University of Virginia Library


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It was drawing towards evening, as two travellers, approaching
Florence from the south, checked their course on
the summit of one of the circle of hills which command a
view of the city, and seemed to look down upon it with admiration.
One of these was our old friend Father Antonio,
and the other the cavalier. The former was mounted on
an ambling mule, whose easy pace suited well with his
meditative habits; while the other reined in a high-mettled
steed, who, though now somewhat jaded under the fatigue
of a long journey, showed by a series of little lively motions
of his ears and tail, and by pawing the ground impatiently,
that he had the inexhaustible stock of spirits which goes
with good blood.

“There she lies, my Florence,” said the monk, stretching
his hands out with enthusiasm. “Is she not indeed a sheltered
lily growing fair among the hollows of the mountains?
Little she may be, Sir, compared to old Rome; but every
inch of her is a gem, — every inch!”

And, in truth, the scene was worthy of the artist's enthusiasm.
All the overhanging hills that encircle the city with
their silvery olive-gardens and their pearl-white villas were
now lighted up with evening glory. The old gray walls of
the convents of San Miniato and the Monte Oliveto were
touched with yellow; and even the black obelisks of the
cypresses in their cemeteries had here and there streaks and


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dots of gold, fluttering like bright birds among their gloomy
branches. The distant snow-peaks of the Apennines, which
even in spring long wear their icy mantles, were shimmering
and changing like an opal ring with tints of violet, green,
blue, and rose, blended in inexpressible softness by that
dreamy haze which forms the peculiar feature of Italian

In this loving embrace of mountains lay the city, divided
by the Arno as by a line of rosy crystal barred by the graceful
arches of its bridges. Amid the crowd of palaces and
spires and towers rose central and conspicuous the great
Duomo, just crowned with that magnificent dome which was
then considered a novelty and a marvel in architecture, and
which Michel Angelo looked longingly back upon when he
was going to Rome to build that more wondrous orb of Saint
Peter's. White and stately by its side shot up the airy
shaft of the Campanile; and the violet vapor swathing the
whole city in a tender indistinctness, these two striking
objects, rising by their magnitude far above it, seemed to
stand alone in a sort of airy grandeur.

And now the bells of the churches were sounding the Ave
Maria, filling the air with sweet and solemn vibrations, as
if angels were passing to and fro over head, harping as they
went; and ever and anon the great bell of the Campanile
came pulsing in with a throb of sound of a quality so different
that one hushed one's breath to hear. It might be fancied
to be the voice of one of those kingly archangels that
one sees drawn by the old Florentine religious artists, — a
voice grave and unearthly, and with a plaintive undertone
of divine mystery.

The monk and the cavalier bent low in their saddles, and
seemed to join devoutly in the worship of the hour.


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One need not wonder at the enthusiasm of the returning
pilgrim of those days for the city of his love, who feels the
charm that lingers around that beautiful place even in modern
times. Never was there a spot to which the heart could
insensibly grow with a more home-like affection, — never
one more thoroughly consecrated in every stone by the
sacred touch of genius.

A republic, in the midst of contending elements, the history
of Florence, in the Middle Ages, was a history of what
shoots and blossoms the Italian nature might send forth,
when rooted in the rich soil of liberty. It was a city of
poets and artists. Its statesmen, its merchants, its common
artisans, and the very monks in its convents, were all pervaded
by one spirit. The men of Florence in its best days
were men of a large, grave, earnest mould. What the Puritans
of New England wrought out with severest earnestness
in their reasonings and their lives these early Puritans
of Italy embodied in poetry, sculpture, and painting. They
built their Cathedral and their Campanile, as the Jews of
old built their Temple, with awe and religious fear, that they
might thus express by costly and imperishable monuments
their sense of God's majesty and beauty. The modern traveller
who visits the churches and convents of Florence, or
the museums where are preserved the fading remains of its
early religious Art, if he be a person of any sensibility, cannot
fail to be affected with the intense gravity and earnestness
which pervade them. They seem less to be paintings
for the embellishment of life than eloquent picture-writing
by which burning religious souls sought to preach the truths
of the invisible world to the eye of the multitude. Through
all the deficiencies of perspective, coloring, and outline incident
to the childhood and early youth of Art, one feels the


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passionate purpose of some lofty soul to express ideas of
patience, self-sacrifice, adoration, and aspiration far transcending
the limits of mortal capability.

