cannot pretend to anything like an exhaustive or even an adequate acquaintance with all or any of his folios, I can at least affirm that they contain enough delightfully readable matter to establish a more than creditable reputation. His prose, if never to be called masterly, may generally be called good and pure: its occasional pedantries and pretentions are rather signs of the century than faults of the author : and he can tell a story, especially a short story, as well if not better than many a better-known writer. I fear, however, that it is not the poetical quality of his undramatic verse which can ever be said to make it worth reading : it is, as far as I know, of the very homeliest homespun ever turned out by the very humblest of workmen. His poetry, it would be pretty safe to wager, must be looked for exclusively in his plays : but there, if not remarkable for depth or height of imagination or of passion, it will be found memorable for unsurpassed excellence of unpretentious elevation in treatment of character. The unity (or, to borrow from Coleridge a barbaric word, the triunity) of noble and gentle and simple in the finest quality of the English character at its best-of the English character as revealed in our Sidneys and Nelsons and Collingwoods and Franklins—is almost as apparent in the best scenes of his best plays as in the lives of our chosen and best beloved heroes : and this, I venture to believe, would have been rightly regarded by Thomas Heywood as a more desirable and valuable success than the achievement of a noisier triumph, or the attainment of a more conspicuous place among the poets of his country.




FLORENCE, the Athens of Italy, had banished the Medici family, after having put them in power, and had just burnt Savonarola at the stake, after having regarded him as an idol and a prophet. The city was governed by a grand council. Trade was prosperous; certain families had immense riches. One Rucellai spent a million francs upon his wedding, while a merchant named Luca Pitti commenced the erection of a palace which, it is true, he was unable to finish, but which has, nevertheless, made its founder famous. Brunelleschi drew the plans for it, but this Pitti has received all the credit. His edifice is the most perfect specimen of Tuscan architecture extant. It became the palace of the Medicis, and is, to-day, one of the finest museums in the world, and the only one of which it can be said that it contains many masterpieces and not one poor picture.

Wealth and a love of art were not the only features which distinguished the inhabitants of this centre of the Italian Renaissance. They did not confine themselves to the building of palaces, the construction of monuments, and the encouragement generally of science and art. They professed, also, the worship of woman and the adoration of beauty. Every rich man, if he were not the happy possessor of a lovely wife, indulged in the luxury of a pretty mistress. The customs of the period threw no obstacles in the way of keeping a mistress, although they were more in favour of certain unions, legitimate but ill-assorted, which contributed to society the seductive elements of wit and beauty. Read Boccaccio, and you will obtain a sufficiently exact idea of what was said and done in those houses filled with works of art and handsome women.

What reason was there why Ser Francesco del Giocondo, who lent money upon good signatures and upon valuable merchandise, who had fine palaces, sound credit, and much gold, should not follow the agreeable fashion of the time? Why should not he, too, ornament his fireside with the most dazzling object that was to be seen in Florence? Why should he deny himself the luxury of choosing from among the handsoinest maidens of the city the one who to him seemed worthiest of sharing his riches? The penchant is less followed, perhaps, in our day; but at that epoch, in Italy at least, the fair sex


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was prominent in the arts, in poetry, and in politics ; and it was not rare to see women, if not actually holding the reins of power in their pretty hands, at all events directing the government through intermediaries.

In 1495 there were, if accounts may be believed, many beautiful girls in Florence. Two especially were talked about, one being Ginevra Benci, and the other Mona Lisa Gherardini. The latter is known to all the world from her portrait, entitled “La Joconde,' which hangs in the Louvre at Paris. It is a mysterious face, full of beauty, the eyes being deep and piercing, the mouth delicate but mocking, the skin clear and natural, the hands perfect, the bust ample beneath a garment severely plain, the hair simply caught back and smoothed down over the temples, while on the ivory brow there is a secret morbidezza, a troubling voluptuousness that attracts, spurns, and holds in thrall. Mona Lisa became the Florentine banker's third wife. When he married her he was no longer a young


About the year 1499, the most famous painter of the day was a certain Leonardo, the bastard son of a notary of the Signory at Florence and a peasant girl from the neighbourhood of Empoli, named Catarina. Of this daughter of the soil we know nothing more. She must have been a superb creature, a descendant of the old Etruscan race—that is to say, a people whose Pelasgic blood had be.come intermingled with Gallic blood, and who built great walls which archæologists have styled Cyclopean to give an idea of their strength. We may suppose that this girl held some humble position in the notary's house, for her son was born in the da Vinci mansion itself. If the word mansion appears too grand, one can substitute that of casa, which is still used in those parts to convey the notion of a large and sumptuous dwelling. Not much is said of the father, yet it must not be imagined that the office of notary, or, to use a better word, secretary of the “Signoria,' was as modest as has been stated. Ser Piero da Vinci was not a person of no importance. He belonged to the upper middle-class, if not to the aristocracy. The land which he owned near Empoli, in the most fertile part of Tuscany, the way in which he had his son educated, and the care he took to keep Leonardo near him in his town house, show that his style of living was not at all poor, and that he was in easy circumstances. Nor could he have been a fool; for, in order to maintain his position amid the struggles of parties and the frequent upheavals in the city, he must have displayed considerable suppleness and ability. The fact that he knew how to bring up his son, and that his son was a man of genius, render it all the easier for us to rehabilitate his memory, which has been kept somewhat in the shade by Vasari. Admitting that Leonardo inherited from his mother that physical strength which was the admiration of his contemporaries, and of which

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historians have told us, nothing forbids us to think that he owed to his father at least a part of that ingenious spirit, that gentleness of character, and that gaiety which gave a stamp of originality to this incomparable artist, this clever and fruitful inventor.

