Just before I left I went to see the Riccardi Palace in the Via Cavour. The chapel I thought, as I suppose everyone does, one of the most interesting gems in Florence; it is so wonderfully fresh in colour. The frescoes are by Benozzo Gozzoli. We are told his mind was less exalted than Fra Angelico's. That may easily be. His pictures are quite mundane, but the costumes and the landscape backgrounds are thoroughly interesting, and the luxurious grandeur in these wonderfully preserved frescoes give one a thrilling idea of the times. I was especially interested in the garden backgrounds. The Roses were quite cultivated Roses and very large. The Cypresses were faithfully painted as I have seen nowhere else; some were quite natural, others again were cut in rounds and shapes, probably the earliest representation of topiary work in the world. The flower beds were cut out in the grass with hedges such as one sees to-day round any modern hotel. The extraordinary preservation of the frescoes is owing to their having been in the dark. Now the owners have made a large window, and a Philistine proprietor years ago cut a door through the principal fresco. The portraits of the Medicis on horseback, and the splendid clothes, figure, and horse of the Eastern Emperor, impressed me with the feeling it was quite the finest thing of the kind I had seen.
I suppose everyone climbs up to the top of the old Palazzo Vecchio and sees that old Medicean room, once the library, where the huge white doors of the book-cases are panelled with the most beautiful old maps. If I remember rightly, America is represented by the island of Cuba! The colour of them is splendid. Even modern maps would make a beautiful decoration for a white room, I think. German modern maps are exceedingly well coloured, and some representing seas and currents have a mystery and poetry quite their own.
The comparatively new public road on the San Miniato hill, which Mr. Hare calls 'an enchanting drive,' struck me as extremely well done, very well planted, and all the plants well blocked together. In a few more years, when it has lost its 'new' look, it will be very beautiful even from a gardener's point of view. The variety of Oleanders - from snow-white to darkest red - were the best I have ever seen.
The interior of San Miniato is one of the most curious, old, and impressive churches in all Florence; but the strange burial-ground, dug apparently into the rock, is to my mind pathetically ugly. The utter bad taste of it is not on so large a scale as the famous cemetery at Genoa, which to the very utmost carries out Mr. Ruskin's words on modern Italian sculpture: 'Trying to be grand by bigness and pathetic by expense.'
Who that has ever been there does not share that pining for the beauty and sunshine of the South? It is common to so many natures, and almost universally expressed by the poets. The return need of the South for the strengthening influence of the North I have rarely read in prose or poetry. Mrs. Browning seems to have realised that there is such a need:
'Now give us lands where the Olives grow,'
Cried the North to the South, 'Where the sun with a golden mouth can blow Blue bubbles of grapes down a vineyard-row!'
Cried the North to the South.
'Now give us men from the sunless plain,'
Cried the South to the North, 'By need of work in the snow and the rain Made strong, and brave by familiar pain!'
Cried the South to the North.
'Give lucider hills and intenser seas,'
Cried the North to the South, 'since ever by symbols and bright degrees Art, child-like, climbs to the dear Lord's knees,'
Said the North to the South.
'Give strenuous souls for belief and prayer,'
Said the South to the North, 'That stand in the dark on the lowest stair, While affirming of God, "He is certainly there,"' Said the South to the North.
'Yet oh! for the skies that are softer and higher,'
Sighed the North to the South; 'For the flowers that blaze, and the trees that aspire And the insects made of a song or a fire,' Sighed the North to the South.
'And oh! for a seer to discover the same,'
Sighed the South to the North; 'For a Poet's tongue of baptismal flame, To call the tree or the flower by its name,'
Sighed the South to the North,