The First Italian Journey 

Like his reflections on the city after the experience of Australian wilderness, Sharp's article on Artan (1885), written after his first trip to Italy, is an excellent illustration of the contrapuntal effect of travel upon the Victorians. This and other writings dating from the period following his first excursion to Italy in 1882-83, and those following his second in 1890, are evidence that his sensitivity to the distinguishing character of the north was a direct result of comparison with the experience of the south.

Such comparison admitted many degrees of intensity. Sometimes Sharp could be merely general and geographical, as on one occasion during his first trip to Italy when he observed that the bleakest Italian landscape had "nothing of the grandeur and beauty of the barrenness and desolation of the north."1 Or he could be simply invidious, as when, in the Arran article, he chaffs the devotee of the south: "See Naples and die---unless you have not yet seen Arran."2 But he is also capable of being quite specific and refined, revealing how much his travels had realerted him to the familiar topography of his own land. While describing the peculiar "mountain beauty" of Arran, Sharp reminds his readers that "mere altitude alone" is not sufficient to capture the imagination, and chooses an illustration from his own recent experience:

Many an Alpine mass is less impressive than a Scottish Ben, and this because the former frequently mounts from a series of wave-like plateaux, and rises into an atmosphere serene, sometimes for weeks without intermission; while the latter lifts its granite flanks sheer from some still, dark loch, and takes on mysterious beauty and stern grandeur from the mists that so frequently trail along the pines on its mid-way slopes, or tear themselves into thin shreds against the scimitar-like boughs of windy larches, from the sudden rains that sweep over separate heights.3

Phyllis Bentley's study, The English Regional Novel, bears out the theory that such sharpening of sight as that represented here was in the nineteenth century the common experience among English writers returning home from their travels.4 Yet there is more at work in Sharp's case than mere intensified perception. Behind his apparently simple geographical distinctions is an attitude of allegiance, a form of personal identification with one kind of atmosphere. Sharp was already thinking in a deterministic vein as early as 1881, and his travels increased not only his awareness of the climate and geography of his origin but also his sense of their implications for his own character and temperament. "I never so fully recognize how intensely northern I am," he said finally, "than when I am in the south."5 Although this remark dates from a later period in his life, it has many predecessors in kind and reveals how much more influential was his trip to Italy than any other he had previously made for his development as a Celtic writer.

Sharp's observation rests on a dichotomy between north and south that could have become directly and personally available to him only through his Italian experience. But the theoretical concept of a determining cultural division between north and south was a readily accessible formula for comparison that had long achieved currency through the thinking of earlier cosmopolitans. When in his Literary Geography years later Sharp revealed a long acquaintance with Charles Bonstetten's L'homme du midi et I'homme du nord (1827), he was also showing his direct line of descent from a classic European document in the environmental school of social studies, one that had as its thesis precisely his own favorite distinctions between northern and southern climate and psychology. Actually, by 1827, Bonstetten was already something of a descendant himself. As early as 1800 Mme. de Staël's De la littčrature had developed the environmental interpretation of art, religion, literature, and culture. Bonstetten and later relativist critics rising in the wake of mid-century evolutionary theory merely popularized, diffused, and entrenched reinforced what was by Matthew Arnold's time a deeply critical tradition. Mattew Arnold was, of course, its English popularizer, but the genealogy of Arnold's racial and national sense was, like Sharp's, European. Behind it was Renan's, behind Renan's Chateaubriand's and Mine. de Staël's, and behind theirs a romantic conviction deriving from one of the firstborn of modern cosmopolites, Rousseau, who has been described as the prime mover behind the gradual effacement of boundaries between real and internal landscape in the literature of the nineteenth century.6 From this encouraging "climate," Sharp's personally-observed distinctions between north and south took nourishment and grew in number and significance.

