The Marble Faun Volume 1 (Chapter 1)

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Chapter 1

Four individuals, in whose fortunes we should be glad to interest
the reader, happened to be standing in one of the saloons of the
sculpture-gallery in the Capitol at Rome. It was that room (the first,
after ascending the staircase) in the centre of which reclines the noble
and most pathetic figure of the Dying Gladiator, just sinking into his
death-swoon. Around the walls stand the Antinous, the Amazon, the Lycian
Apollo, the Juno; all famous productions of antique sculpture, and still
shining in the undiminished majesty and beauty of their ideal life,
although the marble that embodies them is yellow with time, and perhaps
corroded by the damp earth in which they lay buried for centuries. Here,
likewise, is seen a symbol (as apt at this moment as it was two thousand
years ago) of the Human Soul, with its choice of Innocence or Evil close
at hand, in the pretty figure of a child, clasping a dove to her bosom,
but assaulted by a snake.

From one of the windows of this saloon, we may see a flight of broad
stone steps, descending alongside the antique and massive foundation of
the Capitol, towards the battered triumphal arch of Septimius Severus,
right below. Farther on, the eye skirts along the edge of the desolate
Forum (where Roman washerwomen hang out their linen to the sun), passing
over a shapeless confusion of modern edifices, piled rudely up with
ancient brick and stone, and over the domes of Christian churches,
built on the old pavements of heathen temples, and supported by the very
pillars that once upheld them. At a distance beyond--yet but a little
way, considering how much history is heaped into the intervening
space--rises the great sweep of the Coliseum, with the blue sky
brightening through its upper tier of arches. Far off, the view is shut
in by the Alban Mountains, looking just the same, amid all this decay
and change, as when Romulus gazed thitherward over his half finished

We glance hastily at these things,--at this bright sky, and those
blue distant mountains, and at the ruins, Etruscan, Roman, Christian,
venerable with a threefold antiquity, and at the company of world-famous
statues in the saloon,--in the hope of putting the reader into that
state of feeling which is experienced oftenest at Rome. It is a vague
sense of ponderous remembrances; a perception of such weight and density
in a bygone life, of which this spot was the centre, that the present
moment is pressed down or crowded out, and our individual affairs and
interests are but half as real here as elsewhere. Viewed through this
medium, our narrative--into which are woven some airy and unsubstantial
threads, intermixed with others, twisted out of the commonest stuff of
human existence--may seem not widely different from the texture of all
our lives.

Side by side with the massiveness of the Roman Past, all matters that we
handle or dream of nowadays look evanescent and visionary alike.

It might be that the four persons whom we are seeking to introduce were
conscious of this dreamy character of the present, as compared with the
square blocks of granite wherewith the Romans built their lives. Perhaps
it even contributed to the fanciful merriment which was just now their
mood. When we find ourselves fading into shadows and unrealities, it
seems hardly worth while to be sad, but rather to laugh as gayly as we
may, and ask little reason wherefore.

Of these four friends of ours, three were artists, or connected with
art; and, at this moment, they had been simultaneously struck by a
resemblance between one of the antique statues, a well-known masterpiece
of Grecian sculpture, and a young Italian, the fourth member of their

"You must needs confess, Kenyon," said a dark-eyed young woman, whom
her friends called Miriam, "that you never chiselled out of marble, nor
wrought in clay, a more vivid likeness than this, cunning a bust-maker
as you think yourself. The portraiture is perfect in character,
sentiment, and feature. If it were a picture, the resemblance might be
half illusive and imaginary; but here, in this Pentelic marble, it is a
substantial fact, and may be tested by absolute touch and measurement.
Our friend Donatello is the very Faun of Praxiteles. Is it not true,

"Not quite--almost--yes, I really think so," replied Hilda, a slender,
brown-haired, New England girl, whose perceptions of form and expression
were wonderfully clear and delicate. "If there is any difference between
the two faces, the reason may be, I suppose, that the Faun dwelt in
woods and fields, and consorted with his like; whereas Donatello has
known cities a little, and such people as ourselves. But the resemblance
is very close, and very strange."

"Not so strange," whispered Miriam mischievously; "for no Faun in
Arcadia was ever a greater simpleton than Donatello. He has hardly a
man's share of wit, small as that may be. It is a pity there are no
longer any of this congenial race of rustic creatures for our friend to
consort with!"

"Hush, naughty one!" returned Hilda. "You are very ungrateful, for you
well know he has wit enough to worship you, at all events."

"Then the greater fool he!" said Miriam so bitterly that Hilda's quiet
eyes were somewhat startled.

"Donatello, my dear friend," said Kenyon, in Italian, "pray gratify us
all by taking the exact attitude of this statue."

