To-day being warm, I went down to Florence; and dropping my companion - who had to call on a sick friend - I went on alone to the 'Cascine,' the well-known public park, which I had not seen for over forty years. The ghost of my youth sat beside me in the little shabby carriage; and as I drove along the well-remembered alley, with the racecourse on the right, and the shaded roads where I used to ride, the past all came back to my mind. To the outward eye all seemed very much the same - a little smartened up and modernised perhaps. As I drew up on the Piazzone there was another carriage with a mother and three young daughters, as we used to be. It was a strange, lonely, sepulchral sort of feeling - that in all that gay crowd very few were even born when we lived in Florence and I used to go daily to the 'Cascine' and dance half the night through at balls. That winter at Florence seemed to me at the time to be the last of my youth, and it altered all my life.

How strange are the depressions of youth! Life seems over when really it has scarce begun! It was in such a mood I left Florence at twenty. De Musset has expressed this sadness of youth with concentrated pathos:

J'ai perdu ma force et ma vie

Et mes amis et ma gaieté;

J'ai perdu jusqu'à la fierté Qui faisait croire à mon génie.

Quand j'ai connu la vérité

J'ai cru que c'était une amie;

Quand je l'ai comprise et sentie J'en étais déjà dégoûté.

Et pourtant elle est éternelle, Et ceux qui se sont passé d'elle Ici has ont tout ignoré.

Dieu parle, il faut qu'on lui réponde, Le seul bien qui me reste au monde Est d'avoir quelquefois pleuré.

As I drove back into Florence the air was heavy with the perfume of the Lime-trees - such Lime-trees as I have never seen before. The leaves are few and small, and were absolutely hid by the size and number of the yellow flowers with their big sheaths on each side like wings. The evening sky was reflected in the Arno in the old familiar way, and the air was warm and still. I called for my friend, and once more shut up the memory of the past in that far-away corner of the brain where such things remain. We drove through the town, and I first saw the Duomo with its façade completed. In my day, of course, it was rough bricks, with the holes for the scaffolding left in it. Beautifully as it is done, and I do think it is a noble piece of restoration, the new façade at first gave me a shock. It seemed to cheapen Giotto's lovely tower, and made one feel that what had seemed inimitable could be copied.

My first fortnight at Florence was spent in driving about seeing old gardens, and dropping into dim churches on summer evenings before returning home. My critical feelings were all absolutely dead. I could do nothing but gasp and admire, and with it always the dim memory of somehow having seen it all before as in a dream. The churches in the fading evening light looked very solemn and very beautiful - portals to death perhaps rather than windows into heaven. But I do not know that I liked them less for that. I found Florence very little changed in its general aspect, in spite of the many alterations which have been such pain and grief to the English inhabitants. It is almost, if not quite, unspoilable. There are trams and omnibuses and incongruous things, no doubt; but, oh! it is wonderfully unchanged - from the time-worn stones of its pavements to the black eaves of its roofs against the brilliant sky.

One need not be in Florence to give one's entire sympathy to the good people there who are trying their utmost to save the beautiful old city from destruction. To destroy old streets to build hotels may defeat its own object, for if Florence becomes less beautiful the demand for hotel rooms may diminish; though honestly I think that, to keep up the influx of strangers, sanitary precautions and a certain content among the people are more necessary still. Five thousand English and other tourists left Florence the week before I arrived, in consequence of a very slight riot which followed on the two days' Socialist outbreak at Milan. The departure of strangers means ruin to the hotel-keepers and poverty to all those they employ; so my sympathy to a certain extent goes with the difficulties of the Italian Government, who have to consider the material benefit to the city and its people that may come from wider streets and bridges. When I see protests such as have appeared lately in the columns of our newspapers a feeling of shame always comes over me at the wholesale destruction that has gone on within my memory in our own poor old London, and which few people think about. For instance, the destruction of Temple Bar because it was thought too expensive to make a road each side of it. Also the clearing away of sixteen or eighteen of Wren's beautiful churches. I would far rather see them used in some way for the people's good than destroyed. I cannot see why they should not be put to some useful service, as the monasteries and convents have been in France and Italy. If this is sacrilege, surely it is much more so wantonly to destroy! At least, we might still have the beautiful spires of the kind which Mr. Watson describes:

It soars like hearts of hapless men who dare To sue for gifts the gods refuse to allot;

Who climb for ever toward they know not where, Baffled for ever by they know not what.

Not to speak of the hideous spoiling of the Thames by the railway and other bridges, narrow streets and old houses are constantly pulled down. Only the other day the picturesque almshouses of Westminster ceased to exist. Last, but not least, Wren's work is being disfigured, as most people feel, by the modern decorations in St. Paul's. I often wish a deputation of influential Italians, with a petition signed by hundreds of non-influential names, would come here and protest against this destruction of old buildings and our many other municipal short-comings. May the Italians respect their lovely buildings! - and I believe they will - better than we do. They certainly restore - with apparently only the wish to copy and maintain - a great deal better than any other European nation I know. I cannot make up my mind that in this they are wrong, in spite of the constant protests of the Anti-Restoration Society, with whose work I have been in much sympathy all my life. It seems hard to say that the beautiful buildings of the Middle Ages ought to be allowed to fall into ruins, and the effort to preserve what we admire will, I think earn the gratitude of the ages to come. In the eighteenth century, ruins as such were admired even to the extent of making artificial ones, and the landscape painters not only steeped all Nature's bright colours in black and brown, but painted the ruined columns under thunderclouds, with Eoman soldiers in togas walking about. And our grandfathers bought and admired their pictures!