Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, Volume II
By Julian Hawthorne, 1884
IT might be said, from one point of view, that Hawthorne was better satisfied with Italy than with England; the reason being that he cared for it and sympathized with it less. One is apt to be a more severe critic of one's blood relations than of strangers; and the characteristics or a remote antiquity touch our hearts less than those of a comparatively recent past, wherein, perhaps, inhere some roots of our own. Hawthorne's attitude towards England was that of a descendant jealous of his ancestor's honor; nothing in her less good than the best would satisfy him. Upon Italy, however, his eyes rested with no deeper sentiment than belongs to a respectful and intelligent curiosity. He had no personal stake in the matter; whatever faults or perfections Italy might possess, were merely phenomenal to him, not vital. The Italian genius had no affiliations with his own; it was objective to his mind,--something to examine into and speculate about, not intuitively to apprehend. The Italian people might be what they chose and do as they liked; his equanimity would remain undisturbed. But he could not be equally tranquil in the contemplation of any English shortcomings or perversities.
In process of time, it is true, he conceived an affection for Italy, or, to speak more precisely, for Rome. But it was an entirely aesthetic affection, such as may be aroused by beautiful statues and pictures, by music, blue skies, and gentle atmosphere. It resembled the delight that one feels in poetry, in romance, in the aroma of a mighty and splendid civilization long since passed away. It was such an affection as gives pleasure, but is not profound enough to give pain; able to soothe the heart, but impotent to break it. Hawthorne has given full expression to his feeling for Italy in the romance the scene of which is laid there; and in his case the feeling happened to be deepened by the poignant anxiety and suffering which he underwent for many months, in Rome, by reason of the dangerous illness of his eldest daughter. This personal emotion, associated with the region in which it bad come upon him, engrafted upon his merely Roman thoughts a tenderer and more sacred sentiment. It inspired in him a sort of dread, and even hatred, of the Eternal City; yet, having said farewell to it, he looked back to it with something of the yearning which one feels for a beloved grave.
The "Italian Note-Books," and "The Romance of Monte-Beni"--which is perhaps the most widely read of all Hawthorne's works, owing to its extensive circulation in Rome in the Tauchnitz edition--have made the public better acquainted with this period of the author's life than with any other. It was, for the most part, a period of much quiet happiness. The annoyances and restrictions of office had been laid aside forever, and there was nothing to do but to contemplate and enjoy. Hawthorne had, from his youth, been deeply read in the ancient and mediaeval history of Italy; and shortly before leaving England, he had caused his children to study Grote and Gibbon, and to learn by heart Macaulay's "Lays of Ancient Rome." Mrs. Hawthorne possessed, in addition to this, no little practical knowledge of classic and Italian art, and an almost inexhaustible capacity for seeing and appreciating such masterpieces as Italy overflows with. So that, upon the whole, the party was fairly well prepared for what was before them. It was the first complete holiday that Hawthorne had yet had; he was, as he expressed it, no longer a servant but a sovereign, and looked down "even upon the President." The people whom he was destined to meet with during his Italian residence were almost all Americans of the better class, with two or three of whom he formed lasting friendships; and his mind, having thrown aside the rights and wrongs of American seamen, began to concentrate itself upon the idea of a romance, detached fragments of which had been floating in his brain almost ever since his arrival in England.
Starting early in January, the cold weather met us at Folkestone, and did not altogether retreat until the ensuing March. The means of getting warm were imperfect in France, and wholly deficient in Italy; and Hawthorne frequently alludes to the discomfort which this constant chilliness occasioned. "This morning," he writes (Jan. 10), "Paris looked as black as London, with clouds and rain; and when we issued forth, it seemed as if a cold, sullen agony were interposed between each separate atom of our bodies. In all my experience of bad atmospheres, methinks I never knew anything so atrocious as this. England has nothing to be compared with it." And again: "The wicked chill of the air, and the increasing rain, now compelled us to set out homeward on foot. We looked anxiously for a cab, but saw none; and called to passing omnibuses, but found them all full, or going in wrong directions. We invaded the little shop of a second-hand bookseller (a dirty hole, and of ill odor), and stayed there a considerable time, hoping for some means of escape; but finally had to plunge forth and paddle onward, through rain and mud, amid this old, ugly, and dirty quarter of Paris, till we reached the Arcade along the Rue Rivoli. There we were under shelter all the way to the Hotel."--The only warm recollections connected with this visit to Paris are of the great eider-down bedquilts in the hotel, a foot thick, covered with crimson silk and as light as a feather. Ten minutes beneath one of these would have produced a perspiration in Siberia.
