|A Fellowe and his Wife||
THANKS for your good letter about Christmas, and about your work, which always interests me ; and I am going to tell you about my work, Odo, believing that you really do care to hear about it, though ever and again there is something in your letters that makes me fear you think I am here to carry out a whim or an unreasonable desire, instead of what I myself certainly take to be a duty. And--- but no ; explanations of arguments in letters are even more annoying and confusing than they are apt to be orally.
I am very happy in the progress I am making. Under Herwegh's guidance and suggestion I have not only learned much, but (what I now recognize to have been imperative, though I had but a vague prevision of it) have had to unlearn scarce less. My little Rose and Lily, of which I wrote to you so jubilantly, were unhesitatingly condemned by my maestro when he saw my studies for them. " It is well that they are only in clay," was the sole comment he made at first. And now, alas! ---No! EvoŽ O! ---they have vanished into nothingness as though they were no whit less perishable than their far more beautiful prototypes, which can be bought at any moment of the flower-sellers for a few soldi.
I have learned a great deal, too, from long study in the sculpture galleries of the Vatican and the Capitol --- not from visiting them, but by studying every square inch, every fugitive touch of the modeling thumb or the finishing chisel, in one, or at most two or three, of the noblest works only. Sometimes Herwegh has generously spared an hour or so to act as my ciceronc. It is so delightful when he can come, for, besides his rare technical skill and knowledge, he knows all about each sculptor's life, and work, and true rank; and, moreover, I verily believe there is not a Greek legend with which he is unfamiliar. I am ashamed to find how ignorant I am about the history even of my own art. Again I have spent some happy hours at the Borghese, the Rospialiosi, and other private collections. I have been singularly touched, too, by one thing. In the Prince Borghese's small but, oh, so lovely collection of ancient ivory-sculpture, there are three exquisite pieces --- a short frieze, probably representing Dionysos with two beautiful Bacchantes ; a small urn, that might indeed be a drinking-cup, with nothing but a large butterfly and some strewn poppies ; and the figure of a young faun. It was the faun that first attracted my attention. I did not understand the Greek inscription minutely cut in the little block, but Herwegh told me it was to the effect that " Rhodope, the wife of SionÚs, had made this Faun." It was this Greek woman also who made the urn and the frieze. Almost nothing is known of her, though the legend that Herwegh related touches me strangely. The date of her birth or death, of her exact period even, is unknown but one or two confused reports indicate thatSionÚs was a warrior, and lived in the hill-country beyond Athens, while Rhodope had left him for love of her art and had settled in Corinth. He became jealous of her fame, and angry at her long absence, and sent her word that she was no wife of his. Yet she would not return, and, instead, vowed that she was wedded to her art, but that if she did join hands with any man it would be with Phaon of Helioskios, a sculptor like herself. SionÚs thereupon sent word that she might straightway carve her own urn, as the day of her rejoicing was at its end. But here the legend stops. I think that SionÚs either came himself and slew Rhodope, or sent some one to poison her; but Herwegh declares that she served her art and her happiness, and foiled SionÚs, by going to Syracuse with Phaon, and lived joyously there in that great and wealthy city.
I have thought often of Rhodope's story. I wonder how much of it is true. Do you know, it is not all fancy on my part, or mere flattery on that of Herwegh, to say that there is a strong, resemblance between her work and my own. I am impressed by this more than I can well say. Are the old stories true ? Do we, indeed, re-live our lives in varying circumstances ? And if so, am I Rhodope, indeed, though a Prussian Gršfin in Rome, instead of an Athenian lady in Corinth or Syracuse? Ah no, for Graf Odo Jaromar is a very different person from the barbarianSionÚs ; and, besides, this Rhodope does not wish to stay always in Corinth, - that is, Rome. If Syraciuse, otherwise Paris, call her one way, the valleys of Helicon, otherwise RŁgen, call her the other. But I forgot to tell you that after condemning my wretched little flower-statuettes, Herwegh (who nevertheless still thinks that carving in ivory is my mťtier) assured me that I must adopt an altogether freer method in my work. He has forbidden me to touch the chisel at all just now, except to finish my commissioned Undine. The Emilia Viviani he says promised splendidly, but is spoilt by what I had vainly hoped was refinement, but which he justly calls mere prettiness ; and so I have heroically --- for it caused me a pang --- demolished it also. All the same, I hope for a true success with the Emilia that is in my mind. Well, I am to model roughly and on a large scale, rather over than under life-size. And thus it is that I am working in the rough (of course at Herwegh's studio, for it would be impracticable here) at two figures, one a Hamadryad, and the other a Young Shepherd. Both are of the same model, the beautiful boy I saw on the Campagna one day---you will remember my telling you about him ? Herwegh went searching till he found him, arranged with him and his shepherd-father, and so each morning, except domenicas and special festas, in walks through this southern side of Rome, from the Porta Furba, my shy, handsome Giovan' Antonio, or Vanni simply, as his parents call him. Poor boy, he was so shy at having to pose as a model, though many of his fellow contadini do so. Herwegh laughed, and said he would soon get over that ; but as yet it is quite pathetic to see how his large brown-black eyes wander with a strange apprehensive look from Herwegh's beautiful Venus Anadyomene and Lilith and his unfinished Sin (a lovely and seductive female figure modeled with extraordinary grace and power, and with marvelous winsomeness of expression) to me, and then to the inchoate clay that is slowly taking shape under my hands, then again to me, then to Herwegh and his Sin, and so over and over. Once, when Herwegh was out, for he does not allow a model to speak a word during a sitting, I asked Vanni if he were happy. " No," he said, with a kind of stern candor, " I am chill sitting here like this, and my heart burns with anger when he, il scultore tedesco, makes me stand naked on yonder wooden block --- before --- before you and ---and --- these other women." I could not help smiling at my being thus associated with Venus and Lilith. I do believe the boy thinks they are as much alive as I am ! I tried to explain ; but he turned his great eyes on me, and asked with a bewildering simplicity, " Have you told Mary the most pure and most blessed Mother of God that you sit here daily and look at these shameless women, and that you take clay and make an image of me for---for---ah, Dio mio, I know not what! " and here the strange youth broke down with a momentary nervous sob, and crossed himself at least thrice.
