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THERE are always Americas to be discovered: the most interesting in Europe.
I can lay no claim to having discovered an America, but I do claim to have discovered a Columbus. His name is Benedetto Croce, and he dwells on the shores of the Mediterranean, at Naples, city of the antique Parthenope.
Croce's America cannot be expressed in geographical terms. It is more important than any space of mountain and river, of forest and dale. It belongs to the kingdom of the spirit, and has many provinces. That province which most interests me, I have striven in the following pages to annex to the possessions of the Anglo-Saxon race; an act which cannot be blamed as predatory, since it may be said of philosophy more truly than of love, that “to divide is not to take away."
The Historical Summary will show how many a brave adventurer has navigated the perilous seas of speculation upon Art, how Aristotle's marvellous insight gave him glimpses of its beauty, how Plato threw away its golden fruit, how Baumgarten sounded the depth of its waters, Kant sailed along its coast without landing, and Vico hoisted the Italian flag upon its shore.
But Benedetto Croce has been the first thoroughly to explore it, cutting his way inland through the tangled undergrowth of imperfect thought. He has measured its length and breadth, marked out and described its spiritual features with minute accuracy. The country thus won to philosophy will always bear his name, Estetica di Croce, a new America.
It was at Naples, in the winter of 1907, that I first saw the Philosopher of Esthetic. Benedetto Croce, although born in the Abruzzi, Province of Aquila (1866), is essentially a Neapolitan, and rarely remains long absent from the city, on the shore of that magical sea, where once Ulysses sailed, and where sometimes yet (near Amalfi) we may hear the Syrens sing their song. But more wonderful than the song of any Syren seems to me the Theory of Esthetic as the Science of Expression, and that is why I have overcome the obstacles that stood between me and the giving of this theory, which in my belief is the truth, to the English-speaking world.
No one could have been further removed than myself, as I turned over at Naples the pages of La Critica, from any idea that I was nearing the solution of the problem of Art. All my youth it had haunted me. As an undergraduate at Oxford I had caught the exquisite cadence of Walter Pater's speech, as it came from his very lips, or rose like the perfume of some exotic flower from the ribbed pages of the Renaissance.
Seeming to solve the riddle of the Sphinx, he solved it not-only delighted with pure pleasure of poetry and of subtle thought as he led one along the pathways of his Enchanted Garden, where I shall always love to tread.
Oscar Wilde, too, I had often heard at his best, the most brilliant talker of our time, his wit flashing in the spring sunlight of Oxford luncheon-parties as now in his beautiful writings, like the jewelled rapier of Mercutio. But his works, too, will be searched in vain by the seeker after definite æsthetic truth.
With A. C. Swinburne I had sat and watched the lava that yet flowed from those lips that were kissed in youth by all the Muses. Neither from him nor from J. M. Whistler's brilliant aphorisms on art could be gathered anything more than the exquisite pleasure of the moment: the μονοχρονὸς ἡδονή. Of the great pedagogues, I had known, but never sat at the feet of Jowett, whom I found far less inspiring than any of the great men above mentioned. Among the dead,
I had studied Herbert Spencer and Matthew Arnold, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Guyau: I had conversed with that living Neo-Latin, Anatole France, the modern Rousseau, and had enjoyed the marvellous irony and eloquence of his writings, which, while they delight the society in which he lives, may well be one of the causes that lead to its eventual destruction.
The solution of the problem of Esthetic is not in the gift of the Muses.
To return to Naples.
As I looked over those pages of the bound volumes of La Critica I soon became aware that I was in the presence of a mind far above the ordinary level of literary criticism. The profound studies of Carducci, of d'Annunzio, and of Pascoli (to name but three), in which those writers passed before me in all their strength and in all their weakness, led me to devote several days to the Critica. At the end of that time I was convinced that I had made a
discovery, and wrote to the philosopher, who owns and edits that journal.
In response to his invitation, I made my way, on a sunny day in November, past the little shops of the coral-vendors that surround, like a necklace, the Rione de la Bellezza, and wound zigzag along the over-crowded Toledo. I knew that Signor Croce lived in the old part of the town, but had hardly anticipated so remarkable a change as I experienced on passing beneath the great archway and finding myself in old Naples. This has already been described elsewhere, and I will not here dilate upon this world within a world, having so much of greater interest to tell in a brief space. I will merely say that the costumes here seemed more picturesque, the dark eyes flashed more dangerously than elsewhere, there was a quaint life, an animation about the streets, different from anything I had known before. As I climbed the lofty stone steps of the Palazzo to the floor where dwells the philosopher of Esthetic I felt as though I had stumbled into the eighteenth century and were calling on Giambattista Vico. After a brief inspection by a young man with the appearance of a secretary, I was told that I was expected, and admitted into a small room opening out of the hall. Thence, after a few moments' waiting, I was led into a much larger room. The walls were lined all round with bookcases, barred and numbered, filled with volumes forming part of the philosopher's great library. I had not long to wait. A door opened behind me on my left, and a rather short, thick-set man advanced to greet me, and pronouncing my name at the same time with a slight foreign accent, asked me to be seated beside him. After the interchange of a few