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Chapter 19
"L' altra vedete ch'ha fatto alla guancia
Della sua palma, sospirando, letto."
--Purgatorio, vii.
When George the Fourth was still reigning over the privacies of Windsor, when
the Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister, and Mr. Vincy was mayor of the old
corporation in Middlemarch, Mrs. Casaubon, born Dorothea Brooke, had taken
her wedding journey to Rome. In those days the world in general was more
ignorant of good and evil by forty years than it is at present. Travellers did not
often carry full information on Christian art either in their heads or their pockets;
and even the most brilliant English critic of the day mistook the flower-flushed
tomb of the ascended Virgin for an ornamental vase due to the painter's fancy.
Romanticism, which has helped to fill some dull blanks with love and knowledge,
had not yet penetrated the times with its leaven and entered into everybody's
food; it was fermenting still as a distinguishable vigorous enthusiasm in certain
long-haired German artists at Rome, and the youth of other nations who worked
or idled near them were sometimes caught in the spreading movement.
One fine morning a young man whose hair was not immoderately long, but
abundant and curly, and who was otherwise English in his equipment, had just
turned his back on the Belvedere Torso in the Vatican and was looking out on the
magnificent view of the mountains from the adjoining round vestibule. He was
sufficiently absorbed not to notice the approach of a dark-eyed, animated
German who came up to him and placing a hand on his shoulder, said with a
strong accent, "Come here, quick! else she will have changed her pose."
Quickness was ready at the call, and the two figures passed lightly along by the
Meleager, towards the hall where the reclining Ariadne, then called the
Cleopatra, lies in the marble voluptuousness of her beauty, the drapery folding
around her with a petal-like ease and tenderness. They were just in time to see
another figure standing against a pedestal near the reclining marble: a breathing
blooming girl, whose form, not shamed by the Ariadne, was clad in Quakerish
gray drapery; her long cloak, fastened at the neck, was thrown backward from
her arms, and one beautiful ungloved hand pillowed her cheek, pushing
somewhat backward the white beaver bonnet which made a sort of halo to her
face around the simply braided dark-brown hair. She was not looking at the
sculpture, probably not thinking of it: her large eyes were fixed dreamily on a
streak of sunlight which fell across the floor. But she became conscious of the
two strangers who suddenly paused as if to contemplate the Cleopatra, and,
without looking at them, immediately turned away to join a maid-servant and
courier who were loitering along the hall at a little distance off.
"What do you think of that for a fine bit of antithesis?" said the German,
searching in his friend's face for responding admiration, but going on volubly
without waiting for any other answer. "There lies antique beauty, not corpse-like
even in death, but arrested in the complete contentment of its sensuous
perfection: and here stands beauty in its breathing life, with the consciousness of
Christian centuries in its bosom. But she should be dressed as a nun; I think she