FLORENCE, Wednesday, April 9.
We spent a few days in Florence, but it rained almost continually, as indeed it has done all winter. This has been the most disagreeable season ever known in Italy, we hear from every quarter. Sight-seeing requires sunshine: but we nevertheless did the galleries, and were delighted with the masterpieces for which the city is famed. The statuary, however, is much inferior to that of Rome. In the way of painting I was most interested in comparing the numerous Madonnas of Raphael, and seeing how he, at last, reached "the face of all the world" in the San Sisto. He seems to have held as loyally as a true knight to his first love. His Madonnas have all the same type of face. You could never hesitate about their authorship. Emphatically they are one and all "Raphael's Madonnas," and very much alike - even the one which the Grand Duke loved so fondly as to take it about with him wherever he travelled is only a little sweeter than the rest. It is a strange fact that it was not by painting Madonnas at all the master obtained his inspiration. He painted the portrait of a lady, which is still seen in the Pitti Palace, from whose face he drew the lacking halo of awe and sublimity. He idealized this woman's face, and the San Sisto came to satisfy all one can imagine about the Madonna. But the face of Christ! Who shall paint it satisfactorily? No one. This is something beyond the region of art. A divine-human face cannot be depicted, and all the efforts I have seen are not only failures which one can lament, but many are caricatures at which one becomes indignant. I was greatly pleased that a true artist, Leonardo da Vinci, realized this, and painted his Christ with averted head. Every great painter in older times seems to have thought it incumbent upon him to paint a Christ, and consequently you meet them everywhere. As for the "Fathers" (i.e., Jehovah) one sees, these seem to me positively sacrilegious. I wonder the arms of the men who ventured upon such sacred ground did not wither at their sides. To paint old men with tremendous white flowing beards - a cross between Santa Claus and Bluebeard - and call them God! Here is materialism for you with a vengeance. These audacious men forgot that He was not seen in the whirlwind, neither in the storm, but never seen at all; only heard in the still, small voice.
Of course I visited Mrs. Browning's grave in Florence. I had the melancholy satisfaction of hearing, from one who knew her intimately, many details concerning her life here. Mr. Browning left Florence the day after she died, leaving the house, his books, papers, and even unfinished letters, as they were when he was called to her bedside the night before, and has never returned; nor has he ever been known to mention her name, or to refer to the blow which left him alone in the world. He seems to have been worthy even of a love like hers. We stayed over two days at Milan to see friends, and while there ascended to see once more the celebrated cathedral. It is finer - I do not say grander - but much finer, especially as seen from the roof, than any other building in Europe.
From Milan we went to Turin, and spent a day there, as we had never seen that city. It is prettily situated, very clean, with regular streets, but without any special objects of interest. The splendid view of the snow-clad Alps, and the fertile valley of the Po, as seen from the monastery, fully repaid us for the day given to Turin. We leave Italy in the morning. It is impossible not to like the country and to be deeply interested in its future. While it has made considerable progress since the genius of Cavour made it once more a nation, still its path is just now beset with dangers. A standing army of six hundred thousand and all the concomitants of royalty to maintain, and a large national debt upon which interest has to be paid - these require severe taxation, and even with this the revenues show a deficit. That last resort, paper currency, has been sought, and now the circulating medium - although "based on the entire property of the nation," as our demagogues phrase it - is at a discount of ten per cent., which threatens to increase.
But the chief trouble arises from the religious difficulty - that sad legacy from the past, of which, fortunately, a new land like America knows nothing. The Pope and all strict Catholics stand coldly aloof from the government, ready to give trouble whenever opportunity offers. But I have faith in Italy. She will conquer her enemies, and once again be a great power worthy of her glorious past. All her troubles, however, are not to seek.
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