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That favored portion of the light of one summer's morning
that was destined to be the transparent bath of the master-pieces
on the walls of the Pitti, was pouring in a languishing flood
through the massive windows of the palace. The ghosts of the
painters (who, ministering to the eye only, walk the world from
cock-crowing to sunset) were haunting invisibly the sumptuous
rooms made famous by their pictures; and the pictures themselves,
conscious of the presence of the fountain of soul from
which gushed the soul that is in them, glowed with intoxicated
mellowness and splendor, and amazed the living students of the
gallery with effects of light and color till that moment undiscovered.

[And now, dear reader, having paid you the compliment of
commencing my story in your vein (poetical), let me come down
to a little every-day brick-and-mortar, and build up a fair and
square common-sense foundation].

Graeme McDonald was a young highlander from Rob Roy's
country, come to Florence to study the old masters. He was an
athletic, wholesome, handsome fellow, who had probably made a


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narrow escape of being simply a fine animal; and, as it was, you
never would have picked him from a crowd as anything but a
hussar out of uniform, or a brigand perverted to honest life.
His peculiarity was (and this I forsee is to be an ugly sentence),
that he had peculiarities which did not seem peculiar. He was
full of genius for his art, but the canvass which served him as a
vent, gave him no more anxiety than his pocket-handkerchief.
He painted in the palace, or wiped his forehead on a warm day
with equally small care, to all appearance, and he had brought
his mother and two sisters to Italy, and supported them by a
most heroic economy and industry—all the while looking as if the
silver moon” and all the small change of the stars would scarce
serve him for a day's pocket-money. Indeed, the more I knew
of McDonald, the more I became convinced that there was another
man built over him. The painter was inside. And if he
had free thoroughfare and use of the outer man's windows and
ivory door, he was at any rate barred from hanging out the smallest
sign or indication of being at any time “within.” Think as
hard as he would—devise, combine, study, or glow with enthusiasm—the
proprietor of the front door exhibited the same careless
and smiling bravery of mien, behaving invariably as if he
had the whole tenement to himself, and was neither proud of,
nor interested in the doings of his more spiritual inmate—leading
you to suppose, almost, that the latter, though billeted upon
him, had not been properly introduced. The thatch of this common
tenement was of jetty black hair, curling in most opulent
prodigality, and, altogether, it was a house that Hadad, the fallen
spirit, might have chosen, when becoming incarnate to tempt the
sister of Absalom.

Perhaps you have been in Florence, dear reader, and know by


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what royal liberality artists are permitted to bring their easels
into the splendid apartments of the palace, and copy from the
priceless pictures on the walls. At the time I have my eye upon
(some few years ago), McDonald was making a beginning of a
copy of Titian's Bella, and near him stood the easel of a female
artist who was copying from the glorious picture of “Judith and
Holofornes”,” in the same apartment. Mademoiselle Folie (so she
was called by the elderly lady who always accompanied her) was
a small and very gracefully-formed creature, with the plainest
face in which attraction could possibly reside. She was a passionate
student of her art, pouring upon it apparently the entire
fulness of her life, and as unconsciously forgetful of her personal
impressions on those around her, as if she wore the invisible ring
of Gyges. The deference with which she was treated by her
staid companion drew some notice upon her, however, and her
progress, in the copy she was making, occasionally gathered the
artists about her easel; and, altogether, her position among the
silent and patient company at work in the different halls of the
palace, was one of affectionate and tacit respect. McDonald
was her nearest neighbor, and they frequently looked over each
other's pictures, but, as they were both foreigners in Florence
(she of Polish birth, as he understood), their conversation was in
French or Italian, neither of which languages were fluently familiar
to Graeme, and it was limited generally to expressions of
courtesy or brief criticism of each other's labors.

As I said before, it was a “proof-impression” of a celestial
summer's morning, and the thermometer stood at heavenly idleness.
McDonald sat with his maul-stick across his knees, drinking
from Titian's picture. An artist, who had lounged in from
the next room, had hung himself by the crook of his arm over a


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high peg, in his comrade's easel, and every now and then he volunteered
an observation to which he expected no particular answer.

“When I remember how little beauty I have seen in the
world,” said Ingarde (this artist), “I am inclined to believe with
Saturninus. that there is no resurrection of bodies, and that only
the spirits of the good return into the body of the Godhead—for
what is ugliness to do in heaven?”

