From Fiesole To Vallombrosa
( Originally Published 1906 )
But what need I of pictures on my walls ?
WILLIAM WETMORE STORY
ON one of the picturesque hillsides between Florence and Fiesole is the Villa Landor which is said to have been built by Michael Angelo. The lawn before the villa is a large oval plot, guarded by solemn rows of stately, motionless cypress trees that stand like a double row of sentinels, spectral and sombre. A great gate with high, stone pillars opens into the grounds. From the west and the south side of the villa there are enchanting views of the Val d'Arno, with gem-like glimpses of Florence gleaming in the heart of the valley. The location is one of the choicest in the environs of Florence. The sunset panorama over the Arno, with the heights of Bellosguardo and San Miniato in the distance ; the purple mountains, changing through all the hues of rose and violet shades, crowned with the ancient town of Fiesole from which an Etruscan tower looks down ; the luminous air, shimmering in a thousand opalescent lights, contributed to form a poetic atmosphere in which Landor could dwell as in a majestic harmony. Noble thought and lofty vision might well be the daily companions of one thus fittingly enshrined. " Milton and Galileo gave a glory to Fiesole even beyond its starry antiquity," wrote Leigh Hunt ; "nor is there, perhaps, a name eminent in the annals of Florence with which some connection cannot be traced with the ancient town."
It was in 1831 that Landor, through the generous kindness of an ardent admirer, Mr. Ablett of North Wales, came into possession of the " Villa Gherardesca," as it was then known. Mr. Ablett had more than once manifested his profound appreciation of the poet, and it was he who gave an order to the sculptor Gibson for a bust of Landor, a copy of which he presented to him. Landor sent it to his sister in England, explaining that it was the gift of his " incomparable friend, Mr. Ablett." The gift of the bust was closely followed by the generous provision made by Mr. Ablett enabling Landor to purchase for his home an estate so delightful as the Villa Gherardesca. Landor accepted this good fortune with great pleasure and gratitude. It gave him a pied h terre which combined comfort and convenience with that enchantment of beauty which the poetic nature craves as its environment. Under date of May 2, 1831, Landor thus writes to his sister :
" The children were all sitting so comfortably round the fire on my birthday, that they spoilt my intention of writing to you that evening... . We have had six cold days, with snow upon the Apennines, and a little of it about half a mile from my villa. You will doubtless be curious to hear something of this villa in which I shall pass the remainder of my life.
" Two years ago, in the beginning of the spring, I took a walk towards Fiesole with a gentleman settled in North Wales, Mr. Ablett.
I showed him a small cottage with about twelve acres of land, which I was about to take. ' He admired the situation, but preferred another house very near it, with a much greater quantity of ground annexed. I endeavored to persuade him to become my neighbor. He said little at the time, beyond the pleasure he should have in seeing me so pleasantly situated : but he made inquiries about the price of the larger house, and heard that it was not to be let, but that it might be bought for about two thousand pounds. He first desired me to buy it for him : then to keep it for myself : then to repay him the money whenever I was rich enough, and if I never was, to leave it for my heirs to settle. In fact, he refuses even a farthing of interest. All this was done by a man with whom I had not been more than a few months acquainted. It is true his fortune is very large ; but if others equal him in fortune, no human being ever equalled him in generosity.
" I must now give you a description of the place : the front of the house is towards the north, looking at the ancient town of Fiesole, three quarters of a mile off. The hills of Fiesole protect it from the north and northeast winds. The hall is 31 ft. by 22, and 20 high. On the right is a drawing-room 22 by 20 ; and through it you come to another 26 by 20. All are 20 ft. high. Opposite the door is another leading down to the offices on right and left and between them to a terrace-walk about a hundred yards long, overlooking Valdarno and Vallombrosa, celebrated by Milton. On the right of the downward staircase is the upward stair-case to the bedrooms ; and on the left are two other rooms corresponding with the two drawing-rooms. Over the hall, which is vaulted, is another room of equal size, delightfully cool in summer. I have four good bedrooms up stairs, 13 ft. high. One smaller and two servants' bedrooms over these, 10 1/2 ft high. In the centre of the house is a high turret, a dove-cote. The house is 60 ft. high on the terrace side, and 50 on the other ; the turret is 18 ft. above the 60. I have two gardens : one with a fountain and fine jet-d'eau. In the two are 165 large lemon-trees and 20 orange-trees, with two conservatories to keep them in winter. The whole could not be built in these days for £10,000.
" I am putting everything into good order by degrees : in fact, I spend in improvements what I used to spend in house-rent : that is, about £75 a year. I have planted 200 cypresses, 600 vines, 400 roses, 200 arbutuses, and 70 bays, besides laurustinas, &c., &c., and 60 fruit trees of the best qualities from France. I have not had a moment's illness since I resided here, nor have the children. My wife runs after colds ; it would be strange if she did not take them ; but she has taken none here ; hers are all from Florence. I have the best water, the best air, and the best oil in the world."
The Florentine sunshine glorified the days and Landor entered on the happiest and the most productive period of his life. The home was lovely with its wealth of flowers and the pictorial landscape for which every window made a frame. If " the ornaments of a home are," as Emerson says, " the friends who frequent it," the guests of Landor indeed illustrated this ideal. Leigh Hunt came ; Francis and Julius Hare ; Lady Blessington, whose husband, Lord Blessington, had been one of Landor's nearest friends ; John Kenyon, the relative and benefactor of the Brownings Mr. Greenough, the American sculptor, and Emerson. A few years before, Landor had been the guest of Lord Blessington on his yacht, for a cruise from Leghorn to Naples. While there Landor visited the ruined temples at Paλstum, finding them " magnificent ; " but " Grecian architecture does not turn into ruin so grandly as Gothic," he wrote to a friend. Lord Blessington's death in 1829 deprived Landor of one of his most congenial friends, and his pleasant intercourse with Lady Blessington continued during the remainder of her life, a period of some eighteen years after his establishment in his Fiesolean home. It was to the Countess of Blessington that Landor wrote the lines :
Since in the terrace-bower we sate
In the enjoyment of those early days in Villa Landor, as the house now became known, the poet entered on what was fairly a vita nuova in his experience, of which a letter to his sister offers its intimations. " My country now is Italy," he wrote, " where I have a residence for life, and can literally sit under my own vine and fig-tree. I have some thousands of the one and some scores of the other, with myrtles, pomegranates, lemons and mimosas in great variety."
In the spring of 1834 Landor received a visit from Mr. Nathaniel Parker Willis, then in the height of his youthful fame, who took from the poet a letter of introduction to Lady Blessing-ton in London. To Mr. Willis, Landor committed the manuscript of the " Examination of William Shakespeare for Deer-Stealing " to convey to London, where it was published the following autumn.
Lady Blessington's friendship and his own charm of personality insured to Mr. Willis a brilliant social recognition in London. His poems were widely read, and he was himself welcomed into a society of distinguished people in a manner most gratifying to an ardent and enthusiastic young poet, keenly sensitive and deeply appreciative of the honor and of the enjoyable and sympathetic atmosphere which surrounded him.