Perhaps to him, also, Leonardo owed his taste for and his sense of art. Ser Piero da Vinci occupied an important position in a city which, more than a century before, bad, by a vigorous effort, broken its Byzantine bonds. A new sap, prepared by the incubation of Christian ideas amid antique surroundings, bad ascended and thrown forth new foliage and new fruits. Since the day when the Florentines had carried Cimabue's 'Madonna' in triumph, Giotto had cut the last threads that bound the Middle Ages to the Greek Decline. A powerful school had arisen. People were living in an atmosphere that allowed no form of intelligence to remain inactive. Piero da Vinci would have been an extraordinary man if he had not, like all his compatriots, felt the influence of his environment. Little as is the notice taken of him by historians, they have recorded his associations with the great artists of his time, and especially with Andrea Verrocchio, painter, sculptor, and architect, who at that moment held a foremost place in Florentine art. Michael Angelo was only just born. Botticelli alone could have equalled him in renown, but his whole thoughts were concentrated upon painting at a period when every artist worthy of the name made a point of cultivating all the fine arts. Although a possessor of broad and lofty ideas, Sandro Botticelli was not a producer of great works, most of his paintings being easel-pieces. A fervid disciple of Savonarola, he incurred the disfavour of the Athenians of Florence. The praise accorded to him in recent times comes very late in the day. In spite of a graceful style, his art, elegant as it is, has not that incontestable merit which makes a school. Verrocchio, then, reigned supreme, and he had the knowledge, the energy, and the tact necessary to insure the retention of a position once gained.

Verrocchio, as stated, was a friend of Ser Piero da Vinci. The latter, justly appreciating his son's precocious inclination for science and art, had not left his faculties uncultivated. Leonardo was already a mathematician of great skill, a clever musician, and a graceful horseman. Drawing, however, attracted him more than aught else. He dropped science and took up the pencil. He delighted in the most peculiar combinations, with eccentric figures and faces. His father was struck by them and showed these early efforts to his friend Verrocchio, who saw at once in these strange images the signs of budding talent, and at his request the boy was confided to his care.

At Verrocchio's all sorts of work was done-jewellery, gold and silversmith's work, and, above all, painting. Leonardo applied himself to all these crafts. He made rapid progress in every branch of art, so much so that one day, having painted an angel in one of his master's pictures, the ‘Baptism of Christ, which is now in the Academy of Florence, he proved himself so superior to his teacher that the latter cast aside his brushes and abandoned painting for ever. Art lost nothing thereby; for Verrocchio, without rising to the height of his rivals, Ghiberti and Donatello, has produced sculptures of the first order, one of the most remarkable being his equestrian statue of the condottiere Coleone, which so admirably adorns the Piazza San Zanipolo, at Venice.

It is not surprising that under such a master Leonardo should have at first inclined towards statuary. His triumphant angel in the * Baptism of Christ'drew him towards painting, without, however, binding him thereto. In order to form a just and definite idea of the versatility of this powerful genius, one must read the letter which he wrote to the bastard Sforza, Ludovic the Moor, ruler of Milan. In this curious epistle, the original of which is religiously preserved in the Ambrosian Library, and which was published by Amoretti, Leonardo, who had, it is true, attained a great reputation by his 'Madonna among the Rocks,' of which both the Louvre and the house of Suffolk claim the original, and by his ' Adoration of the Magi,' now in the Uffizi Gallery, does not shine by his modesty. According to his account, he has invented all kinds of things, and painting is only one of his minor occupations. He has, says he, a way of making very light bridges, easy to transport, and by means of which a general can either pursue or avoid the enemy. He is able to render them incombustible, and undertakes to burn those of the rival army. He knows how to cut off the water supply of a besieged city, and to place ladders in such a manner as to make it possible to enter a fortress which bombs could not reach. He possesses the secret of making portable siege guns for showering a tempest of shot and frightening the enemy by their smoke. He has a scheme for opening parallels, so as to approach the walls by covered roads. He is prepared to construct armoured chariots, proof against shot and shell, to convey infantry right into the opposing ranks. His artillery is of a new type, comprising ballistas and catapults of prodigious power. He has even invented an ironclad ship. “In case of sea fighting, I can employ many means of offence and defence, among others, bomb-proof ships; and I can manufacture powder and smoke. Here, if I mistake not, we have the modern ironclad and the melinite shell.

The great painter is not less expert in the arts of peace. Without fear of comparison with anybody, he can fill the office of architect and of engineer, erect buildings, public and private, excavate canals and distribute water. We have a proof of this in the Martesana Canal. As to sculpture, he is able to model in clay, chisel marble, and make casts in bronze. “I am ready'—this is the capital point —'to execute the bronze equestrian statue that is to be erected to the immortal glory and happy memory of your honourable father and

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