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and Lord Lindsay's introduction to his "Christian Art." And perceiving thus, in some degree, what a blind bat and puppy I had been, all through Italy, determined that at least I must see Pisa and Florence again before writing another word of "Modern Painters."
How papa and mamma took this new vagary, I have no recollection; resignedly, at least: perhaps they also had some notion that I might think differently, and it was to be hoped in a more orthodox and becoming manner, after another sight of the Tribune. At all events, they concluded to give me my own way entirely this time; and what time I chose. My health caused them no farther anxiety; they could trust my word to take care of myself every day, just the same as if I were coming home to tea: my mother was satisfied of Couttet's skill as a physician, and care, if needed, as a nurse; he was engaged for the summer in those capacities, and, about the first week in April, I found myself dining on a trout of the Ain, at Champagnole; with Switzerland and Italy at my feet — for to-morrow.
By Gap and Sisteron to Frejus, along the Riviera to Sestri, where I gave a day to draw the stone-pipes now at Oxford; and so straight to my first fixed aim, Lucca, where I settled myself for ten days, as I supposed. It turned out forty years. The town is some thousand paces square; the unbroken rampart walk round may be a short three miles. There are upward of twenty churches in that space, dating between the sixth and twelfth centuries; a ruined feudal palace and tower, unmatched except at Verona: the streets clean cheerfully inhabited, yet quiet; nor desolate, even now. Two of the churches representing the perfectest phase of round-arched building in Europe, and one of them containing the loveliest Christian tomb in Italy.
The rampart walk, unbroken except by descents and ascents at the gates, commands every way the loveliest ranges of all the Tuscan Apennine: when I was there in 1845, besides the ruined feudal palace, there was a maintained Ducal Palace, with a living Duke in it, whose military band played every evening on the most floral and peaceful space of rampart. After a wellspent day, and a three-course dinner, — military band, — chains,
double braided, of amethyst Apennine linked by golden clouds, — then the mountain air of April, still soft as the marble towers, grew unsubstantial in the starlight, such the monastic discipline of Lucca to my novitiate mind.
I must stop to think a little how it was that so early as this I could fasten on the tomb of Ilaria di Caretto with certainty of its being a supreme guide to me ever after. If I get tiresome, the reader must skip; I write, for the moment, to amuse myself, and not him. The said reader, duly sagacious, must have felt, long since, that, though very respectable people in our way, we were all of us definitely vulgar people; just as my aunt's dog Towser was a vulgar dog, though a very good and dear dog. Said reader should have seen also that we had not set ourselves
up to have "a taste in anything. There was never any question about matching colors in furniture, or having the correct pattern in china. Everything for service in the house was bought plain, and of the best; our toys were what we happened to take a fancy to in pleasant places a cow in stalactite from Matlock, fisher-wife doll from Calais, a Swiss farm from Berne, Bacchus and Ariadne from Carrara. But, among these toys, principal on the drawing-room chimney-piece, always put away by my mother at night, and "put out" in the afternoon, were some pieces of Spanish clay, to which, without knowing it, I owed a quantity of strenuous teaching. Native baked clay figures, painted and gilded by untaught persons who had the gift; manufacture mainly practised along the Xeres coast, I believe, and of late much decayed, but then flourishing, and its work as good as the worker could make it. There was a Don Whiskerandos contrabandista, splendidly handsome and good-natured, on a magnificent horse at the trot, brightly caparisoned: everything finely finished, his gun loose in his hand. There was a lemonade seller, a pomegranate seller, a matador with his bull-animate all, and graceful, the coloring chiefly ruddy brown. Things of constant interest to me, and altogether wholesome; vestiges of living sculpture come down into the Herne Hill times, from the days of Tanagra.
For loftier admiration, as before told, Chantrey in Lichfield, Roubilliac in Westminster, were set forth to me, and honestly felt; a scratched white outline or two from Greek vases on the
black Derbyshire marble did not interfere with my first general feeling about sculpture, that it should be living, and emotional; that the flesh should be like flesh, and the drapery like clothes; and that, whether trotting contrabandista, dancing girl, or dying gladiator, the subject should have an interest of its own, and not consist merely of figures with torches or garlands standing alternately on their right and left legs. Of "ideal" form and the like, I fortunately heard and thought nothing.