Leigh Hunt had been sojourning for some time in Pisa and in Genoa, and had fled to Florence as a refuge from the sorrows and disappointments that attended him. He became enamoured of Maiano, a little hamlet on one of the Fiesolean hills, where he wandered dreaming of Boccaccio. He was apparently anticipating the sweet counsel of Longfellow in the lines :
" If thou art worn and hard beset
Boccaccio had laid the two scenes of his " Decameron " on both sides of Maiano. The two little rivulets, the Affrico and the Mensola, were metamorphosed into the lovers in his " Nimphale Fiesolano ; " and the deep ravine at the foot of the hill was the " Valley of the Ladies." Near at hand, too, was the Villa Gherardi, where Boccaccio had lived. " Every spot around was an illustrious memory," wrote Forster. " To the left, the house of Machiavelli ; still farther in that direction, nestling amid the blue hills, the white village of Settignano, where Michael Angelo was born ; on the banks of the neighboring Mugnone, the house of Dante ; and in the back-ground, Galileo's villa of Arcetri and the palaces and cathedrals of Florence. In the thick of this noble landscape, forming part of the village of San Domenica di Fiesole, stood the villa which had now become Landor's. The Valley of the Ladies was in his grounds ; the Affrico and the Mensola ran through them ; above was the ivy-clad convent of the Doccia, overhung with cypress ; and from his iron entrance-gate might be seen Valdarno and Vallombrosa."
Charles Armitage Brown, whose special title to literary immortality is in that he was the near friend of Keats, had at this time domiciled himself in the little convent of San Baldassare near Maiano, where Leigh Hunt, forsaking his first location in the Via delle Belle Donne in Florence, had established himself. Armitage Brown became the confidential friend of Landor, and the two, with Leigh Hunt, made up a congenial trio. Together they rambled over the Fiesolean hills, calling into life and light again the vanished forms of Boccaccio's " joyous company." They watched the play of the twin streams, the Affrico and the Mensola, that wound through Landor's grounds. On a neighboring hill Machiavelli had at one time lived. Born in Florence, in the Via Guicciardini (in 1469), the son of Bernardo Machiavelli, who married the famous Florentine poet, Bartolommea Nelli, he had, in later years, sought the Fiesolean hills as a refuge in his busy life, where, as Secretary to the Ten, as Ambassador to Rome and to France, he had been in the heart of Florentine activities. From Mr. Brown's windows in San Baldassare could be seen the blue hills of Settignano, where Michael Angelo was born : and across the Mugnone rose the mountains of Pistoia. Florence lay " clear and cathedralled " below, and the convent of San Matteo, in Arcetri, where Galileo often visited his daughter, Maria Celeste, who had taken the vows of a religieuse, gleamed within the picturesque landscape. Leigh Hunt and Landor were on terms of most cordial intimacy, and Hunt describes Landor as " living among his paintings and hospitalities in a style of unostentatious elegance." He records his sur-prise at the limitations of Landor's library, and the incredible extension of his memory, which enabled him to carry a library in his mind. Hunt seems to have been deeply impressed by the scholarship and the original gifts of his host, and says : " Speaking of the Latin poets of antiquity, I was struck with an observation of his, that Ovid was the best-natured of them all. Horace's perfection that way he doubted. He said that Ovid had a greater range of pleasurable ideas, and was prepared to do justice to everything that came in his way. Ovid was fond of noticing his rivals in wit and genius, and has recorded the names of a great number of his friends ; whereas Horace seems to confine his eulogies to such as were rich or in fashion and well received at court." Hunt regarded Landor as a Latin poet " beyond elegance," and was surprised at the great vigor of his prose. " He is a man of vehement nature and great delicacy of imagination," said Hunt, " like a stormy mountain pine that should produce lilies."
To Landor, Florence continued to grow inexpressibly attractive. " If I can do nothing more for him," he wrote of his infant son, " I will take care that his first words and first thoughts shall arise within sight of Florence." As his first springtime in Villa Landor came on he realized anew the enchantment of Florence in the golden May days. The dazzlingly blue skies gleamed through the transparent air over the rose-flushed amethyst of the hills ; the lilies, the most wonderful roses the glowing damask the pale yellow of the Cloth of Gold, and the fragrant whiteness of orange blossoms, the resplendence of a myriad of flowers, made every turn and corner rich in color ; while every street and piazza were vocal with the song of strolling musicians. The moonlight nights enchanted him with their splendor, and the trio of friends often enjoyed_ long evening drives on the Lung' Arno, where they watched a thousand lights reflected in the river, and the blaze of brilliant stars above the dome of San Spirito and the heights of San Miniato. These years of Landor's life were rich in their intellectual activities. He was producing the " Imaginary Conversations," although the most brilliant one of them, "Pericles and Aspasia," was not written until 1835. The " Ode to Southey" and also an " Ode to Wordsworth " were written, with much other verse which was largely of a personal nature.
In the May days of 1833 Emerson visited Landor in his rose-embowered villa, receiving from him the most hospitable welcome. At that time Horatio Greenough, the American sculptor, was living in Florence, having gone to Italy from his Cambridge (Massachusetts) home in furtherance of his art. It was Mr. Greenough who conveyed to Emerson Landor's invitation to dine with him ; and of the visit Emerson wrote in after years : " I found him noble and courteous, living in a cloud of pictures at his Villa Gherardesca, a fine house commanding a beautiful landscape."
Emerson added :
" I had inferred from his books, or magnified from some anecdotes, an impression of Achillean wrath, an untamable petulance. I do not know whether the imputation were just or not, but certainly on this May day his courtesy veiled that haughty mind, and he was the most patient and gentle of hosts. He praised the beautiful cyclamen which grows all about Florence ; he admired Washington; talked of Wordsworth, Byron, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher. To be sure, he is decided in his opinions, likes to surprise, and is well content to impress, if possible, his English whim upon the immutable past. No great man ever had a great son, if Philip and Alexander be not an exception ; and Philip he calls the greater man. In art, he loves the Greeks, and in sculpture, them only. He prefers the Venus to everything else, and, after that, the head of Alexander, in the gallery here. He prefers John of Bologna to Michel Angelo ; in painting, Raffaelle ; and shares the growing taste for Perugino and the early masters. The Greek histories he thought the only good ; and after them, Voltaire's."
Emerson declared that Landor "pestered" him with Southey, and asks : " But who is Southey ? " The Concord sage recorded his recollections of this visit in further detail in regard to break-fasting with Landor :
" He invited me to breakfast on Friday. On Friday I did not fail to go, and this time with Greenough. He entertained us at once with reciting half a dozen hexameter lines of Julius Caesar's ! from Donatus, he said. He glorified Lord Chesterfield more than was necessary, and undervalued Burke, and undervalued Socrates ; designated as three of the greatest of men, Washington, Phocion, and Timoleon. . . . I had visited Professor Amici, who had shown me his microscopes, magnifying (it was said) two thousand diameters ; and I spoke of the uses to which they were applied. Landor despised entomology, yet, in the same breath, said, the ' sub-lime was in a grain of dust.' I suppose I teased him about recent writers, but he professed never to have heard of Herschel, not even by name."
