In the year 1869, just before leaving
Venice, I had been carefully looking at a picture
by Victor Carpaccio, representing the dream of a young
princess. Carpaccio has taken much pains to explain
to us, as far as he can, the kind of life she leads,
by completely painting her little bedroom in the light
of dawn, so that you can see everything in it.
It is lighted by two doubly-arched windows, the arches
being painted crimson round their edges, and the capitals
of the shafts that bear them, gilded. They are
filled at the top with small round panes of glass;
but beneath, are open to the blue morning sky, with
a low lattice across them; and in the one at the back
of the room are set two beautiful white Greek vases
with a plant in each, one having rich dark and pointed
green leaves, the other crimson flowers, but not of
any species known to me, each at the end of a branch
like a spray of heath.
These flower-pots stand on a shelf
which runs all round the room and beneath the window,
at about the height of the elbow, and serves to put
things on anywhere; beneath it, down to the floor,
the walls are covered with green cloth, but above
are bare and white. The second window is nearly
opposite the bed, and in front of it is the princess’s
reading-table, some two feet and a half square, covered
by a red cloth with a white border and dainty fringe;
and beside it her seat, not at all like a reading-chair
in Oxford, but a very small three-legged stool like
a music-stool, covered with crimson cloth. On
the table are a book, set-up at a slope fittest for
reading, and an hour-glass. Under the shelf near
the table, so as to be easily reached by the outstretched
arm, is a press full of books. The door of this
has been left open, and the books, I am grieved to
say, are rather in disorder, having been pulled about
before the princess went to bed, and one left standing
on its side.
Opposite this window, on the white
wall, is a small shrine or picture (I can’t
see which, for it is in sharp retiring perspective),
with a lamp before it, and a silver vessel hung from
the lamp, looking like one for holding incense.
The bed is a broad four-poster, the
posts being beautifully wrought golden or gilded rods,
variously wreathed and branched, carrying a canopy
of warm red. The princess’s shield is at
the head of it, and the feet are raised entirely above
the floor of the room, on a dais which projects at
the lower end so as to form a seat, on which the child
has laid her crown. Her little blue slippers lie
at the side of the bed, her white dog beside them;
the coverlid is scarlet, the white sheet folded half
way back over it; the young girl lies straight, bending
neither at waist nor knee, the sheet rising and falling
over her in a narrow unbroken wave, like the shape
of the coverlid of the last sleep, when the turf scarcely
rises. She is some seventeen or eighteen years
old, her head is turned towards us on the pillow, the
cheek resting on her hand, as if she were thinking,
yet utterly calm in sleep, and almost colourless.
Her hair is tied with a narrow riband, and divided
into two wreaths, which encircle her head like a double
crown. The white nightgown hides the arm, raised
on the pillow, down to the wrist.
At the door of the room an angel enters
(the little dog, though lying awake, vigilant, takes
no notice). He is a very small angel; his head
just rises a little above the shelf round the room,
and would only reach as high as the princess’s
chin, if she were standing up. He has soft grey
wings, lustreless; and his dress, of subdued blue,
has violet sleeves, open above the elbow, and showing
white sleeves below. He comes in without haste,
his body like a mortal one, casting shadow from the
light through the door behind, his face perfectly quiet,
a palm-branch in his right hand, a scroll in his left.
So dreams the princess, with blessed
eyes that need no earthly dawn. It is very pretty
of Carpaccio to make her dream out the angel’s
dress so particularly, and notice the slashed sleeves;
and to dream so little an angel very nearly
a doll angel bringing her the branch of
palm and message. But the lovely characteristic
of all is the evident delight of her continual life.
Royal power over herself, and happiness in her flowers,
her books, her sleeping and waking, her prayers, her
dreams, her earth, her heaven.
“How do I know the princess is industrious?”
Partly by the trim state of her room by
the hour-glass on the table, by the evident use of
all the books she has (well bound, every one of them,
in stoutest leather or velvet, and with no dog’s-ears),
but more distinctly from another picture of her, not
asleep. In that one a prince of England has sent
to ask her in marriage; and her father, little liking
to part with her, sends for her to his room to ask
her what she would do. He sits, moody and sorrowful;
she, standing before him in a plain housewifely dress,
talks quietly, going on with her needle-work all the
A workwoman, friends, she, no less
than a princess; and princess most in being so.
In like manner is a picture by a Florentine, whose
mind I would fain have you know somewhat, as well
as Carpaccio’s Sandro Botticelli.
The girl who is to be the wife of Moses, when he first
sees her at the desert well, has fruit in her left
hand, but a distaff in her right.
“To do good work, whether you
live or die” it is the entrance to
all Princedoms; and if not done, the day will come,
and that infallibly, when you must labour for evil
instead of good.
Sunnyside, Orpington, Kent, 1872.