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Florence

( Originally Published 1913 )



"Florence is like a lily in the midst of a garden gay with wild flowers; a broken lily that we have tied up and watered and nursed into a semblance of life, an image of ancient beauty -as it were the memento mori of that Latin spirit which contrived the Renaissance of mankind. As of old, so today, she stands in the plain at the foot of the Apennines, that in their sweetness and strength lend her still something of their nobility. Around her are the hills covered with olive gardens, where the corn and the wine and the oil grow together between the iris and the rose; and everywhere on those beautiful hills there are villas among the flowers, real villas such as Alberti describes for us, full of coolness and rest, where a fountain splashes in an old courtyard, and the grapes hang from the pergolas, and the corn is spread in July and beaten with the flail. And since the vista of every street in Florence ends in the country, it is to these hills you find your way very often if your stay be long, fleeing from the city herself, perhaps to hide your disappointment in the simple joy of country life. More and more as you live in Florence that country life becomes your consolation and your delight: for there abide the old ways and the ancient songs, which you will not find in the city. And, indeed, the great treasure of Florence is this bright and smiling country in which she lies: the old road to Fiesole, the ways that lead from Settignano to Compiobbi, the path through the woods from S. Martino a Mensola, that smiling church by the wayside, to Vincigliata, to Castel di Poggio, the pilgrimage from Bagno a Ripoli to the Incontro. There, on all those beautiful gay roads, you will pass numberless villas whispering with summer, laughing with flowers; you will see the contadini at work in the poderi, you will hear the rispetti and stornelli of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries sung perhaps by some lovesick peasant girl among the olives from sunrise till evening falls. And the ancient ways are not forgotten there, for they still reap with the sickle and sing to the beat of the flail; while the land itself, those places "full of nimble air, in a laughing country of sweet and lovely views, where there is always fresh water, and everything is healthy and pure," of which Leon Alberti tells us, are still held and cultivated in the old way, under the old laws, by the contadino and his padrone. This ancient order, quietness, and beauty, which you may find everywhere in the country round about Florence, is the true Tuscany. The vulgarity of the city, for even in Italy the city life has become insincere, blatant, and for the most part a life of the middle class, seldom reaches an hundred yards beyond the barriera : and this is a charm in Florence, for you may so easily look on her from afar. And so, if one comes to her from the country, or returns to her from her own hills, it is ever with a sense of loss, of sadness, of regret: she has lost her soul for the sake of the stranger, she has forgotten the splendid past for an ignoble' present a strange!,, wearying dream of the future.

Yet for all her modern ways, her German beer-houses, her English tea-shops, her noisy trams on Lung' Arno, her air as of a museum, her eagerness to show her contempt for the stranger while she sells him her very soul for money, Florence remains one of the most delightful cities of Italy to visit, to live with, to return to again and again. Yet I for one would never live within her walls if I could help it; or herd with those barbarian exclamatory souls who in guttural German orcockney English snort or neigh at the beauties industriously pointed out by a loud-voiced cicerone, quoting in American all the appropriate quotations, Browning before Filippo Lippi, Ruskin in S. Croce, Mrs. Browning at the door of S. Felice, Goethe everywhere.