Before leaving Paris, we had the pleasure of makmg the acquaintance of Miss Maria Mitchell, the astronomer, who accompanied us to Rome, and was our neighbor during the greater part of our stay there. There was a simplicity and a dry humor about this lady that made her company delightful and consoling; as if a bit of shrewd, primitive, kindly New England were walking and talking in the midst of the gray antiquity of Europe. Hawthorne also called upon Judge Mason, the American Minister of that epoch, who was just at the end of his official existence,--
" a fat-brained, good~hearted, sensible old man. I fear the poor gentleman is going back, with narrow means, to seek some poor office at home for his livelihood. The Secretary of Legation is a man of very different aspect and address from the Minister: about thirty years old, dark-complexioned, with a black mustache, handsome, with a courteous but decided air, like a man of society and the world. I should think the heavy old Judge would often need some spirit more alert than his own. On the whole, (though I am sorry for him) there is no good reason why Uncle Sam should pay Judge Mason seventeen thousand dollars a year for sleeping in the dignified post of Ambassador to France. The true ground of complaint is, that, whether he slept or waked, the result would be the same."
On the 12th of January we left Paris,--" a very chill morning, and the rain began to fall as we left the hotel,"--spent that night at the Hotel de Provence in Lyons, and late the following day arrived at bleak and windy Marseilles. Here two uncomfortable days were spent, and then we embarked on board the steamer "Calabrese" for Civita Vecchia. The sun shone during this voyage, and at night the stars were brilliant; but the temperature was more that of the North Sea than of the Mediterranean. We stopped at Genoa, and shivered through some of the palaces and churches there; and again at Leghorn, which was uninteresting as well as ungenial; and so reached Civita Vecchia, the forlornest spot of all.
The railroad was not at that time in existence, and we must travel by vettura. The road was reported to be infested by brigands; and as the journey had to be performed after dark, it acquired somthing of the character of an adventure. Fortunately perhaps for us, the mail-carriage started at the same time that we did, and the mail officials carried arms. But our wretched steeds were hard put to it to keep pace with the nimble horses of the Government; and finally they gave up the chase, though not until the more dangerous part of the road had been passed. Hawthorne had with him a large sum of money in napoleons; and soon after starting he proceeded to bestow this in various improbable hiding-places,--I remember the inside of an old umbrella was made the repository of a good deal of it. Hawthorne laughed and joked while making these arrangements; and the children imbibed the notion that the whole affair was a game, played for their entertainment, and that the brigands were as mythical as the giants and enchanters of Spenser's "Faerie Queene." But, once, the figures of two men, in conical hats, and each with a long gun in his hand, appeared outlined against the evening sky on a high bank beneath which we drove. They did not attempt to stop us, however, and we reached the gates of Rome, without casualties, somewhere near midnight, in a cold, sleety rain-storm. The hotel that received us was only a degree less chilly and dreary than the street; and none of the party became really warm for a month or more. Hawthorne suffered the most, having caught a cold before leaving Paris, which had developed into a virulent influenza. He sat by the windy and wintry cavern called a fireplace, muffled up in rugs and great-coats, and seldom ventured outdoors when he could help it. He was too much benumbed even to write his journal, although, as he remarks, his impressions during the first fortnight would have shown modern Rome in an aspect in which it has never yet been depicted. A suite of rooms was rented in No. 37 Palazzo Larazani, Via Porta Pinciana; and there we waited for Italy to appear, for this did not seem at all like Italy. "Old Rome," said Hawthorne, "lies like a dead and mostly decayed corpse, retaining here and there a trace of the noble shape it was, but with a sort of fungous growth upon it, and no life but of the worms that creep in and out."
A few sallies were made, during this arctic interval, to acquire some idea of what was to be seen hereafter; but without very promising results. Even the St. Petersburg atmosphere could not diminish the grandeur of the Coliseum; but St. Peter's was, at first, a disappointment to Hawthorne. The fountains in the Piazza were frozen on our first visit, and boys were sliding on the ice. Of the church he says: "It disappointed me terribly by its want of effect, and the little justice it does to its real magnitude, externally; but the interior blazed upon me with altogether unexpected magnificence, so brilliant is it, with pictures, gilding, variegated and polished marbles, and all that splendor which I tried in vain to describe in the churches of Genoa. I had expected something vast and dim, like the great English cathedrals, only more vast and dim and gray; but there is as much difference as between noonday and twilight. I never saw or imagined so bright and splendid an interior as that of this immense church; but I am not sure that it would not be more grand and majestic if it were less magnificent, though I should be sorry to see the experiment tried." The narrow and dirty streets, with their uneven pavements, did not encourage pedestrianism. "Along these lanes, or gullies, a chill wind blows; down into their depths the sun never falls; they are bestrewn with the filth of the adjacent houses, which rise on each side to the height of five or six stories, generally plastered and whitewashed, and looking neither old nor new. Probably these houses have the brick and stone of old Rome in them,--of the Coliseum, and many another stately structure,--but they themselves look like magnified hovels. The lower regions of palaces come to strange uses in Rome: a cobbler or a tinker perhaps exercises his craft under the archway; a cook-shop may be established in one of the apartments;" and similar miscegenations.
