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    A Chain of Cities

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    Chapter 15
    Previous Chapter
    One day in midwinter, some years since, during a journey from
    Rome to Florence perforce too rapid to allow much wayside
    sacrifice to curiosity, I waited for the train at Narni. There
    was time to stroll far enough from the station to have a look at
    the famous old bridge of Augustus, broken short off in mid-Tiber.
    While I stood admiring the measure of impression was made to
    overflow by the gratuitous grace of a white-cowled monk who came
    trudging up the road that wound to the gate of the town. Narni
    stood, in its own presented felicity, on a hill a good space
    away, boxed in behind its perfect grey wall, and the monk, to
    oblige me, crept slowly along and disappeared within the
    aperture. Everything was distinct in the clear air, and the view
    exactly as like the bit of background by an Umbrian master as it
    ideally should have been. The winter is bare and brown enough in
    southern Italy and the earth reduced to more of a mere anatomy
    than among ourselves, for whom the very crânerie of its
    exposed state, naked and unashamed, gives it much of the robust
    serenity, not of a fleshless skeleton, but of a fine nude statue.
    In these regions at any rate, the tone of the air, for the eye,
    during the brief desolation, has often an extraordinary charm:
    nature still smiles as with the deputed and provisional charity
    of colour and light, the duty of not ceasing to cheer man's
    heart. Her whole behaviour, at the time, cast such a spell on
    the broken bridge, the little walled town and the trudging friar,
    that I turned away with the impatient vow and the fond vision of
    how I would take the journey again and pause to my heart's
    content at Narni, at Spoleto, at Assisi, at Perugia, at Cortona,
    at Arezzo. But we have generally to clip our vows a little when
    we come to fulfil them; and so it befell that when my blest
    springtime arrived I had to begin as resignedly as possible, yet
    with comparative meagreness, at Assisi.

    [Illustration: ASSISI.]

    I suppose enjoyment would have a simple zest which it often lacks
    if we always did things at the moment we want to, for it's mostly
    when we can't that we're thoroughly sure we would, and we
    can answer too little for moods in the future conditional. Winter
    at least seemed to me to have put something into these seats of
    antiquity that the May sun had more or less melted away--a
    desirable strength of tone, a depth upon depth of queerness and
    quaintness. Assisi had been in the January twilight, after my
    mere snatch at Narni, a vignette out of some brown old missal.
    But you'll have to be a fearless explorer now to find of a fine
    spring day any such cluster of curious objects as doesn't seem
    made to match before anything else Mr. Baedeker's polyglot
    estimate of its chief recommendations. This great man was at
    Assisi in force, and a brand-new inn for his accommodation has
    just been opened cheek by jowl with the church of St. Francis. I
    don't know that even the dire discomfort of this harbourage makes
    it seem less impertinent; but I confess I sought its protection,
    and the great view seemed hardly less beautiful from my window
    than from the gallery of the convent. This view embraces the
    whole wide reach of Umbria, which becomes as twilight deepens a
    purple counterfeit of the misty sea. The visitor's first errand
    is with the church; and it's fair furthermore to admit that when
    he has crossed that threshold the position and quality of his
    hotel cease for the time to be matters of moment. This two-fold
    temple of St. Francis is one of the very sacred places of Italy,
    and it would be hard to breathe anywhere an air more heavy with
    holiness. Such seems especially the case if you happen thus to
    have come from Rome, where everything ecclesiastical is, in
    aspect, so very much of this world--so florid, so elegant, so
    full of accommodations and excrescences. The mere site here makes
    for authority, and they were brave builders who laid the
    foundation-stones. The thing rises straight from a steep
    mountain-side and plunges forward on its great substructure of
    arches even as a crowned headland may frown over the main. Before
    it stretches a long, grassy piazza, at the end of which you look
    up a small grey street, to see it first climb a little way the
    rest of the hill and then pause and leave a broad green slope,
    crested, high in the air, with a ruined castle. When I say before
    it I mean before the upper church; for by way of doing something
    supremely handsome and impressive the sturdy architects of the
    thirteenth century piled temple upon temple and bequeathed a
    double version of their idea. One may imagine them to have
    intended perhaps an architectural image of the relation between
    heart and head. Entering the lower church at the bottom of the
    great flight of steps which leads from the upper door, you seem
    to push at least into the very heart of Catholicism.

