The Renaissance
Walter Pater

Part 1 out of 3

This etext was prepared by Bruce McClintock,

by Walter Pater

Sixth Edition

To C.L.S.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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













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

Theories which bring into connexion with each other modes of thought and
feeling, periods of taste, forms of art and poetry, which the narrowness
of men's minds constantly tends to oppose to each other, have a great
stimulus for the intellect, and are almost always worth understanding.
It is so with this theory of a Renaissance within the middle age, which
seeks to establish a continuity between the most characteristic work of
the middle age, the sculpture of Chartres and the windows of Le Mans,
and the work of the later Renaissance, the work of Jean Cousin and
Germain Pilon, and thus heals that rupture between the middle age and
the Renaissance which has so often been exaggerated. But it is not so
much the ecclesiastical art of the middle age, its sculpture and
painting--work certainly done in a great measure for pleasure's sake, in
which even a secular, a rebellious spirit often betrays itself--but
rather the profane poetry of the middle age, the poetry of Provence, and
the magnificent after-growth of that poetry in Italy and France, which
those French writers have in view, when they speak of this Renaissance
within the middle age. In that poetry, earthly passion, with its
intimacy, its freedom, its variety--the liberty of the heart--makes
itself felt; and the name of Abelard, the great clerk and the great
lover, connects the expression of this liberty of heart with the free
play of human intelligence around all subjects presented to it, with the
liberty of the intellect, as that age understood it. Every one knows the
legend of Abelard, a legend hardly less passionate, certainly not less
characteristic of the middle age, than the legend of Tannhaeuser; how
the famous and comely clerk, in whom Wisdom herself, self-possessed,
pleasant, and discreet, seemed to sit enthroned, came to live in the
house of a canon of the church of Notre-Dame, where dwelt a girl
Heloise, believed to be the old priest's orphan niece, his love for whom
he had testified by giving her an education then unrivalled, so that
rumour even asserted that, through the knowledge of languages, enabling
her to penetrate into the mysteries of the older world, she had become a
sorceress, like the Celtic druidesses; and how as Abelard and Heloise
sat together at home there, to refine a little further on the nature of
abstract ideas, "Love made himself of the party with them." You conceive
the temptations of the scholar, who, in such dreamy tranquillity, amid
the bright and busy spectacle of the "Island," lived in a world of
something like shadows; and that for one who knew so well how to assign
its exact value to every abstract idea, those restraints which lie on
the consciences of other men had been relaxed. It appears that he
composed many verses in the vulgar tongue: already the young men sang
them on the quay below the house. Those songs, says M. de Remusat, were
probably in the taste of the Trouveres, of whom he was one of the first
in date, or, so to speak, the predecessor. It is the same spirit which
has moulded the famous "letters," written in the quaint Latin of the
middle age. At the foot of that early Gothic tower, which the next
generation raised to grace the precincts of Abelard's school, on the
"Mountain of Saint Genevieve," the historian Michelet sees in thought "a
terrible assembly; not the hearers of Abelard alone, fifty bishops,
twenty cardinals, two popes, the whole body of scholastic philosophy;
not only the learned Heloise, the teaching of languages, and the
Renaissance; but Arnold of Brescia--that is to say, the revolution." And
so from the rooms of this shadowy house by the Seine side we see that
spirit going abroad, with its qualities already well defined, its
intimacy, its languid sweetness, its rebellion, its subtle skill in
dividing the elements of human passion, its care for physical beauty,
its worship of the body, which penetrated the early literature of Italy,
and finds an echo in Dante.