It was towards St. Peter's, however, that Hawthorne most often bent his steps in these days, partly, no doubt, because its temperature had none of the malignancy of the outer air, or even of other buildings; and partly, and chiefly, because the superb incarnation of religious faith which it presented powwerfully fascinated him,--none the less because such an incarnation was so totally opposed to every religious tradition and association in which he had been educated. He has given expression to his thoughts on the matter in the description of Hilda's experience with the confessional; but it may be worth while to repeat his own words, untinged by the imaginative element.--"Saint Peter's," he says,
"offers itself as a place of worship and religious comfort for the whole human race; and in one of the transepts I found a range of confessionals, where the penitent might tell his sins in the tongue of his own country, whether French, German, Polish, English, or what not. If I had had a murder on my conscience, or any other great sin, I think I should have been inclined to kneel down there, and pour it into the safe secrecy of the confessional. What an institution that is man needs it so, that it seems as if God must have ordained it. The popish religion certainly does apply itself most closely and comfortably to human occasions; and I cannot but think that a great many people find their spiritual advantage in it, who would find none at all in our formless mode of worship. You cannot think it all a farce when you see peasant, citizen, and soldier coming into the church, each on his own hook, and kneeling for moments or for hours, directing his silent devotions to some particular shrine; too humble to approach his God directly, and therefore seeking the mediation of some saint who stands beside the Infinite Presence."
With February came the Carnival, which Hawthorne conscientiously inspected, and accepted its liberties, so far as they affected himself, with great good humor; but he would scarcely have seen so much of it as he did, but for the obligation imposed upon him by his children, who, of course, thought it the most glorious frolic that had ever been devised. He used to stroll along the streets, with a linen duster over his black coat, looking at everything, and laughing whenever the confetti struck him,--occasionally, too, doing vigorous battle himself for a minute or two; and if the weather had not been so discouraging, he might have entered into the affair with more zeal, but as it was, he did not enjoy it much. "The festival," he says,
"seems to have sunk from the upper classes to the lower ones and probably it is only kept alive by tradition, and the curiosity which impels foreigners to join in it. The balconies were mostly filled with ladies, some of whom sat nearly on a level with the passers-by, in full dress, with deep-colored Italian faces, ready to encounter whatever the chances of the Carnival might bring them. The upper balconies (and there was sometimes a third, if not a fourth tier) were occupied, I think, chiefly by English or Americans; nor, I fancy, do the Roman ladies of rank and respectability generally display themselves at this time. The confetti are very nasty things, resembling sugar-plums as the apples of Sodom do better fruit, being really made up of lime--or bad flour at best--with oats or worthless seeds as a nucleus; and they readily crumble and turn to dirty dust, making the hair irreverently hoary, and giving a miller-like aspect to hat and clothes. The bouquets were composed of the most ordinary flowers, and were miserably wilted, as if they had served two or three carnival-days already; they were muddy, too, as having been picked up from the pavement. Such were the flowery favors--the bunches of sentiment--that flew to and fro along the Corso, from lady to knight and back again; and I suppose they aptly enough symbolized the poor, battered, wilted, stained hearts, that had flown from one hand to another, along the muddy pathway of life, instead of being treasured in one faithful bosom. Really, it was great nonsense. There were some queer shapes and faces,--clowns, harlequins, apes' snouts, young men in feminine guise, and vice versa, and several samples of Italian costume; but either the masques were not very funny, or I was not in a funny mood,--there was little or nothing to laugh at. Upon my honor, I never in my life knew a shallower joke than the Carnival at Rome; and such a rainy and muddy day, too! Greenwich Fair was worth a hundred of it. I could not make it out to be the Roman's festival, or anybody's festival. It was curious, however, to see how safely the Corso was guarded; a strong patrol of the Papal Dragoons, in steel helmets and white cloaks, were stationed at the street corners, and rode up and down the thoroughfare singly or in a body. Detachments of the French troops stood by their stacked muskets in the Piazza del Popolo, and at the other end of the Corso; and if the chained tiger-cat (meaning thereby the Roman populace) had but shown the tips of its claws, the bullets would have been flying along the street. But the tiger-cat is a harmless brute."
--Hawthorne has drawn upon these notes in the description of the Carnival which appears in "The Marble Faun;" but he also does fuller justice, there, to the attractive features of the spectacle.
