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Earthwork Out Of Tuscany by Maurice Hewlett

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Greek Voltaire (whose "dazzling antithesis," after all, touches the root
of the matter) for he did not see that rhythmic extension in time or
space, as the case may be, with all that that implies--colour, value,
proportion, all the convincing incidents of form--is simply the mode of
all arts, the thing with which Art's substance must be interpenetrated,
until the two form a whole, lovely, golden, irresistible, and inevitable
as Nature's pieces are. This substance, I have said, is the spirit of
natural fact. And so mythology is Art at its simplest and barest (where
the bodily medium is neither word, nor texture of stone, nor dye), the
parent art from which all the others were, so to speak, begotten by man's
need. Thus much of explanation, I am sorry to say, is necessary, before we
turn to our mytho-poet of Florence, to see what he made out of the story
of Judith.

First of all, though, what has the story of Judith to do with mythology?
It is a legend, one of the finest of Semitic legends; and between legend
and myth there is as great a gulf as between Jew and Greek. I believe
there are no myths proper to Israel--I do not see how such magnificent
egoists could contract to the necessary state of awe--and I do not know
that there are any legends proper to Greece which are divorced from real
myths. For where a myth is the incarnation of the spirit of natural fact,
a legend is the embellishment of an historical event: a very different
thing. A natural fact is permanent and elemental, an historical event is
transient and superficial. Take one instance out of a score. The rainbow
links heaven and earth. Iris then, to the myth-making Greek, was Jove's
messenger, intermediary between God and Man. That is to incarnate a
constant, natural fact. Plato afterwards, making her daughter of Thaumas,
incarnated a fact, psychological, but none the less constant, none the
less natural. But to say, as the legend-loving Jew said, that Noah floated
his ark over a drowning world and secured for his posterity a standing
covenant with God, Who then and once for all set His bow in the heavens;
that is to indicate, somewhere, in the dim backward and abysm of time, an
historical event. The rainbow is suffered as the skirt of the robe of
Noah, who was an ancestor of Israel. So the Judith poem may be a decorated
event, or it may be the barest history in a splendid epical setting: the
point to remember is that it cannot be, as legend, a subject for creative
art. The artist, in the language of Neo-Platonism, is a demiurge; he only
of men can convert dead things into life. And now we will go into the

Mr. Ruskin, in his petulant-playful way, has touched upon the feeling of
amaze most people have who look for the first time at Botticelli's
_Judith_ tripping smoothly and lightly over the hill-country, her
steadfast maid dogging with intent patient eyes every step she takes. You
say it is flippant, affected, pedantic. For answer, I refer you to the
sage himself, who, from his point of view--that painting may fairly deal
with a chapter of history--is perfectly right. The prevailing strain of
the story is the strength of weakness--_ex dulci fortitude_, to
invert the old enigma. "O God, O my God, hear me also, a widow. Break down
their stateliness by the hand of a woman!" It is the refrain that runs
through the whole history of Israel, that reasonable complacency of a
little people in their God-fraught destiny. And, withal, a streak of
savage spite: that the audacious oppressor shall be done scornfully to
death. There is the motive of Jael and Sisera too. So "she smote twice
upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him, and
tumbled his body down from the bed." Ho! what a fate for the emissary of
the Great King. Wherefore, once more, the jubilant paradox, "The Lord hath
smitten him by the hand of a woman!" That is it: the amazing, thrilling
antithesis insisted on over and over again by the old Hebrew bard. "Her
sandals ravished his eyes, her beauty took his mind prisoner, and the
fauchion passed through his neck." That is the _leit-motif_: Sandro
the poet knew it perfectly well and taught it, to the no small comfort of
Mr. Ruskin and his men. Giuditta, dainty, blue-eyed, a girl still and
three years a widow, flits homeward through a spring landscape of grey and
green and the smile of a milky sky, being herself the dominant of the
chord, with her bough of slipt olive and her jagged scimitar, with her
pretty blue fal-lals smocked and puffed, and her yellow curls floating
over her shoulders. On her slim feet are the sandals that ravished his
eyes; all her maiden bravery is dancing and fluttering like harebells in
the wind. Behind her plods the slave-girl folded in an orange scarf,
bearing that shapeless, nameless burden of hers, the head of the grim Lord
Holofernes. Oh, for that, it is the legend itself! For look at the girl's
eyes. What does their dreamy solemnity mean if not, "the Lord hath smitten
him by the hand of a woman"? One other delicate bit of symbolising he has
allowed himself, which I may not omit. You are to see by whom this deed
was done: by a woman who has unsexed herself. Judith is absorbed in her
awful service; her robe trails on the ground and clings about her knees;
she is unconscious of the hindrance. The gates of Bethulia are in sight,
the Chaldean horsemen are abroad, but she has no anxiety to escape. She is
swift because her life just now courses swiftly; but there is no haste.
The maid, you shall mark, picks up her skirts with careful hand, and steps
out the more lustily for it.

So far Botticelli the poet, and so far also Mr. Ruskin, reader of
pictures. What says Botticelli the painter? Had he no instincts to tell
him that his art could have little to say to a legend? Or that a legend
might be the subject of an epic (here, indeed, was an epic ready made),
might, under conditions, be the subject of a drama; but could not, under
any conditions, be alone the subject of a picture? I don't for a moment
suggest that he had, or that any artist ever goes to work in this double-
entry, methodical way; but are we entitled to say that he was not
influenced by his predilections, his determinations as a draughtsman, when
he squared himself to illustrate the Bible? We say that the subject of a
picture is the spirit of natural fact. If Botticelli was a painter,
_that_ is what he must have looked for, and must have found, in every
picture he painted. Where, then, was he to get his natural facts in the
story of Judith? What is, in that story, the natural, essential (as
opposed to the historical, fleeting) fact? It is murder. Judith's deed was
what the old Scots law incisively calls _slauchter_. It may be
glossed over as assassination or even execution--in fact, in Florence,
where Giuliano was soon to be taken off, it did not fail to be so called:
it remains, however, just murder. Botticelli, not shirking the position at
all, judged murder to be a natural fact, and its spirit or essence
swiftness and stealth. Chaucer, let us note, had been of the same mind:

"The smyler with the kayf under his cloke,"

and so on, in lines not to be matched for hasty and dreadful suggestion.
Swiftness and stealth, the ambush, the averted face and the sudden stab,
are the standing elements of murder: pare off all the rest, you come down
to that. Your staring looks, your blood, your "chirking," are accidentals.
They may be there (for each of us carries a carcase), but the horror of
sudden death is above them: a man may strangle with his thoughts cleaner
than with his pair of hands. And as "matter" is but the stuff wherewith
Nature works, and she is only insulted, not defied, when we flout or
mangle it, so it is against the high dignity of Art to insist upon the
carrion she must use. She will press, here the terror, there the radiance,
of essential fact; she will leave to us, seeing it in her face, to add
mentally the poor stage properties we have grown to trust. No blood, if
you please. Therefore, in Botticelli's _Judith_, nothing but the
essentials are insisted on; the rest we instantly imagine, but it is not
there to be sensed. The panel is in a tremor. So swift and secret is
Judith, so furtive the maid, we need no hurrying horsemen to remind us of
her oath,--"Hear me, and I will do a thing which shall go throughout all
generations to the children of our nation." Sudden death is in the air;
nature has been outraged. But there is no drop of blood--the thin scarlet
line along the sword-edge is a symbol if you will--the pale head in the
cloth is a mere "thing": yet we all know what has been done. Mr. Ruskin is
wrong to dwell here upon the heroism of the heroine, the beneficence of
the crime, the exhilaration of the patriot; he is traducing the painter by
so praising the poet All those things may be there; and why should they
not? But it is a pity to insist upon them until you have no space for the
pictorial something which is there too, and makes the picture.

Other _Judiths_ there are; two here, one next door in the Pitti, any
number scattered over the galleries of Europe. There are Jacopo Palma of
Venice and Allori of Florence who used the old story, the one to
perpetuate a fat blonde, the other a handsome actress in a "strong"
situation; there is Sodoma; there are Horace Vernet and the moderns, the
Wests and Haydons of our grandfathers. It is a pet subject of the Salon.
These men have vulgarised an epic, and smirched poetry and painting alike
for the sake of a tawdry sensation. But enough: let us look at one more.
Mantegna's is worth looking at. It is a pen drawing, often repeated, best
known by the fine engraving he finally made of it. I think it Is the best
murder picture in the world. To begin with, the literary interest of the
story is practically gone. This wild, terrible, beautiful woman may be
Judith if you choose: she might be Medea or Agave, or Salome, or the
Lucrezia Borgia of popular fancy and Donizetti. The fact is she is part of
a scheme whose object is the aesthetic aspect of murder--murder considered
by one of the fine arts. Andrea was able, and I know not that anybody else
of his day could have been able, to contemplate murder purely objectively,
with no thought of its ethical relations. Botticelli had been fired by the
heroism and the moral grandeur of the special circumstances of a given
case: down they went into his picture with what rightly belonged to it.
There is none of that here. And Mantegna makes other distinctions in the
field common to both of them. Murder, for him, did not essentially subsist
in its shocking suddenness; it held something more specific, a witchery of
its own, a _macabre_ fascination, a mystery. Lionardo felt it when he
drew his _Medusa_; Shelley wrote it down "the tempestuous loveliness
of terror." Thus it had, for Mantegna, an unique emotional habit which set
it off from other vice and gave it a positive, appreciable, aesthetic value
of its own. With even more unerrancy than Botticelli, he gripped the
adjectival and qualifying function of his art. He saw that crime, too, had
its pictorial side. When Keats, writing of the Lamia sloughing her snake-
folds, tells us how--

"She writhed about, convulsed--with scarlet pain";

or when, of organ music, he says--

"Up aloft
The silver, snarling trumpets 'gan to chide,"

he is simply, in his own art and with his proper methods, getting
precisely the same kind of effect; he is incarnating the soul of a fact.
And so Mantegna, with his Roman kindness for whatever had breath and
vigour and boldness of design, carved his _Judith_ on the lines of a
Vestal Virgin, and gave her the rapt, daemonic features of the Tragic Muse.
And, with his full share of that unhealthy craving for the mere nastiness
of crime, that Aminatrait which distinguished the later Empire and its
correlate the Renaissance, he drew together the elements of his picture to
express an eminently characteristic conception of curious murder. What
amplitude of outline; what severe grace of drapery! And what mad
affectation of attention to the ghastly baggage she is preparing for her
flight! I can only instance for a parallel the pitiful case of the young
Ophelia, decked with flowers and weeds, and faltering in her pretty treble
songs about lechery and dead bodies. It needs strong men to do these
things; men who have lived out all that the world can offer them of heaven
and hell, and, with the tolerance of maturity, are in the mind to see
something worth a thought in either. There is in murder something more
horrible than blood,--the spirit that breeds blood and plays with it. M.
Jan van Beers and his kindred of the dissecting-room and accidents'-ward
are passed by Mantegna, who gives no vulgar illusion of gaping wounds and
jetting blood; but, instead, holds up to us a beautiful woman daintily
fingering a corpse.



_(How Sandro Botticelli saw Simonetta in the Spring)_

Up at Fiesole, among the olives and chestnuts which cloud the steeps, the
magnificent Lorenzo was entertaining his guests on a morning in April. The
olives were just whitening to silver; they stretched in a trembling sea
down the slope. Beyond lay Florence, misty and golden; and round about
were the mossy hills, cut sharp and definite against a grey-blue sky,
printed with starry buildings and sober ranks of cypress. The sun catching
the mosaics of San Miniato and the brazen cross on the fagade, made them
shine like sword-blades in the quiver of the heat between. For the valley
was just a lake of hot air, hot and murky--"fever weather," said the
people in the streets--with a glaring summer sun let in between two long
spells of fog. 'Twas unnatural at that season, _via_; but the blessed
Saints sent the weather and one could only be careful what one was about
at sundown.

Up at the villa, with brisk morning airs rustling overhead, in the cool
shades of trees and lawns, it was pleasant to lie still, watching these
things, while a silky young exquisite sang to his lute a not too audacious
ballad about Selvaggia, or Becchina and the saucy Prior of Sant' Onofrio.
He sang well too, that dark-eyed boy; the girl at whose feet he was
crouched was laughing and blushing at once; and, being very fair, she
blushed hotly. She dared not raise her eyes to look into his, and he knew
it and was quietly measuring his strength--it was quite a comedy! At each
wanton _refrain_ he lowered his voice to a whisper and bent a little
forward. And the girl's laughter became hysterical; she was shaking with
the effort to control herself. At last she looked up with a sort of sob in
her breath and saw his mocking smile and the gleam of the wild beast in
his eyes. She grew white, rose hastily and turned away to join a group of
ladies sitting apart. A man with a heavy, rather sullen face and a bush of
yellow hair falling over his forehead in a wave, was standing aside
watching all this. He folded his arms and scowled under his big brows; and
when the girl moved away his eyes followed her.

The lad ended his song in a broad sarcasm amid bursts of laughter and
applause. The Magnificent, sitting in his carved chair, nursed his sallow
face and smiled approval, "My brother boasts his invulnerability," he
said, turning to his neighbour, "let him look to it, Messer Cupido will
have him yet. Already, we can see, he has been let into some of the
secrets of the bower," The man bowed and smiled deferentially, "Signer
Giuliano has all the qualities to win the love of ladies, and to retain
it. Doubtless he awaits his destiny. The Wise Man has said that Beauty..."
The young poet enlarged on his text with some fire in his thin
cheeks, while the company kept very silent. It was much to their liking;
even Giuliano was absorbed; he sat on the ground clasping one knee between
his hands, smiling upwards into vacancy, as a man does whose imagination
is touched. Lorenzo nursed his sallow face and beat time to the orator's
cadences with his foot; he, too, was abstracted and smiling. At the end he
spoke: "Our Marsilio himself had never said nobler words, my Agnolo. The
mantle of the Attic prophet has descended indeed upon this Florence. And
Beauty, as thon sayest, is from heaven. But where shall it be found here
below, and how discerned?" The man of the heavy jowl was standing with
folded arms, looking from under his brows at the group of girls. Lorenzo
saw everything; he noticed him. "Our Sandro will tell us it is yonder. The
Star of Genoa shines over Florence and our poor little constellations are
gone out. _Ecco_, my Sandro, gravest and hardiest of painters, go
summon Madonna Simonetta and her handmaidens to our Symposium. Agnolo will
speak further to us of this sovereignty of Beauty."

