglected. In some
picturesque respects, Varese is the most perfect of the lakes. Those
long lines of swelling hills that lead into the level, yield an
infinite series of placid foregrounds, pleasant to the eye by contrast
with the dominant snow-summits, from Monte Viso to Monte Leone: the sky
is limitless to southward; the low horizons are broken by bell-towers
and farmhouses; while armaments of clouds are ever rolling in the
interval of Alps and plain.

Of a truth, to decide which is the queen of the Italian lakes, is but
an _infinita quæstio_; and the mere raising of it is folly. Still each
lover of the beautiful may give his vote; and mine, like that of
shepherd Paris, is already given to the Larian goddess. Words fail in
attempting to set forth charms which have to be enjoyed, or can at best
but lightly be touched with most consummate tact, even as great poets
have already touched on Como Lake—from Virgil with his 'Lari maxume,'
to Tennyson and the Italian Manzoni. The threshold of the shrine is,
however, less consecrated ground; and the Cathedral of Como may form a
vestibule to the temple where silence is more golden than the speech of
a describer.

The Cathedral of Como is perhaps the most perfect building in Italy for
illustrating the fusion of Gothic and Renaissance styles, both of a
good type and exquisite in their sobriety. The Gothic ends with the
nave. The noble transepts and the choir, each terminating in a rounded
tribune of the same 175dimensions, are carried out in a simple and
decorous Bramantesque manner. The transition from the one style to the
other is managed so felicitously, and the sympathies between them are
so well developed, that there is no discord. What we here call Gothic,
is conceived in a truly southern spirit, without fantastic
efflorescence or imaginative complexity of multiplied parts; while the
Renaissance manner, as applied by Tommaso Rodari, has not yet stiffened
into the lifeless neo-Latinism of the later _cinquecento_: it is still
distinguished by delicate inventiveness, and beautiful subordination of
decorative detail to architectural effect. Under these happy conditions
we feel that the Gothic of the nave, with its superior severity and
sombreness, dilates into the lucid harmonies of choir and transepts
like a flower unfolding. In the one the mind is tuned to inner
meditation and religious awe; in the other the worshipper passes into a
temple of the clear explicit faith—as an initiated neophyte might be
received into the meaning of the mysteries.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire the district of Como seems to
have maintained more vividly than the rest of Northern Italy some
memory of classic art. _Magistri Comacini_ is a title frequently
inscribed upon deeds and charters of the earlier middle ages, as
synonymous with sculptors and architects. This fact may help to account
for the purity and beauty of the Duomo. It is the work of a race in
which the tradition of delicate artistic invention had never been
wholly interrupted. To Tommaso Rodari and his brothers, Bernardino and
Jacopo, the world owes this sympathetic fusion of the Gothic and the
Bramantesque styles; and theirs too is the sculpture with which the
Duomo is so richly decorated. They were natives of Maroggia, a village
near Mendrisio, beneath the crests of Monte Generoso, close to
Campione, which sent so many able craftsmen out into the 176world
between the years 1300 and 1500. Indeed the name of Campionesi would
probably have been given to the Rodari, had they left their native
province for service in Eastern Lombardy. The body of the Duomo had
been finished when Tommaso Rodari was appointed master of the fabric in
1487. To complete the work by the addition of a tribune was his duty.
He prepared a wooden model and exposed it, after the fashion of those
times, for criticism in his _bottega_; and the usual difference of
opinion arose among the citizens of Como concerning its merits.
Cristoforo Solaro, surnamed Il Gobbo, was called in to advise. It may
be remembered that when Michelangelo first placed his Pietà in S.
Peter's, rumour gave it to this celebrated Lombard sculptor, and the
Florentine was constrained to set his own signature upon the marble.
The same Solaro carved the monument of Beatrice Sforza in the Certosa
of Pavia. He was indeed in all points competent to criticise or to
confirm the design of his fellow-craftsman. Il Gobbo disapproved of the
proportions chosen by Rodari, and ordered a new model to be made; but
after much discussion, and some concessions on the part of Rodari, who
is said to have increased the number of the windows and lightened the
orders of his model, the work was finally entrusted to the master of
Maroggia.

Not less creditable than the general design of the tribune is the
sculpture executed by the brothers. The north side door is a
master-work of early Renaissance chiselling, combining mixed Christian
and classical motives with a wealth of floral ornament. Inside, over
the same door, is a procession of children seeming to represent the
Triumph of Bacchus, with perhaps some Christian symbolism. Opposite,
above the south door, is a frieze of fighting Tritons—horsed sea
deities pounding one another with bunches of fish and splashing the
water, in Mantegna's spirit. The doorways of the façade are
177decorated with the same rare workmanship; and the canopies,
supported by naked fauns and slender twisted figures, under which the
two Plinies are seated, may be reckoned among the supreme achievements
of delicate Renaissance sculpture. The Plinies are not like the work of
the same master. They are older, stiffer, and more Gothic. The chief
interest attaching to them is that they are habited and seated after
the fashion of Humanists. This consecration of the two Pagan saints
beside the portals of the Christian temple is truly characteristic of
the fifteenth century in Italy. Beneath, are little basreliefs
representing scenes from their respective lives, in the style of carved
predellas on the altars of saints.

The whole church is peopled with detached statues, among which a
Sebastian in the Chapel of the Madonna must be mentioned as singularly
beautiful. It is a finely modelled figure, with the full life and
exuberant adolescence of Venetian inspiration. A peculiar feature of
the external architecture is the series of Atlantes, bearing on their
shoulders urns, heads of lions, and other devices, and standing on
brackets round the upper cornice just below the roof. They are of all
sorts; young and old, male and female; classically nude, and boldly
outlined. These water-conduits, the work of Bernardo Bianco and
Francesco Rusca, illustrate the departure of the earlier Renaissance
from the Gothic style. They are gargoyles; but they have lost the
grotesque element. At the same time the sculptor, while discarding
Gothic tradition, has not betaken himself yet to a servile imitation of
the antique. He has used invention, and substituted for grinning
dragons' heads something wild and bizarre of his own in harmony with
classic taste.

The pictures in the chapels, chiefly by Luini and Ferrari—an idyllic
Nativity, with faun-like shepherds and choirs of angels—a sumptuous
adoration of the Magi—a jewelled 178Sposalizio with abundance of golden
hair flowing over draperies of green and crimson—will interest those
who are as yet unfamiliar with Lombard painting. Yet their
architectural setting, perhaps, is superior to their intrinsic merit as
works of art; and their chief value consists in adding rare dim flakes
of colour to the cool light of the lovely church. More curious, because
less easily matched, is the gilded woodwork above the altar of S.
Abondio, attributed to a German carver, but executed for the most part
in the purest Luinesque manner. The pose of the enthroned Madonna, the
type and gesture of S. Catherine, and the treatment of the Pietà above,
are thoroughly Lombard, showing how Luini's ideal of beauty could be
expressed in carving. Some of the choicest figures in the Monastero
Maggiore at Milan seem to have descended from the walls and stepped
into their tabernacles on this altar. Yet the style is not maintained
consistently. In the reliefs illustrating the life of S. Abondio we
miss Luini's childlike grace, and find instead a something that reminds
us of Donatello—a seeking after the classical in dress, carriage, and
grouping of accessory figures. It may have been that the carver,
recognising Luini's defective composition, and finding nothing in that
master's manner adapted to the spirit of relief, had the good taste to
render what was Luinesquely lovely in his female figures, and to fall
back on a severer model for his basreliefs.

The building-fund for the Duomo was raised in Como and its districts.
Boxes were placed in all the churches to receive the alms of those who
wished to aid the work. The clergy begged in Lent, and preached the
duty of contributing on special days. Presents of lime and bricks and
other materials were thankfully received. Bishops, canons, and
municipal magistrates were expected to make costly gifts on taking
office. Notaries, under penalty of paying 100 soldi if they
179neglected their engagement, were obliged to persuade testators, _cum
bonis modis dulciter_, to inscribe the Duomo on their wills. Fines for
various offences were voted to the building by the city. Each new
burgher paid a certain sum; while guilds and farmers of the taxes
bought monopolies and privileges at the price of yearly subsidies. A
lottery was finally established for the benefit of the fabric. Of
course each payment to the good work carried with it spiritual
privileges; and so willingly did the people respond to the call of the
Church, that during the sixteenth century the sums subscribed amounted
to 200,000 golden crowns. Among the most munificent donators are
mentioned the Marchese Giacomo Gallio, who bequeathed 290,000 lire, and
a Benzi, who gave 10,000 ducats.

While the people of Como were thus straining every nerve to complete a
pious work, which at the same time is one of the most perfect
masterpieces of Italian art, their lovely lake was turned into a
pirate's stronghold, and its green waves stained with slaughter of
conflicting navies. So curious is this episode in the history of the
Larian lake that it is worth while to treat of it at some length.
Moreover, the lives of few captains of adventure offer matter more rich
in picturesque details and more illustrative of their times than that
of Gian Giacomo de' Medici, the Larian corsair, long known and still
remembered as Il Medeghino. He was born in Milan in 1498, at the
beginning of that darkest and most disastrous period of Italian
history, when the old fabric of social and political existence went to
ruin under the impact of conflicting foreign armies. He lived on until
the year 1555, witnessing and taking part in the dismemberment of the
Milanese Duchy, playing a game of hazard at high stakes for his own
profit with the two last Sforzas, the Empire, the French, and the
Swiss. At the beginning of the century, 180while he was still a youth,
the rich valley of the Valtelline, with Bormio and Chiavenna, had been
assigned to the Grisons. The Swiss Cantons at the same time had
possessed themselves of Lugano and Bellinzona. By these two acts of
robbery the mountaineers tore a portion of its fairest territory from
the Duchy; and whoever ruled in Milan, whether a Sforza, or a Spanish
viceroy, or a French general, was impatient to recover the lost jewel
of the ducal crown. So much has to be premised, because the scene of
our hero's romantic adventures was laid upon the borderland between the
Duchy and the Cantons. Intriguing at one time with the Duke of Milan,
at another with his foes the French or Spaniards, Il Medeghino found
free scope for his peculiar genius in a guerilla warfare, carried on
with the avowed purpose of restoring the Valtelline to Milan. To steer
a plain course through that chaos of politics, in which the modern
student, aided by the calm clear lights of history and meditation,
cannot find a clue, was of course impossible for an adventurer whose
one aim was to gratify his passions and exalt himself at the expense of
others. It is therefore of little use to seek motives of statecraft or
of patriotism in the conduct of Il Medeghino. He was a man shaped
according to Machiavelli's standard of political morality—self-reliant,
using craft and force with cold indifference to moral ends, bent only
upon wringing for himself the largest share of this world's power for
men who, like himself, identified virtue with unflinching and
immitigable egotism.

Il Medeghino's father was Bernardo de' Medici, a Lombard, who neither
claimed nor could have proved cousinship with the great Medicean family
of Florence. His mother was Cecilia Serbelloni. The boy was educated in
the fashionable humanistic studies, nourishing his young imagination
with the tales of Roman heroes. The first exploit by which he 181proved
his _virtù_, was the murder of a man he hated, at the age of sixteen.
This 'virile act of vengeance,' as it was called, brought him into
trouble, and forced him to choose the congenial profession of arms. At
a time when violence and vigour passed for manliness, a spirited
assassination formed the best of introductions to the captains of mixed
mercenary troops. Il Medeghino rose in favour with his generals, helped
to reinstate Francesco Sforza in his capital, and, returning himself to
Milan, inflicted severe vengeance on the enemies who had driven him to
exile. It was his ambition, at this early period of his life, to be
made governor of the Castle of Musso, on the Lake of Como. While
fighting in the neighbourhood, he had observed the unrivalled
capacities for defence presented by its site; and some pre-vision of
his future destinies now urged him to acquire it, as the basis for the
free marauding life he planned. The headland of Musso lies about
halfway between Gravedona and Menaggio, on the right shore of the Lake
of Como. Planted on a pedestal of rock, and surmounted by a sheer
cliff, there then stood a very ancient tower, commanding this
promontory on the side of the land. Between it and the water the
Visconti, in more recent days, had built a square fort; and the
headland had been further strengthened by the addition of connecting
walls and bastions pierced for cannon. Combining precipitous cliffs,
strong towers, and easy access from the lake below, this fortress of
Musso was exactly the fit station for a pirate. So long as he kept the
command of the lake, he had little to fear from land attacks, and had a
splendid basis for aggressive operations. Il Medeghino made his request
to the Duke of Milan; but the foxlike Sforza would not grant him a
plain answer. At length he hinted that if his suitor chose to rid him
of a troublesome subject, the noble and popular Astore Yisconti, he
should receive 182Musso for payment. Crimes of bloodshed and treason
sat lightly on the adventurer's conscience. In a short time he
compassed the young Visconti's death, and claimed his reward. The Duke
despatched him thereupon to Musso, with open letters to the governor,
commanding him to yield the castle to the bearer. Private advice, also
entrusted to Il Medeghino, bade the governor, on the contrary, cut the
bearer's throat. The young man, who had the sense to read the Duke's
letter, destroyed the secret document, and presented the other, or, as
one version of the story goes, forged a ducal order in his own
favour.[12] At any rate, the castle was placed in his hands; and
affecting to know nothing of the Duke's intended treachery, Il
Medeghino took possession of it as a trusted servant of the ducal
crown.

 [12] I cannot see clearly through these transactions, the muddy waters
 of decadent Italian plot and counterplot being inscrutable to senses
 assisted by nothing more luminous than mere tradition.

As soon as he was settled in his castle, the freebooter devoted all his
energies to rendering it still more impregnable by strengthening the
walls and breaking the cliffs into more horrid precipices. In this work
he was assisted by his numerous friends and followers; for Musso
rapidly became, like ancient Rome, an asylum for the ruffians and
outlaws of neighbouring provinces. It is even said that his sisters,
Clarina and Margherita, rendered efficient aid with manual labour. The
mention of Clarina's name justifies a parenthetical side-glance at Il
Medeghino's pedigree, which will serve to illustrate the exceptional
conditions of Italian society during this age. She was married to the
Count Giberto Borromeo, and became the mother of the pious Carlo
Borromeo, whose shrine is still adored at Milan in the Duomo. Il
Medeghino's brother, Giovan Angelo, rose to the Papacy, assuming the
title of Pius IV. Thus this murderous 183marauder was the brother of a
Pope and the uncle of a Saint; and these three persons of one family
embraced the various degrees and typified the several characters which
flourished with peculiar lustre in Renaissance Italy—the captain of
adventure soaked in blood, the churchman unrivalled for intrigue, and
the saint aflame with holiest enthusiasm. Il Medeghino was short of
stature, but well made and powerful; broad-chested; with a penetrating
voice and winning countenance. He dressed simply, like one of his own
soldiers; slept but little; was insensible to carnal pleasure; and
though he knew how to win the affection of his men by jovial speech, he
maintained strict discipline in his little army. In all points he was
an ideal bandit chief, never happy unless fighting or planning
campaigns, inflexible of purpose, bold and cunning in the execution of
his schemes, cruel to his enemies, generous to his followers,
sacrificing all considerations, human and divine, to the one aim of his
life, self-aggrandisement by force and intrigue. He knew well how to
make himself both feared and respected. One instance of his dealing
will suffice. A gentleman of Bellano, Polidoro Boldoni, in return to
his advances, coldly replied that he cared for neither amity nor
relationship with thieves and robbers; whereupon Il Medeghino
extirpated his family, almost to a man.

Soon after his settlement in Musso, Il Medeghino, wishing to secure the
gratitude of the Duke, his master, began war with the Grisons. From
Coire, from the Engadine, and from Davos, the Alpine pikemen were now
pouring down to swell the troops of Francis I.; and their road lay
through the Lake of Como. Il Medeghino burned all the boats upon the
lake, except those which he took into his own service, and thus made
himself master of the water passage. He then swept the 'length of
lordly Lario' from Colico to Lecco, harrying 184the villages upon the
shore, and cutting off the bands of journeying Switzers at his
pleasure. Not content with this guerilla, he made a descent upon the
territory of the Trepievi, and pushed far up towards Chiavenna, forcing
the Grisons to recall their troops from the Milanese. These acts of
prowess convinced the Duke that he had found a strong ally in the
pirate chief. "When Francis I. continued his attacks upon the Duchy,
and the Grisons still adhered to their French paymaster, the Sforza
formally invested Gian Giacomo de' Medici with the perpetual
governorship of Musso, the Lake of Como, and as much as he could wrest
from the Grisons above the lake. Furnished now with a just title for
his depredations, Il Medeghino undertook the siege of Chiavenna. That
town is the key to the valleys of the Splügen and Bregaglia. Strongly
fortified and well situated for defence, the burghers of the Grisons
well knew that upon its possession depended their power in the Italian
valleys. To take it by assault was impossible, Il Medeghino used craft,
entered the castle, and soon had the city at his disposition. Nor did
he lose time in sweeping Val Bregaglia. The news of this conquest
recalled the Switzers from the Duchy; and as they hurried homeward just
before the battle of Pavia, it may be affirmed that Gian Giacomo de'
Medici was instrumental in the defeat and capture of the French King.
The mountaineers had no great difficulty in dislodging their pirate
enemy from Chiavenna, the Valtelline, and Val Bregaglia. But he
retained his hold on the Trepievi, occupied the Valsassina, took
Porlezza, and established himself still more strongly in Musso as the
corsair monarch of the lake.

The tyranny of the Sforzas in Milan was fast going to pieces between
France and Spain; and in 1526 the Marquis of Pescara occupied the
capital in the name of Charles V. The Duke, meanwhile, remained a
prisoner in his Castello. 185Il Medeghino was now without a master; for
he refused to acknowledge the Spaniards, preferring to watch events and
build his own power on the ruins of the dukedom. At the head of 4,000
men, recruited from the lakes and neighbouring valleys, he swept the
country far and wide, and occupied the rich champaign of the Brianza.
He was now lord of the lakes of Como and Lugano, and absolute in Lecco
and the adjoining valleys. The town of Como itself alone belonged to
the Spaniards; and even Como was blockaded by the navy of the corsair.
Il Medeghino had a force of seven big ships, with three sails and
forty-eight oars, bristling with guns and carrying marines. His
flagship was a large brigantine, manned by picked rowers, from the mast
of which floated the red banner with the golden palle of the Medicean
arms. Besides these larger vessels, he commanded a flotilla of
countless small boats. It is clear that to reckon with him was a
necessity. If he could not be put down with force, he might be bought
over by concessions. The Spaniards adopted the second course, and Il
Medeghino, judging that the cause of the Sforza family was desperate,
determined in 1528 to attach himself to the Empire. Charles V. invested
him with the Castle of Musso and the larger part of Como Lake,
including the town of Lecco. He now assumed the titles of Marquis of
Musso and Count of Lecco: and in order to prove his sovereignty before
the world, he coined money with his own name and devices.

It will be observed that Gian Giacomo de' Medici had hitherto acted
with a single-hearted view to his own interests. At the age of thirty
he had raised himself from nothing to a principality, which, though
petty, might compare with many of some name in Italy—with Carpi, for
example, or Mirandola, or Camerino. Nor did he mean to remain quiet in
the prime of life. He regarded Como Lake as the mere basis for more
186arduous undertakings. Therefore, when the whirligig of events
restored Francesco Sforza to his duchy in 1529, Il Medeghino refused to
obey his old lord. Pretending to move under the Duke's orders, but
really acting for himself alone, he proceeded to attack his ancient
enemies, the Grisons. By fraud and force he worked his way into their
territory, seized Morbegno, and overran the Valtelline. He was
destined, however, to receive a serious check. Twelve thousand Switzers
rose against him on the one hand, on the other the Duke of Milan sent a
force by land and water to subdue his rebel subject, while Alessandro
Gonzaga marched upon his castles in the Brianza. He was thus assailed
by formidable forces from three quarters, converging upon the Lake of
Como, and driving him to his chosen element, the water. Hastily
quitting the Valtelline, he fell back to the Castle of Mandello on the
lake, collected his navy, and engaged the ducal ships in a battle off
Menaggio. In this battle he was worsted. But he did not lose his
courage. From Bellagio, from Varenna, from Bellano he drove forth his
enemies, rolled the cannon of the Switzers into the lake, regained
Lecco, defeated the troops of Alessandro Gonzaga, and took the Duke of
Mantua prisoner. Had he but held Como, it is probable that he might
have obtained such terms at this time as would have consolidated his
tyranny. The town of Como, however, now belonged to the Duke of Milan,
and formed an excellent basis for operations against the pirate.
Overmatched, with an exhausted treasury and broken forces, Il Medeghino
was at last compelled to give in. Yet he retired with all the honours
of war. In exchange for Musso and the lake, the Duke agreed to give him
35,000 golden crowns, together with the feud and marquisate of
Marignano. A free pardon was promised not only to himself and his
brothers, but to all his followers; and the Duke further undertook to
transport his 187artillery and munitions of war at his own expense to
Marignano. Having concluded this treaty under the auspices of Charles
V. and his lieutenant, Il Medeghino, in March 1532, set sail from
Musso, and turned his back upon the lake for ever. The Switzers
immediately destroyed the towers, forts, walls, and bastions of the
Musso promontory, leaving in the midst of their ruins the little chapel
of S. Eufemia.

Gian Giacomo de' Medici, henceforth known to Europe as the Marquis of
Marignano, now took service under Spain; and through the favour of
Anton de Leyva, Viceroy for the Duchy, rose to the rank of Field
Marshal. When the Marquis del Vasto succeeded to the Spanish
governorship of Milan in 1536, he determined to gratify an old grudge
against the ex-pirate, and, having invited him to a banquet, made him
prisoner. II Medeghino was not, however, destined to languish in a
dungeon. Princes and kings interested themselves in his fate. He was
released, and journeyed to the court of Charles V. in Spain. The
Emperor received him kindly, and employed him first in the Low
Countries, where he helped to repress the burghers of Ghent, and at the
siege of Landrecy commanded the Spanish artillery against other Italian
captains of adventure: for, Italy being now dismembered and enslaved,
her sons sought foreign service where they found best pay and widest
scope for martial science. Afterwards the Medici ruled Bohemia as
Spanish Viceroy; and then, as general of the league formed by the Duke
of Florence, the Emperor, and the Pope to repress the liberties of
Tuscany, distinguished himself in that cruel war of extermination,
which turned the fair Contado of Siena into a poisonous Maremma. To the
last Il Medeghino preserved the instincts and the passions of a brigand
chief. It was at this time that, acting for the Grand Duke of Tuscany,
he first claimed open kinship with the Medici of Florence. Heralds and
188genealogists produced a pedigree, which seemed to authorise this
pretension; he was recognised, together with his brother, Pius IV., as
an offshoot of the great house which had already given Dukes to
Florence, Kings to France, and two Popes to the Christian world. In the
midst of all this foreign service he never forgot his old dream of
conquering the Valtelline; and in 1547 he made proposals to the Emperor
for a new campaign against the Grisons. Charles V. did not choose to
engage in a war, the profits of which would have been inconsiderable
for the master of half the civilised world, and which might have proved
troublesome by stirring up the tameless Switzers. Il Medeghino was
obliged to abandon a project cherished from the earliest dawn of his
adventurous manhood.

When Gian Giacomo died in 1555, his brother Battista succeeded to his
claims upon Lecco and the Trepievi. His monument, magnificent with five
bronze figures, the masterpiece of Leone Lioni, from Menaggio,
Michelangelesque in style, and of consummate workmanship, still adorns
the Duomo of Milan. It stands close by the door that leads to the roof.
This mausoleum, erected to the memory of Gian Giacomo and his brother
Gabrio, is said to have cost 7800 golden crowns. On the occasion of the
pirate's funeral the Senate of Milan put on mourning, and the whole
city followed the great robber, the hero of Renaissance _virtù_, to the
grave.

Between the Cathedral of Como and the corsair Medeghino there is but a
slight link. Yet so extraordinary were the social circumstances of
Renaissance Italy, that almost at every turn, on her seaboard, in her
cities, from her hill-tops, we are compelled to blend our admiration
for the loveliest and purest works of art amid the choicest scenes of
nature with memories of execrable crimes and lawless characters.
Sometimes, as at Perugia, the _nexus_ is but local. At others, one
189single figure, like that of Cellini, unites both points of view in a
romance of unparalleled dramatic vividness. Or, again, beneath the
vaults of the Certosa, near Pavia, a masterpiece of the serenest beauty
carries our thoughts perforce back to the hideous cruelties and
snake-like frauds of its despotic founder. This is the excuse for
combining two such diverse subjects in one study.

190



BERGAMO AND BARTOLOMMEO COLLEONI


From the new town of commerce to the old town of history upon the hill,
the road is carried along a rampart lined, with horse-chestnut
trees—clumps of massy foliage, and snowy pyramids of bloom, expanded in
the rapture of a southern spring. Each pair of trees between their
stems and arch of intermingling leaves includes a space of plain,
checkered with cloud-shadows, melting blue and green in amethystine
haze. To right and left the last spurs of the Alps descend, jutting
like promontories, heaving like islands from the misty breadth below:
and here and there are towers, half-lost in airy azure; and cities
dwarfed to blots; and silvery lines where rivers flow; and distant,
vapour-drowned, dim crests of Apennines. The city walls above us wave
with snapdragons and iris among fig-trees sprouting from the riven
stones. There are terraces over-rioted with pergolas of vine, and
houses shooting forward into balconies and balustrades, from which a
Romeo might launch himself at daybreak, warned by the lark's song. A
sudden angle in the road is turned, and we pass from airspace and
freedom into the old town, beneath walls of dark brown masonry, where
wild valerians light their torches of red bloom in immemorial shade.
Squalor and splendour live here side by side. Grand Renaissance portals
grinning with Satyr masks are flanked by tawdry frescoes shamming
stonework, or by doorways where the withered bush hangs out a promise
of bad wine. 191The Cappella Colleoni is our destination, that
masterpiece of the sculptor-architect's craft, with its variegated
marbles,—rosy and white and creamy yellow and jet-black,—in patterns,
basreliefs, pilasters, statuettes, encrusted on the fanciful domed
shrine. Upon the façade are mingled, in the true Renaissance spirit of
genial acceptance, motives Christian and Pagan with supreme
impartiality. Medallions of emperors and gods alternate with virtues,
angels and cupids in a maze of loveliest arabesque; and round the base
of the building are told two stories—the one of Adam from his creation
to his fall, the other of Hercules and his labours. Italian craftsmen
of the _quattrocento_ were not averse to setting thus together, in one
framework, the myths of our first parents and Alemena's son: partly
perhaps because both subjects gave scope to the free treatment of the
nude; but partly also, we may venture to surmise, because the heroism
of Hellas counterbalanced the sin of Eden. Here then we see how Adam
and Eve were made and tempted and expelled from Paradise and set to
labour, how Cain killed Abel, and Lamech slew a man to his hurt, and
Isaac was offered on the mountain. The tale of human sin and the
promise of redemption are epitomised in twelve of the sixteen
basreliefs. The remaining four show Hercules wrestling with Antæus,
taming the Nemean lion, extirpating the Hydra, and bending to his will
the bull of Crete. Labour, appointed for a punishment to Adam, becomes
a title to immortality for the hero. The dignity of man is reconquered
by prowess for the Greek, as it is repurchased for the Christian by
vicarious suffering. Many may think this interpretation of Amadeo's
basreliefs far-fetched; yet, such as it is, it agrees with the spirit
of Humanism, bent ever on harmonising the two great traditions of the
past. Of the workmanship little need be said, except that it is wholly
Lombard, distinguished from the similar work of Della 192Quercia at
Bologna and Siena by a more imperfect feeling for composition, and a
lack of monumental gravity, yet graceful, rich in motives, and instinct
with a certain wayward _improvvisatore_ charm.

This Chapel was built by the great Condottiere Bartolommeo Colleoni, to
be the monument of his puissance even in the grave. It had been the
Sacristy of S. Maria Maggiore, which, when the Consiglio della
Misericordia refused it to him for his half-proud, half-pious purpose,
he took and held by force. The structure, of costliest materials,
reared by Gian Antonio Amadeo, cost him 50,000 golden florins. An
equestrian statue of gilt wood, voted to him by the town of Bergamo,
surmounts his monument inside the Chapel. This was the work of two
German masters, called 'Sisto figlio di Enrico Syri da Norimberga' and
'Leonardo Tedesco.' The tomb itself is of marble, executed for the most
part in a Lombard style resembling Amadeo's, but scarcely worthy of his
genius. The whole effect is disappointing. Five figures representing
Mars, Hercules, and three sons-in-law of Colleoni, who surround the
sarcophagus of the buried general, are indeed almost grotesque. The
angularity and crumpled draperies of the Milanese manner, when so
exaggerated, produce an impression of caricature. Yet many subordinate
details—a row of _putti_ in a _cinquecento_ frieze, for instance—and
much of the low relief work—especially the Crucifixion with its
characteristic episodes of the fainting Maries and the soldiers casting
dice—are lovely in their unaffected Lombardism.

There is another portrait of Colleoni in a round above the great door,
executed with spirit, though in a _bravura_ style that curiously
anticipates the decline of Italian sculpture. Gaunt, hollow-eyed, with
prominent cheek bones and strong jaws, this animated, half-length
statue of the hero bears the 193stamp of a good likeness; but when or
by whom it was made, I do not know.

Far more noteworthy than Colleoni's own monument is that of his
daughter Medea. She died young in 1470, and her father caused her tomb,
carved of Carrara marble, to be placed in the Dominican Church of
Basella, which he had previously founded. It was not until 1842 that
this most precious masterpiece of Antonio Amadeo's skill was
transferred to Bergamo. _Hic jacet Medea virgo._ Her hands are clasped
across her breast. A robe of rich brocade, gathered to the waist and
girdled, lies in simple folds upon the bier. Her throat, exceedingly
long and slender, is circled with a string of pearls. Her face is not
beautiful, for the features, especially the nose, are large and
prominent; but it is pure and expressive of vivid individuality. The
hair curls in crisp short clusters, and the ear, fine and shaped almost
like a Faun's, reveals the scrupulous fidelity of the sculptor. Italian
art has, in truth, nothing more exquisite than this still sleeping
figure of the girl, who, when she lived, must certainly have been so
rare of type and lovable in personality. If Busti's Lancinus Curtius be
the portrait of a humanist, careworn with study, burdened by the laurel
leaves that were so dry and dusty—if Gaston de Foix in the Brera,
smiling at death and beautiful in the cropped bloom of youth, idealise
the hero of romance—if Michelangelo's Penseroso translate in marble the
dark broodings of a despot's soul—if Della Porta's Julia Farnese be the
Roman courtesan magnificently throned in nonchalance at a Pope's
footstool—if Verocchio's Colleoni on his horse at Venice impersonate
the pomp and circumstance of scientific war—surely this Medea exhales
the flower-like graces, the sweet sanctities of human life, that even
in that turbid age were found among high-bred Italian ladies. Such
power have mighty sculptors, even in our 194modern world, to make the
mute stone speak in poems and clasp the soul's life of a century in
some five or six transcendent forms.

The Colleoni, or Coglioni, family were of considerable antiquity and
well-authenticated nobility in the town of Bergamo. Two lions' heads
conjoined formed one of their canting ensigns; another was borrowed
from the vulgar meaning of their name. Many members of the house held
important office during the three centuries preceding the birth of the
famous general, Bartolommeo. He was born in the year 1400 at Solza, in
the Bergamasque Contado. His father Paolo, or Pùho as he was commonly
called, was poor and exiled from the city, together with the rest of
the Guelf nobles, by the Visconti. Being a man of daring spirit, and
little inclined to languish in a foreign state as the dependent on some
patron, Pùho formed the bold design of seizing the Castle of Trezzo.
This he achieved in 1405 by fraud, and afterwards held it as his own by
force. Partly with the view of establishing himself more firmly in his
acquired lordship, and partly out of family affection, Pùho associated
four of his first-cousins in the government of Trezzo. They repaid his
kindness with an act of treason and cruelty, only too characteristic of
those times in Italy. One day while he was playing at draughts in a
room of the Castle, they assaulted him and killed him, seized his wife
and the boy Bartolommeo, and flung them into prison. The murdered Pùho
had another son, Antonio, who escaped and took refuge with Giorgio
Benzone, the tyrant of Crema. After a short time the Colleoni brothers
found means to assassinate him also; therefore Bartolommeo alone, a
child of whom no heed was taken, remained to be his father's avenger.
He and his mother lived together in great indigence at Solza, until the
lad felt strong enough to enter the service of one of the numerous
195petty Lombard princes, and to make himself if possible a captain of
adventure. His name alone was a sufficient introduction, and the Duchy
of Milan, dismembered upon the death of Gian Maria Visconti, was in
such a state that all the minor despots were increasing their forces
and preparing to defend by arms the fragments they had seized from the
Visconti heritage. Bartolommeo therefore had no difficulty in
recommending himself to Filippo d'Arcello, sometime general in the pay
of the Milanese, but now the new lord of Piacenza. With this master he
remained as page for two or three years, learning the use of arms,
riding, and training himself in the physical exercises which were
indispensable to a young Italian soldier. Meanwhile Filippo Maria
Visconti reacquired his hereditary dominions; and at the age of twenty,
Bartolommeo found it prudent to seek a patron stronger than d'Arcello.
The two great Condottieri, Sforza Attendolo and Braccio, divided the
military glories of Italy at this period; and any youth who sought to
rise in his profession, had to enrol himself under the banners of the
one or the other. Bartolommeo chose Braccio for his master, and was
enrolled among his men as a simple trooper, or _ragazzo_, with no
better prospects than he could make for himself by the help of his
talents and his borrowed horse and armour. Braccio at this time was in
Apulia, prosecuting the war of the Neapolitan Succession disputed
between Alfonso of Aragon and Louis of Anjou under the weak sovereignty
of Queen Joan. On which side of a quarrel a Condottiere fought mattered
but little: so great was the confusion of Italian politics, and so
complete was the egotism of these fraudful, violent, and treacherous
party leaders. Yet it may be mentioned that Braccio had espoused
Alfonso's cause. Bartolommeo Colleoni early distinguished himself among
the ranks of the Bracceschi. But he soon perceived that he could
196better his position by deserting to another camp. Accordingly he
offered his services to Jacopo Caldora, one of Joan's generals, and
received from him a commission of twenty men-at-arms. It may here be
parenthetically said that the rank and pay of an Italian captain varied
with the number of the men he brought into the field. His title
'Condofctiere' was derived from the circumstance that he was said to
have received a _Condotta di venti cavalli_, and so forth. Each
_cavallo_ was equal to one mounted man-at-arms and two attendants, who
were also called _ragazzi_. It was his business to provide the
stipulated number of men, to keep them in good discipline, and to
satisfy their just demands. Therefore an Italian army at this epoch
consisted of numerous small armies varying in size, each held together
by personal engagements to a captain, and all dependent on the will of
a general-in-chief, who had made a bargain with some prince or republic
for supplying a fixed contingent of fighting-men. The _Condottiere_ was
in other words a contractor or _impresario_, undertaking to do a
certain piece of work for a certain price, and to furnish the requisite
forces for the business in good working order. It will be readily seen
upon this system how important were the personal qualities of the
captain, and what great advantages those Condottieri had, who, like the
petty princes of Romagna and the March, the Montefeltri, Ordelaffi,
Malatesti, Manfredi, Orsini, and Vitelli, could rely upon a race of
hardy vassals for their recruits. It 239is not necessary to follow
Colleoni's fortunes in the Regno, at Aquila, Ancona, and Bologna. He
continued in the service of Caldora, who was now General of the Church,
and had his _Condotta_ gradually increased. Meanwhile his cousins, the
murderers of his father, began to dread his rising power, and
determined, if possible, to ruin him. He was not a man to be easily
assassinated; so they sent a hired ruffian 197to Caldora's camp to say
that Bartolommeo had taken his name by fraud, and that he was himself
the real son of Pùho Colleoni. Bartolommeo defied the liar to a duel;
and this would have taken place before the army, had not two witnesses
appeared, who knew the fathers of both Colleoni and the _bravo_, and
who gave such evidence that the captains of the army were enabled to
ascertain the truth. The impostor was stripped and drummed out of the
camp.

At the conclusion of a peace between the Pope and the Bolognese,
Bartolommeo found himself without occupation. He now offered himself to
the Venetians, and began to fight again under the great Carmagnola
against Filippo Visconti. His engagement allowed him forty men, which,
after the judicial murder of Carmagnola at Venice in 1432, were
increased to eighty. Erasmo da Narni, better known as Gattamelata, was
now his general-in-chief—a man who had risen from the lowest fortunes
to one of the most splendid military positions in Italy. Colleoni spent
the next years of his life, until 1443, in Lombardy, manoeuvring
against Il Piccinino, and gradually rising in the Venetian service,
until his Condotta reached the number of 800 men. Upon Gattamelata's
death at Padua in 1440, Colleoni became the most important of the
generals who had fought with Caldora in the March. The lordships of
Romano in the Bergamasque and of Covo and Antegnate in the Cremonese
had been assigned to him; and he was in a position to make independent
engagements with princes. What distinguished him as a general, was a
combination of caution with audacity. He united the brilliant system of
his master Braccio with the more prudent tactics of the Sforzeschi; and
thus, though he often surprised his foes by daring stratagems and
vigorous assaults, he rarely met with any serious check. He was a
captain who could be relied upon for boldly seizing an advantage, no
less 198than for using a success with discretion. Moreover he had
acquired an almost unique reputation for honesty in dealing with his
masters, and for justice combined with humane indulgence to his men.
His company was popular, and he could always bring capital troops into
the field.

In the year 1443 Colleoni quitted the Venetian service on account of a
quarrel with Gherardo Dandolo, the Provoditore of the Republic. He now
took a commission from Filippo Maria Visconti, who received him at
Milan with great honour, bestowed on him the Castello Adorno at Pavia,
and sent him into the March of Ancona upon a military expedition. Of
all Italian tyrants this Visconti was the most difficult to serve.
Constitutionally timid, surrounded with a crowd of spies and base
informers, shrinking from the sight of men in the recesses of his
palace, and controlling the complicated affairs of his Duchy by means
of correspondents and intelligencers, this last scion of the Milanese
despots lived like a spider in an inscrutable network of suspicion and
intrigue. His policy was one of endless plot and counterplot. He
trusted no man; his servants were paid to act as spies on one another;
his bodyguard consisted of mutually hostile mercenaries; his captains
in the field were watched and thwarted by commissioners appointed to
check them at the point of successful ambition or magnificent victory.
The historian has a hard task when he tries to fathom the Visconti's
schemes, or to understand his motives. Half the Duke's time seems to
have been spent in unravelling the webs that he had woven, in undoing
his own work, and weakening the hands of his chosen ministers.
Conscious that his power was artificial, that the least breath might
blow him back into the nothingness from which he had arisen on the
wrecks of his father's tyranny, he dreaded the personal eminence of his
generals above all things. His chief object was to establish a system
of checks, by means 199of which no one whom he employed should at any
moment be great enough to threaten him. The most formidable of these
military adventurers, Francesco Sforza, had been secured by marriage
with Bianca Maria Visconti, his master's only daughter, in 1441; but
the Duke did not even trust his son-in-law. The last six years of his
life were spent in scheming to deprive Sforza of his lordships; and the
war in the March, on which he employed Colleoni, had the object of
ruining the principality acquired by this daring captain from Pope
Eugenius IV. in 1443.

Colleoni was by no means deficient in those foxlike qualities which
were necessary to save the lion from the toils spread for him by
Italian intriguers. He had already shown that he knew how to push his
own interests, by changing sides and taking service with the highest
bidder, as occasion prompted. Nor, though his character for probity and
loyalty stood exceptionally high among the men of his profession, was
he the slave to any questionable claims of honour or of duty. In that
age of confused politics and extinguished patriotism, there was not
indeed much scope for scrupulous honesty. But Filippo Maria Visconti
proved more than a match for him in craft. While Colleoni was engaged
in pacifying the revolted population of Bologna, the Duke yielded to
the suggestion of his parasites at Milan, who whispered that the
general was becoming dangerously powerful. He recalled him, and threw
him without trial into the dungeons of the Forni at Monza. Here
Colleoni remained a prisoner more than a year, until the Duke's death
in 1447, when he made his escape, and profited by the disturbance of
the Duchy to reacquire his lordships in the Bergamasque territory. The
true motive for his imprisonment remains still buried in obscure
conjecture. Probably it was not even known to the Visconti, who acted
on this, as on so many other occasions, 200by a mere spasm of
suspicious jealousy, for which he could have given no account.

From the year 1447 to the year 1455, it is difficult to follow
Colleoni's movements, or to trace his policy. First, we find him
employed by the Milanese Republic, during its brief space of
independence; then he is engaged by the Venetians, with a commission
for 1500 horse; next, he is in the service of Francesco Sforza; once
more in that of the Venetians, and yet again in that of the Duke of
Milan. His biographer relates with pride that, during this period, he
was three times successful against French troops in Piedmont and
Lombardy. It appears that he made short engagements, and changed his
paymasters according to convenience. But all this time he rose in
personal importance, acquired fresh lordships in the Bergamasque, and
accumulated wealth. He reached the highest point of his prosperity in
1455, when the Republic of S. Mark elected him General-in-Chief of
their armies, with the fullest powers, and with a stipend of 100,000
florins. For nearly twenty-one years, until the day of his death, in
1475, Colleoni held this honourable and lucrative office. In his will
he charged the Signory of Venice that they should never again commit
into the hands of a single captain such unlimited control over their
military resources. It was indeed no slight tribute to Colleoni's
reputation for integrity, that the jealous Republic, which had
signified its sense of Carmagnola's untrustworthiness by capital
punishment, should have left him so long in the undisturbed disposal of
their army. The Standard and the Bâton of S. Mark were conveyed to
Colleoni by two ambassadors, and presented to him at Brescia on June
24, 1455. Three years later he made a triumphal entry into Venice, and
received the same ensigns of military authority from the hands of the
new Doge, Pasquale Malipiero. On this occasion his staff consisted of
201some two hundred officers, splendidly armed, and followed by a train
of serving-men. Noblemen from Bergamo, Brescia, and other cities of the
Venetian territory, swelled the cortege. When they embarked on the
lagoons, they found the water covered with boats and gondolas, bearing
the population of Venice in gala attire, to greet the illustrious guest
with instruments of music. Three great galleys of the Republic, called
Bucentaurs, issued from the crowd of smaller craft. On the first was
the Doge in his state robes, attended by the government in office, or
the Signoria of S. Mark. On the second were members of the Senate and
minor magistrates. The third carried the ambassadors of foreign powers.
Colleoni was received into the first state-galley, and placed by the
side of the Doge. The oarsmen soon cleared the space between the land
and Venice, passed the small canals, and swept majestically up the
Canalozzo among the plaudits of the crowds assembled on both sides to
cheer their General. Thus they reached the piazzetta, where Colleoni
alighted between the two great pillars, and, conducted by the Doge in
person, walked to the Church of S. Mark. Here, after Mass had been
said, and a sermon had been preached, kneeling before the high altar he
received the truncheon from the Doge's hands. The words of his
commission ran as follows:—

'By authority and decree of this most excellent City of Venice, of us
the Prince, and of the Senate, you are to be Commander and Captain
General of all our forces and armaments on terra firma. Take from our
hands this truncheon, with good augury and fortune, as sign and warrant
of your power. Be it your care and effort, with dignity and splendour
to maintain and to defend the Majesty, the Loyalty, and the Principles
of this Empire. Neither provoking, not yet provoked, unless at our
command, shall you break into open 202warfare with our enemies. Free
jurisdiction and lordship over each one of our soldiers, except in
cases of treason, we hereby commit to you.'

After the ceremony of his reception, Colleoni was conducted with no
less pomp to his lodgings, and the next ten days were spent in
festivities of all sorts.

The commandership-in-chief of the Venetian forces was perhaps the
highest military post in Italy. It placed Colleoni on the pinnacle of
his profession, and made his camp the favourite school of young
soldiers. Among his pupils or lieutenants we read of Ercole d'Este, the
future Duke of Ferrara; Alessandro Sforza, lord of Pesaro; Boniface,
Marquis of Montferrat; Cicco and Pino Ordelaffi, princes of Forli;
Astorre Manfredi, the lord of Faenza; three Counts of Mirandola; two
princes of Carpi; Deifobo, the Count of Anguillara; Giovanni Antonio
Caldora, lord of Jesi in the March; and many others of less name.
Honours came thick upon him. When one of the many ineffectual leagues
against the infidel was formed in 1468, during the pontificate of Paul
II., he was named Captain-General for the Crusade. Pius II. designed
him for the leader of the expedition he had planned against the impious
and savage despot, Sigismondo Malatesta. King René of Anjou, by special
patent, authorised him to bear his name and arms, and made him a member
of his family. The Duke of Burgundy, by a similar heraldic fiction,
conferred upon him his name and armorial bearings. This will explain
why Colleoni is often styled 'di Andegavia e Borgogna.' In the case of
René, the honour was but a barren show. But the patent of Charles the
Bold had more significance. In 1473 he entertained the project of
employing the great Italian General against his Swiss foes; nor does it
seem reasonable to reject a statement made by Colleoni's biographer, to
the effect that a secret compact had been 203drawn up between him and
the Duke of Burgundy, for the conquest and partition of the Duchy of
Milan. The Venetians, in whose service Colleoni still remained, when
they became aware of this project, met it with peaceful but
irresistible opposition.

Colleoni had been engaged continually since his earliest boyhood in the
trade of war. It was not therefore possible that he should have gained
a great degree of literary culture. Yet the fashion of the times made
it necessary that a man in his position should seek the society of
scholars. Accordingly his court and camp were crowded with students, in
whose wordy disputations he is said to have delighted. It will be
remembered that his contemporaries, Alfonso the Magnanimous, Francesco
Sforza, Federigo of Urbino, and Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, piqued
themselves at least as much upon their patronage of letters, as upon
their prowess in the field.

Colleoni's court, like that of Urbino, was a model of good manners. As
became a soldier, he was temperate in food and moderate in slumber. It
was recorded of him that he had never sat more than one hour at meat in
his own house, and that he never overslept the sunrise. After dinner he
would converse with his friends, using commonly his native dialect of
Bergamo, and entertaining the company now with stories of adventure,
and now with pithy sayings. In another essential point he resembled his
illustrious contemporary, the Duke of Urbino; for he was sincerely
pious in an age which, however it preserved the decencies of ceremonial
religion, was profoundly corrupt at heart. His principal lordships in
the Bergamasque territory owed to his munificence their fairest
churches and charitable institutions. At Martinengo, for example, he
rebuilt and re-endowed two monasteries, the one dedicated to S. Chiara,
the other to S. Francis. In Bergamo itself he founded an establishment
named' La Pieta,' for 204the good purpose of dowering and marrying poor
girls. This house he endowed with a yearly income of 3000 ducats. The
Sulphur baths of Trescorio, at some distance from the city, were
improved and opened to poor patients by a hospital which he provided.
At Rumano he raised a church to S. Peter, and erected buildings of
public utility, which on his death he bequeathed to the society of the
Misericordia in that town. All the places of his jurisdiction owed to
him such benefits as good water, new walls, and irrigation works. In
addition to these munificent foundations must be mentioned the Basella,
or Monastery of Dominican friars, which he established not far from
Bergamo, upon the river Serio, in memory of his beloved daughter Medea.
Last, not least, was the Chapel of S. John the Baptist, attached to the
Church of S. Maria Maggiore, which he endowed with fitting maintenance
for two priests and deacons.

The one defect acknowledged by his biographer was his partiality for
women. Early in life he married Tisbe, of the noble house of the
Brescian Martinenghi, who bore him one daughter, Caterina, wedded to
Gasparre Martinengo. Two illegitimate daughters, Ursina and Isotta,
were recognised and treated by him as legitimate. The first he gave in
marriage to Gherardo Martinengo, and the second to Jacopo of the same
family. Two other natural children, Doratina and Ricardona, were
mentioned in his will: he left them four thousand ducats a piece for
dowry. Medea, the child of his old age (for she was born to him when he
was sixty), died before her father, and was buried, as we have seen, in
the Chapel of Basella.

Throughout his life he was distinguished for great physical strength
and agility. When he first joined the troop of Braccio, he could race,
with his corselet on, against the swiftest runner of the army; and when
he was stripped, few 205horses could beat him in speed. Far on into old
age he was in the habit of taking long walks every morning for the sake
of exercise, and delighted in feats of arms and jousting matches. 'He
was tall, straight, and full of flesh, well proportioned, and
excellently made in all his limbs. His complexion inclined somewhat to
brown, but was coloured with sanguine and lively carnation. His eyes
were black; in look and sharpness of light, they were vivid, piercing,
and terrible. The outlines of his nose and all his countenance
expressed a certain manly nobleness, combined with goodness and
prudence.' Such is the portrait drawn of Colleoni by his biographer;
and it well accords with the famous bronze statue of the general at
Venice.

Colleoni lived with a magnificence that suited his rank. His favourite
place of abode was Malpaga, a castle built by him at the distance of
about an hour's drive from Bergamo. The place is worth a visit, though
its courts and gates and galleries have now been turned into a monster
farm, and the southern rooms, where Colleoni entertained his guests,
are given over to the silkworms. Half a dozen families, employed upon a
vast estate of the Martinengo family, occupy the still substantial
house and stables. The moat is planted with mulberry-trees; the upper
rooms are used as granaries for golden maize; cows, pigs, and horses
litter in the spacious yard. Yet the walls of the inner court and of
the ancient state rooms are brilliant with frescoes, executed by some
good Venetian hand, which represent the chief events of Colleoni's
life—his battles, his reception by the Signory of Venice, his
tournaments and hawking parties, and the great series of entertainments
with which he welcomed Christiern of Denmark. This king had made his
pilgrimage to Rome and was returning westward, when the fame of
Colleoni and his princely state at Malpaga induced him to turn aside
and spend 206some days as the general's guest. In order to do him
honour, Colleoni left his castle at the king's disposal and established
himself with all his staff and servants in a camp at some distance from
Malpaga. The camp was duly furnished with tents and trenches,
stockades, artillery, and all the other furniture of war. On the king's
approach, Colleoni issued with trumpets blowing and banners flying to
greet his guest, gratifying him thus with a spectacle of the pomp and
circumstance of war as carried on in Italy. The visit was further
enlivened by sham fights, feats of arms, and trials of strength. When
it ended, Colleoni presented the king with one of his own suits of
armour, and gave to each of his servants a complete livery of red and
white, his colours. Among the frescoes at Malpaga none are more
interesting, and none, thanks to the silkworms rather than to any other
cause, are fortunately in a better state of preservation, than those
which represent this episode in the history of the Castle.

Colleoni died in the year 1475, at the age of seventy-five. Since he
left no male representative, he constituted the Republic of S. Mark his
heir-in-chief, after properly providing for his daughters and his
numerous foundations. The Venetians received under this testament a sum
of 100,000 ducats, together with all arrears of pay due to him, and
10,000 ducats owed him by the Duke of Ferrara. It set forth the
testator's intention that this money should be employed in defence of
the Christian faith against the Turk. One condition was attached to the
bequest. The legatees were to erect a statue to Colleoni on the Piazza
of S. Mark. This, however, involved some difficulty; for the proud
Republic had never accorded a similar honour, nor did they choose to
encumber their splendid square with a monument. They evaded the
condition by assigning the Campo in front of the Scuola di S. Marco,
where also stands the Church of S. Zanipolo, 207to the purpose. Here
accordingly the finest bronze equestrian statue in Italy, if we except
the Marcus Aurelius of the Capitol, was reared upon its marble pedestal
by Andrea Verocchio and Alessandro Leopardi.

Colleoni's liberal expenditure of wealth found its reward in the
immortality conferred by art. While the names of Braccio, his master in
the art of war, and of Piccinino, his great adversary, are familiar to
few but professed students, no one who has visited either Bergamo or
Venice can fail to have learned something about the founder of the
Chapel of S. John and the original of Leopardi's bronze. The annals of
sculpture assign to Verocchio, of Florence, the principal share in this
statue: but Verocchio died before it was cast; and even granting that
he designed the model, its execution must be attributed to his
collaborator, the Venetian Leopardi. For my own part, I am loth to
admit that the chief credit of this masterpiece belongs to a man whose
undisputed work at Florence shows but little of its living spirit and
splendour of suggested motion. That the Tuscan science of Verocchio
secured conscientious modelling for man and horse may be assumed; but I
am fain to believe that the concentrated fire which animates them both
is due in no small measure to the handling of his northern
fellow-craftsman.

While immersed in the dreary records of crimes, treasons, cruelties,
and base ambitions, which constitute the bulk of fifteenth-century
Italian history, it is refreshing to meet with a character so frank and
manly, so simply pious and comparatively free from stain, as Colleoni.
The only general of his day who can bear comparison with him for purity
of public life and decency in conduct, was Federigo di Montefeltro.
Even here, the comparison redounds to Colleoni's credit; for he, unlike
the Duke of Urbino, rose to eminence by his own exertion in a
profession fraught with peril to men 208of ambition and energy.
Federigo started with a principality sufficient to satisfy his just
desires for power. Nothing but his own sense of right and prudence
restrained Colleoni upon the path which brought Francesco Sforza to a
duchy by dishonourable dealings, and Carmagnola to the scaffold by
questionable practice against his masters.

209



CREMA AND THE CRUCIFIX


Few people visit Crema. It is a little country town of Lombardy,
between Cremona and Treviglio, with no historic memories but very misty
ones belonging to the days of the Visconti dynasty. On every side
around the city walls stretch smiling vineyards and rich meadows, where
the elms are married to the mulberry-trees by long festoons of foliage
hiding purple grapes, where the sunflowers droop their heavy golden
heads among tall stems of millet and gigantic maize, and here and there
a rice-crop ripens in the marshy loam. In vintage time the carts, drawn
by their white oxen, come creaking townward in the evening, laden with
blue bunches. Down the long straight roads, between rows of poplars,
they creep on; and on the shafts beneath the pyramid of fruit lie
contadini stained with lees of wine. Far off across that 'waveless sea'
of Lombardy, which has been the battlefield of countless generations,
rise the dim grey Alps, or else pearled domes of thunder-clouds in
gleaming masses over some tall solitary tower. Such backgrounds, full
of peace, suggestive of almost infinite distance, and dignified with
colours of incomparable depth and breadth, the Venetian painters loved.
No landscape in Europe is more wonderful than this—thrice wonderful in
the vastness of its arching heavens, in the stillness of its level
plain, and in the bulwark of huge crested mountains, reared afar like
bastions against the northern sky. 210The little town is all alive in
this September weather. At every corner of the street, under rustling
abeles and thick-foliaged planes, at the doors of palaces and in the
yards of inns, men, naked from the thighs downward, are treading the
red must into vats and tuns; while their mild-eyed oxen lie beneath
them in the road, peaceably chewing the cud between one journey to the
vineyard and another. It must not be imagined that the scene of Alma
Tadema's 'Roman Vintage,' or what we fondly picture to our fancy of the
Athenian Lenaea, is repeated in the streets of Crema. This modern
treading of the wine-press is a very prosaic affair. The town reeks
with a sour smell of old casks and crushed grape-skins, and the men and
women at work bear no resemblance whatever to Bacchus and his crew. Yet
even as it is, the Lombard vintage, beneath floods of sunlight and a
pure blue sky, is beautiful; and he who would fain make acquaintance
with Crema, should time his entry into the old town, if possible, on
some still golden afternoon of autumn. It is then, if ever, that he
will learn to love the glowing brickwork of its churches and the quaint
terra-cotta traceries that form its chief artistic charm.

How the unique brick architecture of the Lombard cities took its
origin—whether from the precepts of Byzantine aliens in the earliest
middle ages, or from the native instincts of a mixed race composed of
Gallic, Ligurian, Roman, and Teutonic elements, under the leadership of
Longobardic rulers—is a question for antiquarians to decide. There can,
however, be no doubt that the monuments of the Lombard style, as they
now exist, are no less genuinely local, no less characteristic of the
country they adorn, no less indigenous to the soil they sprang from,
than the Attic colonnades of Mnesicles and Ictinus. What the marble
quarries of Pentelicus were to the Athenian builders, the clay beneath
their 211feet was to those Lombard craftsmen. From it they fashioned
structures as enduring, towers as majestic, and cathedral aisles as
solemn, as were ever wrought from chiselled stone. There is a true
sympathy between those buildings and the Lombard landscape, which by
itself might suffice to prove the originality of their almost unknown
architects. The rich colour of the baked clay—finely modulated from a
purplish red, through russet, crimson, pink, and orange, to pale yellow
and dull grey—harmonises with the brilliant greenery of Lombard
vegetation and with the deep azure of the distant Alpine range. Reared
aloft above the flat expanse of plain, those square _torroni_, tapering
into octagons and crowned with slender cones, break the long sweeping
lines and infinite horizons with a contrast that affords relief, and
yields a resting-place to tired eyes; while, far away, seen haply from
some bridge above Ticino, or some high-built palace loggia, they gleam
like columns of pale rosy fire against the front of mustering
storm-clouds blue with rain. In that happy orchard of Italy, a pergola
of vines in leaf, a clump of green acacias, and a campanile soaring
above its church roof, brought into chance combination with the reaches
of the plain and the dim mountain range, make up a picture eloquent in
its suggestive beauty.

Those ancient builders wrought cunningly with their material. The
bricks are fashioned and fixed to last for all time. Exposed to the icy
winds of a Lombard winter, to the fierce fire of a Lombard summer, and
to the moist vapours of a Lombard autumn; neglected by unheeding
generations; with flowers clustering in their crannies, and birds
nesting in their eaves, and mason-bees filling the delicate network of
their traceries—they still present angles as sharp as when they were
but finished, and joints as nice as when the mortar dried in the first
months of their building. This immunity 212from age and injury they owe
partly to the imperishable nature of baked clay; partly to the care of
the artists who selected and mingled the right sorts of earth, burned
them with scrupulous attention, and fitted them together with a
patience born of loving service. Each member of the edifice was
designed with a view to its ultimate place. The proper curve was
ascertained for cylindrical columns and for rounded arches. Larger
bricks were moulded for the supporting walls, and lesser pieces were
adapted to the airy vaults and lanterns. In the brickfield and the kiln
the whole church was planned and wrought out in its details, before the
hands that made a unity of all these scattered elements were set to the
work of raising it in air. When they came to put the puzzle together,
they laid each brick against its neighbour, filling up the almost
imperceptible interstices with liquid cement composed of quicklime and
fine sand in water. After five centuries the seams between the layers
of bricks that make the bell-tower of S. Gottardo at Milan, yield no
point of vantage to the penknife or the chisel.

Nor was it in their welding of the bricks alone that these craftsmen
showed their science. They were wont to enrich the surface with marble,
sparingly but effectively employed—as in those slender detached
columns, which add such beauty to the octagon of S. Gottardo, or in the
string-courses of strange beasts and reptiles that adorn the church
fronts of Pavia. They called to their aid the _mandorlato_ of Verona,
supporting their porch pillars on the backs of couchant lions,
inserting polished slabs on their façades, and building huge sarcophagi
into their cloister alleys. Between terra-cotta and this marble of
Verona there exists a deep and delicate affinity. It took the name of
_mandorlato_, I suppose, from a resemblance to almond blossoms. But it
is far from having the simple beauty of a single hue. Like all noble
veined stones, 213it passes by a series of modulations and gradations
through a gamut of associated rather than contrasted tints. Not the
pink of the almond blossom only, but the creamy whiteness of the almond
kernel, and the dull yellow of the almond nut may be found in it; and
yet these colours are so blent and blurred to all-pervading mellowness,
that nowhere is there any shock of contrast or violence of a
preponderating tone. The veins which run in labyrinths of crossing,
curving, and contorted lines all over its smooth surface add, no doubt,
to this effect of unity. The polish, lastly, which it takes, makes the
_mandorlato_ shine like a smile upon the sober face of the brickwork:
for, serviceable as terra-cotta is for nearly all artistic purposes, it
cannot reflect light or gain the illumination which comes from surface
brightness.

What the clay can do almost better than any crystalline material, may
be seen in the mouldings so characteristic of Lombard architecture.
Geometrical patterns of the rarest and most fanciful device; scrolls of
acanthus foliage, and traceries of tendrils; Cupids swinging in
festoons of vines; angels joining hands in dance, with fluttering
skirts and windy hair, and mouths that symbol singing; grave faces of
old men and beautiful profiles of maidens leaning from medallions;
wide-winged genii filling the spandrils of cloister arches, and cherubs
clustered in the rondure of rose-windows—ornaments like these, wrought
from the plastic clay, and adapted with true taste to the requirements
of the architecture, are familiar to every one who has studied the
church front of Crema, the cloisters of the Certosa, the courts of the
Ospedale Maggiore at Milan, or the public palace of Cremona.

If the _mandorlato_ gives a smile to those majestic Lombard buildings,
the terra-cotta decorations add the element of life and movement. The
thought of the artist in its first 214freshness and vivacity is felt in
them. They have all the spontaneity of improvisation, the seductive
melody of unpremeditated music. Moulding the supple earth with 'hand
obedient to the brain,' the _plasticatore_ has impressed his most
fugitive dreams of beauty on it without effort; and what it cost him
but a few fatigueless hours to fashion, the steady heat of the furnace
has gifted with imperishable life. Such work, no doubt, has the defects
of its qualities. As there are few difficulties to overcome, it suffers
from a fatal facility—_nec pluteum coedit nec demorsos sapit ungues_.
It is therefore apt to be unequal, touching at times the highest point
of inspiration, as in the angels of Guccio at Perugia, and sinking not
unfrequently into the commonplace of easygoing triviality, as in the
common floral traceries of Milanese windows. But it is never laboured,
never pedantic, never dulled by the painful effort to subdue an
obstinate material to the artist's will. If marble is required to
develop the strength of the few supreme sculptors, terra-cotta saves
intact the fancies of a crowd of lesser men.

When we reflect that all the force, solemnity, and beauty of the
Lombard buildings was evoked from clay, we learn from them this lesson:
that the thought of man needs neither precious material nor yet
stubborn substance for the production of enduring masterpieces. The red
earth was enough for God when He made man in His own image; and mud
dried in the sun suffices for the artist, who is next to God in his
creative faculty—since _non merita nome di creatore se non Iddio ed il
poeta_. After all, what is more everlasting than terra-cotta? The
hobnails of the boys who ran across the brickfields in the Roman town
of Silchester, may still be seen, mingled with the impress of the feet
of dogs and hoofs of goats, in the tiles discovered there. Such traces
might serve as a metaphor for the footfall of artistic genius, when
215the form-giver has stamped his thought upon the moist clay, and fire
has made that imprint permanent.

Of all these Lombard edifices, none is more beautiful than the
Cathedral of Crema, with its delicately finished campanile, built of
choicely tinted yellow bricks, and ending in a lantern of the
gracefullest, most airily capricious fancy. This bell-tower does not
display the gigantic force of Cremona's famous torrazzo, shooting 396
feet into blue ether from the city square; nor can it rival the octagon
of S. Gottardo for warmth of hue. Yet it has a character of elegance,
combined with boldness of invention, that justifies the citizens of
Crema in their pride. It is unique; and he who has not seen it does not
know the whole resources of the Lombard style. The façade of the
Cathedral displays that peculiar blending of Byzantine or Romanesque
round arches with Gothic details in the windows, and with the acute
angle of the central pitch, which forms the characteristic quality of
the late _trecento_ Lombard manner. In its combination of purity and
richness it corresponds to the best age of decorated work in English
Gothic. What, however, strikes a Northern observer is the strange
detachment of this elaborate façade from the main structure of the
church. Like a frontispiece cut out of cardboard and pierced with
ornamental openings, it shoots far above the low roof of the nave; so
that at night the moon, rising above the southern aisle, shines through
its topmost window, and casts the shadow of its tracery upon the
pavement of the square. This is a constructive blemish to which the
Italians in no part of the peninsula were sensitive. They seem to have
regarded their church fronts as independent of the edifice, capable of
separate treatment, and worthy in themselves of being made the subject
of decorative skill.

In the so-called Santuario of Crema—a circular church dedicated to S.
Maria della Croce, outside the walls—the 216Lombard style has been
adapted to the manner of the Mid-Renaissance. This church was raised in
the last years of the fifteenth century by Gian Battista Battagli, an
architect of Lodi, who followed the pure rules of taste, bequeathed to
North Italian builders by Bramante. The beauty of the edifice is due
entirely to its tranquil dignity and harmony of parts, the lightness of
its circling loggia, and the just proportion maintained between the
central structure and the four projecting porticoes. The sharp angles
of these vestibules afford a contrast to the simplicity of the main
building, while their clustered cupolas assist the general effect of
roundness aimed at by the architect. Such a church as this proves how
much may be achieved by the happy distribution of architectural masses.
It was the triumph of the best Renaissance style to attain lucidity of
treatment, and to produce beauty by geometrical proportion. When Leo
Battista Alberti complained to his friend, Matteo di Bastia, that a
slight alteration of the curves in his design for S. Francesco at
Rimini would 'spoil his music,' _ciò che tu muti discorda tutta quella
musica_, this is what he meant. The melody of lines and the harmony of
parts made a symphony to his eyes no less agreeable than a concert of
tuned lutes and voices to his ears; and to this concord he was so
sensitive that any deviation was a discord.

After visiting the churches of Crema and sauntering about the streets
awhile, there is nothing left to do but to take refuge in the old
Albergo del Pozzo. This is one of those queer Italian inns, which carry
you away at once into a scene of Goldoni. It is part of some palace,
where nobles housed their _bravi_ in the sixteenth century, and which
the lesser people of to-day have turned into a dozen habitations. Its
great stone staircase leads to a saloon upon which the various
bedchambers open; and round its courtyard runs an open 217balcony, and
from the court grows up a fig-tree poking ripe fruit against a bedroom
window. Oleanders in tubs and red salvias in pots, and kitchen herbs in
boxes, flourish on the pavement, where the ostler comes to wash his
carriages, and where the barber shaves the poodle of the house.
Visitors to the Albergo del Pozzo are invariably asked if they have
seen the Museo; and when they answer in the negative, they are
conducted with some ceremony to a large room on the ground-floor of the
inn, looking out upon the courtyard and the fig-tree. It was here that
I gained the acquaintance of Signor Folcioni, and became possessor of
an object that has made the memory of Crema doubly interesting to me
ever since.