That Abelard is not mentioned in the Divine Comedy may appear a singular
omission to the reader of Dante, who seems to have inwoven into the
texture of his work whatever had impressed him as either effective in
colour or spiritually significant among the recorded incidents of actual
life. Nowhere in his great poem do we find the name, nor so much as an
allusion to the story of one who had left so deep a mark on the
philosophy of which Dante was an eager student, of whom in the Latin
Quarter, and from the lips of scholar or teacher in the University of
Paris, during his sojourn among them, he can hardly have failed to hear.
We can only suppose that he had indeed considered the story and the man,
and had abstained from passing judgment as to his place in the scheme
of "eternal justice." In the famous legend of Tannhaeuser, the erring
knight makes his way to Rome, to seek absolution at what was then the
centre of Christian religion. "So soon," thought and said the Pope, "as
the staff in his hand should bud and blossom, so soon might the soul of
Tannhaeuser be saved, and no sooner; and it came to pass not long after
that the dry wood of a staff which the Pope had carried in his hand was
covered with leaves and flowers." So, in the cloister of Godstow a
petrified tree was shown, of which the nuns told that the fair Rosamond,
who had died among them, had declared that, the tree being then alive
and green, it would be changed into stone at the hour of her salvation.
When Abelard died, like Tannhaeuser, he was on his way to Rome: what
might have happened had he reached his journey's end is uncertain; and
it is in this uncertain twilight that his relation to the general
beliefs of his age has always remained. In this, as in other things, he
prefigures the character of the Renaissance, that movement in which, in
various ways, the human mind wins for itself a new kingdom of feeling
and sensation and thought, not opposed to, but only beyond and
independent of the spiritual system then actually realised. The
opposition into which Abelard is thrown, which gives its colour to his
career, which breaks his soul to pieces, is a no less subtle opposition
than that between the merely professional, official, hireling ministers
of that system, with their ignorant worship of system for its own sake,
and the true child of light, the humanist, with reason and heart and
senses quick, while theirs were almost dead. He reaches out towards, he
attains, modes of ideal living, beyond the prescribed limits of that
system, though possibly contained in essential germ within it. As always
happens, the adherents of the poorer and narrower culture had no
sympathy with, because no understanding of, a culture richer and more
ample than their own: after the discovery of wheat they would still live
upon acorns--apres l'invention du ble ils voulaient encore vivre du
gland; and would hear of no service to the higher needs of humanity with
instruments not of their forging.