The painter bowed his head and moved away.

A green alley vaulted with thick ilex and myrtle formed a tapering vista
where the shadows lay misty blue and pale shafts of light pierced through
fitfully. At the far end it ran out into an open space and a splash of
sunshine. A marble Ganymede with lifted arms rose in the middle like a
white flame. The girls were there, intent upon some commerce of their own,
flashing hither and thither over the grass in a flutter of saffron and
green and crimson. Simonetta--Sandro could see--was a little apart, a very
tall, isolated figure, clear and cold in a recess of shade, standing
easily, resting on one hip with her hands behind her. A soft, straight
robe of white clipped her close from shoulder to heel; the lines of her
figure were thrust forward by her poise. His eye followed the swell of her
bosom, very gentle and girlish, and the long folds of her dress falling
thence to her knee. While she stood there, proud and remote, a chance beam
of the sun shone on her head so that it seemed to burn. "Heaven salutes
the Queen of Heaven,--Venus Urania!" With an odd impulse he stopped,
crossed himself, and then hurried on.

He told his errand to her, having no eyes for the others.

"Signorina--I am to acquaint her Serenity that the divine poet Messer
Agnolo is to speak of the sovereign power of beauty; of the Heavenly
Beauty whereof Plato taught, as it is believed."

Simonetta arched a slim neck and looked down at the obsequious speaker, or
at least he thought so. And he saw how fair she was, a creature how
delicate and gracious, with grey eyes frank and wide, and full red lips
where a smile (nervous and a little wistful, he judged, rather than
defiant) seemed always to hover. Such clear-cut, high beauty made him
ashamed; but her colouring (for he was a painter) made his heart beat. She
was no ice-bound shadow of deity then! but flesh and blood; a girl--a
child, of timid, soft contours, of warm roses and blue veins laced in a
pearly skin. And she was crowned with a heavy wealth of red-gold hair,
twisted in great coils, bound about with pearls, and smouldering like
molten metal where it fell rippling along her neck. She dazzled him, so
that he could not face her or look further. His eyes dropped. He stood
before her moody, disconcerted.

The girls, who had dissolved their company at his approach, listened to
what he had to say linked in knots of twos and threes. They needed no
excuses to return; some were philosophers in their way, philosophers and
poetesses; some had left their lovers in the ring round Lorenzo. So they
went down the green alley still locked by the arms, by the waist or
shoulders. They did not wait for Simonetta. She was a Genoese, and proud
as the snow. Why did Giuliano love her? _Did_ he love her, indeed? He
was bewitched then, for she was cold, and a brazen creature in spite of
it. How dare she bare her neck so! Oh! 'twas Genoese. "Uomini senza fede e
donne senza vergogna," they quoted as they ran.

And Simonetta walked alone down the way with her head high; but Sandro
stepped behind, at the edge of her trailing white robe....

... The poet was leaning against an ancient alabaster vase, soil-stained,
yellow with age and its long sojourn in the loam, but with traces of its
carved garlands clinging to it still. He fingered it lovingly as he
talked. His oration was concluding, and his voice rose high and tremulous;
there were sparks in his hollow eyes.... "And as this sovereign Beauty is
queen of herself, so she is subject to none other, owns to no constraining
custom, fears no reproach of man. What she wills, that has the force of a
law. Being Beauty, her deeds are lovely and worshipful. Therefore Phryne,
whom men, groping in darkness and the dull ways of earth, dubbed
courtesan, shone in a Court of Law before the assembled nobles of Athens,
naked and undismayed in the blaze of her fairness. And Athens discerned
the goddess and trembled. Yes, and more; even as Aphrodite, whose darling
she was, arose pure from the foam, so she too came up out of the sea in
the presence of a host, and the Athenians, seeing no shame, thought none,
but, rather, reverenced her the more. For what shame is it that the body
of one so radiant in clear perfections should be revealed? Is then the
garment of the soul, her very mould and image, so shameful? Shall we seek
to know her essence by the garment of a garment, or hope to behold that
which really is in the shadows we cast upon shadows? Shame is of the brute
dullard who thinks shame. The evil ever sees Evil glaring at him, Plato,
the golden-moutheds with the soul of pure fire, has said the truth of this
matter in his _De Republica_ the fifth book, where he speaks of young
maids sharing the exercise of the Palaestra, yea, and the Olympic contests
even! For he says, 'Let the wives of our wardens bare themselves, for
their virtue will be a robe; and let them share the toils of war and
defend their country. And for the man who laughs at naked women exercising
their bodies for high reasons, his laughter is a fruit of unripe wisdom,
and he himself knows not what he is about; for that is ever the best of
sayings that the useful is the noble and the hurtful the base'...."

There was a pause. The name of Plato had had a strange effect upon the
company. You would have said they had suddenly entered a church and had
felt all lighter interests sink under the weight of the dim, echoing nave.
After a few moments the poet spoke again in a quieter tone, but his voice
had lost none of the unction which had enriched it.... "Beauty is queen:
by the virtue of Deity, whose image she is, she reigns, lifts up, fires.
Let us beware how we tempt Deity lest we perish ourselves. Actseon died
when he gazed unbidden upon the pure body of Artemis; but Artemis herself
rayed her splendour upon Endymion, and Endymion is among the immortals. We
fall when we rashly confront Beauty, but that Beauty who comes unawares
may nerve our souls to wing to heaven." He ended on a resonant note, and
then, still looking out over the valley, sank into his seat. Lorenzo, with
a fine humility, got up and kissed his thin hand. Giuliano looked at
Simonetta, trying to recall her gaze, but she remained standing in her
place, seeing nothing of her companions. She was thinking of something,
frowning a little and biting her lip, her hands were before her; her slim
fingers twisted and locked themselves nervously, like a tangle of snakes.
Then she tossed her head, as a young horse might, and looked at Giuliano
suddenly, full in the eyes. He rose to meet her with a deprecating smile,
cap in hand--but she walked past him, almost brushing him with her gown,
but never flinching her full gaze, threaded her way through the group to
the back, behind the poet, where Sandro was. He had seen her coming,
indeed he had watched her furtively throughout the oration, but her near
presence disconcerted him again--and he looked down. She was strongly
excited with her quick resolution; her colour had risen and her voice
faltered when she began to speak. She spoke eagerly, running her words

"_Ecco_, Messer Sandro," she whispered blushing. "You have heard
these sayings.... Who is there in Florence like me?"

"There is no one," said Sandro simply.

"I will be your Lady Venus," she went on breathlessly. "You shall paint
me, rising from the sea-foam.... The Genoese love the sea." She was still
eager and defiant; her bosom rose and fell unchecked.

"The Signorina is mocking me; it is impossible; the Signorina knows it."

"Eh, _Madonna!_ is it so shameful to be fair--Star of the Sea as your
poets sing at evening? Do you mean that I dare not do it? Listen then,
Signer Pittore; to-morrow morning at mass-time you will come to the Villa
Vespucci with your brushes and pans and you will ask for Monna Simonetta.
Then you will see. Leave it now; it is settled." And she walked away with
her head high and the same superb smile on her red lips. Mockery! She was
in dead earnest; all her child's feelings were in hot revolt. These women
who had whispered to each other, sniggered at her dress, her white neck
and her free carriage; Giuliano who had presumed so upon her candour--
these prying, censorious Florentines---she would strike them dumb with her
amazing loveliness. They sang her a goddess that she might be flattered
and suffer their company: she would show herself a goddess indeed--the
star of her shining Genoa, where men were brave and silent and maidens
frank like the sea. Yes, and then she would withdraw herself suddenly and
leave them forlorn and dismayed.

As for Sandro, he stood where she had left him, peering after her with a
mist in his eyes. He seemed to be looking over the hill-side, over the
city glowing afar off gold and purple in the hot air, to Mont' Oliveto and
the heights, where a line of black cypresses stood about a low white
building. At one angle of the building was a little turret with a
belvedere of round arches. The tallest cypress just topped the windows,
There his eyes seemed to rest.


At mass-time Sandro, folded in his shabby green cloak, stepped into the
sun on the Ponte Vecchio. The morning mists were rolling back under the
heat; you began to see the yellow line of houses stretching along the
turbid river on the far side, and frowning down upon it with blank, mud-
stained faces. Above, through streaming air, the sky showed faintly blue,
and a _campanile_ to the right loomed pale and uncertain like a
ghost. The sound of innumerable bells floated over the still city. Hardly
a soul was abroad; here and there a couple of dusty peasants were trudging
in with baskets of eggs and jars of milk and oil; a boat passed down to
the fishing, and the oar knocked sleepily in the rowlock as she cleared
the bridge. And above, on the heights of Mont' Oliveto, the tapering forms
of cypresses were faintly outlined--straight bars of shadow--and the level
ridge of a roof ran lightly back into the soft shroud.

Sandro could mark these things as he stepped resolutely on to the bridge,
crossed it, and went up a narrow street among the sleeping houses. The day
held golden promise; it was the day of his life! Meantime the mist clung
to him and nipped him; what had fate in store? What was to be the issue?
In the Piazza Santo Spirito, grey and hollow-sounding in the chilly
silences, his own footsteps echoed solemnly as he passed by the door of
the great ragged church. Through the heavy darkness within lights
flickered faintly and went; service was not begun. A drab crew of cripples
lounged on the steps yawning and shivering, and two country girls were
strolling to mass with brown arms round each other's waists. When Sandro's
footfall clattered on the stones they stopped by the door looking after
him and laughed to see his dull face and muffled figure. In the street
beyond he heard a bell jingling, hasty, incessant; soon a white-robed
procession swept by him, fluttering vestments, tapers, and the Host under
a canopy, silk and gold. Sandro snatched at his cap and dropped on his
knees in the road, crouching low and muttering under his breath as the
vision went past. He remained kneeling for a moment after it had gone,
then crossed himself--forehead, breast, lip--and hurried forward.... He
stepped under the archway into the Court. There was a youth with a cropped
head and swarthy neck lounging there teasing a spaniel. As the steps
sounded on the flags he looked up; the old green cloak and clumsy shoes of
the visitor did not interest him; he turned his back and went on with his
game. Sandro accosted him--Was the Signorina at the house? The boy went on
with his game. "Eh, Diavolo! I know nothing at all," he said.

Sandro raised his voice till it rang round the courtyard. "You will go at
once and inquire. You will say to the Signorina that Sandro di Mariano
Filipepi the Florentine painter is here by her orders; that he waits her
pleasure below."

The boy had got up; he and Sandro eyed each other for a little space.
Sandro was the taller and had the glance of a hawk. So the porter went....

... Presently with throbbing brows he stood on the threshold of
Simonetta's chamber. It was the turret room of the villa and its four
arched windows looked through a leafy tracery over towards Florence.
Sandro could see down below him in the haze the glitter of the Arno and
the dusky dome of Brunelleschi cleave the sward of the hills like a great
burnished bowl. In the room itself there was tapestry, the Clemency of
Scipio, with courtiers in golden cuirasses and tall plumes, and peacocks
and huge Flemish horses--a rich profusion of crimson and blue drapery and
stout-limbed soldiery. On a bracket, above a green silk curtain, was a
silver statuette of Madonna and the Bambino Gesu, with a red lamp
flickering feebly before. By the windows a low divan heaped with velvet
cushions and skins. But for a coffer and a prayer-desk and a curtained
recess which enshrined Simonetta's bed, the room looked wind-swept and

When he entered, Simonetta was standing by the window leaning her hand
against the ledge for support. She was draped from top to toe in a rose-
coloured mantle which shrouded her head like a nun's wimple and then fell
in heavy folds to the ground. She flushed as he came in, but saluted him
with a grave inclination. Neither spoke. The silent greeting, the full
consciousness in each of their parts, gave a curious religious solemnity
to the scene--like some familiar but stately Church mystery. Sandro busied
himself mechanically with his preparations-he was a lover and his pulse
chaotic, but he had come to paint--and when these were done, on tip-toe,
as it were, he looked timidly about him round the room, seeking where to
pose her. Then he motioned her with the same reverential, preoccupied air,
silent still, to a place under the silver Madonna....

... There was a momentary quiver of withdrawal. Simonetta blushed vividly
and drooped her eyes down to her little bare foot peeping out below the
lines of the rosy cloak. The cloak's warmth shone on her smooth skin and
rayed over her cheeks. In her flowery loveliness she looked diaphanous,
ethereal; and yet you could see what a child she was, with her bright
audacity, her ardour and her wilfulness flushing and paling about her like
the dawn. There she stood trembling on the brink....

Suddenly all her waywardness shot into her eyes; she lifted her arms and
the cloak fell back like the shard of a young flower; then, delicate and
palpitating as a silver reed, she stood up in the soft light of the
morning, and the sun, slanting in between the golden leaves and tendrils,
kissed her neck and shrinking shoulder.

