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Essays on Life, Art and Science by Samuel Butler

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haste; but I do not see one figure about which I should like to say
positively that it is either good or bad. There is a good bust of a
man, matching the one in the Birth of the Virgin chapel, which is
said to be a portrait of Giovanni d'Enrico, but it is not known whom
it represents.

Outside the church, in three contiguous cells that form part of the
foundations, are:-

1. A dead Christ, the head of which is very impressive while the
rest of the figure is poor. I examined the treatment of the hair,
which is terra-cotta, and compared it with all other like hair in
the chapels above described; I could find nothing like it, and think
it most likely that Giacomo Ferro did the figure, and got Tabachetti
to do the head, or that they brought the head from some unused
figure by Tabachetti at Varallo, for I know no other artist of the
time and neighbourhood who could have done it.

2. A Magdalene in the desert. The desert is a little coal-cellar
of an arch, containing a skull and a profusion of pink and white
paper bouquets, the two largest of which the Magdalene is hugging
while she is saying her prayers. She is a very self-sufficient
lady, who we may be sure will not stay in the desert a day longer
than she can help, and while there will flirt even with the skull if
she can find nothing better to flirt with. I cannot think that her
repentance is as yet genuine, and as for her praying there is no
object in her doing so, for she does not want anything.

3. In the next desert there is a very beautiful figure of St. John
the Baptist kneeling and looking upwards. This figure puzzles me
more than any other at Montrigone; it appears to be of the fifteenth
rather than the sixteenth century; it hardly reminds me of
Gaudenzio, and still less of any other Valsesian artist. It is a
work of unusual beauty, but I can form no idea as to its authorship.

I wrote the foregoing pages in the church at Montrigone itself,
having brought my camp-stool with me. It was Sunday; the church was
open all day, but there was no mass said, and hardly any one came.
The sacristan was a kind, gentle, little old man, who let me do
whatever I wanted. He sat on the doorstep of the main door, mending
vestments, and to this end was cutting up a fine piece of figured
silk from one to two hundred years old, which, if I could have got
it, for half its value, I should much like to have bought. I sat in
the cool of the church while he sat in the doorway, which was still
in shadow, snipping and snipping, and then sewing, I am sure with
admirable neatness. He made a charming picture, with the arched
portico over his head, the green grass and low church wall behind
him, and then a lovely landscape of wood and pasture and valleys and
hillside. Every now and then he would come and chirrup about
Joachim, for he was pained and shocked at my having said that his
Joachim was some one else and not Joachim at all. I said I was very
sorry, but I was afraid the figure was a woman. He asked me what he
was to do. He had known it, man and boy, this sixty years, and had
always shown it as St. Joachim; he had never heard any one but
myself question his ascription, and could not suddenly change his
mind about it at the bidding of a stranger. At the same time he
felt it was a very serious thing to continue showing it as the
Virgin's father if it was really her grandmother. I told him I
thought this was a case for his spiritual director, and that if he
felt uncomfortable about it he should consult his parish priest and
do as he was told.

On leaving Montrigone, with a pleasant sense of having made
acquaintance with a new and, in many respects, interesting work, I
could not get the sacristan and our difference of opinion out of my
head. What, I asked myself, are the differences that unhappily
divide Christendom, and what are those that divide Christendom from
modern schools of thought, but a seeing of Joachims as the Virgin's
grandmothers on a larger scale? True, we cannot call figures
Joachim when we know perfectly well that they are nothing of the
kind; but I registered a vow that henceforward when I called
Joachims the Virgin's grandmothers I would bear more in mind than I
have perhaps always hitherto done, how hard it is for those who have
been taught to see them as Joachims to think of them as something
different. I trust that I have not been unfaithful to this vow in
the preceding article. If the reader differs from me, let me ask
him to remember how hard it is for one who has got a figure well
into his head as the Virgin's grandmother to see it as Joachim.


This last summer I revisited Oropa, near Biella, to see what
connection I could find between the Oropa chapels and those at
Varallo. I will take this opportunity of describing the chapels at
Oropa, and more especially the remarkable fossil, or petrified girl
school, commonly known as the Dimora, or Sojourn of the Virgin Mary
in the Temple.

If I do not take these works so seriously as the reader may expect,
let me beg him, before he blames me, to go to Oropa and see the
originals for himself. Have the good people of Oropa themselves
taken them very seriously? Are we in an atmosphere where we need be
at much pains to speak with bated breath? We, as is well known,
love to take even our pleasures sadly; the Italians take even their
sadness allegramente, and combine devotion with amusement in a
manner that we shall do well to study if not imitate. For this best
agrees with what we gather to have been the custom of Christ
himself, who, indeed, never speaks of austerity but to condemn it.
If Christianity is to be a living faith, it must penetrate a man's
whole life, so that he can no more rid himself of it than he can of
his flesh and bones or of his breathing. The Christianity that can
be taken up and laid down as if it were a watch or a book is
Christianity in name only. The true Christian can no more part from
Christ in mirth than in sorrow. And, after all, what is the essence
of Christianity? What is the kernel of the nut? Surely common
sense and cheerfulness, with unflinching opposition to the
charlatanisms and Pharisaisms of a man's own times. The essence of
Christianity lies neither in dogma, nor yet in abnormally holy life,
but in faith in an unseen world, in doing one's duty, in speaking
the truth, in finding the true life rather in others than in
oneself, and in the certain hope that he who loses his life on these
behalfs finds more than he has lost. What can Agnosticism do
against such Christianity as this? I should be shocked if anything
I had ever written or shall ever write should seem to make light of
these things. I should be shocked also if I did not know how to be
amused with things that amiable people obviously intended to be

The reader may need to be reminded that Oropa is among the somewhat
infrequent sanctuaries at which the Madonna and infant Christ are
not white, but black. I shall return to this peculiarity of Oropa
later on, but will leave it for the present. For the general
characteristics of the place I must refer the reader to my book,
"Alps and Sanctuaries." {9} I propose to confine myself here to the
ten or a dozen chapels containing life-sized terra-cotta figures,
painted up to nature, that form one of the main features of the
place. At a first glance, perhaps, all these chapels will seem
uninteresting; I venture to think, however, that some, if not most
of them, though falling a good deal short of the best work at
Varallo and Crea, are still in their own way of considerable
importance. The first chapel with which we need concern ourselves
is numbered 4, and shows the Conception of the Virgin Mary. It
represents St. Anne as kneeling before a terrific dragon or, as the
Italians call it, "insect," about the size of a Crystal Palace
pleiosaur. This "insect" is supposed to have just had its head
badly crushed by St. Anne, who seems to be begging its pardon. The
text "Ipsa conteret caput tuum" is written outside the chapel. The
figures have no artistic interest. As regards dragons being called
insects, the reader may perhaps remember that the island of S.
Giulio, in the Lago d'Orta, was infested with insetti, which S.
Giulio destroyed, and which appear, in a fresco underneath the
church on the island, to have been monstrous and ferocious dragons;
but I cannot remember whether their bodies are divided into three
sections, and whether or no they have exactly six legs--without
which, I am told, they cannot be true insects.

The fifth chapel represents the birth of the Virgin. Having
obtained permission to go inside it, I found the date 1715 cut large
and deep on the back of one figure before baking, and I imagine that
this date covers the whole. There is a Queen Anne feeling
throughout the composition, and if we were told that the sculptor
and Francis Bird, sculptor of the statue in front of St. Paul's
Cathedral, had studied under the same master, we could very well
believe it. The apartment in which the Virgin was born is spacious,
and in striking contrast to the one in which she herself gave birth
to the Redeemer. St. Anne occupies the centre of the composition,
in an enormous bed; on her right there is a lady of the George
Cruikshank style of beauty, and on the left an older person. Both
are gesticulating and impressing upon St. Anne the enormous
obligation she has just conferred upon mankind; they seem also to be
imploring her not to overtax her strength, but, strange to say, they
are giving her neither flowers nor anything to eat and drink. I
know no other birth of the Virgin in which St. Anne wants so little
keeping up.

I have explained in my book "Ex Voto," {10} but should perhaps
repeat here, that the distinguishing characteristic of the Birth of
the Virgin, as rendered by Valsesian artists, is that St. Anne
always has eggs immediately after the infant is born, and usually a
good deal more, whereas the Madonna never has anything to eat or
drink. The eggs are in accordance with a custom that still prevails
among the peasant classes in the Valsesia, where women on giving
birth to a child generally are given a sabaglione--an egg beaten up
with a little wine, or rum, and sugar. East of Milan the Virgin's
mother does not have eggs, and I suppose, from the absence of the
eggs at Oropa, that the custom above referred to does not prevail in
the Biellese district. The Virgin also is invariably washed. St.
John the Baptist, when he is born at all, which is not very often,
is also washed; but I have not observed that St. Elizabeth has
anything like the attention paid her that is given to St. Anne.
What, however, is wanting here at Oropa in meat and drink is made up
in Cupids; they swarm like flies on the walls, clouds, cornices, and
capitals of columns.

Against the right-hand wall are two lady-helps, each warming a towel
at a glowing fire, to be ready against the baby should come out of
its bath; while in the right-hand foreground we have the levatrice,
who having discharged her task, and being now so disposed, has
removed the bottle from the chimney-piece, and put it near some
bread, fruit and a chicken, over which she is about to discuss the
confinement with two other gossips. The levatrice is a very
characteristic figure, but the best in the chapel is the one of the
head nurse, near the middle of the composition; she has now the
infant in full charge, and is showing it to St. Joachim, with an
expression as though she were telling him that her husband was a
merry man. I am afraid Shakespeare was dead before the sculptor was
born, otherwise I should have felt certain that he had drawn
Juliet's nurse from this figure. As for the little Virgin herself,
I believe her to be a fine boy of about ten months old. Viewing the
work as a whole, if I only felt more sure what artistic merit really
is, I should say that, though the chapel cannot be rated very highly
from some standpoints, there are others from which it may be praised
warmly enough. It is innocent of anatomy-worship, free from
affectation or swagger, and not devoid of a good deal of homely
naivete. It can no more be compared with Tabachetti or Donatello
than Hogarth can with Rembrandt or Giovanni Bellini; but as it does
not transcend the limitations of its age, so neither is it wanting
in whatever merits that age possessed; and there is no age without
merits of some kind. There is no inscription saying who made the
figures, but tradition gives them to Pietro Aureggio Termine, of
Biella, commonly called Aureggio. This is confirmed by their strong
resemblance to those in the Dimora Chapel, in which there is an
inscription that names Aureggio as the sculptor.

The sixth chapel deals with the Presentation of the Virgin in the
Temple. The Virgin is very small, but it must be remembered that
she is only seven years old, and she is not nearly so small as she
is at Crea, where, though a life-sized figure is intended, the head
is hardly bigger than an apple. She is rushing up the steps with
open arms towards the High Priest, who is standing at the top. For
her it is nothing alarming; it is the High Priest who appears
frightened; but it will all come right in time. The Virgin seems to
be saying, "Why, don't you know me? I'm the Virgin Mary." But the
High Priest does not feel so sure about that, and will make further
inquiries. The scene, which comprises some twenty figures, is
animated enough, and though it hardly kindles enthusiasm, still does
not fail to please. It looks as though of somewhat older date than
the Birth of the Virgin chapel, and I should say shows more signs of
direct Valsesian influence. In Marocco's book about Oropa it is
ascribed to Aureggio, but I find it difficult to accept this.

The seventh, and in many respects most interesting chapel at Oropa,
shows what is in reality a medieval Italian girl school, as nearly
like the thing itself as the artist could make it; we are expected,
however, to see in this the high-class kind of Girton College for
young gentlewomen that was attached to the Temple at Jerusalem,
under the direction of the Chief Priest's wife, or some one of his
near female relatives. Here all well-to-do Jewish young women
completed their education, and here accordingly we find the Virgin,
whose parents desired she should shine in every accomplishment, and
enjoy all the advantages their ample means commanded.