But the human spirit, bold through those needs, was too strong for them.
Abelard and Heloise write their letters--letters with a wonderful
outpouring of soul--in medieval Latin; and Abelard, though he composes
songs in the vulgar tongue, writes also in Latin those treatises in
which he tries to find a ground of reality below the abstractions of
philosophy, as one bent on trying all things by their congruity with
human experience, who had felt the hand of Heloise, and looked into her
eyes, and tested the resources of humanity in her great and energetic
nature. Yet it is only a little later, early in the thirteenth century,
that French prose romance begins; and in one of the pretty volumes of
the Bibliotheque Elzevirienne some of the most striking fragments of it
may be found, edited with much intelligence. In one of these
thirteenth-century stories, Li Amitiez de Ami et Amile, that free play
of human affection, of the claims of which Abelard's story is an
assertion, makes itself felt in the incidents of a great friendship, a
friendship pure and generous, pushed to a sort of passionate exaltation,
and more than faithful unto death. Such comradeship, though instances of
it are to be found everywhere, is still especially a classical motive;
Chaucer expressing the sentiment of it so strongly in an antique tale,
that one knows not whether the love of both Palamon and Arcite for
Emelya, or of those two for each other, is the chiefer subject of the
Knight's Tale--
He cast his eyen upon Emelya,
And therewithal he bleynte and cried, ah!
As that he stongen were unto the herte.
What reader does not refer part of the bitterness of that cry to the
spoiling, already foreseen, of that fair friendship, which had hitherto
made the prison of the two lads sweet with its daily offices--though the
friendship is saved at last?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The central love-poetry of Provence, the poetry of the Tenson and the
Aubade, of Bernard de Ventadour and Pierre Vidal, is poetry for the few,
for the elect and peculiar people of the kingdom of sentiment. But below
this intenser poetry there was probably a wide range of literature, less
serious and elevated, reaching, by lightness of form and comparative
homeliness of interest, an audience which the concentrated passion of
those higher lyrics left untouched. This literature has long since
perished, or lives only in later French or Italian versions. One such
version, the only representative of its species, M. Fauriel thought he
detected in the story of Aucassin and Nicolette, written in the French
of the latter half of the thirteenth century, and preserved in a unique
manuscript, in the national library of Paris; and there were reasons
which made him divine for it a still more ancient ancestry, traces in it
of an Arabian origin, as in a leaf lost out of some early Arabian
Nights.* The little book loses none of its interest through the
criticism which finds in it only a traditional subject, handed on by one
people to another; for after passing thus from hand to hand, its outline
is still clear, its surface untarnished; and, like many other stories,
books, literary and artistic conceptions of the middle age, it has come
to have in this way a sort of personal history, almost as full of risk
and adventure as that of its own heroes. The writer himself calls the
piece a cantefable, a tale told in prose, but with its incidents and
sentiment helped forward by songs, inserted at irregular intervals. In
the junctions of the story itself there are signs of roughness and want
of skill, which make one suspect that the prose was only put together to
connect a series of songs--a series of songs so moving and attractive
that people wished to heighten and dignify their effect by a regular
framework or setting. Yet the songs themselves are of the simplest kind,
not rhymed even, but only imperfectly assonant, stanzas of twenty or
thirty lines apiece, all ending with a similar vowel sound. And here, as
elsewhere in that early poetry, much of the interest lies in the
spectacle of the formation of a new artistic sense. A new music is
arising, the music of rhymed poetry, and in the songs of Aucassin and
Nicolette, which seem always on the point of passing into true rhyme,
but which halt somehow, and can never quite take flight, you see people
just growing aware of the elements of a new music in their possession,
and anticipating how pleasant such music might become. The piece was
probably intended to be recited by a company of trained performers, many
of whom, at least for the lesser parts, were probably children. The
songs are introduced by the rubric, Or se cante (ici on chante); and
each division of prose by the rubric, Or dient et content et fabloient
(ici on conte). The musical notes of part of the songs have been
preserved; and some of the details are so descriptive that they
suggested to M. Fauriel the notion that the words had been accompanied
throughout by dramatic action. That mixture of simplicity and refinement
which he was surprised to find in a composition of the thirteenth
century, is shown sometimes in the turn given to some passing expression
or remark; thus, "the Count de Garins was old and frail, his time was
over"--Li quens Garins de Beaucaire estoit vix et frales; si avoit son
tans trespasse. And then, all is so realised! One still sees the ancient
forest, with its disused roads grown deep with grass, and the place
where seven roads meet--u a forkeut set cemin qui s'en vont par le pais;
we hear the light-hearted country people calling each other by their
rustic names, and putting forward, as their spokesman, one among them
who is more eloquent and ready than the rest--li un qui plus fu enparles
des autres; for the little book has its burlesque element also, so that
one hears the faint, far-off laughter still. Rough as it is, the piece
certainly possesses this high quality of poetry, that it aims at a
purely artistic effect. Its subject is a great sorrow, yet it claims to
be a thing of joy and refreshment, to be entertained not for its matter
only, but chiefly for its manner; it is cortois, it tells us, et bien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But scattered up and down through this lighter matter, always tinged
with humour and often passing into burlesque, which makes up the general
substance of the piece, there are morsels of a different quality,
touches of some intenser sentiment, coming it would seem from the
profound and energetic spirit of the Provencal poetry itself, to which
the inspiration of the book has been referred. Let me gather up these
morsels of deeper colour, these expressions of the ideal intensity of
love, the motive which really unites together the fragments of the
little composition. Dante, the perfect flower of ideal love, has
recorded how the tyranny of that "Lord of terrible aspect" became
actually physical, blinding his senses, and suspending his bodily
forces. In this Dante is but the central expression and type of
experiences known well enough to the initiated, in that passionate age.
Aucassin represents this ideal intensity of passion--
Aucassin, li biax, li blons,
Li gentix, li amorous;
the slim, tall, debonair figure, dansellon, as the singers call him,
with curled yellow hair, and eyes of vair, who faints with love, as
Dante fainted, who rides all day through the forest in search of
Nicolette, while the thorns tear his flesh, so that one night have
traced him by the blood upon the grass, and who weeps at evening because
he has not found her--who has the malady of his love, so that he
neglects all knightly duties. Once he is induced to put himself at the
head of his people, that they, seeing him before them, might have more
heart to defend themselves; then a song relates how the sweet, grave
figure goes forth to battle, in dainty, tight-laced armour. It is the
very image of the Provencal love-god, no longer a child, but grown to
pensive youth, as Pierre Vidal met him, riding on a white horse, fair as
the morning, his vestment embroidered with flowers. He rode on through
the gates into the open plain beyond. But as he went, that great malady
of his love came upon him, so that the bridle fell from his hands; and
like one who sleeps walking, he was carried on into the midst of his
enemies, and heard them talking together how they might most
conveniently kill him.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