Sandro stood facing her, moody and troubled, fingering his brushes and
bits of charcoal; his shaggy brows were knit, he seemed to be breathing
hard. He collected himself with an effort and looked up at her as she
stood before him shrinking, awe-struck, panting at the thing she had done.
Their eyes met, and the girl's distress increased; she raised her hand to
cover her bosom; her breath came in short gasps from parted lips, but her
wide eyes still looked fixedly into his, with such blank panic that a
sudden movement might really have killed her. He saw it all; she! there at
his mercy. Tears swam and he trembled. Ah! the gracious lady! what divine
condescension! what ineffable courtesy! But the artist in him was awakened
almost at the same moment; his looks wandered in spite of her piteous
candour and his own nothingness. Sandro the poet would have fallen on his
face with an "Exi a me, nam peccator sum." Sandro the painter was
different--no mercy there. He made a snatch at a carbon and raised his
other hand with a kind of command--"Holy Virgin! what a line! Stay as you
are, I implore you: swerve not one hair's breadth and I have you for
ever!" There was conquest in his voice.

So Simonetta stood very still, hiding her bosom with her hand, but never
took her watch off the enemy. As he ran blindly about doing a hundred
urgent indispensable things--noting the lights, the line she made, how her
arm cut across the folds of the curtain--she dogged him with staring,
fascinated eyes, just as a hare, crouching in her form, watches a terrier
hunting round her and waits for the end.

But the enemy was disarmed. Sandro the passionate, the lover, the brooding
devotee, was gone; so was _la bella Simonetta_ the beloved, the be-
hymned. Instead, here was a fretful painter, dashing lines and broad
smudges of shade on his paper, while before him rose an exquisite,
slender, swaying form, glistening carnation and silver, and, over all, the
maddening glow of red-gold hair. Could he but catch those velvet shadows,
those delicate, glossy, reflected-lights! Body of Bacchus! How could he
put them in! What a picture she was! Look at the sun on her shoulder! and
her hair--Christ! how it burned! It was a curious moment. The girl who had
never understood or cared to understand this humble lover, guessed now
that he was lost in the artist. She felt that she was simply an effect and
she resented it as a crowning insult. Her colour rose again, her red lips
gathered into a pout. If Sandro had but known, she was his at that
instant. He had but to drop the painter, throw down his brushes, set his
heart and hot eyes bare--to open his arms and she would have fled into
them and nestled there; so fierce was her instinct just then to be loved,
she, who had always been loved! But Sandro knew nothing and cared nothing.
He was absorbed in the gracious lines of her body, the lithe long neck,
the drooping shoulder, the tenderness of her youth; and then the grand
open curve of the hip and thigh on which she was poised. He drew them in
with a free hand in great sweeping lines, eagerly, almost angrily; once or
twice he broke his carbon and--body of a dog!--he snatched at another.

This lasted a few minutes only: even Simonetta, with all her maiden
tremors still feverishly acute, hardly noticed the flight of time; she was
so hot with the feeling of her wrongs, the slight upon her victorious
fairness. Did she not _know_ how fair she was? She was getting very
angry; she had been made a fool of. All Florence would come and gape at
the picture and mock her in the streets with bad names and coarse gestures
as she rode by. She looked at Sandro. Santa Maria! how hot he was! His
hair was drooping over his eyes! He tossed it back every second! And his
mouth was open, one could see his tongue working! Why had she not noticed
that great mouth before? 'Twas the biggest in all Florence. O! why had he
come? She was frightened, remorseful, a child again, with a trembling
pathetic mouth and shrinking limbs. And then her heart began to beat under
her slim fingers. She pressed them down into her flesh to stay those great
masterful throbs. A tear gathered in her eye; larger and larger it grew,
and then fell. A shining drop rested on the round of her cheek and rolled
slowly down her chin to her protecting hand, and lay there half hidden,
shining like a rain-drop between two curving petals of a rose.

It was just at that moment the painter looked up from his work and shook
his bush of hair back. Something in his sketch had displeased him; he
looked up frowning, with a brush between his teeth. When he saw the tear-
stained, distressful, beautiful face it had a strange effect upon him. He
dropped nerveless, like a wounded man, to his knees, and covered his eyes
with his hands. "Ah Madonna! for the pity of heaven forgive me! forgive
me! I have sinned, I have done thee fearful wrong; I, who still dare to
love thee." He uncovered his face and looked up radiant: his own words had
inspired him, "Yes," he went on, with a steadfast smile, "I, Sandro, the
painter, the poor devil of a painter, have seen thee and I dare to love!"
His triumph was short-lived. Simonetta had grown deadly white, her eyes
burned, she had forgotten herself. She was tall and slender as a lily, and
she rose, shaking, to her height.

"Thou presumest strangely," she said, in a slow still voice, "Go! Go in

She was conqueror. In her calm scorn she was like a young immortal, some
cold victorious Cynthia whose chastity had been flouted. Sandro was pale
too: he said nothing and did not look at her again. She stood quivering
with excitement, watching him with the same intent alertness as he rolled
up his paper and crammed his brushes and pencils into the breast of his
jacket. She watched him still as he backed out of the room and disappeared
through the curtains of the archway. She listened to his footsteps along
the corridor, down the stair. She was alone in the silence of the sunny
room. Her first thought was for her cloak; she snatched it up and veiled
herself shivering as she looked fearfully round the walls. And then she
flung herself on the piled cushions before the window and sobbed
piteously, like an abandoned child.

The sun slanted in between the golden leaves and tendrils and played in
the tangle of her hair....


At ten o'clock on the morning of April the twenty-sixth, a great bell
began to toll: two beats heavy and slow, and then silence, while the air
echoed the reverberation, moaning. Sandro, in shirt and breeches, with
bare feet spread broad, was at work in his garret on the old bridge. He
stayed his hand as the strong tone struck, bent his head and said a
prayer: "Miserere ei, Domine; requiem eternam dona, Domine"; the words
came out of due order as if he was very conscious of their import. Then he
went on. And the great bell went on; two beats together, and then silence.
It seemed to gather solemnity and a heavier message as he painted. Through
the open window a keen draught of air blew in with dust and a scrap of
shaving from the Lung' Arno down below; it circled round his workshop,
fluttering the sketches and rags pinned to the walls. He looked out on a
bleak landscape--San Miniato in heavy shade, and the white houses by the
river staring like dead faces. A strong breeze was abroad; it whipped the
brown water and raised little curling billows, ragged and white at the
edges, and tossed about snaps of surf. It was cold. Sandro shivered as he
shut to his casement; and the stiffening gale rattled at it fitfully. Once
again it thrust it open, bringing wild work among the litter in the room.
He made fast with the rain driving In his face. And above the howling of
the squall he heard the sound of the great bell, steady and unmoved as if
too full of its message to be put aside. Yet it was coming to him athwart
the wind.

Sandro stood at his casement and looked at the weather-beating rain and
yeasty water. He counted, rather nervously, the pulses between each pair
of the bell's deep tones. He was impressionable to circumstances, and the
coincidence of storm and passing-bell awed him.... "Either the God of
Nature suffers or the fabric of the world is breaking";--he remembered a
scrap of talk wafted towards him (as he stood in attendance) from some
humanist at Lorenzo's table only yesterday, above the light laughter and
snatches of song. That breakfast party at the Camaldoli yesterday! What a
contrast--the even spring weather with the sun in a cloudless sky, and now
this icy dead morning with its battle of wind and bell, fighting, he
thought,--over the failing breath of some strong man. Man! God, more like.
"The God of Nature suffers," he murmured as he turned to his work....

Simonetta had not been there yesterday. He had not seen her, indeed, since
that nameless day when she had first transported him with the radiance of
her bare beauty and then struck him down with a level gaze from steel-cold
eyes. And he had deserved it, he had--she had said--"presumed strangely."
Three more words only had she uttered and he had slunk out from her
presence like a dog. What a Goddess! Venus Urania! So she, too, might have
ravished a worshipper as he prayed, and, after, slain him for a careless
word. Cruel? No, but a Goddess. Beauty had no laws; she was above them,
Agnolo himself had said it, from Plato.... Holy Michael! What a blast!
Black and desperate weather.... "Either the God of Nature suffers."... God
shield all Christian souls on such a day!....

One came and told him Simonetta Vespucci was dead. Some fever had torn at
her and raced through all her limbs, licking up her life as it passed. No
one had known of it--it was so swift! But there had just been time to
fetch a priest; Fra Matteo, they said, from the Carmine, had shrived her
(it was a bootless task, God knew, for the child had babbled so, her wits
wandered, look you), and then he had performed the last office. One had
fled to tell the Medici. Giuliano was wild with grief; 'twas as if
_he_ had killed her instead of the Spring-ague--but then, people said
he loved her well! And our Lorenzo had bid them swing the great bell of
the Duomo--Sandro had heard it perhaps?--and there was to be a public
procession, and a Requiem sung at Santa Croce before they took her back to
Genoa to lie with her fathers. Eh! Bacchus! She was fair and Giuliano had
loved her well. It was natural enough then. So the gossip ran out to tell
his news to more attentive ears, and Sandro stood in his place, intoning
softly "Te Deum Laudamus."

He understood it all. There had been a dark and awful strife--earth
shuddering as the black shadow of death swept by. Through tears now the
sun beamed broad over the gentle city where she lay lapped in her mossy
hills. "Lux eterna lucet ei," he said with a steady smile; "atque
lucebit," he added after a pause. He had been painting that day an
agonising Christ, red and languid, crowned with thorns. Some of his own
torment seems to have entered it, for, looking at it now, we see, first of
all, wild eyeballs staring with the mad earnestness, the purposeless
intensity of one seized or "possessed." He put the panel away and looked
about for something else, the sketch he had made of Simonetta on that last
day. When he had found it, he rolled it straight and set it on his easel.
It was not the first charcoal study he had made from life, but a brush
drawing on dark paper, done in sepia-wash and the lights in white lead. He
stood looking into it with his hands clasped. About half a braccia high,
faint and shadowy in the pale tint he had used, he saw her there victim
rather than Goddess. Standing timidly and wistfully, shrinking rather,
veiling herself, maiden-like, with her hands and hair, with lips trembling
and dewy eyes, she seemed to him now an immortal who must needs suffer for
some great end; live and suffer and die; live again, and suffer and die.
It was a doom perpetual like Demeter's, to bear, to nurture, to lose and
to find her Persephone. She had stood there immaculate and apprehensive, a
wistful victim. Three days before he had seen her thus; and now she was
dead. He would see her no more.

Ah, yes! Once more he would see her....

* * * * *

They carried dead Simonetta through the streets of Florence with her pale
face uncovered and a crown of myrtle in her hair. People thronging there
held their breath, or wept to see such still loveliness; and her poor
parted lips wore a patient little smile, and her eyelids were pale violet
and lay heavy to her cheek. White, like a bride, with a nosegay of orange-
blossom and syringa at her throat, she lay there on her bed with lightly
folded hands and the strange aloofness and preoccupation all the dead
have. Only her hair burned about her like a molten copper; and the wreath
of myrtle leaves ran forward to her brows and leapt beyond them into a

The great procession swept forward; black brothers of Misericordia,
shrouded and awful, bore the bed or stalked before it with torches that
guttered and flared sootily in the dancing light of day. They held the
pick of Florence, those scowling shrouds--Giuliano and Lorenzo, Pazzi,
Tornabuoni, Soderini or Pulci; and behind, old Cattaneo, battered with
storms, walked heavily, swinging his long arms and looking into the day's
face as if he would try another fall with Death yet. Priests and acolytes,
tapers, banners, vestments and a great silver Crucifix, they drifted by,
chanting the dirge for Simonetta; and she, as if for a sacrifice, lifted
up on her silken bed, lay couched like a white flower edged colour of

... Santa Croce, the great church, stretched forward beyond her into the
distances of grey mist and cold spaces of light. Its bare vastness was
damp like a vault. And she lay in the midst listless, heavy-lidded, apart,
with the half-smile, as it seemed, of some secret mirth. Round her the
great candles smoked and flickered, and mass was sung at the High Altar
for her soul's repose. Sandro stood alone facing the shining altar but
looking fixedly at Simonetta on her couch. He was white and dry--parched
lips and eyes that ached and smarted. Was this the end? Was it possible,
my God! that the transparent, unearthly thing lying there so prone and
pale was dead? Had such loveliness aught to do with life or death? Ah!
sweet lady, dear heart, how tired she was, how deadly tired! From where he
stood he could see with intolerable anguish the sombre rings round her
eyes and the violet shadows on the lids, her folded hands and the
straight, meek line to her feet. And her poor wan face with its wistful,
pitiful little smile was turned half aside on the delicate throat, as if
in a last appeal:--"Leave me now, O Florentines, to my rest, I have given
you all I had: ask no more. I was a young girl, a child; too young for
your eager strivings. You have killed me with your play; let me be now,
let me sleep!" Poor child! Poor child! Sandro was on his knees with his
face pressed against the pulpit and tears running through his fingers as
he prayed....

As he had seen her, so he painted. As at the beginning of life in a cold
world, passively meeting the long trouble of it, he painted her a rapt
Presence floating evenly to our earth. A grey, translucent sea laps
silently upon a little creek, and in the hush of a still dawn the myrtles
and sedges on the water's brim are quiet. It is a dream in half tones that
he gives us, grey and green and steely blue; and just that, and some
homely magic of his own, hint the commerce of another world with man's
discarded domain. Men and women are asleep, and as in an early walk you
may startle the hares at their play, or see the creatures of the darkness--
owls and night hawks and heavy moths--flit with fantastic purpose over
the familiar scene, so here it comes upon you suddenly that you have
surprised Nature's self at her mysteries; you are let into the secret; you
have caught the spirit of the April woodland as she glides over the
pasture to the copse. And that, indeed, was Sandro's fortune. He caught
her in just such a propitious hour. He saw the sweet wild thing, pure and
undefiled by touch of earth; caught her in that pregnant pause of time ere
she had lighted. Another moment and a buxom nymph of the grove would fold
her in a rosy mantle, coloured as the earliest wood-anemones are. She
would vanish, we know, into the daffodils or a bank of violets. And you
might tell her presence there, or in the rustle of the myrtles, or coo of
doves mating in the pines; you might feel her genius in the scent of the
earth or the kiss of the West wind; but you could only see her in mid-
April, and you should look for her over the sea. She always comes with the
first warmth of the year.

