For ten days he had said every morning, "The picture will be finished to- night." At last I told him that he had made a mistake in saying it would be finished, as he was still working on it.
"No, I have not," he replied, "ninety-nine connoisseurs out of a hundred would have pronounced it finished long ago, but I want the praise of the hundredth man. There's not a picture in the world that can be called finished save in a relative sense; this Magdalen will not be finished till I stop working at it, and then it will be only finished relatively, for if I were to give another day's work to it it would be more finished still. Not one of Petrarch's sonnets is a really finished production; no, nor any other man's sonnets. Nothing that the mind of man can conceive is perfect, save it be a mathematical theorem."
I expressed my warm approval of the excellent way in which he had spoken. He was not so sensible another time when he expressed a wish to have been Raphael.
"He was such a great painter."
"Certainly," said I, "but what can you mean by wishing you had been Raphael? This is not sense; if you had been Raphael, you would no longer be existing. But perhaps you only meant to express a wish that you were tasting the joys of Paradise; in that case I will say no more."
"No, no; I mean I would have liked to have been Raphael without troubling myself about existing now, either in soul or body."
"Really such a desire is an absurdity; think it over, and you will see it for yourself."
He flew into a rage, and abused me so heartily that I could not help laughing.
Another time he made a comparison between a tragic author and a painter, of course to the advantage of the latter.
I analysed the matter calmly, shewing him that the painter's labour is to a great extent purely mechanical, and can be done whilst engaged in casual talk; whilst a well-written tragedy is the work of genius pure and simple. Therefore, the poet must be immeasurably superior to the painter.
"Find me if you can," said I, "a poet who can order his supper between the lines of his tragedy, or discuss the weather whilst he is composing epic verses."
When Mengs was beaten in an argument, instead of acknowledging his defeat, he invariably became brutal and insulting. He died at the age of fifty, and is regarded by posterity as a Stoic philosopher, a scholar, and a compendium of all the virtues; and this opinion must be ascribed to a fine biography of him in royal quarto, choicely printed, and dedicated to the King of Spain. This panegyric is a mere tissue of lies. Mengs was a great painter, and nothing else; and if he had only produced the splendid picture which hangs over the high altar of the chapel royal at Dresden, he would deserve eternal fame, though indeed he is indebted to the great Raphael for the idea of the painting.
We shall hear more of Mengs when I describe my meeting with him at Rome, two or three years later.
I was still weak and confined to my room when Manucci came to me, and proposed that I should go with him to Toledo.
"The ambassador," he said, "is going to give a grand official dinner to the ambassadors of the other powers, and as I have not been presented at Court I am excluded from being present. However, if I travel, my absence will not give rise to any remarks. We shall be back in five or six days."
I was delighted to have the chance of seeing Toledo, and of making the journey in a comfortable carriage, so I accepted. We started the next morning, and reached Toledo in the evening of the same day. For Spain we were lodged comfortably enough, and the next day we went out under the charge of a cicerone, who took us to the Alcazar, the Louvre of Toledo, formerly the palace of the Moorish kings. Afterwards we inspected the cathedral, which is well worthy of a visit, on account of the riches it contains. I saw the great tabernacle used on Corpus Christi. It is made of silver, and is so heavy that it requires thirty strong men to lift it. The Archbishop of Toledo has three hundred thousand duros a year, and his clergy have four hundred thousand, amounting to two million francs in French money.