Another important motivating factor behind Sharp's new "northernness" was the especially powerful force for him of personal acquaintance. A growing sense of fraternity among Scots and Northerners (and Irish too) expatriated to London must have had its share in restoring Sharp to his Celtic allegiances. His early career leaned heavily on the good offices of Donald Macleod, editor of Good Words. He was also indebted to the North-Country publisher, Walter Scott, and to Joseph Skipsey, the editor from whom he inherited the Canterbury Poets series, and a balladeer in his own right. It may well have been Scott and Skipsey who encouraged Sharp to edit and introduce his first contribution to the Canterbury series, an anthology of Walter Scott's poetry; if so, they can lay claim to being among the first to foster a renewed nationalist spirit in the young poet. In the tentative assurance of his fraternity in the same Scottish cause, Sharp wrote in this introduction that "the freshness, vigorousness, genuine manliness" of Scott's poetry were its Scottish qualities.7 The Arran article, meanwhile, revealed that he had begun to carry his research into his native culture well beyond the limits of such impressionistic adjectives. There, for the first time in his work, appear references to Gaelic etymology and folklore.8 Finally, as though to give concrete proof of the patriot in him, he began his own Romantic Ballads and Poems of Phantasy (1888), a fairly large group of poems almost entirely in the form of narrative ballads in the Scottish and North-Country tradition.

Among the other friends and connections who may have helped awaken this renascence of Celtic spirit in Sharp were Edward Dowden and Ernest Rhys. Dowden, though Irish, had connections enough with the broader Celtic fraternity to remark to Sharp after the publication of The Human Inheritance in 1882 that he might do well to look for "some heroic old Scottish story to brood over and make live."9 This is precisely what Sharp, a little belatedly, tried to do with Romantic Ballads. Ernest Rhys's influence was that of colleague and (at the time) mutual admirer. Rhys had a "Celtic strain": his mother was partly Irish, and he had spent some time in Wales and the North Country. The "fellowships" of like-minded men and women Rhys organized, like the "New Life," attracted many uprooted Celts. Among them was Yeats, who, with Rhys and T. W. Rolleston, was one of the founders of the Rhymers' Club. Though Sharp never achieved membership in that exclusive assembly, he fraternized in its friendly antechambers, meeting many of its members, including Yeats, and continuing with Rhys along closely parallel avenues of activity. These resulted, during the nineties, in their association with the Celtic Library series and their collaboration in a series of scholarly articles on various folk literatures for Warner's Library.

Yet the part of Sharp's enthusiasm for Celtism encouraged by these personal influences of the eighties was seemingly less deep-rooted than that which found its source in his cosmopolitanism. His real Celtism, represented by Fiona Macleod, was separated from this early spurt by several years, a very un-Celtic novel (The Children of To-morrow, 1889), a very important second trip to Italy, and a volume of poetry completely of Southern inspiration (Sospiri di Roma, 1891). The trip to Italy---as Rhys later recalled with some sarcasm---was the occasion of a crucial and "wonderful encounter with an exquisite maiden, who was enjoying a sunbath on the banks of Lake Nemi," and Rhys was left with no doubt that it was she who inspired Sharp to new bardic beights.10 The implications of this fact are clear: whatever might have been the quirks of hindsight that made Sharp diminish the role of other influences in restoring his Celtic identity, he caused it to be unequivocally understood that nothing led him to dramatize in his own personality the classic variations in racial and national temperaments as much as his Italian journeys. As Rhys's remark suggests, it was the second of these that produced the great illumination of his career, but Sharp's reactions to his first journey are full of their own smaller illuminations. Indeed these, submitted to slow modification and reinforcement in the intervening years, led inexorably to that "wonderful encounter" with an exquisite maiden, real or symbolic.