The Renaissance of the fifteenth century was, in many things, great
rather by what it designed than by what it achieved. Much which it
aspired to do, and did but imperfectly or mistakenly, was accomplished
in what is called the eclaircissement of the eighteenth century, or in
our own generation; and what really belongs to the rival of the
fifteenth century is but the leading instinct, the curiosity, the
initiatory idea. It is so with this very question of the reconciliation
of the religion of antiquity with the religion of Christ. A modern
scholar occupied by this problem might observe that all religions may be
regarded as natural products; that, at least in their origin, their
growth, and decay, they have common laws, and are not to be isolated
from the other movements of the human mind in the periods in which they
respectively prevailed; that they arise spontaneously out of the human
mind, as expressions of the varying phases of its sentiment concerning
the unseen world; that every intellectual product must be judged from
the point of view of the age and the people in which it was produced.
He might go on to observe that each has contributed something to the
development of the religious sense, and ranging them as so many stages
in the gradual education of the human mind, justify the existence of
each. The basis of the reconciliation of the religions of the world
would thus be the inexhaustible activity and creativeness of the human
mind itself, in which all religions alike have their root, and in
which all alike are reconciled; just as the fancies of childhood and the
thoughts of old age meet and are laid to rest, in the experience of the
individual. Far different was the method followed by the scholars of the
fifteenth century. They lacked the very rudiments of the historic sense,
which, by an imaginative act, throws itself back into a world unlike
one's own, and estimates every intellectual creation in its connexion
with the age from which it proceeded; they had no idea of development,
of the differences of ages, of the gradual education of the human race.
In their attempts to reconcile the religions of the world, they were
thus thrown back upon the quicksand of allegorical interpretation. The
religions of the world were to be reconciled, not as successive stages,
in a gradual development of the religious sense, but as subsisting side
by side, and substantially in agreement with each other. And here the
first necessity was to misrepresent the language, the conceptions, the
sentiments, it was proposed to compare and reconcile. Plato and Homer
must be made to speak agreeably to Moses. Set side by side, the mere
surfaces could never unite in any harmony of design. Therefore one must
go below the surface, and bring up the supposed secondary, or still more
remote meaning, that diviner signification held in reserve, in recessu
divinius aliquid, latent in some stray touch of Homer, or figure of
speech in the books of Moses.

