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The Duke's Prize; a Story of Art and Heart in Florence

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Lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold.


COME with me, gentle reader, on the wings of fancy into the mild and genial latitude of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The delightful region of the Mediterranean has been the poet's ready theme for ages; then let us thitherward, with high hopes (and appreciating eyes) to enjoy the storied scenery of its shores. Touch, if you will, at Gibraltar; see how the tide flows through the straits! We go in with a flowing sail, and now we are at Corsica, Napoleon's home. Let us stop at Sardinia, with its wealth of tropical fruits; and we will even down to Sicily,—for this mimic ocean teems with subjects to delight the eye even of the most casual observer, with its majestic boundary of Alps and Apennines, and the velvet carpet of its romantic shores, while its broad breast is dotted with the sails of the picturesque craft whose rig is peculiar to these seas.

It were worth the journey we have taken, if only to behold the curious maritime scene before us now-made up of the felucca, the polacre, and the bombard, or ketch all equally unknown in our own waters.

Well, on with us still; let us up again and new through the canal of Piombino, touching at the isle of Elba, the "Great Emperor's" mimic domain; step into the town lying beneath this rocky bluff; which is crowned by a fort-it is Porto Ferrajo. Look off for a moment from this rocky eminence, back of the town, and see the wild beauty of these Tuscan mountains on the main land. Now, we will over to the Italian coast, and cross, if you will, from Leghorn to Florence. There, we are now in the very lap of genius and of poetry; let us pause here and breathe the dreamy, soothing, balmy air of Italy.

Florence, most favored daughter of Italy, sweet, sunny Florence, where dwelleth the gallantry and beauty of Tuscany, with thy wealth of architectural beauty, thy magnificent churches and palaces, thy princely court and hoarded beauties-favorite of that genial land, we greet thee! How peacefully dost thou lay at the very foot of the cloud-topped Apennines, divided by the mountain-born Arno in its course to the sea, and over whose bosom the architectural genius of the land is displayed in arched bridges; loveliest and best beloved art thou of sunny, vine-clad Italy.

The poetical luxury of Italian genius is nowhere more plainly manifested than in Florence. 'Tis the artist's favorite resort and best school; 'tis the city the traveller likes least to turn his back upon; and the spot being consecrated by poetry and art, where the blood flows quickest through the veins, warmed by a fervid and glowing clime. A clime which breathes in zephyrs of aromatic sweetness, wafted over the fragrant blossoms of the land so redolent of loveliness, that they would seem to rival the fabled Loto tree, which springs by Allah's throne, and whose flowers have a soul in every leaf.

There is a breathing of the arts in the very air of Florence, whose galleries are crowded with the choicest collections of paintings and statuary in the world. Here have ever congregated the talent and beauty of every clime....