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The Humour of Homer and Other Essays by Samuel Butler

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breathing, waste and repair, we should learn what an infinitesimally
small part consciousness plays in our present existence; yet our
unconscious life is as truly life as our conscious life, and though
it is unconscious to itself it emerges into an indirect and
vicarious consciousness in our other and conscious self, which
exists but in virtue of our unconscious self. So we have also a
vicarious consciousness in others. The unconscious life of those
that have gone before us has in great part moulded us into such men
and women as we are, and our own unconscious lives will in like
manner have a vicarious consciousness in others, though we be dead
enough to it in ourselves.

If it is again urged that it matters not to us how much we may be
alive in others, if we are to know nothing about it, I reply that
the common instinct of all who are worth considering gives the lie
to such cynicism. I see here present some who have achieved, and
others who no doubt will achieve, success in literature. Will one
of them hesitate to admit that it is a lively pleasure to her to
feel that on the other side of the world someone may be smiling
happily over her work, and that she is thus living in that person
though she knows nothing about it? Here it seems to me that true
faith comes in. Faith does not consist, as the Sunday School pupil
said, "in the power of believing that which we know to be untrue."
It consists in holding fast that which the healthiest and most
kindly instincts of the best and most sensible men and women are
intuitively possessed of, without caring to require much evidence
further than the fact that such people are so convinced; and for my
own part I find the best men and women I know unanimous in feeling
that life in others, even though we know nothing about it, is
nevertheless a thing to be desired and gratefully accepted if we can
get it either before death or after. I observe also that a large
number of men and women do actually attain to such life, and in some
cases continue so to live, if not for ever, yet to what is
practically much the same thing. Our life then in this world is, to
natural religion as much as to revealed, a period of probation. The
use we make of it is to settle how far we are to enter into another,
and whether that other is to be a heaven of just affection or a hell
of righteous condemnation.

Who, then, are the most likely so to run that they may obtain this
veritable prize of our high calling? Setting aside such lucky
numbers, drawn as it were in the lottery of immortality, which I
have referred to casually above, and setting aside also the chances
and changes from which even immortality is not exempt, who on the
whole are most likely to live anew in the affectionate thoughts of
those who never so much as saw them in the flesh, and know not even
their names? There is a nisus, a straining in the dull dumb economy
of things, in virtue of which some, whether they will it and know it
or no, are more likely to live after death than others, and who are
these? Those who aimed at it as by some great thing that they would
do to make them famous? Those who have lived most in themselves and
for themselves, or those who have been most ensouled consciously,
but perhaps better unconsciously, directly but more often
indirectly, by the most living souls past and present that have
flitted near them? Can we think of a man or woman who grips us
firmly, at the thought of whom we kindle when we are alone in our
honest daw's plumes, with none to admire or shrug his shoulders, can
we think of one such, the secret of whose power does not lie in the
charm of his or her personality--that is to say, in the wideness of
his or her sympathy with, and therefore life in and communion with
other people? In the wreckage that comes ashore from the sea of
time there is much tinsel stuff that we must preserve and study if
we would know our own times and people; granted that many a dead
charlatan lives long and enters largely and necessarily into our own
lives; we use them and throw them away when we have done with them.
I do not speak of these, I do not speak of the Virgils and Alexander
Popes, and who can say how many more whose names I dare not mention
for fear of offending. They are as stuffed birds or beasts in a
museum; serviceable no doubt from a scientific standpoint, but with
no vivid or vivifying hold upon us. They seem to be alive, but are
not. I am speaking of those who do actually live in us, and move us
to higher achievements though they be long dead, whose life thrusts
out our own and overrides it. I speak of those who draw us ever
more towards them from youth to age, and to think of whom is to feel
at once that we are in the hands of those we love, and whom we would
most wish to resemble. What is the secret of the hold that these
people have upon us? Is it not that while, conventionally speaking,
alive, they most merged their lives in, and were in fullest
communion with those among whom they lived? They found their lives
in losing them. We never love the memory of anyone unless we feel
that he or she was himself or herself a lover.