    For the first minutes after leaving the clearer gloom you catch
    nothing but a vista of low black columns closed by the great
    fantastic cage surrounding the altar, which is thus placed, by
    your impression, in a sort of gorgeous cavern. Gradually you
    distinguish details, become accustomed to the penetrating chill,
    and even manage to make out a few frescoes ; but the general
    effect remains splendidly sombre and subterranean. The vaulted
    roof is very low and the pillars dwarfish, though immense in
    girth, as befits pillars supporting substantially a cathedral.
    The tone of the place is a triumph of mystery, the richest
    harmony of lurking shadows and dusky corners, all relieved by
    scattered images and scintillations. There was little light but
    what came through the windows of the choir over which the red
    curtains had been dropped and were beginning to glow with the
    downward sun. The choir was guarded by a screen behind which a
    dozen venerable voices droned vespers ; but over the top of the
    screen came the heavy radiance and played among the ornaments of
    the high fence round the shrine, casting the shadow of the whole
    elaborate mass forward into the obscured nave. The darkness of
    vaults and side-chapels is overwrought with vague frescoes, most
    of them by Giotto and his school, out of which confused richness
    the terribly distinct little faces characteristic of these
    artists stare at you with a solemn formalism. Some are faded and
    injured, and many so ill-lighted and ill-placed that you can only
    glance at them with decent conjecture; the great group, however--
    four paintings by Giotto on the ceiling above the altar--may be
    examined with some success. Like everything of that grim and
    beautiful master they deserve examination; but with the effect
    ever of carrying one's appreciation in and in, as it were, rather
    than of carrying it out and out, off and off, as happens for us
    with those artists who have been helped by the process of
    "evolution" to grow wings. This one, "going in" for emphasis at
    any price, stamps hard, as who should say, on the very spot of
    his idea--thanks to which fact he has a concentration that has
    never been surpassed. He was in other words, in proportion to his
    means, a genius supremely expressive; he makes the very shade of
    an intended meaning or a represented attitude so unmistakable
    that his figures affect us at moments as creatures all too
    suddenly, too alarmingly, too menacingly met. Meagre, primitive,
    undeveloped, he yet is immeasurably strong; he even suggests that
    if he had lived the due span of years later Michael Angelo might
    have found a rival. Not that he is given, however, to complicated
    postures or superhuman flights. The something strange that
    troubles and haunts us in his work springs rather from a kind of
    fierce familiarity.

    It is part of the wealth of the lower church that it contains an
    admirable primitive fresco by an artist of genius rarely
    encountered, Pietro Cavallini, pupil of Giotto. This represents
    the Crucifixion; the three crosses rising into a sky spotted with
    the winged heads of angels while a dense crowd presses below. You
    will nowhere see anything more direfully lugubrious, or more
    approaching for direct force, though not of course for amplitude
    of style, Tintoretto's great renderings of the scene in Venice.
    The abject anguish of the crucified and the straddling authority
    and brutality of the mounted guards in the foreground are
    contrasted in a fashion worthy of a great dramatist. But the most
    poignant touch is the tragic grimaces of the little angelic heads
    that fall like hailstones through the dark air. It is genuine
    realistic weeping, the act of irrepressible "crying," that the
    painter has depicted, and the effect is pitiful at the same time
    as grotesque. There are many more frescoes besides; all the
    chapels on one side are lined with them, but these are chiefly
    interesting in their general impressiveness--as they people the
    dim recesses with startling presences, with apparitions out of
    scale. Before leaving the place I lingered long near the door,
    for I was sure I shouldn't soon again enjoy such a feast of
    scenic composition. The opposite end glowed with subdued colour;
    the middle portion was vague and thick and brown, with two or
    three scattered worshippers looming through the obscurity; while,
    all the way down, the polished pavement, its uneven slabs
    glittering dimly in the obstructed light, was of the very essence
    of expensive picture. It is certainly desirable, if one takes the
    lower church of St. Francis to represent the human heart, that
    one should find a few bright places there. But if the general
    effect is of brightness terrorised and smothered, is the symbol
    less valid? For the contracted, prejudiced, passionate heart let
    it stand.