It was twenty-three years after this visit (in 1856) that Emerson published this reference to Landor in his volume called " English Traits," and it aroused the vehement protest of his host.
Your ' English Traits ' have given me great pleasure," wrote Landor to Emerson, " and they would have done so even if I had been treated by you with less favor. The short conversations we held at my Tuscan villa were insufficient for an estimate of my character and opinions. Twenty-three years have not obliterated from my memory the traces of your visit in company with that great man and glorious sculptor who was delegated to erect a statue in your Capital to the tutelary genius of America. . . . I do prefer Giovanni di Bologna to Michael Angelo, who is sublime in conceptions but often incorrect and extravagant. . . . I am sorry to have 'pestered, you with Southey;' to have excited the query, Who is Southey ?' I will reply, Southey is the poet who has written the most imaginative poem of any in our time, such is the ' Curse of Kehama.' Southey is the man who has written the purest prose."
Landor's personal affections were so vehement that his friendship for Southey led him greatly to overrate him as an artist. And yet, with this distant perspective of time, it is easy to see how a certain mysterious strain in the poetry of Southey, half revealing itself and then slipping back into the under-world of magic, fascinated the imagination of Landor.
Emerson's fancy in Florence was chiefly caught by the Duomo, of which he remarked that it was " set down like an archangel's tent in the midst of the city."
A few years after this meeting of Emerson and Landor, Charles Sumner visited Florence, and by him Emerson sent to Landor a gift of some books and a letter introducing the great Senator in which he emphasized the great " de-light and instruction " which he had derived from the reading of Landor's " Imaginary Conversations," one or two instalments of which had then appeared. But Emerson always held of Landor the opinion he expressed to Carlyle, that
Landor's speech was below his writing."
The proximity of the villa in which Lorenzo il Magnifico lived and died always fascinated the imagination of Landor, and contributed to the charm of his location.
" Lorenzo was a man of marvellous variety and range of mental power," writes John Addington Symonds. " He possessed one of those rare natures fitted to comprehend all knowledge and to sympathise with the most divine forms of life. .. . An apologist may always plead that Lorenzo was the epitome of his nation's most distinguished qualities, that the versatility of the Renaissance found in him its fullest incarnation. . . . It is nevertheless true that Lorenzo enfeebled and en-slaved Florence. . . . He had not the greatness to rise above the spirit of his century or to make himself the Pericles of his Republic. In other words he was adequate, but not superior to Re-naissance Italy. This, then, was the man around whom the greatest scholars assembled, at whose table sat Poliziano, Landino, Marsilio Nicino, Leo Battista Alberti, Michael Angelo, Pulci and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. The mere mention of these names suffices to awaken a crowd of memories in the mind of those to whom Italian art and poetry are dear. Lorenzo's villas, where this brilliant circle met for grave discourse or social converse, have been so often sung by poets and celebrated by historians that Careggi, Caffogiola, and Poggio a Cajano are no less familiar to us than the studious shades of Academe."
The magnetism of all this scholarly atmosphere still lingers in the Florentine air. Landor, no less than other poets and men of letters who have loved Florence, must have felt its power, and not the less in that his home was fairly embowered in these regions of the Academe. " In a villa over-hanging the towers of Florence on the slope of that lofty hill crowned by the mother city, the ancient Fiesole, in gardens which Tully might have envied, with his chosen friends at his side, Lorenzo delighted his hours of leisure with the beautiful visions of Platonic philosophy, for which the summer stillness of an Italian sky appears the most congenial accompaniment," says Hallam. " As we climb the steep slope of Fiesole," writes John Addington Symonds, " or linger beneath the rose trees that shed their petals from Careggi's garden walls, once more in our imagination the blossoms of that marvellous spring unclose. While the sun goes down beneath the mountains of Carrara, and the Apennines grow purple-golden, and Florence sleeps beside the silvery Arno, and the large Italian stars come forth above, we remember how those mighty master spirits watched the sphering of new planets in the spiritual skies. Savonarola in his cell below once more sits brooding over the servility of Florence, the corruption of a godless church, Michael Angelo, seated between Ficino and Poliziano, with the voices of the prophets vibrating in his memory, and with the music of Plato sounding in his ears, loses himself in contemplation whereof the after-fruit shall be the Sistine Chapel and the Medicean tombs."
Fiesole is the most charming of features in all this surrounding landscape. Its ancient cathedral dates back to the time of Nero, when its first bishop, San Romolo, a convert and disciple of St. Peter, was sent with a special mission to preach at Fζsulζ, as the city was then known, and here, by the orders of Nero, the bishop was imprisoned and killed with a dagger. In the centre of the town is a little piazza having the old cathedral on one side, while opposite is a museum in which are collected Etruscan relics. Not far be-low the summit of the hill are the walls of a Roman amphitheatre, some twenty or thirty feet high, with flights of steps cut in the solid rock still remaining. There are a few villas on this height occupied by English and American residents, but for the most part the populace are the native Italians of the poorer class. Driving from Fiesole along the crest of the mountains, the view looking down on Florence in its wide valley is enchanting. There is a castle-villa, the Castello di Vincigliata, crowning one height, that is filled with treasures of art. It was purchased in 1855 by Mr. Temple Leader, an English gentle-man, who restored it in mediζval style. The castle is rich in artistic objects, among which are an Annunciation by della Robbia ; a Last Supper by Santo di Tito ; a vast collection of armor, and in the cloisters is an old well and a sarcophagus.
The Platonic Academy came, later, to hold its meetings in the Orti Rucellai, in the old Via del Prato, by the invitation of Bernardo Rucellai, after the death of Lorenzo and the banishment of the Medici. The famous discourse of Machiavelli on Livy was given before this assembly ; and the eager audience, in which sat Leo X, listened also to Giovanni Rucellai, who read be-fore it the first Italian tragedy, " Rosamunda." The literary character of the Academy was changed in 1520 to a political one, and a conspiracy was formed against the Medici and Cardinal Giulio ; but the Rucellai, being friends of the Medici, opposed this scheme, and their palace and garden were therefore laid in ruins by the people ; and the remains, to-day, may be seen in the Castello di Vincigliata. On this drive, too, one comes upon Settignano, where Michael Angelo was born, Settignano with its head-less statue covered with inscriptions.
At San Salvi, a little farther on this beautiful drive on the hills looking down on Florence, is the old convent of San Salvi, in which is treasured, in the refectory, the noted Cenacolo of Andrea del Sarto, to which Mrs. Jameson assigns the third rank in art after those of Leonardo and Raphael.
