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In Umbria, A Study Of Artistic Personality
by [?]

… grande, austera, verde,
Da le montagne digradanti in cerchio,
L’Umbria guarda.–CARDUCCI.

The autumn sun is declining over the fields and oak-woods and vineyards of Umbria, where–in the wide undulating valley, inclosed by high rounded hills, bleak or dark with ilex, each with its strange terraced white city, Assisi, Spello, Spoleto, Todi–the Tiber winds lazily along, pale green, limpid, scarce rippled over its yellow pebbles, screened by long rows of reeds, and thinned, yellowing poplars, reflecting dimly the sky and trees, the pointed mediaeval bridges and the crenelated towers on its banks; so clear and placid that you can scarcely bring home to yourself that this can really be the Tiber of Rome, the turbid mass of yellow water which eddies sullen and mournful round the ship-shaped island, along by Vesta’s temple, beneath the cypressed Aventine, and away into the desolate Campagna. Gradually, as the sun sinks, the valley of the Tiber fills with golden light moving along, little by little, travelling slowly up the wooded hillocks; covering the bluish mountains of Somma and Subasio with a purple flush, making the white towns rosy on their flanks, and then dying away into the pale amber horizon, rosy where it touches the hill, pearly, then bluish where it merges imperceptibly into the upper sky. Bluer and bluer become the hills, deeper and deeper the at first faint amber; the valley is filled with grey-blue mist; the hills stand out dark blue, cold, and massive; the sky above becomes a livid rose colour; there is scarcely a filament of cloud, and only a streak of golden orange where the sun has disappeared. There is a sudden stillness, as when the last chords of a great symphony have died out. All the way up the hill on which stands Perugia we meet the teams of huge oxen, not merely white, but milky, with great, deep, long-lashed eyes, swaying from side to side with their load of wine-vats; and the peasants returning home from ploughing up the last corn stubble. All is peaceful and very solemn, more so than after sunset in other places, in this sweet and austere Umbria, the fit home of the Christian revival of the early Middle Ages. And it makes us think, this beautiful and solemn evening, of the little book which epitomises all the emotions of this new birth, of this charming new childhood of humanity, when the feelings of men seem to have somewhat of the dewy freshness of dawn. The book is the “Fioretti di San Francesco,” a collection of legends and examples relating to the cycle of St. Francis of Assisi by some monk or monks of the end of the thirteenth century. Flowerets they may well be called–flowers such as might grow, green and white-starred and delicately pearled with gold, in the thick grass across which dance Angelico’s groups of the Blessed. Yet with a certain humanness, a certain reality and naturalness of sweetness, such as the great paradise painter, with his fleshless madonnas, his glory of radiant, unearthly draperies and golden skies, never could have conceived. A singular charm of simplicity and lucidness in this little book; no fever visions or unhealthy glories; an earnestness not without humour: there is nothing grim or absurd in the credulity and asceticism of these Umbrian saints. The asceticism is so gentle and tender, the credulity so childish and poetical, that the ridiculous itself ceases to be so. These monks, so far from being engrossed with the care of their own souls, or weighed down by the dread of hell, seemed to have awakened with perfect hope and faith in celestial goodness, with perfect desire to love all around them in the most literal sense: religion for them is love and reliance on love. The gentleness with which they admonish the sinning and back-sliding, the confidence in the inner goodness of man, from whose soiled surface all evil may be washed, extends in these men to the whole of creation, and makes them fraternise with beasts and birds, as is shown, with a delicate, slightly humorous grace, in the stories of St. Francis and the turtle doves, and of the ferocious wolf “Frate Lupo” of Gubbio, whom rather than kill, it pleased the saint to bring round to harmlessness by fair words, expostulations, and faithfully kept promises, expecting from the wolf fidelity to his word as much as from a human being. There is in this little book a vague, floating, permeating life of affection, of love unbounded by difference of species. Communion with all men, with Christ, with angels, with doves, and with wolves; the force of love bringing down God and raising up brutes to the level of these saints. And as we think over the little book we feel in a way as if we, to whom Francis and his companions are mere mortal men, and the tales of the “Fioretti” mere beautiful fancies, hollow and sad for their very sweetness, were looking down upon a sort of holy land, as we look down in the white twilight upon the misty undulations of this solemn and beautiful Umbria.