Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XLII.: A TOUR IN ITALY. 1868. Æt. 47. - An Autobiography, vol. 2
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CHAPTER XLII.: A TOUR IN ITALY. 1868. Æt. 47. - Herbert Spencer, An Autobiography, vol. 2 
An Autobiography by Herbert Spencer. Illustrated in Two Volumes. Vol. 2 (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1904).
Part of: An Autobiography
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A TOUR IN ITALY.
Beyond the usual interests which attracted me to Italy as a country in which to pass an interval of relaxation, there was an unusual interest: Vesuvius was in eruption. This fact determined not only my choice of Italy as a recruiting ground, but also the route I chose. Already the emission of lava and vomiting of molten fragments had been going on for a month or more; and I feared the eruption might cease before I reached the place if I delayed on the journey. I therefore went to Marseilles and thence took steamer for Naples.
This was during the first days of March; and early in the morning of the 6th, I think it was, the passengers were, in response to a request made over night, called on deck to see the dull red glow of the long lava-stream, then visible at a distance of some 20 miles, amid the scarcely decreased darkness. The sight was impressive; and it was strange to remember it afterwards on observing that by day the lava-stream appeared to emit no light at all.
My first day at Naples, where we arrived before the bustle of the streets had commenced, was passed in an uninteresting way—lying on the bed in a state of exhaustion. I had been réndered fit for nothing, partly by the wear and tear of the journey, and partly by the bad feeding on board the vessel, belonging to the Messageries Impèriales, which brought us, a vessel which, not subject as others of its class are to competition with the Peninsula and Oriental line, had a very bad cuisine: making me, among other things, better acquainted with the large Mediterranean fish called tunny than I wished to be. Only in the evening did I feel sufficiently recruited to walk out, and then I caught a cold which remained with me during the whole of my stay in Italy.
How careless people are in their statements about climate. Thinking that I was going where mildness reigned, I had hesitated about taking my Inverness cape. It was fortunate that I did take it. During the five weeks I passed in Italy I needed it daily, sometimes with a spring overcoat underneath; and at Florence, during the first week in April, I saw many others similarly clad. But it was an exceptional winter, I was told. Yes, it seems always to be an exceptional winter. Friends with whom I afterwards compared notes had the same weather, and heard the same excuse. I may add that my experiences elsewhere in later years have been no less disappointing: so much so, indeed, that I have come to doubt whether a model climate exists anywhere.
Twice during my week in Naples I was led to endanger my life by that trait with which, as I have said at the outset, my father reproached me when a boy—the tendency to become for the moment possessed by a single idea, or, as he phrased it, to think of only one thing at a time.
The first of these occasions was on the day after my arrival. The Hôtel des Etrangers, at which I was staying, is at one angle of a triangular space to which the shore of the bay forms a rude hypothenuse. In the afternoon I was walking across this place to the hotel, unaware that anyone was near me, when my train of thought was broken by a sudden relief from a slight drag on my shoulder, caused by an opera-glass in my coat-pocket. I turned round and a young fellow, some two or three and twenty I should think, rushed away and dropped the opera-glass: probably thinking that I should pick it up and be content with having regained it. He was mistaken, however. I gave chase. Either he must have been a bad runner, or I must have still retained a good deal of that fleetness which distinguished me as a boy. Perceiving that his course would presently bring him to the Chiaja, where there were many persons about, he apparently lost his head, and I came up and seized him by the collar. He went on his knees, kissed my hand, and begged to be let off; and some working-class women who quickly came up interceded for him. But I disregarded what I suppose were entreaties; and when, the moment after, two young Leghornese gentlemen, who had witnessed the pursuit, appeared on the scene, and volunteered to accompany me to give evidence, we moved away into the city: my captive submitting unresistingly. Meeting after a time one of the police, I delivered him over, and, the crowd which accompanied us having dispersed, we went with the policeman and his charge to the station. There the man was recognized as an audacious thief who had been known to pick the pockets of the police! Speaking, as I did, no Italian, and but bad French, the taking down of my statement was a long business. When at length the deposition had been corrected and signed by me, I was both astonished and amused at being asked what punishment I should like inflicted. The reply of course was that I was concerned only to deliver over the culprit into their hands: leaving them to decide on the punishment. And thus the matter ended.