One of the first calls that Hawthorne made in Rome was upon William Story, whom he had met, as a young man, in America, and who now contributed not a little towards bringing him acquainted with what was worth seeing and knowing in Rome, and towards his general enjoyment. Hawthorne often talked and walked with him, and admired cordially the sculptor's own work,--the statue of "Cleopatra" had been just begun; and I remember Story's speaking to Hawthorne about another classic subject he had in contemplation, a figure of the Emperor Nero, as he lies in hiding, listening for the steps of his approaching executioners, and trying to screw up his courage to cut his own throat. It was Story, I think, who introduced Hawthorne to Miss Lander, who wished to make a bust of him. He gave her sittings, accordingly; and took her portrait while she took his. "Miss Lander," he says,
"is from my own native town, and appears to have genuine talent, and spirit and independence enough to give it fair play. She is living here quite alone, in delightful freedom, and has sculptured two or three things that may make her favorably known. 'Virginia Dare' is certainly very beautiful. During the sitting I talked a good deal with Miss Lander, being a little inclined to take a similar freedom with her moral likeness to that which she was taking with my physical one. There are very available points about her and her position: a young woman, living in almost perfect independence, thousands of miles from her New England home, going fearlessly about these mysterious streets, by night as well as by day; with no household ties, nor rule or law but that within her; yet acting with quietness and simplicity, and keeping, after all, within a homely line of right. In her studio she wears a sort of pea-jacket, buttoned across her breast, and a little foraging-cap, just covering the top of her head. She has become strongly attached to Rome, and says that when she dreams of home, it is merely of paying a short visit, and coming back before her trunk is unpacked."
--The bust, which was a tolerable likeness in the clay, was put into marble in due course. But while it was undergoing this process, a mishap befell it. A gentleman--I will not mention his name, but he was an American and a person of culture--happened to be in Rome at the time the marble work was proceeding (of course under the hands of the regular workmen employed by sculptors for that purpose, and whose only business it is to reproduce accurately the model placed before them). Hawthorne and Miss Lander were both absent from Rome; and this critic, visiting the studio, noticed what he thought were some errors in the modelling of the lower part of the face, and directed the marble-cutters to make certain alterations, for which he accepted the responsibility. The result was, as might have been expected, that the likeness was destroyed; and the bust, in its present state, looks like a combination of Daniel Webster and George Washington,--as any one may see who pays a visit to the Concord Library, of which institution it is an appurtenance.
It was during the early spring that Hawthorne and his wife, straying one morning into the church of the Capuchins, saw the dead monk which figures so impressively in "The Marble Faun." Hawthorne himself was evidently much impressed by the spectacle, and dwells upon it at some length. "He had been a somewhat short and punchy personage," he says,
"this poor monk, and had perhaps died of apoplexy; for his face did not look pale, but had almost, or quite, the natural flush of life, though the feet were of such a yellow, waxy hue. His gray eyebrows were very thick, and my wife had a fancy that she saw him contort them. A good many people were standing round the bier; and one woman knelt and kissed the dead monk's beads. By and by, as we moved round from chapel to chapel, still with our eyes turning often to the dead monk, we saw some blood oozing from his nostrils! Perhaps his murderer--or his doctor--had just then come into the church and drawn nigh the bier; at all events, it was about as queer a thing as I ever witnessed. We soon came away, and left him lying there,--a sight which I shall never forget."
The weather moderated somewhat as March drew near, and Hawthorne made his first visits to many of the chief objects of interest in Rome. He saw "Beatrice Cenci," the sculptures of the Capitol, and of the Vatican, the Forum, the Pantheon, and numerous churches and picture-galleries. Hawthorne was inclined to prefer sculptures to paintings,--especially the paintings of sacred subjects. "There is a terrible lack of variety in them," he says.
"A quarter part of the Borghese collection, I should think, consists of Virgins and Infant Christs, repeated over and over again, in pretty much the same spirit, and often with no more mixture of the divine in the picture than just enough to spoil it as a representation of maternity, with which everybody's heart has something to do. Then half of all the rest of the pictures are crucifixions, subjects from the Old Testament, or scenes in the lives of the saints; and the remainder are mythological. These old painters seldom treated their subjects in a homely way; they are above life, or on one side of it. Raphael, and other great painters, have done wonders with sacred subjects; but the greatest wonder is, how they could paint them at all; and always they paint them from the outside, and not from within."
--He relented somewhat from the severity of this opinion afterwards; but his Puritan conscience, more than his aesthetic sympathies, was, I think, responsible for much of his acquaintance with ancient pictorial art.
Slowly the Roman sun began to make its power felt; and its warmth inspired Hawthorne with a greater degree both of physical and of mental activity. Every day some fresh expedition was made; and the conceptions of a new romance were slowly assuming shape in the author's mind. The Faun of Praxiteles was to be the central figure of the story, which, as first imagined, was to have been brief and lightly touched. The description of the statue, in the romance, is an almost word-for-word reproduction of that in the Note-Books, even to the reproduction of a slight error respecting the position of the left arm. By degrees the original idea grew and developed, until, in its final form, it became the most elaborate and the longest tale that Hawthorne has written. The latter attribute is, however, mainly due to the number of descriptions of Roman and Florentine scenes, which, as he remarks, he had not the heart to cancel; and he might have added, that, in addition to their intrinsic beauty, they afford a grateful relief to the terrible and darksome events which make up the tissue of the story.