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

Marsilio Ficino has told us how Pico came to Florence. It was the very
day--some day probably in the year 1482--on which Ficino had finished
his famous translation of Plato into Latin, the work to which he had
been dedicated from childhood by Cosmo de' Medici, in furtherance of his
desire to resuscitate the knowledge of Plato among his fellow-citizens.
Florence indeed, as M. Renan has pointed out, had always had an affinity
for the mystic and dreamy philosophy of Plato, while the colder and more
practical philosophy of Aristotle had flourished in Padua, and other
cities of the north; and the Florentines, though they knew perhaps very
little about him, had had the name of the great idealist often on their
lips. To increase this knowledge, Cosmo had founded the Platonic
academy, with periodical discussions at the villa of Careggi. The fall
of Constantinople in 1453, and the council in 1438 for the
reconciliation of the Greek and Latin Churches, had brought to Florence
many a needy Greek scholar. And now the work was completed, the door of
the mystical temple lay open to all who could construe Latin, and the
scholar rested from his labour; when there was introduced into his
study, where a lamp burned continually before the bust of Plato, as
other men burned lamps before their favourite saints, a young man fresh
from a journey, "of feature and shape seemly and beauteous, of stature
goodly and high, of flesh tender and soft, his visage lovely and fair,
his colour white, intermingled with comely reds, his eyes grey, and
quick of look, his teeth white and even, his hair yellow and abundant,"
and trimmed with more than the usual artifice of the time. It is thus
that Sir Thomas More translates the words of the biographer of Pico,
who, even in outward form and appearance, seems an image of that inward
harmony and completeness, of which he is so perfect an example. The word
mystic has been usually derived from a Greek word which signifies to
shut, as if one shut one's lips, brooding on what cannot be uttered; but
the Platonists themselves derive it rather from the act of shutting the
eyes, that one may see the more, inwardly. Perhaps the eyes of the
mystic Ficino, now long past the midway of life, had come to be thus
half-closed; but when a young man, not unlike the archangel Raphael, as
the Florentines of that age depicted him in his wonderful walk with
Tobit, or Mercury, as he might have appeared in a painting by Sandro
Botticelli or Piero di Cosimo, entered his chamber, he seems to have
thought there was something not wholly earthly about him; at least, he
ever afterwards believed that it was not without the co-operation of the
stars that the stranger had arrived on that day. For it happened that
they fell into a conversation, deeper and more intimate than men usually
fall into at first sight. During this conversation Ficino formed the
design of devoting his remaining years to the translation of Plotinus,
that new Plato, in whom the mystical element in the Platonic philosophy
had been worked out to the utmost limit of vision and ecstasy; and it is
in dedicating this translation to Lorenzo de' Medici that Ficino has
recorded these incidents.

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

The oration which Pico composed for the opening of this philosophical
tournament still remains; its subject is the dignity of human nature,
the greatness of man. In common with nearly all medieval speculation,
much of Pico's writing has this for its drift; and in common also with
it, Pico's theory of that dignity is founded on a misconception of the
place in nature both of the earth and of man. For Pico the earth is the
centre of the universe: and around it, as a fixed and motionless point,
the sun and moon and stars revolve, like diligent servants or ministers.
And in the midst of all is placed man, nodus et vinculum mundi, the bond
or copula of the world, and the "interpreter of nature": that famous
expression of Bacon's really belongs to Pico. Tritum est in scholis, he
says, esse hominem minorem mundum, in quo mixtum ex elementis corpus et
spiritus coelestis et plantarum anima vegetalis et brutorum sensus et
ratio et angelica mens et Dei similitudo conspicitur.--"It is a
commonplace of the schools that man is a little world, in which we may
discern a body mingled of earthy elements, and ethereal breath, and the
vegetable life of plants, and the senses of the lower animals, and
reason, and the intelligence of angels, and a likeness to God."--A
commonplace of the schools! But perhaps it had some new significance and
authority, when men heard one like Pico reiterate it; and, false as its
basis was, the theory had its use. For this high dignity of man, thus
bringing the dust under his feet into sensible communion with the
thoughts and affections of the angels, was supposed to belong to him,
not as renewed by a religious system, but by his own natural right. The
proclamation of it was a counterpoise to the increasing tendency of
medieval religion to depreciate man's nature, to sacrifice this or that
element in it, to make it ashamed of itself, to keep the degrading or
painful accidents of it always in view. It helped man onward to that
reassertion of himself, that rehabilitation of human nature, the body,
the senses, the heart, the intelligence, which the Renaissance fulfils.
And yet to read a page of one of Pico's forgotten books is like a glance
into one of those ancient sepulchres, upon which the wanderer in
classical lands has sometimes stumbled, with the old disused ornaments
and furniture of a world wholly unlike ours still fresh in them. That
whole conception of nature is so different from our own. For Pico the
world is a limited place, bounded by actual crystal walls, and a
material firmament; it is like a painted toy, like that map or system of
the world, held, as a great target or shield, in the hands of the
grey-headed father of all things, in one of the earlier frescoes of the
Campo Santo at Pisa. How different from this childish dream is our own
conception of nature, with its unlimited space, its innumerable suns,
and the earth but a mote in the beam; how different the strange new awe,
or superstition, with which it fills our minds! "The silence of those
infinite spaces," says Pascal, contemplating a starlight night, "the
silence of those infinite spaces terrifies me"--Le silence eternel de
ces espaces infinis m'effraie.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