But daily, before he painted, Sandro knelt in a dark chapel in Santa
Croce, while a blue-chinned priest said mass for the repose of Simonetta's



For a short time in her motley history, an old-clothesman, one Domenico--
he and his "Compagnia del Bruco," his _Company of the Worm_[1]--
reigned over Siena and gave to her people a taste for blood. It was
bloodshed on easy terms they had; for surely no small nation (except that
tiger-cat Perugia) has achieved so much massacre with so little fighting.
Massacre considered as one of the Fine Arts? No indeed; but massacre as a
_viaticum_, as "title clear to mansions in the skies"; for, with more
complacency than discrimination, these sated citizens chose to dedicate
their most fantastic blood-orgies by a _Missa de Spiritu Sancto_ in
the Cathedral Church. The old-clothesman, who by some strange oversight
died in his bed, was floated up on the incense of this devout service to
show his hands, and--marvel!--Saint Catherine, the "amorosa sposa" of
Heaven, reigned in his stead. Certainly, for unction spiced with ferocity,
for a madness which alternately kissed the Crucifix and trampled on it,
for mandragora and _fleurs de lys_, saints and succubi, churches and
lupanars--commend me to Siena the red.

[Footnote 1: This was one of the _Contrade_ into which the City was
divided, and of which each had its totem-sign.]

You are not to suppose that she has not paid for all this, the red Siena.
None of it is absolved; it is there floating vaguely in the atmosphere. It
chokes the gully-trap streets in August when the air is like a hot bath;
it wails round the corners on stormy nights and you hear it battling among
the towers overhead, buffeting the stained walls of criminal old palaces
and churches grown hoary in iniquity--so many half-embodied centuries of
deadly sin gnawing their spleens or shrieking their infamous carouse over
again. So at least I found it. Without baring myself to the charge of any
sneaking kindness for bloodshedding, I may own to the fascination of the
precipitous fortress-town huddled red and grey on its three red crags, and
of its suggestion of all the old crimes of Italy from Ezzelino's to
Borgia's, of all unhappy deaths from Pia de' Tolomei's to Vittoria's, the
White Devil of Italy. Its air seemed "blood-boltered" (like the shade of
the hunted Banquho), its stones, curiously slippery for such dry weather,
cried "Haro!" or "Out! Havoc!" And above it all shone a marble church,
white as a bride; while now and again on a favourable waft of wind came
the fragrant memory of Saint Catherine. It is the peak of earth most
charged with wayward emotions--pity and terror blent together into a
poignant beauty, a sorcery. Imagine yourself one of those old Popes--Linus
or Anaclete or Damasius--whose heads spike the clerestory of the Duomo,
you would look down upon a sea of pictures (by the best pavement-artists
in the world)--the _Massacre of the Innocents_ like a patch of dry
blood by the altar-steps, a winking Madonna in the Capella del Voto
thronged with worshippers, Hermes Trismegistus, a freaksome wizard, by the
West door, and a gilded array of the great world smiling and debonnair in
the sacristy. Not far off is Sodoma's lovely Catherine fainting under the
sweet dolour of her spousals. Are you for the White or the Black Mass?
Cybele or the Holy Ghost? Catherine or Hermes Trismegistus? Siena will
give you any and yet more cunning confections. It is very strange.

The approach to her three hills, if you are not flattened by the
intolerable pilgrimage from Florence, is fine. Hints of what is to come
greet you in the frittered shale of the grey country-side broken abruptly
by little threatening hill-towns. The scar juts out of the earth's crust,
rising sheer, and there on a fretted peak hovers a fortress-village, steep
red roofs, an ancient bell-tower or two with a lean barrel of a church
beyond; all the lines cut sharp to the clean sky; a bullock-cart creaking
up homewards; the shiver and dust of olives round the walls. You could
swear you caught the glint of a long gun over the machicolations; but it
is only a casement fired by the westering sun. Such are San Miniato,
Castel Fiorentino, Poggibonsi (where stayed Lorenzo's Nencia--his Nancy,
we should call her), San Gimignano and its Fina, a little girl-saint of
fifteen springs; such, too, is Siena when you get there, but redder, her
grey stones blushing for her sins. And the country blushes for her as you
draw near, for all the vineyards are dotted with burning willows in the
autumn--osier-bushes flaming at the heart. Let it be night when you
arrive--the dead vast and middle of a still night. Then suffer yourself to
be whirled through the inky streets, over the flags, from one hill to
another. It is deathly quiet: no soul stirs. The palaces rise on either
hand like the ghosts of old reproaches; a flickering lamp reveals a gully
as black as a grave, and shines on the edge of a lane which falls you know
not whither. You turn corners which should complicate a maze, you scrape
and clatter down steeps, you groan up mountain-sides. All in the dark,
mind. And the great white houses slide down upon you to the very flags you
are beating; you could near touch either wall with a hand. So you swerve
round a column, under a votive lamp, and have left the stars and their
violet bed. You are in a _cortile_: men say there is an inn here with
reasonable entertainment. If it is the _Aquila Nera_, it will serve.
There is no sound beyond the labouring of our horses' wind and of some
outland dog in the far distance baying for a moon. This is Siena at her
black magic.

I maintain that the impression you thus receive holds you. Next morning
there is a blare of sun. It will blind you at first, blister you. Rayed
out from plaster-walls which have been soaking in it for five centuries,
driven up in palpable waves of heat from the flags, lying like a lake of
white metal in the Piazza, however recklessly this truly royal sun may
beam, in Siena you will feel furtive and astare for sudden death.

There is nothing frank and open about Siena; none of your robust, red-
lunged, open-air Paganism. Theophile Gautier, Baudelaire, Poe--such
supersensitive plants should have known it, instead of the ingenuous M.
Bourget and the deliberate Mr. Henry James. M. Bourget looked at the
Sodomas and Mr. James admired the view: what a romance we should have had
from Gautier of illicit joys and their requital by a knife, what a strophe
from Baudelaire half-obscene, half-mournful, wholly melodious. But
Theophile Gautier tarried in Venice, and, as for M. Charles, the man of
pronounced tastes and keen nose, stuck in the main to Paris. Failing them
as guides, go you first to the Piazza del Campo where horses race in
August--all roads lead thither. Contraries again! A square? It is a cup. A
field? It is a Gabbatha: a place of burning pavements. Were red brick and
Gothic ever so superbly compounded before, to be so strong and yet so
lithe? That is the Palazzo Publico, the shrine of Aristotle's
_Politics_ and the _Miracles of the Virgin_. What is that long
spear which seems to shake as it glances skywards? It isn't a spear; it's
the Torre del Mangia--the loveliest tower in Tuscany, the _filia
pulchrior_ of a beautiful mother, the Torre della Vacca of Florence.
That tower rises from the bottom of the cup and shoots straight upwards,
nor stays till it has out-topped the proudest belfry on the hills about
it. But what a square this is! The backs of the houses (whose front doors
are high above on the hill-top) stand like bald cliffs on every side. You
cannot see any outlets: most of them are winding stairways cut between the
houses. The lounging, shabby men and girls seem handsomer and lazier than
you found them in Florence. They seem to have room to stretch their fine
limbs against these naked walls. Their maturity is almost tropical. The
girls wear flopping straw hats: wide, sorrowful eyes stare at you from the
shady recesses, and the rounding of their chins and beautiful proud necks
are marked by glossy lights. "Morbida e bianca," sang Lorenzo. I suppose
they think of little more than the market price of spring onions: but
then, why do their eyes speak like that? And what do they speak of? _Dio
mio_, I am an honest man! So was not Lorenzo; listen to him:--

"Two eyes hath she so roguish and demure
That, lit they on a rock, they'd make it feel;
How shall poor melting man meet such a lure?"

How indeed? Ah, Nenciozza mia!

"My little Nancy shows nor fleck nor pimple;
Pliant and firm, is she, a reed for grace:
In her smooth chin there's just one pretty dimple;
That rounds the perfect measure of her face:"

That dimple has been the destruction of many a heart:--

"So wise, withal, above us other simple
Plain folk--sure, Nature set her in this place
To bloom her tender whiteness all about us,
And break our hearts--and then bloom on without us."

Yes indeed, my Lorenzo. But enough! Let us take shelter in the Duomo.

Barred like a tiger, glistening snow and rose and gold, topped by a
flaunting angel, her door flanked by the lean Roman wolf; paved with
pictures, hemmed with the Popes from Peter to Pius, encrusted with marbles
and gemmy frescoes, it is a casket of delights this church, and the
quintessence of Siena--_molles Senae_ as Beccadelli, himself of this
Tyre, dubbed his native town. Voluptuous as she was, tigerish Siena was
more consistent than you would think. True, Saints Catherine and
Bernardine consort oddly with the old-clothesman saying mass with wet
hands, and Beccadelli the soft singer of abominations, just as the
"Madones aux longs regards" of the Primitives--pious creatures of slim
idle fingers and desirous eyes, pining in brocade and jewels--seem in a
different sphere (as indeed they are) from Pinturricchio's well-found
Popes and Princesses, and Sodoma's languishing boys or half-ripe
Catherines dying of love. Have I not said this was once a city of
pleasure? And whether the pleasure was a blood-feast or an _Agape_,
or a Platonic banquet where the flute-players and wine-cups and crowns
crushed out the high disquisition and philosophic undercurrent--it was all
one to soft Siena drowsing the days out on her hills. Her pleasures were
fierce, and beautiful as fierce. But the burden of Tyre is always the
same. And so the memories of a thousand ancient wrongs unpurged howl over
the red city, as once howled the ships of Tarshish.



(_Studies in Translation from Stone_)

Greatest of great ladies is Ilaria, _potens Luccae_, sleeping easily,
with chin firmly rounded to the vault, where she has slept for five
hundred years, and still a power in Lucca of the silver planes. It was a
white-hot September day I went to pay my devotions to her shrine. Lucca
drowsed in a haze, her bleached arcades of trees lifeless in the glare of
high noon; all the valley was winking, the very bells had no strength to
chime: and then I saw Ilaria lie in the deep shade waiting for the
judgment. Ilaria was a tall Tuscan--the girls of Lucca are out of the
common tall, and straight as larches--of fine birth and a life of
minstrels and gardens. Pompous processions, trapped horses, emblazonings,
were hers, and all refinements of High Masses and Cardinals. So she lived
once a life as stately-ordered as old dance-music, in the airy corridors
of a great marble palace, swept hourly by the thin, clear air of the
Lucchesan plain; and her lord, went out to war with Pisa or Pescia, or
even further afield, following Emperor or Pope to that Monteaperti which
made Arbia run colour of wine, or shrill Benevento, or Altopasdo which
cost the Florentines so dear.[1] But Ilaria stayed at home to trifle with
lap-dogs and jongleurs under the orange trees: heard boys make stammering
love, and laughed lightly at their Decameron travesty, being too proud to
be ashamed or angered; and sometimes (for she was not too proud but that
love should be of the party), she pulled a ring from one lithe finger, and
looked down while the lad kissed it for a holy relic and put it in his
bosom reverently,--pretending not to see. But, Ilaria, you knew well what
gave colour to the faint and worn old words about _Fior di spin giallo,
or O Dea fatale_, or

"O Dio de' Dei!
La piu bellina mi parete voi;
O quanto sete cara agli occhi miei!"

[Footnote 1: Historically he could have done none of these things, except,
perhaps, fight at Altopascio.]

And so the days passed in your square corner palace, until the plague came
down with the North wind, and you bowed your proud neck before it like a
mountain pine. Young to die, young to die and leave the pleasant ways of
Lucca, the green ramparts, the grassy walks in the pastures where the
hawks fly and the shadows fleet over the green and gold of early May.
Young enough, Ilaria. Scorner of love, now Death is at hand, with the
bats' wings and wet scythe they give him in the Piazza, when your lord
comes triumphing or God's Body takes the air: what of him, Madonna? Let
him come, says Ilaria, with raised eyebrows and a wintry smile. Yet she
fought: her thin hands held off the scythe at arms' length; she set her
teeth and battled with the winged beast. Whenas she knew it must be,
suddenly she relaxed her hold, and Death had his way with her.

Then her women came about her and robed her in a long robe, colour of
olive leaves, and soft to the touch. And they covered soberly her feet and
placed them on a crouching dog, which was Lucca. But her fine hands they
folded peace-wise below her bosom, to rest quietly there like the clasps
of a girdle. Her gentle hair (bright brown it was, like a yearling
chestnut) they crowned also, and closed down her ringed eyes. So they let
her lie till judgment come. And when I saw her the close robe still folded
her about and ran up her throat lovingly to her chin, till her head seemed
to thrust from it as a flower from its calyx. It would seem, too, as if
her bosom rose and fell, that her nostrils quivered when the wind blew in
and touched them; and the hem of her garment being near me, I was fain to
kiss it and say a prayer to the divinity haunting that place. So I left
the presence well disposed in my heart to glorify God for so fair a sight.

