This was to have gone by a private hand, but cannot depart till Monday; so I may be continuing my letter till I bring it myself. I have been again at the Chartreuse; and though it was the sixth time, I am more enchanted with those paintings(52) than ever. If it is not the first work in the world, and must yield to the Vatican, yet in simplicity and harmony it beats Raphael himself. There is a vapour over all the pictures, that makes them more natural than any representation of objects-1 cannot conceive bow it is effected! You see them through the shine of a southeast wind. These poor folks do not know the inestimable treasure they possess—but they are perishing these pictures, and one gazes at them as at a setting sun. There is the purity of a Racine in them, but they give me more pleasure--and I should much sooner be tired of the poet than of the painter.
It is very singular that I have not half the satisfaction in going into C, churches and convents that I used to have. The consciousness that the vision is dispelled, the want of fervour so obvious in the religious, the solitude that one knows proceeds from contempt, not from contemplation, make those places appear like abandoned theatres destined to destruction. The monks trot about as if they had not long to stay there; and what used to be the holy gloom is now but dirt and darkness. There is no more deception than in a tragedy acted by candlesnuffers. One is sorry to think that an empire of common sense would not be very picturesque; for, as there is nothing but taste that can compensate for the imagination of madness, I doubt there will never be twenty men of taste for twenty thousand madmen. The world will no more see Athens, Rome, and the Medici again, than a succession of five good emperors, like Nerva, Trajan, Adrian, and the two Antonines.
Mr. Edmonson called on me; and, as he sets on to-morrow, I can safely trust my letter to him. I have, I own,, been much shocked at reading Gray’s(53) death in the papers. ’Tis an hour that makes one forget any subject of complaint, especially towards one with whom I lived in friendship from thirteen years old. As self lies so rooted in self, no doubt the nearness of our ages made the stroke recoil to my own breast; and having so little expected his death, it is Plain how little I expect my own. Yet to you, who of all men living are the most forgiving, I need not excuse the concern I feel. I fear most men ought to apologize for their want of feeling, instead of palliating that sensation when they have it. I thought that what I had seen of the world had hardened my heart; but I find that it had formed my language, not extinguished my tenderness. In short, I am really shocked—nay, I am hurt at my own weakness, as I perceive that when I love any body, it is for my life; and I have had too Much reason not to wish that such a disposition may very seldom be put to the trial.(54) You, at least, are the only person to whom I would venture to make such a confession.