The old church of San Martino a Mensola, a gray, mediζval structure, is passed, and one recalls a story told that runs :
" The church was restored by St. Andrew, the companion of St. Ornatus, the Irish missionary bishop of Fiesole. He established a monastery near the church, where he died soon after his master, miraculously comforted on his deathbed by the presence of his sister, Bridget, whom he had left in Ireland forty years before, and in a glorious radiance of light, ' which drew all the people of Fiesole around him, as if summoned by a heavenly trumpet.' After his death Bridget lived in a hermitage at Opacum, now Lebaco, high in the mountains, till her death in 870. The embalmed body of St. Andrew rests beneath the high altar. Formerly the holy water basin rested on a pedestal inscribed ' Help, Help, Ghod ' a relic of the Irish St. Andrew's rule. Some ancient arches and several curious pictures remain in the church, which was restored by the Gherardi in 1450. The church in the Via del Margazzini at Florence was founded by St. Andrew in 786 in connection with St Martino a Mensola."
Ah l what a dream of enchantment it is to look from the encircling crest of these lofty hills towering above fair Florence, where the Val d'Arno is at moments suffused with an impalpable blue haze, in which the vast Duomo, the picturesque tower of Palazzo Vecchio, the domes of San Lorenzo and San Spirito, and the aerial spires and battlements of Santa Croce seem swimming as in the blue sea. Across the valley rises the height of San Miniato, with its stately, noble cypress trees and old terraces and bridges ; numerous massive villas and clusters of villages sparkle amid the terraced, tree-embowered heights surrounding this exquisite city ; the glass of the windows in loggias and roofs glitters like a million diamonds studding the landscape.
The Torre del Gallo Galileo's tower is one of the objects pointed out on these hills, and it will be remembered that Milton alluded to it in the lines :
" The moon, whose orb
In " Pascarel," we find this most perfect and poetic description :
" He took me up the Star Tower of Galileo among the winding paths of the hills, with the gray walls overtopped by white fruit blossoms, and ever and again, at some break in their ramparts of stone, the gleam of the yellow Arno water, or the glisten of the marbles of the city shining on us far beneath, through the silvery veil of the olive leaves. It was just in that loveliest moment when winter melts into spring. Everywhere under the vines the young corn was springing in that tender vivid greenness that is never seen twice in a year. The sods between the furrows were scarlet with the bright flame of wild tulips, with here and there a fleck of gold where a knot of daffodils nodded. The roots of the olives were blue with nestling pimpernels and hyacinths, and along the old gray walls the long, soft, thick leaf of the arums grew, shading their yet unborn lilies. The air was full of a dreamy fragrance ; the bullocks went on their stow way with flowers in their leathern frontlets ; the contadini had flowers stuck behind their ears or in their waistbands ; women sat by the wayside ; singing as they plaited their yellow, curling lengths of straw ; children frisked and tumbled like young rabbits under the budding maples ; the plum trees strewed the green landscape with flashes of white like newly-fallen snow on Alpine grass slopes ; again and again among the tender pallor of the olive woods there rose the beautiful flush of a rosy almond tree ; at every step the passerby trod ankle deep in violets.
" About the foot of the Tower of Galileo ivy and vervain, and the Madonna's herb, and the white hexagons of the stars of Bethlehem grew among the grasses ; pigeons paced to and fro with pretty pride of plumage ; a dog slept on the flags ; the cool, moist, deep-veined creepers climbed about the stones ; there were peach trees in all the beauty of their blossoms, and everywhere about them were close-set olive trees, with the ground between them scarlet with the tulips and the wild rose bushes. From a window a girl leaned out and hung a cage among the ivy leaves, that her bird might sing his vespers to the sun. Who will may see the scene to-day. The world has spoiled most of its places of pilgrimage, but the old Star Tower is not harmed as yet, where it stands among its quiet garden ways and grass-grown slopes, up high among the hills, with sounds of dripping water on its court, and wild wood flowers thrusting their bright heads through its stones. It is as peaceful, as simple, as homely, as closely girt with blossoming boughs and with tulip crimsoned flowers now as then, when, from its roof in the still midnight of far-off Fiesole Galileo read the secrets of the stars."
Italy, that once imprisoned Galileo in chains, now reverences his name. The world usually stones its prophets and its saviours, but in the end the visions and the truth triumph and lend their exaltation and force to the onward progress of humanity. How sublime is the appreciation of Galileo by Sir John Herschel, who said of the moment of his first discovery :
What a moment of exultation for such a mind as his ! But as yet it was only the dawn of day that was coming ; nor was he destined to live till that day was in its splendor. The great law of gravitation was not yet to be made known ; and how little did he think, as he held the instrument in his hand, that we should travel by it as far as we have done ; that its revelations would ere long be so glorious ! "
The drive from Florence to Fiesole passes near the Villa Palmieri, the home of Matteo Palmieri, whose poem, " La Citta della Vita," inspired Botticelli to paint his " Assumption," which is to be seen in the National gallery in Florence. It is this villa which Queen Victoria occupied in her visit to Florence in 1888. The road winds up beautiful terraces, with the silver gray of olive orchards gleaming under the purple cloud-shadows that flit over the hillsides, and the glow of tulips and the faint pink of almond blossoms contrast with the delicate green of the fields.
From the terraced piazza in Fiesole is another of those marvellous views over the Val d'Arno, with Florence and other towns surrounded by white walls gleaming in the sunlight. In Fiesole, as in Rome, excavations are constantly being made, and new relics are coming to light. On the side of the hill toward Florence the scene is one never to be forgotten. Ruskin has vividly depicted it when he says :
" Few travellers can forget the peculiar landscape of this district of the Apennine, as they ascend the hill which rises from Florence. They pass continually beneath the walls of villas bright in perfect luxury, and beside cypress hedges, in-closing fair terraced gardens, where the masses of oleander and magnolia, motionless as leaves in a picture, inlay alternately upon the blue sky their branching lightness of pale rose color and deep green breadth of shade, studded with balls of budding silver, and showing at intervals through their framework of rich leaf and rubied flower the far-away bends of the Arno beneath its slopes of olive, and the purple peaks of the Carrara mountains, tossing themselves against the western distance, where the streaks of motionless cloud burn above the Pisan sea. The traveller passes the Fiesolan ridge, and all is changed. The country is on a sudden lonely."
It is on these Fiesolan hills that Cimabue found Giotto, as a shepherd lad, drawing on a rock while he watched the sheep. The great painter, " who had already made the streets of Florence ring with joy," took Giotto to his home, where the boy became his most devoted pupil and his not unworthy successor.