Among the most intimate of our Roman acquaintances were the family of Mr. C. G. Thompson, the artist, who had painted Hawthorne's portrait just previous to the latter's leaving America. They had been resident in Rome for several years, and the children--a girl and two boys--were valuable acquisitious in the way of companions to the younger members of Hawthorne's household. Under the guidance of Edmund and Hubert, the present writer, at all events, became more familiar with Rome and its environs than he ever was with his native city. They are a very kind and agreeable family," Hawthorne writes,--
"both grown people and children. During an evening that we spent with them, Mr. Ropes and his wife came in, he being an American landscape-painter, from my own old town indeed and likewise another American artist, with his wife. I suppose there is a class feeling among the artists who reside here, and they create a sort of atmosphere among themselves, which they do not find anywhere else, and which is comfortable for them to live in. Nevertheless they are not generous nor gracious critics of one another; and I hardly remember any full-breathed and whole-souled praise from sculptor to sculptor or from painter to painter. They dread one another's ill-word, and scrupulously exchange little attentions, for fear of giving offence; they pine, I suspect, at the sight of another's success, and would willingly keep a rich stranger from the door of any studio save their own. Their public is so much more limited than that of literary men that they have the better excuse for these petty jealousies. I do not mean to include Mr. Thompson in the above remarks; for I believe him to be an excellent man, and know him to be most friendly towards me, and, as an artist, earnestly aiming at beautiful things and achieving them. In the course of our visit he produced several rich portfolios, one containing some sketches from nature by an eminent German landscape-painter, long resident in Rome, and now deceased; another contained the contributions of many artists, his friends,--little pencil drawings and watercolor sketches, bits of landscapes, likenesses,--in short, an artistic album; another was a most curious collection of sketches, many of them very old, and by celebrated painters, which he had partly picked up at the shops of dealers in such things, but had bought the greater part in a lump for about two dollars. He conjectures that they were part of the collection of some old Cardinal, at whose death the servants had stolen them, and sold them for what they would fetch. Here were pen-and-pencil sketches and pencil-drawings, on coarse and yellow paper of centuries ago, often very bold and striking; the 'motives,' as artists say, or first hints and rude designs of pictures which were afterwards painted, and very probably were never equal to these original conceptions. Some of the sketches were so rough and hasty that the eye could hardly follow the design; yet, when you caught it, it proved to he full of fire and spirit. Others were exceedingly careful and accurate, yet seemed hardly the less spirited for that; and in almost all cases, whether rough or elaborate, they gave one a higher idea of the imaginative scope and toil of artists than I generally get from the finished pictures."
--It was evidently upon this "sketch" that Hawthorne based his picture of the studio of Miriam, with her portfolios of drawings.
Mrs. Jameson, author of " Lives of the Painters," was likewise among the friends of this period; and it was impossible not to like and respect the venerable old lady, although, in her role of prophetess of Italian culture, it was not always easy for Hawthorne to keep pace with her. Bryant was in Rome, too; and somewhat detailed mention of him is made in the Note-Books, though his name, as well as that of Sumner, of whom he spoke to Hawthorne, is generally omitted from the published passages. Miss Bremer and Miss Harriet Hosmer also appeared, and left pleasant memories behind them. But the malarious season in Rome was now at hand; and after having made an engagement (not without much chaffering) with a vetturino to transport us to Florence, all expenses included, for the sum of one hundred scudi, more or less, we set forth on the morning of the 24th of May, after a residence of little more than four months, and in the midst of an avalanche of curses from the servant whom we had employed during our sojourn, and her mother, prompted by Hawthorne's refusal to present them with a week's extra wages, in addition to the fortnight's warning which they had had. But the weather was superb, and the ten days' journey was accomplished without either death by apoplexy or any other misfortune. The railroad has taken the place of the carriage-road since those days, and I suppose the charms of the latter are unknown to the majority of visitors to Italy. But nothing could be more novel or delightful. The scenery is at no point other than beautiful or striking, apart from the historical interest of the scenes; the early summer air is both soft and inspiriting; and ever and anon we arrive at strange, mountainous villages, remote and lonely, and looking as if they were but natural modifications of the gray rock on which they are built. The fare provided was always ample and good, and all the labor of attending to that and other minor details is taken off the traveller's hands by the vetturino. Whenever there was a hill to climb,--and that happened often,--Hawthorne would alight, and, accompanied by his son, walk on in advance, every step bringing us farther into the heart of the matchless Italian landscape. At night we had sound and comfortable sleep in some grotesque old inn, perched aloft, perhaps, upon some naked hill-top, or nestling beside some famous lake or stream in the narrow valleys. The only drawback to enjoyment was the beggars, of whom the entire population of most of the towns on the route was composed. But after a while custom gives them a sort of semi-invisibility, and they scarcely interfere with one's appreciation of the sights and scenes amidst which they swarm, more than so many flies or mosquitoes. One cannot help wondering what has become of these innumerable mendicants, now that there are steam-engines to take foreigners out of the way.
