Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Herbert Horne (1855 - 1916)

An article from the long defunct Anglo - Italian Review, October 1918. Edited by Edward Hutton, an English  Italophile who wrote several Italian travel books and featuring articles by Nobel Prize winner Grazia Deledda, Norman Douglas & Benedetto Croce. This piece is by the novelist Reginal Turner and is an affectionate tribute to his friend Herbert Horne - art historian, art dealer, architect, typographer and Arts and Craft movement designer. The photo below is of him with his friend and colleague the architect  A.H. Mackmurdo (standing) and an older woman, possibly AHM's mother at a house ('Brooklyn') in Enfield. The story of Horne finding  two Michelangelo drawings for a penny each in the Fulham Road is hard to top...

HERBERT PERCY HORNE, who died in Florence
in May, 1916, belonged to the numerous band of
interesting Englishmen who made Italy their home,
and the memory of whose sojourns there does not
pass with their death. He did not found a family
there as did Walter Savage Landor. He took no
part in public life as did Waddington, who went
casually to Perugia and remained there to become
Syndic. It may even be said that to the majority
of Italians as to Englishmen his name was unknown.
He had an almost morbid love of retirement ;
those who knew him well could not but be amazed
at his slight suspicion--there is no other word-
of hospitality. Yet Herbert Horne was known to
a large circle which included some of the best-known
and ‘many of the most talked about of his contem-
poraries: most of them loved him, all of them
respected him, and he was recognised by them as one
of the most learned, one of the wisest, and one of the
most reliable men of his time.

Horne was indeed a “ character,” a very rare
personality, full of magnetism, yet lacking the
desire or the power of spreading it over a wide area.
It is seldom perhaps that a man of such a solid
reputation as he had among those who knew him
has been so little known to the general public, for
he .lived in an age when more things were known
about eminent people than they knew about them-
selves. He had to a peculiar extent the power to
“ pass in a crowd ” ; it was more peculiar in him that
he desired to do so; and the crowd remained quite
unaware of the stir he created among his friends
and those acquaintances with whom his learning
brought him in contact.

Textile design by Horne

He was grim, he was almost
sullen in manner until he thawed, and then he had
a very distinct and powerful charm. It may be
noted also, for those interested in psychology, that
in spite of his apparent detachment, his retiring,
almost monkish disposition, he was very pleased to
know "people,” and derived a real satisfaction from
the visits to his home of certain very eminent
Indeed one may this say in all reverence-
for it was a human touch in a nature not overflowing
with human weakness, and was,a source of as
much satisfaction as surprise to his friends.
What he was, wholly and altogether, was a scholar;
he had taken all knowledge to be his province, and
although Italian art was his "special subject"and he
was the first authority on it of his time, he had a
profound acquaintance with all kinds of learning.
His judgment on all subjects was of the soundest,
and hls political views and prophecies during the 
first year of the war more acute and accurate
than most of those writers who, undeterred by the 
obstinate way in which events prove them
wrong, week by week and month by month continue
undismayed to amuse us with their forecasts.

Herbert Horne was born in England in the year
1855, of parents whose fortunes had been derived
from and declined with the business of horse carriers.
At the age of seventeen his extraordinary precocity
had gained him the acquaintance, or at any rate
interest, of many of the most prominent men of
letters in England. His correspondence which
survives bears vivid witness of this. Nature one
may thlnk had designed him for a Don, or even, had
faith been added to his other graces, for an eminent
divine. He preferred to begin  his life as an architect
and, among other buildings, the little chapel in
Hyde Park Place is his work. Like himself there is
a great deal more in it than strikes the eye of the
man who passes it on the motor-bus. He wrote
poems, and published some of them in a little
volume entitled Diversi Colores, of which the
cover was drab and the contents not palpitating
but admirably correct both in workmanship and
feeling. He contributed learned articles tight
packed with accurate information and concentrated
criticism to many periodicals, and he started and
and 'ran' in conjunction with Mr. Selwyn Image
Hobby Horse, the type for which he designed.
In course of time he became the great authority on
Italian art, as sought after for his knowledge as
recognised for his integrity. But whatever nature
or himself intended him to be, passion comes some-
times into most men’s lives, and it came into the life
of Herbert Horne, and when it came - gradual
growth and not love at first sight-it came to stay
with him until the end. He became a collector.[START]

Let other collectors pronounce upon that passion '
Surely they would proclaim it to be the most enf
thralllng and most satisfying of them all. Moreover
it is a passion which as a rule keeps alive and
interests its victims. Even Horne, who died at the
early age of fifty-two, would have died years before
but for his flame, for he was attacked by a cruel
malady which he bore with a courage unsurpassed,
and even to the last never imagined that he was 
near his end.