The experiences Sharp underwent on that first Italian trip are effusively recorded in his letters to Elizabeth, as well as in several pieces of art criticism for the Art Journal in 1884 and in travel sketches published in Good Words from 1885 to 1890. A group of casual jottings, accurately entitled "Random Impressions from an Autbor's Notebook," appeared in 1889, sometime after their composition, in the unhappily shortlived journal known as the Scottish Art Review.11 Examining all of these, one cannot help noticing how complex was the effect of Italy upon him, for by no means are all Sharp's reactions evidence that his new allegiance with the "north" grew directly out of distaste for or dissatisfaction with the "south." Despite their many expressions of distress and discomfort, Sharp's reflections on Italy are not without their moments of ecstatic contentment and, as usual with him, total identification with the Italian scene. He was as sensitive as any of his contemporaries to its magic. Often, in the very process of denigrating, he gave signs of wanting merely to avoid the fashion of being in love with Italy, but even this he could not totally resist. He went a long way toward becoming thoroughly Italianized, as testified by the titles of many of the poems included in his second volume, Earth's Voices (1884). Among these are "Gaspara Stampa," "Sospitra," "Madonna Natura," and "Sonnets on Paintings by Bazzi." Also in that volume appear a characteristic group called "Graffiti d'Italia," impressionistic translations of some of the experiences recorded in his letters and travel sketches. These bear striking witness to Italy's effect in increasing his consciousness of place: "Rome," "Siena," "Val Mugnone," "Maremma," "Volterra," "Campagna," "Cascine, Florence," and "Old Protestant Cemetery, Florence."12

All of these writings together demonstrate the profound effect of the Italian "atmosphere" and Sharp's fresh awareness of the power of place, at times overwhelming. This power was no vague magnetism, but a compound of very specific forces. He reflected, for example, that in Italy geographical space was not merely space alone, but space and time. The spectacles of city and landscape that offered themselves to him aroused an often uncomfortable sense of the relentlessly longlived influence of the Italian past upon its present. Unlike the ordinary travel writer of the period, Sharp invariably speaks of the "melancholy" of Italy." "There is a monotony in its beauty," he could say of Umbria, " at variance with the prevalent conception of 'the sunny South.'"13 He is making no simple dismissal. There is something about the atmosphere that commands his response, and he must put forth the effort to explain this sincere and ineradicable sensation:

It is as though the land were far more ancient than the remotest human traditions, as though it had seen too much of the change of ages-too much of the rise, the greatness, the oblivion of successively dominant races---ever again to be joyous with the joyousness of youth.14

But the effort to explain could not explain away. The landscape, he continues to insist, has a "strange sombreness," "a keenly pathetic note."15 He notices the "absence of that exuberance which farther North, and perhaps in England preeminently accompanies the regenerated youth of the spring." The scenery carried a fascinating appeal to the "inner vision," possessing in its melancholy a kind of "magic." But still the "magic" and the "melancholy" were irresistibly the cause of a "sometimes oppressive emotion." He could not put off a response to "this strange historic mystery, this monotonous sense of a barely recorded antiquity, shrouding an even more shadowy and ancient past."16

The presentness of the past came to characterize the Italian scene:

"The pathos of the past permeates the whole landscape." Even Rome became oppressive, burdened with this paradox of past and present coexistent and coterminous. There he experienced "a feeling as if life would become intolerable unless all sense of the past were put away." Later he would come to "put away" these words instead, but now he vociferously rejected Rome. "I hate death, and all that puts one in mind of death---and after all Rome is only a gigantic and richly ornamented tomb." His distaste for cities in general did not help. He wails, "How I hate large cities! Even Florence is almost too large."17

From the tone in which it is repeatedly expressed, Sharp's discovery of the inexorable will of the past working itself permanently and "mysteriously" into the landscape of the present obviously came as a profound shock. Nevertheless, the distress associated with the shock gradually wore off, while the insight represented by the discovery gradually sharpened and finally transformed itself into a joyous celebration of the Roman Campagna, ruin-scattered and historic, in the Sospiri di Roma. Still another transformation, and the same insight became part of the essential vision of Fiona Macleod. Her work, seeming on the surface to have so different an inspiration, arises in fact from the identical perception and conveys almost more than anything else the grandeur---even the joy---certainly the power---of such a burden of tradition lying upon the land. Italy, in effect, forced the developing poet to see, and in fact to seek, this same indwelling tradition in his own Scotland. "Wonderfully impressive are these ancient monumental stones by moonlight," he was able even by 1885 to say of the druidic remnant, on Arran's Machrie moor, or "during an autumnal thunderstorm, when from the blue-black lowering clouds the broad white flashes of lightning seem like fiery swords thrusting hither and thither amidst petrified figures"18---an early prefiguration of the way the "oppressive" past was to be transfigured into wonder.