When we entered the Museo, we found a little old man, gentle, grave,
and unobtrusive, varnishing the ugly portrait of some Signor of the
_cinquecento_. Round the walls hung pictures, of mediocre value, in
dingy frames; but all of them bore sounding titles. Titians, Lionardos,
Guido Renis, and Luinis, looked down and waited for a purchaser. In
truth this museum was a _bric-à-brac_ shop of a sort that is common
enough in Italy, where treasures of old lace, glass, armour, furniture,
and tapestry, may still be met with. Signor Folcioni began by pointing
out the merits of his pictures; and after making due allowance for his
zeal as amateur and dealer, it was possible to join in some of his
eulogiums. A would-be Titian, for instance, bought in Verona from a
noble house in ruins, showed Venetian wealth of colour in its gemmy
greens and lucid crimsons shining from a background deep and glowing.
Then he led us to a walnut-wood bureau of late Renaissance work,
profusely carved with nymphs and Cupids, and armed men, among festoons
of fruits embossed in high relief. Deeply drilled worm-holes set a seal
of antiquity upon the blooming faces and luxuriant garlandslike 218the
touch of Time who 'delves the parallels in beauty's brow.' On the
shelves of an ebony cabinet close by he showed us a row of cups cut out
of rock-crystal and mounted in gilt silver, with heaps of engraved
gems, old snuff-boxes, coins, medals, sprays of coral, and all the
indescribable lumber that one age flings aside as worthless for the
next to pick up from the dust-heap and regard as precious. Surely the
genius of culture in our century might be compared to a chiffonnier of
Paris, who, when the night has fallen, goes into the streets, bag on
back and lantern in hand, to rake up the waifs and strays a day of
whirling life has left him.

The next curiosity was an ivory carving of S. Anthony preaching to the
fishes, so fine and small you held it on your palm, and used a lens to
look at it. Yet there stood the Santo gesticulating, and there were the
fishes in rows—the little fishes first, and then the middle-sized, and
last of all the great big fishes almost out at sea, with their heads
above the water and their mouths wide open, just as the _Fioretti di
San Francesco_ describes them. After this came some original drawings
of doubtful interest, and then a case of fifty-two _nielli_. These were
of unquestionable value; for has not Cicognara engraved them on a page
of his classic monograph? The thin silver plates, over which once
passed the burin of Maso Finiguerra, cutting lines finer than hairs,
and setting here a shadow in dull acid-eaten grey, and there a high
light of exquisite polish, were far more delicate than any proofs
impressed from them. These frail masterpieces of Florentine art—the
first beginnings of line engraving—we held in our hands while Signor
Folcioni read out Cicognara's commentary in a slow impressive voice,
breaking off now and then to point at the originals before us.

The sun had set, and the room was almost dark, when he laid his book
down, and said: 'I have not much left to show—yet stay! 219Here are
still some little things of interest.' He then opened the door into his
bedroom, and took down from a nail above his bed a wooden Crucifix. Few
things have fascinated me more than this Crucifix—produced without
parade, half negligently, from the dregs of his collection by a dealer
in old curiosities at Crema. The cross was, or is—for it is lying on
the table now before me—twenty-one inches in length, made of strong
wood, covered with coarse yellow parchment, and shod at the four ends
with brass. The Christ is roughly hewn in reddish wood, coloured
scarlet, where the blood streams from the five wounds. Over the head an
oval medallion, nailed into the cross, serves as framework to a
miniature of the Madonna, softly smiling with a Correggiesque simper.
The whole Crucifix is not a work of art, but such as may be found in
every convent. Its date cannot be earlier than the beginning of the
eighteenth century. As I held it in my hand, I thought—perhaps this has
been carried to the bedside of the sick and dying; preachers have
brandished it from the pulpit over conscience-stricken congregations;
monks have knelt before it on the brick floor of their cells, and
novices have kissed it in the vain desire to drown their yearnings
after the relinquished world; perhaps it has attended criminals to the
scaffold, and heard the secrets of repentant murderers; but why should
it be shown me as a thing of rarity? These thoughts passed through my
mind, while Signor Folcioni quietly remarked: 'I bought this Cross from
the Frati when their convent was dissolved in Crema.' Then he bade me
turn it round, and showed a little steel knob fixed into the back
between the arms. This was a spring. He pressed it, and the upper and
lower parts of the cross came asunder; and holding the top like a
handle, I drew out as from a scabbard a sharp steel blade, concealed in
the thickness of the wood, behind the very body of the agonising
Christ. What 220had been a crucifix became a deadly poniard in my
grasp, and the rust upon it in the twilight looked like blood. 'I have
often wondered,' said Signor Folcioni, 'that the Frati cared to sell me
this.'

There is no need to raise the question of the genuineness of this
strange relic, though I confess to having had my doubts about it, or to
wonder for what nefarious purposes the impious weapon was
designed—whether the blade was inserted by some rascal monk who never
told the tale, or whether it was used on secret service by the friars.
On its surface the infernal engine carries a dark certainty of treason,
sacrilege, and violence. Yet it would be wrong to incriminate the Order
of S. Francis by any suspicion, and idle to seek the actual history of
this mysterious weapon. A writer of fiction could indeed produce some
dark tale in the style of De Stendhal's 'Nouvelles,' and christen it
'The Crucifix of Crema.' And how delighted would Webster have been if
he had chanced to hear of such a sword-sheath! He might have placed it
in the hands of Bosola for the keener torment of his Duchess. Flamineo
might have used it; or the disguised friars, who made the deathbed of
Bracciano hideous, might have plunged it in the Duke's heart after
mocking his eyes with the figure of the suffering Christ. To imagine
such an instrument of moral terror mingled with material violence, lay
within the scope of Webster's sinister and powerful genius. But unless
he had seen it with his eyes, what poet would have ventured to devise
the thing and display it even in the dumb show of a tragedy? Fact is
more wonderful than romance. No apocalypse of Antichrist matches what
is told of Roderigo Borgia; and the crucifix of Crema exceeds the
sombre fantasy of Webster.

Whatever may be the truth about this cross, it has at any rate the
value of a symbol or a metaphor. The idea which it 221materialises, the
historical events of which it is a sign, may well arrest attention. A
sword concealed in the crucifix—what emblem brings more forcibly to
mind than this that two-edged glaive of persecution which Dominic
unsheathed to mow down the populations of Provence and to make Spain
destitute of men? Looking upon the crucifix of Crema, we may seem to
see pestilence-stricken multitudes of Moors and Jews dying on the
coasts of Africa and Italy. The Spaniards enter Mexico; and this is the
cross they carry in their hands. They take possession of Peru; and
while the gentle people of the Incas come to kiss the bleeding brows of
Christ, they plunge this dagger in their sides. What, again, was the
temporal power of the Papacy but a sword embedded in a cross? Each Papa
Rè, when he ascended the Holy Chair, was forced to take the crucifix of
Crema and to bear it till his death. A long procession of war-loving
Pontiffs, levying armies and paying captains with the pence of S.
Peter, in order to keep by arms the lands they had acquired by fraud,
defiles before our eyes. First goes the terrible Sixtus IV., who died
of grief when news was brought him that the Italian princes had made
peace. He it was who sanctioned the conspiracy to murder the Medici in
church, at the moment of the elevation of the Host. The brigands hired
to do this work refused at the last moment. The sacrilege appalled
them. 'Then,' says the chronicler, 'was found a priest, who, being used
to churches, had no scruple.' The poignard this priest carried was this
crucifix of Crema. After Sixtus came the blood-stained Borgia; and
after him Julius II., whom the Romans in triumphal songs proclaimed a
second Mars, and who turned, as Michelangelo expressed it, the chalices
of Rome into swords and helms. Leo X., who dismembered Italy for his
brother and nephew; and Clement VII., who broke the neck of Florence
and delivered the Eternal City to the spoiler, 222follow. Of the
antinomy between the Vicariate of Christ and an earthly kingdom,
incarnated by these and other Holy Fathers, what symbol could be found
more fitting than a dagger with a crucifix for case and covering?

It is not easy to think or write of these matters without rhetoric.
When I laid my head upon my pillow that night in the Albergo del Pozzo
at Crema, it was full of such thoughts; and when at last sleep came, it
brought with it a dream begotten doubtless by the perturbation of my
fancy. For I thought that a brown Franciscan, with hollow cheeks, and
eyes aflame beneath his heavy cowl, sat by my bedside, and, as he
raised the crucifix in his lean quivering hands, whispered a tale of
deadly passion and of dastardly revenge. His confession carried me away
to a convent garden of Palermo; and there was love in the story, and
hate that is stronger than love, and, for the ending of the whole
matter, remorse which dies not even in the grave. Each new possessor of
the crucifix of Crema, he told me, was forced to hear from him in
dreams his dreadful history. But, since it was a dream and nothing
more, why should I repeat it? I have wandered far enough already from
the vintage and the sunny churches of the little Lombard town.

223



CHERUBINO AT THE SCALA THEATRE


I

It was a gala night. The opera-house of Milan was one blaze of light
and colour. Royalty in field-marshal's uniform and diamonds, attended
by decorated generals and radiant ladies of the court, occupied the
great box opposite the stage. The tiers from pit to gallery were filled
with brilliantly dressed women. From the third row, where we were
fortunately placed, the curves of that most beautiful of theatres
presented to my gaze a series of retreating and approaching lines,
composed of noble faces, waving feathers, sparkling jewels, sculptured
shoulders, uniforms, robes of costly stuffs and every conceivable
bright colour. Light poured from the huge lustre in the centre of the
roof, ran along the crimson velvet cushions of the boxes, and flashed
upon the gilded frame of the proscenium—satyrs and acanthus scrolls
carved in the manner of a century ago. Pit and orchestra scarcely
contained the crowd of men who stood in lively conversation, their
backs turned to the stage, their lorgnettes raised from time to time to
sweep the boxes. This surging sea of faces and sober costumes enhanced
by contrast the glitter, variety, and luminous tranquillity of the
theatre above it.

No one took much thought of the coming spectacle, till the conductor's
rap was heard upon his desk, and the orchestra broke into the overture
to Mozart's _Nozze_. Before they were half through, it was clear that
we should not enjoy that 224evening the delight of perfect music added
to the enchantment of so brilliant a scene. The execution of the
overture was not exactly bad. But it lacked absolute precision, the
complete subordination of all details to the whole. In rendering German
music Italians often fail through want of discipline, or through
imperfect sympathy with a style they will not take the pains to master.
Nor, when the curtain lifted and the play began, was the vocalisation
found in all parts satisfactory. The Contessa had a meagre _mezza
voce_. Susanna, though she did not sing false, hovered on the verge of
discords, owing to the weakness of an organ which had to be strained in
order to make any effect on that enormous stage. On the other hand, the
part of Almaviva was played with dramatic fire, and Figaro showed a
truly Southern sense of comic fun. The scenes were splendidly mounted,
and something of a princely grandeur—the largeness of a noble train of
life—was added to the drama by the vast proportions of the theatre. It
was a performance which, in spite of drawbacks, yielded pleasure.

And yet it might have left me frigid but for the artist who played
Cherubino. This was no other than Pauline Lucca, in the prime of youth
and petulance. From her first appearance to the last note she sang, she
occupied the stage. The opera seemed to have been written for her. The
mediocrity of the troupe threw her commanding merits—the richness of
her voice, the purity of her intonation, her vivid conception of
character, her indescribable brusquerie of movement and emotion—into
that relief which a sapphire gains from a setting of pearls. I can see
her now, after the lapse of nearly twenty years, as she stood there
singing in blue doublet and white mantle, with the slouched Spanish hat
and plume of ostrich feathers, a tiny rapier at her side, and blue
rosettes upon her white silk shoes! 225The _Nozze di Figaro_ was
followed by a Ballo. This had for its theme the favourite legend of a
female devil sent from the infernal regions to ruin a young man.
Instead of performing the part assigned her, Satanella falls in love
with the hero, sacrifices herself, and is claimed at last by the powers
of goodness. _Quia multum amavit_, her lost soul is saved. If the opera
left much to be desired, the Ballo was perfection. That vast stage of
the Scala Theatre had almost overwhelmed the actors of the play. Now,
thrown open to its inmost depths, crowded with glittering moving
figures, it became a fairyland of fantastic loveliness. Italians
possess the art of interpreting a serious dramatic action by pantomime.
A Ballo with them is no mere affair of dancing—fine dresses, evolutions
performed by brigades of pink-legged women with a fixed smile on their
faces. It takes the rank of high expressive art. And the motive of this
Ballo was consistently worked out in an intelligible sequence of
well-ordered scenes. To moralise upon its meaning would be out of
place. It had a conflict of passions, a rhythmical progression of
emotions, a tragic climax in the triumph of good over evil.

II

At the end of the performance there were five persons in our box—the
beautiful Miranda, and her husband, a celebrated English man of
letters; a German professor of biology; a young Milanese gentleman,
whom we called Edoardo; and myself. Edoardo and the professor had
joined us just before the ballet. I had occupied a seat behind Miranda
and my friend the critic from the commencement. We had indeed dined
together first at their hotel, the Rebecchino; and they now proposed
that we should all adjourn together there on 226foot for supper. From
the Scala Theatre to the Rebecchino is a walk of some three minutes.

When we were seated at the supper-table and had talked some while upon
indifferent topics, the enthusiasm roused in me by Pauline Lucca burst
out. I broke a moment's silence by exclaiming, 'What a wonder-world
music creates! I have lived this evening in a sphere of intellectual
enjoyment raised to rapture. I never lived so fast before!' 'Do you
really think so?' said Miranda. She had just finished a _beccafico_,
and seemed disposed for conversation. 'Do you really think so? For my
part, music is in a wholly different region from experience, thought,
or feeling. What does it communicate to you?' And she hummed to herself
the _motif_ of Cherubino's 'Non so più cosa son cosa faccio.'—'What
does it teach me?' I broke in upon the melody. 'Why, to-night, when I
heard the music, and saw her there, and felt the movement of the play,
it seemed to me that a new existence was revealed. For the first time I
understood what love might be in one most richly gifted for emotion.'
Miranda bent her eyes on the table-cloth and played with her wineglass.
'I don't follow you at all. I enjoyed myself to-night. The opera,
indeed, might have been better rendered. The ballet, I admit, was
splendid. But when I remember the music—even the best of it—even
Pauline Lucca's part'—here she looked up, and shot me a quick glance
across the table—'I have mere music in my ears. Nothing more. Mere
music!' The professor of biology, who was gifted with, a sense of music
and had studied it scientifically, had now crunched his last leaf of
salad. Wiping his lips with his napkin, he joined our _tête-à-tête_.
'Gracious madam, I agree with you. He who seeks from music more than
music gives, is on the quest—how shall I put it?—of the Holy Grail.'
'And what,' I struck in, 'is this minimum or maximum that 227music
gives?' 'Dear young friend,' replied the professor, 'music gives
melodies, harmonies, the many beautiful forms to which sound shall be
fashioned. Just as in the case of shells and fossils, lovely in
themselves, interesting for their history and classification, so is it
with music. You must not seek an intellectual meaning. No; there is no
_Inhalt_ in music' And he hummed contentedly the air of 'Voi che
sapete.' While he was humming, Miranda whispered to me across the
table, 'Separate the Lucca from the music.' 'But,' I answered rather
hotly, for I was nettled by Miranda's argument _ad hominem_, 'But it is
not possible in an opera to divide the music from the words, the
scenery, the play, the actor. Mozart, when he wrote the score to Da
Ponte's libretto, was excited to production by the situations. He did
not conceive his melodies out of connection with a certain cast of
characters, a given ethical environment.' 'I do not know, my dear young
friend,' responded the professor, 'whether you have read Mozart's Life
and letters. It is clearly shown in them how he composed airs at times
and seasons when he had no words to deal with. These he afterwards used
as occasion served. Whence I conclude that music was for him a free and
lovely play of tone. The words of our excellent Da Ponte were a
scaffolding to introduce his musical creations to the public. But
without that carpenter's work, the melodies of Cherubino are
_Selbst-ständig_, sufficient in themselves to vindicate their place in
art. Do I interpret your meaning, gracious lady?' This he said bending
to Miranda. 'Yes,' she replied. But she still played with her
wineglass, and did not look as though she were quite satisfied. I
meanwhile continued: 'Of course I have read Mozart's Life, and know how
he went to work. But Mozart was a man of feeling, of experience, of
ardent passions. How can you prove to me that the melodies he gave to
Cherubino had not been evolved 228from situations similar to those in
which Cherubino finds himself? How can you prove he did not feel a
natural appropriateness in the _motifs_ he selected from his memory for
Cherubino? How can you be certain that the part itself did not
stimulate his musical faculty to fresh and still more appropriate
creativeness? And if we must fall back on documents, do you remember
what he said himself about the love-music in _Die Entführung?_ I think
he tells us that he meant it to express his own feeling for the woman
who had just become his wife.' Miranda looked up as though she were
almost half-persuaded. Yet she hummed again 'Non so più,' then said to
herself, 'Yes, it is wiser to believe with the professor that these are
sequences of sounds, and nothing more.' Then she sighed. In the pause
which followed, her husband, the famous critic, filled his glass,
stretched his legs out, and began: 'You have embarked, I see, upon the
ocean of æsthetics. For my part, to-night I was thinking how much
better fitted for the stage Beaumarchais' play was than this musical
mongrel—this operatic adaptation. The wit, observe, is lost. And
Cherubino—that sparkling little _enfant terrible_—becomes a sentimental
fellow—a something I don't know what—between a girl and a boy—a medley
of romance and impudence—anyhow a being quite unlike the sharply
outlined playwright's page. I confess I am not a musician; the drama is
my business, and I judge things by their fitness for the stage. My wife
agrees with me to differ. She likes music, I like plays. To-night she
was better pleased than I was; for she got good music tolerably well
rendered, while I got nothing but a mangled comedy.'

We bore the critic's monologue with patience. But once again the
spirit, seeking after something which neither Miranda, nor her husband,
nor the professor could be got to recognise, moved within me. I cried
out at a venture, 229'People who go to an opera must forget music pure
and simple, must forget the drama pure and simple. You must welcome a
third species of art, in which the play, the music, the singers with
their voices, the orchestra with its instruments—Pauline Lucca, if you
like, with her fascination' (and here I shot a side-glance at Miranda),
'are so blent as to create a world beyond the scope of poetry or music
or acting taken by themselves. I give Mozart credit for having had
insight into this new world, for having brought it near to us. And I
hold that every fresh representation of his work is a fresh revelation
of its possibilities.'

To this the critic answered, 'You now seem to me to be confounding the
limits of the several arts.' 'What!' I continued, 'is the drama but
emotion presented in its most external forms as action? And what is
music but emotion, in its most genuine essence, expressed by sound?
Where then can a more complete artistic harmony be found than in the
opera?'

'The opera,' replied our host, 'is a hybrid. You will probably learn to
dislike artistic hybrids, if you have the taste and sense I give you
credit for. My own opinion has been already expressed. In the _Nozze_,
Beaumarchais' _Mariage de Figaro_ is simply spoiled. My friend the
professor declares Mozart's music to be sufficient by itself, and the
libretto to be a sort of machinery for its display. Miranda, I think,
agrees with him. You plead eloquently for the hybrid. You have a right
to your own view. These things are matters, in the final resort, of
individual taste rather than of demonstrable principles. But I repeat
that you are very young.' The critic drained his Lambrusco, and smiled
at me.

'Yes, he is young,' added Miranda. 'He must learn to distinguish
between music, his own imagination, and a pretty woman. At present he
mixes them all up together. It is a 230sort of transcendental omelette.
But I think the pretty woman has more to do with it than metaphysics!'

All this while Edoardo had bestowed devout attention on his supper. But
it appeared that the drift of our discourse had not been lost by him.
'Well,' he said, 'you finely fibred people dissect and analyse. I am
content with the _spettacolo_. That pleases. What does a man want more?
The _Nozze_ is a comedy of life and manners. The music is adorable.
To-night the women were not bad to look at—the Lucca was divine; the
scenes—ingenious. I thought but little. I came away delighted. You
could have a better play, Caro Signore!' (with a bow to our host).
'That is granted. You might have better music, Cara Signora!' (with a
bow to Miranda). 'That too is granted. But when the play and the music
come together—how shall I say?—the music helps the play, and the play
helps the music; and we—well we, I suppose, must help both!'

Edoardo's little speech was so ingenuous, and, what is more, so true to
his Italian temperament, that it made us all laugh and leave the
argument just where we found it. The bottles of Lambrusco supplied us
each with one more glass; and while we were drinking them, Miranda,
woman-like, taking the last word, but contradicting herself, softly
hummed 'Non so più cosa son,' and 'Ah!' she said, 'I shall dream of
love to-night!'

We rose and said good-night. But when I had reached my bedroom in the
Hôtel de la Ville, I sat down, obstinate and unconvinced, and penned
this rhapsody, which I have lately found among papers of nearly twenty
years ago. I give it as it stands.

231

III

Mozart has written the two melodramas of love—the one a melo-tragedy,
the other a melo-comedy. But in really noble art, Comedy and Tragedy
have faces of equal serenity and beauty. In the Vatican there are
marble busts of the two Muses, differing chiefly in their head-dresses:
that of Tragedy is an elaborately built-up structure of fillets and
flowing hair, piled high above the forehead and descending in long
curls upon the shoulders; while Comedy wears a similar adornment, with
the addition of a wreath of vine-leaves and grape-bunches. The
expression of the sister goddesses is no less finely discriminated.
Over the mouth of Comedy plays a subtle smile, and her eyes are relaxed
in a half-merriment. A shadow rests upon the slightly heavier brows of
Tragedy, and her lips, though not compressed, are graver. So delicately
did the Greek artist indicate the division between two branches of one
dramatic art. And since all great art is classical, Mozart's two
melodramas, _Don Giovanni_ and the _Nozze di Figaro_, though the one is
tragic and the other comic, are twin-sisters, similar in form and
feature.

The central figure of the melo-tragedy is Don Juan, the hero of
unlimited desire, pursuing the unattainable through tortuous
interminable labyrinths, eager in appetite yet never satisfied, 'for
ever following and for ever foiled.' He is the incarnation of lust that
has become a habit of the soul—rebellious, licentious, selfish, even
cruel. His nature, originally noble and brave, has assumed the
qualities peculiar to lust—rebellion, license, cruelty, defiant
egotism. Yet, such as he is, doomed to punishment and execration, Don
Juan remains a fit subject for poetry and music, because he is
complete, because he is impelled by some demonic influence, spurred on
by yearnings after an unsearchable delight. In 232his death, the spirit
of chivalry survives, metamorphosed, it is true, into the spirit of
revolt, yet still tragic, such as might animate the desperate sinner of
a haughty breed.

The central figure of the melo-comedy is Cherubino, the genius of love,
no less insatiable, but undetermined to virtue or to vice. This is the
point of Cherubino, that the ethical capacities in him are still
potential. His passion still hovers on the borderland of good and bad.
And this undetermined passion is beautiful because of extreme
freshness; of infinite, immeasurable expansibility. Cherubino is the
epitome of all that belongs to the amorous temperament in a state of
still ascendant adolescence. He is about sixteen years of age—a boy
yesterday, a man to-morrow—to-day both and neither—something beyond
boyhood, but not yet limited by man's responsibility and man's
absorbing passions. He partakes of both ages in the primal awakening to
self-consciousness. Desire, which in Don Juan has become a fiend,
hovers before him like a fairy. His are the sixteen years, not of a
Northern climate, but of Spain or Italy, where manhood appears in a
flash, and overtakes the child with sudden sunrise of new faculties.
_Nondum amabam, sed amare amabam, quaerebam quod amarem, amans
amare_—'I loved not yet, but was in love with loving; I sought what I
should love, being in love with loving.' That sentence, penned by S.
Augustine and consecrated by Shelley, describes the mood of Cherubino.
He loves at every moment of his life, with every pulse of his being.
His object is not a beloved being, but love itself—the satisfaction of
an irresistible desire, the paradise of bliss which merely loving has
become for him. What love means he hardly knows. He only knows that he
must love. And women love him—half as a plaything to be trifled with,
half as a young god to be wounded by. This rising of the star of love
as it ascends into the heaven of youthful fancy, is revealed 233in the
melodies Mozart has written for him. How shall we describe their
potency? Who shall translate those curiously perfect words to which
tone and rhythm have been indissolubly wedded? _E pur mi piace languir
cosi.... E se non ho chi m' oda, parlo d'amor con me._

But if this be so, it may be asked, Who shall be found worthy to act
Cherubino on the stage? You cannot have seen and heard Pauline Lucca,
or you would not ask this question.

Cherubino is by no means the most important person in the plot of the
_Nozze_. But he strikes the keynote of the opera. His love is the
standard by which we measure the sad, retrospective, stately love of
the Countess, who tries to win back an alienated husband. By Cherubino
we measure the libertine love of the Count, who is a kind of Don Juan
without cruelty, and the humorous love of Figaro and his sprightly
bride Susanna. Each of these characters typifies one of the many
species of love. But Cherubino anticipates and harmonises all. They are
conscious, experienced, world-worn, disillusioned, trivial. He is all
love, foreseen, foreshadowed in a dream of life to be; all love,
diffused through brain and heart and nerves like electricity; all love,
merging the moods of ecstasy, melancholy, triumph, regret, jealousy,
joy, expectation, in a hazy sheen, as of some Venetian sunrise. What
will Cherubino be after three years? A Romeo, a Lovelace, a Lothario, a
Juan? a disillusioned rake, a sentimentalist, an effete fop, a romantic
lover? He may become any one of these, for he contains the
possibilities of all. As yet, he is the dear glad angel of the May of
love, the nightingale of orient emotion. This moment in the unfolding
of character Mozart has arrested and eternalised for us in Cherubino's
melodies; for it is the privilege of art to render things most fugitive
and evanescent fixed imperishably in immortal form.

234

IV

This is indeed a rhapsodical production. Miranda was probably right.
Had it not been for Pauline Lucca, I might not have philosophised the
_Nozze_ thus. Yet, in the main, I believe that my instinct was well
grounded. Music, especially when wedded to words, more especially when
those words are dramatic, cannot separate itself from emotion. It will
not do to tell us that a melody is a certain sequence of sounds; that
the composer chose it for its beauty of rhythm, form, and tune, and
only used the words to get it vocalised. We are forced to go farther
back, and ask ourselves, What suggested it in the first place to the
composer? why did he use it precisely in connection with this dramatic
situation? How can we answer these questions except by supposing that
music was for him the utterance through art of some emotion? The final
fact of human nature is emotion, crystallising itself in thought and
language, externalising itself in action and art. 'What,' said Novalis,
'are thoughts but pale dead feelings?' Admitting this even in part, we
cannot deny to music an emotional content of some kind. I would go
farther, and assert that, while a merely mechanical musician may set
inappropriate melodies to words, and render music inexpressive of
character, what constitutes a musical dramatist is the conscious
intention of fitting to the words of his libretto such melody as shall
interpret character, and the power to do this with effect.

That the Cherubino of Mozart's _Nozze_ is quite different from
Beaumarchais' Cherubin does not affect this question. He is a new
creation, just because Mozart could not, or would not, conceive the
character of the page in Beaumarchais' sprightly superficial spirit. He
used the part to utter something unutterable except by music about the
soul of 235the still adolescent lover. The libretto-part and the
melodies, taken together, constitute a new romantic ideal, consistent
with experience, but realised with the intensity and universality
whereby art is distinguished from life. Don Juan was a myth before
Mozart touched him with the magic wand of music. Cherubino became a
myth by the same Prospero's spell. Both characters have the
universality, the symbolic potency, which belongs to legendary beings.
That there remains a discrepancy between the boy-page and the music
made for him, can be conceded without danger to my theory; for the
music made for Cherubino is meant to interpret his psychical condition,
and is independent of his boyishness of conduct.

This further explains why there may be so many renderings of
Cherubino's melodies. Mozart idealised an infinite emotion. The singer
is forced to define; the actor also is forced to define. Each
introduces his own limit on the feeling. When the actor and the singer
meet together in one personality, this definition of emotion becomes of
necessity doubly specific. The condition of all music is that it
depends in a great measure on the temperament of the interpreter for
its momentary shade of expression, and this dependence is of course
exaggerated when the music is dramatic. Furthermore, the subjectivity
of the audience enters into the problem as still another element of
definition. It may therefore be fairly said that, in estimating any
impression produced by Cherubino's music, the original character of the
page, transplanted from French comedy to Italian opera, Mozart's
conception of that character, Mozart's specific quality of emotion and
specific style of musical utterance, together with the contralto's
interpretation of the character and rendering of the music, according
to her intellectual capacity, artistic skill, and timbre of voice, have
236collaborated with the individuality of the hearer. Some of the
constituents of the ever-varying product—a product which is new each
time the part is played—are fixed. Da Ponte's Cherubino and Mozart's
melodies remain unalterable. All the rest is undecided; the singer and
the listener change on each occasion.

To assert that the musician Mozart meant nothing by his music, to
assert that he only cared about it _quâ_ music, is the same as to say
that the painter Tintoretto, when he put the Crucifixion upon canvas,
the sculptor Michelangelo, when he carved Christ upon the lap of Mary,
meant nothing, and only cared about the beauty of their forms and
colours. Those who take up this position prove, not that the artist has
no meaning to convey, but that for them the artist's nature is
unintelligible, and his meaning is conveyed in an unknown tongue. It
seems superfluous to guard against misinterpretation by saying that to
expect clear definition from music—the definition which belongs to
poetry—would be absurd. The sphere of music is in sensuous perception;
the sphere of poetry is in intelligence. Music, dealing with pure
sound, must always be vaguer in significance than poetry, dealing with
words. Nevertheless, its effect upon the sentient subject may be more
intense and penetrating for this very reason. We cannot fail to
understand what words are intended to convey; we may very easily
interpret in a hundred different ways the message of sound. But this is
not because words are wider in their reach and more alive; rather
because they are more limited, more stereotyped, more dead. They
symbolise something precise and unmistakable; but this precision is
itself attenuation of the something symbolised. The exact value of the
counter is better understood when it is a word than when it is a chord,
because all that a word conveys has already become a thought, while all
that musical 237sounds convey remains within the region of emotion
which has not been intellectualised. Poetry touches emotion through the
thinking faculty. If music reaches the thinking faculty at all, it is
through fibres of emotion. But emotion, when it has become thought, has
already lost a portion of its force, and has taken to itself a
something alien to its nature. Therefore the message of music can never
rightly be translated into words. It is the very largeness and
vividness of the sphere of simple feeling which makes its symbolical
counterpart in sound so seeming vague. But in spite of this
incontestable defect of seeming vagueness, emotion expressed by music
is nearer to our sentient self, if we have ears to take it in, than the
same emotion limited by language. It is intenser, it is more immediate,
as compensation for being less intelligible, less unmistakable in
meaning. It is an infinite, an indistinct, where each consciousness
defines and sets a limitary form.

V

A train of thought which begins with the concrete not unfrequently
finds itself finishing, almost against its will, in abstractions. This
is the point to which the performance of Cherubino's part by Pauline
Lucca at the Scala twenty years ago has led me—that I have to settle
with myself what I mean by art in general, and what I take to be the
proper function of music as one of the fine arts.

'Art,' said Goethe, 'is but form-giving.' We might vary this
definition, and say, 'Art is a method of expression or presentation.'
Then comes the question: If art gives form, if it is a method of
expression or presentation, to what does it give form, what does it
express or present? The answer certainly must be: Art gives form to
human consciousness; expresses or presents the feeling or the thought
of man. 238Whatever else art may do by the way, in the communication of
innocent pleasures, in the adornment of life and the softening of
manners, in the creation of beautiful shapes and sounds, this, at all
events, is its prime function.

While investing thought, the spiritual subject-matter of all art, with
form, or finding for it proper modes of presentation, each of the arts
employs a special medium, obeying the laws of beauty proper to that
medium. The vehicles of the arts, roughly speaking, are material
substances (like stone, wood, metal), pigments, sounds, and words. The
masterly handling of these vehicles and the realisation of their
characteristic types of beauty have come to be regarded as the
craftsman's paramount concern. And in a certain sense this is a right
conclusion; for dexterity in the manipulation of the chosen vehicle and
power to create a beautiful object, distinguish the successful artist
from the man who may have had like thoughts and feelings. This
dexterity, this power, are the properties of the artist _quâ_ artist.
Yet we must not forget that the form created by the artist for the
expression of a thought or feeling is not the final end of art itself.
That form, after all, is but the mode of presentation through which the
spiritual content manifests itself. Beauty, in like manner, is not the
final end of art, but is the indispensable condition under which the
artistic manifestation of the spiritual content must he made. It is the
business of art to create an ideal world, in which perception, emotion,
understanding, action, all elements of human life sublimed by thought,
shall reappear in concrete forms as beauty. This being so, the logical
criticism of art demands that we should not only estimate the technical
skill of artists and their faculty for presenting beauty to the
æsthetic sense, but that we should also ask ourselves what portion of
the human spirit he has chosen to invest with form, and how he has
conceived his subject. It is not necessary that the ideas embodied in a
work of art should be the artist's own. They may be common to the race
and age: as, for instance, the conception of sovereign deity expressed
in the Olympian Zeus of Pheidias, or the conception of divine maternity
expressed in Raphael's 'Madonna di San Sisto.' Still the personality of
the artist, his own intellectual and moral nature, his peculiar way of
thinking and feeling, his individual attitude towards the material
given to him in ideas of human consciousness, will modify his choice of
subject and of form, and will determine his specific type of beauty. To
take an example: supposing that an idea, common to his race and age, is
given to the artist for treatment; this will be the final end of the
work of art which he produces. But his personal qualities and technical
performance determine the degree of success or failure to which he
attains in presenting that idea and in expressing it with beauty.
Signorelli fails where Perugino excels, in giving adequate and lovely
form to the religious sentiment. Michelangelo is sure of the sublime,
and Raphael of the beautiful.

Art is thus the presentation of the human spirit by the artist to his
fellow-men. The subject-matter of the arts is commensurate with what
man thinks and feels and does. It is as deep as religion, as wide as
life. But what distinguishes art from religion or from life is, that
this subject-matter must assume beautiful form, and must be presented
directly or indirectly to the senses. Art is not the school or the
cathedral, but the playground, the paradise of humanity. It does not
teach, it does not preach. Nothing abstract enters into art's domain.
Truth and goodness are transmuted into beauty there, just as in science
beauty and goodness assume the shape of truth, and in religion truth
and beauty become goodness. The rigid definitions, the unmistakable
laws of science, are not to be found in art. Whatever art has touched
240acquires a concrete sensuous embodiment, and thus ideas presented to
the mind in art have lost a portion of their pure thought-essence. It
is on this account that the religious conceptions of the Greeks were so
admirably fitted for the art of sculpture, and certain portions of the
mediæval Christian mythology lent themselves so well to painting. For
the same reason the metaphysics of ecclesiastical dogma defy the
artist's plastic faculty. Art, in a word, is a middle term between
reason and the senses. Its secondary aim, after the prime end of
presenting the human spirit in beautiful form has been accomplished, is
to give tranquil and innocent enjoyment.

From what has gone before it will be seen that no human being can make
or mould a beautiful form without incorporating in that form some
portion of the human mind, however crude, however elementary. In other
words, there is no work of art without a theme, without a motive,
without a subject. The presentation of that theme, that motive, that
subject, is the final end of art. The art is good or bad according as
the subject has been well or ill presented, consistently with the laws
of beauty special to the art itself. Thus we obtain two standards for
æsthetic criticism. We judge a statue, for example, both by the
sculptor's intellectual grasp upon his subject, and also by his
technical skill and sense of beauty. In a picture of the Last Judgment
by Fra Angelico we say that the bliss of the righteous has been more
successfully treated than the torments of the wicked, because the
former has been better understood, although the painter's skill in each
is equal. In the Perseus of Cellini we admire the sculptor's spirit,
finish of execution, and originality of design, while we deplore that
want of sympathy with the heroic character which makes his type of
physical beauty slightly vulgar and his facial expression vacuous.
241If the phrase 'Art for art's sake' has any meaning, this meaning is
simply that the artist, having chosen a theme, thinks exclusively in
working at it of technical dexterity or the quality of beauty. There
are many inducements for the artist thus to narrow his function, and
for the critic to assist him by applying the canons of a soulless
connoisseurship to his work; for the conception of the subject is but
the starting-point in art-production, and the artist's difficulties and
triumphs as a craftsman lie in the region of technicalities. He knows,
moreover, that, however deep or noble his idea may be, his work of art
will be worthless if it fail in skill or be devoid of beauty. What
converts a thought into a statue or a picture, is the form found for
it; and so the form itself seems all-important. The artist, therefore,
too easily imagines that he may neglect his theme; that a fine piece of
colouring, a well-balanced composition, or, as Cellini put it, 'un bel
corpo ignudo,' is enough. And this is especially easy in an age which
reflects much upon the arts, and pursues them with enthusiasm, while
its deeper thoughts and feelings are not of the kind which translate
themselves readily into artistic form. But, after all, a fine piece of
colouring, a well-balanced composition, a sonorous stanza, a learned
essay in counterpoint, are not enough. They are all excellent good
things, yielding delight to the artistic sense and instruction to the
student. Yet when we think of the really great statues, pictures,
poems, music of the world, we find that these are really great because
of something more—and that more is their theme, their presentation of a
noble portion of the human soul. Artists and art-students may be
satisfied with perfect specimens of a craftsman's skill, independent of
his theme; but the mass of men will not be satisfied; and it is as
wrong to suppose that art exists for artists and art-students, as to
talk of art for art's sake. Art exists for 242humanity. Art transmutes
thought and feeling into terms of beautiful form. Art is great and
lasting in proportion as it appeals to the human consciousness at
large, presenting to it portions of itself in adequate and lovely form.

VI

It was necessary in the first place firmly to apprehend the truth that
the final end of all art is the presentation of a spiritual content; it
is necessary in the next place to remove confusions by considering the
special circumstances of the several arts.

Each art has its own vehicle of presentation. What it can present and
how it must present it, depends upon the nature of this vehicle. Thus,
though architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, meet upon the
common ground of spiritualised experience—though the works of art
produced by the architect, sculptor, painter, musician, poet, emanate
from the spiritual nature of the race, are coloured by the spiritual
nature of the men who make them, and express what is spiritual in
humanity under concrete forms invented for them by the artist—yet it is
certain that all of these arts do not deal exactly with the same
portions of this common material in the same way or with the same
results. Each has its own department. Each exhibits qualities of
strength and weakness special to itself. To define these several
departments, to explain the relation of these several vehicles of
presentation to the common subject-matter, is the next step in
criticism.

Of the fine arts, architecture alone subserves utility. We build for
use. But the geometrical proportions which the architect observes,
contain the element of beauty and powerfully influence the soul. Into
the language of arch and aisle and colonnade, of cupola and façade and
pediment, of spire 243and vault, the architect translates emotion,
vague perhaps but deep, mute but unmistakable. When we say that a
building is sublime or graceful, frivolous or stern, we mean that
sublimity or grace, frivolity or sternness, is inherent in it. The
emotions connected with these qualities are inspired in us when we
contemplate it, and are presented to us by its form. Whether the
architect deliberately aimed at the sublime or graceful—whether the
dignified serenity of the Athenian genius sought to express itself in
the Parthenon, and the mysticism of mediæval Christianity in the gloom
of Chartres Cathedral—whether it was Renaissance paganism which gave
its mundane pomp and glory to S. Peter's, and the refined selfishness
of royalty its specious splendour to the palace of Versailles—need not
be curiously questioned. The fact that we are impelled to raise these
points, that architecture more almost than any art connects itself
indissolubly with the life, the character, the moral being of a nation
and an epoch, proves that we are justified in bringing it beneath our
general definition of the arts. In a great measure because it subserves
utility, and is therefore dependent upon the necessities of life, does
architecture present to us through form the human spirit. Comparing the
palace built by Giulio Romano for the Dukes of Mantua with the
contemporary castle of a German prince, we cannot fail at once to
comprehend the difference of spiritual conditions, as these displayed
themselves in daily life, which then separated Italy from the Teutonic
nations. But this is not all. Spiritual quality in the architect
himself finds clear expression in his work. Coldness combined with
violence marks Brunelleschi's churches; a certain suavity and well-bred
taste the work of Bramante; while Michelangelo exhibits wayward energy
in his Library of S. Lorenzo, and Amadeo self-abandonment to fancy in
his Lombard chapels. I have chosen examples from 244one nation and one
epoch in order that the point I seek to make, the demonstration of a
spiritual quality in buildings, may be fairly stated.

Sculpture and painting distinguish themselves from the other fine arts
by the imitation of concrete existences in nature. They copy the bodies
of men and animals, the aspects of the world around us, and the
handiwork of men. Yet, in so far as they are rightly arts, they do not
make imitation an object in itself. The grapes of Zeuxis at which birds
pecked, the painted dog at which a cat's hair bristles—if such grapes
or such a dog were ever put on canvas—are but evidences of the artist's
skill, not of his faculty as artist. These two plastic, or, as I prefer
to call them, figurative arts, use their imitation of the external
world for the expression, the presentation of internal, spiritual
things. The human form is for them the outward symbol of the inner
human spirit, and their power of presenting spirit is limited by the
means at their disposal.

Sculpture employs stone, wood, clay, the precious metals, to model
forms, detached and independent, or raised upon a flat surface in
relief. Its domain is the whole range of human character and
consciousness, in so far as these can be indicated by fixed facial
expression, by physical type, and by attitude. If we dwell for an
instant on the greatest historical epoch of sculpture, we shall
understand the domain of this art in its range and limitation. At a
certain point of Greek development the Hellenic Pantheon began to be
translated by the sculptors into statues; and when the genius of the
Greeks expired in Rome, the cycle of their psychological conceptions
had been exhaustively presented through this medium. During that long
period of time, the most delicate gradations of human personality,
divinised, idealised, were 245presented to the contemplation of the
consciousness which gave them being, in appropriate types. Strength and
swiftness, massive force and airy lightness, contemplative repose and
active energy, voluptuous softness and refined grace, intellectual
sublimity and lascivious seductiveness—the whole rhythm of qualities
which can be typified by bodily form—were analysed, selected, combined
in various degrees, to incarnate the religious conceptions of Zeus,
Aphrodite, Herakles, Dionysus, Pallas, Fauns and Satyrs, Nymphs of
woods and waves, Tritons, the genius of Death, heroes and hunters,
lawgivers and poets, presiding deities of minor functions, man's
lustful appetites and sensual needs. All that men think, or do, or are,
or wish for, or imagine in this world, had found exact corporeal
equivalents. Not physiognomy alone, but all the portions of the body
upon which the habits of the animating soul are wont to stamp
themselves, were studied and employed as symbolism. Uranian Aphrodite
was distinguished from her Pandemic sister by chastened lust-repelling
loveliness. The muscles of Herakles were more ponderous than the tense
sinews of Achilles. The Hermes of the palæstra bore a torso of majestic
depth; the Hermes, who carried messages from heaven, had limbs alert
for movement. The brows of Zeus inspired awe; the breasts of Dionysus
breathed delight.

A race accustomed, as the Greeks were, to read this symbolism,
accustomed, as the Greeks were, to note the individuality of naked
form, had no difficulty in interpreting the language of sculpture. Nor
is there now much difficulty in the task. Our surest guide to the
subject of a basrelief or statue is study of the physical type
considered as symbolical of spiritual quality. From the fragment of a
torso the true critic can say whether it belongs to the athletic or the
erotic species. A limb of Bacchus differs from a limb of Poseidon.
246The whole psychological conception of Aphrodite Pandemos enters into
every muscle, every joint, no less than into her physiognomy, her hair,
her attitude.

There is, however, a limit to the domain of sculpture. This art deals
most successfully with personified generalities. It is also strong in
the presentation of incarnate character. But when it attempts to tell a
story, we often seek in vain its meaning. Battles of Amazons or
Centaurs upon basreliefs, indeed, are unmistakable. The subject is
indicated here by some external sign. The group of Laocoon appeals at
once to a reader of Virgil, and the divine vengeance of Leto's children
upon Niobe is manifest in the Uffizzi marbles. But who are the several
heroes of the Æginetan pediment, and what was the subject of the
Pheidian statues on the Parthenon? Do the three graceful figures of a
basrelief which exists at Naples and in the Villa Albani, represent
Orpheus, Hermes, and Eurydice, or Antiope and her two sons? Was the
winged and sworded genius upon the Ephesus column meant for a genius of
Death or a genius of Love?

This dimness of significance indicates the limitation of sculpture, and
inclines some of those who feel its charm to assert that the sculptor
seeks to convey no intellectual meaning, that he is satisfied with the
creation of beautiful form. There is sense in this revolt against the
faith which holds that art is nothing but a mode of spiritual
presentation. Truly the artist aims at producing beauty, is satisfied
if he conveys delight. But it is impossible to escape from the
certainty that, while he is creating forms of beauty, he means
something; and that something, that theme for which he finds the form,
is part of the world's spiritual heritage. Only the crudest works of
plastic art, capricci and arabesques, have no intellectual content; and
even these are good in so far as they convey the playfulness of fancy.

247Painting employs colours upon surfaces—walls, panels, canvas. What
has been said about sculpture will apply in a great measure to this
art. The human form, the world around us, the works of man's hands, are
represented in painting, not for their own sake merely, but with a view
to bringing thought, feeling, action, home to the consciousness of the
spectator from the artist's consciousness on which they have been
impressed. Painting can tell a story better than sculpture, can
represent more complicated feelings, can suggest thoughts of a subtler
intricacy. Through colour, it can play, like music, directly on
powerful but vague emotion. It is deficient in fulness and roundness of
concrete reality. A statue stands before us, the soul incarnate in
ideal form, fixed and frozen for eternity. The picture is a reflection
cast upon a magic glass; not less permanent, but reduced to a shadow of
reality. To follow these distinctions farther would be alien from the
present purpose. It is enough to repeat that, within their several
spheres, according to their several strengths and weaknesses, both
sculpture and painting present the spirit to us only as the spirit
shows itself immersed in things of sense. The light of a lamp enclosed
within an alabaster vase is still lamplight, though shorn of lustre and
toned to coloured softness. Even thus the spirit, immersed in things of
sense presented to us by the figurative arts, is still spirit, though
diminished in its intellectual clearness and invested with hues not its
own. To fashion that alabaster form of art with utmost skill, to make
it beautiful, to render it transparent, is the artist's function. But
he will have failed of the highest if the light within burns dim, or if
he gives the world a lamp in which no spiritual flame is lighted.

Music transports us to a different region. It imitates nothing. It uses
pure sound, and sound of the most wholly 248artificial kind—so
artificial that the musical sounds of one race are unmusical, and
therefore unintelligible, to another. Like architecture, music relies
upon mathematical proportions. Unlike architecture, music serves no
utility. It is the purest art of pleasure—the truest paradise and
playground of the spirit. It has less power than painting, even less
power than sculpture, to tell a story or to communicate an idea. For we
must remember that when music is married to words, the words, and not
the music, reach our thinking faculty. And yet, in spite of all, music
presents man's spirit to itself through form. The domain of the spirit
over which music reigns, is emotion—not defined emotion, not feeling
even so defined as jealousy or anger—but those broad bases of man's
being out of which emotions spring, defining themselves through action
into this or that set type of feeling. Architecture, we have noticed,
is so connected with specific modes of human existence, that from its
main examples we can reconstruct the life of men who used it. Sculpture
and painting, by limiting their presentation to the imitation of
external things, have all the help which experience and, association
render. The mere artificiality of music's vehicle separates it from
life and makes its message untranslatable. Yet, as I have already
pointed out, this very disability under which it labours is the secret
of its extraordinary potency. Nothing intervenes between the musical
work of art and the fibres of the sentient being it immediately
thrills. We do not seek to say what music means. We feel the music. And
if a man should pretend that the music has not passed beyond his ears,
has communicated nothing but a musical delight, he simply tells us that
he has not felt music. The ancients on this point were wiser than some
moderns when, without pretending to assign an intellectual significance
to music, they held it for an axiom that one type of music bred one
type of character, 249another type another. A change in the music of a
state, wrote Plato, will be followed by changes in its constitution. It
is of the utmost importance, said Aristotle, to provide in education
for the use of the ennobling and the fortifying moods. These
philosophers knew that music creates a spiritual world, in which the
spirit cannot live and move without contracting habits of emotion. In
this vagueness of significance but intensity of feeling lies the magic
of music. A melody occurs to the composer, which he certainly connects
with no act of the reason, which he is probably unconscious of
connecting with any movement of his feeling, but which nevertheless is
the form in sound of an emotional mood. When he reflects upon the
melody secreted thus impromptu, he is aware, as we learn from his own
lips, that this work has correspondence with emotion. Beethoven calls
one symphony Heroic, another Pastoral; of the opening of another he
says, 'Fate knocks at the door.' Mozart sets comic words to the
mass-music of a friend, in order to mark his sense of its inaptitude
for religious sentiment. All composers use phrases like Maestoso,
Pomposo, Allegro, Lagrimoso, Con Fuoco, to express the general
complexion of the mood their music ought to represent.

Before passing to poetry, it may be well to turn aside and consider two
subordinate arts, which deserve a place in any system of æsthetics.
These are dancing and acting. Dancing uses the living human form, and
presents feeling or action, the passions and the deeds of men, in
artificially educated movements of the body. The element of beauty it
possesses, independently of the beauty of the dancer, is rhythm. Acting
or the art of mimicry presents the same subject-matter, no longer under
the conditions of fixed rhythm but as an ideal reproduction of reality.
The actor is 250what he represents, and the element of beauty in his
art is perfection of realisation. It is his duty as an artist to show
us Orestes or Othello, not perhaps exactly as Othello and Orestes were,
but as the essence of their tragedies, ideally incorporate in action,
ought to be. The actor can do this in dumb show. Some of the greatest
actors of the ancient world were mimes. But he usually interprets a
poet's thought, and attempts to present an artistic conception in a
secondary form of art, which has for its advantage his own personality
in play.

The last of the fine arts is literature; or, in the narrower sphere of
which it will be well to speak here only, is poetry. Poetry employs
words in fixed rhythms, which we call metres. Only a small portion of
its effect is derived from the beauty of its sound. It appeals to the
sense of hearing far less immediately than music does. It makes no
appeal to the eyesight, and takes no help from the beauty of colour. It
produces no tangible object. But language being the storehouse of all
human experience, language being the medium whereby spirit communicates
with spirit in affairs of life, the vehicle which transmits to us the
thoughts and feelings of the past, and on which we rely for continuing
our present to the future, it follows that, of all the arts, poetry
soars highest, flies widest, and is most at home in the region of the
spirit. What poetry lacks of sensuous fulness, it more than balances by
intellectual intensity. Its significance is unmistakable, because it
employs the very material men use in their exchange of thoughts and
correspondence of emotions. To the bounds of its empire there is no
end. It embraces in its own more abstract being all the arts. By words
it does the work in turn of architecture, sculpture, painting, music.
It is the metaphysic of the fine arts. Philosophy finds place in
251poetry; and life itself, refined to its last utterance, hangs
trembling on this thread which joins our earth to heaven, this bridge
between experience and the realms where unattainable and imperceptible
will have no meaning.

If we are right in defining art as the manifestation of the human
spirit to man by man in beautiful form, poetry, more incontestably than
any other art, fulfils this definition and enables us to gauge its
accuracy. For words are the spirit, manifested to itself in symbols
with no sensual alloy. Poetry is therefore the presentation, through
words, of life and all that life implies. Perception, emotion, thought,
action, find in descriptive, lyrical, reflective, dramatic, and epical
poetry their immediate apocalypse. In poetry we are no longer puzzled
with problems as to whether art has or has not of necessity a spiritual
content. There cannot be any poetry whatsoever without a spiritual
meaning of some sort: good or bad, moral, immoral, or non-moral,
obscure or lucid, noble or ignoble, slight or weighty—such distinctions
do not signify. In poetry we are not met by questions whether the poet
intended to convey a meaning when he made it. Quite meaningless poetry
(as some critics would fain find melody quite meaningless, or a statue
meaningless, or a Venetian picture meaningless) is a contradiction in
terms. In poetry, life, or a portion of life, lives again, resuscitated
and presented to our mental faculty through art. The best poetry is
that which reproduces the most of life, or its intensest moments.
Therefore the extensive species of the drama and the epic, the
intensive species of the lyric, have been ever held in highest esteem.
Only a half-crazy critic flaunts the paradox that poetry is excellent
in so far as it assimilates the vagueness of music, or estimates a poet
by his power of translating sense upon the borderland of nonsense into
melodious words. Where poetry falls short in the comparison with other
arts, is 252in the quality of form-giving, in the quality of sensuous
concreteness. Poetry can only present forms to the mental eye and to
the intellectual sense, stimulate the physical senses by indirect
suggestion. Therefore dramatic poetry, the most complicated kind of
poetry, relies upon the actor; and lyrical poetry, the intensest kind
of poetry, seeks the aid of music. But these comparative deficiencies
are overbalanced, for all the highest purposes of art, by the width and
depth, the intelligibility and power, the flexibility and multitudinous
associations, of language. The other arts are limited in what they
utter. There is nothing which has entered into the life of man which
poetry cannot express. Poetry says everything in man's own language to
the mind. The other arts appeal imperatively, each in its own region,
to man's senses; and the mind receives art's message by the help of
symbols from the world of sense. Poetry lacks this immediate appeal to
sense. But the elixir which it offers to the mind, its quintessence
extracted from all things of sense, reacts through intellectual
perception upon all the faculties that make men what they are.

VII

I used a metaphor in one of the foregoing paragraphs to indicate the
presence of the vital spirit, the essential element of thought or
feeling, in the work of art. I said it radiated through the form, as
lamplight through an alabaster vase. Now the skill of the artist is
displayed in modelling that vase, in giving it shape, rich and rare,
and fashioning its curves with subtlest workmanship. In so far as he is
a craftsman, the artist's pains must be bestowed upon this precious
vessel of the animating theme. In so far as he has power over beauty,
he must exert it in this plastic act. It is here that he displays
dexterity; here that he creates; here that he 253separates himself from
other men who think and feel. The poet, more perhaps than any other
artist, needs to keep this steadily in view; for words being our daily
vehicle of utterance, it may well chance that the alabaster vase of
language should be hastily or trivially modelled. This is the true
reason why 'neither gods nor men nor the columns either suffer
mediocrity in singers.' Upon the poet it is specially incumbent to see
that he has something rare to say and some rich mode of saying it. The
figurative arts need hardly be so cautioned. They run their risk in
quite a different direction. For sculptor and for painter, the danger
is lest he should think that alabaster vase his final task. He may too
easily be satisfied with moulding a beautiful but empty form.

The last word on the topic of the arts is given in one sentence. Let us
remember that every work of art enshrines a spiritual subject, and that
the artist's power is shown in finding for that subject a form of ideal
loveliness. Many kindred points remain to be discussed; as what we mean
by beauty, which is a condition indispensable to noble art; and what
are the relations of the arts to ethics. These questions cannot now be
raised. It is enough in one essay to have tried to vindicate the
spirituality of art in general.

254



A VENETIAN MEDLEY


I.—FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND FAMILIARITY

It is easy to feel and to say something obvious about Venice. The
influence of this sea-city is unique, immediate, and unmistakable. But
to express the sober truth of those impressions which remain when the
first astonishment of the Venetian revelation has subsided, when the
spirit of the place has been harmonised through familiarity with our
habitual mood, is difficult.

Venice inspires at first an almost Corybantic rapture. From our
earliest visits, if these have been measured by days rather than weeks,
we carry away with us the memory of sunsets emblazoned in gold and
crimson upon cloud and water; of violet domes and bell-towers etched
against the orange of a western sky; of moonlight silvering
breeze-rippled breadths of liquid blue; of distant islands shimmering
in sun-litten haze; of music and black gliding boats; of labyrinthine
darkness made for mysteries of love and crime; of statue-fretted palace
fronts; of brazen clangour and a moving crowd; of pictures by earth's
proudest painters, cased in gold on walls of council chambers where
Venice sat enthroned a queen, where nobles swept the floors with robes
of Tyrian brocade. These reminiscences will be attended by an
ever-present sense of loneliness and silence in the world around; the
sadness of a limitless horizon, the solemnity of an unbroken arch of
heaven, the calm and greyness of evening on the lagoons, the 255pathos
of a marble city crumbling to its grave in mud and brine.

These first impressions of Venice are true. Indeed they are inevitable.
They abide, and form a glowing background for all subsequent pictures,
toned more austerely, and painted in more lasting hues of truth upon
the brain. Those have never felt Venice at all who have not known this
primal rapture, or who perhaps expected more of colour, more of
melodrama, from a scene which nature and the art of man have made the
richest in these qualities. Yet the mood engendered by this first
experience is not destined to be permanent. It contains an element of
unrest and unreality which vanishes upon familiarity. From the blare of
that triumphal bourdon of brass instruments emerge the delicate voices
of violin and clarinette. To the contrasted passions of our earliest
love succeed a multitude of sweet and fanciful emotions. It is my
present purpose to recapture some of the impressions made by Venice in
more tranquil moods. Memory might be compared to a kaleidoscope. Far
away from Venice I raise the wonder-working tube, allow the glittering
fragments to settle as they please, and with words attempt to render
something of the patterns I behold.

II.—A LODGING IN SAN VIO

I have escaped from the hotels with their bustle of tourists and
crowded _tables-d'hôte_. My garden stretches down to the Grand Canal,
closed at the end with a pavilion, where I lounge and smoke and watch
the cornice of the Prefettura fretted with gold in sunset light. My
sitting-room and bed-room face the southern sun. There is a canal
below, crowded with gondolas, and across its bridge the good folk of
San Vio come and go the whole day long—men in blue shirts with
256enormous hats, and jackets slung on their left shoulder; women in
kerchiefs of orange and crimson. Barelegged boys sit upon the parapet,
dangling their feet above the rising tide. A hawker passes, balancing a
basket full of live and crawling crabs. Barges filled with Brenta water
or Mirano wine take up their station at the neighbouring steps, and
then ensues a mighty splashing and hurrying to and fro of men with tubs
upon their heads. The brawny fellows in the wine-barge are red from
brows to breast with drippings of the vat. And now there is a bustle in
the quarter. A _barca_ has arrived from S. Erasmo, the island of the
market-gardens. It is piled with gourds and pumpkins, cabbages and
tomatoes, pomegranates and pears—a pyramid of gold and green and
scarlet. Brown men lift the fruit aloft, and women bending from the
pathway bargain for it. A clatter of chaffering tongues, a ring of
coppers, a Babel of hoarse sea-voices, proclaim the sharpness of the
struggle. When the quarter has been served, the boat sheers off
diminished in its burden. Boys and girls are left seasoning their
polenta with a slice of _zucca_, while the mothers of a score of
families go pattering up yonder courtyard with the material for their
husbands' supper in their handkerchiefs. Across the canal, or more
correctly the _Rio_, opens a wide grass-grown court. It is lined on the
right hand by a row of poor dwellings, swarming with gondoliers'
children. A garden wall runs along the other side, over which I can see
pomegranate-trees in fruit and pergolas of vines. Far beyond are more
low houses, and then the sky, swept with sea-breezes, and the masts of
an ocean-going ship against the dome and turrets of Palladio's
Redentore.

This is my home. By day it is as lively as a scene in _Masaniello_. By
night, after nine o'clock, the whole stir of the quarter has subsided.
Far away I hear the bell of some church tell the hours. But no noise
disturbs my rest, unless 257perhaps a belated gondolier moors his boat
beneath the window. My one maid, Catina, sings at her work the whole
day through. My gondolier, Francesco, acts as valet. He wakes me in the
morning, opens the shutters, brings sea-water for my bath, and takes
his orders for the day. 'Will it do for Chioggia, Francesco?'
'Sissignore! The Signorino has set off in his _sandolo_ already with
Antonio. The Signora is to go with us in the gondola.' 'Then get three
more men, Francesco, and see that all of them can sing.'

III.—TO CHIOGGIA WITH OAR AND SAIL

The _sandolo_ is a boat shaped like the gondola, but smaller and
lighter, without benches, and without the high steel prow or _ferro_
which distinguishes the gondola. The gunwale is only just raised above
the water, over which the little craft skims with a rapid bounding
motion, affording an agreeable variation from the stately swanlike
movement of the gondola. In one of these boats—called by him the
_Fisolo_ or Seamew—my friend Eustace had started with Antonio,
intending to row the whole way to Chioggia, or, if the breeze favoured,
to hoist a sail and help himself along. After breakfast, when the crew
for my gondola had been assembled, Francesco and I followed with the
Signora. It was one of those perfect mornings which occur as a respite
from broken weather, when the air is windless and the light falls soft
through haze on the horizon. As we broke into the lagoon behind the
Redentore, the islands in front of us, S. Spirito, Poveglia, Malamocco,
seemed as though they were just lifted from the sea-line. The
Euganeans, far away to westward, were bathed in mist, and almost blent
with the blue sky. Our four rowers put their backs into their work; and
soon we reached the port of Malamocco, where a breeze from the
258Adriatic caught us sideways for a while. This is the largest of the
breaches in the Lidi, or raised sand-reefs, which protect Venice from
the sea: it affords an entrance to vessels of draught like the steamers
of the Peninsular and Oriental Company. We crossed the dancing wavelets
of the port; but when we passed under the lee of Pelestrina, the breeze
failed, and the lagoon was once again a sheet of undulating glass. At
S. Pietro on this island a halt was made to give the oarsmen wine, and
here we saw the women at their cottage doorways making lace. The old
lace industry of Venice has recently been revived. From Burano and
Pelestrina cargoes of hand-made imitations of the ancient fabrics are
sent at intervals to Jesurun's magazine at S. Marco. He is the chief
_impresario_ of the trade, employing hundreds of hands, and speculating
for a handsome profit in the foreign market on the price he gives his
workwomen.

Now we are well lost in the lagoons—Venice no longer visible behind;
the Alps and Euganeans shrouded in a noonday haze; the lowlands at the
mouth of Brenta marked by clumps of trees ephemerally faint in silver
silhouette against the filmy, shimmering horizon. Form and colour have
disappeared in light-irradiated vapour of an opal hue. And yet
instinctively we know that we are not at sea; the different quality of
the water, the piles emerging here and there above the surface, the
suggestion of coast-lines scarcely felt in this infinity of lustre, all
remind us that our voyage is confined to the charmed limits of an
inland lake. At length the jutting headland of Pelestrina was reached.
We broke across the Porto di Chioggia, and saw Chioggia itself ahead—a
huddled mass of houses low upon the water. One by one, as we rowed
steadily, the fishing-boats passed by, emerging from their harbour for
a twelve hours' cruise upon the open sea. In a long line they came,
with variegated sails of orange, red, and 259saffron, curiously
chequered at the corners, and cantled with devices in contrasted tints.
A little land-breeze carried them forward. The lagoon reflected their
deep colours till they reached the port. Then, slightly swerving
eastward on their course, but still in single file, they took the sea
and scattered, like beautiful bright-plumaged birds, who from a
streamlet float into a lake, and find their way at large according as
each wills.

The Signorino and Antonio, though want of wind obliged them to row the
whole way from Venice, had reached Chioggia an hour before, and stood
waiting to receive us on the quay. It is a quaint town this Chioggia,
which has always lived a separate life from that of Venice. Language
and race and customs have held the two populations apart from those
distant years when Genoa and the Republic of S. Mark fought their duel
to the death out in the Chioggian harbours, down to these days, when
your Venetian gondolier will tell you that the Chioggoto loves his pipe
more than his _donna_ or his wife. The main canal is lined with
substantial palaces, attesting to old wealth and comfort. But from
Chioggia, even more than from Venice, the tide of modern luxury and
traffic has retreated. The place is left to fishing folk and builders
of the fishing craft, whose wharves still form the liveliest quarter.
Wandering about its wide deserted courts and _calli_, we feel the
spirit of the decadent Venetian nobility. Passages from Goldoni's and
Casanova's Memoirs occur to our memory. It seems easy to realise what
they wrote about the dishevelled gaiety and lawless license of Chioggia
in the days of powder, sword-knot, and _soprani_. Baffo walks beside us
in hypocritical composure of bag-wig and senatorial dignity, whispering
unmentionable sonnets in his dialect of _Xe_ and _Ga_. Somehow or
another that last dotage of S. Mark's decrepitude is more recoverable
by our fancy than the heroism of Pisani in the fourteenth century.
260From his prison in blockaded Venice the great admiral was sent forth
on a forlorn hope, and blocked victorious Doria here with boats on
which the nobles of the Golden Book had spent their fortunes. Pietro
Doria boasted that with his own hands he would bridle the bronze horses
of S. Mark. But now he found himself between the navy of Carlo Zeno in
the Adriatic and the flotilla led by Vittore Pisani across the lagoon.
It was in vain that the Republic of S. George strained every nerve to
send him succour from the Ligurian sea; in vain that the lords of Padua
kept opening communications with him from the mainland. From the 1st of
January 1380 till the 21st of June the Venetians pressed the blockade
ever closer, grappling their foemen in a grip that if relaxed one
moment would have hurled him at their throats. The long and breathless
struggle ended in the capitulation at Chioggia of what remained of
Doria's forty-eight galleys and fourteen thousand men.

These great deeds are far away and hazy. The brief sentences of
mediæval annalists bring them less near to us than the _chroniques
scandaleuses_ of good-for-nothing scoundrels, whose vulgar adventures
might be revived at the present hour with scarce a change of setting.
Such is the force of _intimité_ in literature. And yet Baffo and
Casanova are as much of the past as Doria and Pisani. It is only
perhaps that the survival of decadence in all we see around us, forms a
fitting framework for our recollections of their vividly described
corruption.

Not far from the landing-place a balustraded bridge of ample breadth
and large bravura manner spans the main canal. Like everything at
Chioggia, it is dirty and has fallen from its first estate. Yet neither
time nor injury can obliterate style or wholly degrade marble. Hard by
the bridge there are two rival inns. At one of these we ordered a
seadinner—crabs, 261cuttlefishes, soles, and turbots—which we ate at a
table in the open air. Nothing divided us from the street except a row
of Japanese privet-bushes in hooped tubs. Our banquet soon assumed a
somewhat unpleasant similitude to that of Dives; for the Chioggoti, in
all stages of decrepitude and squalor, crowded round to beg for
scraps—indescribable old women, enveloped in their own petticoats
thrown over their heads; girls hooded with sombre black mantles; old
men wrinkled beyond recognition by their nearest relatives; jabbering,
half-naked boys; slow, slouching fishermen with clay pipes in their
mouths and philosophical acceptance on their sober foreheads.