Whereafter I took the way to Florence among the vineyards and tangled
hill-sides; and, anon, in the broad plain I stayed at Prato to honour the
lady of the town. Madonna della Cintola she is called now, and one Luca, a
worker in clay, knew her mind most intimately and did all her will. Quiet
days she had lived at Prato, being wife to a decent metal-worker there and
keeper of his house and stuff. Mariota she was then called for all her
name, but as to her parentage none knew it, save that Marco's Vanna had
been both frail and fair, and when she had been in flower the great Lord
Ottoboni had flowered likewise--and often in her company. Giovanna I had
never known; she died before her lord married the lady Adhelidis of Verona
and the seven days' tilting were held in her honour in a field below the
city wall. But when Luca first knew Mariota and saw how her mother's pride
beaconed from her smooth brow, the girl was standing in the Piazza in a
tattered green kirtle and bodice that gaped at the hooks, played upon by
sun, and fallow wind, and longing looks driven at her eyes in vain. The
wench carried her head and light fardel of years like a Princess; would
laugh to show her fine teeth if your jest pleased her; and then she would
look straightly upon you and be glad of you. If you pleased her not, she
would look through you to the mountains or the church-tower. She had as
squarely a modelled chin as ever I saw, and her lips firmly set and redder
than strawberries in a wet May. None taught her anything; none, that Luca
could learn, gave her sup or bed. He was a boy then and would have given
her both. I think she knew he favoured her--what girl does not? Everybody
favoured Mariota, stayed as she passed, and followed her stealthily with
troubled eyes. But he was a moody boy then, at the mercy of dreams, and
stammered when he was near her, blushing. When he came back she was
seventeen years old, and the metal-worker's wife. It was then Luca saw
her, in the street called of the Eye, where climbing plants top the
convent wall and from the garden comes the scent of wall-flowers and sweet

At her man's door she was standing, barefooted, fray-kirtled as of old;
but riper, of more assured and triumphant beauty. In her arms a boy-child,
lusty and half-naked, struggled to be fed, seeking with both fat hands to
forage for himself. Turning her grey eyes, where pride slumbered and shame
had never been, she knew Luca again, made him welcome at the door, with,
superb assurance set wine and olives and bread before him; and so stood at
the table while he ate, gravely recovering one by one the features of his
face, smiling, preoccupied with her pleasure and unconscious of the cooing
child. For with matronly composure she had eased my gentleman as soon as
she had provided for her guest.

In comes the metal-worker, Sor Matteo, burly but watchful in a greasy
apron, eyes the lad up and down with much burdensome pondering of hand to
scrubby chin, as to say to Mariota "I'm no fool." With never a blush, nor
a quailing of the eyes' level beam, Mariota begs cousin Luca to become
conscious of her master.

There were the makings of a piece of right Boccacesque in all this, and
the _padrone_ showed manifest disinclination for his accustomed part:
but Luca's candid face disclaimed all dark-entry work. Mariota hurried to
her task. A modeller in clay, a statuary, _via_, an admirer of the
choicer contrivings of Mother Nature! What and if he should find his
cousin, his scarce-remembered gossip Mariota, worth an artist's half-
closed eye! And the _bambinaccio_ (with a side-look and face averted
as she spoke)--_ecco_!--many a Gesulino showed a leaner thigh and
cheeks less peachy than he. Had Papa seen the new dimple in Beppino's
chin? And more soft piping to the same tune. Master Matteo was appeased;
but Luca was far adrift with other matters. Love, for him, lay not in
flesh and blood alone; rather, in what flesh and blood signified in
another clay, not Messer Domeneddio's, but his own chosen task-stuff. He
had come hither to Prato on the commission of the Opera, to work a
_Madonna col Bambino_ for the great door of the Duomo. Well! he had
his Madonna to hand, it would seem:--Mariota at the door of the smith's
house, confident, lissom and fresh, and the lusty child groping for his
breakfast. The light had been upon her, gleamed upon her skin, her
brimming eyes, her glossy brown hair. What a bravery was hers! What a
glorified presentment of young life, new-budded, was here! The town gaped,
the husband admired; but Mariota, with her square chin and high carriage,
looked as straightly before her, when in pale blue and silver-white,
Madonna with the Babe and the holy deacons Stephen and Laurence stood,
four months afterwards, within the shadow of the great church, and shone
out to the day.

I pay silent respect to strapping Mariota and her baby-boy In the country
of Boccace. Then, when I am in Florence again, under the spell of the city
life, I lounge in the Borg' Ognissanti, or across Arno in the
_quartiere_ San Niccolo, or out by San Frediano where Botticelli in
his green old age pruned his vines, or in the pent streets between the Via
della Pergola and Santa Croce, and watch the townsfolk lead their lives of
patchwork and easy laughter, I fear I have a taste for such company. I am
fond of verdure; I like trees as well as men: every oak for me has its
hamadryad informing it, I like flowers better than men; and the most
beautiful flower I know is a girl, I have a sweetheart in the Bargello, as
you shall hear. I believe she is one of Donatello's sowing; but the
critics are divided, I cannot trace Verocchio's bluntened lineaments in
her, nor Mino's peaksomeness, nor anything of Desiderio. She's not very
pretty, but she's like a summer flower, say, a campanula; and that is why
I love to watch her and talk to her in this grandfatherly fashion.
Bettina, I say to her, are you, I wonder, twelve years old yet? You cannot
be much more I think, for you have let your bodice-strap slip off one of
your shoulders and betray you to the sun. You are but a round rose-bud now
and no one thinks any harm; but some day the sun will look at you in an
odd way, and then, suddenly, you will be ashamed, and draw your frock
right up to your neck.

And your hair strays where it likes at present. I know you have a golden
fillet of box-leaves round your brow: that is because you are only a
little girl still, not more than twelve. And you have tied the ends up in
a sort of knot. But you romp so much and laugh so--I know you have two
bright rows of little teeth--that you can never expect to keep tidy. Why,
even now, while I am scolding you, you are itching to laugh and run away.
I see a wavy lock trailing down your neck, _ragazza_, and those heavy
tresses on your temples, instead of being drawn meekly back, droop down
over your temples, and cover up your little ears. Don't you know that
Florentine, ladies are proud of their foreheads, and when they have pretty
ears, always show them? Some day, my dear, you will go out into the world;
and your hair will be twisted up into coils with gold braid; perhaps you
will have on it a flowery garland of Messer Domenico's making, and a
string of Venice beads round your throat. And when that time comes, you
won't let the sun play with your neck any more; he won't know his romp
when he sees her in stiff velvet of Genoa and a high collar edged with

And you won't look me in the eyes as you are doing now, saucy girl, with
your chin pushed forward and your mouth all in a pucker--who's to know
whether you are going to pout or giggle?--and your pert green eyes wide
open, as if to say "Who's this old thickhead staring at me so hard?" No,
Bettina, you will drop them instead; you will blush all over your neck and
cheeks, and hang your round head. You have chestnuts in your two fists
now, I know; there's some of the flour sticking to the corners of your
mouth, little slut. But then you will have a fan perhaps, or a spyglass,
or at least a mass-book in the mornings; and when I am looking at you,
your ringers will tie themselves in knots and be very interesting. In two
years' time, Bettina!

But though I shan't love you half as much as I do now, I shall always come
to see you, I think; and, as I shall be a very old man by that time,
perhaps you will still sit on a stool at my knee and give me a kiss now
and then--oh, a mere bird's peck, just for kindness.... The Via de' Bardi
is grey, and you are there in yellow. You are like a young daffodil
dancing in the winter grass. But soon you will have strained to your full
flower-time, and I see you in your summering, lithe and rather languid,
with heavy-lidded eyes, and a slow smile.

Then you will not dance; but, instead, you will stoop gravely like a tall
garden lily, and give your white hand to the lover kneeling below.

And all in two years, my little Bettina!



There was once a man in Italy--so the story runs--who said that animals
were sacred because God had made them. People didn't believe him for a
long time; they came, you see, of a race which had found it amusing to
kill such things, and killed a great many of them too, until it struck
them one fine day that killing men was better sport still, and watching
men kill each other the best sport of all because it was the least
trouble. Animals! said they, why, how can they be sacred; things that you
call beef and mutton when they have left off being oxen and sheep, and
sell for so much a pound? They scoffed at this mad neighbour, looked at
each other waggishly, and shrugged their shoulders as he passed along the
street. Well! then, all of a sudden, as you may say, one morning he walked
into the town--Gubbio it was--with a wolf pacing at his heels--a certain
wolf which had been the terror of the country-side and eaten I don't know
how many children and goats. He walked up the main street till he got to
the open Piazza in front of the great church. And the long grey wolf
padded beside him with a limp tongue lolling out between the ragged
palings which stood him for teeth. In the middle of the Piazza was a
fountain, and above the fountain a tall stone crucifix. Our friend mounted
the steps of the cross in the alert way he had (like a little bird, the
story says), and the wolf, after lapping apologetically in the basin,
followed him up three steps at a time. Then with one arm round the shaft
to steady himself, he made a fine sermon to the neighbours crowding in the
Square, and the wolf stood with his forepaws on the edge of the fountain
and helped him. The sermon was all about wolves (naturally) and the best
way of treating them. I fancy the people came to agree with it in time;
anyhow when the man died they made a saint of him and built three
churches, one over another, to contain his body. And I believe it is
entirely his fault that there are a hundred-and-three cats in the convent-
garden of San Lorenzo in Florence. For what are you to do? Animals are
sacred, says Saint Francis. Animals are sacred, but cats have kittens; and
so it comes about that the people who agree with Saint Francis have to
suffer for the people who don't.

The Canons of San Lorenzo agree with Saint Francis, and it seems to me
that they must suffer a good deal. The convent is large; it has a great
mildewed cloister with a covered-in walk all round it built on arches. In
the middle is a green garth with cypresses and yews dotted about; and when
you look up you see the blue sky cut square, and the hot tiles of a huge
dome staring up into it. Round the cloister walk are discreet brown doors,
and by the side of each door a brass plate tells you the name and titles
of the Canon who lives behind it. It is on the principle of Dean's Yard at
Westminster; only here there are more Canons--and more cats.

The Canons live under the cloister; the cats live on the green garth, and
sometimes die there, I did not see much of the Canons; but the cats seemed
to me very sad-depressed, nostalgic even, I might describe them, if there
had not been something more languid, something faded and spiritless about
their habit. It was not that they quarrelled. I heard none of those long-
drawn wails, gloomy yet mellow soliloquies, with which our cats usher in
the crescent moon or hymn her when she swims at the full: there lacked
even that comely resignation we may see on any sunny window-ledge at
home;--the rounded back and neatly ordered tail, the immaculate fore-paws
peering sedately below the snowy chest, the squeezed-up eyes which so
resolutely shut off a bleak and (so to say) unenlightened world. That is
pensiveness, sedate chastened melancholy; but it is soothing, it speaks a
philosophy, and a certain balancing of pleasures and pains. In San Lorenzo
cloister, when I looked in one hot noon seeking a refuge from the glare
and white dust of the city, I was conscious of a something sinister that
forbade such an even existence for the smoothest tempered cat. There were
too many of them for companionship, and perhaps too few for the humour of
the thing to strike them: in and out the chilly shades they stalked
gloomily, hither and thither like lank and unquiet ghosts of starved cats.
They were of all colours--gay orange-tawny, tortoiseshell with the
becoming white patch over one eye, delicate tints of grey and fawn and
lavender, brindle, glossy sable; and yet the gloom and dampness of the
place seemed to mildew them all so that their brightness was glaring and
their softest gradations took on a shade as of rusty mourning. No cat
could be expected to do herself justice.

To and fro they paced, balancing sometimes with hysterical precision on
the ledge of the parapet, passing each other at whisker's length, but
_cutting each other dead_! Not a cat had a look or a sniff for his
fellow; not a cat so much as guessed at another's existence. Among those
hundred-and-three restless spirits there was not a cat but did not affect
to believe that a hundred-and-two were away! It was horrible, the
_inhumanity_ of it. Here were these shreds and waifs, these
"unnecessary litters" of Florentine households, herded together in the
only asylum (short of the Arno) open to them, driven in like dead leaves
in November, flitting dismally round and round for a span, and watching
each other die without a mew or a lick! Saint Francis was not the wise man
I had thought him.

It was about two o'clock in the afternoon. I had watched these beasts at
their feverish exercises for nearly an hour before I perceived that they
were gradually hemming me in. They seemed to be forming up, in ranks, on
the garth. Only a ditch separated us--I was in the cloister-walk, a
hundred-and-three gaunt, expectant, desperate cats facing me. Their
famished pale eyes pierced me through and through; and two-hundred-and-two
hungry eyes (four cats supported life in one apiece) is more than I can
stand, though I am a married man with a family. These brutes thought I was
going to feed them! I was preparing weakly for flight when I heard steps
in the gateway; a woman came in with a black bag. She must be going to
deposit a cat on Jean-Jacques' ingenious plan of avoiding domestic
trouble; it was surely impossible she wanted to borrow one! Neither: she
came confidently in, beaming on our mad fellowship with a pleasant smile
of preparation. The cats knew her better than I did. Their suspense was
really shocking to witness. While she was rolling her sleeves up and tying
on her apron--she was poor, evidently, but very neat and wholesome in her
black dress and the decent cap which crowned her grey hair--while she
unpacked the contents of the bag--two newspaper parcels full of rather
distressing viands, scissors, and a pair of gloves which had done duty
more than once--while all these preparations were soberly fulfilling, the
agitation of the hundred-and-three was desperate indeed. The air grew
thick, it quivered with the lashing of tails; hoarse mews echoed along the
stone walls, paws were raised and let fall with the rhythmical patter of
raindrops. A furtive beast played the thief: he was one of the one-eyed
fraternity, red with mange. Somehow he slipped in between us; we
discovered him crouched by the newspaper raking over the contents. This
was no time for ceremony; he got a prompt cuff over the head and slunk
away shivering and shaking his ears. And then the distribution began. Now,
your cat, at the best of times, is squeamish about his food; he stands no
tricks. He is a slow eater, though he can secure his dinner with the best
of us. A vicious snatch, like a snake, and he has it. Then he spreads
himself out to dispose of the prey-feet tucked well in, head low, tail
laid close along, eyes shut fast. That is how a cat of breeding loves to
dine, Alas! many a day of intolerable prowling, many a black vigil, had
taken the polish off the hundred-and-three. As a matter of fact they
behaved abominably: they leaped at the scraps, they clawed at them in the
air, they bolted them whole with starting eyes and portentous gulpings,
they growled all the while with the smothered ferocity of thunder in the
hills. No waiting of turns, no licking of lips and moustaches to get the
lingering flavours, no dalliance. They were as restless and suspicious
here as everywhere; their feast was the horrid hasty orgy of ghouls in a

But an even distribution was made: I don't think any one got more than his
share. Of course there were underhand attempts in plenty, and, at least
once, open violence--a sudden rush from opposite sides, a growling and
spitting like sparks from a smithy; and then, with ears laid flat, two
ill-favoured beasts clawed blindly at each other, and a sly and tigerish
brindle made away with the morsel. My woman took the thing very coolly I
thought, served them all alike, and didn't resent (as I should have done)
the unfortunate want of delicacy there was about these vagrants. A cat
that takes your food and growls at you for the favour, a cat that would
eat _you_ if he dared, is a pretty revelation. _Ca donne
furieusement a penser_. It gives you a suspicion of just how far the
polish we most of us smirk over will go. My cats at San Lorenzo knew some
few moments of peace between two and three in the afternoon. That would
have been the time to get up a testimonial to the kind soul who fed them.
Try them at five and they would ignore you. But try them next morning!

