Italian Hours
Henry James

Part 5 out of 7

this. You wonder, as you pass, what lingering old-world social
types vegetate there, but you won't find out; albeit that in one
very silent little street I had a glimpse of an open door which I
have not forgotten. A long-haired peddler who must have been a
Jew, and who yet carried without prejudice a burden of mass-books
and rosaries, was offering his wares to a stout old priest. The
priest had opened the door rather stingily and appeared half-
heartedly to dismiss him. But the peddler held up something I
couldn't see; the priest wavered with a timorous concession to
profane curiosity and then furtively pulled the agent of
sophistication, or whatever it might be, into the house. I should
have liked to enter with that worthy.

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

[Illustration: PERUGIA.]

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[Illustration: A STREET, CORTONA.]

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: THE RED PALACE, SIENA.]

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

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

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

[Illustration: SAN DOMINICO, SIENA]

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

[Illustration: ON THE ARNO, FLORENCE.]

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

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

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

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




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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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