That afternoon the gondola and sandolo were lashed together side by
side. Two sails were raised, and in this lazy fashion we stole
homewards, faster or slower according as the breeze freshened or
slackened, landing now and then on islands, sauntering along the
sea-walls which bulwark Venice from the Adriatic, and singing—those at
least of us who had the power to sing. Four of our Venetians had
trained voices and memories of inexhaustible music. Over the level
water, with the ripple plashing at our keel, their songs went abroad,
and mingled with the failing day. The barcaroles and serenades peculiar
to Venice were, of course, in harmony with the occasion. But some
transcripts from classical operas were even more attractive, through
the dignity with which these men invested them. By the peculiarity of
their treatment the _recitativo_ of the stage assumed a solemn
movement, marked in rhythm, which removed it from the commonplace into
antiquity, and made me understand how cultivated music may pass back by
natural, unconscious transition into the realm of popular melody.

The sun sank, not splendidly, but quietly in banks of clouds above the
Alps. Stars came out, uncertainly at first, 262and then in strength,
reflected on the sea. The men of the Dogana watch-boat challenged us
and let us pass. Madonna's lamp was twinkling from her shrine upon the
harbour-pile. The city grew before us. Stealing into Venice in that
calm—stealing silently and shadowlike, with scarce a ruffle of the
water, the masses of the town emerging out of darkness into twilight,
till San Giorgio's gun boomed with a flash athwart our stern, and the
gas-lamps of the Piazzetta swam into sight; all this was like a long
enchanted chapter of romance. And now the music of our men had sunk to
one faint whistling from Eustace of tunes in harmony with whispers at
the prow.

Then came the steps of the Palazzo Venier and the deep-scented darkness
of the garden. As we passed through to supper, I plucked a spray of
yellow Banksia rose, and put it in my buttonhole. The dew was on its
burnished leaves, and evening had drawn forth its perfume.

IV.—MORNING RAMBLES

A story is told of Poussin, the French painter, that when he was asked
why he would not stay in Venice, he replied, 'If I stay here, I shall
become a colourist!' A somewhat similar tale is reported of a
fashionable English decorator. While on a visit to friends in Venice,
he avoided every building which contains a Tintoretto, averring that
the sight of Tintoretto's pictures would injure his carefully trained
taste. It is probable that neither anecdote is strictly true. Yet there
is a certain epigrammatic point in both; and I have often speculated
whether even Venice could have so warped the genius of Poussin as to
shed one ray of splendour on his canvases, or whether even Tintoretto
could have so 263sublimed the prophet of Queen Anne as to make him add
dramatic passion to a London drawing-room. Anyhow, it is exceedingly
difficult to escape from colour in the air of Venice, or from
Tintoretto in her buildings. Long, delightful mornings may be spent in
the enjoyment of the one and the pursuit of the other by folk who have
no classical or pseudo-mediæval theories to oppress them.

Tintoretto's house, though changed, can still be visited. It formed
part of the Fondamenta dei Mori, so called from having been the quarter
assigned to Moorish traders in Venice. A spirited carving of a turbaned
Moor leading a camel charged with merchandise, remains above the
waterline of a neighbouring building; and all about the crumbling walls
sprout flowering weeds—samphire and snapdragon and the spiked
campanula, which shoots a spire of sea-blue stars from chinks of
Istrian stone.

The house stands opposite the Church of Santa Maria dell' Orto, where
Tintoretto was buried, and where four of his chief masterpieces are to
be seen. This church, swept and garnished, is a triumph of modern
Italian restoration. They have contrived to make it as commonplace as
human ingenuity could manage. Yet no malice of ignorant industry can
obscure the treasures it contains—the pictures of Cima, Gian Bellini,
Palma, and the four Tintorettos, which form its crowning glory. Here
the master may be studied in four of his chief moods: as the painter of
tragic passion and movement, in the huge 'Last Judgment;' as the
painter of impossibilities, in the 'Vision of Moses upon Sinai;' as the
painter of purity and tranquil pathos, in the 'Miracle of S. Agnes;' as
the painter of Biblical history brought home to daily life, in the
'Presentation of the Virgin.' Without leaving the Madonna dell' Orto, a
student can explore his genius in all its depth and breadth; comprehend
the enthusiasm he 264excites in those who seek, as the essentials of
art, imaginative boldness and sincerity; understand what is meant by
adversaries who maintain that, after all, Tintoretto was but an
inspired Gustave Doré. Between that quiet canvas of the 'Presentation,'
so modest in its cool greys and subdued gold, and the tumult of flying,
running ascending figures in the 'Judgment,' what an interval there is!
How strangely the white lamb-like maiden, kneeling beside her lamb in
the picture of S. Agnes, contrasts with the dusky gorgeousness of the
Hebrew women despoiling themselves of jewels for the golden calf!
Comparing these several manifestations of creative power, we feel
ourselves in the grasp of a painter who was essentially a poet, one for
whom his art was the medium for expressing before all things thought
and passion. Each picture is executed in the manner suited to its tone
of feeling, the key of its conception.

Elsewhere than in the Madonna dell' Orto there are more distinguished
single examples of Tintoretto's realising faculty. The 'Last Supper' in
San Giorgio, for instance, and the 'Adoration of the Shepherds' in the
Scuola di San Rocco illustrate his unique power of presenting sacred
history in a novel, romantic framework of familiar things. The
commonplace circumstances of ordinary life have been employed to
portray in the one case a lyric of mysterious splendour; in the other,
an idyll of infinite sweetness. Divinity shines through the rafters of
that upper chamber, where round a low large table the Apostles are
assembled in a group translated from the social customs of the
painter's days. Divinity is shed upon the straw-spread manger, where
Christ lies sleeping in the loft, with shepherds crowding through the
room beneath.

A studied contrast between the simplicity and repose of the central
figure and the tumult of passions in the multitude 265around, may be
observed in the 'Miracle of S. Agnes.' It is this which gives dramatic
vigour to the composition. But the same effect is carried to its
highest fulfilment, with even a loftier beauty, in the episode of
Christ before the judgment-seat of Pilate, at San Rocco. Of all
Tintoretto's religious pictures, that is the most profoundly felt, the
most majestic. No other artist succeeded as he has here succeeded in
presenting to us God incarnate. For this Christ is not merely the just
man, innocent, silent before his accusers. The stationary, white-draped
figure, raised high above the agitated crowd, with tranquil forehead
slightly bent, facing his perplexed and fussy judge, is more than man.
We cannot say perhaps precisely why he is divine. But Tintoretto has
made us feel that he is. In other words, his treatment of the high
theme chosen by him has been adequate.

We must seek the Scuola di San Rocco for examples of Tintoretto's
liveliest imagination. Without ceasing to be Italian in his attention
to harmony and grace, he far exceeded the masters of his nation in the
power of suggesting what is weird, mysterious, upon the borderland of
the grotesque. And of this quality there are three remarkable instances
in the Scuola. No one but Tintoretto could have evoked the fiend in his
'Temptation of Christ.' It is an indescribable hermaphroditic genius,
the genius of carnal fascination, with outspread downy rose-plumed
wings, and flaming bracelets on the full but sinewy arms, who kneels
and lifts aloft great stones, smiling entreatingly to the sad, grey
Christ seated beneath a rugged pent-house of the desert. No one again
but Tintoretto could have dashed the hot lights of that fiery sunset in
such quivering flakes upon the golden flesh of Eve, half hidden among
laurels, as she stretches forth the fruit of the Fall to shrinking
Adam. No one but Tintoretto, till we come to Blake, could have imagined
yonder Jonah, summoned 266by the beck of God from the whale's belly.
The monstrous fish rolls over in the ocean, blowing portentous vapour
from his trump-shaped nostril. The prophet's beard descends upon his
naked breast in hoary ringlets to the girdle. He has forgotten the past
peril of the deep, although the whale's jaws yawn around him. Between
him and the outstretched finger of Jehovah calling him again to life,
there runs a spark of unseen spiritual electricity.

To comprehend Tintoretto's touch upon the pastoral idyll we must turn
our steps to San Giorgio again, and pace those meadows by the running
river in company with his Manna-Gatherers. Or we may seek the
Accademia, and notice how he here has varied the 'Temptation of Adam by
Eve,' choosing a less tragic motive of seduction than the one so
powerfully rendered at San Rocco. Or in the Ducal Palace we may take
our station, hour by hour, before the 'Marriage of Bacchus and
Ariadne.' It is well to leave the very highest achievements of art
untouched by criticism, undescribed. And in this picture we have the
most perfect of all modern attempts to realise an antique myth—more
perfect than Raphael's 'Galatea,' or Titian's 'Meeting of Bacchus with
Ariadne,' or Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus from the Sea.' It may suffice
to marvel at the slight effect which melodies so powerful and so direct
as these produce upon the ordinary public. Sitting, as is my wont, one
Sunday morning, opposite the 'Bacchus,' four Germans with a cicerone
sauntered by. The subject was explained to them. They waited an
appreciable space of time. Then the youngest opened his lips and spake:
'Bacchus war der Wein-Gott.' And they all moved heavily away. _Bos
locutus est_. 'Bacchus was the wine-god!' This, apparently, is what a
picture tells to one man. To another it presents divine harmonies,
perceptible indeed in nature, but here by the painter-poet for the
first time brought 267together and cadenced in a work of art. For
another it is perhaps the hieroglyph of pent-up passions and desired
impossibilities. For yet another it may only mean the unapproachable
inimitable triumph of consummate craft.

Tintoretto, to be rightly understood, must be sought all over Venice—in
the church as well as the Scuola di San Rocco; in the 'Temptation of S.
Anthony' at S. Trovaso no less than in the Temptations of Eve and
Christ; in the decorative pomp of the Sala del Senato, and in the
Paradisal vision of the Sala del Gran Consiglio. Yet, after all, there
is one of his most characteristic moods, to appreciate which fully we
return to the Madonna dell' Orto. I have called him 'the painter of
impossibilities.' At rare moments he rendered them possible by sheer
imaginative force. If we wish to realise this phase of his creative
power, and to measure our own subordination to his genius in its most
hazardous enterprise, we must spend much time in the choir of this
church. Lovers of art who mistrust this play of the audacious
fancy—aiming at sublimity in supersensual regions, sometimes attaining
to it by stupendous effort or authentic revelation, not seldom sinking
to the verge of bathos, and demanding the assistance of interpretative
sympathy in the spectator—such men will not take the point of view
required of them by Tintoretto in his boldest flights, in the 'Worship
of the Golden Calf' and in the 'Destruction of the World by Water.' It
is for them to ponder well the flying archangel with the scales of
judgment in his hand, and the seraph-charioted Jehovah enveloping Moses
upon Sinai in lightnings.

The gondola has had a long rest. Were Francesco but a little more
impatient, he might be wondering what had become of the padrone. I bid
him turn, and we are soon gliding into the Sacca della Misericordia.
This is a protected float, where the wood which comes from Cadore and
the hills of the 268Ampezzo is stored in spring. Yonder square white
house, standing out to sea, fronting Murano and the Alps, they call the
Oasa degli Spiriti. No one cares to inhabit it; for here, in old days,
it was the wont of the Venetians to lay their dead for a night's rest
before their final journey to the graveyard of S. Michele. So many
generations of dead folk had made that house their inn, that it is now
no fitting home for living men. San Michele is the island close before
Murano, where the Lombardi built one of their most romantically
graceful churches of pale Istrian stone, and where the Campo Santo has
for centuries received the dead into its oozy clay. The cemetery is at
present undergoing restoration. Its state of squalor and abandonment to
cynical disorder makes one feel how fitting for Italians would be the
custom of cremation. An island in the lagoons devoted to funeral pyres
is a solemn and ennobling conception. This graveyard, with its ruinous
walls, its mangy riot of unwholesome weeds, its corpses festering in
slime beneath neglected slabs in hollow chambers, and the mephitic wash
of poisoned waters that surround it, inspires the horror of disgust.

The morning has not lost its freshness. Antelao and Tofana, guarding
the vale above Cortina, show faint streaks of snow upon their amethyst.
Little clouds hang in the still autumn sky. There are men dredging for
shrimps and crabs through shoals uncovered by the ebb. Nothing can be
lovelier, more resting to eyes tired with pictures than this tranquil,
sunny expanse of the lagoon. As we round the point of the Bersaglio,
new landscapes of island and Alp and low-lying mainland move into sight
at every slow stroke of the oar. A luggage-train comes lumbering along
the railway bridge, puffing white smoke into the placid blue. Then we
strike down Cannaregio, and I muse upon processions of kings and
generals and noble strangers, entering Venice by 269this water-path
from Mestre, before the Austrians built their causeway for the trains.
Some of the rare scraps of fresco upon house fronts, still to be seen
in Venice, are left in Cannaregio. They are chiaroscuro allegories in a
bold bravura manner of the sixteenth century. From these and from a few
rosy fragments on the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the Fabbriche Nuove, and
precious fading figures in a certain courtyard near San Stefano, we
form some notion how Venice looked when all her palaces were painted.
Pictures by Gentile Bellini, Mansueti, and Carpaccio help the fancy in
this work of restoration. And here and there, in back canals, we come
across coloured sections of old buildings, capped by true Venetian
chimneys, which for a moment seem to realise our dream.

A morning with Tintoretto might well be followed by a morning with
Carpaccio or Bellini. But space is wanting in these pages. Nor would it
suit the manner of this medley to hunt the Lombardi through palaces and
churches, pointing out their singularities of violet and yellow
panellings in marble, the dignity of their wide-opened arches, or the
delicacy of their shallow chiselled traceries in cream-white Istrian
stone. It is enough to indicate the goal of many a pleasant pilgrimage:
warrior angels of Vivarini and Basaiti hidden in a dark chapel of the
Frari; Fra Francesco's fantastic orchard of fruits and flowers in
distant S. Francesco della Vigna; the golden Gian Bellini in S.
Zaccaria; Palma's majestic S. Barbara in S. Maria Formosa; San Giobbe's
wealth of sculptured frieze and floral scroll; the Ponte di Paradiso,
with its Gothic arch; the painted plates in the Museo Civico; and
palace after palace, loved for some quaint piece of tracery, some
moulding full of mediæval symbolism, some fierce impossible Renaissance
freak of fancy.

Bather than prolong this list, I will tell a story which drew 270me one
day past the Public Gardens to the metropolitan Church of Venice, San
Pietro di Castello. The novella is related by Bandello. It has, as will
be noticed, points of similarity to that of 'Romeo and Juliet.'

V.—A VENETIAN NOVELLA

At the time when Carpaccio and Gentile Bellini were painting those
handsome youths in tight jackets, parti-coloured hose, and little round
caps placed awry upon their shocks of well-combed hair, there lived in
Venice two noblemen, Messer Pietro and Messer Paolo, whose palaces
fronted each other on the Grand Canal. Messer Paolo was a widower, with
one married daughter, and an only son of twenty years or thereabouts,
named Gerardo. Messer Pietro's wife was still living; and this couple
had but one child, a daughter, called Elena, of exceeding beauty, aged
fourteen. Gerardo, as is the wont of gallants, was paying his addresses
to a certain lady; and nearly every day he had to cross the Grand Canal
in his gondola, and to pass beneath the house of Elena on his way to
visit his Dulcinea; for this lady lived some distance up a little canal
on which the western side of Messer Pietro's palace looked.

Now it so happened that at the very time when the story opens, Messer
Pietro's wife fell ill and died, and Elena was left alone at home with
her father and her old nurse. Across the little canal of which I spoke
there dwelt another nobleman, with four daughters, between the years of
seventeen and twenty-one. Messer Pietro, desiring to provide amusement
for poor little Elena, besought this gentleman that his daughters might
come on feast-days to play with her. For you must know that, except on
festivals of the Church, the custom of Venice required that gentlewomen
should remain 271closely shut within the private apartments of their
dwellings. His request was readily granted; and on the next feast-day
the five girls began to play at ball together for forfeits in the great
saloon, which opened with its row of Gothic arches and balustraded
balcony upon the Grand Canal. The four sisters, meanwhile, had other
thoughts than for the game. One or other of them, and sometimes three
together, would let the ball drop, and run to the balcony to gaze upon
their gallants, passing up and down in gondolas below; and then they
would drop flowers or ribands for tokens. Which negligence of theirs
annoyed Elena much; for she thought only of the game. Wherefore she
scolded them in childish wise, and one of them made answer, 'Elena, if
you only knew how pleasant it is to play as we are playing on this
balcony, you would not care so much for ball and forfeits!'

On one of those feast-days the four sisters were prevented from keeping
their little friend company. Elena, with nothing to do, and feeling
melancholy, leaned upon the window-sill which overlooked the narrow
canal. And it chanced that just then Gerardo, on his way to Dulcinea,
went by; and Elena looked down at him, as she had seen those sisters
look at passers-by. Gerardo caught her eye, and glances passed between
them, and Gerardo's gondolier, bending from the poop, said to his
master, 'O master! methinks that gentle maiden is better worth your
wooing than Dulcinea.' Gerardo pretended to pay no heed to these words;
but after rowing a little way, he bade the man turn, and they went
slowly back beneath the window. This time Elena, thinking to play the
game which her four friends had played, took from her hair a clove
carnation and let it fall close to Gerardo on the cushion of the
gondola. He raised the flower and put it to his lips, acknowledging the
courtesy with a grave bow. But the perfume of the clove and the beauty
of Elena in that moment 272took possession of his heart together, and
straightway he forgot Dulcinea.

As yet he knew not who Elena was. Nor is this wonderful; for the
daughters of Venetian nobles were but rarely seen or spoken of. But the
thought of her haunted him awake and sleeping; and every feast-day,
when there was the chance of seeing her, he rowed his gondola beneath
her windows. And there she appeared to him in company with her four
friends; the five girls clustering together like sister roses beneath
the pointed windows of the Gothic balcony. Elena, on her side, had no
thought of love; for of love she had heard no one speak. But she took
pleasure in the game those friends had taught her, of leaning from the
balcony to watch Gerardo. He meanwhile grew love-sick and impatient,
wondering how he might declare his passion. Until one day it happened
that, talking through a lane or _calle_ which skirted Messer Pietro'a
palace, he caught sight of Elena's nurse, who was knocking at the door,
returning from some shopping she had made. This nurse had been his own
nurse in childhood; therefore he remembered her, and cried aloud,
'Nurse, Nurse!' But the old woman did not hear him, and passed into the
house and shut the door behind her. Whereupon Gerardo, greatly moved,
still called to her, and when he reached the door, began to knock upon
it violently. And whether it was the agitation of finding himself at
last so near the wish of his heart, or whether the pains of waiting for
his love had weakened him, I know not; but, while he knocked, his
senses left him, and he fell fainting in the doorway. Then the nurse
recognised the youth to whom she had given suck, and brought him into
the courtyard by the help of handmaidens, and Elena came down and gazed
upon him. The house was now full of bustle, and Messer Pietro heard the
noise, and seeing the son of his neighbour in so piteous a plight, he
caused Gerardo 273to be laid upon a bed. But for all they could do with
him, he recovered not from his swoon. And after a while force was that
they should place him in a gondola and ferry him across to his father's
house. The nurse went with him, and informed Messer Paolo of what had
happened. Doctors were sent for, and the whole family gathered round
Gerardo's bed. After a while he revived a little; and thinking himself
still upon the doorstep of Pietro's palace, called again, 'Nurse,
Nurse!' She was near at hand, and would have spoken to him. But while
he summoned his senses to his aid, he became gradually aware of his own
kinsfolk and dissembled the secret of his grief. They beholding him in
better cheer, departed on their several ways, and the nurse still sat
alone beside him. Then he explained to her what he had at heart, and
how he was in love with a maiden whom he had seen on feast-days in the
house of Messer Pietro. But still he knew not Elena's name; and she,
thinking it impossible that such a child had inspired this passion,
began to marvel which of the four sisters it was Gerardo loved. Then
they appointed the next Sunday, when all the five girls should be
together, for Gerardo by some sign, as he passed beneath the window, to
make known to the old nurse his lady.

Elena, meanwhile, who had watched Gerardo lying still and pale in swoon
beneath her on the pavement of the palace, felt the stirring of a new
unknown emotion in her soul. When Sunday came, she devised excuses for
keeping her four friends away, bethinking her that she might see him
once again alone, and not betray the agitation which she dreaded. This
ill suited the schemes of the nurse, who nevertheless was forced to be
content. But after dinner, seeing how restless was the girl, and how
she came and went, and ran a thousand times to the balcony, the nurse
began to wonder whether Elena herself were not in love with some one.
So she feigned to 274sleep, but placed herself within sight of the
window. And soon Gerardo came by in his gondola; and Elena, who was
prepared, threw to him her nosegay. The watchful nurse had risen, and
peeping behind the girl's shoulder, saw at a glance how matters stood.
Thereupon she began to scold her charge, and say, 'Is this a fair and
comely thing, to stand all day at balconies and throw flowers at
passers-by? Woe to you if your father should come to know of this! He
would make you wish yourself among the dead!' Elena, sore troubled at
her nurse's rebuke, turned and threw her arms about her neck, and
called her 'Nanna!' as the wont is of Venetian children. Then she told
the old woman how she had learned that game from the four sisters, and
how she thought it was not different, but far more pleasant, than the
game of forfeits; whereupon her nurse spoke gravely, explaining what
love is, and how that love should lead to marriage, and bidding her
search her own heart if haply she could choose Gerardo for her husband.
There was no reason, as she knew, why Messer Paolo's son should not
mate with Messer Pietro's daughter. But being a romantic creature, as
many women are, she resolved to bring the match about in secret.

Elena took little time to reflect, but told her nurse that she was
willing, if Gerardo willed it too, to have him for her husband. Then
went the nurse and made the young man know how matters stood, and
arranged with him a day, when Messer Pietro should be in the Council of
the Pregadi, and the servants of the palace otherwise employed, for him
to come and meet his Elena. A glad man was Gerardo, nor did he wait to
think how better it would be to ask the hand of Elena in marriage from
her father. But when the day arrived, he sought the nurse, and she took
him to a chamber in the palace, where there stood an image of the
Blessed Virgin. Elena was there, pale and timid; and when the lovers
clasped 275hands, neither found many words to say. But the nurse bade
them take heart, and leading them before Our Lady, joined their hands,
and made Gerardo place his ring on his bride's finger. After this
fashion were Gerardo and Elena wedded. And for some while, by the
assistance of the nurse, they dwelt together in much love and solace,
meeting often as occasion offered.

Messer Paolo, who knew nothing of these things, took thought meanwhile
for his son's career. It was the season when the Signiory of Venice
sends a fleet of galleys to Beirut with merchandise; and the noblemen
may bid for the hiring of a ship, and charge it with wares, and send
whomsoever they list as factor in their interest. One of these galleys,
then, Messer Paolo engaged, and told his son that he had appointed him
to journey with it and increase their wealth. 'On thy return, my son,'
he said, 'we will bethink us of a wife for thee.' Gerardo, when he
heard these words, was sore troubled, and first he told his father
roundly that he would not go, and flew off in the twilight to pour out
his perplexities to Elena. But she, who was prudent and of gentle soul,
besought him to obey his father in this thing, to the end, moreover,
that, having done his will and increased his wealth, he might
afterwards unfold the story of their secret marriage. To these good
counsels, though loth, Gerardo consented. His father was overjoyed at
his son's repentance. The galley was straightway laden with
merchandise, and Gerardo set forth on his voyage.

The trip to Beirut and back lasted usually six months or at the most
seven. Now when Gerardo had been some six months away, Messer Pietro,
noticing how fair his daughter was, and how she had grown into
womanhood, looked about him for a husband for her. When he had found a
youth suitable in birth and wealth and years, he called for Elena,
276and told her that the day had been appointed for her marriage. She,
alas! knew not what to answer. She feared to tell her father that she
was already married, for she knew not whether this would please
Gerardo. For the same reason she dreaded to throw herself upon the
kindness of Messer Paolo. Nor was her nurse of any help in counsel; for
the old woman repented her of what she had done, and had good cause to
believe that, even if the marriage with Gerardo were accepted by the
two fathers, they would punish her for her own part in the affair.
Therefore she bade Elena wait on fortune, and hinted to her that, if
the worst came to the worst, no one need know she had been wedded with
the ring to Gerardo. Such weddings, you must know, were binding; but
till they had been blessed by the Church, they had not taken the force
of a religious sacrament. And this is still the case in Italy among the
common folk, who will say of a man, 'Si, è ammogliato; ma il matrimonio
non è stato benedetto.' 'Yes, he has taken a wife, but the marriage has
not yet been blessed.'

So the days flew by in doubt and sore distress for Elena. Then on the
night before her wedding, she felt that she could bear this life no
longer. But having no poison, and being afraid to pierce her bosom with
a knife, she lay down on her bed alone, and tried to die by holding in
her breath. A mortal swoon came over her; her senses fled; the life in
her remained suspended. And when her nurse came next morning to call
her, she found poor Elena cold as a corpse. Messer Pietro and all the
household rushed, at the nurse's cries, into the room, and they all saw
Elena stretched dead upon her bed undressed. Physicians were called,
who made theories to explain the cause of death. But all believed that
she was really dead, beyond all help of art or medicine. Nothing
remained but to carry her to church for burial instead of marriage.
Therefore, that very evening, a funeral procession 277was formed, which
moved by torchlight up the Grand Canal, along the Riva, past the blank
walls of the Arsenal, to the Campo before San Pietro in Castello. Elena
lay beneath the black felze in one gondola, with a priest beside her
praying, and other boats followed bearing mourners. Then they laid her
in a marble chest outside the church, and all departed, still with
torches burning, to their homes.

Now it so fell out that upon that very evening Gerardo's galley had
returned from Syria, and was anchoring within the port of Lido, which
looks across to the island of Castello. It was the gentle custom of
Venice at that time that, when a ship arrived from sea, the friends of
those on board at once came out to welcome them, and take and give the
news. Therefore many noble youths and other citizens were on the deck
of Gerardo's galley, making merry with him over the safe conduct of his
voyage. Of one of these he asked, 'Whose is yonder funeral procession
returning from San Pietro?' The young man made answer, 'Alas, for poor
Elena, Messer Pietro's daughter! She should have been married this day.
But death took her, and to-night they buried her in the marble monument
outside the church.' A woeful man was Gerardo, hearing suddenly this
news, and knowing what his dear wife must have suffered ere she died.
Yet he restrained himself, daring not to disclose his anguish, and
waited till his friends had left the galley. Then he called to him the
captain of the oarsmen, who was his friend, and unfolded to him all the
story of his love and sorrow, and said that he must go that night and
see his wife once more, if even he should have to break her tomb. The
captain tried to dissuade him, but in vain. Seeing him so obstinate, he
resolved not to desert Gerardo. The two men took one of the galley's
boats, and rowed together toward San Pietro. It was past midnight when
they reached the Campo and broke the marble sepulchre 278asunder.
Pushing back its lid, Gerardo descended into the grave and abandoned
himself upon the body of his Elena. One who had seen them at that
moment could not well have said which of the two was dead and which was
living—Elena or her husband. Meantime the captain of the oarsmen,
fearing lest the watch (set by the Masters of the Night to keep the
peace of Venice) might arrive, was calling on Gerardo to come back.
Gerardo heeded him no whit. But at the last, compelled by his
entreaties, and as it were astonied, he arose, bearing his wife's
corpse in his arms, and carried her clasped against his bosom to the
boat, and laid her therein, and sat down by her side and kissed her
frequently, and suffered not his friend's remonstrances. Force was for
the captain, having brought himself into this scrape, that he should
now seek refuge by the nearest way from justice. Therefore he hoved
gently from the bank, and plied his oar, and brought the gondola apace
into the open waters. Gerardo still clasped Elena, dying husband by
dead wife. But the sea-breeze freshened towards daybreak; and the
captain, looking down upon that pair, and bringing to their faces the
light of his boat's lantern, judged their case not desperate at all. On
Elena's cheek there was a flush of life less deadly even than the
pallor of Gerardo's forehead. Thereupon the good man called aloud, and
Gerardo started from his grief; and both together they chafed the hands
and feet of Elena; and, the sea-breeze aiding with its saltness, they
awoke in her the spark of life.

Dimly burned the spark. But Gerardo, being aware of it, became a man
again. Then, having taken counsel with the captain, both resolved to
bear her to that brave man's mother's house. A bed was soon made ready,
and food was brought; and after due time, she lifted up her face and
knew Gerardo. The peril of the grave was past, but thought had now to
be 279taken for the future. Therefore Gerardo, leaving his wife to the
captain's mother, rowed back to the galley and prepared to meet his
father. With good store of merchandise and with great gains from his
traffic, he arrived in that old palace on the Grand Canal. Then having
opened to Messer Paolo the matters of his journey, and shown him how he
had fared, and set before him tables of disbursements and receipts, he
seized the moment of his father's gladness. 'Father,' he said, and as
he spoke he knelt upon his knees, 'Father, I bring you not good store
of merchandise and bags of gold alone; I bring you also a wedded wife,
whom I have saved this night from death.' And when the old man's
surprise was quieted, he told him the whole story. Now Messer Paolo,
desiring no better than that his son should wed the heiress of his
neighbour, and knowing well that Messer Pietro would make great joy
receiving back his daughter from the grave, bade Gerardo in haste take
rich apparel and clothe Elena therewith, and fetch her home. These
things were swiftly done; and after evenfall Messer Pietro was bidden
to grave business in his neighbour's palace. With heavy heart he came,
from a house of mourning to a house of gladness. But there, at the
banquet-table's head he saw his dead child Elena alive, and at her side
a husband. And when the whole truth had been declared, he not only
kissed and embraced the pair who knelt before him, but of his goodness
forgave the nurse, who in her turn came trembling to his feet. Then
fell there joy and bliss in overmeasure that night upon both palaces of
the Canal Grande. And with the morrow the Church blessed the spousals
which long since had been on both sides vowed and consummated.

280

VI.—ON THE LAGOONS

The mornings are spent in study, sometimes among pictures, sometimes in
the Marcian Library, or again in those vast convent chambers of the
Frari, where the archives of Venice load innumerable shelves. The
afternoons invite us to a further flight upon the water. Both sandolo
and gondola await our choice, and we may sail or row, according as the
wind and inclination tempt us.

Yonder lies San Lazzaro, with the neat red buildings of the Armenian
convent. The last oleander blossoms shine rosy pink above its walls
against the pure blue sky as we glide into the little harbour. Boats
piled with coal-black grapes block the landing-place, for the Padri are
gathering their vintage from the Lido, and their presses run with new
wine. Eustace and I have not come to revive memories of Byron—that
curious patron saint of the Armenian colony—or to inspect the
printing-press, which issues books of little value for our studies. It
is enough to pace the terrace, and linger half an hour beneath the low
broad arches of the alleys pleached with vines, through which the domes
and towers of Venice rise more beautiful by distance.

Malamocco lies considerably farther, and needs a full hour of stout
rowing to reach it. Alighting there, we cross the narrow strip of land,
and find ourselves upon the huge sea-wall—block piled on block—of
Istrian stone in tiers and ranks, with cunning breathing-places for the
waves to wreak their fury on and foam their force away in fretful
waste. The very existence of Venice may be said to depend sometimes on
these _murazzi_, which were finished at an immense cost by the Republic
in the days of its decadence. The enormous monoliths which compose them
had to be brought across the 281Adriatic in sailing vessels. Of all the
Lidi, that of Malamocco is the weakest; and here, if anywhere, the sea
might effect an entrance into the lagoon. Our gondoliers told us of
some places where the _murazzi_ were broken in a gale, or _sciroccale_,
not very long ago. Lying awake in Venice, when the wind blows hard, one
hears the sea thundering upon its sandy barrier, and blesses God for
the _murazzi_. On such a night it happened once to me to dream a dream
of Venice overwhelmed by water. I saw the billows roll across the
smooth lagoon like a gigantic Eager. The Ducal Palace crumbled, and San
Marco's domes went down. The Campanile rocked and shivered like a reed.
And all along the Grand Canal the palaces swayed helpless, tottering to
their fall, while boats piled high with men and women strove to stem
the tide, and save themselves from those impending ruins. It was a mad
dream, born of the sea's roar and Tintoretto's painting. But this
afternoon no such visions are suggested. The sea sleeps, and in the
moist autumn air we break tall branches of the seeded yellowing
samphire from hollows of the rocks, and bear them homeward in a wayward
bouquet mixed with cobs of Indian-corn.

Fusina is another point for these excursions. It lies at the mouth of
the Canal di Brenta, where the mainland ends in marsh and meadows,
intersected by broad renes. In spring the ditches bloom with
fleurs-de-lys; in autumn they take sober colouring from lilac daisies
and the delicate sea-lavender. Scores of tiny plants are turning
scarlet on the brown moist earth; and when the sun goes down behind the
Euganean hills, his crimson canopy of cloud, reflected on these
shallows, muddy shoals, and wilderness of matted weeds, converts the
common earth into a fairyland of fabulous dyes. Purple, violet, and
rose are spread around us. In front stretches the lagoon, tinted with a
pale light from the east, and beyond this 282pallid mirror shines
Venice—a long low broken line, touched with the softest roseate flush.
Ere we reach the Giudecca on our homeward way, sunset has faded. The
western skies have clad themselves in green, barred with dark
fire-rimmed clouds. The Euganean hills stand like stupendous pyramids,
Egyptian, solemn, against a lemon space on the horizon. The far reaches
of the lagoons, the Alps, and islands assume those tones of glowing
lilac which are the supreme beauty of Venetian evening. Then, at last,
we see the first lamps glitter 288on the Zattere. The quiet of the
night has come.

Words cannot be formed to express the endless varieties of Venetian
sunset. The most magnificent follow after wet stormy days, when the
west breaks suddenly into a labyrinth of fire, when chasms of clear
turquoise heavens emerge, and horns of flame are flashed to the zenith,
and unexpected splendours scale the fretted clouds, step over step,
stealing along the purple caverns till the whole dome throbs. Or,
again, after a fair day, a change of weather approaches, and high,
infinitely high, the skies are woven over with a web of
half-transparent cirrus-clouds. These in the afterglow blush crimson,
and through their rifts the depth of heaven is of a hard and gemlike
blue, and all the water turns to rose beneath them. I remember one such
evening on the way back from Torcello. We were well out at sea between
Mazzorbo and Murano. The ruddy arches overhead were reflected without
interruption in the waveless ruddy lake below. Our black boat was the
only dark spot in this sphere of splendour. We seemed to hang
suspended; and such as this, I fancied, must be the feeling of an
insect caught in the heart of a fiery-petalled rose. Yet not these
melodramatic sunsets alone are beautiful. Even more exquisite, perhaps,
are the lagoons, painted in monochrome of greys, with just one touch of
pink upon a western cloud, scattered in ripples 283here and there on
the waves below, reminding us that day has passed and evening come. And
beautiful again are the calm settings of fair weather, when sea and sky
alike are cheerful, and the topmost blades of the lagoon grass, peeping
from the shallows, glance like emeralds upon the surface. There is no
deep stirring of the spirit in a symphony of light and colour; but
purity, peace, and freshness make their way into our hearts.

VII.—AT THE LIDO

Of all these afternoon excursions, that to the Lido is most frequent.
It has two points for approach. The more distant is the little station
of San Nicoletto, at the mouth of the Porto. With an ebb-tide, the
water of the lagoon runs past the mulberry gardens of this hamlet like
a river. There is here a grove of acacia-trees, shadowy and dreamy,
above deep grass, which even an Italian summer does not wither. The
Riva is fairly broad, forming a promenade, where one may conjure up the
personages of a century ago. For San Nicoletto used to be a fashionable
resort before the other points of Lido had been occupied by
pleasure-seekers. An artist even now will select its old-world quiet,
leafy shade, and prospect through the islands of Vignole and Sant'
Erasmo to snow-touched peaks of Antelao and Tofana, rather than the
glare and bustle and extended view of Venice which its rival Sant'
Elisabetta offers.

But when we want a plunge into the Adriatic, or a stroll along smooth
sands, or a breath of genuine sea-breeze, or a handful of horned
poppies from the dunes, or a lazy half-hour's contemplation of a
limitless horizon flecked with russet sails, then we seek Sant'
Elisabetta. Our boat is left at the landing-place. We saunter across
the island and back again. 284Antonio and Francesco wait and order
wine, which we drink with them in the shade of the little _osteria's_
wall.

A certain afternoon in May I well remember, for this visit to the Lido
was marked by one of those apparitions which are as rare as they are
welcome to the artist's soul. I have always held that in our modern
life the only real equivalent for the antique mythopoeic sense—that
sense which enabled the Hellenic race to figure for themselves the
powers of earth and air, streams and forests, and the presiding genii
of places, under the forms of living human beings, is supplied by the
appearance at some felicitous moment of a man or woman who impersonates
for our imagination the essence of the beauty that environs us. It
seems, at such a fortunate moment, as though we had been waiting for
this revelation, although perchance the want of it had not been
previously felt. Our sensations and perceptions test themselves at the
touchstone of this living individuality. The keynote of the whole music
dimly sounding in our ears is struck. A melody emerges, clear in form
and excellent in rhythm. The landscapes we have painted on our brain,
no longer lack their central figure. The life proper to the complex
conditions we have studied is discovered, and every detail, judged by
this standard of vitality, falls into its right relations.

I had been musing long that day and earnestly upon the mystery of the
lagoons, their opaline transparencies of air and water, their fretful
risings and sudden subsidence into calm, the treacherousness of their
shoals, the sparkle and the splendour of their sunlight. I had asked
myself how would a Greek sculptor have personified the elemental deity
of these salt-water lakes, so different in quality from the Ægean or
Ionian sea? What would he find distinctive of their spirit? The Tritons
of these shallows must be of other form and lineage than the
fierce-eyed youth who blows his conch upon 285the curled crest of a
wave, crying aloud to his comrades, as he bears the nymph away to
caverns where the billows plunge in tideless instability.

We had picked up shells and looked for sea-horses on the Adriatic
shore. Then we returned to give our boatmen wine beneath the vine-clad
_pergola_. Four other men were there, drinking, and eating from a dish
of fried fish set upon the coarse white linen cloth. Two of them soon
rose and went away. Of the two who stayed, one was a large, middle-aged
man; the other was still young. He was tall and sinewy, but slender,
for these Venetians are rarely massive in their strength. Each limb is
equally developed by the exercise of rowing upright, bending all the
muscles to their stroke. Their bodies are elastically supple, with free
sway from the hips and a mercurial poise upon the ankle. Stefano showed
these qualities almost in exaggeration. The type in him was refined to
its artistic perfection. Moreover, he was rarely in repose, but moved
with a singular brusque grace. A black broad-brimmed hat was thrown
back upon his matted _zazzera_ of dark hair tipped with dusky brown.
This shock of hair, cut in flakes, and falling wilfully, reminded me of
the lagoon grass when it darkens in autumn upon uncovered shoals, and
sunset gilds its sombre edges. Fiery grey eyes beneath it gazed
intensely, with compulsive effluence of electricity. It was the wild
glance of a Triton. Short blonde moustache, dazzling teeth, skin
bronzed, but showing white and healthful through open front and sleeves
of lilac shirt. The dashing sparkle of this animate splendour, who
looked to me as though the sea-waves and the sun had made him in some
hour of secret and unquiet rapture, was somehow emphasised by a curious
dint dividing his square chin—a cleft that harmonised with smile on lip
and steady flame in eyes. I hardly know what effect it would have upon
a reader to compare eyes to 286opals. Yet Stefano's eyes, as they met
mine, had the vitreous intensity of opals, as though the colour of
Venetian waters were vitalised in them. This noticeable being had a
rough, hoarse voice, which, to develop the parallel with a sea-god,
might have screamed in storm or whispered raucous messages from crests
of tossing billows.

I felt, as I looked, that here, for me at least, the mythopoem of the
lagoons was humanised; the spirit of the saltwater lakes had appeared
to me; the final touch of life emergent from nature had been given. I
was satisfied; for I had seen a poem.

Then we rose, and wandered through the Jews' cemetery. It is a quiet
place, where the flat grave-stones, inscribed in Hebrew and Italian,
lie deep in Lido sand, waved over with wild grass and poppies. I would
fain believe that no neglect, but rather the fashion of this folk, had
left the monuments of generations to be thus resumed by nature. Yet,
knowing nothing of the history of this burial-ground, I dare not affirm
so much. There is one outlying piece of the cemetery which seems to
contradict my charitable interpretation. It is not far from San
Nicoletto. No enclosure marks it from the unconsecrated dunes.
Acacia-trees sprout amid the monuments, and break the tablets with
their thorny shoots upthrusting from the soil. Where patriarchs and
rabbis sleep for centuries, the fishers of the sea now wander, and
defile these habitations of the dead:

    Corruption most abhorred
Mingling itself with their renownèd ashes.


Some of the grave-stones have been used to fence the towing-path; and
one I saw, well carved with letters legible of Hebrew on fair Istrian
marble, which roofed an open drain leading from the stable of a
Christian dog.

287

VIII.—A VENETIAN RESTAURANT

At the end of a long glorious day, unhappy is that mortal whom the
Hermes of a cosmopolitan hotel, white-chokered and white-waistcoated,
marshals to the Hades of the _table-d'hôte_. The world has often been
compared to an inn; but on my way down to this common meal I have, not
unfrequently, felt fain to reverse the simile. From their separate
stations, at the appointed hour, the guests like ghosts flit to a
gloomy gas-lit chamber. They are of various speech and race,
preoccupied with divers interests and cares. Necessity and the waiter
drive them all to a sepulchral syssition, whereof the cook too
frequently deserves that old Greek comic epithet—αδου μάγειρος —cook of
the Inferno. And just as we are told that in Charon's boat we shall not
be allowed to pick our society, so here we must accept what fellowship
the fates provide. An English spinster retailing paradoxes culled
to-day from Ruskin's handbooks; an American citizen describing his
jaunt in a gondóla from the railway station; a German shopkeeper
descanting in one breath on Baur's Bock and the beauties of the
Marcusplatz; an intelligent æsthete bent on working into clearness his
own views of Carpaccio's genius: all these in turn, or all together,
must be suffered gladly through well-nigh two long hours. Uncomforted
in soul we rise from the expensive banquet; and how often rise from it
unfed!

Far other be the doom of my own friends—of pious bards and genial
companions, lovers of natural and lovely things! Nor for these do I
desire a seat at Florian's marble tables, or a perch in Quadri's
window, though the former supply dainty food, and the latter command a
bird's-eye view of the Piazza. Rather would I lead them to a certain
humble tavern on the Zattere. It is a quaint, low-built, unpretending
little place, near a bridge, with a garden hard by which sends a
cataract of honeysuckles sunward over a too-jealous wall. In front lies
a Mediterranean steamer, which all day long has been discharging cargo.
Gazing westward up Giudecca, masts and funnels bar the sunset and the
Paduan hills; and from a little front room of the _trattoria_ the view
is so marine that one keeps fancying oneself in some ship's cabin.
Sea-captains sit and smoke beside their glass of grog in the pavilion
and the _caffé_. But we do not seek their company at dinner-time. Our
way lies under yonder arch, and up the narrow alley into a paved court.
Here are oleanders in pots, and plants of Japanese spindle-wood in
tubs; and from the walls beneath the window hang cages of all sorts of
birds—a talking parrot, a whistling blackbird, goldfinches, canaries,
linnets. Athos, the fat dog, who goes to market daily in a _barchetta_
with his master, snuffs around. 'Where are Porthos and Aramis, my
friend?' Athos does not take the joke; he only wags his stump of tail
and pokes his nose into my hand. What a Tartufe's nose it is! Its
bridge displays the full parade of leather-bound brass-nailed muzzle.
But beneath, this muzzle is a patent sham. The frame does not even
pretend to close on Athos' jaw, and the wise dog wears it like a
decoration. A little farther we meet that ancient grey cat, who has no
discoverable name, but is famous for the sprightliness and grace with
which she bears her eighteen years. Not far from the cat one is sure to
find Carlo—the bird-like, bright-faced, close-cropped Venetian urchin,
whose duty it is to trot backwards and forwards between the cellar and
the dining-tables. At the end of the court we walk into the kitchen,
where the black-capped little _padrone_ and the gigantic white-capped
chef are in close consultation. Here we have the privilege of
inspecting the larder—fish of various sorts, meat, vegetables,
289several kinds of birds, pigeons, tordi, beccafichi, geese, wild
ducks, chickens, woodcock, &c., according to the season. We select our
dinner, and retire to eat it either in the court among the birds
beneath the vines, or in the low dark room which occupies one side of
it. Artists of many nationalities and divers ages frequent this house;
and the talk arising from the several little tables, turns upon points
of interest and beauty in the life and landscape of Venice. There can
be no difference of opinion about the excellence of the _cuisine_, or
about the reasonable charges of this _trattoria_. A soup of lentils,
followed by boiled turbot or fried soles, beefsteak or mutton cutlets,
tordi or beccafichi, with a salad, the whole enlivened with good red
wine or Florio's Sicilian Marsala from the cask, costs about four
francs. Gas is unknown in the establishment. There is no noise, no
bustle, no brutality of waiters, no _ahurissement_ of tourists. And
when dinner is done, we can sit awhile over our cigarette and coffee,
talking until the night invites us to a stroll along the Zattere or a
_giro_ in the gondola.

IX.—NIGHT IN VENICE

Night in Venice! Night is nowhere else so wonderful, unless it be in
winter among the high Alps. But the nights of Venice and the nights of
the mountains are too different in kind to be compared.

There is the ever-recurring miracle of the full moon rising, before day
is dead, behind San Giorgio, spreading a path of gold on the lagoon
which black boats traverse with the glow-worm lamp upon their prow;
ascending the cloudless sky and silvering the domes of the Salute;
pouring vitreous sheen upon the red lights of the Piazzetta; flooding
the Grand Canal, and lifting the Rialto higher in ethereal whiteness;
piercing 290but penetrating not the murky labyrinth of _rio_ linked
with _rio_, through which we wind in light and shadow, to reach once
more the level glories and the luminous expanse of heaven beyond the
Misericordia.

This is the melodrama of Venetian moonlight; and if a single impression
of the night has to be retained from one visit to Venice, those are
fortunate who chance upon a full moon of fair weather. Yet I know not
whether some quieter and soberer effects are not more thrilling.
To-night, for example, the waning moon will rise late through veils of
_scirocco_. Over the bridges of San Cristoforo and San Gregorio,
through the deserted Calle di Mezzo, my friend and I walk in darkness,
pass the marble basements of the Salute, and push our way along its
Riva to the point of the Dogana. We are out at sea alone, between the
Canalozzo and the Giudecca. A moist wind ruffles the water and cools
our forehead. It is so dark that we can only see San Giorgio by the
light reflected on it from the Piazzetta. The same light climbs the
Campanile of S. Mark, and shows the golden angel in a mystery of gloom.
The only noise that reaches us is a confused hum from the Piazza.
Sitting and musing there, the blackness of the water whispers in our
ears a tale of death. And now we hear a plash of oars, and gliding
through the darkness comes a single boat. One man leaps upon the
landing-place without a word and disappears. There is another wrapped
in a military cloak asleep. I see his face beneath me, pale and quiet.
The _barcaruolo_ turns the point in silence. From the darkness they
came; into the darkness they have gone. It is only an ordinary incident
of coastguard service. But the spirit of the night has made a poem of
it.

Even tempestuous and rainy weather, though melancholy enough, is never
sordid here. There is no noise from carriage traffic in Venice, and the
sea-wind preserves the purity and 291transparency of the atmosphere. It
had been raining all day, but at evening came a partial clearing. I
went down to the Molo, where the large reach of the lagoon was all
moon-silvered, and San Giorgio Maggiore dark against the bluish sky,
and Santa Maria della Salute domed with moon-irradiated pearl, and the
wet slabs of the Riva shimmering in moonlight, the whole misty sky,
with its clouds and stellar spaces, drenched in moonlight, nothing but
moonlight sensible except the tawny flare of gas-lamps and the orange
lights of gondolas afloat upon the waters. On such a night the very
spirit of Venice is abroad. We feel why she is called Bride of the Sea.

Take yet another night. There had been a representation of Verdi's
'Forza del Destino' at the Teatro Malibran. After midnight we walked
homeward through the Merceria, crossed the Piazza, and dived into the
narrow _calle_ which leads to the _traghetto_ of the Salute. It was a
warm moist starless night, and there seemed no air to breathe in those
narrow alleys. The gondolier was half asleep. Eustace called him as we
jumped into his boat, and rang our _soldi_ on the gunwale. Then he
arose and turned the _ferro_ round, and stood across towards the
Salute. Silently, insensibly, from the oppression of confinement in the
airless streets to the liberty and immensity of the water and the night
we passed. It was but two minutes ere we touched the shore and said
good-night, and went our way and left the ferryman. But in that brief
passage he had opened our souls to everlasting things—the freshness,
and the darkness, and the kindness of the brooding, all-enfolding night
above the sea.

292



THE GONDOLIER'S WEDDING


The night before the wedding we had a supper-party in my rooms. We were
twelve in all. My friend Eustace brought his gondolier Antonio with
fair-haired, dark-eyed wife, and little Attilio, their eldest child. My
own gondolier, Francesco, came with his wife and two children. Then
there was the handsome, languid Luigi, who, in his best clothes, or out
of them, is fit for any drawing-room. Two gondoliers, in dark blue
shirts, completed the list of guests, if we exclude the maid Catina,
who came and went about the table, laughing and joining in the songs,
and sitting down at intervals to take her share of wine. The big room
looking across the garden to the Grand Canal had been prepared for
supper; and the company were to be received in the smaller, which has a
fine open space in front of it to southwards. But as the guests
arrived, they seemed to find the kitchen and the cooking that was going
on quite irresistible. Catina, it seems, had lost her head with so many
cuttlefishes, _orai_, cakes, and fowls, and cutlets to reduce to order.
There was, therefore, a great bustle below stairs; and I could hear
plainly that all my guests were lending their making, or their marring,
hands to the preparation of the supper. That the company should cook
their own food on the way to the dining-room, seemed a quite novel
arrangement, but one that promised well for their contentment with the
banquet. Nobody could be dissatisfied with what was everybody's affair.

When seven o'clock struck, Eustace and I, who had been 293entertaining
the children in their mothers' absence, heard the sound of steps upon
the stairs. The guests arrived, bringing their own _risotto_ with them.
Welcome was short, if hearty. We sat down in carefully appointed order,
and fell into such conversation as the quarter of San Vio and our
several interests supplied. From time to time one of the matrons left
the table and descended to the kitchen, when a finishing stroke was
needed for roast pullet or stewed veal. The excuses they made their
host for supposed failure in the dishes, lent a certain grace and comic
charm to the commonplace of festivity. The entertainment was theirs as
much as mine; and they all seemed to enjoy what took the form by
degrees of curiously complicated hospitality. I do not think a
well-ordered supper at any _trattoria_, such as at first suggested
itself to my imagination, would have given any of us an equal pleasure
or an equal sense of freedom. The three children had become the guests
of the whole party. Little Attilio, propped upon an air-cushion, which
puzzled him exceedingly, ate through his supper and drank his wine with
solid satisfaction, opening the large brown eyes beneath those tufts of
clustering fair hair which promise much beauty for him in his manhood.
Francesco's boy, who is older and begins to know the world, sat with a
semi-suppressed grin upon his face, as though the humour of the
situation was not wholly hidden from him. Little Teresa, too, was
happy, except when her mother, a severe Pomona, with enormous earrings
and splendid _fazzoletto_ of crimson and orange dyes, pounced down upon
her for some supposed infraction of good manners—_creanza_, as they
vividly express it here. Only Luigi looked a trifle bored. But Luigi
has been a soldier, and has now attained the supercilious superiority
of young-manhood, which smokes its cigar of an evening in the piazza
and knows the merits of the different cafés.

294The great business of the evening began when the eating was over,
and the decanters filled with new wine of Mirano circulated freely. The
four best singers of the party drew together; and the rest prepared
themselves to make suggestions, hum tunes, and join with fitful effect
in choruses. Antonio, who is a powerful young fellow, with bronzed
cheeks and a perfect tempest of coal-black hair in flakes upon his
forehead, has a most extraordinary soprano—sound as a bell, strong as a
trumpet, well trained, and true to the least shade in intonation.
Piero, whose rugged Neptunian features, sea-wrinkled, tell of a rough
water-life, boasts a bass of resonant, almost pathetic quality.
Francesco has a _mezzo voce_, which might, by a stretch of politeness,
be called baritone. Piero's comrade, whose name concerns us not, has
another of these nondescript voices. They sat together with their
glasses and cigars before them, sketching part-songs in outline,
striking the keynote—now higher and now lower—till they saw their
subject well in view. Then they burst into full singing, Antonio
leading with a metal note that thrilled one's ears, but still was
musical. Complicated contrapuntal pieces, such as we should call
madrigals, with ever-recurring refrains of 'Venezia, gemma Triatica,
sposa del mar,' descending probably from ancient days, followed each
other in quick succession. Barcaroles, serenades, love-songs, and
invitations to the water were interwoven for relief. One of these
romantic pieces had a beautiful burden, 'Dormi, o bella, o fingi di
dormir,' of which the melody was fully worthy. But the most successful
of all the tunes were two with a sad motive. The one repeated
incessantly 'Ohimé! mia madre morî;' the other was a girl's love
lament: 'Perchè tradirmi, perchè lasciarmi! prima d'amarmi non eri
cosî!' Even the children joined in these; and Catina, who took the solo
part in the second, was inspired to a great dramatic effort. All these
were purely popular 295songs. The people of Venice, however, are
passionate for operas. Therefore we had duets and solos from 'Ernani,'
the 'Ballo in Maschera,' and the 'Forza del Destino,' and one comic
chorus from 'Boccaccio,' which seemed to make them wild with pleasure.
To my mind, the best of these more formal pieces was a duet between
Attila and Italia from some opera unknown to me, which Antonio and
Piero performed with incomparable spirit. It was noticeable how,
descending to the people, sung by them for love at sea, or on
excursions to the villages round Mestre, these operatic reminiscences
had lost something of their theatrical formality, and assumed instead
the serious gravity, the quaint movement, and marked emphasis which
belong to popular music in Northern and Central Italy. An antique
character was communicated even to the recitative of Verdi by slight,
almost indefinable, changes of rhythm and accent. There was no end to
the singing. 'Siamo appassionati per il canto,' frequently repeated,
was proved true by the profusion and variety of songs produced from
inexhaustible memories, lightly tried over, brilliantly performed,
rapidly succeeding each other. Nor were gestures wanting—lifted arms,
hands stretched to hands, flashing eyes, hair tossed from the
forehead—unconscious and appropriate action—which showed how the spirit
of the music and words alike possessed the men. One by one the children
fell asleep. Little Attilio and Teresa were tucked up beneath my Scotch
shawl at two ends of a great sofa; and not even his father's clarion
voice, in the character of Italia defying Attila to harm 'le mie
superbe città,' could wake the little boy up. The night wore on. It was
past one. Eustace and I had promised to be in the church of the Gesuati
at six next morning. We therefore gave the guests a gentle hint, which
they as gently took. With exquisite, because perfectly unaffected,
breeding they sank for a few moments into common conversation, 296then
wrapped the children up, and took their leave. It was an uncomfortable,
warm, wet night of sullen _scirocco_.

The next day, which was Sunday, Francesco called me at five. There was
no visible sunrise that cheerless damp October morning. Grey dawn stole
somehow imperceptibly between the veil of clouds and leaden waters, as
my friend and I, well sheltered by our _felze_, passed into the
Giudecca, and took our station before the church of the Gesuati. A few
women from the neighbouring streets and courts crossed the bridges in
draggled petticoats on their way to first mass. A few men, shouldering
their jackets, lounged along the Zattere, opened the great green doors,
and entered. Then suddenly Antonio cried out that the bridal party was
on its way, not as we had expected, in boats, but on foot. We left our
gondola, and fell into the ranks, after shaking hands with Francesco,
who is the elder brother of the bride. There was nothing very
noticeable in her appearance, except her large dark eyes. Otherwise
both face and figure were of a common type; and her bridal dress of
sprigged grey silk, large veil and orange blossoms, reduced her to the
level of a _bourgeoise_. It was much the same with the bridegroom. His
features, indeed, proved him a true Venetian gondolier; for the skin
was strained over the cheekbones, and the muscles of the throat beneath
the jaws stood out like cords, and the bright blue eyes were deep-set
beneath a spare brown forehead. But he had provided a complete suit of
black for the occasion, and wore a shirt of worked cambric, which
disguised what is really splendid in the physique of these oarsmen, at
once slender and sinewy. Both bride and bridegroom looked uncomfortable
in their clothes. The light that fell upon them in the church was dull
and leaden. The ceremony, which was very hurriedly performed by an
unctuous priest, did not appear to impress either of them. Nobody in
the bridal party, 297crowding together on both sides of the altar,
looked as though the service was of the slightest interest and moment.
Indeed, this was hardly to be wondered at; for the priest, so far as I
could understand his gabble, took the larger portion for read, after
muttering the first words of the rubric. A little carven image of an
acolyte—a weird boy who seemed to move by springs, whose hair had all
the semblance of painted wood, and whose complexion was white and red
like a clown's—did not make matters more intelligible by spasmodically
clattering responses.

After the ceremony we heard mass and contributed to three distinct
offertories. Considering how much account even two _soldi_ are to these
poor people, I was really angry when I heard the copper shower. Every
member of the party had his or her pennies ready, and dropped them into
the boxes. Whether it was the effect of the bad morning, or the
ugliness of a very ill-designed _barocco_ building, or the fault of the
fat oily priest, I know not. But the _sposalizio_ struck me as tame and
cheerless, the mass as irreverent and vulgarly conducted. At the same
time there is something too impressive in the mass for any perfunctory
performance to divest its symbolism of sublimity. A Protestant
Communion Service lends itself more easily to degradation by
unworthiness in the minister.

We walked down the church in double file, led by the bride and
bridegroom, who had knelt during the ceremony with the best
man—_compare_, as he is called—at a narrow _prie-dieu_ before the
altar. The _compare_ is a person of distinction at these weddings. He
has to present the bride with a great pyramid of artificial flowers,
which is placed before her at the marriage-feast, a packet of candles,
and a box of bonbons. The comfits, when the box is opened, are found to
include two magnificent sugar babies lying in their cradles. I was told
that a _compare_, who does the thing handsomely, must be 298prepared to
spend about a hundred francs upon these presents, in addition to the
wine and cigars with which he treats his friends. On this occasion the
women were agreed that he had done his duty well. He was a fat, wealthy
little man, who lived by letting market-boats for hire on the Rialto.

From the church to the bride's house was a walk of some three minutes.
On the way we were introduced to the father of the bride—a very
magnificent personage, with points of strong resemblance to Vittorio
Emmanuele. He wore an enormous broad-brimmed hat and emerald-green
earrings, and looked considerably younger than his eldest son,
Francesco. Throughout the _nozze_ he took the lead in a grand imperious
fashion of his own. Wherever he went, he seemed to fill the place, and
was fully aware of his own importance. In Florence I think he would
have got the nickname of _Tacchin_, or turkey-cock. Here at Venice the
sons and daughters call their parent briefly _Vecchio_. I heard him so
addressed with a certain amount of awe, expecting an explosion of
bubbly-jock displeasure. But he took it, as though it was natural,
without disturbance. The other _Vecchio_, father of the bridegroom,
struck me as more sympathetic. He was a gentle old man, proud of his
many prosperous, laborious sons. They, like the rest of the gentlemen,
were gondoliers. Both the _Vecchi_, indeed, continue to ply their
trade, day and night, at the _traghetto_.

_Traghetti_ are stations for gondolas at different points of the
canals. As their name implies, it is the first duty of the gondoliers
upon them to ferry people across. This they do for the fixed fee of
five centimes. The _traghetti_ are in fact Venetian cab-stands. And, of
course, like London cabs, the gondolas may be taken off them for trips.
The municipality, however, makes it a condition, under penalty of fine
to the _traghetto_, that each station should always be provided with
two boats for the service of the ferry. When vacancies occur 299on the
_traghetti_, a gondolier who owns or hires a boat makes application to
the municipality, receives a number, and is inscribed as plying at a
certain station. He has now entered a sort of guild, which is presided
over by a _Capo-traghetto_, elected by the rest for the protection of
their interests, the settlement of disputes, and the management of
their common funds. In the old acts of Venice this functionary is
styled _Gastaldo di traghetto_. The members have to contribute
something yearly to the guild. This payment varies upon different
stations, according to the greater or less amount of the tax levied by
the municipality on the _traghetto_. The highest subscription I have
heard of is twenty-five francs; the lowest, seven. There is one
_traghetto_, known by the name of Madonna del Giglio or Zobenigo, which
possesses near its _pergola_ of vines a nice old brown Venetian
picture. Some stranger offered a considerable sum for this. But the
guild refused to part with it.

As may be imagined, the _traghetti_ vary greatly in the amount and
quality of their custom. By far the best are those in the neighbourhood
of the hotels upon the Grand Canal. At any one of these a gondolier
during the season is sure of picking up some foreigner or other who
will pay him handsomely for comparatively light service. A _traghetto_
on the Giudecca, on the contrary, depends upon Venetian traffic. The
work is more monotonous, and the pay is reduced to its tariffed
minimum. So far as I can gather, an industrious gondolier, with a good
boat, belonging to a good _traghetto_, may make as much as ten or
fifteen francs in a single day. But this cannot be relied on. They
therefore prefer a fixed appointment with a private family, for which
they receive by tariff five francs a day, or by arrangement for long
periods perhaps four francs a day, with certain perquisites and small
advantages. It is great luck to get such an engagement for 300the
winter. The heaviest anxieties which beset a gondolier are then
disposed of. Having entered private service, they are not allowed to
ply their trade on the _traghetto_, except by stipulation with their
masters. Then they may take their place one night out of every six in
the rank and file. The gondoliers have two proverbs, which show how
desirable it is, while taking a fixed engagement, to keep their hold on
the _traghetto_. One is to this effect: _il traghetto è un buon
padrone_. The other satirises the meanness of the poverty-stricken
Venetian nobility: _pompa di servitù, misera insegna_. When they
combine the _traghetto_ with private service, the municipality insists
on their retaining the number painted on their gondola; and against
this their employers frequently object. It is therefore a great point
for a gondolier to make such an arrangement with his master as will
leave him free to show his number. The reason for this regulation is
obvious. Gondoliers are known more by their numbers and their
_traghetti_ than their names. They tell me that though there are
upwards of a thousand registered in Venice, each man of the trade knows
the whole confraternity by face and number. Taking all things into
consideration, I think four francs a day the whole year round are very
good earnings for a gondolier. On this he will marry and rear a family,
and put a little money by. A young unmarried man, working at two and a
half or three francs a day, is proportionately well-to-do. If he is
economical, he ought upon these wages to save enough in two or three
years to buy himself a gondola. A boy from fifteen to nineteen is
called a _mezz' uomo_, and gets about one franc a day. A new gondola
with all its fittings is worth about a thousand francs. It does not
last in good condition more than six or seven years. At the end of that
time the hull will fetch eighty francs. A new hull can be had for three
hundred francs. The old fittings—brass 301sea-horses or _cavalli_,
steel prow or _ferro_, covered cabin or _felze_, cushions and
leather-covered back-board or _stramazetto_, maybe transferred to it.
When a man wants to start a gondola, he will begin by buying one
already half past service—a _gondola da traghetto_ or _di mezza età_.
This should cost him something over two hundred francs. Little by
little, he accumulates the needful fittings; and when his first
purchase is worn out, he hopes to set up with a well-appointed
equipage. He thus gradually works his way from the rough trade which
involves hard work and poor earnings to that more profitable industry
which cannot be carried on without a smart boat. The gondola is a
source of continual expense for repairs. Its oars have to be replaced.
It has to be washed with sponges, blacked, and varnished. Its bottom
needs frequent cleaning. Weeds adhere to it in the warm brackish water,
growing rapidly through the summer months, and demanding to be scrubbed
off once in every four weeks. The gondolier has no place where he can
do this for himself. He therefore takes his boat to a wharf, or
_squero_, as the place is called. At these _squeri_ gondolas are built
as well as cleaned. The fee for a thorough setting to rights of the
boat is five francs. It must be done upon a fine day. Thus in addition
to the cost, the owner loses a good day's work.

These details will serve to give some notion of the sort of people with
whom Eustace and I spent our day. The bride's house is in an excellent
position on an open canal leading from the Canalozzo to the Giudecca.
She had arrived before us, and received her friends in the middle of
the room. Each of us in turn kissed her cheek and murmured our
congratulations. We found the large living-room of the house arranged
with chairs all round the walls, and the company were marshalled in
some order of precedence, my friend and I taking place near the bride.
On either hand airy bedrooms opened 302out, and two large doors, wide
open, gave a view from where we sat of a good-sized kitchen. This
arrangement of the house was not only comfortable, but pretty; for the
bright copper pans and pipkins ranged on shelves along the kitchen
walls had a very cheerful effect. The walls were whitewashed, but
literally covered with all sorts of pictures. A great plaster cast from
some antique, an Atys, Adonis, or Paris, looked down from a bracket
placed between the windows. There was enough furniture, solid and well
kept, in all the rooms. Among the pictures were full-length portraits
in oils of two celebrated gondoliers—one in antique costume, the other
painted a few years since. The original of the latter soon came and
stood before it. He had won regatta prizes; and the flags of four
discordant colours were painted round him by the artist, who had
evidently cared more to commemorate the triumphs of his sitter and to
strike a likeness than to secure the tone of his own picture. This
champion turned out a fine fellow—Corradini—with one of the brightest
little gondoliers of thirteen for his son.

After the company were seated, lemonade and cakes were handed round
amid a hubbub of chattering women. Then followed cups of black coffee
and more cakes. Then a glass of Cyprus and more cakes. Then a glass of
curaçoa and more cakes. Finally, a glass of noyau and still more cakes.
It was only a little after seven in the morning. Yet politeness
compelled us to consume these delicacies. I tried to shirk my duty; but
this discretion was taken by my hosts for well-bred modesty; and
instead of being let off, I had the richest piece of pastry and the
largest maccaroon available pressed so kindly on me, that, had they
been poisoned, I would not have refused to eat them. The conversation
grew more, and more animated, the women gathering together in their
dresses of bright blue and scarlet, the men lighting 303cigars and
puffing out a few quiet words. It struck me as a drawback that these
picturesque people had put on Sunday-clothes to look as much like
shopkeepers as possible. But they did not all of them succeed. Two
handsome women, who handed the cups round—one a brunette, the other a
blonde—wore skirts of brilliant blue, with a sort of white jacket, and
white kerchief folded heavily about their shoulders. The brunette had a
great string of coral, the blonde of amber, round her throat. Gold
earrings and the long gold chains Venetian women wear, of all patterns
and degrees of value, abounded. Nobody appeared without them; but I
could not see any of an antique make. The men seemed to be contented
with rings—huge, heavy rings of solid gold, worked with a rough flower
pattern. One young fellow had three upon his fingers. This circumstance
led me to speculate whether a certain portion at least of this display
of jewellery around me had not been borrowed for the occasion.