Next day, when I heard how frequently people were stabbed on the Chiaja, I became conscious of the risk I had been running. Most likely, had the young fellow had a knife about him, I should have suffered, perhaps fatally, for my imprudence. Had I not been so exclusively possessed by the thought of bringing him to justice, I should have been content with regaining my opera-glass.
The other incident to which I have referred as illustrating the trait named, or rather, perhaps, in this case the trait of rashness, which I begin to think is somewhat characteristic of me, occurred a few days later, when exploring the area of the eruption on Vesuvius.
For several days during which I was recruiting, I had been content to witness the doings of the mountain as visible from Naples; observing bursts of lava-spray, dark by day and bright by night, and collecting from my window-sill some of the smaller particles of this spray, about the size of coarse gunpowder.* During these days, conversation round the table-d’hôte had enlightened me respecting the impositions practised on all who ascended. I learnt that at the place where the road up to the Observatory diverges from the high road running round the base of the mountain—Resina I think it was—there stood guides and ponies, and that it was imperative to take one of each and pay a prescribed high price. I am intolerant of coercion in such matters, and am always prompted to defeat its aims, if possible. A clergyman, some ten years my senior, who had been a fellow-passenger from Marseilles, had the like feeling; and we consulted how to give effect to it. On examining the map, we found that by diverging to the left from the high road some mile or two short of Resina, we might cut into the road which leads up to the Observatory. Taking a vehicle as far as the bye-way selected, we pursued this for some distance until, to our dismay, it trended off towards the East. But a small gift to some people in a vineyard, purchased the permission to cross it, as well as directions how to proceed, and we presently found ourselves where we intended. Free from the noises of the usual cavalcades, we pursued our ascent; now pausing to contemplate the Bay of Naples below us, and now gathering flowers not seen before. Our arrival at the place where a branch lava-stream had, I suppose some weeks before, obstructed the path, caused, among the guides and others assembled there, much astonishment. How we came unattended was a mystery to them.
Our purpose was, of course, to reach the place at which the lava-stream emerged from the base of the cone, about half a mile off: the intervening space being covered with cooling portions of the stream, which had now taken this course and now that. The guides around proffered their services; but we declined them, and set out over the black rugged tract to be traversed. After some fifty or hundred yards, finding proof that the hardened lava was hotter than he anticipated, my companion turned back. I saw no danger, however, and as the air, though disagreeably warm, was not sulphurous, I went on alone; thinking it would be time to pause when some risk was before me. Half walking, half climbing, I slowly advanced; now passing easily along a tolerably solid and smooth surface, now with difficulty surmounting gnarled masses of lava contorted while moving and semi-solid, now scrambling over heaps of scoria, and now having to cross certain long strange-looking trenches, the sides of which consisted of loose fragments of vesicular lava torn into pieces, looking like a mineral “pulled-beard.” Meanwhile Vesuvius was thundering above me, sending high into the air at each explosion a cloud of fragments of all sizes; some of them falling back into the crater, while most fell on the sides of the cone—too far from me, however, to be a source of danger. Presently, as I diminished my distance from the source of the lava-stream, and the blurring effect of the hot and wavy air did not so much obscure distant objects, I discerned a solitary figure near the place towards which I was moving; and after a time he discerned me. As I approached he left his stand, at which, as I found, he had a supply of refreshments, and over the last thirty or forty yards showed me the way. While doing this he drew me aside and pointed out a place where, through a hole broken in the black smooth surface of a seemingly cold lava-stream, I looked down into a red-hot tunnel of some six or eight feet in diameter. Several times in the course of my scrambling walk the sound of my footsteps had suggested hollowness below; and now the cause was manifest. I had passed over some of these tunnels. Further, it was manifest that the trenches I had crossed had resulted from the subsidence of the scoria overlying some of them. Thirty or forty paces more now brought me to the object of my dangerous expedition. It was not, after all, particularly imposing. The stream of molten matter, issuing from a low cavern-mouth at the base of the cone, was, I should think, not more than ten feet wide, and moved at from one to two miles per hour: its surface being so covered with chilled fragments of lava, as in great measure to prevent the emission of light. The heat, however, was great—so great that approach was difficult. I wished to burn the end of my alpenstock in the lava-stream; but, finding that my eyes strongly resented the endeavour to go near enough, I got the man to burn it. This he did by crawling and crouching behind blocks of cooled lava till he was within reach.
