The world, perhaps, contains no other example of a genius so universal as Leonardo’s, so creative, so incapable of self- contentment, so athirst for the infinite, so naturally refined, so far in advance of his own and subsequent ages. His pictures express incredible sensibility and mental power; they overflow with unexpressed ideas and emotions. Alongside of his portraits Michelangelo’s personages are simply heroic athletes; Raphael’s virgins are only placid children whose souls are still asleep. His beings feel and think through every line and trait of their physiognomy. Time is necessary to enter into communion with them; not that their sentiment is too slightly marked, for, on the contrary, it emerges from the whole investiture; but it is too subtle, too complicated, too far above and beyond the ordinary, too dreamlike and inexplicable.
—Taine in “A Journey Through Italy”
There is a little book by George B. Rose, entitled, “Renaissance Masters,” which is quite worth your while to read. I carried a copy, for company, in the side-pocket of my coat for a week, and just peeped into it at odd times. I remember that I thought so little of the volume that I read it with a lead-pencil and marked it all up and down and over, and filled the fly-leaves with random thoughts, and disfigured the margins with a few foolish sketches.
Then one fine day White Pigeon came out to the Roycroft Shop from Buffalo, as she was passing through. She came on the two-o’clock train and went away on the four-o’clock, and her visit was like a window flung open to the azure.
White Pigeon remained at East Aurora only two hours–”not long enough” she said, “to knock the gold and emerald off the butterfly’s beautiful wings.”
White Pigeon saw the little book I have mentioned, on my table in the tower-room. She picked it up and turned the leaves aimlessly; then she opened her Boston bag and slipped the book inside, saying as she did so:
“You do not mind?”
And I said, “Certainly not!”
Then she added, “I like to follow in the pathway you have blazed.”
That closed the matter so far as the little book was concerned. Save, perhaps, that after I had walked to the station with White Pigeon and she had boarded the car, she stepped out upon the rear platform, and as I stood there at the station watching the train disappear around the curve, White Pigeon reached into the Boston bag, took out the little book and held it up.
That was the last time I saw White Pigeon. She was looking well and strong, and her step, I noticed, was firm and sure, and she carried the crown of her head high and her chin in. It made me carry my chin in, too, just by force of example, I suppose–so easily are we influenced. When you walk with some folks you slouch along, but others there be who make you feel an upward lift and skyey gravitation–it is very curious!
Yet I do really believe White Pigeon is forty, or awfully close to it. There are silver streaks among her brown braids, and surely the peachblow has long gone from her cheek. Then she was awfully tanned –and that little mole on her forehead, and its mate on her chin, stand out more than ever, like the freckles on the face of Alcibiades Roycroft when he has taken on his August russet.
I think White Pigeon must be near forty! That is the second book she has stolen from me; the other was Max Muller’s “Memories”–it was at the Louvre in Paris, August the Fourteenth, Eighteen Hundred Ninety- five, as we sat on a bench, silent before the “Mona Lisa” of Leonardo.
This book, “Renaissance Masters,” I didn’t care much for, anyway. I got no information from it, yet it gave me a sort o’ glow–that is all–like that lecture which I heard in my boyhood by Wendell Phillips.