I have seen it urged, again, in querulous accents, that the so-
called immortality even of the most immortal is not for ever. I see
a passage to this effect in a book that is making a stir as I write.
I will quote it. The writer says:--

"So, it seems to me, is the immortality we so glibly predicate of
departed artists. If they survive at all, it is but a shadowy
life they live, moving on through the gradations of slow decay to
distant but inevitable death. They can no longer, as heretofore,
speak directly to the hearts of their fellow-men, evoking their
tears or laughter, and all the pleasures, be they sad or merry,
of which imagination holds the secret. Driven from the market-
place they become first the companions of the student, then the
victims of the specialist. He who would still hold familiar
intercourse with them must train himself to penetrate the veil
which in ever-thickening folds conceals them from the ordinary
gaze; he must catch the tone of a vanished society, he must move
in a circle of alien associations, he must think in a language
not his own." {150}

This is crying for the moon, or rather pretending to cry for it, for
the writer is obviously insincere. I see the Saturday Review says
the passage I have just quoted "reaches almost to poetry," and
indeed I find many blank verses in it, some of them very aggressive.
No prose is free from an occasional blank verse, and a good writer
will not go hunting over his work to rout them out, but nine or ten
in little more than as many lines is indeed reaching too near to
poetry for good prose. This, however, is a trifle, and might pass
if the tone of the writer was not so obviously that of cheap
pessimism. I know not which is cheapest, pessimism or optimism.
One forces lights, the other darks; both are equally untrue to good
art, and equally sure of their effect with the groundlings. The one
extenuates, the other sets down in malice. The first is the more
amiable lie, but both are lies, and are known to be so by those who
utter them. Talk about catching the tone of a vanished society to
understand Rembrandt or Giovanni Bellini! It is nonsense--the folds
do not thicken in front of these men; we understand them as well as
those among whom they went about in the flesh, and perhaps better.
Homer and Shakespeare speak to us probably far more effectually than
they did to the men of their own time, and most likely we have them
at their best. I cannot think that Shakespeare talked better than
we hear him now in Hamlet or Henry the Fourth; like enough he would
have been found a very disappointing person in a drawing-room.
People stamp themselves on their work; if they have not done so they
are naught, if they have we have them; and for the most part they
stamp themselves deeper on their work than on their talk. No doubt
Shakespeare and Handel will be one day clean forgotten, as though
they had never been born. The world will in the end die; mortality
therefore itself is not immortal, and when death dies the life of
these men will die with it--but not sooner. It is enough that they
should live within us and move us for many ages as they have and
will. Such immortality, therefore, as some men and women are born
to achieve, or have thrust upon them, is a practical if not a
technical immortality, and he who would have more let him have

I see I have drifted into speaking rather of how to make the best of
death than of life, but who can speak of life without his thoughts
turning instantly to that which is beyond it? He or she who has
made the best of the life after death has made the best of the life
before it; who cares one straw for any such chances and changes as
will commonly befall him here if he is upheld by the full and
certain hope of everlasting life in the affections of those that
shall come after? If the life after death is happy in the hearts of
others, it matters little how unhappy was the life before it.

And now I leave my subject, not without misgiving that I shall have
disappointed you. But for the great attention which is being paid
to the work from which I have quoted above, I should not have
thought it well to insist on points with which you are, I doubt not,
as fully impressed as I am: but that book weakens the sanctions of
natural religion, and minimizes the comfort which it affords us,
while it does more to undermine than to support the foundations of
what is commonly called belief. Therefore I was glad to embrace
this opportunity of protesting. Otherwise I should not have been so
serious on a matter that transcends all seriousness. Lord
Beaconsfield cut it shorter with more effect. When asked to give a
rule of life for the son of a friend he said, "Do not let him try
and find out who wrote the letters of Junius." Pressed for further
counsel, he added, "Nor yet who was the man in the iron mask"--and
he would say no more. Don't bore people. And yet I am by no means
sure that a good many people do not think themselves ill-used unless
he who addresses them has thoroughly well bored them--especially if
they have paid any money for hearing him. My great namesake said,
"Surely the pleasure is as great of being cheated as to cheat," and
great as the pleasure both of cheating and boring undoubtedly is, I
believe he was right. So I remember a poem which came out some
thirty years ago in Punch, about a young lady who went forth in
quest to "Some burden make or burden bear, but which she did not
greatly care, oh Miserie." So, again, all the holy men and women
who in the Middle Ages professed to have discovered how to make the
best of life took care that being bored, if not cheated, should have
a large place in their programme. Still there are limits, and I
close not without fear that I may have exceeded them.