I have met with no traces of the Virgin during the years between her
Presentation in the Temple and her becoming head girl at Temple
College. These years, we may be assured, can hardly have been other
than eventful; but incidents, or bits of life, are like living
forms--it is only here and here, as by rare chance, that one of them
gets arrested and fossilised; the greater number disappear like the
greater number of antediluvian molluscs, and no one can say why one
of these flies, as it were, of life should get preserved in amber
more than another. Talk, indeed, about luck and cunning; what a
grain of sand as against a hundredweight is cunning's share here as
against luck's. What moment could be more humdrum and unworthy of
special record than the one chosen by the artist for the chapel we
are considering? Why should this one get arrested in its flight and
made immortal when so many worthier ones have perished? Yet
preserved it assuredly is; it is as though some fairy's wand had
struck the medieval Miss Pinkerton, Amelia Sedley, and others who do
duty instead of the Hebrew originals. It has locked them up as
sleeping beauties, whose charms all may look upon. Surely the hours
are like the women grinding at the mill--the one is taken and the
other left, and none can give the reason more than he can say why
Gallio should have won immortality by caring for none of "these

It seems to me, moreover, that fairies have changed their practice
now in the matter of sleeping beauties, much as shopkeepers have
done in Regent Street. Formerly the shopkeeper used to shut up his
goods behind strong shutters, so that no one might see them after
closing hours. Now he leaves everything open to the eye and turns
the gas on. So the fairies, who used to lock up their sleeping
beauties in impenetrable thickets, now leave them in the most public
places they can find, as knowing that they will there most certainly
escape notice. Look at De Hooghe; look at "The Pilgrim's Progress,"
or even Shakespeare himself--how long they slept unawakened, though
they were in broad daylight and on the public thoroughfares all the
time. Look at Tabachetti, and the masterpieces he left at Varallo.
His figures there are exposed to the gaze of every passer-by; yet
who heeds them? Who, save a very few, even know of their existence?
Look again at Gaudenzio Ferrari, or the "Danse des Paysans," by
Holbein, to which I ventured to call attention in the Universal
Review. No, no; if a thing be in Central Africa, it is the glory of
this age to find it out; so the fairies think it safer to conceal
their proteges under a show of openness; for the schoolmaster is
much abroad, and there is no hedge so thick or so thorny as the
dulness of culture.

It may be, again, that ever so many years hence, when Mr. Darwin's
earth-worms shall have buried Oropa hundreds of feet deep, some one
sinking a well or making a railway-cutting will unearth these
chapels, and will believe them to have been houses, and to contain
the exuviae of the living forms that tenanted them. In the
meantime, however, let us return to a consideration of the chapel as
it may now be seen by any one who cares to pass that way.

The work consists of about forty figures in all, not counting
Cupids, and is divided into four main divisions. First, there is
the large public sitting-room or drawing-room of the College, where
the elder young ladies are engaged in various elegant employments.
Three, at a table to the left, are making a mitre for the Bishop, as
may be seen from the model on the table. Some are merely spinning
or about to spin. One young lady, sitting rather apart from the
others, is doing an elaborate piece of needlework at a tambour-frame
near the window; others are making lace or slippers, probably for
the new curate; another is struggling with a letter, or perhaps a
theme, which seems to be giving her a good deal of trouble, but
which, when done, will, I am sure, be beautiful. One dear little
girl is simply reading "Paul and Virginia" underneath the window,
and is so concealed that I hardly think she can be seen from the
outside at all, though from inside she is delightful; it was with
great regret that I could not get her into any photograph. One most
amiable young woman has got a child's head on her lap, the child
having played itself to sleep. All are industriously and agreeably
employed in some way or other; all are plump; all are nice looking;
there is not one Becky Sharp in the whole school; on the contrary,
as in "Pious Orgies," all is pious--or sub-pious--and all, if not
great, is at least eminently respectable. One feels that St.
Joachim and St. Anne could not have chosen a school more
judiciously, and that if one had daughter oneself this is exactly
where one would wish to place her. If there is a fault of any kind
in the arrangements, it is that they do not keep cats enough. The
place is overrun with mice, though what these can find to eat I know
not. It occurs to me also that the young ladies might be kept a
little more free of spiders' webs; but in all these chapels, bats,
mice and spiders are troublesome.

Off the main drawing-room on the side facing the window there is a
dais, which is approached by a large raised semicircular step,
higher than the rest of the floor, but lower than the dais itself.
The dais is, of course, reserved for the venerable Lady Principal
and the under-mistresses, one of whom, by the way, is a little more
mondaine than might have been expected, and is admiring herself in a
looking-glass--unless, indeed, she is only looking to see if there
is a spot of ink on her face. The Lady Principal is seated near a
table, on which lie some books in expensive bindings, which I
imagine to have been presented to her by the parents of pupils who
were leaving school. One has given her a photographic album;
another a large scrap-book, for illustrations of all kinds; a third
volume has red edges, and is presumably of a devotional character.
If I dared venture another criticism, I should say it would be
better not to keep the ink-pot on the top of these books. The Lady
Principal is being read to by the monitress for the week, whose duty
it was to recite selected passages from the most approved Hebrew
writers; she appears to be a good deal outraged, possibly at the
faulty intonation of the reader, which she has long tried vainly to
correct; or perhaps she has been hearing of the atrocious way in
which her forefathers had treated the prophets, and is explaining to
the young ladies how impossible it would be, in their own more
enlightened age, for a prophet to fail of recognition.

On the half-dais, as I suppose the large semicircular step between
the main room and the dais should be called, we find, first, the
monitress for the week, who stands up while she recites; and
secondly, the Virgin herself, who is the only pupil allowed a seat
so near to the august presence of the Lady Principal. She is
ostensibly doing a piece of embroidery which is stretched on a
cushion on her lap, but I should say that she was chiefly interested
in the nearest of four pretty little Cupids, who are all trying to
attract her attention, though they pay no court to any other young
lady. I have sometimes wondered whether the obviously scandalised
gesture of the Lady Principal might not be directed at these Cupids,
rather than at anything the monitress may have been reading, for she
would surely find them disquieting. Or she may be saying, "Why,
bless me! I do declare the Virgin has got another hamper, and St.
Anne's cakes are always so terribly rich!" Certainly the hamper is
there, close to the Virgin, and the Lady Principal's action may be
well directed at it, but it may have been sent to some other young
lady, and be put on the sub-dais for public exhibition. It looks as
if it might have come from Fortnum and Mason's, and I half expected
to find a label, addressing it to "The Virgin Mary, Temple College,
Jerusalem," but if ever there was one the mice have long since eaten
it. The Virgin herself does not seem to care much about it, but if
she has a fault it is that she is generally a little apathetic.

Whose the hamper was, however, is a point we shall never now
certainly determine, for the best fossil is worse than the worst
living form. Why, alas! was not Mr. Edison alive when this chapel
was made? We might then have had a daily phonographic recital of
the conversation, and an announcement might be put outside the
chapels, telling us at what hours the figures would speak.

On either of side the main room there are two annexes opening out
from it; these are reserved chiefly for the younger children, some
of whom, I think, are little boys. In the left-hand annex, behind
the ladies who are making a mitre, there is a child who has got a
cake, and another has some fruit--possibly given them by the Virgin-
-and a third child is begging for some of it. The light failed so
completely here that I was not able to photograph any of these
figures. It was a dull September afternoon, and the clouds had
settled thick round the chapel, which is never very light, and is
nearly 4000 feet above the sea. I waited till such twilight as made
it hopeless that more detail could be got--and a queer ghostly place
enough it was to wait in--but after giving the plate an exposure of
fifty minutes, I saw I could get no more, and desisted.

These long photographic exposures have the advantage that one is
compelled to study a work in detail through mere lack of other
employment, and that one can take one's notes in peace without being
tempted to hurry over them; but even so I continually find I have
omitted to note, and have clean forgotten, much that I want later

In the other annex there are also one or two younger children, but
it seems to have been set apart for conversation and relaxation more
than any other part of the establishment.

I have already said that the work is signed by an inscription inside
the chapel, to the effect that the sculptures are by Pietro Aureggio
Termine di Biella. It will be seen that the young ladies are
exceedingly like one another, and that the artist aimed at nothing
more than a faithful rendering of the life of his own times. Let us
be thankful that he aimed at nothing less. Perhaps his wife kept a
girls' school; or he may have had a large family of fat, good-
natured daughters, whose little ways he had studied attentively; at
all events the work is full of spontaneous incident, and cannot fail
to become more and more interesting as the age it renders falls
farther back into the past. It is to be regretted that many
artists, better known men, have not been satisfied with the humbler
ambitions of this most amiable and interesting sculptor. If he has
left us no laboured life-studies, he has at least done something for
us which we can find nowhere else, which we should be very sorry not
to have, and the fidelity of which to Italian life at the beginning
of the last century will not be disputed.

The eighth chapel is that of the Sposalizio, is certainly not by
Aureggio, and I should say was mainly by the same sculptor who did
the Presentation in the Temple. On going inside I found the figures
had come from more than one source; some of them are constructed so
absolutely on Valsesian principles, as regards technique, that it
may be assumed they came from Varallo. Each of these last figures
is in three pieces, that are baked separately and cemented together
afterwards, hence they are more easily transported; no more clay is
used than is absolutely necessary; and the off-side of the figure is
neglected; they will be found chiefly, if not entirely, at the top
of the steps. The other figures are more solidly built, and do not
remind me in their business features of anything in the Valsesia.
There was a sculptor, Francesco Sala, of Locarno (doubtless the
village a short distance below Varallo, and not the Locarno on the
Lago Maggiore), who made designs for some of the Oropa chapels, and
some of whose letters are still preserved, but whether the Valsesian
figures in this present work are by him or not I cannot say.

The statues are twenty-five in number; I could find no date or
signature; the work reminds me of Montrigone; several of the figures
are not at all bad, and several have horsehair for hair, as at
Varallo. The effect of the whole composition is better than we have
a right to expect from any sculpture dating from the beginning of
the last century.

The ninth chapel, the Annunciation, presents no feature of interest;
nor yet does the tenth, the Visit of Mary to Elizabeth. The
eleventh, the Nativity, though rather better, is still not

The twelfth, the Purification, is absurdly bad, but I do not know
whether the expression of strong personal dislike to the Virgin
which the High Priest wears is intended as prophetic, or whether it
is the result of incompetence, or whether it is merely a smile gone
wrong in the baking. It is amusing to find Marocco, who has not
been strict about archaeological accuracy hitherto, complain here
that there is an anachronism, inasmuch as some young ecclesiastics
are dressed as they would be at present, and one of them actually
carries a wax candle. This is not as it should be; in works like
those at Oropa, where implicit reliance is justly placed on the
earnest endeavours that have been so successfully made to thoroughly
and carefully and patiently ensure the accuracy of the minutest
details, it is a pity that even a single error should have escaped
detection; this, however, has most unfortunately happened here, and
Marocco feels it his duty to put us on our guard. He explains that
the mistake arose from the sculptor's having taken both his general
arrangement and his details from some picture of the fourteenth or
fifteenth century, when the value of the strictest historical
accuracy was not yet so fully understood.

It seems to me that in the matter of accuracy, priests and men of
science whether lay or regular on the one hand, and plain people
whether lay or regular on the other, are trying to play a different
game, and fail to understand one another because they do not see
that their objects are not the same. The cleric and the man of
science (who is only the cleric in his latest development) are
trying to develop a throat with two distinct passages--one that
shall refuse to pass even the smallest gnat, and another that shall
gracefully gulp even the largest camel; whereas we men of the street
desire but one throat, and are content that this shall swallow
nothing bigger than a pony. Every one knows that there is no such
effectual means of developing the power to swallow camels as
incessant watchfulness for opportunities of straining at gnats, and
this should explain many passages that puzzle us in the work both of
our clerics and our scientists. I, not being a man of science,
still continue to do what I said I did in "Alps and Sanctuaries,"
and make it a rule to earnestly and patiently and carefully swallow
a few of the smallest gnats I can find several times a day, as the
best astringent for the throat I know of.