What is the precise value of this system of sculpture, this low relief?
Luca della Robbia, and the other sculptors of the school to which he
belongs, have before them the universal problem of their art; and this
system of low relief is the means by which they meet and overcome the
special limitation of sculpture--a limitation resulting from the
material and the essential conditions of all sculptured work, and which
consists in the tendency of this work to a hard realism, a one-sided
presentment of mere form, that solid material frame which only motion
can relieve, a thing of heavy shadows, and an individuality of
expression pushed to caricature. Against this tendency to the hard
presentment of mere form trying vainly to compete with the reality of
nature itself, all noble sculpture constantly struggles: each great
system of sculpture resisting it in its own way, etherealising,
spiritualising, relieving its hardness, its heaviness and death. The use
of colour in sculpture is but an unskilful contrivance to effect, by
borrowing from another art, what the nobler sculpture effects by
strictly appropriate means. To get not colour, but the equivalent of
colour; to secure the expression and the play of life; to expand the too
fixed individuality of pure, unrelieved, uncoloured form--this is the
problem which the three great styles in sculpture have solved in three
different ways.

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

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

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

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

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

The life of Luca, a life of labour and frugality, with no adventure and
no excitement except what belongs to the trial of new artistic
processes, the struggle with new artistic difficulties, the solution of
purely artistic problems, fills the first seventy years of the fifteenth
century. After producing many works in marble for the Duomo and the
Campanile of Florence, which place him among the foremost sculptors of
that age, he became desirous to realise the spirit and manner of that
sculpture, in a humbler material, to unite its science, its exquisite
and expressive system of low relief, to the homely art of pottery, to
introduce those high qualities into common things, to adorn and
cultivate daily household life. In this he is profoundly characteristic
of the Florence of that century, of that in it which lay below its
superficial vanity and caprice, a certain old-world modesty and
seriousness and simplicity. People had not yet begun to think that what
was good art for churches was not so good, or less fitted, for their own
houses. Luca's new work was in plain white earthenware at first, a mere
rough imitation of the costly, laboriously wrought marble, finished in a
few hours. But on this humble path he found his way to a fresh success,
to another artistic grace. The fame of the oriental pottery, with its
strange, bright colours--colours of art, colours not to be attained in
the natural stone--mingled with the tradition of the old Roman pottery
of the neighbourhood. The little red, coral-like jars of Arezzo, dug up
in that district from time to time, are still famous. These colours
haunted Luca's fancy. "He still continued seeking something more," his
biographer says of him; "and instead of making his figures of baked
earth simply white, he added the further invention of giving them
colour, to the astonishment and delight of all who beheld them"--Cosa
singolare, e multo utile per la state!--a curious thing, and very useful
for summertime, full of coolness and repose for hand and eye. Luca loved
the forms of various fruits, and wrought them into all sorts of
marvellous frames and garlands, giving them their natural colours, only
subdued a little, a little paler than nature. But in his nobler
terra-cotta work he never introduces colour into the flesh, keeping
mostly to blue and white, the colours of the Virgin Mary.

