THE SIXTH MORNING. THE SHEPHERD'S TOWER.
I had intended to give the best account of it in my power; but, when at Florence, lost all time for writing that I might copy the group of the Pope and Emperor for the schools of Oxford; and the work since done by Mr. Caird has informed me of so much, and given me, in some of its suggestions, so much to think of, that I believe it will be best and most just to print at once his account of the fresco as a supplement to these essays of mine, merely indicating any points on which I have objections to raise, and so leave matters till Fors lets me see Florence once more.
Perhaps she may, in kindness forbid my ever seeing it more, the wreck of it being now too ghastly and heartbreaking to any human soul that remembers the days of old. Forty years ago, there was assuredly no spot of ground, out of Palestine, in all the round world, on which, if you knew, even but a little, the true course of that world's history, you saw with so much joyful reverence the dawn of morning, as at the foot of the Tower of Giotto. For there the traditions of faith and hope, of both the Gentile and Jewish races, met for their beautiful labour: the Baptistery of Florence is the last building raised on the earth by the descendants of the workmen taught by Dadalus: and the Tower of Giotto is the loveliest of those raised on earth under the inspiration of the men who lifted up the tabernacle in the wilderness. Of living Greek work there is none after the Florentine Baptistery; of living Christian work, none so perfect as the Tower of Giotto; and, under the gleam and shadow of their marbles, the morning light was haunted by the ghosts of the Father of Natural Science, Galileo; of Sacred Art, Angelico, and the Master of Sacred Song. Which spot of ground the modern Florentine has made his principal hackney-coach stand and omnibus station. The hackney coaches, with their more or less farmyard-like litter of occasional hay, and smell of variously mixed horse-manure, are yet in more permissible harmony with the place than the ordinary populace of a fashionable promenade would be, with its cigars, spitting, and harlot- planned fineries: but the omnibus place of call being in front of the door of the tower, renders it impossible to stand for a moment near it, to look at the sculptures either of the eastern or southern side; while the north side is enclosed with an iron railing, and usually encumbered with lumber as well: not a soul in Florence ever caring now for sight of any piece of its old artists' work; and the mass of strangers being on the whole intent on nothing but getting the omnibus to go by steam; and so seeing the cathedral in one swift circuit, by glimpses between the puffs of it.
The front of Notre Dame of Paris was similarly turned into a coach-office when I last saw it - 1872. [Footnote: See Fors Clavigera in that year.] Within fifty yards of me as I write, the Oratory of the Holy Ghost is used for a tobacco-store, and in fine, over all Europe, mere Caliban bestiality and Satyric ravage staggering, drunk and desperate, into every once enchanted cell where the prosperity of kingdoms ruled and the miraculous- ness of beauty was shrined in peace.
Deluge of profanity, drowning dome and tower in Stygian pool of vilest thought, - nothing now left sacred, in the places where once - nothing was profane.
For that is indeed the teaching, if you could receive it, of the Tower of Giotto; as of all Christian art in its day. Next to declaration of the facts of the Gospel, its purpose, (often in actual work the eagerest,) was to show the power of the Gospel. History of Christ in due place; yes, history of all He did, and how He died: but then, and often, as I say, with more animated imagination, the showing of His risen presence in granting the harvests and guiding the labour of the year. All sun and rain, and length or decline of days received from His hand; all joy, and grief, and strength, or cessation of labour, indulged or endured, as in His sight and to His glory. And the familiar employments of the seasons, the homely toils of the peasant, the lowliest skills of the craftsman, are signed always on the stones of the Church, as the first and truest condition of sacrifice and offering.