The thirteenth chapel is the Marriage Feast at Cana of Galilee.
This is the best chapel as a work of art; indeed, it is the only one
which can claim to be taken quite seriously. Not that all the
figures are very good; those to the left of the composition are
commonplace enough; nor are the Christ and the giver of the feast at
all remarkable; but the ten or dozen figures of guests and
attendants at the right-hand end of the work are as good as anything
of their kind can be, and remind me so strongly of Tabachetti that I
cannot doubt they were done by some one who was indirectly
influenced by that great sculptor's work. It is not likely that
Tabachetti was alive long after 1640, by which time he would have
been about eighty years old; and the foundations of this chapel were
not laid till about 1690; the statues are probably a few years
later; they can hardly, therefore, be by one who had even studied
under Tabachetti; but until I found out the dates, and went inside
the chapel to see the way in which the figures had been constructed,
I was inclined to think they might be by Tabachetti himself, of
whom, indeed, they are not unworthy. On examining the figures I
found them more heavily constructed than Tabachetti's are, with
smaller holes for taking out superfluous clay, and more finished on
the off-sides. Marocco says the sculptor is not known. I looked in
vain for any date or signature. Possibly the right-hand figures
(for the left-hand ones can hardly be by the same hand) may be by
some sculptor from Crea, which is at no very great distance from
Oropa, who was penetrated by Tabachetti's influence; but whether as
regards action and concert with one another, or as regards
excellence in detail, I do not see how anything can be more
realistic, and yet more harmoniously composed. The placing of the
musicians in a minstrels' gallery helps the effect; these musicians
are six in number, and the other figures are twenty-three. Under
the table, between Christ and the giver of the feast, there is a

The fourteenth chapel, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, is without

The fifteenth, the Coronation of the Virgin, contains forty-six
angels, twenty-six cherubs, fifty-six saints, the Holy Trinity, the
Madonna herself, and twenty-four innocents, making 156 statues in
all. Of these I am afraid there is not one of more than ordinary
merit; the most interesting is a half-length nude life-study of
Disma--the good thief. After what had been promised him it was
impossible to exclude him, but it was felt that a half-length nude
figure would be as much as he could reasonably expect.

Behind the sanctuary there is a semi-ruinous and wholly valueless
work, which shows the finding of the black image, which is now in
the church, but is only shown on great festivals.

This leads us to a consideration that I have delayed till now. The
black image is the central feature of Oropa; it is the raison d'etre
of the whole place, and all else is a mere incrustation, so to
speak, around it. According to this image, then, which was carved
by St. Luke himself, and than which nothing can be better
authenticated, both the Madonna and the infant Christ were as black
as anything can be conceived. It is not likely that they were as
black as they have been painted; no one yet ever was so black as
that; yet, even allowing for some exaggeration on St. Luke's part,
they must have been exceedingly black if the portrait is to be
accepted; and uncompromisingly black they accordingly are on most of
the wayside chapels for many a mile around Oropa. Yet in the
chapels we have been hitherto considering--works in which, as we
know, the most punctilious regard has been shown to accuracy--both
the Virgin and Christ are uncompromisingly white. As in the shops
under the Colonnade where devotional knick-knacks are sold, you can
buy a black china image or a white one, whichever you like; so with
the pictures--the black and white are placed side by side--pagando
il danaro si puo scegliere. It rests not with history or with the
Church to say whether the Madonna and Child were black or white, but
you may settle it for yourself, whichever way you please, or rather
you are required, with the acquiescence of the Church, to hold that
they were both black and white at one and the same time.

It cannot be maintained that the Church leaves the matter undecided,
and by tolerating both types proclaims the question an open one, for
she acquiesces in the portrait by St. Luke as genuine. How, then,
justify the whiteness of the Holy Family in the chapels? If the
portrait is not known as genuine, why set such a stumbling-block in
our paths as to show us a black Madonna and a white one, both as
historically accurate, within a few yards of one another?

I ask this not in mockery, but as knowing that the Church must have
an explanation to give, if she would only give it, and as myself
unable to find any, even the most farfetched, that can bring what we
see at Oropa, Loreto and elsewhere into harmony with modern
conscience, either intellectual or ethical.

I see, indeed, from an interesting article in the Atlantic Monthly
for September 1889, entitled "The Black Madonna of Loreto," that
black Madonnas were so frequent in ancient Christian art that "some
of the early writers of the Church felt obliged to account for it by
explaining that the Virgin was of a very dark complexion, as might
be proved by the verse of Canticles which says, 'I am black, but
comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.' Others maintained that she
became black during her sojourn in Egypt. . . . Priests, of to-day,
say that extreme age and exposure to the smoke of countless altar-
candles have caused that change in complexion which the more naive
fathers of the Church attributed to the power of an Egyptian sun";
but the writer ruthlessly disposes of this supposition by pointing
out that in nearly all the instances of black Madonnas it is the
flesh alone that is entirely black, the crimson of the lips, the
white of the eyes, and the draperies having preserved their original
colour. The authoress of the article (Mrs. Hilliard) goes on to
tell us that Pausanias mentions two statues of the black Venus, and
says that the oldest statue of Ceres among the Phigalenses was
black. She adds that Minerva Aglaurus, the daughter of Cecrops, at
Athens, was black; that Corinth had a black Venus, as also the
Thespians; that the oracles of Dodona and Delphi were founded by
black doves, the emissaries of Venus, and that the Isis Multimammia
in the Capitol at Rome is black.

Sometimes I have asked myself whether the Church does not intend to
suggest that the whole story falls outside the domain of history,
and is to be held as the one great epos, or myth, common to all
mankind; adaptable by each nation according to its own several
needs; translatable, so to speak, into the facts of each individual
nation, as the written word is translatable into its language, but
appertaining to the realm of the imagination rather than to that of
the understanding, and precious for spiritual rather than literal
truths. More briefly, I have wondered whether she may not intend
that such details as whether the Virgin was white or black are of
very little importance in comparison with the basing of ethics on a
story that shall appeal to black races as well as to white ones.

If so, it is time we were made to understand this more clearly. If
the Church, whether of Rome or England, would lean to some such view
as this--tainted though it be with mysticism--if we could see either
great branch of the Church make a frank, authoritative attempt to
bring its teaching into greater harmony with the educated
understanding and conscience of the time, instead of trying to
fetter that understanding with bonds that gall it daily more and
more profoundly; then I, for one, in view of the difficulty and
graciousness of the task, and in view of the great importance of
historical continuity, would gladly sink much of my own private
opinion as to the value of the Christian ideal, and would gratefully
help either Church or both, according to the best of my very feeble
ability. On these terms, indeed, I could swallow not a few camels
myself cheerfully enough.

Can we, however, see any signs as though either Rome or England will
stir hand or foot to meet us? Can any step be pointed to as though
either Church wished to make things easier for men holding the
opinions held by the late Mr. Darwin, or by Mr. Herbert Spencer and
Professor Huxley? How can those who accept evolution with any
thoroughness accept such doctrines as the Incarnation or the
Redemption with any but a quasi-allegorical and poetical
interpretation? Can we conceivably accept these doctrines in the
literal sense in which the Church advances them? And can the
leaders of the Church be blind to the resistlessness of the current
that has set against those literal interpretations which she seems
to hug more and more closely the more religious life is awakened at
all? The clergyman is wanted as supplementing the doctor and the
lawyer in all civilised communities; these three keep watch on one
another, and prevent one another from becoming too powerful. I, who
distrust the doctrinaire in science even more than the doctrinaire
in religion, should view with dismay the abolition of the Church of
England, as knowing that a blatant bastard science would instantly
step into her shoes; but if some such deplorable consummation is to
be avoided in England, it can only be through more evident leaning
on the part of our clergy to such an interpretation of the Sacred
History as the presence of a black and white Madonna almost side by
side at Oropa appears to suggest.

I fear that in these last paragraphs I may have trenched on
dangerous ground, but it is not possible to go to such places as
Oropa without asking oneself what they mean and involve. As for the
average Italian pilgrims, they do not appear to give the matter so
much as a thought. They love Oropa, and flock to it in thousands
during the summer; the President of the Administration assured me
that they lodged, after a fashion, as many as ten thousand pilgrims
on the 15th of last August. It is astonishing how living the
statues are to these people, and how the wicked are upbraided and
the good applauded. At Varallo, since I took the photographs I
published in my book "Ex Voto," an angry pilgrim has smashed the
nose of the dwarf in Tabachetti's Journey to Calvary, for no other
reason than inability to restrain his indignation against one who
was helping to inflict pain on Christ. It is the real hair and the
painting up to nature that does this. Here at Oropa I found a paper
on the floor of the Sposalizio Chapel, which ran as follows:-

"By the grace of God and the will of the administrative chapter of
this sanctuary, there have come here to work -- --, mason -- --,
carpenter, and -- -- plumber, all of Chiavazza, on the twenty-first
day of January 1886, full of cold (pieni di freddo).

"They write these two lines to record their visit. They pray the
Blessed Virgin that she will maintain them safe and sound from
everything equivocal that may befall them (sempre sani e salvi da
ogni equivoco li possa accadere). Oh, farewell! We reverently
salute all the present statues, and especially the Blessed Virgin,
and the reader."

Through the Universal Review, I suppose, all its readers are to
consider themselves saluted; at any rate, these good fellows, in the
effusiveness of their hearts, actually wrote the above in pencil. I
was sorely tempted to steal it, but, after copying it, left it in
the Chief Priest's hands instead.


Having been told by Mr. Fortescue, of the British Museum, that there
were some chapels at Saas-Fee which bore analogy to those at
Varallo, described in my book "Ex Voto," {12} I went to Saas during
this last summer, and venture now to lay my conclusions before the

The chapels are fifteen in number, and lead up to a larger and
singularly graceful one, rather more than half-way between Saas and
Saas-Fee. This is commonly but wrongly called the chapel of St.
Joseph, for it is dedicated to the Virgin, and its situation is of
such extreme beauty--the great Fee glaciers showing through the open
portico--that it is in itself worth a pilgrimage. It is surrounded
by noble larches and overhung by rock; in front of the portico there
is a small open space covered with grass, and a huge larch, the stem
of which is girt by a rude stone seat. The portico itself contains
seats for worshippers, and a pulpit from which the preacher's voice
can reach the many who must stand outside. The walls of the inner
chapel are hung with votive pictures, some of them very quaint and
pleasing, and not overweighted by those qualities that are usually
dubbed by the name of artistic merit. Innumerable wooden and waxen
representations of arms, legs, eyes, ears and babies tell of the
cures that have been effected during two centuries of devotion, and
can hardly fail to awaken a kindly sympathy with the long dead and
forgotten folks who placed them where they are.

The main interest, however, despite the extreme loveliness of the
St. Mary's Chapel, centres rather in the small and outwardly
unimportant oratories (if they should be so called) that lead up to
it. These begin immediately with the ascent from the level ground
on which the village of Saas-im-Grund is placed, and contain scenes
in the history of the Redemption, represented by rude but spirited
wooden figures, each about two feet high, painted, gilt, and
rendered as life-like in all respects as circumstances would permit.
The figures have suffered a good deal from neglect, and are still
not a little misplaced. With the assistance, however, of the Rev.
E. J. Selwyn, English Chaplain at Saas-im-Grund, I have been able to
replace many of them in their original positions, as indicated by
the parts of the figures that are left rough-hewn and unpainted.
They vary a good deal in interest, and can be easily sneered at by
those who make a trade of sneering. Those, on the other hand, who
remain unsophisticated by overmuch art-culture will find them full
of character in spite of not a little rudeness of execution, and
will be surprised at coming across such works in a place so remote
from any art-centre as Saas must have been at the time these chapels
were made. It will be my business therefore to throw what light I
can upon the questions how they came to be made at all, and who was
the artist who designed them.