The young man laughed, and threw himself into the position in which
the statue has been standing for two or three thousand years. In truth,
allowing for the difference of costume, and if a lion's skin could have
been substituted for his modern talma, and a rustic pipe for his stick,
Donatello might have figured perfectly as the marble Faun, miraculously
softened into flesh and blood.

"Yes; the resemblance is wonderful," observed Kenyon, after examining
the marble and the man with the accuracy of a sculptor's eye. "There
is one point, however, or, rather, two points, in respect to which our
friend Donatello's abundant curls will not permit us to say whether the
likeness is carried into minute detail."

And the sculptor directed the attention of the party to the ears of the
beautiful statue which they were contemplating.

But we must do more than merely refer to this exquisite work of art; it
must be described, however inadequate may be the effort to express its
magic peculiarity in words.

The Faun is the marble image of a young man, leaning his right arm on
the trunk or stump of a tree; one hand hangs carelessly by his side;
in the other he holds the fragment of a pipe, or some such sylvan
instrument of music. His only garment--a lion's skin, with the claws
upon his shoulder--falls halfway down his back, leaving the limbs
and entire front of the figure nude. The form, thus displayed, is
marvellously graceful, but has a fuller and more rounded outline, more
flesh, and less of heroic muscle, than the old sculptors were wont to
assign to their types of masculine beauty. The character of the face
corresponds with the figure; it is most agreeable in outline and
feature, but rounded and somewhat voluptuously developed, especially
about the throat and chin; the nose is almost straight, but very
slightly curves inward, thereby acquiring an indescribable charm of
geniality and humor. The mouth, with its full yet delicate lips, seems
so nearly to smile outright, that it calls forth a responsive smile. The
whole statue--unlike anything else that ever was wrought in that severe
material of marble--conveys the idea of an amiable and sensual creature,
easy, mirthful, apt for jollity, yet not incapable of being touched
by pathos. It is impossible to gaze long at this stone image without
conceiving a kindly sentiment towards it, as if its substance were warm
to the touch, and imbued with actual life. It comes very close to some
of our pleasantest sympathies.

Perhaps it is the very lack of moral severity, of any high and heroic
ingredient in the character of the Faun, that makes it so delightful an
object to the human eye and to the frailty of the human heart. The being
here represented is endowed with no principle of virtue, and would be
incapable of comprehending such; but he would be true and honest by dint
of his simplicity. We should expect from him no sacrifice or effort for
an abstract cause; there is not an atom of martyr's stuff in all that
softened marble; but he has a capacity for strong and warm attachment,
and might act devotedly through its impulse, and even die for it at
need. It is possible, too, that the Faun might be educated through the
medium of his emotions, so that the coarser animal portion of his nature
might eventually be thrown into the background, though never utterly

The animal nature, indeed, is a most essential part of the Faun's
composition; for the characteristics of the brute creation meet and
combine with those of humanity in this strange yet true and natural
conception of antique poetry and art. Praxiteles has subtly diffused
throughout his work that mute mystery, which so hopelessly perplexes us
whenever we attempt to gain an intellectual or sympathetic knowledge of
the lower orders of creation. The riddle is indicated, however, only by
two definite signs: these are the two ears of the Faun, which are leaf
shaped, terminating in little peaks, like those of some species of
animals. Though not so seen in the marble, they are probably to be
considered as clothed in fine, downy fur. In the coarser representations
of this class of mythological creatures, there is another token of brute
kindred,--a certain caudal appendage; which, if the Faun of Praxiteles
must be supposed to possess it at all, is hidden by the lion's skin that
forms his garment. The pointed and furry ears, therefore, are the sole
indications of his wild, forest nature.

Only a sculptor of the finest imagination, the most delicate taste, the
sweetest feeling, and the rarest artistic skill--in a word, a sculptor
and a poet too--could have first dreamed of a Faun in this guise, and
then have succeeded in imprisoning the sportive and frisky thing in
marble. Neither man nor animal, and yet no monster, but a being in whom
both races meet on friendly ground. The idea grows coarse as we handle
it, and hardens in our grasp. But, if the spectator broods long over
the statue, he will be conscious of its spell; all the pleasantness of
sylvan life, all the genial and happy characteristics of creatures that
dwell in woods and fields, will seem to be mingled and kneaded into one
substance, along with the kindred qualities in the human soul. Trees,
grass, flowers, woodland streamlets, cattle, deer, and unsophisticated
man. The essence of all these was compressed long ago, and still exists,
within that discolored marble surface of the Faun of Praxiteles.

And, after all, the idea may have been no dream, but rather a poet's
reminiscence of a period when man's affinity with nature was more
strict, and his fellowship with every living thing more intimate and

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