The angels and celestial beings of these grave old painters
are as different from the fat little pink Cupids or lovely
laughing children of Titian and Correggio as are the sermons
of President Edwards from the love-songs of Tom
Moore. These old seers of the pencil give you grave, radiant
beings, strong as man, fine as woman, sweeping downward
in lines of floating undulation, and seeming by the
ease with which they remain poised in the air to feel none
of that earthly attraction which draws material bodies earthward.
Whether they wear the morning star on their forehead,
or bear the lily or the sword in their hand, there is
still that suggestion of mystery and power about them, that
air of dignity and repose, that speak the children of a nobler
race than ours. One could well believe such a being might
pass in his serene poised majesty of motion through the
walls of a gross material dwelling without deranging one
graceful fold of his swaying robe or unclasping the hands
folded quietly on his bosom. Well has a modern master of
art and style said of these old artists, “Many pictures are
ostentatious exhibitions of the artist's power of speech, the
clear and vigorous elocution of useless and senseless words;
while the earlier efforts of Giotto and Cimabue are the burning
messages of prophecy delivered by the stammering lips
of infants.”

But at the time we write, Florence had passed through
her ages of primitive religious and republican simplicity, and
was fast hastening to her downfall. The genius, energy, and
prophetic enthusiasm of Savonarola had made, it is true, a
desperate rally on the verge of the precipice; but no one


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man has ever power to turn back the downward slide of a
whole generation.

When Father Antonio left Sorrento in company with the
cavalier, it was the intention of the latter to go with him
only so far as their respective routes should lie together.
The band under the command of Agostino was posted in a
ruined fortress in one of those airily perched old mountain-towns
which form so picturesque and characteristic a feature
of the Italian landscape. But before they reached this spot,
the simple, poetic, guileless monk, with his fresh artistic nature,
had so won upon his travelling companion that a most
enthusiastic friendship had sprung up between them, and
Agostino could not find it in his heart at once to separate
from him. Tempest-tossed and homeless, burning with a
sense of wrong, alienated from the faith of his fathers
through his intellect and moral sense, yet clinging to it with
his memory and imagination, he found in the tender devotional
fervor of the artist monk a reconciling and healing
power. He shared, too, in no small degree, the feelings
which now possessed the breast of his companion for the
great reformer whose purpose seemed to meditate nothing
less than the restoration of the Church of Italy to the primitive
apostolic simplicity. He longed to see him, — to listen
to the eloquence of which he had heard so much. Then, too,
he had thoughts that but vaguely shaped themselves in his
mind. This noble man, so brave and courageous, menaced
by the forces of a cruel tyranny, might he not need the protection
of a good sword? He recollected, too, that he had
an uncle high in the favor of the King of France, to whom
he had written a full account of his own situation. Might
he not be of use in urging this uncle to induce the French
King to throw before Savonarola the shield of his protection?


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At all events, he entered Florence this evening with
the burning zeal of a young neophyte who hopes to effect
something himself for a glorious and sacred cause embodied
in a leader who commands his deepest veneration.

“My son,” said Father Antonio, as they raised their heads
after the evening prayer, “I am at this time like a man
who, having long been away from his home, fears, on returning,
that he shall hear some evil tidings of those he hath
left. I long, yet dread, to go to my dear Father Girolamo
and the beloved brothers in our house. There is a presage
that lies heavy on my heart, so that I cannot shake it off.
Look at our glorious old Duomo; — doth she not sit there
among the houses and palaces as a queen-mother among
nations, — worthy, in her greatness and beauty, to represent
the Church of the New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lord?
Ah, I have seen it thronged and pressed with the multitude
who came to crave the bread of life from our master!”

“Courage, my friend!” said Agostino; “it cannot be that
Florence will suffer her pride and glory to be trodden down.
Let us hasten on, for the shades of evening are coming fast,
and there is a keen wind sweeping down from your snowy

And the two soon found themselves plunging into the
shadows of the streets, threading their devious way to the

At length they drew up before a dark wall, where the
Father Antonio rung a bell.

A door was immediately opened, a cowled head appeared,
and a cautious voice asked, —

“Who is there?”

“Ah, is that you, good Brother Angelo?” said Father
Antonio, cheerily.


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“And is it you, dear Brother Antonio? Come in! come
in!” was the cordial response, as the two passed into
the court; “truly, it will make all our hearts leap to see

“And, Brother Angelo, how is our dear father? I have
been so anxious about him!”

“Oh, fear not! — he sustains himself in God, and is full
of sweetness to us all.”

“But do the people stand by him, Angelo, and the Signoria?”

“He has strong friends as yet, but his enemies are like
ravening wolves. The Pope hath set on the Franciscans,
and they hunt him as dogs do a good stag. — But whom
have you here with you?” added the monk, raising his torch
and regarding the knight.