Eustace and I were treated quite like friends. They called us _I
Signori_. But this was only, I think, because our English names are
quite unmanageable. The women fluttered about us and kept asking
whether we really liked it all? whether we should come to the _pranzo_?
whether it was true we danced? It seemed to give them unaffected
pleasure to be kind to us; and when we rose to go away, the whole
company crowded round, shaking hands and saying: 'Si divertirà bene
stasera!' Nobody resented our presence; what was better, no one put
himself out for us. 'Vogliono veder il nostro costume,' I heard one
woman say.

We got home soon after eight, and, as our ancestors would have said,
settled our stomachs with a dish of tea. It makes me shudder now to
think of the mixed liquids and miscellaneous cakes we had consumed at
that unwonted hour.

At half-past three, Eustace and I again prepared ourselves 304for
action. His gondola was in attendance, covered with the _felze_, to
take us to the house of the _sposa_. We found the canal crowded with
poor people of the quarter—men, women, and children lining the walls
along its side, and clustering like bees upon the bridges. The water
itself was almost choked with gondolas. Evidently the folk of San Vio
thought our wedding procession would be a most exciting pageant. We
entered the house, and were again greeted by the bride and bridegroom,
who consigned each of us to the control of a fair tyrant. This is the
most fitting way of describing our introduction to our partners of the
evening; for we were no sooner presented, than the ladies swooped upon
us like their prey, placing their shawls upon our left arms, while they
seized and clung to what was left available of us for locomotion. There
was considerable giggling and tittering throughout the company when
Signora Fenzo, the young and comely wife of a gondolier, thus took
possession of Eustace, and Signora dell' Acqua, the widow of another
gondolier, appropriated me. The affair had been arranged beforehand,
and their friends had probably chaffed them with the difficulty of
managing two mad Englishmen. However, they proved equal to the
occasion, and the difficulties were entirely on our side. Signora Fenzo
was a handsome brunette, quiet in her manners, who meant business. I
envied Eustace his subjection to such a reasonable being. Signora dell'
Acqua, though a widow, was by no means disconsolate; and I soon
perceived that it would require all the address and diplomacy I
possessed, to make anything out of her society. She laughed
incessantly; darted in the most diverse directions, dragging me along
with her; exhibited me in triumph to her cronies; made eyes at me over
a fan, repeated my clumsiest remarks, as though they gave her
indescribable amusement; and all the while jabbered Venetian at express
rate, without the 305slightest regard for my incapacity to follow her
vagaries. The _Vecchio_ marshalled us in order. First went the _sposa_
and _comare_ with the mothers of bride and bridegroom. Then followed
the _sposo_ and the bridesmaid. After them I was made to lead my fair
tormentor. As we descended the staircase there arose a hubbub of
excitement from the crowd on the canals. The gondolas moved turbidly
upon the face of the waters. The bridegroom kept muttering to himself,
'How we shall be criticised! They will tell each other who was decently
dressed, and who stepped awkwardly into the boats, and what the price
of my boots was!' Such exclamations, murmured at intervals, and
followed by chest-drawn sighs, expressed a deep preoccupation. With
regard to his boots, he need have had no anxiety. They were of the
shiniest patent leather, much too tight, and without a speck of dust
upon them. But his nervousness infected me with a cruel dread. All
those eyes were going to watch how we comported ourselves in jumping
from the landing-steps into the boat! If this operation, upon a
ceremonious occasion, has terrors even for a gondolier, how formidable
it ought to be to me! And here is the Signora dell' Acqua's white
cachemire shawl dangling on one arm, and the Signora herself
languishingly clinging to the other; and the gondolas are fretting in a
fury of excitement, like corks, upon the churned green water! The
moment was terrible. The _sposa_ and her three companions had been
safely stowed away beneath their _felze_. The _sposo_ had successfully
handed the bridesmaid into the second gondola. I had to perform the
same office for my partner. Off she went, like a bird, from the bank. I
seized a happy moment, followed, bowed, and found myself to my
contentment gracefully ensconced in a corner opposite the widow. Seven
more gondolas were packed. The procession moved. We glided down the
little channel, broke 306away into the Grand Canal, crossed it, and
dived into a labyrinth from which we finally emerged before our
destination, the Trattoria di San Gallo. The perils of the landing were
soon over; and, with the rest of the guests, my mercurial companion and
I slowly ascended a long flight of stairs leading to a vast upper
chamber. Here we were to dine.

It had been the gallery of some palazzo in old days, was above one
hundred feet in length, fairly broad, with a roof of wooden rafters and
large windows opening on a courtyard garden. I could see the tops of
three cypress-trees cutting the grey sky upon a level with us. A long
table occupied the centre of this room. It had been laid for upwards of
forty persons, and we filled it. There was plenty of light from great
glass lustres blazing with gas. When the ladies had arranged their
dresses, and the gentlemen had exchanged a few polite remarks, we all
sat down to dinner—I next my inexorable widow, Eustace beside his calm
and comely partner. The first impression was one of disappointment. It
looked so like a public dinner of middle-class people. There was no
local character in costume or customs. Men and women sat politely
bored, expectant, trifling with their napkins, yawning, muttering
nothings about the weather or their neighbours. The frozen
commonplaceness of the scene was made for me still more oppressive by
Signora dell' Acqua. She was evidently satirical, and could not be
happy unless continually laughing at or with somebody. 'What a stick
the woman will think me!' I kept saying to myself. 'How shall I ever
invent jokes in this strange land? I cannot even flirt with her in
Venetian! And here I have condemned myself—and her too, poor thing—to
sit through at least three hours of mortal dulness!' Yet the widow was
by no means unattractive. Dressed in black, she had contrived by an
artful arrangement of lace and jewellery to give an air of lightness to
her 307costume. She had a pretty little pale face, a _minois
chiffonné_, with slightly turned-up nose, large laughing brown eyes, a
dazzling set of teeth, and a tempestuously frizzled mop of powdered
hair. When I managed to get a side-look at her quietly, without being
giggled at or driven half mad by unintelligible incitements to a
jocularity I could not feel, it struck me that, if we once found a
common term of communication we should become good friends. But for the
moment that _modus vivendi_ seemed unattainable. She had not recovered
from the first excitement of her capture of me. She was still showing
me off and trying to stir me up. The arrival of the soup gave me a
momentary relief; and soon the serious business of the afternoon began.
I may add that before dinner was over, the Signora dell' Acqua and I
were fast friends. I had discovered the way of making jokes, and she
had become intelligible. I found her a very nice, though flighty,
little woman; and I believe she thought me gifted with the faculty of
uttering eccentric epigrams in a grotesque tongue. Some of my remarks
were flung about the table, and had the same success as uncouth Lombard
carvings have with connoisseurs in _naïvetés_ of art. By that time we
had come to be _compare_ and _comare_ to each other—the sequel of some
clumsy piece of jocularity.

It was a heavy entertainment, copious in quantity, excellent in
quality, plainly but well cooked. I remarked there was no fish. The
widow replied that everybody present ate fish to satiety at home. They
did not join a marriage feast at the San Gallo, and pay their nine
francs, for that! It should be observed that each guest paid for his
own entertainment. This appears to be the custom. Therefore attendance
is complimentary, and the married couple are not at ruinous charges for
the banquet. A curious feature in the whole proceeding had its origin
in this custom. I noticed that before 308each cover lay an empty plate,
and that my partner began with the first course to heap upon it what
she had not eaten. She also took large helpings, and kept advising me
to do the same. I said: 'No; I only take what I want to eat; if I fill
that plate in front of me as you are doing, it will be great waste.'
This remark elicited shrieks of laughter from all who heard it; and
when the hubbub had subsided, I perceived an apparently official
personage bearing down upon Eustace, who was in the same perplexity. It
was then circumstantially explained to us that the empty plates were
put there in order that we might lay aside what we could not
conveniently eat, and take it home with us. At the end of the dinner
the widow (whom I must now call my _comare_) had accumulated two whole
chickens, half a turkey, and a large assortment of mixed eatables. I
performed my duty and won her regard by placing delicacies at her
disposition.

Crudely stated, this proceeding moves disgust. But that is only because
one has not thought the matter out. In the performance there was
nothing coarse or nasty. These good folk had made a contract at so much
a head—so many fowls, so many pounds of beef, &c, to be supplied; and
what they had fairly bought, they clearly had a right to. No one, so
far as I could notice, tried to take more than his proper share;
except, indeed, Eustace and myself. In our first eagerness to conform
to custom, we both overshot the mark, and grabbed at disproportionate
helpings. The waiters politely observed that we were taking what was
meant for two; and as the courses followed in interminable sequence, we
soon acquired the tact of what was due to us.

Meanwhile the room grew warm. The gentlemen threw off their coats—a
pleasant liberty of which I availed myself, and was immediately more at
ease. The ladies divested themselves of their shoes (strange to
relate!) and sat in comfort 309with their stockinged feet upon the
_scagliola_ pavement. I observed that some cavaliers by special
permission were allowed to remove their partners' slippers. This was
not my lucky fate. My _comare_ had not advanced to that point of
intimacy. Healths began to be drunk. The conversation took a lively
turn; and women went fluttering round the table, visiting their
friends, to sip out of their glass, and ask each other how they were
getting on. It was not long before the stiff veneer of _bourgeoisie_
which bored me had worn off. The people emerged in their true selves:
natural, gentle, sparkling with enjoyment, playful. Playful is, I
think, the best word to describe them. They played with infinite grace
and innocence, like kittens, from the old men of sixty to the little
boys of thirteen. Very little wine was drunk. Each guest had a litre
placed before him. Many did not finish theirs; and for very few was it
replenished. When at last the dessert arrived, and the bride's comfits
had been handed round, they began to sing. It was very pretty to see a
party of three or four friends gathering round some popular beauty, and
paying her compliments in verse—they grouped behind her chair, she
sitting back in it and laughing up to them, and joining in the chorus.
The words, 'Brunetta mia simpatica, ti amo sempre più,' sung after this
fashion to Eustace's handsome partner, who puffed delicate whiffs from
a Russian cigarette, and smiled her thanks, had a peculiar
appropriateness. All the ladies, it may be observed in passing, had by
this time lit their cigarettes. The men were smoking Toscani, Sellas,
or Cavours, and the little boys were dancing round the table breathing
smoke from their pert nostrils.

The dinner, in fact, was over. Other relatives of the guests arrived,
and then we saw how some of the reserved dishes were to be bestowed. A
side-table was spread at the end of the gallery, and these late-comers
were regaled with plenty by 310their friends. Meanwhile, the big table
at which we had dined was taken to pieces and removed. The _scagliola_
floor was swept by the waiters. Musicians came streaming in and took
their places. The ladies resumed their shoes. Every one prepared to
dance.

My friend and I were now at liberty to chat with the men. He knew some
of them by sight, and claimed acquaintance with others. There was
plenty of talk about different boats, gondolas, and sandolos and topos,
remarks upon the past season, and inquiries as to chances of
engagements in the future. One young fellow told us how he had been
drawn for the army, and should be obliged to give up his trade just
when he had begun to make it answer. He had got a new gondola, and this
would have to be hung up during the years of his service. The
warehousing of a boat in these circumstances costs nearly one hundred
francs a year, which is a serious tax upon the pockets of a private in
the line. Many questions were put in turn to us, but all of the same
tenor. 'Had we really enjoyed the _pranzo_? Now, really, were we
amusing ourselves? And did we think the custom of the wedding _un bel
costume_?' We could give an unequivocally hearty response to all these
interrogations. The men seemed pleased. Their interest in our enjoyment
was unaffected. It is noticeable how often the word _divertimento_ is
heard upon the lips of the Italians. They have a notion that it is the
function in life of the _Signori_ to amuse themselves.

The ball opened, and now we were much besought by the ladies. I had to
deny myself with a whole series of comical excuses. Eustace performed
his duty after a stiff English fashion—once with his pretty partner of
the _pranzo_, and once again with a fat gondolier. The band played
waltzes and polkas, chiefly upon patriotic airs—the Marcia Reale,
Garibaldi's Hymn, &c. Men danced with men, women with 311women, little
boys and girls together. The gallery whirled with a laughing crowd.
There was plenty of excitement and enjoyment—not an unseemly or
extravagant word or gesture. My _comare_ careered about with a light
mænadic impetuosity, which made me regret my inability to accept her
pressing invitations. She pursued me into every corner of the room, but
when at last I dropped excuses and told her that my real reason for not
dancing was that it would hurt my health, she waived her claims at once
with an _Ah, poverino!_

Some time after midnight we felt that we had had enough of
_divertimento_. Francesco helped us to slip out unobserved. With many
silent good wishes we left the innocent playful people who had been so
kind to us. The stars were shining from a watery sky as we passed into
the piazza beneath the Campanile and the pinnacles of S. Mark. The Riva
was almost empty, and the little waves fretted the boats moored to the
piazzetta, as a warm moist breeze went fluttering by. We smoked a last
cigar, crossed our _traghetto_, and were soon sound asleep at the end
of a long pleasant day. The ball, we heard next morning, finished about
four.

Since that evening I have had plenty of opportunities for seeing my
friends the gondoliers, both in their own homes and in my apartment.
Several have entertained me at their mid-day meal of fried fish and
amber-coloured polenta. These repasts were always cooked with
scrupulous cleanliness, and served upon a table covered with coarse
linen. The polenta is turned out upon a wooden platter, and cut with a
string called _lassa_. You take a large slice of it on the palm of the
left hand, and break it with the fingers of the right. Wholesome red
wine of the Paduan district and good white bread were never wanting.
The rooms in which we met to eat looked out on narrow lanes or over
pergolas of yellowing vines. Their whitewashed walls were hung with
photographs 312of friends and foreigners, many of them souvenirs from
English or American employers. The men, in broad black hats and lilac
shirts, sat round the table, girt with the red waist-wrapper, or
_fascia_, which marks the ancient faction of the Castellani. The other
faction, called Nicolotti, are distinguished by a black _assisa_. The
quarters of the town are divided unequally and irregularly into these
two parties. What was once a formidable rivalry between two sections of
the Venetian populace, still survives in challenges to trials of
strength and skill upon the water. The women, in their many-coloured
kerchiefs, stirred polenta at the smoke-blackened chimney, whose huge
pent-house roof projects two feet or more across the hearth. When they
had served the table they took their seat on low stools, knitted
stockings, or drank out of glasses handed across the shoulder to them
by their lords. Some of these women were clearly notable housewives,
and I have no reason to suppose that they do not take their full share
of the housework. Boys and girls came in and out, and got a portion of
the dinner to consume where they thought best. Children went tottering
about upon the red-brick floor, the playthings of those hulking
fellows, who handled them very gently and spoke kindly in a sort of
confidential whisper to their ears. These little ears were mostly
pierced for earrings, and the light blue eyes of the urchins peeped
maliciously beneath shocks of yellow hair. A dog was often of the
party. He ate fish like his masters, and was made to beg for it by
sitting up and rowing with his paws. _Voga, Azzò, voga!_ The Anzolo who
talked thus to his little brown Spitz-dog has the hoarse voice of a
Triton and the movement of an animated sea-wave. Azzo performed his
trick, swallowed his fish-bones, and the fiery Anzolo looked round
approvingly.

On all these occasions I have found these gondoliers the 313same
sympathetic, industrious, cheery affectionate folk. They live in many
respects a hard and precarious life. The winter in particular is a time
of anxiety, and sometimes of privation, even to the well-to-do among
them. Work then is scarce, and what there is, is rendered disagreeable
to them by the cold. Yet they take their chance with facile temper, and
are not soured by hardships. The amenities of the Venetian sea and air,
the healthiness of the lagoons, the cheerful bustle of the poorer
quarters, the brilliancy of this Southern sunlight, and the beauty
which is everywhere apparent, must be reckoned as important factors in
the formation of their character. And of that character, as I have
said, the final note is playfulness. In spite of difficulties, their
life has never been stern enough to sadden them. Bare necessities are
marvellously cheap, and the pinch of real bad weather—such frost as
locked the lagoons in ice two years ago, or such south-western gales as
flooded the basement floors of all the houses on the Zattere—is rare
and does not last long. On the other hand, their life has never been so
lazy as to reduce them to the savagery of the traditional Neapolitan
lazzaroni. They have had to work daily for small earnings, but under
favourable conditions, and their labour has been lightened by much
good-fellowship among themselves, by the amusements of their _feste_
and their singing clubs.

Of course it is not easy for a stranger in a very different social
position to feel that he has been admitted to their confidence.
Italians have an ineradicable habit of making themselves externally
agreeable, of bending in all indifferent matters to the whims and
wishes of superiors, and of saying what they think _Signori_ like. This
habit, while it smoothes the surface of existence, raises up a barrier
of compliment and partial insincerity, against which the more downright
natures of us Northern folk break in vain efforts. Our advances are met
with an imperceptible but impermeable resistance by the very people who
are bent on making the world pleasant to us. It is the very reverse of
that dour opposition which a Lowland Scot or a North English peasant
offers to familiarity; but it is hardly less insurmountable. The
treatment, again, which Venetians of the lower class have received
through centuries from their own nobility, makes attempts at
fraternisation on the part of gentlemen unintelligible to them. The
best way, here and elsewhere, of overcoming these obstacles is to have
some bond of work or interest in common—of service on the one side
rendered, and goodwill on the other honestly displayed. The men of whom
I have been speaking will, I am convinced, not shirk their share of
duty or make unreasonable claims upon the generosity of their
employers.

315



A CINQUE CENTO BRUTUS


I.—THE SESTIERE DI SAN POLO

There is a quarter of Venice not much visited by tourists, lying as it
does outside their beat, away from the Rialto, at a considerable
distance from the Frari and San Rocco, in what might almost pass for a
city separated by a hundred miles from the Piazza. This is the quarter
of San Polo, one corner of which, somewhere between the back of the
Palazzo Foscari and the Campo di San Polo, was the scene of a memorable
act of vengeance in the year 1546. Here Lorenzino de' Medici, the
murderer of his cousin Alessandro, was at last tracked down and put to
death by paid cut-throats. How they succeeded in their purpose, we know
in every detail from the narrative dictated by the chief assassin. His
story so curiously illustrates the conditions of life in Italy three
centuries ago, that I have thought it worthy of abridgment. But, in
order to make it intelligible, and to paint the manners of the times
more fully, I must first relate the series of events which led to
Lorenzino's murder of his cousin Alessandro, and from that to his own
subsequent assassination. Lorenzino de' Medici, the Florentine Brutus
of the sixteenth century, is the hero of the tragedy. Some of his
relatives, however, must first appear upon the scene before he enters
with a patriot's knife concealed beneath a court-fool's bauble.

316

II.—THE MURDER OF IPPOLITO DE' MEDICI

After the final extinction of the Florentine Republic, the hopes of the
Medici, who now aspired to the dukedom of Tuscany, rested on three
bastards—Alessandro, the reputed child of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino;
Ippolito, the natural son of Giuliano, Duke of Nemours; and Giulio, the
offspring of an elder Giuliano, who was at this time Pope, with the
title of Clement VII. Clement had seen Rome sacked in 1527 by a horde
of freebooters fighting under the Imperial standard, and had used the
remnant of these troops, commanded by the Prince of Orange, to crush
his native city in the memorable siege of 1529-30. He now determined to
rule Florence from the Papal chair by the help of the two bastard
cousins I have named. Alessandro was created Duke of Cività di Penna,
and sent to take the first place in the city. Ippolito was made a
cardinal; since the Medici had learned that Rome was the real basis of
their power, and it was undoubtedly in Clement's policy to advance this
scion of his house to the Papacy. The sole surviving representative of
the great Lorenzo de' Medici's legitimate blood was Catherine, daughter
of the Duke of Urbino by Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne. She was
pledged in marriage to the Duke of Orleans, who was afterwards Henry
II. of France. A natural daughter of the Emperor Charles V. was
provided for her putative half-brother Alessandro. By means of these
alliances the succession of Ippolito to the Papal chair would have been
secured, and the strength of the Medici would have been confirmed in
Tuscany, but for the disasters which have now to be related.

Between the cousins Alessandro and Ippolito there was no love lost. As
boys, they had both played the part of princes in Florence under the
guardianship of the Cardinal Passerini 317da Cortona. The higher rank
had then been given to Ippolito, who bore the title of Magnifico, and
seemed thus designated for the lordship of the city. Ippolito, though
only half a Medici, was of more authentic lineage than Alessandro; for
no proof positive could be adduced that the latter was even a spurious
child of the Duke of Urbino. He bore obvious witness to his mother's
blood upon his mulatto's face; but this mother was the wife of a groom,
and it was certain that in the court of Urbino she had not been chary
of her favours. The old magnificence of taste, the patronage of art and
letters, and the preference for liberal studies which distinguished
Casa Medici, survived in Ippolito; whereas Alessandro manifested only
the brutal lusts of a debauched tyrant. It was therefore with great
reluctance that, moved by reasons of state and domestic policy,
Ippolito saw himself compelled to accept the scarlet hat. Alessandro
having been recognised as a son of the Duke of Urbino, had become
half-brother to the future Queen of France. To treat him as the head of
the family was a necessity thrust, in the extremity of the Medicean
fortunes, upon Clement. Ippolito, who more entirely represented the
spirit of the house, was driven to assume the position of a cadet, with
all the uncertainties of an ecclesiastical career.

In these circumstances Ippolito had not strength of character to
sacrifice himself for the consolidation of the Medicean power, which
could only have been effected by maintaining a close bond of union
between its members. The death of Clement in 1534 obscured his
prospects in the Church. He was still too young to intrigue for the
tiara. The new Pope, Alessandro Farnese, soon after his election,
displayed a vigour which was unexpected from his age, together with a
nepotism which his previous character had scarcely warranted. The
Cardinal de' Medici felt himself excluded and oppressed. He joined the
party of those 318numerous Florentine exiles, headed by Filippo
Strozzi, and the Cardinals Salviati and Ridolfi, all of whom were
connected by marriage with the legitimate Medici, and who unanimously
hated and were jealous of the Duke of Cività di Penna. On the score of
policy it is difficult to condemn this step. Alessandro's hold upon
Florence was still precarious, nor had he yet married Margaret of
Austria. Perhaps Ippolito was right in thinking he had less to gain
from his cousin than from the anti-Medicean faction and the princes of
the Church who favoured it. But he did not play his cards well. He
quarrelled with the new Pope, Paul III., and by his vacillations led
the Florentine exiles to suspect he might betray them.

In the summer of 1535 Ippolito was at Itri, a little town not far from
Gaeta and Terracina, within easy reach of Fondi, where dwelt the
beautiful Giulia Gonzaga. To this lady the Cardinal paid assiduous
court, passing his time with her in the romantic scenery of that
world-famous Capuan coast. On the 5th of August his seneschal, Giovann'
Andrea, of Borgo San Sepolcro, brought him a bowl of chicken-broth,
after drinking which he exclaimed to one of his attendants, 'I have
been poisoned, and the man who did it is Giovann' Andrea.' The
seneschal was taken and tortured, and confessed that he had mixed a
poison with the broth. Four days afterwards the Cardinal died, and a
post-mortem examination showed that the omentum had been eaten by some
corrosive substance. Giovann' Andrea was sent in chains to Rome; but in
spite of his confession, more than once repeated, the court released
him. He immediately took refuge with Alessandro de' Medici in Florence,
whence he repaired to Borgo San Sepolcro, and was, at the close of a
few months, there murdered by the people of the place. From these
circumstances it was conjectured, not without good reason, that
Alessandro had procured his cousin's death; and a certain 319Captain
Pignatta, of low birth in Florence, a bravo and a coward, was believed
to have brought the poison to Itri from the Duke. The Medicean
courtiers at Florence did not disguise their satisfaction; and one of
them exclaimed, with reference to the event, 'We know how to brush
flies from our noses!'

III.—THE MURDER OF ALESSANDRO DE' MEDICI

Having removed his cousin and rival from the scene, Alessandro de'
Medici plunged with even greater effrontery into the cruelties and
debaucheries which made him odious in Florence. It seemed as though
fortune meant to smile on him; for in this same year (1535) Charles V.
decided at Naples in his favour against the Florentine exiles, who were
pleading their own cause and that of the city injured by his tyrannies;
and in February of the following year he married Margaret of Austria,
the Emperor's natural daughter. Francesco Guicciardini, the first
statesman and historian of his age, had undertaken his defence, and was
ready to support him by advice and countenance in the conduct of his
government. Within the lute of this prosperity, however, there was one
little rift. For some months past he had closely attached to his person
a certain kinsman, Lorenzo de' Medici, who was descended in the fourth
generation from Lorenzo, the brother of Cosimo Pater Patriæ. This
Lorenzo, or Lorenzino, or Lorenzaccio, as his most intimate
acquaintances called him, was destined to murder Alessandro; and it is
worthy of notice that the Duke had received frequent warnings of his
fate. A Perugian page, for instance, who suffered from some infirmity,
saw in a dream that Lorenzino would kill his master. Astrologers
predicted that the Duke must die by having his throat cut. One of them
is said to have named Lorenzo de' Medici 320as the assassin; and
another described him so accurately that there was no mistaking the
man. Moreover, Madonna Lucrezia Salviati wrote to the Duke from Rome
that he should beware of a certain person, indicating Lorenzino; and
her daughter, Madonna Maria, told him to his face she hated the young
man, 'because I know he means to murder you, and murder you he will.'
Nor was this all. The Duke's favourite body-servants mistrusted
Lorenzino. On one occasion, when Alessandro and Lorenzino, attended by
a certain Giomo, were escalading a wall at night, as was their wont
upon illicit love-adventures, Giomo whispered to his master: 'Ah, my
lord, do let me cut the rope, and rid ourselves of him!' To which the
Duke replied: 'No, I do not want this; but if he could, I know he'd
twist it round my neck.'

In spite, then, of these warnings and the want of confidence he felt,
the Duke continually lived with Lorenzino, employing him as pander in
his intrigues, and preferring his society to that of simpler men. When
he rode abroad, he took this evil friend upon his crupper; although he
knew for certain that Lorenzino had stolen a tight-fitting vest of mail
he used to wear, and, while his arms were round his waist, was always
meditating how to stick a poignard in his body. He trusted, so it
seems, to his own great strength and to the other's physical weakness.

At this point, since Lorenzino is the principal actor in the two-act
drama which follows, it will be well to introduce him to the reader in
the words of Varchi, who was personally acquainted with him. Born at
Florence in 1514, he was left early by his father's death to the sole
care of his mother, Maria Soderini, 'a lady of rare prudence and
goodness, who attended with the utmost pains and diligence to his
education. No sooner, however, had he acquired the rudiments of humane
learning, which, being of very quick parts, he imbibed 321with
incredible facility, than he began to display a restless mind,
insatiable and appetitive of vice. Soon afterwards, under the rule and
discipline of Filippo Strozzi, he made open sport of all things human
and divine; and preferring the society of low persons, who not only
flattered him but were congenial to his tastes, he gave free rein to
his desires, especially in affairs of love, without regard for sex or
age or quality, and in his secret soul, while he lavished feigned
caresses upon every one he saw, felt no esteem for any living being. He
thirsted strangely for glory, and omitted no point of deed or word that
might, he thought, procure him the reputation of a man of spirit or of
wit. He was lean of person, somewhat slightly built, and on this
account people called him Lorenzino. He never laughed, but had a
sneering smile; and although he was rather distinguished by grace than
beauty, his countenance being dark and melancholy, still in the flower
of his age he was beloved beyond all measure by Pope Clement; in spite
of which he had it in his mind (according to what he said himself after
killing the Duke Alessandro) to have murdered him. He brought Francesco
di Raffaello de' Medici, the Pope's rival, who was a young man of
excellent attainments and the highest hope, to such extremity that he
lost his wits, and became the sport of the whole court at Rome, and was
sent back, as a lesser evil, as a confirmed madman to Florence.' Varchi
proceeds to relate how Lorenzino fell into disfavour with the Pope and
the Romans by chopping the heads off statues from the arch of
Constantine and other monuments; for which act of vandalism Molsa
impeached him in the Roman Academy, and a price was set upon his head.
Having returned to Florence, he proceeded to court Duke Alessandro,
into whose confidence he wormed himself, pretending to play the spy
upon the exiles, and affecting a personal timidity which put the Prince
off his guard. 322Alessandro called him 'the philosopher,' because he
conversed in solitude with his own thoughts and seemed indifferent to
wealth and office. But all this while Lorenzino was plotting how to
murder him.

Giovio's account of this strange intimacy may be added, since it
completes the picture I have drawn from Varchi:—'Lorenzo made himself
the accomplice and instrument of those amorous amusements for which the
Duke had an insatiable appetite, with the object of deceiving him. He
was singularly well furnished with all the scoundrelly arts and trained
devices of the pander's trade; composed fine verses to incite to lust;
wrote and represented comedies in Italian; and pretended to take
pleasure only in such tricks and studies. Therefore he never carried
arms like other courtiers, and feigned to be afraid of blood, a man who
sought tranquillity at any price. Besides, he bore a pallid countenance
and melancholy brow, walking alone, talking very little and with few
persons. He haunted solitary places apart from the city, and showed
such plain signs of hypochondria that some began covertly to pass jokes
on him. Certain others, who were more acute, suspected that he was
harbouring and devising in his mind some terrible enterprise.' The
Prologue to Lorenzino's own comedy of 'Aridosiso' brings the sardonic,
sneering, ironical man vividly before us. He calls himself 'un certo
omiciatto, che non è nessun di voi che veggendolo non l'avesse a noia,
pensando che egli abbia fatto una commedia;' and begs the audience to
damn his play to save him the tedium of writing another. Criticised by
the light of his subsequent actions, this prologue may even be
understood to contain a covert promise of the murder he was meditating.

'In this way,' writes Varchi, 'the Duke had taken such familiarity with
Lorenzo, that, not content with making use of him as a ruffian in his
dealings with women, whether 323religious or secular, maidens or wives
or widows, noble or plebeian, young or elderly, as it might happen, he
applied to him to procure for his pleasure a half-sister of Lorenzo's
own mother, a young lady of marvellous beauty, but not less chaste than
beautiful, who was the wife of Lionardo Ginori, and lived not far from
the back entrance to the palace of the Medici.' Lorenzino undertook
this odious commission, seeing an opportunity to work his designs
against the Duke. But first he had to form an accomplice, since he
could not hope to carry out the murder without help. A bravo, called
Michele del Tavolaccino, but better known by the nickname of
Scoronconcolo, struck him as a fitting instrument. He had procured this
man's pardon for a homicide, and it appears that the fellow retained a
certain sense of gratitude. Lorenzino began by telling the man there
was a courtier who put insults upon him, and Scoronconcolo professed
his readiness to kill the knave. 'Sia chi si voglia; io l'ammazzerò, se
fosse Cristo.' Up to the last minute the name of Alessandro was not
mentioned. Having thus secured his assistant, Lorenzino chose a night
when he knew that Alessandro Vitelli, captain of the Duke's guard,
would be from home. Then, after supper, he whispered in Alessandro's
ear that at last he had seduced his aunt with an offer of money, and
that she would come to his, Lorenzo's chamber at the service of the
Duke that night. Only the Duke must appear at the rendezvous alone, and
when he had arrived, the lady should be fetched. 'Certain it is,' says
Varchi, 'that the Duke, having donned a cloak of satin in the
Neapolitan style, lined with sable, when he went to take his gloves,
and there were some of mail and some of perfumed leather, hesitated
awhile and said: "Which shall I choose, those of war, or those of
love-making?"' He took the latter and went out with only four
attendants, three of whom he dismissed upon the Piazza di San Marco,
while 324one was stationed just opposite Lorenzo's house, with strict
orders not to stir if he should see folk enter or issue thence. But
this fellow, called the Hungarian, after waiting a great while,
returned to the Duke's chamber, and there went to sleep.

Meanwhile Lorenzino received Alessandro in his bedroom, where there was
a good fire. The Duke unbuckled his sword, which Lorenzino took, and
having entangled the belt with the hilt, so that it should not readily
be drawn, laid it on the pillow. The Duke had flung himself already on
the bed, and hid himself among the curtains—doing this, it is supposed,
to save himself from the trouble of paying compliments to the lady when
she should arrive. For Caterina Ginori had the fame of a fair speaker,
and Alessandro was aware of his own incapacity to play the part of a
respectful lover. Nothing could more strongly point the man's brutality
than this act, which contributed in no small measure to his ruin.

Lorenzino left the Duke upon the bed, and went at once for
Scoronconcolo. He told him that the enemy was caught, and bade him only
mind the work he had to do. 'That will I do,' the bravo answered, 'even
though it were the Duke himself.' 'You've hit the mark,' said Lorenzino
with a face of joy; 'he cannot slip through our fingers. Come!' So they
mounted to the bedroom, and Lorenzino, knowing where the Duke was laid,
cried: 'Sir, are you asleep?' and therewith ran him through the back.
Alessandro was sleeping, or pretending to sleep, face downwards, and
the sword passed through his kidneys and diaphragm. But it did not kill
him. He slipped from the bed, and seized a stool to parry the next
blow. Scoronconcolo now stabbed him in the face, while Lorenzino forced
him back upon the bed; and then began a hideous struggle. In order to
prevent his cries, Lorenzino doubled his fist into the Duke's mouth.
Alessandro seized 325the thumb between his teeth, and held it in a vice
until he died. This disabled Lorenzino, who still lay upon his victim's
body, and Scoronconcolo could not strike for fear of wounding his
master. Between the writhing couple he made, however, several passes
with his sword, which only pierced the mattress. Then he drew a knife
and drove it into the Duke's throat, and bored about till he had
severed veins and windpipe.

IV.—THE FLIGHT OF LORENZINO DE' MEDICI

Alessandro was dead. His body fell to earth. The two murderers,
drenched with blood, lifted it up, and placed it on the bed, wrapped in
the curtains, as they had found him first. Then Lorenzino went to the
window, which looked out upon the Via Larga, and opened it to rest and
breathe a little air. After this he called for Scoronconcolo's boy, Il
Freccia, and bade him look upon the dead man. Il Freccia recognised the
Duke. But why Lorenzino did this, no one knew. It seemed, as Varchi
says, that, having planned the murder with great ability, and executed
it with daring, his good sense and good luck forsook him. He made no
use of the crime he had committed; and from that day forward till his
own assassination, nothing prospered with him. Indeed, the murder of
Alessandro appears to have been almost motiveless, considered from the
point of view of practical politics. Varchi assumes that Lorenzino's
burning desire of glory prompted the deed; and when he had acquired the
notoriety he sought, there was an end to his ambition. This view is
confirmed by the Apology he wrote and published for his act. It remains
one of the most pregnant, bold, and brilliant pieces of writing which
we possess in favour of tyrannicide from that epoch of insolent crime
and audacious rhetoric. So energetic is the style, and so biting the
invective of this masterpiece, in which the author 326stabs a second
time his victim, that both Giordani and Leopardi affirmed it to be the
only true monument of eloquence in the Italian language. If thirst for
glory was Lorenzino's principal incentive, immediate glory was his
guerdon. He escaped that same night with Scoronconcolo and Freccia to
Bologna, where he stayed to dress his thumb, and then passed forward to
Venice. Filippo Strozzi there welcomed him as the new Brutus, gave him
money, and promised to marry his two sons to the two sisters of the
tyrant-killer. Poems were written and published by the most famous men
of letters, including Benedetto Varchi and Francesco Maria Molsa, in
praise of the Tuscan Brutus, the liberator of his country from a
tyrant. A bronze medal was struck bearing his name, with a profile
copied from Michelangelo's bust of Brutus. On the obverse are two
daggers and a cup, and the date viii. id. Jan.

The immediate consequence of Alessandro's murder was the elevation of
Cosimo, son of Giovanni delle Bande Nere, and second cousin of
Lorenzino, to the duchy. At the ceremony of his investiture with the
ducal honours, Cosimo solemnly undertook to revenge Alessandro's
murder. In the following March he buried his predecessor with pomp in
San Lorenzo. The body was placed beside the bones of the Duke of Urbino
in the marble chest of Michelangelo, and here not many years ago it was
discovered. Soon afterwards Lorenzino was declared a rebel. His
portrait was painted according to old Tuscan precedent, head downwards,
and suspended by one foot, upon the wall of the fort built by
Alessandro. His house was cut in twain from roof to pavement, and a
narrow lane was driven through it, which received the title of
Traitor's Alley, _Chiasso del Traditore_. The price of four thousand
golden florins was put upon his head, together with the further sum of
one hundred florins per 327annum in perpetuity to be paid to the
murderer and his direct heirs in succession, by the Otto di Balia.
Moreover, the man who killed Lorenzino was to enjoy all civic
privileges; exemption from all taxes, ordinary and extraordinary; the
right of carrying arms, together with two attendants, in the city and
the whole domain of Florence; and the further prerogative of restoring
ten outlaws at his choice. If Lorenzino could be captured and brought
alive to Florence, the whole of this reward would be doubled.

This decree was promulgated in April 1537, and thenceforward Lorenzino
de' Medici lived a doomed man. The assassin, who had been proclaimed a
Brutus by Tuscan exiles and humanistic enthusiasts, was regarded as a
Judas by the common people. Ballads were written on him with the title
of the 'Piteous and sore lament made unto himself by Lorenzino de'
Medici, who murdered the most illustrious Duke Alessandro.' He had
become a wild beast, whom it was honourable to hunt down, a pest which
it was righteous to extirpate. Yet fate delayed nine years to overtake
him. What remains to be told about his story must be extracted from the
narrative of the bravo who succeeded, with the aid of an accomplice, in
despatching him at Venice.[13] So far as possible, I shall use the
man's own words, translating them literally, and omitting only
unimportant details. The narrative throws brilliant light upon the
manners and movements of professional cut-throats at that period in
Italy. It seems to have been taken down from the hero Francesco, or
Cecco, Bibboni's lips; and there is no doubt that we possess in it a
valuable historical document for the illustration of 328contemporary
customs. It offers in all points a curious parallel to Cellini's
account of his own homicides and hair-breadth escapes. Moreover, it is
confirmed in its minutest circumstances by the records of the criminal
courts of Venice in the sixteenth century. This I can attest from
recent examination of MSS. relating to the _Signori di Notte_ and the
_Esecutori contro la Bestemmia_, which are preserved among the Archives
at the Frari.

 [13] Those who are interested in such matters may profitably compare
 this description of a planned murder in the sixteenth century with the
 account written by Ambrogio Tremazzi of the way in which he tracked
 and slew Troilo Orsini in Paris in the year 1577. It is given by Gnoli
 in his _Vittoria Accoramboni_, pp. 404-414.

V.—THE MURDER OF LORENZINO DE' MEDICI

'When I returned from Germany,' begins Bibboni, 'where I had been in
the pay of the Emperor, I found at Vicenza Bebo da Volterra, who was
staying in the house of M. Antonio da Roma, a nobleman of that city.
This gentleman employed him because of a great feud he had; and he was
mighty pleased, moreover, at my coming, and desired that I too should
take up my quarters in his palace.'

This paragraph strikes the keynote of the whole narrative, and
introduces us to the company we are about to keep. The noblemen of that
epoch, if they had private enemies, took into their service soldiers of
adventure, partly to protect their persons, but also to make war, when
occasion offered, on their foes. The _bravi_, as they were styled, had
quarters assigned them in the basement of the palace, where they might
be seen swaggering about the door or flaunting their gay clothes behind
the massive iron bars of the windows which opened on the streets. When
their master went abroad at night they followed him, and were always at
hand to perform secret services in love affairs, assassination, and
espial. For the rest, they haunted taverns, and kept up correspondence
with prostitutes. An Italian city had a whole population of such
fellows, the offscourings of armies, drawn from 329all nations, divided
by their allegiance of the time being into hostile camps, but united by
community of interest and occupation, and ready to combine against the
upper class, upon whose vices, enmities, and cowardice they throve.

Bibboni proceeds to say how another gentleman of Vicenza, M. Francesco
Manente, had at this time a feud with certain of the Guazzi and the
Laschi, which had lasted several years, and cost the lives of many
members of both parties and their following. M. Francesco being a
friend of M. Antonio, besought that gentleman to lend him Bibboni and
Bebo for a season; and the two _bravi_ went together with their new
master to Celsano, a village in the neighbourhood. 'There both parties
had estates, and all of them kept armed men in their houses, so that
not a day passed without feats of arms, and always there was some one
killed or wounded. One day, soon afterwards, the leaders of our party
resolved to attack the foe in their house, where we killed two, and the
rest, numbering five men, entrenched themselves in a ground-floor
apartment; whereupon we took possession of their harquebuses and other
arms, which forced them to abandon the villa and retire to Vicenza; and
within a short space of time this great feud was terminated by an ample
peace.' After this Bebo took service with the Rector of the University
in Padua, and was transferred by his new patron to Milan. Bibboni
remained at Vicenza with M. Galeazzo della Seta, who stood in great
fear of his life, notwithstanding the peace which had been concluded
between the two factions. At the end of ten months he returned to M.
Antonio da Roma and his six brothers, 'all of whom being very much
attached to me, they proposed that I should live my life with them, for
good or ill, and be treated as one of the family; upon the
understanding that if war broke out and I wanted to take part in it, I
should always have twenty-five crowns and arms 330and horse, with
welcome home, so long as I lived; and in case I did not care to join
the troops, the same provision for my maintenance.'

From these details we comprehend the sort of calling which a bravo of
Bibboni's species followed. Meanwhile Bebo was at Milan. 'There it
happened that M. Francesco Vinta, of Volterra, was on embassy from the
Duke of Florence. He saw Bebo, and asked him what he was doing in
Milan, and Bebo answered that he was a knight errant.' This phrase,
derived no doubt from the romantic epics then in vogue, was a pretty
euphemism for a rogue of Bebo's quality. The ambassador now began
cautiously to sound his man, who seems to have been outlawed from the
Tuscan duchy, telling him he knew a way by which he might return with
favour to his home, and at last disclosing the affair of Lorenzo. Bebo
was puzzled at first, but when he understood the matter, he professed
his willingness, took letters from the envoy to the Duke of Florence,
and, in a private audience with Cosimo, informed him that he was ready
to attempt Lorenzino's assassination. He added that 'he had a comrade
fit for such a job, whose fellow for the business could not easily be
found.'

Bebo now travelled to Vicenza, and opened the whole matter to Bibboni,
who weighed it well, and at last, being convinced that the Duke's
commission to his comrade was _bona fide_, determined to take his share
in the undertaking. The two agreed to have no accomplices. They went to
Venice, and 'I,' says Bibboni, 'being most intimately acquainted with
all that city, and provided there with many friends, soon quietly
contrived to know where Lorenzino lodged, and took a room in the
neighbourhood, and spent some days in seeing how we best might rule our
conduct.' Bibboni soon discovered that Lorenzino never left his palace;
and he therefore remained in much perplexity, until, by good 331luck,
Ruberto Strozzi arrived from France in Venice, bringing in his train a
Navarrese servant, who had the nickname of Spagnoletto. This fellow was
a great friend of the bravo. They met, and Bibboni told him that he
should like to go and kiss the hands of Messer Ruberto, whom he had
known in Rome. Strozzi inhabited the same palace as Lorenzino. 'When we
arrived there, both Messer Ruberto and Lorenzo were leaving the house,
and there were around them so many gentlemen and other persons, that I
could not present myself, and both straightway stepped into the
gondola. Then I, not having seen Lorenzo for a long while past, and
because he was very quietly attired, could not recognise the man
exactly, but only as it were between certainty and doubt. Wherefore I
said to Spagnoletto, "I think I know that gentleman, but don't remember
where I saw him." And Messer Ruberto was giving him his right hand.
Then Spagnoletto answered, "You know him well enough; he is Messer
Lorenzo. But see you tell this to nobody. He goes by the name of Messer
Dario, because he lives in great fear for his safety, and people don't
know that he is now in Venice." I answered that I marvelled much, and
if I could have helped him, would have done so willingly. Then I asked
where they were going, and he said, to dine with Messer Giovanni della
Casa, who was the Pope's Legate. I did not leave the man till I had
drawn from him all I required.'

Thus spoke the Italian Judas. The appearance of La Casa on the scene is
interesting. He was the celebrated author of the scandalous 'Capitolo
del Forno,' the author of many sublime and melancholy sonnets, who was
now at Venice, prosecuting a charge of heresy against Pier Paolo
Vergerio, and paying his addresses to a noble lady of the Quirini
family. It seems that on the territory of San Marco he made common
cause with the exiles from Florence, for he 332was himself by birth a
Florentine, and he had no objection to take Brutus-Lorenzino by the
hand.

After the noblemen had rowed off in their gondola to dine with the
Legate, Bibboni and his friend entered their palace, where he found
another old acquaintance, the house-steward, or _spenditore_ of
Lorenzo. From him he gathered much useful information. Pietro Strozzi,
it seems, had allowed the tyrannicide one thousand five hundred crowns
a year, with the keep of three brave and daring companions (_tre
compagni bravi e facinorosi_), and a palace worth fifty crowns on
lease. But Lorenzo had just taken another on the Campo di San Polo at
three hundred crowns a year, for which swagger (_altura_) Pietro
Strozzi had struck a thousand crowns off his allowance. Bibboni also
learned that he was keeping house with his uncle, Alessandro Soderini,
another Florentine outlaw, and that he was ardently in love with a
certain beautiful Barozza. This woman was apparently one of the grand
courtesans of Venice. He further ascertained the date when he was going
to move into the palace at San Polo, and, 'to put it briefly, knew
everything he did, and, as it were, how many times a day he spit.' Such
were the intelligences of the servants' hall, and of such value were
they to men of Bibboni's calling.

In the Carnival of 1546 Lorenzo meant to go masqued in the habit of a
gipsy woman to the square of San Spirito, where there was to be a
joust. Great crowds of people would assemble, and Bibboni hoped to do
his business there. The assassination, however, failed on this
occasion, and Lorenzo took up his abode in the palace he had hired upon
the Campo di San Polo. This Campo is one of the largest open places in
Venice, shaped irregularly, with a finely curving line upon the western
side, where two of the noblest private houses in the city are still
standing. Nearly opposite 333these, in the south-western angle, stands,
detached, the little old church of San Polo. One of its side entrances
opens upon the square; the other on a lane, which leads eventually to
the Frari. There is nothing in Bibboni's narrative to make it clear
where Lorenzo hired his dwelling. But it would seem from certain things
which he says later on, that in order to enter the church his victim
had to cross the square. Meanwhile Bibboni took the precaution of
making friends with a shoemaker, whose shop commanded the whole Campo,
including Lorenzo's palace. In this shop he began to spend much of his
time; 'and oftentimes I feigned to be asleep; but God knows whether I
was sleeping, for my mind, at any rate, was wide-awake.'

A second convenient occasion for murdering Lorenzo soon seemed to
offer. He was bidden to dine with Monsignor della Casa; and Bibboni,
putting a bold face on, entered the Legate's palace, having left Bebo
below in the loggia, fully resolved to do the business. 'But we found,'
he says, 'that, they had gone to dine at Murano, so that we remained
with our tabors in their bag.' The island of Murano at that period was
a favourite resort of the Venetian nobles, especially of the more
literary and artistic, who kept country-houses there, where they
enjoyed the fresh air of the lagoons and the quiet of their gardens.

The third occasion, after all these weeks of watching, brought success
to Bibboni's schemes. He had observed how Lorenzo occasionally so far
broke his rules of caution as to go on foot, past the church of San
Polo, to visit the beautiful Barozza; and he resolved, if possible, to
catch him on one of these journeys. 'It so chanced on the 28th of
February, which was the second Sunday of Lent, that having gone, as was
my wont, to pry out whether Lorenzo would give orders for going abroad
that day, I entered the shoemaker's 334shop, and stayed awhile, until
Lorenzo came to the window with a napkin round his neck for he was
combing his hair—and at the same moment I saw a certain Giovan Battista
Martelli, who kept his sword for the defence of Lorenzo's person, enter
and come forth again. Concluding that they would probably go abroad, I
went home to get ready and procure the necessary weapons, and there I
found Bebo asleep in bed, and made him get up at once, and we came to
our accustomed post of observation, by the church of San Polo, where
our men would have to pass.' Bibboni now retired to his friend the
shoemaker's, and Bebo took up his station at one of the side-doors of
San Polo; 'and, as good luck would have it, Giovan Battista Martelli
came forth, and walked a piece in front, and then Lorenzo came, and
then Alessandro Soderini, going the one behind the other, like storks,
and Lorenzo, on entering the church, and lifting up the curtain of the
door, was seen from the opposite door by Bebo, who at the same time
noticed how I had left the shop, and so we met upon the street as we
had agreed, and he told me that Lorenzo was inside the church.'

To any one who knows the Campo di San Polo, it will be apparent that
Lorenzo had crossed from the western side of the piazza and entered the
church by what is technically called its northern door. Bebo, stationed
at the southern door, could see him when he pushed the heavy _stoia_ or
leather curtain aside, and at the same time could observe Bibboni's
movements in the cobbler's shop. Meanwhile Lorenzo walked across the
church and came to the same door where Bebo had been standing. 'I saw
him issue from the church and take the main street; then came
Alessandro Soderini, and I walked last of all; and when we reached the
point we had determined on, I jumped in front of Alessandro with the
poignard in my hand, crying, "Hold hard, Alessandro, and 335get along
with you in God's name, for we are not here for you!" He then threw
himself around my waist, and grasped my arms, and kept on calling out.
Seeing how wrong I had been to try to spare his life, I wrenched myself
as well as I could from his grip, and with my lifted poignard struck
him, as God willed, above the eyebrow, and a little blood trickled from
the wound. He, in high fury, gave me such a thrust that I fell
backward, and the ground besides was slippery from having rained a
little. Then Alessandro drew his sword, which he carried in its
scabbard, and thrust at me in front, and struck me on the corslet,
which for my good fortune was of double mail. Before I could get ready
I received three passes, which, had I worn a doublet instead of that
mailed corslet, would certainly have run me through. At the fourth pass
I had regained my strength and spirit, and closed with him, and stabbed
him four times in the head, and being so close he could not use his
sword, but tried to parry with his hand and hilt, and I, as God willed,
struck him at the wrist below the sleeve of mail, and cut his hand off
clean, and gave him then one last stroke on his head. Thereupon he
begged for God's sake spare his life, and I, in trouble about Bebo,
left him in the arms of a Venetian nobleman, who held him back from
jumping into the canal.'

Who this Venetian nobleman, found unexpectedly upon the scene, was,
does not appear. Nor, what is still more curious, do we hear anything
of that Martelli, the bravo, 'who kept his sword for the defence of
Lorenzo's person.' The one had arrived accidentally, it seems. The
other must have been a coward and escaped from the scuffle.

'When I turned,' proceeds Bibboni, 'I found Lorenzo on his knees. He
raised himself, and I, in anger, gave him a great cut across the head,
which split it in two pieces, and laid him at my feet, and he never
rose again.'

336

VI.—THE ESCAPE OF THE BRAVI

Bebo, meanwhile, had made off from the scene of action. And Bibboni,
taking to his heels, came up with him in the little square of San
Marcello. They now ran for their lives till they reached the traghetto
di San Spirito, where they threw their poignards into the water,
remembering that no man might carry these in Venice under penalty of
the galleys. Bibboni's white hose were drenched with blood. He
therefore agreed to separate from Bebo, having named a rendezvous. Left
alone, his ill luck brought him face to face with twenty constables
(_sbirri_). 'In a moment I conceived that they knew everything, and
were come to capture me, and of a truth I saw that it was over with me.
As swiftly as I could I quickened pace and got into a church, near to
which was the house of a Compagnia, and the one opened into the other,
and knelt down and prayed, commending myself with fervour to God for my
deliverance and safety. Yet while I prayed, I kept my eyes well open
and saw the whole band pass the church, except one man who entered, and
I strained my sight so that I seemed to see behind as well as in front,
and then it was I longed for my poignard, for I should not have heeded
being in a church.' But the constable, it soon appeared, was not
looking for Bibboni. So he gathered up his courage, and ran for the
Church of San Spirito, where the Padre Andrea Volterrano was preaching
to a great congregation. He hoped to go in by one door and out by the
other, but the crowd prevented him, and he had to turn back and face
the _sbirrí_. One of them followed him, having probably caught sight of
the blood upon his hose. Then Bibboni resolved to have done with the
fellow, and rushed at him, and flung him down with his head upon the
pavement, and ran like mad and came at last, all out of breath, to San
Marco.

337It seems clear that before Bibboni separated from Bebo they had
crossed the water, for the Sestiere di San Polo is separated from the
Sestiere di San Marco by the Grand Canal. And this they must have done
at the traghetto di San Spirito. Neither the church nor the traghetto
are now in existence, and this part of the story is therefore
obscure.[14] Having reached San Marco, he took a gondola at the Ponte
della Paglia, where tourists are now wont to stand and contemplate the
Ducal Palace and the Bridge of Sighs. First, he sought the house of a
woman of the town who was his friend; then changed purpose, and rowed
to the palace of the Count Salici da Collalto. 'He was a great friend
and intimate of ours, because Bebo and I had done him many and great
services in times passed. There I knocked; and Bebo opened the door,
and when he saw me dabbled with blood, he marvelled that I had not come
to grief and fallen into the hands of justice, and, indeed, had feared
as much because I had remained so long away.' It appears, therefore,
that the Palazzo Collalto was their rendezvous. 'The Count was from
home; but being known to all his people, I played the master and went
into the kitchen to the fire, and with soap and water turned my hose,
which had been white, to a grey colour.' This is a very delicate way of
saying that he washed out the blood of Alessandro and Lorenzo!

 [14] So far as I can discover, the only church of San Spirito in
 Venice was a building on the island of San Spirito, erected by
 Sansavino, which belonged to the Sestiere di S. Croce, and which was
 suppressed in 1656. Its plate and the fine pictures which Titian
 painted there were transferred at that date to S.M. della Salute. I
 cannot help inferring that either Bibboni's memory failed him, or that
 his words were wrongly understood by printer or amanuensis. If for S.
 Spirito we substitute S. Stefano, the account would be intelligible.

Soon after the Count returned, and 'lavished caresses' upon Bebo and
his precious comrade. They did not tell 338him what they had achieved
that morning, but put him off with a story of having settled a _sbirro_
in a quarrel about a girl. Then the Count invited them to dinner; and
being himself bound to entertain the first physician of Venice,
requested them to take it in an upper chamber. He and his secretary
served them with their own hands at table. When the physician arrived,
the Count went downstairs; and at this moment a messenger came from
Lorenzo's mother, begging the doctor to go at once to San Polo, for
that her son had been murdered and Soderini wounded to the death. It
was now no longer possible to conceal their doings from the Count, who
told them to pluck up courage and abide in patience. He had himself to
dine and take his siesta, and then to attend a meeting of the Council.

About the hour of vespers, Bibboni determined to seek better refuge.
Followed at a discreet distance by Bebo, he first called at their
lodgings and ordered supper. Two priests came in and fell into
conversation with them. But something in the behaviour of one of these
good men roused his suspicions. So they left the house, took a gondola,
and told the man to row hard to S. Maria Zobenigo. On the way he bade
him put them on shore, paid him well, and ordered him to wait for them.
They landed near the palace of the Spanish embassy; and here Bibboni
meant to seek sanctuary. For it must be remembered that the houses of
ambassadors, no less than of princes of the Church, were inviolable.
They offered the most convenient harbouring-places to rascals. Charles
V., moreover, was deeply interested in the vengeance taken on
Alessandro de' Medici's murderer, for his own natural daughter was
Alessandro's widow and Duchess of Florence. In the palace they were met
with much courtesy by about forty Spaniards, who showed considerable
curiosity, and told them that Lorenzo and Alessandro Soderini had been
murdered 339that morning by two men whose description answered to their
appearance. Bibboni put their questions by and asked to see the
ambassador. He was not at home. In that case, said Bibboni, take us to
the secretary. Attended by some thirty Spaniards, 'with great joy and
gladness,' they were shown into the secretary's chamber. He sent the
rest of the folk away, 'and locked the door well, and then embraced and
kissed us before we had said a word, and afterwards bade us talk freely
without any fear.' When Bibboni had told the whole story, he was again
embraced and kissed by the secretary, who thereupon left them and went
to the private apartment of the ambassador. Shortly after he returned
and led them by a winding staircase into the presence of his master.
The ambassador greeted them with great honour, told them he would
strain all the power of the empire to hand them in safety over to Duke
Cosimo, and that he had already sent a courier to the Emperor with the
good news.

So they remained in hiding in the Spanish embassy; and in ten days'
time commands were received from Charles himself that everything should
be done to convey them safely to Florence. The difficulty was how to
smuggle them out of Venice, where the police of the Republic were on
watch, and Florentine outlaws were mounting guard on sea and shore to
catch them. The ambassador began by spreading reports on the Rialto
every morning of their having been seen at Padua, at Verona, in Friuli.
He then hired a palace at Malghera, near Mestre, and went out daily
with fifty Spaniards, and took carriage or amused himself with horse
exercise and shooting. The Florentines, who were on watch, could only
discover from his people that he did this for amusement. When he
thought that he had put them sufficiently off their guard, the
ambassador one day took Bibboni and Bebo out by Canaregio and Mestre to
Malghera, concealed in his own gondola, with 340the whole train of
Spaniards in attendance. And though, on landing, the Florentines
challenged them, they durst not interfere with an ambassador or come to
battle with his men. So Bebo and Bibboni were hustled into a coach, and
afterwards provided with two comrades and four horses. They rode for
ninety miles without stopping to sleep, and on the day following this
long journey reached Trento, having probably threaded the mountain
valleys above Bassano, for Bibboni speaks of a certain village where
the people talked half German. The Imperial Ambassador at Trento
forwarded them next day to Mantua; from Mantua they came to Piacenza;
thence, passing through the valley of the Taro, crossing the Apennines
at Cisa, descending on Pontremoli, and reaching Pisa at night, the
fourteenth day after their escape from Venice.

When they arrived at Pisa, Duke Cosimo was supping. So they went to an
inn, and next morning presented themselves to his Grace. Cosimo
received them kindly, assured them of his gratitude, confirmed them in
the enjoyment of their rewards and privileges, and swore that they
might rest secure of his protection in all parts of his dominion. We
may imagine how the men caroused together after this reception. As
Bibboni adds, 'We were now able for the whole time of life left us to
live splendidly, without a thought or care.' The last words of his
narrative are these: 'Bebo from Pisa, at what date I know not, went
home to Volterra, his native town, and there finished his days; while I
abode in Florence, where I have had no further wish to hear of wars,
but to live my life in holy peace.'

So ends the story of the two _bravi_. We have reason to believe, from
some contemporary documents which Cantù has brought to light, that
Bibboni exaggerated his own part in the affair. Luca Martelli, writing
to Varchi, says that it 341was Bebo who clove Lorenzo's skull with a
cutlass. He adds this curious detail, that the weapons of both men were
poisoned, and that the wound inflicted by Bibboni on Soderini's hand
was a slight one. Yet, the poignard being poisoned, Soderini died of
it. In other respects Martelli's brief account agrees with that given
by Bibboni, who probably did no more, his comrade being dead, than
claim for himself, at some expense of truth, the lion's share of their
heroic action.

VII.—LORENZINO BRUTUS

It remains to ask ourselves, What opinion can be justly formed of
Lorenzino's character and motives? When he murdered his cousin, was he
really actuated by the patriotic desire to rid his country of a
monster? Did he imitate the Roman Brutus in the noble spirit of his
predecessors, Olgiati and Boscoli, martyrs to the creed of tyrannicide?
Or must this crowning action of a fretful life be explained, like his
previous mutilation of the statues on the Arch of Constantine, by a
wild thirst for notoriety? Did he hope that the exiles would return to
Florence, and that he would enjoy an honourable life, an immortality of
glorious renown? Did envy for his cousin's greatness and resentment of
his undisguised contempt—the passions of one who had been used for vile
ends—conscious of self-degradation and the loss of honour, yet mindful
of his intellectual superiority—did these emotions take fire in him and
mingle with a scholar's reminiscences of antique heroism, prompting him
to plan a deed which should at least assume the show of patriotic zeal,
and prove indubitable courage in its perpetrator? Did he, again,
perhaps imagine, being next in blood to Alessandro and direct heir to
the ducal crown by the Imperial Settlement of 1530, that the city would
elect her liberator for her ruler?

342Alfieri and Niccolini, having taken, as it were, a brief in favour
of tyrannicide, praised Lorenzino as a hero. De Musset, who wrote a
considerable drama on his story, painted him as a _roué_ corrupted by
society, enfeebled by circumstance, soured by commerce with an
uncongenial world, who hides at the bottom of his mixed nature enough
of real nobility to make him the leader of a forlorn hope for the
liberties of Florence. This is the most favourable construction we can
put upon Lorenzo's conduct. Yet some facts of the case warn us to
suspend our judgment. He seems to have formed no plan for the
liberation of his fellow-citizens. He gave no pledge of self-devotion
by avowing his deed and abiding by its issues. He showed none of the
qualities of a leader, whether in the cause of freedom or of his own
dynastic interests, after the murder. He escaped as soon as he was
able, as secretly as he could manage, leaving the city in confusion,
and exposing himself to the obvious charge of abominable treason. So
far as the Florentines knew, his assassination of their Duke was but a
piece of private spite, executed with infernal craft. It is true that
when he seized the pen in exile, he did his best to claim the guerdon
of a patriot, and to throw the blame of failure on the Florentines. In
his Apology, and in a letter written to Francesco de' Medici, he taunts
them with lacking the spirit to extinguish tyranny when he had slain
the tyrant. He summons plausible excuses to his aid—the impossibility
of taking persons of importance into his confidence, the loss of blood
he suffered from his wound, the uselessness of rousing citizens whom
events proved over-indolent for action. He declares that he has nothing
to regret. Having proved by deeds his will to serve his country, he has
saved his life in order to spend it for her when occasion offered. But
these arguments, invented after the catastrophe, these words, so
bravely penned when action ought to have 343confirmed his resolution,
do not meet the case. It was no deed of a true hero to assassinate a
despot, knowing or half knowing that the despot's subjects would
immediately elect another. Their languor could not, except
rhetorically, be advanced in defence of his own flight.

The historian is driven to seek both the explanation and palliation of
Lorenzo's failure in the temper of his times. There was enough daring
left in Florence to carry through a plan of brilliant treason, modelled
on an antique Roman tragedy. But there was not moral force in the
protagonist to render that act salutary, not public energy sufficient
in his fellow-citizens to accomplish his drama of deliverance. Lorenzo
was corrupt. Florence was flaccid. Evil manners had emasculated the
hero. In the state the last spark of independence had expired with
Ferrucci.

Still I have not without forethought dubbed this man a Cinque Cento
Brutus. Like much of the art and literature of his century, his action
may be regarded as a _bizarre_ imitation of the antique manner. Without
the force and purpose of a Roman, Lorenzo set himself to copy
Plutarch's men—just as sculptors carved Neptunes and Apollos without
the dignity and serenity of the classic style. The antique faith was
wanting to both murderer and craftsman in those days. Even as
Renaissance work in art is too often aimless, decorative, vacant of
intention, so Lorenzino's Brutus tragedy seems but the snapping of a
pistol in void air. He had the audacity but not the ethical consistency
of his crime. He played the part of Brutus like a Roscius, perfect in
its histrionic details. And it doubtless gave to this skilful actor a
supreme satisfaction—salving over many wounds of vanity, quenching the
poignant thirst for things impossible and draughts of fame—that he
could play it on no mimic stage, but on the theatre of Europe. The
weakness of his conduct was the central 344weakness of his age and
country. Italy herself lacked moral purpose, sense of righteous
necessity, that consecration of self to a noble cause, which could
alone have justified Lorenzo's perfidy. Confused memories of Judith,
Jael, Brutus, and other classical tyrannicides, exalted his
imagination. Longing for violent emotions, jaded with pleasure which
had palled, discontented with his wasted life, jealous of his brutal
cousin, appetitive to the last of glory, he conceived his scheme.
Having conceived, he executed it with that which never failed in Cinque
Cento Italy—the artistic spirit of perfection. When it was over, he
shrugged his shoulders, wrote his magnificent Apology with a style of
adamant upon a plate of steel, and left it for the outlaws of Filippo
Strozzi's faction to deal with the crisis he had brought about. For
some years he dragged out an ignoble life in obscurity, and died at
last, as Varchi puts it, more by his own carelessness than by the
watchful animosity of others. Over the wild, turbid, clever,
incomprehensible, inconstant hero-artist's grave we write our
_Requiescat_. Clio, as she takes the pen in hand to record this prayer,
smiles disdainfully and turns to graver business.

345



TWO DRAMATISTS OF THE LAST CENTURY


There are few contrasts more striking than that which is presented by
the memoirs of Goldoni and Alfieri. Both of these men bore names highly
distinguished in the history of Italian literature. Both of them were
framed by nature with strongly marked characters, and fitted to perform
a special work in the world. Both have left behind them records of
their lives and literary labours, singularly illustrative of their
peculiar differences. There is no instance in which we see more clearly
the philosophical value of autobiographies, than in these vivid
pictures which the great Italian tragedian and comic author have
delineated. Some of the most interesting works of Lionardo da Vinci,
Giorgione, Albert Dürer, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Andrea del Sarto, are
their portraits painted by themselves. These pictures exhibit not only
the lineaments of the masters, but also their art. The hand which drew
them was the hand which drew the 'Last Supper,' or the 'Madonna of the
Tribune:' colour, method, chiaroscuro, all that makes up manner in
painting, may be studied on the same canvas as that which faithfully
represents the features of the man whose genius gave his style its
special character. We seem to understand the clear calm majesty of
Lionardo's manner, the silver-grey harmonies and smooth facility of
Andrea's Madonnas, the better for looking at their faces drawn by their
own hands at Florence. And if this be the case with a dumb picture, how
far higher must be the 346interest and importance of the written life
of a known author! Not only do we recognise in its composition the
style and temper and habits of thought which are familiar to us in his
other writings; but we also hear from his own lips how these were
formed, how his tastes took their peculiar direction, what
circumstances acted on his character, what hopes he had, and where he
failed. Even should his autobiography not bear the marks of uniform
candour, it probably reveals more of the actual truth, more of the
man's real nature in its height and depth, than any memoir written by
friend or foe. Its unconscious admissions, its general spirit, and the
inferences which we draw from its perusal, are far more valuable than
any mere statement of facts or external analysis, however scientific.
When we become acquainted with the series of events which led to the
conception or attended the production of some masterpiece of
literature, a new light is thrown upon its beauties, fresh life bursts
forth from every chapter, and we seem to have a nearer and more
personal interest in its success. What a powerful sensation, for
instance, is that which we experience when, after studying the 'Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire,' Gibbon tells us how the thought of
writing it came to him upon the Capitol, among the ruins of dead Rome,
and within hearing of the mutter of the monks of Ara Coeli, and how he
finished it one night by Lake Geneva, and laid his pen down and walked
forth and saw the stars above his terrace at Lausanne!

