- On May 2nd, 1519, exactly four hundred years ago, a tall Florentine with a grey beard and keen eyes, gave up the ghost in the Chateau Cloux, near Amboise, in the land of France. Tradition says that he died in the arms of the magnificent King who had wooed him to his court with rich gifts ; but it is the fashion to rule out tradition nowadays. It may be that the honour of closing Leonardo de Vinci's eyes was not vouchsafed to Francois Ier ; but the legend that he did so fits well them both, and has nothing incredible in it.
The base-born son of a Toscan notary bestowed a greater honour than he receveid when he took up his abode at Cloux. Even the bepearled Valois had no illusions on that point. France had brought forth many superb Kings ; the whole world had produced only one Leonardo. We have not looked upon his like again, even now. To realize something of the greatness of this man, called by courtesy da Vinci, it is necessary to look at his gigantic figure against the perspective of the age in which he lived - an age which gave him scope for his restless enthusiasms, but which lies at his feet like a valley of formal gardens at the base of a stark mountain. He belonged to the Renaissance by virtue of a race and clime ; he was courted by magnificoes who sought all good and all perfection in the rediscovered philosophies of Plato ; but intellectually he was of the noble company of investigators, men to whom reality must of itself transcend imagination, to whom the concrete was ipso facto more excellent than the abstract, the tangible than the ideal. He was born man of science, endowed with analytical and inquiring brain of stupendous activity, with prodigious bodily strength and inexhaustible inental vigour, an artist only by the way, as Michaelangelo was a sonneteer ; yet it is as an artist that he is best kown to-day. It was as an architect, an engineer, and an inventor of engines of destruction, that he probably believed himself to excel ; and what he might have achieved it is difficult to determine, had he not been baulked and frustrated, as much by the super-abundance of his own powers as by the perversity of fate.