"This journey from Rome," says Hawthorne, has been one of the brightest and most uncareful interludes of my life." And the same may be said of the entire Florentine experience. The chilliness of Rome at first, and the languor of spring afterwards, robbed his residence there of much of its charm. But the five or six months now to come had in them nothing that was not delightful. There was a lovely ardor about the Florentine summer that is not met with elsewhere; and the city itself so overflowed with beauty that nothing mere could have been desired. Such friends as Hiram Powers and Mr. and Mrs. Browning afforded all that nature and art could not supply; and the freedom from all present labor and all anxiety for the morrow gave an inward pleasantness to every moment. I believe this to have been, upon the whole, the happiest period of Hawthorne's life. To every life, probably, some such season comes; and six months is perhaps as long a draught of it as any mortal has a right to expect. The illness of his daughter cast a dark shadow over the remainder of Hawthorne's Italian experience; and after that, his gradually failing health made existence not seem so sweet that he could feel much regret to have done with it.
The Casa Bella, a floor of which we occupied from the date of our arrival until the 1st of August, was a fresh and bright-looking edifice, handsomely furnished and fitted, built round a court full of flowers, trees, and turf. A terrace, protected from the sun by a rustic roof built over it, extended along one side of the interior, and low windows or glass doors opened upon it. The house was all light and grace, and well deserved its title: a room, giving upon the garden, was used by Hawthorne as his study; and there, when not wandering about the genial, broad-flagged streets or in the galleries and churches and public gardens, he used to sit and sketch out his romance,--the English romance, I think, not the Italian one. He did not write very much as yet, however; the weather would have made it difficult to stay indoors in the daytime, even had the other attractions to go forth not been so alluring; and in the evenings, Powers or some other friend was apt to come in, or he visited Powers's studio, or went to Casa Guidi, near by, where the Brownings were. The lazy luxury of Italian life made itself strongly felt. Looking from the street windows of our apartment, I used often to watch with envy a young ostler, appertaining to a stable on the opposite corner, who was in the habit of lounging out, naked to the waist, with a broom in his hand, and spend an hour or two dawdling about the pavement and chatting with his acquaintances. His torso was statuesque, and his skin as smooth as a woman's, and he looked exceedingly comfortable and contented. In Powers's studio, across the way, were the statues which the world knows, and some which few, perhaps, have seen; and Powers himself, tall and strong, with his paper cap, his white apron, his immense black eyes, and his pleasant smile. But there also, within a five minutes' stroll, were the Duomo, most beautiful of Italian churches, and the Campanile, and all the noble charm of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza del Gran Duca; and the Pitti and Uffizzi galleries, and the Boboli Gardens. And it was hard to linger even here, when one thought of the Ponte Vecchio, with its strange incrustation of old houses; and the Lung' Arno, and the Casino; and the sunny hills outside the walls, with their fragrant plantations 6f olive and vine. When mankind returns to the Golden Age, such cities as Florence will be the rule, instead of the exception.
Hawthorne began once more his study of pictures, with somewhat better success than heretofore. He appreciated Raphael more, and found some other painters losing their hold upon him. The "Madonna della Seggiola" seemed to him, at this time, "the most beautiful picture in the world;" and he speaks harshly of Titian's "Magdalen,"--but from the moral not the artistic, point of view. In fact, he had not got so far in his pictorial training as to analyze the composition of a picture; he observed the workmanship, whether it were finished or rough, and the colors, whether they were brilliant or dull; but, for the rest, he accepted the work as it was, and either liked it or not, as if it were a pleasant or a disagreeable person. Of technicalities,--difficulties overcome, harmony of lines, and so forth,--he had no explicit knowledge; they produced their effect upon him, of course, but without his recognizing the manner of it. All that concerned him was the sentiment which the artist had meant to express; the means and method were comparatively unimportant. He accepted and respected the Dutch masters because they came into direct rivalry with concrete nature, and he could test the accuracy of their rendering by his own observation; but in the higher spheres of the art he continually found the beauty of the idea obstructed by the imperfection of the materials, and could not be quite happy about it. He wished that the "Transfiguration" might have combined Raphael's breadth with Gerard Douw's minuteness; the more strongly his imagination was appealed to, the more conscious was he of the discrepancy of execution. This discrepancy does not exist in the writer's art; there, the refinement and purity of the texture keeps pace with the beauty or grandeur of the conception; so that Hawthorne could not reason from the one to the other. I fancy, moreover, that he unloaded a good deal of his responsibility in this matter upon the shoulders of his wife, who rejoiced in pictures, not only for what they expressed but for what they were, and could take up his appreciation where it came to an end, and carry it on with enthusiasm. There is, in a letter of hers, written at this period, a description of the "Deposition" by Perugino, which may appositely be quoted here.
