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Being Impressions and Translations of Maurice Hewlett

"For as it is hurtful to drink wine or water alone; and as wine mingled
with water is pleasant and delighteth the taste: even so speech, finely
framed, delighteth the ears of them that read the story." - 3 MACCABEES xv.






I cannot add one tendril to your bays,
Worn quietly where who love you sing your praise;
But I may stand
Among the household throng with lifted hand,
Upholding for sweet honour of the land
Your crown of days.


I cannot be for ever explaining what I intended when I wrote this book.
Upon this, its third appearance, even though it is to rank in that good
company which wears the crimson of Eversley, it must take its chance,
undefended by its conscious parent. He feels, indeed, with all the
anxieties, something of the pride of the hen, who conducts her brood of
ducklings to the water, sees them embark upon the flood, and must leave
them to their buoyant performances, dreadful, but aware also that they are
doing a finer thing than her own merits could have hoped to win them. So
it is here. I did not at the outset expect a third edition in any livery;
I may still fear a wreck for this cockboat of my early invention; but I
hope I am too respectful of myself to try throwing oil upon the waters.

I leave the former prefaces as they stand. I felt them when I made them,
and feel them still; but I shall make no more. If _Earthwork_ has the
confidence, at this time of day, to carry a red coat, it shall carry it

LONDON, 1901.


Mr. Critics - to whom, kind or unkind, I confess obligations - and the
Public between them have produced, it appears, some sort of demand for
this Second Edition. While I do not think it either polite or politic to
enquire too deeply into reasons, I am not the man to disoblige them. It is
sufficient for me that in a world indifferent well peopled five hundred
souls have bought or acquired my book, and that other hundreds have
signified their desire to do likewise. Nevertheless - the vanity of authors
being notoriously hard-rooted - I must own to my mortification in the
discovery that not more than two in every hundred who have read me have
known what I was at. I have been told it is a good average, but, with
deference, I don't think so. No man has any right to take beautiful and
simple things out of their places, wrap them up in a tissue of his own
conceits, and hand them about the universe for gods and men to wonder
upon. If he must convey simple things let him convey them simply. If I,
for instance, must steal a loaf of bread, would it not be better to walk
out of the shop with it under my coat than to call for it in a hansom and
hoodwink the baker with a forged cheque on Coutts's bank? Surely. If,
then, I go to Italy, and convey the hawthor-scent of Della Robbia, the
straining of Botticelli to express the ineffable, the mellow autumn tones
of the life of Florence; if I do this, and make a parade of my magnanimity
in permitting the household to divide the spoil, how on earth should I mar
all my bravery by giving people what they don't want, or turn double knave
by fobbing them off with an empty box?

I had hoped to have done better than this. I tried to express in the title
of my book what I thought I had done; more, I was bold enough to assume
that, having weathered the title, my readers would find a smooth channel
with leading-lights enough to bring them sound to port. _Mea culpa!_
I believe that I was wrong. The book has been read as a collection of
essays and stories and dialogues only pulled together by the binder's
tapes; as otherwise disjointed, fragmentary, _décousue_, a "piebald
monstrous book," a sort of _kous-kous_, made out of the odds and ends
of a scribbler's note-book. Some have liked some morsels, others other
morsels: it has been a matter of the luck of the fork. Very few, one only
to my knowledge, can have seen the thing as it presented itself to my
flattering eye - not as a pudding, not as a case of confectionery even, but
as a little sanctuary of images such as a pious heathen might make of his
earthenware gods. Let us be serious: listen. The thing is Criticism; but
some of it is criticism by trope and figure. I hope that is plain enough.

When the first man heard his first thunderstorm he said (or Human Nature
has bettered itself), "Certainly a God is angry." When after a night of
doubt and heaviness the sun rose out of the sea, the sea kindled, and all
its waves laughed innumerably, again he said, "God is stirring. Joy cometh
in the morning." Even in saying so much he was making images, poor man,
for one's soul is as dumb as a fish and can only talk by signs. But by
degrees, as his hand grew obedient to his heart, he set to work to make
more lasting images of these gods - Thunder Gods, Gods of the Sun and the
Morning. And as these gods were the sum of the best feelings he had, so
the images of them were the best things he made. And that goes on now
whenever a young man sees something new or strange or beautiful. He
wonders, he falls on his face, he would say his prayers; he rises up, he
would sing a pæan. But he is dumb, the wretch! He must make images. This
he does because Necessity drives him: this I have done. And part of the
world calls the result Criticism, and another part says, It may be Art.
But I know that it is the struggling of a dumb man to find an outlet, and
I call it Religion.