Yet it is no surprise that Sharp's immediate impulse was a desire to protect himself from the past's painful influence. Whatever joy he derived from his first response to Italy was almost entirely limited to childlike observations of the curious nature phenomena he saw and heard around him. He was "electrified with delight to see a large eagle shining gold-bronze in the sun . . . such a swarming of lizards . . . the funniest fly . . . What surprised me so much about the flowers was not only their immense quantity, but also their astounding variety."19 Even in Venice, where he does not specifically refer to its architectural delights, he tells his wife-to-be that he is infinitely relieved to find "life, joyousness, brightness everywhere." He is ecstatic about the Lido: "There were hundreds of butterflies, lizards, bees, birds, and some heavenly larks---a perfect glow and tumult of life."20

This focus on nature was a curious, even if momentary, limitation of vision amid all of Italy's man-made splendors, and was evidently intended quite sincerely as a means of expressing a simple and healthy desire merely to enjoy himself after having found so much to lament. It was, nevertheless, somewhat self-deceiving. The line between pleasure and pain was seldom quite so clear for him as he may have liked to believe. A kind of excitement, for which these nearly fatuous effusions may have provided his only simple and normal means of expression, seems to pervade all of his experiences in Italy. His nature readily delighted in its own range and capacity for experience, deriving a subtle, perhaps even perverse pleasure from what was ostensibly unpleasant and "oppressive." No matter how great the recoil of his Protestant soul, for instance, there is evidence of some delectation in his declaring that while assisting at a Good Friday ceremony in Florence he himself "felt the agony of the pierced hands and feet."21

His response to Italy's natural delights---that they were filled with an "astounding variety"---might thus be extended to explain the basically pleasurable effect which, though mainly in retrospect, characterized his entire Italian experience. In Tuscany Sharp could find the simplest of sincere devotions to the girl-saint Santa Fina,22 in Rome the most cynical of religious hypocrisies, "blind with blood and lust and hate."23 In art, the purest restraint and asceticism of Giotto or Cimabue could be hallowed side by side with the sensuality and morbidity of Ghirlandaio or Orcagna, who he says had "a horrible imagination, poisoned by horrible superstitions."24 The primitive and the sophisticated, nature and artifice, the ebullient presence of life amidst so many reminders of death---these must have yielded the thrill of paradox. And unlike the overwhelming turbulence of the city, Italy's varying images came one after another in colorful alternation, and each offered the separate possibility of identity to Sharp's responsive temperament. He was, long before Thomas Mann, a willing victim of the strange influence of Venice's sirocco. He records how he had been contemplating Tintoretto's Satan, then his Bacchus, in an attempt to grasp the spirit that had been capable of producing them both. There was momentarily, he reports, a magic in the atmosphere that made one half expect to "see Dionysus pass from out the green leafland behind." Then,

just as Venice seems to merge into Naxos, a tremor in the North has spread southward ... In a few moments all is changed, and Bacchus is again a dream, a beautiful unreality. But as the flying shreds of mist and streaks of flame above Fusina and Mestre shine like crimson flames, as scarlet and purple and gold burn above Venice in splendour wholly indescribable, suddenly the beauty of Tintoretto's plumed and triumphant Satan dominates my imagination. This glowing splendour, this terrible glory, is one with his magnificence of beauty, with his power and dominion.25

Venice, however, was only one among many places in Italy that commanded Sharp's imagination and provided counterparts for entire and sometimes overpowering states of mind. Assisi, like Rome, "oppressed" him with its aridity and sense of death: "Barren and desolate and colourless, with neither shade of tree nor coolness of water . . . hideous to the eye, inexpressibly dreary, dead, and accursed."26 Even his otherwise pleasurable reception of Giotto's frescoes was, he says, destroyed by this atmosphere's control of his imagination. "They are overweighted in my memory with the hideousness of the immediate hill surroundings," he reported to Elizabeth, and added further proof of the depth of his reaction: "It made me feel almost sick and ill."27