    One thing at all events we can say, that we should rejoice to
    boast as capacious, symmetrical and well-ordered a head as the
    upper sanctuary. Thanks to these merits, in spite of a brave
    array of Giottesque work which has the advantage of being easily
    seen, it lacks the great character of its counterpart. The
    frescoes, which are admirable, represent certain leading events
    in the life of St. Francis, and suddenly remind you, by one of
    those anomalies that are half the secret of the consummate
    mise-en-scene of Catholicism, that the apostle of
    beggary, the saint whose only tenement in life was the ragged
    robe which barely covered him, is the hero of this massive
    structure. Church upon church, nothing less will adequately
    shroud his consecrated clay. The great reality of Giotto's
    designs adds to the helpless wonderment with which we feel the
    passionate pluck of the Hero, the sense of being separated from
    it by an impassable gulf, the reflection on all that has come and
    gone to make morality at that vertiginous pitch impossible. There
    are no such high places of humility left to climb to. An
    observant friend who has lived long in Italy lately declared to
    me, however, that she detested the name of this moralist, deeming
    him chief propagator of the Italian vice most trying to the
    would-be lover of the people, the want of personal self-respect.
    There is a solidarity in the use of soap, and every cringing
    beggar, idler, liar and pilferer flourished for her under the
    shadow of the great Francisan indifference to it. She was
    possibly right; at Rome, at Naples, I might have admitted she was
    right; but at Assisi, face to face with Giotto's vivid chronicle,
    we admire too much in its main subject the exquisite play of that
    subject's genius--we don't remit to him, and this for very envy,
    a single throb of his consciousness. It took in, that human, that
    divine embrace, everything but soap.

    I should find it hard to give an orderly account of my next
    adventures or impressions at Assisi, which could n't well be
    anything more than mere romantic flanerie. One may easily
    plead as the final result of a meditation at the shrine of St.
    Francis a great and even an amused charity. This state of mind
    led me slowly up and down for a couple of hours through the steep
    little streets, and at last stretched itself on the grass with me
    in the shadow of the great ruined castle that decorates so
    grandly the eminence above the town. I remember edging along the
    sunless side of the small mouldy houses and pausing very often to
    look at nothing in particular. It was all very hot, very hushed,
    very resignedly but very persistently old. A wheeled vehicle in
    such a place is an event, and the forestiero's
    interrogative tread in the blank sonorous lanes has the privilege
    of bringing the inhabitants to their doorways. Some of the better
    houses, however, achieve a sombre stillness that protests against
    the least curiosity as to what may happen in any such century as
    this. You wonder, as you pass, what lingering old-world social
    types vegetate there, but you won't find out; albeit that in one
    very silent little street I had a glimpse of an open door which I
    have not forgotten. A long-haired peddler who must have been a
    Jew, and who yet carried without prejudice a burden of mass-books
    and rosaries, was offering his wares to a stout old priest. The
    priest had opened the door rather stingily and appeared half-
    heartedly to dismiss him. But the peddler held up something I
    couldn't see; the priest wavered with a timorous concession to
    profane curiosity and then furtively pulled the agent of
    sophistication, or whatever it might be, into the house. I should
    have liked to enter with that worthy.