"God first made man, and straightway man made God;
No wonder if a tang of that same sod,
Whereout we issued at a breath, should cling
To all we fashion. We can only plod
Lit by a starveling candle; and we sing
Of what we can remember of the road."

The vague informed, the lovely indefinite defined: that is Art. As a sort
of _pâte sur pâte_ comes Criticism, to do for Art what Art does for
life. I have tried in this book to be the artist at second-hand, to make
pictures of pictures, images of images, poems of poems. You may call it
Criticism, you may call it Art: I call it Religion. It is making the best
thing I can out of the best things I feel.

LONDON, 1898.


Polite reader, you who have travelled _Italy_, it will not be unknown
to you that the humbler sort in that country have ever believed certain
spots and recesses of their land - as wells, mountain-paths, farmsteads,
groves of ilex or olive, quiet pine-woods, creeks or bays of the sea, and
such like hidden ways - to be the chosen resort of familiar spirits,
baleful or beneficent, fate-ridden or amenable to prayer, half divine,
wholly out of rule or ordering; which rustic deities and _genii
locorum_, if it was not needful to propitiate, it was fascination to
observe. It is believed of them in the hill-country round about
_Perugia_ and in the quieter parts of _Tuscany_, that they are
still present, tolerated of God by reason of their origin (which is,
indeed, that of the very soil whose effluence they are), chastened,
circumscribed and, as it were, combed or pared of evil desire and import.
To them or their _avatars_ (it matters little which) the rude people
still bow down; they still humour them with gifts of flowers, songs, or
artless customs (as of Mayday, or the _Giorno de' Grilli_); you may
still see wayside shrines, votive tablets, humble offerings, set in a
farm-wall or country hedge, starry and fresh as a patch of yellow flowers
in a rye-field. If you say that they have made gods in their own image,
you do not convince them of Sin, for they do as their betters. If you say
their gods are earthy, they reply by asking, "What then are we?" For they
will admit, and you cannot deny, earthiness to have at least a part in all
of us. And you are forbidden to call this unhappy, since God made all. Out
of the drenched earth whence these worshippers arose, they made their
rough-cast gods; out of the same earth they still mould images to speak
the presentment of them which they have. Out of that earth, I, a northern
image-maker, have set up my conceits of their informing spirits, of the
spirits of themselves, their soil, and the fair works they have
accomplished. So I have called this book _Earthwork out of Tuscany. Qui
habet aures ad audiendum audiat._

LONDON, 1895.












10. CATS







Although you know your Italy well, you ask me, who see her now for the
first time, to tell you how I find her; how she sinks into me; wherein she
fulfils, and wherein fails to fulfil, certain dreams and fancies of mine
(old amusements of yours) about her. Here, truly, you show yourself the
diligent collector of human documents your friends have always believed
you; for I think it can only be appetite for acquisition, to see how a man
recognisant of the claims of modernity in Art bears the first brunt of the
Old Masters' assault, that tempts you to risk a _rechauffée_ of Paul
Bourget and Walter Pater, with _ana_ lightly culled from Symonds,
and, perchance, the questionable support of ponderous references out of
Burckhardt. In spite of my waiver of the title, you relish the notion of a
Modern face to face with Botticelli and Mantegna and Perugino (to say
nothing of that Giotto who had so much to say!), artists in whom, you
think and I agree, certain impressions strangely positive of many vanished
aspects of life remain to be accounted for, and (it may be) reconciled
with modern visions of Art and Beauty. Well! I am flattered and touched by
such confidence in my powers of expression and your own of endurance. I
look upon you as a late-in-time Maecenas, generously resolved to defray
the uttermost charge of weariness that a young writer may be encouraged to
unfold himself and splash in the pellucid Tuscan air. I cannot assert that
you are performing an act of charity to mankind, but I can at least assure
you that you are doing more for me than if you had settled my accounts
with Messr. Cook and Sons, or Signora Vedova Paolini, my esteemed
landlady. A writer who is worth anything accumulates more than he gives
off, and never lives up to his income. His difficulty is the old one of
digestion, Italian Art being as crucial for the modern as Italian cookery.
Crucial indeed! for diverse are the ways of the Hyperboreans cheek by jowl
with _asciutta_ and Tuscan tablewine, as any _osteria_ will
convince you. To one man the oil is a delight: he will soak himself in it
till his thought swims viscid in his pate. To another it is abhorrent:
straightway he calls for his German vinegar and drowns the native flavour
in floods as bitter as polemics. Your wine too! Overweak for water, says
one, who consumes a stout _fiaschone_ and spends a stertorous
afternoon in headache and cursing at the generous home-grown.
_Frizzante!_ cries your next to all his gods; and flushes the poison
with infected water. Crucial enough. So with art. Goethe went to Assisi.
"I left on my left," says he, "the vast mass of churches, piled Babel-wise
one over another, in one of which rest the remains of the Holy Saint
Francis of Assisi - with aversion, for I thought to myself that the people
who assembled in them were mostly of the same stamp with my captain and
travelling companion."