No, I will live a little way out of the city on the hillside, perhaps toward Settignano, not too far from the pine woods, nor too near the gate. And my garden there shall be a vine yard, bordered with iris, and among the vines shall be a garden of olives, and under the olives there shall be the corn. And the yellow roses will litter the courtyard, and the fountain shall be full of their petals, and the red roses shall strew the paths, and the white roses shall fall upon the threshold; and all day long the bees will linger in the passion-flowers by the window when the mulberry trees have been stripped of leaves, and the lilies of Madonna, before the vines, are tall and like ghosts in the night, the night that is blue and gold, where a few fire-flies linger yet, sailing faintly over the stream, and the song of the cicale is the burden of endless summer. Then very early in the morning I will rise from my bed under the holy branch of olive, I will walk in my garden before the sun is high, I will look on my beloved city. Yes, I shall look over the near olives across the valley to the hill of cypresses, to the poplars beside Arno that tremble with joy; and first I shall see Torre del Gallo and then S. Miniato, that strange and beautiful place, and at last my eyes will rest on the city herself, beautiful in the mist of morning: first the tower of S. Croce, like a tufted spear; then the tower of liberty, and that was built for pride; and at last, like a mysterious rose lifted above the city, I shall see the dome, the rosy dome of Brunellesco, beside which, like a slim lily, pale, immaculate as a pure virgin, rises the inviolate Tower of the Lowly, that Giotto built for God. Yes, often I shall thus await the Angelus that the bells of all the villages will answer, and I shall greet the sun and be thankful. Then I shall walk under the olives, I shall weigh the promised grapes, I shall bend the ears of corn here and there, that I may feel their beauty, and I shall bury my face in the roses, I shall watch the lilies turn their heads, I shall pluck the lemons one by one. And the maidens will greet me on their way to the olive-gardens, the newly married, hand in hand with her husband, will smile upon me, she who is heavy with child will give me her blessing, and the children will laugh and peep at me from behind the new-mown hay; and I shall give them greeting. And I shall talk with him who is busy in the vineyard, I shall watch him barefoot among the grapes, I shall see his wise hands tenderly unfold a leaf or gather up a straying branch, and when I leave him I shall hear him say, "May your bread be blessed to you." Under the myrtles, on a table of stone spread with coarse white linen, such as we see in Tuscany, I shall break my fast, and I shall spill a little milk on the ground for thankfulness, and the crumbs I shall scatter, too, and a little honey that the bees have given I shall leave for them again.

So I shall go into the city, and one will say to me, "The Signore must have a care, for the sun will be hot, in returning it will be necessary to come under the olives." And I shall laugh in my heart and say, "Have no fear, then, for the sun will not touch me." And how should I but be glad that the sun will be hot, and how should I but be thankful that I shall come under the olives?

And I shall come into the city by Porta alla Croce for love, because I am but newly returned, and presently through the newer ways I shall come to the oldest of all, Borgo degli

Albizzi, where the roofs of the beautiful palaces almost touch, and the way is cool and full of shadow. There, amid all the hurry and bustle of the narrow splendid way, I shall think only of old things for a time, I shall remember the great men who founded and established the city, I shall recall the great families of Florence. Here in this Borgo the Albizzi built their towers when they came from Arezzo, giving the city more than an hundred officers, Priori and Gonfalonieri, till Cosimo de' Medici thrust them out with the help of Eugenius IV. The grim, scornful figure of Rinaldo seems to haunt the old palace still. Out in the Piazza once more, I shall turn into Borgo S. Lorenzo, and follow it till I come to Piazza di S. Lorenzo, with its bookstalls where Browning found that book, "Small quarto size, part print, part manuscript," which told him the story of "The Ring and the Book." There I shall look once more on the ragged, rugged front of S. Lorenzo, and entering, find the tomb of Piero de Medici, made by Verrocchio, and thinking awhile of those other tombs where Michael Angelo hardby carved his Night and Day, Twilight and Dawn, I shall find my way again into the Piazzo del Duomo, and, following Via Cerretani, that busy street, I shall come at last into Piazza S. Maria Novella, and there on the north I shall see again the bride of Michaelangelo, the most beautiful church in Florence, S. Maria Novella of the Dominicans. Perhaps I shall rest there a little before Duccio's Madonna on her high altar, and linger under the grave, serene work of Ghirlandajo; but it may be the sky will be too fair for any church to hold me, so that passing down the way of the Beautiful Ladies, and taking Via dei Serpi on my left, I shall come into Via Tornabuoni, that smiling, lovely way just above the beautiful Palazzo Antinori, whence I may see Palazzo Strozzi, but without the great lamp at the corner where the flowers are heaped and there are always so many loungers. Indeed, the whole street is full of flowers and sunshine and cool shadow, and in some way, I know not what, it remains the most beautiful gay street in Florence, where past and present have met and are friends. And then I know if I follow this way I shall come to Lung' Arno-I may catch a glimpse of it even from the corner of Via Porta Rossa over the cabs, past the Column of S. Trinita; but the morning is gone: it is already long past midday, it is necessary to eat.