    I saw later some gentlemen of Assisi who also seemed bored enough
    to have found entertainment in his tray. They were at the door of
    the cafe on the Piazza, and were so thankful to me for asking
    them the way to the cathedral that, answering all in chorus, they
    lighted up with smiles as sympathetic as if I had done them a
    favour. Of that type were my mild, my delicate adventures. The
    Piazza has a fine old portico of an ancient Temple of Minerva--
    six fluted columns and a pediment, of beautiful proportions, but
    sadly battered and decayed. Goethe, I believe, found it much more
    interesting than the mighty mediaeval church, and Goethe, as a
    cicerone, doubtless could have persuaded one that it was so; but
    in the humble society of Murray we shall most of us find a richer
    sense in the later monument. I found quaint old meanings enough
    in the dark yellow facade of the small cathedral as I sat on a
    stone bench by the oblong green stretched before it. This is a
    pleasing piece of Italian Gothic and, like several of its
    companions at Assisi, has an elegant wheel window and a number of
    grotesque little carvings of creatures human and bestial. If with
    Goethe I were to balance anything against the attractions of the
    double church I should choose the ruined castle on the hill above
    the town. I had been having glimpses of it all the afternoon at
    the end of steep street-vistas, and promising myself half-an-hour
    beside its grey walls at sunset. The sun was very late setting,
    and my half-hour became a long lounge in the lee of an abutment
    which arrested the gentle uproar of the wind. The castle is a
    splendid piece of ruin, perched on the summit of the mountain to
    whose slope Assisi clings and dropping a pair of stony arms to
    enclose the little town in its embrace. The city wall, in other
    words, straggles up the steep green hill and meets the crumbling
    skeleton of the fortress. On the side off from the town the
    mountain plunges into a deep ravine, the opposite face of which
    is formed by the powerful undraped shoulder of Monte Subasio, a
    fierce reflector of the sun. Gorge and mountain are wild enough,
    but their frown expires in the teeming softness of the great vale
    of Umbria. To lie aloft there on the grass, with silver-grey
    ramparts at one's back and the warm rushing wind in one's ears,
    and watch the beautiful plain mellow into the tones of twilight,
    was as exquisite a form of repose as ever fell to a tired
    tourist's lot.

    [Illustration: PERUGIA.]

    Perugia too has an ancient stronghold, which one must speak of in
    earnest as that unconscious humorist the classic American
    traveller is supposed invariably to speak of the Colosseum: it
    will be a very handsome building when it's finished. Even Perugia
    is going the way of all Italy--straightening out her streets,
    preparing her ruins, laying her venerable ghosts. The castle is
    being completely remis a neuf--a Massachusetts schoolhouse
    could n't cultivate a "smarter" ideal. There are shops in the
    basement and fresh putty on all the windows; so that the only
    thing proper to a castle it has kept is its magnificent position
    and range, which you may enjoy from the broad platform where the
    Perugini assemble at eventide. Perugia is chiefly known to fame
    as the city of Raphael's master; but it has a still higher claim
    to renown and ought to figure in the gazetteer of fond memory as
    the little City of the infinite View. The small dusky, crooked
    place tries by a hundred prompt pretensions, immediate
    contortions, rich mantling flushes and other ingenuities, to
    waylay your attention and keep it at home; but your
    consciousness, alert and uneasy from the first moment, is all
    abroad even when your back is turned to the vast alternative or
    when fifty house-walls conceal it, and you are for ever rushing
    up by-streets and peeping round corners in the hope of another
    glimpse or reach of it. As it stretches away before you in that
    eminent indifference to limits which is at the same time at every
    step an eminent homage to style, it is altogether too free and
    fair for compasses and terms. You can only say, and rest upon it,
    that you prefer it to any other visible fruit of position or
    claimed empire of the eye that you are anywhere likely to enjoy.