Truly an odd ground of aversion to a painted church that there might be a
confessional-box in the nave! But he had no eyes for Gothic, being set on
the Temple of Minerva. The Right Honourable Joseph Addison's views of
Siena will be familiar to you; but an earlier still was our excellent Mr.
John Evelyn doing the grand tour; going to Pisa, but seeing no frescos in
the Campo Santo; going to Florence, but seeing neither Santa Croce nor
Santa Maria Novella; in his whole journey he would seem to have found no
earlier name than Perugino's affixed to a picture. Goethe was urbane to
Francia, "a very respectable artist"; he was astonished at Mantegna, "one
of the older painters," but accepted him as leading up to Titian: and so -
"thus was art developed after the barbarous period." But Goethe had the
sweeping sublimity of youth with him. "I have now seen but two Italian
cities, and for the first time; and I have spoken with but few persons;
and yet I know my Italians pretty well!" Seriously, where in criticism do
you learn of an earlier painter than Perugino, until you come to our day?
And where now do you get the raptures over the Carracci and Domenichino
and Guercino and the rest of them which the last century expended upon
their unthrifty soil? Ruskin found Botticelli; yes, and Giotto. Roscoe
never so much as mentions either. Why should he, honest man? They couldn't
draw! Cookery is very like Art, as Socrates told Gorgias. Unfortunately,
it is far easier to verify your impressions in the former case than in the
latter. Yet that is the first and obvious duty of the critic - that is, the
writer whomsoever. In my degree it has been mine. Wherefore, if I unfold
anything at all, it shall not be the _Cicerone_ nor the veiled
"Anonymous," nor the _Wiederbelebung_, nor (I hope) the _Mornings
in Florence_, but that thing in which you place such touching reliance
- myself and my poor sensations, _Ecco_! I have nothing else. You take
a boy out of school; you set him to book-reading, give him Shakespere and
a Bible, set him sailing in the air with the poets; drench him with
painter's dreams, _via_, Titian's carmine and orange, Veronese's
rippling brocades, Umbrian morning skies, and Tuscan hues wrought of
moonbeams and flowing water - anon you turn him adrift in Italy, a country
where all poets' souls seem to be caged in crystal and set in the sun, and
say - "Here, dreamer of dreams, what of the day?" _Madonna!_ You ask
and you shall obtain. I proceed to expand under your benevolent eye.

