Elihu Vedder.

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very springtime of old age and yet have the chance of dying in
my second childhood, it will not be the same. Just fancy a tab-
let, "To the memory of . Cut off in his second child-
hood." 'T would never do.

A friend and myself had seen from Perugia certain amethyst-
ine peaks beyond great hills and were told they were the mount-
ains of Gubbio, and we went to Gubbio to see them.

Once there, after admiring the vast Town Hall and looking
at the bronze Etruscan tablets, understanding them about as


well as the learned do, we looked for the mountains : they were
nowhere to be seen : we were on them. Then it dawned upon us
that perhaps the worst place from which to see a mountain is

to be on it.

And this was the case with the good people in Florence in the
days of my callow youth. I have been forced to alter many of the
conclusions of my youth, in later life merely not to seem odd.
In Florence I was too near to see the great outlines, for some
of the people there were great people people who had done or
were doing great work ; but I was too near. All I write should go
under the heading of "How It Seemed To Me Then." All the
seasons had passed in the garden of childhood and boyhood, and
now it was again Spring in this Florentine Garden of Lost Oppor-
tunities. And all the flowers were in full bloom : they are those
I gathered and those I neglected to gather dry enough now.

To me the heights in Florence were chiefly those of Bello-
sguardo although all my distinguished friends lived on
heights. On these heights I found the air too pure and thin for
my vigorous young lungs, so I lived in the vale below.

They were all intellectual, highly cultured, literary and artistic

above all literary. Some lived their own lives, but, with the
exception of the really great, these good people seemed to live a
little, fussy, literary life, filled with their sayings and doings : in
fact taking out the deeds each one would have furnished all
the materials for a splendid biography. I say a few lived their
own lives, but most of them seemed to be living up to the great
ones of their acquaintance or up to each other somewhat like
the inhabitants of that Irish village where they lived by taking
in each other's washing.

I once saw a flock of fan-tailed pigeons showing off to each

(Painted for Kate Fieltf)


other and standing so straight up that they almost tumbled over
backwards. In one corner was a little one who swelled up for all
he was worth, quite unnoticed by the rest. I wonder if they knew
how funny they were. I can't remember where I saw this, but
it must have been in Florence, Boston, or New York. Anyway it
reminds me of what George Butler once said, when the boys
were swelling out their chests and taking the measure of them :
" It is n't the man who can swell out the biggest who counts,
but the man who stays swelled out."

For all these reasons I remained, with an occasional ascent,
on the lower levels, until Kate Field " swam into my ken ! " She
was the first woman of charm and intellect I had seen, and her
bright smile and hearty laugh, combined with her innate refine-
ment, quite bowled me over and I then felt a strong inclina-
tion to live up to her level, but never could.

But before her advent a great day came for Florence.

Before I tell of it I should like to say that it had always been
a matter of wonder that I seemed to take so little interest in the
great events going on about me at that time. They seemed not
to affect me; or, rather, I may have forgotten the effect they
made on me. As I have said before, I was more under the in-
fluence of the merry spirit of Boccaccio than that of the stern
Ghibelline, and it was through his eyes that I saw most of the
things in that Florentine Garden. Besides: my real life has
always been a little aloof from my surroundings, and I am less
frivolous than I appear at times.

Finally there came a great day for Florence. The Italians
were coming ; the Grand Duke was going. I had sprained my
ankle jumping over a hedge while showing off before the girls
of the Black family up at Bellosguardo. There had been much


plotting in the Caffe Michelangelo. I had not been taken into
the plot, but being a rank republican was considered one of them.
So when the final day came, I limped along with the rest to the
Fortezza di Basso, and we fraternised with the soldiers. The
Italian colours were hoisted and the bands broke out into
Garibaldi's hymn and other patriotic airs never heard before in
Florence. Where could they have been practising ?

There was a rumour that the Grand Duke had sent sealed
orders for the forts to bombard the city, and that an officer had
said rather than do that he would break his sword across his
knee ; it was terrible. The Grand Duke did n't send to have the
orders opened and the sword remained unbroken. On the con-
trary, the Duke went away with a great quantity of luggage ; the
crowd assembled to witness his departure remained perfectly silent
as his carriages rolled out of the gates ; it was most impressive.