And now there came an extremely absurd act. After paying the man for his trouble, and after duly contemplating the sights around, from time to time looking upwards to watch another burst from the cone, I commenced my return. The man proposed to guide me along the usual route, which traversed the chaotic tract I have described, higher up the valley. I declined his guidance, however, and went back by the way I came. That I should have done so is a matter of astonishment to me. Though I had previously passed safely over treacherous places, it by no means followed that on retracing my steps one of these hidden tunnels, crossed at a somewhat different point, would not give way. Had one done so, then, though no longer red-hot internally, it would, by its retained heat, have caused death after terrible torture. How to account for the judicial blindness thus displayed, I do not know; unless by regarding it as an extreme instance of the tendency which I perceive in myself to be enslaved by a plan once formed—a tendency, in this case co-operating with that above illustrated, to become for a time possessed by one thought to the exclusion of others.
My clerical friend had waited for me. We descended unharmed, and returned as the dusk came on: looking over our shoulders occasionally to watch the bursts of lava-spray, which, as the day-light decreased, became gradually more luminous.
To the things of interest in and around Naples I did but scant justice. Of course I saw the Museum, and I ascended to a monastery standing high up behind the city—I forget for what, unless it was for the view. After that came an excursion to Pompeii.
Nothing which I saw in Italy impressed me so much as this dead town. I take but little interest in what are called histories, but am interested only in Sociology, which stands related to these so-called histories much as a vast building stands related to the heaps of stones and bricks around it. Here, however, the life of two thousand years ago was so vividly expressed in the objects on all sides, and in the marks of their daily use visible on them, that they aroused sentiments such as no written record had ever done. The steps of the public buildings worn away by the passage of countless feet; the tracks of wheels deeply cut into the flag-stones with which the streets were paved; the shops with their fronts open from side to side like those still extant at Naples; and the household utensils of all kinds found everywhere; made one easily see in imagination the activities once carried on. While here and there traces of prevalent usages suggested the characters of those who once thronged the streets.
One of the things which interested me was the structure of the Roman house; and this for reasons deeper than the architectural and æsthetic. Its relations to primitive types of habitations and to modern types, serving to link the two, make it a good example of super-organic evolution. From the outset of social life, defence against enemies has been a predominant thought—may we not say the predominant thought? Hence when, passing over earlier stages, we come to the stage in which there is a clustering of habitations, or of separate huts forming one habitation, the general method is to arrange them round a small area, presenting their backs to the outer world while their doors open upon the inner space, which has but a single entrance. In a South African kraal the chambers of a chief’s wives, the store-houses, and so forth, are thus arranged; as are also the vehicles of a traveller or a migrating Boer. A more complex form of this arrangement was hit upon by the Pueblos of North Mexico, who thus shut out invading tribes less civilized than themselves. The prevalent house throughout the East down to our own day, similarly consults the safety of its inmates by having a blank, or almost blank, outer wall, and a court into which its component rooms open. And a like construction survived with modifications in the Pompeian house, after safety against enemies had ceased to be so imperative a consideration. Throughout times subsequent to the burial of Pompeii, this type persisted, with modifications dictated by the requirements. The feudal castle had its parts thus related. So, too, as we may see in both Italy and France, had the town-hotel of the great noble. The Inn of the middle ages displayed a like arrangement. The bed-rooms opened upon balconies running round the courtyard; and this arrangement survived until recently not only in the Tabard, of poetic fame, but at the Black Bull in Holborn, where, when a boy of fourteen, I once slept in one of such bedrooms. Large town-houses in old Paris, and still more in Italian cities, show us the transition from this type, in which the rooms of the same dwelling open into a central court, to a type in which these rooms have developed into separate dwellings—houses round the court built with their front doors opening into it. And we may readily see how the court as thus composed, is transformed into the narrow passage opening out of a main street, which now bears that name. One of these internal squares with its independent houses, needs but to have its sides brought close together at the same time that it is elongated, to produce one of the modern courts, so-called, such as Dr. Johnson’s Court and others opening out of Fleet Street. Evidently there is an interesting chapter of social evolution to be written about these progressive modifications.