"It is a large picture, with perhaps twelve figures. The body of Christ, with Joseph of Arimathea at the feet, makes the base of a pyramidal group. At the head, tenderly holding it with both hands,--one low down at the back of the hair, and one at the brow,--kneels one of the Marys, looking earnestly at the dead face before her. The Virgin Mother kneels beside her Son, seizing the left arm, and gazing at him with lips apart, and deep eyes nearly quenched with tears,--an expression of boundless love; her grief communicates itself to all who see her, for it is a real and not a painted grief. Above the Madonna stands another Mary, looking down at the body with uplifted hands, with more passion in her attitude than the others; and she forms the apex of the pyramid. On the left kneels the third Mary, with folded bands, beautiful and absorbed, looking at Christ as if musing on the spectacle. These six make a perfect group, all with eyes fixed on the dead form. Behind Jesus kneels Saint Peter, a grand figure and head, support mg the body with both hands beneath the arms, but turning away, as unable to bear the sight. Above Peter is the fourth Mary, with clasped hands and bowed head and falling tears,--and she, I think, is Mary Magdalene. At her side is one of the disciples, united with the rest by his expression of unutterable sadness. Above Joseph of Arimathea stands Saint John, perhaps the greatest triumph of genius of all. He does not look at Christ; his hands are locked, in desolation of spirit; his arms straight down, like iron, and his fingers strained and hard-pressed. But in his beautiful face is the marvel and the power. There is a strong passion of sorrow. He seems to gaze out of the picture, but his eyes do not meet your eyes. There is a bewilderment, an abandonment of grief, that causes a blank in his thoughts; also the calmness of that deepest emotion that cannot show itself by ordinary modes. He has gone into his own soul to mourn, finding nothing left for him without. A lovely landscape lies beyond,--the sun just gone down, even as the Sun of Righteousness has set. No one else need attempt to paint the 'Deposition.' Raphael's magnificent 'Entombment' does not equal this picture in sentiment, though in beauty and execution nothing could surpass it. Noble master! Noble pupil--also master! What immense magnetic force proceeds from a work like this, over which the artist lived and breathed for months or years,in devout, religious worship! Such pictures ought to be made eternal, for the benefit and culture of the nations."
Hawthorne's success with sculpture was always better, the conditions upon which to base a judgment being more sure and simple. He saw as much in the "Venus de' Medici" as any one, not a sculptor, has seen; and the "Lorenzo di' Medici," of Michael Angelo, was, in his opinion, a miracle in marble. "To take a block of marble and convert it wholly into thought! . . . Its naturalness is as if it came out of the marble of its own accord, with all its grandeur hanging heavily about it, and sat down there beneath its weight." And not less deep and creative was his insight into the bronze statue of Pope Julius III., in the market-place of Perugia; and of Marcus Aurelius, on the Capitoline Hill,--"the most majestic representation of the kingly character that ever the world has seen." He had many long talks on the subject of sculpture with Hiram Powers, who had the venial infirmity of believing that "no other man besides himself was worthy to touch marble," but whose ideas were "square, solid, and tangible, and therefore readily grasped and retained; . . . but when you have his ultimate thought and perception, you feel inclined to think and see a little further for yourself." The substance of many of these talks is given in the Note-Books; and it is entertaining to note how Hawthorne would eliminate from Powers's assertions the personal element, and then submit what remained to an analysis which, though perfectly unassuming, and deferential to the artist's superior knowledge, is always keen and often very destructive. In truth, Powers, in comparison with Michael Angelo and the great Greek sculptors, had learned only the alphabet of his art; he ended where they began, but was us bold and fertile in criticism as such incipient knowledge generally is.
The only external event that occurred during this month was the Feast of St. John,--in effect, a sort of carnival with the masks and the confetti omitted. Its only interest for Hawthorne and his wife was the opportunity it afforded them of having a glimpse of the Grand Duke and his court, who occupied the loggia of a house opposite our balcony, and who were resplendent in gold embroiderv and diamonds, which last Mrs. Hawthorne described as "an indescribable fineness of fierceness,--so ethereal and so real,--like the crossing of wit in angels!" But the Grand Duke himself was not beautiful,--he "looked like a monkey with an evil disposition," and had "that frightful, coarse, protruding under-lip, peculiar to the Imperial race of Austria. It is worth while," adds Mrs. Hawthorne, "to extinguish the race for the sake of expunging that lip, and all it signifies."--I quote from her printed Journal.