The only documentary evidence consists in a chronicle of the valley
of Saas written in the early years of this century by the Rev. Peter
Jos. Ruppen, and published at Sion in 1851. This work makes
frequent reference to a manuscript by the Rev. Peter Joseph Clemens
Lommatter, cure of Saas-Fee from 1738 to 1751, which has
unfortunately been lost, so that we have no means of knowing how
closely it was adhered to. The Rev. Jos. Ant. Ruppen, the present
excellent cure of Saas-im-Grund, assures me that there is no
reference to the Saas-Fee oratories in the "Actes de l'Eglise" at
Saas, which I understand go a long way back; but I have not seen
these myself. Practically, then, we have no more documentary
evidence than is to be found in the published chronicle above
referred to.

We there find it stated that the large chapel, commonly, but as
above explained, wrongly called St. Joseph's, was built in 1687, and
enlarged by subscription in 1747. These dates appear on the
building itself, and are no doubt accurate. The writer adds that
there was no actual edifice on this site before the one now existing
was built, but there was a miraculous picture of the Virgin placed
in a mural niche, before which the pious herdsmen and devout
inhabitants of the valley worshipped under the vault of heaven. {13}
A miraculous (or miracle-working) picture was always more or less
rare and important; the present site, therefore, seems to have been
long one of peculiar sanctity. Possibly the name Fee may point to
still earlier Pagan mysteries on the same site.

As regards the fifteen small chapels, the writer says they
illustrate the fifteen mysteries of the Psalter, and were built in
1709, each householder of the Saas-Fee contributing one chapel. He
adds that Heinrich Andenmatten, afterwards a brother of the Society
of Jesus, was an especial benefactor or promoter of the undertaking.
One of the chapels, the Ascension (No. 12 of the series), has the
date 1709 painted on it; but there is no date on any other chapel,
and there seems no reason why this should be taken as governing the
whole series.

Over and above this, there exists in Saas a tradition, as I was told
immediately on my arrival, by an English visitor, that the chapels
were built in consequence of a flood, but I have vainly endeavoured
to trace this story to an indigenous source.

The internal evidence of the wooden figures themselves--nothing
analogous to which, it should be remembered, can be found in the
chapel of 1687--points to a much earlier date. I have met with no
school of sculpture belonging to the early part of the eighteenth
century to which they can be plausibly assigned; and the supposition
that they are the work of some unknown local genius who was not led
up to and left no successors may be dismissed, for the work is too
scholarly to have come from any one but a trained sculptor. I refer
of course to those figures which the artist must be supposed to have
executed with his own hand, as, for example, the central figure of
the Crucifixion group and those of the Magdalene and St. John. The
greater number of the figures were probably, as was suggested to me
by Mr. Ranshaw, of Lowth, executed by a local woodcarver from models
in clay and wax furnished by the artist himself. Those who examine
the play of line in the hair, mantle, and sleeve of the Magdalene in
the Crucifixion group, and contrast it with the greater part of the
remaining draperies, will find little hesitation in concluding that
this was the case, and will ere long readily distinguish the two
hands from which the figures have mainly come. I say "mainly,"
because there is at least one other sculptor who may well have
belonged to the year 1709, but who fortunately has left us little.
Examples of his work may perhaps be seen in the nearest villain with
a big hat in the Flagellation chapel, and in two cherubs in the
Assumption of the Virgin.

We may say, then, with some certainty, that the designer was a
cultivated and practised artist. We may also not less certainly
conclude that he was of Flemish origin, for the horses in the
Journey to Calvary and Crucifixion chapels, where alone there are
any horses at all, are of Flemish breed, with no trace of the Arab
blood adopted by Gaudenzio at Varallo. The character, moreover, of
the villains is Northern--of the Quentin Matsys, Martin Schongauer
type, rather than Italian; the same sub-Rubensesque feeling which is
apparent in more than one chapel at Varallo is not less evident
here--especially in the Journey to Calvary and Crucifixion chapels.
There can hardly, therefore, be a doubt that the artist was a
Fleming who had worked for several years in Italy.

It is also evident that he had Tabachetti's work at Varallo well in
his mind. For not only does he adopt certain details of costume (I
refer particularly to the treatment of soldiers' tunics) which are
peculiar to Tabachetti at Varallo, but whenever he treats a subject
which Tabachetti had treated at Varallo, as in the Flagellation,
Crowning with Thorns, and Journey to Calvary chapels, the work at
Saas is evidently nothing but a somewhat modified abridgement of
that at Varallo. When, however, as in the Annunciation, the
Nativity, the Crucifixion, and other chapels, the work at Varallo is
by another than Tabachetti, no allusion is made to it. The Saas
artist has Tabachetti's Varallo work at his finger-ends, but betrays
no acquaintance whatever with Gaudenzio Ferrari, Gio. Ant. Paracca,
or Giovanni D'Enrico.

Even, moreover, when Tabachetti's work at Varallo is being most
obviously drawn from, as in the Journey to Calvary chapel, the Saas
version differs materially from that at Varallo, and is in some
respects an improvement on it. The idea of showing other horsemen
and followers coming up from behind, whose heads can be seen over
the crown of the interposing hill, is singularly effective as
suggesting a number of others that are unseen, nor can I conceive
that any one but the original designer would follow Tabachetti's
Varallo design with as much closeness as it has been followed here,
and yet make such a brilliantly successful modification. The
stumbling, again, of one horse (a detail almost hidden, according to
Tabachetti's wont) is a touch which Tabachetti himself might add,
but which no Saas woodcarver who was merely adapting from a
reminiscence of Tabachetti's Varallo chapel would be likely to
introduce. These considerations have convinced me that the designer
of the chapels at Saas is none other than Tabachetti himself, who,
as has been now conclusively shown, was a native of Dinant, in

The Saas chronicler, indeed, avers that the chapels were not built
till 1709--a statement apparently corroborated by a date now visible
on one chapel; but we must remember that the chronicler did not
write until a century or so later than 1709, and though, indeed, his
statement may have been taken from the lost earlier manuscript of
1738, we know nothing about this either one way or the other. The
writer may have gone by the still existing 1709 on the Ascension
chapel, whereas this date may in fact have referred to a
restoration, and not to an original construction. There is nothing,
as I have said, in the choice of the chapel on which the date
appears, to suggest that it was intended to govern the others. I
have explained that the work is isolated and exotic. It is by one
in whom Flemish and Italian influences are alike equally
predominant; by one who was saturated with Tabachetti's Varallo
work, and who can improve upon it, but over whom the other Varallo
sculptors have no power. The style of the work is of the sixteenth
and not of the eighteenth century--with a few obvious exceptions
that suit the year 1709 exceedingly well. Against such
considerations as these, a statement made at the beginning of this
century referring to a century earlier, and a promiscuous date upon
one chapel, can carry but little weight. I shall assume, therefore,
henceforward, that we have here groups designed in a plastic
material by Tabachetti, and reproduced in wood by the best local
wood-sculptor available, with the exception of a few figures cut by
the artist himself.

We ask, then, at what period in his life did Tabachetti design these
chapels, and what led to his coming to such an out-of-the-way place
as Saas at all? We should remember that, according both to Fassola
and Torrotti (writing in 1671 and 1686 respectively), Tabachetti
{14} became insane about the year 1586 or early in 1587, after
having just begun the Salutation chapel. I have explained in "Ex
Voto" that I do not believe this story. I have no doubt that
Tabachetti was declared to be mad, but I believe this to have been
due to an intrigue, set on foot in order to get a foreign artist out
of the way, and to secure the Massacre of the Innocents chapel, at
that precise time undertaken, for Gio. Ant. Paracca, who was an

Or he may have been sacrificed in order to facilitate the return of
the workers in stucco whom he had superseded on the Sacro Monte. He
may have been goaded into some imprudence which was seized upon as a
pretext for shutting him up; at any rate, the fact that when in 1587
he inherited his father's property at Dinant, his trustee (he being
expressly stated to be "expatrie") was "datif," "dativus," appointed
not by himself but by the court, lends colour to the statement that
he was not his own master at the time; for in later kindred deeds,
now at Namur, he appoints his own trustee. I suppose, then, that
Tabachetti was shut up in a madhouse at Varallo for a considerable
time, during which I can find no trace of him, but that eventually
he escaped or was released.

Whether he was a fugitive, or whether he was let out from prison, he
would in either case, in all reasonable probability, turn his face
homeward. If he was escaping, he would make immediately for the
Savoy frontier, within which Saas then lay. He would cross the
Baranca above Fobello, coming down on to Ponte Grande in the Val
Anzasca. He would go up the Val Anzasca to Macugnaga, and over the
Monte Moro, which would bring him immediately to Saas. Saas,
therefore, is the nearest and most natural place for him to make
for, if he were flying from Varallo, and here I suppose him to have

It so happened that on the 9th of September, 1589, there was one of
the three great outbreaks of the Mattmark See that have from time to
time devastated the valley of Saas. {15} It is probable that the
chapels were decided upon in consequence of some grace shown by the
miraculous picture of the Virgin, which had mitigated a disaster
occurring so soon after the anniversary of her own Nativity.
Tabachetti, arriving at this juncture, may have offered to undertake
them if the Saas people would give him an asylum. Here, at any
rate, I suppose him to have stayed till some time in 1590, probably
the second half of it, his design of eventually returning home, if
he ever entertained it, being then interrupted by a summons to Crea
near Casale, where I believe him to have worked with a few brief
interruptions thenceforward for little if at all short of half a
century, or until about the year 1640. I admit, however, that the
evidence for assigning him so long a life rests solely on the
supposed identity of the figure known as "Il Vecchietto," in the
Varallo Descent from the Cross chapel, with the portrait of
Tabachetti himself in the Ecce Homo chapel, also at Varallo.

I find additional reason for thinking the chapels owe their origin
to the inundation of September 9, 1589, in the fact that the 8th of
September is made a day of pilgrimage to the Saas-Fee chapels
throughout the whole valley of Saas. It is true the 8th of
September is the festival of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, so
that under any circumstances this would be a great day, but the fact
that not only the people of Saas, but the whole valley down to Visp,
flock to this chapel on the 8th of September, points to the belief
that some special act of grace on the part of the Virgin was
vouchsafed on this day in connection with this chapel. A belief
that it was owing to the intervention of St. Mary of Fee that the
inundation was not attended with loss of life would be very likely
to lead to the foundation of a series of chapels leading up to the
place where her miraculous picture was placed, and to the more
special celebration of her Nativity in connection with this spot
throughout the valley of Saas. I have discussed the subject with
the Rev. Jos. Ant. Ruppen, and he told me he thought the fact that
the great fete of the year in connection with the Saas-Fee chapels
was on the 8th of September pointed rather strongly to the
supposition that there was a connection between these and the
recorded flood of September 9, 1589.

Turning to the individual chapels they are as follows:-

1. The Annunciation. The treatment here presents no more analogy
to that of the same subject at Varallo than is inevitable in the
nature of the subject. The Annunciation figures at Varallo have
proved to be mere draped dummies with wooden heads; Tabachetti, even
though he did the heads, which he very likely did, would take no
interest in the Varallo work with the same subject. The
Annunciation, from its very simplicity as well as from the
transcendental nature of the subject, is singularly hard to treat,
and the work here, whatever it may once have been, is now no longer

2. The Salutation of Mary by Elizabeth. This group, again, bears
no analogy to the Salutation chapel at Varallo, in which
Tabachetti's share was so small that it cannot be considered as in
any way his. It is not to be expected, therefore, that the Saas
chapel should follow the Varallo one. The figures, four in number,
are pleasing and well arranged. St. Joseph, St. Elizabeth, and St.
Zacharias are all talking at once. The Virgin is alone silent.