The point of connoisseurship I had reached, at sixteen, with these advantages and instincts, is curiously measured by the criticism of the Cathedral of Rheims in my Don Juan journal of 1835:
By the "carving" I meant the niche work, which is indeed curiously rude at Rheims; by the "Gothic" the structure and mouldings of arch, which I rightly call "heavy" as compared with later French types; while the condemnation of the draperies meant that they were not the least like those either of Rubens or Roubilliac. And ten years had to pass over me before I knew better; but every day between the standing in Rheims porch and by Ilaria's tomb had done on me some chiselling to the good; and the discipline from the Fontainebleau time till now had been severe. The accurate study of tree branches, growing leaves, and foreground herbage, had more and more taught me the difference between violent and graceful lines; the beauty of Clotilde and Cécile, essentially French-Gothic, and the living Egeria of Araceli, had fixed in my mind and heart, not as an art-ideal, but as a sacred reality, the purest standards of breathing womanhood; and here suddenly, in the sleeping Ilaria, was the perfectness of these, expressed with harmonies of line which I saw in an instant were under the same laws as the river wave, and the aspen branch,
and the stars' rising and setting; but treated with a modesty and severity which read the laws of nature by the light of virtue.
Another influence, no less forcible, and more instantly effective, was brought to bear on me by my first quiet walk through Lucca. Hitherto, all architecture, except fairy-finished Milan, had depended with me for its delight on being partly in decay. I revered the sentiment of its age, and I was accustomed to look for the signs of age in the mouldering of its traceries, and in the interstices deepening between the stones of its masonry. This looking for cranny and joint was mixed with the love of rough stones themselves, and of country churches built like Westmoreland cottages. Here in Lucca I found myself suddenly in the presence of twelfth century buildings, originally set in such balance of masonry, that they could all stand without mortar; and in material so incorruptible, that after six hundred years of sunshine and rain, a lancet could not now be put between their joints.
Absolutely for the first time I now saw what medieval builders were, and what they meant. I took the simplest of all façades for analysis, that of Santa Maria Foris-Portam, and thereon literally began the study of architecture.
In the third — and, for the reader's relief, last-place in these technical records, Fra Bartolomeo's picture of the "Magdalene, with St. Catherine of Siena," gave me a faultless example of the treatment of pure Catholic tradition by the perfect schools of painting.
And I never needed lessoning more in the principles of the three great arts. After those summer days of 1845, I advanced only in knowledge of individual character, provincial feeling, and details of construction or execution. Of what was primarily right and ultimately best, there was never more doubt to me, and my art-teaching, necessarily, in its many local or personal interests partial, has been from that time throughout consistent, and progressing every year to more evident completion.
The full happiness of that time to me cannot be explained except to consistently hard workers; and of those, to the few who can keep their peace and health. For the world appeared to me now exactly right. Hills as high as they should be, rivers as wide, pictures as pretty, and masters and men as wise
as pretty and
wise could be. And I expected to bring everybody to be of my opinion, as soon as I could get out my second volume; and drove down to Pisa in much hope and pride, though grave in both.
For now I had read enough of Cary's "Dante," and Sismondi's "Italian Republics,” and Lord Lindsay, to feel what I had to look for in the Campo Santo. Yet at this moment I pause to think what it was that I found.
Briefly, the entire doctrine of Christianity, painted so that a child could understand it. And what a child cannot understand of Christianity, no one need try to.
In these days of the religion of this and that, briefly let us say, the religion of Stocks and Posts—in order to say a clear word of Campo Santo, one must first say a firm word concerning Christianity itself. I find numbers, even of the most intelligent and amiable people, not knowing what the word means; because they are always asking how much is true, and how much they like, and never ask, first, what was the total meaning of it, whether they like it or not.
The total meaning was, and is, that the God who made earth and its creatures, took at a certain time upon the earth, the flesh and form of man; in that flesh sustained the pain and died the death of the creature He had made; rose again after death into glorious human life, and when the date of the human race is ended, will return in visible form, and render to every man according to his work. Christianity is the belief in, and love of, God thus manifested. Anything less than this, the mere acceptance of the sayings of Christ, or asserting of any less than divine power in His Being, may be, for aught I know, enough for virtue, peace, and safety; but they do not make people Christians, or enable them to understand the heart of the simplest believer in the old doctrine. One verse more of George Herbert will put the height of that doctrine into less debatable, though figurative, picture than any longer talk of mine:
Hast thou not heard that my Lord Jesus died?
Then let me tell thee a strange story.
The God of Power, as he did ride
In his majestic robes of glory,
Resolved to light; and so, one day
He did descend, undressing all the way.