The white sunshine, falling straight downwards upon the flat pavements of the Florentine streets, or striking against the stuccoed walls of the houses, and reflected thence upon the inhabitants, wrought a fervency of heat that was almost too much even for Hawthorne, tropic-loving though he was. But on the summit of the hill of Bellosguardo, a mile beyond the Porta Romana, there was an ancient castle or villa, belonging to the noble family of Montauto. The Count, the then bearer of the name and title, being, like so many of his peers, less rich in gold than in ancestors, was willing to rent his castle for what appeared to foreigners the unreasonably reasonable sum of forty scudi a month; the castle itself containing upwards of forty large rooms, besides a podere, or plantation of grapes and figs, a dozen acres in extent. There was, moreover, a historic tower, said to be haunted, and commanding a vast prospect of the valley of the Arno, hemmed in by distant hills; and whatever breath of air happened to be stirring was sure to find its way up to this height. Near at hand, across the gray groves of olives, was the tower to which Mrs. Browning had attached her poem of "Aurora Leigh;" and Galileo's tower was also visible from our battlements. Each member of the family had three or four rooms for his or her private use, and more than twenty were still left for our joint occupation. The podere was in charge of the contadini belonging to the estate, who were always ready to provide us with as many figs and grapes as we wanted. Each day after sunset the mighty and brilliant comet of Donati stretched itself across the valley in a great fiery arch, and remained in view till near morning. In addition to the ghost, the tower was tenanted by a couple of owls, who at dusk hovered forth on noiseless wings beneath the battlements with strange, melancholy hootings. It was the custom of Hawthorne and his family to ascend every evening to the summit of the tower, and sit or recline there till bedtime, looking at the comet and the stars, or watching the progress of the distant thunder-storms on the hills. Meanwhile the distance to the city was so inconsiderable that almost daily expeditions were made thither; and if the hill sometimes seemed steep on the way home, every step upward was into a fresher and more invigorating atmosphere. Hawthorne used to regret the lack of water in the view; but the constantly varying phenomena of clouds and sunshine, storm and calm, which the breadth of the valley made visible, atoned for this defect. The villa of Montauto was, as readers of Hawthorne know, the prototype of that of Monte Beni; though the latter is placed in another region, and the blue lakes and gleaming river, which were wanting to the former prospect, are supplied in the latter.
It was in this mountain stronghold that Hawthorne wrote the first sketch of "The Marble Faun," which he afterwards rewrote and elaborated in Redcar, on the northeastern coast of England. He had temporarily laid aside the idea of the English romance, which afterwards assumed at least three distinct shapes, but which he did not live to complete. His mind at this period was as fertile in imaginative conceptions as it had ever been in his life; and could he have spent four or five years in Montauto, instead of a couple of months, he might have written as many romances again as now bear his name. Probably he would have remained, had it not been for his children. But he wished his daughters to grow up in their own country, and his son to have an American education; nor could he free himself from a restless longing to see again the land of his birth. An exile commonly ascribes to his native country the best of the attractions of foreign lands and the attraction of home, besides. Hawthorne, however, looked forward to a return to Europe at some undefined date; and when be bade it farewell, he did not know it was forever.
About the beginning of October we set out on our return to Rome. It was Hawthorne's intention to finish his romance there, and then, passing rapidly through Switzerland and France, to stop in England only long enough to obtain his English copyright, and sail for America in June or July of 1859. But all these plans were upset by his daughter Una's illness. He wrote nothing while in Rome, and on reaching England decided to rewrite the book there; so that our return home was postponed one year. We did not follow the same route in returning to Rome that we had taken in leaving it. There was a railroad between Florence and Siena, to which town the train took us in about three hours. William Story and his family were living in a country-seat--the Villa Belvedere--outside the walls, and their presence made the strange old place familiar and pleasant to us. Siena seemed to Hawthorne the most picturesque town that he had seen in Italy, with the exception of Perugia, and he fancied that be would prefer it to Florence as a residence: "A thoughtful, shy man might settle down here with the view of making the place a home, and spend many years in a sombre kind of happiness." Mrs. Hawthorne was delighted with the frescos of Sodoma. Ten days were spent in Siena, though Hawthorne would scarcely bave stayed so long but for Story's company and conversation.
"We spoke," he writes, "of the idea, which has been realized in my own experience, that a piece of good fortune is apt to be attended by an equivalent misfortune, as its shadow or black twin. There seems to be a vein of melancholy in William Story which I was not aware of in my previous acquaintance with him. He acknowledged that for three years past he had lived in dread that some sorrow would come to counterbalance the prosperity of his present life. I hope not; for I like him particularly well, and indeed it is very hard if we cannot enjoy a little sunshine in this short and hard life without a deadly shadow gliding close behind. Old age, and death in its due time, will surely come; let those suffice. The notion, however, is a comfortable one or otherwise, according to your point of view. If the misfortune comes first, it is consolatory to think of the good that is soon to follow; in the other category, it is exceedingly disagreeable."
From Siena we pursued our way to Rome by vettura,--a five-days' journey, much the same in general character as the former one, though the weather, of course, was cooler, and the first bloom of novelty was wanting to the experience. But the journey was enlivened by the magnificent aspect, rapid and skilful driving, and genial disposition of our vetturino, Constantino Bacci by name,--a massive, stately fellow, with black eyes almost or quite as large as those of Powers, and with a gentler expression. The children and the "Emperor," as Mrs. Hawthorne called him, became greatly attached to one another during their sojourn together, and were more than sorry when the hour of parting came. We met with no more favorable specimens of Italians during our residence in the country than our two vetturinos,--Gaetano and Constantino. The "Emperor," then, drove us to the door of the house No. 68 Piazza Poli, which Mr. Thompson the artist had engaged for us; and the last six months of our Roman residence began.