Shortly after seeing Pompeii I left Naples. I did not visit Sorrento or Amalfi, nor did I go over to Capri; and, indeed, left unseen many objects and places of interest in the neighbourhood. But the “Eternal City” was in prospect and tempted me away.
A tedious railway-journey took me to Rome. Here the aspect of things, and chiefly of the City itself, impressed me very differently. Especially charming was the colouring, which seemed everywhere harmonious: each turn round a street-corner disclosing a combination of tints such as an artist might have devised. Father Secchi, an astronomer then of some note, to whom I had a letter of introduction, and through whose telescope I saw some star-spectra, ascribed this peculiarity in Rome to the brightness of the light; but as no such peculiarity struck me in Naples, and as I did not see how more light could give harmony to colours which were not otherwise harmonious, I could not accept the interpretation.
Something like a fortnight was spent in Rome with much interest; though probably not with so great an interest as that felt by most. For in me there were very few of the historical associations. What Roman history I had read in my boyhood had left but faint traces in my memory. Even had it left clear images I doubt whether my appreciation of the things seen would have been much enhanced. To me the attractiveness of ancient buildings is almost exclusively that resulting from the general impression of age which they yield, and from the picturesqueness of decay. When I go to see a ruined abbey or the remains of a castle, I do not care to learn when it was built, who lived or died there, or what catastrophes it witnessed. I never yet went to a battle-field, although often near to one: not having the slightest curiosity to see a place where many men were killed and a victory achieved. The gossip of a guide is to me a nuisance; so that, if need were, I would rather pay him for his silence than for his talk: much disliking, as I do, to be disturbed while experiencing the sentiments excited in me by the forms and colours of time-worn walls and arches. It is always the poetry rather than the history of a place that appeals to me. Such being the case, I, of course, looked with uninterested eyes on many things in Italy which are extremely interesting to those familiar with the incidents they are connected with.
I will not weary either the travelled or untravelled reader by detailing my seeings and doings while in Rome. One thing only am I prompted to do—to seize the occasion for venting my heresies concerning the old masters: probably to the satisfaction of a few and the anger of many. I have long wished to do this, and cannot now let pass so convenient an opportunity.
In Kugler’s Hand Book of Painting I read, in the account of Raphael’s death:—“Men regarded his works with religious veneration, as if God had revealed himself through Raphael as in former days through the prophets.” A feeling of this kind relative to Raphael, widely diffused I suppose, has co-operated with another feeling, also widely diffused, relative to the old masters at large. Just as the paper and print forming a Bible acquire, in most minds, such sacredness that it is an offence to use the volume for any trivial purpose, such as stopping out a draught; so a picture representing some Scriptural incident is, in most minds, placed above fault-finding by its subject. Average people cannot dissociate the execution from the thing represented; and condemnation of the one implies in their thought disrespect for the other. By these two feelings, criticism of ancient works of art has been profoundly vitiated. The judicial faculty has been mesmerised by the confused halo of piety which surrounds them.
Hence when, in Kugler, I find it remarked concerning Raphael’s “Transfiguration” that “it becomes us to offer any approach to criticism with all humility”—when I see the professed critic thus prostrating himself before a reputation; my scepticism respecting the worth of the current applause of the old masters is confirmed. And when those who have “taken exception” to “the twofold action contained in this picture” are called by Kugler “shallow critics,” I have not the slightest hesitation in classing myself with them; nor have I the slightest hesitation in rejecting the excuse that this fatal fault “is explained historically” by the circumstances of the depicted incident. As though a fundamental vice in a work of art can be got rid of by learning that it is involved in the scene represented! As though one’s eyes, gravitated now to one, now to the other, of the conflicting centres of interest, can be prevented from doing so by any such explanation!