Not far above the piazza of Michael Angelo, one of the favorite resorts of the Florentines, is the Church of San Miniato, invested with legend and myth and association, one particularly striking story being that of the founder of the Vallombrosa monastery, who received, as he felt, the evidence of a miracle at this altar. The story- runs that a wealthy and distinguished young Florentine noble, Giovanni Gualberto, had an only brother who was murdered, and he vowed vengeance upon the assassin. " It happened that when returning from Florence to the country house of his father, on the evening of Good Friday," relates Mrs. Jameson, " he suddenly came upon his enemy alone and unarmed. Gualberto drew his sword. The miserable wretch fell upon his knees and entreated mercy, adjuring Gualberto, by the memory of Christ who had suffered on that day, to spare his life. Struck with compunction, and remembering that Christ, when on the Cross, had prayed for his murderers, Gualberto stayed his sword, extended his hand, raised the suppliant from the ground, and embraced him." Proceeding on his way, Gualberto entered San Miniato and knelt before the altar, gazing at the crucifix before him. A sudden revulsion of feeling and repentance came over him, and he wept, supplicating pardon and mercy. The figure on the crucifix, in reply, bowed its head, and the miracle sank deep into his heart and changed the entire course of his life. He sought and obtained ad-mission to the Benedictine order, took the vows, and became a monk in the monastery of San Miniato. Here for years he lived in humble penitence, and at last, on the death of the abbot, he was chosen to succeed him. Pere Gualberto declined, and betook himself to solitude in the shades of Vallombrosa, where he founded that order.
The landscape from this beautiful height of San Miniato has been thus perfectly pictured by Mr. Harford :
The view from San Miniato is best seen towards sunset. From an eminence, studded by noble cypresses, the Arno meets the eye, reflecting in its tranquil bosom a succession of terraces and bridges, edged by imposing streets and palaces, above which are seen the stately cathedral, the Church of Santa Croce, and the picturesque tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, while innumerable other towers, of lesser fame and altitude, crown the distant parts of the city, and the banks of the river, which at length its sinuous stream bathed in liquid gold is lost sight of amidst the rich carpet of a vast and luxuriant plain, bounded by lofty Apennines. Directly opposite to the eye rises the classical height of Fiesole, its sides covered with inter-mingled rocks and woods, from amidst which sparkle innumerable villages and villas."
This panorama lies before the eye when lingering on the piazza of San Miniato. This church, like Santa Croce, is something of a campo santo, and it contains a chapel built by Michelozzo for Piero de' Medici. This chapel contains the miraculous crucifix of San Giovanni Gualberto, and there is also in it an exquisite marble screen. " Who that remembers Florence," says Leigh Hunt, does not remember well the San Miniato alte' Monte, towering on its lofty eminence above the city, and visible along the Lung' Arno from the Ponte aile Grazie to the Ponte alla Carraja ? and the enchanting views of the valley of the Arno as seen from the marble steps of the ancient church and the old dismantled fortress defended by Michael Angelo against the Medici ? and the long avenue of cypresses and the declivities robed in vineyards and olive grounds between the gate of San Miniato and the lofty heights above ? "
The David of Michael Angelo, on the piazza bearing the name of the great artist, is a colossal figure of the most free and majestic effect. There are stone benches placed so that the visitor may sit and gaze on the wonderful panorama. In the late afternoon the splendors of an Italian sunset burn in the western sky seen beyond the old Mozzi palace surrounded by groves. Across the valley is seen the purple line of the Carrara mountains and the dark slope of Mt. Morello. The bell towers in Florence catch the lingering rays of the sunset. The graceful spire of the Badia and the rich gleams of color on Giotto's tower irresistibly attract the eye, while from Santa Maria Novella the musical chimes float out on the evening air.
Beyond the Porta Romana, concealed from sight by the curve of the hills, is the Certosa of the Val d'Emo, crowning a hill thickly covered with cypress trees. It is in the Certosa that Niccolo Acciajuolo, Grand Seneschal to Queen Joanna of Naples, and the founder of this con-vent, is entombed, beneath a recumbent statue clad in armor, above which is a rich Gothic canopy. It was Acciajuolo who, in 1341, founded the Certosa. Farther up the hills the visitor comes upon the wonderful shrine of La Madonna dell' Impruneta.
Across the valley, at the foot of the heights of Bellosguardo, is the Church of San Francesco di Paola, in which is the tomb of the revered Bishop of Fiesole, one of the most important works of Luca della Robbia. " The admirably truthful figure of the dead bishop, clad in his imperial robes, is placed on a sarcophagus in a square recess, at the back of which are three figures, Christ, the Madonna, and St. John," says Perkins, writing of the Tuscan sculptors. The faces of these figures are wonderfully impressive in strong individuality and solemn dignity.
At times, while gazing upon the loveliness of the wide and varied landscape from the piazza of Michael Angelo, a silvery fog will envelop the entire valley, seeming to blend earth and sky in an aerial cloud, while a golden gleam of sunshine will suddenly light it up as with an exquisite transparency, and from this delicate, floating, wraith-like mist the summit of a distant hill flashes out, or the dark mass of a group of cypress trees, or the tower of some ancient chiesi, as if they were hung in the air and floating through it like the spectral forms of Paolo and Francesca in Dante's vivid picturing. One might dwell indefinitely on the unearthly loveliness of the environs of Florence with the sudden cloud effects, the ethereal mountain lines, with cascine and villa on the heights and the sloping hillsides. Florence is a smokeless city, and the atmospheric phenomena are thus seen in peculiar clearness and beauty. From the Via Lungo it Mugnone is a beautiful view of the Tuscan mountains, a height crowned by a convent a massive, rambling structure of white stone, gleaming against the far blue sky, which marks the spot where St. Francis met St. Benedict. There is not a street corner, nor a hillside, nor a turn in the way in Italy that is not invested with legend and association running into the historic past, in a way, too, that lives again in the present. Florence was founded and developed by wonderful personalities. For good or for ill, they stamped their impress on all time. This church was built in 1225 by the monks of St. Augustine. The piazza commands one of the most splendid and extensive views from the Castentino mountains to the ranges of the Carrara. In the church is a Coronation by Piero di Cosimo dating back to the fifteenth century.
On a wayside shrine on the Fiesolan road that winds up to Villa Landor is an inscription that tells all who pass that one Luigi Consago " felt God in his heart " as he walked these hills, and that the fields smiled on him with new meaning. A part of this runs :
" Su questi colli ore passeggiando giovinetto sentisti Iddio O Luigi Gonzaga piori grazia che in tanto reso della terra sicardi agli nomini it cielo."
The excursion to Vallombrosa on an eminence nearly three thousand feet above Florence -- is one of the interesting things to make. The old monastery there was founded in 1050, and even the present buildings date back to the early years of the seventeenth century.
In 1881 William Wetmore Story passed some time at Vallombrosa with a friend who had taken a deserted villa, one built by the Medici, centuries ago, and used as a shooting box, fitted it up as a summer home, and the sculptor thus described the panorama that lay before him :
" There, far away in the misty distance, can be seen the vague towers and domes of Florence ; and through the valley the Arno and the Sieve wind like silver bands of light through olive-covered slopes that lie silent in the blue, hazy distance, spotted by wandering cloud-shades and taking every hue of changeful light from the pearly gleams of early morning to the golden transmutations of twilight and the deep intensity of moonlit midnight."