The memoirs of Alfieri and Goldoni are not deficient in any of the
characteristics of good autobiography. They seem to bear upon their
face the stamp of truthfulness, they illustrate their authors' lives
with marvellous lucidity, and they are full of interest as stories. But
it is to the contrast which they present that our attention should be
chiefly drawn. Other biographies may be as interesting and amusing.
None 347show in a more marked manner two distinct natures endowed with
genius for one art, and yet designed in every possible particular for
different branches of that art. Alfieri embodies Tragedy; Goldoni is
the spirit of Comedy. They are both Italians: their tragedies and
comedies are by no means cosmopolitan; but this national identity of
character only renders more remarkable the individual divergences by
which they were impelled into their different paths. Thalia seems to
have made the one, body, soul, and spirit; and Melpomene the other;
each goddess launched her favourite into circumstances suited to the
evolution of his genius, and presided over his development, so that at
his death she might exclaim,—Behold the living model of my Art!

Goldoni was born at Venice in the year 1707; he had already reached
celebrity when Alfieri saw the light for the first time, in 1749, at
Asti. Goldoni's grandfather was a native of Modena, who had settled in
Venice, and there lived with the prodigality of a rich and ostentatious
'bourgeois.' 'Amid riot and luxury did I enter the world,' says the
poet, after enumerating the banquets and theatrical displays with which
the old Goldoni entertained his guests in his Venetian palace and
country-house. Venice at that date was certainly the proper birthplace
for a comic poet. The splendour of the Renaissance had thoroughly
habituated her nobles to pleasures of the sense, and had enervated
their proud, maritime character, while the great name of the republic
robbed them of the caution for which they used to be conspicuous. Yet
the real strength of Venice was almost spent, and nothing remained but
outward insolence and prestige. Everything was gay about Goldoni in his
earliest childhood. Puppet-shows were built to amuse him by his
grandfather. 'My mother,' he says, 'took charge of my education, and my
father of my amusements.'

348Let us turn to the opening scene in Alfieri's life, and mark the
difference. A father above sixty, 'noble, wealthy, and respectable,'
who died before his son had reached the age of one year old. A mother
devoted to religion, the widow of one marquis, and after the death of a
second husband, Alfieri's father, married for the third time to a
nobleman of ancient birth. These were Alfieri's parents. He was born in
a solemn palazzo in the country town of Asti, and at the age of five
already longed for death as an escape from disease and other earthly
troubles. So noble and so wealthy was the youthful poet that an abbé
was engaged to carry out his education, but not to teach him more than
a count should know. Except this worthy man he had no companions
whatever. Strange ideas possessed the boy. He ruminated on his
melancholy, and when eight years old attempted suicide. At this age he
was sent to the academy at Turin, attended, as befitted a lad of his
rank, by a man-servant, who was to remain and wait on him at school.
Alfieri stayed here several years without revisiting his home,
tyrannised over by the valet who added to his grandeur, constantly
subject to sickness, and kept in almost total ignorance by his
incompetent preceptors. The gloom and pride and stoicism of his
temperament were augmented by this unnatural discipline. His spirit did
not break, but took a haughtier and more disdainful tone. He became
familiar with misfortunes. He learned to brood over and intensify his
passions. Every circumstance of his life seemed strung up to a tragic
pitch. This at least is the impression which remains upon our mind
after reading in his memoirs the narrative of what must in many of its
details have been a common schoolboy's life at that time.

Meanwhile, what had become of young Goldoni? His boyhood was as
thoroughly plebeian, various, and comic as Alfieri's had been
patrician, monotonous, and tragical. 349Instead of one place of
residence, we read of twenty. Scrape succeeds to scrape, adventure to
adventure. Knowledge of the world, and some book learning also, flow in
upon the boy, and are eagerly caught up by him and heterogeneously
amalgamated in his mind. Alfieri learned nothing, wrote nothing, in his
youth, and heard his parents say—'A nobleman need never strive to be a
doctor of the faculties.' Goldoni had a little medicine and much law
thrust upon him. At eight he wrote a comedy, and ere long began to read
the plays of Plautus, Terence, Aristophanes, and Machiavelli. Between
the nature of the two poets there was a marked and characteristic
difference as to their mode of labour and of acquiring knowledge. Both
of them loved fame, and wrought for it; but Alfieri did so from a sense
of pride and a determination to excel; while Goldoni loved the
approbation of his fellows, sought their compliments, and basked in the
sunshine of smiles. Alfieri wrote with labour. Each tragedy he composed
went through a triple process of composition, and received frequent
polishing when finished. Goldoni dashed off his pieces with the
greatest ease on every possible subject. He once produced sixteen
comedies in one theatrical season. Alfieri's were like lion's
whelps—brought forth with difficulty, and at long intervals; Goldoni's,
like the brood of a hare—many, frequent, and as agile as their parent.
Alfieri amassed knowledge scrupulously, but with infinite toil. He
mastered Greek and Hebrew when he was past forty. Goldoni never gave
himself the least trouble to learn anything, but trusted to the ready
wit, good memory, and natural powers, which helped him in a hundred
strange emergencies. Power of will and pride sustained the one;
facility and a good-humoured vanity the other. This contrast was
apparent at a very early age. We have seen how Alfieri passed his time
at Turin, in a kind of aristocratic prison of educational ignorance.
350Goldoni's grandfather died when he was five years old, and left his
family in great embarrassment. The poet's father went off to practise
medicine at Perugia. His son followed him, acquired the rudiments of
knowledge in that town, and then proceeded to study philosophy alone at
Rimini. There was no man-servant or academy in his case. He was far too
plebeian and too free. The boy lodged with a merchant, and got some
smattering of Thomas Aquinas and the Peripatetics into his small brain,
while he contrived to form a friendship with an acting company. They
were on the wing for Venice in a coasting boat, which would touch at
Chiozza, where Goldoni's mother then resided. The boy pleased them.
Would he like the voyage? This offer seemed too tempting, and away he
rushed, concealed himself on board, and made one of a merry motley
shipload. 'Twelve persons, actors as well as actresses, a prompter, a
machinist, a storekeeper, eight domestics, four chambermaids, two
nurses, children of every age, cats, dogs, monkeys, parrots, birds,
pigeons, and a lamb; it was another Noah's ark.' The young poet felt at
home; how could a comic poet feel otherwise? They laughed, they sang,
they danced; they ate and drank, and played at cards. 'Macaroni! Every
one fell on it, and three dishes were devoured. We had also alamode
beef, cold fowl, a loin of veal, a dessert, and excellent wine. What a
charming dinner! No cheer like a good appetite.' Their harmony,
however, was disturbed. The 'première amoureuse,' who, in spite of her
rank and title, was ugly and cross, and required to be coaxed with cups
of chocolate, lost her cat. She tried to kill the whole boat-load of
beasts—cats, dogs, monkeys, parrots, pigeons, even the lamb stood in
danger of her wrath. A regular quarrel ensued, was somehow set at
peace, and all began to laugh again. This is a sample of Goldoni's
youth. Comic pleasures, comic dangers; nothing 351deep or lasting, but
light and shadow cheerfully distributed, clouds lowering with storm, a
distant growl of thunder, then a gleam of light and sunshine breaking
overhead. He gets articled to an attorney at Venice, then goes to study
law at Pavia; studies society instead, and flirts, and finally is
expelled for writing satires. Then he takes a turn at medicine with his
father in Friuli, and acts as clerk to the criminal chancellor at
Chiozza.

Every employment seems easy to him, but he really cares for none but
literature. He spends all his spare time in reading and in amusements,
and begins to write a tragic opera. This proves, however, eminently
unsuccessful, and he burns it in a comic fit of anger. One laughable
love-affair in which he engaged at Udine exhibits his adventures in
their truly comic aspect. It reminds us of the scene in 'Don Giovanni,'
where Leporello personates the Don and deceives Donna Elvira. Goldoni
had often noticed a beautiful young lady at church and on the public
drives: she was attended by a waiting-maid, who soon perceived that her
mistress had excited the young man's admiration, and who promised to
befriend him in his suit. Goldoni was told to repair at night to the
palace of his mistress, and to pour his passion forth beneath her
window. Impatiently he waited for the trysting hour, conned his
love-sentences, and gloried in the romance of the adventure. When night
came, he found the window, and a veiled figure of a lady in the
moonlight, whom he supposed at once to be his mistress. Her he
eloquently addressed in the true style of Romeo's rapture, and she
answered him. Night after night this happened, but sometimes he was a
little troubled by a sound of ill-suppressed laughter interrupting the
_tête-à-tête_. Meanwhile Teresa, the waiting-maid, received from his
hands costly presents for her mistress, and made him promises on her
part in exchange. As she proved 352unable to fulfil them, Goldoni grew
suspicious, and at last discovered that the veiled figure to whom he
had poured out his tale of love was none other than Teresa, and that
the laughter had proceeded from her mistress, whom the faithless
waiting-maid regaled at her lover's expense. Thus ended this ridiculous
matter. Goldoni was not, however, cured by his experience. One other
love-affair rendered Udine too hot to hold him, and in consequence of a
third he had to fly from Venice just when he was beginning to flourish
there. At length he married comfortably and suitably, settling down
into a quiet life with a woman whom, if he did not love her with
passion, he at least respected and admired. Goldoni, in fact, had no
real passion in his nature.

Alfieri, on the other hand, was given over to volcanic ebullitions of
the most ungovernable hate and affection, joy and sorrow. The chains of
love which Goldoni courted so willingly, Alfieri regarded with the
greatest shyness. But while Goldoni healed his heart of all its bruises
in a week or so, the tragic poet bore about him wounds that would not
close. He enumerates three serious passions which possessed his whole
nature, and at times deprived him almost of his reason. A Dutch lady
first won his heart, and when he had to leave her, Alfieri suffered so
intensely that he never opened his lips during the course of a long
journey through Germany, Switzerland, and Piedmont. Fevers, and
suicides attempted but interrupted, marked the termination of this
tragic amour. His second passion had for its object an English lady,
with whose injured husband he fought a duel, although his collarbone
was broken at the time. The lady proved unworthy of Alfieri as well as
of her husband, and the poet left her in a most deplorable state of
hopelessness and intellectual prostration. At last he formed a
permanent affection for the wife of Prince Charles Edward, the Countess
of Albany, in close 353friendship with whom he lived after her
husband's death. The society of this lady gave him perfect happiness;
but it was founded on her lofty beauty, the pathos of her situation,
and her intellectual qualities. Melpomene presided at this union, while
Thalia blessed the nuptials of Goldoni. How characteristic also were
the adventures which these two pairs of lovers encountered! Goldoni
once carried his wife upon his back across two rivers in their flight
from the Spanish to the Austrian camp at Rimini, laughing and groaning,
and perceiving the humour of his situation all the time. Alfieri, on an
occasion of even greater difficulty, was stopped with his illustrious
friend at the gates of Paris in 1792. They were flying in post-chaises,
with their servants and their baggage, from the devoted city, when a
troop of _sansculottes_ rushed on them, surged around the carriage,
called them aristocrats, and tried to drag them off to prison. Alfieri,
with his tall gaunt figure, pallid face, and red voluminous hair,
stormed, raged, and raised his deep bass voice above the tumult. For
half an hour he fought with them, then made his coachmen gallop through
the gates, and scarcely halted till they got to Gravelines. By this
prompt movement they escaped arrest and death at Paris. These two
scenes would make agreeable companion pictures: Goldoni staggering
beneath his wife across the muddy bed of an Italian stream—the smiling
writer of agreeable plays, with his half-tearful helpmate ludicrous in
her disasters; Alfieri mad with rage among Parisian Mænads, his
princess quaking in her carriage, the air hoarse with cries, and death
and safety trembling in the balance. It is no wonder that the one man
wrote 'La Donna di Garbo' and the 'Cortese Veneziano,' while the other
was inditing essays on Tyranny and dramas of 'Antigone,' 'Timoleon,'
and 'Brutus.'

The difference between the men is seen no less remarkably 354in regard
to courage. Alfieri was a reckless rider, and astonished even English
huntsmen by his desperate leaps. In one of them he fell and broke his
collar-bone, but not the less he held his tryst with a fair lady,
climbed her park gates, and fought a duel with her husband. Goldoni was
a pantaloon for cowardice. In the room of an inn at Desenzano which he
occupied together with a female fellow-traveller, an attempt was made
to rob them by a thief at night. All Goldoni was able to do consisted
in crying out for help, and the lady called him 'M. l'Abbé' ever after
for his want of pluck. Goldoni must have been by far the more agreeable
of the two. In all his changes from town to town of Italy he found
amusement and brought gaiety. The sights, the theatres, the society
aroused his curiosity. He trembled with excitement at the performance
of his pieces, made friends with the actors, taught them, and wrote
parts to suit their qualities. At Pisa he attended as a stranger the
meeting of the Arcadian Academy, and at its close attracted all
attention to himself by his clever improvisation. He was in truth a
ready-witted man, pliable, full of resource, bred half a valet, half a
Roman _græculus_. Alfieri saw more of Europe than Goldoni. France,
Germany, Holland, Switzerland, England, Spain, all parts of Italy he
visited with restless haste. From land to land he flew, seeking no
society, enjoying nothing, dashing from one inn door to another with
his servants and his carriages, and thinking chiefly of the splendid
stud of horses which he took about with him upon his travels. He was a
lonely, stiff, self-engrossed, indomitable man. He could not rest at
home: he could not bear to be the vassal of a king and breathe the air
of courts. So he lived always on the wing, and ended by exiling himself
from Sardinia in order to escape the trammels of paternal government.
As for his tragedies, he wrote them to win laurels 355from posterity.
He never cared to see them acted; he bullied even his printers and
correctors; he cast a glove down in defiance of his critics. Goldoni
sought the smallest meed of approbation. It pleased him hugely in his
old age to be Italian master to a French princess. Alfieri openly
despised the public. Goldoni wrote because he liked to write; Alfieri,
for the sake of proving his superior powers. Against Alfieri's hatred
of Turin and its trivial solemnities, we have to set Goldoni's love of
Venice and its petty pleasures. He would willingly have drunk chocolate
and played at dominoes or picquet all his life on the Piazza di San
Marco, when Alfieri was crossing the sierras on his Andalusian horse,
and devouring a frugal meal of rice in solitude. Goldoni glided through
life an easy man, with genial, venial thoughts; with a clear, gay,
gentle temper; a true sense of what is good and just; and a heart that
loved diffusively, if not too warmly. Many were the checks and
obstacles thrown on his path; but round them or above them he passed
nimbly, without scar or scathe. Poverty went close behind him, but he
kept her off, and never felt the pinch of need. Alfieri strained and
strove against the barriers of fate; a sombre, rugged man, proud,
candid, and self-confident, who broke or bent all opposition; now
moving solemnly with tragic pomp, now dashing passionately forward by
the might of will. Goldoni drew his inspirations from the moment and
surrounding circumstances. Alfieri pursued an ideal, slowly formed, but
strongly fashioned and resolutely followed. Of wealth he had plenty and
to spare, but he disregarded it, and was a Stoic in his mode of life.
He was an unworldly man, and hated worldliness. Goldoni, but for his
authorship, would certainly have grown a prosperous advocate, and died
of gout in Venice. Goldoni liked smart clothes; Alfieri went always in
black. Goldoni's fits of spleen—for he _was_ melancholy now and
then—lasted 356a day or two, and disappeared before a change of place.
Alfieri dragged his discontent about with him all over Europe, and let
it interrupt his work and mar his intellect for many months together.
Alfieri was a patriot, and hated France. Goldoni never speaks of
politics, and praises Paris as a heaven on earth. The genial moralising
of the latter appears childish by the side of Alfieri's terse
philosophy and pregnant remarks on the development of character. What
suits the page of Plautus would look poor in 'Oedipus' or 'Agamemnon.'
Goldoni's memoirs are diffuse and flippant in their light French dress.
They seem written to please. Alfieri's Italian style marches with
dignity and Latin terseness. He rarely condescends to smile. He writes
to instruct the world and to satisfy himself. Grim humour sometimes
flashes out, as when he tells the story of the Order of Homer, which he
founded. How different from Goldoni's naïve account of his little
ovation in the theatre at Paris!

But it would be idle to carry on this comparison, already tedious. The
life of Goldoni was one long scene of shifts and jests, of frequent
triumphs and some failures, of lessons hard at times, but kindly.
Passions and _ennui_, flashes of heroic patriotism, constant suffering
and stoical endurance, art and love idealised, fill up the life of
Alfieri. Goldoni clung much to his fellow-men, and shared their pains
and pleasures. Alfieri spent many of his years in almost absolute
solitude. On the whole character and deeds of the one man was stamped
Comedy: the other was own son of Tragedy.

If, after reading the autobiographies of Alfieri and Goldoni, we turn
to the perusal of their plays, we shall perceive that there is no
better commentary on the works of an artist than his life, and no
better life than one written by himself. The old style of criticism,
which strove to separate an author's productions from his life, and
even from the age in 357which he lived, to set up an arbitrary canon of
taste, and to select one or two great painters or poets as ideals
because they seemed to illustrate that canon, has passed away. We are
beginning to feel that art is a part of history and of physiology. That
is to say, the artist's work can only be rightly understood by studying
his age and temperament. Goldoni's versatility and want of depth
induced him to write sparkling comedies. The merry life men passed at
Venice in its years of decadence proved favourable to his genius.
Alfieri's melancholy and passionate qualities, fostered in solitude,
and aggravated by a tyranny he could not bear, led him irresistibly to
tragic composition. Though a noble, his nobility only added to his
pride, and insensibly his intellect had been imbued with the democratic
sentiments which were destined to shake Europe in his lifetime. This,
in itself, was a tragic circumstance, bringing him into close sympathy
with the Brutus, the Prometheus, the Timoleon of ancient history.
Goldoni's _bourgeoisie_, in the atmosphere of which he was born and
bred, was essentially comic. The true comedy of manners, which is quite
distinct from Shakspere's fancy or from Aristophanic satire, is always
laid in middle life. Though Goldoni tried to write tragedies, they were
unimpassioned, dull, and tame. He lacked altogether the fire,
high-wrought nobility of sentiment, and sense of form essential for
tragic art. On the other hand, Alfieri composed some comedies before
his death which were devoid of humour, grace, and lightness. A strange
elephantine eccentricity is their utmost claim to comic character.
Indeed, the temper of Alfieri, ever in extremes, led him even to
exaggerate the qualities of tragedy. He carried its severity to a pitch
of dulness and monotony. His chiaroscuro was too strong; virtue and
villany appearing in pure black and white upon his pages. His hatred of
tyrants induced him to transgress 358the rules of probability, so that
it has been well said that if his wicked kings had really had such
words of scorn and hatred thrown at them by their victims, they were
greatly to be pitied. On the other hand, his pithy laconisms have often
a splendidly tragical effect. There is nothing in the modern drama more
rhetorically impressive, though spasmodic, than the well-known dialogue
between Antigone and Creon:—

'_Cr_. Scegliesti?
'_Ant_. Ho scelto.
'_Cr_. Emon?
'_Ant_. Morte.
'_Cr_. L'avrai!'


Goldoni's comedies, again, have not enough of serious thought or of
true creative imagination to be works of high art. They lean too much
to the side of farce; they have none of the tragic salt which gives a
dignity to Tartuffe. They are, in a word, almost too enethistically
comic.

The contrast between these authors might lead us to raise the question
long ago discussed by Socrates at Agathon's banquet—Can the same man
write both comedies and tragedies? We in England are accustomed to read
the serious and comic plays of Shakspere, Fletcher, Jonson, and to
think that one poet could excel in either branch. The custom of the
Elizabethan theatre obliged this double authorship; yet it must be
confessed that Shakspere's comedies are not such comedies as Greek or
Romnan or French critics would admit. They are works of the purest
imagination, wholly free from the laws of this world; while the
tragedies of Fletcher have a melodramatic air equally at variance with
the classical Melpomene. It may very seriously be doubted whether the
same mind could produce, with equal power, a comedy like the
359'Cortese Veneziano' and a tragedy like Alfieri's 'Brutus.' At any
rate, returning to our old position, we find in these two men the very
opposite conditions of dramatic genius. They are, as it were, specimens
prepared by Nature for the instruction of those who analyse genius in
its relations to temperament, to life, and to external circumstances.



VOLUME II.


1



RAVENNA


The Emperor Augustus chose Ravenna for one of his two naval stations,
and in course of time a new city arose by the sea-shore, which received
the name of Portus Classis. Between this harbour and the mother city a
third town sprang up, and was called Cæsarea. Time and neglect, the
ravages of war, and the encroaching powers of Nature have destroyed
these settlements, and nothing now remains of the three cities but
Ravenna. It would seem that in classical times Ravenna stood, like
modern Venice, in the centre of a huge lagune, the fresh waters of the
Ronco and the Po mixing with the salt waves of the Adriatic round its
very walls. The houses of the city were built on piles; canals instead
of streets formed the means of communication, and these were always
filled with water artificially conducted from the southern estuary of
the Po. Round Ravenna extended a vast morass, for the most part under
shallow water, but rising at intervals into low islands like the Lido
or Murano or Torcello which surround Venice. These islands were
celebrated for their fertility: the 2vines and fig-trees and
pomegranates, springing from a fat and fruitful soil, watered with
constant moisture, and fostered by a mild sea-wind and liberal
sunshine, yielded crops that for luxuriance and quality surpassed the
harvests of any orchards on the mainland. All the conditions of life in
old Ravenna seem to have resembled those of modern Venice; the people
went about in gondolas, and in the early morning barges laden with
fresh fruit or meat and vegetables flocked from all quarters to the
city of the sea.[15] Water also had to be procured from the
neighbouring shore, for, as Martial says, a well at Ravenna was more
valuable than a vineyard. Again, between the city and the mainland ran
a long low causeway all across the lagune like that on which the trains
now glide into Venice. Strange to say, the air of Ravenna was
remarkably salubrious: this fact, and the ease of life that prevailed
there, and the security afforded by the situation of the town, rendered
it a most desirable retreat for the monarchs of Italy during those
troublous times in which the empire nodded to its fall. Honorius
retired to its lagunes for safety; Odoacer, who dethroned the last
Cæsar of the West, succeeded him; and was in turn, supplanted by
Theodoric the Ostrogoth. Ravenna, as we see it now, recalls the
peaceful and half-Roman rule of the great Gothic king. His palace, his
churches, and the mausoleums in which his daughter Amalasuntha laid the
hero's bones, have survived the sieges of Belisarius and Astolphus, the
conquest of Pepin, the bloody quarrels of Iconoclasts with the children
of the Roman Church, the mediæval wars of Italy, the victory of Gaston
de Foix, and still stand gorgeous with marbles and mosaics in spite of
time and the decay of all around them.

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

3As early as the sixth century, the sea had already retreated to such a
distance from Ravenna that orchards and gardens were cultivated on the
spot where once the galleys of the Cæsars rode at anchor. Groves of
pines sprang up along the shore, and in their lofty tops the music of
the wind moved like the ghost of waves and breakers plunging upon
distant sands. This Pinetum stretches along the shore of the Adriatic
for about forty miles, forming a belt of variable width between the
great marsh and the tumbling sea. From a distance the bare stems and
velvet crowns of the pine-trees stand up like palms that cover an oasis
on Arabian sands; but at a nearer view the trunks detach themselves
from an inferior forest-growth of juniper and thorn and ash and oak,
the tall roofs of the stately firs shooting their breadth of sheltering
greenery above the lower and less sturdy brushwood. It is hardly
possible to imagine a more beautiful and impressive scene than that
presented by these long alleys of imperial pines. They grow so thickly
one behind another, that we might compare them to the pipes of a great
organ, or the pillars of a Gothic church, or the basaltic columns of
the Giant's Causeway. Their tops are evergreen and laden with the heavy
cones, from which Ravenna draws considerable wealth. Scores of peasants
are quartered on the outskirts of the forest, whose business it is to
scale the pines and rob them of their fruit at certain seasons of the
year. Afterwards they dry the fir-cones in the sun, until the nuts
which they contain fall out. The empty husks are sold for firewood, and
the kernels in their stony shells reserved for exportation. You may see
the peasants, men, women, and boys, sorting them by millions, drying
and sifting them upon the open spaces of the wood, and packing them in
sacks to send abroad through Italy. The _pinocchi_ or kernels of the
stone-pine are largely used in cookery, and those of Ravenna are prized
for their good 4quality and aromatic flavour. When roasted or pounded,
they taste like a softer and more mealy kind of almonds. The task of
gathering this harvest is not a little dangerous. Men have to cut
notches in the straight shafts, and having climbed, often to the height
of eighty feet, to lean upon the branches, and detach the fir-cones
with a pole—and this for every tree. Some lives, they say, are yearly
lost in the business.

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

You may ride or drive for miles along green aisles between 5the pines
in perfect solitude; and yet the creatures of the wood, the sunlight
and the birds, the flowers and tall majestic columns at your side,
prevent all sense of loneliness or fear. Huge oxen haunt the
wilderness—grey creatures, with mild eyes and spreading horns and
stealthy tread. Some are patriarchs of the forest, the fathers and the
mothers of many generations who have been carried from their sides to
serve in ploughs or waggons on the Lombard plain. Others are yearling
calves, intractable and ignorant of labour. In order to subdue them to
the yoke, it is requisite to take them very early from their native
glades, or else they chafe and pine away with weariness. Then there is
a sullen canal, which flows through the forest from the marshes to the
sea; it is alive with frogs and newts and snakes. You may see these
serpents basking on the surface among thickets of the flowering rush,
or coiled about the lily leaves and flowers—lithe monsters, slippery
and speckled, the tyrants of the fen.

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

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

6With these verses in our minds, while wandering down the grassy
aisles, beside the waters of the solitary place, we seem to meet that
lady singing as she went, and plucking flower by flower, 'like
Proserpine when Ceres lost a daughter, and she lost her spring.' There,
too, the vision of the griffin and the car, of singing maidens, and of
Beatrice descending to the sound of Benedictus and of falling flowers,
her flaming robe and mantle green as grass, and veil of white, and
olive crown, all flashed upon the poet's inner eye, and he remembered
how he bowed before her when a boy. There is yet another passage in
which it is difficult to believe that Dante had not the pine-forest in
his mind. When Virgil and the poet were waiting in anxiety before the
gates of Dis, when the Furies on the wall were tearing their breasts
and crying, 'Venga Medusa, e si 'l farem di smalto,' suddenly across
the hideous river came a sound like that which whirlwinds make among
the shattered branches and bruised stems of forest-trees; and Dante,
looking out with fear upon the foam and spray and vapour of the flood,
saw thousands of the damned flying before the face of one who forded
Styx with feet unwet. 'Like frogs,' he says, 'they fled, who scurry
through the water at the sight of their foe, the serpent, till each
squats and hides himself close to the ground.' The picture of the storm
among the trees might well have occurred to Dante's mind beneath the
roof of pine-boughs. Nor is there any place in which the simile of the
frogs and water-snake attains such dignity and grandeur. I must confess
that till I saw the ponds and marshes of Ravenna, I used to fancy that
the comparison was somewhat below the greatness of the subject; but
there so grave a note of solemnity and desolation is struck, the scale
of Nature is so large, and the serpents coiling in and out among the
lily leaves and flowers are so much in their right place, that they
suggest a scene by no means unworthy of Dante's conception.

7Nor is Dante the only singer who has invested this wood with poetical
associations. It is well known that Boccaccio laid his story of
'Honoria' in the pine-forest, and every student of English literature
must be familiar with the noble tale in verse which Dryden has founded
on this part of the 'Decameron.' We all of us have followed Theodore,
and watched with him the tempest swelling in the grove, and seen the
hapless ghost pursued by demon hounds and hunter down the glades. This
story should be read while storms are gathering upon the distant sea,
or thunderclouds descending from the Apennines, and when the pines
begin to rock and surge beneath the stress of labouring winds. Then
runs the sudden flash of lightning like a rapier through the boughs,
the rain streams hissing down, and the thunder 'breaks like a whole sea
overhead.'

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

Between the Bosco, as the people of Ravenna call this pine-wood, and
the city, the marsh stretches for a distance of about three miles. It
is a plain intersected by dykes and ditches, and mapped out into
innumerable rice-fields. For more than half a year it lies under water,
and during the other months exhales a pestilential vapour, which
renders it as uninhabitable as the Roman Campagna; yet in springtime
8this dreary flat is even beautiful. The young blades of the rice shoot
up above the water, delicately green and tender. The ditches are lined
with flowering rush and golden flags, while white and yellow lilies
sleep in myriads upon the silent pools. Tamarisks wave their pink and
silver tresses by the road, and wherever a plot of mossy earth emerges
from the marsh, it gleams with purple orchises and flaming marigolds;
but the soil beneath is so treacherous and spongy, that these splendid
blossoms grow like flowers in dreams or fairy stories. You try in vain
to pick them; they elude your grasp, and flourish in security beyond
the reach of arm or stick.

Such is the sight of the old town of Classis. Not a vestige of the
Roman city remains, not a dwelling or a ruined tower, nothing but the
ancient church of S. Apollinare in Classe. Of all desolate buildings
this is the most desolate. Not even the deserted grandeur of S. Paolo
beyond the walls of Rome can equal it. Its bare round campanile gazes
at the sky, which here vaults only sea and plain—a perfect dome,
star-spangled like the roof of Galla Placidia's tomb. Ravenna lies low
to west, the pine-wood stretches away in long monotony to east. There
is nothing else to be seen except the spreading marsh, bounded by dim
snowy Alps and purple Apennines, so very far away that the level rack
of summer clouds seem more attainable and real. What sunsets and
sunrises that tower must see; what glaring lurid afterglows in August,
when the red light scowls upon the pestilential fen; what sheets of
sullen vapour rolling over it in autumn; what breathless heats, and
rainclouds big with thunder; what silences; what unimpeded blasts of
winter winds! One old monk tends this deserted spot. He has the huge
church, with its echoing aisles and marble columns and giddy bell-tower
and cloistered corridors, all to himself. At rare intervals, priests
from Ravenna come to sing some special mass at these 9cold altars;
pious folk make vows to pray upon their mouldy steps and kiss the
relics which are shown on great occasions. But no one stays; they
hurry, after muttering their prayers, from the fever-stricken spot,
reserving their domestic pieties and customary devotions for the
brighter and newer chapels of the fashionable churches in Ravenna. So
the old monk is left alone to sweep the marsh water from his church
floor, and to keep the green moss from growing too thickly on its
monuments. A clammy conferva covers everything except the mosaics upon
tribune, roof, and clerestory, which defy the course of age. Christ on
His throne _sedet aternumque sedebit: _ the saints around him glitter
with their pitiless uncompromising eyes and wooden gestures, as if
twelve centuries had not passed over them, and they were nightmares
only dreamed last night, and rooted in a sick man's memory. For those
gaunt and solemn forms there is no change of life or end of days. No
fever touches them; no dampness of the wind and rain loosens their firm
cement. They stare with senseless faces in bitter mockery of men who
live and die and moulder away beneath. Their poor old guardian told us
it was a weary life. He has had the fever three times, and does not
hope to survive many more Septembers. The very water that he drinks is
brought him from Ravenna; for the vast fen, though it pours its
overflow upon the church floor, and spreads like a lake around, is
death to drink. The monk had a gentle woman's voice and mild brown
eyes. What terrible crime had consigned him to this living tomb? For
what past sorrow is he weary of his life? What anguish of remorse has
driven him to such a solitude? Yet he looked simple and placid; his
melancholy was subdued and calm, as if life were over for him, and he
were waiting for death to come with a friend's greeting upon noiseless
wings some summer night across the fen-lands in a cloud of soft
destructive fever-mist.

10Another monument upon the plain is worthy of a visit. It is the
so-called Colonna dei Francesi, a _cinquecento_ pillar of Ionic design,
erected on the spot where Gaston de Foix expired victorious after one
of the bloodiest battles ever fought. The Ronco, a straight sluggish
stream, flows by the lonely spot; mason bees have covered with
laborious stucco-work the scrolls and leafage of its ornaments,
confounding epitaphs and trophies under their mud houses. A few
cypress-trees stand round it, and the dogs and chickens of a
neighbouring farmyard make it their rendezvous. Those mason bees are
like posterity, which settles down upon the ruins of a Baalbec or a
Luxor, setting up its tents, and filling the fair spaces of Hellenic or
Egyptian temples with clay hovels. Nothing differs but the scale; and
while the bees content themselves with filling up and covering, man
destroys the silent places of the past which he appropriates.

In Ravenna itself, perhaps what strikes us most is the abrupt
transition everywhere discernible from monuments of vast antiquity to
buildings of quite modern date. There seems to be no interval between
the marbles and mosaics of Justinian or Theodoric and the insignificant
frippery of the last century. The churches of Ravenna—S. Vitale, S.
Apollinare, and the rest—are too well known, and have been too often
described by enthusiastic antiquaries, to need a detailed notice in
this place. Every one is aware that the ecclesiastical customs and
architecture of the early Church can be studied in greater perfection
here than elsewhere. Not even the basilicas and mosaics of Rome, nor
those of Palermo and Monreale, are equal for historical interest to
those of Ravenna. Yet there is not one single church which remains
entirely unaltered and unspoiled. The imagination has to supply the
atrium or outer portico from one building, the vaulted baptistery with
its marble font from another, the pulpits and ambones from a 11third
the tribune from a fourth, the round brick bell-tower from a fifth, and
then to cover all the concave roofs and chapel walls with grave and
glittering mosaics.

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

Besides these more general and decorative subjects, many of the
churches are adorned with historical mosaics, setting forth the Bible
narrative or incidents from the life of Christian emperors and kings.
In S. Apollinare Nuovo there is a most interesting treble series of
such mosaics extending over both walls of the nave. On the left hand,
as we enter, we see the town of Classis; on the right the palace of
Theodoric, its doors and loggie rich with curtains, and its friezes
blazing with 12coloured ornaments. From the city gate of Classis
virgins issue, and proceed in a long line until they reach Madonna
seated on a throne, with Christ upon her knees, and the three kings in
adoration at her feet. From Theodoric's palace door a similar
procession of saints and martyrs carry us to Christ surrounded by
archangels. Above this double row of saints and virgins stand the
fathers and prophets of the Church, and highest underneath the roof are
pictures from the life of our Lord. It will be remembered in connection
with these subjects that the women sat upon the left and the men upon
the right side of the church. Above the tribune, at the east end of the
church, it was customary to represent the Creative Hand, or the
monogram of the Saviour, or the head of Christ with the letters A and
[Greek Ô]. Moses and Elijah frequently stand on either side to
symbolise the transfiguration, while the saints and bishops specially
connected with the church appeared upon a lower row. Then on the side
walls were depicted such subjects as Justinian and Theodora among their
courtiers, or the grant of the privileges of the church to its first
founder from imperial patrons, with symbols of the old Hebraic
ritual—Abel's lamb, the sacrifice of Isaac, Melchisedec's offering of
bread and wine,—which were regarded as the types of Christian
ceremonies. The baptistery was adorned with appropriate mosaics
representing Christ's baptism in Jordan.

Generally speaking, one is struck with the dignity of these designs,
and especially with the combined majesty and sweetness of the face of
Christ. The sense for harmony of hue displayed in their composition is
marvellous. It would be curious to trace in detail the remnants of
classical treatment which may be discerned—Jordan, for instance, pours
his water from an urn like a river-god crowned with sedge—or to show
what points of ecclesiastical tradition are established these ancient
monuments. We find Mariolatry already imminent, 13the names of the
three kings, Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, the four evangelists as
we now recognise them, and many of the rites and vestments which
Ritualists of all denominations regard with superstitious reverence.

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

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

14



RIMINI


SIGISMONDO PANDOLFO MALATESTA AND LEO BATTISTA ALBERTI

Rimini is a city of about 18,000 souls, famous for its Stabilmento de'
Bagni and its antiquities, seated upon the coast of the Adriatic, a
little to the south-east of the world-historical Rubicon. It is our
duty to mention the baths first among its claims to distinction, since
the prosperity and cheerfulness of the little town depend on them in a
great measure. But visitors from the north will fly from these, to
marvel at the bridge which Augustus built and Tiberius completed, and
which still spans the Marecchia with five gigantic arches of white
Istrian limestone, as solidly as if it had not borne the tramplings of
at least three conquests. The triumphal arch, too, erected in honour of
Augustus, is a notable monument of Roman architecture. Broad,
ponderous, substantial, tufted here and there with flowering weeds, and
surmounted with mediaeval machicolations, proving it to have sometimes
stood for city gate or fortress, it contrasts most favourably with the
slight and somewhat gimcrack arch of Trajan in the sister city of
Ancona. Yet these remains of the imperial pontifices, mighty and
interesting as they are, sink into comparative insignificance beside
the one great wonder of Rimini, the cathedral remodelled for Sigismondo
Pandolfo Malatesta by Leo Battista Alberti in 1450. This strange
church, one of 15the earliest extant buildings in which the Neopaganism
of the Renaissance showed itself in full force, brings together before
our memory two men who might be chosen as typical in their contrasted
characters of the transitional age which gave them birth.

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

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


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

The history of these Malatesti, from their first establishment under
Otho III. as lieutenants for the Empire in the Marches of Ancona, down
to their final subjugation by the Papacy in the age of the Renaissance,
is made up of all the vicissitudes which could befall a mediaeval
Italian despotism. Acquiring an unlawful right over the towns of
Rimini, Cesena, Sogliano, Ghiacciuolo, they ruled their petty
principalities like tyrants by the help of the Guelf and Ghibelline
factions, inclining to the one or the other as it suited their humour
or their interest, wrangling among themselves, transmitting the
succession of their dynasty through bastards and by deeds of force,
quarrelling with their neighbours the Counts of Urbino, alternately
defying and submitting to the 16Papal legates in Romagna, serving as
condottieri in the wars of the Visconti and the state of Venice, and by
their restlessness and genius for military intrigues contributing in no
slight measure to the general disturbance of Italy. The Malatesti were
a race of strongly marked character: more, perhaps, than any other
house of Italian tyrants, they combined for generations those qualities
of the fox and the lion, which Machiavelli thought indispensable to a
successful despot. Son after son, brother with brother, they continued
to be fierce and valiant soldiers, cruel in peace, hardy in war, but
treasonable and suspicious in all transactions that could not be
settled by the sword. Want of union, with them as with the Baglioni and
many other of the minor noble families in Italy, prevented their
founding a substantial dynasty. Their power, based on force, was
maintained by craft and crime, and transmitted through tortuous
channels by intrigue. While false in their dealings with the world at
large, they were diabolical in the perfidy with which they treated one
another. No feudal custom, no standard of hereditary right, ruled the
succession in their family. Therefore the ablest Malatesta for the
moment clutched what he could of the domains that owned his house for
masters. Partitions among sons or brothers, mutually hostile and
suspicious, weakened the whole stock. Yet they were great enough to
hold their own for centuries among the many tyrants who infested
Lombardy. That the other princely families of Romagna, Emilia, and the
March were in the same state of internal discord and dismemberment, was
probably one reason why the Malatesti stood their ground so firmly as
they did.

So far as Rimini is concerned, the house of Malatesta culminated in
Sigismondo Pandolfo, son of Gian Galeazzo Visconti's general, the
perfidious Pandolfo. It was he who built the Rocca, or castle of the
despots, which stands a little 17way outside the town, commanding a
fair view of Apennine tossed hill-tops and broad Lombard plain, and who
remodelled the Cathedral of S. Francis on a plan suggested by the
greatest genius of the age. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta was one of
the strangest products of the earlier Renaissance. To enumerate the
crimes which he committed within the sphere of his own family,
mysterious and inhuman outrages which render the tale of the Cenci
credible, would violate the decencies of literature. A thoroughly
bestial nature gains thus much with posterity that its worst qualities
must be passed by in silence. It is enough to mention that he murdered
three wives in succession,[16] Bussoni di Carmagnuola, Guinipera
d'Este, and Polissena Sforza, on various pretexts of infidelity, and
carved horns upon his own tomb with this fantastic legend underneath:—

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


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

He died in wedlock with the beautiful and learned Isotta degli Atti,
who had for some time been his mistress. But, like most of the
Malatesti, he left no legitimate offspring. Throughout his life he was
distinguished for bravery and cunning, for endurance of fatigue and
rapidity of action, for an almost fretful rashness in the execution of
his schemes, and for a character terrible in its violence. He was
acknowledged as a great general; yet nothing succeeded with him. The
long warfare which he carried on against the Duke of 18Montefeltro
ended in his discomfiture. Having begun by defying the Holy See, he was
impeached at Rome for heresy, parricide, incest, adultery, rape, and
sacrilege, burned in effigy by Pope Pius II., and finally restored to
the bosom of the Church, after suffering the despoliation of almost all
his territories, in 1463. The occasion on which this fierce and
turbulent despiser of laws human and divine was forced to kneel as a
penitent before the Papal legate in the gorgeous temple dedicated to
his own pride, in order that the ban of excommunication might be
removed from Rimini, was one of those petty triumphs, interesting
chiefly for their picturesqueness, by which the Popes confirmed their
questionable rights over the cities of Romagna. Sigismondo, shorn of
his sovereignty, took the command of the Venetian troops against the
Turks in the Morea, and returned in 1465, crowned with laurels, to die
at Rimini in the scene of his old splendour.

A very characteristic incident belongs to this last act of his life.
Dissolute, treacherous, and inhuman as he was, the tyrant of Rimini had
always encouraged literature, and delighted in the society of artists.
He who could brook no contradiction from a prince or soldier, allowed
the pedantic scholars of the sixteenth century to dictate to him in
matters of taste, and sat with exemplary humility at the feet of
Latinists like Porcellio, Basinio, and Trebanio. Valturio, the
engineer, and Alberti, the architect, were his familiar friends; and
the best hours of his life were spent in conversation with these men.
Now that he found himself upon the sacred soil of Greece, he was
determined not to return to Italy empty-handed. Should he bring
manuscripts or marbles, precious vases or inscriptions in half-legible
Greek character? These relics were greedily sought for by the
potentates of Italian cities; and no doubt Sigismondo enriched his
library with some such treasures. But he obtained 19a nobler
prize—nothing less than the body of a saint of scholarship, the
authentic bones of the great Platonist, Gemisthus Pletho.[17] These he
exhumed from their Greek grave and caused them to be deposited in a
stone sarcophagus outside the cathedral of his building in Rimini. The
Venetians, when they stole the body of S. Mark from Alexandria, were
scarcely more pleased than was Sigismondo with the acquisition of this
Father of the Neopagan faith. Upon the tomb we still may read this
legend: 'Jemisthii Bizantii philosopher sua temp principis reliquum
Sig. Pan. Mal. Pan. F. belli Pelop adversus Turcor regem Imp ob
ingentem eruditorum quo flagrat amorem huc afferendum introque
mittendum curavit MCCCCLXVI.' Of the Latinity of the inscription much
cannot be said; but it means that 'Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta,
having served as general against the Turks in the Morea, induced by the
great love with which he burns for all learned men, brought and placed
here the remains of Gemisthus of Byzantium, the prince of the
philosophers of his day.'

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

Sigismondo's portrait, engraved on medals, and sculptured upon every
frieze and point of vantage in the Cathedral of Rimini, well denotes
the man. His face is seen in profile. The head, which is low and flat
above the forehead, rising swiftly backward from the crown, carries a
thick bushy shock of hair curling at the ends, such as the Italians
call a _zazzera_. The eye is deeply sunk, with long venomous flat
eyelids, like those which Leonardo gives to his most wicked faces. The
nose is long and crooked, curved like a vulture's over a petulant
mouth, with lips deliberately pressed together, as though it were
necessary to control some nervous twitching. The 20cheek is broad, and
its bone is strongly marked. Looking at these features in repose, we
cannot but picture to our fancy what expression they might assume under
a sudden fit of fury, when the sinews of the face were contracted with
quivering spasms, and the lips writhed in sympathy with knit forehead
and wrinkled eyelids.

Allusion has been made to the Cathedral of S. Francis at Rimini, as the
great ornament of the town, and the chief monument of Sigismondo's
fame. It is here that all the Malatesti lie. Here too is the chapel
consecrated to Isotta, 'Divæ Isottæ Sacrum;' and the tombs of the
Malatesta ladies, 'Malatestorum domûs heroidum sepulchrum;' and
Sigismondo's own grave with the cuckold's horns and scornful epitaph.
Nothing but the fact that the church is duly dedicated to S. Francis,
and that its outer shell of classic marble encases an old Gothic
edifice, remains to remind us that it is a Christian place of
worship.[18] It has no sanctity, no spirit of piety. The pride of the
tyrant whose legend—'Sigismundus Pandulphus Malatesta Pan. F. Fecit
Anno Gratiæ MCCCCL'—occupies every arch and stringcourse of the
architecture, and whose coat-of-arms and portrait in medallion, with
his cipher and his emblems of an elephant and a rose, are wrought in
every piece of sculptured work throughout the building, seems so to
fill this house of prayer that there is no room left for God. Yet the
Cathedral of Rimini remains a monument of first-rate importance for all
students who seek to penetrate the revived Paganism of the fifteenth
century. It serves also to bring a far more interesting 21Italian of
that period than the tyrant of Rimini himself, before our notice.

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

In the execution of his design, Sigismondo received the assistance of
one of the most remarkable men of this or any other age. Leo Battista
Alberti, a scion of the noble Florentine house of that name, born
during the exile of his parents, and educated in the Venetian
territory, was endowed by nature with aptitudes, faculties, and
sensibilities so varied, as to deserve the name of universal genius.
Italy in the Renaissance period was rich in natures of this sort, to
whom nothing that is strange or beautiful seemed unfamiliar, and who,
gifted with a kind of divination, penetrated the secrets of the world
by sympathy. To Pico della Mirandola, Lionardo da Vinci, and Michel
Agnolo Buonarroti may be added Leo Battista Alberti. That he achieved
less than his great compeers, and that he now exists as the shadow of a
mighty name, was the effect of circumstances. He came half a century
too early into the world, and worked as a pioneer rather than a settler
of the realm which Lionardo ruled as his demesne. Very early in his
boyhood Alberti showed the versatility of his talents. The use of arms,
the management of horses, music, painting, modelling for sculpture,
mathematics, classical and modern literature, physical science as then
comprehended, and all the bodily exercises proper to the estate of a
young nobleman, were at his command. His biographer asserts that he was
never idle, never subject to ennui or fatigue. He used to say that
books at times gave him the same pleasure as brilliant jewels or
perfumed flowers: hunger and sleep could not keep him from them then.
At other times the letters on the page appeared to him like twining and
contorted scorpions, so that he preferred to gaze on anything but
written scrolls. He would then turn to music or painting, or to the
physical sports in which he excelled. The 22language in which this
alternation of passion and disgust for study is expressed, bears on it
the stamp of Alberti's peculiar temperament, his fervid and imaginative
genius, instinct with subtle sympathies and strange repugnances. Flying
from his study, he would then betake himself to the open air. No one
surpassed him in running, in wrestling, in the force with which he cast
his javelin or discharged his arrows. So sure was his aim and so
skilful his cast, that he could fling a farthing from the pavement of
the square, and make it ring against a church roof far above. When he
chose to jump, he put his feet together and bounded over the shoulders
of men standing erect upon the ground. On horseback he maintained
perfect equilibrium, and seemed incapable of fatigue. The most restive
and vicious animals trembled under him and became like lambs. There was
a kind of magnetism in the man. We read, besides these feats of
strength and skill, that he took pleasure in climbing mountains, for no
other purpose apparently than for the joy of being close to nature.

In this, as in many other of his instincts, Alberti was before his age.
To care for the beauties of landscape unadorned by art, and to
sympathise with sublime or rugged scenery, was not in the spirit of the
Renaissance. Humanity occupied the attention of poets and painters; and
the age was yet far distant when the pantheistic feeling for the world
should produce the art of Wordsworth and of Turner. Yet a few great
natures even then began to comprehend the charm and mystery which the
Greeks had imaged in their Pan, the sense of an all-pervasive spirit in
wild places, the feeling of a hidden want, the invisible tie which
makes man a part of rocks and woods and streams around him. Petrarch
had already ascended the summit of Mont Ventoux, to meditate, with an
exaltation of the soul he scarcely understood, upon the scene spread at
his feet and above his head. Æneas 23Sylvius Piccolomini delighted in
wild places for no mere pleasure of the chase, but for the joy he took
in communing with nature. How S. Francis found God in the sun and the
air, the water and the stars, we know by his celebrated hymn; and of
Dante's acute observation, every canto of the 'Divine Comedy' is
witness.

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

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

Both Alberti and Tennyson have connected the _mal du pays_ of the human
soul for that ancient country of its birth, the mild Saturnian earth
from which we sprang, with a sense of loss. It is the waste of human
energy that affects Alberti; the waste of human life touches the modern
poet. Yet both perhaps have scarcely interpreted their own spirit; for
is not the true source of tears deeper and more secret? Man is a child
of nature in the simplest sense; and the stirrings of the secular
breasts that gave him suck, and on which he even now must hang, have
potent influences over his emotions. 24Of Alberti's extraordinary
sensitiveness to all such impressions many curious tales are told. The
sight of refulgent jewels, of flowers, and of fair landscapes, had the
same effect upon his nerves as the sound of the Dorian mood upon the
youths whom Pythagoras cured of passion by music. He found in them an
anodyne for pain, a restoration from sickness. Like Walt Whitman, who
adheres to nature by closer and more vital sympathy than any other poet
of the modern world, Alberti felt the charm of excellent old age no
less than that of florid youth. 'On old men gifted with a noble
presence and hale and vigorous, he gazed again and again, and said that
he revered in them the delights of nature (_naturæ delitias_).' Beasts
and birds and all living creatures moved him to admiration for the
grace with which they had been gifted, each in his own kind. It is even
said that he composed a funeral oration for a dog which he had loved
and which died.

To this sensibility for all fair things in nature, Alberti added the
charm of a singularly sweet temper and graceful conversation. The
activity of his mind, which was always being exercised on subjects of
grave speculation, removed him from the noise and bustle of commonplace
society. He was somewhat silent, inclined to solitude, and of a pensive
countenance; yet no man found him difficult of access: his courtesy was
exquisite, and among familiar friends he was noted for the flashes of a
delicate and subtle wit. Collections were made of his apophthegms by
friends, and some are recorded by his anonymous biographer.[19] Their
finer perfume, as almost always happens with good sayings which do not
certain the 25full pith of a proverb, but owe their force, in part at
least, to the personality of their author, and to the happy moment of
their production, has evanesced. Here, however, is one which seems
still to bear the impress of Alberti's genius: 'Gold is the soul of
labour, and labour the slave of pleasure.' Of women he used to say that
their inconstancy was an antidote to their falseness; for if a woman
could but persevere in what she undertook, all the fair works of men
would be ruined. One of his strongest moral sentences is aimed at envy,
from which he suffered much in his own life, and against which he
guarded with a curious amount of caution. His own family grudged the
distinction which his talents gained for him, and a dark story is told
of a secret attempt made by them to assassinate him through his
servants. Alberti met these ignoble jealousies with a stately calm and
a sweet dignity of demeanour, never condescending to accuse his
relatives, never seeking to retaliate, but acting always for the honour
of his illustrious house. In the same spirit of generosity he refused
to enter into wordy warfare with detractors and calumniators, sparing
the reputation even of his worst enemy when chance had placed him in
his power. This moderation both of speech and conduct was especially
distinguished in an age which tolerated the fierce invectives of
Filelfo, and applauded the vindictive courage of Cellini. To money
Alberti showed a calm indifference. He committed his property to his
friends and shared with them in common. Nor was he less careless about
vulgar fame, spending far more pains in the invention of machinery and
the discovery of laws, than in their publication to the world. His
service was to knowledge, not to glory. Self-control was another of his
eminent qualities. With the natural impetuosity of a large heart, and
the vivacity of a trained athlete, he yet never allowed himself to be
subdued by anger or by sensual impulses, but took pains 26to preserve
his character unstained and dignified before the eyes of men. A story
is told of him which may remind us of Goethe's determination to
overcome his giddiness. In his youth his head was singularly sensitive
to changes of temperature; but by gradual habituation he brought
himself at last to endure the extremes of heat and cold bareheaded. In
like manner he had a constitutional disgust for onions and honey; so
powerful, that the very sight of these things made him sick. Yet by
constantly viewing and touching what was disagreeable, he conquered
these dislikes; and proved that men have a complete mastery over what
is merely instinctive in their nature. His courage corresponded to his
splendid physical development. When a boy of fifteen, he severely
wounded himself in the foot. The gash had to be probed and then sewn
up. Alberti not only bore the pain of this operation without a groan,
but helped the surgeon with his own hands; and effected a cure of the
fever which succeeded by the solace of singing to his cithern. For
music he had a genius of the rarest order; and in painting he is said
to have achieved success. Nothing, however, remains of his work and
from what Vasari says of it, we may fairly conclude that he gave less
care to the execution of finished pictures, than to drawings subsidiary
to architectural and mechanical designs. His biographer relates that
when he had completed a painting, he called children and asked them
what it meant. If they did not know, he reckoned it a failure. He was
also in the habit of painting from memory. While at Venice, he put on
canvas the faces of friends at Florence whom he had not seen for
months. That the art of painting was subservient in his estimation to
mechanics, is indicated by what we hear about the camera, in which he
showed landscapes by day and the revolutions of the stars by night, so
lively drawn that the spectators were affected with amazement. The
semi-scientific 27impulse to extend man's mastery over nature, the
magician's desire to penetrate secrets, which so powerfully influenced
the development of Lionardo's genius, seems to have overcome the purely
æsthetic instincts of Alberti, so that he became in the end neither a
great artist like Raphael, nor a great discoverer like Galileo, but
rather a clairvoyant to whom the miracles of nature and of art lie
open.

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


After the first period of youth was over, Leo Battista Alberti devoted
his great faculties and all his wealth of genius to the study of the
law—then, as now, the quicksand of the noblest natures. The industry
with which he applied himself to the civil and ecclesiastical codes
broke his health. For recreation he composed a Latin comedy called
'Philodoxeos,' which imposed upon the judgment of scholars, and was
ascribed as a genuine antique to Lepidus, the comic poet. Feeling
stronger, Alberti returned at the age of twenty to his law studies, and
pursued them in the teeth of disadvantages. His health was still
uncertain, and the fortune of an exile reduced him to the utmost want.
It was no wonder that under these untoward circumstances even his
Herculean strength gave way. Emaciated and exhausted, he lost the
clearness of his eyesight, and became subject to arterial disturbances,
which filled his ears with painful sounds. This nervous illness is not
dissimilar to that which Rousseau describes in the confessions of his
youth. In vain, however, his physicians warned Alberti of impending
peril. A man of so much stanchness, accustomed to control his nature
with an iron will, is not ready to accept advice. Alberti persevered in
his studies, until at last the very seat of intellect was invaded. His
memory began to fail him for names, while he still retained with
wonderful accuracy whatever he had seen with his eyes. It was now
impossible to think of law as a profession. Yet since he could not live
without severe mental exercise, he had 28recourse to studies which tax
the verbal memory less than the intuitive faculties of the reason.
Physics and mathematics became his chief resource; and he devoted his
energies to literature. His 'Treatise on the Family' may be numbered
among the best of those compositions on social and speculative subjects
in which the Italians of the Renaissance sought to rival Cicero. His
essays on the arts are mentioned by Vasari with sincere approbation.
Comedies, interludes, orations, dialogues, and poems flowed with
abundance from his facile pen. Some were written in Latin, which he
commanded more than fairly; some in the Tuscan tongue, of which owing
to the long exile of his family in Lombardy, he is said to have been
less a master. It was owing to this youthful illness, from which
apparently his constitution never wholly recovered, that Alberti's
genius was directed to architecture.

Through his friendship with Flavio Biondo, the famous Roman antiquary,
Alberti received an introduction to Nicholas V. at the time when this,
the first great Pope of the Renaissance, was engaged in rebuilding the
palaces and fortifications of Rome. Nicholas discerned the genius of
the man, and employed him as his chief counsellor in all matters of
architecture. When the Pope died, he was able, while reciting his long
Latin will upon his deathbed, to boast that he had restored the Holy
See to its due dignity, and the Eternal City to the splendour worthy of
the seat of Christendom. The accomplishment of the second part of his
work he owed to the genius of Alberti. After doing thus much for Rome
under Thomas of Sarzana, and before beginning to beautify Florence at
the instance of the Rucellai family, Alberti entered the service of the
Malatesta, and undertook to remodel the Cathedral of S. Francis at
Rimini. He found it a plain Gothic structure with apse and side
chapels. Such churches are common enough in Italy, where pointed
architecture never 29developed its true character of complexity and
richness, but was doomed to the vast vacuity exemplified in S. Petronio
of Bologna. He left it a strange medley of mediæval and Renaissance
work, a symbol of that dissolving scene in the world's pantomime, when
the spirit of classic art, as yet but little comprehended, was
encroaching on the early Christian taste. Perhaps the mixture of styles
so startling in S. Francesco ought not to be laid to the charge of
Alberti, who had to execute the task of turning a Gothic into a classic
building. All that he could do was to alter the whole exterior of the
church, by affixing a screen-work of Roman arches and Corinthian
pilasters, so as to hide the old design and yet to leave the main
features of the fabric, the windows and doors especially, _in statu
quo_. With the interior he dealt upon the same general principle, by
not disturbing its structure, while he covered every available square
inch of surface with decorations alien to the Gothic manner.
Externally, S. Francesco is perhaps the most original and graceful of
the many attempts made by Italian builders to fuse the mediæval and the
classic styles. For Alberti attempted nothing less. A century elapsed
before Palladio, approaching the problem from a different point of
view, restored the antique in its purity, and erected in the Palazzo
della Ragione of Vicenza an almost unique specimen of resuscitated
Roman art.

Internally, the beauty of the church is wholly due to its exquisite
wall-ornaments. These consist for the most part of low reliefs in a
soft white stone, many of them thrown out upon a blue ground in the
style of Della Robbia. Allegorical figures designed with the purity of
outline we admire in Botticelli, draperies that Burne-Jones might copy,
troops of singing boys in the manner of Donatello, great angels traced
upon the stone so delicately that they seem to be rather drawn than
sculptured, statuettes in niches, personifications of all arts and
30sciences alternating with half-bestial shapes of satyrs and
sea-children:—such are the forms which fill the spaces of the chapel
walls, and climb the pilasters, and fret the arches, in such abundance
that had the whole church been finished as it was designed, it would
have presented one splendid though bizarre effect of incrustation.
Heavy screens of Verona marble, emblazoned in open arabesques with the
ciphers of Sigismondo and Isotta, with coats-of-arms, emblems, and
medallion portraits, shut the chapels from the nave. Who produced all
this sculpture it is difficult to say. Some of it is very good: much is
indifferent. We may hazard the opinion that, besides Bernardo
Ciuffagni, of whom Vasari speaks, some pupils of Donatello and
Benedetto da Majano worked at it. The influence of the sculptors of
Florence is everywhere perceptible.

Whatever be the merit of these reliefs, there is no doubt that they
fairly represent one of the most interesting moments in the history of
modern art. Gothic inspiration had failed; the early Tuscan style of
the Pisani had been worked out; Michelangelo was yet far distant, and
the abundance of classic models had not overwhelmed originality. The
sculptors of the school of Ghiberti and Donatello, who are represented
in this church, were essentially pictorial, preferring low to high
relief, and relief in general to detached figures. Their style, like
the style of Boiardo in poetry, of Botticelli in painting, is specific
to Italy in the middle of the fifteenth century. Mediæval standards of
taste were giving way to classical, Christian sentiment to Pagan; yet
the imitation of the antique had not been carried so far as to efface
the spontaneity of the artist, and enough remained of Christian feeling
to tinge the fancy with a grave and sweet romance. The sculptor had the
skill and mastery to express his slightest shade of thought with
freedom, spirit, and precision. Yet 31his work showed no sign of
conventionality, no adherence to prescribed rules. Every outline, every
fold of drapery, every attitude was pregnant, to the artist's own mind
at any rate, with meaning. In spite of its symbolism, what he wrought
was never mechanically figurative, but gifted with the independence of
its own beauty, vital with an inbreathed spirit of life. It was a happy
moment, when art had reached consciousness, and the artist had not yet
become self-conscious. The hand and the brain then really worked
together for the procreation of new forms of grace, not for the
repetition of old models, or for the invention of the strange and
startling. 'Delicate, sweet, and captivating,' are good adjectives to
express the effect produced upon the mind by the contemplation even of
the average work of this period.

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

32



MAY IN UMBRIA


FROM ROME TO TERNI

We left Rome in clear sunset light. The Alban Hills defined themselves
like a cameo of amethyst upon a pale blue distance; and over the Sabine
Mountains soared immeasurable moulded domes of alabaster thunderclouds,
casting deep shadows, purple and violet, across the slopes of Tivoli.
To westward the whole sky was lucid, like some half-transparent topaz,
flooded with slowly yellowing sunbeams. The Campagna has often been
called a garden of wild-flowers. Just now poppy and aster, gladiolus
and thistle, embroider it with patterns infinite and intricate beyond
the power of art. They have already mown the hay in part; and the
billowy tracts of greyish green, where no flowers are now in bloom,
supply a restful groundwork to those brilliant patches of diapered
_fioriture_. These are like praying-carpets spread for devotees upon
the pavement of a mosque whose roof is heaven. In the level light the
scythes of the mowers flash as we move past. From their bronzed
foreheads the men toss masses of dark curls. Their muscular flanks and
shoulders sway sideways from firm yet pliant reins. On one hill,
fronting the sunset, there stands a herd of some thirty huge grey oxen,
feeding and raising their heads to look at us, with just a flush of
crimson on their horns and dewlaps. This is the scale of Mason's and
33of Costa's colouring. This is the breadth and magnitude of Rome.

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

Through these celestial changes we glide into a landscape fit for
Francia and the early Umbrian painters. Low hills to right and left;
suavely modelled heights in the far distance; a very quiet width of
plain, with slender trees ascending into the pellucid air; and down in
the mystery of the middle distance a glimpse of heaven-reflecting
water. The magic of the moon and stars lends enchantment to this scene.
No painting could convey their influences. Sometimes both luminaries
tremble, all dispersed and broken, on the swirling river. Sometimes
they sleep above the calm cool reaches of a rush-grown mere. And here
and there a ruined turret, with a broken window and a tuft of shrubs
upon the rifted battlement, gives value to the fading pallor of the
West. The last phase in the sunset is a change to blue-grey monochrome,
faintly silvered with starlight; hills, Tiber, fields and woods, 34all
floating in aë;rial twilight. There is no definition of outline now.
The daffodil of the horizon has faded into scarcely perceptible pale
greenish yellow.

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

THE CASCADES OF TERNI

The Velino is a river of considerable volume which rises in the highest
region of the Abruzzi, threads the upland valley of Rieti, and
precipitates itself by an artificial channel over cliffs about seven
hundred feet in height into the Nera. The water is densely charged with
particles of lime. This calcareous matter not only tends continually to
choke its bed, but clothes the precipices over which the torrent
thunders with fantastic drapery of stalactite; and, carried on the wind
in foam, incrusts the forests that surround the falls with fine white
dust. These famous cascades are undoubtedly the most sublime and
beautiful which Europe boasts; and their situation is worthy of so
great a natural wonder. We reach them through a noble mid-Italian
landscape, where the mountain forms are austere and boldly modelled,
but the vegetation, both wild and cultivated, has something of the
South-Italian richness. The hillsides are a labyrinth of box and
arbutus, with coronilla in golden bloom. The turf is starred with
cyclamens and orchises. Climbing the staircase paths beside the falls
in morning sunlight, or stationed on the points of vantage that command
their successive cataracts, we enjoyed a spectacle which might be
compared in its effect upon the mind to the impression left by a
symphony or a tumultuous lyric. The turbulence and splendour, the
swiftness and resonance, the veiling of the scene in smoke of shattered
water-masses, the withdrawal of these veils according as the 35volume
of the river slightly shifted in its fall, the rainbows shimmering on
the silver spray, the shivering of poplars hung above impendent
precipices, the stationary grandeur of the mountains keeping watch
around, the hurry and the incoherence of the cataracts, the immobility
of force and changeful changelessness in nature, were all for me the
elements of one stupendous poem. It was like an ode of Shelley
translated into symbolism, more vivid through inarticulate appeal to
primitive emotion than any words could be.