    For it is such a wondrous mixture of blooming plain and gleaming
    river and wavily-multitudinous mountain vaguely dotted with pale
    grey cities, that, placed as you are, roughly speaking, in the
    centre of Italy, you all but span the divine peninsula from sea
    to sea. Up the long vista of the Tiber you look--almost to Rome;
    past Assisi, Spello, Foligno, Spoleto, all perched on their
    respective heights and shining through the violet haze. To the
    north, to the east, to the west, you see a hundred variations of
    the prospect, of which I have kept no record. Two notes only I
    have made: one--though who hasn't made it over and over again?--
    on the exquisite elegance of mountain forms in this endless play
    of the excrescence, it being exactly as if there were variation
    of sex in the upheaved mass, with the effect here mainly of
    contour and curve and complexion determined in the feminine
    sense. It further came home to me that the command of such an
    outlook on the world goes far, surely, to give authority and
    centrality and experience, those of the great seats of dominion,
    even to so scant a cluster of attesting objects as here. It must
    deepen the civic consciousness and take off the edge of ennui. It
    performs this kindly office, at any rate, for the traveller who
    may overstay his curiosity as to Perugino and the Etruscan
    relics. It continually solicits his wonder and praise--it
    reinforces the historic page. I spent a week in the place, and
    when it was gone I had had enough of Perugino, but had n't had
    enough of the View.

    I should perhaps do the reader a service by telling him just how
    a week at Perugia may be spent. His first care must be to ignore
    the very dream of haste, walking everywhere very slowly and very
    much at random, and to impute an esoteric sense to almost
    anything his eye may happen to encounter. Almost everything in
    fact lends itself to the historic, the romantic, the æsthetic
    fallacy--almost everything has an antique queerness and richness
    that ekes out the reduced state; that of a grim and battered old
    adventuress, the heroine of many shames and scandals, surviving
    to an extraordinary age and a considerable penury, but with
    ancient gifts of princes and other forms of the wages of sin to
    show, and the most beautiful garden of all the world to sit and
    doze and count her beads in and remember. He must hang a great
    deal about the huge Palazzo Pubblico, which indeed is very well
    worth any acquaintance you may scrape with it. It masses itself
    gloomily above the narrow street to an immense elevation, and
    leads up the eye along a cliff-like surface of rugged wall,
    mottled with old scars and new repairs, to the loggia dizzily
    perched on its cornice. He must repeat his visit to the Etruscan
    Gate, by whose immemorial composition he must indeed linger long
    to resolve it back into the elements originally attending it. He
    must uncap to the irrecoverable, the inimitable style of the
    statue of Pope Julius III before the cathedral, remembering that
    Hawthorne fabled his Miriam, in an air of romance from which we
    are well-nigh as far to-day as from the building of Etruscan
    gates, to have given rendezvous to Kenyon at its base. Its
    material is a vivid green bronze, and the mantle and tiara are
    covered with a delicate embroidery worthy of a silver-smith.

    Then our leisurely friend must bestow on Perugino's frescoes in
    the Exchange, and on his pictures in the University, all the
    placid contemplation they deserve. He must go to the theatre
    every evening, in an orchestra-chair at twenty-two soldi, and
    enjoy the curious didacticism of "Amore senza Stima," "Severita e
    Debolezza," "La Societa Equivoca," and other popular specimens of
    contemporaneous Italian comedy--unless indeed the last-named be
    not the edifying title applied, for peninsular use, to "Le Demi-
    Monde" of the younger Dumas. I shall be very much surprised if,
    at the end of a week of this varied entertainment, he hasn't
    learnt how to live, not exactly in, but with, Perugia. His
    strolls will abound in small accidents and mercies of vision, but
    of which a dozen pencil-strokes would be a better memento than
    this poor word-sketching. From the hill on which the town is
    planted radiate a dozen ravines, down whose sides the houses
    slide and scramble with an alarming indifference to the cohesion
    of their little rugged blocks of flinty red stone. You ramble
    really nowhither without emerging on some small court or terrace
    that throws your view across a gulf of tangled gardens or
    vineyards and over to a cluster of serried black dwellings which
    have to hollow in their backs to keep their balance on the
    opposite ledge. On archways and street-staircases and dark alleys
    that bore through a density of massive basements, and curve and
    climb and plunge as they go, all to the truest mediaeval tune,
    you may feast your fill. These are the local, the architectural,
    the compositional commonplaces.. Some of the little streets in
    out-of-the-way corners are so rugged and brown and silent that
    you may imagine them passages long since hewn by the pick-axe in
    a deserted stone-quarry. The battered black houses, of the colour
    of buried things--things buried, that is, in accumulations of
    time, closer packed, even as such are, than spadefuls of earth--
    resemble exposed sections of natural rock; none the less so when,
    beyond some narrow gap, you catch the blue and silver of the
    sublime circle of landscape.

