BOOK II. OLD AND YOUNG.
19. CHAPTER XIX.
"L' altra vedete ch'ha fatto alla guancia
Della sua palma, sospirando, letto."
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.