The town was not bombarded or sacked. A few francesconi
changed hands when all the boys of the Caffe Michelangelo came
out in their new uniforms, but the money remained in the hands
of the tailors. That was all the damage done, at least in Florence.

I was the first to carry the news to the good people of Bello-
sguardo. I limped up the hill, like the runner from Marathon,
and was duly refreshed and rewarded for bringing " the good news
to Ghent." We could hardly realise looking down on the peace-
ful city that such terrible events had taken place that morning.
A great night at the Caffe Michelangelo.

There was sung for the first time publicly, that song with the
yodel at the end :

"Codini, andate a letto,
II Babbo non torna piu!"

It was like the Dutch taking Holland.



The Italians frequented the Caffe Michelangelo in the Via
Larga, while the English and Americans confined themselves to
a caffe near the Ponte Vecchio ; I have forgotten the name, which
is as bad as an old New Yorker forgetting Delmonico's. In fact,
my intimate friends seemed to live in these caffes, and I saw a
great deal of them, while the literary people lived in their houses
in town, or in villas in the environs, and I only saw them when
I actually or metaphorically ascended the heights. And I must
confess that I found them the frequenters of the caffes and
trattorias the more interesting. I tell of them, commencing
with an account of my old master, Bonaiuti, and his wonderful

My old master in drawing was a man of another age, an old-
fashioned Florentine. He was a mild, faded-looking man, but
hid under that exterior an iron will. He had once been given the
commission to make drawings of most of the marbles in the
Vatican Gallery, and had taken advantage of that opportunity
to study them for his own improvement, so that I cannot conceive


of any one understanding the antique better than he did. His
explanations and illustrations of the Elgin marbles given me
during his lessons were beautiful, and I felt quite unworthy of
the privilege.

The scheme of his life was as simple as his life itself. He made
the most beautiful and loving copies of Fra Angelico and thus
provided the means of supporting himself and his two old maiden
sisters, and all the rest went toward the painting of his one great
picture. He was going to paint that and make one statue and
then his lifework would be accomplished. The picture repre-
sented the Temptation on the Mount, Christ repulsing the
Devil, who is shown as falling backwards toward the beholder.
These figures were built up from the skeleton and were so thor-
oughly studied that he hated to clothe them. The Christ, who
was represented with the long and noble muscles of the Greek
heroes, had naturally to be draped, while the fiend, who was
given the short, knotty muscles of the satyr, remained nude.

He made cartoon after cartoon, full-size, of this picture, but
just when he thought he had reached perfection he found some
fault of anatomy or perspective and it had to be done all over

I once asked him how he was going to colour it when he had
succeeded in getting it all drawn in to his satisfaction on the
canvas, and he answered with the simplicity of a child, " Nella
maniera di Tiziano!" When I left he was commencing a new
cartoon. He was a Merlin. Had his spell been a little stronger
I should have been pursuing my preliminary studies to this day.

There was another picture in Florence which bid fair to rival
Bonaiuti's in its delayed execution, had not the painter gotten
over his difficulty by a device. This picture represented the


Florentines going into battle with the great standard, the "Gon-
falone," borne on a cart drawn by oxen. On this cart was also
an altar and a crucifix, before which a priest prayed constantly
during the battle. The Gonfalone streamed out against a stormy
sky, the priest's garments fluttered in the wind which swept up-
wards the incense. The candles were blown out, and the oxen
were in wild disorder while the battle raged around. And here
the trouble began ; there was one hind leg of an ox which re-
fused to compose, no matter in what position it was drawn. The
painter was in despair until he hit upon the device of hiding it
behind a group of men fighting in the foreground. This group
turned out so large and was painted with such spirit and was so
prominent in every way, that the great standard and the cart
and the oxen made but a background for it, and the group be-
came the picture.