My knowledge of the Italian tongue, in those days, was severely limited to
the necessaries of existence; to take me on a fancy subject, like cats,
was to strike me dumb. But at this stage of our intercourse (hitherto
confined to smiles and eye-service) it became so evident my companion had
something to say that I must perforce take my hat off and stand attentive.
She pointed to the middle of the garth, and there, under the boughs of a
shrub, I saw the hundred-and-fourth cat, sorriest of them all. It was a
new-comer, she told me, and shy. Shy it certainly was, poor wretch; it
glowered upon me from under the branches like a bad conscience. Shyness
could not hide hunger--I never saw hungrier eyes than hers--but it could
hold it in check: the silkiest speech could not tempt her out, and when we
threw pieces she only winced! What was to be done next was my work. Plain
duty called me to scale the ditch with some of those dripping, slippery,
nameless cates in my fingers and to approach the stranger where she lurked
bodeful under her tree. My passage towards her lay over the rank
vegetation of the garth, in whose coarse herbage here and there I stumbled
upon a limp white form stretched out--a waif the less in the world! I
don't say it was a happy passage for me: it was made to the visible
consternation of her I wish to befriend. Her piteous yellow eyes searched
mine for sympathy; she wanted to tell me something and wouldn't
understand! As I neared her she shivered and mewed twice. Then she limped
painfully off--poor soul, she had but three feet!--to another tree,
leaving behind her, unwillingly enough, a much-licked dead kitten. That
was what she wanted to tell me then. As I was there, I deposited the
garbage by the side of the little corpse, knowing she would resume her
watch, and retired. My friend who had put up her parcels was prepared to
go. She thanked me with a smile as she went out, looking carefully round
lest she had missed out some other night-birds. One of the Canons had come
out of his door and was leaning against the lintel, thoughtfully rubbing
his chin. He was a spare dry man who seemed to have measured life and
found it a childish business. He jerked his head towards the gateway as he
glanced at me. "That is a good woman," he said in French, "she lendeth
unto the Lord.... Yes," he went on, nodding his head slowly backwards and
forwards, "lends Him something every day." The cats were sitting in the
shady cloister-garth licking their whiskers: one was actually cleaning his
paw. I went out into the sun thinking of Saint Francis and his wolf.



He hated Marco first of all because one day he undersold him in the Campo,
put him to shame in open market. Figs were going cheap that October in
spite of the waning year; but there was no earthly reason why he should
give the English ladies more than four for two _soldi_. What were
_soldi_ to English people? The scratch of a flea! He would have given
them a handful, taken as they came, for their piece of _cinquanta_,
and reaped a tidy little profit for himself. Who would have been the
worse? God knew he needed it. Mariola crumpled with the ague like a dried
leaf, and that long girl of his growing up so fast, and still running wild
with goat-herds and marble quarrymen. How could he send her to the nuns
for a place unless he bought her some shoes and a rosary? And then that
pig Marco--thieving old miser--peered forward with his mock candour and
silver-rimmed goggles and offered _ten_ for two _soldi_--ten!
with the market price, _Dio mio_, at twelve! And _fichi totati_
too! Do you wonder that the ladies in striped blankets gave the cheek to
Maso Cecci and turned to Marco Zoppa?

That wasn't all, but it was an accentuation of a long series of spiteful
injuries wrought him by the wrinkled old villain. Maso endured, hating the
old man daily more and more; tried little tricks, little revenges, upon
him, upset his baskets, hid his pipe; but they generally failed or
recoiled with a nasty swiftness upon himself. He only got deeper and
deeper into the bad odour of the neighbours who traded in the Piazza with
fruit and indifferent photographs. Nothing went very well--thanks to that
unspeakable old Marco! His girl grew longer and lazier and handsomer, with
a shapelier bust and a pair of arms like that snaky Bacchante in the
_Opera_. Maso had to quail more than he liked to admit before the
proud stare of her eyes; and when she dropped the heavy lids upon them and
sauntered away, arms akimbo under her shawl, he could only swear. And he
always cursed Marco Zoppa who gave her chestnuts and sage counsel for
nothing. God only knew what devilry he might be whispering to her in the
shady corner where the sun never came and the grass sprouted between the
flags--she leaning against the wall, looking down at her toes, and he
peering keen-eyed into her face and muttering in his beard, sometimes
laying an old brown hand on her shoulder--Lord! he _did_ hate the

Then came the August races.

Maso had brought his Isotta into the city to see the fun and she had
disappeared in the press just before the procession stayed by the Palazzo
and the trumpets sounded for the first race. Maso shrugged his shoulders
and cursed his luck, but didn't budge. The girl must look after herself.
He was on the upper rim of the great fountain craning his neck over the
pack of people: then he got a dig under the ribs enough to take the breath
of an ox. It was the spout of old Marco's green umbrella. "Hey! silly
fool," spluttered the old liar, "dost want that loose-legged slut of thine
in trouble? I tell thee she's playing in a corner with Carlo Formaggia.
Already he's pinched her cheek twice, and who knows what the end may be?
Mud-coloured ass, wilt thou let thy child slip to the devil while thou
standest gaping at a horse-race?" And this before all the neighbours! What
to say to such a man? Maso babbled with rage; but he had to go, for Carlo
Formaggia was well known. He had ruined more girls than enough; he was in
league with vile houses, gambling dens, thieves' hells; Captain of an
infamous secret society; the police were only waiting for a pretext to get
him shipped off to the hulks. He must go of course. No thanks to Marco
though: in fact he hated him worse than ever, partly because he had drawn
all eyes and a fair share of sniggering and tongues thrust in the cheek
upon his account; but most because he knew he had been trapped into losing
a good place. For, as he mounted the narrow stair cut between old houses
steep as rocks, he turned and saw Zoppa placidly smoking his pipe in the
very spot he had held, squatted on the fountain-rim with his green
umbrella between his knees. He was beaming through his spectacles, in a
fatherly, indulgent sort of way, upon the shouting people; following the
race too, like one who had paid for his box. Maso, when he heard the
shatter of hoofs and the wild roar from thousands of throats down below
him in the Campo, cursed old Zoppa with a grey face, and went muttering
round the blinding sides of the Duomo to find his daughter. And when he
did find her she was eating chestnuts at the open door of her aunt's shop
in the Via Ghibellina! Bacchus! she was sick of all those folk in their
_festa_ clothes, was all the explanation she would give him from
between fine white teeth all clogged with chestnut-meal. If he chose to
dress his daughter like a beggar's brat he had better not take her to the
races. Maso's feeling of relief at finding her alone and looking her usual
sulky impassive self, gave way very rapidly to a sort of righteous wrath
against his triumphant enemy. So, by foul slanders of honest God-fearing
people that old Jew had not scrupled to rob him of his place! His place
and his day's fun. By Heaven, he was tricked, duped by a scaly-eyed Jew
pedlar, a vile old dog tottering down to Hell with lies in his beard.
Well! he would put this morning's work down to his score; some day there
would be a choice little reckoning for Ser Marco.

Maso, green with impotent fury, poured out his flood of gutturals upon his
_insouciante_ child. General reproaches were always a failure in
cases of this sort. Some were sure to be wild guess-work and to drown the
real ones: you could never tell when you had hit the mark. Had she not--
she fourteen, too!--slid astride down the railing into the Campo and been
caught up in the arms of Carlo Formaggia waiting and laughing at the
bottom? Had she not lain a whole minute in his arms, panting? And then,
_Dio mio_, with the sweat still on her forehead, she had slipped off
to San Domenico and confessed to coughing at mass the Sunday before! Pest!
he would give her the strap over her shoulders when he got her home. The
long, brown girl leaned against the lintel kicking one heel idly against
the other. She was smiling at him, smiling with her lazy, languid eyes and
with her glistening teeth. Every now and then she inspected a chestnut
critically--like an amateur!--and slipped it between her jaws. They split
it like a banana. And then she squeezed the half skins and dropped the
flour down her throat. She had a long sinewy throat, glossy as velvet,
with its silvery lights and dusky brown shadows. Maso stood helpless
before her as she drank down her flour; he chattered like a little
passionate ape. At last he lifted up both hands in a sudden frenzy of
despair and went away.

Of course the races were over. The sober streets swarmed with people in
their holiday clothes. They all seemed laughing and smoking, and talking
fluently of something ridiculous. Maso, egoist, knew it must be about him--
or his daughter. Arms and heads went like mill-sails or tall trees in a
gale of wind. Then, with a rattle and the sudden sliding of four hoofs on
the flags, a cart would be in the thick of them, and the people scoured to
the curb, still laughing, or spitting between the spasms of the
interrupted jest. The boys tried to peep under the sagging hats of the
girls, and the girls turned pettish shoulders to them and, as they turned,
you caught the glint of fun in their great roes' eyes and saw the lips
part before the quick breath. The streets were mere gullies, clefts hewn
in zig-zag between grey houses that tottered up and up, and lay over them
like cliffs. An ancient church with bleached stone saints under flowery
canopies, a guttering candle before a tinsel shrine, and the hoarse babel
of the streets--whips that cracked and spluttered like squibs, a swarming
coloured stream of men and maids, once the twang of a chance mandoline.
Siena was feasting, and the waiters furtively swept their foreheads with
their coat-sleeves as they ran in and out of the _trattorie_.

In the _trattoria_ of the _Aquila Rossa_ old Marco Zoppa smoked
his pipe and talked, between the spurts of smoke, to his neighbours. Fate
brought him face to face with two enemies at once. Maso was battling his
way up the street, white and strained as a grave-cloth; and Carlo
Formaggia, the approved bravo--oiled and jaunty, with his brown felt
fantastically rolled and stuck over one ear, with a long cigar which he
alternately gnawed and sucked, Carlo the broad-chested, of the seared,
evil face, came down with the stream on the arms of two other gilded
youths. They met before the cafe, the man of intolerable wrongs and the
Pilia-Borsa of Siena. Maso scowled till his thick eyebrows cut his face
horizontally in two. He stood ostentatiously still, muttering with his
lips as the trio went lightly by. Then he made to go on. But old Marco
Zoppa stood up and made a speech. He had the wooden stem of his pipe
'twixt finger and thumb, and used it like a conductor's _baton_ to
emphasise his points. As his voice shrilled and quavered, Carlo Formaggia
caught his own name and turned back to listen, prick-eared. He stood out
of sight resting one foot on a doorstep, and leaned forward on to his leg.
He might have been dreaming of some night of love, but he held every word
as it dropped.

"Maso," Marco went on, "thou art but a thin fool. I know what I know; but
thou must needs stick dirt in thine ears and pass me by. Well, let be, let
be; the end will come soon enough--this night even. And I have warned

"Spawn of a pig, wilt never have done irking me? See, I scratch thee off
me!" Maso drove home his gibe with a dramatic performance. The
_trattoria_ was agape. Every table held its three craning necks and
six piercing, twinkling eyes atop.

"I grow old, my Maso, I grow very old, and thy monkey's tricks are nought.
'Tis thy slip of a girl and thy poor twisted Mariola I would save in spite
of thee. Listen then once more, and for the last time. Ser Carlo intends
to snare thy pigeon. He has limed his twigs; the bird flutters free for
this noon, but by to-night she will be caged. For me, I have done my
possible--but I am old. Life tingles fiercer in the blood of a young man.
Therefore beware. Wilt thou see that brawny assassin toying with thy girl;
leaning over her where she crouches, poisoning her with fat words? That's
how the snake licks the turtle before he gulps her--'tis to make her
sleek, look you! Well, go thy way, dolt and blunderhead. For me--old as I
am--I will shoot a last bolt for Mariola. This very night after supper I
go to the Sbirro: and thy thanks will be a rounder oath and some more
knave's tricks with my baskets."

"No thanks are owing, Marco Zoppa"; Maso was ashy with shame and rage at
the old man's placid benevolence. "Marco Zoppa, thou hast been my enemy
ever, and I have borne it"--the Cafe roared with laughter; a fat old
Capuchin nearly had a fit. Maso looked round with fright in his eyes. He
went on, "Now thou hast gone too far--insulting me grossly before these
citizens. Thou hast brought thine end upon thyself." He ran away fighting
through the delighted crowd. Everybody who could get at him slapped him on
the back. A big carter stove his hat in.

Old Marco shrugged his patient shoulders and sat down to read the
_Secolo_. He balanced his silver-rimmed spectacles on his nose and
held the journal at arm's length with hand a thought more shaky, perhaps,
than usual. Presently he looked up: "Mother of God! what a white-faced
rogue it is! Eh, Giuseppe?" "By Mars, if looks could stab, thou hadst been
riddled by the knife before this," said his friend. Marco shrugged and
went on reading--he was an old man.