Vallombrosa is the very Arcady of the poet's imagination. It has the isolation of a dream-world, a realm in which reminiscence and vision seem to meet ; for memories of its consecrated past, prophecies of its alluring future, mingle in the atmosphere. It is an ideal spot for a poet's holiday, with no call of ordinary life and affairs to rudely interrupt his day-dreams. It is little wonder that a nature so essentially ideal as that of Story found here his Elysium ; and in the Villa Lago di Vallombrosa, the summer home of his daughter, Madame Peruzzi, he and Mrs. Story celebrated their golden wedding and passed there portions of many happy seasons. It was in this villa that Mr. Story wrote his idyllic romance, " Fiametta," reading it aloud to his wife and daughter (as he notes in the preface to the little tale) " on three beautiful mornings as we sat under the shadows of the whispering pines. To you I dedicate it," he added, " with my truest love and in memory of those happy summer days in the Etrurian shades."
During one of those Vallombrosan summers Tommaso Salvini was their guest, and there were long readings from the dramatic poets, and intimate conversational discussions of art and of the modern drama, as they sat under the murmuring pines, whose tops seem to almost pierce the sky. This, too, was the scene in which it was written that the sculptor should look his last on earth, for in October of 1895, Mr. Story died in the Villa Lago di Vallombrosa, and his body was conveyed to Rome and laid beside that of his beloved wife, in the little English cemetery where rests all that was mortal of Keats and of Shelley.
The old church of Vallombrosa has one object of singular interest to the visitor, a silver reliquary, elaborately carved and chiselled, which is believed to contain the relics of San Giovanni Gualberto. There is also an Assumption, very much defaced by time, attributed to Franceschini. Vallombrosa, in all its beauty and charm of association, is the most unique spot in all Tuscany. Artists and poets seek its inspirations for creative suggestion ; the thinker and the seer are attracted to those shades which Milton loved and immortalized in the lines,
" Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks In Vallombrosa."
The Abbey, founded in 1637, was once the most important one in Italy. It was a shrine of the perpetual adoration, and there was hardly an hour when prayer and praise were not ascending from the altar. This Abbey was also the home of learning and the conservator of art and science.
When the Brownings first went to Florence (in 1847) they visited Vallombrosa and implored the monks to allow them to remain for two months, but at the end of five days they were sent away, as Mrs. Browning and her maid two women could not be permitted to sojourn in a monastery. " So provoking!" wrote Mrs. Browning. Such scenery, such fine woods supernaturally silent, with the ground black as ink. . . . But being ignominiously expelled, we had to come back to Florence to find a new apartment cooler than the old, and wait for dear Mr. Kenyon. Then we took up our journey toward Rome with a pause at Arezzo, and a longer one at Perugia, and planned to take an apartment over the Tarpeian rock and enjoy Rome as we have enjoyed Florence. More could not be. This Florence is unspeakably beautiful."
It is more than a study of myth and mediζval legend to live in Florence, and still one can hardly fail to preserve the relations between antiquity and modernity by becoming oblivious to the claims of the latter. When all is said that can be for Italy and that is a great deal ; for its infinite depths of historic interest ; its great personages who lived and loved and suffered and sacrificed for its glory, and for what they held to be the glory of the divine truth ; for its enthralling romance ; its atmosphere of enchantment when all is said that can be for all its loveliness, it still remains true that one day in our own country is more significant than is a year under these fair skies. For Italy is the land where it is always afternoon. It is the land where time is not of the faintest consequence. The Italians, as a general rule, do nothing, and they so contrive the general mechanism of life that the stranger within the gates can do nothing either. The most disproportionate length of time is required for the smallest thing.
In 1892 a funicular railway up the heights of Vallombrosa was constructed, and this should so bring the historic height within an easy distance of an hour and a half, at most, from Florence, were transportation conducted as it is in America. The route now is by steam train from Florence to Arezzo, leaving it at Pontassieve, where the funicular railway road ascends the mountain. The journey by the steam train, which requires fifty-five minutes, could be easily made in America within fifteen minutes, as it is hardly more than twelve miles. The cogwheel trip of the height requires almost as much time as it takes in Colorado to ascend Pike's Peak, which is a far greater distance. In our own country the excursion from Florence to Vallombrosa would be made so attractive and so easy that it would be a distinctive source of revenue to the railroad management, and incidentally to every one along the way, from the refreshment stands to the penny newspapers, while, on the side of the tourists, the excursion would be so delightful that they would throng the trains. It is true that the trip up Vallombrosa is no longer the penitential pilgrim-age that it was in the days of Landor ; but still the appallingly early matutinal hour at which one must fare forth, and the late hour of return, make the day inevitably more fatiguing than is at all necessary for the little distance. To arrive at the point of exhaustion in a good cause may be counted all joy ; but to be fatigued for no reason. at all save that of the lack of adequate facilities is another matter. If only some enter-prising- American would discover Italy, as a certain enterprising Italian discovered America, and proceed to develop it into ways and means of modern life, what a delightful event it would be.
" But you are so luxurious, you Americans," exclaims a long-expatriated American artist ; " we don't believe in so much self-indulgence." " But it is not self-indulgence at all," one pro-tests ; " it is simply means to an end, and that end is achievement. Why, we are doing things in America ! We take thousands and thousands of acres of arid land and we re-create it into blossoming beauty and fertile production. We cross the continent of three thousand miles in four days, living, meantime, in a flying palace, but we do it for a purpose, and that purpose is not mere self-indulgence. We overcome time and space, those two barriers, and America is by no means merely the producer of wealth ; this wealth is expressing itself in universal education, in great universities, in great opportunities, great art."
Florence supposed to be a musical centre cannot now compete with the great music of Boston, New York, Chicago, or even with musical opportunities in smaller Western cities. It cannot compete in modern painting or sculpture with America. Our wonderful architectural development, our marvellous feats of engineering, the greatness of life in general, as exemplified in America, finds no parallel in Italy. And this greatness of achievement requires conditions of comfort and convenience in order that one may be physically equal to the great achievements. If the physical plane of life, the basis of all development, can be easily conquered by inventions and appliances, the energy that would otherwise need to be expended thereon is released and is free to apply itself to higher problems.
