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A Chain of Cities

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.


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

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.


Henry James