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



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

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

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

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

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

He was born in an interval of a rapid midnight journey in March, at a
place in the neighbourhood of Arezzo, the thin, clear air of which, as
was then thought, being favourable to the birth of children of great
parts. He came of a race of grave and dignified men, who, claiming
kinship with the family of Canossa, and some colour of imperial blood in
their veins, had, generation after generation, received honourable
employment under the government of Florence. His mother, a girl of
nineteen years, put him out to nurse at a country house among the hills
of Settignano, where every other inhabitant is a worker in the marble
quarries, and the child early became familiar with that strange first
stage in the sculptor's art. To this succeeded the influence of the
sweetest and most placid master Florence had yet seen, Domenico
Ghirlandajo. At fifteen he was at work among the curiosities of the
garden of the Medici, copying and restoring antiques, winning the
condescending notice of the great Lorenzo. He knew too how to excite
strong hatreds; and it was at this time that in a quarrel with a
fellow-student he received a blow on the face which deprived him for
ever of the comeliness of outward form. It was through an accident that
he came to study those works of the early Italian sculptors which
suggested much of his own grandest work, and impressed it with so deep a
sweetness. He believed in dreams and omens. One of his friends dreamed
twice that Lorenzo, then lately dead, appeared to him in grey and dusty
apparel. To Michelangelo this dream seemed to portend the troubles which
afterwards really came, and with the suddenness which was characteristic
of all his movements, he left Florence. Having occasion to pass through
Bologna, he neglected to procure the little seal of red wax which the
stranger entering Bologna must carry on the thumb of his right hand. He
had no money to pay the fine, and would have been thrown into prison had
not one of the magistrates interposed. He remained in this man's house a
whole year, rewarding his hospitality by readings from the Italian poets
whom he loved. Bologna, with its endless colonnades and fantastic
leaning towers, can never have been one of the lovelier cities of Italy.
But about the portals of its vast unfinished churches and its dark
shrines, half hidden by votive flowers and candles, lie some of the
sweetest works of the early Tuscan sculptors, Giovanni da Pisa and
Jacopo della Quercia, things as winsome as flowers; and the year which
Michelangelo spent in copying these works was not a lost year. It was
now, on returning to Florence, that he put forth that unique presentment
of Bacchus, which expresses, not the mirthfulness of the god of wine,
but his sleepy seriousness, his enthusiasm, his capacity for profound
dreaming. No one ever expressed more truly than Michelangelo the notion
of inspired sleep, of faces charged with dreams. A vast fragment of
marble had long lain below the Loggia of Orcagna, and many a sculptor
had had his thoughts of a design which should just fill this famous
block of stone, cutting the diamond, as it were, without loss. Under
Michelangelo's hand it became the David which stood till lately on the
steps of the Palazzo Vecchio, when it was replaced below the Loggia.
Michelangelo was now thirty years old, and his reputation was
established. Three great works fill the remainder of his life--three
works often interrupted, carried on through a thousand hesitations, a
thousand disappointments, quarrels with his patrons, quarrels with his
family, quarrels perhaps most of all with himself--the Sistine Chapel,
the Mausoleum of Julius the Second, and the Sacristy of San Lorenzo.

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

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

*The sonnets have been translated into English, with much poetic taste
and skill, by Mr. J. A. Symonds.

People have often spoken of these poems as if they were a mere cry of
distress, a lover's complaint over the obduracy of Vittoria Colonna. But
those who speak thus forget that though it is quite possible that
Michelangelo had seen Vittoria, that somewhat shadowy figure, as early
as 1537, yet their closer intimacy did not begin till about the year
1542, when Michelangelo was nearly seventy years old. Vittoria herself,
an ardent neo-catholic, vowed to perpetual widowhood since the news had
reached her, seventeen years before, that her husband, the youthful and
princely Marquess of Pescara, lay dead of the wounds he had received in
the battle of Pavia, was then no longer an object of great passion. In a
dialogue written by the painter, Francesco d'Ollanda, we catch a glimpse
of them together in an empty church at Rome, one Sunday afternoon,
discussing indeed the characteristics of various schools of art, but
still more the writings of Saint Paul, already following the ways and
tasting the sunless pleasures of weary people, whose hold on outward
things is slackening. In a letter still extant he regrets that when he
visited her after death he had kissed her hands only. He made, or set to
work to make, a crucifix for her use, and two drawings, perhaps in
preparation for it, are now in Oxford. From allusions in the sonnets, we
may divine that when they first approached each other he had debated
much with himself whether this last passion would be the most
unsoftening, the most desolating of all--un dolce amaro, un si e no mi
muovi; is it carnal affection, or, del suo prestino stato (Plato's
ante-natal state) il raggio ardente? The older, conventional criticism,


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