George Eliot has recorded her opinion that the view from Fiesole is the most beautiful of any in the vicinity of Florence, but that from San Miniato, she adds has an interest of another kind be-cause here Florence lies much nearer below and one can distinguish the various buildings more completely. . . . There is Brunelleschi's mighty dome, and close by, with its lovely colors not entirely absorbed by distance, Giotto's incomparable Campanile, beautiful as a jewel." Mr. Longfellow's exquisite sonnet to this wonderful " lily of Florence " recurs to memory :
How many lives, made beautiful and sweet
George Eliot and Mr. Lewes were the guests of Thomas Adolphus Trollope in the winter of 186970, at his villa outside Porta San Niccolo at Ricorboli, where he had a small podere. The great novelist had previously visited Florence in the spring of 1860 and again a year later, her first visit being devoted to her studies for " Romola," which she wrote in London during the ensuing year. The spacious salon in Villa Trollope, on the Piazza Indipendza, where George Eliot copied her notes for " Romola," was later occupied by Mr. Thomas Hardy, during a visit to Florence. In the perspective of time since " Romola " was published it is interesting to read the author's own conception of that work, given in a private letter to Mr. R. H. Hutton, bearing date of August, 1863. " It is the habit of my imagination," she writes, " to strive after as full a vision of the medium in which a character moves as of the character itself. . . . My predominant feeling is not that I have achieved anything, but that great, great facts have struggled to find a voice through me, and have been only able to speak brokenly. That consciousness makes me cherish the more any proof that my work has been seen to have some true significance by minds prepared not simply by instruction, but by that religious and moral sympathy with the historical life of man, which is the larger half of culture."
George Eliot passed the entire month of May in 1861 in Florence. " Our morning hours were spent in looking at streets, buildings and pictures," she records in her journal, " in hunting up old books at shops or stalls, or in reading at' the Magliabicchiana Library." The Laurentian Library (Libreria Laurenziana), that wonderful temple of learning designed by Michael Angelo, held a great charm for George Eliot, who found it " resembling a chapel with open pews of dark wood. The precious books are all chained to the desk," she notes, " and here we saw old manuscripts of exquisite neatness, culminating in the Virgil of the fourth century, and the Pandects, said to have been recovered from oblivion at Amalfi."
From the cloistered terrace of the old church of San Lorenzo a door leads into the Laurentian Library whose real founder was Cosimo it Vecchio, the most munificent of Florentine patrons of art and letters. Vacchi, the historian, characterizes Cosimo as one " with displayed and manifest virtues, and secret and hidden faults, who made him-self head and little less than prince of a Republic which though free, yet served ; " and the great benefits he conferred by his dominant power of temperament led to the demand for his recall after his enemies had banished him. As will be remembered, Lorenzo it Magnifico was the grandson of Cosimo it Vecchio and possessed in a striking degree his characteristics. Cosimo's son, Piero, married Mona Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a woman of great learning and a poet of her day. Of this marriage there were three daughters, andtwo sons, Lorenzo, afterward known as it Magnfco, and Giuliano, the two brothers whose tombs in the Capello Medici, the architectural masterpiece of Michael Angelo, and one of the special points of pilgrimage in Florence. Here are found those immortal figures of Michael Angelo, the symbolic statues of Day and Night, - of Twilight and Dawn, whose replicas are familiar in every museum of art. Of these statues Ruskin wrote : " Four ineffable types, not of Darkness nor of Day, not of Morning nor Evening, but of the Departure and the Resurrection : the Twilight and the Dawn of the souls of men." The figure of Death is invested with a grandeur that is indescribable and of the Dawn, John Bell has said that " the form is of the most exquisite pro-portions ; the head, a grand and heroic cast, and the drapery, which falls in thin transparent folds from the turban, is full of grace, while in her noble countenance a spring of thought, an awakening principle, seems to breathe, as if the rising day awaited the opening of her eyes. Day is much unfinished, little more than blocked out, most magnificent. Night in sleep and silence, is finely imagined, the attitude beautiful, mournful, and full of the most tender expression, the drooping head, the supporting hand, and the rich head-dress unrivalled in the art."
Of these statues Giovanni Battista Strozzi wrote :
" La Notte che tu vedi in si dolci atti
To which Michael Angelo replied :
" Grato m' θ il sonno, e piω l' esser di sasso
One translation of these two stanzas thus runs :
" Night in so sweet an attitude beheld
Another translation of the Strozzi stanza (made by J. A. Wright) is as follows : --
" Carved by an Angel, in this marble white
The stanza by Michael Angelo has been thus translated :
"Welcome is sleep, more welcome sleep of stone
Mr. Wright has also translated this stanza in the following lines :
" Grateful is sleep, whilst wrong and shame survive ;
Hawthorne was deeply impressed by the statue of Lorenzo it Magnifico, which in its entablature looks down forever, in the immortal repose of marble, on the figures of the Twilight and Dawn. Of the statue of Lorenzo, Hawthorne
says : " It is the one work worthy of Michael Angelo's reputation and grand enough to vindicate for him all the genius that the world gave him credit for. And yet it seems a simple thing enough to think of or to execute ; merely a sitting figure, the face partly over-shadowed by a helmet, one hand supporting the chin.. . . No such grandeur and majesty has elsewhere been put into human shape. It is all a miracle, the deep repose and the deep life within it."
George Eliot did not meet the Brownings during either of her two visits (in 1861-1862), but Mrs. Browning wrote in a letter to Miss Sarianna Browning, under date of June, 1860: " Mr. Lewes and Miss Evans have been here and are coming back. I admire her books so much that certainly I shall not refuse to receive her." As a matter of fact George Eliot only met Mr. Browning for the first time some two years after the death of his wife. During all her sojourns in Florence, George Eliot seems to have lived largely the life of a student. She examined with great interest the collection of ivory work by Benvenuto Cellini in the Palazzo Vecchio, and the beauty of Orcagna's Loggia de' Lanzi grew upon her. The historic atmosphere of this Loggia still fascinates the student of Florentine history, for here were the decrees of the government proclaimed to the people who thronged the Piazza della Signoria when the ringing of the bells in Palazzo Vecchio called them to assemble. Cellini's Perseus impressed George Eliot as fantastic, but the Ajax an antique Greek sculpture, one of the most perfect ex-amples of Greek art inspired her imagination. It is the Loggia de' Lanzi itself, however, with its vast and noble arches and vaulted ceiling, that especially arrests the visitor in Florence. The construction is the most beautiful blending of the Greek with the Gothic. The bronze group of Judith and Holofernes, the work of Donatello, was created for Cosimo Vecchio, and until 1694, it was in the private palace of the Medici ; and on their expulsion from Florence it was placed in the Loggia.
The Piazza della Signoria is one of the most deeply impressive and suggestive of any in Florence. Here, where now the Fountain of Neptune, surrounded by Tritons, stands, was the spot on which Savonarola and his two companions were executed. At one corner, in an old palace, is a bas-relief, representing Christ, with the inscription underneath, Omnis Sapientia a Domino Deo est," and on the faηade the Lily of Florence can still be discerned. It is hardly possible to contemplate the scene of this tragedy of more than four hundred years ago without recalling to mind the celebrated Pico della Mirandola, who lived to be ninety-one years of age, and who was an enthusiastic disciple of Savonarola. It was his influence that led Lorenzo di Medici to recall the celebrated monk when he was banished from Florence, and to appoint him preacher in the Duomo.
