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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 contemporaries: 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 themselves. 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 persons.

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 sometimes 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.

Let other collectors pronounce upon that passion ' Surely they would proclaim it to be the most enthralllng 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 collections. 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 maintained 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 reference to their value-the marriage chests, the tables and the church furniture, the bronzes and the majolica. Let us remember that this is the collection 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.

REGINALD TURNER.

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