It is marvelous how Sharp could rejudge his experience with hindsight. Consistency seems to have carried much less weight with him than the new wisdom of the moment, added evidence surely that the kind of reaction he had mattered infinitely less than the extent of his own sensitivity. This same visit to Assisi came to be recorded again in the work of Fiona Macleod, but there the author says that, at the very moment "a friend" was pointing out to her the barrenness and desolation of its landscape, Assisi was for her suddenly "transfigured" with the beautiful light of the religious mystery that had taken place there centuries ago.28

The "transfiguration" of Fiona Macleod was, of course, the result of the new design Sharp was to give to his perception of the immanent past. Perhaps, indeed, there is something quite honest in his remembering later on that he was already giving it that new design at the time, for certainly Italy had the effect of throwing him into a tense and turbulent process of change. At the moment, nevertheless, the perception took the only form then available and familiar to him. It provided occasion for the exercise of his theories on the formative role of place in the course of life and history. To this part of the Umbrian landscape itself he attributed the shaping power behind the mysticism of Assisi's thirteenth-century saints, a mysticism with which he was not yet, as Fiona Macleod would be, in total sympathy:

I can well understand how either the ecstasy of religious delirium, or a very passion of faith, must have dominated any soul who should long dwell between these echo-haunted declivities; and still more, when I look from the heights northward, where abides a very desolation of barrenness, I realize that penitence in such a place, in those strange, pathetic middle ages, must have meant absolute renunciation . . . or else have impelled the passionate spirit to the license of despair---to the extremest tyranny of the lusts of the body.29

One can hardly help noticing here, as in so much of Sharp's first response to Italy, how he estimates the effects of this landscape upon the human spirit in terms of none but the most exaggerated oppositions.

Among Sharp's "astounding variety" of experiences in Italy, however, there was one that by itself provided an almost absolute correlative for his own temperament and that substantially assisted him on his way toward the "transfigured" perception of Fiona Macleod. Etruria, with . its scant and tantalizing remains, aroused him to complete and passionate sympathy and proved for him that the ancient Etruscan civilization had recognized and reconciled the conflicts that so beset him---sense and spirit, life and death. Even beyond this, there was something in its nature as a lost, disinherited culture, but somehow a culture that seemed still to survive, that gave Sharp a means for dealing with the strangely disquieting presence of the eternally existing past. What had most disturbed him in Italy was the past's so often spectral presence---as though a dead hand were laying its weight upon the efforts of life to refresh itself. The Etruscan civilization seemed not to have had this effect. The civilization, as a historic fact, might well be lost and "dead." But its fragmentary remnants could somehow be invested with life, its religion with all the virtues of a religion as he would have conceived it. At nearly every point anticipating D. H. Lawrence, Sharp claimed for the Etruscans a palpable recrudescence not in the forms of modern civilization, but in the surrounding earth itself and in the peasants that arose from and were closest to that earth. Sharp dramatized this insight in his "Random Impressions," where he sketched a girl of eighteen or twenty, carrying a bundle of reedy grass upon her head, and walking with an exquisite poise and sway of body. Her eyes, large and of that lustrous velvety darkness visible in twilit waters, turned upon me - - . Such passion, such pathos, such an inheritance of yearning, such an inheritance of regret, dwelt in their depths. The oblivion of Etruria gleamed therefrom; and the vanished Etrurian grace fulfilled itself again in that perfect body.30

An intellectual sympathy for a philosophy of recrudescence had been prefigured in Sharp's earliest poetry. But here for the first time in his work, though hardly for the last, he located that truth in an actual race. Here for the first time it was felt. The ancient, vaguely naturalistic religion of the Etruscans was a vessel already partially shaped, but because of the crudity of its remnants, he could complete that vessel as he chose. To the Etruscans he could attribute a prevision of man's true and essential nature, an acknowledgment of the sanctity of both body and spirit. This semi-real, semi-legendary race he could make, as he would of the Celtic race later on, the truest symbolic expression of his own feeling that somehow the primitive and prophetic knowledge of an ancient people could survive, and perhaps newly inspirit, the civilization that had overwhelmed it and beclouded its wisdom.