Marsilio Ficino, in his biography of Pico della Mirandola, says that on a day when the door of the mystic temple, the Platonic Academy of Florence, lay open to all who could construe Latin, there was introduced into the study " where a lamp burned continually before the bust of Plato, as other men burned lamps before their favourite saints, a young man fresh from a journey, of feature and shape seemly and beauteous, of stature goodly and high, of flesh tender and soft, his visage lovely and fair, his color white, intermingled with comely reds, his eyes gray, and quick of look, his teeth white and even, his hair yellow and abundant, and trimmed with more than the usual artifice of the time."
Florence, as Renan has more than once pointed out, had a peculiar appreciation for Plato's philosophy, while other Italian cities inclined more to that of Aristotle.
The early meetings of the Platonic Academy were held in the Villa Medici at Careggi, which dates back to 1417, when it was purchased by Cosimo it Vecchio, who died there in 1664 ; and in this village also occurred the death of Lorenzo it Magnifico. To the latter-day visitor there seems to be pictured in the very air the scene thus vividly described by Professor Pasquale Villari :
" Lorenzo on that day was more conscious than he had yet been that his death was near at hand. He had called his son Pietro to him, to give him his parting advice, and bid him a last farewell. When his friends, who were not al-lowed to be present at that interview, returned to the chamber, and had made his son retire as his presence agitated Lorenzo too much he expressed a wish to see Pico della Mirandola again, who immediately hastened to him. It appeared as if the sweet expression of that benevolent and gentle young man had soothed him a little, for he said to him, ' I should have died unhappy if I had not first been cheered by a sight of thy face.' Pico had no sooner retired than Savonarola entered and approached respectfully the bed of the dying Lorenzo, who said that there were three sins he wished to confess to him, and for which he asked absolution : the sacking of Volterra ; the money taken from the Monte delle Fanciulle, which had caused so many deaths ; and the blood shed after the conspiracy of the Pazzi. While saying this he again be-came agitated, and Savonarola tried to calm him, by frequently repeating, ' God is good, God is merciful ! ' Lorenzo had scarcely left off speaking, when Savonarola added, ` Three things are required of you.' " And what are they, father ?' replied Lorenzo. Savonarola's countenance be-came grave, and, raising the fingers of his right hand, he thus began : ' First, it is necessary that you should have a full and lively faith in the mercy of God.' " That I have most fully.' ' Secondly, it is necessary to restore that which you unjustly took away, or enjoin your sons to re-store it for you.' This requirement appeared to cause him surprise and grief ; however, with an effort, he gave his consent by a nod of his head. Savonarola then rose up, and while the dying prince shrank with terror upon his bed, the confessor seemed to rise above himself when saying,
Lastly, you must restore liberty to the people of Florence.' His countenance was solemn, his voice almost terrible ; his eyes, as if to read the answer, remained fixed intently on those of Lorenzo, who, collecting all the strength that nature had left him, turned his back on him scornfully, without uttering a word. And thus Savonarola left him without giving him absolution ; and the Magnificent, lacerated by remorse, soon after breathed his last."
There is a legend in Florence that on the night of Lorenzo's death a train of lights flitted in the air between the Villa Medici and the Duomo, illuminating the city.
Lingering day after day in San Marco and in other haunts of Savonarola, George Eliot seemed to assimilate fairly the spirit of his teachings and recreate them in her marvellous depiction of the character and life of Savonarola in her Florentine romance, "Romola." From the Frate, Romola learns the lessons of the higher wisdom. Savonarola is represented as saying to her :
" You are seeking your own will, my daughter. You are seeking some good other than the law you are bound to obey. But how will you find good ? It is not a thing of choice it is a river that flows from the foot of the Invisible Throne, and flows by the path of obedience. I say again, man cannot choose his duties. You may choose to forsake your duties, and choose not to have the sorrow they bring. But you will go forth ; and what will you find, my daughter ? Sorrow without duty bitter herbs, and no bread with them."
And again :
" You would feel that Florence was the home of your soul as well as your birthplace, because you would see the work that was given you to do there. If you forsake your place, who will fill it ? You ought to be in your place now, helping in the great work by which God will purify Florence, and raise it to be the guide of the nations."
No biography of Savonarola or history of his period could offer so vital an interpretation of him in all his passion of piety and patriotism, as does George Eliot in these counsels that he is portrayed as offering to Romola.
" The higher life begins for us, my daughter, when we renounce our own will to bow before a Divine law. That seems hard to you. It is the portal of wisdom, and freedom, and blessedness. And the symbol of it hangs before you. That wisdom is the religion of the Cross. And you stand aloof from it : you are a pagan ; you have been taught to say, ' I am as the wise men who lived before the time when the Jew of Nazareth was crucified.' And that is your wisdom ! To be as the dead whose eyes are closed, and whose ear is deaf to the work of God that has been since their time. What has your dead wisdom done for you, my daughter ? It has left you without a heart for the neighbors among whom you dwell, without care for the great work by which Florence is to be regenerated and the world made holy ; it has left you without a share in the Divine life which quenches the sense of suffering Self in the ardors of an ever-growing love. And now, when the sword has pierced your soul, you say, ' I will go away ; I cannot bear my sorrow.' And you think nothing of the sorrow and the wrong that are within the walls of the city where you dwell ; you would leave your place empty, when it ought to be filled with your pity and your labor. If there is wickedness in the streets, your steps should shine with the light of purity ; if there is a cry of anguish, you, my daughter, because you know the meaning of the cry, should be there to still it. My beloved daughter, sorrow has come to teach you a new worship ; the sign of it hangs before you."
And how his devotion to Florence is revealed in these words to her :
" My daughter, you are a child of Florence ; fulfil. the duties of that great inheritance. Live for Florence for your own people, whom God is preparing to bless the earth. Bear the anguish and the smart. The iron is sharp I know, I know it rends the tender flesh. The draught is bitterness on the lips. But there is rapture in the cup there is the vision which makes all life below it dross forever."
Among Landor's " Imaginary Conversations " is one between Savonarola and the Prior of Florence ; but the matchless vitality and power of George Eliot's interpretation of the personality of Savonarola, as given in " Romola," stands unrivalled and unapproached.
The period of Landor's residence in Florence included a wide range of rich and choice literary production. Aside from the immortal poem, " Aurora Leigh " and other great works of Mrs. Browning ; the " Christmas Eve and Easter Day " of Robert Browning, written in 1850 ; the many lyrics of both the married poets ; George Eliot's great Florentine romance, " Romola ; " the somewhat voluminous works of Thomas Adolphus Trollope ; the Italian Note Books of Hawthorne ; poems, essays, and history by many other authors ; . Landor's own greatest work, the " Imaginary Conversations," in all these is preserved, as in amber, the literary spirit of the day, with phases of its life and interpretation of many of its great personalities. Not that all these creations were actually written in Florence : " Romola," was written in London ; " Aurora Leigh," begun in Florence, was continued in Paris and completed in London ; but, largely, they all owed their inspiration to Tuscan air. And the glories of art in the galleries and the churches with legend and myth and poetic association, have been distilled by the alembic of literature from San Miniato to Fiesole, from Bellosguardo to Vallombrosa.