Italian Hours
Henry James

Part 6 out of 7

of human life was a perpetual sense of sacredly loving and being
loved. But how, immured in his quiet convent, away from the
streets and the studios, did he become that genuine, finished,
perfectly professional painter? No one is less of a mere mawkish
amateur. His range was broad, from this really heroic fresco to
the little trumpeting seraphs, in their opaline robes, enamelled,
as it were, on the gold margins of his pictures.

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: THE HOSPITAL, PISTOIA.]




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

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

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

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

[Illustration: THE LOGGIA, LUCCA.]


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

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


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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[Illustration: RAVENNA PINETA.]



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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

While, with my friend, I waited for him, we went for coolness
into the second church of the place, a considerable and bedizened
structure, with the rare curiosity of a wondrous pictured
pavement of majolica, the garden of Eden done in large coloured
tiles or squares, with every beast, bird and river, and a brave
diminuendo, in especial, from portal to altar, of
perspective, so that the animals and objects of the foreground
are big and those of the successive distances differ with much
propriety. Here in the sacred shade the old women were knitting,
gossipping, yawning, shuffling about; here the children were
romping and "larking"; here, in a manner, were the open parlour,
the nursery, the kindergarten and the conversazione of the
poor. This is everywhere the case by the southern sea. I remember
near Sorrento a wayside chapel that seemed the scene of every
function of domestic life, including cookery and others. The odd
thing is that it all appears to interfere so little with that
special civilised note--the note of manners--which is so
constantly touched. It is barbarous to expectorate in the temple


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