Date of this Version
It is a commonplace to say that the nations of the north have seen in Italy from the first the home of romance, the pleasure-place of the imagination. And they have always delighted to heighten her effects. From Chaucer to Walter Pater she has been ever the land of mystery and tragedy, of soft lascivious manners and gorgeous crimes, of a deep magical melancholy which has laid a spell upon the northern mind-a spell, however, which that mind itself and its tastes have largely created. The deep racial differences have fascinated the Teutonic imagination, which in turn has exaggerated them; and they have done for the Italian temperament, in our fancy, what the Tuscan cypress does for the grave Italian landscape, given it that touch of strangeness added to beauty which for Pater's mind constituted the romantic. But to think thus of Italy is to deal in a kind of pathetic fallacy. Italy is not romantic in her own view; in her own view she is classic, wholly and unescapably. Her mystic landscape is the same that Virgil and Horace celebrated without a hint of mysticism; Pliny had a villa on Lake Como, Catullus one at Garda; everywhere the antique world underlies the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Italy was classic before ever romanticism was invented, and classic she remains.