McDonald only said, “hm—hm!”

“Or rather,” said Ingarde again, “I should like to fashion a
creed for myself, and believe that nothing was immortal but what
was heavenly, and that the good among men and the beautiful
among women would be the only reproductions hereafter. How
will this little plain woman look in the streets of the New Jerusalem,
for example? Yet she expects, as we all do, to be recognizable
by her friends in Heaven, and, of course, to have the
same irredeemably plain face! (Does she understand English,
by the way—for she might not be altogether pleased with my

“I have spoken to her very often,” said McDonald, “and I
think English is Hebrew to her—but my theory of beauty crosses
at least one corner of your argument, my friend! I believe
that the original type of every human face is beautiful, and that
every human being could be made beautiful, without, in any
essential particular, destroying the visible identity. The likeness
preserved in the faces of a family through several generations is
modified by the bad mental qualities, and the bad health of those
who hand it down. Remove these modifications, and without
destroying the family likeness, you would take away all that mars
the beauty of its particular type. An individual countenance is


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an integral work of God's making, and God saw that it was
good' when he made it. Ugliness, as you phrase it, is the damage
that type of countenance has received from the sin and suffering
of life. But the type can be restored, and will be, doubtless,
in Heaven!”

“And you think that little woman's face could be made beautiful?”

“I know it.”

“Try it, then! Here is your copy of Titian's `Bella,' all finished
but the face. Make an apotheosis portrait of your neighbor,
and while it harmonizes with the body of Titian's beauty,
still leave it recognizable as her portrait, and I'll give in to your
theory—believing in all other miracles, if you like, at the same

Ingarde laughed, as he went back to his own picture, and McDonald,
after sitting a few minutes lost in revery, turned his
easel so as to get a painter's view of his female neighbor. He
thought she colored slightly as he fixed his eyes upon her; but,
if so, she apparently became very soon unconscious of his gaze,
and he was soon absorbed himself in the task to which his friend
had so mockingly challenged him.


[Excuse me, dear reader, while with two epistles I build a
bridge over which you can cross a chasm of a month in my story.]

“Sir: I am intrusted with a delicate commission, which I
know not how to broach to you, except by simple proposal.
Will you forgive my abrupt brevity, if I inform you, without further
preface, that the Countess Nyschriem, a Polish lady of high


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birth and ample fortune, does you the honor to propose for your
hand. If you are disengaged, and your affections are not irrevocably
given to another, I can conceive no sufficient obstacle to
your acceptance of this brilliant connexion. The countess is
twenty-two, and not beautiful, it must in fairness be said; but
she has high qualities of head and heart, and is worthy of any
man's respect and affection. She has seen you, of course, and
conceived a passion for you, of which this is the result. I am
directed to add, that should you consent, the following conditions
are imposed—that you marry her within four days, making no
inquiry except as to her age, rank, and property, and that, without
previous interview, she come veiled to the altar.

“An answer is requested in the course of to-morrow, addressed
to `The Count Hanswald, minister of his majesty the king of

“I have the honor, &c., &c.


McDonald's answer was as follows:—

“You will pardon me that I have taken two days to consider
the extraordinary proposition made me in your letter. The subject,
since it is to be entertained a moment, requires, perhaps,
still further reflection—but my reply shall be definite, and as
prompt as I can bring myself to be, in a matter so important.

“My first impulse was to return your letter, declining the honor
you would do me, and thanking the lady for the compliment of
her choice. My first reflection was the relief and happiness which
an independence would bring to a mother and two sisters dependent,
now, on the precarious profits of my pencil. And I first
consented to ponder the matter with this view, and I now consent


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to marry (frankly) for this advantage. But still I have a condition
to propose.

“In the studies I have had the opportunity to make of the
happiness of imaginative men in matrimony, I have observed that
their two worlds of fact and fancy were seldom under the control
of one mistress. It must be a very extraordinary woman of
course, who, with the sweet domestic qualities needful for common
life, possesses at the same time the elevation and spirituality
requisite for the ideal of the poet and painter. And I am not
certain, in any case, whether the romance of some secret passion,
fed and pursued in the imagination only, be not the inseparable
necessity of a poetical nature. For the imagination is incapable
of being chained, and it is at once disenchanted and set roaming
by the very possession and certainty, which are the charms of
matrimony. Whether exclusive devotion of all the faculties of
mind and body be the fidelity exacted in marriage, is a question
every woman should consider before making a husband of an imaginative
man. As I have not seen the countess, I can generalize
on the subject without giving offence, and she is the best
judge whether she can chain my fancy as well as my affections, or
yield to an imaginative mistress the devotion of so predominant a
quality of my nature. I can only promise her the constancy of
a husband.