To me, Italy is not so much a place where pictures have been painted (some
of which remain to testify), as a place where pictures have been lived and
built; I fail to see how Perugia is not a picture by, say, Astorre
Baglione. Perhaps I should be nearer the mark if I said it was a frozen
epic. What I mean is, that in Italy it is still impossible to separate the
soul and body of the soil, to say, as you may say in London or Paris, -
here behind this sordid grey mask of warehouses and suburban villas lurks
the soul that once was Shakespere or once was Villon. You will not say
that of Florence; you will hardly say it (though the time is at hand) of
Milan and Rome. Do the gondoliers still sing snatches of Ariosto? I don't
know Venice. M. Bourget assures me his _vetturino_ quoted Dante to
him between Monte Pulciano and Siena; and I believe him. At any rate, in
Italy as I have found it, the inner secret of Italian life can be read,
not in painting alone, nor poem alone, but in the swift sun, in the
streets and shrouded lanes, in the golden pastures, in the plains and blue
mountains; in flowery cloisters and carved church porches - out of doors as
well as in. The story of Troy is immortal - why not because the Trojans
themselves live immortal in their fabled sons? That being so, I by no
means promise you my sensations to be of the ear-measuring, nose-rubbing
sort now so popular. I am bad at dates and soon tire of symbols. My
theology may be to seek; you may catch me as much for the world as for
Athanase. With world and doctor I shall, indeed, have little enough to do,
for wherever I go I shall be only on the look-out for the soul of this
bright-eyed people, whom, being no Goethe, I do not profess to understand
or approve. Must the lover do more than love his mistress, and weave his
sonnets about her white brows? I may see my mistress Italy embowered in a
belfry, a fresco, the scope of a Piazza, the lilt of a _Stornello_,
the fragrance of a legend. If I don't find a legend to hand I may, as lief
as not, invent one. It shall be a legend fitted close to the soul of a
fact, if I succeed: and if I fail, put me behind you and take down your
four volumes of Rio, or your four-and-twenty of Rosini. Go to Crowe and
Cavalcaselle and be wise. Parables! - I like the word - to go round about
the thing, whose heart I cannot hit with my small-arm, marking the goodly
masses and unobtrusive meek beauties of it, and longing for them in vain.
No amount of dissecting shall reveal the core of Sandro's Venus. For after
you have pared off the husk of the restorer, or bled in your alembic the
very juices the craftsman conjured withal, you come down to the seamy
wood, and Art is gone. Nay, but your Morelli, your Crowe, ciphering as
they went for want of thought, what did they do but screw Art into test-
tubes, and serve you up the fruit of their litmus-paper assay with
vivacity, may be, - but with what kinship to the picture? I maintain that
the peeling and gutting of fact must be done in the kitchen: the king's
guests are not to know how many times the cook's finger went from cate to
mouth before the seasoning was proper to the table. The king is the
artist, you are the guest, I am the abstractor of quintessences, the cook.
Remember, the cook had not the ordering of the feast: that was the king's
business - mine is to mingle the flavours to the liking of the guest that
the dish be worthy the conception and the king's honour.

Nor will I promise you that I shall not break into a more tripping stave
than our prose can afford, here and there. The pilgrim, if he is young and
his shoes or his belly pinch him not, sings as he goes, the very stones at
his heels (so music-steeped is this land) setting him the key. Jog the
foot-path way through Tuscany in my company, it's Lombard Street to my hat
I charm you out of your lassitude by my open humour. Things I say will
have been said before, and better; my tunes may be stale and my phrasing
rough: I may be irrelevant, irreverent, what you please. Eh, well! I am in
Italy, - the land of shrugs and laughing. Shrug me (or my book) away; but,
pray Heaven, laugh! And, as the young are always very wise when they find
their voice and have their confidence well put out to usury, laugh (but in
your cloak) when I am sententious or apt to tears. I have found _lacrimæ
rerum_ in Italy as elsewhere; and sometimes Life has seemed to me to
sail as near to tragedy as Art can do. I suppose I must be a very bad
Christian, for I remain sturdily an optimist, still convinced that it is
good for us to be here, while the sun is up. Men and pictures, poems,
cities, churches, comely deeds, grow like cabbages: they are of the soil,
spring from it to the sun, glow open-hearted while he is there; and when
he goes, they go. So grew Florence, and Shakespere, and Greek myth - the
three most lovely flowers of Nature's seeding I know of. And with the
flowers grow the weeds. My first weed shall sprout by Arno, in a cranny of
the Ponte Vecchio, or cling like a Dryad of the wood to some gnarly old
olive on the hill-side of Arcetri. If it bear no little gold-seeded
flower, or if its pert leaves don't blush under the sun's caress, it
shan't be my fault or the sun's.

Take, then, my watered wine in the name of the Second Maccabæan, for here,
as he says, "will I make an end. And if I have done well, and as is
fitting the story, it is that which I desired: but if slenderly and
meanly, it is that which I could attain unto."

