When I was young in Florence a great mystery hung over the convent of San Marco, as women were not allowed to visit it, and we young ones thought of it principally in connection with its perfumery shop, where the Iris-root powder and pale pink lip-salve were better than anywhere else. It was with a real feeling of curiosity that I saw the interior and the famous frescoes that have survived so many centuries. I found them very sweet and child-like - these decorations of the little cells by the humble Christian monk; but I suppose I had expected too much, for as works of art they disappointed me. In the little square surrounded by the cloister of San Marco, where Fra Girolamo sat sotto un rosajo di rose Damaschine preaching to his contemporaries, the monks - or rather, I suppose, some unimaginative official who has charge of the public buildings in Florence, has planted, instead of the gentle damask Rose and the Lavender and Rosemary, a huge flourishing Deodar. No doubt this tree is beautiful enough on the high steep sides of the Lower Himalayas, but with its symmetrical growth, and the size to which it has already attained, it is a most unsightly and inappropriate object in the restricted cortile of Savonarola's monastery. It puts everything out of all proportion, and is such an anachronism! Deodars are quite modern trees in Europe, and are not pretty even in villa gardens. I do wish it could be cut down; plain, daisy-spangled turf would be much better. Nothing is so striking or so general as the want of imagination in planting. Sometimes plants are put in entirely out of character with the rest of a garden; another time trees are planted which, when they grow well, entirely obscure the view or shut out the summer sunset. One curious anachronism I have noticed is that an artist in painting a scene for the background of a Greek or Roman play introduces American plants in his foreground! So many places are merely spoilt in an effort to improve them, and this is especially the case all round Florence.

Of all that I have read about Florence since my return I think nothing is more attractively clever or more full of character, both of the place and the writer, than a chapter called 'A Florentine Mosaic' in 'Tuscan Cities,' a little volume by W. D. Howells, the American. It is published in the 'English Library' series at Leipzig. Half the book is about Florence. It is a perfectly charming mixture of humour and history, bewildered tourist and most cultivated man of letters. It takes one so instantly into the very heart and core of the Middle Ages that one purrs with a delightful feeling of 'Oh, certainly! Yes, I always did know all about it.' Popes and Parties, Blacks and Whites, the ins and the outs, etc. Art, which generally forms such a large portion of a book about Florence, is left out altogether, or at any rate is only like a brilliant tapestry background to his living, moving figures. It is so clear and so comprehensive that it satisfies the idle and whets the appetite of those who wish to know more. Mr. Howells has a masterly way of sketching, and his appreciation of the cloisters is so real that, to my mind, he makes one feel it would be worth while to go all the way to Florence to see them and nothing else. Cloisters are, perhaps, the most characteristic things in Italy. He thus writes:

'The thing that was novel to me, who found the churches of 1883 in Florence so like the churches of 1863 in Venice, was the loveliness of the deserted cloisters belonging to so many of the former. These enclose nearly always a grass-grown space, where daisies and dandelions began to abound with the earliest consent of spring. Most public places and edifices in Italy have been so much photographed that few have any surprise left in them; one is sure that one has seen them before. But the cloisters are not yet the prey of this sort of pre-acquaintance. Whether the vaults and walls of the colonnades are beautifully frescoed, like those of Santa Maria Novella or Santa Annunziata or San Marco, or the place has no attraction but its grass and sculptured stone, it is charming; and these cloisters linger in my mind as something not less Florentine in character than the Ponte Vecchio or the Palazzo Publico. I remember particularly an evening effect in the cloister of Santa Annunziata, when the belfry in the corner, lifted aloft in its tower, showed with its pendulous bells like a great graceful flower against the dome of the church behind it. The quiet in the place was almost sensible; the pale light, suffused with rose, had a delicate clearness; there was a little agreeable thrill of cold in the air; there could not have been a more refined moment's pleasure offered to a sympathetic tourist loitering homeward to his hotel.'

As I write I feel 'Of course everyone knows this book,' but it is often not so, and no one told me of it till long after I got back. I experienced one of those 'refined moments of pleasure' when one beautiful June afternoon - warm, but not one bit too hot - we drove to the Certosa, and, sending the carriage round, walked up its steep Olive slopes to the monastery. A few of the white-robed monks still remain in possession. I did not make out if they are renewed or not, but their presence preserves the character of the place. I had never seen it before; for of course years ago, like San Marco, it was not shown to women. The garden was peaceful to a degree, shimmering in the golden-veiled summer sunshine. Never did I see such lovely Lavender; it was as different from our Northern plant as could be. The flowering part was just double as long, and one mass of gray-blue flowers, which gave a general effect in the garden as of blue haze. One side of the cloister had been thrown down by the earthquake of three years ago. They were beginning to repair it - with the usual Italian patient fidelity in restoration.

No one who goes to the Certosa should fail to take special notice of the remarkable pietra tombale - so different from our dull interpretation of the 'tombstone' - of Cardinal Lionardo Buonafede. I am told it is often missed. This recumbent statue is as fresh and well preserved as the day it was made, which is very rare with any of these peculiar effigies. The figure of the old Cardinal lies on the tessellated marble floor. His head is propped by costly pillows, and he wears his jewelled mitre. His stockinged feet and simply crossed hands, with the long straight draperies of his robe, are a most perfect example of the realistic sculpture of the Middle Ages - as true as waxwork, with none of its vulgarity - so different from the degeneracy of modern Italian art. I wish I knew why it has been a Christian custom to clothe the feet of the dead; they are especially beautiful. If all else is changed, they remain the same.