14 OCTOBER 1876, Page 21

THE CITIES OF ITALY.* THE task which Mr. Hare has

attempted to perform is one of peculiar difficulty. Not only is the subject of his book a very wide one, but it is crowded with minute and varied details. And besides this, so many works have been written about Italy, that a critical public is sure to make very special demands upon any writer who publishes another record of Italian travel. He must be exact, yet not dull ; he must discover and describe unrecog- nised beauties, without forgetting those that are familiar ; he must appreciate without prejudice schools of painting and of architecture of very divergent character. He must be no stranger to local archeological lore ; he must search out the quaint and the picturesque ; he must give here and there some fresh touches of human interest to the pictures which he draws. Our ideal author may be well fitted for his task by breadth of culture and by appreciative intelligence, but he can scarcely fail to be per- plexed and alarmed by his very knowledge of what has been written before on the same subject, and of the large undescribed residue which remains.

We acknowledge that the volumes before us are something more and something better than mere guide-books. If they do not attain quite as high a standard of excellence as we could wish, the reason is not far to seek. The method of book-construction which Mr. Hare adopts in the present instance, as in previous cases, is, at all

• The Cities of Italy. By Augustus J. 0. Hare. London : DwIdy, Isbister, and Co.

events, not favourable to unity of design and completeness of treat- ment. His extracts from Ruskin, Freeman, Street, and other writers on Italian art, history, and literature, however well chosen, how- ever interesting, make up at the beat a disjointed structure,—a picture of scattered lights and colours. Nor is Mr. Hare's setting of these fragments always satisfactory. Over and over again, as we turn over the pages where his own views and opinions are expressed, do we meet with vain and weak regrets for the vanished petty sovereignties of a divided Italy. Why should the quiet reader be constantly bored by foolish stories of how the people of Ravenna were driven at the point of the bayonet to vote for union with the new kingdom ? When we want to rejoice over the glories of Florence, why should we be told that the new Government is to blame for the heavier burdens now borne by the inhabitants of that fair city? We expect that when Mr. hare proceeds to describe the southern cities of the peninsula, his indignation against the Sardinian rule will become still more extravagant. Should some peculiarly disastrous eruption of Vesuvius occur, it is to be hoped that our author will not go so far as to intimate that such a catastrophe could not have happened under the mild and paternal regime of the Bourbons ! But we will make an end of our complainings here, lest the commendable features of Mr. Hare's work be too much over-shadowed.

Our author knows and loves the nooks and corners of the northern Italian cities. He finds out for himself the picturesque spots where art and nature have produced by mutual aid their love- liest effects. So he gives us a series of charming vignettes, the pro- ductions of his own pencil,—now a snow-crowned mountain summit closing up the vista of a village Street; now a foaming torrent rushing past the vineyards of the valley and the scattered cottages of the hill-side; now a dark orange-grove and white-walled palace reflected in the mirror of a quiet lake or broad canal. But Mr. Hare's volumes are occupied to a very notable degree with the architecture and painting of Italy. The monastery with its frescoes, the basilica with its mosaics, the campanile, the dome, the palace, these are described with an appreciative pen. To collections of pictures much space is devoted, lists of the most important works in the several museums and galleries being duly displayed and clearly annotated, wherever necessary, throughout the three volumes of the work before us. Telling passages, mainly culled from other authors, describe many an episode in the life of painter, architect, or statesman. Nor does Mr. Hare disdain to treat of humbler topics. He gives us railway fares, coach-hire ; he tells 118 how to reach obscure monasteries and out-of-the-way churches and castles ; he recommends one inn, and emphatically condemns another.

The cities of northern and central Italy only are included in the present series of volumes. Rome and its neighbourhood have been previously described in two other works by the same author, but there still remains in the south a large field for Mr. Hare's skill. The first volume treats of the Rivieras, Piedmont, and Lombardy ; the second, of Venetia, Parma, the Emilia, the Marches, and northern Tuscany ; the third, of Florence, Siena, and other towns of Tuscany and Umbria. Mr. Hare has made himself familiar with the most precious monuments of Italian art by lengthened periods of residence in their midst. His accounts of scenery and travelling are obviously inspired, in the majority of instances, by a personal and even intimate acquaintance with the localities described. He gives us information and guidance not to be obtained at all elsewhere, or at least, to be collected with difficulty. We do not wish to depreciate other and well-known guide-books, English and foreign, but even our invaluable " Murray " is old-fashioned in some parts, and occasionally passes from very prosaic prose into dull cataloguing and criticism of the

feebler sort. Still we cling to our " Murray " and our "Baedeker." For these can be carried about on our travels, these are crowded with useful and minute, yet still essential details. Mr. Hare's books are too luxuriously got-up ; the paper is too thick, the print too much spaced, and the margins too ample, for the daily and hourly use of the English- man in Italy. It would, perhaps, be worth the author's while to consider by what mechanical and literary processes of concentra- tion his work could be made more portable. We would counsel the adoption of a thinner paper and of a compacter mode of giving the numerous lists of pictures ; we cannot bring ourselves to spare the charming woodcuts which adorn his pages. The extracts from other authors might sometimes be omitted and sometimes shortened. Yet, to complete his task, Mr. Harewould have to add as well as to omit, indeed the conversion of his work into a sufficient guide to the places described would prove a htlxuious and perhaps ungrateful task. We refrain from making any quotations from Mr. Hare's Cities of Italy. All we need here add, in order to recommend these volumes, may be expressed in one sentence. if you have never been to Pisa, or Bologna, or Ravenna, or Florence, or Milan, or Venice, half-an-hour with our author will set you planning an Italian tour ; if you have seen something of the riches of these glorious cities, then a dip into Mr. Hare's book will make you long to know more about them.