From The Bibelot, A Reprint of Poetry and Prose for Book Lovers, chosen in part from scarce editions and sources not generally known, Volume X, Number VII, Testimonial Edition, Edited and Originally Published by Thomas B. Mosher, Portland, Maine; Wm. Wise & Co.; New York; 1904; pp. 193-6.
ON the same shelf that holds Earthwork out of Tuscany in its precious first edition, side by side with Belcaro, Euphorion, and Vernon Lee’s other essays on Eighteenth Century Italy, and, greatest of them all, the Renaissance Studies of Walter Pater, there is a later little book of impressions and opinions — Roses of Paestum.* In format and binding the nine essays making up this small octavo are quite as attractive to sight and touch as Earthwork and, presumably, quite as limited as to the number of copies issued.
To discover for oneself and then serve as torchbearer and transmitter of the message is, as our readers scarce need telling, the motif underlying all our efforts in bringing to light the sometime submerged beauties of literature. Far and forgot or near and unacknowledged — whatever has failed of general recognition we have ever held as the special province of The Bibelot to resow and re-illumine.
The title-essay of the book here reprinted (in the hope that the book itself will get to be more widely known and sought after,) opens with a delicate blending of fact-and-fable which presently becomes exquisitely allegorical in its treatment of the deathless Greek roses transplanted oversea into Italian flower gardens. Thenceforth the stream of thought widens and we are bid behold a second flowering of Beauty — that marvellous reincarnation of the antique world of Art which came into life when the actual roses of Paestum had ages ago faded “from Paestan rosaries,” and with their lovers of old time and the city of their delight was only a muted memory in the minds of men.
Thus the ever-living Rose emerges as a type of ever-living Art, and the glory of the rose-gardens of old Paestum is changed as the centuries come and go into the still rarer and stranger glories of Niccola Pisano, thence onward through a long line of unwearied craftsmen, culminating in a rain of roses as seen in The Birth of Venus: summed up, indeed, as our essayist makes manifest, in this Sandro Botticelli who, supreme artist that he was, standing neither for Christ nor for Apollo, “could in a manner paint both Aphrodite and the Madonna.”
For us, and, as we believe for others, such rehandling of “Eternal Beauty wandering on her way” has seldom been ours to set forth and share. Of the aftermath we may be minded to garner again some day.
* Roses of Paestum by Edward McCurdy. London: George Allen, 156 Charing Cross Road, 1900. [All rights reserved.] Fcap 8vo. Pp. viii+200.