From the moment his passion got the mastery of
him, his one desire, as becomes a prudent lover
was to find a home for it, a fitting home one which
would not only house the flame but be part of it
He was not the man to do things in a hurry; his was
the true scholar’s, the true collector’s nature.
He moved as if he had all time before him. He
was moreover a poor man, valuing money only in
so far as it fed his flame, and making it only for that
purpose: on himself and on others he spent nothing.
He was a very devout lover. In due time he
formed his desired home, although it took him seven
years to make it his own. It would have taken him
another seven years or more to fashion it to his
liking, but he had been installed in it little more
than a year when he died.

The home he found, and left with its contents to
Italy, was the Palazzo de’ Fossi in the Via de’ Benci,
which no doubt many English people will visit
after the war. It is a fifteenth-century house, but
in course of time it had been adapted to
modern usages. Herbert Horne soon put all that
right. It may surprise some people who like well-lit
rooms and plenty of them - who is there who does
not want one more room ? - to know that Horne’s
first steps were to knock four rooms into one and to
remove the electric light. But even Homer nods, and
let his weakness be confessed, though we hesitate
to speak ill of him. He did put in a bath, and-
alas! -an appliance for heating it. It was, however,
at the very top, next to a tiny sitting-room and
bedroom under the roof to which he had to climb
the many steps, keeping the rest of the Palace,
the huge lofty rooms of three iioors, for his collec-
tions. On the second floor was a room which he
used indeed more than any other, but which had for
'easy' furniture only a very battered armchair
which his faithful housekeeper begged in vain to be
allowed to 'cover.' This was the library, where,
together with many unreadable books, is an
interesting collection of modern works, surprisingly
wide in their interest, most of them presentation
copies from the authors. When in due time the
Palazzo is thrown open to the students and the
public for whose use the owner left it, there will be
many a visitor who will steal away from the more
austere furniture and works of art and the unreadable
books and furtively take down from its shelf a
volume of Swinburne, Mallock’s masterpiece, or the
'Works' of Max Beerbohm.
In that Palazzo is the life collection of Herbert
Horne, except such articles as he called 'rubbish'
and sold or exchanged as well he knew how, to make
money and room for further discoveries. For the
last fifteen years of his life he lived in Florence, with
occasional predatory visits to London. Florence
he loved, and after Florence Italy, though he main-
tained that London was the best place to “ find ’
things. His happiest hunting ground, although his
preserves were wide, was 'in the neighbourhood
of the Fulham Road,' and there it was that he
picked up two of Michel Angelo’s original sketches
for the Sistine Chapel for a penny each. Few joys
in life can be greater to a collector than to know
that you have 'spotted' an original sketch by
Michel Angelo and that its price is one penny.

Another of his treasures is a book of Tiepolo’s
drawings, very familiar to those intimate friends of
great persons whom he delighted to honour.
Another is the relief--with a history which shall
not be recounted here-of S. John the Baptist by
Desiderio of Settignano. Among the many pictures
 is a very sweet S. Stephen which was also
a London 'bargain.'  Horne did not err in taking
Italian pictures out of Italy; rather he acted the
part of the good shepherd and brought them back
again. His Botticclli has a peculiar interest
to one who is not an expert, in that it looks very
unlike a painting by that master, whose life-by the
way-was Horne’s most important literary work.
But the contents of the Palazzo will be known when
it is thrown open to the public and the catalogue
appears. It will furnish proof of the wide interest
as well as the unerring taste of the collector. The
folios of drawings, the gems, the coins, the medals,
the church vessels, will occupy the visitor many an
hour. And the ignorant who are also curious will be
amazed to learn the value of certain extremely plain
but most uncomfortable chairs. They will have
less difficulty in genuinely admiring-without refer-
ence to their value-the marriage chests, the
tables and the church furniture, the bronzes and the
majolica. Let us remember that this is the collec-
tion of a man who was always poor as people went
in his day, but who brought these things together
out of his immense knowledge and whole hearted
devotion, and housed them in a temple which he
restored to its ancient severe glory, and gave from a
great heart to his beloved Italy.


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