The depth of this insight even Sharp himself could not appreciate at the time. Beyond this one magnificently evocative passage, he used the Etruscans merely as a convenient foil for his animadversions upon Christianity, especially the deathful and joyless Catholicism he claimed to have hated in Florence and Assisi. "The comparative joyousness . . . of the Etruscans," he wrote to Elizabeth in 1883, "contrasts greatly with the joylessness of the Christians, who have done their best to make death repellent in its features and horrible in its significance, its possibilities . . . Not till the gloomy precepts of Christianity yield to something more akin to the Greek sense of beauty will life appear to the majority lovely and wonderful, alike in the present and in the future."31 A measure of Sharp's growth and change is to be found in the strange echo of these words that reverberates in the work of Fiona Macleod. There only Northern Protestantism, not Christianity in general, is scorned as alien to the true Celt, and ritual Catholicism ironically becomes the expression of the true spirit of her race.

If the Etruscans failed, despite the pleasurable sympathy they aroused in Sharp, to remain a permanent metaphor for his temperament, the reason was assuredly that none could be perfect---and certainly none in Italy. There, of course, if anywhere, he could find correspondences for his fluctuant and all-appreciative self; he could just as well, if inconsistently, participate in a Good Friday ceremony to the point of identifying with the crucified Christ as leap with pagan joy at the glance of a peasant girl on an Umbrian hillside. He could be enraptured at the enchantment of Venice, that epitome of civilization at its artificial best, and overcome with the sense of ages of human effort expended in the making of so many of Italy's cities and monuments. He could have all this and still long for "some loch with the glory of morning upon it, some Mountainside flecked with trailing clouds";32 for as always with Sharp the excitement and variety were themselves selfdefeating. Just as the city had provided a "fresh and pleasant stimulus," so too did Italy, but also like the city it aroused in him finally a need for rest, for escape, for self-control; and at such times his wearied spirit would become "northern" and something in him would recoil from the attraction of the south. Nor was be, in his keen perception of exterior phenomena, unaware that a particular kind of natural scenery existed that could not be found in Italy. This awareness often caused a part of his personality to be disengaged, even in his most sympathetic moments of joy at the happy Etruscans or in the Lido sunlight. There was in other words, one variety of landscape of which even multifarious Italy was incapable, that of "the cool north"; and the emotional equivalent for that missing landscape was, for him, in distinct conflict with the Italian spirit of place.

Of course it is not always easy to deal with Sharp's quick reversals. After the excited reactions to the Etruscans, it is disturbing to come once again upon a reflection like the one in an article on San Gemignano, where Sharp records meeting an Ayrshire woman, the wife of a local antiquary. The pathos is indubitably his own when he says, "and much, I think, she yearned to see once more the land she loved better than the alien country in which her lot was cast."33 It is even more disturbing to come upon the striking and carefully deliberated parallels of this feeling in his short story, "Fröken Bergliot," like "Madge o' the Pool" part of the later retrospective collection, The Gipsy Christ (1895). Reechoing the Ayrshire woman, the Norwegian Bergliot, also living in Italy, "felt as though she would die if she were to stay much longer in this foreign land, among this alien folk." Sharp thoroughly explores her consciousness, filling it with the passion and pain of the gulf between north and south: "She now hated this glaring, burning south that had appealed to her so much at first, hated this stifling heat, this inland weariness, this malaria that everywhere brooded as an invisible beast of prey." She became, like the Sharp of one of his many moods, "consumed by an abiding passion for the lost north. To be away from Norway seemed to her a fate to sympathize with; to be away in the far south, with a northern soul, and see no more the dark mountains and the wild, beautiful Scandinavian seas."34 At times she would look down upon Lake Albano,

and dream of green fiords and precipitous rocks . . . Her nostalgia for the beloved north became an abiding pain . . . She felt . . . conscious of her overmastering desire to see the north once more; to feel its cool breath in her mind and in her spirit as well as upon her body; to bear the lap-lapping of the waves, to watch the white seahorses leap in the sunlight when, at the fiord mouth, a mountain wind tore against the tide race. If, in these moments of intense longing, she descried, trailing across the sky like a thin Japanese eyebrow, a flight of northward-winging birds, she would turn away sobbing in bitter pain, or throw herself upon the ground and seek relief in tears.35