MONTEFALCO

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

The main object of a visit to Montefalco is to inspect its many
excellent frescoes; painted histories of S. Francis and S. Jerome, by
Benozzo Gozzoli; saints, angels, and Scripture episodes by the gentle
Tiberio d'Assisi. Full justice had been done to these, when a little
boy, seeing us lingering outside 36the church of S. Chiara, asked
whether we should not like to view the body of the saint. This
privilege could be purchased at the price of a small fee. It was only
necessary to call the guardian of her shrine at the high altar.
Indolent, and in compliant mood, with languid curiosity and half an
hour to spare, we assented. A handsome young man appeared, who
conducted us with decent gravity into a little darkened chamber behind
the altar. There he lighted wax tapers, opened sliding doors in what
looked like a long coffin, and drew curtains. Before us in the dim
light there lay a woman covered with a black nun's dress. Only her
hands, and the exquisitely beautiful pale contour of her face
(forehead, nose, mouth, and chin, modelled in purest outline, as though
the injury of death had never touched her) were visible. Her closed
eyes seemed to sleep. She had the perfect peace of Luini's S. Catherine
borne by the angels to her grave on Sinai. I have rarely seen anything
which surprised and touched me more. The religious earnestness of the
young custode, the hushed adoration of the country-folk who had
silently assembled round us, intensified the sympathy-inspiring beauty
of the slumbering girl. Could Julia, daughter of Claudius, have been
fairer than this maiden, when the Lombard workmen found her in her
Latin tomb, and brought her to be worshipped on the Capitol? S.
Chiara's shrine was hung round with her relics; and among these the
heart extracted from her body was suspended. Upon it, apparently
wrought into the very substance of the mummied flesh, were impressed a
figure of the crucified Christ, the scourge, and the five stigmata. The
guardian's faith in this miraculous witness to her sainthood, the
gentle piety of the men and women who knelt before it, checked all
expressions of incredulity. We abandoned ourselves to the genius of the
place; forgot even to ask what Santa Chiara was sleeping 37here; and
withdrew, toned to a not unpleasing melancholy. The world-famous S.
Clair, the spiritual sister of S. Francis, lies in Assisi. I have often
asked myself, Who, then, was this nun? What history had she? And I
think now of this girl as of a damsel of romance, a Sleeping Beauty in
the wood of time, secluded from intrusive elements of fact, and folded
in the love and faith of her own simple worshippers. Among the hollows
of Arcadia, how many rustic shrines in ancient days held saints of
Hellas, apocryphal, perhaps, like this, but hallowed by tradition and
enduring homage![20]

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

FOLIGNO

In the landscape of Raphael's votive picture, known as the Madonna di
Foligno, there is a town with a few towers, placed upon a broad plain
at the edge of some blue hills. Allowing for that license as to details
which imaginative masters permitted themselves in matters of
subordinate importance, Raphael's sketch is still true to Foligno. The
place has not materially changed since the beginning of the sixteenth
century. Indeed, relatively to the state of Italy at large, it is still
the same as in the days of ancient Rome. Foligno forms a station of
commanding interest between Rome and the Adriatic upon the great
Flaminian Way. At Foligno the passes of the Apennines debouch into the
Umbrian plain, which slopes gradually toward the valley of the Tiber,
and from it the valley of the Nera is reached by an 38easy ascent
beneath the walls of Spoleto. An army advancing from the north by the
Metaurus and the Furlo Pass must find itself at Foligno; and the level
champaign round the city is well adapted to the maintenance and
exercises of a garrison. In the days of the Republic and the Empire,
the value of this position was well understood; but Foligno's
importance, as the key to the Flaminian Way, was eclipsed by two
flourishing cities in its immediate vicinity, Hispellum and Mevania,
the modern Spello and Bevagna. We might hazard a conjecture that the
Lombards, when they ruled the Duchy of Spoleto, following their usual
policy of opposing new military centres to the ancient Roman municipia,
encouraged Fulginium at the expense of her two neighbours. But of this
there is no certainty to build upon. All that can be affirmed with
accuracy is that in the Middle Ages, while Spello and Bevagna declined
into the inferiority of dependent burghs, Foligno grew in power and
became the chief commune of this part of Umbria. It was famous during
the last centuries of struggle between the Italian burghers and their
native despots, for peculiar ferocity in civil strife. Some of the
bloodiest pages in mediæval Italian history are those which relate the
vicissitudes of the Trinci family, the exhaustion of Foligno by
internal discord, and its final submission to the Papal power. Since
railways have been carried from Rome through Narni and Spoleto to
Ancona and Perugia, Foligno has gained considerably in commercial and
military status. It is the point of intersection for three lines; the
Italian government has made it a great cavalry depôt, and there are
signs of reviving traffic in its decayed streets. Whether the presence
of a large garrison has already modified the population, or whether we
may ascribe something to the absence of Roman municipal institutions in
the far past, and to the savagery of the mediæval period, it is
difficult to say. Yet 39the impression left by Foligno upon the mind is
different from that of Assisi, Spello, and Montefalco, which are
distinguished for a certain grace and gentleness in their inhabitants.

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

It is sometimes the traveller's good fortune in some remote place to
meet with an inhabitant who incarnates and interprets for him the
_genius loci_ as he has conceived it. Though 40his own subjectivity
will assuredly play a considerable part in such an encounter,
transferring to his chance acquaintance qualities he may not possess,
and connecting this personality in some purely imaginative manner with
thoughts derived from study, or impressions made by nature; yet the
stranger will henceforth become the meeting-point of many memories, the
central figure in a composition which derives from him its vividness.
Unconsciously and innocently he has lent himself to the creation of a
picture, and round him, as around the hero of a myth, have gathered
thoughts and sentiments of which he had himself no knowledge. On one of
these nights I had been threading the aisles of acacia-trees, now
glaring red, now azure, as the Bengal lights kept changing. My mind
instinctively went back to scenes of treachery and bloodshed in the
olden time, when Gorrado Trinci paraded the mangled remnants of three
hundred of his victims, heaped on mule-back, through Foligno, for a
warning to the citizens. As the procession moved along the ramparts, I
found myself in contest with a young man, who readily fell into
conversation. He was very tall, with enormous breadth of shoulders, and
long sinewy arms, like Michelangelo's favourite models. His head was
small, curled over with crisp black hair. Low forehead, and thick level
eyebrows absolutely meeting over intensely bright fierce eyes. The nose
descending straight from the brows, as in a statue of Hadrian's age.
The mouth full-lipped, petulant, and passionate above a firm round
chin. He was dressed in the shirt, white trousers, and loose white
jacket of a contadino; but he did not move with a peasant's slouch,
rather with the elasticity and alertness of an untamed panther. He told
me that he was just about to join a cavalry regiment; and I could well
imagine, when military dignity was added to that gait, how grandly he
would go. This young man, of whom I heard nothing more after 41our
half-hour's conversation among the crackling fireworks and roaring
cannon, left upon my mind an indescribable impression of
dangerousness—of 'something fierce and terrible, eligible to burst
forth.' Of men like this, then, were formed the Companies of Adventure
who flooded Italy with villany, ambition, and lawlessness in the
fifteenth century. Gattamelata, who began life as a baker's boy at
Narni and ended it with a bronze statue by Donatello on the public
square in Padua, was of this breed. Like this were the Trinci and their
bands of murderers. Like this were the bravi who hunted Lorenzaccio to
death at Venice. Like this was Pietro Paolo Baglioni, whose fault, in
the eyes of Machiavelli, was that he could not succeed in being
'perfettamente tristo.' Beautiful, but inhuman; passionate, but cold;
powerful, but rendered impotent for firm and lofty deeds by immorality
and treason; how many centuries of men like this once wasted Italy and
plunged her into servitude! Yet what material is here, under sterner
discipline, and with a nobler national ideal, for the formation of
heroic armies. Of such stuff, doubtless, were the Roman legionaries.
When will the Italians learn to use these men as Fabius or as Cæsar,
not as the Vitelli and the Trinci used them? In such meditations,
deeply stirred by the meeting of my own reflections with one who seemed
to represent for me in life and blood the spirit of the place which had
provoked them, I said farewell to Cavallucci, and returned to my
bedroom on the city wall. The last rockets had whizzed and the last
cannons had thundered ere I fell asleep.

SPELLO

Spello contains some not inconsiderable antiquities—the remains of a
Roman theatre, a Roman gate with the heads of two men and a woman
leaning over it, and some fragments 42of Roman sculpture scattered
through its buildings. The churches, especially those of S.M. Maggiore
and S. Francesco, are worth a visit for the sake of Pinturicchio.
Nowhere, except in the Piccolomini Library at Siena, can that master's
work in fresco be better studied than here. The satisfaction with which
he executed the wall paintings in S. Maria Maggiore is testified by his
own portrait introduced upon a panel in the decoration of the Virgin's
chamber. The scrupulously rendered details of books, chairs, window
seats, &c., which he here has copied, remind one of Carpaccio's study
of S. Benedict at Venice. It is all sweet, tender, delicate, and
carefully finished; but without depth, not even the depth of Perugino's
feeling. In S. Francesco, Pinturicchio, with the same meticulous
refinement, painted a letter addressed to him by Gentile Baglioni. It
lies on a stool before Madonna and her court of saints. Nicety of
execution, technical mastery of fresco as a medium for Dutch
detail-painting, prettiness of composition, and cheerfulness of
colouring, are noticeable throughout his work here rather than either
thought or sentiment. S. Maria Maggiore can boast a fresco of Madonna
between a young episcopal saint and Catherine of Alexandria from the
hand of Perugino. The rich yellow harmony of its tones, and the
graceful dignity of its emotion, conveyed no less by a certain
Raphaelesque pose and outline than by suavity of facial expression,
enable us to measure the distance between this painter and his
quasi-pupil Pinturicchio.

We did not, however, drive to Spello to inspect either Roman
antiquities or frescoes, but to see an inscription on the city walls
about Orlando. It is a rude Latin elegiac couplet, saying that, 'from
the sign below, men may conjecture the mighty members of Roland, nephew
of Charles; his deeds are written in history.' Three agreeable old
gentlemen of Spello, 43who attended us with much politeness, and were
greatly interested in my researches, pointed out a mark waist-high upon
the wall, where Orlando's knee is reported to have reached. But I could
not learn anything about a phallic monolith, which is said by Guerin or
Panizzi to have been identified with the Roland myth at Spello. Such a
column either never existed here, or had been removed before the memory
of the present generation.

EASTER MORNING AT ASSISI

We are in the lower church of S. Francesco. High mass is being sung,
with orchestra and organ and a choir of many voices. Candles are
lighted on the altar, over-canopied with Giotto's allegories. From the
low southern windows slants the sun, in narrow bands, upon the
many-coloured gloom and embrowned glory of these painted aisles. Women
in bright kerchiefs kneel upon the stones, and shaggy men from the
mountains stand or lean against the wooden benches. There is no moving
from point to point. Where we have taken our station, at the
north-western angle of the transept, there we stay till mass be over.
The whole low-vaulted building glows duskily; the frescoed roof, the
stained windows, the figure-crowded pavements blending their rich but
subdued colours, like hues upon some marvellous moth's wings, or like a
deep-toned rainbow mist discerned in twilight dreams, or like such
tapestry as Eastern queens, in ancient days, wrought for the pavilion
of an empress. Forth from this maze of mingling tints, indefinite in
shade and sunbeams, lean earnest, saintly faces—ineffably pure—adoring,
pitying, pleading; raising their eyes in ecstasy to heaven, or turning
them in ruth toward earth. Men and women of whom the world was not
worthy—at the hands of those old painters they have received 44the
divine grace, the dovelike simplicity, whereof Italians in the
fourteenth century possessed the irrecoverable secret. Each face is a
poem; the counterpart in painting to a chapter from the Fioretti di San
Francesco. Over the whole scene—in the architecture, in the frescoes,
in the coloured windows, in the gloom, on the people, in the incense,
from the chiming bells, through the music—broods one spirit: the spirit
of him who was 'the co-espoused, co-transforate with Christ;' the
ardent, the radiant, the beautiful in soul; the suffering, the strong,
the simple, the victorious over self and sin; the celestial who
trampled upon earth and rose on wings of ecstasy to heaven; the
Christ-inebriated saint of visions supersensual and life beyond the
grave. Far down below the feet of those who worship God through him, S.
Francis sleeps; but his soul, the incorruptible part of him, the
message he gave the world, is in the spaces round us. This is his
temple. He fills it like an unseen god. Not as Phoebus or Athene, from
their marble pedestals; but as an abiding spirit, felt everywhere,
nowhere seized, absorbing in itself all mysteries, all myths, all
burning exaltations, all abasements, all love, self-sacrifice, pain,
yearning, which the thought of Christ, sweeping the centuries, hath
wrought for men. Let, therefore, choir and congregation raise their
voices on the tide of prayers and praises; for this is Easter
morning—Christ is risen! Our sister, Death of the Body, for whom S.
Francis thanked God in his hymn, is reconciled to us this day, and
takes us by the hand, and leads us to the gate whence floods of
heavenly glory issue from the faces of a multitude of saints. Pray, ye
poor people; chant and pray. If all be but a dream, to wake from this
were loss for you indeed!

45

PERUSIA AUGUSTA

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

Sunlight adds more of detail to this scene. To the right of Subasio,
where the passes go from Foligno towards Urbino and Ancona, heavy
masses of thundercloud hang every day; 46but the plain and
hill-buttresses are clear in transparent blueness. First comes Assisi,
with S.M. degli Angeli below; then Spello; then Foligno; then Trevi;
and, far away, Spoleto; with, reared against those misty battlements,
the village height of Montefalco—the 'ringhiera dell' Umbria,' as they
call it in this country. By daylight, the snow on yonder peaks is
clearly visible, where the Monti della Sibilla tower up above the
sources of the Nera and Velino from frigid wastes of Norcia. The lower
ranges seem as though painted, in films of airiest and palest azure,
upon china; and then comes the broad green champaign, flecked with
villages and farms. Just at the basement of Perugia winds Tiber,
through sallows and grey poplar-trees, spanned by ancient arches of red
brick, and guarded here and there by castellated towers. The mills
beneath their dams and weirs are just as Raphael drew them; and the
feeling of air and space reminds one, on each coign of vantage, of some
Umbrian picture. Every hedgerow is hoary with May-bloom and
honeysuckle. The oaks hang out their golden-dusted tassels. Wayside
shrines are decked with laburnum boughs and iris blossoms plucked from
the copse-woods, where spires of purple and pink orchis variegate the
thin, fine grass. The land waves far and wide with young corn, emerald
green beneath the olive-trees, which take upon their under-foliage
tints reflected from this verdure or red tones from the naked earth. A
fine race of _contadini_, with large, heroically graceful forms, and
beautiful dark eyes and noble faces, move about this garden, intent on
ancient, easy tillage of the kind Saturnian soil.

LA MAGIONE

On the road from Perugia to Cortona, the first stage ends at La
Magione, a high hill-village commanding the passage from the Umbrian
champaign to the lake of Thrasymene. 47It has a grim square fortalice
above it, now in ruins, and a stately castle to the south-east, built
about the time of Braccio. Here took place that famous diet of Cesare
Borgia's enemies, when the son of Alexander VI. was threatening Bologna
with his arms, and bidding fair to make himself supreme tyrant of Italy
in 1502. It was the policy of Cesare to fortify himself by reducing the
fiefs of the Church to submission, and by rooting out the dynasties
which had acquired a sort of tyranny in Papal cities. The Varani of
Camerino and the Manfredi of Faenza had been already extirpated. There
was only too good reason to believe that the turn of the Vitelli at
Città di Castello, of the Baglioni at Perugia, and of the Bentivogli at
Bologna would come next. Pandolfo Petrucci at Siena, surrounded on all
sides by Cesare's conquests, and specially menaced by the fortification
of Piombino, felt himself in danger. The great house of the Orsini, who
swayed a large part of the Patrimony of S. Peter's, and were closely
allied to the Vitelli, had even graver cause for anxiety. But such was
the system of Italian warfare, that nearly all these noble families
lived by the profession of arms, and most of them were in the pay of
Cesare. When, therefore, the conspirators met at La Magione, they were
plotting against a man whose money they had taken, and whom they had
hitherto aided in his career of fraud and spoliation.

The diet consisted of the Cardinal Orsini, an avowed antagonist of
Alexander VI.; his brother Paolo, the chieftain of the clan; Vitellozzo
Vitelli, lord of Città di Castello; Gian-Paolo Baglioni, made
undisputed master of Perugia by the recent failure of his cousin
Grifonetto's treason; Oliverotto, who had just acquired the March of
Fermo by the murder of his uncle Giovanni da Fogliani; Ermes
Bentivoglio, the heir of Bologna; and Antonio da Venafro, the secretary
of Pandolfo Petrueci. These men vowed hostility on the basis of
48common injuries and common fear against the Borgia. But they were for
the most part stained themselves with crime, and dared not trust each
other, and could not gain the confidence of any respectable power in
Italy except the exiled Duke of Urbino. Procrastination was the first
weapon used by the wily Cesare, who trusted that time would sow among
his rebel captains suspicion and dissension. He next made overtures to
the leaders separately, and so far succeeded in his perfidious policy
as to draw Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da Fermo, Paolo Orsini, and
Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, into his nets at Sinigaglia. Under
pretext of fair conference and equitable settlement of disputed claims,
he possessed himself of their persons, and had them strangled—two upon
December 31, and two upon January 18, 1503. Of all Cesare's actions,
this was the most splendid for its successful combination of sagacity
and policy in the hour of peril, of persuasive diplomacy, and of
ruthless decision when the time to strike his blow arrived.

CORTONA

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

Climbing the hill of Cortona seemed a quite interminable 49business. It
poured a deluge. Our horses were tired, and one lean donkey, who, after
much trouble, was produced from a farmhouse and yoked in front of them,
rendered but little assistance.

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

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

The Palace of the Commune at Cortona is interesting because of the
shields of Florentine governors, sculptured on blocks of grey stone,
and inserted in its outer walls—Peruzzi, 50Albizzi, Strozzi, Salviati,
among the more ancient—de' Medici at a later epoch. The revolutions in
the Republic of Florence may be read by a herald from these
coats-of-arms and the dates beneath them.

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

Cortona seems desperately poor, and the beggars are intolerable. One
little blind boy, led by his brother, both frightfully ugly and ragged
urchins, pursued us all over the city, incessantly whining 'Signore
Padrone!' It was only on the threshold of the inn that I ventured to
give them a few coppers, for I knew well that any public beneficence
would raise the whole swarm of the begging population round us. Sitting
later in the day upon the piazza of S. Domenico, I saw the same blind
boy taken by his brother to play. The game consists, in the little
creature throwing his arms about the trunk of a big tree, and running
round and round it, clasping it. This seemed to make him quite
inexpressibly happy. His face lit up and beamed with that inner
beatitude blind people show—a kind of rapture shining over it, as
though nothing could be more altogether delightful. This little boy had
the smallpox at eight months, and has never been able to see since. He
looks sturdy, and may 51live to be of any age—doomed always, is that
possible, to beg?

CHIUSI

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

At Chiusi we visited several Etruscan tombs, and saw their red and
black scrawled pictures. One of the sepulchres was a well-jointed vault
of stone with no wall-paintings. The rest had been scooped out of the
living tufa. This was the excuse for some pleasant hours spent in
walking and driving through the country. Chiusi means for me the
mingling of grey olives and green oaks in limpid sunlight; deep leafy
lanes; warm sandstone banks; copses with nightingales and cyclamens and
cuckoos; glimpses of a silvery lake; blue shadowy distances; the
bristling ridge of Monte Cetona; the conical towers, Becca di Questo
and Becca di Quello, over against each other on the borders; ways
winding among 52hedgerows like some bit of England in June, but not so
full of flowers. It means all this, I fear, for me far more than
theories about Lars Porsenna and Etruscan ethnology.

GUBBIO

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

Gubbio has not greatly altered since the middle ages. But poor people
are now living in the palaces of noblemen and merchants. These new
inhabitants have walled up the fair 53arched windows and slender
portals of the ancient dwellers, spoiling the beauty of the streets
without materially changing the architectural masses. In that witching
hour when the Italian sunset has faded, and a solemn grey replaces the
glowing tones of daffodil and rose, it is not difficult, here dreaming
by oneself alone, to picture the old noble life—the ladies moving along
those open loggias, the young men in plumed caps and curling hair with
one foot on those doorsteps, the knights in armour and the sumpter
mules and red-robed Cardinals defiling through those gates into the
courts within. The modern bricks and mortar with which that picturesque
scene has been overlaid, the ugly oblong windows and bright green
shutters which now interrupt the flowing lines of arch and gallery;
these disappear beneath the fine remembered touch of a sonnet sung by
Folgore, when still the Parties had their day, and this deserted city
was the centre of great aims and throbbing aspirations.

The names of the chief buildings in Gubbio are strongly suggestive of
the middle ages. They abut upon a Piazza de' Signori. One of them, the
Palazzo del Municipio, is a shapeless unfinished block of masonry. It
is here that the Eugubine tables, plates of brass with Umbrian and
Roman incised characters, are shown. The Palazzo de' Consoli has higher
architectural qualities, and is indeed unique among Italian palaces for
the combination of massiveness with lightness in a situation of
unprecedented boldness. Rising from enormous substructures mortised
into the solid hillside, it rears its vast rectangular bulk to a giddy
height above the town; airy loggias imposed on great forbidding masses
of brown stone, shooting aloft into a light aë;rial tower. The empty
halls inside are of fair proportions and a noble size, and the views
from the open colonnades in all directions fascinate. But the final
impression made by the building is one of square, 54tranquil, massive
strength—perpetuity embodied in masonry—force suggesting facility by
daring and successful addition of elegance to hugeness. Vast as it is,
this pile is not forbidding, as a similarly weighty structure in the
North would be. The fine quality of the stone and the delicate though
simple mouldings of the windows give it an Italian grace.

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

At the end of a day in Gubbio, it is pleasant to take our ease in the
primitive hostelry, at the back of which foams a mountain-torrent,
rushing downward from the Apennines. The Gubbio wine is very fragrant,
and of a rich ruby colour. Those to whom the tints of wine and jewels
give a pleasure not entirely childish, will take delight in its
specific blending 55of tawny hues with rose. They serve the table
still, at Gubbio, after the antique Italian fashion, covering it with a
cream-coloured linen cloth bordered with coarse lace—the creases of the
press, the scent of old herbs from the wardrobe, are still upon it—and
the board is set with shallow dishes of warm, white earthenware,
basket-worked in open lattice at the edge, which contain little
separate messes of meat, vegetables, cheese, and comfits. The wine
stands in strange, slender phials of smooth glass, with stoppers; and
the amber-coloured bread lies in fair round loaves upon the cloth.
Dining thus is like sitting down to the supper at Emmaus, in some
picture of Gian Bellini or of Masolino. The very bareness of the
room—its open rafters, plastered walls, primitive settees, and
red-brick floor, on which a dog sits waiting for a bone—enhances the
impression of artistic delicacy in the table.

FROM GUBBIO TO FANO

The road from Gubbio, immediately after leaving the city, enters a
narrow Alpine ravine, where a thin stream dashes over dark, red rocks,
and pendent saxifrages wave to the winds. The carriage in which we
travelled at the end of May, one morning, had two horses, which our
driver soon supplemented with a couple of white oxen. Slowly and
toilsomely we ascended between the flanks of barren hills—gaunt masses
of crimson and grey crag, clothed at their summits with short turf and
scanty pasture. The pass leads first to the little town of Scheggia,
and is called the Monte Calvo, or bald mountain. At Scheggia, it joins
the great Flaminian Way, or North road of the Roman armies. At the top
there is a fine view over the conical hills that dominate Gubbio, and,
far away, to noble mountains above the Furlo and the Foligno line of
railway to Ancona. Range rises over range, crossing 56at unexpected
angles, breaking into sudden precipices, and stretching out long,
exquisitely modelled outlines, as only Apennines can do, in silvery
sobriety of colours toned by clearest air. Every square piece of this
austere, wild landscape forms a varied picture, whereof the composition
is due to subtle arrangements of lines always delicate; and these lines
seem somehow to have been determined in their beauty by the vast
antiquity of the mountain system, as though they all had taken time to
choose their place and wear down into harmony. The effect of tempered
sadness was heightened for us by stormy lights and dun clouds, high in
air, rolling vapours and flying shadows, over all the prospect, tinted
in ethereal grisaille.

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

    Delubra Jovis saxoque minantes
Apenninigenis cultae pastoribus arae


—once rose behind us on the bald Iguvian summits. A second little pass
leads from this region to the Adriatic side of the Italian watershed,
and the road now follows the Barano downward toward the sea. The valley
is fairly green with woods, where mistletoe may here and there be seen
on boughs of oak, and rich with cornfields. Cagli is the chief town of
the district, and here they show one of the best pictures left to us by
Raphael's father, Giovanni Santi. It is a Madonna, attended by S.
Peter, S. Francis, S. Dominic, S. John, and two angels. One of the
angels is traditionally supposed to have been painted from the boy
Raphael, and the face has something which reminds us of his portraits.
The whole composition, excellent in modelling, harmonious in grouping,
soberly but strongly coloured, with a peculiar blending of dignity and
sweetness, grace and vigour, makes one wonder 57why Santi thought it
necessary to send his son from his own workshop to study under
Perugino. He was himself a master of his art, and this, perhaps the
most agreeable of his paintings, has a masculine sincerity which is
absent from at least the later works of Perugino.

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

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

The Forulus itself may now be matched, on any Alpine pass, by several
tunnels of far mightier dimensions; for it is narrow, and does not
extend more than 126 feet in length. But it occupies a fine position at
the end of a really imposing ravine. The whole Furlo Pass might,
without too much exaggeration, be described as a kind of Cheddar on the
scale of the Via Mala. The limestone rocks, which rise on either hand
above the gorge to an enormous height, are noble in form and solemn,
like a succession of gigantic portals, with stupendous flanking
obelisks and pyramids. Some of these 58crag-masses rival the fantastic
cliffs of Capri, and all consist of that southern mountain limestone
which changes from pale yellow to blue grey and dusky orange. A river
roars precipitately through the pass, and the roadsides wave with many
sorts of campanulas—a profusion of azure and purple bells upon the hard
white stone. Of Roman remains there is still enough (in the way of
Roman bridges and bits of broken masonry) to please an antiquary's eye.
But the lover of nature will dwell chiefly on the picturesque qualities
of this historic gorge, so alien to the general character of Italian
scenery, and yet so remote from anything to which Swiss travelling
accustoms one.

The Furlo breaks out into a richer land of mighty oaks and waving
cornfields, a fat pastoral country, not unlike Devonshire in detail,
with green uplands, and wild-rose tangled hedgerows, and much running
water, and abundance of summer flowers. At a point above Fossombrone,
the Barano joins the Metauro, and here one has a glimpse of far-away
Urbino, high upon its mountain eyrie. It is so rare, in spite of
immemorial belief, to find in Italy a wilderness of wild flowers, that
I feel inclined to make a list of those I saw from our carriage windows
as we rolled down lazily along the road to Fossombrone. Broom, and
cytisus, and hawthorn mingled with roses, gladiolus, and sainfoin.
There were orchises, and clematis, and privet, and wild-vine, vetches
of all hues, red poppies, sky-blue cornflowers, and lilac pimpernel. In
the rougher hedges, dogwood, honeysuckle, pyracanth, and acacia made a
network of white bloom and blushes. Milk-worts of all bright and tender
tints combined with borage, iris, hawkweeds, harebells, crimson clover,
thyme, red snap-dragon, golden asters, and dreamy love-in-a-mist, to
weave a marvellous carpet such as the looms of Shiraz or of Cashmere
never spread. Rarely have I gazed on Flora in such riot, 59such
luxuriance, such self-abandonment to joy. The air was filled with
fragrances. Songs of cuckoos and nightingales echoed from the copses on
the hillsides. The sun was out, and dancing over all the landscape.

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

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

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

60



THE PALACE OF URBINO


I

At Rimini, one spring, the impulse came upon my wife and me to make our
way across San Marino to Urbino. In the Piazza, called apocryphally
after Julius Cæsar, I found a proper _vetturino_, with a good carriage
and two indefatigable horses. He was a splendid fellow, and bore a
great historic name, as I discovered when our bargain was completed.
'What are you called?' I asked him. '_Filippo Visconti, per servirla!_'
was the prompt reply. Brimming over with the darkest memories of the
Italian Renaissance, I hesitated when I heard this answer. The
associations seemed too ominous. And yet the man himself was so
attractive—tall, stalwart, and well looking—no feature of his face or
limb of his athletic form recalling the gross tyrant who concealed
worse than Caligula's ugliness from sight in secret chambers—that I
shook this preconception from my mind. As it turned out, Filippo
Visconti had nothing in common with his infamous namesake but the name.
On a long and trying journey, he showed neither sullen nor yet
ferocious tempers; nor, at the end of it, did he attempt by any
master-stroke of craft to wheedle from me more than his fair pay; but
took the meerschaum pipe I gave him for a keepsake, with the frank
goodwill of an accomplished gentleman. The only exhibition of his hot
Italian blood which I remember did his humanity credit. 61While we were
ascending a steep hillside, he jumped from his box to thrash a ruffian
by the roadside for brutal treatment to a little boy. He broke his
whip, it is true, in this encounter; risked a dangerous quarrel; and
left his carriage, with myself and wife inside it, to the mercy of his
horses in a somewhat perilous position. But when he came back, hot and
glowing, from this deed of justice, I could only applaud his zeal.

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

For the first stage of the journey out of Rimini, Filippo's two horses
sufficed. The road led almost straight across the level between
quickset hedges in white bloom. But when we reached the long steep hill
which ascends to San Marino, the inevitable oxen were called out, and
we toiled upwards leisurely through cornfields bright with red anemones
and sweet narcissus. At this point pomegranate hedges replaced 62the
May-thorns of the plain. In course of time our _bovi_ brought us to the
Borgo, or lower town, whence there is a further ascent of seven hundred
feet to the topmost hawk's-nest or acropolis of the republic. These we
climbed on foot, watching the view expand around us and beneath. Crags
of limestone here break down abruptly to the rolling hills, which go to
lose themselves in field and shore. Misty reaches of the Adriatic close
the world to eastward. Cesena, Rimini, Verucchio, and countless
hill-set villages, each isolated on its tract of verdure conquered from
the stern grey soil, define the points where Montefeltri wrestled with
Malatestas in long bygone years. Around are marly mountain-flanks in
wrinkles and gnarled convolutions like some giant's brain, furrowed by
rivers crawling through dry wasteful beds of shingle. Interminable
ranges of gaunt Apennines stretch, tier by tier, beyond; and over all
this landscape, a grey-green mist of rising crops and new-fledged
oak-trees lies like a veil upon the nakedness of Nature's ruins.

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

63

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


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

The town of San Marino is grey, narrow-streeted, simple; with a great,
new, decent, Greek-porticoed cathedral, dedicated to the eponymous
saint. A certain austerity defines it from more picturesque hill-cities
with a less uniform history. There is a marble statue of S. Marino in
the choir of his church; and in his cell is shown the stone bed and
pillow on which he took austere repose. One narrow window near the
saint's abode commands a proud but melancholy landscape of distant
hills and seaboard. To this, the great absorbing charm of San Marino,
our eyes instinctively, recurrently, take flight. It is a landscape
which by variety and beauty thralls attention, but which by its
interminable sameness might grow almost overpowering. There is no
relief. The gladness shed upon far humbler Northern lands in May is
ever absent here. The German word _Gemüthlichkeit_, the English phrase
'a home of ancient peace,' are here alike by art and nature
untranslated into visibilities. And yet (as we who gaze upon it thus
are fain to think) if peradventure the intolerable _ennui_ of this
panorama should drive a citizen of San Marino into out-lands, the same
view would haunt him whithersoever he went—the swallows of his native
eyrie would shrill through his sleep—he would yearn to breathe its fine
keen air in winter, and to watch its iris-hedges deck themselves with
blue in spring;—like Virgil's hero, dying, he would think of San
Marino: _Aspicit, et dulces moriens reminiscitur Argos_. Even 64a
passing stranger may feel the mingled fascination and oppression of
this prospect—the monotony which maddens, the charm which at a distance
grows upon the mind, environing it with memories.

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

From San Marino the road plunges at a break-neck pace. We are now in
the true Feltrian highlands, whence the Counts of Montefeltro issued in
the twelfth century. Yonder eyrie is San Leo, which formed the key of
entrance to the duchy of Urbino in campaigns fought many hundred years
ago. Perched on the crest of a precipitous rock, this fortress looks as
though it might defy all enemies but famine. And yet San Leo was taken
and re-taken by strategy and fraud, when Montefeltro, Borgia,
Malatesta, Rovere, contended for dominion in these valleys. Yonder is
Sta. Agata, the village to which Guidobaldo fled by night when
Valentino drove him from his dukedom. A little farther towers Carpegna,
where one branch of the Montefeltro house maintained a countship
through seven centuries, and only sold their fief to Rome in 1815.
Monte Coppiolo lies behind, Pietra Rubia in front: two other eagles'
nests of the same brood. What a road it is! 65It beats the tracks on
Exmoor. The uphill and downhill of Devonshire scorns compromise or
mitigation by _détour_ and zigzag. But here geography is on a scale so
far more vast, and the roadway is so far worse metalled than with us in
England—knotty masses of talc and nodes of sandstone cropping up at
dangerous turnings—that only Dante's words describe the journey:—

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


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

We were soon upon a cornice-road between the mountains and the
Adriatic: following the curves of gulch and cleft ravine; winding round
ruined castles set on points of vantage; the sea-line high above their
grass-grown battlements, the shadow-dappled champaign girdling their
bastions mortised on the naked rock. Except for the blue lights across
the distance, and the ever-present sea, these earthy Apennines would be
too grim. Infinite air and this spare veil of spring-tide greenery on
field and forest soothe their sternness. Two rivers, swollen by late
rains, had to be forded. Through one of these, the Foglia, bare-legged
peasants led the way. The horses waded to their bellies in the tawny
water. Then more hills and vales; green nooks with rippling corn-crops;
secular oaks attired in golden leafage. The clear afternoon air rang
with the voices of a thousand larks overhead. The whole world seemed
quivering with light and delicate ethereal sound. And yet my mind
turned irresistibly to thoughts of war, violence, and pillage. How
often has this intermediate 66land been fought over by Montefeltro and
Brancaleoni, by Borgia and Malatesta, by Medici and Della Rovere! Its
_contadini_ are robust men, almost statuesque in build, and beautiful
of feature. No wonder that the Princes of Urbino, with such materials
to draw from, sold their service and their troops to Florence, Rome, S.
Mark, and Milan. The bearing of these peasants is still soldierly and
proud. Yet they are not sullen or forbidding like the Sicilians, whose
habits of life, for the rest, much resemble theirs. The villages, there
as here, are few and far between, perched high on rocks, from which the
folk descend to till the ground and reap the harvest. But the southern
_brusquerie_ and brutality are absent from this district. The men have
something of the dignity and slow-eyed mildness of their own huge oxen.
As evening fell, more solemn Apennines upreared themselves to
southward. The Monte d'Asdrubale, Monte Nerone, and Monte Catria hove
into sight. At last, when light was dim, a tower rose above the
neighbouring ridge, a broken outline of some city barred the sky-line.
Urbino stood before us. Our long day's march was at an end.

The sunset was almost spent, and a four days' moon hung above the
western Apennines, when we took our first view of the palace. It is a
fancy-thralling work of wonder seen in that dim twilight; like some
castle reared by Atlante's magic for imprisonment of Ruggiero, or
palace sought in fairyland by Astolf winding his enchanted horn. Where
shall we find its like, combining, as it does, the buttressed
battlemented bulk of mediæval strongholds with the airy balconies,
suspended gardens, and fantastic turrets of Italian pleasure-houses?
This unique blending of the feudal past with the Renaissance spirit of
the time when it was built, connects it with the art of Ariosto—or more
exactly with Boiardo's epic. Duke Federigo planned his palace at Urbino
just at the 67moment when the Count of Scandiano had began to chaunt
his lays of Roland in the Castle of Ferrara. Chivalry, transmuted by
the Italian genius into something fanciful and quaint, survived as a
frail work of art. The men-at-arms of the Condottieri still glittered
in gilded hauberks. Their helmets waved with plumes and bizarre crests.
Their surcoats blazed with heraldries; their velvet caps with medals
bearing legendary emblems. The pomp and circumstance of feudal war had
not yet yielded to the cannon of the Gascon or the Switzer's pike. The
fatal age of foreign invasions had not begun for Italy. Within a few
years Charles VIII.'s holiday excursion would reveal the internal
rottenness and weakness of her rival states, and the peninsula for half
a century to come would be drenched in the blood of Frenchmen, Germans,
Spaniards, fighting for her cities as their prey. But now Lorenzo de'
Medici was still alive. The famous policy which bears his name held
Italy suspended for a golden time in false tranquillity and
independence. The princes who shared his culture and his love of art
were gradually passing into modern noblemen, abandoning the savage
feuds and passions of more virile centuries, yielding to luxury and
scholarly enjoyments. The castles were becoming courts, and despotisms
won by force were settling into dynasties.

It was just at this epoch that Duke Federigo built his castle at
Urbino. One of the ablest and wealthiest Condottieri of his time, one
of the best instructed and humanest of Italian princes, he combined in
himself the qualities which mark that period of transition. And these
he impressed upon his dwelling-house, which looks backward to the
mediæval fortalice and forward to the modern palace. This makes it the
just embodiment in architecture of Italian romance, the perfect
analogue of the 'Orlando Innamorato.' By comparing 68it with the castle
of the Estes at Ferrara and the Palazzo del Te of the Gonzagas at
Mantua, we place it in its right position between mediæval and
Renaissance Italy, between the age when principalities arose upon the
ruins of commercial independence and the age when they became dynastic
under Spain.

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

A nobler scene is nowhere swept from palace windows than this, which
Castiglione touched in a memorable passage at the end of his
'Cortegiano.' To one who in our day visits Urbino, it is singular how
the slight indications of this sketch, as in some silhouette, bring
back the antique life, and link the present with the past—a hint,
perhaps, for reticence in our descriptions. The gentlemen and ladies of
the court had spent a summer night in long debate on love, rising to
the height of mystical Platonic rapture on the lips of Bembo, when one
of them exclaimed, 'The day has broken!' 'He 69pointed to the light
which was beginning to enter by the fissures of the windows. Whereupon
we flung the casements wide upon that side of the palace which looks
toward the high peak of Monte Catria, and saw that a fair dawn of rosy
hue was born already in the eastern skies, and all the stars had
vanished except the sweet regent of the heaven of Venus, who holds the
borderlands of day and night; and from her sphere it seemed as though a
gentle wind were breathing, filling the air with eager freshness, and
waking among the numerous woods upon the neighbouring hills the
sweet-toned symphonies of joyous birds.'

II

The House of Montefeltro rose into importance early in the twelfth
century. Frederick Barbarossa erected their fief into a county in 1160.
Supported by imperial favour, they began to exercise an undefined
authority over the district, which they afterwards converted into a
duchy. But, though Ghibelline for several generations, the Montefeltri
were too near neighbours of the Papal power to free themselves from
ecclesiastical vassalage. Therefore in 1216 they sought and obtained
the title of Vicars of the Church. Urbino acknowledged them as
semi-despots in their double capacity of Imperial and Papal deputies.
Cagli and Gubbio followed in the fourteenth century. In the fifteenth,
Castel Durante was acquired from the Brancaleoni by warfare, and
Fossombrone from the Malatestas by purchase. Numerous fiefs and
villages fell into their hands upon the borders of Rimini in the course
of a continued struggle with the House of Malatesta: and when Fano and
Pesaro were added at the opening of the sixteenth century, the domain
over which they ruled was a compact territory, some forty miles square,
between the 70Adriatic and the Apennines. From the close of the
thirteenth century they bore the title of Counts of Urbino. The famous
Conte Guido, whom Dante placed among the fraudulent in hell, supported
the honours of the house and increased its power by his political
action, at this epoch. But it was not until the year 1443 that the
Montefeltri acquired their ducal title. This was conferred by Eugenius
IV. upon Oddantonio, over whose alleged crimes and indubitable
assassination a veil of mystery still hangs. He was the son of Count
Guidantonio, and at his death the Montefeltri of Urbino were extinct in
the legitimate line. A natural son of Guidantonio had been, however,
recognised in his father's lifetime, and married to Gentile, heiress of
Mercatello. This was Federigo, a youth of great promise, who succeeded
his half-brother in 1444 as Count of Urbino. It was not until 1474 that
the ducal title was revived for him.

Duke Frederick was a prince remarkable among Italian despots for
private virtues and sober use of his hereditary power. He spent his
youth at Mantua, in that famous school of Vittorino da Feltre, where
the sons and daughters of the first Italian nobility received a model
education in humanities, good manners, and gentle physical
accomplishments. More than any of his fellow-students Frederick
profited by this rare scholar's discipline. On leaving school he
adopted the profession of arms, as it was then practised, and joined
the troop of the Condottiere Niccolò Piccinino. Young men of his own
rank, especially the younger sons and bastards of ruling families,
sought military service under captains of adventure. If they succeeded
they were sure to make money. The coffers of the Church and the
republics lay open to their not too scrupulous hands; the wealth of
Milan and Naples was squandered on them in retaining-fees and salaries
for active service. There was always the further possibility of
71placing a coronet upon their brows before they died, if haply they
should wrest a town from their employers, or obtain the cession of a
province from a needy Pope. The neighbours of the Montefeltri in
Umbria, Romagna, and the Marches of Ancona were all of them
Condottieri. Malatestas of Rimini and Pesaro, Vitelli of Città di
Castello, Varani of Camerino, Baglioni of Perugia, to mention only a
few of the most eminent nobles, enrolled themselves under the banners
of plebeian adventurers like Piccinino and Sforza Attendolo. Though
their family connections gave them a certain advantage, the system was
essentially democratic. Gattamelata and Carmagnola sprang from
obscurity by personal address and courage to the command of armies.
Colleoni fought his way up from the grooms to princely station and the
_bâton_ of S. Mark. Francesco Sforza, whose father had begun life as a
tiller of the soil, seized the ducal crown of Milan, and founded a
house which ranked among the first in Europe.

It is not needful to follow Duke Frederick in his military career. We
may briefly remark that when he succeeded to Urbino by his brother's
death in 1444, he undertook generalship on a grand scale. His own
dominions supplied him with some of the best troops in Italy. He was
careful to secure the goodwill of his subjects by attending personally
to their interests, relieving them of imposts, and executing equal
justice. He gained the then unique reputation of an honest prince,
paternally disposed toward his dependents. Men flocked to his standards
willingly, and he was able to bring an important contingent into any
army. These advantages secured for him alliances with Francesco Sforza,
and brought him successively into connection with Milan, Venice,
Florence, the Church of Naples. As a tactician in the field he held
high rank among the generals of the age, and so considerable were his
engagements that he acquired great 72wealth in the exercise of his
profession. We find him at one time receiving 8000 ducats a month as
war-pay from Naples, with a peace pension of 6000. While
Captain-General of the League, he drew for his own use in war 45,000
ducats of annual pay. Retaining-fees and pensions in the name of past
services swelled his income, the exact extent of which has not, so far
as I am aware, been estimated, but which must have made him one of the
richest of Italian princes. All this wealth he spent upon his duchy,
fortifying and beautifying its cities, drawing youths of promise to his
court, maintaining a great train of life, and keeping his vassals in
good-humour by the lightness of a rule which contrasted favourably with
the exactions of needier despots.

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

In 1459 Duke Frederick married his second wife, Battista, daughter of
Alessandro Sforza, Lord of Pesaro. Their portraits, painted by Piero
della Francesca, are to be seen in the Uffizzi at Florence. Some years
earlier, Frederick lost his right eye and had the bridge of his nose
broken in a jousting match outside the town-gate of Urbino. After this
accident, he preferred to be represented in profile—the profile so well
known to students of Italian art on medals and basreliefs. It 73was not
without medical aid and vows fulfilled by a mother's self-sacrifice to
death, if we may trust the diarists of Urbino, that the ducal couple
got an heir. In 1472, however, a son was born to them, whom they
christened Guido Paolo Ubaldo. He proved a youth of excellent parts and
noble nature—apt at study, perfect in all chivalrous accomplishments.
But he inherited some fatal physical debility, and his life was marred
with a constitutional disease, which then received the name of gout,
and which deprived him of the free use of his limbs. After his father's
death in 1482, Naples, Florence, and Milan continued Frederick's war
engagements to Guidobaldo. The prince was but a boy of ten. Therefore
these important _condotte_ must be regarded as compliments and pledges
for the future. They prove to what a pitch Duke Frederick had raised
the credit of his state and war establishment. Seven years later,
Guidobaldo married Elisabetta, daughter of Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis
of Mantua. This union, though a happy one, was never blessed with
children; and in the certainty of barrenness, the young Duke thought it
prudent to adopt a nephew as heir to his dominions. He had several
sisters, one of whom, Giovanna, had been married to a nephew of Sixtus
IV., Giovanni della Rovere, Lord of Sinigaglia and Prefect of Rome.
They had a son, Francesco Maria, who, after his adoption by Guidobaldo,
spent his boyhood at Urbino.

The last years of the fifteenth century were marked by the sudden rise
of Cesare Borgia to a power which threatened the liberties of Italy.
Acting as General for the Church, he carried his arms against the petty
tyrants of Romagna, whom he dispossessed and extirpated. His next move
was upon Camerino and Urbino. He first acquired Camerino, having lulled
Guidobaldo into false security by treacherous professions of goodwill.
Suddenly the Duke received intelligence that 74the Borgia was marching
on him over Cagli. This was in the middle of June 1502. It is difficult
to comprehend the state of weakness in which Guidobaldo was surprised,
or the panic which then seized him. He made no efforts to rouse his
subjects to resistance, but fled by night with his nephew through rough
mountain roads, leaving his capital and palace to the marauder. Cesare
Borgia took possession without striking a blow, and removed the
treasures of Urbino to the Vatican. His occupation of the duchy was not
undisturbed, however; for the people rose in several places against
him, proving that Guidobaldo had yielded too hastily to alarm. By this
time the fugitive was safe in Mantua, whence he returned, and for a
short time succeeded in establishing himself again at Urbino. But he
could not hold his own against the Borgias, and in December, by a
treaty, he resigned his claims and retired to Venice, where he lived
upon the bounty of S. Mark. It must be said, in justice to the Duke,
that his constitutional debility rendered him unfit for active
operations in the field. Perhaps he could not have done better than
thus to bend beneath the storm.

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

When he died, in 1508, his nephew, Francesco Maria della 75Rovere,
succeeded to the duchy, and once more made the palace of Urbino the
resort of men-at-arms and captains. He was a prince of very violent
temper: of its extravagance history has recorded three remarkable
examples. He murdered the Cardinal of Pavia with his own hand in the
streets of Ravenna; stabbed a lover of his sister to death at Urbino;
and in a council of war knocked Francesco Guicciardini down with a blow
of his fist. When the history of Italy came to be written, Guicciardini
was probably mindful of that insult, for he painted Francesco Maria's
character and conduct in dark colours. At the same time this Duke of
Urbino passed for one of the first generals of the age. The greatest
stain upon his memory is his behaviour in the year 1527, when, by
dilatory conduct of the campaign in Lombardy, he suffered the passage
of Frundsberg's army unopposed, and afterwards hesitated to relieve
Rome from the horrors of the sack. He was the last Italian Condottiere
of the antique type; and the vices which Machiavelli exposed in that
bad system of mercenary warfare were illustrated on these occasions.
During his lifetime, the conditions of Italy were so changed by Charles
V.'s imperial settlement in 1530, that the occupation of Condottiere
ceased to have any meaning. Strozzi and Farnesi, who afterwards
followed this profession, enlisted in the ranks of France or Spain, and
won their laurels in Northern Europe.

While Leo X. held the Papal chair, the duchy of Urbino was for a while
wrested from the house of Della Rovere, and conferred upon Lorenzo de'
Medici. Francesco Maria made a better fight for his heritage than
Guidobaldo had done. Yet he could not successfully resist the power of
Rome. The Pope was ready to spend enormous sums of money on this petty
war; the Duke's purse was shorter, and the mercenary troops he was
obliged to use, proved worthless in the field. Spaniards, for the most
part, pitted against Spaniards, they 76suffered the campaigns to
degenerate into a guerilla warfare of pillage and reprisals. In 1517
the duchy was formally ceded to Lorenzo. But this Medici did not live
long to enjoy it, and his only child Catherine, the future Queen of
France, never exercised the rights which had devolved upon her by
inheritance. The shifting scene of Italy beheld Francesco Maria
reinstated in Urbino after Leo's death in 1522.

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

Guidobaldaccio, as he was called, died in 1574, leaving an only son,
Francesco Maria II., whose life and character illustrate the new age
which had begun for Italy. He was educated in Spain at the court of
Philip II., where he spent more than two years. When he returned, his
Spanish haughtiness, punctilious attention to etiquette, and
superstitious piety attracted observation. The violent temper of the
Della Roveres, 77which Francesco Maria I. displayed in acts of
homicide, and which had helped to win his bad name for Guidobaldaccio,
took the form of sullenness in the last Duke. The finest episode in his
life was the part he played in the battle of Lepanto, under his old
comrade, Don John of Austria. His father forced him to an uncongenial
marriage with Lucrezia d'Este, Princess of Ferrara. She left him, and
took refuge in her native city, then honoured by the presence of Tasso
and Guarini. He bore her departure with philosophical composure,
recording the event in his diary as something to be dryly grateful for.
Left alone, the Duke abandoned himself to solitude, religious
exercises, hunting, and the economy of his impoverished dominions. He
became that curious creature, a man of narrow nature and mediocre
capacity, who, dedicated to the cult of self, is fain to pass for saint
and sage in easy circumstances. He married, for the second time, a
lady, Livia della Rovere, who belonged to his own family, but had been
born in private station. She brought him one son, the Prince
Federigo-Ubaldo. This youth might have sustained the ducal honours of
Urbino, but for his sage-saint father's want of wisdom. The boy was a
spoiled child in infancy. Inflated with Spanish vanity from the cradle,
taught to regard his subjects as dependents on a despot's will,
abandoned to the caprices of his own ungovernable temper, without
substantial aid from the paternal piety or stoicism, he rapidly became
a most intolerable princeling. His father married him, while yet a boy,
to Claudia de' Medici, and virtually abdicated in his favour. Left to
his own devices, Federigo chose companions from the troupes of players
whom he drew from Venice. He filled his palaces with harlots, and
degraded himself upon the stage in parts of mean buffoonery. The
resources of the duchy were racked to support these parasites. Spanish
rules of etiquette and ceremony were outraged by 78their orgies. His
bride brought him one daughter, Vittoria, who afterwards became the
wife of Ferdinand, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Then in the midst of his low
dissipation and offences against ducal dignity, he died of apoplexy at
the early age of eighteen—the victim, in the severe judgment of
history, of his father's selfishness and want of practical ability.

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

III

Duke Frederick began the palace at Urbino in 1454, when he was still
only Count. The architect was Luziano of Lauranna, a Dalmatian; and the
beautiful white limestone, hard as marble, used in the construction,
was brought from the Dalmatian coast. This stone, like the Istrian
stone of Venetian buildings, takes and retains the chisel mark with
wonderful precision. It looks as though, when fresh, it must have had
the pliancy of clay, so delicately are the finest curves in scroll or
foliage scooped from its substance. And yet it preserves each cusp and
angle of the most elaborate pattern with the crispness and the
sharpness of a crystal. 79When wrought by a clever craftsman, its
surface has neither the waxiness of Parian, nor the brittle edge of
Carrara marble; and it resists weather better than marble of the
choicest quality. This may be observed in many monuments of Venice,
where the stone has been long exposed to sea-air. These qualities of
the Dalmatian limestone, no less than its agreeable creamy hue and
smooth dull polish, adapt it to decoration in low relief. The most
attractive details in the palace at Urbino are friezes carved of this
material in choice designs of early Renaissance dignity and grace. One
chimney-piece in the Sala degli Angeli deserves especial comment. A
frieze of dancing Cupids, with gilt hair and wings, their naked bodies
left white on a ground of ultramarine, is supported by broad flat
pilasters. These are engraved with children holding pots of flowers;
roses on one side, carnations on the other. Above the frieze another
pair of angels, one at each end, hold lighted torches; and the
pyramidal cap of the chimney is carved with two more, flying, and
supporting the eagle of the Montefeltri on a raised medallion.
Throughout the palace we notice emblems appropriate to the Houses of
Montefeltro and Della Rovere: their arms, three golden bends upon a
field of azure: the Imperial eagle, granted when Montefeltro was made a
fief of the Empire: the Garter of England, worn by the Dukes Federigo
and Guidobaldo: the ermine of Naples: the _ventosa_, or cupping-glass,
adopted for a private badge by Frederick: the golden oak-tree on an
azure field of Della Rovere: the palm-tree, bent beneath a block of
stone, with its accompanying motto, _Inclinata Resurgam_: the cipher,
FE DX. Profile medallions of Federigo and Guidobaldo, wrought in the
lowest possible relief, adorn the staircases. Round the great courtyard
runs a frieze of military engines and ensigns, trophies, machines, and
implements of war, alluding to Duke Frederick's 80profession of
Condottiere. The doorways are enriched with scrolls of heavy-headed
flowers, acanthus foliage, honeysuckles, ivy-berries, birds and boys
and sphinxes, in all the riot of Renaissance fancy.

This profusion of sculptured _rilievo_ is nearly all that remains to
show how rich the palace was in things of beauty. Castiglione, writing
in the reign of Guidobaldo, says that 'in the opinion of many it is the
fairest to be found in Italy; and the Duke filled it so well with all
things fitting its magnificence, that it seemed less like a palace than
a city. Not only did he collect articles of common use, vessels of
silver, and trappings for chambers of rare cloths of gold and silk, and
suchlike furniture, but he added multitudes of bronze and marble
statues, exquisite pictures, and instruments of music of all sorts.
There was nothing but was of the finest and most excellent quality to
be seen there. Moreover, he gathered together at a vast cost a large
number of the best and rarest books in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, all of
which he adorned with gold and silver, esteeming them the chiefest
treasure of his spacious palace.' When Cesare Borgia entered Urbino as
conqueror in 1502, he is said to have carried off loot to the value of
150,000 ducats, or perhaps about a quarter of a million sterling.
Vespasiano, the Florentine bookseller, has left us a minute account of
the formation of the famous library of manuscripts, which he valued at
considerably over 30,000 ducats. Yet wandering now through these
deserted halls, we seek in vain for furniture or tapestry or works of
art. The books have been removed to Rome. The pictures are gone, no man
knows whither. The plate has long been melted down. The instruments of
music are broken. If frescoes adorned the corridors, they have been
whitewashed; the ladies' chambers have been stripped of their rich
arras. Only here and there we find a raftered ceiling, painted in
fading 81colours, which, taken with the stonework of the chimney, and
some fragments of inlaid panel-work on door or window, enables us to
reconstruct the former richness of these princely rooms.

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

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

On the floor above, corresponding in position to this apartment, is a
second, of even greater interest, since it was arranged by the Duke
Frederick for his own retreat. The study is panelled in tarsia of
beautiful design and execution. Three of the larger compartments show
Faith, Hope, and Charity; figures not unworthy of a Botticelli or a
Filippino Lippi. The occupations of the Duke are represented on a
smaller scale by armour, _bâtons_ of command, scientific instruments,
lutes, viols, and books, some open and some shut. The Bible, Homer,
Virgil, Seneca, Tacitus, and Cicero, are lettered; apparently to
indicate his favourite authors. The Duke himself, arrayed in his state
robes, occupies a fourth 82great panel; and the whole of this elaborate
composition is harmonised by emblems, badges, and occasional devices of
birds, articles of furniture, and so forth. The tarsia, or inlaid wood
of different kinds and colours, is among the best in this kind of art
to be found in Italy, though perhaps it hardly deserves to rank with
the celebrated choir-stalls of Bergamo and Monte Oliveto. Hard by is a
chapel, adorned, like the lower one, with excellent reliefs. The loggia
to which these rooms have access looks across the Apennines, and down
on what was once a private garden. It is now enclosed and paved for the
exercise of prisoners who are confined in one part of the desecrated
palace!

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

The impression left upon the mind after traversing this palace in its
length and breadth is one of weariness and disappointment. How shall we
reconstruct the long-past life which filled its rooms with sound, the
splendour of its pageants, the thrill of tragedies enacted here? It is
not difficult to crowd its doors and vacant spaces with liveried
servants, slim pages in tight hose, whose well-combed hair escapes from
tiny caps upon their silken shoulders. We may even replace the
tapestries of Troy which hung one hall, and build again the sideboards
with their embossed gilded plate. But are these chambers really those
where Emilia Pia held debate on love with Bembo and Castiglione; where
Bibbiena's 83witticisms and Fra Serafino's pranks raised smiles on
courtly lips; where Bernardo Accolti, 'the Unique,' declaimed his
verses to applauding crowds? Is it possible that into yonder hall,
where now the lion of S. Mark looks down alone on staring desolation,
strode the Borgia in all his panoply of war, a gilded glittering
dragon, and from the dais tore the Montefeltri's throne, and from the
arras stripped their ensigns, replacing these with his own Bull and
Valentinus Dux? Here Tasso tuned his lyre for Francesco Maria's
wedding-feast, and read 'Aminta' to Lucrezia d'Este. Here Guidobaldo
listened to the jests and whispered scandals of the Aretine. Here
Titian set his easel up to paint; here the boy Raphael, cap in hand,
took signed and sealed credentials from his Duchess to the Gonfalonier
of Florence. Somewhere in these huge chambers, the courtiers sat before
a torch-lit stage, when Bibbiena's 'Calandria' and Caetiglione's
'Tirsi,' with their miracles of masques and mummers, whiled the night
away. Somewhere, we know not where, Giuliano de' Medici made love in
these bare rooms to that mysterious mother of ill-fated Cardinal
Ippolito; somewhere, in some darker nook, the bastard Alessandro sprang
to his strange-fortuned life of tyranny and license, which
Brutus-Lorenzino cut short with a traitor's poignard-thrust in Via
Larga. How many men, illustrious for arts and letters, memorable by
their virtues or their crimes, have trod these silent corridors, from
the great Pope Julius down to James III., self-titled King of England,
who tarried here with Clementina Sobieski through some twelve months of
his ex-royal exile! The memories of all this folk, flown guests and
masters of the still-abiding palace-chambers, haunt us as we hurry
through. They are but filmy shadows. We cannot grasp them, localise
them, people surrounding emptiness with more than withering cobweb
forms.

84Death takes a stronger hold on us than bygone life. Therefore,
returning to the vast Throne-room, we animate it with one scene it
witnessed on an April night in 1508. Duke Guidobaldo had died at
Fossombrone, repeating to his friends around his bed these lines of
Virgil:

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


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

It is easier to conjure up the past of this great palace, strolling
round it in free air and twilight; perhaps because the landscape and
the life still moving on the city streets bring its exterior into
harmony with real existence. The southern façade, with its vaulted
balconies and flanking towers, takes the fancy, fascinates the eye, and
lends itself as a fit stage for 85puppets of the musing mind. Once more
imagination plants trim orange-trees in giant jars of Gubbio ware upon
the pavement where the garden of the Duchess lay—the pavement paced in
these bad days by convicts in grey canvas jackets—that pavement where
Monsignor Bombo courted 'dear dead women' with Platonic phrase,
smothering the Menta of his natural man in lettuce culled from Academe
and thyme of Mount Hymettus. In yonder loggia, lifted above the garden
and the court, two lovers are in earnest converse. They lean beneath
the coffered arch, against the marble of the balustrade, he fingering
his dagger under the dark velvet doublet, she playing with a clove
carnation, deep as her own shame. The man is Giannandrea,
broad-shouldered bravo of Verona, Duke Guidobaldo's favourite and
carpet-count. The lady is Madonna Maria, daughter of Rome's Prefect,
widow of Venanzio Varano, whom the Borgia strangled. On their discourse
a tale will hang of woman's frailty and man's boldness—Camerino's
Duchess yielding to a low-born suitor's stalwart charms. And more will
follow, when that lady's brother, furious Francesco Maria della Rovere,
shall stab the bravo in torch-litten palace rooms with twenty poignard
strokes 'twixt waist and throat, and their Pandarus shall be sent down
to his account by a varlet's _coltellata_ through the midriff.
Imagination shifts the scene, and shows in that same loggia Rome's
warlike Pope, attended by his cardinals and all Urbino's chivalry. The
snowy beard of Julius flows down upon his breast, where jewels clasp
the crimson mantle, as in Raphael's picture. His eyes are bright with
wine; for he has come to gaze on sunset from the banquet-chamber, and
to watch the line of lamps which soon will leap along that palace
cornice in his honour. Behind him lies Bologna humbled. The Pope
returns, a conqueror, to Rome. Yet once again imagination is at work. A
gaunt, bald man, close-habited in Spanish black, his spare, 86fine
features carved in purest ivory, leans from that balcony. Gazing with
hollow eyes, he tracks the swallows in their flight, and notes that
winter is at hand. This is the last Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria
II., he whose young wife deserted him, who made for himself alone a
hermit-pedant's round of petty cares and niggard avarice and
mean-brained superstition. He drew a second consort from the convent,
and raised up seed unto his line by forethought, but beheld his
princeling fade untimely in the bloom of boyhood. Nothing is left but
solitude. To the mortmain of the Church reverts Urbino's lordship, and
even now he meditates the terms of devolution. Jesuits cluster in the
rooms behind, with comfort for the ducal soul and calculations for the
interests of Holy See.

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

Filippo Visconti, with a smile on his handsome face, is waiting for us
at the inn. His horses, sleek, well fed, and rested, toss their heads
impatiently. We take our seats in the carriage, open wide beneath a
sparkling sky, whirl past the palace and its ghost-like recollections,
and are halfway on the road to Fossombrone in a cloud of dust and whirr
of wheels before we think of looking back to greet Urbino. There is
just time. The last decisive turning lies in front. We stand
87bareheaded to salute the grey mass of buildings ridged along the sky.
Then the open road invites us with its varied scenery and movement.
From the shadowy past we drive into the world of human things, for ever
changefully unchanged, unrestfully the same. This interchange between
dead memories and present life is the delight of travel.

88



VITTORIA ACCORAMBONI


AND THE TRAGEDY OF WEBSTER

I

During the pontificate of Gregory XIII. (1572-85), Papal authority in
Rome reached its lowest point of weakness, and the ancient splendour of
the Papal court was well-nigh eclipsed. Art and learning had died out.
The traditions of the days of Leo, Julius, and Paul III. were
forgotten. It seemed as though the genius of the Renaissance had
migrated across the Alps. All the powers of the Papacy were directed to
the suppression of heresies and to the re-establishment of spiritual
supremacy over the intellect of Europe. Meanwhile society in Rome
returned to mediæval barbarism. The veneer of classical refinement and
humanistic urbanity, which for a time had hidden the natural savagery
of the Roman nobles, wore away. The Holy City became a den of bandits;
the territory of the Church supplied a battle-ground for senseless
party strife, which the weak old man who wore the triple crown was
quite unable to control. It is related how a robber chieftain,
Marianazzo, refused the offer of a general pardon from the Pope,
alleging that the profession of brigand was far more lucrative, and
offered greater security of life, than any trade within the walls of
Rome. The Campagna, the ruined citadels about the basements of the
Sabine and Ciminian hills, the 89quarters of the aristocracy within the
city, swarmed with bravos, who were protected by great nobles and fed
by decent citizens for the advantages to be derived from the assistance
of abandoned and courageous ruffians. Life, indeed, had become
impossible without fixed compact with the powers of lawlessness. There
was hardly a family in Rome which did not number some notorious
criminal among the outlaws. Murder, sacrilege, the love of adventure,
thirst for plunder, poverty, hostility to the ascendant faction of the
moment, were common causes of voluntary or involuntary outlawry; nor
did public opinion regard a bandit's calling as other than honourable.

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

Vittoria was born in 1557, of a noble but impoverished family, at
Gubbio, among the hills of Umbria. Her biographers are rapturous in
their praises of her beauty, grace, and exceeding charm of manner. Not
only was her person most lovely, but her mind shone at first with all
the amiable lustre of a modest, innocent, and winning youth. Her
father, Claudio Accoramboni, removed to Rome, where his numerous
children were brought up under the care of their mother, Tarquinia, an
ambitious and unscrupulous woman, bent on rehabilitating the decayed
honours of their house. Here Vittoria in early girlhood soon became the
fashion. She exercised an irresistible influence over all who saw her,
and many were the 90offers of marriage she refused. At length a suitor
appeared whose condition and connection with the Roman ecclesiastical
nobility rendered him acceptable in the eyes of the Accoramboni.
Francesco Peretti was welcomed as the successful candidate for
Vittoria's hand. His mother, Camilla, was sister to Felice, Cardinal of
Montalto; and her son, Francesco Mignucci, had changed his surname in
compliment to this illustrious relative. The Peretti were of humble
origin. The cardinal himself had tended swine in his native village;
but, supported by an invincible belief in his own destinies, and gifted
with a powerful intellect and determined character, he passed through
all grades of the Franciscan Order to its generalship, received the
bishoprics of Fermo and S. Agata, and lastly, in the year 1570, assumed
the scarlet with the title of Cardinal Montalto. He was now upon the
high way to the Papacy, amassing money by incessant care, studying the
humours of surrounding factions, effacing his own personality, and by
mixing but little in the intrigues of the court, winning the reputation
of a prudent, inoffensive old man. These were his tactics for securing
the Papal throne; nor were his expectations frustrated; for in 1585 he
was chosen Pope, the parties of the Medici and the Farnesi agreeing to
accept him as a compromise. When Sixtus V. was once firmly seated on S.
Peter's chair, he showed himself in his true colours. An implacable
administrator of severest justice, a rigorous economist, an
iconoclastic foe to paganism, the first act of his reign was to declare
a war of extirpation against the bandits who had reduced Rome in his
predecessor's rule to anarchy.

It was the nephew, then, of this man, whom historians have judged the
greatest personage of his own times, that Vittoria Accoramboni married
on the 28th of June 1573. For a short while the young couple lived
happily together. According to some accounts of their married life, the
bride secured 91the favour of her powerful uncle-in-law, who indulged
her costly fancies to the full. It is, however, more probable that the
Cardinal Montalto treated her follies with a grudging parsimony; for we
soon find the Peretti household hopelessly involved in debt. Discord,
too, arose between Vittoria and her husband on the score of a certain
levity in her behaviour; and it was rumoured that even during the brief
space of their union she had proved a faithless wife. Yet she contrived
to keep Francesco's confidence, and it is certain that her family
profited by their connection with the Peretti. Of her six brothers,
Mario, the eldest, was a favourite courtier of the great Cardinal
d'Este. Ottavio was in orders, and through Montalto's influence
obtained the See of Fossombrone. The same eminent protector placed
Scipione in the service of the Cardinal Sforza. Camillo, famous for his
beauty and his courage, followed the fortunes of Filibert of Savoy, and
died in France. Flaminio was still a boy, dependent, as the sequel of
this story shows, upon his sister's destiny. Of Marcello, the second in
age and most important in the action of this tragedy, it is needful to
speak with more particularity. He was young, and, like the rest of his
breed, singularly handsome—so handsome, indeed, that he is said to have
gained an infamous ascendency over the great Duke of Bracciano, whose
privy chamberlain he had become. Marcello was an outlaw for the murder
of Matteo Pallavicino, the brother of the Cardinal of that name. This
did not, however, prevent the chief of the Orsini house from making him
his favourite and confidential friend. Marcello, who seems to have
realised in actual life the worst vices of those Roman courtiers
described for us by Aretino, very soon conceived the plan of exalting
his own fortunes by trading on his sister's beauty. He worked upon the
Duke of Bracciano's mind so cleverly, that he brought this haughty
prince to the point of an 92insane passion for Peretti's young wife;
and meanwhile so contrived to inflame the ambition of Vittoria and her
mother, Tarquinia, that both were prepared to dare the worst of crimes
in expectation of a dukedom. The game was a difficult one to play. Not
only had Francesco Peretti first to be murdered, but the inequality of
birth and wealth and station between Vittoria and the Duke of Bracciano
rendered a marriage almost impossible. It was also an affair of
delicacy to stimulate without satisfying the Duke's passion. Yet
Marcello did not despair. The stakes were high enough to justify great
risks; and all he put in peril was his sister's honour, the fame of the
Accoramboni, and the favour of Montalto. Vittoria, for her part,
trusted in her power to ensnare and secure the noble prey both had in
view.

