Page 6, 15th September 1950

15th September 1950
Page 6
Page 6, 15th September 1950 — THE WEARINESS of the NORTH

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Organisations: Society of Dilettanti


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MR. Michael Swan was much impressed when an American lady student in Florence remarked . "J'ai la fatigue du nord," and adds ; "I shall always remember her by those words."

He might have been less impressed if he had known that this brilliant phrase was a quotation from Madame de Stael.

It was indeed this "weariness of the north" which in times past brought the Goths to the gates of Italy, and beyond to Mailand, "the land of May." It was the same longing for the south which sent the young author ot this attractive book* on a six months' sojourn in southern France and Italy: Avignon, Nimes, Venice, Vicenza, Florence, Rome and Naples.

Mr. Swan has a genuine gift for evoking the very look and feel of the places which he has visited, and to me his book has provided a series of pegs on which I could hang my own memories.

He has also an attractive gift of characterisation. I enjoyed the chapter on Somerset Maugham whom he met on this journey, and only wish that he had given us a little more of Max Beerbohm.

I do not, however, think that his unnamed hostess, the central figure in an entertaining chapter, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," will be mollified by his gift for characterisation, but Mr. Swan ought to quote Mr. Beverley Nicholls' defence of "There are no manners in art. There

is only style. It is possible to be a gentleman on Monday and a cad on Tuesday. The finest artists are cads all the time."

I particularly enjoyed "An Anatomy of Palladianism," which has a special appeal to that small minority of intelligent travellers who do not rush through Vicenza on their way to Venice but spend a few days in this charming city in which the ghost of Palladio still lingers. It is not generally realised that Palladio's influence on English atchitecture coincided with what may be called the Roman Renaissance, which was fading out somewhere about 1760.

Mr. Swan does well to remind us of the distinction between the Roman and Renaissance. In 1760 the Society of Dilettanti ''sent Stuart and Revett to Athens for five years, and the results of their measuring and drawing were published in their celebrated book, The Antiquities of Athens.

"This book and the translation of Winckelmann's Thoughts on the Imitation of the Works of the Greeks, which appeared in 1765, had an effect on taste as great as Leoni's translation of Palladio's treatise or the early books of Ruskin.

The battle between the Greek and Roman styles was joined, and the cries of the English PaIladians formed only part of the general defence of the civilisation of Rome. Till then. in truly eighteenth century fashion, the civilisation of Greece had been praised in theory, but in practice ignored . . . So often we today think of the eighteenth century as classical. as if Roman and Greek were interchangeable; but to the late eighteenth century man of taste the Greek style was not calm and pure and classical; it was romantic, wild and strange, sublime in the sense of Longinus and Burke—so that in classicism we may see the adumbrations of the Romantic Revival."

He is biased against Ruskin. but would probably agree that architecture has inspired only two masterpieces of English literature. Ruskin's chapter on the Nature of Gothic and Geoffrey Scott's Architecture of Humanism.

Scott, according to Mr. Swan. demolished Ruskin's "ethical fallacy". hut it was Geoffrey Scott and not Ruskin who wrote: "The nobilite in fife we call moral is itself aesthetic. There is the true analogy between ethical and aesthetic values. The dienity of architecture is the same dignity which we recognize in character."

The book is admirably illustrated, and we shall await with interest Mr. Swan's forthcoming book, Pour Studies.

* flex and Olive. by Michel Swan. (Home and Van Thai. 16s.).

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