The Sanctuary of Montrigone {153a}

The only place in the Valsesia, except Varallo, where I at present
suspect the presence of Tabachetti {153b} is at Montrigone, a
little-known sanctuary dedicated to St. Anne, about three-quarters
of a mile south of Borgo-Sesia station. The situation is, of
course, lovely, but the sanctuary does not offer any features of
architectural interest. The sacristan told me it was founded in
1631; and in 1644 Giovanni d'Enrico, while engaged in superintending
and completing the work undertaken here by himself and Giacomo
Ferro, fell ill and died. I do not know whether or no there was an
earlier sanctuary on the same site, but was told it was built on the
demolition of a stronghold belonging to the Counts of Biandrate.

The incidents which it illustrates are treated with even more than
the homeliness usual in works of this description when not dealing
with such solemn events as the death and passion of Christ. Except
when these subjects were being represented, something of the
latitude, and even humour, allowed in the old mystery plays was
permitted, doubtless from a desire to render the work more
attractive to the peasants, who were the most numerous and most
important pilgrims. It is not until faith begins to be weak that it
fears an occasionally lighter treatment of semi-sacred subjects, and
it is impossible to convey an accurate idea of the spirit prevailing
at this hamlet of sanctuary without attuning oneself somewhat to the
more pagan character of the place. Of irreverence, in the sense of
a desire to laugh at things that are of high and serious import,
there is not a trace, but at the same time there is a certain
unbending of the bow at Montrigone which is not perceivable at

The first chapel to the left on entering the church is that of the
Birth of the Virgin. St. Anne is sitting up in bed. She is not at
all ill--in fact, considering that the Virgin has only been born
about five minutes, she is wonderful; still the doctors think it may
be perhaps better that she should keep her room for half an hour
longer, so the bed has been festooned with red and white paper
roses, and the counterpane is covered with bouquets in baskets and
in vases of glass and china. These cannot have been there during
the actual birth of the Virgin, so I suppose they had been in
readiness, and were brought in from an adjoining room as soon as the
baby had been born. A lady on her left is bringing in some more
flowers, which St. Anne is receiving with a smile and most gracious
gesture of the hands. The first thing she asked for, when the birth
was over, was for her three silver hearts. These were immediately
brought to her, and she has got them all on, tied round her neck
with a piece of blue silk ribbon.

Dear mamma has come. We felt sure she would, and that any little
misunderstandings between her and Joachim would ere long be
forgotten and forgiven. They are both so good and sensible, if they
would only understand one another. At any rate, here she is, in
high state at the right hand of the bed. She is dressed in black,
for she has lost her husband some few years previously, but I do not
believe a smarter, sprier old lady for her years could be found in
Palestine, nor yet that either Giovanni d'Enrico or Giacomo Ferro
could have conceived or executed such a character. The sacristan
wanted to have it that she was not a woman at all, but was a
portrait of St. Joachim, the Virgin's father. "Sembra una donna,"
he pleaded more than once, "ma non e donna." Surely, however, in
works of art even more than in other things, there is no "is" but
seeming, and if a figure seems female it must be taken as such.
Besides, I asked one of the leading doctors at Varallo whether the
figure was man or woman. He said it was evident I was not married,
for that if I had been I should have seen at once that she was not
only a woman but a mother-in-law of the first magnitude, or, as he
called it, "una suocera tremenda," and this without knowing that I
wanted her to be a mother-in-law myself. Unfortunately she had no
real drapery, so I could not settle the question as my friend Mr. H.
F. Jones and I had been able to do at Varallo with the figure of Eve
that had been turned into a Roman soldier assisting at the capture
of Christ. I am not, however, disposed to waste more time upon
anything so obvious, and will content myself with saying that we
have here the Virgin's grandmother. I had never had the pleasure,
so far as I remembered, of meeting this lady before, and was glad to
have an opportunity of making her acquaintance.

