4 MARCH 1905, Page 22

They are all much of the same length : sometimes

it seems right and enough ; sometimes, and much oftener, one resents it and begs for more ; it seems as if there must be more to be said on this subject or the other, in the writer's charming way. She herself calls the new book a "rag-bag of impressions," offering it to a friend whose work is in the " bleak and black North." It is indeed a bag full of "sunshine and romance," and other delightful things too, and coming into the world before the foggy Christmas week of 1904, it must have cheered many depressed souls through the darkest hours of an English winter.

One of the best features of "Vernon Lee's" mind and work is her cosmopolitan wideness of sympathy. Knowing Italy far better than many people who write about it with greater airs of intimacy, she is yet able to find her enchanted woods, her cities of romance, her nymph-haunted springs and streams, in many another country. She has, in fact, a poet's mind. We find in her—and it is a rare discovery—something of the spirit of Keats ; the eyes that see their way, though

"Here there is no light

Savo what from heaven is with the breezes blown Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways :"

the ears that hear the song of no living bird,—

" The same that oft-times bath Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn."

This touch of enchantment is most vividly felt in the essay that gives its name to the book. That wood, that river, and

that house may be anywhere, in any country—in France, Italy, Germany, England, or Ireland, that is—for we need not wander over the whole earth's surface to find them : "Vernon Lee" would not deny that they belong to an old civilisation.

She travels, as in a former delightful little book, with one intention : the pursuit of that genius of places who requires little enough seeking by those who are worthy to find him.

This is her experience, taken from the essay which gives the name and sets the note for the rest of the book :—

" We need undertake no voyages of discovery to meet the Genius Loci. There is a presiding spirit, an oread, in every venerable and well-grown tree, overtopping the forest or lonely upon the ploughed ridges ; a naiad in every well-head, among the trickling cress and the mossy stones; nay, in every cistern of fair masonry and pure beryl water open to the sky, where watering-cans are filled of evenings. And as to enchanted woods, why, they lie in many parks and girdle many cities ; only you must know them when you see them, and ,unit willingly to their beneficent magic. Thus we enrich our life, not by the making of far-fetched plans, nor by the seeking of change and gain; but by the faithful putting to profit of what is within our grasp."

The grasp of a few of us ; for the spirit of places shows his hidden shrines only to those who are born with clear eyes to • The Enchanted Woods. and other Essays on the Genius of Places. By Vernon Lee. London: John Lane. L3s. Ca net.]

It would not be easy, for those who love these things, to spend a happier hour than in following "Vernon Lee" in her pilgrimage through the open and hidden ways where, without any noisy calling, the Genius Loci meets her. In Italy, of course, at every time of year; at Pisa, Ravenna, Venice;

among Tuscan churches in summer, the time when so few people know Italy at all; in the last fir-woods of the Apen-

nines, the last forests remaining in that ill-treated land;

walking by the streams of the Maremma, or in the ilex woods of -Umbria, or among the Euganean Hills, with their sweet

inhabited valleys, near Padua; everywhere, we repeat, she sees what Keats might have seen. And her remarks contain much more than empty fancy and personal enjoyment; she sees, but she also thinks, and so the book is worth reading for

its wisdom as well as its beauty. This, on the lost forests of Italy, is the sort of thing that a country may well lay to heart :— " There remain, in southernmost Tuscany and Umbria, whole hillsides of scrub which was once a marvellous forest of ilex ; oak-woods have been as common all over the peninsula as in England; the tall trees of the inextricable Maremma jungle have been cut down within the memory of man; and there yet remains along. the Adriatic, and even the Mediterranean, the marvellous fairy-land of the great pinetas. But everywhere the wooded parts of Italy have dwindled. Heaven knows when the mischief began. It is a story of greed and wastefulness, for the clearings needful to make a country inhabitable and fertile must have been accomplished thousands of years ago, and all since then been mere destruction. A history of it, could it be written, would be instructive. It would, I imagine, be found that the destruction of the forests of Italy kept pace with the decline of Italy's commerce and industry, idle and impoverished nobles turning everything they could to ready money ; and the crushing taxation which has been the price of national inde- pendence sweeping away the last vestiges of woodland. The division of property following the French Revolution, and the sudden demand for cash resulting from the wars of Napoleon, is one of the chief incidents of the tragedy. The big trees of the Maremma were cut down and burnt for potash just at that period ; and, so far as I can make out, the fir-woods of the high Apennines, wherever they were private property, disappeared about the same time. Things have happened under our very eyes : the haunted forest of the Montello, in the province of Treviso, whence the Venetian arsenal had got the oakwood for its galleys, was cut down to the last tree about twenty years ago."

On all this it follows that mountain towns such as Fiumalbo, built in a ravine of the Apennines, safe and prosperous in the

days of the Crusades and long afterwards, are now, in con- sequence of the disappearance of the forests, subject to periodical devastation by flooded streams. In such ways as these the genius of places may well be driven away, for he does not love utilitarianism or money-making. It seems, too,

that he is not so easy to find, even by "Vernon Lee," in a motor-car, and that a kodak is his enemy. He was almost seared away on one occasion from the "green valleys, incredibly romantic," below Asolo :— "Certain it is that what remains clearest in this day's recollections, rather than the landscapes we whirled into and out of, were the faces, enviously gaping or angry, of the people we scattered along the road. It is not good, I am afraid, dear friends, to scatter people along roads and cover them with the dust of our wheels ; there is a corresponding scattering of our soul, and a covering of it with dust."

Italy by no means usurps the book. The Genius Loci is sought and found in France—often with a special delightful-

ness—and in Switzerland, Germany, Spain ; once, and here the motor-car meets with more favour, in Surrey. "No rapidity of movement can discount the slow, poetic prose of

this dear country." But there is no concealing the fact that "Vernon Lee" chases her Genius more happily in what we call foreign countries. She has an extraordinary understanding of the delicate, half-ancient charm of France ; her former book on the same subject proved this. One of the most characteristic essays in the whole book is that on Brive-la-

Gaillarde, a town whioh in the seventeenth century may have deserved its surname better than it does now. "Vernon Lee's" faultless instinct led her to thoughts of "Le Capitaine Fracasse " and "Lea Trois Mousquetaires." There is a tale

of those days concerning the eccentric Marechal de Saint- Luc, who, posting through Brive, stopped for refreshments at an inn, possibly still standing among the old houses there. The innkeeper had three pretty daughters. The Marshal dismounted, and abodo three days at that inn, saying that he

could never be tired of eating pigeons which those "divines mains" had stuffed ! Old French towns are seldom without some such gaillardes memories, but it is perhaps in old French forests that the Genius Loci tells the most romantic tales ; or else, indeed, in certain streets and quays on the left bank of the Seine, the "only real Paris" to others besides "Vernon Lee."