    [Illustration: ETRUSCAN GATEWAY, PERUGIA.]

    But I ought n't to talk of mouldy alleys, or yet of azure
    distances, as if they formed the main appeal to taste in this
    accomplished little city. In the Sala del Cambio, where in
    ancient days the money-changers rattled their embossed coin and
    figured up their profits, you may enjoy one of the serenest
    aesthetic pleasures that the golden age of art anywhere offers
    us. Bank parlours, I believe, are always handsomely appointed,
    but are even those of Messrs. Rothschild such models of mural
    bravery as this little counting-house of a bygone fashion? The
    bravery is Perugino's own; for, invited clearly to do his best,
    he left it as a lesson to the ages, covering the four low walls
    and the vault with scriptural and mythological figures of
    extraordinary beauty. They are ranged in artless attitudes round
    the upper half of the room--the sibyls, the prophets, the
    philosophers, the Greek and Roman heroes--looking down with broad
    serene faces, with small mild eyes and sweet mouths that commit
    them to nothing in particular unless to being comfortably and
    charmingly alive, at the incongruous proceedings of a Board of
    Brokers. Had finance a very high tone in those days, or were
    genius and faith then simply as frequent as capital and
    enterprise are among ourselves? The great distinction of the Sala
    del Cambio is that it has a friendly Yes for both these
    questions. There was a rigid transactional probity, it seems to
    say; there was also a high tide of inspiration. About the artist
    himself many things come up for us--more than I can attempt in
    their order; for he was not, I think, to an attentive observer,
    the mere smooth and entire and devout spirit we at first are
    inclined to take him for. He has that about him which leads us to
    wonder if he may not, after all, play a proper part enough here
    as the patron of the money-changers. He is the delight of a
    million of young ladies; but who knows whether we should n't find
    in his works, might we "go into" them a little, a trifle more of
    manner than of conviction, and of system than of deep sincerity?

    This, I allow, would put no great affront on them, and one
    speculates thus partly but because it's a pleasure to hang about
    him on any pretext, and partly because his immediate effect is to
    make us quite inordinately embrace the pretext of his lovely
    soul. His portrait, painted on the wall of the Sala (you may see
    it also in Rome and Florence) might at any rate serve for the
    likeness of Mr. Worldly-Wiseman in Bunyan's allegory. He was
    fond of his glass, I believe, and he made his art lucrative. This
    tradition is not refuted by his preserved face, and after some
    experience--or rather after a good deal, since you can't have a
    little of Perugino, who abounds wherever old masters
    congregate, so that one has constantly the sense of being "in"
    for all there is--you may find an echo of it in the uniform type
    of his creatures, their monotonous grace, their prodigious
    invariability. He may very well have wanted to produce figures of
    a substantial, yet at the same time of an impeccable innocence;
    but we feel that he had taught himself how even beyond his
    own belief in them, and had arrived at a process that acted at
    last mechanically. I confess at the same time that, so
    interpreted, the painter affects me as hardly less interesting,
    and one can't but become conscious of one's style when one's
    style has become, as it were, so conscious of one's, or at least
    of its own, fortune. If he was the inventor of a remarkably
    calculable facture, a calculation that never fails is in
    its way a grace of the first order, and there are things in this
    special appearance of perfection of practice that make him the
    forerunner of a mighty and more modern race. More than any of the
    early painters who strongly charm, you may take all his measure
    from a single specimen. The other samples infallibly match,
    reproduce unerringly the one type he had mastered, but which had
    the good fortune to be adorably fair, to seem to have dawned on a
    vision unsullied by the shadows of earth. Which truth, moreover,
    leaves Perugino all delightful as composer and draughtsman; he
    has in each of these characters a sort of spacious neatness
    which suggests that the whole conception has been washed clean by
    some spiritual chemistry the last thing before reaching the
    canvas; after which it has been applied to that surface with a
    rare economy of time and means. Giotto and Fra Angelico, beside
    him, are full of interesting waste and irrelevant passion. In the
    sacristy of the charming church of San Pietro--a museum of
    pictures and carvings--is a row of small heads of saints
    formerly covering the frame of the artist's Ascension, carried
    off by the French. It is almost miniature work, and here at
    least Perugino triumphs in sincerity, in apparent candour, as
    well as in touch. Two of the holy men are reading their
    breviaries, but with an air of infantine innocence quite
    consistent with their holding the book upside down.