Tradition says that it was she who chose the Virgin's name, and if
so, what a debt of gratitude do we not owe her for her judicious
selection! It makes one shudder to think what might have happened
if she had named the child Keren-Happuch, as poor Job's daughter was
called. How could we have said, "Ave Keren-Happuch!" What would
the musicians have done? I forget whether Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was
a man or a woman, but there were plenty of names quite as
unmanageable at the Virgin's grandmother's option, and we cannot
sufficiently thank her for having chosen one that is so euphonious
in every language which we need take into account. For this reason
alone we should not grudge her her portrait, but we should try to
draw the line here. I do not think we ought to give the Virgin's
great-grandmother a statue. Where is it to end? It is like Mr.
Crookes's ultimissimate atoms; we used to draw the line at ultimate
atoms, and now it seems we are to go a step farther back and have
ultimissimate atoms. How long, I wonder, will it be before we feel
that it will be a material help to us to have ultimissimissimate
atoms? Quavers stopped at demi-semi-demi, but there is no reason to
suppose that either atoms or ancestresses of the Virgin will be so

I have said that on St. Anne's left hand there is a lady who is
bringing in some flowers. St. Anne was always passionately fond of
flowers. There is a pretty story told about her in one of the
Fathers, I forget which, to the effect that when a child she was
asked which she liked best--cakes or flowers? She could not yet
speak plainly and lisped out, "Oh fowses, pretty fowses"; she added,
however, with a sigh and as a kind of wistful corollary, "but cakes
are very nice." She is not to have any cakes just now, but as soon
as she has done thanking the lady for her beautiful nosegay, she is
to have a couple of nice new-laid eggs, that are being brought her
by another lady. Valsesian women immediately after their
confinement always have eggs beaten up with wine and sugar, and one
can tell a Valsesian Birth of the Virgin from a Venetian or a
Florentine by the presence of the eggs. I learned this from an
eminent Valsesian professor of medicine, who told me that, though
not according to received rules, the eggs never seemed to do any
harm. Here they are evidently to be beaten up, for there is neither
spoon nor egg-cup, and we cannot suppose that they were hard-boiled.
On the other hand, in the Middle Ages Italians never used egg-cups
and spoons for boiled eggs. The medieval boiled egg was always
eaten by dipping bread into the yolk.

Behind the lady who is bringing in the eggs is the under-under-nurse
who is at the fire warming a towel. In the foreground we have the
regulation midwife holding the regulation baby (who, by the way, was
an astonishingly fine child for only five minutes old). Then comes
the under-nurse--a good buxom creature, who, as usual, is feeling
the water in the bath to see that it is of the right temperature.
Next to her is the head-nurse, who is arranging the cradle. Behind
the head-nurse is the under-under-nurse's drudge, who is just going
out upon some errands. Lastly--for by this time we have got all
round the chapel--we arrive at the Virgin's grandmother's body-
guard, a stately, responsible-looking lady, standing in waiting upon
her mistress. I put it to the reader--is it conceivable that St.
Joachim should have been allowed in such a room at such a time, or
that he should have had the courage to avail himself of the
permission, even though it had been extended to him? At any rate,
is it conceivable that he should have been allowed to sit on St.
Anne's right hand, laying down the law with a "Marry, come up" here,
and a "Marry, go down" there, and a couple of such unabashed collars
as the old lady has put on for the occasion?