Luncheon over, I shall follow Via Porta Rossa, with its old palaces of the Torrigiani (now, Hotel Porta Rossa), and the Davanzati into Mercato Nuovo, where, because it is Thurs day, the whole place will be smothered with flowers and children, little laughing rascals as impudent as Lippo Lippi's Angiolini, who play about the Tacca and splash themselves with water. And so I shall pass at last into Piazza della Signoria, before the marvelous palace of the people with its fierce, proud tower, and I shall stand on the spot before the fountains where Humanism avenged itself on Puritanism, where Savonarola, that Ferrarese who burned the pictures and would have burned the city, was himself burned in the fire he had invoked. And I shall look once more on the Loggia dei Lanzi, and see Cellini's young contadino masquerading as Perseus, and in my heart I shall remember the little wax figure he made for a model, now in Bargello, which is so much more beautiful than this young giant. So, under the cool cloisters of Palazzo degli Uffizi I shall come at last on to Lung' Arno, where it is very quiet, and no horses may pass, and the trams are a long way off. And I shall lift up my eyes and behold once more the hill of gardens across Arno, with the Belvedere just within the old walls, and S. Miniato, like a white and fragile ghost in the sunshine, and La Bella Villanella couched like a brown bird under the cypresses above the grey olives in the wind and the sun. And something in the gracious sweep of the hills, in the gentle nobility of that holy mountain which Michelangelo has loved and defended, which Dante Alighieri has spoken of, which Gianozzo Manetti has so often climbed, will bring the tears to my eyes, and I shall turn away towards Ponte Vecchio, the oldest and most beautiful of the bridges, where the houses lead one over the river, and the little shops of the jewelers still sparkle and smile with trinkets. And in the midst of the bridge I shall wait a while and look on Arno. Then I Shall cross the bridge and wander upstream towards Porta S. Niccolo, that gaunt and naked gate in the midst of the way, and there I shall climb through the gardens up the steep hill

..."Per salire al monte Dove siede la chiesa"...

to the great Piazzale, and so to the old worn platform before S. Miniato itself, under the strange glowing mosaics of the facade: and, standing on the graves of dead Florentines, I shall look down on the beautiful city.

Marvelously fair she is on a summer evening as seen from that hill of gardens, Arno like a river of gold before her, leading over the plain lost in the farthest hills. Behind her the mountains rise in great amphitheaters-Fiesole on the one side, like a sentinel on her hill; on the other, the Apennines, whose gesture, so noble, precise and splendid, seems to point ever towards some universal sovereignty, some perfect domination, as though this place had been ordained for the resurrection of man. Under this mighty symbol of annunciation lies the city, clear and perfect in the lucid light, her towers shining under the serene evening sky. Meditating there alone for a long time in the profound silence of that hour, the whole history of this city that witnessed the birth of the modern world, the resurrection of the gods, will come to me.

Out of innumerable discords, desolations, hopes unfilled, everlasting hatred and despair, I shall see the city rise four square within her rosy walls between river and the hills; I shall see that lonely, beautiful, and heroic figure, Matilda the great Countess; I shall suffer the dream that consumes her, and watch Germany humble in the snow. And the Latin cause will tower a red lily beside Arno; one by one the great nobles will go by with cruel alien faces, prisoners, to serve the lily or to die. Out of their hatred will spring that mongrel cause of Guelph and Ghibelline, and I shall see the Amidei slay Buondelmonte Buondelmonti. Through the year of victories I shall rejoice, when Pistoja falls, when Siena falls, when Volterra is taken, and Pisa forced to make peace. Then in tears I shall see the flight at Monteaperti, I shall hear the thunder of the horses, and with hate in my heart I shall search for Bocca degli Abati, the traitor, among the 10,000 dead. And in the council I shall be by when they plot the destruction of the city, and I shall be afraid: then I shall hear the heroic, scornful words of Farinata degli Uberti, when in his pride he spared Florence for the sake of his birth. And I shall watch the banners at Campaldino, I shall hear the intoxicating words of Corso Donati, I shall look into his very face and read the truth.