    Between Perugia and Cortona lies the large weedy water of Lake
    Thrasymene, turned into a witching word for ever by Hannibal's
    recorded victory over Rome. Dim as such records have become to us
    and remote such realities, he is yet a passionless pilgrim who
    does n't, as he passes, of a heavy summer's day, feel the air and
    the light and the very faintness of the breeze all charged and
    haunted with them, all interfused as with the wasted ache of
    experience and with the vague historic gaze. Processions of
    indistinguishable ghosts bore me company to Cortona itself, most
    sturdily ancient of Italian towns. It must have been a seat of
    ancient knowledge even when Hannibal and Flaminius came to the
    shock of battle, and have looked down afar from its grey ramparts
    on the contending swarm with something of the philosophic
    composure suitable to a survivor of Pelasgic and Etruscan
    revolutions. These grey ramparts are in great part still visible,
    and form the chief attraction of Cortona. It is perched on the
    very pinnacle of a mountain, and I wound and doubled interminably
    over the face of the great hill, while the jumbled roofs and
    towers of the arrogant little city still seemed nearer to the sky
    than to the railway-station. "Rather rough," Murray pronounces
    the local inn; and rough indeed it was; there was scarce a square
    foot of it that you would have cared to stroke with your hand.
    The landlord himself, however, was all smoothness and the best
    fellow in the world; he took me up into a rickety old loggia on
    the tip-top of his establishment and played showman as to half
    the kingdoms of the earth. I was free to decide at the same time
    whether my loss or my gain was the greater for my seeing Cortona
    through the medium of a festa. On the one hand the museum was
    closed (and in a certain sense the smaller and obscurer the town
    the more I like the museum); the churches--an interesting note of
    manners and morals--were impenetrably crowded, though, for that
    matter, so was the cafe, where I found neither an empty stool nor
    the edge of a table. I missed a sight of the famous painted
    Muse, the art-treasure of Cortona and supposedly the most
    precious, as it falls little short of being the only, sample of
    the Greek painted picture that has come down to us. On the other
    hand, I saw--but this is what I saw.

    [Illustration: A STREET, CORTONA.]