Moreover (for I may as well demolish this mischievous confusion
between St. Joachim and his mother-in-law once and for all), the
merest tyro in hagiology knows that St. Joachim was not at home when
the Virgin was born. He had been hustled out of the temple for
having no children, and had fled desolate and dismayed into the
wilderness. It shows how silly people are, for all the time he was
going, if they had only waited a little, to be the father of the
most remarkable person of purely human origin who had ever been
born, and such a parent as this should surely not be hurried. The
story is told in the frescoes of the chapel of Loreto, only a
quarter of an hour's walk from Varallo, and no one can have known it
better than D'Enrico. The frescoes are explained by written
passages that tell us how, when Joachim was in the desert, an angel
came to him in the guise of a fair, civil young gentleman, and told
him the Virgin was to be born. Then, later on, the same young
gentleman appeared to him again, and bade him "in God's name be
comforted, and turn again to his content," for the Virgin had been
actually born. On which St. Joachim, who seems to have been of
opinion that marriage after all _was_ rather a failure, said that,
as things were going on so nicely without him, he would stay in the
desert just a little longer, and offered up a lamb as a pretext to
gain time. Perhaps he guessed about his mother-in-law, or he may
have asked the angel. Of course, even in spite of such evidence as
this, I may be mistaken about the Virgin's grandmother's sex, and
the sacristan may be right; but I can only say that if the lady
sitting by St. Anne's bedside at Montrigone is the Virgin's father--
well, in that case I must reconsider a good deal that I have been
accustomed to believe was beyond question.

Taken singly, I suppose that none of the figures in the chapel,
except the Virgin's grandmother, should be rated very highly. The
under-nurse is the next best figure, and might very well be
Tabachetti's, for neither Giovanni d'Enrico nor Giacomo Ferro was
successful with his female characters. There is not a single really
comfortable woman in any chapel by either of them on the Sacro Monte
at Varallo. Tabachetti, on the other hand, delighted in women; if
they were young he made them comely and engaging, if they were old
he gave them dignity and individual character, and the under-nurse
is much more in accordance with Tabachetti's habitual mental
attitude than with D'Enrico's or Giacomo Ferro's. Still there are
only four figures out of the eleven that are mere otiose supers, and
taking the work as a whole it leaves a pleasant impression as being
throughout naive and homely, and sometimes, which is of less
importance, technically excellent.

Allowance must, of course, be made for tawdry accessories and
repeated coats of shiny oleaginous paint--very disagreeable where it
has peeled off and almost more so where it has not. What work could
stand against such treatment as the Valsesian terra-cotta figures
have had to put up with? Take the Venus of Milo; let her be done in
terra-cotta, and have run, not much, but still something, in the
baking; paint her pink, two oils, all over, and then varnish her--it
will help to preserve the paint; glue a lot of horsehair on to her
pate, half of which shall have come off, leaving the glue still
showing; scrape her, not too thoroughly, get the village drawing-
master to paint her again, and the drawing-master in the next
provincial town to put a forest background behind her with the
brightest emerald-green leaves that he can do for the money; let
this painting and scraping and repainting be repeated several times
over; festoon her with pink and white flowers made of tissue paper;
surround her with the cheapest German imitations of the cheapest
decorations that Birmingham can produce; let the night air and
winter fogs get at her for three hundred years, and how easy, I
wonder, will it be to see the goddess who will be still in great
part there? True, in the case of the Birth of the Virgin chapel at
Montrigone, there is no real hair and no fresco background, but time
has had abundant opportunities without these. I will conclude my
notice of this chapel by saying that on the left, above the door
through which the under-under-nurse's drudge is about to pass, there
is a good painted terra-cotta bust, said--but I believe on no
authority--to be a portrait of Giovanni d'Enrico. Others say that
the Virgin's grandmother is Giovanni d'Enrico, but this is even more
absurd than supposing her to be St. Joachim.

The next chapel to the Birth of the Virgin is that of the
Sposalizio. There is no figure here which suggests Tabachetti, but
still there are some very good ones. The best have no taint of
barocco; the man who did them, whoever he may have been, had
evidently a good deal of life and go, was taking reasonable pains,
and did not know too much. Where this is the case no work can fail
to please. Some of the figures have real hair and some terra-cotta.
There is no fresco background worth mentioning. A man sitting on
the steps of the altar with a book on his lap, and holding up his
hand to another, who is leaning over him and talking to him, is
among the best figures; some of the disappointed suitors who are
breaking their wands are also very good.