But, none the less, I am getting on. I am working at this Hamadryad and Young Shepherd with a sense of freedom and vigor such as I have never known before. It does not matter how roughly I model them, He-wegh says : anything, so long as I do not make them neat and dainty and pretty. "A work of art without breadth of treatment is, essentially, a contradiction in terms this is the text of many a serviceable lesson he has given me.
I left off writing to go for a giro, as they say here. Sometimes I grow so restless that you would scarce know me. I cannot even listen long to music. If in company, I am bored; if alone, I am weary. Perhaps it is due to the sirocco; we have had so much of it the last week or two, and the Romans declare that in a bad sirocco one expends two breaths of vigorous life for each whiff of relaxing air one inhales. And yet, today at any rate, it is not a wet or gloomy sirocco, and the atmosphere is of a lovely, silvery, delicate pearl-gray. went out and stood for some time leaning on the terrace over the Spanish Stairs. Rome looked so remotely beautiful ; a city of dream. The Janiculum and Monte Mario were darkly gray, but the rest of the city was in tone like a vast moonstone or opal looked at through gauze. It was all so silent to me. Two little boys, disengaged models, in exaggeratedly picturesque costumes, were gambling with centesimi on one of the steps beneath me, and further away a girl and an older woman, clad in vividly bright yellow and orange-barred shawls, and with thick red, white, and blue sergc aprons, exchanged confidences. Beyond the sudden sharp cries of the boys and the hum of the women's talk, I was scarce conscious of other sounds. Some distance away to my right I could of course catch the tinkling fall of the Accademia Fontana, and below me I could see and hear the splash of the great fountain in the Piazza; but both those sounds were part of the dream. All the usual traffic seemed to be at a standstill, or the noise of it to be muffled by the breath of the sirocco.
Then I went down the Spanish Stairs, and hesitated awhile whether to drive to the Janiculum or to the Villa Borghese. I did neither, but, after having seated myself in my little open vettura, and given myself keen pleasure by simply loading the front seat with winter roses and camellias and long sprays of yellow wattle from the Riviera, drove out to the Ponte Molle, across the Tiber (which gleamed like a long broad ribbon of shot silk, mostly silver gray), and then back and round by what was Antemnś in the old Etrurian days. There are few flowers anywhere in that part of Rome, even in April, and yet the air was full of exquisite fragrances. I am, as you know, very sensitive to odors, the subtle half-hidden scents of shadow-loving plants, the delicate thrills of perfume from wild growing things, and perhaps above all to the intoxicating breath of the earth when the sun steeps it in hot light, that strange smell as of the living body of the world. just before enter-ing the Porto di San Popolo a whim took me to drive up, the gloomy Via dell' Mura. I wish I had not gone. It was desolate, and dark and cbill. I don't know what could have made me so depressed. Don't laugh at me when I tell you that the stupid tears at last came to my eyes. How I dislike camellias ---melancholy deathly flowers! Besides, they have neither fragrance nor pleasant associations; they always seem to me as if they had been made, and had not grown as other flowers grow. Before we drove in at the Porta S. Pancrazio I threw them all away --- everything except the sweet smelling wattle-sprays.
And now I am going to bed; I am tired. But I am feeling better. Such a charming note from my friend awaited me. I am to try my hand at portraiture tomorrow, for poor Vanni is unwell and can't come in to Rome for a week. Herwegh suggests that I try to model his head and features in the guise of Phaon, and he will do me as Rhodope. I look for a happy week's work --- for we shall have the studio to ourselves for at any rate the first five days.
I shall be too busy to write, perhaps, so you know what to think if you do not hear from me soon. Addio,
P. S. A letter has just come from Lucrezia Mallerini. I am not going to open it. I shall either return it, or destroy it. Do you think I am right or foolish ?