Bergliot was to find her soulmate in a young painter who provided, in this same tale, another surrogate for Sharp's own condition, and who confessed "that while winter, spring, and summer in Rome and its neighborhood, were delightful, the early autumn lacked both solace and joy for a northerner. 'Oh, for a breath of the Blue Fiord!' he cried again and again, filled with longing for his sea-swept home."36

Could this scene of agony and anguish be the same Italy into whose bosom Sharp rushed with joy in 1890, and then again and again for all the years remaining to his life? Could it be the same "beautiful, living, pulsing South" of which he spoke later on? And, indeed, could this north be the same whose "fierce cold and gloom" he was to describe as "mentally benumbing"?37 The only possible answer, of course, is yes, in actual fact the very same, though in psychological fact they could be poles apart. To know the vicissitudes of Sharp's temperament is to know that such despondencies and exaltations were inevitable, that the despondencies, when they came in Italy, were easily to be translated by his opposition-seeking mind into moods of utter alienation from the spirit of the south. Though Italy in its abundant variety and Etruria in its rich paradox corresponded in high degree to his personal fragmentation, they had to yield in the face of the clearer duality represented by north and south. Each of the poles could at different times evoke a sincere and deep allegiance in him. But he needed their conflict: he was committed to ineluctable, irreconcilable differences within himself and seized and rejected in turn every symbolic reconciliation he found for them.

This half-conscious knowledge of his own interior division constituted a partial self-discovery that bore almost immediate fruit in Sharp's poetry, fiction, criticism, and biography. Perhaps the biographies yielded the most concentrated opportunities for applying his tense and ambiguous cosmopolitanism. All of the subjects he chose during the later eighties, Shelley (1887), Heine (1888), and Browning (1890), exemplified to varying extents his own mixed sensibility, and in none of them did he fail to exploit it.

Shelley, of course, had long been his passion, and many of the emphases in the biography were therefore throwbacks to his own childhood and adolescent conflicts, particularly his focus on Shelley's desire to liberate body and spirit from the bonds of conventional authority. Shelley also gave him the first broad opportunity to express in something resembling sociological terms his own compassion for women, and the biography largely dwelt on Shelley's women, rather than on Shelley's experiences of place. Then, too, as the first of his volumes in the Great Writers series, Shelley was essentially an exercise, adhering abjectly to the Great Writers formulas, and venturing with little freshness or daring into areas of Sharp's own peculiar concern. It was, moreover, produced under the enormous burden of competition with Dowden's major work on Shelley, which appeared in 1886.

By the time Sharp had been through Heine and come to Browning in 1889, his biographical finesse had matured considerably. Now writing more freely within the biographical formulas, he was able to express the provocative effects of his cosmopolitan thinking, and devoted an enormous amount of space to the travel and place influences that went into Browning's making. As has already been pointed out, the city, itself called "cosmopolitan,"38 was given major emphasis. But Sharp did not by any means scamp other place influences. He termed England Browning's first passion of "race and country," found it necessary to observe that Russia had little enduring effect, and finally and copiously dealt with Browning's experiences of "the mystic Orient" and "the glowing South." not these, especially Italy, he said, the poet "oftenest thought and dreamed ."39 As far as Sharp was concerned, they effectively formed and controlled Browning's imagination.

