The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 09, No. 52, February, 1862

by: Various

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ISBN: N/A
Language: English
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CHAPTER XX

FLORENCE AND HER PROPHET

It was drawing towards evening, as two travellers, approaching Florence from the south, checked their course on the summit of one of the circle of hills which command a view of the city, and seemed to look down upon it with admiration. One of these was our old friend Father Antonio, and the other the Cavalier. The former was mounted on an ambling mule, whose easy pace suited well with his meditative habits; while the other reined in a high-mettled steed, who, though now somewhat jaded under the fatigue of a long journey, showed by a series of little lively motions of his ears and tail, and by pawing the ground impatiently, that he had the inexhaustible stock of spirits which goes with good blood.

"There she lies, my Florence," said the monk, stretching his hands out with enthusiasm. "Is she not indeed a sheltered lily growing fair among the hollows of the mountains? Little she may be, Sir, compared to old Rome; but every inch of her is a gem,—every inch!"

And, in truth, the scene was worthy of the artist's enthusiasm. All the overhanging hills that encircle the city with their silvery olive-gardens and their pearl-white villas were now lighted up with evening glory. The old gray walls of the convents of San Miniato and the Monte Oliveto were touched with yellow; and even the black obelisks of the cypresses in their cemeteries had here and there streaks and dots of gold, fluttering like bright birds among their gloomy branches. The distant snow-peaks of the Apennines, which even in spring long wear their icy mantles, were shimmering and changing like an opal ring with tints of violet, green, blue, and rose, blended in inexpressible softness by that dreamy haze which forms the peculiar feature of Italian skies.

In this loving embrace of mountains lay the city, divided by the Arno as by a line of rosy crystal barred by the graceful arches of its bridges. Amid the crowd of palaces and spires and towers rose central and conspicuous the great Duomo, just crowned with that magnificent dome which was then considered a novelty and a marvel in architecture, and which Michel Angelo looked longingly back upon when he was going to Rome to build that more wondrous orb of Saint Peter's. White and stately by its side shot up the airy shaft of the Campanile; and the violet vapor swathing the whole city in a tender indistinctness, these two striking objects, rising by their magnitude far above it, seemed to stand alone in a sort of airy grandeur.

And now the bells of the churches were sounding the Ave Maria, filling the air with sweet and solemn vibrations, as if angels were passing to and fro overhead, harping as they went; and ever and anon the great bell of the Campanile came pulsing in with a throb of sound of a quality so different that one hushed one's breath to hear. It might be fancied to be the voice of one of those kingly archangels that one sees drawn by the old Florentine religious artists,—a voice grave and unearthly, and with a plaintive undertone of divine mystery....