And at dawn I shall walk with Dante, and I shall know by the softness of his voice when Beatrice passeth, but I shall not dare to lift my eyes. I shall walk with him through the city, I shall hear Giotto speak to him of St. Francis, and Arnolfo will tell us of his dreams. And at evening Petrarch will lead me into the shadow of S. Giovanni and tell me of Madonna Laura. But it will be a morning of spring when I meet Boccaccio, ah, in S. Maria Novella, and as we come into the sunshine I shall laugh and say, "Tell me a story." And Charles of Valois will pass by, who sent Dante on that long journey; and Henry VII., for whom he had prayed; and I shall hear the trumpets of Montecatini, and I shall understand the hate Uguccione had for Castracani. And I shall watch the entry of the Duke of Athens, and I shall see his cheek flush at the thought of a new tyranny. Then for the first time I shall hear the sinister, fortunate name Medici. Under the banners of the Arti I shall hear the rumor of their names, Silvestro who urged on the Ciompi, Vieri who once made peace; nor will the death of Gian Galeazzo of Milan, nor the tragedy of Pisa, hinder their advent, for I shall see Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici proclaimed Gonfaloniere of the city. Then they will troop by more splendid than princes, the universal bankers, lords of Florence: Cosimo the hard old man, Pater Patriae, the greatest of his race; Piero, the weakling; Lorenzo il Magnifico, tyrant and artist; and over his shoulder I shall see the devilish, sensual face of Savonarola. And there will go by Giuliano, the lover of Simonetta; Piero the exile; Giovanni the mighty Pope Leo X.; Giulio the son of Guiliano, Clement VII.; Ippolito the Cardinal, Alessandro the Cruel, I,orenzino his assassin, Cosimo Invitto, Grand Duke of Tuscany, bred in a convent and mourned for ever.

So they pass by, and their descendants follow after them, even to the poor, unhappy, learned Gian Gastone, the last of his race.

And around them throng the artists; yes, I shall see them all. Angelico will lead me into his cell and show me the meaning of the resurrection. With Lippo Lippi I shall play with the children, and talk with Lucrezia Buti at the convent gate; Chirlandajo will take me where Madonna Vanna is, and with Baldovinetti I shall watch the dawn. And Botticelli will lead me into a grove apart: I shall see the beauty of those three women who pass, who pass like a season, and are neither glad nor sorry; and with him I shall understand the joy of Venus, whose son was Love, and the tears of Madonna, whose son was Love also. And I shall hear the voice of Leonarda; and he will play upon his lyre of silver, that lyre in the shape of a horse's head which he made for Sforza of Milan; and I shall see him touch the hands of Mona Lisa. And I shall see the statue of snow that Buonarotti made; I shall find him under S. Miniato, and I shall weep with him.

So I shall dream in the sunset. The Angelus will be ringing from all the towers, and I shall have celebrated my return to the city that I have loved. The splendor of the dying day will lie upon her; in that enduring and marvelous hour, when in the sound of every bell you may find the names that are in your heart, I shall pass again through the gardens, I shall come into the city when the little lights before Madonna will be shining at the street corners, and streets will be full of the evening, where the river, stained with fading gold, steals into the night to the sea. And under the first stars I shall find my way to my hillside. On that white country road the dust of the day will have covered the vines by the way, the cypresses will be white half-way to their tops, in the whispering olives the cicale will still be singing; as I pass every threshold some dog will rouse, some horse will stamp in the stable, or an ox stop munching in his stall. In the far sky, marvelous with infinite stars, the moon will sail like a little platter of silver, like a piece of money new from the, mint, like a golden rose in a mirror of silver. Long and long ago the sun will have set, but when I come to the gate I shall go under the olives; though I shall be weary, I shall go by the longest way, I shall pass by the winding path, I shall listen for the whisper of the corn. And I shall beat at my gate, and one will say Chi e, and I shall make answer. So I shall come into my house, and the triple lights will be lighted in the garden, and the table will be spread. And there will be one singing in the vineyard, and I shall hear, and there will be one walking in the garden, and I shall know. - Edward Hutton



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