The angel in the Annunciation chapel, which comes next in order, is
a fine, burly, ship's-figurehead, commercial-hotel sort of being
enough, but the Virgin is very ordinary. There is no real hair and
no fresco background, only three dingy old blistered pictures of no
interest whatever.

In the Visit of Mary to Elizabeth there are three pleasing
subordinate lady attendants, two to the left and one to the right of
the principal figures; but these figures themselves are not
satisfactory. There is no fresco background. Some of the figures
have real hair and some terra-cotta.

In the Circumcision and Purification chapel--for both these events
seem contemplated in the one that follows--there are doves, but
there is neither dog nor knife. Still Simeon, who has the infant
Saviour in his arms, is looking at him in a way which can only mean
that, knife or no knife, the matter is not going to end here. At
Varallo they have now got a dreadful knife for the Circumcision
chapel. They had none last winter. What they have now got would do
very well to kill a bullock with, but could not be used
professionally with safety for any animal smaller than a rhinoceros.
I imagine that someone was sent to Novara to buy a knife, and that,
thinking it was for the Massacre of the Innocents chapel, he got the
biggest he could see. Then when he brought it back people said
"chow" several times, and put it upon the table and went away.

Returning to Montrigone, the Simeon is an excellent figure, and the
Virgin is fairly good, but the prophetess Anna, who stands just
behind her, is by far the most interesting in the group, and is
alone enough to make me feel sure that Tabachetti gave more or less
help here, as he had done years before at Orta. She, too, like the
Virgin's grandmother, is a widow lady, and wears collars of a cut
that seems to have prevailed ever since the Virgin was born some
twenty years previously. There is a largeness and simplicity of
treatment about the figure to which none but an artist of the
highest rank can reach, and D'Enrico was not more than a second or
third-rate man. The hood is like Handel's Truth sailing upon the
broad wings of Time, a prophetic strain that nothing but the old
experience of a great poet can reach. The lips of the prophetess
are for the moment closed, but she has been prophesying all the
morning, and the people round the wall in the background are in
ecstasies at the lucidity with which she has explained all sorts of
difficulties that they had never been able to understand till now.
They are putting their forefingers on their thumbs and their thumbs
on their forefingers, and saying how clearly they see it all and
what a wonderful woman Anna is. A prophet indeed is not generally
without honour save in his own country, but then a country is
generally not without honour save with its own prophet, and Anna has
been glorifying her country rather than reviling it. Besides, the
rule may not have applied to prophetesses.

The Death of the Virgin is the last of the six chapels inside the
church itself. The Apostles, who of course are present, have all of
them real hair, but, if I may say so, they want a wash and a brush-
up so very badly that I cannot feel any confidence in writing about
them. I should say that, take them all round, they are a good
average sample of apostle as apostles generally go. Two or three of
them are nervously anxious to find appropriate quotations in books
that lie open before them, which they are searching with eager
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 anyone 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 someone 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 anyone 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.

A Medieval Girl School {166}

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. 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

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, 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 there, as by rare chance, that one of
them gets arrested and fossilized; 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, someone
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 anyone 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 a 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 scrapbook, 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 scandalized
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 side of 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 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 eighteenth 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 eighteenth 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. Everyone 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 someone 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 cat.

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 far-fetched, 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 civilized 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.

Art in the Valley of Saas {188}

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, 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.
{190} 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 anyone 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 wood-carver 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 abridgment 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 anyone 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 wood-carver 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
{195} 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. {196} 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 9th September, 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 9th September, 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 emphasize
him in the succeeding scenes as well as this, in the same way as he
has been emphasized 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.

13. 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 chancel 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 eighteenth 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.

Thought and Language {209}

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 apelike 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 civilization; 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." {210} 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 someone 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 so 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

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