“Still—if this were taken for only vague speculation—she
might be deceived. I must declare, frankly, that I am at present,
completely possessed with an imaginative passion. The
object of it is probably as poor as I, and I could never marry her
were I to continue free. Probably, too, the high-born countess
would be but little jealous of her rival, for she has no pretensions
to beauty, and is an humble artist. But, in painting this lady's


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portrait—(a chance experiment, to try whether so plain a face
could be made lovely)—I have penetrated to so beautiful an
inner countenance (so to speak)—I have found charms of impression
so subtly masked to the common eye—I have traced such
exquisite lineament of soul and feeling, visible, for the present, I
believe, to my eye only—that, while I live, I shall do irresistible
homage to her as the embodiment of my fancy's want, the very
spirit and essence suitable to rule over my unseen world of imagination.
Marry whom I will, and be true to her as I shall,
this lady will (perhaps unknown to herself) be my mistress in
dream-land and revery.

“This inevitable license allowed—my ideal world and its devotions,
that is to say, left entirely to myself—I am ready to
accept the honor of the countess's hand. If, at the altar, she
should hear me murmur another name with her own—(for the
bride of my fancy must be present when I wed, and I shall link
the vows to both in one ceremony)—let her not fear for my constancy
to herself, but let her remember that it is not to offend
her hereafter, if the name of the other come to my lip in dreams.

“Your excellency may command my time and presence.
With high consideration, &c.,

Graeme McDonald.

Rather agitated than surprised seemed Mademoiselle Folie,
when, the next day, as she arranged her brushes upon the shelf
of her easel, her handsome neighbor commenced, in the most
fluent Italian he could command, to invite her to his wedding.
Very much surprised was McDonald when she interrupted him in
English, and begged him to use his native tongue, as madame,
her attendant, would not then understand him. He went on


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delightedly in his own honest language, and explained to her his
imaginative admiration, though he felt compunctious, somewhat,
that so unreal a sentiment should bring the blood into her cheek.
She thanked him—drew the cloth from the upper part of her
own picture, and showed him an admirable portrait of his handsome
features, substituted for the masculine head of Judith in the
original from which she copied—and promised to be at his wedding,
and to listen sharply for her murmured name in his vow at
the altar. He chanced to wear at the moment a ring of red cornelian,
and he agreed with her that she should stand where he
could see her, and, at the moment of his putting the marriage
ring upon the bride's fingers, that she should put on this, and forever
after wear it, as a token of having received his spiritual vows
of devotion.

The day came, and the splendid equipage of the countess
dashed into the square of Santa Maria, with a veiled bride and a
cold bridegroom, and deposited them at the steps of the church.
And they were followed by other coroneted equipages, and gayly
dressed from each—the mother and sisters of the bridegroom
gayly dressed, among them, but looking pale with incertitude and

The veiled bride was small, but she moved gracefully up the
aisle, and met her future husband at the altar with a low courtesy,
and made a sign to the priest to proceed with the ceremony.
McDonald was colorless, but firm, and indeed showed little
interest, except by an anxious look now and then among the
crowd of spectators at the sides of the altar. He pronounced
with a steady voice, but when the ring was to be put on, he looked
around for an instant, and then suddenly, and to the great
scandal of the church, clasped his bride with a passionate ejaculation


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to his bosom. The cornelian ring was on her finger—and
the Countess Nyschriem and Mademoiselle Folie—his bride and
his fancy queen—were one.

This curious event happened in Florence some eight years
since—as all people then there will remember—and it was prophesied
of the countess that she would have but a short lease of
her handsome and gay husband. But time does not say so. A
more constant husband than McDonald to his plain and titled
wife, and one more continuously in love, does not travel and buy
pictures, and patronize artists—though few except yourself and
I, dear reader, know the philosophy of it!