“Fear him not; he is a brave knight and good Christian,
who comes to offer his sword to our father and seek his

“He shall be welcome,” said the porter, cheerfully. “We
will have you into the refectory forthwith, for you must be

The young cavalier, following the flickering torch of his
conductor, had only a dim notion of long cloistered corridors,
out of which now and then, as the light flared by, came a
golden gleam from some quaint old painting, where the pure
angel forms of Angelico stood in the gravity of an immortal
youth, or the Madonna, like a bending lily, awaited the message
of Heaven; but when they entered the refectory, a
cheerful voice addressed them, and Father Antonio was
clasped in the embrace of the father so much beloved.

“Welcome, welcome, my dear son!” said that rich voice
which had thrilled so many thousand Italian hearts with its


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music. “So you are come back to the fold again. How
goes the good work of the Lord?”

“Well, everywhere,” said Father Antonio; and then, recollecting
his young friend, he suddenly turned and said, —

“Let me present to you one son who comes to seek your
instructions, — the young Signor Agostino, of the noble house
of Sarelli.”

The Superior turned to Agostino with a movement full of
a generous frankness, and warmly extended his hand, at the
same time fixing upon him the mesmeric glance of a pair
of large, deep blue eyes, which might, on slight observation,
have been mistaken for black, so great was their depth and

Agostino surveyed his new acquaintance with that mingling
of ingenuous respect and curiosity with which an
ardent young man would regard the most distinguished
leader of his age, and felt drawn to him by a certain atmosphere
of vital cordiality such as one can feel better
than describe.

“You have ridden far to-day, my son, — you must be
weary,” said the Superior, affably, — “but here you must
feel yourself at home; command us in anything we can do
for you. The brothers will attend to those refreshments
which are needed after so long a journey; and when you
have rested and supped, we shall hope to see you a little
more quietly.”

So saying, he signed to one or two brothers who stood by,
and, commending the travellers to their care, left the apartment.

In a few moments a table was spread with a plain and
wholesome repast, to which the two travellers sat down with
appetites sharpened by their long journey.


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During the supper, the brothers of the convent, among
whom Father Antonio had always been a favorite, crowded
around him in a state of eager excitement.

“You should have been here the last week,” said one;
“such a turmoil as we have been in!”

“Yes,” said another, — “the Pope hath set on the Franciscans,
who, you know, are always ready enough to take up
with anything against our order, and they have been pursuing
our father like so many hounds.”

“There hath been a whirlwind of preaching here and
there,” said a third, — “in the Duomo, and Santa Croce,
and San Lorenzo; and they have battled to and fro, and
all the city is full of it.”

“Tell him about yesterday, about the ordeal,” shouted an
eager voice.

Two or three voices took up the story at once, and began
to tell it, — all the others correcting, contradicting, or adding
incidents. From the confused fragments here and there
Agostino gathered that there had been on the day before
a popular spectacle in the grand piazza, in which, according
to an old superstition of the Middle Ages, Frà Girolamo
Savonarola and his opponents were expected to prove the
truth of their words by passing unhurt through the fire; that
two immense piles of combustibles had been constructed with
a narrow passage between, and the whole magistracy of the
city convened, with a throng of the populace, eager for the
excitement of the spectacle; that the day had been spent
in discussions, and scruples, and preliminaries; and that,
finally, in the afternoon, a violent storm of rain arising
had dispersed the multitude and put a stop to the whole

“But the people are not satisfied,” said Father Angelo;


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“and there are enough mischief-makers among them to
throw all the blame on our father.”

“Yes,” said one, “they say he wanted to burn the Holy
Sacrament, because he was going to take it with him into
the fire.”

“As if it could burn!” said another voice.

“It would to all human appearance, I suppose,” said a

“Any way,” said a fourth, “there is some mischief brewing;
for here is our friend Prospero Rondinelli just come
in, who says, when he came past the Duomo, he saw people
gathering, and heard them threatening us: there were as
many as two hundred, he thought.”

“We ought to tell Father Girolamo,” exclaimed several

“Oh, he will not be disturbed!” said Father Angelo.
“Since these affairs, he hath been in prayer in the chapter-room
before the blessed Angelico's picture of the Cross.
When we would talk with him of these things, he waves us
away, and says only, `I am weary; go and tell Jesus.'”

“He bade me come to him after supper,” said Father
Antonio. “I will talk with him.”

“Do so, — that is right,” said two or three eager voices,
as the monk and Agostino, having finished their repast, arose
to be conducted to the presence of the father.