It was a little that way in the case of Bonaiuti. His Devil with
his fine foreshortening became the most interesting feature of
the picture. He always is.

As in all societies there is never lacking some one who is al-
most a caricature, so also there is never lacking the caricaturist.
We had one and had him bad. He was a veritable detective,
a sleuth-hound. When he scented a chance, when he got on the
track of a man, in or out of season, he never quitted him if it
took months, and never left him until he had taken from his
poor victim every trace of self-esteem. It was piteous to see the
victims smile and pretend to be pleased : they never were, and
they were never the same men again, either in their own estima-
tion or in that of their friends, after the operation.

Once he was almost foiled. There was a handsome young fel-
low with a somewhat narrow face ; regarded from the front you


saw him edge on, as it were. He drew him for weeks on the
marble-topped cafe tables (the drawings being always scrupul-
ously respected by the waiters), but could never succeed, and
was beginning to lose his own self-esteem, when he discovered
that by drawing his victim in profile and making his eye full-
face, he had solved the problem, and we all saw our friend thus
for ever after.

How describe my friend Gortigiani, with his inexhaustible
supply of funny stories and his habit, when painting a portrait,
of lighting his Toscano, throwing the match on the floor, taking
a puff or two, painting like mad, relighting the Toscano and re-
peating the action until he was knee-deep in matches. Or how
well he could, with his supple and limber body, imitate a squeezed
tube of paint. His likenesses were so like, especially one of my-
self, that they made you laugh, a doubtful compliment.

Nor can I leave out Bianchi and his wife. He who so faith-
fully restored frescoes of Giotto in Santa Croce ? By no means.
The happy pair were much given to the pleasures of the table,
so when they had decided to make a scorpaciata, which can only
be translated by the word "gorge," they sallied forth early in the
morning, and at the market laid in all the materials, and they
never failed to stop at the apothecary's and have made up the
relative pills.

Then there was my stout friend Banty, the amateur and ex-
cellent painter, who used to say that it was pretty hard, just be-
cause he was fat, that he could never allude to sentiment with-
out being laughed at ; while another friend who had no more real
sentiment than a frying-pan was allowed to talk it by the hour.
This Rapisardi fell into a great rage when Tivoli came back
from Paris full of the praises of Troyon. What kind of art is this



you are talking about ? Look at the subjects. A cow who scratches
herself against a tree. No, no. "Non c'e sentimento! " And then
he would go back to his picture of the fair maiden clinging to an
ivy-covered tree, with a French quotation indicative of the char-

JM^v "*<,


acter of both maid and ivy. I think as far as the titles go, it was
a toss-up.

The good Cabianca was the one who long after in Rome said
to me, " How I envy you your friends! Now here is a friend of
mine who has been writing to me for years and it has always been,
' Don't you remember this, and don't you remember that ? And
if you are ever hard up, don't you ever go to any one but your old
friend.' Now it has come to that pass that I can't send my child-
ren to school for want of shoes, and we live on bread and water,
and I get to-day, in answer to a request for a little help, an eight-
page letter telling me that I have not painted the right kind of


things and that just at present his funds are so invested that he
is sorry he cannot send me anything."

I had two intimate English friends: the bright, talented, ill-
fated Green, and the studious and refined Yeames, he of the
rich gouty uncle who had the best cook and the worst digestion
of any one in Florence. Yeames tried to instil into me a love of
poetry. The seed then planted has grown, but I confess it has been
a plant of very slow growth.

Not to be tiresome, it will be noticed that I never mention
a person unless I can say something either good or bad of him
by bad I only mean interesting. Surely you do not find fault with
Stevenson for introducing you to John Silver, or with Howard
Pyle for his innocent picaroons. Time and my poor memory
have merged these people I write about into a kind of haze
through which they appear to me like beings of another period,
like Rip Van Winkle, for instance, and it would be as ab-
surd for a person to find fault with me for alluding to a relative
of his, as it would be for me to find fault with Irving for repre-
senting Nick Vedder as a being addicted to the smoke-habit,
and unable to give his opinions in anything else than in that un-
substantial product.