But when Carlo Formaggia had heard the debate, he turned a shade shinier,
and his eyes harder and brighter. As he motioned his friends off with a
look, he swallowed something hard in his throat. Then he turned down the
first side street, doubled round to the right, turned to the left down a
kind of black sewer-trap and let himself into a wine-shop, where he sat
down, breathing short. He drank brandy--but he drank like a machine. The
muscles of his jaw were working spasmodically as he sat rigid on a tub,
leaning against the counter. And he fingered something at his belt. His
eyes were in a cold stare: he saw nothing and didn't move. But he went on
drinking brandy till late in the afternoon, till the _Hail Mary_
bells began to sound a tinkling chorus through the still air.

And Maso Cecci, he too, rushed away white and chattering. Rage had past
definition with him, he saw things red, and they choked him. The air felt
thick to him, full of flies. He brushed his hands before his face, struck
out vaguely, and swore as the dazzling black things settled round him
again in a swarm. Irritated, maddened as he was, he still heard the
derisive yells of the crowd at the _birreria_ and saw Marco's calm
wise old face smiling urbanely behind silver spectacles. _Cristo
amore!_ how he loathed that old man. Siena could never hold the pair of
them: there must be an end--there _should_ be an end. His heart gave
a jerk under his vest as he thought of it. An end!--an end of his eternal
fretting jealousy in the Campo, his continued sense of being worsted, of
galling inferiority to that methodical old villain. An end of his worries
about Isotta; an end--ah! but there would be something rarer than that? To
a man like Maso, a small man, of immoderate self-esteem, and that self-
esteem always on the smart, there is another satisfaction--that of seeing
the better man totter and slip forward to his knees. This insufferable old
Marco who was always so right, with his slow methods and accursed
accuracy--to see him stumble and drop! That was what made Maso's heart
flutter and thud against his skin. And then, as he thought of it, it
seemed inevitable. It could be done in a minute, _via!_ The old man
was alone--it would be dusk--he would peer forward through the gloom to
open the door and--_Madre di Dio!_--and then! Maso was sweating; the
back of his palate itched intolerably; something hot and sticky clogged
his mouth and glued his tongue against the roof of it. His knees shook so
that he could scarcely walk. Some little boys stood to stare at him as he
lurched by, and laughed stealthily to see the hated Maso tipsy. But Maso
was unconscious of all this: he staggered on homewards with scorching

Old Marco lived down beyond the Railway Station--a room in a crazy block
of buildings that had been run up for the needs of the factory hands. It
was like a great smooth cliff, this block, and was washed over a raw pink,
but it glowed in the setting sun that evening, like the city herself and
all the hills, the colour of bright blood. As Maso neared its blind face,
stepping warily with outstretched neck like some obscene bird, and with
one hand under his coat--the sun was going down into a purple bank of
cloud. He gilded the edges as he sank and shot broad rays of crimson light
up into the green sky. Here and there a star twinkled faint; the city lay
over him like a cloudy, silent company of rocks; the tower of the Palazzo
ran up into the pallor of the sky, a shaking spear.

There was but one glimmer of light in the whole ghostly wall of tenements
and that, Maso knew, was Marco Zoppa's. Every soul else was crowded in the
Campo waiting for the fireworks. And, as he thought, he heard a dull thud
behind him, and turned; and there, far up, a single shaft of flame shot
aloft, and stayed, and burst into a fan of lights; and a puff told him it
was the first rocket. "_Ecco! Madre di Dio_, a sign! a sign! So will
_I_ go up; and so shall my enemy come down." And Maso crept up the
stairway breathing thick and short....

With a hand still under his cloak he rapped his knuckles on the door. No
answer. An echo, only, fluttered and grew faint down the stone steps. He
hoisted his cloak from the shoulder and swung his right arm free. Then he
knocked again. Nothing. No sign. Heavy silence; only a distant murmur of
voices, muffled and infinitely far, from the Campo on the hill.

"The game has flown! Or the old dog sleeps." Maso sighed, for he wanted to
see him drop gurgling to his knees. Still, it made his affair easier. He
gave one fierce hoist to his cloak, twitched his right arm once or twice,
and gently turned the handle. Then he stepped lightly and daintily into
the room.

A candle guttered on a little table in the corner, and the Crucified
showed white upon the black cross above. Marco Zoppa lay on his bed with
his throat cut from ear to ear. The cut was so resolute that his head
stuck out at an angle from his body--almost a right angle; and in some
struggle he had got his nostril sliced. That gave him an odd,
_mesquin_ expression, lying there with his mouth open and his yawning
nostril, as if he wanted to sneeze. The room smelt stale and sour; the
thick air gathered in a misty halo round the candle, and a fat shroud of
tallow drooped over the edges of the candlestick.

Maso dropped his long, clean knife; dropped on to his knees and wailed
like a chained dog. He could not take his eyes from the horrible black pit
between the dead man's chin and trunk. Out of that pit a thin scarlet
stream was still slipping lazily, and crawling down the white coverlet to
the floor. Maso's wailing attracted a dog near by. He too set off howling
from behind his door: and then another, and another. There was a chorus of
howls, long-drawn, pitiful, desolate; and Maso, the only man in that
woeful company, howled like any dog of the pack.

Gradually his moaning sank and then stopped with a dry sob. He crawled on
his knees a little nearer to the bed and eyed fearfully a patch of blood
on the counterpane. Just God! what was that patch? A faint circle smeared
with the finger, and through the midst of it a ragged dart. Carlo
Formaggia had been there! He knew that mark! And then the whole truth
blazed before him like a sheet of fire. He fell forward on his face. The
thin thread of scarlet from Marco Zoppa's gaping throat crawled drop by
drop on to his shoulder.

Carlo Formaggia had limed his bird.



The secret of happy travelling is contrast. Suffer, that you may drowse
thereafter: grill, that you may have a heat on you worth assuagement.
Wherefore, to the Italian wanderer, it will be worth while to endure the
fierceness of the Lombard plain, even the gilded modernisms of Milan
(blistering though they may be under the stroke of the naked sun) and the
dusty, painful traverse of the Apennines, to drop down at last into the
broad green peace of the Val D'Arno. Take, however, the first halting-
place you can. You will find yourself in a hollow of the hills, helping
the brown bear of Pistoja keep the Northern gates of Tuscany. It is not
unlikely that the Apennine may "walk abroad with the storm," or hide his
moss-brown slopes in great sheets of mist. This, while it means a fine
sight, means also rain for Pistoja. A quiet rain will accordingly fall
upon the little city, gently but persistently. Only in the gleams may you
guess that you have the Tuscan sky over you and the smiling Tuscan Art
round about. But the ways of the Pistolesi will confirm the feeble knees;
such at least was my case.

For the Pistolesi were there beside foul weather, and splashed about under
green umbrellas with prodigious jokes to cut at each other's expense, of a
sort we reserve for Spring or early June. For them, with a vintage none
too good to be garnered, it might have been the finest weather in the
world: but I am bound to add my belief that they would have laughed were
it the worst. With no money, no weather, and taxes intolerable, Pistoja
laughed and looked handsome. Was not Boccaccio a Pistolese? I was reminded
of his book at every turn of the road: life is a wanton story there, or,
say, a Masque of Green Things, enacted by a splendid fairy rout. They were
still the well-favoured race Dino Compagni described them far back in the
fourteenth century--"formati di bella statura oltre a' Toscani," he says.
The words hold good of their grandsons--the men leaner and longer, hardier
and keener than you find them in Lucca or Siena; and the women carry their
heads high, and when they smile at you (as they will) you think the sun
must be shining. They are mountaineers, a strong race. At _pallone_
one day, I saw muscles "all a-ripple down the back," arms and shoulders,
which would have intoxicated the great old "amatore del persona" himself.
For their vivacity, it is racial; I think all Tuscans, more or less,
retain the buoyant spirits, the alertness as of birds, which crowned Italy
with Florence instead of Rome or Milan. Tuscan Art is a proof of that, and
Tuscan Art can be studied at its roots in Pistoja: you see there the naked
thing itself with none of the wealth of Florence to make the head swim. If
Florence had stopped short at the death of Giuliano de' Medici, you might
say Pistoja was Florence seen through the diminishing-glass. Is not that
ribbed dome, with its purple mass domineering over the huddled roofs,
Brunelleschi's? It is a faithful copy of Vasari's hatching; but no matter.
So with the Baptistery, the towers, the grim old corniced palaces, the
_sdruccioli_ and gloomy clefts which serve for streets. But you would
be wrong. Pisa is the real parent of Pistoja, as indeed she is of
Florence-Dante's Florence. Pisa's magnificent building repeats to itself
here: Gothic with a touch of Latin sanity, a touch of the genuine Paganism
which loves the daedal earth and cannot bring itself to be out of touch
with it. San Giovanni _fuoricivitas_, what a rock-hewn church it is!
A rigid oblong, dark as the twilight, running with the street without
belfry or window or facade. Three tiers of shallow arcades on spiral
columns, never a window to be seen, and the whole of solemn black marble
narrowly striped with white. Is there such a beast as a black tiger--a
tiger where the tawny and black change places? San Giovanni is modelled
after that fashion. It is very old--twelfth century at latest--very shabby
and weather-beaten, dusty and deserted. But it will outlive Pistoja; and
that is probably what Pistoja desired.

This black and white, which is so reminiscent of early Florence, is
carried out with more fidelity to the model in the Piazza. The octagonal
Baptistery is, no doubt, a copy of Dante's beloved church; but it is much
better placed, does not "shun to be admired" like its beautiful yellowed
sister. The Duomo is of Pisa again, and has a tower, half belfry, half
fortress, which once the Podesta seized and held while the plucky little
town endured a siege. The Brown Bear stood out long against the Lily. But
Lorenzo showed his teeth: and the Wolf prevailed at last. Sculpture apart,
the resemblance to Florence stops here. None of her Cinque-cento bravery
and little of her earlier and finer Renaissance came this way. But one
thing came; one clean breath from "that solemn fifteenth century" did blow
to this verge of Tuscan soil, a breath from Luca della Robbia and his men.
They may flower more exuberantly in Florence, those broad, blue-eyed
platters of theirs; nowhere is their purpose more explicit, their charm
more exquisitely appreciable than here. There is a chance of considering
the art on its own merits; better, you can see it more truly as it was at
home, since Florence has caught some little of Haussmannism and is not as
Luca left it. So here, perhaps best of all, you may try to plumb the
depths of the Della Robbia soul,--through its purity and limpid candour,
through its shining, sweetly wholesome homeliness, down to the crystal
sincerity burning recessed in the shrine. It is the fashion to say of
Angelico da Fiesole that his was a naivete which amounted to genius: a
thin phrase, which may nevertheless pass to qualify the inspired
miniaturist. The religiosity of the Della Robbia, while no less naive, is
really far other. It is not Gothic at all, nor ascetic, nor mystic. It
would be Latin, were it not blithe enough to be Greek. It speaks of what
is and must be, and is well content; not of what should, or might be, if
one could but tear off this crust. It seems probable that it speaks as
pure a Paganism--just that very Paganism which Pisan building represents--
as has been seen since the workmen of Tanagra fashioned their little clay
familiars for the tombs, slim Greek girls in their reedy habit as they
lived, or chattering matrons like those you read of in Theocritus. Much
fine phrasing has been spent upon the effort to analyse the aesthetics of
Delia Robbia ware. Its inexhaustible charm is unquestionable; but just
where does it catch one's breath? Not altogether in the clean colouring,
like nothing so much as that of a cool, glazed dairy at home,--"milky-
blue," "cream-white," "butter-yellow," "parsley-green," all the dairy
names come pat to pen--; not necessarily in the sheer, April loveliness of
form and expression, though that would count for much; nor, I believe, as
Mr. Pater would have us acknowledge, in the evanescent delicacy of each
motive and sentiment,--the arresting of a single sigh, a single wave of
desire, a single stave of the Magnificat. All this is true, and true only
of Luca, and yet the whole charm is not there. Rather, I think, you will
find it in the fusing of humble material--the age-old clay of the potter
(of the Master-Potter, for that matter)--and fine art, whereby the wayside
shrine is linked to the high altar, and _contadino_ and Vicar-
Apostolic can hail a common ideal. Every lane, every cottage, has its
Madonna-shrine here; lumped in clay or daubed in raw colour, nothing can
obliterate the sweet sentiment of these poor weeds of art, these tawdry
little appeals to the better part of us. Madonna cries with a bared red
heart; she supports a white Christ; suave she stoops to enfold a legion of
children in her mantle. She is as Tuscan as the brownest of them; but a
Tuscan of the rarest mould, they would have you to see, of a cleanliness
quite unapproachable, of a benignity wholly divine. One learns the secret
of devotional art best of all in such ephemeral sanctuaries. And since
Fine Art is the flower of these shabby roots, Italy only, where
Cincinnatus worked in his garden, can furnish so wonderful a harmony of
opposites. Surely it is the most democratic country in Europe. I saw a
Colonel the other day, in Bologna, carrying a newspaper parcel. He was in
full uniform. It was the secret of Saint Francis that he knew how to
bridge the gulf on either side of which we, prisoners in feudal holds,
have cried to each other in vain. It was the secret of the Delia Robbia
too. The god shall sink that we may rise to meet him in the way. Why not?
Here in Pistoja are some precious pieces--a _Visitation_ in San
Giovanni, a pearly _Madonna Incoronata_ on the big door of San
Giacopo, concerning which it would be difficult to account to one's self
for the added zest given by the mantle of fine dust which has settled down
on the pale folds of the drapery and outlined the square blue panels of
the background. After all, is it not one more touch of the hedgerow, a
symbol of the hedgerow-faith not quite dead in the byeways of Italy?