Detailed criticisms cannot be made intelligible when the painting criticised is not before us; otherwise many might be passed on “the Transfiguration.” For the same reason it is difficult to deal in any but a general way with Michael Angelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Were they of recent date, we might marvel that the conception of the Creator is made so little to transcend the conception of the created as in the figures of God and Adam; and might say that the emergence of Eve out of Adam’s side is effected by a being more like a magician than a Deity. But when we find the contemporary Protestant Luther saying in his Table Talk that God “could be rich soon and easily if he would be more provident, and would deny us the use of his creatures,” and expressing his belief that “it costeth God yearly more to maintain only the sparrows than the yearly revenue of the French King amounteth unto”—when we find ideas so grossly anthropomorphic in a reformer of the faith, we cannot expect from Michael Angelo, holding the faith in its unreformed state, ideas that are other than grossly anthropomorphic. Passing over criticisms of this class, therefore, and admitting that there are many figures and groups finely drawn (though they exhibit too much his tendency to express mental superiority by supernatural bigness of muscles) let me say something concerning the decorations at large. Here the fault in art is of the same kind as that which is common in the reception-rooms of English houses, where the aim is to achieve two ends that are mutually exclusive—to make a fine whole and to include a crowd of fine parts. Continually one sees saloons so filled with paintings or engravings, statuettes, vases, objects of vertu etc., that they have become little else than picture galleries or cabinets of curiosities; and the general impression is lost in the impressions produced by the multitudinous pretty things. But if a room is to be made itself a work of art, as it should be, then the paintings, statuettes and minor ornaments, must be relatively few in number, must be so distributed that they fall into their places as component parts, and must none of them be obtrusive enough to distract attention from the ensemble. The like is true of every interior, no matter what its size or purpose, and, among others, of such an interior as the Sistine Chapel. If this be considered as a receptacle for works of art, then it is faulty because it displays them, or at any rate the greater part of them, in the worst possible ways. If it is considered as in itself a work of art, then it is bad because the effects of its decorative parts conflict too much with the effect of the whole. Its fault as a whole is like the fault of one of its chief components—the fresco of the Last Judgment; over which the eye wanders unable to combine its elements.
Were there anything like discrimination in the praises of pictures by the old masters—were they applauded only for certain merits at the same time that their demerits were recognized, I should have no objection to make. Or were each of them more or less approved as being good relatively to the mental culture of its age, which was characterized by crude ideas and sentiments and undisciplined perceptions, I should agree that many of them deserve praise. But the applause given is absolute instead of relative; and the grossest absurdities in them are habitually passed over without remark. Take, for example, Guido’s much admired fresco, “Phœbus and Aurora.” That it has beauty as a composition is undeniable. That the figures of the Hours are gracefully drawn and combined is beyond question. Some of its unobtrusive faults may fitly be forgiven. That the movements of the Hours are such as could not enable them to keep pace with the chariot, and that, being attached to figures which are exposed to “the wind of their own speed,” some of the draperies could not assume such forms as are given, are defects which may be passed over; since, when the subject is supernatural, there are traits, such as running on clouds, which are not to be tested by congruity with observable facts. But as utter divergence from the natural in the drawing of the figures, etc. would not have been excused by the supernaturalness of the subject; so, neither should utter divergence from the natural in respect of light and shade be thus excused. In the first place, the country over which the chariot is advancing, instead of being shown as dimly lighted by it, is shown as already in broad daylight—a daylight utterly unaccountable. Far more remarkable than this, however, is the next anomaly. The entire group,—the chariot and horses, the hours and their draperies, and even Phœbus himself,—are represented as illuminated from without: are made visible by some unknown source of light—some other sun! Stranger still is the next thing to be noted. The only source of light indicated in the composition—the torch carried by the flying boy—radiates no light whatever. Not even the face of its bearer, immediately behind, is illumined by it! Nay, this is not all. The crowning absurdity is that the non-luminous flames of this torch are themselves illuminated from elsewhere! The lights and shades by which the forms of the flames are shown, are apparently due to that unknown luminary which lights up the group as a whole, as well as the landscape! Thus we have absurdity piled upon absurdity. And further, we have them in place of the splendid effects which might have been produced had Nature not been gratuitously contradicted. If Phœbus himself had been represented as the faintly-outlined source whence radiated the light upon the horses, the hours, the draperies, the clouds, and the dimly-visible Earth, what a magnificent combination of lights and shades might have been produced: not taking away from, but emphasizing, the beauty of the forms!