It is strange how, when I paint landscapes, I don't seem to care
for the figures : that is, I feel as if I ought to put them in, but
don't most of the time. Yet in wandering through this hazy past
I am always writing about the figures and not about the land-
scape. Is it because I have been so awfully bored by long de-
scriptions of beautiful scenes and health-giving air which only
the writer can afford to either see or breathe ? Or is it that moun-
tains and lakes are never funny ? Or that Nature is always in dead
earnest, except in kittens and puppies ? As I am only writing


for people like myself, boon-companions as it were, people who
want to be interested and amused, I leave out descriptions except
when I have something particularly tidy to describe. Having
digressed, I proceed.

Among the Americans was for a time the ever cheerful and
buoyant Rinehart, the sculptor, who on one occasion was any-
thing but buoyant and might have stopped my digressing and
his cheerfulness in a tragic manner. At that time, near the bridge
of La Carraja were moored a lot of old mills on great scows,
forming one of the most picturesque features of the river ; and
just below them, in the boiling water from the mills, were baths.
I was standing on a spring-board, about to jump in, when I saw
Rinehart being whirled about the eddies and calling out ; he was
red in the face, and I suddenly realised that something was the
matter, so without more ado I jumped in, swam to him, and
said: "What! you're not drowning, are you?" He at once
wrapt his legs and arms about me, and had it not been for a rope
hanging down just within my reach, it would have been all up
with us, for he had rendered me utterly powerless either to save
him or myself. A boat was shoved toward us and we got him out.
A glass of cognac brought him to ; he could never remember any-
thing about it ; but it was a good lesson to me, for in after years in
Naples, when I managed to get a Jew to a place of safety, under
almost the same circumstances, I did it with the utmost safety to
myself. Neither Rinehart nor the Jew ever thanked me, but I do
think some prize student of the Rinehart Fund in the American
Academy here in Rome might offer me a cigar occasionally.

And there was old Hart he of the crude manners, who used
to write poems and try to pass them off as Byron or Beatty
and deceived no one : only the boys used to fool him to the top


of his bent. He had a nephew who had come out to him to work
a portrait-machine he had invented, and he had promised to
teach the nephew sculpture in return for his services, but became
jealous of him and treated him like a brute. In this machine,
after you had assumed a natural pose and look, you were ren-
dered immoveable by screws and other appliances, and long steel
points were driven at you until they touched, and then with-
drawn. It was like that horrible chair of the Middle Ages, called
"the Virgin," wherein you were invited to sit, and were caught
and finally murdered. The machine remained idle for want of
victims; to look at it was enough. The nephew was a man
of great promise. Having nothing, he married a very poor but
refined and intelligent lady who copied in the galleries, and they
became, of course, twice as poor, but to make up were very
happy. And then he died. Rinehart took sides with old Hart,
as being his oldest friend. I sided with young Hart ; but it made
no difference between us, for no one ever quarrelled with Rine-
hart. He belongs to the Roman period and formed one of its best
features. But dear me ! how many words are used in writ-
ing ! I find that in spite of my leaving out fully two thirds of the
things I have to write about, I am getting tired and fearing
to tire the reader also, I stop. It has been a long flight for me,
only before I alight I will add this one touch more and call it the
accent it has quite the look of an "anecdote."

In Florence there lived a painter who had never gotten over
the accent of his native land. One day while showing me his
latest production, he remarked :

" By Jove ! that is a good picture, if I do say it myself. I feel
that I have a right to say with Giotto, * Yankee io sono pittore."

I agreed with him as to the "Yankee."