But I know I shall never convey the spontaneity with which Fra Paolino's
_Visitation_ strikes quick for the heart. The thing is so momentary,
a mere quiver of emotion passing from one woman to another. The pair of
them have looked in to the deeps. Then the older stumbles forward to her
knees, and the girl stoops down to raise her. One guesses the rest. They
will be sobbing together in a minute, the girl's face buried in the
other's shoulder. All you are to see is just the wistfulness,--"My dear!
my dear!" And then the Virgin, full of Grace, but a shy girl in her teens
for all that, hides her hot cheeks and cries her little wild heart to
quietness. Some of it is in Albertinelli's fine picture, but not all. All
of it--and here's the point--is to be seen in the street among these
clear-eyed Tuscan women, just as Fra Paolino (himself of Pistoja) saw it
before our time, and then fixed it for ever in blue and white.

And now cross the Piazza and come down the steep incline by the Palazzo
Commune, turn to the left, and behold the crown of Pistoja, the Spedale
del Ceppo. Everybody knows Luca's masterpiece at Florence, the Foundling
Hospital on whose front are some twenty _bambini_ in pure white on
blue: babies or flowers, one does not know which. In 1514 the Pistolesi
remodelled their own hospital, and called in the successors to Luca's
mystery to make it joyful. Andrea, Giovanni, Luca II. and Girolamo came
and conjured in turn, and their wallflowers sprouted from the limewashed
sides. I fancy myself out in the patched Piazzo del Ceppo as I write,
looking again on the pleasant quietness of it all. It is a grey day with
thunder smouldering somewhere in the hills, close and heavy. The blind
walls about me stare hard in the raw light, but the wards of the hospital
are open back and front to the air; it is a rest for the eye to look into
their cool depths within the loggia. It is a square, very plain, yellow
building, this hospital, unrelieved save for its loggia, its painted
frieze of earthenware, and a rickety cross to denote its pious uses.
Through the wards I can see to the wet sky again and a gable-end of vivid
red and yellow. A thin black Christ on his cross stands up against this
bright square of distance, pathetic silhouette enough for me; reminder
something sinister, you might think, for the sick folk inside. But not so;
this is a crucifix, not a _Crucifixion_. This poor wooden Rood,
bowing in the shade, speaks not of high tragedy, but of the simple annals
of the poor again; not of St. John, but of St. Luke, I shall be called
sentimental; but with the band of garden colours before me I can't get
away from the streets and alleys, I am not sure the craftsmen intended I

The hospital itself is low and square; it is limewashed all over, and has
the blind and beaten aspect of all Italian houses:--red-purplish tiles
running into deep eaves, jalousied windows, and the loggia. It is on the
face of this that the workers in baked clay--"lavoro molto utile per la
state," so cool and fresh is it, so redolent of green pastures and the
winds of April--have moulded the Seven Acts of Pure Mercy in colours as
pure; blue of morning sky, grass-green, daffodil-yellow. Once more, no
heroics: here is what the workmen knew and we see. Black and white
_frati_, not idealised at all, but sleek and round in the jaw as a
monk will get on oil and _asciutta_, minister to sunburnt peasants,
and ruddy girls as massive in the waist and stout in the ankle as their
sisters of to-day. Then, of course, there is Allegory. Allegory of your
well-ordered, gravitated sort, which takes us no whit further from
wholesome earth and the men and women so plainly and happily made of it.
No soaring, no transcendentalism. Carita is a deep-breasted market-girl
nursing two brown babies, whom I have just seen sprawling over a gourd in
the Campo Marzio; Fortezza, Speranza, Fede, I know them all, bless their
sober, good eyes! in the fruit-market, or selling newspapers, or plaiting
straws in the Piazza. After this we slide into religion pure and direct,
the beautiful ridiculous Paganism which has never left the plain heathen-
folk. Wreathed medallions in the spandrils give us Mary warned, Mary
visited, Mary homing to her Son, Mary crowned; what would they do without
their Bona Dea in Tuscany? She is of them, and yet always a little beyond
their grasp. Not too far, however. That means Gothicism. The advantage of
the Italian religious ideal is obvious. Art may never leave for long
together the good brown earth; and it can serve religion well when it
plucks up a type to set, clean as God made it, just a little above our
reach, to show Whose is "the earth and the fulness thereof."

An example. I leave the white and crumbling Piazza, its old marble well,
its beggars, its sick, and its meadow-fresh border of Delia Robbia
planting, and stray up the Via del Ceppo towards the ramparts. High at a
barred window a brown mother with a brown dependent baby smiles down upon
my wayfaring. She has fine broad brows and a patient face; when she
smiles, out of mere kindness for my solitary goings, it is pleasant to
note the gleam of light on her teeth and lips. I take off my hat, as Luca
or Lippo would have done, to "ma cousine la Reine des cieux."

Thus goes life In Pistoja and the rest of the world.



From my roof-top, whither I am fled to snatch what cooler airs may drift
into this cup of earth, I can see above the straggling tiles of gable and
loggia the cupolas and belfries of many churches. I know they are all
dead; for I have wound a devious way through the close inhospitable
streets and met them or their ghosts at every corner. The ghost of a dead
church is the worst of all disembodied sighs: he wails and chatters at
you. Here I have seen churches whose towers were fallen and their tribunes
laid bare to the insults of the work-a-day world. There were churches with
ugly gashes in them, fresh and smarting still; some had sightless eyes, as
of skulls; and there were churches piecemeal and scattered like the
splinters of the True Cross. A great foliated arch of travertine would
frame a patch of plaster and soiled casement just broad enough for some
lolling pair of shoulders and shock-head atop; a sacred emblem, some
_Agnus_ indefinably venerable, some proud old cognisance of the See,
or frayed Byzantine symbol (plaited with infinite art by its former
contrivers), such and other consecrated fragments would stuff a hole to
keep the wind away from a donkey-stall or _Fabbrica di pasta_ in a
muddy lane. I met dismantled walls still blushing with the stains of
fresco--a saint's robe, the limp burden of the Addolorata;--I met texts
innumerable, shrines fly-ridden and, often as not, mocked with dead
flowers. And now, as I see these grey towers and the grand purple line of
the hills hemming in the Tiber Valley, I know I am come down to the sated
South, to the confines of Umbria, the country of dead churches, and of
Rome the metropolis of such deplorable broken toys. This appears to me the
disagreeable truth concerning the harbourage of Saint Francis and Saint
Bernardine, and of Roberto da Lecce, a man who, if everybody had his
rights, would be known as great in his way as either. You will remember
that Luther found it out before me. The religious enthusiasm we bring in
may serve our turn while we are here: it will be odd if any survive for
the return; impossible to go away as fervid as we come. Other enthusiasms
will fatten; but the wonderful Gothic adumbration of Christianity was born
in the North and has never been healthy anywhere else. Gothicism, driven
southward, runs speedily to seed; an amazing luxuriance, a riot, strange
flowers of heavy shapes and maddening savour; and then that worse
corruption to follow a perfection premature. So mediaeval Christianity in
Umbria is a ruin, but not for Salvator Rosa; it has not been suffered a
dignified death. That is the sharpest cut of all, that the poor bleached
skull must be decked with paper roses.

All this is forced upon me by my last days in Tuscany where a lower mean
has secured a serener reign. I had hardly realised the comeliness of its
intellectual vigour without this abrupt contrast. Pistoja, with its
pleasant worship of the wholesome in common life; Lucca, girdled with the
grey and green of her immemorial planes, and adorned with the silvery
gloss of old marble and stone-cutter's work exquisitely curious; then
Prato, dusty little handful of old brick palaces and black and white
towers, where I heard a mass before the high altar but two Sundays ago.
All Prato was in church that showery morning, I think. The air was close,
even in the depths of the great nave: the fans all about me kept up a
continual flicker, like bats' wings, and the men had to use their hats, or
handkerchiefs where they had them. To hear the responses rolling about the
chapels and echoing round the timbers of the roof you would have said the
thunder had come. It was too dark to see Lippi's light-hearted
secularities in the choir; one saw them, however, best in the
congregation--the same appealing innocence in the grey-eyed women, and the
men with the same grave self-possession and the same respectful but
deliberate concern with their own affairs which gives you the idea that
they are lending themselves to divine service rather out of politeness
than from any more intimate motive. Lippi saw this in Prato four centuries
ago, and I, after him, saw it all again in a rustic sacrifice which I
should find it hard to distinguish from earlier sacrifices in the same
spot. And indeed it is informed with precisely the same spirit, an
inarticulate reverence for the Dynamic in Nature. How many religions can
be reduced to that! In Florence again, what a hardy slip of the old stock
still survives! You may see how the worship of Venus Genetrix and Maria
Deipara merged in the work of Botticelli and Ghirlandajo, Michael Angelo
and Andrea del Sarto; you may see how, if asceticism has never thriven
there, there was (and still is) an effort after selection of some sort and
a scrupulous respect for the _elegantia quaedam_ which Alberti held to
be almost divine; you may see, at least, a religion which still binds, and
which, making no great professions, has grown orderly and surely to
respect. Thus from a Tuscany, pagan, kindly, exuberant and desponding by
turns, but always ready with that long slow smile you first meet in the
Lorenzetti of Siena and afterwards find so tenderly expressed in its
different manifestations in the Delia Robbia and Botticelli--a smile where
patience and wistfulness struggle together and finally kiss,--I came down
to Umbria and a people dying of what M. Huysmans grandiosely calls "our
immense fatigue." Here is a people that has loved asceticism not wisely.
This asceticism, pushed to the limit where it becomes a kind of
sensuality, has bitten into Umbria's heart; and Umbria, with a cloyed
palate, sees her frescos peel and lets her sanctuaries out to bats and
green lizards. Surely the worst form of moral jaundice is where the
sufferer watches his affections palsy, but makes no stir.

From the ramp of the citadel at Perugia you can guess what a hornet's nest
that grey stronghold of the Baglioni must have been. It commands the great
plain and bars the way to Rome. Westward, on a spur of rock, stands
Magione and a lonely tower: this was their outpost towards Siena. Eastward
there is a white patch on the distant hills--Spello, "mountain built with
quiet citadel," quiet enough now. There was always a Baglione at Spello
with his eyes set on chance comers from Foligno and Rome. Seen from
thence, _Augusta Perusia_ hangs like a storm cloud over her cliffs,
impregnable but by strategy, as wicked and beautiful as ever her former
masters, the Seven Deadly Sins, grandsons of Fortebraccio. The place is
like its history, of course, having, in fact, grown up with it: you might
say it was the incarnation of Perugia's spirit; it would only be to admit,
what is so obvious over here, that a town is the work of art of that
larger soul, the body politic. So to see the crazy streets cut in steps
and crevasses across and through the rocks, spanning a gorge with a stone
ladder or boring a twisted tunnel under the sheer of the Etruscan walls,
to note the churches innumerable and the foundations of the thirty
fortress-towers she once had--all this is to read the secret of Perugia's
two love affairs. Of her towers Julius II. left but two standing, blind
pillars of masonry; but there were thirty of them once, and the Baglioni
held them all, for a season. Now it was these wild Baglioni--"filling the
town with all manner of evil living," says Matarazzo, but nevertheless
intensely beloved for their bold bearing and beauty, as of young hawks;--
it was just these blood-stained striplings, this Semonetto who rode
shouting into the Piazza after an affray and swept his clogged hair clear
of his eyes that he might see to kill, this black Astorre, "of the few
words," who was murdered in his shirt on his marriage-eve by his cousin
and best friend; it was this very cousin Grifone, so beautiful that "he
seemed an angel of Paradise," who, in his turn, was cut down and laid out
with his dead allies below San Lorenzo that his widow might not fail of
finding him and his marred fairness--it was just this stormy crew that
fell weeping at Suor Brigida's meek feet, confessed their sins and
received the Communion (encompassers and encompassed together, and all in
a rapture) on the very eve of the great slaughter of 1500; it was they who
adorned the Oratory of San Bernardino and made it the miracle of rose-
colour and blue that it is; who reared the enormous San Domenico below the
Gate of Mars, and who, in this hot-bed of enormity, nurtured Perugino's
dreamy Madonnas. What it meant I know not at all. There are other riddles
as hard in Umbria. Renan saw the gentle cadence of the landscape--violet
hills, the silver gauze of water, oliveyards all of a green mist; read the
_Fioretti_ and the dolorous ecstasies of Perugino's Sebastian, and
straightway adapted the high-flown parallel worked out in detail by
Giotto. Umbria for him was the Galilee of Italy, and Francis son of
Bernard an _avatar_ of Christ. But Renan was apt to allow his
emotions to ride him. Another dazzling contrast, which has recently
exercised another dextrous Frenchman, is Siena with her Saint Catherine
and her Sodoma who betrayed her--Saint Catherine, as great a force
politically as she was spiritually, and Sodoma, who painted her like a
Danae with love-glazed eyes fainting before the apparition of the
Crucified Seraph.

There is nothing like this in the history of Tuscany, whose palaces not
long were fortresses nor her monks at any time successful politicians.
Cosimo had pulled down the Florentine towers or ever the last Oddi had
loosed hold of Ridolfo's throat, I know that Siena is just within that
province geographically; in temperament, in art and manner, she has always
shown herself intensely Umbrian. Take, then, the case of Savonarola. The
Florentines received him gladly enough and heard him with honest
admiration, even enthusiasm. Still, there is reason to believe they took
him, in the main, spectacularly, as they also took that portentous old
monomaniac Gemisthos Pletho who made religions as we might make pills.
For, observe, Savonarola lost his head--and his life, good soul!--where
the Florentines did not. The cobbler went beyond his last when the
_Frate_ essayed politics. He suffered accordingly. But in Perugia, in

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