“You must not criticize the old masters in this way,” I hear said by some. “You must consider the ideas and sentiments expressed by their works, and the skilful composition shown in them, and must overlook these technical defects.” Space permitting, I might here ask in how many cases the merits thus assumed exist. But without entering any such demurrer, I will limit myself to the defects classed as technical; and I reply that these are not to be overlooked. When it is proved to me that, on reading a poem, I should think only of the fineness of the idea it embodies, and should disregard bad grammar, halting versification, jarring rhymes, cacophonous phrases, mixed metaphors, and so on; then I will admit that in contemplating a picture I may properly ignore the fact that the light is shown to come in various directions or from nowhere in particular. After I have been persuaded that while listening to a piece of music I ought to ignore the false notes, the errors in time, the harshness of timbre, as well as the lack of distinction between piano and forte passages, and that I should think only of the feeling which the composer intended to convey; then I will agree that it is proper to pay no regard to the fact that the shades in a picture have been all so unnaturally strengthened as to make them everywhere alike in degree of darkness, (a defect which cannot be explained away as being due to the alleged darkening of the shadows by time). Quite admitting, or rather distinctly affirming, as I do, that truthful representation of the physical aspects of things is an element in pictorial art of inferior rank to the truthful representation of emotion, action, and dramatic combination; I nevertheless contend that the first must be achieved before the second can be duly appreciated. Only when the vehicle is good can that which is to be conveyed be fully brought home to the spectator’s consciousness. The first thing to be demanded of a picture is that it shall not shock the perceptions of natural appearances—the cultivated perceptions, I mean. If, as in many works of the old masters, a group of figures standing out of doors is represented with in-door lights and shades upon it; and if a spectator who has looked at Nature with such careless eyes that he is unconscious of this incongruity, does not have his attention distracted by it from the composition or the sentiment; this fact is nothing to the point. The standard of judgment must be that of the observant—not that of the unobservant. If we may fitly take the verdicts of those who cannot distinguish between truth and untruth in the physioscopy of a picture, we may fitly go further, and make our æthetic ideas conform to those of the cottager who puts on his mantel-shelf a gaudily painted cast of a parrot, and sticks against his wall a coloured print of the Prodigal Son in blue-coat and yellow breeches.*
In rejoinder to all this, there will doubtless come from many the question—“How about the experts? how happens it that they, who are the most competent judges, applaud these same works of which you speak so disrespectfully?”
My first reply is that, were the truth known, the question would be less unhesitatingly put; for by no means all experts think what they are supposed to think. As there is a religious orthodoxy so is there an æsthetic orthodoxy; and dissent from the last, like dissent from the first, brings on the dissenter the reprobation of the majority, which usually includes all who are in power. Hence it results that many artists—especially when young and afraid of offending the authorities—refrain from saying that which they secretly believe respecting traditional reputations. As I can testify, there are those among them who do not join in the chorus of applause commonly given to the painters of past times, but who know that their æsthetic heterodoxies, if uttered, would make enemies. When, however, they have reason to think that what they say will not bring on them the penalties of heresy, they express opinions quite unlike those they are assumed to hold.