3. The Nativity is much damaged and hard to see. The treatment
bears no analogy to that adopted by Gaudenzio Ferrari at Varallo.
There is one pleasing young shepherd standing against the wall, but
some figures have no doubt (as in others of the chapels)
disappeared, and those that remain have been so shifted from their
original positions that very little idea can be formed of what the
group was like when Tabachetti left it.

4. The Purification. I can hardly say why this chapel should
remind me, as it does, of the Circumcision chapel at Varallo, for
there are more figures here than space at Varallo will allow. It
cannot be pretended that any single figure is of extraordinary
merit, but amongst them they tell their story with excellent effect.
Two, those of St. Joseph and St. Anna (?), that doubtless were once
more important factors in the drama, are now so much in corners near
the window that they can hardly be seen.

5. The Dispute in the Temple. This subject is not treated at
Varallo. Here at Saas there are only six doctors now; whether or no
there were originally more cannot be determined.

6. The Agony in the Garden. Tabachetti had no chapel with this
subject at Varallo, and there is no resemblance between the Saas
chapel and that by D'Enrico. The figures are no doubt approximately
in their original positions, but I have no confidence that I have
rearranged them correctly. They were in such confusion when I first
saw them that the Rev. E. J. Selwyn and myself determined to
rearrange them. They have doubtless been shifted more than once
since Tabachetti left them. The sleeping figures are all good. St.
James is perhaps a little prosaic. One Roman soldier who is coming
into the garden with a lantern, and motioning silence with his hand,
does duty for the others that are to follow him. I should think
more than one of these figures is actually carved in wood by
Tabachetti, allowance being made for the fact that he was working in
a material with which he was not familiar, and which no sculptor of
the highest rank has ever found congenial.

7. The Flagellation. Tabachetti has a chapel with this subject at
Varallo, and the Saas group is obviously a descent with modification
from his work there. The figure of Christ is so like the one at
Varallo that I think it must have been carved by Tabachetti himself.
The man with the hooked nose, who at Varallo is stooping to bind his
rods, is here upright: it was probably the intention to emphasise
him in the succeeding scenes as well as this, in the same way as he
has been emphasised at Varallo, but his nose got pared down in the
cutting of later scenes, and could not easily be added to. The man
binding Christ to the column at Varallo is repeated (longo
intervallo) here, and the whole work is one inspired by that at
Varallo, though no single figure except that of the Christ is
adhered to with any very great closeness. I think the nearer
malefactor, with a goitre, and wearing a large black hat, is either
an addition of the year 1709, or was done by the journeyman of the
local sculptor who carved the greater number of the figures. The
man stooping down to bind his rods can hardly be by the same hand as
either of the two black-hatted malefactors, but it is impossible to
speak with certainty. The general effect of the chapel is
excellent, if we consider the material in which it is executed, and
the rudeness of the audience to whom it addresses itself.

8. The Crowning with Thorns. Here again the inspiration is derived
from Tabachetti's Crowning with Thorns at Varallo. The Christs in
the two chapels are strikingly alike, and the general effect is that
of a residuary impression left in the mind of one who had known the
Varallo Flagellation exceedingly well.

9. Sta. Veronica. This and the next succeeding chapels are the
most important of the series. Tabachetti's Journey to Calvary at
Varallo is again the source from which the present work was taken,
but, as I have already said, it has been modified in reproduction.
Mount Calvary is still shown, as at Varallo, towards the left-hand
corner of the work, but at Saas it is more towards the middle than
at Varallo, so that horsemen and soldiers may be seen coming up
behind it--a stroke that deserves the name of genius none the less
for the manifest imperfection with which it has been carried into
execution. There are only three horses fully shown, and one partly
shown. They are all of the heavy Flemish type adopted by Tabachetti
at Varallo. The man kicking the fallen Christ and the goitred man
(with the same teeth missing), who are so conspicuous in the Varallo
Journey to Calvary, reappear here, only the kicking man has much
less nose than at Varallo, probably because (as explained) the nose
got whittled away and could not be whittled back again. I observe
that the kind of lapelled tunic which Tabachetti, and only
Tabachetti, adopts at Varallo, is adopted for the centurion in this
chapel, and indeed throughout the Saas chapels this particular form
of tunic is the most usual for a Roman soldier. The work is still a
very striking one, notwithstanding its translation into wood and the
decay into which it has been allowed to fall; nor can it fail to
impress the visitor who is familiar with this class of art as coming
from a man of extraordinary dramatic power and command over the
almost impossible art of composing many figures together effectively
in all-round sculpture. Whether all the figures are even now as
Tabachetti left them I cannot determine, but Mr. Selwyn has restored
Simon the Cyrenian to the position in which he obviously ought to
stand, and between us we have got the chapel into something more
like order.

10. The Crucifixion. This subject was treated at Varallo not by
Tabachetti but by Gaudenzio Ferrari. It confirms therefore my
opinion as to the designer of the Saas chapels to find in them no
trace of the Varallo Crucifixion, while the kind of tunic which at
Varallo is only found in chapels wherein Tabachetti worked again
appears here. The work is in a deplorable state of decay. Mr.
Selwyn has greatly improved the arrangement of the figures, but even
now they are not, I imagine, quite as Tabachetti left them. The
figure of Christ is greatly better in technical execution than that
of either of the two thieves; the folds of the drapery alone will
show this even to an unpractised eye. I do not think there can be a
doubt but that Tabachetti cut this figure himself, as also those of
the Magdalene and St. John, who stand at the foot of the cross. The
thieves are coarsely executed, with no very obvious distinction
between the penitent and the impenitent one, except that there is a
fiend painted on the ceiling over the impenitent thief. The one
horse introduced into the composition is again of the heavy Flemish
type adopted by Tabachetti at Varallo. There is great difference in
the care with which the folds on the several draperies have been
cut, some being stiff and poor enough, while others are done very
sufficiently. In spite of smallness of scale, ignoble material,
disarrangement and decay, the work is still striking.

11. The Resurrection. There being no chapel at Varallo with any of
the remaining subjects treated at Saas, the sculptor has struck out
a line for himself. The Christ in the Resurrection Chapel is a
carefully modelled figure, and if better painted might not be
ineffective. Three soldiers, one sleeping, alone remain. There
were probably other figures that have been lost. The sleeping
soldier is very pleasing.

12. The Ascension is not remarkably interesting; the Christ appears
to be, but perhaps is not, a much more modern figure than the rest.

18. The Descent of the Holy Ghost. Some of the figures along the
end wall are very good, and were, I should imagine, cut by
Tabachetti himself. Those against the two side walls are not so
well cut.

14. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The two large cherubs here
are obviously by a later hand, and the small ones are not good. The
figure of the Virgin herself is unexceptionable. There were
doubtless once other figures of the Apostles which have disappeared;
of these a single St. Peter (?), so hidden away in a corner near the
window that it can only be seen with difficulty, is the sole

15. The Coronation of the Virgin is of later date, and has probably
superseded an earlier work. It can hardly be by the designer of the
other chapels of the series. Perhaps Tabachetti had to leave for
Crea before all the chapels at Saas were finished.

Lastly, we have the larger chapel dedicated to St. Mary, which
crowns the series. Here there is nothing of more than common
artistic interest, unless we except the stone altar mentioned in
Ruppen's chronicle. This is of course classical in style, and is, I
should think, very good.

Once more I must caution the reader against expecting to find
highly-finished gems of art in the chapels I have been describing.
A wooden figure not more than two feet high clogged with many coats
of paint can hardly claim to be taken very seriously, and even those
few that were cut by Tabachetti himself were not meant to have
attention concentrated on themselves alone. As mere wood-carving
the Saas-Fee chapels will not stand comparison, for example, with
the triptych of unknown authorship in the Church of St. Anne at
Gliss, close to Brieg. But, in the first place, the work at Gliss
is worthy of Holbein himself: I know no wood-carving that can so
rivet the attention; moreover it is coloured with water-colour and
not oil, so that it is tinted, not painted; and, in the second
place, the Gliss triptych belongs to a date (1519) when artists held
neither time nor impressionism as objects, and hence, though greatly
better than the Saas-Fee chapels as regards a certain Japanese
curiousness of finish and naivete of literal transcription, it
cannot even enter the lists with the Saas work as regards elan and
dramatic effectiveness. The difference between the two classes of
work is much that between, say, John Van Eyck or Memling and Rubens
or Rembrandt, or, again, between Giovanni Bellini and Tintoretto;
the aims of the one class of work are incompatible with those of the
other. Moreover, in the Gliss triptych the intention of the
designer is carried out (whether by himself or no) with admirable
skill; whereas at Saas the wisdom of the workman is rather of Ober-
Ammergau than of the Egyptians, and the voice of the poet is not a
little drowned in that of his mouthpiece. If, however, the reader
will bear in mind these somewhat obvious considerations, and will
also remember the pathetic circumstances under which the chapels
were designed--for Tabachetti when he reached Saas was no doubt
shattered in body and mind by his four years' imprisonment--he will
probably be not less attracted to them than I observed were many of
the visitors both at Saas-Grund and Saas-Fee with whom I had the
pleasure of examining them.

I will now run briefly through the other principal works in the
neighbourhood to which I think the reader would be glad to have his
attention directed.

At Saas-Fee itself the main altar-piece is without interest, as also
one with a figure of St. Sebastian. The Virgin and Child above the
remaining altar are, so far as I remember them, very good, and
greatly superior to the smaller figures of the same altar-piece.

At Almagel, an hour's walk or so above Saas-Grund--a village, the
name of which, like those of the Alphubel, the Monte Moro, and more
than one other neighbouring site, is supposed to be of Saracenic
origin--the main altar-piece represents a female saint with folded
arms being beheaded by a vigorous man to the left. These two
figures are very good. There are two somewhat inferior elders to
the right, and the composition is crowned by the Assumption of the
Virgin. I like the work, but have no idea who did it. Two bishops
flanking the composition are not so good. There are two other
altars in the church: the right-hand one has some pleasing figures,
not so the left-hand.

In St. Joseph's Chapel, on the mule-road between Saas-Grund and
Saas-Fee, the St. Joseph and the two children are rather nice. In
the churches and chapels which I looked into between Saas and
Stalden, I saw many florid extravagant altar-pieces, but nothing
that impressed me favourably.

In the parish church at Saas-Grund there are two altar-pieces which
deserve attention. In the one over the main altar the arrangement
of the Last Supper in a deep recess half-way up the composition is
very pleasing and effective; in that above the right-hand altar of
the two that stand in the body of the church there are a number of
round lunettes, about eight inches in diameter, each containing a
small but spirited group of wooden figures. I have lost my notes on
these altar-pieces and can only remember that the main one has been
restored, and now belongs to two different dates, the earlier date
being, I should imagine, about 1670. A similar treatment of the
Last Supper may be found near Brieg in the church of Naters, and no
doubt the two altar-pieces are by the same man. There are, by the
way, two very ambitious altars on either side the main arch leading
to the chance in the church at Naters, of which the one on the south
side contains obvious reminiscences of Gaudenzio Ferrari's Sta.
Maria frescoes at Varallo; but none of the four altar-pieces in the
two transepts tempted me to give them much attention. As regards
the smaller altar-piece at Saas-Grund, analogous work may be found
at Cravagliana, half-way between Varallo and Fobello, but this last
has suffered through the inveterate habit which Italians have of
showing their hatred towards the enemies of Christ by mutilating the
figures that represent them. Whether the Saas work is by a
Valsesian artist who came over to Switzerland, or whether the
Cravagliana work is by a Swiss who had come to Italy, I cannot say
without further consideration and closer examination than I have
been able to give. The altar-pieces of Mairengo, Chiggiogna, and, I
am told, Lavertezzo, all in the Canton Ticino, are by a Swiss or
German artist who has migrated southward; but the reverse migration
was equally common.