It was with Heine, however, a poet whom the English could know less well than their own, that Sharp perhaps felt more free to range among his materials, to select and emphasize as he chose. Of all Sharp's biographies, this one emerges as having the most permanent strength. To it he seems to have brought the freshness of discovery, and there is evidence in specific borrowings from the German poet in Sharp's later work that the encounter was an influential one.40 Considerably more important, however, than such specific borrowings was the extent to which Heine could function for Sharp as a parallel for all his cosmopolitan predilections and could, for the time being at least, satisfactorily resolve them. Indeed Heine, coming as it did before the Browning biography, was really the first to broach effectively the questions of race and nationality. The interpretation of the man and his work that resulted was based substantially on the premise that race and country were, more than any other influences, those that formed him; every earlier effort to cope with such issues---and even the later one in Browning---pales beside the lengthy passages devoted to them in Heinz.

Not surprisingly, Sharp takes particular pleasure in finding Heine a kind of national catch-all, a man who combined all the contrasts that Sharp had himself perceived in his European travels. In Heine, as in himself, he saw "the swift respondence to outside influences" that accounted for his remarkable variations in temperature.41 A note of exhilaration informs his testimony that Heine was "essentially one of the men of no nationality," "a typical cosmopolitan."42 And what most seemed to appeal to Sharp was Heine's ability to express through such cosmopolitanism an enormous variety of opposing attitudes, to be constrained in his literary strategy by no limitation of personality. Heine was mercurial, flexible, various, and he was this, significantly, not because of any special fluke of temperament, but because be was a barometer of sensitivity to "the troubled spirit of the times."43

To be in harmony with the times (in Sharp's determinist philosophy, a fate the true artist could hardly avoid) was to be, in short, a man without a country---not German, not French, not Italian, not northern, not southern---capable of being all these, but belonging to none. Yet Heine, despite his variety, was a "northerner" by birth, and he could and did share some of Sharp's special and reserved love for the "cool north." An inordinate amount of space in the biography is thus devoted to poetry reflecting a passion for northern seas and piney landscapes. That booming, dominating sea of Sharp's own early experience, the same he constantly missed in Italy, was there in Heine's Nordsee poems. They gave expression to precisely those feelings for the northern seascape which Sharp had already attempted to express in his own "Transcripts from Nature" and Romantic Ballads, and was working into "Fröken Bergliot." One of Heine's poems, "Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam" (A pine-tree stands lonely) peculiarly realized for Sharp the "unbridgeable gulf" between north and south. It gave vent, he says, to a "vague, informulate yearning,"44 which be undoubtedly valued as the emotional counterpart of his awareness of the same gulf in his own personality.

The cosmopolitan slant of Sharp's interpretation of Heine may perhaps seem falsified by his simultaneously strong emphasis on Heine's Jewishness. He spoke of Heine as "an early Hebrew" in soul, studied the poet's Jewish origins, and explored with fascination his "apostasy" Heine's renunciation of Judaism to enter the practice of law like all German professions at that time restricted to Christians. But Sharp was fully aware of the social conspiracy against Jews that had led to Heine's betrayal of his race. In speaking of him as "an early Hebrew," he was attempting to give a larger dimension to Heine's conflict than mere personal suffering. He was translating into new terms the same homeless, divagating spirit elsewhere construed as characteristic of the cosmopolitan Heine-and of himself. And he was shading the characterization with the moral and emotional depth of tragedy. In Heine, the Jew and the man of no country coalesced; he was dislocated from a homeland he could conceive only in desire, a true national of a nation existing only in spirit.

But Sharp's interpretive mood was not always tragic. Heine's "Bimini," the poet's fanciful transformation of the Caribbean Island, suggested a happy and affirmative way of expressing an allegiance to a land conceived in imagination.45 In cooperation with every other similarity Sharp found between himself and the German poet, the concept of using such an imaginative land to realize such an imaginative allegiance had immediate and durable effects upon Sharp's art and thought. Heine thus became a main force behind the creation of the "informulate" country of the work of Fiona Macleod---the unearthly land presaged by Celtic myth as Silis, Avalon, Tir-N'an-Og, and the Land of Heart's Desire.

contents   next