My second reply is that, so long as the professed approval of artists is unaccompanied by adoption of the practices of those approved, it goes for little. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery—or rather, it should be, not of flattery, but of admiration; and there are many traits of the old masters perfectly easy to imitate, which artists woud imitate if they really admired them. Let us again choose illustrations from light and shade. In the great majority of cases, ancient painters represented shadows by different gradations of black: making a tacit assumption like that made by every boy when he begins to draw. But modern painters do not follow this lead. Though the artist of our day may not have formed for himself the generalization that a place into which the direct light cannot fall, being one into which the indirect and usually diffused, light falls, must have the average colour of this diffused light (often qualified by the special lights reflected from particular objects near at hand), and that therefore a shadow may be of any colour according to circumstances; yet his empirical knowledge of this truth makes him studiously avoid the error which his predecessor commonly fell into. Take another case. An assumption quite naturally made at the outset, is that surfaces which retreat from the light must in retreating become more deeply shaded; and, in conformity with this assumption, we usually see in old paintings that while the outer parts of shadows are comparatively faint, the parts remote from their edges are made very dark—a contrast which must have existed originally, and cannot have resulted from age. But now-a-days only a tiro habitually does this. The instructed man knows that the interior part of a shadow, often no darker than its exterior part, is, under some conditions, even less dark than the part near its edge; and he rarely finds the conditions such as call upon him to represent the interior part of the shadow by an opaque black. Once more there is the kindred mistake, usual in old paintings, that curved surfaces, as of limbs, where they are shown as turning away from the general light, are habitually not shown as having the limiting parts of their retreating surfaces lighted up by radiations from objects behind; as they in most cases are. But in modern paintings these reflected lights are put in; and a true appearance of roundness is given.
Thus, as I say, in respect of some most conspicuous traits, easily imitated, the artist of our time carefully avoids doing as the ancient artist did; and such being the case, his eulogies, if he utters them, do not go for much. When we have to choose between the evidence derived from words and the evidence derived from deeds, we may fitly prefer the evidence derived from deeds.*
Concerning what I did and saw during the rest of my tour, I need say but little. Those who have not seen Italy have read about it. The subject has been so well worn by generations of travellers that it is threadbare.
My journey from Rome to Florence, like my journey from Naples to Rome, of course gave me impressions of Italian scenery. There was much to be admired, joined to something with which to be disappointed. While the colouring of the sky and clouds and the hills on the horizon was more brilliant than any I had before seen, the surfaces near at hand were generally unattractive: being nearly always so ill covered with vegetation that the soil was everywhere visible between the leaves of the plants and the blades of grass. I felt inclined to say of Italy, that it is a land of beautiful distances and ugly foregrounds.
Florence I saw very incompletely: staying there, as I did, only a week. From the collections of paintings I derived more pleasure than from those in Rome, which consists so largely of mere rubbish. I observed, however, when going through those of the Pitti Palace and the Uffizj, that some of the works I chiefly admired were by painters whose names were unfamiliar to me: another manifestation, I suppose, of my habitual nonconformity. But, as I say, I gave inadequate attention to the attractions of the place and its neighbourhood—did not even visit Fiesole. I was companionless and impatient. Going alone from church to gallery and from gallery to church, had become wearisome; and, disappointed as I was in the hoped-for benefits to health, I was anxious to get home.
Leaving Florence about the end of the first week in April, while it was still very cold, and spending half a day at Pisa, I went by night steamer from Spezzia to Genoa. Two days were agreeably spent there; for the city, like other Italian cities, has an individuality which gives it interest. Thence I proceeded to Turin, which was not attractive enough to detain me more than a day. A railway journey to the Mont Cenis, and a journey by night over the Pass, partly by diligence and partly by sledge (for the tunnel was not yet made), brought me in an exhausted state to Chambery, where I remained a day and a half to recruit. Ending the next day at Medoc and the day after that at Paris, I reached home without further stoppage; having been absent about six weeks.
What I thought and felt about this expedition and its results, may best be told by quoting a letter on the subject written to my American friend on May 3. It ran as follows:—
“I cannot say that my hopes that a journey through Italy would put me into working order were realized. I came back no better than I went: in fact in some respects not so well. I have, however, been improving very considerably during the last week; especially in sleeping, which is my great difficulty. Indeed I now feel pretty sanguine that with tolerable care I shall shortly get into my usual state.