Being in the neighbourhood, and wishing to assure myself whether the
sculptor of the Saas-Fee chapels had or had not come lower down the
valley, I examined every church and village which I could hear of as
containing anything that might throw light on this point. I was
thus led to Vispertimenen, a village some three hours above either
Visp or Stalden. It stands very high, and is an almost untouched
example of a medieval village. The altar-piece of the main church
is even more floridly ambitious in its abundance of carving and
gilding than the many other ambitious altar-pieces with which the
Canton Valais abounds. The Apostles are receiving the Holy Ghost on
the first storey of the composition, and they certainly are
receiving it with an overjoyed alacrity and hilarious ecstasy of
allegria spirituale which it would not be easy to surpass. Above
the village, reaching almost to the limits beyond which there is no
cultivation, there stands a series of chapels like those I have been
describing at Saas-Fee, only much larger and more ambitious. They
are twelve in number, including the church that crowns the series.
The figures they contain are of wood (so I was assured, but I did
not go inside the chapels): they are life-size, and in some chapels
there are as many as a dozen figures. I should think they belonged
to the later half of the last century, and here, one would say,
sculpture touches the ground; at least, it is not easy to see how
cheap exaggeration can sink an art more deeply. The only things
that at all pleased me were a smiling donkey and an ecstatic cow in
the Nativity chapel. Those who are not allured by the prospect of
seeing perhaps the very worst that can be done in its own line, need
not be at the pains of climbing up to Vispertimenen. Those, on the
other hand, who may find this sufficient inducement will not be
disappointed, and they will enjoy magnificent views of the Weisshorn
and the mountains near the Dom.

I have already referred to the triptych at Gliss. This is figured
in Wolf's work on Chamonix and the Canton Valais, but a larger and
clearer reproduction of such an extraordinary work is greatly to be
desired. The small wooden statues above the triptych, as also those
above its modern companion in the south transept, are not less
admirable than the triptych itself. I know of no other like work in
wood, and have no clue whatever as to who the author can have been
beyond the fact that the work is purely German and eminently
Holbeinesque in character.

I was told of some chapels at Rarogne, five or six miles lower down
the valley than Visp. I examined them, and found they had been
stripped of their figures. The few that remained satisfied me that
we have had no loss. Above Brieg there are two other like series of
chapels. I examined the higher and more promising of the two, but
found not one single figure left. I was told by my driver that the
other series, close to the Pont Napoleon on the Simplon road, had
been also stripped of its figures, and, there being a heavy storm at
the time, have taken his word for it that this was so.


Three well-known writers, Professor Max Muller, Professor Mivart,
and Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace have lately maintained that though the
theory of descent with modification accounts for the development of
all vegetable life, and of all animals lower than man, yet that man
cannot--not at least in respect of the whole of his nature--be held
to have descended from any animal lower than himself, inasmuch as
none lower than man possesses even the germs of language. Reason,
it is contended--more especially by Professor Max Muller in his
"Science of Thought," to which I propose confining our attention
this evening--is so inseparably connected with language, that the
two are in point of fact identical; hence it is argued that, as the
lower animals have no germs of language, they can have no germs of
reason, and the inference is drawn that man cannot be conceived as
having derived his own reasoning powers and command of language
through descent from beings in which no germ of either can be found.
The relations therefore between thought and language, interesting in
themselves, acquire additional importance from the fact of their
having become the battle-ground between those who say that the
theory of descent breaks down with man, and those who maintain that
we are descended from some ape-like ancestor long since extinct.

The contention of those who refuse to admit man unreservedly into
the scheme of evolution is comparatively recent. The great
propounders of evolution, Buffon, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck--not to
mention a score of others who wrote at the close of the last and
early part of this present century--had no qualms about admitting
man into their system. They have been followed in this respect by
the late Mr. Charles Darwin, and by the greatly more influential
part of our modern biologists, who hold that whatever loss of
dignity we may incur through being proved to be of humble origin, is
compensated by the credit we may claim for having advanced ourselves
to such a high pitch of civilisation; this bids us expect still
further progress, and glorifies our descendants more than it abases
our ancestors. But to whichever view we may incline on sentimental
grounds the fact remains that, while Charles Darwin declared
language to form no impassable barrier between man and the lower
animals, Professor Max Muller calls it the Rubicon which no brute
dare cross, and deduces hence the conclusion that man cannot have
descended from an unknown but certainly speechless ape.

It may perhaps be expected that I should begin a lecture on the
relations between thought and language with some definition of both
these things; but thought, as Sir William Grove said of motion, is a
phenomenon "so obvious to simple apprehension, that to define it
would make it more obscure." {17} Definitions are useful where
things are new to us, but they are superfluous about those that are
already familiar, and mischievous, so far as they are possible at
all, in respect of all those things that enter so profoundly and
intimately into our being that in them we must either live or bear
no life. To vivisect the more vital processes of thought is to
suspend, if not to destroy them; for thought can think about
everything more healthily and easily than about itself. It is like
its instrument the brain, which knows nothing of any injuries
inflicted upon itself. As regards what is new to us, a definition
will sometimes dilute a difficulty, and help us to swallow that
which might choke us undiluted; but to define when we have once well
swallowed is to unsettle, rather than settle, our digestion.
Definitions, again, are like steps cut in a steep slope of ice, or
shells thrown on to a greasy pavement; they give us foothold, and
enable us to advance, but when we are at our journey's end we want
them no longer. Again, they are useful as mental fluxes, and as
helping us to fuse new ideas with our older ones. They present us
with some tags and ends of ideas that we have already mastered, on
to which we can hitch our new ones; but to multiply them in respect
of such a matter as thought, is like scratching the bite of a gnat;
the more we scratch the more we want to scratch; the more we define
the more we shall have to go on defining the words we have used in
our definitions, and shall end by setting up a serious mental raw in
the place of a small uneasiness that was after all quite endurable.
We know too well what thought is, to be able to know that we know
it, and I am persuaded there is no one in this room but understands
what is meant by thought and thinking well enough for all the
purposes of this discussion. Whoever does not know this without
words will not learn it for all the words and definitions that are
laid before him. The more, indeed, he hears, the more confused he
will become. I shall, therefore, merely premise that I use the word
"thought" in the same sense as that in which it is generally used by
people who say that they think this or that. At any rate, it will
be enough if I take Professor Max Muller's own definition, and say
that its essence consists in a bringing together of mental images
and ideas with deductions therefrom, and with a corresponding power
of detaching them from one another. Hobbes, the Professor tells us,
maintained this long ago, when he said that all our thinking
consists of addition and subtraction--that is to say, in bringing
ideas together, and in detaching them from one another.

Turning from thought to language, we observe that the word is
derived from the French langue, or tongue. Strictly, therefore, it
means tonguage. This, however, takes account of but a very small
part of the ideas that underlie the word. It does, indeed, seize a
familiar and important detail of everyday speech, though it may be
doubted whether the tongue has more to do with speaking than lips,
teeth and throat have, but it makes no attempt at grasping and
expressing the essential characteristic of speech. Anything done
with the tongue, even though it involve no speaking at all, is
tonguage; eating oranges is as much tonguage as speech is. The
word, therefore, though it tells us in part how speech is effected,
reveals nothing of that ulterior meaning which is nevertheless
inseparable from any right use of the words either "speech" or
"language." It presents us with what is indeed a very frequent
adjunct of conversation, but the use of written characters, or the
finger-speech of deaf mutes, is enough to show that the word
"language" omits all reference to the most essential characteristics
of the idea, which in practice it nevertheless very sufficiently
presents to us. I hope presently to make it clear to you how and
why it should do so. The word is incomplete in the first place,
because it omits all reference to the ideas which words, speech or
language are intended to convey, and there can be no true word
without its actually or potentially conveying an idea. Secondly, it
makes no allusion to the person or persons to whom the ideas are to
be conveyed. Language is not language unless it not only expresses
fairly definite and coherent ideas, but unless it also conveys these
ideas to some other living intelligent being, either man or brute,
that can understand them. We may speak to a dog or horse, but not
to a stone. If we make pretence of doing so we are in reality only
talking to ourselves. The person or animal spoken to is half the
battle--a half, moreover, which is essential to there being any
battle at all. It takes two people to say a thing--a sayee as well
as a sayer. The one is as essential to any true saying as the
other. A. may have spoken, but if B. has not heard, there has been
nothing said, and he must speak again. True, the belief on A.'s
part that he had a bona fide sayee in B., saves his speech qua him,
but it has been barren and left no fertile issue. It has failed to
fulfil the conditions of true speech, which involve not only that A.
should speak, but also that B. should hear. True, again, we often
speak of loose, incoherent, indefinite language; but by doing so we
imply, and rightly, that we are calling that language which is not
true language at all. People, again, sometimes talk to themselves
without intending that any other person should hear them, but this
is not well done, and does harm to those who practise it. It is
abnormal, whereas our concern is with normal and essential
characteristics; we may, therefore, neglect both delirious
babblings, and the cases in which a person is regarding him or
herself, as it were, from outside, and treating himself as though he
were some one else.

Inquiring, then, what are the essentials, the presence of which
constitutes language, while their absence negatives it altogether,
we find that Professor Max Muller restricts them to the use of
grammatical articulate words that we can write or speak, and denies
that anything can be called language unless it can be written or
spoken in articulate words and sentences. He also denies that we
can think at all unless we do so in words; that is to say, in
sentences with verbs and nouns. Indeed he goes so far as to say
upon his title-page that there can be no reason--which I imagine
comes to much the same thing as thought--without language, and no
language without reason.

Against the assertion that there can be no true language without
reason I have nothing to say. But when the Professor says that
there can be no reason, or thought, without language, his opponents
contend, as it seems to me, with greater force, that thought, though
infinitely aided, extended and rendered definite through the
invention of words, nevertheless existed so fully as to deserve no
other name thousands, if not millions of years before words had
entered into it at all. Words, they say, are a comparatively recent
invention, for the fuller expression of something that was already
in existence.

Children, they urge, are often evidently thinking and reasoning,
though they can neither think nor speak in words. If you ask me to
define reason, I answer as before that this can no more be done than
thought, truth or motion can be defined. Who has answered the
question, "What is truth?" Man cannot see God and live. We cannot
go so far back upon ourselves as to undermine our own foundations;
if we try to do we topple over, and lose that very reason about
which we vainly try to reason. If we let the foundations be, we
know well enough that they are there, and we can build upon them in
all security. We cannot, then, define reason nor crib, cabin and
confine it within a thus-far-shalt-thou-go-and-no-further. Who can
define heat or cold, or night or day? Yet, so long as we hold fast
by current consent, our chances of error for want of better
definition are so small that no sensible person will consider them.
In like manner, if we hold by current consent or common sense, which
is the same thing, about reason, we shall not find the want of an
academic definition hinder us from a reasonable conclusion. What
nurse or mother will doubt that her infant child can reason within
the limits of its own experience, long before it can formulate its
reason in articulately worded thought? If the development of any
given animal is, as our opponents themselves admit, an epitome of
the history of its whole anterior development, surely the fact that
speech is an accomplishment acquired after birth so artificially
that children who have gone wild in the woods lose it if they have
ever learned it, points to the conclusion that man's ancestors only
learned to express themselves in articulate language at a
comparatively recent period. Granted that they learn to think and
reason continually the more and more fully for having done so, will
common sense permit us to suppose that they could neither think nor
reason at all till they could convey their ideas in words?