    A part of the mountain-top is occupied by the church of St.
    Margaret, and this was St. Margaret's day. The houses pause
    roundabout it and leave a grassy slope, planted here and there
    with lean black cypresses. The contadini from near and far had
    congregated in force and were crowding into the church or winding
    up the slope. When I arrived they were all kneeling or uncovered;
    a bedizened procession, with banners and censers, bearing abroad,
    I believe, the relics of the saint, was re-entering the church.
    The scene made one of those pictures that Italy still brushes in
    for you with an incomparable hand and from an inexhaustible
    palette when you find her in the mood. The day was superb--the
    sky blazed overhead like a vault of deepest sapphire. The grave
    brown peasantry, with no great accent of costume, but with sundry
    small ones--decked, that is, in cheap fineries of scarlet and
    yellow--made a mass of motley colour in the high wind-stirred
    light. The procession halted in the pious hush, and the lovely
    land around and beneath us melted away, almost to either sea, in
    tones of azure scarcely less intense than the sky. Behind the
    church was an empty crumbling citadel, with half-a-dozen old
    women keeping the gate for coppers. Here were views and breezes
    and sun and shade and grassy corners to the heart's content,
    together with one could n't say what huge seated mystic
    melancholy presence, the after-taste of everything the still open
    maw of time had consumed. I chose a spot that fairly combined all
    these advantages, a spot from which I seemed to look, as who
    should say, straight down the throat of the monster, no dark
    passage now, but with all the glorious day playing into it, and
    spent a good part of my stay at Cortona lying there at my length
    and observing the situation over the top of a volume that I must
    have brought in my pocket just for that especial wanton luxury of
    the resource provided and slighted. In the afternoon I came down
    and hustled a while through the crowded little streets, and then
    strolled forth under the scorching sun and made the outer circuit
    of the wall. There I found tremendous uncemented blocks; they
    glared and twinkled in the powerful light, and I had to put on a
    blue eye-glass in order to throw into its proper perspective the
    vague Etruscan past, obtruded and magnified in such masses quite
    as with the effect of inadequately-withdrawn hands and feet in
    photographs.

    I spent the next day at Arezzo, but I confess in very much the
    same uninvestigating fashion--taking in the "general
    impression," I dare say, at every pore, but rather systematically
    leaving the dust of the ages unfingered on the stored records: I
    should doubtless, in the poor time at my command, have fingered
    it to so little purpose. The seeker for the story of things has
    moreover, if he be worth his salt, a hundred insidious arts; and
    in that case indeed--by which I mean when his sensibility has
    come duly to adjust itself--the story assaults him but from too
    many sides. He even feels at moments that he must sneak along on
    tiptoe in order not to have too much of it. Besides which the
    case all depends on the kind of use, the range of application,
    his tangled consciousness, or his intelligible genius, say, may
    come to recognize for it. At Arezzo, however this might be, one
    was far from Rome, one was well within genial Tuscany, and the
    historic, the romantic decoction seemed to reach one's lips in
    less stiff doses. There at once was the "general impression"--the
    exquisite sense of the scarce expressible Tuscan quality, which
    makes immediately, for the whole pitch of one's perception, a
    grateful, a not at all strenuous difference, attaches to almost
    any coherent group of objects, to any happy aspect of the scene,
    for a main note, some mild recall, through pleasant friendly
    colour, through settled ample form, through something homely and
    economic too at the very heart of "style," of an identity of
    temperament and habit with those of the divine little Florence
    that one originally knew. Adorable Italy in which, for the
    constant renewal of interest, of attention, of affection, these
    refinements of variety, these so harmoniously-grouped and
    individually-seasoned fruits of the great garden of history, keep
    presenting themselves! It seemed to fall in with the cheerful
    Tuscan mildness for instance--sticking as I do to that
    ineffectual expression of the Tuscan charm, of the yellow-brown
    Tuscan dignity at large--that the ruined castle on the hill (with
    which agreeable feature Arezzo is no less furnished than Assisi
    and Cortona) had been converted into a great blooming, and I hope
    all profitable, podere or market-garden. I lounged away the half-
    hours there under a spell as potent as the "wildest" forecast of
    propriety--propriety to all the particular conditions--could have
    figured it. I had seen Santa Maria della Pieve and its campanile
    of quaint colonnades, the stately, dusky cathedral--grass-plotted
    and residenced about almost after the fashion of an English
    "close"--and John of Pisa's elaborate marble shrine; I had seen
    the museum and its Etruscan vases and majolica platters. These
    were very well, but the old pacified citadel somehow, through a
    day of soft saturation, placed me most in relation. Beautiful
    hills surrounded it, cypresses cast straight shadows at its
    corners, while in the middle grew a wondrous Italian tangle of
    wheat and corn, vines and figs, peaches and cabbages, memories
    and images, anything and everything.

    1873.
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