Thanks for your reminder about my visit to America. I fear, however, there is no prospect of my soon responding to your wish. My recent experience has given me very conclusive proof that with my irritable nervous system, I am quite unfit for travelling. I was greatly exhausted by my journey to Marseilles, although I stopped a night at Paris and a night at Lyons. My voyage to Naples did me further damage. Sleep was quite out of the question. What little I got during these nights, I owed to morphia. And during the last three weeks of my stay abroad, a leading subject of thought with me was, how I should get home again with the least amount of injury—which was the shortest route, and how it might best be broken into short stages. After this experience you will see that it is out of the question for me to commit myself to a ten or twelve days voyage, or to such railway journeys as travelling through the U.S. would involve. If I should ever again get into a normal state, which does not seem very probable, I may decide differently; but while I remain as I am I must give up the idea of extensive journeys.
A further reason for thus deciding is that, quite apart from fatigue, I find the penalties of travelling greater than the pleasures. In early days I had a considerable appetite for sight-seeing; but now-a-days my appetite is soon satiated—especially as, not looking at things through the spectacles of authority, I often find but little to admire where the world admires, or professes to admire, a great deal. The chief pleasure I get in travelling I get from fine scenery; and of this there is plenty to be had without leaving Great Britain.”
It should be added, however, that in this case, as in many cases, a benefit not appreciable during the journey itself began to be appreciable after it was over. One may figuratively express the results of such experiences by saying that after being hardly used for a time, the system is put upon its good behaviour and goes on better.
[* ]I use the phrase lava-spray advisedly. It is clear that in the lower part of the vast volume of molten matter filling the crater of a volcano, there is contained a large amount of matter which, at ordinary temperatures and pressures, would be gaseous: probably carbonic acid and water, which, notwithstanding the high temperature, are, by the immense superincumbent weight, kept either in the liquid state or at the “critical point.” As the lower portions of the column are thrust upwards, and the pressure these matters are subject to diminishes, they assume the gaseous state: forming small bubbles distributed through the molten mass. At each stage of the ascent these small bubbles expand and aggregate: by and bye making large ones, which increase in ascending power as in size. At length, on approaching the top of the molten column, there have resulted vast ones of many feet in diameter—chambers filled with gases which, though no longer of such high tension, are still of a tension like that of the gunpowder-gases in a cannon. And then at some point, perhaps 20 or 30 feet below the top of the molten column, each gigantic bubble as it bursts propels the superincumbent molten lava in portions of all sizes high into the air.
[* ]I venture the new word just used, because there exists no word expressive of all those traits in a picture which concerns the physical appearances of the objects represented. Under “physioscopy” I propose to include the rendering of the phenomena of linear perspective, of aeriel perspective, of light and shade, and of colour in so far as it is determined not by artistic choice, but by natural conditions—e.g. that of water as affected by the sky, the clouds, and the bottom. The conception, the sentiment, the composition, the expression, may some or all of them be good in a picture of which the physioscopy, in some or all of its elements, is bad; and vice versa. The characteristics included in the one group are entirely separate from those included in the other; and there needs a word by which the distinction may be conveyed without circumlocution.
[* ]The opinion of several experts to whom I have submitted in proof the foregoing expressions of dissent from current opinion, show that I am not without the sympathy of some who must be regarded as competent judges. An R. A. writes:—“Art amateurs often seem to me quite ‘daft’ in their worship of old art, simply because it is old, without any reference to its merit either of conception or execution. But this worship is so deeply rooted, and so much esteemed ‘the right thing’ that any reformation in our own time is almost hopeless. Is it not The Autocrat of the Breakfast table who says that ‘the mind of a bigoted person is like the pupil of the eye, the more light you throw into it, the more it contracts.’ ” An A.R.A., in whose opinion the works of the old masters should be judged in connexion with the sentiments, ideas, and perceptions, of their respective times, and not from our point of view, proceeds thus:—“Now I have said what I had to say in vindication of the old masters, but I believe that what you have said against them is calculated to do unmixed good, for no subject exists that has hitherto been set forth to the world by persons so ignorant, so affected, or so impotent as the scribbling critics of the last generation.” Another A. R. A., who says of certain ancient artists that “with all their faults we can see the hand of genius,” also says of what I have written above that he hopes it “will help to stop some of the nonsense promulgated by the Kuglers and others. As for your criticisms on fact I think all artists will agree.”