I will return later to the reason of the lower animals, but will now
deal with the question what it is that constitutes language in the
most comprehensive sense that can be properly attached to it. I
have said already that language to be language at all must not only
convey fairly definite coherent ideas, but must also convey them to
another living being. Whenever two living beings have conveyed and
received ideas, there has been language, whether looks or gestures
or words spoken or written have been the vehicle by means of which
the ideas have travelled. Some ideas crawl, some run, some fly; and
in this case words are the wings they fly with, but they are only
the wings of thought or of ideas, they are not the thought or ideas
themselves, nor yet, as Professor Max Muller would have it,
inseparably connected with them. Last summer I was at an inn in
Sicily, where there was a deaf and dumb waiter; he had been born so,
and could neither write nor read. What had he to do with words or
words with him? Are we to say, then, that this most active, amiable
and intelligent fellow could neither think nor reason? One day I
had had my dinner and had left the hotel. A friend came in, and the
waiter saw him look for me in the place I generally occupied. He
instantly came up to my friend, and moved his two forefingers in a
way that suggested two people going about together, this meant "your
friend"; he then moved his forefingers horizontally across his eyes,
this meant, "who wears divided spectacles"; he made two fierce marks
over the sockets of his eyes, this meant, "with the heavy eyebrows";
he pulled his chin, and then touched his white shirt, to say that my
beard was white. Having thus identified me as a friend of the
person he was speaking to, and as having a white beard, heavy
eyebrows, and wearing divided spectacles, he made a munching
movement with his jaws to say that I had had my dinner; and finally,
by making two fingers imitate walking on the table, he explained
that I had gone away. My friend, however, wanted to know how long I
had been gone, so he pulled out his watch and looked inquiringly.
The man at once slapped himself on the back, and held up the five
fingers of one hand, to say it was five minutes ago. All this was
done as rapidly as though it had been said in words; and my friend,
who knew the man well, understood without a moment's hesitation.
Are we to say that this man had no thought, nor reason, nor
language, merely because he had not a single word of any kind in his
head, which I am assured he had not; for, as I have said, he could
not speak with his fingers? Is it possible to deny that a dialogue-
-an intelligent conversation--had passed between the two men? And
if conversation, then surely it is technical and pedantic to deny
that all the essential elements of language were present. The signs
and tokens used by this poor fellow were as rude an instrument of
expression, in comparison with ordinary language, as going on one's
hands and knees is in comparison with walking, or as walking
compared with going by train; but it is as great an abuse of words
to limit the word "language" to mere words written or spoken, as it
would be to limit the idea of a locomotive to a railway engine.
This may indeed pass in ordinary conversation, where so much must be
suppressed if talk is to be got through at all, but it is
intolerable when we are inquiring about the relations between
thought and words. To do so is to let words become as it were the
masters of thought, on the ground that the fact of their being only
its servants and appendages is so obvious that it is generally
allowed to go without saying.

If all that Professor Max Muller means to say is, that no animal but
man commands an articulate language, with verbs and nouns, or is
ever likely to command one (and I question whether in reality he
means much more than this), no one will differ from him. No dog or
elephant has one word for bread, another for meat, and another for
water. Yet, when we watch a cat or dog dreaming, as they often
evidently do, can we doubt that the dream is accompanied by a mental
image of the thing that is dreamed of, much like what we experience
in dreams ourselves, and much doubtless like the mental images which
must have passed through the mind of my deaf and dumb waiter? If
they have mental images in sleep, can we doubt that waking, also,
they picture things before their mind's eyes, and see them much as
we do--too vaguely indeed to admit of our thinking that we actually
see the objects themselves, but definitely enough for us to be able
to recognise the idea or object of which we are thinking, and to
connect it with any other idea, object, or sign that we may think

Here we have touched on the second essential element of language.
We laid it down, that its essence lay in the communication of an
idea from one intelligent being to another; but no ideas can be
communicated at all except by the aid of conventions to which both
parties have agreed to attach an identical meaning. The agreement
may be very informal, and may pass so unconsciously from one
generation to another that its existence can only be recognised by
the aid of much introspection, but it will be always there. A
sayer, a sayee, and a convention, no matter what, agreed upon
between them as inseparably attached to the idea which it is
intended to convey--these comprise all the essentials of language.
Where these are present there is language; where any of them are
wanting there is no language. It is not necessary for the sayee to
be able to speak and become a sayer. If he comprehends the sayer--
that is to say, if he attaches the same meaning to a certain symbol
as the sayer does--if he is a party to the bargain whereby it is
agreed upon by both that any given symbol shall be attached
invariably to a certain idea, so that in virtue of the principle of
associated ideas the symbol shall never be present without
immediately carrying the idea along with it, then all the essentials
of language are complied with, and there has been true speech though
never a word was spoken.

The lower animals, therefore, many of them, possess a part of our
own language, though they cannot speak it, and hence do not possess
it so fully as we do. They cannot say "bread," "meat," or "water,"
but there are many that readily learn what ideas they ought to
attach to these symbols when they are presented to them. It is idle
to say that a cat does not know what the cat's-meat man means when
he says "meat." The cat knows just as well, neither better nor
worse than the cat's-meat man does, and a great deal better than I
myself understand much that is said by some very clever people at
Oxford or Cambridge. There is more true employment of language,
more bona fide currency of speech, between a sayer and a sayee who
understand each other, though neither of them can speak a word, than
between a sayer who can speak with the tongues of men and of angels
without being clear about his own meaning, and a sayee who can
himself utter the same words, but who is only in imperfect agreement
with the sayer as to the ideas which the words or symbols that he
utters are intended to convey. The nature of the symbols counts for
nothing; the gist of the matter is in the perfect harmony between
sayer and sayee as to the significance that is to be associated with

Professor Max Muller admits that we share with the lower animals
what he calls an emotional language, and continues that we may call
their interjections and imitations language if we like, as we speak
of the language of the eyes or the eloquence of mute nature, but he
warns us against mistaking metaphor for fact. It is indeed mere
metaphor to talk of the eloquence of mute nature, or the language of
winds and waves. There is no intercommunion of mind with mind by
means of a covenanted symbol; but it is only an apparent, not a
real, metaphor to say that two pairs of eyes have spoken when they
have signalled to one another something which they both understand.
A schoolboy at home for the holidays wants another plate of pudding,
and does not like to apply officially for more. He catches the
servant's eye and looks at the pudding; the servant understands,
takes his plate without a word, and gets him some. Is it metaphor
to say that the boy asked the servant to do this, or is it not
rather pedantry to insist on the letter of a bond and deny its
spirit, by denying that language passed, on the ground that the
symbols covenanted upon and assented to by both were uttered and
received by eyes and not by mouth and ears? When the lady drank to
the gentleman only with her eyes, and he pledged with his, was there
no conversation because there was neither noun nor verb? Eyes are
verbs, and glasses of wine are good nouns enough as between those
who understand one another. Whether the ideas underlying them are
expressed and conveyed by eyeage or by tonguage is a detail that
matters nothing.

But everything we say is metaphorical if we choose to be captious.
Scratch the simplest expressions, and you will find the metaphor.
Written words are handage, inkage and paperage; it is only by
metaphor, or substitution and transposition of ideas, that we can
call them language. They are indeed potential language, and the
symbols employed presuppose nouns, verbs, and the other parts of
speech; but for the most part it is in what we read between the
lines that the profounder meaning of any letter is conveyed. There
are words unwritten and untranslatable into any nouns that are
nevertheless felt as above, about and underneath the gross material
symbols that lie scrawled upon the paper; and the deeper the feeling
with which anything is written the more pregnant will it be of
meaning which can be conveyed securely enough, but which loses
rather than gains if it is squeezed into a sentence, and limited by
the parts of speech. The language is not in the words but in the
heart-to-heartness of the thing, which is helped by words, but is
nearer and farther than they. A correspondent wrote to me once,
many years ago, "If I could think to you without words you would
understand me better." But surely in this he was thinking to me,
and without words, and I did understand him better . . . So it is
not by the words that I am too presumptuously venturing to speak to-
night that your opinions will be formed or modified. They will be
formed or modified, if either, by something that you will feel, but
which I have not spoken, to the full as much as by anything that I
have actually uttered. You may say that this borders on mysticism.
Perhaps it does, but their really is some mysticism in nature.

To return, however, to terra firma. I believe I am right in saying
that the essence of language lies in the intentional conveyance of
ideas from one living being to another through the instrumentality
of arbitrary tokens or symbols agreed upon, and understood by both
as being associated with the particular ideas in question. The
nature of the symbol chosen is a matter of indifference; it may be
anything that appeals to human senses, and is not too hot or too
heavy; the essence of the matter lies in a mutual covenant that
whatever it is it shall stand invariably for the same thing, or
nearly so.

We shall see this more easily if we observe the differences between
written and spoken language. The written word "stone," and the
spoken word, are each of them symbols arrived at in the first
instance arbitrarily. They are neither of them more like the other
than they are to the idea of a stone which rises before our minds,
when we either see or hear the word, or than this idea again is like
the actual stone itself, but nevertheless the spoken symbol and the
written one each alike convey with certainty the combination of
ideas to which we have agreed to attach them.

The written symbol is formed with the hand, appeals to the eye,
leaves a material trace as long as paper and ink last, can travel as
far as paper and ink can travel, and can be imprinted on eye after
eye practically ad infinitum both as regards time and space.

The spoken symbol is formed by means of various organs in or about
the mouth, appeals to the ear, not the eye, perishes instantly
without material trace, and if it lives at all does so only in the
minds of those who heard it. The range of its action is no wider
than that within which a voice can be heard; and every time a fresh
impression is wanted the type must be set up anew.

The written symbol extends infinitely, as regards time and space,
the range within which one mind can communicate with another; it
gives the writer's mind a life limited by the duration of ink,
paper, and readers, as against that of his flesh and blood body. On
the other hand, it takes longer to learn the rules so as to be able
to apply them with ease and security, and even then they cannot be
applied so quickly and easily as those attaching to spoken symbols.
Moreover, the spoken symbol admits of a hundred quick and subtle
adjuncts by way of action, tone and expression, so that no one will
use written symbols unless either for the special advantages of
permanence and travelling power, or because he is incapacitated from
using spoken ones. This, however, is hardly to the point; the point
is that these two conventional combinations of symbols, that are as
unlike one another as the Hallelujah Chorus is to St. Paul's
Cathedral, are the one as much language as the other; and we
therefore inquire what this very patent fact reveals to us about the
more essential characteristics of language itself. What is the
common bond that unites these two classes of symbols that seem at
first sight to have nothing in common, and makes the one raise the
idea of language in our minds as readily as the other? The bond
lies in the fact that both are a set of conventional tokens or
symbols, agreed upon between the parties to whom they appeal as
being attached invariably to the same ideas, and because they are
being made as a means of communion between one mind and another,--
for a memorandum made for a person's own later use is nothing but a
communication from an earlier mind to a later and modified one; it
is therefore in reality a communication from one mind to another as
much as though it had been addressed to another person.

We see, therefore, that the nature of the outward and visible sign
to which the inward and spiritual idea of language is attached does
not matter. It may be the firing of a gun; it may be an old
semaphore telegraph; it may be the movements of a needle; a look, a
gesture, the breaking of a twig by an Indian to tell some one that
he has passed that way: a twig broken designedly with this end in
view is a letter addressed to whomsoever it may concern, as much as
though it had been written out in full on bark or paper. It does
not matter one straw what it is, provided it is agreed upon in
concert, and stuck to. Just as the lowest forms of life
nevertheless present us with all the essential characteristics of
livingness, and are as much alive in their own humble way as the
most highly developed organisms, so the rudest intentional and
effectual communication between two minds through the
instrumentality of a concerted symbol is as much language as the
most finished oratory of Mr. Gladstone. I demur therefore to the
assertion that the lower animals have no language, inasmuch as they
cannot themselves articulate a grammatical sentence. I do not
indeed pretend that when the cat calls upon the tiles it uses what
it consciously and introspectively recognises as language; it says
what it has to say without introspection, and in the ordinary course
of business, as one of the common forms of courtship. It no more
knows that it has been using language than M. Jourdain knew he had
been speaking prose, but M. Jourdain's knowing or not knowing was
neither here nor there.