I have killed you at the first cast. I feel it. Has any city, save,
perhaps, Cairo, been so written out as Florence? I hear you querulous; you
raise your eyebrows; you sigh as you watch the tottering ash of your
second cigar. Mrs. Brown comes to tell you it is late. I agree with you
quickly. Florence has often been sketched before - putting Browning aside
with his astounding fresco-music - by Ruskin and George Eliot and Mr. Henry
James, to name only masters. But that is no reason why I should not try my
prentice hand. Florence alters not at all. Men do. My picture, poor as you
like, shall be my own. It is not their Florence or yours - and, remember, I
would strike at Tuscany through Florence, and throughout Tuscany keep my
eye in her beam, - but my own mellow kingcup of a town, the glowing heart
of the whole Arno basin, whose suave and weather-warmed grace I shall try
to catch and distil. But Mrs. Brown is right; it Is late: the huntsmen are
up in America, as your good kinsman has it, and I would never have you act
your own Antipodes. Addio.



[Footnote: My thanks are due to the Editor of _Black and White_ for
permission to reprint the substance of this essay.]

I have been here a few days only - perhaps a week: if it's impressionism
you're after, the time is now or a year hence. For, in these things of
three stages, two may be tolerable, the first clouding of the water with
the wine's red fire, or the final resolution of the two into one humane
consistence: the intermediate course is, like all times of process,
brumous and hesitant. After a dinner in the white piazza, shrinking slowly
to blue under the keen young moon's eye, watched over jealously by the
frowning bulk of Brunelleschi's globe - after a dinner of _pasta con
brodo_, veal cutlets, olives, and a bottle of right _Barbèra_, let
me give you a pastel (this is the medium for such evanescences) of
Florence herself. At present I only feel. No one should think - few people
can - after dinner. Be patient therefore; suffer me thus far.

I would spare you, if I might, the horrors of my night-long journey from
Milan. There is little romance in a railway: the novelists have worked it
dry. That is, however, a part of my sum of perceptions which began, you
may put it, at the dawn which saw Florence and me face to face. So I must
in no wise omit it.

I find, then, that Italian railway-carriages are constructed for the
convenience of luggage, and that passengers are an afterthought, as dogs
or grooms are with us, to be suffered only if there be room and on
condition they look after the luggage. In my case we had our full
complement of the staple; nevertheless every passenger assumed the god,
keeping watch on his traps, and thinking to shake the spheres at every
fresh arrival. Thoughtless behaviour! for there were thus twelve people
packed into a rocky landscape of cardboard portmanteaus and umbrella-
peaks; twenty-four legs, and urgent need of stretching-room as the night
wore on. There was jostling, there was asperity from those who could sleep
and from those who would; there was more when two shock-head drovers - like
First and Second Murderers in a tragedy - insisted on taking off their
boots. It was not that there was little room for boots; indeed I think
they nursed them on their thin knees. It was at any rate too much even for
an Italian passenger; for - well, well! their way had been a hot and a
dusty one, poor fellows. So the guard was summoned, and came with all the
implicit powers of an uniform and, I believe, a sword. The boots were
strained on sufficiently to preserve the amenities of the way: they could
not, of course, be what they had been; the carriage was by this a forcing-
house. And through the long night we ached away an intolerable span of
time with, for under-current, for sinister accompaniment to the pitiful
strain, the muffled interminable plodding of the engine, and the rack of
the wheels pulsing through space to the rhythm of some music-hall jingle
heard in snatches at home. At intervals came shocks of contrast when we
were brought suddenly face to face with a gaunt and bleached world. Then
we stirred from our stupor, and sat looking at each other's stale faces.
We had shrieked and clanked our way into some great naked station,
shivering raw and cold under the electric lights, streaked with black
shadows on its whitewash and patched with coarse advertisements. The
porters' voices echoed in the void, shouting _"Piacensa," "Parma,"
"Reggio," "Modena," "Bologna,"_ with infinite relish for the varied
hues of a final _a_. One or two cowed travellers slippered up

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Online LibraryMaurice HewlettEarthwork out of Tuscany Being Impressions and Translations of Maurice Hewlett → online text (page 1 of 11)