Paolo Giordano Orsini, born about the year 1537, was reigning Duke of
Bracciano. Among Italian princes he ranked at least upon a par with the
Dukes of Urbino, and his family, by its alliances, was more illustrious
than any of that time in Italy. He was a man of gigantic stature,
prodigious corpulence, and marked personal daring; agreeable in
manners, but subject to uncontrollable fits of passion, and incapable
of self-restraint when crossed in any whim or fancy. Upon the habit of
his body it is needful to insist, in order that the part he played in
this tragedy of intrigue, crime, and passion may be well defined. He
found it difficult to procure a charger equal to his weight, and he was
so fat that a special dispensation relieved him from the duty of
genuflexion in the Papal presence. Though lord of a large territory,
yielding princely revenues, he laboured under heavy debts; for no great
noble of the period lived more splendidly, with less regard for his
finances. In the politics of that age and country, Paolo Giordano
leaned toward France. Yet he was 93a grandee of Spain, and had played a
distinguished part in the battle of Lepanto. Now the Duke of Bracciano
was a widower. He had been married in 1553 to Isabella de' Medici,
daughter of the Grand Duke Cosimo, sister of Francesco, Bianca
Capello's lover, and of the Cardinal Ferdinando. Suspicion of adultery
with Troilo Orsini had fallen on Isabella, and her husband, with the
full concurrence of her brothers, removed her in 1576 from this
world.[21] No one thought the worse of Bracciano for this murder of his
wife. In those days of abandoned vice and intricate villany, certain
points of honour were maintained with scrupulous fidelity. A wife's
adultery was enough to justify the most savage and licentious husband
in an act of semi-judicial vengeance; and the shame she brought upon
his head was shared by the members of her own house, so that they stood
by, consenting to her death. Isabella, it may be said, left one son,
Virginio, who became in due time Duke of Bracciano.

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


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

But how should the unfortunate Francesco be entrapped? They caught him
in a snare of peculiar atrocity, by working on the kindly feelings
which his love for Vittoria had caused 94him to extend to all the
Acooramboni. Marcello, the outlaw, was her favourite brother, and
Marcello at that time lay in hiding, under the suspicion of more than
ordinary crime, beyond the walls of Rome. Late in the evening of the
18th of April, while the Peretti family were retiring to bed, a
messenger from Marcello arrived, entreating Francesco to repair at once
to Monte Cavallo. Marcello had affairs of the utmost importance to
communicate, and begged his brother-in-law not to fail him at a
grievous pinch. The letter containing this request was borne by one
Dominico d'Aquaviva, _alias_ Il Mancino, a confederate of Vittoria's
waiting-maid. This fellow, like Marcello, was an outlaw; but when he
ventured into Rome he frequented Peretti's house, and had made himself
familiar with its master as a trusty bravo. Neither in the message,
therefore, nor in the messenger was there much to rouse suspicion. The
time, indeed, was oddly chosen, and Marcello had never made a similar
appeal on any previous occasion. Yet his necessities might surely have
obliged him to demand some more than ordinary favour from a brother.
Francesco immediately made himself ready to set out, armed only with
his sword and attended by a single servant. It was in vain that his
wife and his mother reminded him of the dangers of the night, the
loneliness of Monte Cavallo, its ruinous palaces and robber-haunted
caves. He was resolved to undertake the adventure, and went forth,
never to return. As he ascended the hill, he fell to earth, shot with
three harquebuses. His body was afterwards found on Monte Cavallo,
stabbed through and through, without a trace that could identify the
murderers. Only, in the course of subsequent investigations, Il Mancino
(on the 24th of February 1582) made the following statements:—That
Vittoria's mother, assisted by the waiting woman, had planned the trap;
that Marchionne of Gubbio and Paolo Barca of Bracciano, 95two of the
Duke's men, had despatched the victim. Marcello himself, it seems, had
come from Bracciano to conduct the whole affair. Suspicion fell
immediately upon Vittoria and her kindred, together with the Duke of
Bracciano; nor was this diminished when the Accoramboni, fearing the
pursuit of justice, took refuge in a villa of the Duke's at Magnanapoli
a few days after the murder.

A cardinal's nephew, even in those troublous times, was not killed
without some noise being made about the matter. Accordingly Pope
Gregory XIII. began to take measures for discovering the authors of the
crime. Strange to say, however, the Cardinal Montalto, notwithstanding
the great love he was known to bear his nephew, begged that the
investigation might be dropped. The coolness with which he first
received the news of Francesco Peretti's death, the dissimulation with
which he met the Pope's expression of sympathy in a full consistory,
his reserve in greeting friends on ceremonial visits of condolence,
and, more than all, the self-restraint he showed in the presence of the
Duke of Bracciano, impressed the society of Rome with the belief that
he was of a singularly moderate and patient temper. It was thought that
the man who could so tamely submit to his nephew's murder, and suspend
the arm of justice when already raised for vengeance, must prove a mild
and indulgent ruler. When, therefore, in the fifth year after this
event, Montalto was elected Pope, men ascribed his elevation in no
small measure to his conduct at the present crisis. Some, indeed,
attributed his extraordinary moderation and self-control to the right
cause. _'Veramente costui è un gran frate!_' was Gregory's remark at
the close of the consistory when Montalto begged him to let the matter
of Peretti's murder rest. '_Of a truth, that fellow is a consummate
hypocrite!_' How accurate this judgment was, appeared when Sixtus V.
assumed the reins of 96power. The same man who, as monk and cardinal,
had smiled on Bracciano, though he knew him to be his nephew's
assassin, now, as Pontiff and sovereign, bade the chief of the Orsini
purge his palace and dominions of the scoundrels he was wont to
harbour, adding significantly, that if Felice Peretti forgave what had
been done against him in a private station, he would exact uttermost
vengeance for disobedience to the will of Sixtus. The Duke of Bracciano
judged it best, after that warning, to withdraw from Rome.

Francesco Peretti had been murdered on the 16th of April 1581. Sixtus
V. was proclaimed on the 24th of April 1585. In this interval Vittoria
underwent a series of extraordinary perils and adventures. First of
all, she had been secretly married to the Duke in his gardens of
Magnanapoli at the end of April 1581. That is to say, Marcello and she
secured their prize, as well as they were able, the moment after
Francesco had been removed by murder. But no sooner had the marriage
become known, than the Pope, moved by the scandal it created, no less
than by the urgent instance of the Orsini and Medici, declared it void.
After some while spent in vain resistance, Bracciano submitted, and
sent Vittoria back to her father's house. By an order issued under
Gregory's own hand, she was next removed to the prison of Corte
Savella, thence to the monastery of S. Cecilia in Trastevere, and
finally to the Castle of S. Angelo. Here, at the end of December 1581,
she was put on trial for the murder of her first husband. In prison she
seems to have borne herself bravely, arraying her beautiful person in
delicate attire, entertaining visitors, exacting from her friends the
honours due to a duchess, and sustaining the frequent examinations to
which she was submitted with a bold, proud front. In the middle of the
month of July her constancy was sorely tried by the receipt of a letter
in the Duke's own handwriting, formally renouncing 97his marriage. It
was only by a lucky accident that she was prevented on this occasion
from committing suicide. The Papal court meanwhile kept urging her
either to retire to a monastery or to accept another husband. She
firmly refused to embrace the religious life, and declared that she was
already lawfully united to a living husband, the Duke of Bracciano. It
seemed impossible to deal with her; and at last, on the 8th of
November, she was released from prison under the condition of
retirement to Gubbio. The Duke had lulled his enemies to rest by the
pretence of yielding to their wishes. But Marcello was continually
beside him at Bracciano, where we read of a mysterious Greek
enchantress whom he hired to brew love-philters for the furtherance of
his ambitious plots. Whether Bracciano was stimulated by the brother's
arguments or by the witch's potions need not be too curiously
questioned. But it seems in any case certain that absence inflamed his
passion instead of cooling it.

Accordingly, in September 1583, under the excuse of a pilgrimage to
Loreto, he contrived to meet Vittoria at Trevi, whence he carried her
in triumph to Bracciano. Here he openly acknowledged her as his wife,
installing her with all the splendour due to a sovereign duchess. On
the 10th of October following, he once more performed the marriage
ceremony in the principal church of his fief; and in the January of
1584 he brought her openly to Rome. This act of contumacy to the Pope,
both as feudal superior and as supreme Pontiff, roused all the former
opposition to his marriage. Once more it was declared invalid. Once
more the Duke pretended to give way. But at this juncture Gregory died;
and while the conclave was sitting for the election of the new Pope, he
resolved to take the law into his own hands, and to ratify his union
with Vittoria by a third and public marriage in Rome. On the morning of
the 9824th of April 1585, their nuptials were accordingly once more
solemnised in the Orsini palace. Just one hour after the ceremony, as
appears from the marriage register, the news arrived of Cardinal
Montalto's election to the Papacy, Vittoria lost no time in paying her
respects to Camilla, sister of the new Pope, her former mother-in-law.
The Duke visited Sixtus V. in state to compliment him on his elevation.
But the reception which both received proved that Rome was no safe
place for them to live in. They consequently made up their minds for
flight.

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

The Duke and Duchess arrived in safety at Venice, where they had
engaged the Dandolo palace on the Zuecca. There they only stayed a few
days, removing to Padua, where they had hired palaces of the Foscari in
the Arena and a house called De' Cavalli. At Salò, also, on the Lake of
Garda, they provided themselves with fit dwellings for their princely
state and their large retinues, intending to divide their time between
the pleasures which the capital of luxury afforded and the simpler
enjoyments of the most beautiful of the Italian lakes. But _la gioia
dei profani è un fumo passaggier_. Paolo Giordano Orsini, Duke of
Bracciano, died suddenly at Salò on the 10th of November 1585, leaving
the young and beautiful 99Vittoria helpless among enemies. What was the
cause of his death? It is not possible to give a clear and certain
answer. We have seen that he suffered from a horrible and voracious
disease, which after his removal from Rome seems to have made progress.
Yet though this malady may well have cut his life short, suspicion of
poison was not, in the circumstances, quite unreasonable. The Grand
Duke of Tuscany, the Pope, and the Orsini family were all interested in
his death. Anyhow, he had time to make a will in Vittoria's favour,
leaving her large sums of money, jewels, goods, and houses—enough, in
fact, to support her ducal dignity with splendour. His hereditary fiefs
and honours passed by right to his only son, Virginio.

Vittoria, accompanied by her brother, Marcello, and the whole court of
Bracciano, repaired at once to Padua, where she was soon after joined
by Flaminio, and by the Prince Lodovico Orsini. Lodovico Orsini assumed
the duty of settling Vittoria's affairs under her dead husband's will.
In life he had been the Duke's ally as well as relative. His family
pride was deeply wounded by what seemed to him an ignoble, as it was
certainly an unequal, marriage. He now showed himself the relentless
enemy of the Duchess. Disputes arose between them as to certain
details, which seem to have been legally decided in the widow's favour.
On the night of the 22nd of December, however, forty men disguised in
black and fantastically tricked out to elude detection, surrounded her
palace. Through the long galleries and chambers hung with arras, eight
of them went, bearing torches, in search of Vittoria and her brothers.
Marcello escaped, having fled the house under suspicion of the murder
of one of his own followers. Flaminio, the innocent and young, was
playing on his lute and singing _Miserere_ in the great hall of the
palace. The murderers surprised him with a shot from one of their
100harquebuses. He ran, wounded in the shoulder, to his sister's room.
She, it is said, was telling her beads before retiring for the night.
When three of the assassins entered, she knelt before the crucifix, and
there they stabbed her in the left breast, turning the poignard in the
wound, and asking her with savage insults if her heart was pierced. Her
last words were, 'Jesus, I pardon you.' Then they turned to Flaminio,
and left him pierced with seventy-four stiletto wounds.

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

101The Prince was arrested and interrogated before the court of Padua.
He entered their hall attended by forty armed men, responded haughtily
to their questions, and demanded free passage for his courier to
Virginio Orsini, then at Florence. To this demand the court acceded;
but the precaution of waylaying the courier and searching his person
was very wisely taken. Besides some formal dispatches which announced
Vittoria's assassination, they found in this man's boot a compromising
letter, declaring Virginio a party to the crime, and asserting that
Lodovico had with his own poignard killed their victim. Padua placed
itself in a state of defence, and prepared to besiege the palace of
Prince Lodovico, who also got himself in readiness for battle. Engines,
culverins, and firebrands were directed against the barricades which he
had raised. The militia was called out and the Brenta was strongly
guarded. Meanwhile the Senate of S. Mark had dispatched the Avogadore,
Aloisio Bragadin, with full power to the scene of action. Lodovico
Orsini, it may be mentioned, was in their service; and had not this
affair intervened, he would in a few weeks have entered on his duties
as Governor for Venice of Corfu.

The bombardment of Orsini's palace began on Christmas Day. Three of the
Prince's men were killed in the first assault; and since the artillery
brought to bear upon him threatened speedy ruin to the house and its
inhabitants, he made up his mind to surrender. 'The Prince Luigi,'
writes one-chronicler of these events, 'walked attired in brown, his
poignard at his side, and his cloak slung elegantly under his arm. The
weapon being taken from him, he leaned upon a balustrade, and began to
trim his nails with a little pair of scissors he happened to find
there.' On the 27th he was strangled in prison by order of the Venetian
Republic. His body was carried to be buried, according to his own will,
in 102the church of S. Maria dell' Orto at Venice. Two of his followers
were hung next day. Fifteen were executed on the following Monday; two
of these were quartered alive; one of them, the Conte Paganello, who
confessed to having slain Vittoria, had his left side probed with his
own cruel dagger. Eight were condemned to the galleys, six to prison,
and eleven were acquitted. Thus ended this terrible affair, which
brought, it is said, good credit and renown to the lords of Venice
through all nations of the civilised world. It only remains to be added
that Marcello Accoramboni was surrendered to the Pope's vengeance and
beheaded at Ancona, where also his mysterious accomplice, the Greek
sorceress, perished.

II

This story of Vittoria Accoramboni's life and tragic ending is drawn,
in its main details, from a narrative published by Henri Beyle in his
'Chroniques et Novelles.'[22] He professes to have translated it
literally from a manuscript communicated to him by a nobleman of
Mantua; and there are strong internal evidences of the truth of this
assertion. Such compositions are frequent in Italian libraries, nor is
it rare for one of them to pass into the common market—as Mr.
Browning's famous purchase of the tale on which he based his 'Ring and
the Book' sufficiently proves. These pamphlets were produced, in the
first instance, to gratify the curiosity of the educated public in an
age which had no newspapers, and also to preserve the memory of famous
trials. How far the strict truth was represented, or whether, as in the
case of Beatrice Cenci, the pathetic aspect of the tragedy was unduly
dwelt on, depended, 103of course, upon the mental bias of the scribe,
upon his opportunities of obtaining exact information, and upon the
taste of the audience for whom he wrote. Therefore, in treating such
documents as historical data, we must be upon our guard. Professor
Gnoli, who has recently investigated the whole of Vittoria's eventful
story by the light of contemporary documents, informs us that several
narratives exist in manuscript, all dealing more or less accurately
with the details of the tragedy. One of these was published in Italian
at Brescia in 1586. A Frenchman, De Rosset, printed the same story in
its main outlines at Lyons in 1621. Our own dramatist, John Webster,
made it the subject of a tragedy, which he gave to the press in 1612.
What were his sources of information we do not know for certain. But it
is clear that he was well acquainted with the history. He has changed
some of the names and redistributed some of the chief parts. Vittoria's
first husband, for example, becomes Camillo; her mother, named Cornelia
instead of Tarquinia, is so far from abetting Peretti's murder and
countenancing her daughter's shame, that she acts the _rôle_ of a
domestic Cassandra. Flaminio and not Marcello is made the main
instrument of Vittoria's crime and elevation. The Cardinal Montalto is
called Monticelso, and his papal title is Paul IV. instead of Sixtus V.
These are details of comparative indifference, in which a playwright
may fairly use his liberty of art. On the other hand, Webster shows a
curious knowledge of the picturesque circumstances of the tale. The
garden in which Vittoria meets Bracciano is the villa of Magnanapoli;
Zanche, the Moorish slave, combines Vittoria's waiting-woman, Caterina,
and the Greek sorceress who so mysteriously dogged Marcello's footsteps
to the death. The suspicion of Bracciano's murder is used to introduce
a quaint episode of Italian poisoning.

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

104Webster exercised the dramatist's privilege of connecting various
threads of action in one plot, disregarding chronology, and hazarding
an ethical solution of motives which mere fidelity to fact hardly
warrants. He shows us Vittoria married to Camillo, a low-born and
witless fool, whose only merit consists in being nephew to the Cardinal
Monticelso, afterwards Pope Paul IV.[23] Paulo Giordano Ursini, Duke of
Brachiano, loves Vittoria, and she suggests to him that, for the
furtherance of their amours, his wife, the Duchess Isabella, sister to
Francesco de' Medici, Grand Duke of Florence, should be murdered at the
same time as her own husband, Camillo. Brachiano is struck by this
plan, and with the help of Vittoria's brother, Flamineo, he puts it at
once into execution. Flamineo hires a doctor who poisons Brachiano's
portrait, so that Isabella dies after kissing it. He also with his own
hands twists Camillo's neck during a vaulting-match, making it appear
that he came by his death accidentally. Suspicion of the murder
attaches, however, to Vittoria. She is tried for her life before
Monticelso and De' Medici; acquitted, and relegated to a house of
Convertites or female reformatory. Brachiano, on the accession of
Monticelso to the Papal throne, resolves to leave Rome with Vittoria.
They escape, together with her mother Cornelia, and her brothers
Flamineo and Marcello, to Padua; and it is here that the last scenes of
the tragedy are laid.

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


The use Webster made of Lodovico Orsini deserves particular attention.
He introduces this personage in the very first scene as a spendthrift,
who, having run through his fortune, has been outlawed. Count Lodovico,
as he is always called, has no relationship with the Orsini, but is
attached to the service of Francesco de' Medici, and is an old lover of
the 105Duchess Isabella. When, therefore, the Grand Duke meditates
vengeance on Brachiano, he finds a fitting instrument in the desperate
Lodovico. Together, in disguise, they repair to Padua. Lodovico poisons
the Duke of Brachiano's helmet, and has the satisfaction of ending his
last struggles by the halter. Afterwards, with companions, habited as a
masquer, he enters Vittoria's palace and puts her to death together
with her brother Flamineo. Just when the deed of vengeance has been
completed, young Giovanni Orsini, heir of Brachiano, enters and orders
the summary execution of Lodovico for this deed of violence. Webster's
invention in this plot is confined to the fantastic incidents attending
on the deaths of Isabella, Camillo, and Brachiano, and to the murder of
Marcello by his brother Flamineo, with the further consequence of
Cornelia's madness and death. He has heightened our interest in
Isabella, at the expense of Brachiano's character, by making her an
innocent and loving wife instead of an adulteress. He has ascribed
different motives from the real ones to Lodovico in order to bring this
personage into rank with the chief actors, though this has been
achieved with only moderate success. Vittoria is abandoned to the
darkest interpretation. She is a woman who rises to eminence by crime,
as an unfaithful wife, the murderess of her husband, and an impudent
defier of justice. Her brother, Flamineo, becomes under Webster's
treatment one of those worst human infamies—a court dependent; ruffian,
buffoon, pimp, murderer by turns. Furthermore, and without any adequate
object beyond that of completing this study of a type he loved, Webster
makes him murder his own brother Marcello by treason. The part assigned
to Marcello, it should be said, is a genial and happy one; and
Cornelia, the mother of the Accoramboni, is a dignified character,
pathetic in her suffering. Webster, it may be added, treats the
Cardinal Monticelso as 106allied in some special way to the Medici. Yet
certain traits in his character, especially his avoidance of bloodshed
and the tameness of his temper after Camillo has been murdered, seem to
have been studied from the historical Sixtus.

III

The character of the 'White Devil, or Vittoria Corombona,' is perhaps
the most masterly creation of Webster's genius. Though her history is a
true one in its leading incidents, the poet, while portraying a real
personage, has conceived an original individuality. It is impossible to
know for certain how far the actual Vittoria was guilty of her first
husband's murder. Her personality fails to detach itself from the
romance of her biography by any salient qualities. But Webster, with
true playwright's instinct, casts aside historical doubts, and
delineates in his heroine a woman of a very marked and terrible nature.
Hard as adamant, uncompromising, ruthless, Vittoria follows ambition as
the loadstar of her life. It is the ambition to reign as Duchess, far
more than any passion for a paramour, which makes her plot Camillo's
and Isabella's murders, and throws her before marriage into Brachiano's
arms. Added to this ambition, she is possessed with the cold demon of
her own imperial and victorious beauty. She has the courage of her
criminality in the fullest sense; and much of the fascination with
which Webster has invested her, depends upon her dreadful daring. Her
portrait is drawn with full and firm touches. Although she appears but
five times on the scene, she fills it from the first line of the drama
to the last. Each appearance adds effectively to the total impression.
We see her first during a criminal interview with Brachiano, contrived
by her brother 107Flamineo. The plot of the tragedy is developed in
this scene; Vittoria suggesting, under the metaphor of a dream, that
her lover should compass the deaths of his duchess and her husband. The
dream is told with deadly energy and ghastly picturesqueness. The cruel
sneer at its conclusion, murmured by a voluptuous woman in the ears of
an impassioned paramour, chills us with the sense of concentrated vice.
Her next appearance is before the court, on trial for her husband's
murder. The scene is celebrated, and has been much disputed by critics.
Relying on her own dauntlessness, on her beauty, and on the protection
of Brachiano, Vittoria hardly takes the trouble to plead innocence or
to rebut charges. She stands defiant, arrogant, vigilant, on guard;
flinging the lie in the teeth of her arraigners; quick to seize the
slightest sign of feebleness in their attack; protesting her
guiltlessness so loudly that she shouts truth down by brazen strength
of lung; retiring at the close with taunts; blazing throughout with the
intolerable lustre of some baleful planet. When she enters for the
third time, it is to quarrel with her paramour. He has been stung to
jealousy by a feigned love-letter. She knows that she has given him no
cause; it is her game to lure him by fidelity to marriage. Therefore
she resolves to make his mistake the instrument of her exaltation.
Beginning with torrents of abuse, hurling reproaches at him for her own
dishonour and the murder of his wife, working herself by studied
degrees into a tempest of ungovernable rage, she flings herself upon
the bed, refuses his caresses, spurns and tramples on him, till she has
brought Brachiano, terrified, humbled, fascinated, to her feet. Then
she gradually relents beneath his passionate protestations and repeated
promises of marriage. At this point she speaks but little. We only feel
her melting humour in the air, and long to see the scene played by such
an actress as Madame 108Bernhardt. When Vittoria next appears, it is as
Duchess by the deathbed of the Duke, her husband. Her attendance here
is necessary, but it contributes little to the development of her
character. We have learned to know her, and expect neither womanish
tears nor signs of affection at a crisis which touches her heart less
than her self-love. Webster, among his other excellent qualities, knew
how to support character by reticence. Vittoria's silence in this act
is significant; and when she retires exclaiming, 'O me! this place is
hell!' we know that it is the outcry, not of a woman who has lost what
made life dear, but of one who sees the fruits of crime imperilled by a
fatal accident. The last scene of the play is devoted to Vittoria. It
begins with a notable altercation between her and Flamineo. She calls
him 'ruffian' and 'villain,' refusing him the reward of his vile
service. This quarrel emerges in one of Webster's grotesque
contrivances to prolong a poignant situation. Flamineo quits the stage
and reappears with pistols. He affects a kind of madness; and after
threatening Vittoria, who never flinches, he proposes they should end
their lives by suicide. She humours him, but manages to get the first
shot. Flamineo falls, wounded apparently to death. Then Vittoria turns
and tramples on him with her feet and tongue, taunting him in his death
agony with the enumeration of his crimes. Her malice and her energy are
equally infernal. Soon, however, it appears that the whole device was
but a trick of Flamineo's to test his sister. The pistol was not
loaded. He now produces a pair which are properly charged, and proceeds
in good earnest to the assassination of Vittoria. But at this critical
moment Lodovico and his masquers appear; brother and sister both die
unrepentant, defiant to the end. Vittoria's customary pride and her
familiar sneers impress her speech in these last moments with a 109
trenchant truth to nature:

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

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

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

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

So firmly has Webster wrought the character of this white devil, that
we seem to see her before us as in a picture. 'Beautiful as the
leprosy, dazzling as the lightning,' to use a phrase of her
enthusiastic admirer Hazlitt, she takes her station like a lady in some
portrait by Paris Bordone, with gleaming golden hair twisted into
snakelike braids about her temples, with skin white as cream, bright
cheeks, dark dauntless eyes, and on her bosom, where it has been chafed
by jewelled chains, a flush of rose. She is luxurious, but not so
abandoned to the pleasures of the sense as to forget the purpose of her
will and brain. Crime and peril add zest to her enjoyment. When
arraigned in open court before the judgment-seat of deadly and
unscrupulous foes, she conceals the consciousness of guilt, and stands
erect, with fierce front, unabashed, relying on the splendour of her
irresistible beauty and the subtlety of her piercing wit. Chafing with
rage, the blood mounts and adds a lustre to her cheek. It is no flush
of modesty, but of rebellious indignation. The Cardinal, who hates her,
brands her emotion with the name of shame. She 110rebukes him, hurling
a jibe at his own mother. And when they point with spiteful eagerness
to the jewels blazing on her breast, to the silks and satins that she
rustles in, her husband lying murdered, she retorts:

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


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

_V.C_. A house of Convertites! what's that?
_M_. A house of penitent whores.
_V.C_. Do the noblemen of Rome
Erect it for their wives, that I am sent
To lodge there?

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

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

IV

It is tempting to pass from this analysis of Vittoria's life to a
consideration of Webster's drama as a whole, 111especially in a book
dedicated to Italian byways. For that mysterious man of genius had
explored the dark and devious paths of Renaissance vice, and had
penetrated the secrets of Italian wickedness with truly appalling
lucidity. His tragedies, though worthless as historical documents, have
singular value as commentaries upon history, as revelations to us of
the spirit of the sixteenth century in its deepest gloom.

Webster's plays, owing to the condensation of their thought and the
compression of their style, are not easy to read for the first time. He
crowds so many fantastic incidents into one action, and burdens his
discourse with so much profoundly studied matter, that we rise from the
perusal of his works with a blurred impression of the fables, a deep
sense of the poet's power and personality, and an ineffaceable
recollection of one or two resplendent scenes. His Roman history-play
of 'Appius and Virginia' proves that he understood the value of a
simple plot, and that he was able, when he chose, to work one out with
conscientious calmness. But the two Italian dramas upon which his fame
is justly founded, by right of which he stands alone among the
playwrights of all literatures, are marked by a peculiar and wayward
mannerism. Each part is etched with equal effort after luminous effect
upon a background of lurid darkness; and the whole play is made up of
these parts, without due concentration on a master-motive. The
characters are definite in outline, but, taken together in the conduct
of a single plot, they seem to stand apart, like figures in a _tableau
vivant_; nor do they act and react each upon the other in the play of
interpenetrative passions. That this mannerism was deliberately chosen,
we have a right to believe. 'Willingly, and not ignorantly, in this
kind have I faulted,' is the answer Webster gives to such as may object
that he has not constructed his plays upon the classic model. He seems
to have had a certain sombre richness of tone and 112intricacy of
design in view, combining sensational effect and sententious pregnancy
of diction in works of laboured art, which, when adequately represented
to the ear and eye upon the stage, might at a touch obtain the
animation they now lack for chamber-students.

When familiarity has brought us acquainted with his style, when we have
disentangled the main characters and circumstances from their adjuncts,
we perceive that he treats poignant and tremendous situations with a
concentrated vigour special to his genius; that he has studied each
word and trait of character, and that he has prepared by gradual
approaches and degrees of horror for the culmination of his tragedies.
The sentences which seem at first sight copied from a commonplace book,
are found to be appropriate. Brief lightning flashes of acute
perception illuminate the midnight darkness of his all but unimaginably
depraved characters. Sharp unexpected touches evoke humanity in the
_fantoccini_ of his wayward art. No dramatist has shown more consummate
ability in heightening terrific effects, in laying bare the innermost
mysteries of crime, remorse, and pain, combined to make men miserable.
It has been said of Webster that, feeling himself deficient in the
first poetic qualities, he concentrated his powers upon one point, and
achieved success by sheer force of self-cultivation. There is perhaps
some truth in this. At any rate, his genius was of a narrow and
peculiar order, and he knew well how to make the most of its
limitations. Yet we must not forget that he felt a natural bias toward
the dreadful stuff with which he deals. The mystery of iniquity had an
irresistible attraction for his mind. He was drawn to comprehend and
reproduce abnormal elements of spiritual anguish. The materials with
which he builds his tragedies are sought for in the ruined places of
lost souls, in the agonies of madness and despair, 113in the sarcasms
of criminal and reckless atheism, in slow tortures, griefs beyond
endurance, the tempests of remorseful death, the spasms of fratricidal
bloodshed. He is often melodramatic in the means employed to bring
these psychological conditions home to us. He makes too free use of
poisoned engines, daggers, pistols, disguised murderers, and so forth.
Yet his firm grasp upon the essential qualities of diseased and guilty
human nature saves him, even at his wildest, from the unrealities and
extravagances into which less potent artists of the _drame
sanglant_—Marston, for example—blundered.

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

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


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

Places at court are but like beds in the hospital, where this man's
head lies at that man's foot, and so lower and lower.
When knaves come to preferment, they rise as gallowses are raised in
the Low Countries, one upon another's shoulders.
I would sooner eat a dead pigeon taken from the soles of the feet of
one sick of the plague than kiss one of you fasting.

114

A soldier is twitted with serving his master:

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


An adulterous couple get this curse:

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


A bravo is asked:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

115

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

It was with profound sagacity, or led by some deep-rooted instinct,
that Webster sought the fables of his two great tragedies, 'The White
Devil' and 'The Duchess of Malfi,' in 116Italian annals. Whether he had
visited Italy in his youth, we cannot say; for next to nothing is known
about Webster's life. But that he had gazed long and earnestly into the
mirror held up by that enchantress of the nations in his age, is
certain. Aghast and fascinated by the sins he saw there flaunting in
the light of day—sins on whose pernicious glamour Ascham, Greene, and
Howell have insisted with impressive vehemence—Webster discerned in
them the stuff he needed for philosophy and art. Withdrawing from that
contemplation, he was like a spirit 'loosed out of hell to speak of
horrors.' Deeper than any poet of the time, deeper than any even of the
Italians, he read the riddle of the sphinx of crime. He found there
something akin to his own imaginative mood, something which he alone
could fully comprehend and interpret. From the superficial narratives
of writers like Bandello he extracted a spiritual essence which was, if
not the literal, at least the ideal, truth involved in them.

The enormous and unnatural vices, the domestic crimes of cruelty,
adultery, and bloodshed, the political scheming and the subtle arts of
vengeance, the ecclesiastical tyranny and craft, the cynical scepticism
and lustre of luxurious godlessness, which made Italy in the midst of
her refinement blaze like 'a bright and ominous star' before the
nations; these were the very elements in which the genius of
Webster—salamander-like in flame—could live and flourish. Only the
incidents of Italian history, or of French history in its Italianated
epoch, were capable of supplying him with the proper type of plot. It
was in Italy alone, or in an Italianated country, such as England for a
brief space in the reign of the first Stuart threatened to become, that
the well-nigh diabolical wickedness of his characters might have been
realised. An audience familiar with Italian novels through Belleforest
117and Painter, inflamed by the long struggle of the Reformation
against the scarlet abominations of the Papal See, outraged in their
moral sense by the political paradoxes of Machiavelli, horror-stricken
at the still recent misdoings of Borgias and Medici and Farnesi,
alarmed by that Italian policy which had conceived the massacre of S.
Bartholomew in France, and infuriated by that ecclesiastical hypocrisy
which triumphed in the same; such an audience were at the right point
of sympathy with a poet who undertook to lay the springs of Southern
villany before them bare in a dramatic action. But, as the old proverb
puts it, 'Inglese Italianato è un diavolo incarnato.' 'An Englishman
assuming the Italian habit is a devil in the flesh.' The Italians were
depraved, but spiritually feeble. The English playwright, when he
brought them on the stage, arrayed with intellectual power and gleaming
with the lurid splendour of a Northern fancy, made them tenfold darker
and more terrible. To the subtlety and vices of the South he added the
melancholy, meditation, and sinister insanity of his own climate. He
deepened the complexion of crime and intensified lawlessness by robbing
the Italian character of levity. Sin, in his conception of that
character, was complicated with the sense of sin, as it never had been
in a Florentine or a Neapolitan. He had not grasped the meaning of the
Machiavellian conscience, in its cold serenity and disengagement from
the dread of moral consequence. Not only are his villains stealthy,
frigid, quick to evil, merciless, and void of honour; but they brood
upon their crimes and analyse their motives. In the midst of their
audacity they are dogged by dread of coming retribution. At the crisis
of their destiny they look back upon their better days with
intellectual remorse. In the execution of their bloodiest schemes they
groan beneath the chains of guilt they wear, and quake before the
phantoms of their haunted brains. 118Thus passion and reflection,
superstition and profanity, deliberate atrocity and fear of judgment,
are united in the same nature; and to make the complex still more
strange, the play-wright has gifted these tremendous personalities with
his own wild humour and imaginative irony. The result is almost
monstrous, such an ideal of character as makes earth hell. And yet it
is not without justification. To the Italian text has been added the
Teutonic commentary, and both are fused by a dramatic genius into one
living whole.

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

What fury raised _thee_ up? Away, away!


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

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


Later on, when it is necessary to remove another victim, he runs his
own brother through the body and drives his mother to madness. Yet, in
the midst of these crimes, we are unable to regard him as a simple
cut-throat. His irony and reckless 119courting of damnation open-eyed
to get his gust of life in this world, make him no common villain. He
can be brave as well as fierce. When the Duke insults him he bandies
taunt for taunt:

_Brach_. No, you pander?
_Flam_. What, me, my lord?
Am I your dog?
_B_. A bloodhound; do you brave, do you stand me?
_F_. Stand you! let those that have diseases run;
I need no plasters.
_B_. Would you be kicked?
_F_. Would you have your neck broke?
I tell you, duke, I am not in Russia;
My shins must be kept whole.
_B_. Do you know me?
_F_. Oh, my lord, methodically:
As in this world there are degrees of evils,
So in this world there are degrees of devils.
You're a great duke, I your poor secretary.


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

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


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

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


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

120

Whither shall I go now? O Lucian, thy ridiculous purgatory! to find
Alexander the Great cobbling shoes, Pompey tagging points, and Julius
Cæsar making hair-buttons!
    Whether I resolve to fire, earth, water, air, or all the elements
    by scruples, I know not, nor greatly care.


At the last moment he yet can say:

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


And again, with the very yielding of his spirit:

My life was a black charnel.

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

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

_Bos_. It seems you would create me
One of your familiars.
_Ferd_. Familiar! what's that?
_Bos_. Why, a very quaint invisible devil in flesh,
An intelligencer.
_Ferd_. Such a kind of thriving thing
I would wish thee; and ere long thou may'st arrive
At a higher place by it.

121

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

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

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

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

It is fitting that something should be said about Webster's conception
of the Italian despot. Brachiano and Ferdinand, 122the employers of
Flamineo and Bosola, are tyrants such as Savonarola described, and as
we read of in the chronicles of petty Southern cities. Nothing is
suffered to stand between their lust and its accomplishment. They
override the law by violence, or pervert its action to their own
advantage:

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


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

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


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

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


Their plots and counterplots drive repose far from them:

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


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

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


Apparitions haunt them:

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

123Continually scheming against the objects of their avarice and
hatred, preparing poisons or suborning bravoes, they know that these
same arts will be employed against them. The wine-cup hides arsenic;
the headpiece is smeared with antimony; there is a dagger behind every
arras, and each shadow is a murderer's. When death comes, they meet it
trembling. What irony Webster has condensed in Brachiano's outcry:

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

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

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


After their death, this is their epitaph:

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

Of Webster's despots, the finest in conception and the firmest in
execution is Ferdinand of Aragon. Jealousy of his sister and avarice
take possession of him and torment him like furies. The flash of
repentance over her strangled body is also the first flash of insanity.
He survives to present the spectacle of a crazed lunatic, and to be run
through the body by his paid assassin. In the Cardinal of Aragon,
Webster paints a profligate Churchman, no less voluptuous,
blood-guilty, and the rest of it, than his brother the Duke of
Calabria. It seems to have been the poet's purpose in each 124of his
Italian tragedies to unmask Rome as the Papal city really was. In the
lawless desperado, the intemperate tyrant, and the godless
ecclesiastic, he portrayed the three curses from which Italian society
was actually suffering.

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

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

In the preceding scenes we have had enough, nay, over-much, of madness,
despair, and wrestling with doom. This is the calm that comes when
death is present, when the tortured soul lays down its burden of the
flesh with gladness. But Webster has not spared another touch of
thrilling pathos. 125The death-struggle is over; the fratricide has
rushed away, a maddened man; the murderer is gazing with remorse upon
the beautiful dead body of his lady, wishing he had the world wherewith
to buy her back to life again; when suddenly she murmurs 'Mercy!' Our
interest, already overstrained, revives with momentary hope. But the
guardians of the grave will not be exorcised; and 'Mercy!' is the last
groan of the injured Duchess.

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

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

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

126

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

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

127



AUTUMN WANDERINGS


I.—ITALIAM PETIMUS

_Italiam Petimus!_ We left our upland home before daybreak on a clear
October morning. There had been a hard frost, spangling the meadows
with rime-crystals, which twinkled where the sun's rays touched them.
Men and women were mowing the frozen grass with thin short Alpine
scythes; and as the swathes fell, they gave a crisp, an almost tinkling
sound. Down into the gorge, surnamed of Avalanche, our horses plunged;
and there we lost the sunshine till we reached the Bear's Walk, opening
upon the vales of Albula, and Julier, and Schyn. But up above, shone
morning light upon fresh snow, and steep torrent-cloven slopes
reddening with a hundred fading plants; now and then it caught the
grey-green icicles that hung from cliffs where summer streams had
dripped. There is no colour lovelier than the blue of an autumn sky in
the high Alps, defining ridges powdered with light snow, and melting
imperceptibly downward into the warm yellow of the larches and the
crimson of the bilberry. Wiesen was radiantly beautiful: those aë;rial
ranges of the hills that separate Albula from Julier soared
crystal-clear above their forests; and for a foreground, on the green
fields starred with lilac crocuses, careered a group of children on
their sledges. Then came the row of giant peaks—Pitz d'Aela,
Tinzenhorn, and Michelhorn, above the deep ravine 128of Albula—all seen
across wide undulating golden swards, close-shaven and awaiting winter.
Carnations hung from cottage windows in full bloom, casting sharp
angular black shadows on white walls.

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

129A hurricane blew upward from the pass as we left Silvaplana,
ruffling the lake with gusts of the Italian wind. By Silz Maria we came
in sight of a dozen Italian workmen, arm linked in arm in two rows,
tramping in rhythmic stride, and singing as they went. Two of them were
such nobly built young men, that for a moment the beauty of the
landscape faded from my sight, and I was saddened. They moved to their
singing, like some of Mason's or Frederick Walker's figures, with the
free grace of living statues, and laughed as we drove by. And yet, with
all their beauty, industry, sobriety, intelligence, these Italians of
the northern valleys serve the sterner people of the Grisons like
negroes, doing their roughest work at scanty wages.

So we came to the vast Alpine wall, and stood on a bare granite slab,
and looked over into Italy, as men might lean from the battlements of a
fortress. Behind lies the Alpine valley, grim, declining slowly
northward, with wind-lashed lakes and glaciers sprawling from
storm-broken pyramids of gneiss. Below spread the unfathomable depths
that lead to Lombardy, flooded with sunlight, filled with swirling
vapour, but never wholly hidden from our sight. For the blast kept
shifting the cloud-masses, and the sun streamed through in spears and
bands of sheeny rays. Over the parapet our horses dropped, down through
sable spruce and amber larch, down between tangles of rowan and
autumnal underwood. Ever as we sank, the mountains rose—those sharp
embattled precipices, toppling spires, impendent chasms blurred with
mist, that make the entrance into Italy sublime. Nowhere do the Alps
exhibit their full stature, their commanding puissance, with such
majesty as in the gates of Italy; and of all those gates I think there
is none to compare with Maloja, none certainly to rival it in
abruptness of initiation into the Italian secret. Below Vico Soprano we
pass 130already into the violets and blues of Titian's landscape. Then
come the purple boulders among chestnut trees; then the double
dolomite-like peak of Pitz Badin and Promontogno.

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

_Tangimus Italiam!_ Chiavenna is a worthy key to this great gate
Italian. We walked at night in the open galleries of the cathedral
cloister—white, smoothly curving, well-proportioned loggie, enclosing a
green space, whence soars the campanile to the stars. The moon had
sunk, but her 131light still silvered the mountains that stand at watch
round Chiavenna; and the castle rock was flat and black against that
dreamy background. Jupiter, who walked so lately for us on the long
ridge of the Jacobshorn above our pines, had now an ample space of sky
over Lombardy to light his lamp in. Why is it, we asked each other, as
we smoked our pipes and strolled, my friend and I;—why is it that
Italian beauty does not leave the spirit so untroubled as an Alpine
scene? Why do we here desire the flower of some emergent feeling to
grow from the air, or from the soil, or from humanity to greet us? This
sense of want evoked by Southern beauty is perhaps the antique
mythopœic yearning. But in our perplexed life it takes another form,
and seems the longing for emotion, ever fleeting, ever new, unrealised,
unreal, insatiable.

II.—OVER THE APENNINES

At Parma we slept in the Albergo della Croce Bianca, which is more a
bric-à-brac shop than an inn; and slept but badly, for the good folk of
Parma twanged guitars and exercised their hoarse male voices all night
in the street below. We were glad when Christian called us, at 5 A.M.,
for an early start across the Apennines. This was the day of a right
Roman journey. In thirteen and a half hours, leaving Parma at 6, and
arriving in Sarzana at 7.30, we flung ourselves across the spine of
Italy, from the plains of Eridanus to the seashore of Etruscan Luna. I
had secured a carriage and extra post-horses the night before;
therefore we found no obstacles upon the road, but eager drivers, quick
relays, obsequious postmasters, change, speed, perpetual movement. The
road itself is a noble one, and nobly entertained in all things but
accommodation for travellers. At Berceto, near the 132summit of the
pass, we stopped just half an hour, to lunch off a mouldy hen and six
eggs; but that was all the halt we made.

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

What is beautiful in the landscape of that northern watershed is the
subtlety, delicacy, variety, and intricacy of the mountain outlines.
There is drawing wherever the eye falls. Each section of the vast
expanse is a picture of tossed crests and complicated undulations. And
over the whole sea of stationary billows, light is shed like an
ethereal raiment, with spare colour—blue and grey, and parsimonious
green—in the near foreground. The detail is somewhat dry and
monotonous; for these so finely moulded hills are made up of washed
earth, the immemorial wrecks of earlier mountain ranges. Brown
villages, not unlike those of Midland England, low houses built of
stone and tiled with stone, and 133square-towered churches, occur at
rare intervals in cultivated hollows, where there are fields and fruit
trees. Water is nowhere visible except in the wasteful river-beds. As
we rise, we break into a wilder country, forested with oak, where oxen
and goats are browsing. The turf is starred with lilac gentian and
crocus bells, but sparely. Then comes the highest village, Berceto,
with keen Alpine air. After that, broad rolling downs of yellowing
grass and russet beech-scrub lead onward to the pass La Cisa. The sense
of breadth in composition is continually satisfied through this ascent
by the fine-drawn lines, faint tints, and immense air-spaces of Italian
landscape. Each little piece reminds one of England; but the
geographical scale is enormously more grandiose, and the effect of
majesty proportionately greater.

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

From this point the valley of the Magra is exceeding rich 134with fruit
trees, vines, and olives. The tendrils of the vine are yellow now, and
in some places hued like generous wine; through their thick leaves the
sun shot crimson. In one cool garden, as the day grew dusk, I noticed
quince trees laden with pale fruit entangled with pomegranates—green
spheres and ruddy amid burnished leaves. By the roadside too were many
berries of bright hues; the glowing red of haws and hips, the amber of
the pyracanthus, the rose tints of the spindle-wood. These make autumn
even lovelier than spring. And then there was a wood of chestnuts
carpeted with pale pinkling, a place to dream of in the twilight. But
the main motive of this landscape was the indescribable Carrara range,
an island of pure form and shooting peaks, solid marble, crystalline in
shape and texture, faintly blue against the blue sky, from which they
were but scarce divided. These mountains close the valley to
south-east, and seem as though they belonged to another and more
celestial region.

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

III.—FOSDINOVO

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

The road to Fosdinovo strikes across the level through an avenue of
plane trees, shedding their discoloured leaves. It 135then takes to the
open fields, bordered with tall reeds waving from the foss on either
hand, where grapes are hanging to the vines. The country-folk allow
their vines to climb into the olives, and these golden festoons are a
great ornament to the grey branches. The berries on the trees are still
quite green, and it is a good olive season. Leaving the main road, we
pass a villa of the Malaspini, shrouded in immense thickets of sweet
bay and ilex, forming a grove for the Nymphs or Pan. Here may you see
just such clean stems and lucid foliage as Gian Bellini painted, inch
by inch, in his Peter Martyr picture. The place is neglected now; the
semicircular seats of white Carrara marble are stained with green
mosses, the altars chipped, the fountains choked with bay leaves; and
the rose trees, escaped from what were once trim garden alleys, have
gone wandering a-riot into country hedges. There is no demarcation
between the great man's villa and the neighbouring farms. From this
point the path rises, and the barren hillside is a-bloom with
late-flowering myrtles. Why did the Greeks consecrate these myrtle-rods
to Death as well as Love? Electra complained that her father's tomb had
not received the honour of the myrtle branch; and the Athenians
wreathed their swords with myrtle in memory of Harmodius. Thinking of
these matters, I cannot but remember lines of Greek, which have
themselves the rectitude and elasticity of myrtle wands:

καί προσπεσών εκλυσ΄ ε΄ρημίας τυχών
σπονδάς τε λύσας ασκόν ον Φέρω ξένοις

εσπεισα τύμβω δ΄άμφεθηκα μυρσίνας

As we approach Fosdinovo, the hills above us gain sublimity; the
prospect over plain and sea—the fields where Luna was, the widening bay
of Spezzia—grows ever grander. The castle is a ruin, still capable of
partial habitation, and now undergoing repair—the state in which a ruin
looks most sordid and forlorn. How strange it is, too, that, to enforce
136this sense of desolation, sad dishevelled weeds cling ever to such
antique masonry! Here are the henbane, the sow-thistle, the wild
cucumber. At Avignon, at Orvieto, at Dolce Acqua, at Les Baux, we never
missed them. And they have the dusty courtyards, the massive portals,
where portcullises still threaten, of Fosdinovo to themselves. Over the
gate, and here and there on corbels, are carved the arms of Malaspina—a
barren thorn-tree, gnarled with the geometrical precision of heraldic
irony.

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

From Fosdinovo one can trace the Magra work its way out seaward, not
into the plain where once the _candentia moenia Lunae_ flashed sunrise
from their battlements, but close beside the little hills which back
the southern arm of the Spezzian gulf. At the extreme end of that
promontory, called Del Corvo, stood the Benedictine convent of S.
Croce; and it was here in 1309, if we may trust to tradition, that
Dante, before his projected journey into France, appeared and left the
first part of his poem with the Prior. Fra Ilario, such was the good
father's name, received commission to transmit the 'Inferno' to
Uguccione della Faggiuola; and he subsequently recorded the fact of
Dante's visit in a letter which, though its genuineness has been called
in question, is far too interesting 137to be left without allusion. The
writer says that on occasion of a journey into lands beyond the
Riviera, Dante visited this convent, appearing silent and unknown among
the monks. To the Prior's question what he wanted, he gazed upon the
brotherhood, and only answered, 'Peace!' Afterwards, in private
conversation, he communicated his name and spoke about his poem. A
portion of the 'Divine Comedy' composed in the Italian tongue aroused
Ilario's wonder, and led him to inquire why his guest had not followed
the usual course of learned poets by committing his thoughts to Latin.
Dante replied that he had first intended to write in that language, and
that he had gone so far as to begin the poem in Virgilian hexameters.
Reflection upon the altered conditions of society in that age led him,
however, to reconsider the matter; and he was resolved to tune another
lyre, 'suited to the sense of modern men.' 'For,' said he, 'it is idle
to set solid food before the lips of sucklings.'

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

IV.—LA SPEZZIA

While we were at Fosdinovo the sky filmed over, and there came a halo
round the sun. This portended change; and by evening, after we had
reached La Spezzia, earth, sea, and air were conscious of a coming
tempest. At night I went down to the shore, and paced the sea-wall they
have lately built 138along the Rada. The moon was up, but overdriven
with dry smoky clouds, now thickening to blackness over the whole bay,
now leaving intervals through which the light poured fitfully and
fretfully upon the wrinkled waves; and ever and anon they shuddered
with electric gleams which were not actual lightning. Heaven seemed to
be descending on the sea; one might have fancied that some powerful
charms were drawing down the moon with influence malign upon those
still resisting billows. For not as yet the gulf was troubled to its
depth, and not as yet the breakers dashed in foam against the
moonlight-smitten promontories. There was but an uneasy murmuring of
wave to wave; a whispering of wind, that stooped its wing and hissed
along the surface, and withdrew into the mystery of clouds again; a
momentary chafing of churned water round the harbour piers, subsiding
into silence petulant and sullen. I leaned against an iron stanchion
and longed for the sea's message. But nothing came to me, and the
drowned secret of Shelley's death those waves which were his grave
revealed not.

Howler and scooper of storms! capricious and dainty sea!

Meanwhile the incantation swelled in shrillness, the electric shudders
deepened. Alone in this elemental overture to tempest I took no note of
time, but felt, through self-abandonment to the symphonic influence,
how sea and air, and clouds akin to both, were dealing with each other
complainingly, and in compliance to some maker of unrest within them. A
touch upon my shoulder broke this trance; I turned and saw a boy beside
me in a coastguard's uniform. Francesco was on patrol that night; but
my English accent soon assured him that I was no _contrabbandiere_, and
he too leaned against the stanchion and told me his short story. He was
in his nineteenth year, and came from Florence, where his people live
in the 139Borgo Ognissanti. He had all the brightness of the Tuscan
folk, a sort of innocent malice mixed with _espieglerie_. It was
diverting to see the airs he gave himself on the strength of his new
military dignity, his gun, and uniform, and night duty on the shore. I
could not help humming to myself _Non più andrai_; for Francesco was a
sort of Tuscan Cherubino. We talked about picture galleries and
libraries in Florence, and I had to hear his favourite passages from
the Italian poets. And then there came the plots of Jules Verne's
stories and marvellous narrations about _l' uomo cavallo, l' uomo
volante, l' uomo pesce_. The last of these personages turned out to be
Paolo Boÿnton (so pronounced), who had swam the Arno in his diving
dress, passing the several bridges, and when he came to the great weir
'allora tutti stare con bocca aperta.' Meanwhile the storm grew
serious, and our conversation changed. Francesco told me about the
terrible sun-stricken sand shores of the Riviera, burning in summer
noon, over which the coast-guard has to tramp, their perils from
falling stones in storm, and the trains that come rushing from those
narrow tunnels on the midnight line of march. It is a hard life; and
the thirst for adventure which drove this boy—'il più matto di tutta la
famiglia'—to adopt it, seems well-nigh quenched. And still, with a
return to Giulio Verne, he talked enthusiastically of deserting, of
getting on board a merchant ship, and working his way to southern
islands where wonders are.

A furious blast swept the whole sky for a moment almost clear. The
moonlight fell, with racing cloud-shadows, upon sea and hills, the
lights of Lerici, the great _fanali_ at the entrance of the gulf, and
Francesco's upturned handsome face. Then all again was whirled in mist
and foam; one breaker smote the sea wall in a surge of froth, another
plunged upon its heels; with inconceivable swiftness came 140rain;
lightning deluged the expanse of surf, and showed the windy trees bent
landward by the squall. It was long past midnight now, and the storm
was on us for the space of three days.

V.—PORTO VENERE

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

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

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

A turn of the road brought Porto Venere in sight, and on its grey walls
flashed a gleam of watery sunlight. The village consists of one long
narrow street, the houses on the left side 141hanging sheer above the
sea. Their doors at the back open on to cliffs which drop about fifty
feet upon the water. A line of ancient walls, with mediaeval
battlements and shells of chambers suspended midway between earth and
sky, runs up the rock behind the town; and this wall is pierced with a
deep gateway above which the inn is piled. We had our lunch in a room
opening upon the town-gate, adorned with a deep-cut Pisan arch
enclosing images and frescoes—a curious episode in a place devoted to
the jollity of smugglers and seafaring folk. The whole house was such
as Tintoretto loved to paint—huge wooden rafters; open chimneys with
pent-house canopies of stone, where the cauldrons hung above logs of
chestnut; rude low tables spread with coarse linen embroidered at the
edges, and laden with plates of fishes, fruit, quaint glass,
big-bellied jugs of earthenware, and flasks of yellow wine. The people
of the place were lounging round in lazy attitudes. There were odd
nooks and corners everywhere; unexpected staircases with windows
slanting through the thickness of the town-wall; pictures of saints;
high-zoned serving women, on whose broad shoulders lay big coral beads;
smoke-blackened roofs, and balconies that opened on the sea. The house
was inexhaustible in motives for pictures.

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

At the end of Porto Venere is a withered and abandoned city, climbing
the cliffs of S. Pietro; and on the headland 142stands the ruined
church, built by Pisans with alternate rows of white and black marble,
upon the site of an old temple of Venus. This is a modest and pure
piece of Gothic architecture, fair in desolation, refined and
dignified, and not unworthy in its grace of the dead Cyprian goddess.
Through its broken lancets the sea-wind whistles and the vast reaches
of the Tyrrhene gulf are seen. Samphire sprouts between the blocks of
marble, and in sheltered nooks the caper hangs her beautiful purpureal
snowy bloom.

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

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

143

VI.—LERICI

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

After following the shore a little way, the road to Lerici breaks into
the low hills which part La Spezzia from Sarzana. The soil is red, and
overgrown with arbutus and pinaster, like the country around Cannes.
Through the scattered trees it winds gently upwards, with frequent
views across the gulf, and then descends into a land rich with olives—a
genuine Riviera landscape, where the mountain-slopes are hoary, and
spikelets of innumerable light-flashing leaves twinkle against a blue
sea, misty-deep. The walls here are not unfrequently adorned with
basreliefs of Carrara marble—saints and madonnas very delicately
wrought, as though they were love-labours of sculptors who had passed a
summer on this shore. San Terenzio is soon discovered low upon the
sands to the right, nestling under little cliffs; and then the
high-built castle of Lerici comes in sight, looking across, the bay to
Porto Venere—one Aphrodite calling to the other, with the foam between.
The village is piled around its cove with tall and picturesquely
coloured houses; the molo and the fishing-boats lie just beneath the
castle. There is one point of the descending carriage road where all
this gracefulness is seen, framed by the boughs of olive branches,
swaying, wind-ruffled, laughing the many-twinkling smiles of ocean back
from their grey leaves. Here _Erycina ridens_ is at home. And, as we
stayed to dwell upon the beauty of the scene, came women from the bay
below—barefooted, straight as willow wands, with 144burnished copper
bowls upon their heads. These women have the port of goddesses,
deep-bosomed, with the length of thigh and springing ankles that
betoken strength no less than elasticity and grace. The hair of some of
them was golden, rippling in little curls around brown brows and
glowing eyes. Pale lilac blent with orange on their dress, and coral
beads hung from their ears.

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

We left our boat at the jetty, and walked through some gardens to the
villa. There we were kindly entertained by the present occupiers, who,
when I asked them whether such visits as ours were not a great
annoyance, gently but feelingly replied: 'It is not so bad now as it
used to be.' The English gentleman who rents the Casa Magni has known
it uninterruptedly since Shelley's death, and has used it for
_villeggiatura_ during the last thirty years. We found him in the
central sitting-room, which readers of Trelawny's 'Recollections' have
so often pictured to themselves. The large oval table, the settees
round the walls, and some of the pictures are still unchanged. As we
sat talking, I laughed to think of 145that luncheon party, when Shelley
lost his clothes, and came naked, dripping with sea-water, into the
room, protected by the skirts of the sympathising waiting-maid. And
then I wondered where they found him on the night when he stood
screaming in his sleep, after the vision of his veiled self, with its
question, '_Siete soddisfatto_?'

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

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

VII.—VIAREGGIO

The same memory drew us, a few days later, to the spot where Shelley's
body was burned. Viareggio is fast becoming a fashionable
watering-place for the people of Florence and Lucca, who seek fresher
air and simpler living than Livorno offers. It has the usual new inns
and improvised lodging-houses of such places, built on the outskirts of
a little fishing village, with a boundless stretch of noble sands.
There is a wooden pier on which we walked, watching the long roll of
waves, foam-flaked, and quivering with moonlight. The Apennines faded
into the grey sky beyond, and the sea-wind was good to breathe. There
is a feeling of 'immensity, liberty, action' here, which is not common
in Italy. It 146reminds us of England; and to-night the Mediterranean
had the rough force of a tidal sea.

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

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

147



PARMA


Parma is perhaps the brightest _Residenzstadt_ of the second class in
Italy. Built on a sunny and fertile tract of the Lombard plain, within
view of the Alps, and close beneath the shelter of the Apennines, it
shines like a well-set gem with stately towers and cheerful squares in
the midst of verdure. The cities of Lombardy are all like large country
houses: walking out of their gates, you seem to be stepping from a door
or window that opens on a trim and beautiful garden, where
mulberry-tree is married to mulberry by festoons of vines, and where
the maize and sunflower stand together in rows between patches of flax
and hemp. But it is not in order to survey the union of well-ordered
husbandry with the civilities of ancient city-life that we break the
journey at Parma between Milan and Bologna. We are attracted rather by
the fame of one great painter, whose work, though it may be studied
piecemeal in many galleries of Europe, in Parma has a fulness,
largeness, and mastery that can nowhere else be found. In Parma alone
Correggio challenges comparison with Raphael, with Tintoret, with all
the supreme decorative painters who have deigned to make their art the
handmaid of architecture. Yet even in the cathedral and the church of
S. Giovanni, where Correggio's frescoes cover cupola and chapel wall,
we could scarcely comprehend his greatness now—so cruelly have time and
neglect dealt with those delicate dream-shadows of celestial
fairyland—were it not for an interpreter, who consecrated a lifetime to
the task of translating 148his master's poetry of fresco into the prose
of engraving. That man was Paolo Toschi—a name to be ever venerated by
all lovers of the arts; since without his guidance we should hardly
know what to seek for in the ruined splendours of the domes of Parma,
or even seeking, how to find the object of our search. Toschi's labour
was more effectual than that of a restorer however skilful, more loving
than that of a follower however faithful. He respected Correggio's
handiwork with religious scrupulousness, adding not a line or tone or
touch of colour to the fading frescoes; but he lived among them, aloft
on scaffoldings, and face to face with the originals which he designed
to reproduce. By long and close familiarity, by obstinate and patient
interrogation, he divined Correggio's secret, and was able at last to
see clearly through the mist of cobweb and mildew and altar smoke, and
through the still more cruel travesty of so-called restoration. What he
discovered, he faithfully committed first to paper in water colours,
and then to copperplate with the burin, so that we enjoy the privilege
of seeing Correggio's masterpieces as Toschi saw them, with the eyes of
genius and of love and of long scientific study. It is not too much to
say that some of Correggio's most charming compositions—for example,
the dispute of S. Augustine and S. John—have been resuscitated from the
grave by Toschi's skill. The original offers nothing but a mouldering
surface from which the painter's work has dropped in scales. The
engraving presents a design which we doubt not was Correggio's, for it
corresponds in all particulars to the style and spirit of the master.
To be critical in dealing with so successful an achievement of
restoration and translation is difficult. Yet it may be admitted once
and for all that Toschi has not unfrequently enfeebled his original.
Under his touch Correggio loses somewhat of his sensuous audacity, his
dithyrambic ecstasy, and approaches 149the ordinary standard of
prettiness and graceful beauty. The Diana of the Camera di S. Paolo,
for instance, has the strong calm splendour of a goddess: the same
Diana in Toschi's engraving seems about to smile with girlish joy. In a
word, the engraver was a man of a more common stamp—more timid and more
conventional than the painter. But this is after all a trifling
deduction from the value of his work.

Our debt to Paolo Toschi is such that it would be ungrateful not to
seek some details of his life. The few that can be gathered even at
Parma are brief and bald enough. The newspaper articles and funeral
panegyrics which refer to him are as barren as all such occasional
notices in Italy have always been; the panegyrist seeming more anxious
about his own style than eager to communicate information. Yet a bare
outline of Toschi's biography may be supplied. He was born at Parma in
1788. His father was cashier of the post-office, and his mother's name
was Anna Maria Brest. Early in his youth he studied painting at Parma
under Biagio Martini; and in 1809 he went to Paris, where he learned
the art of engraving from Bervic and of etching from Oortman. In Paris
he contracted an intimate friendship with the painter Gérard. But after
ten years he returned to Parma, where he established a company and
school of engravers in concert with his friend Antonio Isac. Maria
Louisa, the then Duchess, under whose patronage the arts flourished at
Parma (witness Bodoni's exquisite typography), soon recognised his
merit, and appointed him Director of the Ducal Academy. He then formed
the project of engraving a series of the whole of Correggio's frescoes.
The undertaking was a vast one. Both the cupolas of S. John and the
cathedral, together with the vault of the apse of S. Giovanni[24] and
various portions of the 150side aisles, and the so-called Camera di S.
Paolo, are covered by frescoes of Correggio and his pupil Parmegiano.
These frescoes have suffered so much from neglect and time, and from
unintelligent restoration, that it is difficult in many cases to
determine their true character. Yet Toschi did not content himself with
selections, or shrink from the task of deciphering and engraving the
whole. He formed a school of disciples, among whom were Carlo Raimondi
of Milan, Antonio Costa of Venice, Edward Eichens of Berlin, Aloisio
Juvara of Naples, Antonio Dalcò, Giuseppe Magnani, and Lodovico Bisola
of Parma, and employed them as assistants in his work. Death overtook
him in 1854, before it was finished, and now the water-colour drawings
which are exhibited in the Gallery of Parma prove to what extent the
achievement fell short of his design. Enough, however, was accomplished
to place the chief masterpieces of Correggio beyond the possibility of
utter oblivion.

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

To the piety of his pupil Carlo Raimondi, the bearer of a name
illustrious in the annals of engraving, we owe a striking portrait of
Toschi. The master is represented on his seat upon the scaffold in the
dizzy half-light of the dome. The shadowy forms of saints and angels
are around him. He has raised his eyes from his cartoon to study one of
these. In his right hand is the opera-glass with which he scrutinises
the details of distant groups. The upturned face, with its expression
of contemplative intelligence, is like that of an astronomer accustomed
to commerce with things above the sphere of common life, and ready to
give account of all that he has gathered from his observation of a
world not ours. In truth the world created by Correggio and interpreted
by Toschi is very far removed from that of actual existence. No painter
151has infused a more distinct individuality into his work, realising
by imaginative force and powerful projection an order of beauty
peculiar to himself, before which it is impossible to remain quite
indifferent. We must either admire the manner of Correggio, or else
shrink from it with the distaste which sensual art is apt to stir in
natures of a severe or simple type.