Anything which can be made to hitch on invariably to a definite idea
that can carry some distance--say an inch at the least, and which
can be repeated at pleasure, can be pressed into the service of
language. Mrs. Bentley, wife of the famous Dr. Bentley of Trinity
College, Cambridge, used to send her snuff-box to the college
buttery when she wanted beer, instead of a written order. If the
snuff-box came the beer was sent, but if there was no snuff-box
there was no beer. Wherein did the snuff-box differ more from a
written order, than a written order differs from a spoken one? The
snuff-box was for the time being language. It sounds strange to say
that one might take a pinch of snuff out of a sentence, but if the
servant had helped him or herself to a pinch while carrying it to
the buttery this is what would have been done; for if a snuff-box
can say "Send me a quart of beer," so efficiently that the beer is
sent, it is impossible to say that it is not a bona fide sentence.
As for the recipient of the message, the butler did not probably
translate the snuff-box into articulate nouns and verbs; as soon as
he saw it he just went down into the cellar and drew the beer, and
if he thought at all, it was probably about something else. Yet he
must have been thinking without words, or he would have drawn too
much beer or too little, or have spilt it in the bringing it up, and
we may be sure that he did none of these things.

You will, of course, observe that if Mrs. Bentley had sent the
snuff-box to the buttery of St. John's College instead of Trinity,
it would not have been language, for there would have been no
covenant between sayer and sayee as to what the symbol should
represent, there would have been no previously established
association of ideas in the mind of the butler of St. John's between
beer and snuff-box; the connection was artificial, arbitrary, and by
no means one of those in respect of which an impromptu bargain might
be proposed by the very symbol itself, and assented to without
previous formality by the person to whom it was presented. More
briefly, the butler of St. John's would not have been able to
understand and read it aright. It would have been a dead letter to
him--a snuff-box and not a letter; whereas to the butler of Trinity
it was a letter and not a snuff-box.

You will also note that it was only at the moment when he was
looking at it and accepting it as a message that it flashed forth
from snuff-box-hood into the light and life of living utterance. As
soon as it had kindled the butler into sending a single quart of
beer, its force was spent until Mrs. Bentley threw her soul into it
again and charged it anew by wanting more beer, and sending it down

Again, take the ring which the Earl of Essex sent to Queen
Elizabeth, but which the queen did not receive. This was intended
as a sentence, but failed to become effectual language because the
sensible material symbol never reached those sentient organs which
it was intended to affect. A book, again, however full of excellent
words it may be, is not language when it is merely standing on a
bookshelf. It speaks to no one, unless when being actually read, or
quoted from by an act of memory. It is potential language as a
lucifer-match is potential fire, but it is no more language till it
is in contact with a recipient mind, than a match is fire till it is
struck, and is being consumed.

A piece of music, again, without any words at all, or a song with
words that have nothing in the world to do with the ideas which it
is nevertheless made to convey, is often very effectual language.
Much lying, and all irony depends on tampering with covenanted
symbols, and making those that are usually associated with one set
of ideas convey by a sleight of mind others of a different nature.
That is why irony is intolerably fatiguing unless very sparingly
used. Take the song which Blondel sang under the window of King
Richard's prison. There was not one syllable in it to say that
Blondel was there, and was going to help the king to get out of
prison. It was about some silly love affair, but it was a letter
all the same, and the king made language of what would otherwise
have been no language, by guessing the meaning, that is to say by
perceiving that he was expected to enter then and there into a new
covenant as to the meaning of the symbols that were presented to
him, understanding what this covenant was to be, and acquiescing in

On the other hand, no ingenuity can torture language into being a
fit word to use in connection with either sounds or any other
symbols that have not been intended to convey a meaning, or again in
connection with either sounds or symbols in respect of which there
has been no covenant between sayer and sayee. When we hear people
speaking a foreign language--we will say Welsh--we feel that though
they are no doubt using what is very good language as between
themselves, there is no language whatever as far as we are
concerned. We call it lingo, not language. The Chinese letters on
a tea-chest might as well not be there, for all that they say to us,
though the Chinese find them very much to the purpose. They are a
covenant to which we have been no parties--to which our intelligence
has affixed no signature.

We have already seen that it is in virtue of such an understood
covenant that symbols so unlike one another as the written word
"stone" and the spoken word alike at once raise the idea of a stone
in our minds. See how the same holds good as regards the different
languages that pass current in different nations. The letters p, i,
e, r, r, e convey the idea of a stone to a Frenchman as readily as
s, t, o, n, e do to ourselves. And why? because that is the
covenant that has been struck between those who speak and those who
are spoken to. Our "stone" conveys no idea to a Frenchman, nor his
"pierre" to us, unless we have done what is commonly called
acquiring one another's language. To acquire a foreign language is
only to learn and adhere to the covenants in respect of symbols
which the nation in question has adopted and adheres to.

Till we have done this we neither of us know the rules, so to speak,
of the game that the other is playing, and cannot, therefore, play
together; but the convention being once known and assented to, it
does not matter whether we raise the idea of a stone by the word
"lapis," or by "lithos," "pietra," "pierre," "stein," "stane" or
"stone"; we may choose what symbols written or spoken we choose, and
one set, unless they are of unwieldy length will do as well as
another, if we can get other people to choose the same and stick to
them; it is the accepting and sticking to them that matters, not the
symbols. The whole power of spoken language is vested in the
invariableness with which certain symbols are associated with
certain ideas. If we are strict in always connecting the same
symbols with the same ideas, we speak well, keep our meaning clear
to ourselves, and convey it readily and accurately to any one who is
also fairly strict. If, on the other hand, we use the same
combination of symbols for one thing one day and for another the
next, we abuse our symbols instead of using them, and those who
indulge in slovenly habits in this respect ere long lose the power
alike of thinking and of expressing themselves correctly. The
symbols, however, in the first instance, may be anything in the wide
world that we have a fancy for. They have no more to do with the
ideas they serve to convey than money has with the things that it
serves to buy.

The principle of association, as every one knows, involves that
whenever two things have been associated sufficiently together, the
suggestion of one of them to the mind shall immediately raise a
suggestion of the other. It is in virtue of this principle that
language, as we so call it, exists at all, for the essence of
language consists, as I have said perhaps already too often, in the
fixity with which certain ideas are invariably connected with
certain symbols. But this being so, it is hard to see how we can
deny that the lower animals possess the germs of a highly rude and
unspecialised, but still true language, unless we also deny that
they have any ideas at all; and this I gather is what Professor Max
Muller in a quiet way rather wishes to do. Thus he says, "It is
easy enough to show that animals communicate, but this is a fact
which has never been doubted. Dogs who growl and bark leave no
doubt in the minds of other dogs or cats, or even of man, of what
they mean, but growling and barking are not language, nor do they
even contain the elements of language." {18}

I observe the Professor says that animals communicate without saying
what it is that they communicate. I believe this to have been
because if he said that the lower animals communicate their ideas,
this would be to admit that they have ideas; if so, and if, as they
present every appearance of doing, they can remember, reflect upon,
modify these ideas according to modified surroundings, and
interchange them with one another, how is it possible to deny them
the germs of thought, language, and reason--not to say a good deal
more than the germs? It seems to me that not knowing what else to
say that animals communicated if it was not ideas, and not knowing
what mess he might not get into if he admitted that they had ideas
at all, he thought it safer to omit his accusative case altogether.

That growling and barking cannot be called a very highly specialised
language goes without saying; they are, however, so much diversified
in character, according to circumstances, that they place a
considerable number of symbols at an animal's command, and he
invariably attaches the same symbol to the same idea. A cat never
purrs when she is angry, nor spits when she is pleased. When she
rubs her head against any one affectionately it is her symbol for
saying that she is very fond of him, and she expects, and usually
finds that it will be understood. If she sees her mistress raise
her hand as though to pretend to strike her, she knows that it is
the symbol her mistress invariably attaches to the idea of sending
her away, and as such she accepts it. Granted that the symbols in
use among the lower animals are fewer and less highly differentiated
than in the case of any known human language, and therefore that
animal language is incomparably less subtle and less capable of
expressing delicate shades of meaning than our own, these
differences are nevertheless only those that exist between highly
developed and inchoate language; they do not involve those that
distinguish language from no language. They are the differences
between the undifferentiated protoplasm of the amoeba and our own
complex organisation; they are not the differences between life and
no life. In animal language as much as in human there is a mind
intentionally making use of a symbol accepted by another mind as
invariably attached to a certain idea, in order to produce that idea
in the mind which it is desired to affect--more briefly, there is a
sayer, a sayee, and a covenanted symbol designedly applied. Our own
speech is vertebrated and articulated by means of nouns, verbs, and
the rules of grammar. A dog's speech is invertebrate, but I do not
see how it is possible to deny that it possesses all the essential
elements of language.

I have said nothing about Professor R. L. Garner's researches into
the language of apes, because they have not yet been so far verified
and accepted as to make it safe to rely upon them; but when he lays
it down that all voluntary sounds are the products of thought, and
that, if they convey a meaning to another, they perform the
functions of human speech, he says what I believe will commend
itself to any unsophisticated mind. I could have wished, however,
that he had not limited himself to sounds, and should have preferred
his saying what I doubt not he would readily accept--I mean, that
all symbols or tokens of whatever kind, if voluntarily adopted as
such, are the products of thought, and perform the functions of
human speech; but I cannot too often remind you that nothing can be
considered as fulfilling the conditions of language, except a
voluntary application of a recognised token in order to convey a
more or less definite meaning, with the intention doubtless of thus
purchasing as it were some other desired meaning and consequent
sensation. It is astonishing how closely in this respect money and
words resemble one another. Money indeed may be considered as the
most universal and expressive of all languages. For gold and silver
coins are no more money when not in the actual process of being
voluntarily used in purchase, than words not so in use are language.
Pounds, shillings and pence are recognised covenanted tokens, the
outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual purchasing
power, but till in actual use they are only potential money, as the
symbols of language, whatever they may be, are only potential
language till they are passing between two minds. It is the power
and will to apply the symbols that alone gives life to money, and as
long as these are in abeyance the money is in abeyance also; the
coins may be safe in one's pocket, but they are as dead as a log
till they begin to burn in it, and so are our words till they begin
to burn within us.

The real question, however, as to the substantial underlying
identity between the language of the lower animals and our own,
turns upon that other question whether or no, in spite of an
immeasurable difference of degree, the thought and reason of man and
of the lower animals is essentially the same. No one will expect a
dog to master and express the varied ideas that are incessantly
arising in connection with human affairs. He is a pauper as against
a millionaire. To ask him to do so would be like giving a street-
boy sixpence and telling him to go and buy himself a founder's share
in the New River Company. He would not even know what was meant,
and even if he did it would take several millions of sixpences to
buy one. It is astonishing what a clever workman will do with very
modest tools, or again how far a thrifty housewife will make a very
small sum of money go, or again in like manner how many ideas an
intelligent brute can receive and convey with its very limited
vocabulary; but no one will pretend that a dog's intelligence can
ever reach the level of a man's. What we do maintain is that,
within its own limited range, it is of the same essential character
as our own, and that though a dog's ideas in respect of human
affairs are both vague and narrow, yet in respect of canine affairs
they are precise enough and extensive enough to deserve no other
name than thought or reason. We hold moreover that they communicate
their ideas in essentially the same manner as we do--that is to say,
by the instrumentality of a code of symbols attached to certain
states of mind and material objects, in the first instance
arbitrarily, but so persistently, that the presentation of the
symbol immediately carries with it the idea which it is intended to
convey. Animals can thus receive and impart ideas on all that most
concerns them. As my great namesake said some two hundred years
ago, they know "what's what, and that's as high as metaphysic wit
can fly." And they not only know what's what themselves, but can
impart to one another any new what's-whatness that they may have
acquired, for they are notoriously able to instruct and correct one

Against this Professor Max Muller contends that we can know nothing

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