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Limbo and Other Essays To which is now added Ariadne in Mantua   By: (1856-1935)

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LIMBO AND OTHER ESSAYS

TO WHICH IS NOW ADDED ARIADNE IN MANTUA

BY

VERNON LEE

LONDON JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD NEW YORK JOHN LANE COMPANY

MCMVIII

CONTENTS

LIMBO IN PRAISE OF OLD HOUSES THE LIE OF THE LAND TUSCAN MIDSUMMER MAGIC ON MODERN TRAVELLING OLD ITALIAN GARDENS ABOUT LEISURE RAVENNA AND HER GHOSTS THE COOK SHOP AND THE FOWLING PLACE ACQUAINTANCE WITH BIRDS ARIADNE IN MANTUA

LIMBO

Perocchè gente di molto valore Conobbi che in quel Limbo eran sospesi.

I

It may seem curious to begin with Dante and pass on to the Children's Rabbits' House; but I require both to explain what it is I mean by Limbo; no such easy matter on trying. For this discourse is not about the Pious Pagans whom the poet found in honourable confinement at the Gate of Hell, nor of their neighbours the Unchristened Babies; but I am glad of Dante's authority for the existence of a place holding such creatures as have just missed a necessary rite, or come too soon for thorough salvation. And I am glad, moreover, that the poet has insisted on the importance "gente di molto valore" of the beings thus enclosed; because it is just with the superior quality of the things in what I mean by Limbo that we are peculiarly concerned.

And now for the other half of my preliminary illustration of the subject, to wit, the Children's Rabbits' House. The little gardens which the children played at cultivating have long since disappeared, taken insensibly back into that corner of the formal but slackly kept garden which looks towards the steep hill dotted with cows and sheep. But in that corner, behind the shapeless Portugal laurels and the patches of seeding grass, there still remains, beneath big trees, what the children used to call the "Rabbits' Villa." 'Tis merely a wooden toy house, with green moss eaten roof, standing, like the lake dwellings of prehistoric times, on wooden posts, with the tall foxgloves, crimson and white, growing all round it. There is something ludicrous in this superannuated toy, this Noah's ark on stilts among the grass and bushes; but when you look into the thing, finding the empty plates and cups "for having tea with the rabbits," and when you look into it spiritually also, it grows oddly pathetic. We walked up and down between the high hornbeam hedges, the sunlight lying low on the armies of tall daisies and seeding grasses, and falling in narrow glints among the white boles and hanging boughs of the beeches, where the wooden benches stand unused in the deep grass, and the old swing hangs crazily crooked. Yes, the Rabbits' Villa and the surrounding overgrown beds are quite pathetic. Is it because they are, in a way, the graves of children long dead, as dead despite the grown up folk who may come and say "It was I" as the rabbits and guinea pigs with whom they once had tea? That is it; and that explains my meaning: the Rabbits' Villa is, to the eye of the initiate, one of many little branch establishments of Limbo surrounding us on all sides. Another poet, more versed in similar matters than Dante (one feels sure that Dante knew his own mind, and always had his own way, even when exiled), Rossetti, in a sonnet, has given us the terrible little speech which would issue from the small Limbos of this kind:

Look in my face: My name is Might have been .

II

Of all the things that Limbo might contain, there is one about which some persons, very notably Churchyard Gray, have led us into error. I do not believe there is much genius to be found in Limbo. The world, although it takes a lot of dunning, offers a fair price for this article, which it requires as much as water power and coal, nay even as much as food and clothes (bread for its soul and raiment for its thought); so that what genius there is will surely be brought into market. But even were it wholly otherwise, genius, like murder, would out ; for genius is one of the liveliest forces of nature; not to be quelled or quenched, adaptable, protean, expansive, nay explosive; of all things in the world the most able to take care of itself; which accounts for so much public expenditure to foster and encourage it: foster the sun's chemistry, the force of gravitation, encourage atomic affinity and natural selection, magnificent Mæcenas and judicious Parliamentary Board, they are sure to do you credit!

Hence, to my mind, there are no mute inglorious Miltons , or none worth taking into account... Continue reading book >>




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