What, then, is the Correggiosity of Correggio? In other words, what is
the characteristic which, proceeding from the personality of the
artist, is impressed on all his work? The answer to this question,
though by no means simple, may perhaps be won by a process of gradual
analysis. The first thing that strikes us in the art of Correggio is,
that he has aimed at the realistic representation of pure unrealities.
His saints and angels are beings the like of whom we have hardly seen
upon the earth. Yet they are displayed before us with all the movement
and the vivid truth of nature. Next we feel that what constitutes the
superhuman, visionary quality of these creatures, is their uniform
beauty of a merely sensuous type. They are all created for pleasure,
not for thought or passion or activity or heroism. The uses of their
brains, their limbs, their every feature, end in enjoyment; innocent
and radiant wantonness is the condition of their whole existence.
Correggio conceived the universe under the one mood of sensuous joy:
his world was bathed in luxurious light; its inhabitants were capable
of little beyond a soft voluptuousness. Over the domain of tragedy he
had no sway, and very rarely did he attempt to enter on it: nothing,
for example, can be feebler than his endeavour to express anguish in
the distorted features of Madonna, S. John, and the Magdalen, who are
bending over the dead body of a Christ extended in the attitude of
languid repose. In like manner he could not deal with subjects which
demand a pregnancy of intellectual meaning. He paints the three Fates
like young and joyous Bacchantes, 152places rose-garlands and thyrsi in
their hands instead of the distaff and the thread of human destinies,
and they might figure appropriately upon the panels of a
banquet-chamber in Pompeii. In this respect Correggio might be termed
the Rossini of painting. The melodies of the 'Stabat Mater'—_Fac ut
portem_ or _Quis est homo_—are the exact analogues in music of
Correggio's voluptuous renderings of grave or mysterious motives. Nor,
again, did he possess that severe and lofty art of composition which
subordinates the fancy to the reason, and which seeks for the highest
intellectual beauty in a kind of architectural harmony supreme above
the melodies of gracefulness in detail. The Florentines and those who
shared their spirit—Michelangelo and Lionardo and Raphael—deriving this
principle of design from the geometrical art of the Middle Ages,
converted it to the noblest uses in their vast well-ordered
compositions. But Correggio ignored the laws of scientific
construction. It was enough for him to produce a splendid and brilliant
effect by the life and movement of his figures, and by the intoxicating
beauty of his forms. His type of beauty, too, is by no means elevated.
Lionardo painted souls whereof the features and the limbs are but an
index. The charm of Michelangelo's ideal is like a flower upon a tree
of rugged strength. Raphael aims at the loveliness which cannot be
disjoined from goodness. But Correggio is contented with bodies
'delicate and desirable.' His angels are genii disimprisoned from the
perfumed chalices of flowers, houris of an erotic paradise, elemental
spirits of nature wantoning in Eden in her prime. To accuse the painter
of conscious immorality or of what is stigmatised as sensuality, would
be as ridiculous as to class his seraphic beings among the products of
the Christian imagination. They belong to the generation of the fauns;
like fauns, they combine a certain savage wildness, a dithyrambic
ecstasy of inspiration, a delight in rapid movement 153as they revel
amid clouds or flowers, with the permanent and all-pervading sweetness
of the master's style. When infantine or childlike, these celestial
sylphs are scarcely to be distinguished for any noble quality of beauty
from Murillo's cherubs, and are far less divine than the choir of
children who attend Madonna in Titian's 'Assumption.' But in their
boyhood and their prime of youth, they acquire a fulness of sensuous
vitality and a radiance that are peculiar to Correggio. The lily-bearer
who helps to support S. Thomas beneath the dome of the cathedral at
Parma, the groups of seraphs who crowd behind the Incoronata of S.
Giovanni, and the two wild-eyed open-mouthed S. Johns stationed at each
side of the celestial throne, are among the most splendid instances of
the adolescent loveliness conceived by Correggio. Where the painter
found their models may be questioned but not answered; for he has made
them of a different fashion from the race of mortals: no court of Roman
emperor or Turkish sultan, though stocked with the flowers of Bithynian
and Circassian youth, have seen their like. Mozart's Cherubino seems to
have sat for all of them. At any rate they incarnate the very spirit of
the songs he sings.

As a consequence of this predilection for sensuous and voluptuous
forms, Correggio had no power of imagining grandly or severely.
Satisfied with material realism in his treatment even of sublime
mysteries, he converts the hosts of heaven into a 'fricassee of frogs,'
according to the old epigram. His apostles, gazing after the Virgin who
has left the earth, are thrown into attitudes so violent and so
dramatically foreshortened, that seen from below upon the pavement of
the cathedral, little of their form is distinguishable except legs and
arms in vehement commotion. Very different is Titian's conception of
this scene. To express the spiritual meaning, the emotion of Madonna's
transit, with all the pomp which 154colour and splendid composition can
convey, is Titian's sole care; whereas Correggio appears to have been
satisfied with realising the tumult of heaven rushing to meet earth,
and earth straining upwards to ascend to heaven in violent commotion—a
very orgasm of frenetic rapture. The essence of the event is forgotten:
its external manifestation alone is presented to the eye; and only the
accessories of beardless angels and cloud-encumbered cherubs are really
beautiful amid a surge of limbs in restless movement. More dignified,
because designed with more repose, is the Apocalypse of S. John painted
upon the cupola of S. Giovanni. The apostles throned on clouds, with
which the dome is filled, gaze upward to one point. Their attitudes are
noble; their form is heroic; in their eyes there is the strange
ecstatic look by which Correggio interpreted his sense of supernatural
vision: it is a gaze not of contemplation or deep thought, but of wild
half-savage joy, as if these saints also had become the elemental genii
of cloud and air, spirits emergent from ether, the salamanders of an
empyrean intolerable to mortal sense. The point on which their eyes
converge, the culmination of their vision, is the figure of Christ.
Here all the weakness of Correggio's method is revealed. He had
undertaken to realise by no ideal allegorical suggestion, by no
symbolism of architectural grouping, but by actual prosaic measurement,
by corporeal form in subjection to the laws of perspective and
foreshortening, things which in their very essence admit of only a
figurative revelation. Therefore his Christ, the centre of all those
earnest eyes, is contracted to a shape in which humanity itself is
mean, a sprawling figure which irresistibly reminds one of a frog. The
clouds on which the saints repose are opaque and solid; cherubs in
countless multitudes, a swarm of merry children, crawl about upon these
feather-beds of vapour, creep between the legs of the apostles, and
155play at bopeep behind their shoulders. There is no propriety in
their appearance there. They take no interest in the beatific vision.
They play no part in the celestial symphony; nor are they capable of
more than merely infantine enjoyment. Correggio has sprinkled them
lavishly like living flowers about his cloudland, because he could not
sustain a grave and solemn strain of music, but was forced by his
temperament to overlay the melody with roulades. Gazing at these
frescoes, the thought came to me that Correggio was like a man
listening to sweetest flute-playing, and translating phrase after
phrase as they passed through his fancy into laughing faces, breezy
tresses, and rolling mists. Sometimes a grander cadence reached his
ear; and then S. Peter with the keys, or S. Augustine of the mighty
brow, or the inspired eyes of S. John, took form beneath his pencil.
But the light airs returned, and rose and lily faces bloomed again for
him among the clouds. It is not therefore in dignity or sublimity that
Correggio excels, but in artless grace and melodious tenderness. The
Madonna della Scala clasping her baby with a caress which the little
child returns, S. Catherine leaning in a rapture of ecstatic love to
wed the infant Christ, S. Sebastian in the bloom of almost boyish
beauty, are the so-called sacred subjects to which the painter was
adequate, and which he has treated with the voluptuous tenderness we
find in his pictures of Leda and Danae and Io. Could these saints and
martyrs descend from Correggio's canvas, and take flesh, and breathe,
and begin to live; of what high action, of what grave passion, of what
exemplary conduct in any walk of life would they be capable? That is
the question which they irresistibly suggest; and we are forced to
answer, None! The moral and religious world did not exist for
Correggio. His art was but a way of seeing carnal beauty in a dream
that had no true relation to reality.

156Correggio's sensibility to light and colour was exactly on a par
with his feeling for form. He belongs to the poets of chiaroscuro and
the poets of colouring; but in both regions he maintains the
individuality so strongly expressed in his choice of purely sensuous
beauty. Tintoretto makes use of light and shade for investing his great
compositions with dramatic intensity. Rembrandt interprets sombre and
fantastic moods of the mind by golden gloom and silvery irradiation,
translating thought into the language of penumbral mystery. Lionardo
studies the laws of light scientifically, so that the proper roundness
and effect of distance should be accurately rendered, and all the
subtleties of nature's smiles be mimicked. Correggio is content with
fixing on his canvas the ανη΄ριθμον γέλασμα, the many-twinkling
laughter of light in motion, rained down through fleecy clouds or
trembling foliage, melting into half-shadows, bathing and illuminating
every object with a soft caress. There are no tragic contrasts of
splendour sharply defined on blackness, no mysteries of half-felt and
pervasive twilight, no studied accuracies of noonday clearness in his
work. Light and shadow are woven together on his figures like an
impalpable Coan gauze, aë;rial and transparent, enhancing the
palpitations of voluptuous movement which he loved. His colouring, in
like manner, has none of the superb and mundane pomp which the
Venetians affected; it does not glow or burn or beat the fire of gems
into our brain; joyous and wanton, it seems to be exactly such a
beauty-bloom as sense requires for its satiety. There is nothing in his
hues to provoke deep passion or to stimulate the yearnings of the soul:
the pure blushes of the dawn and the crimson pyres of sunset are
nowhere in the world that he has painted. But that chord of jocund
colour which may fitly be married to the smiles of light, the blues
which are found in laughing eyes, the pinks that tinge the 157cheeks of
early youth, and the warm yet silvery tones of healthy flesh, mingle as
in a marvellous pearl-shell on his pictures. Both chiaroscuro and
colouring have this supreme purpose in art, to effect the sense like
music, and like music to create a mood in the soul of the spectator.
Now the mood which Correggio stimulates is one of natural and
thoughtless pleasure. To feel his influence, and at the same moment to
be the subject of strong passion, or fierce lust, or heroic resolve, or
profound contemplation, or pensive melancholy, is impossible.
Wantonness, innocent because unconscious of sin, immoral because
incapable of any serious purpose, is the quality which prevails in all
that he has painted. The pantomimes of a Mohammedan paradise might be
put upon the stage after patterns supplied by this least spiritual of
painters.

It follows from this analysis that the Correggiosity of Correggio, that
which sharply distinguished him from all previous artists, was the
faculty of painting a purely voluptuous dream of beautiful beings in
perpetual movement, beneath the laughter of morning light, in a world
of never-failing April hues. When he attempts to depart from the
fairyland of which he was the Prospero, and to match himself with the
masters of sublime thought or earnest passion, he proves his weakness.
But within his own magic circle he reigns supreme, no other artist
having blended the witcheries of colouring, chiaroscuro, and faunlike
loveliness of form into a harmony so perfect in its sensuous charm.
Bewitched by the strains of the siren, we pardon affectations of
expression, emptiness of meaning, feebleness of composition,
exaggerated and melodramatic attitudes. There is what Goethe called a
demonic influence in the art of Correggio: 'In poetry,' said Goethe to
Eckermann, 'especially in that which is unconscious, before which
reason and understanding fall short, and 158which therefore produces
effects so far surpassing all conception, there is always something
demonic.' It is not to be wondered that Correggio, possessed of this
demonic power in the highest degree, and working to a purely sensuous
end, should have exercised a fatal influence over art. His successors,
attracted by an intoxicating loveliness which they could not analyse,
which had nothing in common with the reason or the understanding, but
was like a glamour cast upon the soul in its most secret sensibilities,
threw themselves blindly into the imitation of Correggio's faults. His
affectation, his want of earnest thought, his neglect of composition,
his sensuous realism, his all-pervading sweetness, his infantine
prettiness, his substitution of thaumaturgical effects for
conscientious labour, admitted only too easy imitation, and were but
too congenial with the spirit of the late Renaissance. Cupolas through
the length and breadth of Italy began to be covered with clouds and
simpering cherubs in the convulsions of artificial ecstasy. The
attenuated elegance of Parmigiano, the attitudinising of Anselmi's
saints and angels, and a general sacrifice of what is solid and
enduring to sentimental gewgaws on the part of all painters who had
submitted to the magic of Correggio, proved how easy it was to go
astray with the great master. Meanwhile no one could approach him in
that which was truly his own—the delineation of a transient moment in
the life of sensuous beauty, the painting of a smile on Nature's face,
when light and colour tremble in harmony with the movement of joyous
living creatures. Another demonic nature of a far more powerful type
contributed his share to the ruin of art in Italy. Michelangelo's
constrained attitudes and muscular anatomy were imitated by painters
and sculptors, who thought that the grand style lay in the presentation
of theatrical athletes, but who could not seize the secret whereby the
great master made even the bodies of men 159and women—colossal trunks
and writhen limbs—interpret the meanings of his deep and melancholy
soul.

It is a sad law of progress in art, that when the æsthetic impulse is
on the wane, artists should perforce select to follow the weakness
rather than the vigour, of their predecessors. While painting was in
the ascendant, Raphael could take the best of Perugino and discard the
worst; in its decadence Parmigiano reproduces the affectations of
Correggio, and Bernini carries the exaggerations of Michelangelo to
absurdity. All arts describe a parabola. The force which produces them
causes them to rise throughout their growth up to a certain point, and
then to descend more gradually in a long and slanting line of regular
declension. There is no real break of continuity. The end is the result
of simple exhaustion. Thus the last of our Elizabethan dramatists,
Shirley and Crowne and Killigrew, pushed to its ultimate conclusion the
principle inherent in Marlowe, not attempting to break new ground, nor
imitating the excellences so much as the defects of their forerunners.
Thus too the Pointed style of architecture in England gave birth first
to what is called the Decorated, next to the Perpendicular, and finally
expired in the Tudor. Each step was a step of progress—at first for the
better—at last for the worse—but logical, continuous, necessitated.[25]

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

It is difficult to leave Correggio without at least posing the question
of the difference between moralised and merely sensual art. Is all art
excellent in itself and good in its effect that is beautiful and
earnest? There is no doubt that Correggio's work is in a way most
beautiful; and it bears unmistakable signs of the master having given
himself with single-hearted devotion to the expression of that phase of
160loveliness which he could apprehend. In so far we must admit that
his art is both excellent and solid. Yet we are unable to conceive that
any human being could be made better—stronger for endurance, more
fitted for the uses of the world, more sensitive to what is noble in
nature—by its contemplation. At the best Correggio does but please us
in our lighter moments, and we are apt to feel that the pleasure he has
given is of an enervating kind. To expect obvious morality of any
artist is confessedly absurd. It is not the artist's province to
preach, or even to teach, except by remote suggestion. Yet the mind of
the artist may be highly moralised, and then he takes rank not merely
with the ministers to refined pleasure, but also with the educators of
the world. He may, for example, be penetrated with a just sense of
humanity like Shakspere, or with a sublime temperance like Sophocles,
instinct with prophetic intuition like Michelangelo, or with passionate
experience like Beethoven. The mere sight of the work of Pheidias is
like breathing pure health-giving air. Milton and Dante were steeped in
religious patriotism; Goethe was pervaded with philosophy, and Balzac
with scientific curiosity. Ariosto, Cervantes, and even Boccaccio are
masters in the mysteries of common life. In all these cases the tone of
the artist's mind is felt throughout his work: what he paints, or
sings, or writes, conveys a lesson while it pleases. On the other hand,
depravity in an artist or a poet percolates through work which has in
it nothing positive of evil, and a very miasma of poisonous influence
may rise from the apparently innocuous creations of a tainted soul. Now
Correggio is moralised in neither way—neither as a good nor as a bad
man, neither as an acute thinker nor as a deliberate voluptuary. He is
simply sensuous. On his own ground he is even very fresh and healthy:
his delineation of youthful 161maternity, for example, is as true as it
is beautiful; and his sympathy with the gleefulness of children is
devoid of affectation. We have then only to ask ourselves whether the
defect in him of all thought and feeling which is not at once capable
of graceful fleshly incarnation, be sufficient to lower him in the
scale of artists. This question must of course be answered according to
our definition of the purposes of art. There is no doubt that the most
highly organised art—that which absorbs the most numerous human
qualities and effects a harmony between the most complex elements—is
the noblest. Therefore the artist who combines moral elevation and
power of thought with a due appreciation of sensual beauty, is more
elevated and more beneficial than one whose domain is simply that of
carnal loveliness. Correggio, if this be so, must take a comparatively
low rank. Just as we welcome the beautiful athlete for the radiant life
that is in him, but bow before the personality of Sophocles, whose
perfect form enshrined a noble and highly educated soul, so we
gratefully accept Correggio for his grace, while we approach the
consummate art of Michelangelo with reverent awe. It is necessary in
æsthetics as elsewhere to recognise a hierarchy of excellence, the
grades of which are determined by the greater or less comprehensiveness
of the artist's nature expressed in his work. At the same time, the
calibre of the artist's genius must be estimated; for eminent greatness
even of a narrow kind will always command our admiration: and the
amount of his originality has also to be taken into account. What is
unique has, for that reason alone, a claim on our consideration. Judged
in this way, Correggio deserves a place, say, in the sweet planet
Venus, above the moon and above Mercury, among the artists who have not
advanced beyond the contemplations which find their proper outcome in
love. Yet, 162even thus, he aids the culture of humanity. 'We should
take care,' said Goethe, apropos of Byron, to Eckermann, 'not to be
always looking for culture in the decidedly pure and moral. Everything
that is great promotes cultivation as soon as we are aware of it.'

163



CANOSSA


Italy is less the land of what is venerable in antiquity, than of
beauty, by divine right young eternally in spite of age. This is due
partly to her history and art and literature, partly to the temper of
the races who have made her what she is, and partly to her natural
advantages. Her oldest architectural remains, the temples of Paestum
and Girgenti, or the gates of Perugia and Volterra, are so adapted to
Italian landscape and so graceful in their massive strength, that we
forget the centuries which have passed over them. We leap as by a
single bound from the times of Roman greatness to the new birth of
humanity in the fourteenth century, forgetting the many years during
which Italy, like the rest of Europe, was buried in what our ancestors
called Gothic barbarism. The illumination cast upon the classic period
by the literature of Rome and by the memory of her great men is so
vivid, that we feel the days of the Republic and the Empire to be near
us; while the Italian Renaissance is so truly a revival of that former
splendour, a resumption of the music interrupted for a season, that it
is extremely difficult to form any conception of the five long
centuries which elapsed between the Lombard invasion in 568 and the
accession of Hildebrand to the Pontificate in 1073. So true is it that
nothing lives and has reality for us but what is spiritual,
intellectual, self-possessed in personality and consciousness. When the
Egyptian priest said to Solon, 'You Greeks are always children,' he
intended a gentle sarcasm, but he implied a compliment; for the
164quality of imperishable youth belonged to the Hellenic spirit, and
has become the heritage of every race which partook of it. And this
spirit in no common degree has been shared by the Italians of the
earlier and the later classic epoch. The land is full of monuments
pertaining to those two brilliant periods; and whenever the voice of
poet has spoken or the hand of artist has been at work, that spirit, as
distinguished from the spirit of mediaevalism, has found expression.

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

So important were these five centuries of incubation for Italy, and so
little is there left of them to arrest the attention of the student,
dazzled as he is by the ever-living glories of Greece, Rome, and the
Renaissance, that a visit to the ruins of Canossa is almost a duty.
There, in spite of himself, by 165the very isolation and forlorn
abandonment of what was once so formidable a seat of feudal despotism
and ecclesiastical tyranny, he is forced to confront the obscure but
mighty spirit of the middle ages. There, if anywhere, the men of those
iron-hearted times anterior to the Crusades will acquire distinctness
for his imagination, when he recalls the three main actors in the drama
enacted on the summit of Canossa's rock in the bitter winter of 1077.

Canossa lies almost due south of Reggio d'Emilia, upon the slopes of
the Apennines. Starting from Reggio, the carriage-road keeps to the
plain for some while in a westerly direction, and then bends away
towards the mountains. As we approach their spurs, the ground begins to
rise. The rich Lombard tilth of maize and vine gives place to
English-looking hedgerows, lined with oaks, and studded with handsome
dark tufts of green hellebore. The hills descend in melancholy
earth-heaps on the plain, crowned here and there with ruined castles.
Four of these mediaeval strongholds, called Bianello, Montevetro,
Monteluzzo, and Montezano, give the name of Quattro Castelli to the
commune. The most important of them, Bianello, which, next to Canossa,
was the strongest fortress possessed by the Countess Matilda and her
ancestors, still presents a considerable mass of masonry, roofed and
habitable. The group formed a kind of advance-guard for Canossa against
attack from Lombardy. After passing Quattro Castelli we enter the
hills, climbing gently upwards between barren slopes of ashy grey
earth—the _débris_ of most ancient Apennines—crested at favourable
points with lonely towers. In truth the whole country bristles with
ruined forts, making it clear that during the middle ages Canossa was
but the centre of a great military system, the core and kernel of a
fortified position which covered an area to be measured by scores of
square miles, 166reaching far into the mountains, and buttressed on the
plain. As yet, however, after nearly two hours' driving, Canossa has
not come in sight. At last a turn in the road discloses an opening in
the valley of the Enza to the left: up this lateral gorge we see first
the Castle of Rossena on its knoll of solid red rock, flaming in the
sunlight; and then, further withdrawn, detached from all surrounding
objects, and reared aloft as though to sweep the sea of waved and
broken hills around it, a sharp horn of hard white stone. That is
Canossa—the _alba Canossa_, the _candida petra_ of its rhyming
chronicler. There is no mistaking the commanding value of its
situation. At the same time the brilliant whiteness of Canossa's rocky
hill, contrasted with the red gleam of Rossena, and outlined against
the prevailing dulness of these earthy Apennines, secures a picturesque
individuality concordant with its unique history and unrivalled
strength.

There is still a journey of two hours before the castle can be reached:
and this may be performed on foot or horseback. The path winds upward
over broken ground; following the _arête_ of curiously jumbled and
thwarted hill-slopes; passing beneath the battlements of Rossena,
whence the unfortunate Everelina threw herself in order to escape the
savage love of her lord and jailor; and then skirting those horrid
earthen _balze_ which are so common and so unattractive a feature of
Apennine scenery. The most hideous _balze_ to be found in the length
and breadth of Italy are probably those of Volterra, from which the
citizens themselves recoil with a kind of terror, and which lure
melancholy men by intolerable fascination on to suicide. For ever
crumbling, altering with frost and rain, discharging gloomy glaciers of
slow-crawling mud, and scarring the hillside with tracts of barrenness,
these earth-precipices are among the most ruinous and discomfortable
failures of nature. They have not even so much of 167wildness or
grandeur as forms, the saving merit of nearly all wasteful things in
the world, and can only be classed with the desolate _ghiare_ of
Italian river-beds.

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

There has been plenty of time since the year 1255, when the people of
Reggio sacked and destroyed Canossa, for Nature to resume her
undisputed sway by obliterating the handiwork of men; and at present
Nature forms the chief charm of Canossa. Lying one afternoon of May on
the crisp short grass at the edge of a precipice purple with iris in
full 168blossom, I surveyed, from what were once the battlements of
Matilda's castle, a prospect than which there is none more
spirit-stirring by reason of its beauty and its manifold associations
in Europe. The lower castle-crowded hills have sunk. Reggio lies at our
feet, shut in between the crests of Monte Carboniano and Monte delle
Celle. Beyond Reggio stretches Lombardy—the fairest and most memorable
battlefield of nations, the richest and most highly cultivated garden
of civilised industry. Nearly all the Lombard cities may be seen, some
of them faint like bluish films of vapour, some clear with dome and
spire. There is Modena and her Ghirlandina. Carpi, Parma, Mirandola,
Verona, Mantua, lie well defined and russet on the flat green map; and
there flashes a bend of lordly Po; and there the Euganeans rise like
islands, telling us where Padua and Ferrara nestle in the amethystine
haze Beyond and above all to the northward sweep the Alps, tossing
their silvery crests up into the cloudless sky from the violet mist
that girds their flanks and drowns their basements. Monte Adamello and
the Ortler, the cleft of the Brenner, and the sharp peaks of the
Venetian Alps are all distinctly visible. An eagle flying straight from
our eyrie might traverse Lombardy and light among the snow-fields of
the Valtelline between sunrise and sundown. Nor is the prospect tame to
southward. Here the Apennines roll, billow above billow, in majestic
desolation, soaring to snow summits in the Pellegrino region. As our
eye attempts to thread that labyrinth of hill and vale, we tell
ourselves that those roads wind to Tuscany, and yonder stretches
Garfagnana, where Ariosto lived and mused in honourable exile from the
world he loved.

It was by one of the mountain passes that lead from Lucca northward
that the first founder of Canossa is said to have travelled early in
the tenth century. Sigifredo, if the tradition may be trusted, was very
wealthy; and with his money he 169bought lands and signorial rights at
Reggio, bequeathing to his children, when he died about 945, a
patrimony which they developed into a petty kingdom. Azzo, his second
son, fortified Canossa, and made it his principal place of residence.
When Lothair, King of Italy, died in 950, leaving his beautiful widow
to the ill-treatment of his successor, Berenger, Adelaide found a
protector in this Azzo. She had been imprisoned on the Lake of Garda;
but managing to escape in man's clothes to Mantua, she thence sent news
of her misfortunes to Canossa. Azzo lost no time in riding with his
knights to her relief, and brought her back in safety to his mountain
fastness. It is related that Azzo was afterwards instrumental in
calling Otho into Italy and procuring his marriage with Adelaide, in
consequence of which events Italy became a fief of the Empire. Owing to
the part he played at this time, the Lord of Canossa was recognised as
one of the most powerful vassals of the German Emperor in Lombardy.
Honours were heaped upon him; and he grew so rich and formidable that
Berenger, the titular King of Italy, laid siege to his fortress of
Canossa. The memory of this siege, which lasted for three years and a
half, is said still to linger in the popular traditions of the place.
When Azzo died at the end of the tenth century, he left to his son
Tedaldo the title of Count of Reggio and Modena; and this title was
soon after raised to that of Marquis. The Marches governed as Vicar of
the Empire by Tedaldo included Reggio, Modena, Ferrara, Brescia, and
probably Mantua. They stretched, in fact, across the north of Italy,
forming a quadrilateral between the Alps and Apennines. Like his
father, Tedaldo adhered consistently to the Imperial party; and when he
died and was buried at Canossa, he in his turn bequeathed to his son
Bonifazio a power and jurisdiction increased by his own abilities.
Bonifazio held the state of a sovereign at Canossa, adding the duchy of
Tuscany to his 170father's fiefs, and meeting the allied forces of the
Lombard barons in the field of Coviolo like an independent potentate.
His power and splendour were great enough to rouse the jealousy of the
Emperor; but Henry III. seems to have thought it more prudent to
propitiate this proud vassal, and to secure his kindness, than to
attempt his humiliation. Bonifazio married Beatrice, daughter of
Frederick, Duke of Lorraine—her whose marble sarcophagus in the Campo
Santo at Pisa is said to have inspired Niccola Pisano with his new
style of sculpture. Their only child, Matilda, was born, probably at
Lucca, in 1046; and six years after her birth, Bonifazio, who had
swayed his subjects like an iron-handed tyrant, was murdered. To the
great House of Canossa, the rulers of one-third of Italy, there now
remained only two women, Bonifazio's widow Beatrice, and his daughter
Matilda. Beatrice married Godfrey, Duke of Lorraine, who was recognised
by Henry IV. as her husband and as feudatory of the Empire in the full
place of Boniface. He died about 1070; and in this year Matilda was
married by proxy to his son, Godfrey the Hunchback, whom, however, she
did not see till the year 1072. The marriage was not a happy one; and
the question has even been disputed among Matilda's biographers whether
it was ever consummated. At any rate it did not last long; for Godfrey
was killed at Antwerp in 1076. In this year Matilda also lost her
mother, Beatrice, who died at Pisa, and was buried in the cathedral.

By this rapid enumeration of events it will be seen how the power and
honours of the House of Canossa, including Tuscany, Spoleto, and the
fairest portions of Lombardy, had devolved upon a single woman of the
age of thirty at the moment when the fierce quarrel between Pope and
Emperor began in the year 1076. Matilda was destined to play a great, a
striking, and a tragic part in the opening drama of Italian 171history.
Her decided character and uncompromising course of action have won for
her the name of 'la gran donna d'Italia,' and have caused her memory to
be blessed or execrated, according as the temporal pretensions and
spiritual tyranny of the Papacy may have found supporters or opponents
in posterity. She was reared from childhood in habits of austerity and
unquestioning piety. Submission to the Church became for her not merely
a rule of conduct, but a passionate enthusiasm. She identified herself
with the cause of four successive Popes, protected her idol, the
terrible and iron-hearted Hildebrand, in the time of his adversity;
remained faithful to his principles after his death; and having served
the Holy See with all her force and all that she possessed through all
her lifetime, she bequeathed her vast dominions to it on her deathbed.
Like some of the greatest mediaeval characters—like Hildebrand
himself—Matilda was so thoroughly of one piece, that she towers above
the mists of ages with the massive grandeur of an incarnated idea. She
is for us the living statue of a single thought, an undivided impulse,
the more than woman born to represent her age. Nor was it without
reason that Dante symbolised in her the love of Holy Church; though
students of the 'Purgatory' will hardly recognise the lovely maiden,
singing and plucking flowers beside the stream of Lethe, in the stern
and warlike chatelaine of Canossa. Unfortunately we know but little of
Matilda's personal appearance. Her health was not strong; and it is
said to have been weakened, especially in her last illness, by ascetic
observances. Yet she headed her own troops, armed with sword and
cuirass, avoiding neither peril nor fatigue in the quarrels of her
master Gregory. Up to the year 1622 two strong suits of mail were
preserved at Quattro Castelli, which were said to have been worn by her
in battle, and which were afterwards sold on the market-place at
Reggio. This habit of 172donning armour does not, however, prove that
Matilda was exceptionally vigorous; for in those savage times she could
hardly have played the part of heroine without participating personally
in the dangers of warfare.

No less monumental in the plastic unity of his character was the monk
Hildebrand, who for twenty years before his elevation to the Papacy had
been the maker of Popes and the creator of the policy of Rome. When he
was himself elected in the year 1073, and had assumed the name of
Gregory VII., he immediately began to put in practice the plans for
Church aggrandisement he had slowly matured during the previous quarter
of a century. To free the Church from its subservience to the Empire,
to assert the Pope's right to ratify the election of the Emperor and to
exercise the right of jurisdiction over him, to place ecclesiastical
appointments in the sole power of the Roman See, and to render the
celibacy of the clergy obligatory, were the points he had resolved to
carry. Taken singly and together, these chief aims of Hildebrand's
policy had but one object—the magnification of the Church at the
expense both of the people and of secular authorities, and the further
separation of the Church from the ties and sympathies of common life
that bound it to humanity. To accuse Hildebrand of personal ambition
would be but shallow criticism, though it is clear that his inflexible
and puissant nature found a savage selfish pleasure in trampling upon
power and humbling pride at warfare with his own. Yet his was in no
sense an egotistic purpose like that which moved the Popes of the
Renaissance to dismember Italy for their bastards. Hildebrand, like
Matilda, was himself the creature of a great idea. These two potent
personalities completely understood each other, and worked towards a
single end. Tho mythopoeic fancy might conceive of them as the male and
female manifestations of one dominant faculty, the spirit of
ecclesiastical 173dominion incarnate in a man and woman of almost
super-human mould.

Opposed to them, as the third actor in the drama of Canossa, was a man
of feebler mould. Henry IV., King of Italy, but not yet crowned
Emperor, had none of his opponents' unity of purpose or monumental
dignity of character. At war with his German feudatories, browbeaten by
rebellious sons, unfaithful and cruel to his wife, vacillating in the
measures he adopted to meet his divers difficulties, at one time
tormented by his conscience into cowardly submission, and at another
treasonably neglectful of the most solemn obligations, Henry was no
match for the stern wills against which he was destined to break in
unavailing passion. Early disagreements with Gregory had culminated in
his excommunication. The German nobles abandoned his cause; and Henry
found it expedient to summon a council in Augsburg for the settlement
of matters in dispute between the Empire and the Papacy. Gregory
expressed his willingness to attend this council, and set forth from
Rome accompanied by the Countess Matilda in December 1076. He did not,
however, travel further than Vercelli, for news here reached him that
Henry was about to enter Italy at the head of a powerful army. Matilda
hereupon persuaded the Holy Father to place himself in safety among her
strongholds of Canossa. Thither accordingly Gregory retired before the
ending of that year; and bitter were the sarcasms uttered by the
imperial partisans in Italy upon this protection offered by a fair
countess to the monk who had been made a Pope. The foul calumnies of
that bygone age would be unworthy of even so much as this notice, if we
did not trace in them the ineradicable Italian tendency to cynical
insinuation—a tendency which has involved the history of the
Renaissance Popes in an almost impenetrable mist of lies and
exaggerations. 173Henry was in truth upon his road to Italy, but with a
very different attendance from that which Gregory expected. Accompanied
by Bertha, his wife, and his boy son Conrad, the Emperor elect left
Spires in the condition of a fugitive, crossed Burgundy, spent
Christmas at Besançon, and journeyed to the foot of Mont Cenis. It is
said that he was followed by a single male servant of mean birth; and
if the tale of his adventures during the passage of the Alps can be
credited, history presents fewer spectacles more picturesque than the
straits to which this representative of the Cæsars, this supreme chief
of feudal civility, this ruler destined still to be the leader of
mighty armies and the father of a line of monarchs, was exposed.
Concealing his real name and state, he induced some shepherds to lead
him and his escort through the thick snows to the summit of Mont Cenis;
and by the help of these men the imperial party were afterwards let
down the snow-slopes on the further side by means of ropes. Bertha and
her women were sewn up in hides and dragged across the frozen surface
of the winter drifts. It was a year memorable for its severity. Heavy
snow had fallen in October, which continued ice-bound and unyielding
till the following April.

No sooner had Henry reached Turin, than he set forward again in the
direction of Canossa. The fame of his arrival had preceded him, and he
found that his party was far stronger in Italy than he had ventured to
expect. Proximity to the Church of Rome divests its fulminations of
half their terrors. The Italian bishops and barons, less superstitious
than the Germans, and with greater reason to resent the domineering
graspingness of Gregory, were ready to espouse the Emperor's cause.
Henry gathered a formidable force as he marched onward across Lombardy;
and some of the most illustrious prelates and nobles of the South were
in his suite. 175A more determined leader than Henry proved himself to
be, might possibly have forced Gregory to some accommodation, in spite
of the strength of Canossa and the Pope's invincible obstinacy, by
proper use of these supporters. Meanwhile the adherents of the Church
were mustered in Matilda's fortress; among whom may be mentioned Azzo,
the progenitor of Este and Brunswick; Hugh, Abbot of Clugny; and the
princely family of Piedmont. 'I am become a second Rome,' exclaims
Canossa, in the language of Matilda's rhyming chronicler; 'all honours
are mine; I hold at once both Pope and King, the princes of Italy and
those of Gaul, those of Rome, and those from far beyond the Alps.' The
stage was ready; the audience had assembled; and now the three great
actors were about to meet. Immediately upon his arrival at Canossa,
Henry sent for his cousin, the Countess Matilda, and besought her to
intercede for him with Gregory. He was prepared to make any concessions
or to undergo any humiliations, if only the ban of excommunication
might be removed; nor, cowed as he was by his own superstitious
conscience, and by the memory of the opposition he had met with from
his German vassals, does he seem to have once thought of meeting force
with force, and of returning to his northern kingdom triumphant in the
overthrow of Gregory's pride. Matilda undertook to plead his cause
before the Pontiff. But Gregory was not to be moved so soon to mercy.
'If Henry has in truth repented,' he replied, 'let him lay down crown
and sceptre, and declare himself unworthy of the name of king.' The
only point conceded to the suppliant was that he should be admitted in
the garb of a penitent within the precincts of the castle. Leaving his
retinue outside the walls, Henry entered the first series of outworks,
and was thence conducted to the second, so that between him and the
citadel itself there still remained the third of the surrounding
bastions. Here he was bidden to 176wait the Pope's pleasure; and here,
in the midst of that bitter winter weather, while the fierce winds of
the Apennines were sweeping sleet upon him in their passage from Monte
Pellegrino to the plain, he knelt barefoot, clothed in sackcloth,
fasting from dawn till eve, for three whole days. On the morning of the
fourth day, judging that Gregory was inexorable, and that his suit
would not be granted, Henry retired to the Chapel of S. Nicholas, which
stood within this second precinct. There he called to his aid the Abbot
of Clugny and the Countess, both of whom were his relations, and who,
much as they might sympathise with Gregory, could hardly be supposed to
look with satisfaction on their royal kinsman's outrage. The Abbot told
Henry that nothing in the world could move the Pope; but Matilda, when
in turn he fell before her knees and wept, engaged to do for him the
utmost. She probably knew that the moment for unbending had arrived,
and that her imperious guest could not with either decency or prudence
prolong the outrage offered to the civil chief of Christendom. It was
the 25th of January when the Emperor elect was brought, half dead with
cold and misery, into the Pope's presence. There he prostrated himself
in the dust, crying aloud for pardon. It is said that Gregory first
placed his foot upon Henry's neck, uttering these words of Scripture:
'Super aspidem et basiliscum ambulabis, et conculcabis leonem et
draconem,' and that then he raised him from the earth and formally
pronounced his pardon. The prelates and nobles who took part in this
scene were compelled to guarantee with their own oaths the vows of
obedience pronounced by Henry; so that in the very act of
reconciliation a new insult was offered to him. After this Gregory said
mass, and permitted Henry to communicate; and at the close of the day a
banquet was served, at which the King sat down to meat with the Pope
and the Countess.

177It is probable that, while Henry's penance was performed in the
castle courts beneath the rock, his reception by the Pope, and all that
subsequently happened, took place in the citadel itself. But of this we
have no positive information. Indeed the silence of the chronicles as
to the topography of Canossa is peculiarly unfortunate for lovers of
the picturesque in historic detail, now that there is no possibility of
tracing the outlines of the ancient building. Had the author of the
'Vita Mathildis' (Muratori, vol. v.) foreseen that his beloved Canossa
would one day be nothing but a mass of native rock, he would
undoubtedly have been more explicit on these points; and much that is
vague about an event only paralleled by our Henry II.'s penance before
Becket's shrine at Canterbury, might now be clear.

Very little remains to be told about Canossa. During the same year,
1077, Matilda made the celebrated donation of her fiefs to Holy Church.
This was accepted by Gregory in the name of S. Peter, and it was
confirmed by a second deed during the pontificate of Urban IV. in 1102.
Though Matilda subsequently married Guelfo d'Este, son of the Duke of
Bavaria, she was speedily divorced from him; nor was there any heir to
a marriage ridiculous by reason of disparity of age, the bridegroom
being but eighteen, while the bride was forty-three in the year of her
second nuptials. During one of Henry's descents into Italy, he made an
unsuccessful attack upon Canossa, assailing it at the head of a
considerable force one October morning in 1092. Matilda's biographer
informs us that the mists of autumn veiled his beloved fortress from
the eyes of the beleaguerers. They had not even the satisfaction of
beholding the unvanquished citadel; and, what was more, the banner of
the Emperor was seized and dedicated as a trophy in the Church of S.
Apollonio. In the following year the Countess opened her gates of
Canossa to an illustrious 178fugitive, Adelaide, the wife of her old
foeman, Henry, who had escaped with difficulty from the insults and the
cruelty of her husband. After Henry's death, his son, the Emperor Henry
V., paid Matilda a visit in her castle of Bianello, addressed her by
the name of mother, and conferred upon her the vice-regency of Liguria.
At the age of sixty-nine she died, in 1115, at Bondeno de' Roncori, and
was buried, not among her kinsmen at Canossa, but in an abbey of S.
Benedict near Mantua. With her expired the main line of the noble house
she represented; though Canossa, now made a fief of the Empire in spite
of Matilda's donation, was given to a family which claimed descent from
Bonifazio's brother Conrad—a young man killed in the battle of Coviolo.
This family, in its turn, was extinguished in the year 1570; but a
junior branch still exists at Verona. It will be remembered that
Michelangelo Buonarroti claimed kinship with the Count of Canossa; and
a letter from the Count is extant acknowledging the validity of his
pretension.

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

As I lay and mused that afternoon of May upon the short grass, cropped
by two grey goats, whom a little boy was tending, it occurred to me to
ask the woman who had served me as guide, whether any legend remained
in the country concerning the Countess Matilda. She had often,
probably, been asked this question by other travellers. Therefore she
179was more than usually ready with an answer, which, as far as I could
understand her dialect, was this. Matilda was a great and potent witch,
whose summons the devil was bound to obey. One day she aspired, alone
of all her sex, to say mass; but when the moment came for sacring the
elements, a thunderbolt fell from the clear sky, and reduced her to
ashes.[26] That the most single-hearted handmaid of the Holy Church,
whose life was one long devotion to its ordinances, should survive in
this grotesque myth, might serve to point a satire upon the vanity of
earthly fame. The legend in its very extravagance is a fanciful
distortion of the truth.

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

180



FORNOVO


In the town of Parma there is one surpassingly strange relic of the
past. The palace of the Farnesi, like many a haunt of upstart tyranny
and beggared pride on these Italian plains, rises misshapen and
disconsolate above the stream that bears the city's name. The squalor
of this grey-brown edifice of formless brick, left naked like the
palace of the same Farnesi at Piacenza, has something even horrid in it
now that only vague memory survives of its former uses. The princely
_sprezzatura_ of its ancient occupants, careless of these unfinished
courts and unroofed galleries amid the splendour of their purfled silks
and the glitter of their torchlight pageantry, has yielded to sullen
cynicism—the cynicism of arrested ruin and unreverend age. All that was
satisfying to the senses and distracting to the eyesight in their
transitory pomp has passed away, leaving a sinister and naked shell.
Remembrance can but summon up the crimes, the madness, the trivialities
of those dead palace-builders. An atmosphere of evil clings to the
dilapidated walls, as though the tainted spirit of the infamous Pier
Luigi still possessed the spot, on which his toadstool brood of
princelings sprouted in the mud of their misdeeds. Enclosed in this
huge labyrinth of brickwork is the relic of which I spoke. It is the
once world-famous Teatro Farnese, raised in the year 1618 by Ranunzio
Farnese for the marriage of Odoardo Farnese with Margaret of Austria.
Giambattista Aleotti, a native of pageant-loving Ferrara, traced the
stately curves and noble orders of 181the galleries, designed the
columns that support the raftered roof, marked out the orchestra,
arranged the stage, and breathed into the whole the spirit of
Palladio's most heroic neo-Latin style. Vast, built of wood,
dishevelled, with broken statues and blurred coats of arms, with its
empty scene, its uncurling frescoes, its hangings all in rags, its
cobwebs of two centuries, its dust and mildew and discoloured gold—this
theatre, a sham in its best days, and now that ugliest of things, a
sham unmasked and naked to the light of day, is yet sublime, because of
its proportioned harmony, because of its grand Roman manner. The sight
and feeling of it fasten upon the mind and abide in the memory like a
nightmare,—like one of Piranesi's weirdest and most passion-haunted
etchings for the _Carceri_. Idling there at noon in the twilight of the
dust-bedarkened windows, we fill the tiers of those high galleries with
ladies, the space below with grooms and pages; the stage is ablaze with
torches, and an Italian Masque, such as our Marlowe dreamed of, fills
the scene. But it is impossible to dower these fancies with even such
life as in healthier, happier ruins phantasy may lend to imagination's
figments. This theatre is like a maniac's skull, empty of all but
unrealities and mockeries of things that are. The ghosts we raise here
could never have been living men and women: _questi sciaurati non fur
mai vivi._ So clinging is the sense of instability that appertains to
every fragment of that dry-rot tyranny which seized by evil fortune in
the sunset of her golden day on Italy.

In this theatre I mused one morning after visiting Fornovo; and the
thoughts suggested by the battlefield found their proper atmosphere in
the dilapidated place. What, indeed, is the Teatro Farnese but a symbol
of those hollow principalities which the despot and the stranger built
in Italy after the fatal date of 1494, when national enthusiasm and
political energy 182were expiring in a blaze of art, and when the
Italians as a people had ceased to be; but when the phantom of their
former life, surviving in high works of beauty, was still superb by
reason of imperishable style! How much in Italy of the Renaissance was,
like this plank-built plastered theatre, a glorious sham! The sham was
seen through then; and now it stands unmasked: and yet, strange to say,
so perfect is its form that we respect the sham and yield our spirits
to the incantation of its music.

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

If it were not for thoughts like these, no one, I suppose, would take
the trouble to drive for two hours out of Parma to the little village
of Fornovo—a score of bare grey hovels on the margin of a pebbly
river-bed beneath the Apennines. The fields on either side, as far as
eye can see, are beautiful indeed in May sunlight, painted here with
flax, like shallow sheets of water reflecting a pale sky, and there
with clover red as blood. Scarce unfolded leaves sparkle like flamelets
of bright green upon the knotted vines, and the young corn is bending
all one way beneath a western breeze. But not less beautiful than this
is the whole broad plain of Lombardy; nor are the nightingales louder
here than in the acacia trees around Pavia. As we drive, the fields
become less fertile, and the hills 183encroach upon the level, sending
down their spurs upon that waveless plain like blunt rocks jutting out
into a tranquil sea. When we reach the bed of the Taro, these hills
begin to narrow on either hand, and the road rises. Soon they open out
again with gradual curving lines, forming a kind of amphitheatre filled
up from flank to flank with the _ghiara_ or pebbly bottom of the Taro.
The Taro is not less wasteful than any other of the brotherhood of
streams that pour from Alp or Apennine to swell the Po. It wanders, an
impatient rivulet, through a wilderness of boulders, uncertain of its
aim, shifting its course with the season of the year, unless the jaws
of some deep-cloven gully hold it tight and show how insignificant it
is. As we advance, the hills approach again; between their skirts there
is nothing but the river-bed; and now on rising ground above the
stream, at the point of juncture between the Ceno and the Taro, we find
Fornovo. Beyond the village the valley broadens out once more,
disclosing Apennines capped with winter snow. To the right descends the
Ceno. To the left foams the Taro, following whose rocky channel we
should come at last to Pontremoli and the Tyrrhenian sea beside
Sarzana. On a May-day of sunshine like the present, the Taro is a
gentle stream. A waggon drawn by two white oxen has just entered its
channel, guided by a contadino with goat-skin leggings, wielding a long
goad. The patient creatures stem the water, which rises to the
peasant's thighs and ripples round the creaking wheels. Swaying to and
fro, as the shingles shift upon the river-bed, they make their way
across; and now they have emerged upon the stones; and now we lose them
in a flood of sunlight.

It was by this pass that Charles VIII. in 1495 returned from Tuscany,
when the army of the League was drawn up waiting to intercept and crush
him in the mousetrap of Fornovo. No road remained for Charles and his
troops but 184the rocky bed of the Taro, running, as I have described
it, between the spurs of steep hills. It is true that the valley of the
Baganza leads, from a little higher up among the mountains, into
Lombardy. But this pass runs straight to Parma; and to follow it would
have brought the French upon the walls of a strong city. Charles could
not do otherwise than descend upon the village of Fornovo, and cut his
way thence in the teeth of the Italian army over stream and boulder
between the gorges of throttling mountain. The failure of the Italians
to achieve what here upon the ground appears so simple, delivered Italy
hand-bound to strangers. Had they but succeeded in arresting Charles
and destroying his forces at Fornovo, it is just possible that
then—even then, at the eleventh hour—Italy might have gained the sense
of national coherence, or at least have proved herself capable of
holding by her leagues the foreigner at bay. As it was, the battle of
Fornovo, in spite of Venetian bonfires and Mantuan Madonnas of Victory,
made her conscious of incompetence and convicted her of cowardice.
After Fornovo, her sons scarcely dared to hold their heads up in the
field against invaders; and the battles fought upon her soil were duels
among aliens for the prize of Italy.

In order to comprehend the battle of Fornovo in its bearings on Italian
history, we must go back to the year 1492, and understand the
conditions of the various States of Italy at that date. On April 8 in
that year, Lorenzo de' Medici, who had succeeded in maintaining a
political equilibrium in the peninsula, expired, and was succeeded by
his son Piero, a vain and foolhardy young man, from whom no guidance
could be expected. On July 25, Innocent VIII. died, and was succeeded
by the very worst Pope who has ever occupied S. Peter's chair, Roderigo
Borgia, Alexander VI. It was felt at once that the old order of things
had somehow ended, and that a new era, 185the destinies of which as yet
remained incalculable, was opening for Italy. The chief Italian powers,
hitherto kept in equipoise by the diplomacy of Lorenzo de' Medici, were
these—the Duchy of Milan, the Republic of Venice, the Republic of
Florence, the Papacy, and the kingdom of Naples. Minor States, such as
the Republics of Genoa and Siena, the Duchies of Urbino and Ferrara,
the Marquisate of Mantua, the petty tyrannies of Romagna, and the
wealthy city of Bologna, were sufficiently important to affect the
balance of power, and to produce new combinations. For the present
purpose it is, however, enough to consider the five great Powers.

After the peace of Constance, which freed the Lombard Communes from
Imperial interference in the year 1183, Milan, by her geographical
position, rose rapidly to be the first city of North Italy. Without
narrating the changes by which she lost her freedom as a Commune, it is
enough to state that, earliest of all Italian cities, Milan passed into
the hands of a single family. The Visconti managed to convert this
flourishing commonwealth, with all its dependencies, into their private
property, ruling it exclusively for their own profit, using its
municipal institutions as the machinery of administration, and
employing the taxes which they raised upon its wealth for purely
selfish ends. When the line of the Visconti ended in the year 1447,
their tyranny was continued by Francesco Sforza, the son of a poor
soldier of adventure, who had raised himself by his military genius,
and had married Bianca, the illegitimate daughter of the last Visconti.
On the death of Francesco Sforza in 1466, he left two sons, Galeazzo
Maria and Lodovico, surnamed Il Moro, both of whom were destined to
play a prominent part in history. Galeazzo Maria, dissolute, vicious,
and cruel to the core, was murdered by his injured subjects in the year
1476. His son, Giovanni Galeazzo, aged eight, would in course of time
have succeeded to the Duchy, 186had it not been for the ambition of his
uncle Lodovico. Lodovico contrived to name himself as Regent for his
nephew, whom he kept, long after he had come of age, in a kind of
honourable prison. Virtual master in Milan, but without a legal title
to the throne, unrecognised in his authority by the Italian powers, and
holding it from day to day by craft and fraud, Lodovico at last found
his situation untenable; and it was this difficulty of an usurper to
maintain himself in his despotism which, as we shall see, brought the
French into Italy.

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

187Florence at this epoch still called itself a Republic; and of all
Italian commonwealths it was by far the most democratic. Its history,
unlike that of Venice, had been the history of continual and brusque
changes, resulting in the destruction of the old nobility, in the
equalisation of the burghers, and in the formation of a new aristocracy
of wealth. Prom this class of _bourgeois_ nobles sprang the Medici,
who, by careful manipulation of the State machinery, by the creation of
a powerful party devoted to their interests, by flattery of the people,
by corruption, by taxation, and by constant scheming, raised themselves
to the first place in the commonwealth, and became its virtual masters.
In the year 1492 Lorenzo de' Medici, the most remarkable chief of this
despotic family, died, bequeathing his supremacy in the Republic to a
son of marked incompetence.

Since the Pontificate of Nicholas V. the See of Rome had entered upon a
new period of existence. The Popes no longer dreaded to reside in Rome,
but were bent upon making the metropolis of Christendom both splendid
as a seat of art and learning, and also potent as the capital of a
secular kingdom. Though their fiefs in Romagna and the March were still
held but loosely, though their provinces swarmed with petty despots who
defied the Papal authority, and though the princely Roman houses of
Colonna and Orsini were still strong enough to terrorise the Holy
Father in the Vatican, it was now clear that the Papal See must in the
end get the better of its adversaries, and consolidate itself into a
first-rate Power. The internal spirit of the Papacy at this time
corresponded to its external policy. It was thoroughly secularised by a
series of worldly and vicious pontiffs, who had clean forgotten what
their title, Vicar of Christ, implied. They consistently used their
religious prestige to enforce their secular authority, while by their
temporal power they 188caused their religious claims to be respected.
Corrupt and shameless, they indulged themselves in every vice, openly
acknowledged their children, and turned Italy upside down in order to
establish favourites and bastards in the principalities they seized as
spoils of war.

The kingdom of Naples differed from any other state of Italy. Subject
continually to foreign rulers since the decay of the Greek Empire,
governed in succession by the Normans, the Hohenstauffens, and the
House of Anjou, it had never enjoyed the real independence, or the free
institutions, of the northern provinces; nor had it been Italianised in
the same sense as the rest of the peninsula. Despotism, which assumed
so many forms in Italy, was here neither the tyranny of a noble house,
nor the masked autocracy of a burgher, nor yet the forceful sway of a
condottiere. It had a dynastic character, resembling the monarchy of
one of the great European nations, but modified by the peculiar
conditions of Italian statecraft. Owing to this dynastic and
monarchical complexion of the Neapolitan kingdom, semi-feudal customs
flourished in the south far more than in the north of Italy. The barons
were more powerful; and the destinies of the Regno often turned upon
their feuds and quarrels with the Crown. At the same time the
Neapolitan despots shared the uneasy circumstances of all Italian
potentates, owing to the uncertainty of their tenure, both as
conquerors and aliens, and also as the nominal vassals of the Holy See.
The rights of suzerainty which the Normans had yielded to the Papacy
over their southern conquests, and which the Popes had arbitrarily
exercised in favour of the Angevine princes, proved a constant source
of peril to the rest of Italy by rendering the succession to the crown
of Naples doubtful. On the extinction of the Angevine line, however,
the throne was occupied by a prince who had no valid title but that of
the 189sword to its possession. Alfonso of Aragon conquered Naples in
1442, and neglecting his hereditary dominion, settled in his Italian
capital. Possessed with the enthusiasm for literature which was then
the ruling passion of the Italians, and very liberal to men of
learning, Alfonso won for himself the surname of Magnanimous. On his
death, in 1458, he bequeathed his Spanish kingdom, together with Sicily
and Sardinia, to his brother, and left the fruits of his Italian
conquest to his bastard, Ferdinand. This Ferdinand, whose birth was
buried in profound obscurity, was the reigning sovereign in the year
1492. Of a cruel and sombre temperament, traitorous and tyrannical,
Ferdinand was hated by his subjects as much as Alfonso had been loved.
He possessed, however, to a remarkable degree, the qualities which at
that epoch constituted a consummate statesman; and though the history
of his reign is the history of plots and conspiracies, of judicial
murders and forcible assassinations, of famines produced by iniquitous
taxation, and of every kind of diabolical tyranny, Ferdinand contrived
to hold his own, in the teeth of a rebellious baronage or a maddened
population. His political sagacity amounted almost to a prophetic
instinct in the last years of his life, when he became aware that the
old order was breaking up in Italy, and had cause to dread that Charles
VIII. of France would prove his title to the kingdom of Naples by force
of arms.[27]

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

Such were the component parts of the Italian body politic, with the
addition of numerous petty principalities and powers, adhering more or
less consistently to one or other of the greater States. The whole
complex machine was bound together by no sense of common interest,
animated by no common purpose, amenable to no central authority. Even
190such community of feeling as one spoken language gives, was lacking.
And yet Italy distinguished herself clearly from the rest of Europe,
not merely as a geographical fact, but also as a people intellectually
and spiritually one. The rapid rise of humanism had aided in producing
this national self-consciousness. Every State and every city was
absorbed in the recovery of culture and in the development of art and
literature. Far in advance of the other European nations, the Italians
regarded the rest of the world as barbarous, priding themselves the
while, in spite of mutual jealousies and hatreds, on their Italic
civilisation. They were enormously wealthy. The resources of the Papal
treasury, the private fortunes of the Florentine bankers, the riches of
the Venetian merchants might have purchased all that France or Germany
possessed of value. The single Duchy of Milan yielded to its masters
700,000 golden florins of revenue, according to the computation of De
Comines. In default of a confederative system, the several States were
held in equilibrium by diplomacy. By far the most important people,
next to the despots and the captains of adventure, were ambassadors and
orators. War itself had become a matter of arrangement, bargain, and
diplomacy. The game of stratagem was played by generals who had been
friends yesterday and might be friends again to-morrow, with troops who
felt no loyalty whatever for the standards under which they listed. To
avoid slaughter and to achieve the ends of warfare by parade and
demonstration was the interest of every one concerned. Looking back
upon Italy of the fifteenth century, taking account of her religious
deadness and moral corruption, estimating the absence of political
vigour in the republics and the noxious tyranny of the despots,
analysing her lack of national spirit, and comparing her splendid life
of cultivated ease with the want of martial energy, we can see but too
plainly that 191contact with a simpler and stronger people could not
but produce a terrible catastrophe. The Italians themselves, however,
were far from comprehending this. Centuries of undisturbed internal
intrigue had accustomed them to play the game of forfeits with each
other, and nothing warned them that the time was come at which
diplomacy, finesse, and craft would stand them in ill stead against
rapacious conquerors.

The storm which began to gather over Italy in the year 1492 had its
first beginning in the North. Lodovico Sforza's position in the Duchy
of Milan was becoming every day more difficult, when a slight and to
all appearances insignificant incident converted his apprehension of
danger into panic. It was customary for the States of Italy to
congratulate a new Pope on his election by their ambassadors; and this
ceremony had now to be performed for Roderigo Borgia. Lodovico proposed
that his envoys should go to Rome together with those of Venice,
Naples, and Florence; but Piero de' Medici, whose vanity made him wish
to send an embassy in his own name, contrived that Lodovico's proposal
should be rejected both by Florence and the King of Naples. So strained
was the situation of Italian affairs that Lodovico saw in this repulse
a menace to his own usurped authority. Feeling himself isolated among
the princes of his country, rebuffed by the Medici, and coldly treated
by the King of Naples, he turned in his anxiety to France, and advised
the young king, Charles VIII., to make good his claim upon the Regno.
It was a bold move to bring the foreigner thus into Italy; and even
Lodovico, who prided himself upon his sagacity, could not see how
things would end. He thought his situation so hazardous, however, that
any change must be for the better. Moreover, a French invasion of
Naples would tie the hands of his natural foe, King Ferdinand, whose
granddaughter, 192Isabella of Aragon, had married Giovanni Galeazzo
Sforza, and was now the rightful Duchess of Milan. When the Florentine
ambassador at Milan asked him how he had the courage to expose Italy to
such peril, his reply betrayed the egotism of his policy: 'You talk to
me of Italy; but when have I looked Italy in the face? No one ever gave
a thought to my affairs. I have, therefore, had to give them such
security as I could.'

Charles VIII. was young, light-brained, romantic, and ruled by
_parvenus_, who had an interest in disturbing the old order of the
monarchy. He lent a willing ear to Lodovico's invitation, backed as
this was by the eloquence and passion of numerous Italian refugees and
exiles. Against the advice of his more prudent counsellors, he taxed
all the resources of his kingdom, and concluded treaties on
disadvantageous terms with England, Germany, and Spain, in order that
he might be able to concentrate all his attention upon the Italian
expedition. At the end of the year 1493, it was known that the invasion
was resolved upon. Gentile Becchi, the Florentine envoy at the Court of
France, wrote to Piero de' Medici: 'If the King succeeds, it is all
over with Italy—_tutta a bordello._' The extraordinary selfishness of
the several Italian States at this critical moment deserves to be
noticed. The Venetians, as Paolo Antonio Soderini described them to
Piero de' Medici, 'are of opinion that to keep quiet, and to see other
potentates of Italy spending and suffering, cannot but be to their
advantage. They trust no one, and feel sure they have enough money to
be able at any moment to raise sufficient troops, and so to guide
events according to their inclinations.' As the invasion was directed
against Naples, Ferdinand of Aragon displayed the acutest sense of the
situation. 'Frenchmen,' he exclaimed, in what appears like a prophetic
passion when contrasted with the cold indifference of others no less
193really menaced, 'have never come into Italy without inflicting ruin;
and this invasion, if rightly considered, cannot but bring universal
ruin, although it seems to menace us alone.' In his agony Ferdinand
applied to Alexander VI. But the Pope looked coldly upon him, because
the King of Naples, with rare perspicacity, had predicted that his
elevation to the Papacy would prove disastrous to Christendom.
Alexander preferred to ally himself with Venice and Milan. Upon this
Ferdinand wrote as follows: 'It seems fated that the Popes should leave
no peace in Italy. We are compelled to fight; but the Duke of Bari
(_i.e._ Lodovico Sforza) should think what may ensue from the tumult he
is stirring up. He who raises this wind will not be able to lay the
tempest when he likes. Let him look to the past, and he will see how
every time that our internal quarrels have brought Powers from beyond
the Alps into Italy, these have oppressed and lorded over her.'

Terribly verified as these words were destined to be,—and they were no
less prophetic in their political sagacity than Savonarola's prediction
of the Sword and bloody Scourge,—it was now too late to avert the
coming ruin. On March 1, 1494, Charles was with his army at Lyons.
Early in September he had crossed the pass of Mont Genêvre and taken up
his quarters in the town of Asti. There is no need to describe in
detail the holiday march of the French troops through Lombardy,
Tuscany, and Rome, until, without having struck a blow of consequence,
the gates of Naples opened to receive the conqueror upon February 22,
1495. Philippe de Comines, who parted from the King at Asti and passed
the winter as his envoy at Venice, has more than once recorded his
belief that nothing but the direct interposition of Providence could
have brought so mad an expedition to so successful a conclusion. 'Dieu
monstroit conduire l'entreprise,' 194No sooner, however, was Charles
installed in Naples than the States of Italy began to combine against
him. Lodovico Sforza had availed himself of the general confusion
consequent upon the first appearance of the French, to poison his
nephew. He was, therefore, now the titular, as well as virtual, Lord of
Milan. So far, he had achieved what he desired, and had no further need
of Charles. The overtures he now made to the Venetians and the Pope
terminated in a League between these Powers for the expulsion of the
French from Italy. Germany and Spain entered into the same alliance;
and De Comines, finding himself treated with marked coldness by the
Signory of Venice, despatched a courier to warn Charles in Naples of
the coming danger. After a stay of only fifty days in his new capital,
the French King hurried northward. Moving quickly through the Papal
States and Tuscany, he engaged his troops in the passes of the
Apennines near Pontremoli, and on July 5, 1495, took up his quarters in
the village of Fornovo. De Comines reckons that his whole fighting
force at this time did not exceed 9,000 men, with fourteen pieces of
artillery. Against him at the opening of the valley was the army of the
League, numbering some 35,000 men, of whom three-fourths were supplied
by Venice, the rest by Lodovico Sforza and the German Emperor.
Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, was the general of the Venetian
forces; and on him, therefore, fell the real responsibility of the
battle.

De Comines remarks on the imprudence of the allies, who allowed Charles
to advance as far as Fornovo, when it was their obvious policy to have
established themselves in the village and so have caught the French
troops in a trap. It was a Sunday when the French marched down upon
Fornovo. Before them spread the plain of Lombardy, and beyond it the
white crests of the Alps. 'We were,' says De Comines, 195'in a valley
between two little mountain flanks, and in that valley ran a river
which could easily be forded on foot, except when it is swelled with
sudden rains. The whole valley was a bed of gravel and big stones, very
difficult for horses, about a quarter of a league in breadth, and on
the right bank lodged our enemies.' Any one who has visited Fornovo can
understand the situation of the two armies. Charles occupied the
village on the right bank of the Taro. On the same bank, extending
downward toward the plain, lay the host of the allies; and in order
that Charles should escape them, it was necessary that he should cross
the Taro, just below its junction with the Ceno, and reach Lombardy by
marching in a parallel line with his foes.

All through the night of Sunday it thundered and rained incessantly; so
that on the Monday morning the Taro was considerably swollen. At seven
o'clock the King sent for De Comines, who found him already armed and
mounted on the finest horse he had ever seen. The name of this charger
was _Savoy_. He was black, one-eyed, and of middling height; and to his
great courage, as we shall see, Charles owed life upon that day. The
French army, ready for the march, now took to the gravelly bed of the
Taro, passing the river at a distance of about a quarter of a league
from the allies. As the French left Fornovo, the light cavalry of their
enemies entered the village and began to attack the baggage. At the
same time the Marquis of Mantua, with the flower of his men-at-arms,
crossed the Taro and harassed the rear of the French host; while raids
from the right bank to the left were constantly being made by
sharpshooters and flying squadrons. 'At this moment,' says De Comines,
'not a single man of us could have escaped if our ranks had once been
broken.' The French army was divided into three main bodies. The
vanguard consisted of some 350 men-at-arms, 1963000 Switzers, 300
archers of the Guard, a few mounted crossbow-men, and the artillery.
Next came the Battle, and after this the rearguard. At the time when
the Marquis of Mantua made his attack, the French rearguard had not yet
crossed the river. Charles quitted the van, put himself at the head of
his chivalry, and charged the Italian horsemen, driving them back, some
to the village and others to their camp. De Comines observes, that had
the Italian knights been supported in this passage of arms by the light
cavalry of the Venetian force, called Stradiots, the French must have
been outnumbered, thrown into confusion, and defeated. As it was, these
Stradiots were engaged in plundering the baggage of the French; and the
Italians, accustomed to bloodless encounters, did not venture, in spite
of their immense superiority of numbers, to renew the charge. In the
pursuit of Gonzaga's horsemen Charles outstripped his staff, and was
left almost alone to grapple with a little band of mounted foemen. It
was here that his noble horse, Savoy, saved his person by plunging and
charging till assistance came up from the French, and enabled the King
to regain his van.

It is incredible, considering the nature of the ground and the number
of the troops engaged, that the allies should not have returned to the
attack and have made the passage of the French into the plain
impossible. De Comines, however, assures us that the actual engagement
only lasted a quarter of an hour, and the pursuit of the Italians three
quarters of an hour. After they had once resolved to fly, they threw
away their lances and betook themselves to Reggio and Parma. So
complete was their discomfiture, that De Comines gravely blames the
want of military genius and adventure in the French host. If, instead
of advancing along the left bank of the Taro and there taking up his
quarters for the 197night, Charles had recrossed the stream and pursued
the army of the allies, he would have had the whole of Lombardy at his
discretion. As it was, the French army encamped not far from the scene
of the action in great discomfort and anxiety. De Comines had to
bivouac in a vineyard, without even a mantle to wrap round him, having
lent his cloak to the King in the morning; and as it had been pouring
all day, the ground could not have afforded very luxurious quarters.
The same extraordinary luck which had attended the French in their
whole expedition, now favoured their retreat; and the same
pusillanimity which the allies had shown at Fornovo, prevented them
from re-forming and engaging with the army of Charles upon the plain.
One hour before daybreak on Tuesday morning, the French broke up their
camp and succeeded in clearing the valley. That night they lodged at
Fiorenzuola, the next at Piacenza, and so on; till on the eighth day
they arrived at Asti without having been so much as incommoded by the
army of the allies in their rear.

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

A fitting conclusion to this sketch, connecting its close with the
commencement, may be found in some remarks upon the manner of warfare
to which the Italians of the Renaissance had become accustomed, and
which proved so futile on the field of Fornovo. During the middle ages,
and in the days of the Communes, the whole male population of 198Italy
had fought light-armed on foot. Merchant and artisan left the
counting-house and the workshop, took shield and pike, and sallied
forth to attack the barons in their castles, or to meet the Emperor's
troops upon the field. It was with this national militia that the
citizens of Florence freed their _Contado_ of the nobles, and the
burghers of Lombardy gained the battle of Legnano. In course of time,
by a process of change which it is not very easy to trace, heavily
armed cavalry began to take the place of infantry in mediæval warfare.
Men-at-arms, as they