I must not forget to mention the English painter, Inchbold, a
full-blown Pre-Raphaeliteist one of whom Ruskin is reported
to have said that a square inch by Inchbold was worth a square
yard of almost any other painter's work. This, it may well be
imagined, did not tend to lower the angle at which his nose was
set. Of course we regarded all his doings with great interest and
I became very well acquainted with him and in fact counted him
among my friends. He must have liked me, for years after-
wards he sent my wife a pretty little card painted evidently
expressly for her. Having mentioned his nose, I may as well go
on and say that his face seemed permanently pervaded by a
flush or blush which conveyed the impression that he was on the
verge of getting angry ; he never did, however, to my knowledge.
William Rossetti describes this perfectly: "He was a nervous,
impressionable man, with a ruddy complexion, a rather blunt
address in which a certain uneasy modesty contended with a
certain still uneasier self-value." As I say, we watched his pro-
ceedings with great interest. He certainly did, as Bunthorn
says, " by hook or crook contrive to [make things] look both
angular and flat." He was conscientious to a degree, but his
conscience had an elastic quality ; the fact is that the P.-R. B. '
did not so much aim at representing Nature faithfully as they did
to give their work the look or stamp of the "movement" they
represented. For instance, in one of his pictures there was what
appeared to be a very small girl standing among very large leaves.
Now in reality it was a very large girl on a terrace below, seen
through the leaves in the foreground. She must have been some
ten yards distant ; this fact was ignored, but all the ravages of
insects were shown in these leaves with the utmost faithfulness.
He simply left out the air and represented things as seen with


one eye. In the same picture there was a cypress tree cutting
across a field and merging with a wood on the other side about a
mile off. It confused the mind, and I asked him why he did not
leave it out. He replied, " It was there." " But," I said, " I don't
want you to change the form of- the mountains or anything
essential, but to cut down that tree." But it was of no use.

Shortly after, he was painting a view of Florence from his
window across the Arno. It was winter ; the great hills covered
with snow gave a bleakness to the scene only too well known to
those who also know Florence well. The point was that he had
moved the Campanile of Santa Croce most outrageously far from
its real position about a quarter of a mile. " But," said I,
" how about this ? " " It composes better that way." " But
then how about that tree you would not cut down ? " I don't
know how he got out of it ; he certainly got redder. The same in
the night-school. A florid Venetian-like model he made into
a sharp-nosed thing with so much green in her complexion that
she looked more like a vegetable than a Venetian human being
but he gave her the real P.-R. look. At this time Hotchkiss
was trying to break away from this influence of Ruskin. With
me it worked well, as can be seen by my studies at that time,
and badly in that I went on filling my studio with careful studies
I have never used.

I am sorry to see in William Rossetti's account of Inchbold
that he was unsuccessful and died "at a not very advanced age."
I always thought that Ruskin's approval had spelled success for
him. It seemed to me that in his art he had ceased improving and
could only go on making the same kind of thing indefinitely ;
but as that applies to so many near and dear, I hasten to drop
the subject. Also I shall guard against reading up about people


of which I have done very little : for that only leads to com-
pilation and a mere running over a list of names of people no
longer interesting to me and certainly not to the reader. Inch-
bold, however, I shall hold in affectionate remembrance, per-
haps because there was something forlorn about him and his
spirit needs comforting.

One thing more, I never could get from Inchbold a clear
definition of what constituted P.-R.-ism. Going back to the art
previous to Raphael ? Not quite that. In fact put it as I would
there was always a something in which the P.-R.'s differed from
other men and I have not been able to settle the point yet,
except that in their art they must differ from all others and their
pictures must have " the look" But dear me, how all all this is of
the past !

Putting up one notice to keep off the grass, at the entrance of
a park, would be found, I imagine, insufficient to effect the object
in view ; they must be put up everywhere, and I feel it will be the
same with the notice I have somewhere put up that my opin-
ions of people and things only give my opinion at the time of which
I am writing. And so about the P.-R. B. I first came across their
work in New York in the pictures of Farrar, and it seemed, of
course, to me then needlessly hard and crude when representing
things in their nature soft and harmonious, and therefore I looked
on it as an affectation. In Florence, Hotchkiss and myself were
painting as faithfully as we knew how; and particularly that
Pointeau he who used to come in from his painting from Nat-
ure about the time the rest of us were taking our breakfast,
bringing back with him drawings, veritable photographs from
Nature, only better. Therefore the works of Inchbold, needlessly


Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 10 of 29)